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Biden to Hold First Campaign Rally in Pittsburgh; Poll: Most Democrats Undecided on 2020 Primary; U.S. Officials Confirm Deal to Give NK $2M for Warmbier; Trump Rails Against Democrats' "Crazy Immigration Agenda". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 29, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As you've seen one, two, three, four, what's going on here, Julie Pace? What's kind of the strategy here from the president?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't think it's rocket science to figure out what's going on here. I mean, Joe Biden is on the president's mind, and we know this from talking to advisers, from talking to about -- to people who have talked with the president about 2020. He and his team see Biden as one of their biggest threats, and that's in part because of a state like Pennsylvania.

You know, Trump's path to victory in 2016 and again in 2020 is actually pretty narrow. He is going to have to basically repeat what he did to defeat Hillary Clinton which is to pick off states like Pennsylvania, like Wisconsin, like Michigan, these states that have leaned towards Democrats in recent elections, but you saw white working voters who sided with Trump. They liked his economic message, they like that sort of populism that they had, and they think that Joe Biden is someone who could pull those voters back.

Certainly, a state like Pennsylvania, Biden, if you've seen him speak once you know that he's from Scranton. He mentions it all the time. They feel like, you know, Joe Biden could take that state back and then perhaps repeat what he could do there in a place like Wisconsin and Michigan and then suddenly Trump's map is gone. So Trump, I think is going to be pretty aggressive in going after the former vice president throughout this primary. I think today was probably just a little a taste of what we're going to see for months to come.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question it. Seung Min, I want to pull up the Washington Post poll right now about where things stand because we're talking about who's the frontrunner and who's up and who's down. And apparently the frontrunner according to the Washington Post is some senator from the state of no opinion with this -- I mean, it's 43 percent. It's early, and I keep trying to tell people it's very, very early, but these obviously these are important moments. Money is important, Biden obviously has seen a big place on that. Issues are important, obviously focusing on the middle-class. What's your read kind of where things stand broadly right now in this primary?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly Democratic primary voters are shopping around for their options which is why they're taking in every candidate that they can. A lot of Biden's frontrunner status likely has to do with the name recognition. Virtually everybody knows him. He served as the vice president for eight years, and look, he had a pretty good first couple of days with those eye-popping first-day numbers, and clearly making a clear contrast with the president, in particularly appearing to make President Trump a little bit nervous if you look -- again, if you look at his Twitter account.

But sometimes, you know, the first day of your campaign might be the best day and even the first few days of the vice -- the former vice president's campaign was a little rough. We're going to -- we've talked several times about his interview on The View where he just stridently refused to directly apologize for his handling of the Anita Hill hearings and some other issues as well. And you are already having his other -- his other challengers make really direct and sharp contrasts with the former vice president on the campaign trail. They're not attacking him over Anita Hill. They're not attacking him over other issues, but they're really trying to draw these sharp contrasts on his policy.

I thought what Elizabeth Warren was saying on -- when it comes to Joe Biden on the first day of his campaign was really striking when he said Joe Biden was on the side of credit card companies and I wasn't. And that is about as big of an insult from Elizabeth Warren as you can get.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question. And I guess, Nia, that's actually one of the things I've been wondering. Obviously, the president has elevated this fight with his tweets and comments. Democrats are also going after the vice president. Does this help him, or is that going to be a serious problem for him in the weeks and months ahead?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, in some ways it helps him because he definitely wants to see this as Joe Biden and everyone else. Joe Biden and the sort of Warren wing of the party and Joe Biden against Donald Trump. So Donald Trump obviously doing him that favor, not only getting drawn into the Charlottesville conversation but then repeatedly going after him, coming up with his nickname that he thinks I guess highlights his age even though they're both senior citizens. Donald Trump and Joe Biden, I guess about four years apart there. And so that's one of the things he's obviously trying to do in that union message trying to essentially say, listen, the leadership of unions will -- might say one thing, but he's got the rank and file.

In some ways, we did see that play out in 2016. The leadership going with Hillary Clinton in many ways and rank and file folks often going with Donald Trump. So we'll see.

We'll see what kind of candidate Joe Biden is. We have seen this before, him obviously launching for the presidency and not doing so well, essentially stumbling out of the gate. He'll be talking to Robin Roberts at some point, we'll see if he's able to clean up the Anita Hill non-apology apology. Some people think he needs to, some people don't think he needs to. He clearly doesn't think he owes her an apology. But listen, in a primary that runs through the south that runs through African-American women in African-American communities, in particular, you wonder what this kind of high-profile fight if you can call like that, he has with Anita Hill.

[12:35:02] It likely doesn't do him any good with that particular constituency but he does do well with a fair amount of the Democratic constituency which is older voters of all races. And you can see him going after that pretty aggressively.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about it. It's not the story that's going away, it's also very, very, very early.

PACE: Exactly.

MATTINGLY: OK, up next. What exactly did the United States promise North Korea in exchange for the release of Otto Warmbier? One key U.S. negotiator speaks directly with CNN.


MATTINGLY: Topping our political radar today, more confirmations that the State Department did, in fact, agree to pay North Korea $2 million for Otto Warmbier's medical care before his eventual release in 2017.

[12:40:08] National Security Adviser John Bolton saying, Sunday, an agreement to pay was signed but that no money has been handed over as the president insisted on Twitter on Friday. And this morning, the former U.S. special representative to North Korea told CNN Bolton is correct and explained how he was involved.


JOSEPH YUN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, as soon as the North Korean side told me that his bill for $2 million would have to be paid, of course, I contacted my boss, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to ask him, and he got back to me very quickly thereafter to say, yes, go ahead and sign.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Was it your understanding that Secretary Tillerson had the president's approval for that?

YUN: That was my understanding. I never asked him but that was my understanding.


MATTINGLY: Warmbier, you'll recall, had been in a coma and died just days after his release.

(INAUDIBLE) and tributes are pouring in for longtime Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana who died Sunday at the age of 87. Former President Barack Obama calls Lugar a problem-solver who showed a partisan device (INAUDIBLE) for the common good. Former Governor Mitch Daniels said Lugar embodied all we can hope for in our leaders and calls him one of the greatest statesmen ever to serve in the U.S. Senate.

And President Trump is being criticized and facts-checked -- fact- checked after making incendiary remarks about abortion during a campaign rally. The president was talking about a state bill in Wisconsin that a Democratic governor reportedly is planning to veto. That bill would mandate the doctors and nurses do all they could to keep a baby alive if it was quote-unquote born alive. Critics say the bill is problematic because it would apply even in rare cases where the fetus is not viable and could not survive outside the womb. The bill would penalize anyone who let a baby die.

Here's what the president claimed on Saturday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The baby is born, the mother meets with the doctor, they take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully and then the doctor and the mother determines whether or not they will execute the baby. I don't think so.


MATTINGLY: His claim there that mothers and doctors are permitted to execute a baby after it leaves the womb is simply incorrect.

All right, guys, there's one thing I wanted to quickly check on and that was North Korea. Julie Pace, you are very in tune with all of our kind of foreign policy coverage. What is the deal here? Was this is a promise made that was never supposed to be kept? Was this supposed to be kept? May this kept at some point?

PACE: It's a little confusing as we try to unravel what happened with the situations for the North Koreans. I think what we know is that there was a request from the North Koreans for the U.S. to pay for Otto Warmbier's medical treatment. Even though that sounds so jarring, it's actually not completely unusual when you have these hostage situations. And I think what we're piecing together from the administration side is that the president authorized the U.S. to at least say they would do that in part because they wanted to get Warmbier back. It was really unclear what his condition was at the time. Obviously, he ended up passing away after he was returned to the United States.

So it's really peeling back the curtain on some of the more unsavory parts of the negotiations over trying to get hostages released.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And you talk to people who've worked in any capacity in negotiations with North Korea and they say this type of stuff actually comes up on a pretty regular base what actually happens. And money obviously has been paid, Otto Warmbier did return home.

Up next, a new poll shows how the president's handling of some key issues may factor in his re-election chances.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:48:02] MATTINGLY: (INAUDIBLE) this morning for the president's political team courtesy of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Let's start with the not so good. The commander-in-chief's job approval rating stands at 42 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove. Here's what's important, in among registered voters a whopping 52 percent say they definitely would not vote for the president in 2020. That would seem to be problematic.

But if you believe in the theory that presidential elections are about the side of the American wallets, then this is a number you could probably take to the bank. Forty-two percent of voters say that the president's handling of the economy makes them more likely to pull the lever for him in 2020. That's stock market, that's GDP, that's job numbers, all very, very good. But, there's immigration and what the president believes versus what the polls actually show.

Now 42 percent in this poll say the president's handling of the immigration makes them more likely to oppose him. But the president still thinks it's his best issue which is why you hear this from him on the campaign trail.


TRUMP: The radical left Democrat party would drive our nation into economic and financial ruin very quickly. Nothing is more dangerous than the Democrats' crazy immigration agenda.

Their entire party has been taken over by far-left radicals who want to nullify and erase American borders. They want open borders. They want open borders. They want people to pour in, and they think that's going to be votes ultimately for them.


MATTINGLY: All right, Seung Min you wrote about this, and this is your publication's poll. So you're batting lead-off for us whether you like it or not. Where they pushes -- look, you can campaign on two or three issues or four issues or five issues at once. That's not a new thing, but the big thing is the president focuses a ton on immigration which obviously he believes is crucial for his base when you have every other Republican in town and across the country saying the economic numbers right now are extraordinary and polls actually back that up so what's the disconnect, I guess?

[12:50:02] KIM: It sounds -- I mean, immigration and so many other issues are just something that the president has fixated on and you're absolutely right. I mean, I don't know how many times Republicans on Capitol Hill have told us that, you know, they wish that the president would just focus on the economy. So talk about the tax cuts, talk about how deregulation has helped the economy, and put down the phone and stop tweeting.

But yet, it is -- his economic message and a lot of the good economic news gets drowned out so often when he pivots to immigration or surprises Republicans like let's do another effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Because those economic numbers are pretty strong for Republican voters in our poll that was released this morning, 70 -- it is by far the clearest motivator for Republican voters to get out again and support him. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans say it makes them more likely to support him, and we also saw earlier there was a 10-point margin of voters who -- all registered voters who are -- who say the economy makes them more likely to support him.

There's also a 10-point margin among independents which I think is a really important number. But, again, the president has the tendency to veer off into controversial stances or remarks about immigration or healthcare. And that's something that people around him really want him to just kind of set aside and focus on a very strong economic message which would -- which they believe will really help him in those blue all states, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that he needs again for his re-election bid

MATTINGLY: Yes. Look, he won in 2016 and immigration was obviously a key issue. You mentioned healthcare, the poll numbers clearly make clear that healthcare as an issue for Republicans are more like oppose -- to oppose him.

Molly, I think this is the big question is, is the president just going to campaign like he did in 2016? You talked to his campaign team, they're at a very different place than they were in 2016. It's a very real apparatus. But does their messenger follow in line on that, or this is who he is, this is what we're getting and this is what it's going to be?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as you mentioned, the Trump campaign is far more built-out and professionalized for 2020 than it was in 201. And obviously, the president did not conduct his 2016 campaign according to -- or at least in obedience to what he saw in the polls. He went by gut instinct and that gut instinct turned out to be right or at least right enough to capture the Electoral College which he'd certainly like to repeat.

But what you see the Trump campaign building for 2020, it is an apparatus, it is a digital organization, it is an on-the-ground organization. They are not -- they know better than to try to build out a messaging operation that tries to steer the president in a particular direction because it's abundantly clear that nobody tells the president what to say. He decides what to say.

Now, when you get to the immigration issue, Democrats would like to see a repeat of what happened in 2018 when the president abandoned his handlers' preferred messaging on the economy to double down on the caravan and double down on the wall and go after that relentlessly, put it front and center. And Democrats believe that only helped them recapture the House of Representatives, even if, you know, Republicans gained seats in the Senate.

So we'll see what happens in 2020 and which of those messages is successful. But even to be at 42 percent on the economy is not great for a Republican president who's a businessman whose signal achievement is a tax cut.

MATTINGLY: Yes. He could talk about it more, that might help the process and the numbers. But, he is the chief strategist, he is the spokesman, he is president of the United States. He pretty much decides what he's going to do.

All right, up next. New 2020 polling shows Democrats are decidedly, as we noted earlier, undecided.


[12:58:05] MATTINGLY: Breaking news this hour. Proof of life today for the rarely seen terrorist who leads ISIS. ISIS media released a video -- a new propaganda video showing its leader Abu Bakr Al- Baghdadi. The video is the first to show Baghdadi on camera in nearly five years. Now we know the video is somewhat recent because Baghdadi mentions battles in Syria which took place in March of this year. More on this development at the top of the hour.

Now, when it comes to 2020 Democrats are decidedly, yes, undecided. In a new Washington Post/ABC poll, about half of all Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents didn't name anyone when asked who would get their vote if the election were held today. As for those who did name someone, Joe Biden leads the pack with just 13 percent of voters picking him. Bernie Sanders is second with nine percent, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg makes the top three with five percent. Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren round out the top five.

By far the biggest number in the poll, 47 percent, who have no opinion whatsoever. And Nia, because you were the expert in all things, you will be our closure, Mariano Rivera, for this last minute of the show. But honestly, put in context, you've been on the trail, you've talked to people. What is going on right now in the Democratic primary?

HENDERSON: They're waiting. They want to hear from these folks, they want to hear what their policy proposals are. They want also know who's going to beat Donald Trump, but they won't know that until they see these folks actually perform. Perform on the trail, perform in television interviews, perform on the debate stage.

So that's what you hear. You can go to any of these rallies, even if you're going to a Beto rally or going to a Kamala Harris rally, some people have committed but very few have. They very much just want to test everybody out, they're very much paying attention at this point, but they are very much in wait and see mode. So they're going to, you know, basically follow these candidates and see who they think is the best person in 2020 to beat Donald Trump.

MATTINGLY: What had a novel idea, listen to everybody before picking and then actually decide. We're still nine, 10 months away from the Iowa caucuses.

All right, much more to come on all of these. Thanks for joining us as always on INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now.