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Sen. Booker Looks to Stand Out in Crowded 2020 Field: Klobochar's Trillion Dollar Priority: Infrastructure; Trump Holds First Campaign Rally Since Mueller Report; 2020 Dems Prioritize Michigan After 2016 Election Loss. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 28, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:34:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Cory Booker got his chance to grab the spotlight in the crowded 2020 stage last night in CNN's latest town hall. Now he talked at length about issues like criminal justice reform, healthcare, and education. That they stopped questions about donations from pharmaceutical executives, and for his support for charter schools. And some of his answers got very personal, like this one on how he would deal with gun violence.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I'm the only person in this race that has had shootings on their block. And this is very personal to so many of us, me because I'm a black man and black males are six percent of the nation's population, but they make up the majority of homicide victims in this country. I am tired of going to funerals where parents are burying their children. And so I am going to bring a fight, we are going to bring a fight like the NRA has never seen.


MATTINGLY: So look, we've -- particularly Seung Min and I see him a lot on Capitol Hill, and I know every candidate wants that type of forum, but certainly Senator Booker's team wants that type of forum.

[12:35:05] They want him out there answering questions.

I guess one of the questions I have is, where does he slot in at this moment as you kind of (INAUDIBLE) you're on the trail --


MATTINGLY: -- at this moment in the field, a very large field?

SCHOR: Having been on the trail with him, I think he's pretty comfortable with this role of the sleeper for now. You know, he's deliberately doing these smaller events been to many events, although in Iowa, you know, small can be anywhere from like 100 to 300 given how engaged they are in the caucus there. He wants to connect on a person-to-person basis. You saw him stayed for more than an hour after that even to take selfies.

Much like Warren, he sees himself as a real grassroots campaigner. His strength is voter to voter. But I also think he shined on that stage because it showed how heartfelt he is, right? Knowing him on Capitol Hill, when he's engaged in an issue, he's engaged. He brings his whole self.

And some of those answers kind of went mini-viral, and the campaign helped amplified that where he really connected.

MATTINGLY: Right. Yes. And I want to bring up -- what's also interesting. So, some of the reform plans that he outlined during the town hall last night, and you can kind of tick through them and where he is versus where the rest of the Democratic field is. You bring up, you know, criminal justice reform. Obviously, he was a very big player in the First Step Act. He's trying to push that forward.

He wants to expunge things like marijuana. That's obviously something the Democrats support. Healthcare, lower Medicare eligibility to 55. It maybe differs to some degree and the fact that he wants step by step process. Pharmaceutical money, he says, I'm glad I'm not taking it anymore. Green new deal, bold vision, that's what we need. Public school teachers, forgive their debt, raise their salaries.

Not specific, that's what Kamala Harris has put out so far but something I think most Democrats would agree with. And policy-wise, he seems to be in a slightly different place than maybe some of the further left contenders. What's your sense on things like that?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Yes. And, you know, I was interested to listen to that answer about gun violence, you know, and obviously focused on an urban setting and that's where Cory Booker lives. But it also seemed to be targeted toward suburban women who -- the focus on the NRA, I thought, was very interesting. This is something that Democrats -- NRA used to endorse a lot of Democrats. That has shifted, that has changed as the party has changed and the party's values on this question have sort of subtly shifted away.

And I think a big part of this is the focus that Cory Booker seems to be making. You talked about education, you talked about all these other issues that appealed to suburban women, white suburban women. I just noticed that in that town hall it was a white woman who was nodding her head as Cory Booker was talking about the deaths of young black men from gun violence.

And so, that seems to be the lane he is going for. Not as liberal as the far left of the party but a shift in where the party's sort of domestic policy is.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And I think you've seen that in healthcare too. I mean, he's been careful in the past, especially when there's been so much attention, for example, Kamala Harris saying she would support eliminating private insurance on this -- on the pathway to a Medicare for All system. He's been careful to say that he doesn't quite endorse all those proposals because he is very aware of the perilous politics around healthcare. And again, like going back to one of our earlier points, to taking away something from voters that people like. And I think he's been one of the folks who've been trying to carefully navigate that.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and he's got -- I mean, he's got relationships with Republicans on Capitol Hill, he has a pragmatic streak about them. I was also really interested in this answer, a very specific answer on the idea of reparations which has become kind of a benchmark in the Democratic primary so far.

Take a listen.


BOOKER: Can I tell you why I'm frustrated and disappointed by this reparation conversation? It's because it's being reduced to just a box to check on a presidential list. I want to make sure that we are dealing with the problem. That's why I support HR-40 which is a bill in the House that would bring together the best minds in America to deal with this issue. Not only trying to right the scales from past harms but to make sure we are a country that creates a more beloved community where all dignity and humanity is affirmed.


MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, it's interesting. I mean, I think we in the sort of Washington bubble tend to focus a lot about -- on the specifics and how people line up on specific policy options or specific House bills or Senate bills. I think especially in this early stage of the game, and this is something that Cory Booker kind of understands. You can tell, sort of, at any level is that, it's about connecting. It's about connecting on a macro level somehow with the Democratic Party at large and who's going to spark, who's going to have that spark that makes the party sort of wake up and say, wow, that person.

But also, you know, as he goes to Iowa and, you know, and later, you know, it's sort of person to person in these small events. And he's got that -- he's clearly already got that, but he's honing that ability to make that connection. I think that's much more important than the sort of specifics of -- you know, he's clearly in --

WARREN: It's also about not getting boxed in.

SCHOR: On the specifics, HR-40, Elizabeth Warren, that's also her position.


SCHOR: So it was a great answer, his best of the night, because he both connected, cut through the bubble talk and also put himself exactly where the others are.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Now to your point -- but it's interesting to talk about spark, talk about being a sleeper candidate. Take a look at the latest Quinnipiac poll before we go right now. Cory Booker down at two percent. Obviously, he's very much in play at this point in time but not huge numbers.

[12:40:02] But look at who's right next to him.

Pete Buttigieg -- Will Smith is going to find me in a dark alley at some point. Up at four percent. He's having a little bit of a moment right now, he's got a New York Times story, whose book is back on the best-sellers list. Keep an eye on Pete Buttigieg.

I nailed it.

All right, before we go to break, is he running? Take a listen to Colorado Senator Michael Bennet talking about his 2020 plans.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: I'm very inclined to do it, and we're looking at it. And I think -- look, the American people need somebody who's going to run and tell them the truth in 2020.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Your decision, I understand, has absolutely nothing to do with whether Joe Biden gets in the race or not, is that true?

BENNET: It has absolutely nothing to do with the vice president's decision.



MATTINGLY: Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar unveiling her plan today to tackle a long list of infrastructure issues if she's elected.

[12:45:06] The Minnesota senator says roads, bridges, internet, public transportation, and high-speed rail would be her, quote, top budget priority. A price tag for the plan, about a trillion dollars.

Now CNN's Suzanne Malveaux just spoke to Senator Klobuchar, and Suzanne, I guess one of the biggest questions is how is she proposing right now to pay for a very ambitious plan?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, you're absolutely right. When you take a look at this, we're talking about trillion as a T here. And so that was the first question that I asked her out of the gate. And she said she's going to take on the third rail, essentially tax reform and those corporate tax cuts she says if you lower it from 25 percent to 21 percent, every point that it's lowered is $100 billion.

She talks about closing up some of the loopholes and changes that can be made to enforce the tax law. So that is the main point that she had.

But Phil, we know previous presidents covering George W. Bush talked about infrastructure package. We heard it from President Obama, now we hear it from Trump. And she calls it a mirage that is not paid for another Trump administration, but all of these previous presidents who are saying, this is the one area that they believe they can make a difference, and across the partisan divide and get something done in this country. So I asked the senator what makes her any different if she were in the White House.

Take a listen.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's been so long neglected and someone has to take the lead on infrastructure, and why not the person that lives a mile away from the bridge that fell down in the middle of the country. And that's my first answer.

The second is, of course, healthcare. I have come out strongly for bringing down pharmaceutical prices, and I introduced a number of bills, I'm a leaning advocate. You can do two things at once but this something where there's common agreement, and there always has been. You need commitment from Congress to be able to pay for this. And I want to lay this out as a marker.


MALVEAUX: She prides herself, Phil, as you know, as being somebody who is practical, who is pragmatic that this is part of it as well, but there are some people who might actually criticize this and say, well, maybe she's playing it safe. I mean, this is not Medicare for All, it is not blowing up the Electoral College or some of these other ideas, the green new deal from other people who have signed onto that.

And so she counters that and she says she thinks this is something that can get done, but she's also depending on a new Congress, a new Senate to actually push those tax reforms that we talked about earlier through, to actually get those dollars to make it happen. And Phil, as you know, she's going to be traveling to Iowa as well as Nebraska over the weekend to push for this, and she says that she's uniquely qualified because she knows from Minnesota, from the state right next door, a lot of problems very similar to those in Iowa among those voters when it comes to the potholes, the bridges.

Those type of things she believes that she will connect with rural America, with the Midwest voters in pushing this forth, and she believes this is the winning platform for her very first policy initiative.


MATTINGLY: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you. It's fascinating to watch the policy proposals roll out, and particularly this one. Some everybody generally agrees on but nobody's been able to get quite across the finish line yet.

All right, why the Trump campaign chose Michigan for his rally tonight.


[12:52:47] MATTINGLY: President Trump heads to Michigan tonight for his first 2020 campaign rally since the conclusion of the special counsel probe, and he's previewing his message, where else, on Twitter. He tweeted this, this morning. Quote, we'll be talking about the many exciting things that are happening to our country, but also the car companies and others that are pouring back into Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and all over.

Now Michigan is an extremely important state for the president's 2020 campaign. And if you want to know why, well, it was one of the stunners of the 2016 election, piercing the blue wall along with states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And where the president is going is actually pretty important.

He's going tonight to Grand Rapids. And if you look overall, take a look at the top line of what president Trump did in Michigan. Again, a stunner, winning by just shy of 11,000 votes.

Now, President Trump, tonight is going to be going to Grand Rapids. Western Michigan is more or less considered a Republican country. This isn't the type of place where you flip votes. This is the type of place where you need to run up margins.

If you take a look at what President Trump did in Kent County where Grand Rapids is at, back in 2016, he won by just shy of about 10,000 votes right here. Mitt Romney back in 2012 won by about 23,000 votes. But that number was enough when you talk about counties like Macomb County, a county that President Trump stunned just about everybody by winning it by almost 50,000 votes when President Obama back in 2012 won it by about 12,000 or 15,000 votes.

So flipping those matters. But why the president is going to the western part of the state? Why he's going to Grand Rapids is to try and keep those voters that are supposed to be traditionally Republican with him. Why is that important at this point in time?

Well, take a look at where the state is right now when you look at the polling. If the election were held today, an early March poll, 49 percent of those in Michigan polled said they would vote to replace Trump. Although 31 percent say they would vote to re-elect Trump. While you hear a lot about the Sun Belt for Democrats, these potential other open states, Michigan is a must-win for President Trump if he wants to get to those 272 electoral votes. That's a problem.

Now you take a look over here, why that might be happening? Direction of the country. Fifty-two percent say the country is headed in the wrong track in the Michigan poll. This held March 3rd through 7th, only 36 percent say it's headed in the right direction. What that means is that obviously the president and his team have some work to do in the state of Michigan.

[12:55:01] Now to be clear, polls in Michigan weren't necessarily on track back in 2016. I think Hillary Clinton was on average about three or four points ahead by the time the election actually occurred. But President Trump made clear, he was in Grand Rapids the night before Michigan, he was in Grand Rapids in December after the election.

One to keep in mind though, why you might have some concern, we talked about Kent County, let's go up to the governor's race. Kent County, flipped Democrat in 2018, November of 2018. Gretchen Whitmer, the first time a statewide Democrat won this county in more than two decades. That might be a primary reason the president is headed there. As for the promises he made, well, take a listen to what he said after the election in December.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here tonight for one main reason, to say thank you to the incredible people of Michigan. We're going to bring back your jobs, we're going to bring back your jobs, and we will never, ever let you down, believe me.


MATTINGLY: So if Michigan was a stunner at the time, what he did in Macomb County was jaw-dropping. But I think there's clearly some signs to at least an early strategy here in terms of going to a part of the state where Republicans need to turn out if he wants a shot again.

WARREN: But it's not just a problem with turning out these Republican areas in the western part of the state. Republicans also have a problem in some of those suburbs of Detroit where Republican members, long-time Republican members of those sort of suburban areas in Wayne County, Oakland County lost in 2018 to Democrats. Those districts have been in Republican hands for a long time.

He didn't win those counties in 2016, Trump didn't, but he needs to sort of the maintain almost parody with where he was in 2016. So that's a different message to the suburbs where technology, healthcare, those are the big industries, not sort of manufacturing the way that he is sort of talking about in Grand Rapids.

SHEAR: And one of the things that, you know, most presidencies, most White Houses are pretty disciplined about not just campaigning towards the end, not just doing the rallies at the end but in crafting a message from day one. From the minute you get into the Oval Office, crafting -- trying anyway to craft a message that appeals to a broader base, right?

Yes, you need to tend to your base. Barack Obama went and spoke to places where liberals were. But that you try to craft policies that broaden that, that speak to those, you know, moderate Republicans in the suburbs for example.

You know, Trump has done virtually none of that since he's been in office. I mean, the administration has just, you know, essentially had a base-building, you know, sort of discussion strategy from day one, and the question will be, you know, he's obviously got to do the base but can he, you know, somehow pivot.

WARREN: Is it enough? SHEAR: Is it enough, and can he pivot both in terms of the actual campaigning but also in the actual governing. You know, can he do things that will, you know, that will appeal to his base?

MATTINGLY: Yes it's (INAUDIBLE). And look, you look at where the president has been so far as we kind of been in cycle, and you have Florida, you have Ohio, you have Michigan. I'm assuming Pennsylvania will be coming soon, perhaps a visit to Wisconsin.

This is the path. I could be wrong. Maybe there's some surprise state out there, but this seems to be the path if he has any shot at 27, and he clearly does, but.

SCHOR: Yes, absolutely. But it's also a place where Democrats are not necessarily stepping up their efforts right now.

If you look at where Democrats are, they're doing a lot of early state stuff for 2020. A couple has visited Michigan but we haven't seen this kind of sustained attention to the type of messaging that really breaks through in this area of the country. A lot of it has been positioning in liberal priorities. And this kind of creates an opening for the president right now.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's a great point. And we can pull up -- there are 2020 candidates -- Democratic candidates who have planned trips to Michigan, but as you note, given where they are policy wise right now and given where they are on early states, you see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke also went to Wisconsin. John Delaney, Andrew Yang, but I think the big question everybody's been trying to figure out, which lane do you go through, do you try and put Georgia or Texas. I mean, those places into play, and if you do that, you x yourself out of some of the Midwest states that they lost. And I don't know the answer, if I did, I could probably make a lot of money in Vegas.

WARREN: I think Hillary Clinton might warn those Democrats against trying to go after Georgia, and say Arizona before you've locked up these midwestern blue all states.


KIM: But there's -- so it clearly gives the president a clear lane to appeal to these voters early on which is important when 49 percent of Michigan voters are already saying they will definitely not vote for the president according to one recent poll in that state. But, his tweet this morning when he referenced the car, the auto industry in Michigan, reminded me of another potential looming problem, these tariffs on -- potential tariffs on foreign automakers that he -- that the administration is definitely considering. However, really being warned off by that by congressional Republicans who are worried about the broader ripple effects on the economy, and the economy has been a huge strength for the president, and they're worried that he could undercut that.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Keep it -- 232 tariffs, European autos, pay attention to that. That's going to come up a lot. All right, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now.