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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Joe Biden Officially Enters 2020 Presidential Race; Biden Focusing Messaging on President Trump; Campaign Office in Philadelphia. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 25, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Nima, thank you so much for that reporting.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: This announcement really is a BFD. THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today, the worst-kept secret in American politics is out and Joe Biden is in. And he's making a beeline right to the fight with President Trump.

Build that stone wall. One top Democrat, now saying President Trump is pushing the House towards impeachment as the president continues to turn down House Democrats' requests at every turn.

Plus North Korea has the gall to send a $2 million medical bill to the United States for the American kid that they tortured to death. How the Trump administration is responding today.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We begin with "The 2020 Lead" and from the first words -- literally -- literally, the first words of his campaign, Joe Biden, taking aim at President Trump. The former vice president finally announcing his third bid for the Oval Office this morning.

This time, Biden enters the race stronger than ever before, but also facing the most diverse and crowded Democratic field in modern history, with 19 other Democrats and a Democratic base that has moved to Mr. Biden's left.

Biden first making his campaign stop this afternoon in his home state of Delaware, and weighing in on his status as an early frontrunner in the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I tell you what. The issue's going to be, who -- not only who can win this, but who's the best person to lead the country. And that's what it's going to be all about. And it's going to be for the voters to decide that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: As CNN's Jessica Dean now reports, the former vice president has already picked up a number of endorsements, but there is one endorsement he claims he will not be asking for.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BIDEN: Everybody knows Donald Trump.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Officially a presidential candidate, Joe Biden came out swinging today, going right after President Donald Trump.

BIDEN: Very fine people on both sides --

DEAN (voice-over): In his video announcement, Biden, focusing on Trump's response to the 2017 deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia between white nationalists and counter-protestors.

BIDEN: In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I'd ever seen in my lifetime.

DEAN (voice-over): Biden also framed the 2020 race as a battle for the soul of the nation.

BIDEN: If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.

DEAN (voice-over): Biden faces a few potential headwinds including his age, possibly becoming the oldest president ever elected, and his centrist politics. And in a historically diverse and crowded field that's becoming more progressive.

BIDEN: Not only who can win this, but who's the best person to lead the country. And that's what it's going to be all about. And it's going to be for the voters to decide that.

DEAN (voice-over): In a cycle were small-dollar online donations are in and big fundraisers out for Democrats, one of Biden's first stops will be a Philadelphia fundraiser where event organizers hope to raise $500,000.

SEN BOB CASEY (D-PA): I have confidence in his leadership. And I've known him quite a while.

DEAN (voice-over): The former vice president begins his campaign with a number of endorsements including Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware and Doug Jones of Alabama.

President Obama, who has said he has no plans to endorse anyone right now, did praise Biden through a spokesperson who said, quote, "President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made."

BIDEN: I asked President Obama not to endorse. And he doesn't want to -- this -- we should -- whoever wins this nomination, should win it on their own merits.

DEAN (voice-over): Another president also weighed in: President Trump, writing about the race in a tweet. Quote, "It will be nasty -- you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick and demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the starting gate."

TEXT: Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty -- you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN: Biden's first big event will be Monday in Pittsburgh. He's also planning stops in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, along with visits to South Carolina, Nevada and California. All of it leading up to a big rally in Philadelphia scheduled for May 18th.

And along the way, we're expecting to hear more about his plans to rebuild the middle class and bridge the divides he believes are tearing the country apart -- Jake.

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

So former president -- former Vice President Joe Biden, acting as if the general election is on, basically, focusing all his energy and momentum on President Trump. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:05:00] TAPPER: What do you think of the strategy?

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: I don't love it. Listen, it was a well-done video. But I will always disagree from a communications perspective, of making the opening argument for your candidacy or key theme based on someone else.

This video was not about Joe Biden. It was about reacting to Donald Trump. And also, I think they're overthinking the problems they have with the black community a little bit.

The decision to start that ad with Charlottesville, Virginia? I was taken aback. "Wow, you're going to go there right here, right now?" I think that there's time to do that later. I think it would be great for someone to do a speech there, a symposium, something. But to make that your opening phrase, just sits --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: -- funny with me.

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR SPOKESWOMAN FOR HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: I didn't perceive the Charlottesville piece to be just about race, though, on this. It was about character. And to my mind, what Biden is going -- is trying to do is say, "Let's make 2020 about character."

We know that there are going to be ongoing investigations. This is what the Republicans did in 2000 in the aftermath of Bill Clinton's impeachment, right? Remember, they made it all about family values. And Democrats have really shrunk away from that argument for a really long time.

So it seemed to me, what he was trying to do is obviously, you know, put out some messages that say, "I hear you. I get it. I understand." Like the line about Jefferson, that's very much for the African-American community, I think. But also, like, "Let's make this about something bigger. Let's make this about who has the character to be president."

TAPPER: You have said that Joe Biden is the strongest potential threat to President Trump. What did you make of the announcement?

DAVID URBAN, ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER, TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT 2020, CNN ANALYST: Look, so I understand they'd taped two openings. And this one is -- one made it, the other one didn't test so well. So I'm not quite sure if this is the one that, you know, they taped originally and didn't test well, or how it all came out.

Look, I think I agree with Amanda. I think, you know, "Tell us why you should be president. Tell us why you should win (ph) -- why you should be the winner here at the end of this race." And I think Democrats face a big challenge here, on pragmatism with Joe Biden versus purity.

They're going to have a decision to make. "Do we want someone that can beat the president at the end of the day? Or do we want someone who is pure on legalization of marijuana, on Medicare for all, on Green New Deal" and all these things that are going to push Biden to a place where he's not very comfortable.

I mean, Biden, if you look at his voting record, was probably the most centrist to right-of-center Democrats his entire career, right? I mean, if you look at the numbers, look at all the scores, the voting scores year-in and year-out, he's a very conservative Democrat. Not where the party is today.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, he's a conservative Democrat today. I mean, like, 20 (ph) years ago --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: -- he was a moderate Democrat --

URBAN: No, no. But -- but even though --

TAPPER: The party's moved to the left -- (CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Right. It's moved to the left. But so -- so purity versus pragmatism.

TAPPER: I hear you.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think that's not where Twitter is today.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: And that's not sometimes where cable chatter is today. But actually where the party is today, you should look at the 2018 elections and see what kind of candidates won and helped win back the House for the Democrats.

And what I think Joe Biden is betting on is that there is an opening in the race for somebody who is as welcomed in Alabama as they are in New Jersey.

URBAN: Right.

PSAKI: He was in demand in the 2018 election.

TAPPER: Doug Jones, the senator from Alabama, would love to have him on the top of the ticket.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: Certainly he would. There are others who would as well. And he's betting -- and we'll see if this bet pays off -- that empathy and decency are going to break through some of these issues.

But I will say, as more and more candidates get into the race, more of them are moving away from Medicare for all and the Green New Deal. Bernie is still leading. These are still real issues in the primary, no doubt. But there is more of an evening out in the issues and the policy (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN (?): I was going to say --

TAPPER: Let me just say, to your point, candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Bernie Sanders have explicitly warned Democrats it could (INAUDIBLE) too much if they focus too much on President Trump.

But in CNN's poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters from last month, 56 percent said it was more important that a candidate can beat Trump as opposed to the purity angle you're talking about, a candidate who shares their values.

URBAN: And I'd just say, let's see the fundraising numbers bear out because those are investors, right? So David Cohen is hosting a big event for the vice president at his house --

TAPPER: We (ph) have to stop talking like it's just two guys from Pennsylvania.

(LAUGHTER)

David Cohen, former chief of staff to Ed Rendell --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: -- lives in Philadelphia. Yes. We know who he is.

URBAN: -- is hosting a fundraiser. Look, you asked me before. Why do I think he's important, right? Joe Biden is running as if he's from Pennsylvania, right? Joe Biden left Pennsylvania in 1952. It was the last time he lived --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER (?): -- Delaware --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER (?): -- Pennsylvania --

FINNEY: Pennsylvania still claims him, though. Come on.

URBAN: So he is doing an event in Philadelphia, an event --

TAPPER: His headquarters are in Philadelphia.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Right? So he's obviously placing some importance -- so he's obviously placing some importance. Do you ask me why?

TAPPER: Yes.

URBAN: Because there's 80, 90,000 votes that separate the president from not being president. And they're in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And Joe Biden, I think, speaks to that a lot (ph).

PSAKI: Jake (ph) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

PSAKI: I was just going to say. On the electable question, though. I think that's pretty misleading in polls. Because who -- what do we even know what electable means --

URBAN (?): Right.

PSAKI: -- I think for Joe Biden, I just want to go back to Amanda's point, which I think is an important one. The video, I think, cannot be the totality of his rollout and I don't think it is the totality.

TAPPER: He's going on "The View" tomorrow.

PSAKI: Yes. And he's going to --

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Well, I'm just saying. That's what I know.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: He's going to be doing a lot of campaign events.

TAPPER: Yes.

PSAKI: An important part of what we need to hear is who Joe Biden is, why he's running, his personal story. I think we will hear that. That video was lacking that. And I think it's important that he does that and introduces his own history.

[16:10:05] TAPPER: So, Amanda, I think the counterargument would be from a Biden person, "People know who he is." You know? He was --

CARPENTER: Yes.

TAPPER: -- the vice president for eight years. He's been in politics literally since 1972, he's been a national political figure. People have an idea of who he is. That's older --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: -- he's been in office longer than you've been alive.

CARPENTER: Yes. That -- he has a 40-year record. Here's the problem. He has to get out of the Democratic primary to face President Trump and he hasn't done the town halls. He hasn't taken the questions about, you know, marijuana, Medicare for all. Should felons vote. The Green New Deal. How do you pay for all these things.

And I don't know how he's going to handle that. He's very personable --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: -- he's quick on his feet. But he hasn't been pinned down on that, or the questions about the crime bill that people are going to bring up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.

TAPPER: So we're going to keep talking about this in the next panel, so stick around. Before Biden can take on President Trump, he's going to need to get past Democrats in his own party. How are they going after the former V.P. trying to steal their spotlight?

Plus a major U.S. city consumed by scandal. The investigation over children's books that could take the mayor down. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this about your view that there are not -- the other 20 or so Democrats in the race don't have what it takes to beat Donald Trump?

BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no, no. It's about -- it's about what I told you, I think, a long time ago. That it's a long, long campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:14:57] TAPPER: Former Vice President Joe Biden, joining the very crowded Democratic field this morning, explaining his delay in announcing is not because he doesn't think any of the other 19 rivals can beat President Trump, but because he wanted to do it on his own timetable.

[16:15:11] Karen Finney, the latest polling shows Biden is in second place behind Bernie Sanders and just ahead of Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire. And in Iowa, he's at the top, with Sanders and Buttigieg running behind him.

I know it's early but the state-by-state races are important. What do you think? You feel bullish on Biden? You think he can do it?

FINNEY: I think we're going to see. I mean, certainly, I thought the roll-out today -- I really felt like this is the start of a roll-out based on the fact they announced a schedule of a roll-out and it's probably a roll-out that started a month ago or so, right? But I think it will -- to what Amanda was saying, though, I think you're right that people feel like they know a lot about Biden, and it's going to be up to Biden to demonstrate as he continues this roll-out to make sure he's speaking to those things people think they know about him, and how does he do in those one on one sessions.

And again, I think it's when -- I've said this before. I think this is where the debates are going to be so important because it's also going to be for the other candidates on the stage to -- there's going to be a stature gap, right, just naturally as a former vice president.

TAPPER: Right.

FINNEY: How are you, as the other candidates, going to handle that and his level of experience? But also, does he recognize that he's going to be accountable for the unfinished business of the Obama presidency, as well as his own record from his time in the Senate.

URBAN: So, yes, and I'd also say, look, the president is right about one thing. Joe Biden has never cracked 1 percent when he ran for president before, right?

So, he's not traditionally a great presidential candidate. He's not done well either time. He really hasn't gotten any traction. You know, this time is yet to be seen how it's going to play out. I think today may be the high water mark.

TAPPER: We'll see.

URBAN: Mayor Pete is, again, he's occupying that same lane as moderate new outsiders. He's going to Hollywood, raising a lot of money from big names in Hollywood. And people, those folks know Joe Biden as well.

TAPPER: Yes, and, Jen Psaki, here's a look at the some of early pushback Biden is facing. The Justice Democrats, that's a progressive group that helped launch Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, they tweeted, quote, Joe Biden is out of touch with the center of energy in the Democratic Party today, and highlighting his past positions such as supporting the Iraq war, which he did, though he said it later he regretted, being against school desegregation.

For the record, he was not against school desegregation. He was against busing which was to achieve school desegregation. But, you know, this is what he faces. The left does not like him.

PSAKI: That's true. And I think this was a topic of many, many conference calls between Joe Biden and his team before he decided to run. So, when you think about the delay, I think part of that was also about what this is going to be like, and running as the front- runner, which he has never been before.

And even though he was vice president, typically, the vice president is not attacked on a daily basis. So, this is going to be a whole new adventure for Joe Biden. What he is betting on is that he's a great campaigner. He's a great retail campaigner. He's great one on one with people.

Yes, he's going to have to address these tough questions. That is going to be the most difficult part for him over the next couple of months, but he's also going to be introducing his own story to the public. And that could be very compelling as well.

CARPENTER: On those Justice Democrat issues, Joe Biden's problem isn't just the left. It's the right. The right is going to meddle in this Democratic primary probably like we've never seen before.

Rush Limbaugh had a line today which I think was provocative and probably on the mark. That if you look at Joe Biden's record, if he were a statue, the Justice Democrats would probably tear it down.

So, you're going to have the left making these arguments about segregation, about women, about the crime bill, but also the people on the right who are mocking it. So, it's going to be a furious two- pronged attack, and it's going to be very hard for Joe Biden to handle.

URBAN: And he's been a terrible fund-raiser. He's not been a good fund-raiser. You see with Bernie, 900,000 people that can give or and over and over. That's going to be a challenge.

FINNEY: But again, let's be careful with Bernie. I mean, Bernie had a bad day yesterday at the She the People event in a roomful of black women. A whole roomful of women groan because you're talking about your civil rights work in the '60s, right?

And so, to your point, Amanda, you know, and to your -- Joe Biden can talk about, yes, that was my record then but here's what I've done since then. So, it's not just going to be answering for it in the past but he actually has something to talk about, a record to talk about of things he's done for communities of color, for all these different parts of the party.

TAPPER: Yes, I just want to say one thing, because you just talked about the fund-raising idea, David. Biden was on a conference call earlier this week. According to "Politico", he said that fund-raising in the first 24 hours would be key. In the first 24 hours, we should remember, Beto O'Rourke raised $6.1 million, that does include general election fund as well. Bernie Sanders raised $5.9 million, Kamala Harris raised $1.5 million.

[16:20:00] Biden himself has now set himself up. I wasn't even thinking about it. But Biden --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: What if he's number three?

TAPPER: What if he's number five?

PSAKI: Well, I think what he's doing, he knows. They have not kind of built and sowed the seeds of their email list over the past years.

TAPPER: So, he knows how much he's going to --

PSAKI: I don't think he knows how much he's going to raise but he knows this is an area he needs to build. And if people are excited in the first 24 hours, that's where he needs them to give.

He's putting urgency out there because he needs people to donate online. He has a lot of high-dollar donors as we've seen with some fund-raisers and people who feel comfortable with him, have loyalty with him from the Obama years, but he needs to build that list and that's a place he's going to be behind the others from the start.

I mean, Beto O'Rourke had built it over time in Texas, right? Bernie Sanders had done an excellent job of keeping that list engaged. That's a place where Biden is behind. He's got to have to catch up.

FINNEY: It's also going to be a place where, again, that tension between who can inspire us and who can beat Trump as we go through the primary. The farther we go, the more people think this is the person who can beat Trump. That's the person who's going to get the money.

TAPPER: Speaking of Joe Biden's past, this just in: Anita Hill in "The New York Times" talking about former Vice President Joe Biden who called her earlier this month, we're told, over her testimony against Justice Clarence Thomas. Biden was the Judiciary Committee chairman at the time. Hill said, quote: I can't be satisfied by simply saying I'm sorry for what happened to you. I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose. She said she cannot support Biden and his presidential run unless he takes responsibility.

Coming up, President Trump ignoring his aides and attacking the Mueller report, this time implying one of his former top officials is a liar.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:21] TAPPER: The politics lead, President Trump insinuating his former White House counsel is a liar. Tweeting, quote, I never told then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so.

On the one hand, we have the president's denial. But on the other hand, McGahn testified under oath to Mueller who has sent people to jail for lying to him. McGahn had contemporaneous notes and told his personal lawyer and chief of staff at the time about the instructions from the president. So, who do you believe?

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, the White House is even promising to fight a House Judiciary subpoena of McGahn, along with apparently every other subpoena.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump contradicting the special counsel today, now claiming he never told former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller tweeting, if I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn't need McGahn to do it. Mueller was not fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work.

But that's not what the Mueller report says. Instead, citing testimony and evidence, the investigation found Trump sought to have the special counsel removed and engaged in efforts to curtail the investigation and prevent the disclosure of evidence to it.

Trump claimed Mueller was allowed to respectfully finish his work, even though he attacked him repeatedly.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that he's conflicted, and I know that his best friend is Comey, who is a bad cop. Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted.

COLLINS: Sources say the president's allies have urged him to declare victory and move on. But he's gearing up for a fight rather than settling down.

TRUMP: I say it's enough.

COLLINS: Now combining his frustration over Mueller and his power struggle with House Democrats.

TRUMP: We're fighting all the subpoenas.

COLLINS: Democrats say the Trump administration is taking stonewalling to another level, resisting subpoenas for testimony from current and former administration officials, missing two deadlines to hand over the president's tax returns, attempting to stop Don McGahn from testifying, and now rejecting Democrats' calls for senior policy adviser Steven Mueller to come before Congress.

The defiance from the White House leading Democrats to believe their best chance at success is in the courts.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Our ability to collect evidence, to hear testimony under oath is central to our oversight function and to holding the administration accountable, no matter how much the president tries to stop it. We will prevail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, the White House is making clear to House Democrats they can either have their subpoenas ignored or take them to court. The White House says those court battles could take a long time. They could drag out past the election which seems to be a factor that they are banking on -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

David Urban, we're doing this segment right now because President Trump keeps going on Twitter and railing against Robert Mueller and even against his own former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Any strategy to this?

URBAN: So I really like to talk about this segment about the strong numbers in Pennsylvania in March. He had -- historic -- in Pennsylvania, the lowest unemployment rate in the history of Pennsylvania.

TAPPER: We can talk about opioids.

URBAN: Lots of things we're doing.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But the president would like us to talk about Don McGahn and Robert Mueller.

CARPENTER: I think there's some strategy involved.

TAPPER: You do?

CARPENTER: Yes.

The Mueller report, the biggest case against Donald Trump rests on obstruction. And Don McGahn would be a key witness at that. So, he's going right at Don McGahn, trying to cast seeds of doubt over what McGahn told Robert Mueller.

And there's maybe a tiny bit of wiggle room. If you read the report, Don McGahn essentially says that Trump asked him to call Rod Rosenstein and say get rid of Mueller. He has conflicts of interest over some golf fees like ten years ago.

TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: McGahn says not going to do that.

Then "The New York Times" does a story about that call --