Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Rep. Nancy Pelosi Answers Question at Event; Trump Enraged After Pelosi's Comments; Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) is Interviewed About Trump and Pelosi. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 22, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Trying to defy the subpoenas and fighting every effort to hold it accountable. How does Congress fulfill this oversight role moving forward and what do you say to those who believe an impeachment inquiry will give Congress what it needs to hold him accountable?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Well, that's a big, long question.
TANDEN: It's all good (ph).
PELOSI: But thank you for that.
I know you heard from Adam Schiff this morning and he's one of our six chairs who are leading the way on what we are going.
First of all let me just say, we take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Democrats take that oath seriously and we are committed to honoring our oath of office. I'm not sure that our Republican colleagues share that commitment. And I'm not sure that the president of the United States does, too.
So, in light of the fact that the beauty of the Constitution is a system of checks and balances, two co-equal branch -- three co-equal branches of government -- that's (INAUDIBLE) -- co-equal branches of government, of check and balance on each other. The Constitution spells out the duties of Congress and one of them is oversight of the president of the United States. Another one of them is to impeach the president of the United States.
So we have -- and let me just be as brief as -- succinct as possible in this regard. We have six chairman. You heard from Adam Schiff this morning who's having a success with getting documents from the Justice Department by the actions the committee has taken. You have Elijah Cummings, chair of the Government Reform Committee, who had a big success this week with one of his cases, the Mazer (ph) decision, which clearly spells out that it's Congress' responsibility and right to investigate the -- the other branches of government. He also has a good -- it's not our case, but it is a case that falls in his domain, the emoluments case. That's the second committee.
The third committee you have Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters is the chair. Maxine has laid out an indictment -- a series of questions back and forth with the administration when they kept telling her, we're not answering you because you're the minority, and now she's the chair of the committee. Today, as we sit here, we're in court in New York with the Deutsche Bank case that -- insisting that we get the documents from Deutsche Bank. And we think we will win that case.
So, again, we're on that path. The investigation that she did, the investigation that Adam Schiff did, the investigation that Mr. Cummings did, are reaping benefits, and more to come from those committees.
And then we have the -- Jerry Nadler, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, which has the over-arching impeachment responsibility and what they are doing with the subpoenas, where we might go with contempt of Congress and the rest there and that -- on the path there. But you have to -- you have to -- in order to have an investigation of any kind if you want to call it an impeachment or whatever, you have to have the subpoena, you have to go to court, you have to develop your case.
Then we have the Richie Neal, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, the law could not be clearer, the IRS shall turn over the documents to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. And so we feel that we'll be in strong -- that's the clearest possible case. OK.
So then one more is Foreign Affairs, which has had hours of testimony from Secretary Tillerson. We haven't -- I've been out this morning so I haven't heard what some of the results of that are yet.
But understand that, you know, Intelligence, we're getting the documents. Government Reform, we've won the court case, two actually. Financial Services, we're in court right now and this is a very good case for us, all built on investigation. Ways and Means, and, again, the Judiciary Committee. So we're very proud of the work that our leadership on those committees -- the work that they have done and they have taken us to a place where we get more information that -- to predicate the next series of actions.
But this is why I think the president was so steamed off this morning because the fact is, in plain sight, in the public domain this president is obstructing justice and he's engaged in a cover-up. And that could be an impeachable offense. Ignoring this -- ignoring the -- ignoring the subpoenas of Congress was Article III of the Nixon impeachment, Article III, he did not honor the subpoenas of Congress.
[13:05:12] So it's not just the substance that we're after, and we want to have to give the truth to the American people, but in striving to get that, the intervention that the -- that the obstruction that the administration is engaged in is -- as they say, the cover-up is frequently worse than the crime.
TANDEN: Very true.
You know, I think there is an interesting paradox because there's a lot of people who talk in the press about some of the issues of impeaching or not impeaching because it -- an impeachment could cloud the agenda. And I think the paradox of that is sometimes reporters don't cover the agenda and so that's actually happening and these issues get much more coverage.
I think when you look at the last several weeks of the new House, I think it would be just interesting to maybe talk a little bit about what has passed so far because it is -- it's a reminder that actually the Congress has been busy passing bills, these committees are very busy and that's extremely important, oversight --
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to break away from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talking with Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress.
I'm Jake Tapper.
You've been listening to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, following what can only be described as a surreal scene at the White House this morning. President Trump walking out of a pre-scheduled meeting with top Democrats to talk about infrastructure. Apparently he refused to even shake any of their hands in that meeting. He left the room, went to the Rose Garden to rail against them and the Democratic Congress in the Rose Garden.
President Trump especially angry it seemed with House Speaker Pelosi, who, earlier in the day, had publicly accused the president of being engaged in a cover-up.
Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House now.
And, Kaitlan, top Democrats went to the White House to talk about infrastructure. The president and they had met before to talk about a potentially a $2 trillion deal. But it seems as though the president was already fuming before they even had a foot hit the welcome mat.
Was the president's Rose Garden rant, where there were signs already set up, was that pre-planned?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they started planning that right after Nancy Pelosi made her remark accusing the president of being engaged in a cover-up, according to what our sources are telling us. And that's when you saw aides start printing out what you saw on the White House podium about the Mueller investigation. And then the president went into that meeting with Democrats, didn't un-invite them from coming, still had them come to the White House, we saw them walk in minutes before reporters were rushed to the Rose Garden. He went in there, maybe less than five minutes, and then he turned on his heels, came to the Rose Garden and, Jake, his anger was unmistakable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just wanted to let you know that I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I'd be really good at that. That's what I do. But, you know what? You can't do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with. This was very sad, because this meeting was set up a number of days ago at 11:00. All of a sudden I hear last night they're going to have a meeting right before this meeting to talk about the "i" word. The "i" word. Can you imagine? I don't speak to Russians about campaigns. When I went to Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania, I don't say, oh, let's call Russia, maybe they can -- it's a hoax. The greatest hoax in history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So you see there, Jake, the president lashing out, not only at the special counsel's investigation, but also all of the investigations happening on Capitol Hill of his white House.
But we're told it was that remark by Nancy Pelosi this morning saying he engaged in a cover-up that the president erupted when he heard that and that is what caused him to blow up this meeting on infrastructure, because, Jake, as you'll note, just three weeks ago the president sat down with Democrats to talk infrastructure here at the White House while these investigations were still going on. But, today, that is not something that was going to happen here at the White House.
TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, I don't doubt that the president's anger is genuine, but it also have been fairly clear that there are a lot of powerful people inside the White House, most notably the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, that do not want to get into a deal with Democrats about infrastructure. Mick Mulvaney talking poorly about it just a few weeks ago.
[13:10:03] How much was this the president really wanting -- really offended and therefore wanting to squash it all, versus the White House looking for an out because they didn't really want to deal and they didn't want to spend $2 trillion?
COLLINS: Yes, it's not like they had a lot to lose here. This infrastructure deal was not going to go forward because Mick Mulvaney wasn't here in the last meeting when the president agreed to that $2 trillion price tag, and today's meeting was supposed to be about how to fund that infrastructure deal. Neither side had really come up with any ways to pay for this that they were going to agree on so White House officials weren't optimistic about that anyway.
So it was a chance for the president to bring Democrats here, to air his frustration, not just on Twitter, but in person about these investigations that we've seen going on and conveniently infrastructure had been the topic. But it's not like that was actually going to go anywhere and there wasn't real hope -- even if there wasn't this impeachment talk and even if there weren't these investigations going on for infrastructure to go anywhere in the first place, Jake.
TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, lastly, I mean there's a lot on the plate of Congress that the president will have to agree to, whether it's raising the debt ceiling or a spending bill, just basic functions of government beyond any sort of ambitious agenda with infrastructure or immigration. COLLINS: Yes.
TAPPER: Is the president saying he's not going to deal with Congress on anything?
COLLINS: Well, he's saying he will not deal with them until these investigations are over.
But what we've seen play out is the White House pushing back against these subpoenas, these request for testimony, for document production and those are things that could play out in the courts until long after the next election. So seemingly what the president is saying, he's saying, he's not going to work with them for the rest of his first term here in office.
Now, of course, the question is, how tenable is that situation with House -- Nancy Pelosi being the House speaker, controlling essentially the purse of Congress. What are they going to do going forward because we've got a fight over budget caps coming up, the debt ceiling. There is so much still to go forward that the president is going to need to work with Democrats on. So if he's saying he's not going to do that, it is going to be a pretty ugly next year and a half here in Washington.
TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks.
Again, the president showing his anger, sieging over a comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking place shortly after Pelosi met with her Democratic caucus to discuss the state of their investigations and also all the Democrats who want to push for impeachment.
Our Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.
Manu, what's the reaction on Capitol Hill to the president's rant, his threat to not work with Congress going forward until the investigations end?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, along party lines, as you would expect on so many issues here. I just had a chance to talk to some Republican senators who say that the president was -- was within his right to storm off the way he did. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who chairs a key Senate committee, told me moments ago that the -- that he, the president, has every right to be frustrated and he can call on Democrats to drop their investigations if they want.
Democrats, on the other hand, say the president has no right to drop these investigations. This is something that they've been doing for some time. The president met with the same Democratic leaders just a few weeks ago about infrastructure while these investigations were taking place. They believe this is all a pre-text to scuttle of a potential bipartisan deal.
Now, Nancy Pelosi, at her press conference today, made that case that she believes the president did not want a deal and the president may not have had confidence to get this passed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We went in the spirit of bipartisanship to find common ground with the president on this. This -- he came into the room, made a statement that he made was -- well, I won't even characterize it.
For some reason, maybe it was lack of confidence on his part, that he really couldn't come -- match the greatness of the challenge that we have, didn't -- wasn't really respectful of the reason -- of the Congress and the White House working together. He just took a pass. And it just makes me wonder why -- why he did that.
In any event, I pray for the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So behind the scenes, Nancy Pelosi, for some time, has been talking about a potential cover-up, referring to the stonewalling at the White House, not complying with the requests, exerting executive privileges, not listening to the subpoenas and -- but she has not gone as far as calling for impeachment, tamping that down, saying there's an actual process they need to go through, an investigative process.
But her remarks just now at the Center for American Progress interesting because she said the fact is in plain sight, the president is obstructing justice and is engaged in a cover-up and that could be an impeachable offense.
So, Jake, she's keeping the door open to a -- potentially, eventually pursuing impeachment, even though she is tamping down talk of doing it immediately, trying to embrace that go-slow approach. Most of her caucus is on board with that approach. Others wanted them to go much firmer. But clearly not backing down from that comment about cover-up that got the president so riled up today.
TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks.
Joining me now in studio, John King, host of "INSIDE POLITICS" and CNN's senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown.
[13:15:03] Thanks for being here.
And, John, I've heard you talk about how Nancy Pelosi has been saying for quite some time now that she thinks President Trump is trying to bait the Democrats in the House to impeaching him, which seems increasingly likely the more they stonewall. Is that what's going on here?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the -- some Democrats will certainly take it that way and so Speaker Pelosi tamped it down this morning. The question is this afternoon, does she have to circle back, because if you're a Democrat and you wanted to impeach this morning and you watched this play out in the last few hours you're saying, what are we waiting for? He's not going to cooperate. Now he won't even legislate with us. He won't do infrastructure. The president's U.S./Canada/Mexico -- U.S./Mexico/Canada trade agreement, forget -- that was difficult to begin with. Prospects for that got worse today. So that's what the Democrats will say.
Speaker Pelosi, as you just heard at that event after, trying to run this out, running through the long list of investigations saying, some of this is slow, but we're making progress. They believe there's an internal IRS memo that says you have to release the president's taxes unless he does executive privilege. They won one court case. That will be appealed.
But her case -- her case is, let this play out. And her argument back is, see, it gets under his skin. Let's just keep going. Can she hold that with the Democratic caucus? It's an interesting question. Right now she has control over her caucus. Not that there's not rumbling.
My bigger question though is, what set the president off. This is a letter he sent to the Democrats last night about infrastructure. It was dead. It was dead before the meeting. Mick Mulvaney, as you mentioned, has convinced the president to retreat. He's no longer willing to do $2 trillion. The Democrats weren't going to take what the president was going to offer.
So there's something else at play here. Look at his Twitter feed this morning. Look at his Twitter feed yesterday. Think back during key moments of the Michael Cohen investigation or the Mueller investigation or other things where the president would be sort of off on the ledge tweeting a tweetstorm for a day or two. We couldn't figure out what it was and then something would happen in the investigation and you'd say, oh, there it is.
There's something else. There's just something else here that has the president on edge and then watching Nancy Pelosi on television saying "cover-up" clearly set him off.
TAPPER: And previous chiefs of staff for this White House, John Kelly most notably, would attempt to rein the president in at moments like this, not approve a White House Rose Garden ceremony for him to unload his anger.
Mick Mulvaney, a very different kind of chief of staff. He's a let Trump be Trump. In some people's view, and another way of looking at that is he's an enabler, he's just letting the president destroy himself.
Behind the scenes, what are your sources telling you about what happened this morning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So you're absolutely right, Mick Mulvaney has a different managing style as chief of staff. His tactic and the reason why people in the White House believe he has been successful in their view is because he's hands off. He lets the president be the president.
You saw today White House officials were smiling while the president was on this rampage against the Democrats. And so in terms of the actual tick tock we don't -- White House officials aren't saying that, but what they're trying to say is, look, if Nancy Pelosi hadn't said the cover-up comment, this infrastructure meeting would have gone on as planned. That was the tipping point. That is why the president erupted.
But if you peel back the layers, there's a couple of thing going on here. There's Mick Mulvaney, who has already cast doubt on any infrastructure deal being reached with the Democrats. Today was about how we were going to paying for the $2 trillion price tag. Mick Mulvaney has told aides that that is not tenable. They're never going to be able to pay for $2 trillion. There was talk internally about a gas tax, which just would not be politically proper. And so that comment from Nancy Pelosi essentially gave the president a way out, an excuse essentially.
And also John mentioned the Twitter tirade this morning. Clearly there's a lot going on. There is pressure building on the president on -- in a lot of different areas. You have House subpoenas going out to Hope Hicks, his former close adviser, Ann Donaldson (ph), who was in the White House Counsel's Office. You have that lower court ruling saying his accountant has to turn over his business records. That is being appealed. You have the Michael Cohen transcripts being released that has damning information from Cohen on the president's conduct.
So all of this has just happened in the last week. And the strain between the White House and Congress has just been increased. And so I think you have some -- a couple of dynamics at play. I'm not convinced, though, what White House officials are saying is true, that this meeting would have gone on normally had Nancy Pelosi not said the cover-up comment, because I just think there's -- there's more to this. You point out the letter, the tweets. There's more to this.
TAPPER: And -- and --
KING: If the meeting had gone on, they would not have had an agreement because the Democrat were going to say, a, a smaller package, and, b, how the president wanted to pay for a smaller package was not acceptable to them. So infrastructure was going off the rails anyway today. The question is, why -- you know, why -- Speaker Pelosi said what she said. She did say what she said. The speaker of the House saying on camera, the president of the United States engaged in a cover-up is a big deal. She has subsequently said obstruction of justice and cover-up in the same sentence. So that is a big deal without a doubt. But the Democrats are also factual when they say other Democrats have said that before today. The investigations were ongoing before today. And so something -- the president decided to elevate this, escalate this.
[13:20:07] TAPPER: All right, John King, Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
TAPPER: Thank you.
More on this extraordinary standoff. I'm going to speak live with a Democratic lawmaker about what happened in that caucus meeting.
Plus, former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta will react to the news. Stay with us.
[13:25:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Would you believe that it's important for -- to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up -- in a cover- up. And that was the nature of the meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: We believe that the president of the United States was engaged in a cover-up. That comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this morning. If you believe White House aides, it set off President Trump today in a Rose Garden speech showing his anger over the multiple investigations and talk of impeachment by Democrats.
Joining me now from Capitol Hill is Minnesota Democrat Congressman Dean Phillips. He's a freshman. He's on both the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees.
Speaker Pelosi made that comment after meeting with Democrat. Do you think ultimately it was a mistake for her to say that moments before meeting with President Trump?
REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Well, mistakes are relative, Jake. I -- call it what you will. There's no question whatsoever that the president is making it awfully difficult for us to do our jobs, which is to provide oversight over the executive branch. And whatever prompted his change of heart today in the Rose Garden. I'm not sure. But if that's all it took, that's a woeful lack of leadership, I'm afraid.
TAPPER: Do you think President Trump is daring House Democrats to impeach him?
PHILLIPS: I've got to tell you, Jake, it's appearing increasingly evident that he may be doing just that. It is our job to provide oversight. I think we've been methodical, we've been principal and we've been awfully patient. But that patience has its limits. We surely are reaching that limit. And if this is a come and get me type of scenario, that's -- that's a shame for this country. I think we're better than that. I know most of my Republican colleagues here in Congress agree with that as well. Impeachment has some grave consequences and trauma for this country. I think most people would like to avoid that generally. But in this case, we have got to do our jobs. He's making it awfully difficult to do that.
TAPPER: What was the message from Speaker Pelosi for members of Congress at the meeting? PHILLIPS: I thought it was a very -- I thought it was a fine message.
She did a terrific job of laying out where we've been and where we need to go to. I think our committee chairs did a fantastic job of updating us as to their work. And the message was, we have to be methodical, we have to be principled. And, again, patience. We have been very patient and that has its limits. I think the caucus generally feels like I do, which is, we have got to learn more. I would rather that we exhaust every avenue in how we -- in finding the facts, if you will, rather than opening impeachment proceedings to find those facts. But we have more to learn. We have an obligation to do so, and that is our oath.
TAPPER: Do you think that impeaching President Trump would hurt House Democrats, potentially even hurt the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, by feeding into the narrative that President Trump has been putting out there, that he's under attack from partisans and he can't do the job he wants to do to help the American people and that you, House Democrats, are more focused on getting him than on helping the American people improve their lives.
PHILLIPS: You know, Jake, I think that's the political lens that drives Americans crazy. And while that may be the case, I'm not certain of that, because there are millions of Democrats that are calling for just the opposite that will be terribly disappointed as well. Our job is very simple, it is to pursue facts and let facts drive decisions. You know, when we take an oath to office, it's not to a party, it's to the Constitution. And that is what we are focused on. I surely do not look at this through a political lens. And, frankly, if I did, I probably would have called for impeachment well -- some months ago. I still believe that we have work to do and that we should exhaust every avenue to get there regardless of politics.
TAPPER: All right Congressman Dean Phillips, a freshman, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
PHILLIPS: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: Former Chief of Staff Leon Panetta will join me live to react to the standoff next. Stay with us.