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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Biden's Challenges?; Jared Kushner to Head Immigration Reform?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think that it's only natural that he's not going to maintain that front-runner status, as we're going to see ups and downs throughout the course of this race over the next nine months, before the first votes are cast.

What does he need to do? He needs to demonstrate broad support. He needs to put out his vision for where he wants to take the country. From what we know of things that have been reported over the last couple of days, he's going to talk about restoring the integrity of the White House, the integrity of this country.

And I think that stark contrast between Joe Biden, uncle Joe from Scranton, Pennsylvania, vs. Donald Trump will be something that voters are going to respond to.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Except he won't be voting -- he won't be running against Donald Trump to begin with. He's going to be running against a very crowded field, 19 others.

And the Democratic base is very different now than it was in 1987, when he ran and then dropped out, and, in 2008, when he ran and dropped out after Iowa. He got about 1 percent in the Iowa polls.

So, is -- but I guess the question is, is this Democratic base better for Biden or worse for Biden? It seems like on its face it might be worse.

TIFFANY CROSS, THE BEAT D.C.: Yes, I think he's going to face some challenges.

And I would respectfully question, is he the front-runner? I know polling suggests that. But the polling is predominantly coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire. These are two states that are 93 and 91 percent white, respectively, I believe.

I would be curious how he does when the race heads to like Nevada and South Carolina, where you have larger parties of people of color. And, you know, I have said this before. I think that today's electorate may be a bit more woke than they are nostalgic.

I know there's this desire to bring some sense of normalcy back to the White House, but I do think he's going to have a long legislative record to account for, when you get to the Anita Hill stuff and the crime bill, et cetera.

And I think a lot of people are going to have some questions for him about that. So we will have to see how he handles that. And I think, among the diverse candidates, everybody's up for grabs, because the way the primaries are set up this year, it's not necessarily how the masses view him.

It's how he's viewed in California, how he's viewed in some of the early primary states. So we will have to see.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what's very different about this race is how nationalized it is early on.

And so when I look at the Democratic field, there's a lot of talk of lanes. And I just don't necessarily buy into that. I am looking at three criteria when it comes to taking on Donald Trump. Number one, who is the best on television? Because it will matter. This will be a very media-focused election, just because Donald Trump controls that terrain.

TAPPER: Yes.

CARPENTER: Number two, who truly captures the attention of the grassroots? Because that does matter in terms of generating enthusiasm.

And then, lastly, who has the right confidence and mentality to be on that debate stage with Trump, and not get knocked off their game? Because that's a very difficult thing to do. And so when you look at that criteria, I think it winnows away very quickly, and the people who are the front-runners now don't necessarily meet that standard.

TAPPER: Obviously, Antonia, you disagree with Joe Biden on a lot of things, but Joe Biden, during the Obama years -- you used to work for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: Yes.

TAPPER: During the Obama years, it was Biden and McConnell who cut the deals quite often.

FERRIER: That's right. I'm not sure that helps Joe Biden, but, yes, indeed. And they had a very good working relationship.

One of the last things we did before the Obama administration left the White House was, we renamed the cancer moon shot after Beau Biden. So this is legislating. Legislating is a messy business. I'm not sure that Democratic primary voters appreciate the need for that, and that it required -- what it requires.

Senator McConnell is not running for president. He never has and he never will. It's a different thing when you are running for president. Having said all that, I do think Joe Biden has something, though. I mean, look, I'm never going to vote for Joe Biden, but he's got something. He's very personable with people. And so all -- I agree with everything everyone's saying here, but he's got that touch with people. And I know he got lambasted. And I don't want to disrespect any of those women who felt offended by what the vice president did.

But I will tell you, I was -- I had come off a bout of cancer. And when we renamed that bill after his son, he gave me a hug. And I was thankful, so that personal...

TAPPER: He definitely has a personal touch.

FERRIER: It is. And it matters.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I want to just ask you one quick question.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg compared Senator Bernie Sanders, who's running against, to President Trump because they both wanted to -- quote -- "blow up the system."

Buttigieg then talked to "The New York Times." Listen to this -- quote -- "Mr. Buttigieg said Mr. Sanders' left-wing proposals were no longer as provocative as in 2016.

Quote: "People were refreshed by the novelty of that boldness and expressed a skepticism that a self-described Democratic socialist in his late 70s could win a general election."

We should point out that Buttigieg early on, when he was like in high school, won a profiles in courage writing contest for writing about how much he admired then Congressman Bernie Sanders.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But is it smart for him to pick a fight with Bernie Sanders like that?

CROSS: No.

I think Mayor Pete Buttigieg has enough problems in his own backyard that he might want to address before swiping at some of his fellow contenders. But I do -- I think there is some similarities between Sanders supporters and some of the Trump supporters, that people who support Sanders are with him blindly.

[16:35:01]

They support him no matter what. They are die-hard fans of his. Mayor Pete is trying to tap into some of that. And I think he's running a very dangerous campaign when he tries to walk the middle of the road and appeal to some of these Trump supporters, because when you walk the middle of the road, you end up as roadkill.

And that's not going to work with this Democratic electorate.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

It appears President Trump has a two-word solution to changing immigration laws: Jared Kushner. What we're learning about his son- in-law's immigration plan next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our national lead, Jared Kushner, the man working on peace in the Middle East, negotiations with China, negotiations with Mexico, criminal justice reform, is now also leading the charge on U.S. immigration policies, tapped to do so by President Trump.

[16:40:08]

Kushner says he will present his new plan to President Trump by next week. And a senior administration official tells me that the plan consists of two parts border security, the wall and ports of entry, and legal immigration, including stopping people from gaming the system.

Let's bring in CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

And, Jessica, sources tell CNN that the White House is also still considering separately family separations?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Jake.

So a senior White House official telling our Jim Acosta that the president is receptive to family separations of some kind, though we should point out that both he and the vice president did say they would not return to family separations when they were asked earlier this month.

But we are told the top adviser and immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller is the one in the White House driving those discussions about renewing that policy that would result in family separations. But, of course, that seems to fly in the face of what acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and is stressing in multiple interviews.

McAleenan says that family separations in the future are totally off the table, especially since he believes the chaos and confusion that resulted from that practice last summer eroded public trust in law enforcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MCALEENAN, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Prosecuting violations of law does have a consequence and it does deter behavior.

But it did not work if you lose the public trust. If you can't maintain an initiative from an enforcement perspective, it's not worth it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: And McAleenan should know. He has firsthand knowledge, since before he stepped into that top role at DHS, he was commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

And the numbers coming from the border are record-breaking. More than 100,000 migrants crossed the border last month in March. That includes migrants presenting themselves at ports of entry legally, plus those crossing illegally.

Now, that is the largest number in a single month in 10 years. And, of course, a senior administration official confirming to CNN that Jared Kushner wants to keep immigration levels the same, with a goal of bringing in more high-skilled workers. That's at least on the legal immigration side of things -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's dive into this.

And, Antonia, when it comes to family separations, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, acting secretary, had more to say. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCALEENAN: I think the press has been clear that family separation is not on the table. And, again, this was a zero tolerance prosecution initiative that was targeted at adults violating the law.

It did have the impact of several -- 2,000-plus families being separated during that prosecution. They were always intended to be reunited.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Sources are telling Jim Acosta that it's still on the table. Stephen Miller is still pushing it. President Trump, his mind is open to it.

And, as we know, the president a few weeks ago, I reported, was talking about not just bringing it back, but expanding it, so that families in the country illegally who were caught in Saint Louis would have their kids taken away from them, et cetera.

FERRIER: I would say it's a bad idea. I think there are people in the White House who tend to use the press sometimes to forward their own agendas. And that might be what we're seeing here.

I'm going to, this instance, hopefully take the president's word that he's not going to do this. It's bad for the country, and they need to stop. Furthermore, they should also -- if they want to address the problem here, they should stop taking away the money from the Northern Triangle countries, keep the investments down there, try and create jobs and opportunity down in those three Central American countries, so there isn't as much of a draw for people down there to want to move and emigrate to the United States.

Stop the incentive to leave and stop this bad family separation policy.

TAPPER: So let's talk about the Kushner plan. He's trying to put it together. A senior administration official tells me Kushner is focused on trying to create a policy in itself that's defensible, not just a starting-off point or a mishmash of compromises.

To do that, he's reached out to lawyers, career professionals, including some at Customs and Border Protection, and even some Democrats. He wants to form this free of politics as much as possible.

What do you think?

CUTTER: Well, I mean, I'm not sure, with that proposal, where letting skilled workers in, but cutting back on family visas, is really going to appeal to anybody.

Certainly not going to appeal to Democrats in Congress. If they're serious about working on immigration, then they should be working with the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to put a package together, and not have Jared Kushner back at the White House putting together some secret deal.

I don't think anybody's going to take it seriously. I don't think they're going to take it seriously because they also know that Donald Trump wants this issue for 2020, the immigration issue, whether it's the wall, or the border, or criminals...

(CROSSTALK)

FERRIER: The big caravan.

CUTTER: The caravan heading towards the U.S. border.

This is a key part of how he rallies his base. He needs it for 2020. Because of that, I don't think anybody's going to take this seriously.

CARPENTER: But I will say, in terms of 2020, Donald Trump has a big problem.

[16:45:00] He campaigned on this as a signature issue in 2016 and he hasn't solved the problem.

CUTTER: He's made it worst.

CARPENTER: And so when I see what Jared Kushner is starting to put out, I just see a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, about humanitarian values, and we're going to keep the numbers neutral. There is one deal that the Trump base will accept and that is secure the border. We can talk amnesty, we can talk visas later, secure the border first. That has been the deal from conservatives for years and years and years.

Until they can get their head wrapped around that, this is doomed to fail again. And moreover going into another round of this, the immigration problem has transformed from people coming over the border single males to seek work to families seeking asylum.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes.

CARPENTER: They need to right -- get that figured out.

TIFFANY CROSS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think securing the border is certainly an issue but I really don't think that's the issue with Trump's base. I mean, especially when you have like Congressman Will Hurd who's saying this is not an issue for us, I think this base -- this is an issue because these are not white babies being separated from their families and his base taps into that.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. We got to talk about. President Trump walked out on Kim Jong-un but Russia broke out the brass band for the North Korean dictator who's already done something few people expected. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD," don't you hate how it feels when your friends are hanging out without you? Well, President Trump is the one left out right now. His two world leaders whose friendships he has cultivated. Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin are meeting soon in Russia with Putin flying overnight just to meet with Kim. And the North Korean leader says he's dreamed of visiting Russia. CNN's Matthew Chance has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: After a lengthy armored train ride from Pyongyang, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un today made his entrance into Russia, greeted with a traditional offering of bread and salt, and honored by members of the Russian military. It's the young dictators first visit to Russia and the timing is key.

Less than two months at the failed nuclear negotiations with Donald Trump in Vietnam, Kim is welcoming the spotlight with Vladimir Putin. He even stops to speak with Russian state television.

KIM JONG-UN, LEADER, NORTH KOREA (through translator): I came to Russia with the warm feelings of our people. I hope that this visit will be successful and useful, and that during the negotiations with esteemed President Putin I will be able to specifically discuss issues of resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

CHANCE: The Kremlin says talks about North Korea's nuclear program are scheduled for Thursday but the rest of Kim's plans with Putin remain shrouded in secrecy.

This is an important visit for Kim Jong-un because he wants to show that he has you know, basically, he's not isolated internationally, that he has powerful allies, not just China but now Russian support as well. And he wants to send that message very much to the U.S. president.

The trip comes as Washington and Pyongyang are at an impasse. Kim unwilling to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief from the United States. Now he may be hoping for support in pressuring the White House from someone proven to get Trump's attention.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Well, the main event is going to take place here in Vladivostok late today, those face-to-face meetings between President Putin and Kim Jong-un. But there's no joint statement plan, not even a joint news conference and so expectations, Jake, are very low about the outcome. Back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance live for us in Russia, thank you so much. Changing strategy, a new target for law enforcement now zeroing in on these guys as if they're drug dealers on the street. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. President Trump today touting his administration's progress combating the opioid crisis in the United States. And for the first time, we're seeing law enforcement in the U.S. target big pharma the way it would drug dealers on the street, hauling off one distributor in handcuffs and charging the owners of another pharma giant. As CNN's Jean Casarez now reports, the cases marked a major shift in strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A crisis that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and frustrated families for years now prompting federal prosecutors to do something they have never done before.

GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SDNY: This prosecution is the first of its kind. It is the first time executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking.

CASAREZ: In an effort to curb the opioid crisis, the Southern District of New York on Tuesday filing criminal charges against pharmaceutical distributor Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc. and two former executives for illegal distribution of controlled substances.

BERMAN: Our office will do everything in its power to bring to justice anyone responsible for unlawfully fueling this opioid epidemic.

CASAREZ: Federal prosecutors say for five years the company RDC knowingly and intentionally distributed opioids to pharmacies knowing those highly addictive drugs were being sold and used illicitly. The company says they "made mistakes and will pay a $20 million fine. In a statement, RDC says it understands that these mistakes directed by former management have serious consequences.

The former CEO, 75-year-old Laurence Doud is facing life in prison. His attorney issuing this denial. Mr. Doud is being framed in no uncertain terms. The government has it all wrong and is being used by others to cover up their wrongdoing. The President and First Lady today in Atlanta focused on the opioid crisis.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are holding big pharma accountable. They should be accountable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CASAREZ: And all of this is happening in New York while the Connecticut Attorney General is amending a civil action against the pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma saying that they secretly hid their profits and actually told doctors to up the amount of pain medication that they were giving to patients saying that aggressive approach was better while all the time knowing that it was causing overdose and deaths. Purdue Pharma is responding by saying they will vigorously address these allegations.

TAPPER: All right Jean Casarez, thank you so much. I appreciate that report. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.