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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democratic Candidates Respond to Trump Attacks on Biden; American Climber Dies on Mount Everest. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 27, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): A Biden aide responding to CNN, calling the president's tweet "unhinged" and "erratic," while Biden's rivals jumped in to defend him.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Kim Jong-un is a murderous dictator and Vice President Biden served this country honorably.

BUCK: The former vice president was off the trail this weekend, but that isn't stopping another candidate from partaking in a favorite Biden treat, Senator Bernie Sanders cooling off with three ice cream socials in New Hampshire on Monday, after turning up the heat on Trump during a Vermont rally this weekend.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a president who is a pathological liar.

BUCK: In Iowa, Senator Amy Klobuchar also taking aim at the president on Saturday, recalling a moment with the late Senator John McCain at Trump's inauguration.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John McCain kept reciting to me names of dictators during that speech, because he knew more than any of us what we were facing as a nation. He understood it.

BUCK: John McCain's daughter Meghan weighing in today on Twitter, asking Klobuchar to leave her father's legacy and memory out of presidential politics.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCK: And we're here with Cory Booker in Iowa, as he wraps up a four- day swing through the Hawkeye State.

This week, the candidates will head West for a MoveOn forum on Friday in San Francisco. And, of course, Erica, we're only one month away from the first Democratic presidential debate -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: The clock is ticking. Rebecca Buck in Iowa today, Rebecca, thank you.

We just heard a little bit there from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, weighing in on the president's comments about Joe Biden. I want to play a little bit more, though, of what he had to say. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: Kim Jong-un is a murderous dictator, and Vice President Biden served this country honorably.

It's just one more example of the way that this president tries to draw attention to himself by saying things that shock the conscience to distract us from his deep unpopularity and the deep unpopularity of the Republicans' governing agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Mehdi, what we just heard Mayor Buttigieg, is that how Democratic candidates, you think, should handle any attacks from President Trump?

MEHDI HASAN, THE INTERCEPT: Definitely.

And I think they have to stick together, because Trump is going to try and single them all off and take them out one at a time whenever he thinks who's up and who's down in the polls.

Right now, we know that Trump and his team are worried about Biden. So you see these absurd comments. And I think Democrats recognize that there isn't a big pro-Kim Jong-un constituency in American politics, and therefore it's easy to defend Biden against such attacks.

They're all going to be turning on Joe Biden fairly soon, if they haven't already. The debates I think, what, a month away -- Biden's the front runner. At some stage, they're going to have to train their fire on him, but they will do it, I assume, in a more measured way than saying that the dictator of North Korea thinks he's low-I.Q. There's much to attack Joe Biden for, legitimate stuff. This isn't it.

HILL: It's interesting you say they have to stick together, because at least one Democrat not sticking together, going after Vice President Biden.

Take a listen to what Bill de Blasio had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: That crime bill was one of the foundations of mass incarceration and a very painful era in our nation's history.

And I think, look, the vice president and anyone else has to be accountable for every vote they take and what's on their record. And I think that was a huge mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: As Mehdi points out, at some point, the gloves are going to have to come off for the candidates here, because each one of them, of course, wants to win the nomination.

Sara, is there a sense, though, of when that moment is, especially as the clock is ticking towards this first debate?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think people are starting to sort of inch in that direction.

Bill de Blasio is sort of in a lane of his own, because I think he needs to punch up in order for anyone to pay any attention to him. Most stories you read about Bill de Blasio are about how even New Yorkers don't want Bill de Blasio to be president. So I think he's got a different situation.

But you are going to see more candidates like that who are going to punch up. I think there's a difference in saying, I'm going to side with Kim Jong-un on this than pointing out legitimate sort of policy differences.

HASAN: Yes.

MURRAY: And I think, in the Democratic Party, to see Joe Biden come out there and say, the crime bill didn't have anything to do with mass incarceration, that was one of those things where I did a double-take and thought, is anybody else in the Democratic field paying attention to this?

And I think that that is going to come back around and you are going to see legitimate policy differences. And that is what the primaries are going to be for. Those will probably turn nasty at some point, but I think they start on the policy front.

(CROSSTALK)

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and what Trump -- what Trump doesn't want to do, not that he has a strategy, but what he doesn't want to do is act in such a way that gives them a way to easily unify.

I mean, 23 candidates, it's hard to unify them. But if you go after Biden, who is former vice president, on foreign soil in such a way, it will give them that way to do that. But eventually this is going to get a lot uglier.

HILL: Ron, go ahead.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say, if Biden wins the nomination in 2020, it would be 50 years after he was first elected to public office in Newcastle County, Delaware, in 1970.

That would be the longest span in American political history between first election and first nomination for your party, whether a Democrat, a Democrat, or even a Whig.

[16:35:04]

And de Blasio's comments are really indicative of the kind of problems that that creates. I mean, the crime bill in 1994 occurred in a very different context. In New York City alone, there were over 1,000 murders, as I recall that year.

And every leading African-American mayor in the country wrote a letter supporting the bill as the Senate was considering it. But the aspects of that bill, in hindsight, look very different.

And they look very different to this Democratic Party. And I think the kind of the changing context is one of the reasons why the most prominent note in the polling about the early Democratic race is this unbelievable age gap, where Biden is just kind of in the middle of the pack among voters over the -- younger than 45.

But older than 45, he's usually leading by 4-1 or more in both national and state polls. And, ultimately, I mean, that seems like a divide that could last, given the kind of length of his career, and be one of the driving factors of this race.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: It's also true that a lot of old people vote.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Well, 60 percent of the primary voters in 2016 -- 60 percent of the primary voters in 2016 were over 45.

(CROSSTALK)

HASAN: But whether it lasts, we're so far out from even Iowa, let alone the actual general election.

And people keep making the point, but it's true, the only way he has to go is down. We haven't had the debates. He's notoriously gaffe- prone. And his record -- when -- his record is bad on a lot of fronts, not just mass incarceration.

It's Memorial Day weekend, the Iraq War, which caused so many problems for Hillary Clinton. He's the only candidate running in the field who voted for the Iraq War . His relationship to big finance, there's so much to go through. And I think that's a real problem for Biden once you start going through that track record.

I think Bill de Blasio had every right to point that out.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: So, you're all saying that we have a long way to go here?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, we do.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: In all seriousness, yes, we do. We're going to have to leave it there.

Appreciate it, as always.

Just ahead: It's one of the deadliest climbing seasons ever. And now we're learning another American has died on Mount Everest. Our live coverage continues for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:28]

HILL: Breaking news now in our world lead: Christopher John Kulish is now the 11th person and second American to die on Mount Everest this year alone.

The 61-year-old died on Monday while descending from the 29,000-foot summit. Among the dead this year, Robin Haynes Fisher, a British mountaineer who also lost his life. He lost his life to altitude sickness on Saturday.

And that was not long after he raised concerns about fatal overcrowding on Everest.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Arwa, what more can you tell us about why this year has been so much worse?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, expert mountaineers are saying that this year was especially difficult for a number of factors that could be what contributed to all of these deaths, most of them from altitude sickness and most of them not as climbers were on their way up to the summit, but, rather, as they were coming down.

That dramatic photograph on social media, on Instagram, that shows that long line of climbers, that was taken in what is known as the Death Zone. And there's a reason why it's called that, because when you're at that altitude, every breath you take in only gives you a third of the oxygen that you would get when you're breathing in at sea level.

A lot of these climbers succumbing to altitude sickness as they're descending. Now, the backlog created perhaps for a number of different factors. Some are criticizing the Nepali government for giving out too many permits. They say that that is an unfounded allegation.

Others are saying that you have greater numbers of inexperienced climbers trying to do the summit with companies that are cutting too many corners. And these inexperienced climbers don't necessarily know how to take these calculated risks. They don't know how to mitigate them, and they also don't know how to listen to their own bodies.

And then, Erica, you have the weather component. And this year in particular, there weren't that many days where people could summit. So you had this massive rush, especially on a few days in particular, that led to these backlogs of about two- to four-hour waits in this Death Zone.

What everyone is saying, though, is that this year is clear that something has to change, Erica.

HILL: Arwa Damon for us in Nepal, Arwa, thank you.

Up next: If you think there is nothing funny about the current state of politics in America, you may want to think again. Comedian and "SNL" alum Colin Quinn joins me live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: In our "POLITICS LEAD" today, as President Trump attacks Joe Biden and 2020 Democrats fire back, is there any hope for a happy relationship between the two parties. A new CNN comedy special takes a humorous look at whether we'd be better off breaking up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN QUINN, COMEDIAN: And I understand it's and breaking up the United States but we're already broken up. This would just be acknowledging it. We're already tribal. We're broken into tribes already, it's over. Liberal, Conservative, White, Black, Latino, Asian, Wall Street, Main Street, the working poor, the forgotten middle class, feminists, soccer moms, Bernie bros, Dodd bods, man tips, mom jeans, muffin tops, unibrows, paleo, cardio, keto, intersexual trans-vegans. We're more tribal than 18th century Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Joining me now is Colin Quinn, Comedian, and Creator of Colin Quinn Red State Blue State. Welcome to the CNN family.

COLIN QUINN, CREATOR OF COLIN QUINN RED STATE BLUE STATE: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: So this all started as an off-Broadway play in January. Now you've got the CNN special. Yes, it's important to laugh at things but a lot of this is really serious for a lot of folks and depressing to a lot of people. So what made you think that the state of politics today in the U.S. was right for some funny.

QUINN: Well, because you know it's -- funny is based on depressing, serious things. It's not based on things that are already funny, you know what I mean. So most comedy is based on something sad or try -- you know a bad compared to you don't take a funny thing and just make it funnier, it's just the opposite.

HILL: It also gives you license sometimes to talk about things --

[16:50:01] QUINN: Yes.

HILL: -- you know, that people have a hard time discussing. But when you turn it into a joke, when you make fun of it, it makes it more accessible, more approachable. I'm wondering, in terms of the reaction that you've seen from the audience at your shows, did anything surprise you?

QUINN: I feel -- I'm surprised that people really do feel like this is an option now. You know, I took up this kind of stuff all the time of my act, but now people are actually agreeing that we need to find some way to you know, break all country into different parts because nobody's changing their opinion and they shouldn't have to.

HILL: Wow, that's sort of dire which makes me want more humor as to your point. So looking ahead to 2020, do you see anybody whether it's President Trump or any of the you know, two dozen Democratic candidates who you think could be a unifier?

QUINN: Oh definitely President Trump -- no. I think that -- well, I mean Joe Biden says he's going to be a unifier and -- but I -- like I said I don't -- I don't know that this -- I don't know there's anybody that exists on the planet that can unify this country, only an outside or something outside would have to happen for it to be unified. There's not a person that could do it.

HILL: Maybe it's not a person but maybe in some ways, you can start to at least unify the discussion with your show. Listen, we're excited to have you here. We're looking forward to the special tonight. Thanks for coming in today, Colin.

QUINN: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Just a reminder, you can watch Colin Quinn Red State Blue State tonight at 9:00 p.m. only on CNN. On this Memorial Day, how one group of veterans is helping children cope with the loss of a military parent. It's a story you will not want to miss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] HILL: Welcome back to the special edition of THE LEAD. Each Memorial Day, we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Yet as a grateful nation remembers, those left behind, the parents, the spouses, the children are reminded of their loss. Jake Tapper has the story of one veteran's organization though that is dedicated to bring smile to these military families all year round, letting them know they are never alone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRACY KELLY, HUSBAND KILLED IN 2011: Where do you want to go to college?

TRISTAN KELLY, FATHER KILLED IN 2011: West Point.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Seven-year-old Tristan Kelly has some big dreams.

ANDREW BELTRAN, RETIRED U.S. MARINE SERGEANT: What's the best branch?

TAPPER: And he always looks forward to talking about them with his best friend.

BELTRAN: You still want to be in the army?

KELLY: Yes, I'm still debating if I want to be in the military or not.

TAPPER: After all, former sergeant Andrew Beltran knows a thing or two about service. He's gone to more than ten countries with the Marines.

BELTRAN: Take a big breath then let it go, OK?

TAPPER: And Tristan says he's pretty good at playing too.

BELTRAN: Good job.

TAPPER: Tristan and Andrew have come to this sprawling California Dude Ranch today for one of many visits throughout the year.

BELTRAN: You know one of the best things as Tristan will call me on FaceTime and share the song that he just learned on the piano and that's just something special. I know that he would share that with his father.

TAPPER: You see, Tristan's father Heath Kelly isn't able to talk with him about the very dreams that he inspired.

KELLY: My dad was in the Army so I just feel like I want to be an army officer like he was.

TAPPER: Heath Kelly died shortly after Tristan was born.

My husband always wanted to be a dad even before we got married, so this is our first baby and you know, any time -- any spare time he had was really devoted to being with her, you know, and also with him too because you know he was born in July and unfortunately he passed in September.

TAPPER: Keith Kelly spent years overseas on active duty and then became a major in the National Guard so he could be closer to his wife Tracy and their children. But soon after, a gunman opened fire at a local restaurant killing Kelly and three others while they were eating breakfast. His daughter Kassidy was only four years old at the time.

KASSIDY KELLY, FATHER KILLED IN 2011: He was a really nice person. He always did the right thing, and he was really a fun dad.

TAPPER: Now, through the nonprofit program Active Valor, Gold Star Kids like Kassidy and Tristan can be paired with individual veteran mentors like Andrew.

BELTRAN: It almost is the reason why I joined the military in the first place is the sense of brotherhood and taking care of our own. I'm never going to be a step in for his dad but I will be a brother of his.

TRACY KELLY: Hi buddy!

TAPPER: The program also gives peace of mind to parents such as Tracy.

TRACY KELLY: We want our kids to know that you know, just because we lost our person, they don't have to go through this journey alone. I think that's kind of the biggest thing no matter what you're feeling. Like somebody gets it.

PERRY YEE, FOUNDER, ACTIVE VALOR: Thank you all so much for coming to our meet up today.

TAPPER: Former Navy SEAL Perry Yee founded Active Valor in 2016 with a two-fold approach to giving back.

YEE: You think of like a big brother program for veterans. They get to actually use their skills and knowledge that they learned over the years of military service and now pass it on to kids that would have had access to that type of stuff if their parents were still around. So it really just works hand in hand.

TAPPER: Need proof?

BELTRAN: Thank you, man.

TAPPER: Tristan's handmade gift to Andrew --

TRISTAN KELLY: And these are my drawings.

TAPPER: -- says it all.

BELTRAN: Thank you for being my mentor. I have lots of fun when I'm with you. I'm great -- I'm grateful you're in my life. This is a great, buddy. Thank you, man. I appreciate you.

TRISTAN KELLY: OK.

BELTRAN: This is really good.

TAPPER: Jake Tapper, CNN Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: If you want to learn more about the Active Valor Foundation just log on to activevalor.com. Thanks for joining us today. You can follow me on Twitter @ERICARHILL. Be sure to tweet the show @THELEADCNN and thanks again for joining us. Have a meaningful Memorial Day. Please take a moment to remember the reason for this day. Our live coverage on CNN continues right now. [17:00:00]