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Kamala Harris Unveils Plan to End Gender Pay Gap; Pete Buttigieg Criticizes FOX News on FOX News; NYT: Trump Prepares Possible Pardons for Accused U.S. War Criminals; Billionaire to Pay Off Student Loan Debt of 2019 Morehouse College Grads. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired May 20, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The pay gap is real and it isn't anything new, but Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris, is rolling out a very new idea to take it on.

She sat down with Kyung Lah to talk about it. Listen.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): What I am proposing is we shift the burden. It should not be on that working woman to prove it. It should instead be on that large corporation to prove they're paying people for equal work equally. It's that simple. It's literally that simple. And

this then is not only about fairness and equality. It's about transparency. Let's -- show us what you got. That's it.


BOLDUAN: Is that it?

Joining me now, Lisa Lerer, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for the "New York Times," and Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior Washington correspondent.

It's great to see you guys.

Lisa, what are you hearing about this policy rollout from Harris? It looks like she's trying to kind of take on two birds, hit two birds with one stone, however you want to say it, taking on big business and the pay gap at the same time.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And this does seem like a policy -- this is her third policy. The first dealt with teacher pay. The second dealt with gun control. And now we have this policy, which is on, of course, equal pay. It does feel like she's targeting pretty aggressively women in the Democratic Party.

I think it's very interesting because we talk a lot about electability. Particularly when it comes to Joe Biden. We talk about electability, a lot of times we're talking about white male voters in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan. But electability in the primary race could look different. It very

well may look a lot different. Women are expected to be a majority of voters as they were in the 2018 midterms. And in places like South Carolina and some of the southern states, the vote on Super Tuesday, black women are supposed to be a very significant part of the primary electorate.

You see Senator Harris rolling out these policies that really are targeted squarely at the interests of those voters who will be a big part of the base that she needs to win over to be successful in this primary race.

BOLDUAN: And, Jeff, one part of the rollout of this that I found interesting is that she's already saying that she's ready to use executive action as president if Congress doesn't go along with it. This isn't the first time that she's said that as she's rolling out the policy. She said something similar when it comes to gun measures.

I find it really interesting considering how much President Trump, and let's be honest, President Obama before him, have been criticized for their use of executive action.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question, we are seeing a lot more of proposals that say if Congress does not act, then I will, from the executive.

I think a couple things are at play. One, she's in the Senate and knows very well that things haven't exactly been the most productive session of Congress, I guess, for the last couple sessions, if you will. She knows it's difficult to get things through the House and, indeed, the Senate.

It's a way as a presidential candidate to show that, look, I'm going to act on my own. She's not an executive, not been a governor, so she's going to say I'm going to act on my own.

Whenever there's a president doing executive action, the other party is crying foul, but it always switches or it usually switches. Certainly we have seen that in the Trump administration. A lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill seem just fine with President Trump doing executive orders, when they certainly didn't like it for President Obama.

At this time of the presidential campaign, I think it's just Senator Harris saying, look, if Congress isn't going to act, I'll do it myself.

BOLDUAN: I'll fight for it, take it on, even if it would become a problem when I become president.

Another Democrat, Lisa, who is taking, let's say a unique approach, is Pete Buttigieg, taking on FOX in the middle of a FOX town hall that he took part in. Let me play you just this moment for folks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you've got Tucker Carlson saying that immigrants make America dirty, when you've got Laura Ingraham comparing detention centers with children in cages to summer camps, summer camps, then there's a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem.

But I also believe that even though some of those hosts are not always there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith.


BOLDUAN: Is that -- what do you make of that? Is that Buttigieg successfully threading the needle?

LERER: There's this big debate in the Democratic Party about whether or not to go on FOX at all. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic National Committee say it's not something Democrats should do because by going on FOX, Democrats are just helping this network that vilifies them every day, nonstop, make money.

And then you have the flip side, which is Senator Bernie Sanders, you know, Mayor Buttigieg, saying we need to reach people where they are. There's some concern with the Warren argument that it tip-toes dangerously close to "deplorables," that phrase that got Hillary Clinton in so much trouble during the last election. So you don't want to sort of vilify people, even if you're trying to vilify the network.

[11:35:00] Frankly, it's hard for me to imagine that that many reliable Democratic primary voters are avid FOX News watchers. It seems like a crossover demographic that doesn't happen.

I think what he's doing is trying to send a message about the kind of campaign he would run, particularly in the general elections, that he would be willing to reach out to everybody, and trying to, without losing the support of a liberal base that really wants Democrats to just demagogue FOX.

BOLDUAN: That's a good way of putting it.

Jeff, you sat down with the mayor and talked to him about his time in Afghanistan among other things. One thing -- when you kind of compare it with other Democratic candidates, one thing we haven't heard from him yet are a bunch of major policy rollouts. What are you hearing on that front? Is that to come? Is that important to Pete Buttigieg right now, do you think?

ZELENY: He is saying he's going to be delivering, unveiling a lot of policy ideas, but he's very much behind if there was a competition for who has the most policy proposals, either in speeches or on their Web site or other things. He is not in the hunt or leading the way by any means for that.

But, look, he's making the sort of the risk potentially by potentially just the idea of introducing himself and the idea of his candidacy.

And it shows one thing. He's confident in his abilities and his intellect in the fact that a sort of reminding voters, he's a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard, Oxford, spent time in Afghanistan. He's done some things. And I think he's trying to, you know, introduce the idea of him to voters. And most of them who are watching say, OK, he's a smart guy. He'll probably have policies.

But I think there's a limit to how far you can go to running a presidential campaign without releasing any policies at all. I expect him to at some point. But right now, he's not bothered by the fact he's not sort of unveiling a lot of 10-point plans. He's making the argument that voters aren't looking at all of those at this point. They're just trying to get a sense of who candidates are. We'll see how long that lasts for him.

BOLDUAN: That job is a harder one than most right now with 23 Democrats in the field.

Good to see you guys. Thank you so much.

A programming note for all of you. Democratic candidate, Beto O'Rourke, joins Dana Bash for a live CNN town hall from Des Moines, Iowa. That's tomorrow night, 10:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

Still ahead for us, a new report says that President Trump is looking to pardon members of the U.S. military, some accused, some convicted of war crimes. The "New York Times" reporter who broke the story is joining me next.


[11:42:10] BOLDUAN: Several members of the U.S. military accused of war crimes are reportedly under consideration to receive presidential pardons, according to a new report in the "New York Times." According to "The Times," the president has requested paperwork on a number of cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, and among others.

Cases like of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, accused of stabbing and killing an Iraqi teenager and indiscriminately shooting at civilians in Iraq. If convicted, he could face life in prison. He's pleaded not guilty and has yet to go to trial. Now, we'll find out.

Let me bring in the reporter who broke the story, Dave Philipps, of the "New York Times."

Thanks for being here, Dave.


BOLDUAN: This is important reporting that you're laying out here. I gave obviously just some detail about Chief Gallagher, what he's accused of, but he's not the only one. Can you lay out what you have learned, who these people are, what they're accused of doing as the president is considering pardons? PHILIPPS: Sure. We learned a little but not much. What we started

hearing late last week is the White House had asked the Department of Justice to send -- get the military to send packages on these accused or convicted war criminals to the White House so that they could consider them. And what the military was told was there was a plan to pardon them by Memorial Day weekend.

Now, we don't know who is on that list of potential pardons. We do know specifically that Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who you mentioned earlier, is on that list.

Here's some other people that we think or the military believes is also on that list. A convicted Blackwater contractor who was convicted of killing several people in a shooting in a traffic circle in Iraq several years ago. An Army Special Forces major who admitted to killing a detainee in Afghanistan a number of years ago. And also, a number of Marine snipers who got in big trouble in 2010, I believe, for desecrating the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. There may be more.

And we have no idea whether the president will actually follow through on this. I think, even within the White House, that's an open question.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it always up right until the last second.

The thing about Chief Gallagher's case, is that -- and this is your reporting as well, Dave, I want to point out for folks, that it was members of his own team, that other Navy SEALs that turned him in and tried again and again to raise alarm. That was some of your reporting as well.

The fact that there are so -- there could be so many of them that he's looking into, the fact that they are some of them are accused, some are accused, some are convicted of war crimes, and some, they haven't even yet gone to trial. How unusual is this if the president does end up pardoning them?

[11:45:13] PHILIPPS: So experts I talked to said this is unprecedented, at least since the Civil War. It is extremely unusual for the president to intervene before a trial takes place. There's a big belief within the military that at least the system should be able to play out.

And interestingly, Mr. Gallagher -- Chief Gallagher's attorneys have said the same thing, that ideally they would love to see him acquitted in a trial.

Now, there have been a number of people who were pardoned in the military before. I mean, most notably, probably, President Carter pardoned some 40,000 people who avoided the draft.

But to pardon people who are accused of very serious crimes, premeditated murder, attempted murder, these are the most serious crimes in the military. There isn't anything like that since President Lincoln was alive. BOLDUAN: And as you note, we'll see if the president does follow

through with these pardons.

But I want to tell folks, this is really important reporting you have been doing not just now but previously on the issue and people should look it up. I'll make sure to send it out.

Thanks, Dave.

PHILIPPS: Thanks for having me on.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, very different story and something we all need a little more of, something uplifting. The most amazing surprise for the graduating class of Morehouse College. A commencement speaker, almost nonchalantly, promises to pay off their student loans, all of them. One of those graduates joins me next.





[11:51:44] BOLDUAN: This may very well be the ultimate graduation gift. During a commencement address at Morehouse College this weekend, billionaire investor and philanthropist, Robert F. Smith, announced that he's paying off the student loan debt for the entire graduating class.

Here's the moment.


ROBERT F. SMITH, BUSINESSMAN & PHILANTHROPIST: On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus.

This is my class, 2019.



SMITH: And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.



(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: I actually didn't notice until now, the one person over Robert Smith's shoulder, who clearly did not believe what he was hearing in that moment. It almost seems that everyone in the crowd did not believe it when they first heard it.

Let's be honest, it's really hard to believe. That gift is going to cover 396 students who graduated this all-male college. Smith's announcement took everyone by surprise, including the administration, so much so, that they are still calculating the amount and the amount of the actual gift, but it will likely be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Joining me right now is a member of the Morehouse College class of 2019, Aaron Mitchom.

Aaron, thank you so much for being here.

I mean, 24 hours later, when you hear that moment in your ear one more time, I mean, what are you thinking right now?

AARON MITCHOM, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE GRADUATE: It was -- I'm just -- I'm amazed because, you know, as a black man, I'm getting my degree so that's already amazing for me, and during the moment, I'm like, wait, you want to pay off my student loans, too? I have a degree and I'm tuition-free. It was shocking.

BOLDUAN: Did you believe it when you were first sitting there listening to this?

MITCHOM: No. I thought he was joking, and we all turned around and we're like, wait, what? And so after a good minute we were like he's serious and everybody just started crying, like --

BOLDUAN: Yes. Because it's -- this is real for you. I mean, you've recently been calculating how long it would likely take you to pay off your loans.


BOLDUAN: What did you come up with?

MITCHOM: What I came up, I broke up my loans so I have almost $200,000 in debt right now, and so the way I broke it out was over a 25-month period to just give me some leeway so I could save some money and be able to invest it in a real estate market. So I put a big chunk of it towards my student loans.

So I made an Excel sheet calculating just that right there, even before graduation. I've been doing this since freshman year of just really tweaking, because I knew I was going to have to get a lot of loans to be able to afford Morehouse College.

BOLDUAN: Unbelievable.

What does this mean for you now? Has it set in what this actually means for you to have in just like, poof, in a moment to know that that burden of decades and $200,000 in debt is lifted from your shoulders?

MITCHOM: It means a lot to me and my family. And it -- I mean, you know, I looked around, and my other Morehouse brothers, I said, wow, like, he really just boosted our credit scores and put us in a whole other tax bracket. He made it where we can now go eat organic food instead of having to eat peanut butter and jelly, so he changed our lives. He changed a generation of wealth right there just off of a couple of words.

[11:55:18] BOLDUAN: Oh, my gosh. I love this so much.

Real quickly. What are you going to do now?

MITCHOM: So, now I'm still celebrating. I'm still in shock. I have to get -- I have to figure out a way to give back and be able to give my time back to the institution and the college now that I don't have any student loans.

BOLDUAN: You will. And I'm really looking forward to see what you do because now you're starting off, even on a better right foot.

MITCHOM: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: You're doing well and you graduated.

Congratulations. Thanks for joining me.

MITCHOM: Thanks so much for inviting me.

BOLDUAN: Just unbelievable. Congratulations, Aaron.

MITCHOM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for joining me as well.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right after a quick break.