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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Joe Biden Leading Polls; Trump Meets with Prime Minister of Hungary. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 13, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Yes.

And, normally, I think if one met with someone like Orban, there would be at least background briefings, that in private, at least, the U.S. president would have urged Orban to let up on his attempts to curb the free media, to curb academic freedom, to stop the courts from reviewing cases and so forth.

It's a pretty systematic, gradual, not grotesque, but gradual authoritarianism in Hungary by a man, Orban, that is kind of a tragic figure. He was a key figure in the democratization in '89. And in the early years, he really turned in this direction.

But one has no impression, needless to say, that Donald Trump said a word that might slow Orban down in his authoritarian tendencies.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

And everything and that people accuse President Trump of doing -- and they can be quite hyperbolic sometimes -- Orban is actually doing. And the president in his comments risks giving Orban cover by saying, oh, we're both controversial, et cetera, as if Orban is just the same as President Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He risks giving him cover and a platform and a seal of approval. That's what we saw happen right there in the Oval Office.

But this meeting didn't just happen because the president wanted. There's been a systematic campaign by the government of Hungary, hiring U.S. lobbyists, including a former Florida member of Congress, Connie Mack, who worked for the Hungary government, to try and, A, first set up a phone call between Orban and the president back in 2016.

So everything sort of led to this meeting. This is just the latest in a series of examples of meetings the president is very willing to have, because it makes him look strong as well.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Which Connie Mack, the member of the House or the member of the Senate?

ZELENY: The member of the House.

TAPPER: Member of the House.

ZELENY: Exactly.

TAPPER: Connie Mack the III or IV.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: I believe that's right.

TAPPER: Yes.

ZELENY: And he was a registered lobbyist..

TAPPER: Right.

ZELENY: ... for Hungary, which is totally legal and fine.

TAPPER: Sure.

ZELENY: But that is one of the backstories, the backdrops of how this meeting came to be here.

But certainly you can't see any other president doing that, because that hasn't happened yet. He hasn't gotten that type of meeting and a red carpet, as he had today.

TAPPER: And, today, the prime minister, Sabrina, made a point to say he was proud to stand with the U.S. -- quote -- "on fighting against illegal migration."

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, just like President Trump, Viktor Orban has taken a sharply anti-immigration view.

And he is one of the most prominent nationalists in Europe, which is why it's so striking that he would have an audience with the president of the United States and that he would be invited to personally come to the White House.

He's made comments, Orban, that people have said are anti-Semitic, that people have said are Islamic phobic. He's gone to war with the media. And, a lot like President Trump, he also has cozied up to Vladimir Putin, and isolated himself from more traditional U.S. allies.

So I think, to Steve Bannon's point, this is someone that Trump does have a lot in common with, but it is remarkable yet again that the president would be willing to host a leader that many people have said is more authoritarian. And, in some ways, it's part of a pattern, because the president, as we know, time and again has expressed an affinity for authoritarian tendencies himself.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he tends to act as though he does not operate with the kind of understanding to the -- this is what it means to be nontraditional.

Like you said, there is -- there was no private meeting where he might have said, hey, you could make it a little easy for me to host you if you could just back off a little bit.

No, he -- to him, I suspect that he might have asked him for some advice. I mean, the way he -- the way he praised him publicly, it does sort of begin to devalue the importance of America's moral leadership in the world, if you're going to be seen as praising Putin, cozying up with people like Orban.

And that's part of the trend we have seen in the Trump presidency.

KRISTOL: And especially in Eastern Europe -- Central and Eastern Europe.

So where there are a lot of countries that are sort of on the bubble -- they liberalized. They seem to be sort of a good path to democracy. There's some backsliding. Hungary is the most, has backslid the most. Poland is a little bit iffy, other places.

And there are a lot of people in those countries who are themselves calculating politicians and other business leaders. And this just sends the signal, you pay no price for going down the authoritarian road. The U.S., which has always been the -- you're going to -- that's always been a good argument for democrats in those countries.

You're going to damage relations with the United States of America if you go in this way. So maybe you don't even understand the moral arguments and the other arguments for freedom, for liberal democracy, but it's going to hurt you.

Then Trump -- Trump has really damaged the people who should be our friends in neighboring countries to Hungary.

TAPPER: And the U.S. ambassador to Hungary raised some eyebrows. He was asked about the description of Hungary as a -- quote -- "illiberal democracy."

And he reportedly said -- quote -- "I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orban, but he doesn't."

Now, the White House is saying that that quote was taken out of context, and maybe he meant it jokingly. I don't know. But the idea that Trump would love to have that kind of control, Trump has talked about that openly, how he would love to have the authoritarian powers.

KRISTOL: And that's Orban's phrase, illiberal democracy.

TAPPER: Yes.

FINNEY: Yes.

KRISTOL: He -- he touts that as his contribution, as opposed to Western-style liberal democracy. ZELENY: And that very much is a central theme of really every one of his rallies, and I suspect it will be that sort of coming ahead for the next 16 months or so.

[16:35:01]

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

Critics say he jumped into the 2020 raise too late, but up next, how several candidates are being forced to reset their campaigns because of Vice President Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to be back in New Hampshire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:38]

TAPPER: A day of firsts for Joe Biden tops our 2020 lead.

The former vice president making his first trip as a 2020 candidate to the first primary state, New Hampshire. And while he is largely avoiding national interviews, he is taking questions from voters for the first time.

And, as CNN's Arlette Saenz reports, Biden's campaign strategy is forcing his opponents to shake things up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BIDEN: Hi, everybody. Good to be back in New Hampshire.

[16:40:00]

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): In his 2020 debut in New Hampshire, Joe Biden fielding his first questions from Granite State voters, from how to combat Alzheimer's.

BIDEN: We have to insist that all the researchers share their data.

SAENZ: To what he's most passionate about.

BIDEN: Doing something about the abuse of power.

SAENZ: One voter revealing to Biden she is recovering from addiction and raising President Trump's comments calling New Hampshire a -- quote -- "drug-infested den."

BIDEN: Well, I think it is shameful to refer to your state or any state like that. I am so proud of you. I don't even know you. I'm so proud of you. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SAENZ: Biden also touching on climate change, promising a major speech on his environmental policy by the end of the month.

BIDEN: We do need to finish this green revolution in a way that's rational.

SAENZ: Biden's first trip to New Hampshire comes as he leads his rivals in the state by double digits, earning 36 percent of support in a recent poll here, followed by Bernie Sanders at 18 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give them hell.

SAENZ: With Biden enjoying his front-runner status, other candidates are adapting to his presence in the race, fanning out in early voting states and in television interviews.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know, historically, the front-runners at this far out are often not the people that end up winning those early primaries.

SAENZ: Senator Kamala Harris staking out a policy difference from Biden.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not have voted for NAFTA, and because I believe that we can do a better job to protect American workers.

SAENZ: Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders ready to promote his work on the Green New Deal, as he is set to appear with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the second time in a week.

Sanders pushing back on Biden's suggestion he is the most progressive in the 2020 field.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't think that Joe is the most progressive candidate in this race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Biden will be here at Manchester Community College in just a few hours.

And, tomorrow, he wraps up his New Hampshire swing with stops in Concord and a house party in Nashua. And, Jake, Biden will round out his three-week rollout with a big speech in Philadelphia on Saturday.

TAPPER: All right, Arlette Saenz in New Hampshire, thank you so much.

You heard Arlette lay out how some of the 2020 Democrats are adjusting their strategies now that Biden is in the race. Is that smart to readjust because Biden is doing so well?

ZELENY: Sure. They're just trying to get attention, first and foremost.

I mean, Joe Biden has done really one thing well so far that we know for sure is to take a lot of oxygen out of the race and sort of reassure people that he may be the one that they're waiting for.

One thing I'm struck by when I have been out there -- I was with the former vice president last week in Iowa -- there was this air of nostalgia, which in most normal cases, you may think, gosh, most elections are not about looking behind. They're about looking forward.

But in this case, you talk to some Democrats, and they are happy to see sort of someone coming in -- they're sort of viewing him as a lifeline. I think his challenge is to still maintain this lead. And at some point he will have to say what he is for in today's party, about the Green New Deal, Medicare for all, other things.

Up until now, he's been able to run a Rose Garden strategy, if you will, without the Rose Garden, but he doesn't have that. So he will have to get knocked up a little bit, but his early rollout, without question, I think has been very good.

TAPPER: And David Axelrod, who worked on both Obama campaigns with Biden said, Karen, told "The New York Times": "Clearly, they're trying to do enough to show the flag, but not so much that it exposes him to either mistakes or fatigue. But the pace is going to quicken as the race goes on. And you can't keep him in candidate protection program."

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY: Yes.

So, apparently, there is this whole concern about how to make sure he doesn't have a gaffe and -- or gaffes.

Obviously, today, opening up to questions from voters, there's always -- staff people are always a little bit afraid of, oh, what are the voters going to ask? He obviously did just fine.

And I think what Jeff mentioned is really important. There is something about Biden. There's a nostalgia. And just when I have talked to voters, it's just he's calming. And it's so frenetic right now with President Trump.

Think about how we started talking about -- today talking about China and all this anxiety about what's going to happen in the market. There's something about Biden that just says, we could have a president who wouldn't make us anxious all the time.

And I think he reminds people what it was like to have a president like that in Barack Obama. And he -- I think he -- look, he's going to have his gaffes. They all are going to have their gaffes. I think the key for him is to make sure that, if he does, they can correct it pretty quickly.

You could see him working the crowd there. He seemed to do quite well. He knew how to take a selfie. That's...

TAPPER: Progress?

FINNEY: I'm telling you what.

TAPPER: He's been doing selfies for a while, though.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: Yes, but selfie culture on the campaign trail is really important to people.

So -- and the fact that he is able -- he did fine answering questions.

TAPPER: But, Sabrina, he is -- not only is he not the most progressive candidate in the race -- Bernie Sanders is completely right. He is to the right of the Democratic base on a lot of issues, maybe not as much as everyone thought, I have to say, given how well he's doing in the polls.

But when Bernie Sanders lays out in the debates in June and July about the Iraq War, about NAFTA, [16:45:00] when Elizabeth Warren comes out about credit card

companies, that will take some of the shine off, I think, maybe.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think so. There's certainly a case to be made that it's very early and with the exception of Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden is certainly the most well- known entity in the field. I do think the support base the numbers goes beyond just name recognition. The fundraising numbers also indicate Biden still has a strong base of support. But the real test will be when he's standing up there on the debate stage and you see the other candidates relitigate his record.

But he's also not necessarily someone you'd call an outright centrist. He's going to be able to stand up there and say well, the Obama administration negotiated a Paris Climate Accord. He'll be able to say that we passed ObamaCare and that that's the baseline as far as I'm concerned and I do still believe there should be you know, a public option in terms of Medicare.

He'll also be able to stand up there and say he's called for a $15 minimum wage, that he has embraced four years of free college tuition. So I do think he actually has stood up behind some progressive principles. So the real question will not necessarily be just you know, whether or not Joe Biden is progressive enough, but whether or not these issues are actually going to be a litmus test for the base or is it really something that we spent a lot of time focusing on.

TAPPER: And Bill, Democrats in the last few decades win when they put the younger candidate forward with the exception of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. But generally speaking -- and Joe Biden -- Donald Trump is the oldest President of the United States has ever had. Joe Biden is older than him and he's about the past. He's not about the future in a lot of ways. Is that not a hindrance? Is that not a problem this year or next year? BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I would have thought so but we're in unusual times. Our friend Kristen Soltis Anderson, the Republican pollster wrote a book three or four years ago about her fellow Millennials called the selfie generation, I think it was called. Now the selfie -- Joe Biden is going to turn out to be the political embodiment of the selfie generation.

Yes, one thought one was past the baby boomers. I thought that in 2015. I remember writing editorials. They finally -- the Democrats will probably nominate and Hillary Clinton but Republicans will have the young candidate, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, that worked out great. We got another baby boomer in Trump.

And then finally Democrats this time said OK, last time. We can't have another election with baby boomers. I guess Biden is even older -- is Biden even older than a baby boomer, maybe?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is. And I think --

KRISTOL: He seems the previous generation.

ZELENY: Right. One thing surprises me was older voters were more concerned about Biden's age than younger voters.

TAPPER: That's interesting.

ZELENY: An 83-year-old said, I know what it's like to be 76. I'm not sure he can do that. So we'll see.

TAPPER: Huge holes ripped into the sides of four oil tankers in one of the most tense areas of the world. The blame game that could have an explosive effect. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Alleged sabotage in our "WORLD LEAD." Saudi Arabia saying two of its oil tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates increasing tension in an already strange region. This as the U.S. conducts visible patrols over the Persian Gulf to send a message to Iran and to shore up U.S. allies according to a source. CNN's Nic Robertson reports from the UAE.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: A gaping hole at the waterline of one vessel, another a nautical mile or so away listing slightly, and another the Saudi registered Al Marzoqah with U.S. flag boats inspecting its damage, a few miles from them, three of the four vessels impacted Sunday by what Emirati authorities are calling sabotage. They were at anchor along with 140 other ships near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

What we understand happened here is that a call came in early in the morning indicating that possibly there was water in the engine room of one of the vessels. And within a couple of hours, a total of calls have been registered indicating that something was out of the ordinary with a number of vessels here. The incidents a few miles from the Iranian coast and a global

strategic choke point one-fifth of the world's oil passes through come just days after U.S. officials raise concerns of an Iranian or Iranian proxy attack on shipping in the area.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: An attack on American interest from an Iranian led force whether. It's an Iranian proper or it's an entity that is controlled by the Iranians. We will hold the responsible parties accountable. President Trump has been very clear about that. Our response will be appropriate.

ROBERTSON: The U.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier group is headed into the seas around here supported by B-52 bombers, an amphibious assault ship, a guided missile destroyer, and a Patriot Missile Battery System as U.S. tensions with Iran mount. Iran's Foreign Minister called the sabotage incidents alarming and regrettable calling for clarification of the exact dimensions of the incident.

It's not quite clear yet what caused this sabotage, how it was perpetrated or even for that matter who perpetrated it. For UAE officials, events Sunday are deeply troubling.

ABDULLA AL HAYYAS, DIRECTOR OF MARITIME TRANSPORTATION, UAE TRANSPORT AUTHORITY: This isolated event which happens yesterday still is causing concern for us. However, we are believing the authorities are taking full measures to ensure such event will not happen again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Now, the Emiratis seem to be playing this down. The incidents were spread out over a large area. This is not a random situation. That large gaping hole is a message and that message is very clear it could have been a whole lot worse, Jake.

[16:55:07] TAPPER: All right, Nick Robertson, thank you so much. Breaking this hour, former President Jimmy Carter undergoes emergency surgery after falling. That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Breaking news. Former President Jimmy Carter is now recovering from emergency surgery after breaking his hip earlier today. The 94-year-old was on his way to go turkey hunting today when he fell in his Georgia home. The former President says his main concern right now is that turkey season ends this weekend, he has not reached his limit.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.