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CNN NEWSROOM

Tiger Woods Wins First Major Since 2008; Pete Buttegieg (D-IN) Officially Announces his Candidacy for the Presidency in 2020; Democrats Responds to Criticisms on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN); Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) Officially Announces 2020 Presidential Campaign. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 14, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just great that they can be happy and they're able to be kids again.

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FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: And see the full story or nominate someone you think should be a CNN Hero. Just go to cnnheroes.com. We've got so much more straight ahead in the "Newsroom" and it all starts right now.

Hello again everyone. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Fredericka Whitfield in Atlanta in for Ana Cabrera.

All right, Tiger Woods is on top of the golf world once again.

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(CROWD CHEERING)

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WHITFIELD: And what a moment that was, a jubilation by the 18th green at Augusta National after Woods' final putt for a one-stroke victory at the Masters. It's his first major championship since 2008, his 15th overall, and a huge milestone on a path to redemption that's been littered with injuries, an ugly divorce, and very real doubts -- self- doubts about whether his best golf was behind him.

And you see him there hugging his kids. CNN's sports anchor Don Riddell is with me now from Augusta National. Don, we could look at that, you know, those images over and over again and it was such a sweet moment with he and his kids and then to see everybody celebrate Tiger Woods' victory.

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: For sure. Not a dry eye in the house, I would venture to suggest. This was the result that most people, if not everybody at Augusta wanted this week, to see Tiger Woods do it again. You know, he's the most famous golfer on the planet. He used to dominate this sport.

He transcended it, and then, boy, did he fall from grace. Since 2008 he has had so many difficulties. He really did plum the depth and he's had to climb all the way back up from the humiliation of the infidelity and the divorce, the physical challenges he's had to overcome. Four back surgeries, a spinal fusion operation.

Not that long ago, he was telling us just riding in a golf cart was so painful he could hardly contemplate playing golf again, he didn't know if he would be competitive again. He was ranked almost 1,200th in the world. And to see him come back from all of that, and do this here again at Augusta.

The iconic Augusta National course, to win a fifth green jacket, 22 years after his first when he became the youngest ever Masters champion. Now he's the second oldest at the age of 43, and don't rule out the fact that this comeback could just be the beginning. There are three more majors this year -- two of them are on courses where he's already won majors, Bethpage and Pebble Beach.

This could be just an extraordinary golfing year for Tiger Woods. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but I think we can say for sure right now, we have just witnessed one of the most extraordinary sporting moments of all time.

WHITFIELD: Wow, extraordinary moment. And like you said, it's really a restart for him even though he has had many, you know, starts. But this one culminates something very special. His kids too, they're wearing his, you know, the color red that his mom has always said, that's your color, that's your winning color.

Talk to me about what Tiger Woods has even expressed, you know, since receiving the jacket, holding up, you know, that trophy there. What's been going through his mind?

RIDDELL: Well, everybody's tried to make him cry with their questions in the press conference. I don't think he has. But clearly this has been an emotional moment for him. And I think the one thing that he really was very warm when relaying was what it meant to him to have his kids, Charlie and Sam there to see it.

And it took him back to '97 when his father, Earl, was there to see him win the first. And his kids are one of the reasons why he wanted to come back and play golf again because they were too young to remember seeing him compete and winning. And he wanted them to have that memory and now they've got it.

WHITFIELD: That's fantastic. What a moment. Don Riddell, thank you so much. Also, with a front row seat to it all, CNN's sports anchor Andy Scholes. He's on the phone with us now. So, Andy, you had a chance to hear from Tiger Woods as he was answering reporter's questions. And how is he handling this incredible high?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR (via telephone): Well, I tell you what Fredricka, he really can't wipe that smile that's off his face that he's had on him since he was on the 18th green. And you know, Tiger was calm, cool, collected the entire tournament. And then when he made that putt and realized that he had won his 15th major after 11 years of trying.

And all the trials and tribulations that he went through, he let out all of his emotions. In his press conference he said he kind of just blacked out.

[17:05:01] He doesn't remember what he did. He didn't remember raising his fists, all the high fives. He just knows that it was good moment and, you know, he was asked (inaudible) this major with all of his other 14 majors and he said, you know, he really hasn't thought about it yet, but this one's definitely special. Take a listen.

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TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I had, you know, serious doubts after, you know, what transpired a couple of years ago. I could barely walk. I couldn't sit, I couldn't lay down. I really couldn't do much of anything. To have the opportunity to come back like this, you know, it is probably one of the biggest wins I've had for sure because of it.

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SCHOLES: And Fred, you know, I walked with Tiger for much of the weekend and the amount of emotion that was in the gallery of how many people wanted to see Tiger when, I saw people hug, I saw people cry. One guy next to me said, "I never thought I would cheer for another human the way I cheered for Tiger."

Just the emotion that Tiger brings out in people is incredible. And it's really the emotion that Tiger showed on 18th. That's what everyone else was doing here in Augusta.

WHITFIELD: Oh wow, Andy Scholes, thank you so much. You are putting us right there with you as you are experiencing it all. CNN's sports contributor and two-time Super Bowl champion Hines Ward, he was there too, you were there on Thursday.

HINES WARD, CNN SPORTS CONTRIBUTOR: Thursday.

WHITFIELD: You were feeling the electricity. And you among them, really hoping for the best and cheering on Tiger Woods.

WARD: No question about it.

WHITFIELD: So what was today's victory like for you, given you, you know, reflected on Thursday as well.

WARD: I mean, it really is one of the greatest comebacks in sports history considering what Tiger Woods had to overcome with the injuries. I mean, four surgeries and three years on his back, then to come back and me being a former athlete, when you -- when injuries start to occur, doubts start to sit in.

Am I still that same player? But for Tiger to fight his way back, overcome the injuries, pick out points where he wanted to place the ball for his next shot and then find a way to walk away with the green jacket again, it's just remarkable to see what he did today.

And I was out there cheering him on Thursday and I was at home glued to the television on Sunday. So, it was just amazing. It is great. I think it's great for the game of golf to have Tiger Woods on top of the leaderboard.

WHITFIELD: He has been great for the game of golf for a very long time now. I mean, he has turned people into fans who never thought they would actually watch it on television, let alone actually go, you know, watch it in person.

To hear him reflect on, you know, yes, there was a moment, just two years ago where I couldn't walk and I couldn't sit. And who can forget, you know, the image of him being stopped by a police officer in Florida because, you know, he was on medication for all of that pain.

And it was such a sad low point for him. And to see him kind of claw his way back up. I mean, to hear details, how curious are you, but to hear details about how he was able to get to the physical and mental fitness to be on top like this?

WARD: Well, you saw last year, he was close at a couple events last year when he was tinkering in the top five, but then I think the win at Eastlake for the tour championship last year and the last event really gave him that confidence.

Listen, I'm back. I can compete with these guys. And I think you saw it over the weekend in Augusta where he was able to stay near the leaderboard. And then on Sunday, Tiger came through in a big way in Tiger fashion, wearing the red and coming back to win his fifth Masters.

WHITFIELD: There must be something in the Georgia soil because it was that Atlanta tournament just a few months ago that he won and it was beautiful to see that kind of victory.

WARD: Yes. He needs to get a house at Georgia.

WHITFIELD: And now Augusta in Georgia. There you go again. You're right. He might need to do that. Hines Ward, thanks so much and thanks for sharing your personal experience while out there watching.

WARD: You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: All right, on to politics now. Mayor Pete Buttigieg officially jumping into the 2020 race to the White House, in his first speech, he's talking about his sexuality, his service and taking on President Trump directly. Plus, why his rollout is being compared to President Barack Obama.

And southeastern storms killing nearly a half a dozen people and leaving towns in ruins. We're getting a look at the damage and who's in the path next. You are live in the "CNN Newsroom." [17:10:00] WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. No more maybes for the mayor of South Bend, Indiana today. Mayor Pete, formerly joined the race for the White House. Pete Buttigieg.

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WHITFIELD: Pete Buttigieg, 37-years-old, who calls himself a Midwest millennial, well he made it official in front of a very enthusiastic hometown crowd and made sure everybody got the name right.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete. I'm a proud son of South Bend, Indiana and I am running for president of the United States.

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WHITFIELD: All right, let's go to South Bend, Indiana right now and CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is there. Vanessa, you know, a little quieter now of course, but what kind of reaction has Pete Buttigieg been receiving? I mean, that was a full house there and they are certainly seemed to be a lot of love for the mayor of South Bend.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Definitely. It was a full house here inside and there was even an overflow outside. People stood in the rain for hours to both see Pete Buttigieg make his announcement in here and as I mentioned, watch him outside.

I thought it was interesting, Fred. Pete Buttigieg in his speech talked a lot about different policies, but he never mentioned the president by name, President Trump. He did talk about, though, some of his controversial policies such as the child separation at the border.

[17:15:00] But also interesting, before Pete Buttigieg came on stage, he was sort of introduced by three mayors from around the country and a couple of friends. And they made direct comparisons between Buttigieg and President Obama, both signaling sort of historic firsts.

If Buttigieg is elected he would be the first openly gay president and of course, President Barack Obama being the first African-American president. And if you were listening very carefully, you may have heard similarities in tone and language between both Buttigieg and Obama. Take a listen.

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BUTTIGIEG: I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold, at age 37 to seek the highest office in the land. I recognize that there is a certain presumptuousness in this, a

certain audacity to this announcement. I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

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YURKEVICH: I spoke to a campaign official just a short time ago and he says it's not the worst thing for Buttigieg to be compared to President Obama. And no rest for Pete Buttigieg, he's hitting the road right away, heading to New York on Monday for a fund-raiser. And Fredricka, he's then off to Iowa and New Hampshire and of course, many more stops along the way as he tries to capitalize on this announcement here in South bend, Indiana. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right. Vaness Yurkevich, thank you so much in South Bend. Let's talk more about all this, joining me right now, our CNN political commentators, senior columnist at "The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis, Karen Finney, the former senior spokesperson on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" national political correspondent Jonathan Martin. Good to see all of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE/FEMALE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, so Jonathan, let me begin with you because Pete Buttigieg's, you know, official campaign launch was today. He was not veiled at all in targeting the president. I mean, I'm just going to quote you now a bit of what he said.

He says, you know, "I'm here to tell a different story than make America great again." And then he was critical of the notion of returning to bygone eras, never -- that were never that great to begin with. So, he is taking off the gloves and very clear about who his opponent is.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's obviously all up side in a Democratic primary to target President Trump. And if you're a 37-year-old mayor, there's even more up side in sort of casting it in generational terms like you just mentioned.

WHITFIELD: Yes, he did that too.

MARTIN: And so, look, kudos to the CNN production team because that similarity with the Obama kickoff in Springfield, Illinois in February of 2007 really does capture the, you know, almost intentional homage to the last Democratic president that he is trying to pull off here.

And there's one more similarity I should mention. And that is both of them in their campaigns sort of artfully alluded ideological positioning. Neither of them wanted to be sort of cast as a man of the left or as a sort of DLC style moderate.

They wanted to be something different. And I think that is the test that Mayor Pete is going to have here going-forward. Not just the questions about his fitness for the office, but what does he actually believe in and what does he want to do policy-wise.

WHITFIELD: And you know, Karen, I mean, it was pretty unmistakable, you know, that Pete Buttigieg, yes, he is his own guy, but yes, the similarities between he and kind of the cadence and vernacular similarities with Barack Obama was uncanny.

I mean, not that Barack Obama has complete ownership over the word audacity, but that came up a few times in Buttigieg. And then he also, you know, said change is coming and you could almost hear the voice of Barack Obama. So, was this intentional?

KAREN FINNEY: It sounded like it was. It sounded like he was, you know, sort of trying to be intentional without being intentional so that we would be having this very conversation. But I'll tell you what I also -- a couple other things about Mayor Pete that I think make him sort of an Obama-esque figure in this primary.

And one thing is that, you know, he's very surprising, right? He represents exactly how the process is supposed to work. We didn't know much about him not that long ago -- thanks to CNN. The CNN town hall clearly is the king maker, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

FINNEY: We know so much more about him, but so does America. And he, you know, he rose in the polls. He was able to raise money. And now he is considered, you know, someone who is very much the possibility of becoming, you know, a front-runner if not the nominee. And people are excited.

And I think that's part of what Obama brought to the race. It was something unexpected and it was exciting. And I think that's part of what he brings that's just a little bit different than some of the other candidates.

[17:20:02] That doesn't mean any of the others can't -- don't have excitement and won't, you know, bring something different. But again, we just -- we weren't expecting Mayor Pete to come out of nowhere and just come right to the front.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and voters want to be inspired, Matt, you know. A new Monmouth University poll shows Buttigieg is in third place among likely Iowa voters. He's a Christian, a war vet, a road scholar, an openly gay married mean, you know. What is the biggest threat, you know, that this Indiana mayor poses for the sitting president of the United States?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it's the clear contrast, just as Donald Trump was the opposite of Barack Obama. Pete Buttigieg is the opposite of Donald Trump and you go down the list, the road scholar, the military service and then the aid which you mentioned earlier, as a millennial and I think that's really important.

We have to imagine, any of these Democratic candidates standing on a debate stage and how do they hold their own against -- can they hold their own against Donald Trump. And I think someone like a Joe Biden, maybe he's wily enough and enough of a political veteran.

He could give it back the same way that Donald Trump dishes it out. But I think someone like a Pete Buttigieg can do it in a different way, kind of out cool Donald Trump, kind of out -- it would be about generational change and basically --

WHITFIELD: And he was affable.

LEWIS: Yes. It's a complete opposite and I think that is the -- he may be the biggest danger to Donald Trump actually because the contrast is so stark.

WHITFIELD: Let's turn now to the controversy that has been dogging freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The president retweeted, you know, that video of the Twin Towers and the congresswoman, you know, comments -- just last month in March and critics say, you know, the president's retweet actually may help incite violence. Listen to how some of the Democratic presidential candidates and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is actually addressing the issue.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Donald Trump is trying to incite violence and to divide us. And every political leader should speak out against that.

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D-TX): It makes her a target for extremists in this country at a time of rising Islamophobia.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): From what she said in her speech, she does not deserve the kind of vicious, hate-filled attacks that she's experiencing.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly the president is wishing no ill will and certainly not violence toward anyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So Jonathan, you know, where is the greatest risk, those such as the president and his camp who are being very critical openly about Omar or Democrats who are coming to her defense?

MARTIN: You know, I'm not sure that ultimately it will have that much impact as of right now politically down the road, an election that's a year and a half off, but certainly it does capture the sort of incendiary nature of this president's politics and the fact that he's willing to lob these personal attacks in a way that no other president of either party would do.

And of course, that provokes Democrats into defending her. The irony here politically, I was actually in Minnesota earlier this week, you talk to Democrats there and they actually think that she would have a real stiff primary challenge next year. But that may actually be abating now because the president has sort of singled her out, and it could be harder for Democrats to be hurt in a primary because doing so would basically make common cause with this president. WHITFIELD: And then Karen, what about the timing? I mean, this is

post, you know, death threats, you know, and threats continue against her in her office.

FINNEY: That's right and that's why I think so many Democrats spoke out very forcefully. For the president to take that extraordinary step where she is, you know, it distort what she actually said because it takes a portion of her quote not the whole context of what she said and cast her in a way that we have seen this president continuously scapegoat and feed into racism and bigotry and scapegoating Muslims and scapegoating, you know, people from Latin America and Mexico.

I mean, this is part of the tactic that we saw in 2020, I mean, I'm sorry in 2016 -- and make no mistake, it is going to be part of the president's tactic going into 2020 because he believes he can again, run on, you know, fear and division and, you know, build the wall.

And I think you have people like Ilhan Omar and I think you have people like a Pete Buttigieg who represent the way this country is changing and the future of this country and different voices in this country. And that is -- that frightens a lot of people and the president is going to continue to exploit that going into 2020.

WHITFIELD: Real quick, Matt Lewis, you can have the last word on that.

LEWIS: Look, Ilhan Omar is an adult. She's 40-years-old. We should quit infantilizing her. She is a member of Congress. She has said some highly controversial things over the years, things that I think are anti-Semitic and I just don't want to get into a position where criticizing her is tantamount to inciting violence.

[17:25:06] We should be allowed. People have said horrible things about Donald Trump. I don't think we should -- you say, you can't say that. Now, if someone attempts to assassinate our president it's your fault. I think that that's stifling debate. We should be encouraging political debate.

She says a lot of controversial stuff including this latest thing. Let's stand up and debate that instead of arguing over, is the response too harsh. It's never about what she says, it's always about the response.

WHITFIELD: And we'll leave there. Matt Lewis, Jonathan Martin, Karen Finney, we'll leave it there for now. You're going to be back. We'll talk some more. We've got lots to talk about on the table here.

In the meantime, a programming note, join us live from D.C. for two CNN presidential town halls. Marianne Williamson moderated by Dana Bash, next, and then Andrew Yang moderated by Ana Cabrera at 7:00. And we'll be right back.

[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, this time it's a newly announced presidential candidate, Congressman Eric Swalwell, who is holding a rally right now in the town where he went to high school, Dublin, California. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTTIAL CANDIDATE: -- we did not expect to see me here today. But I am reminded of some of the lessons that I have learned growing up here. And places just like here like Algona, Iowa, Newport, Oregon, and Pittsburg, California.

Pittsburg, California is where I had my first job, a paper route at the age of 9. Now, you can learn a lot about America riding your bicycle through towns like that at 6:00 in the morning. On my route, I saw big houses and I saw small ones. I saw houses with two new cars and I saw houses with none.

And I saw houses being built and houses with signs out front bearing a word that I didn't quite yet understand, foreclosure. I saw people coming home from the midnight shift just as I was starting my workday. And those are often the homes that I peddled my little bicycle past that couldn't afford to receive the newspaper at all.

But on their faces, I saw a lot of pride and I saw a lot of despair too. These folks were not quitting. They would never quit. They didn't know how to quit. But they were beginning to wonder, what had happened to the promise of the American dream.

Traveling our country for the last few months, going to town halls and coffee shops, school assemblies and college campuses and fish fries, I've been seeing the exact same thing, which is why I've come back here to Dublin, backed by my neighbors who have always been in my corner to declare my candidacy for president of the United States of America.

And I need you. I need you. I need you. I need you. Boy do I ever need you. And we need each other. Only in a country as generous as ours could a moment like this even be possible. I was born in Sac City, Iowa. My dad was a cop, my mom, she sold wedding cakes and hand made doll houses out of our garage.

And we had a large but probably unlicensed day care facility right there in the living room. They worked hard and they dreamed big in search of better jobs and better schools. They moved us all over. They moved me and my three younger brothers around a lot.

Before I was 12, we had lived in three states and eight different cities. I hated moving that much. Sometimes I would even take the newspapers from my route and I'd circle all the available homes of the real estate intersection and leave it right there on the breakfast table for my parents to see. They never got the hint.

By the time I had hit ninth grade, I had already gone to nine different schools. But I came to realize they were not punishing me by moving us around so much. Although anyone here today who knew me as a kid knows there are really good reasons at that time to punish me.

They were just chasing those better schools, those better jobs and a better for me and my little brothers. And I learned a lot along the way about hard work. After leaving the journalism business, that paper route, I was a baby-sitter. I was an assistant to a wedding D.J., a construction worker, a soccer referee and a baseball umpire.

Then I turned 16. After that I was a window frame sander and I folded sweaters at Aeropastale at the Stoneridge Mall. I was --

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I was just as bad folding clothes there as I was at home, so that job did not last too long. Doing all of these jobs, meeting all of those people, I saw a ton of struggle and I saw a lot of sacrifice.

[17:35:06] I saw firsthand how powerful but yet elusive the American dream could feel. Our pursuit of it finally landed us here in Dublin. To be fair, where we lived was not Mar-a-Lago. In fact, some of you may remember that people in the neighboring cities had a nickname for us, they called the "Scrublin."

But we lived right smack in the middle of the middle class. And it was (inaudible) those were during the good times. And I found people were just like my parents, they were made of grit, steel and determination. You see, Dublin represented for me the end of our nomadic search for posterity.

We put our roots down right here in Dublin. Dublin became my home. My parents dreams for me and the result of all that moving and sacrificing were realized when I earned a soccer scholarship to a college back in the south, making me the first person in my family to ever go on to college.

(APPLAUSE)

And I know so many of you fight for that too. And that was a privilege and a responsibility that I carried every single day. During college, I interned on Capitol Hill. In the morning, I worked my way through serving gym towels to members of Congress at the local gym, and burritos at night at a Mexican restaurant.

So every morning at 6:00 in the morning, towels to the members of Congress, at night, memorizing their faces so I could get better tips and serving them burritos. And after law school, I was at a crossroads. Stay back east or come back home to Dublin. And one of my high schoolteachers, Tim Sabrani (ph) told me I didn't have a choice.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, Tim. You see, Tim told me that our hometown was turning around with the right leaders, good things were ahead. And he wanted me to be a part of it. So I came back home and we all went to work. I spent my days inside Alameda County courtrooms as a deputy district attorney and my free time giving back to a city that gave so much to me and my parents.

I served on the arts commission, the planning commission, founded the Dublin high school alumni association, and was elected to the city counsel. And there on the city counsel I worked with people of all backgrounds, all across the political spectrum to achieve common goals.

And despite what was going on in Washington and still going on in Washington, here in Dublin, we always balance our budget.

(APPLAUSE)

And we should expect that in Washington too. But we always invested in the future. When I graduated from this campus in 1999, only about a third of its graduates went on to college. But together as a community, we voted to invest in a new school. This is not the Dublin high school that I graduated from.

Today, 20 years later after I left this place, 98 percent of the graduates will go on to college, 98 percent --

(APPLAUSE)

Working together in Dublin, we brought new employers, new investments and new hope to the community that we love. Hell, we even brought in a Whole Foods, which means now that my hometown has a market that I can barely afford to shop at. Which I guess is a sign that we've made it.

So I tell you here today, if those types of investments, if that type of belief, if our types of coming together can turn Dublin from going from "Scrublin" to the Dublin we know today, we can do that anywhere in America.

(APPLAUSE)

Now I know that the mountain I face is steep. You may have heard there are a few other Democrats interested in the job, most of them have more name recognition right now than I do, at least outside this city. That probably should discourage me, it may discourage you. It doesn't. I've got you. We've got each other, and we can do this.

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[17:39:59] And this will be a different kind of campaign. I'll be a different kind of candidate. I come from a generation that's used to starting from scratch and innovating. We begin with a great idea. We build it in our garage and we light up the world.

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So that's the plan. I am not wealthy, and I don't pick my friends by how much money they can put in my pockets. I'm not beholden -- this is not a campaign that will be beholden to special interests. We will accept no corporate PAC money and we're not going to be driven by the polls.

(APPLAUSE)

And I will address with your support the issues that matter to this country, honestly, apolitically, like the former prosecutor that I am. Starting with guns.

(APPLAUSE)

Representing you as prosecutor in our courtrooms, I learned a lot about law and order and mercy and the futility of trying to keep criminals from recidivism without providing them some kind of job training and addiction treatment.

But I also saw firsthand the ungodly and permanent damage reaped by weapons in the hands of irresponsible people. On one case that I prosecuted, I met a woman whose son who had been killed by a round from an AK-47. His name was Gary Jackson.

A gunman fired 40 times at Gary. Hit him just once in the back of his thigh. I can still hear his mom asking me in the witness waiting room, "isn't that where you'd want to be hit if you had to get shot?" Not with an assault weapon.

The autopsy the doctor testified that the sheer energy from one round was enough to kill him. Gun violence defined my first days in Congress. In 2013 I and 80 others were just emerging from our freshman class orientation when the news of the Sandy Hook massacre flattened us.

Just like you, I was horrified. I was horrified by the suffering and the loss and the beautiful babies who were taken and had their futures stolen from them and the communities. But I also thought, I am so glad to be here at the capitol to be a part of the first Congress to actually do something about these senseless slaughters.

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But I don't have to tell you this, Congress did nothing, just as we did nothing after Charleston, nothing after San Bernardino, Pulse, Vegas, nothing, nothing, nothing. Moments of silence when all our country needed were moments of action.

So when Parkland happened and they joined the far too long list of American towns and cities, devastated by a madman with unrestricted weaponry, I expected the same ritual to unfold, shock, anger, accusations and nothing happening in Washington.

Thoughts and prayers used as an alibi for inaction, but the students there and their families decided not to allow that. You decided not to allow that. They instead took a stand to lead. And they knew they would be attacked for it. They knew they would be exposing themselves to ridicule and hate, purely political targets in a different kind of crossfire. But they did the right thing anyway. You supported them, righteously, fearlessly --

(APPLAUSE)

With the nation behind them, they picked themselves up from unimaginable grief. They organized -- you organized, they marched, you marched on their town squares, on our town squares. We made our voices heard in campaigns that removed 17 NRA endorsed incumbents from office. We did that. We did that.

(APPLAUSE)

They reminded us that life itself means more than the bottom line of a gun and ammo manufacturer or the cynical politicians they support and control.

[17:45:09] A year ago hope died at Parkland. But in a uniquely American way, owing to the courage and strength of children, hope was reborn at Parkland. Hope has been reborn here in America too.

(APPLAUSE)

That's why I started my campaign at Parkland. I pledged to that community what I pledge to you. I will be the first campaign to make ending gun violence the top priority in my campaign. And I thank the Moms Demand Action leaders who are here and will help us do that.

(APPLAUSE)

And the students who are here with them. My wife Brittany and I have two children. Nelson's almost two years old, Cricket, she is about five months. My wife, she has a job that she loves and she excels at. It would be easy for us to wait for a better time to do this. It would be easy to wait for a better time to take on this fight.

But Brittany wants me to run, to win, to make a difference because like me, she wants to make sure that Nelson and Cricket can go to school, come back home again and again in safety and in peace.

(APPLAUSE)

In 2017, Republicans took control of the House, the Senate and the presidency. Sorry to remind you. The very first piece of legislation that they passed, the act that would tell the world these are the values we espouse above all others was a bill that made it easier for the mentally ill to purchase guns.

Yes, yes, that happened. They called it House Joint Resolution 40. But I know what you know. You're here for the same reason I'm here. We're in this together because we believe that every child has a right to learn without fear, that every parent --

(APPLAUSE)

That's right, every parent has a right to hug their beautiful little babies when they come home from school. And that all of us, we have a right to dance at a concert, laugh at the theater, pray after at a synagogue, at a church, and in a mosque. Our rights to live and to love each other, those rights are greater than any other right in the constitution period.

(APPLAUSE)

That's the greatest right. That's the greatest right, to live and to love. And you know what the greatest threat to the Second Amendment is? For us to keep doing nothing. That's the greatest threat to the Second Amendment, is to do nothing. Remember, no amendment protects an absolute right.

You have the right to free speech, but you can't shout fire in a crowded theater or lie about a product that you're selling. And although there is a right to bear arms, you cannot own a tank or a bazooka or a machine gun. Everyone agrees on that, left, right, and center.

But I think a few other limits make sense as well. I believe no one in America should be allowed to purchase a gun without first undergoing a violent history check.

(APPLAUSE)

So do 92 percent of Americans. Seventy-three percent of all NRA members do too because female victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to die if a gun is present. In Congress, I authored the No Guns for Abusers Act. It would let us do more to get guns out of the dangerous hands of domestic abusers.

And when I'm president, no American ever again will be able to own the kinds of assault weapons that only belong on battlefields.

(APPLAUSE)

[17:50:04] I'm the only candidate, the only candidate proposing that we ban and buy back every single assault weapon in America.

(APPLAUSE)

That's what I mean when I say go big. That's what I mean when I say be bold and that's what I mean when I say do good. Now, that's not a popular idea with every one. It's going to cost some money, but it will cost a lot less than loss to a grieving community. And no matter who attacks me or threatens me for proposing it. I'm not the going to back down because I've got you.

(APPLAUSE)

And you've got my back. And you've got my back.

(APPLAUSE)

So that's for my kids and that's for your kids too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

SWALWELL: Thank you. Your concern for them and for their future extends to other issues. The giant challenges facing our nation. And you have the right to ask me today how it's solved. On a paper route from a courthouse in Aakland out on the tour with Congressman Gallego, with our future forum colleagues, I have seen that the promise of America is not reaching all Americans.

Hard work has to add up to doing better and dreaming bigger to being a part of a country that rewards the simple dignity of hard work with things we can count and measure like homeownership, wages that allow you to save something. Health care that can meet your needs, enough freedom to take that long over due vacation and something to set aside for your golden years of retirement.

But it also means the things you can't quantify so easily. It should add up to those too. The things I'm not seeing across America no matter where I go or how hard I look. Peace, stability, security, comfort, joy and the pride that comes from knowing that you provided all of that. That promise is broken for too many of us today.

Now you hear the president will tell you the economy is roaring and you should be grateful for that. He'll tell you that the stock market is at an all time high and the GDP is growing. Heck, that may be the only time he's ever told two truths in a row.

(APPLAUSE)

But here's what I've learned from you. If only 50 percent of us are invested in the stock market, that's not the economy. The GDP, that's not the economy. The economy is you. Are you doing better? Saving more? Dreaming bigger? And you don't need a congressional report to tell you economic insecurity has become a chronic condition in our country. You just feel it.

Many of you know all too well that you're just one layoff or bad diagnosis away from financial catastrophe. And that tax cut you were promised here on the eve of tax day where 83 percent of the benefits went to 1 percent of the richest Americans.

I got to ask, how many of you woke up this morning and said to yourself, gosh, I wish we could just find a way in this country to help the wealthiest 1% of Americans? They're having such a hard time. We are living in an economy designed to help only those in the executive suites. Not those on the factory floors.

And we don't want and we don't need a top floor economy. I want the kind of prosperity that reaches all Americans who work hard on every floor. That's the promise of America.

(APPLAUSE)

So here's what I've learned, 80 percent of you are living paycheck to paycheck, 80 percent of us living paycheck to paycheck. That's untenable so let's start there. On taxes, I will end the corporate immunity for those companies sending jobs overseas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:54:59] WHITFIELD: Congressman Eric Swalwell making it official, returning to the city where he largely grew up in Dublin, California, making it official that too is in the race joining a very crowded Democratic field.

And also saying that, you know, one of his top priorities will be ending gun violence. And perhaps an ode to JFK, also saying that you have the power, has control of the outcome of your government and it begins with your vote. Back with me now are CNN political commentators, senior columnist at

"The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis and Karen Finney, former senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

Glad you could both be back with me. So quickly, let's try to wrap up what we heard from Eric Swalwell on a day where Pete Buttigieg also officially launched his candidacy on a weekend where Cory Booker also officially launching his campaign with a weekend rally.

Connecting with people, Karen, is super important for any candidate. How did he do?

FINNEY: He did a great job. I mean, who knew that a paper route could be a metaphor for, you know, a campaign. I mean, he did a lovely job. And I think this is something the people are looking for, right, is do you understand me and my life and the challenges I face.

And clearly, you know, that's what he was trying to do in talking about, you know, his paper route and his experiences throughout his career. And frankly, trying to distinguish himself by talking about being very aggressive about gun safety as a primary issue on his campaign.

And it's also an issue, I'll just mention, finally that, you know, that's an issue that actually we certainly saw this in the 2016 campaign. That resonates across racial lines, across, you know, parents care about that issue, across all parts of our country. So, it will be interesting to see him take that message out on the campaign trail.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and so Matt, he said he too was aspirational particularly after Newton, that as a member of Congress, you know, there would be something that would happen, but then he reminded, you know, after Newton, after Vegas, nothing, nothing happened, you know, taking some ownership, you know, of the lack of progress. Clever in your view?

LEWIS: Well, look, I felt like this was the poor man's Pete Buttigieg. I mean, his -- the hard scrabble, white privilege background of working a paper route, I don't know is going to stand up in this field. And I just wonder why he's running now. The one reason he may actually be running is he is championing this gun control argument.

And I don't think he can take it all the way, but maybe if he cares, he seems like he's passionate about it, and maybe that part of the reason that he's running here is just to elevate that issue and force the other candidates to have to actually grapple with doing something about gun violence.

WHITFIELD: Yes. He even admitted, you know, I'm quoting him now saying, "the mountain, you know, I face is steep" talking about this very crowded field, you know, of Democratic contenders. You know, Karen, every candidate at this point, 18, 19 and counting is always being asked that, you know. It's almost kind of re-explaining to people or explaining for the first time why are you in it. You have to really establish that in order to standout.

FINNEY: Sure. Absolutely. You've got to try to stand out either by, you know, a particular issue and in this case its gun safety or -- and you have to talk about your personal story. Look, at this point, I think what you're seeing is it is a race to get on those debate stages in June and July.

I know we have got our CNN debate in July, so that you have your opportunity on the national stage to, you know, see -- for Americans can see how you stack up against the others and see if you can have a moment like Pete Buttigieg has had in the last couple of months and maybe, you know, catch fire.

WHITFIELD: Well, this was quite the weekend, Matt. I mean, Cory Booker, he is a name, but he too is taking the approach of, you know, just in case you don't know who I am and what I've done for this city at an executive office, you know. Let me re-introduce myself. And Eric Swalwell really took a very similar approach as did Pete Buttigieg.

LEWIS: Yes, that's right. I mean, it's amazing, the candidates. It's like a million flowers bloom here, right. We don't know what -- who is going to be the person, and I would say a few years ago, you might have thought that Cory Booker would be the rising star and the one to watch. And here today, I think he's really over shadowed. I think clearly Pete Buttigieg isn't just having a moment. This is not 15 minutes. It's going on several hours.

WHITFIELD: All right. An extraordinary race in the making. Matt Lewis, Karen Finney, good to see both of you. Thank you so much and thanks to you every one being for with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The presidential town hall with author and activist Marianne Williamson followed by Andrew Yang, starting right now.

[17:59:00]