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Tempers Flare Over House Subpoena Fight; Dems to Subpoena Over Security Clearances; Health Care Punted until After Election; Trump to Decide Border Closures. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 2, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Figure out what happened.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: It is a disturbing story to say the least, Dianne. We know you'll stay on top of it for us.

Thank you.

And thanks to all of you for joining us here today on AT THIS HOUR. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.


And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A heated day on Capitol Hill as Democrats use their subpoena power to demand answers about Trump administration officials, including the president's daughter and his son-in-law, who received security clearances over the objections of career experts.

Plus, President Trump lashes out at the government of Puerto Rico. His own staff then concedes the president used bad numbers, get this, in a tweet questioning the competence of Puerto Rico's leaders.

And, new fundraising numbers show Bernie Sanders is a powerful force in the 2020 Democratic race. Mayor Pete Buttigieg also has impressive numbers, and, well, he's looking down the road a bit.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: One day we're hoping to be in the actual West Wing, which we will fill with witty repartee, fast walking, good dialogue -- thanks, Lia --


KING: Back to presidential politics in a moment.

But we begin the hour with a big Democratic challenge to the Trump White House and a sharply partisan fight over how this and other high- profile investigations will play out in the weeks and months ahead. The House Oversight Committee Democrats demanding answers as to why more than two dozen administration staffers received security clearances after the career officials who handled such applications recommended they be denied. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are on that list and the majority Democrats will call a vote soon on a subpoena to compel White House officials to testify under oath about why the civil servants were overruled and just who made that happen.

It's just one of the big investigations being launched by Democrats. And the partisan bickering today is a clear sign both sides know this clash over security clearances is just the beginning of a road soon to include fights over the Mueller report, the president's taxes and more.

Chairman Elijah Cummings, and ranking Republican Jim Jordan, set the tone.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: She came forward because the system at the White House is so dysfunctional that she believes that Congress needs to intervene. In other words, she's crying out. She's begging to us do something. Because she simply wants her government to work the way it's supposed to work.

To this day they have not produced a single piece of paper or a single requested witness to this committee.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Yesterday -- yesterday you issue a press release hand-picked, cherry-picked parts of her testimony, Miss Newbold's testimony, and you issue a big memo and a big press release after interviewing one witness. That's how we're going to do investigations in the Oversight Committee.

I've been on this committee ten years. I've never seen anything like this.

CUMMINGS: Oh, please.

JORDAN: I've never seen anything like this. I haven't.

CUMMINGS: Yes, you've done it.

JORDAN: I haven't. I'll tell you what else I've never seen.


KING: CNN's Manu Raju joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

A contentious morning, Manu, where are we going from here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, expect subpoenas to be authorized soon by this committee. The House Oversight Committee going to vote soon this afternoon to authorize a subpoena and compel the appearance of the former director of personal security at the White House, Carl Kline, to appear to answer questions. He, according to the woman, Trisha Newbold, who has come forward, who Cummings calls a whistleblower, Mr. Kline allegedly overruled her on a number of occasions about the denials that she sought to issue for a variety of folks, 25 individuals at least, as well as, well, from what we understand, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

The question is exactly who told him to override those concerns. What was the process that was actually followed? The Democrats are pushing their concerns that this is a systemic problem within this White House, their lax safeguards for classified information, lax safeguards for providing these security clearances. So Democrats are trying to push forward on that investigation. They say this whistleblower has provided key information for them to fuel their investigation in the days and weeks ahead.

Now, you mentioned it, John, though, this is just the beginning of a number of subpoena fights that the Democrats plan to pursue. Also in this committee this afternoon, subpoenas will be issued to the Commerce Department and others to provide information about the citizenship question on the census. And tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee to authorize the subpoenas to provide for the full Mueller report and the underlying information, as well as records for five former White House officials, all ratcheting up of sorts between the White House and House Democrats. The question ultimately is how do the -- does the administration respond. But I can tell you here, Democrats are preparing for a court fight if necessary if they're not able to get this information, John.

[12:05:05] KING: A contentious start to spring here in the new Washington.

Manu Raju live on The Hill, appreciate it. Keep us updated as that hearing continues.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Olivia Knox with Sirius XM, "Politico's" Laura Barron-Lopez, and Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post."

Let's start on the here and now, today's issue. A legitimate question the Democrats say about the security clearances and how it happened. It also happens to include, this is why it gets dicey for the White House, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. And, again, the Democrats say, we want to call up at least one official, then maybe more. Who did this? Career experts say, don't do it. They have conflicts. They don't qualify. Who did it? The president has said not him, but the reporting says he did.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, especially about Jared and Ivanka. And that's why there's so many questions here about this. And the White House doesn't feel like they've got a lot of footing here as far as the scrutiny goes because they know ever since that Rob Porter scandal happened last February that they really -- the way they handled this has been under a microscope ever since then and they're worried about more information coming out, particularly about people like that in the president's inner circle and how they got their clearances.

But the (INAUDIBLE) is going to come down to whether or not they accommodate these requests or whether this ends up in a court battle is the White House Council Pat Cipollone. And we know that he has said that they -- that Democrats do not have the authority to get this information. He's called these requests intrusive. So likely this sounds like it's heading toward a court battle.

KING: Heading toward a court battle. And it's interesting, when you watch Jim Jordan and Elijah Cummings, the role reversal, if you would, the coin has been flipped. It was the Democrats saying, come on, what are you doing, this is overreach, it's not oversight just a couple months ago. Now the Democrats have the gavel and we have a new game.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Right. And, you know, Cummings has requested a number of documents related to security clearances and so far the White House has not abided by any of those requests. So they aren't handing over any documents as related to this, even though Kline's attorney said that he'd be willing to testify. You know, we see Cummings moving ahead with authorizing these subpoenas so that way they can be prepared if they want to issue them.

KING: Right, and that's the marker in the sense that you do have a witness. And I'll read from this. This is Robert Driscoll, the attorney for Carl Kline, who says serving a committee subpoena on a heretofore anonymous non-political government employ who is willing to work with all parties to see if appropriate resolution to a constitutional legal dispute can be resolved by agreement is both extreme and unnecessary so that the witness they want, the first one, is saying, hey, let's just go in a room and see if we can figure this out first.

But, to your point is, the Democrats want to lay this marker. We have this power and we are prepared to use it.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And I think that's why, in so many of these investigations that are politically sensitive, Democrats have been careful to kind of lay out all these steps before they have to go to a really aggressive measures such as subpoenas witnesses and documents. I mean you see this in the tax return fight all the time. I think Richie Neal (ph), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has gotten actually kind of intra-party backlash for taking his time and being methodical about this. But Republicans, again, are hoping that the public perceives this as overreach and plays politically in their favor.

KING: And to the point of, again, the Democrats say this is a broad issue. The whistleblower has said there's 25 or more people. The Democrats want to know, most of all, let's be honest, about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and other senior officials at the White House and whether the president was involved.

Jared Kushner did an interview last night. He said, nothing here.


JARED KUSHNER, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I can't comment for the White House's process, but what I can say is that over the last two years that I've been here, I've been accused of all different types of things and all of those things have turned out to be false. We've had a lot of crazy accusations, like that we colluded with Russia. I complied with all the different investigations, whether it be the Senate, the House, the special counsel. I've sat for nearly 20 hours of interviews with them.


KING: I haven't always happily complied with the investigations but he did do the interviews with the special counsel. The special counsel said there's no collusion. But -- so then why is the White House fighting here. Why can't they find a way to say, we'll show you -- maybe we have to do it in a private setting, but let's -- we'll figure this out.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: I thought that was a really good example of a reply, not an answer, from Jared Kushner.

KING: Yes. Well put.

KNOX: But, you know, we should reflect on the fact that the president has almost boundless powers to grant security clearances. He's the de- classifier in chief. He has this authority. I think the White House is concerned about the way this looks if in fact these are very serious reasons for denying him a clearance. What were the underlying issues? You know, what they look at are things like financial improprieties or financial influence, sexual improprieties, alcohol and drug use, anything that might make you vulnerable to blackmail. We don't know at this point what red flags came up and for whom.

I did -- I did notice that the Republican pushback yesterday was that only four or five had been denied for very serious issues, which doesn't sound like pushback to me. It sounds like an awkward acknowledgement that there's a problem underlying here.

KING: Right, and to that point, what we're in is, this is about security clearances, but we're in the early stages of this big power play. The Democrats have constitutional oversight authority, just as the Republican had it when they controlled the House. The Democrats don't (ph) have it in the Senate. They don't do much when it comes to the White House.

But the Democrats are going to move forward. We're going to have the votes on the Mueller report. We could get to the president's taxes. You heard Manu talking about the census. You know, the Commerce Department and the census citizenship question.

Listen to Sarah Sanders today, this is -- it's a constitutional fight, a legal fight. Sarah Sanders trying to make it all about politics.

[12:10:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the Democrats are doing is playing a very dangerous and a shameful game, frankly. They're asking for personal, private and confidential information from individuals that they know that they have no right to see and they're putting the 3 million people that do have a security clearance at risk.


KING: Welcome to Washington spring 2019 into 2020, right?

KIM: Exactly. And I think that that's why there's a benefit to the White House making this a political issue. And I think also you've seen their kind of legal strategy here to delay the fight as long as possible. I mean this -- like what we're debating this morning is not even the first subpoena issued by the Oversight Committee. About a month ago, or a little over a month ago, they did issue subpoenas for documents related to the administration's family separation policy. That was actually a bipartisan subpoena. There were at least two Republicans who supported that. But as Elijah Cummings has said, nothing from the administration just yet.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And just talking about playing politics, I mean I think it's important to note that a vast majority of the public do want things like this made public. They want to see documents. They want to see oversight. I mean that's part of the reasons that Democrats won the House in 2018. And also as the administration tries to focus somewhat on Mueller and seems to be signaling in a way over the last few days that -- that they may now not want the full report released, even though Trump had originally said, go ahead, let's release all of it, that the public voted on healthcare, not on Mueller. And so that's why Democrats won the election.

KING: Right. And from Sarah Sanders there, you know, don't trust the Democrats is what she was saying. It was very reminiscent of the president, don't trust Mueller. This is -- there's a playbook at play here, if you will.

Up next for us, the president adds a key vote to his calendar 19 months from now.


[12:15:41] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump backing away now from his push for a vote on an Obamacare replacement plan. The president bowing to the Washington and the Republican reality. His party does not have a plan, not even close, and is not eager to wade back into a repeal and replace debate that blew up on the GOP last time. The president tweeting last night that while Republicans, he says, are working on a, quote, really great plan, the president says, take a breath, a vote will be taken right after the election when Republicans hold the Senate and win back the House. That would be 2020 is the next election where that could happen. We'll see.

That about face comes a week after his own Justice Department announced that it now supports a judge's ruling saying the entire Affordable Care Act should be scrapped. Democrats have their own healthcare divide at the moment, but they see an opening in the president's retreat, questioning whether that really great plan is really a mirage. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: And now what is he saying today? It's like Nixon's secret plan, have health -- oh, you're all too young to know. Nixon had a secret plan. Read it in the history books. It's -- it's history to you. It was my youth. But, anyway. Nixon had a secret plan in the war in Vietnam. This is his secret plan. They're not going to pass it until after the 2020 election.


KING: CNN's Nixonian scholar Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, there's some humor in here, but for Americans who might have worries about borrowing money and everything else for healthcare, it's not that funny. The question today is what now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, look, it's an extremely personal issue and that's part of the reason that Republicans were so taken aback when the president decided that he wanted to dive back into things.

Look, what happens now is Republicans do what they have been planning to do heading into this election cycle over the course of the last couple of months, and that's attack Democrats on Medicare for all. When you talk to Republicans -- and I've been doing a lot over the course of the last five or six days, many of whom were unsettled, uneasy or just outright angry that the president brought them back to this place -- there was this feeling that they needed to figure out a way to get the message to the president that it wasn't simply possible. It wasn't possible because they didn't want to go back into the details that were so fractious back in 2017, but also because Democrats controlled the house.

Pay attention to that tweet you read from the president, that tweeted thread. The framing there is important because I'm told after talking to multiple sources that that framing almost comes directly from Republican lawmakers that were reaching out to the president behind the scenes. Republican leader of the House Kevin McCarthy, who strongly believes the reason why Republicans lost the House in 2018 was healthcare, an issue the Democrats repeatedly campaigned on, hammered home that Republicans were on the wrong side of that issue. He reached out to the president and spoke to the president about this issue.

I'm also told one of the crucial calls came from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell has made clear in floor speeches and press events that he wants to talk about Medicare for all. He wants to talk about the possibility of the 170 million people who use private insurance losing that insurance as a big-time political upside for Republicans. The call he had with President Trump that I'm told had made a big difference framed it in the sense of, this is something we can do if we retake the House. This is something we can do if we maintain our 53-seat majority in the Senate. But in the meantime, focus on this issue that they believe could be a political liability. The president, at least based on that tweet, clearly subscribed to the theory that McConnell was pitching. Obviously Democrats are happy to fight on healthcare. They won on healthcare in 2018. But that's how Republicans worked behind the scenes to get the president to where he is right now. Obviously we'll see if that holds. But for the moment there's a little bit of exhaling from Republican leaders here on Capitol Hill.

KING: Phil Mattingly with the latest from The Hill. Phil, appreciate that the.

And, again, this is both funny and not funny in the sense that some of the things you hear are comical. If you're an American who's borrowing money to pay for your healthcare or you're afraid to change jobs because you'll lose your prescription drug coverage or your other health coverage, it's not so funny. But here it is, put to the White House reporters today. Remember, just last week, the president said the Republicans are the party of healthcare. Here comes our plan. Remember in 2016 he said repealing and replacing Obamacare would be easy. We all know how that turned out. Here's the White House officials today.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEWSROOM": Was there actually a plan or was the president exaggerating?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been working on a plan.

HALLIE JACKSON, MSNBC ANCHOR, "MSNBC LIVE": But does he have a plan to replace it?

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: (INAUDIBLE) a choice, we have to have better coverage. He is working on those pieces with members of Congress. They want to have something in place. But, again, he was talking about a vote on it and that most likely would not come until after 2020.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think that the election has to be a referendum on Obamacare. It needs to be a discussion about what works on healthcare, and that's what the president's doing.


[12:20:02] KING: He's been president for more than two year, right?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I can't remember.

KIM: Also --

KING: He doesn't -- he doesn't have a plan.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Also, Republicans have been running on repealing Obamacare since before Trump took office. KING: Since before Obamacare passed.


And so multiple elections have been a referendum on Obamacare. And the idea that the Republicans are the party of healthcare or the party that is going to protect pre-existing conditions is something that they tried to say in 2018 and it didn't work out.

KING: And yet the Democrats just won an election. In 2010 and 2014 you could make the case the Obamacare hurt the Democrats. The big Tea Party elections, both of those. Democrats just won big using this issue in the suburbs, and yet they're -- even -- even though they couldn't get their plans through the Senate, they can't even get a plan through the House right now because they have their own divides over just coming forward and strengthening pre-existing condition protections, for example, strengthening other parts of Obamacare, shoring up the parts of Obamacare that improve it to need some help. But if they try to do that, the liberal base says, no, you've got to do Medicare for all.

COLLINS: Yes, and there are some issues where the president gets different advice from certain people. This is one thing where I've not heard one person who told the president this was a good fight for him to have. Essentially everyone is telling the president this was not the road they wanted to go down, not just those Republican lawmakers that Phil was mentioning there, but all the president's advisers that I've talked to inside and outside of the White House, not every single one, but most of them, said they did not think this was the fight they wanted to have. They thought they were doing a good job framing the Democrats. Medicare for all is a very negative thing. That was the fight they wanted to have going into 2020. Not that they were going to replace it because, of course, healthcare is an issue unlike trade or something, it affects every single person. And so they knew this wasn't a winning battle and that's why you're seeing the president retreat.

KIM: I thought it was really telling when Rick Scott, at a press conference this morning -- now, remember, he's one of the people that the president said asked him to come up with a new Obamacare replacement plan, and he said this morning, well, the president did ask me to do that. I told him, I'm working on something to lower prescription drug costs. I thought that was pretty telling.

KING: Yes, so pretty telling that, you know, the way the president describes it is not how anybody on the other end of the phone call processed it, if you will.

But this -- this is a textbook case, whatever your politics at home, textbook case of why people don't like this town and don't trust this town in the sense that you just lay out that Democrats want a political framing for 2020. They just had one in 2018. The Republicans want a political framing. They want to say the Democrats are for socialism. We're going to save you and become the party of healthcare.

Look at these polling numbers or -- and statistics. Americans borrowed $88 billion in the past year to help pay for their healthcare. Borrowed $88 million. One in eight Americans borrowed money for healthcare in the past year. Sixty-five million adults say they had health issues but didn't seek treatment due to the costs. Nearly a quarter of Americans had to cut back on spending to pay for healthcare or medicine. Seventy-six percent of Americans expect healthcare costs to increase in the next two years. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans have no confidence in elected officials to reach bipartisan legislation to reduce costs.

KNOX: Yes, if you want -- and if you want to see a really personal version of all these things, go to Kaiser Health News and check out their bill of the month --

KING: Right.

KNOX: Where they break down these insane hospital bills, doctors' bills and the rest of it that really brings some of those statistics to life. It's really -- it's an incredibly bizarre system.

KING: And so it -- so you would think -- you would think, if we lived in a normal world, after the last election, some Republicans would say, OK, we just got our butts kicked, let's do a couple of things. Let's do a couple -- maybe do a couple of modest things that there actually is probably pretty broad bipartisan agreement about, but instead we go immediately into the 2020 framing and the stuff from the president that is fiction at best.

KNOX: Two messages in American politics, right, change is scary, change is needed and they -- the Republicans really felt that change is scary was a bigger -- a bigger win for them and that's why they're going after Medicare for all and the other Democratic options.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I do think, though, that there may be something that we can see happen in the House on lowering prescription drug prices. That's something that Democrats really want to do before 2020. Of course they don't totally expect the Senate to take it up or to reach the president's desk. But there are a number of House Republicans that are also interested in tackling something like that.

KING: Well, that -- the president -- and the president has said he wants to deal with it. So it would be nice to put an initiative forward. If the president -- see if the president would actually -- if he doesn't like it, give an alternative, maybe I'm pie in the sky there. Let's get some additional reporting, again, on the challenges facing the president. Healthcare is one. Here's retreated a bit on that.

Here's another. Kaitlan Collins with some new reporting on the scramble the president has created at the White House and also in the business community about this threat, this instinct, the White House insists it's not a bluff, to close down some of the ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border so that he can take those resources and try to use those resources to combat illegal crossings.

COLLINS: After Mick Mulvaney said over the weekend that unless something dramatic happened he expected President Trump to follow through on his threat to close the border, there was a sense of panic in the West Wing yesterday and people were scrambling to figure out two things. One, how can we stop the president from closing the border and, two, if he does, we need to figure out the logistics of how we're going to do that.

So aides essentially spent a good part of yesterday huddling, trying to figure out their next step forward. Part of that included a meeting with Steven Miller and some other advisers discussing, maybe presenting some new immigration laws to Congress, tightening asylum rules, maybe that way they could shift the blame from the White House to lawmakers for the recent record-breaking numbers in immigration and in border crossings. And basically they're trying to figure this out because people are telling the president behind the scenes, this is not a good idea to close the border. You're going to disrupt the economy. This isn't really sustainable. Is it going to apply to air travel? And you're going to anger every local official in these border cities if you do this.

[12:25:17] And the president -- but he is being told by some people that maybe it could work, including Mick Mulvaney who said he believed that the president's base would be on board with this like they were with his decision to declare a national emergency to build the wall.

Right now, as of today, of course, this could change because it's President Trump, I'm told they do not have a decision yet on whether or not he's going to close the border. They're not expecting one until the president goes to the border later on this week.

KING: Again we get -- this happens so often that you sometimes just let it roll off. So the -- a number of senior officials at the White House have a scramble to stop the boss, right? To stop the boss. To try to rein in the boss' impulses because they think that they're over the top.

KNOX: Yes. And in this situation it's really -- it's dramatic. I'd like to know what it even means to close the border. Are they talking about halting the flows of trade. Well, OK, last year we have data, 2015, trade exports. U.S. exports to Mexico accounted for about -- supported about 1.2 million American jobs.

KING: Right.

KNOX: This is a huge export market. It also accounts for about 40 percent of our fruits and vegetables. The disruptions would be immediate if -- if closing the border mean -- actually means closing the border.

KING: It's one of the most remarkable and actually healthy trade relationships in the world.

KIM: Exactly.

And it also comes at a time when, remember, the White House is trying to drum up support for -- to approve the new NAFTA deal, the USMCA. Clearly this -- Republicans don't think this helps matters at all, especially when that U.S.-Mexico trading relationship is so valuable.

KING: And -- here's Peter King, a congressman from New York, a Republican congressman from New York, putting this -- connecting the dots here. I just wish the president had ridden his victory wave a little bit longer from Mueller and Avenatti. Now we're talking about, I mean you're talking to me about the border, other people talking about health care. We're on defense. We should be on offense now.

So the president, if nothing else, he is disruptive to all parties.

BARRON-LOPEZ: He is. I mean this was a big issue also going into the 2018 election. And I know we keep going back to that, but it was the most recent cycle. And we saw Democrats flip 40 seats, gain a majority, one of their big -- their biggest gains since the Watergate era. And so it was leading up to the election all Trump talked about was immigration. There was even an ad that was considered so widely racist that Fox and CNN and others wouldn't air it. And it wasn't a winning issue for him going into that fight.

KING: You just -- you just hit on what crystal clear is the most important thing to keep in mind as we go forward in the sense that President Trump tells everybody, I wasn't on the ballot. It would have been different had I been on the ballot. It would have been different. That's what we're about to test.

COLLINS: And one other thing to watch as all this plays out is the DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was supposed to be in Europe this whole week for meetings going to the G-7 meeting in Paris on Friday. She cut that trip short. She's now back here. She's going to the border tomorrow. And that's ahead of the president's trip. And I'm told that though her and the president -- she and the president developed this great relationship during the shutdown over the wall, she is now under a microscope now that these immigration numbers are putting a strain on immigration enforcement down at the border. Everyone's keeping an eye on Kirstjen Nielsen right now.

KING: She's back up, but if you live in Trumpland, you understand --

COLLINS: You never know.

KING: The roller coaster goes in both directions.

Up next, did Senator Bernie Sanders' massive first day fundraising pay off? We have his latest 2020 numbers. They're pretty good.