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U.S. Economy Grew 3.2 Percent in First Quarter, Smashing Expectations; Warren Makes Racial Inequality a Key Campaign Issue; Buttigieg Leapfrogs Warren, Harris in Recent Polls; Warren Says "I Don't Know Why Women Trailing in Polls; Trump Again Insults Mueller, Denies He Ordered Mueller Firing. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 26, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy is doing great. Number one in the world. We're number one economy right now in the world.


ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Columnist from Yahoo! Finance, Rick Newman, joining us now. So as we look at this number -- I mean, they say it's more than a point higher than what was projected. And that's too dealing with the fact that for the first whatever month or so of this quarter, we were also dealing with a government shutdown.

RICK NEWMAN, COLUMNIST, YAHOO! FINANCE: That is true and at the end of last year a lot of people were worried about a recession around the corner. So you know, President Trump, he gets to claim credit when the numbers are good. Now going beneath that headline number a little bit, economists say there is hollowness to this report.

Business spending was actually kind of weak. Consumer spending was kind of weak. Inventory contributed more than you would like to see to the high GDP number. Which means companies are putting stuff in warehouses which means they might not be spending much or buying as much next quarter. There were some other things about trade that actually kind of artificially pushed the number higher.

But I mean, look, you can't really nitpick at some point. 3.2 percent is a good number. I think for President Trump he's just hoping that he'll have an equally number good number the second quarter when the second quarter numbers come out and some economists are saying, they're not sure about that.

HILL: And why aren't they sure about that? Because a few reasons that you just mentioned I would imagine.

NEWMAN: Yes, right. So if some of the weakness that we saw in the first quarter numbers actually carry through to the second quarter that would suggest a lower number in the second quarter. And most economists today are not really changing their outlook for the next couple of years. And that is not a great outlook for President Trump. They're saying economic growth of maybe 2.5 percent this year. Let's remember President Trump said he was going to get the economy to 3 percent or higher. But then next year is when the crunch time comes. And that's when a lot of economists are saying we may not even get to 2 percent and that will matter for Trump's reelection effort in 2020.

HILL: We'll be watching for all of it. Rick, good to have you today, thank you.

NEWMAN: Thanks.

HILL: President Trump already taking aim at his Democratic opponents with nicknames and insults. I his comment though that Kamala Harris, quote, has a nasty wit about something more than just competition? We'll take a look at how that plays specifically with women, next.


HILL: This just into us, a source confirming Stacy Abrams who lost a close gubernatorial race in Georgia against her Republican opponent is set to announce her decision next week on whether she plans to run for Senate. Abrams, of course, delivered the State of the Union rebuttal, you may recall, this year on behalf of Democrats.

After Charlottesville, the President's immigration fight and an increase in hate crimes in the past two years, the 2020 race will likely force every candidate to confront racial inequalities in this country. Some Democrats, though, are already making it a cornerstone of their campaign. Just this week Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked about a grim health statistic about why black women are far more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best studies that I've seen put it down to just one thing. Prejudice. That doctors and nurses don't hear African-American women's medical issues the same way that they hear the same things from white women.

And we've got to change that and we've got to change it fast. Because people's lives are at stake. So here is -- I got a plan.

The hospitals are just going to get a lump of money. And if they bring down those maternal mortality rates, then they get a bonus. And if they don't, then they're going to have money taken away from them.


HILL: Joining us now, CNN political correspondent, MJ Lee, and Alexis Grenell, Democratic strategist. MJ, so you have some new reporting specifically about Elizabeth Warren and her approach when it comes to race.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you know, this She the People Conference was so interesting and such an interesting setting because it is put on by women of color to discuss issues that are important to women of color. And my colleague who was there, she noticed both by observing the crowd's reaction and also by interviewing women afterwards. Because, remember, eight presidential candidates actually spoke at this forum. But Elizabeth Warren was the clear crowd favorite.

And the thing that people brought up the most is the fact that she had very specific ideas on how to deal with racial inequality. I mean, the fact that you saw in that clip there, that she was asked a question about the maternal mortality rate. That is a very specific issue and she actually had a plan for it. Right. She was prepared to answer question.

And what's interesting is that she obviously has developed this reputation so far in the campaign as being this ideas candidate and the issue and theme of racial inequality is actually in almost every single one of her ideas and her proposals that she has put forward so far. Whether it is marijuana legalization. Whether it is housing. Whether it is student loans.

But of course I think the big question so early on is will that translate into getting support from the African-American community especially when the field includes an African-American candidates like Kamala Harris, like Cory Booker and of course now Joe Biden who enjoys huge support among the African-American community.

HILL: It will be fascinating to watch all of that. When we look at support, too, there's been so much focus on Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

[15:40:00] Not just because it is so hard for us all to apparently say his name. But because he's seen this huge boost in the polls. Right. And he's had very positive reaction. What's fascinating though is we saw in our "TOWN HALL" on CNN the other night, he was really pushed by Anderson on what were his specifics, what were his policies. Far different from what we see from Elizabeth Warren. He is polling far ahead of Elizabeth Warren, far ahead of Kamala Harris and this is something that you just wrote about in a piece. Why is it that they are not gaining more traction when they are putting forth real ideas which were hit with the audience as we have mentioned?

ALEXIS GRENELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think sexism is alive and well in 2020 and when we see smart specific incredibly qualified women articulating a vision, somehow that's less sexy than a mayor from a town that is barely 100,000 people who won re-election with 8500 votes and who thinks that policy is minutia. So that's a huge problem and its ingrained in this larger systematic understanding of smart women as somehow being less cool. And I think that is so sad and disappointing. Especially because Elizabeth Warren is a stand-out. I mean, she would be a stand-out in any room in her career has been exceptional.

Mayor Pete is 37 and bright. And could I think be one of her A students in one of her classes. She's the teacher though. And she's written 11 books while we're of obsessing over Pete Buttigieg loving Ulysses. This is absurd.

HILL: So MJ, I know you recently spoke with Senator Warren about gender issues in 2020 and we have a little bit of that interview. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: When you look at recent polls at top are white men.


LEE: Why do you think that is?

WARREN: You know, look, I don't know. All I can do is talk about my race. And talk about what it means to have a chance to get out and talk with people about the things that touch their lives. And it's a great honor to be able to run for President of the United States. And a great honor to be able to talk with people about what's broken in this country. How it is that we can fix it and how we're going to build a grassroots movement to get that done.


HILL: What I find interesting, MJ, is that when she's asked a question like that, about the role of gender or is she being treated differently or what is it like after what we saw in 2016 with Hillary Clinton. She seems to really not dwell on that answer. She seems to want to push the conversation forward.

LEE: And back to her campaign and the campaign that she is running, Yes, and the question that I asked her in that setting was actually the fact that there are six women who are running for the Democratic nomination right now but you look at the polls and it is white men who are at the top of the polls. Whether it is Joe Biden, who is now officially a candidate, Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg.

And Pete Buttigieg I think is a really interesting case study right now. Because I think we will get the answer at some point to whether having those policy specific ideas matter. Because he said himself at our "TOWN HALL" that he doesn't want to really dwell on or get caught up in the policy minutia. That he wants to talk about values. Because at some point because in our travels when we are out on the road and talking to voters, they are really, really hungry for and so much appetite for the policy details.

GRENELL: But it is so absurd to dismiss childcare as minutia. I mean, that's a fundamental misreading of the electorate and frankly, the economic forces that play in people's lives. But really think this larger phenomenon of the less qualified white men leading the field has to do with our very misplaced understanding of who is electable.

This is thought of some sort of stagnant concept. Well he's electable, she's not electable. This is a concept we're creating in real time to quote, Kate Mann, who's been speaking about this so brilliantly. Electability is what we decide it's going to be. It is up to people to elect a President. There isn't some abstract concept. We are actually the concrete electors.

HILL: So then we'll see what that is, right, come 2020. And we have a lot more time to discuss it in the next few months ahead. Thank you, both.

Up next, President Trump continuing his onslaught of attacks on his former White House counsel, Don McGahn. Insisting he never asked McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. We'll discuss whether that could, in fact, put the President in legal jeopardy.


HILL: The President is certainly selective when it comes to the Mueller report. While he does say the report got it right by concluding his campaign did not collude with the Russian government. Today Mr. Trump said the Mueller report got it wrong when it detailed how he directed his then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself. It's very simple. I had the right to. And frankly whether I did or he did, we had the absolute right to fire Mueller. In the meantime, I didn't do it. I'm a student of history. I see what you get when you fire people and it's not good. But there would have been wrong with firing him. Legally, I had absolute right to fire him. But I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller.


HILL: So the Mueller report says there is, quote, substantial evidence of what Trump directed McGahn to do. And that McGahn, under oath, quote, insisted his memory of the President's direction to remove the Special Counsel was accurate.

[15:50:00] Joining me now, Julian Epstein, who served as chief counsel for the House Judiciary Democrats during the Clinton impeachment. So, as we look at all of this, a former attorney for Richard Nixon, telling "Politico", Julian, that the President is possibly, in his view, exposing himself to further charges of both witness intimidation and obstruction by going after now the specifics in the Mueller report. And I know you agree. Tell us why.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CHIEF COUNSEL FOR HOUSE JUDICIARY DEMOCRATS DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: Well, I think it's silly, I think on the legal side. It may be increasing the argument for obstruction in a very marginal way.

But I think there's a bigger story here. And it is that the President is acting like a scene out of America's dumbest criminals. Rather than doing what I think he should be doing, which is, if he was smart, which is to just declare victory on the central finding of the Mueller report. Which is, there was no conspiracy on the Russian interference.

He's instead shining a spotlight on the worst part of the report, which is the obstruction and particularly the direction to McGahn to try to fire Mueller to curtail the investigation. He is just mislearning all of the lessons that we learned in 1998, when we pushed back against Ken Starr. We were on the right side of the law and we were on the right side of the politics. And that's why Bill Clinton ended up with 73 percent approval ratings and Ken Starr was in the 30s.

The President is making the worst possible argument and drawing attention in the worst possible way. And he's just fueling a fire that has been basically suffocated the first two years of his presidency. And really, the clumsiest of ways.

HILL: So, based on your experience and what you learned in 1998, some of which you just alluded to, what would you advise the House Judiciary Committee to do today?

EPSTEIN: Well, I think the House Judiciary Committee is in a tough position. I don't think that they're going to go forward with impeachment, even though I think some will talk about impeachment, as a way of placating the left. But I think even though the legal argument is there for impeachment, on at least four obstruction counts, you've got to have a political consensus on it, as well.

And I think that much of the left, and I think a lot of the media, really kind of overplayed its hand and set expectations so high by connecting dots that weren't there on the conspiracy question. That when the report comes out and it's lesser than the expectations that were set by so much of the media and so many of the commentators on the left, it then makes it hard to develop the political consensus that you need, even if you have a strong legal case on the obstruction part of it.

So I think a big part of this story was really the overplaying and kind of letting the politics drive a lot of the discussion and getting way out in front of the facts. I think the Democrats were guilty of doing that. I think this is exactly what the Republicans did in 1998. And so, what you're left with is a very unsatisfying situation for the Democrats right now. Where you do have a case that is arguable for impeachment, obstruction. That's, in fact, pretty much what they got Clinton on, which was process crimes. The perjury and obstruction. So you have a strong case for impeachment.

But I think because the way this case has played out over two years in the media and with so many of the commentators, the expectations were so high on the conspiracy part of the question, when that comes out as, you know, an empty vessel, basically, nothing compelling, even though the President cheered and welcomed a foreign attack on the United States, and didn't show the conspiracy side of it.

If that's what the report says, then, I think, given the highfalutin kind of rhetoric of the last two years, it makes it very, very difficult to develop a political consensus to proceed on impeachment. So I think there'll be talk about impeachment, but I think what the committee will do is do a lot of hearings that will shine a light on some of the ugliest parts of the Russian interference. And again, the Trump team's cheering of that interference. And I think they should, then, get to reform. There are a lot of areas of reform the committee should consider to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. HILL: We'll be watching to see how all of that unfolds. Julian

Epstein, appreciate your insight. Thanks for joining us today.

EPSTEIN: Erica, it's good to be with you.

HILL: Back now to our breaking political news. Former vice President Joe Biden releasing his fundraising totals for the first 24 hours of his campaign. And they show, in that area, he is on top of the 2020 pack.


HILL: We want to take a moment to update you on one of our 2014 CNN heroes. Dr. Wendy Ross has spent years working to make daily experiences more inclusive for people with autism. And now she's expanding her mission by training her fellow physicians. And finding ways to ensure all patients receive the medical care they need and deserve.



ROSS: Patients coming in on the spectrum may have a more difficult time communicating and without doctors that can understand how to interact with them, they're not going to get appropriate health care.

Some of the accommodations that our program provides are noise canceling headphones, things like fidget to help reduce their anxiety. We are really providing autism-friendly health care.


HILL: To learn more about Dr. Wendy Ross's groundbreaking new program, just log on to right now. And while you're there, you can nominate someone to be a CNN hero.

A quick reminder, as well, about a big night of CNN premiering beginning Sunday at 9:00 p.m., "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT" with Van Jones. It debuts followed by "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" with W. KAMAU BELL. I'm Erika Hill in four Brooke Baldwin today. Thanks for joining us. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.