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Critical 2020 Fundraising Deadline Passes; Collins to Barr: Don't Bypass Congress on ObamaCare; Trump Threatens to Close U.S.-Mexico Border; Some Freshman Dems Frustrated Over DCCC Policy. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: In a crowded Democratic field, that's what you want to do.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's important because every cycle, you do have these boomlets, where there are some candidates, sometimes multiple candidates who pop up, get a bunch of attention and a lot of times their challenge is that they don't have enough of an infrastructure around them to sustain that. They can't really ride the wave, they can't build it out into actual success in the primaries in the Iowa caucuses.

You need money to do that. So the fact that Buttigieg seems to have a pretty formidable first quarter here with at least $7 million will give him some of the infrastructures that he's going to need going forward. He's going to need a lot more. He's going to need to be able to sustain this, but it's a really good first step.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's a lot more important in some ways than poll numbers because at this point poll numbers are a lot about name recognition. And that's why Biden and Bernie Sanders are doing very well in the polls, not necessarily because of what they are arguing on the campaign trail but these level of fundraising shows, there is some level of enthusiasm for a candidate like Pete Buttigieg how to -- and it also shows some others really struggle. Like Elizabeth Warren, if she does in fact post some really weak numbers, those show that perhaps she needs to do a lot more to change the narrative of her campaign and turn things around.

So, it is an early marker, an important marker, it's not definitive but it shows the direction these campaigns are headed.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And that's actually the big problem for candidates like Elizabeth Warren is we are going to interpret it as a very significant early marker because frankly, it's the only real metric that we have. So she has $10 million in the bank from her Senate run which is enough to get her going a little bit and there will be these bounces up and down, there'll be people -- it kind of reminds me of 2012 with the Republicans where you had Herman Cain popped up, and this one, Pawlenty popped up.

And -- so, there'll be that kind of process but the question is, can you have that pop up at the right time --

KING: Yes. The only one who didn't get a boomlet, Michele Bachmann had a boomlet, Newt had a boomlet, Senator McCain had a boomlet, Pawlenty had a boomlet, the only one who didn't get a boomlet was Rick Santorum who won Iowa.


KING: By working hard -- by working his tail off and he moved -- that's why I said the one percent to four percent, and that's the (INAUDIBLE) from one percent to two percent to four percent. The question is, Buttigieg has this fundraising numbers, you set another conversation right now about whether he insulted the 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton. It's from this, back in January, the Washington Post magazine tweeted out Donald Trump got elected, these are quotes from Pete Buttigieg.

"Donald Trump got elected because in a twisted way he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy. At least he didn't go around saying that America was already great like Hillary Clinton did."

Now, Nick Merrill, a senior Clinton adviser took offense with that. This is Pete Buttigieg over the weekend somewhat trying to clean it up.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), LAUNCHED PRESIDENTIAL EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE: America would be a much better place if she were president. That's why I voted for her and that's why I voted for her and that's why I campaigned for her. And I have enormous respect for Secretary Clinton.

I do think she was ill-served by a strategy and the media environment which made things much more about the individuals, much more about all the problems with Donald Trump and much less about the concerns of voters. It's not a knock on any individual. It's a concern about how we can take the lessons of the last election and apply them to get a better outcome in the next election.


KING: There was another former Clinton adviser on with Kate Bolduan last hour saying she thinks -- she worries about Pete Buttigieg. She likes him but she worries about him. Are the -- is the Clinton hold that strong? Is it taboo for a Democratic candidate to say, you know, she didn't talk to people about the economy? She didn't convince the people of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that she understood the troubles in blue-collar America. Is that taboo. Why is that taboo if it is?

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: He's running into the Beto problem. You know, there is sort of this, you know, white male privilege thing that keeps popping up. And he is running in a primary where what do say, 60 percent of the voters will be women, and so he needs to be careful how he treads on that issue. And he really looks young, so he is going to look to some degree like some older women especially are probably going to look at him and say, who are you?

LERER: But he's also one of a very, very few candidates that do not have a relationship, a pre-existing relationship with Hillary Clinton and did not meet with her. We really delved into this stuff a couple of weeks ago, and I mean, she is the connective tissue of this primary field. She vetted half of them to be her VP, she worked in the Senate with the bunch of them, she served in the, you know, Obama's cabinet with them, she's been a mentor.

So, it is a careful dance there because, you know, there's a lot of concern in the party about repeating those mistakes but she does have the strong following and she also has these personal relationships. There will be a number of candidates who feel indebted to her on a personal level for their careers.

PACE: And then plenty of others who just want to move on, right? They really do.

RAJU: Who will actually show up with her on the campaign trail too?

KING: Who knew? It's complicated.

Up next, a new candidate jumps into a key 2020 Senate race. But before we go to break, I want to take you to some live pictures here. This is Chicago, the fraternal order of police protesting the state attorney Kim Foxx because of her role in the Jussie Smollett case. Big protest there.

We'll be right back.


[12:39:12] KING: Topping our political radar today, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico announcing just a short time ago he'll run for the Senate seat being vacated by Tom Udall. That means the number four House Democrat will forego his chance to climb even higher in the majority party ranks. Congressman Lujan says what's happening on the other side of the capital is a more urgent priority.


REP. BEN RAY LUJAN (D), NEW MEXICO SENATE CANDIDATE: To move forward, we've got to fix the Senate where Mitch McConnell stands in the way of progress.


KING: Two women who have accused Virginia's lieutenant governor of sexually assaulting them years ago, now telling their stories on camera. Meredith Watson says Justin Fairfax raped her back in 2000 when they were students at Duke University. Vanessa Tyson says Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic convention.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why didn't you tell anyone, Vanessa?

[12:40:00] VANESSA TYSON, SAYS JUSTIN FAIRFAX OF SEXUALLY ASSAULTED HER IN 2004: I was so ashamed. I was so humiliated on so many levels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you feel guilty?

MEREDITH WATSON, SAYS JUSTIN FAIRFAX RAPED HER IN 2000: It happened to her after it happened to me. And had I had the strength or the courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would have happened to her.


KING: Lieutenant Governor Fairfax issued a statement denying the allegations of both women and saying he underwent two polygraph tests. Those tests are not admissible in Virginia courts.

Back here in Washington, Republican Senator Susan Collins imploring the attorney general to reverse the Justice Department's new strategy to kill ObamaCare. In a letter to Bill Barr today, Senator Collins says if the Trump administration wants to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, it should try to do that through Congress. Her plea comes a week after the Justice Department says it now will not defend ObamaCare in a lawsuit pending before an appeals court.

How important is this, a moderate Republican senator on the ballot in 2020 who has been a defender, says we need to make some changes, but a defender of ObamaCare? What's the big significance?

KANE: The big significance is the last time Susan Collins was in the national spotlight, it was defending Brett Kavanaugh and voting for Brett Kavanaugh in probably the most pivotal speech that hurt her numbers with independents and Democrats back in Maine. And a lot of people up there have probably forgotten that she voted with John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and all the Democrats to save the Affordable Care Act back in 2017. She needs to remind those voters this is what she is. She is a moderate.

Try not to look over here on the Kavanaugh vote. Look over here on her defending healthcare.

RAJU: And what if this gets kicked up to the Supreme Court and Kavanaugh ends up voting to strike down ObamaCare. So clearly she needs to cover herself because healthcare was such a potent issue for Democrats in the 2018 midterms, and it's clear the strategy going after people like Susan Collins, one of the most vulnerable Republicans.

KANE: She insists that Kavanaugh told her in a way that he would vote with Roberts in defense of the ACA.

KING: We may get to put that one to the test.

Up next, the president continues to raise the ante in his border battle. Has his defense secretary weighed in?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Secretary, has the Pentagon been asked to support the closure of the southern border?

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: The -- I won't answer that this morning but as you, you know, tracking is a very dynamic and fluid situation, all the -- I'm having conversations with the secretary of state today and most likely Secretary Nielsen.



[12:47:00] KING: The president this week picking a new immigration fight despite loud warnings, very loud warnings that could have a damaging economic impact. The administration says it is pulling aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras on grounds those countries are not doing enough to stem the flow of migrants heading toward the United States. The president is also poised to close parts of the U.S. border with Mexico so that he can redirect resources to stop illegal crossings. It's the latest sign he likes immigration as his lead re-election calling card, even though many Republican strategists worry closing the border could hurt what they see as the best White House political asset, the strong economy.

CNN's Christine Romans here with the details of the dollars and cents with the president's big gamble.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, an economic calamity. That's what the Chamber of Commerce says would happen if President Trump shuts the border with Mexico. Now, the chamber says it is would tank the markets and hurt the U.S. economy even if this were just a short closure. Here's what is at stake.

Truck and rail routes carry $1.7 billion in goods every single day back and forth across that border supporting five million American jobs. U.S. manufacturers have supply chains that crisscross Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Shut down the Mexico border, you hurt American factories, and American workers. But this president has a very simplistic view of trade. Imports are bad and the trade deficit means the U.S. is losing money. The U.S. ran a trade deficit last year of $81 billion with Mexico.

Here's the president, Friday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the deficit like we have with Mexico and we had for many years, closing the border will be a profit-making operation.


ROMANS: John, think of that a moment. The president advocating shutting the border to balance the trade deficit. It just doesn't work that way. The Chamber of Commerce points out that the U.S. exports more to Mexico than it does to China. Think corn, soybeans, beef, dairy, pork, it's a long list, and those imports from Mexico are parts and tools that feed America's factories.

Now, American manufacturers and farmers are already reeling from higher costs because of tariffs and retaliatory tariffs in the president's trade war with China. This move now on the Mexico border, many business experts say is just the wrong call.


KING: Christine Romans, appreciate that.

So let's dissect that. The Chamber of Commerce says it would be a calamity. Many business experts say it would be wrong. Political advisers in his own party say, Mr. President, please, no, which means he'll do it.

I don't mean it to even sound that way because it's trademark Trump. He says these are the same people who told me I can't win the nomination. Stop talking about immigration, stop talking about trade that way. You'll never be president.

Don't impose these tariffs. It will tank the economy. Don't stand up to China, it will ruin everything. So the president says, no, I'm going with my gut.

RAJU: It feels a lot like the government shutdown fight in some ways because --

KING: Which Republican people said would hurt him.

RAJU: Exactly. Republicans were warning him not to go this route, not to demand money for the border wall, saying that he would -- we were going to lose that fight.

[12:50:04] The president dug in. Of course, that led to the longest government shutdown in history. The president ultimately had to reverse himself and agree to re-open the government. That's the thing that concern for people who are advising him not to is that, what do you really get out of this? You know, probably going to have to backtrack anyways so what's the point of getting into this messy fight, to begin with.

But the president has always been further than most of his party on to the right on immigration, these launched fights that they have not been willing to take. The question will be how much of his party will ultimately stick with him if he does, in fact, goes this route? I think you'll see a divide.

PACE: From a political perspective, it's not surprising that the president would sort of brush off these warnings because he's heard this over and over again and the bad, you know, impact on the economy hasn't really happened, and his poll numbers have stayed remarkably stable. On the economic side of this though, the thing that his advisers worry about and the thing that Republicans worry about is that he's testing his luck.

That, you know, if you just look at cycles of the American economy we actually are probably due for a downturn at some point and he just keeps putting more and more pressure on that economy. And at a certain point, it's going -- it is probably going to -- to show an impact, and he's only going to be able to kind of hold that off for so long. He just keeps going forward and forward and pushing that as far as he can right now.

KING: And you have this intersection of two issues where the president has very strong feelings, trade, and immigration, where he does trust his instincts over what the experts tell him. Listen to -- here's a debate here, Mick Mulvaney and Dick Durbin, the chief of staff to the president and a Democratic senator on this idea, do you cut off the aids to these countries. Mulvaney says yes, they're not doing enough to stop the flow of migrants. Dick Durbin says, no, you're going to make it worse.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Mexico could help us do it. They need to do a little bit more. Honduras could do more. Nicaragua could do more. El Salvador could do more.

And if we're going to give these countries hundreds of millions of dollars, we would like them to do more. That, Jake, I would respectfully submit to you, is not an unreasonable position.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: What we need to do is focus on what's happening in Central America where three countries are dissembling before our eyes and people are desperately coming to the United States. The president is cutting off aid to these countries will not solve that problem.


KING: Mulvaney says to use a stick, Durbin says well, use that stick, you make all those problems worse and more people will flee.

KANE: A week ago Mick Mulvaney was encouraging Trump to be the party of healthcare, to make the Republicans the party of healthcare. He walked over to us at the Senate luncheon, Trump declared the party of healthcare. He always comes back to immigration, trade, America first, nativist views.

KING: Well, let's see what happens, and we're still waiting by the way on that healthcare plan. Yes, we're still waiting for that one.

Up next, another public split between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the House Democratic leadership.


[12:57:12] KING: Another public split today between newly elected progressives and the House Democratic leadership. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Ro Khanna speaking out against the new policy from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that goes after vendors who work with primary challengers. The form says to the vendors, quote, the DCCC will not conduct business nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting member of the House Democratic Congress -- Caucus. The DCCC says the policy is in place to protect all incumbents. Congresswoman Pressley says it could undermine, quote, women and people of color. Congresswoman Ocasio- Cortez taking it one step further, in this tweet here, urging people to sidestep the DCCC. That's the party committee altogether.

She tweeted, "If you're a small dollar donor, pause your donations to the DCCC and give directly to swing candidates instead. That's one way to get their attention. Attack the money.

This is an inter -- it's interesting in the sense you have these three new members who won by beating incumbents saying stop. Let it be. Let's just have it open, all incumbents, I assume they mean even themselves, let people challenge us.

KANE: They are afraid -- Democrats are afraid of turning into Republicans eight years ago when the Tea Party just started challenging left and right incumbent senators, incumbent House members, and it really drove the Republican reign as they were constantly afraid of the right flank. So, they want to put a stop to this now, and in particular, there are lots of older CBC members, Congressional Black Caucus members who are on this target list for some of the next generation Democrats that want to primary people.

KING: If you're the capital D Democratic Party, doesn't it sound un lower case, d Democratic to say, you know, we're going to essentially blacklist people who challenge our candidates.

RAJU: It's not uncommon though. This is what party committees typically do. The Republican Senatorial Committee (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just usually not so explicit.

RAJU: Exactly, yes. The Republican Senatorial Committee did a similar thing to prevent against those Tea Party challenges. But the difference now is that the Democrats have avoided this kind of intra- party ballots during the Obama years. They were relatively successful in the -- in these congressional races. The concern is now, in this era, in the AOC wing, do they push these left-leaning candidates to go after incumbents? That's the new fear.

KING: And do they feel the same way if somebody runs or campaigns against, say, Ilhan Omar which some Democrats are saying they will?

LERER: I don't know. It just feels like a losing battle. Like parties are going weaker and weaker for a lot of reasons. How can they raise money, the internet, all kinds of things? So to put the stake in the ground, I'm just not sure other than causing a lot of anger, I'm not exactly sure what it gets you all that much.

KING: But we're going to see many -- the old guard versus the new guard, the technology age versus the -- there's a whole bunch of ways you could peel this one. You're right though, it's an interesting fight. We shall watch.

Thanks for joining us today on the INSIDE POLITICS. Busy day, stay with us. Dana Bash in for Brianna Keilar, she picks up our coverage right now.