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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is Interviewed About Impeachment and Investigating Trump; Tornadoes Devastate Parts of Kansas; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Says He Would Confirm Supreme Court Justice if Seat Opens During Next Presidential Election Year; Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Comments on Strategy against Donald Trump; Democratic Presidential Candidate Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) Criticizes President Trump for Vietnam Deferment. Aired 8-8:30a ET.

Aired May 29, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- put this in perspective. That's Justin Amash alone. Where is anybody else within the Republican Conference?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it looks nice now in New York, but maybe not for long because severe weather is headed our way. Good morning, everyone, welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, May 29th, 8:00 now in the east.

Breaking news. More than 39 million Americans will face the threat of tornadoes today. That's from Texas to major cities like Washington, D.C. and New York in the northeast. More than 300 tornadoes have already carved this path across the U.S. in just the past two weeks. Here is just an aerial footage for you after this large powerful tornado. This hit outside of the Kansas City area. This is, I think we have --


CAMEROTA: Linwood. I don't know if this is live. But you can see the entire neighborhood right now, look at your screen, has basically been destroyed. Almost nothing is left standing.

BERMAN: This is the first look we are getting at these pictures right now. Extraordinary. You can just see the devastation from the storms overnight. We had heard it was bad. It was dark, now it is light, obviously, and we're getting a sense of it. These are live pictures right now. And you measure tornado power after the fact, by the affect it has on structures. And when you see this just knocked completely off of its frame all together, Chad Myers will tell you this looks like an extremely powerful tornado.

CAMEROTA: Also there is the historic flooding. BERMAN: Yes, historic flooding in Arkansas and Oklahoma, more rain is

expected to fall on the Arkansas River, which is reaching levels that have not been seen in decades. Let's begin our coverage of the weather. Scott McClean is live in Linwood, Kansas. We were just looking at aerials, Scott, of the some of the devastation near you. What are you seeing?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John and Alisyn. You look at those pictures, you wonder how it is that no one was killed. Look at what we're seeing behind me. That house, the roof was completely blown off it. But look at right in front of it, the tree completely snapped in half. And there is what looks to be a queen or maybe a king size mattress completely stuck up against it. You can imagine how strong the wind had to be for that to happen.

Early indications are that this was an EF-3, meaning windspeeds 136 miles per hour or stronger. If you look over here, you can see that is an RV completely flipped over. We don't know exactly where it was parked before that, but again, it gives you an idea of how strong the winds was. And if you just want to come up here real quick, I will show you, this was a house yesterday. Now it is a pile of sticks. There was actually an insurance adjuster who was just here, and the people who own this home, they didn't call him. The reason that he showed up is because he saw on Facebook a piece of mail belonging to these folks showed up in Smithfield. That's about 50 miles away. Look at the debris that has fallen in just this area, and it traveled for quite some distance. In fact, at the airport they were finding debris there on the north end of Kansas City. Again, almost 50 miles away the airport is. They had to shut down the runway there for more than four hours in order to get some of that debris cleared. A lot of it they said came from here because they thought some of it looked to be kitchen stuff, bits of houses, things like that.

Now, it is a miracle that this didn't hit Kansas City, because it was headed that way for quite some time. The tornado sirens were going off, that hasn't happened in the last eight years. And so a lot of people in Kansas City got quite the wake-up call. This area seems to be out of the woods for the next two days in terms of severe weather, but look, there are nearly 40 million people across the country that could see a strong tornado in their area today. John, Alisyn?

BERMAN: As we're looking at those aerials, again, they are simply stunning. And we are reminded that some of the people being told to look out today are on the east coast, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia even as far up here as New York City, and that's unusual.

CAMEROTA: Very unusual. When I saw yesterday in one of our graphics, our chyrons, New Jersey bracing for tornadoes, this is just not something that we're used to doing. And I think that it's important for us to alert people because we don't have a system in place here in New York City and Washington, D.C. for what to do if a tornado is approaching.

BERMAN: People just aren't used to it here, and they need to pay attention today. That's a mattress. That's a mattress on that tree. These are live pictures right now, aerials we're getting from Linwood, Kansas.

CAMEROTA: People will not be able to go back to Linwood, Kansas, for a very long time.

Moving on here to political news, and there's a lot of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sparking criticism this morning after announcing that he would confirm a Supreme Court nominee next year despite the 2020 election if a seat were open.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a Supreme Court Justice was to die next year, what would you do?




CAMEROTA: All right, the reason that was striking was because you will recall that in 2016 McConnell famously refused to confirm President Obama's Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, insisting that he was following protocol because the election was upon us.


[08:05:05] MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: All we're doing, Chris, is following a longstanding tradition of not filling vacancies on the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election year.


CAMEROTA: All right, here to discuss this and so much more, we have Bianna Golodyrga, CNN contributor, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and host of the podcast "You Decide," and Catherine Rampell, "Washington Post" opinion columnist and CNN political commentator. Errol, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is doing more calisthenics this morning having heard what Mitch McConnell just said there because he is not following his own precedent of what he did when President Obama nominated somebody during an election season.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. He's following instead the prime directive of most politicians, which is to get themselves reelected. Mitch McConnell, he is sitting on something like a 33 percent approval rating in his home state, he is up for reelection, he's a little bit worried. The one thing that always brings out the base for him is that he's been able to deliver on putting in as many federal judges, including Supreme Court judges, as he possibly can. And by fair means or foul, that's what we should expect him to do.

BERMAN: He is doing what he can and what he wants. That's the McConnell rule. The idea that somehow he's flip-flopping, I think people were being ridiculous if they ever thought there was a historical basis for what Mitch McConnell did to Merrick Garland in 2016 because there wasn't. So this is just McConnell following through on his real promise, which is to get as many judges on the different courts as he possibly can.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And he succeeded in that. And you will recall two years ago when the president started tweeting against Mitch McConnell when healthcare wasn't passed, that quickly changed because he realized the significance that Mitch McConnell brought to him, and Mitch McConnell was holding that through. Now, Mitch McConnell's argument, and they've already issued statements, his spokespeople, is that back then with Merrick Garland you had a divided Congress. You had Democrats holding one House and Republicans another. Here you have Republicans holding both, so therein lies the difference. We all, of course, know that this is something that he ultimately would have done anyway, and you could tell that through that little wry smile of his.

BERMAN: The smile said more than the actual words there.

CAMEROTA: The gulp of the iced tea.

Senator Lindsey Graham felt differently about all of this when he was asked about this October of 2018. Here is what he promised.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term and the primary process has started, we will wait until the next election. And I've got a pretty good chance being --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on the record.



GRAHAM: Hold the tape.


CAMEROTA: We did hold the tape.


CAMEROTA: And there it is. So I'm not sure that he holds any sway with Mitch McConnell, but that's how he felt. What would be fair?

RAMPELL: Well, look, if we actually believed that McConnell or Graham or any of these others in Republican leadership adhere to any principle here, I think the principle would be do what's best for the Republican Party. I don't think we should assume -- it's just, it's beyond belief to assume that they would actually do anything that adheres to any principle beyond holding on to power at this point. BERMAN: The principle is they think that these judges -- they want

these judges because they think these judges will do a better job. That's the principle that they are arguing for.

RAMPELL: No, the principle that they are arguing for apparently is, oh, it has to do with divided government or undivided government. It's a moving target.

BERMAN: Right.

RAMPELL: Again, the only thing that is consistent throughout all of Mitch McConnell's maneuvering is do what's best for Mitch McConnell, do what's best for the Republican Party.

GOLODRYGA: Which is why they've held their nose on so many issues with regard to the president's behavior or where they disagreed with him, because they had their eye on bringing as many Republican conservative judges on the bench as possible, and that's something he has followed through on.

LOUIS: That's right, and they know the judges will outlive them. They are looking at bad news if you believe the polling numbers in 2020, the judges will outlive whatever defeat they might suffer next year.

RAMPELL: And McConnell has said that.

BERMAN: We have to get to Lindsey Graham, by the way. I Lindsey Graham now needs to say whether or not he still feels that way, because as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he can stop it if he doesn't want this nomination to get to the floor, he can keep it from happening. So Graham's got the power to keep his word if Lindsey Graham wants to keep his word.

CAMEROTA: We're going to call Lindsey Graham as soon as we get to commercial break.

BERMAN: How do you like that.

CAMEROTA: I think they would like us to talk about off camera remarks that Joe Biden made last night at a fundraising event, because so many people have been wondering what his tact is going to be with President Trump. So thus far President Trump has insulted him, and Joe Biden's campaign has responded, basically. It doesn't seem as though Joe Biden has pulled any punches when talking about President Trump.

So here is what Joe Biden said off camera, but somebody caught it. Quote, "I'm not going to get down in the mud wrestling with this fella. I'm not going to do it. I don't want to get into it. Everybody already knows who he is." That's a little different than what his tactic has been thus far, Errol.

[08:10:00] LOUIS: That's right. He's trying to engage the president, but also not get down on his level. So the introductory video that he puts out, he talks a lot about Trump. He says this is not who we are, we need to strive for something better, we need to make a change in the White House. At the same time, though, the juvenile name calling, the back and forth, the Twitter wars, he's signaling that that's not something he's going to get involved in. It seems to be working for him so far. We'll see as we get further into the season if that's going to hold.

BERMAN: It's jujitsu. It's using your opponent's strength or attacks as his own weakness. Joe Biden loves getting attacked by the president right now because it's keeping Joe Biden in the headlines without having to do anything. And if you are in a Democratic primary, what better thing is there than being attacked by President Trump?

GOLODRYGA: Look, if the strategy for Trump supporters is let Trump be Trump. There's plenty of time to let Biden be Biden. We are not even halfway through the primaries here now. If he does become the Democratic nominee, there is time to go mud wrestle with the president if that's what he chooses to do. Remember, not so long ago he said that if they were in high school he would have taken him back behind the bleachers and beaten him up. So we know that he has it for him. For now, this doesn't seem to be a winning strategy for him. You see his poll numbers continuing to rise with him staying above the fray. Again, we have a long time before people take to the polls.

CAMEROTA: Here is what two other Democratic candidates are doing in terms of contrasting themselves with President Trump. Pete Buttigieg and Seth Moulton are both veterans. And so they are talking about their military service on the campaign trail. Last night Seth Moulton talked about the difference between his service and President Trump's lack of it. So listen to this.


REP. SETH MOULTON, (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- think that lying to get out of serving your country is patriotic. And don't forget, you know, when Donald Trump did that and he did it multiple times, it's not like there was just some empty seat in Vietnam. Someone had to go in his place. I'd like to meet the American hero someday who went in Donald Trump's place to Vietnam. I hope he is still alive.


CAMEROTA: So that was actually Sunday, no the last night, but that's an interesting point that he's making.

RAMPELL: I think this is probably a winning strategy, attack President Bone Spur who is now saber rattling against Iran and various other countries, periodically seeming to want to invite confrontation with some of our allies as well, attack him for being a chicken hawk. It seems like a major weakness for this president that Democrats should be exploiting.

BERMAN: It's interesting, I can see it, again, playing in a Democratic primary. I will say Joe Biden who was also a Vietnam era politician of that age, he had deferments, education deferments and I believe asthma, ultimately. He obviously didn't serve in Vietnam either. RAMPELL: Harder for him to make that argument, certainly, than the

veterans who are actually on the campaign trail.

CAMEROTA: Seth Moulton is also talking about something unprecedented. He's talking about mental health. And I think that it's interesting to bring this up because no major presidential candidate has ever willingly of his own accord talked about it. And so Seth Moulton has talked about that he has suffered from PTSD basically since coming back, and that he has had bad dreams and night sweats, et cetera. And we've just been comparing it to obviously what happened, how Dukakis was eviscerated for what happened with his wife and for seeming, I don't know, weak or compassionate or what, Errol.

LOUIS: Sure, in an earlier era what was is Muskie, Senator Muskie. So it used to be taboo, you would never mention any of this. So we have not only moved past that, but we've got a proposal. He talked about this in the context of a very expensive, very far reaching proposal to do mental health screening for every high school student in America, to spend a half a billion dollars making sure that there are annual mental wellness checks on every member of the Armed Forces. That's a real serious commitment. And I think that is in some ways more important than the fact that he disclosed his own history with these issues. We've got a proposal on the table now that the American people can look at and say, you know what, maybe we do want to go all in on this.

BERMAN: Errol, Bianna, Catherine, thank you very, very much.

CAMEROTA: A programming note, Dana Bash hosts a CNN town hall with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Michael Bennet, that's tomorrow at 10:00 p.m. eastern only on CNN.

BERMAN: Republican Congressman Justin Amash defended calling for President Trump's impeachment at a town hall. What was the reception from Democrats and Republicans there? We'll discuss, and we'll talk about what this might mean for both parties. A member of the Democratic leadership joins us next.



[08:18:36] REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): Clearly, things that violate the public trust are impeachable. I'm confident that if you read volume two, you will be appalled at much of the conduct, and I was appalled by it. Congress has a duty to keep the president in check.


BERMAN: That's Republican Congressman Justin Amash. Republican Congressman Justin Amash addressing his call for impeachment at a town hall last night. He was greeted with a standing ovation, also some jeers. He is the lone House Republican to call for impeachment proceedings, something the top House Democrats have refused to do.

Joining me to discuss that and much more, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Good morning.

BERMAN: Why is Republican Congressman Amash out there further than Democratic leadership? He says let's launch the impeachment proceedings, you say not yet.

JEFFRIES: Well, impeachment is not on the table and impeachment is not off the table. We are in evidence-gathering mode.

BERMAN: It's got to be one or the other. It's got to be one or the other. It's either on or off the table.

JEFFRIES: No, I think we are in evidence-gathering mode and then we'll determine what's the best way to proceed.

We have to follow the facts, we have to apply the law, we have to be guided by the Constitution. If that journey leads us to finding of high crimes and misdemeanors, so be it, but there is a process we need to follow. This is our most solemn constitutional responsibility and we take it seriously.

[08:20:00] BERMAN: Is it near the table? I mean, not why not launch an impeachment inquiry to answer the questions that Congressman Amash and you seem to suggest need to be answered?

JEFFRIES: Well, Chairman Jerry Nadler has indicated that we are going to have hearings before the Judiciary Committee on a variety of issues, including obstruction of justice, abuse of power and the culture of corruption that appears to exist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Those are perhaps the most troubling pieces of information that spring forth from the Mueller report, but there's evidence that we need to collect in order to proceed in a thoughtful and comprehensive way.

We need the unredacted Mueller report because we can't trust the redactions that were made by this attorney general, we need the underlying documentation, Jerry Nadler has subpoenaed that, and we ultimately need to hear from Bob Mueller publicly so he can tell his story.

BERMAN: Publicly, although I've heard from the number three, the House whip, Jim Clyburn, who says he'd be willing to hear from Mueller privately if the transcript is released.

Is this a political consideration? Do you guys just not want to go through with this because you're concerned with the political ramifications if you do?

JEFFRIES: No, I think the speaker has been clear that politics shouldn't guide a decision to impeachment and politics shouldn't guide a decision not to impeach. We, at the end of the day, as you know, impeachment for the House is that we functionally are the equivalent of the grand jury. We have to gather the information and present that information ultimately to the American people and then to the Senate, should articles of impeachment be voted out of the House. So, we have to gather the evidence.

BERMAN: One of the things you would need in the Senate if it ever got there was Republican votes. It would help you politically, although you say its' not political, if you got some Republican votes in the House.

Congressman Amash was asked about whether or not there are more Republicans and listen to what he said very quickly.


AMASH: By the way, a lot people think I'm right about the Mueller report, they just won't say it. There are a lot of Republicans.


BERMAN: The congressman says a lot of Republicans think he's right about the Mueller report but won't say it. Have you spoken to any Republican members in the House who think that he's right about the Mueller report?

AMASH: Well, we haven't seen any evidence of that yet and in part that's because, you know, the Republicans have basically functioned like wholly owned subsidiaries of the Trump administration, not as a separate and co-equal branch of government. That's been unfortunate.

I applaud Congressman Amash's courage but it doesn't seem to be in high supply on the other side of the aisle.

BERMAN: You haven't been able to convince any Republicans, in other words?

JEFFRIES: Well, the Republicans don't seem willing to be convinced based on the fact that they are just subservient to Donald Trump.

BERMAN: All right. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, last night made clear that if there is a Supreme Court vacancy, which we don't know that there will be, next year, he would work to confirm whomever the president nominates for that seat. That is far different than 2016 when he held up the confirmation of Merrick Garland who was president Obama's pick.

I know you think this is hypocritical. I know you think that this shows that Mitch McConnell just wants to control who gets on the court and not.

I guess my question to you is do you see any evidence that Democrats will vote on this? How will you convince Democratic voters that this matters?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think Mitch McConnell is exhibit a as to why what happens in November of 2020 with respect to the Senate matters. He is a shameless individual and this does not just simply apply to his behavior as it relates to stealing a Supreme Court seat that Barack Obama had the right to present to the American people.

This relates to the fact that House Democrats have passed legislation after legislation on issues like protecting people with preexisting conditions, driving down the high costs of lifesaving prescription drugs, dealing with the anticompetitive practices of big pharma, universal criminal background check legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act because we believe that women should be paid equally for equal work. All of these bills have moved out of the house and been sent to the Senate where it's a legislative graveyard right now and McConnell is negligent in doing the business of the American people.

So, we think that the Supreme Court issue should be a voting issue in November of 2020 and his failure to act on the priorities of the American people that we have been working on as House Democrats should be a voting issue in 2020.

BERMAN: Speaking of legislation, you are reintroducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana federally. First of all, why, and second of all, do you think this will get a vote in the full House?

JEFFRIES: I'm certainly hopeful with the leadership of Senator Schumer in the Senate who has been driving this legislation forward along with several others. We're building upon the First Step Act which we passed in a bipartisan way in the last Congress, meaningful criminal justice reform to help currently incarcerated individuals successfully transition back into society and roll back some of the draconian sentencing laws that were put into place during the failed war on drugs.

This is a bipartisan issue, Democrats, Republicans, the left, the right, progressives and conservatives. Marijuana reform, I believe, is the next step in this process.

BERMAN: Any White House outreach? Obviously, first step had the help of Jared Kushner and ultimately the president signed up. Have you been in touch with the White House, in I sense that anyone inside that building is on board with this?

JEFFRIES: Well, it's not clear yet where the White House stands on marijuana reform.

[08:25:00] But I am in regular communication with Jared Kushner, as are many of my colleagues on the issue of criminal justice reform and I believe he continues to be an authentic partner.

BERMAN: All right. Well, let us know if you hear back, because that would be a huge development if this is something that the White House signs on to.

JEFFRIES: Certainly.

BERMAN: All right. Democratic House Caucus chair, Hakeem Jeffries, great to have you here at Hudson Yards. I really appreciate it.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn?


Joe Biden is become on the campaign trail and back to sparring with President Trump. Chris Cillizza has the candidates' midweek grades, next. What he gives Joe Biden. We'll tell you.


CAMEROTA: Former Vice President Joe Biden making his first appearance on the campaign trail in ten days. Biden took questions from a crowd of public schoolteachers and he unveiled his first big policy proposal.

It's Wednesday, so let's get the midweek grades with Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Chris, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: What do you give Joe Biden this week?

CILLIZZA: OK, I think it's because the school year is sort of ending maybe my grades are getting easier. I looked at it last night. But I give Joe Biden an "A" and we talked about this before.

Every week that goes by where Joe Biden remains number one at the top of Democratic polling, by 20-plus points, which is where he is right now, and number two, constantly being attacked.