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Exclusive Interview With Former Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams; Both Candidate Are Claiming Victory In The Race For The Next Prime Minister; Democrats Are Pushing To Get President Trump's Tax Returns. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:30:00] STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So are you running out of time to make a decision? Because if you are to declare today, there will be all these other candidates who have months of fundraising ahead of you.

ABRAMS: Part of myself self-imposed deadline, and I want to be clear, self-imposed, I had a race that ended in November. I was approached in January about running. I decided to give it careful consideration but I actually set a time clock for myself because I do want to be respectful of others who want to run and I do want to be clear about my intention.

But I also have the responsibility not to run as a vanity exercise and to make certain this is the job I want to do. And that takes some time. And I appreciate the fact that many people in Georgia have by their own volition giving me, you know, space. But I have said to every candidate who has approached me, run if you want to run.

BALDWIN: But if it is a presidential run, you are contemplating and I know you have supporters but your critics would be saying, or even those who are just so undecided, you know, should we be electing another president with little experience. You have no foreign policy experience and you were the minority leader in the Georgia state house.

ABRAMS: I think there are two different things happening here. In terms of experience, I have run businesses. I have run organizations. I actually do have some foreign policy experiences. I never negotiated treaties but I have actually done trade work. And I have been very involved - lifetime member of the council of foreign relations. I visited multiple countries and done work on my own to build my foreign policy credentials.

But more than that, I actually understand how government works and that puts me beyond the head of the current occupant of the White House. But my decision about running will be grounded in whether or not I think I'm the best person for the job at this moment.

BALDWIN: Do you think the 2020 field is already too crowded?

ABRAMS: No, I think that is a false narrative. We had 16 people I think who ran in 2016. I believe at this point and in 1992 there were 19 candidates. The point of the primary is to whittle down the number of people who are actually going to be viewed by the public and go through the fist-a-cuffs of debate. And I think we are early on. We are going to have debates that start in June. And by the time we get to the first primary, which won't happen until February -- or January, we will have a better sense of actually who is in this to win and how long they are going to be in the race.

BALDWIN: Do you share -- President Obama recently spoke about his concern about progressives in this party in danger of rigidity that could harm the party. He says he is concern about a circular firing squad among these progressives and not forming allies, would you agree with the President?

ABRAMS: I think that the rigidity concern is absolutely valid. And I don't think it is endemic only to the progressives in our party. I think it is actually true for everyone in our party who believes that their ideology and their approach to how we win is the only possible path. That is not who we are. We are by nature a much more inclusive party and our responsibility is to create space for conversations and compromise but never compromising our values.

BALDWIN: But do you worry that some of the more, you know, farther left progressives are not all in it together. That they have not unified over common ground?

ABRAMS: Again, I think that is -- a miss characterization of what is happening.

BALDWIN: How do you see it?

ABRAMS: Our party has a range of beliefs but they are all grounded in the value system that said we believe people should have access to opportunity and that we have a responsibility to leverage government to remove barriers from their paths if those barriers are ineffective or more importantly if those barriers are grounded in the false application of their identity.

We will find people in a range of spaces with different ideas. And I think what President Obama is getting to is that we have to allow that conversation to play out. We cannot disqualify or discount someone simply because they don't agree with us on everything.

BALDWIN: OK. I have more for you. Stay with me. Everyone stay with me. We also want to talk about the former vice president and some of the comments that made about him recently and also this book. And get your take on the ambitious proposal that the 2020 Democrats have rolled out so far from free childcare for all to baby bond to free college tuition.

Stacey Abrams is back with me after this quick commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:38:40] BALDWIN: Stacey Abrams is back with me. She lost a close race for govern in Georgia and a number of people have been urging her to run for President in 2020.

We talk 2020, let me ask you about former vice president Joe Biden because he recently commented him for how he had handled some comments about how, you know, according to these women they felt uncomfortable with him but he also since then joked about it when he was on stage. And what do you make of the way he is handling it? You have approved of what he did?

ABRAMS: So, for vice president Biden, for anyone who is in this process what I have said is this. The first responsibility is apology to sincerely convey your regret. The second responsibility is atonement to demonstrate -- with your behavior and your words that you are going to do better. And I think what we are watching not only with vice President Biden but with other candidates is how they are approaching the responsibility of reform.

We have got to be better but we can't disqualify people because they have made mistakes. And so, you know, I'm watching the vice president. I want to make certain that he truly understands why those women were uncomfortable.

BALDWIN: Do you think he should apologize?

ABRAMS: I believe he did apologize. But if those women do not feel they received an adequate apology, they should say so and he should deliver.

BALDWIN: OK. I want to ask you about money.

ABRAMS: Yes.

BALDWIN: We have talked about money. You have talked about in the book, you know, about how you grew up poor. Your mom said genteel poor. And you know what it is like to look at a lot of red numbers, you know, and when looking at your bank account. You have helped take care of your family and so that is part of that.

But I wanted to ask you which of the 2020 any poverty proposals makes the most sense to you from the various candidates so far. So we talked about baby bonds, free childcare, free college tuition, you know, Democrats aren't going to get all of these. But of all of those, which is the one proposal that you think will actually lift someone out of the cycle of poverty.

[15:40:31] ABRAMS: I think the two policies that will have the greatest impact immediately would be the baby bonds and childcare.

BALDWIN: Why?

ABRAMS: In part because baby bonds provide a pathway that says that by the time you reach adulthood, you have an opportunity and I actually prose posed something not exactly the same but a similar idea.

The second is childcare expenses. That is one of the disqualifiers for particularly women trying to get out of poverty. That is an extraordinary expense. It is not one that is often accounted for in the way we set up or tax system or budget and it could cripple a family and keep them from moving forward.

I think the conversation about college tuition is important but if you are talking about foundational immediate impact, those two began because we want to look for the next generation and we want to deal with college tuition but the as the foundational matter, the broadest impact would be those two. But we got to be able to go everything.

And I think that goes us back to earlier question. We have got to be able to walk and chew gums, snap our fingers all at the same time. And I don't think that we should pit these ideas against one another. We should understand what they do and how they move us forward.

BALDWIN: On money tax returns.

ABRAMS: Yes.

BALDWIN: You know, obviously, the -- they trying to get President Trump's tax returns but what about senator Bernie Sanders? He has said he would release them. Why do you think he's drags his feet?

ABRAMS: I don't know, but I would say every candidate for office should release their tax returns. If you have nothing to hide, show it. And if you have something to hide, we need to know before someone else figures it out like the Russians or the Chinese.

BALDWIN: Do you have think Bernie Sanders has something to hide?

ABRAMS: I don't know. And again, part of this is we start creating questions because we are not getting information and we can't have a double standard. Either we believe that a Presidential candidate should release their tax returns or we do not. And if we believe it should be done then every candidate who wants to be considered for this office needs to release their returns.

BALDWIN: And lastly, "New York Times" bestselling author, Stacey Abrams, "Lead From The Outside," this book you wrote about how is your version of the art of the war.

ABRAMS: Yes.

BALDWIN: How it is about, you know, helping outsiders and minorities, you know, make their way up. And it is like a career manual for a young person with complete with worksheets and ambition exercises at the end of each chapter which you admit you still do, upgraded to XL. So why did you write this?

ABRAMS: Well, I would say it is not just for young people, it is for anyone who finds themselves trying to figure out philosophy out what your ambition is and trying how to live it. I didn't have necessarily role models for the things I wanted to do. There never been a black woman governor. There has not been a black woman president, but I didn't know entrepreneurs growing up. I didn't know people who started their open businesses. I also didn't know people who were in debt who made it out and did different things. And so for me, the point of this book is to say here is the story for the rest of us. Here is the handbook for the rest of us. Because we are told we are supposed to accomplish this but we never told how. And the how is what really matters. Because it is great to have ideas, it is great to have dreams, but if someone doesn't tell you how to turn the dreams into reality, they are just wishes.

BALDWIN: Stacey Abrams, see you tonight for your book event to help you out.

ABRAMS: I look forward to it.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

ABRAMS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Good luck to you.

Meantime, back on Capitol Hill, more heated exchanges today. This one involving the treasury secretary over the President's tax returns. Will Steve Mnuchin block the potential release of them? See what happened.

Also more on the breaking news out of Israel, both sides here claiming victory. This is the race for the next prime minister. It is still too close to call as Benjamin Netanyahu's fate is on the line.

You are watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:48:21] BALDWIN: We are going to get your tax returns. That is the vow California Democrat Maxine Waters made to President Trump this year after Democrats regained control of the House. And today the congresswoman who is now in charge of the House financial services committee pressed treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin on a request made by one of her fellow Democrats for six years of Trump's tax returns. And whether secretary Mnuchin will stand in the way of the IRS meeting tomorrow's deadline to provide them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CHAIRWOMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: Yesterday, President Trump forcibly ousted Secretary Nielsen adding to a long list of cabinet level officials that he forced out, including chief of staff John Kelly, secretary of state Rex Tillerson and attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Secretary Mnuchin, will you comply with the law by the deadline tomorrow and furnish the tax returns even if it means you may be fired by this President for doing so?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: As I have previously said, I want to acknowledge we have received the request. As I said before we will follow the law. We are reviewing it with our internal legal department and I would leave it at that.

WATERS: What you are basically saying, you follow the law and you are not afraid that you will be fired if in fact release the returns.

MNUCHIN: Well, I'm not afraid of being fired at all.

WATERS: Very good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN politics and business correspondent Cristina Alesci is live on Capitol Hill today.

And so, Secretary Mnuchin had these back-to-back hearings in the House today. And both times he stressed that he has not personally talked to anyone in the White House about releasing the President's tax returns, but he did say that others in treasury have. Give me the details.

[15:50:04] CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the problem, there aren't many details. Mnuchin is being very artful about the way he answers a lot of questions. And the Democrats keep pressing him on this idea about any communications whatsoever between the White House in treasury over how it's going to handle turning over, possibly turning over, or how it's going to reject turning over the President's tax returns.

And on this particular point, the lawmakers here are basically not giving him an inch on it. They are saying that any communication is inappropriate. Representative Carolyn Maloney from New York saying that it violates the spirit of the law just to have any discussions whatsoever, even though Mnuchin clarified that that particular discussion between the legal department at treasury and the White House actually happened before the congressional request came through. Still, they are trying to push this narrative that he may be under political pressure.

Look, to a certain extent, Mnuchin is one of Trump's longest serving cabinet secretaries, extremely loyal, and has managed to stay in the President's good graces for a very long time, gets along with a lot of people. So there are legitimate questions about what kind of pressure he may feel. And earlier this morning, when he was asked about that, the question was, is he even the right person to determine whether or not -- how the IRS responds. And there are some questions around that that lawmakers want answers to, as well. And he is not providing any clarity into the internal workings of how the IRS is handling this, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Keep pushing for the answers.

Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

Back to our breaking news out of Israel this afternoon, where President Trump's close ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is trying to hold on to power. His main opponent, also claim victory. We are live as the election results roll in.

Plus, the breaking news in the massive college admissions scandal. More than a dozen parents including actress Lori Loughlin now facing more charges. This time they include money laundering.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:56:33] BALDWIN: Breaking news in Israel right now, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief opponent, former general, Benny Gantz, are both claiming election victory. Netanyahu and Gantz each need to get enough seats to form a coalition government in the 120-seat parliament.

So CNN's Michael Holmes, he is live for us in Tel Aviv at Gantz election headquarters there.

So, Michael, what are the latest exit polls telling you?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you hit the nail on the head there, Brooke. I mean, they are celebrating here. And Oren Liebermann tells me they're celebrating over at Likud HQ, as well, because both of these leaders are claiming victory.

First of all, the caveat. These exit polls have notoriously been inaccurate in the past. They were in the last election in 2015. But they are what we have to work with at the moment. Now, one of them gives Benny Gantz and the blue and white party the lead, a clear lead in the head-to-head, and basically a tie in the forming of the blocks, 60 seats each.

Now, important to remember that when we talk about the blue and whites block, that includes the votes that went to the Arab Israeli parties, the Palestinian parties. They won't be in a coalition with Benny Gantz, but they may offer their support in parliament. And that will count when it comes to who the President asks to govern.

The other two exit polls show Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps with a clearer path to forming a coalition.

What's interesting about this is in the next few hours, we will learn which parties did not meet the threshold, the 3.25 percent you need to get seats in the Knesset, and then, of course, become a potential coalition partner. Some of these parties may not have made that. And it's going to be interesting to see who, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And what about, Michael, imagine this sets up quite the fight to get the support of the minority parties.

HOLMES: Yes, it's possible there could be a minority party. That is a possibility under the way Israeli elections go. Benny Gantz and his blue and white party may have less than 61 seats in the Knesset, but if they have the support of the Arab/Israeli parties, the Palestinian parties in terms of a voting bloc, then the President may say, well, altogether, you have more than 61 when it comes to voting on legislation and running the government.

It's certainly possible. It's not entirely likely. We are going to see in the hours ahead these figures firm up and see which of these leaders is right in claiming victory. But certainly, it's been a good performance by Benny Gantz. Whether it's been good enough to actually get Benjamin Netanyahu out of office after all of these years, well, that remains to be seen.

BALDWIN: Michael Holmes, you have got a huge night ahead of you. I appreciate you very much.

And just listening to Aaron David Miller, our analyst who knows a heck of a lot about Israeli elections saying, may not know until tomorrow morning.

Michael Holmes, appreciate you in Tel Aviv.

And a reminder to all of you here. Make sure you join us tonight. CNN will be hosting a presidential town hall with 2020 Presidential candidate and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Erin Burnett hosts live from Washington. That is tonight at 10:00 eastern right here on CNN.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. "THE LEAD with Jake Tapper" starts right now.