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Sarah Sanders Says Any Type Of Immigration Plan That Has Included DACA Failed; U.S. and Iraq Are Worried Of Inching Towards War; New York City's Mayor Becoming Now The 23rd Democrat To Enter This Presidential Race. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me. President Trump is trying to pull off something that hasn't been done since Ronald Reagan occupied the Oval Office. He's got a major immigration bill through Congress. But if the early reaction is any indication, he may suffer the same fate as both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.

The six-part proposal spearheaded by the President's son in law, Jared Kushner, would focus on border security and merit-based immigration. But there is another goal here getting Republicans on Capitol Hill to support it. And that is where the problem comes in.

CNN has learned that when Kushner presented the plan to Republican Senators earlier this week, some of them were to quote, one senior Republican official, "underwhelmed" saying, "It lacked substance."

South Carolina Senator and Trump ally, Lindsey Graham, is actually taking this one step further while unveiling his own immigration proposal. Senator Graham said that the White House version was in his words, not designed to become law. And that prompted this response today from the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We think it certainly is designed to become long, we think it should. That's why we put it out and that's why we've spent a lot of time developing and making sure that this was something that could have buy-in from both sides and actually fix our system that hasn't been upgraded or touched in decades.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So about that buy-in from both sides, one issue that would be -- would get Democrats even get on board and fix for DACA, the program that affects nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The Trump administration tried to end the program, but the protections are still in place after the Supreme Court took no action on it earlier this year. But DACA isn't even mentioned in this White House's plan. Here again, is Sarah Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: Because it's a serious program, it's not included every

single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward. Any type of immigration plan that it has included DACA, it has failed. That's a divisive thing. That's one of the things that seems to divide people very quickly and was left out on purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: President Trump will officially unveil his immigration proposal in just a couple of minutes during a ceremony in the Rose Garden, and we will bring that to you live.

Now, the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. Iran's Supreme Leader has just said that their country doesn't want war. President Trump also says, he doesn't want war. But new developments today show how the two nations are worried they are inching closer to it. And that includes this from the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are we going to war with Iran?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I hope not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: It's tough to hear -- was the President saying, I hope not. I hope not. He said, just before sitting down with the Swiss President, to set up, a source says, a channel to speak with the Iranians. By the way, we're talking to that Swiss President next hour to see how that conversation went.

Plus, moments from now, top congressional leaders, known as the Gang of Eight will receive a classified briefing on the Iran situation. There has been major bipartisan complaint for more information. And the President himself is also complaining, specifically, about his top aides marching him closer to war with Iran. That is according to sources who also say, this President has been criticizing his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, a known Hawk on Iran to advisors outside the White House.

So let's start with Pamela Brown. She's our CNN senior White House correspondent. And Pamela, you're hearing that the President believes he would be breaking a major campaign promise if there was some sort of conflict with Iran?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's absolutely right. That is a big concern for the President. The optic of -- he's going back on this campaign promise to get out of foreign entanglements. And we just heard today, Brooke, Iranian officials shutting the door of negotiations with the U.S., just as President Trump signals that he wants a diplomatic back channel to de-escalate tensions with Iran.

A point of discussion between this was President, who you'll be talking to later and President Trump at the White House according to a source familiar with this matter. But Brooke, sources are telling CNN, the President has grown irritated with this perception and the urging from National Security Adviser, John Bolton and others, that they are leading the U.S. into a war with Iran. And they say President Trump privately complains that if Bolton had it his way the U.S. would be at war on multiple fronts.

Now publicly, Brooke, President Trump has hinted that Bolton's hawkish approach by saying he sometimes has to temper him. But as the U.S. mobilizes military resources to the Middle East and responds to what the U.S. claims is a heightened threat from Iran and the region. The President, as we sort of talked about is in this delicate dance of not wanting to look as though he is backing off this campaign promise of getting out of foreign entanglements.

[14:05:04] BROWN: Now, a top European security official. I spoke with today, said U.S. allies are watching closely how the Trump administration responds to Iran. The official told me, European allies are well aware that Bolton wants regime change in Iran. And there is concern that U.S.' moves this week could lead to something more than just pot posturing.

This official also didn't express the same kind of alarm to the intelligence on Iran as the President's advisers, saying Iran is just trying to show its teeth, which the source says, are baby molars. This as you pointed out, Senators on Capitol Hill are expressing frustration. The White House isn't sharing more information that is partly what prompted this briefing with the Gang of Eight at 3:00 p.m. today -- Brooke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Baby molars, that is the direct quote you have.

BROWN: Yes.

BALDWIN: Pamela Brown, thank you very much at the White House. And as President Trump is seeking this channel to speak directly with Iran. Iran's Foreign Minister said today that there is quote, "No possibility for negotiations," in quote. And the Iranian official also pointed a finger at Ambassador Bolton. So let's go to CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen, who is live in Teheran. And so Fred, Zarif said, no possibility for negotiations and yet he also says Iran doesn't want to escalate the situation any further.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes Yeah, absolutely. The Iranians, in the form of Javad Zarif, Brooke, they were saying, they believe it's the U.S. that's currently escalating the situation with Iran and of course in the entire greater Middle Eastern Region.

You're absolutely right. Zarif, today said there's not going to be negotiations at this point in time. But more importantly, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he said about a day and a half ago, as well. Not only will there not be negotiations at this point in time with the United States, but he said specifically with a Trump White House. He thinks that negotiations would be poison for Iran. And the reason why he said that, is he said, it's because of that sanctions regime that's in place right now.

He said, "Look, if the U.S. wants to talk, they need to get back into the nuclear agreement," which, of course, is not something that President Trump wants. They need to make sure that the Iranians can sell their oil, again on international markets, and also their companies can invest here and won't be punished by the United States.

Of course, the chances of that happening are extremely slim. And that's where the chances of negotiations happening at this point in time, without the Trump administration giving into some of those demands seem very slim, as well. It was quite -- on a lighter note, funny that the President of Iran actually came out and said, "Look, President Trump's keeps telling us that he put these phone numbers -- gave phone numbers to the Swiss for the Iranians to call. The Iranians say they have every phone number they need if they wanted to call the U.S. It's simply something that at this point in time, they're not going to do.

And Brooke, one of the other things that's becoming very clear when you're on the ground here in Tehran, is that the Iranians are very well aware of some of these divisions that we've been talking about in the White House between President Trump and some of his advisers. You have the foreign minister coming out and saying, "Look, the Iranians don't want any sort of escalation. The Iranians don't want this to get out of hand." The Supreme Leader said that there will be no war between the U.S. and Iran.

But at the same time, you have senior Iranian commanders who are coming out and saying, "Look, if it does come into some sort of shooting match between Iran and the U.S.," they say, "it's going to be costly for America." There was a former senior Revolutionary Guard commander that I talked to just yesterday. And he told me, "Look, the United States needs to understand that if it does come to that," that, "the Iranians are not only going to use their ballistic missile," but he also said, that next to almost every American military base in the Middle East, Iran has some sort of militia on the ground there. And he said, those will be mobilized and used as well -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Wow, okay. Frederik Pleitgen, with just incredible color there from Tehran and strong words from the leaders there. Thank you so much for that. I want to stay on this.

And just a quick review of some of the recent incidents that led to this point. Intelligence showed Iran was likely moving short range ballistics by boat in the Persian Gulf. "The New York Times" just reported an image of that. It has been declassified and those images led to the U.S. moving a Carrier Strike Group to the area, earlier this month. Then Wednesday, the U.S. also partially evacuated two U.S. diplomatic compounds in Iraq.

I've got CNN global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller, who's with the Wilson International Center and once served as a state department analyst and negotiator in both Republican and Democratic administrations. So, Aaron, listening to all of this, you hear Zarif, Iran's Foreign Minister saying, he has no idea where Trump got the idea that Iran wanted to talk. And you heard Fred's reporting -- I want no negotiations with the Trump White House, they see it as poisonous. But Trump clearly wants to talk to him and he's got his digits. So, who's going to blink to improve the situation so no one goes to war?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's unlikely anyone's going to blink right now. I think the smart money, Brooke, is still against -- or the odds are against a sustained shooting war between Iran and the U.S. But you move enough hardware around the Iranian's signal by presumably --

[14:10:04] MILLER: We have intelligence presumably that there are threats against American personnel in Iraq. And you move ballistic missile components or maybe ballistic missiles on boats to Yemen, unclear where they're where they're intended to go. And the dangers and the risks of escalation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding increase.

So, I'd still rule out the possibility -- I mean, the overwhelming possibility of a serious military clash. The problem is that once we withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, as kind of unraveling process begins to occur. Iranians want to stay in as long as the Europeans can satisfy them by meeting some of their economic needs. The administration is determined to increase maximum pressure through sanctions, reducing Iran's oil exports to zero. And I guess the real question in the end, Brooke, is what is American policy?

Is it to compel Iran back to the negotiating table to negotiate a better agreement on more favorable terms to the U.S.? Is it regime change? Is it to fracture collapse and ultimately lay the basis for Iranians to rise up? These are -- it seems to me are fantastical goals.

Final point, you have a very risk-averse President who frankly is carrying on the policies of his predecessor, not getting the Americans in new wars and trying to get them out of unwinnable old ones. And I think that's what you see in the split between President Trump and National Security Adviser, John Bolton.

BALDWIN: John Bolton. Well, to that point, you know, we know that Trump has called to complain about Ambassador Bolton. And to add to that, CNN has also reporting today that Secretary of State, Pompeo and Bolton just don't like each other. Not to mention, President Trump knows going to war with Iran just isn't good for him politically, right, looking into 2020.

So, what message is this sending to Iran and to other countries around the world?

MILLER: Well, a certain degree of uncertainty which can be used to America's advantage if in fact, you have a strategy. but under these circumstances, I think it communicates the fact that we don't know what our policy is. You know, the famous song that, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." It also allows our adversaries and our allies, presumably to try to exploit divisions within the administration.

You know, the President grumbles about all of his advisers, and I'm sure he's been grumbling about John Bolton since he became National Security Advisor as he grumbled about Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. The real basic issue though is, what is American policy and strategy on Iran and how to navigate this very tricky situation which you don't want a military confrontation. And right now, the circumstances may not be ripe or fertile for negotiations. That's the real problem here.

BALDWIN: So, last question -- just bringing it to today and I'm talking to the President of Switzerland next hour, who is the one who sat with President Trump today about Trump talking to Iran. And it sounds to me that if Iran is like, "Hey, we have all your phone numbers. And no, we don't want to talk to you and no, we don't want to get into anything too sticky," then what is the role of Switzerland here?

MILLER: Well, I think it sends an unmistakable signal. I think positive signal that the President would rather "jaw-jaw," as Winston Churchill said, than go to war. But look, if you want to talk to the Iranians, given the toxic political climate for both the President and for President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader, you don't do it through this with -- through a public channel. There are infinite ways if you want to communicate through the Omanis. They've been a traditional channel, and others who might serve as brokers. If we want to talk the Iranians, we should be smart enough and are smart enough to figure out a way to do it. And frankly, we should be doing it.

BALDWIN: Aaron David Miller, thank you very much.

MILLER: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Minutes from now, I'm just reminding all of you, we will see President Trump speaking from the White House, making the case for his new immigration proposal crafted by his son in law, Jared Kushner. So we'll watch for that live.

Plus, New York City's mayor becoming now the 23rd Democrat to enter this Presidential race. Even though majority of voters in the city say, Bill de Blasio should not run. We'll debate the pros and cons for his campaign. And President Trump grants full pardons to two political allies, including: one, who wrote a book praising Trump. We'll be right back. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:15:00] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And then, there were 23. New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, throws yet another hat into the crowded ring of Democratic contenders hoping to challenge President Trump in the 2020 Presidential election.

This morning, he went on "Good Morning America" to say why he thinks he is the man for the job. New York being New York though that there was some heckling outside from the police Benevolent Association, and fellow New Yorker and President Trump did his own heckling on Twitter, writing in part that de Blasio is considered the worst mayor in the U.S. and that NYC hates him.

Many are pointing out that New York City doesn't universally sing the President's praises either.

[14:20:07]BALDWIN: And de Blasio, hit back by using the style Trump often traffics in snark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump has a con man's mentality. And any good New Yorker who's watched the game of Three-card Monte, or any other example of the way some in this city try and get over on others. We are pretty streetwise people in this city. We know a con man when we see one. We know his tricks. And I feel strongly he just has to be confronted. And he likes to give us little nicknames. I'll give him one back "Con-Don." It says everything you need to know about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Harry Siegel is the senior editor for "The Daily Beast" and a columnist at the "New York Daily News" and Joel Payne is a former senior aide on the Hillary for America campaign. Gentlemen, thank you for being with me. And Joel, I'm going to hit you up first because for all of the criticism that Mayor de Blasio was getting, you say he has really strong progressive principles that he's standing on. I mean, why do you think he could be the guy?

JOEL PAYNE, HILLARY FOR AMERICA FORMER SENIOR AIDE: He has as much a claim to be in this race as any progressive in the race. Now, he's coming in a little late. He's got some problems here at home in New York City. But he's actually put in place, all of the things that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are talking about. Things like Universal Pre-K, paid family leave for all. He's decriminalized marijuana to a certain extent, or at least de-enforced marijuana in New York City.

All of the things that the progressives and the Democratic Party have talked about wanting to do. Someone like Bill de Blasio can actually say, "Hey, I already did that." So in a lot of ways, he maybe has more of a claim to being the godfather of those progressive issues ...

BALDWIN: Instead of Bernie Sanders?

PAYNE: ... even like a Bernie Sanders.

BALDWIN: I see you making faces. Why are you making faces?

HARRY SIEGEL, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, so he got Universal Pre-K. The whole idea was there's going to be a tax, like a good cup of coffee a day is going to pay for this. He didn't get the tax. The marijuana thing was district attorneys like Ken Thompson dragging him there. A lot of the rest of this was the city council. He actually hasn't done so much. You saw this progressive way of coming and it sort of washed over him and he's trying to get back in the mix. But look, 76 percent of New Yorkers say this guy shouldn't run. Twenty three candidates, he's the one person with a negative overall favorability rating. And the good news for him is he's at zero percent in the polling average who's got, I guess, nowhere to go but up.

BALDWIN: Zero percent.

PAYNE: I think we can say, Harry has made up his mind.

BALDWIN: Yeah, I think we know how Harry feels. Interestingly, though, you were saying before we started the segment, that de Blasio's presence in the race could actually help Joe Biden and I'm curious why?

PAYNE: Yes, because there's even more of a brush fire on the far left of the party. You know, one of the things that -- one of the theories I've seen, some pollsters talk about is, because there's such a fight with a Bernie and a Warren and people on the left wing of the party, that actually helps Biden because that opens up the middle pathway for him. So Biden likes the idea of an even bigger fight on the left. So de Blasio, hey -- if the water is warm jump on in.

BALDWIN: Okay.

PAYNE: Because that's just a bigger fight that Biden doesn't have to worry about. They can kind of keep themselves busy. He can focus on the middle of the country.

BALDWIN: As he is. So number 23. I want to play this, just moving on to -- speaking of Joe Biden. You have a comment today from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, about the current front runner -- role it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think Biden, no disrespect, is the Jeb Bush of this cycle. I think he could have run at a different time, and he would have been the nominee. I think he has too much to apologize for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The Jeb Bush of this cycle. Ouch, right?

SIEGEL: Ouch, and yet another -- how many elections are we going to have about the Iraq war again, it's what I'm starting to wonder.

PAYNE: Yes, you know, it's so interesting, though, because Kevin McCarthy was probably one of those mainstream Republicans that initially had to kind of be pulled along by the bootstraps for Donald Trump. So to kind of hear him talking about that. It's just really it's kind of freaky Friday's type stuff a little bit for me.

Look, I think that Joe Biden is off to a good start. He's got some problems and what he's going to have problems with is when -- he's on a debate stage and you've got Cory Booker attacking him, for one thing. You've got Kamala Harris talking about the crime bill. You've got someone else talking about Anita Hill. That's where Joe Biden's problems start. His problems don't start with being compared to Jeb Bush. They are about the real fights that he's going have to face on a debate stage with the Democrats.

BALDWIN: One more, this is on people to judge. He's making news because he has now hired the ad team who did the messaging for then Senator Barack Obama back in '07-'08. And so, we're still not hearing much from Mayor Pete. You know, maybe when it comes on substance, but he's -- this is one huge focus of his and obviously it did pretty well for Senator Obama. What do you think of these guys he's pulled on the campaign?

SIEGEL: Well, one of them was Bill de Blasio's visionary, who's worked with David Axelrod previously from 2013, who did the iconic Dante, and if you're a guy with a thin resume like Mayor Pete, who's trying to have a broad and shining moment, I think he's bringing in a really impressive team. We'll see what that's worth at this moment but these guys are serious.

PAYNE: Yes look, these are the crown jewel ad makers on the Democratic side. There are others, too.

[14:25:04] PAYNE: People like Jim Margolis, folks like that. But these are high-level hires for Buttigieg. Hires, by the way, that he couldn't have made three, four, or five months ago, because he's a factor. Because he has supplanted himself right in the middle of this race. He's actually got the gravitas to get that kind of a staff member. And by the way, he's got the money now.

BALDWIN: Yes.

PAYNE: He has tapped into that donor base, and he is a real player on the Democratic side.

BALDWIN: All right, Joel and Harry, thank you very much on that -- on 2020. By the way, any moment now, President Trump will unveil a new plan to deal with his signature issue of immigration. Folks getting ready for that. Standing by in the Rose Garden at the White House. We'll take it live. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: President Trump...

[14:30:09]