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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump's Highest Polling Approval Rating as Economy Posts Strong First Quarter Growth; Interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Live Statement from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: -- is now being praised as a hero for tackling the shooter and stopping any more lives from being taken. Dianne Gallagher, she's been following the story.

Dianne, he could not run. He couldn't hide. So he fought back.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Jim, Poppy, the chief of police in Charlotte says that in doing so, he saved other people in that classroom's lives. And his family told CNN that, you know, "Riley has always been our hero and now we are sharing that with others."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN HOWELL MOYLAN, RILEY HOWELL's AUNT: First and foremost hero, as far as I'm concerned. And his name is Riley Howell.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Twenty-one-year-old Riley Howell, one of two students killed when a gunman opened fire on the UNC-Charlotte campus. But instead of focusing on how he died, today, Riley is being called a hero by friends and family.

MOYLAN: He would say that he did what he did because it was the right thing, and not to grieve for him. Because he has always wanted to serve. And it was a logical thing for him, to go towards the shooter, to take care of everybody else. And that is the hero. And that's the way he would have wanted to go.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): This was Howell's first year at UNCC. He grew up in Waynesville, North Carolina. It's just a few hours west of Charlotte. He had dreams of serving in the military and even worked out with firefighters and police.

MOYLAN: He was a guy who came home with all the stray dogs and kept them in his room. He was a guy who took care of everybody all the time. And when you were with him, you felt safe.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): His family says Riley was a big teddy bear who loved family, his girlfriend and the great outdoors. That he's always been the calm during times of chaos. And they say it is no surprise he stepped in to help.

MOYLAN: He's always been willing to do the hard things. And he has always been everybody's protector. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: And now his family is doing the very difficult part of welcoming Riley home. Currently his body is en route from Charlotte to his home town of Waynesville, North Carolina, a couple hours west of here in Charlotte.

Again, look, Poppy, Jim, the entire community, still trying to figure out what this means for them next, while also honoring the lives of Riley and Reed. And hoping that those other four who were injured are going to make those full recoveries.

I can tell you, one of those students plans to walk at graduation next week, when she gets out of the hospital.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Wow. Wow. That will be a sight.

SCIUTTO: Listen, talk about it so many times. Parents losing their children to gun violence. Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

More than half of Americans say that President Trump is doing a good job specifically on the economy. And that's not the only good news for the president. In this new CNN poll, we're going to crunch all the numbers, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:37:24] SCIUTTO: New CNN polling is out and President Trump's favorability rating has hit its highest point yet, 45 percent of Americans now have a favorable opinion of the president. That is a five percentage point increase since December of 2018 in the CNN poll.

And when it comes to the economy, that number is even higher, 56 percent of Americans approve of how the president is handling the economy. The U.S. just posted, of course, its best first quarter growth in four years. Here with us now to discuss, CNN's senior political analyst Harry Enten.

Go through the numbers here. A lot that looks good for the president.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: I mean, the economy does look really good, Jim. But I think the question is, why is it that the economy looks so good -- why does the economy look so good but his overall approval rating and his overall favorability rating, even if it's up, is still under water?

HARLOW: Right.

ENTEN: And I think that what -- we also asked a whole bunch of other questions, whether it be on race relations and a slew of other things. And what you essentially see is, the president is running under water on those particular questions.

And so what I think the real question going forward is, is we always think, "Hey, it's the economy, stupid," right? But in fact, so far, it doesn't seem to be the case. Yes, the president's economic approval rating is kind of pulling him up. But everything else is kind of holding him back.

HARLOW: Yes. And -- but the question becomes, what's going to matter most to voters in 2020 and what do really strong economic numbers like this, the best first quarter growth we've seen in four years. If that holds, if the strong economy holds, what does that mean, what does history teach us about what that means for the Democrats challenging this president?

ENTEN: Sure. Obviously, you know, in good economic times the incumbent tends to win re-election.

HARLOW: Yes.

ENTEN: I think we generally know that. But if you go back since 1976 and you look at times where you essentially line up the president's economic approval rating and his overall approval rating, what you see is the overall approval rating is much more telling.

And if you look back at, for instance, the 2004 campaign and the 2012 campaign, we actually saw Presidents Obama and Bush, in those campaigns, they had economic net approval ratings under water yet they were able to win re-election. So, yes, the economy helps you but it's not the everything.

SCIUTTO: OK. And the other issues that are driving judgment of the president but also the upcoming race?

ENTEN: I mean, look. If you look at race relations, you look at health care, you look at foreign affairs.

TEXT: How Trump is Handling Health Care Policy: Approve, 38 percent; Disapprove, 53 percent

ENTEN: You look at all of those numbers -- here's for example, looking at health care, right? This has been a number one issue for voters. This is the number one issue for Democrats. There was a Monmouth poll in Iowa, 50 percent of Democrats said that was the most important issue. Look, the president was under water there.

TEXT: How Trump is Handling Immigration: Approve, 42 percent; Disapprove, 54 percent

ENTEN: Look at immigration, right? We've spoken about this over and over again. Last time around, the 2018 midterms, the president made that the key issue heading into the midterm elections. He lost. Why? The approval rating under water there.

TEXT: How Trump is Handling Race Relations: Approve, 39 percent; Disapprove, 55 percent

ENTEN: How about race relations? Obviously a lot of Democrats don't necessarily like the way that the president handled Charlottesville. Joe Biden made that a key point in his intro video. And we see here, again, under water.

[10:40:03] And I think this is just what we're seeing over and over again. If the president could just focus his energies on the economy, he'd probably be doing pretty good. But because he can't do that, because he seems to go off in these different directions, that's what's pulling him down.

HARLOW: OK. Totally switching gears here. People are going to see on newsstands, the new cover of "TIME Magazine" about to hit newsstands. Let's pull it up on the screen. There you have it.

It asks a question. "First Family"? There you have mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and his husband on the front. And it's asking the question. Is America ready for a gay president?

ENTEN: I mean, there was a Quinnipiac University poll that was released earlier this week that showed about nearly -- I believe 70 percent of Americans who said that they were in fact ready to elect a gay president. However, that same poll indicated that a majority of Americans didn't think their fellow Americans were willing to nominate and then elect a gay president.

So I think that Americans are ready. But I'm not sure voters necessarily think that they're ready. And that could be --

HARLOW: Well, that's interesting (ph).

ENTEN: -- at (ph) play (ph) in the Democratic primary.

SCIUTTO: Maybe. I mean, listen. A lot of folks said the same thing before Barack Obama --

ENTEN: I will say -- I will say --

HARLOW: True.

ENTEN: -- this very quickly. Actually, a majority of voters, Democrats, said that they believed that the country was ready for a black president in 2008. Perhaps in 2000, they wouldn't have thought that. But by 2008, they did think that.

HARLOW: Interesting. OK. Harry Enten.

SCIUTTO: Harry --

ENTEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks for your brain power. We appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: He knows the numbers.

HARLOW: All right. He does that indeed.

All right. So as you know by now, the attorney general, Bill Barr -- empty chair there -- did not show up for the House hearing this morning. Now, House Democrats are raising the stakes on their demands. The latest on their threat to hold the attorney general in contempt. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:45:59] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. This morning, bipartisan bickering playing out before the cameras on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers lashing out after Attorney General Bill Barr did not show up for a House Judiciary Committee hearing. House Democrats now threatening to hold him in contempt. With me now is Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Good morning to you, Senator. And thank you for your patience --

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Morning, Poppy.

HARLOW: -- I know you were going to join us last hour. But a lot has happened in the last hour.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, it has.

HARLOW: So thank you --

VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: -- thank you for sticking around.

VAN HOLLEN: Sure.

HARLOW: First, I'd just like you to listen to this from Democratic lawmaker, Congressman Ted Lieu of California. Here's what he just said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Attorney General Bill Barr is now one of the most dangerous men in Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Wow. One of the most dangerous men in Washington, D.C. Do you agree with Representative Lieu?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Poppy, if you're talking about a danger to our constitutional architecture, of a separation of powers and our notion of the Attorney General's Office as being a place where you have impartial justice, not somebody acting as the chief propagandist for the president, then in that sense I understand exactly what Congressman Lieu is talking about.

Because we are at a moment of crisis here. And the reality is, you have an attorney general who is acting on behalf of the president, not on behalf of the interests of justice and the rule of law.

HARLOW: So I think the broader question here, Senator, becomes, to what end? Right? I mean, Chairman Nadler knew that the attorney general was not going to show up this morning. He decided to have a hearing anyways, to have that empty, you know, chair on television across the networks.

And I'm wondering if you think that that is a good use or the best use of Congress' time and effort and resources.

VAN HOLLEN: Poppy, I think the question is what recourse do they have, right? What happened was that the chairman of the committee, Chairman Nadler, wanted to have a hearing. You know. The committee has the power and the prerogative to set some of the standards for that hearing.

And you can't just turn the keys over to the executive branch. I mean, we have a system of separation of powers. And right now, you have an administration that is openly thumbing its nose at the Article I branch, the People's Branch.

And so what the folks in the House are struggling with, the Democrats in the House, are --

HARLOW: Right?

VAN HOLLEN: -- how do you hold an administration accountable?

HARLOW: So --

VAN HOLLEN: And I would hope Republicans across the country would ask themselves the question, "What happens if a future Democratic administration acts this way?"

HARLOW: And I hear you, right? And they have power, right? The chairman, Chairman Nadler, has subpoena power. He can hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt if he defies that subpoena. But he could have done those without holding a hearing with an empty chair today.

And I guess the reason that I ask this, Senator, is because of some of the new numbers. CNN has a new poll out and it shows that among American voters, 44 percent now think that Democrats are doing too much to investigate the president. That's up significantly since March.

TEXT: In Investigating Trump, Democrats Are Doing: Too Much, 44 percent now, 38 percent in March; The Right Amount, 28 percent now, 34 percent in March; Too Little, 25 percent now, 22 percent in March

HARLOW: So the question becomes, are you concerned about the optics here for your party?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Poppy, I agree that the challenge for House Democrats is to prioritize the ways in which they're going to hold this administration accountable. I mean, they have a constitutional obligation to make sure that we hold the executive branch accountable.

And their big challenge is, how do you do that, given all the different things that are going on and the fact that you have a president who has instructed his entire cabinet, all the agencies, not to cooperate when it comes to a lot of the, you know, subpoenas and other information requests that have been made.

So, look. I think that is a challenge for the House. And they've got to prioritize and figure that out.

HARLOW: Right (ph).

VAN HOLLEN: I would like to point out that the House, while they've been doing these investigations, have been passing a lot of legislation that is broadly supported by the American people: gun safety legislation, strengthening our democracy, ending secret money in politics.

[10:50:10] All those bills have actually passed the House. They're here in the United States Senate. This is where the -- we've become a graveyard for a lot of important pieces of legislation --

HARLOW: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: -- that are broadly supported by the public. So I think it's important to keep that in mind, as the focus has been so much on these other issues.

HARLOW: All right. Fair enough. Let's dig in on whether or not you think you were lied to, Senator. And this matters a lot. One of the central questions this morning is whether the attorney general lied under oath when he testified before your committee back on April 10th.

So here is your exchange with him there, along with his exchange with Senator Crist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

SEN. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): Reports have emerged recently, General, that members of the special counsel's team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report's findings. Do you know what they're referencing with that?

BARR: No, I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: We now know those answers were after he received that March 27th letter from Mueller about his concerns about Barr's four-page letter-slash-summary of the conclusions of the Mueller report. So do you believe, Senator, that the attorney general lied under oath on April 10th?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Poppy, at the very least this was deliberately misleading and deliberately deceptive. Because when I asked --

HARLOW: But what is different between that and a lie? I mean --

VAN HOLLEN: Well, let me -- let me put it this way. HARLOW: Sure.

VAN HOLLEN: What I asked him was, whether or not the -- Mueller, whether Bob Mueller supported the positions that the attorney general outlined in that four-page memo. And what he said was, he did not know.

What we know from that letter, which was at that time in the possession of the attorney general, was that Bob Mueller had already expressed concerns with the conclusions that he had reached, right?

And an honest answer, a fully honest answer, Poppy, would be, not "I don't know." The honest answer would be that Bob Mueller had expressed concerns. At the very least, he'd expressed concerns with the conclusions in that four-page memo. So, you know, Barr can split hairs on this. But by -- certainly by omission, he deceived the committee and the American people.

So the question now is, what is our recourse? I do believe he should resign for the good of the country. He clearly isn't intending to do this at that -- currently.

And so, you know, one of the questions in the House is, should they move to impeach the attorney general. And --

HARLOW: Should they?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, here's the challenge. It goes back to what you were just asking me, right? The House has so many things on its plate right now. They are going to have to decide how to prioritize this --

HARLOW: OK.

VAN HOLLEN: -- in a meaningful way.

HARLOW: Would you move to impeach Barr at this point?

VAN HOLLEN: You know, I think the House -- again, if I were in the House, I'd have to really review all the things that are going on. And keep in mind, the concerns you just expressed about how all of this is perceived by the public --

HARLOW: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: -- and with the goal of trying to get things done. And so I would certainly -- it certainly needs a healthy conversation in the House, is the best way to proceed on that issue, as well as these other matters.

HARLOW: OK. Senator Chris Van Hollen, we appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:56:29] SCIUTTO: There's the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, commenting on Bill Barr. Have a listen.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): -- Congress of the United States. And then it just -- I began to connect the dots.

We have Mitch McConnell who, in his fundraising pitches, has described himself as the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper for any legislation that comes over from the House, that will go to a Senate graveyard. Calls himself the Grim Reaper.

Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Attorney General Barr. There's a connection. There isn't -- there is an ideological, anti-government, anti-science, anti-meeting the needs of the American people.

So when he was testifying and being so cavalier about Special Counsel Mueller, the Mueller report, and so disrespectful of Congress, I thought, "This isn't about President Trump only. It's about a right- wing ideological handmaiden -- they're handmaidens to the special interests in our country.

And it's important to connect the dots. But the American people have to know what this means to them. If you're a young person, you care about the climate crisis, we're passing that bill right now on the floor and I'm going to have to leave momentarily to vote for it. It is -- and that's going to be dead on arrival in the Senate.

If you care -- if you're a young person, you care about net neutrality, freedom on the internet. The Grim Reaper is going to kill it in the Senate. If you're a woman, Violence Against Women Act. Equal pay for equal work that we sent over to the Senate, the Grim Reaper, Mitch McConnell, will kill it.

If you care about reducing the role of money in politics, as H.R. 1 legislation, stopping the voter suppression and expanding the voice of the people in our political process, Mitch McConnell will kill it. Because he has said, "The problem is not too much money in politics." He says, "There's not enough money in politics."

Our H.R. 1 is about expanding the voice of the people. Their H.R. 1 was giving 83 percent of tax benefit to the top one percent. So this is about policy.

It's also about gun safety. Gun safety. We sent over H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112 for responsible background checks. Handmaidens to the National Rifle Association and the special interests.

Connect the dots. When you see Barr sitting there, what's his motivation? His motivation, his loyalty is not to his oath of office. And it is to Donald Trump. But all of it -- and the Republicans in Congress -- is to the special interest.

So whether it's H.R. 1 or the Gun Safety, Paycheck Fairness, Violence Against Women, Save the Internet, Climate Action Now, the list goes on. And we will be sending more legislation. But apparently I have news for Mitch McConnell. These -- he may

consider them dead on arrival and the Grim Reaper for all of these actions taken by the House of Representative, but they are alive and well among the American people. And there is a direct connection.

[11:00:05] And really, the sad -- probably bitterest (ph) and saddest of all is while --