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Biden Fact-Checked Over Claims About 1994 Crime Bill; FBI Keeping Identity of Breached Florida Counties Secret; New York Mayor De Blasio Running for President; Kirsten Gillibrand and Abortion Rights. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 16, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- the higher incarceration rates but even Bill Clinton has acknowledged this. If Biden is going to lay claim to the Biden Crime Bill, he needs to take ownership of some of its flaws.

The vice president is not willing to do that yesterday.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think we're going to see it even more pronounced when he's standing next to his rivals at a debate and having to answer to this. Because right now when he's doing these rallies, he's not having anyone come back at him. No one is questioning what he's saying and making him defends it. And that's going to be tough for him with these stats out there, you know.

And, you know, inside California, Kamala Harris has a lot of criticism for her record as a prosecutor. I've talked to advocates out there who say she really didn't do much herself to help with that in California. Now, it's up for debate, of course, but I think both of them have a little bit of baggage there potentially.

KING: It's an incredibly complicated issue and it does tend -- there are ebbs and flows in the sense of, I remember back in the '90s when the bill passed, I was here, and there was demand all around to do something because of the crack epidemic because of other things going on.

But it's striking, this is what Joe Biden has to navigate then and now of the Democratic Party and the then and now of his career on many issues, crime being one of them. I just want to go back. This is Bill Clinton's Democratic platform in 1996 on the issue of the crime. "Today's Democratic Party believes the first responsibility of government is law and order. Talks about putting 100,000 more cops on the street, wage an aggressive war on drugs."

Even in Hillary Clinton's platform, the party was beginning to move this way. This is still posted in the 2016 platform, "Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. You know that pas bills have led to the imprisonment of millions of Americans, disproportionably people of color."

So this was already happening. The question is, how does Joe Biden navigate you were part of what -- back then, people loved it then, they don't now. How do you explain it? MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: I think this is just a really hard thing for him to sort of thread, that needle to thread because he's been around for a very long time, and all those sorts of ebbs and flows, the way parties change on issues, I think of 1994, that's also when Republicans were backing NAFTA and now look at where they've changed on that. He's been around for all of those things, and I think this sort of goes to a weakness that's not reflected in his poll numbers right now which is he has to answer a lot of these questions while the party has been changing.

KING: Or can he turn the weakness into a strength by saying, look, I've evolved, I've learned lessons. Sure.

KUCINICH: But he's not saying that.

WARREN: Perhaps, but he's not saying that. He's talking about what the congressional black caucus supported back in 1994.

KING: Sounds like Bob Dole there. A process Senate argument, no offense to Senator Dole but that was the argument Senator Dole would make when he ran for president, he'll blame it on the process, blame it on the (INAUDIBLE).

WARREN: That's right.

KING: But it's part of the big generational argument, Seth Moulton, Iraq War veteran, a congressman from Massachusetts, a longer shot in the Democratic race quoted in New York mag in an article published today. They asked him, they said, well, isn't Joe Biden the foreign policy candidate? He said I think it's time for the generation that went to Iraq and Afghanistan to replace the generation that sent us there. Pretty clear what he's trying to say there.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And like you said earlier, this is not the only issue where Biden is going to have to grapple with this. You can almost hear in his answer about the crime bill that you just played how he is trying to grapple with how the debate has changed. The center of this debate on what to do about crime in America is such -- in such a different place now than it was then and I think he's right. Where the crime bill came out in 1994 was the center. Where the debate was over the Iraq War was it's a very different debate than we would have today on that issue. But that's not the debate that he was engaging in then and so he's trying to reconcile that.

But I think until he comes up with some answers that acknowledge that, you know, sort of evolution and where he has gone on that evolution as well, it's going to be difficult. It's not going to be good enough for him to go out and say, no, the crime bill didn't do this. It wasn't the reason. He's going to have to have an answer for that one.

KING: Why is it so hard for politicians to say we did the best we could at the time, we listened to everybody at the time, we had to make compromises. They weren't all perfect but we did the best we could and now with 20 years of hindsight, some of it wasn't great and we need to fix it. TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. If you look at Joe Biden's record in his history, he has a long history of sort of not apologizing, whether it's for the way he dealt with various people and his tactile approach to politics and touching people. He hasn't fully apologized for a lot of those different things. And especially when you talk about his record, he's much more of an explainer than an apologizer. And I think that's part of what we've seen in the past with him and it sounds like that's where he's going to continue to go.

I would just say that he should not underestimate the power of this issue. We saw Hillary Clinton struggle in 2016 over the super predator comment that she made back during the crime bill age, and I think that's something that he has to be aware of that that could have an impact as well.

KUCINICH: I think the problem is not that he is explaining it but that he's trying to justify it. And I think that's very different. I think what you were talking about was explaining why it was how it was then and then now it seems like it's a little defensive. He's coming from a place of weakness there.

KING: You're right, he's trying to defend that comment instead of saying times changed, we all changed, we all learn and move on. We'll watch. You make a great point about the last campaign.

Next, just days after breaking his hip, former president Jimmy Carter already home from the hospital ready to teach Sunday school.


[12:39:23] KING: Topping our political radar today, Jimmy Carter is home from the hospital after hip replacement surgery. The 94-year-old former president fell and broke his hip Monday while leaving his house to go turkey hunting. The Carter Center says he'll undergo physical therapy as part of his recovery but he plans to teach Sunday school this weekend. Good for him. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter also hospitalized overnight after feeling faint but she returned home this morning with her husband.

About two hours from now, President Trump will lay out the details of his new immigration reform plan. The White House says the proposal crafted in large part by son-in-law Jared Kushner will promote border security and a merit-based system for immigrants who want to come into the United States. The plan is intended to shore up Republican support but a top GOP source telling CNN there remain divisions over DACA and other issues that would be needed to get Democratic support.

[12:40:08] A Capitol Hill briefing this morning on a Mueller report mystery, where and how the Russians infiltrated the election systems of two Florida counties. CNN's Evan Perez live on Capitol Hill. Evan, what more do we know?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the FBI was still not being very forthcoming with the members of Congress from the Florida delegation who they gave this briefing to. There's a lot of frustration. The Florida delegation saying that they believe that this is going to undermine the faith of voters in the election system, in the election results if the FBI doesn't change the way it's doing this.

Now, we did learn during this briefing that the FBI told these counties, these Florida counties, that there were some problems back in 2016. At least two of them did come forward and said that they noticed some suspicious activity, so that's where this information comes from. Again, the underlying information is still being kept under wraps by the FBI. We still don't know, we still -- these lawmakers still can't say publicly which counties were affected and so now they're going to try to push for some legislation to try to force the FBI to try to be more forthcoming about this information, John.

KING: It's fascinating, love to know more. Evan Perez, appreciate the reporting live from the Hill.

When we come back, the president's hometown mayor wants to run for president.


[12:46:03] KING: The New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today declared his candidacy for president. And the 23rd Democratic to join the 2020 fray says his firsthand knowledge of President Trump is what sets him apart from the pack.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It doesn't matter if you live in a city or a rural area, a big state, a small state. It doesn't matter what your ethnicity is. People in every part of this country feel stuck or even like to go backward. But the rich got richer.

I'm a New Yorker. I've known Trump is a bully for a long time. This is not news to me or anyone else here, and I know how to take him on.

Don't back down in the face of a bully. Confront him. Take him on.


KING: Now the mayor is a long shot, to say the least, but he did get the president's instant attention. This tweet, quote, the Dems are getting another beauty to join their group, Bill de Blasio of New York City considered the worst mayor in the United States will supposedly be making an announcement for president today. He is a joke, the president says, but if you like high taxes and crime, he is your man. NYC hates him. That's the president's take.

Laughter at the table. The mayor and the president don't see eye on policy at all but they do share the experience of New York tabloid treatment. The New York Post this morning making clear it views the New York mayor's candidacy as a joke.

That's not nice. That's not nice. It's his first day. It's his first day. Look, I'm going to say this as we start the conversation. Nobody has a clue who's going to win the Democratic nomination.

KUCINICH: Very true.

KING: I'll also say this at the start, it's also clear that a number of people who have very, very long odds have decided it's not -- you don't -- it's not a losing proposition anymore just to run to raise your national profile. Is there a lane for Mayor Bill de Blasio?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, I would say that the fact that President Trump won in 2016 is part of the reason that we have such a big field on the Democratic side. People say if Trump can do it, come out of nowhere and win a presidential election then why can't I. And I think that's what we're seeing even from Bill de Blasio. You know, he does have a strong progressive record of getting results in New York, everything from a $15 minimum wage to healthcare for everyone to pre-K for free for a lot of young families. But at the same time as Trump said in his tweet, there are a number of reasons why New Yorkers and other Americans don't think that he's done a great job because there's a big homelessness challenge in New York City. Even though the crime rate is low, it's still a challenge for him to be able to defend his record on everything from the subway to making sure that inequality is not out of control in that city.

So he does face long odds in part because of his record but Trump faced long odds because he didn't have a record or any kind of background in politics and he won. Then I think that's part of the reason so many people are thinking they have a shot.

KING: And as he tries to sell himself today, let's be fair and give him a chance. He says, look, from my experience in a city with a lot of challenges, I think I can travel the country and make the case that those of you struggling in this economy, I can help you.


DE BLASIO: Working Americans deserve better, and I know we can do it because I've done it here in the largest, toughest city in this country. We're putting money back in the hands of working people. We're doing things like guaranteed healthcare for all New Yorkers, including mental healthcare, the issue that Chirlane is focused on, paid sick leave, pre-K for all. These are things that change working people's lives for the better.


KING: Challenges, there's -- again, if you're a Republican or conservative, you don't agree with any of that, but if you're a progressive he fits in with where the party is as progressive. The question is with 23 others, I mean, it's an elbow thing, right?

DAVIS: Right. I mean, unlike some of the other candidates in the race who are talking about a lot of the same things or talking about, you know, tackling income inequality and talking about paid leave and, you know, better access to education and healthcare, he is actually done some of those things in New York City and so he can point to an actual record in a way that some, you know, members of Congress can't necessarily do. That, you know, Elizabeth Warren has lots of plans but she can't say, you know, here, look at this microcosm of how this would play out and what I did.

[12:50:01] I think the challenge for him is, you know, his popularity is still very, very low in New York City. Now, President Trump's popularity is pretty low as well so that would be, you know -- that wouldn't necessarily hold him black.

KING: To that point, does it matter. Let's just show you, Quinnipiac asked New York City voters do you want your mayor to run for president. Among all New York City voters, 76 percent said no, only 18 percent yes. Among New York City Democrats, among Democrats, 73 percent said no.

If you look at the national polls or this is a New Hampshire poll, Democratic primary voters in the first primary state, Joe Biden, 36, Bernie Sanders is 18, Bill de Blasio, zero.

Now, nobody votes for nine months. Nobody votes for nine months. The Montana governor got in the race this week, there are a lot of people who haven't caught any traction yet. I rule nothing out especially in the age of Trump as Toluse notes, but what does he have to do?

WARREN: Well, it suggests that he looked at what Pete Buttigieg, a mayor of a much smaller city than New York did and was able to come from nothing, from essentially zero to where he is in these polls. You have to think that de Blasio looked at that field and said I'm just as progressive, I had a record, he's more like a governor than a mayor given the size of New York. Why can't I throw my hat in the ring, and I think he's not wrong in that sense.

I do think it's also interesting that his focus on I'm going to be the guy to go against Trump. That's something we haven't heard recently from new entrants into the race. I thought that just struck me (INAUDIBLE).

KUCINICH: But probably bouncing off of the fact that a lot of Democrats want someone who can go up against Trump. It's a good gimmick but we could see -- we'll if he can, you know, fill it out.

KING: We'll see if he gets on the debate stage and we'll see how we go from there.

Quick programming note for us, tomorrow night right here on CNN, Erin Burnett investigates the Trump family business. That's a CNN special report tomorrow night at 9 Eastern right here on CNN.

Up next for us, Kirsten Gillibrand sees an opportunity to launch what she calls a movement. Will it help lift what so far has been a struggling campaign?


[12:56:20] KING: Today Senator Kirsten Gillibrand making her first campaign trip to Georgia. She's there to protest the state's so- called heartbeat law which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, that's usually around six weeks. Georgia, one of many states moving now to add new abortion restrictions. Alabama's governor for example just yesterday signed a near-total ban, and last night Missouri's Republican-led Senate passed a bill that would ban abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy.

Gillibrand says the best way to counter this state by state restrictions and challenges to abortion rights is a national movement. And she hopes, hopes that women see her presidential campaign as that vehicle.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is an all-out assault and attack by the Republican Party across this nation to undermine women's basic reproductive rights, basic civil rights, basic human rights with the intention, make no mistakes of overturning Roe v. Wade. So I am here to listen to you, to hear your stories, to lift them up, and then I will help you lead this movement all across the country to restore women's basic constitutional rights.

Thank you.


KING: I want to be clear, she believes in this anyway but she is running for president and she thinks she can turn this to her advantage. How does that work?

KUCINICH: She needs something, right, because her campaign really hasn't gotten a whole lot of traction. And you're right, this is something she's talked about for a while. This is something that she has stood up for, and maybe this will be it to, you know, really stand out in a way that she hasn't been able to.

She's one of the few senators who's running who hasn't met the DNC threshold for the debate yet, and we're getting close. It's not -- there's still time obviously, it's at the end of June but something needs to get her traction, and -- so she's grabbing on to this.

WARREN: There's a history of presidential candidates grabbing onto a sort of a single issue, maybe one that isn't, you know, the number one issue of the economy or something like that. Ronald Reagan grabbed on to the Panama Canal issue back in the late '70s, I think it really helped propel him into the 1980 nomination. I think the difference here is that other Democrats are talking about this as well.

This is a major issue right now, and there's no daylight between the Democratic candidates. They're all adopting her position. I think it's going to be a difficult, not impossible, but difficult task to make this catapult her.

KING: Part of her bet -- as part of her bet and she's not the only one, this is the most diverse field in history for the Democrats. And part of her bet was that women were so important to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms that as a female senator, she might get, you know, sort of an extra look if you will.

DAVIS: Right. I mean, I think that's clearly part of the calculus here if she is going to try to make this sort of a single issue or the marquee issue of her campaign is, the power of, you know, independent women, women across the board, certainly Democratic women in the primary for someone who is trying to break out of the pack cannot be underestimated. So, you know, you want to go at an issue that has a lot of resonance for women but it is kind of interesting to watch the Democrats sort of outdo themselves on how much in the same place they are as she is on this choice issue as we see states around the country really take pretty drastic action to try to limit access to abortions.

You know, you have people saying, that you know, they will introduce national legislation. She's saying she would only pick Supreme Court justices that would pledge to uphold Roe v. Wade. But they're all sort of with the same message which is that we must safeguard Roe v. Wade and that that's going to be the position of the Democratic Party. There's really no question that it's going to be so the question is whether this as an issue for her can propel her from the pack.

KING: Gets her extra attention to break through.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. And I've been struck by sort of the silence from national Republicans on this. Earlier this year, Republicans were really aggressive in talking about late-term abortion. It seems like right now they do not want to be a part of this broader discussion over Alabama and Georgia.

KING: We'll see as it plays out (INAUDIBLE). Thanks for joining --