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Alabama Passes Bill Effectively Banning Abortion; Trade Talks Between U.S. and China Grind to a Halt; Donald Trump Jr. Strikes Deal to Testify Before Senate Panel. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired May 15, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:32] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy had the day off.
Alabama lawmakers have passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the country, setting up a challenge that might take it all the way to the Supreme Court. The vote in the Republican-led Senate there 25-6 to pass this measure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE SEN. BOBBY SINGLETON (D-AL): You just said to my daughter, you don't matter. You don't matter in the state of Alabama.
STATE REP. TERRI COLLINS (R-AL): Keeping that bill as simple and as focused on the message to me was our goal and I want to really thank the members of the House and the Senate that understood what our reasoning was and what our purposes were.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The bill makes abortion a felony and could punish doctors who perform them with life in prison. That's right, a felony for mothers who seek it, life in prison for doctors who perform abortions. The governor in Alabama now has six days to sign the bill.
CNN's Victor Blackwell has been following the story and has more details.
Victor, can you tell us exactly what limitations this puts on abortion, a woman's right to choose?
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, virtually limiting all abortions with just a few exceptions. The important exceptions that are not included are in the case of rape or incest. And there was an Alabama state Democrat who said that this bill is so extreme that they should consider castration next.
I mean, this was a vote -- the debate that went late into the evening, ended with a vote of 25-6. Those 25 votes all Republican, all male. But pro-choice activists say that this is blatantly unconstitutional.
SINGLETON: I apologize to the women of Alabama for this archaic law that we passed.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Alabama lawmakers passed the nation's most restrictive abortion bill, one that could set up a direct challenge to the Supreme Court's landmark "Roe v. Wade" ruling. The Alabama bill bans nearly all abortions in the state, making it a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for those providing the abortion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When people's rights are under attack, what do we do?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stand up, fight back.
BLACKWELL: Abortion rights activists surround the Alabama state House, and Democrats argue against the legislation's constitutionality on the Senate floor.
STATE SEN. LINDA COLEMAN-MADISON (D-AL): Republicans, you all, you guys used to say, "We want the government out of our life. We want them out of our business. We want them out of our bedroom." Now you're in my womb. I want you out. You don't control this. You don't own this.
BLACKWELL: The law would allow very few exceptions, "To avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child's mother, ectopic pregnancy and if the unborn child has a lethal anomaly." Democrats tried to add an amendment that would allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, but it failed.
STATE SEN. CLYDE CHAMBLISS (R-AL): A life is a life. And even if it is -- its origins are in very difficult situations, that life is still precious. Life is a gift of our creator and we must do everything that we can to protect life.
BLACKWELL: Republican lawmakers say the measure was intentionally drafted to be rigid with limited restrictions in order to be challenged in lower courts and reach the Supreme Court.
TERRI: I think everybody I know in the House and I believe, finally, we saw in the Senate, understood exactly what the purpose of this bill was. We'll never get a heartbeat bill to be constitutional until "Roe v. Wade" is decided and reversed.
BLACKWELL: At least 16 states have recently passed or introduced bills restricting abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat in the womb, which is usually about six weeks.
ERIC JOHNSTON, ALABAMA PRO-LIFE COALITION: This is the first time in 46 years that the makeup on the Supreme Court has changed where there's possibly enough conservatives on there who would believe "Roe v. Wade" is incorrectly decided.
BLACKWELL: Again, Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama has now six days to decide if she will sign this into law. She's affiliated herself with pro-life groups in the past and many expect that she will sign it. She has not spoken publicly about this bill thus far. A spokesperson from her office says that she will not discuss it until she reviews it thoroughly.
But, Jim, just one more point on that lack of an exception for rape or incest, the Republican senator who ushered this through the Senate was asked if a young girl finds that she is pregnant as the result of incest or rape, what should she do? Well, that Republican said she should ask her parents about mental health or physical health help and to educate herself -- Jim.
[09:05:03] SCIUTTO: After rape they are requiring mothers to carry that child to term, to be clear?
BLACKWELL: Yes. They are -- they're saying that that child is a human and that although it came into the world under difficult circumstances that it must be protected regardless of the situation.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Sure. Yes. Difficult circumstances, that's one way to describe rape.
SCIUTTO: Victor Blackwell, thanks very much.
SCIUTTO: Let's bring in CNN's Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic.
Joan, you heard Alabama lawmakers there say in no uncertain terms that the goal here is to get this challenged and then brought they hope to the Supreme Court for a final decision. Is that a likely outcome of this?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, a couple of things, Jim. First of all, the battle sure is being joined, you know, in state Houses across the country, lawyers on both sides and even at the Supreme Court in incremental ways as we saw earlier this week. But there is a path forward that isn't going to be immediate. First of all just two things, that law under -- that was just passed and could potentially be signed by the governor shortly is unconstitutional, you know, based on exactly where the Supreme Court precedent is right now.
The law of the land is that government cannot put an undue burden on a woman seeking to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable. And that's at about 24 weeks. So this is -- this is unconstitutional with where the law is right now and so are those six-week heartbeat laws that we've seen that Victor referred to. But the other thing that I just really need to stress is given the Supreme Court as it stands now with Chief Justice John Roberts, this court even with this conservative majority is not ready to outright reverse "Roe" and strike down women's right to end a pregnancy. That's been in place since 1973.
We've just not seen their taste for it despite -- I don't want to minimize at all what President Donald Trump has said about appointing justices who will reverse "Roe" or about the conservative nature of this court after Justice Anthony Kennedy has left, but I think the more likely scenario than a court that would uphold this Georgia ban is incremental steps with cases that are already pending there that involve access for women to abortion, not an outright ban.
Now in three or four years would we see a ban that the court would take up and approve of? Possibly. But right now we've got several steps intermediate to that.
SCIUTTO: Understood. But do you see the court in its current makeup and, again, you just wrote a book on the Chief Justice John Roberts who in many ways is the new swing vote, although I suppose that could be overstated. There is your book "The Chief." If this is not a court that will overturn "Roe v. Wade" in response to these bills as they're challenged here, is it a court whose makeup would allow to approve of restrictions, like you mentioned, access, for instance?
BISKUPIC: That's right, Jim. That's where I think we're going to see the action. In fact, Anthony Kennedy was the key fifth vote in a 2016 case from Texas that involved strict regulations of physicians who perform abortions. There is a law from Louisiana with the same provisions in it now before the court. That's the kind of thing that might get upheld now without Anthony Kennedy and with Chief Justice Roberts there in his place.
BISKUPIC: As the swing vote. So I think you're right to suggest that women are going to have a harder time getting access to abortion, but an outright ban, we've got a few years before that could possibly come into play.
SCIUTTO: And just very quickly so I'm clear, while this is being challenged that law, for instance, in Alabama or in other states does not apply, is that correct, while it's being challenged or does it?
BISKUPIC: Yes. It --
SCIUTTO: It does not.
BISKUPIC: No, in fact, Jim --
BISKUPIC: That's really important to make clear to our viewers. None of these bans or even six-week heartbeat bills have been enforced anywhere throughout America.
BISKUPIC: But some lower court judge seeing this atmosphere and sensing this momentum might in upcoming months say it can go into effect, but again if a lower court judge allows it --
BISKUPIC: It would be to defy what the law is right now. SCIUTTO: OK. Joan Biskupic, thanks very much for clarifying that.
Democrats vying for 2020, they're blasting the law as an attack on women. Here with me now to discuss Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent, and Alex Burns, CNN political analyst, as well as national political correspondent for "The New York Times."
Dana, let me begin with you because this is dangerous political territory, right, for Republicans, but certainly sensitive for Democrats as well. The president sees an advantage on this going into 2020. Democratic candidates certainly coming out very publicly. Who is this a winning issue for?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, to be determined, but I think what Joan just laid out in terms of the timeline on the legal front is really critically important to remember on the political front.
[09:10:06] Because if you overlay where we are in the calendar right now, let's say, you know, this debate goes on and, first of all, you're talking about questions of restrictions and potentially, potentially this outright ban that we are seeing in Alabama and other states going to the Supreme Court being two, three years, this is squarely in the center of the 2020 presidential debate.
So what this means is that statements that we have seen for the past, you know, four decades frankly from Democratic candidates there have been necessary statements like, you know, we're going to make sure "Roe v. Wade" isn't overturned but haven't really penetrated with the voters in the way that the other side, conservatives who have said we've got to overturn "Roe v. Wade" have been a motivating factor. That is no doubt going to shift, absolutely no doubt.
Whether it is just to motivate the base or maybe to take those swing voters that they do exist, there aren't maybe very many of them, and focus their attention on an issue that is no longer theoretical and now extremely practical when it comes to the next president.
BASH: Talking about the aging courts and who is going to be on the next.
SCIUTTO: Now, it's a really smart point, Alex, and I'm curious what you think of that, because this is something that -- you know, it's an issue that Republicans have owned here, you know, partly based on the kind of rhetoric they've been using now, the president calling it infanticide, you know, certain instances of abortion based on timing here.
Trump already has a problem with women voters. We saw that in the midterm elections, and that helped turn many of these swing districts, particularly suburban women, et cetera. How does this play out in 2020 if women begin to think, as Dana is saying, that this is a real threat now to the right to choose? ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you were going to design
a piece of legislation that would alienate not just more progressive women but more moderate women who care about abortion or who are generally supportive of abortion rights, but for whom it isn't the defining political issue, that would be this piece of legislation. The notion that there is no exception for people who were raped --
SCIUTTO: For rape or incest.
BURNS: -- or who were the victim of incest.
SCIUTTO: I mean, to see that Republican lawmaker there say -- describe rape as difficult circumstances for the birth of a child is a pretty remarkable thing for a man in particular to say.
BURNS: It goes sort of beyond euphemistic language. Right? And look, for 40 years, as Dana was just alluding to, you've had a debate about abortion that's been about abortion basically being legal and asking voters what limitations they are willing to put on it.
BURNS: Right? And it turns out that many Americans are supportive of certain kinds of limitations about when you can have an abortion, what you have to go through before you have an abortion, what the exact circumstances are allowed to be and who is allowed to perform them. Right? If we start to see a debate transform into being about the prospect that you could have essentially no abortion permitted, the idea of jailing doctors, these are ideas --
SCIUTTO: Or moms.
BURNS: -- that have been really remote for voters for a really long time, and I think the political implications of actually changing the debate in that way are wildly unpredictable but they probably won't help the president bring back those moderate women that really rejected him last year.
SCIUTTO: Dana, we always talk about the president's political wisdom here and, listen, he's been right on some things, but, listen, he's not always been right. Is this a bridge too far for him? Yes, it will, I imagine, excite parts of his base who have been pushing this for some time, but when women hear a Republican man in the state Senate in Alabama talk about rape being difficult circumstances.
SCIUTTO: And by the way I'm going to take away that mother's right to end that pregnancy, even in those circumstances, you know, does that work for this president in 2020?
BASH: Well, you know, I think there are two ways to answer that question. When you say "this president", I mean, this president not that long ago was describing himself as pro-choice. So I think if you were to ask the president himself what he thinks with, you know, giving him some truth serum he would say that this is probably, you know, ridiculous. Politically, you know, based on the 2016 Trump, you know, maybe not so much.
Having said that, what Alex was just alluding to is something that I'm already hearing from national Republicans which is, yes, the trend is in these conservative states with conservative legislatures and governors willing to sign these bills to try to, you know, poke at the precedent, knowing what the makeup of the Supreme Court is now, that you now have Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, it's much more conservative, trying to get this issue finally after working to stack the courts for decades to get to this point to try to make it happen.
Having said that, to Alex's point, Alabama is so restrictive that Republicans I have talked to said that this is a nightmare for them potentially because there's so much overreach there that --
BASH: -- if this is the bill that ends up, and this is the idea that ends up before the Supreme Court, it could backfire against those conservatives who are looking --
BASH: -- to make a change on abortion.
SCIUTTO: I'm sure candidates are already making political ads off of some of those comments as well. Dana Bash, Alex Burns, thanks very much. Still to come, we are following all the investigations happening on the Hill. There are many of them, they are significant. The House Intelligence Committee wants to know whether lawyers representing President Trump and his family worked to obstruct the Russia investigation by encouraging people to lie.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. has struck a deal to testify before the Senate. And the escalating trade war with China has American farmers extremely worried. President Trump reportedly thinks it will help his chances in 2020.
Plus, hundreds of TSA officials including federal air marshals are being sent from their day jobs to the border. Why?
[09:20:00] SCIUTTO: On Capitol Hill this morning, a showdown pitting the president's oldest son against a key Republican senator is now averted, while another involving House Democrats and several Trump lawyers may be headed to court. Donald Trump Jr. has now agreed to testify a second time in private before the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee, whose subpoena he initially ignored.
The key question here, whether he was truthful or lied in his prior testimony on the Hill. Meantime, the House Intelligence Committee wants to know who may have helped or urged Michael Cohen; the president's now imprisoned former lawyer to lie about attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
These negotiations going on during the 2016 election campaign. CNN's Manu Raju on top of all of this. So let's talk about the Cohen conflict because this is a central issue of the larger question of obstruction of justice by the president and the Mueller report findings. So why this specific interest in the lawyers' involvement here.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Adam Schiff is threatening a subpoena, Jim, to get information from these lawyers because of his concerns that the lawyers may have been involved in shaping testimony that ultimately turned out to be false. Michael Cohen ultimately ended up pleading guilty to lying to this very committee about the pursuit of the Trump Tower in Moscow project by the Trump Organization in the run-up to the 2016 elections.
Schiff has sent a letter that has been essentially rejected by those attorneys because they say this could breach attorney-client privilege. They called this a fishing exhibition of sorts. But when I asked Adam Schiff about that last night, about whether or not he is breaching attorney-client privilege, he pushed back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If there were others that were participating in that act of obstruction of justice, if there were others that were knowing of that false statement, participated in the drafting of that false statement, we need to know about it, we need to expose it and we need to deter other people from coming before our committee and lying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, another big deadline looming this afternoon from the House Intelligence Committee that has issued a subpoena for the Justice Department to turn over counterintelligence information related to the Mueller probe. They have until 3:00 p.m. Eastern this afternoon to turn it over.
I just asked Schiff whether or not he's made any progress on that, he said it's too early to tell. Now, separately another confrontation looming by the House Judiciary Committee, want to bring in Don McGahn; the former White House counsel to testify, he's under subpoena.
Jerry Nadler; the chairman of the committee also just told me moments ago that Don McGahn has given him no assurances that he will show up. Also they want to bring in Bob Mueller, the special counsel to testify. He said they have made -- the Justice Department appears reluctant to have him testify.
He said that he'd be prepared to subpoena Mueller if necessary, but, Jim, he says he hopes it doesn't come to that, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill as always, thanks very much. Donald Trump Jr.'s deal to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee comes with some caveats. Kara Scannell has been following this for us. I mean, the key thing here according to CNN's reporting is the committee wants to find out if he lied before the committee in his prior testimony, right?
So it obviously puts him in some legal jeopardy if there is any concern there. How do they work out a deal?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, I mean, that's right, Jim, that is one of the key points of tension here, which is what led to the subpoena for the president's son and then ultimately led to this compromise deal late yesterday. Now, under the terms of the agreement, Donald Trump Jr. will return to the Senate Intelligence Committee in mid-June, he will provide testimony in private and will cover between five and six topics that he'll sit for, for two to four hours.
Now, that is a compromise because initially the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted him to cover a dozen topics and sit for an unlimited amount of time. But the real point of tension here is this issue that the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to get to some discrepancies in Donald Trump's testimony between what he said and what other witnesses have said in the findings of the Mueller report.
And that covers these two topics, the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with the Russian lawyer and the plans to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow. Now, this is where the real point of friction is. A source close to Donald Trump Jr. said that he will have -- answer limited follow-up questions on that topic, but if he's asked the same things he was asked before, he will refer them to his previous testimony.
That's because of this concern of potential perjury trap. Now, a source close to the committee says that Donald Trump Jr. is going to have to resolve these discrepancies and its questions that they're still going to ask him. Now, this does end a standoff, and you know, this all came about, you know, the president's son was subpoenaed, but then they were able to reach this deal at the 11th hour yesterday as the deadline on that subpoena was coming due, Jim. So this resolves, and Donald Trump Jr. now returning to the Hill next month.
SCIUTTO: Yes, perjury trap, otherwise known as trying to figure out if someone told the truth under oath, right? You know, that's the question, Kara Scannell, thanks very much.
[09:25:00] Let's discuss now with Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of California, he sits on the House Judiciary Committee, very much at the center of these investigations. Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.
REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): Oh, thank you for having me.
SCIUTTO: So, first on the issue of Senator Burr, your fellow Republican's subpoena to the president's son, Don Jr., you are on the record opposing that. Why?
If there's concern in the Senate Intelligence Committee that he was not truthful in his earlier testimony, why don't they have the right to call him back and test that testimony?
MCCLINTOCK: Well, they do have the right to do that. My concern is, he's already given, what? Testimony before five committees over the last year or two on these matters. If there are questions over discrepancies between his recollection and others, I've got no problems with resolving those discrepancies.
I just hope that the Intelligence Committee is also using its time to look into the activities of the Intelligence agencies, the CIA and the NSA in promoting what they knew was a phony dossier that created --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
MCCLINTOCK: A false narrative over the president's conduct.
SCIUTTO: Well, so you agree that they should be able to test that testimony, isn't the natural way to do that to bring him back and say, you said this at this point, but you may have said this elsewhere? Well, what's wrong with that and why doesn't Congress have the power to do that under the constitution?
MCCLINTOCK: As I said -- as I said, there's nothing wrong with that. They should resolve any discrepancies in testimonies.
SCIUTTO: OK --
MCCLINTOCK: I just wonder after appearing before five committees, what more there is to resolve.
SCIUTTO: Understood. OK, let's talk about the bigger picture here because you have a number of subpoenas and investigations under way, largely by house committees including the one you sit on, the House Judiciary Committee, of course committees run by Democrats now that Democrats have the majority in the House.
And you've seen that the White House essential response almost across the board, not entirely across the board, has been, no, we're just not going to do it. I just wonder as a sitting U.S. lawmaker, whether you have concerns about that, and what that says about the balance of power as it were constitutionally between Congress and the executive. Does it concern you?
MCCLINTOCK: Well, first of all, I don't think that's an accurate description of the administration's position whatsoever. The administration turned over every document requested of it during the Mueller investigation, even waived attorney-client privilege to allow the president's personal attorney to testify.
The Mueller report, there is no legal requirement for the Mueller report to be released at all, instead the Attorney General released all of it except for those portions --
SCIUTTO: OK, that's a few --
MCCLINTOCK: The small portions of it whose release is forbidden by law. If you were to apply -- SCIUTTO: Now, that's a few months ago during the Mueller
investigation -- but as you know --
MCCLINTOCK: Yes --
SCIUTTO: The president now will not answer requests for his tax returns.
MCCLINTOCK: Let me get to that --
SCIUTTO: Will not answer requests for, you know, other administrations to testify before the committee including Don McGahn; the former White House counsel. So these are -- these are numerous active requests today, not looking back to the Mueller investigation.
MCCLINTOCK: Well, let's take it point by point. If the Attorney General had responded to the House's subpoena, he would have broken the law. And you know if he did that, they would then have attacked him --
SCIUTTO: How would he --
MCCLINTOCK: For breaking the law.
SCIUTTO: How would he have broken the law?
MCCLINTOCK: Because it's illegal -- because it's illegal to release grand jury testimony. That is confidential under the law and cannot be released to the House and the House Judiciary Committee knows that. I believe that's why they made the request so that they could charge a cover-up when there is no cover up.
There is simply an Attorney General obeying the law. Now, with the assertion of executive privilege over the underlying documents, you know, that was also done during the Clinton administration and it was done so that they have time to review the million pages --
SCIUTTO: Not this probably.
MCCLINTOCK: The million pages --
SCIUTTO: To be fair, no this probably --
MCCLINTOCK: Yes, but the subpoena --
SCIUTTO: That's why this White House is invoking a very grand executive privilege claim here.
MCCLINTOCK: Well, again, so -- simply so that they can then have the time to review the millions of pages of documents to be sure that all of those documents are allowed to be released publicly. Don't involve grand jury testimony. We already know some of them do.
SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can. You watch, I'm sure, with the same sympathy as American schools experience gun violence and children die, some of them in the act of protecting their fellow students from the shooter.
You voted against two bills passed by the democratically-controlled house, both a universal background check rule, but also a much more limited one that would close a loophole that enables some firearms to be transferred by licensed gun dealers before those background checks are done. Why aren't these simple common sense measures? Why did you oppose them?
MCCLINTOCK: Well, actually, that bill would have created this endless feedback loop where people couldn't get permission to transfer arms if the bureaucracy simply chose to take that course. Now, look, we've got 50 years of experience with gun control laws, they are very effective at disarming law-abiding citizens. They're completely --
MCCLINTOCK: Ineffective -- they're completely --
SCIUTTO: How can they be effective if tens of thousands of people are dying every year?
MCCLINTOCK: They're completely ineffective.