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Joe Biden Dominating Polls; Trump Immigration Plan Unveiled; Alabama Passes Country's Most Restrictive Anti-Abortion Law. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's the president's signature issue, but is the proposal itself dead on arrival?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking the hour, the White House unveiling its plan to overhaul America's immigration system. But even some Republican senators are already saying, meh.

Senator Kamala Harris says Joe Biden would make a great repeat V.P. The Democratic front-runner, Biden, now facing new punches from within his own party, as a new poll confirms Biden remains the candidate to beat.

Plus, one Southern state's decision today sending shockwaves across the country and along the campaign trail that could lead right to the Supreme Court.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with breaking news in the politics lead today. President Trump is finally unveiling what his White House calls a plan to revamp the immigration system, that plan coming more than two years into his presidency, and after years and years and years of talk on it, a tougher stance on immigration and undocumented immigrants being perhaps the defining and animating issue of the Trump campaign and the Trump presidency from day one.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

I am proud to shut down the government for border security.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I would rather do it much faster.


TAPPER: President Trump assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to him, to come up with this plan, which Kushner presented to Republican senators last night after months of work.

But, according to CNN sources, some of these Republican senators were -- quote -- "underwhelmed" with the presentation and the policy.

Let's go straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, what's not in this proposal might be just as notable as what is in it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, this is a plan that Jared Kushner has been working on for several months.

And the White House is hoping it's going to be this comprehensive compromise that could actually get through Congress. But now the question is if Republicans are going to support it, let alone Democrats.


TRUMP: We are calling on Congress to fix our terrible immigration laws.

COLLINS (voice-over): Today, the White House finally making its immigration sales pitch.

TRUMP: That can be changed in 20 minutes, 20 minutes, if they want to change it.

COLLINS: The Trump administration is hoping to overhaul the current U.S. immigration system and turn it into a merit-based one that prioritizes high-skilled workers, secures the southern border, and potentially generates an estimated $500 billion in net federal revenue.

It's a proposal President Trump personally directed his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to come up with. But officials who briefed reporters today said this is the president's proposal.

They are pitching a merit-based point system for visas that would include a civics test and factor in age, ability to speak English, job offers, and education and skill levels. The White House says the new proposal draws from immigration systems in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

But the plan doesn't address the massive influx of migrants at the southern border or other key concerns from lawmakers. There is no solution for dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and shielded from deportation under DACA. There's no mention of family separations at the border. And it doesn't address low-skilled immigration or what will happen to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. The White House says solutions to those problems will come later.

And, right now, they are focusing on rallying the party. Republican lawmakers have publicly praised the plan, but, privately, some are voicing skepticism.

One senior Republican official who was in the room when Kushner briefed lawmakers this week said some were underwhelmed by the plan. But Senator Mitt Romney said it was a very positive step forward.

Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of the president who presented his own immigration plan today, said Kushner's plan is not designed to become law, but his is.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president is going to officially unveil this plan in a speech tomorrow. And, right now, the White House says they're going to be open to any kind of feedback they're going to get from Capitol Hill.

And based on what our sources are telling us, there's going to be a lot of it.

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

Let's dive into this with my experts.

Jeremy Diamond, let me start with you, as another White House correspondent.

You saw Republican senator Lindsey Graham there say that the White House plan is not designed to become law. As I understand it, this isn't a plan written in any way that acknowledges that the Democrats control the House. This is more of a proclamation of what Trump stands for, right?



And one of the words that we kept hearing from one of the senior administration officials who briefed us this afternoon was, this is our attempt to frame the debate, to frame what our position, as the White House, as Republicans, is going forward on this issue.

I mean, keep in mind, this administration, for the past two years -- and if you go back even to the president's campaign, President Trump is known as someone who has these draconian immigration proposals, who is known for family separations, for that zero-tolerance policy, right?

And so this seems to be an attempt, really, to try and recast what this administration stands for on issues of immigration, or at least broaden the tent of what that is. It's not just secure the border. It's not just these hard-line policies designed to curb illegal immigration. It's also an attempt to increase legal immigration, something that the

president hasn't spent too much time on.

Now, the question is, what happens now? The president is expected to give a speech tomorrow discussing this. But when he's off teleprompter, what's he going to be talking about? Is he still going to be focusing on undocumented immigrants? Is he still going to be focusing on criminals coming across the border?

I think that's the big question going forward.

TAPPER: And, Jackie, a senior administration official tells CNN, this immigration plan intentionally does not address DACA, the program that defers deportation for young immigrants who are brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, through no fault of their own.

What kind of plan, what kind of immigration plan doesn't even talk about DACA, which is like one of the big issues in immigration?


You know, I'm old enough to remember all the way back last year during the four pillars debate, when the White House sent their four pillars to the Hill, and they -- Republicans put together legislation that went down in flames, in part because they couldn't get backing from Trump.

So Republicans are divided on immigration. The president hasn't really addressed that. So it just -- there's nothing for Democrats really to jump on board with, you know, what we have seen so far on this.

And, you know, we also are going into 2020 election year. I just have a hard time thinking that this is going to, be it grand or otherwise, get any traction whatsoever.

TAPPER: Lindsey Graham, Amanda Carpenter, Lindsey Graham in the past has worked on big bipartisan immigration compromises.

Today, he introduced his own legislation to change the asylum process. His plan would have immigrants needing to apply at a consulate or embassy in their home country, instead of going into the United States and declaring asylum at the southern border.

Graham's plan would increase the time that migrant children could stay in custody from 20 to 100 days in custody. Graham wants to make it easier for officials to deport unaccompanied minors.

This is really more of a Trump asylum plan than at least the Lindsey Graham that we have known in the past.


I actually think Lindsey Graham's proposed reforms actually do something to address the crisis. But what Jared Kushner is working on, like, who are you trying to fool?

The raging debate over immigration has not been over the visa point system. It's been about securing the border, number one, and then, number two, what are you going to do with the people there? And Jared Kushner is sticking his head in the sand and looking like, oh, we're doing something, but not actually doing it.

That is a joke. if you're not going to do anything on those two matters, just forget it and do the Lindsey Graham plan, because there is a burgeoning immigration crisis, a record number of people coming, breaking records, almost every day. You have Border Patrol saying, we can't handle these numbers.

So, you know, I give props to Lindsey Graham for actually trying to focus in on that. But what Jared Kushner is doing, it's going to get flushed down the toilet by talk radio in about two seconds. And they should just quit wasting their time.

TAPPER: And, Jen Psaki, as somebody who worked in the Obama White House on this issue, what the Kushner approach is, is, instead of -- I think this is -- from talking to senior White House officials, instead of trying to cobble together things that one side likes, but the other side doesn't, and vice versa, and coming up with a compromise that everyone can attack, they're coming together with their principles of what the president wants.

Might this new approach work?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish with it.

I think there's no question it's a political document. They're not the first White House to do that. But it is not a document that will get any Democratic support. I expect most Democrats, when they see this proposal, will say not just that they can't support it, but that it's heartless and discriminatory, because the visa point system, suggesting that things like age and English proficiency are requirements, are not aligned with who we are as a country and our values.

And I expect that's what Democrats will say. So if it is meant to try to show the base that they have a border bill or that they have a border security bill or have that talking point, and maybe try to get some Republicans behind it, it might accomplish that. But, certainly, it's not something, as you have said, that is meant to pass law or pass muster even, as Amanda said.

TAPPER: And lest we forget, Democrats currently control the House of Representatives, so you will need Democrats.


Everyone, stick around. We're going to keep talking.

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris of California is throwing shade, and it's not aimed at President Trump. And then the audio of a pilot confronting Boeing about the 737 MAX

after the first deadly crash, but before the second one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We flat-out deserve to know what is on our airplanes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't disagree.


TAPPER: Months later, a second 737 MAX crashed. And now FAA officials in charge of regulating that plane are in the hot seat.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination heating up today, as Senator Kamala Harris called out Joe Biden, criticizing his defense of the 1994 crime bill that Biden helped write and shepherd to passage.

Progressive critics have assailed that law as one of the reasons for increased mass incarceration. Also today, a brand-new poll might concern the Trump campaign, showing voters in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground, favoring Biden over Trump in a direct head-to-head matchup.

[16:15:03] And as CNN's Leyla Santiago reports, the poll also shows Biden dominating Democrats.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Vice President Joe Biden prepares to officially kick off his campaign in Philadelphia this weekend, three weeks after announcing his candidacy --

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I make no apologies. I am a union man, period.

SANTIAGO: The former vice president has solidified his early front- runner status. A Quinnipiac poll released today in Pennsylvania shows Biden more than 20 points ahead of his closest rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and he leads President Trump by double digits in a head-to-head matchup.

Pennsylvania, not only where Biden was born, but key for Democrats, a state they want to win back in 2020, which is why Biden's holding his first major rally there Saturday.

BIDEN: Quite frankly, folks, if I'm going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here.

SANTIAGO: On the trail in New Hampshire today, California Senator Kamala Harris took issue with Biden's comments Tuesday, that the 1994 crime bill did not lead to mass incarceration, since mandatory sentences were set by the states.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I disagree with him. That crime bill, that 1994 crime bill, it -- it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country.

SANTIAGO: Harris also was asked about talk she would make a strong running mate for front-runner Biden, presumably.

HARRIS: I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate, as vice president, he's proven that he knows how to do the job.

SANTIAGO: For Democrats looking to break through a crowded field, many are turning to policy. Harris today talking about her new policy on guns.

HARRIS: And I'm announcing it for the first time today, here with you, to take executive action to ban the import of assault weapons into our country.


SANTIAGO: And I should mention that president Trump is heading to Pennsylvania on Monday. And I've got to tell you, as I've been on the campaign trail, talking to voters, many of whom are showing up to meet some of the Democratic candidates, one of the things I often ask them, what are you looking for in a candidate? And this weekend, I spoke to one Republican who was there to see Beto O'Rourke, and he said, I want anyone but Trump and the most important thing for him was integrity.

TAPPER: Hmm. All right, Leyla Santiago, stick around. Joining our panel right now, we're going to discuss all of this.

And, Jen Psaki, let me start with you. Biden claims the '94 crime bill, quote, did not generate mass incarceration. A CNN fact check found that incarceration rates indeed rose for more than a decade after passage of the bill. But experts say it's hard to determine how much of that is because of the crime bill itself.

Is this really what he wants to be discussing right now? Is this a good subject for him?

PSAKI: No, it's not. I don't think that doubling down on defense of the crime bill is going to be his winning approach to this issue. So I suspect he's going to have to talk about work he's done since then or I would recommend he talk about work he's done since then, changes that need to be made, lessons learned, perhaps. And I think that's where the conversation needs to go.

So I don't think that this is the topic he really wants to be focused on, on the campaign trail.

TAPPER: And. Amanda Carpenter, Biden got some unexpected support or defense from President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who tweeted, quote: The 1994 crime bill passed by President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich with Biden and Schumer as the leaders in the Senate and House helped me and the NYPD reduce murder from 1,900 a year to 500, and then under Mayor Bloomberg to 350. That's over 20,000 lives saved. Joe, don't cave.

So, if it's not a good issue for Biden in the primaries, if he escapes the primaries, it might be OK for him in the general.

CARPENTER: Yes, I don't think Joe Biden's crime bill would be a general election issue. But I think the more interesting debate for Trump right now is whether he attacks Biden or not.

And I think he's right. Trump's path to the second term is so narrow. It's probably even more narrow than when he won the first time. So, if Joe Biden is a person that stands in his way in Pennsylvania, why would you wait until next year to start attacking him?

For the style of candidate that Trump is, I think he really needs to start pounding on Biden now, because he is so far ahead in that poll in Pennsylvania. So, Trump's instincts are politically speaking, and I think his consultants haven't, you know, realized how narrow of a path Trump has to walk the second time.

TAPPER: You guys might be too young to remember, but in '95, '96, that's what Bill Clinton did against Bob Dole. Just attacked him, attacked him, attacked him, defined him.

Leyla Santiago, let me ask you, if Biden continues to be the front- runner, more candidates are going to begin to draw contrast between themselves and Biden. When do you think we're really going to see the knives come out?

SANTIAGO: Well, listen, I think they're already starting to attack on issues, right? When I was in South Carolina, when we were talking about criminal justice reform with Beto O'Rourke, and you really saw people cheer quite a bit when he spoke about criminal justice reform. You've got 61 percent of the electorate there for the 2016 primary election were African-Americans.

[16:20:01] So they're really focusing on those issues.

But when they begin to attack each other, you know, we'll have to wait and see. At least for Beto O'Rourke's part, where I have been following along, he has vowed not to do that. We'll have to just see how long that lasts.

TAPPER: Jackie, Senator Harris, Kamala Harris pushed back on comments about her being a good choice for vice president. Let's play her full answer.


HARRIS: I think that, sure, if people want to speculate about running mates, I encourage that. Because I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he's proven that he knows how to do the job. And there's certainly a lot of other candidates that would make for me a very viable and interesting vice president. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Obviously, a little frustration there behind the humor, Jackie, because there's a lot of talk about -- because all of these white men are at the top of the polls right now. Buttigieg and Biden and Bernie. But what'd you think of that?

KUCINICH: I mean, you know, it was a good way to reframe her answer into making herself the top of the ticket. And you're right, there has been a lot of stories out there about why women are nervous about having another -- women and men are nervous about having another woman at the top of the ticket.

And whether or not that holds, as we go on in the primary, that remains to be seen. But it's definitely there, below the surface. And it's particularly frustrating for the vast number of female candidates in this race. You know, as well as, you know, the more racially diverse candidates. So, it -- but, again, we're very early. We'll see if it holds.

TAPPER: And, Jeremy Diamond, when it comes to this new poll, President Trump, who you cover, you might have a new reason to be concerned. In a hypothetical matchup, Biden leads President Trump 53 percent to 42 percent. I believe that's among Pennsylvania voters. President Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 1 percent in 2016. That, of course, helped deliver the White House for him.

Should the Trump team be concerned by that? Are they concerned by that?

DIAMOND: Well, it's not just Biden, right? In that poll, you also had Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both leading the president in this hypothetical head-to-head matchup.

And so, yes, they should be concerned, and in fact, they already are. You know, we reported a couple of weeks ago, that the president, when he started attacking Joe Biden, a lot of his advisers were concerned about that, concerned that it would evaluate Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, giving him the oxygen that all of these 20-plus candidates are so seeking, especially when it comes to an election that's going to be defined by who can best go head-to-head with the president.

But that's why the campaign, we're already seeing them see the warning science in the Rust Belt, see the warning signs in Pennsylvania and start to look to other states like new Mexico, like Minnesota, that they think might be potentially pickups, especially if they start to lose states like Pennsylvania and Michigan which helped them narrowly win in 2016.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

One state's new law sparking nationwide outrage from some, praise for others, and almost definitely bound for a Supreme Court battle, one that we have not seen in nearly 50 years. Stay with us.


[16:27:48] TAPPER: Our national lead now. 2020 Democratic candidates are expressing outrage over the Alabama lawmakers passing what critics are calling the nation's most restrictive abortion ban.


HARRIS: Let us all agree that women's health care is under attack and we will not stand for it! We will not stand for it!

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trying to overturn Roe versus Wade. That's wrong and we will fight back.


TAPPER: The Alabama ban passed the Alabama state Senate last night and supporters of the ban believe that Governor Kay Ivey will sign it, though the law will almost be immediately challenged and brought to court, and this is a fight that could well land at the feet of President Trump's newly constructed U.S. Supreme Court.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Montgomery, Alabama, for us.


STATE SENATOR LINDA COLEMAN-MADISON (D-AL): It's a slap in the face to all women.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democratic lawmakers outraged.

STATE SENATOR BOBBY SINGLETON (D-AL): I think that we raped women last night.

GALLAGHER: And abortion rights advocates calling for a nationwide response today.

The bill, it would be the nation's most restrictive abortion law, waiting to be signed by Alabama's conservative female governor after it passed the state Senate last night by a 25-6 vote. All of those in favor, Republican men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Human life has rights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now you in my womb! I want you out! You don't control this. You don't own this.

GALLAGHER: The bill effectively bans abortion by making it a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for performing the procedure. The bill does include very limited exceptions, such as serious health risks to the mother. Democrats attempted to add an amendment to exempt victims of rape and incest, but that failed.

STATE SENATOR CLYDE CHAMBLISS (R-AL): She get raped and have to have that child based on an Alabama law, just because we want to legislate morality. GALLAGHER: This fight now potentially setting up a Supreme Court


SINGLETON: We made women of Alabama the model of the new Roe versus Wade.

GALLAGHER: The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have already said they plan to challenge this in court, which supporters of the bill admit, is kind of the point.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE TERRI COLLINS (R-AL): We'll never get a heartbeat bill to be constitutional until Roe versus Wade.