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STATE OF THE UNION
Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC); Interview With Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA); Interview With Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan; Interview With Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); How The President's Advisers Try To Protect Him In This Week's "State of the Cartoonion". Aired 9-10a ET
Aired June 2, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Not again -- 12 lives tragically cut short in Virginia Beach after a city employee opens fire on his co-workers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have an 11-month-old baby at home, and all I could think of was him.
TAPPER: Democratic presidential candidates blame Washington for failing to act, but will anything change?
2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker joins us exclusively.
And tariff man. Dangerous overcrowding at the southern border, to stop it, the president is ordering steep tariffs on Mexican goods.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has a constitutional obligation to step up.
TAPPER: But will the strategy slow migration or simply hurt Americans' pocketbooks. Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan is here exclusively.
Plus: Read my lips. Robert Mueller speaks.
ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: We would not reach a determination one way or the other.
TAPPER: And Democratic calls for impeachment grow. Do voters agree? House Majority Whip Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina joins in moments.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is once again grieving after a mass shooting in the U.S.
Overnight, what has become tragically familiar sight in this country, mourners gathering to remember innocent people gunned down in a mass murder, this time in Virginia Beach, where 12 people were shot to death at the Virginia Municipal Center -- the gunman, a public utilities employee wielding two handguns purchased legally.
This latest massacre is calling new attention to the debate over gun control, an issue that's already been front and center in the Democratic primaries. On Saturday, 2020 Democratic candidates gathered in California for that state's Democratic Party Convention.
One of the 2020 candidates, Senator Cory Booker, threw out his planned convention speech after the shooting and delivered an entirely new one focused on ending gun violence.
And Democratic presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey joins me now live from San Francisco.
Senator Booker, thanks for joining us.
You said yesterday that mass shootings in America -- quote -- "cannot just go on in our country." And you have unveiled a comprehensive gun reform plan.
Now, ATF says that the two weapons used in the attack were handguns, not semiautomatic assault rifles. And they say that they were purchased legally.
How would your plan have stopped this tragedy, if at all?
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Jake, again, this is a tragedy today, but you know that every single day in the United States of America, in the aggregate, we have mass shootings that go on in neighborhoods like mine.
I live in an inner-city black and brown community. You were there yourself. Moments after you left, we had another shooting in my neighborhood.
We are not helpless to stop this. This is a uniquely American problem. We have carnage in our country at levels that no other nation sees, more people dying in my lifetime due to gun violence than all the Americans that died due to gun violence in every single war from the Revolutionary now -- war until now.
And so this idea that we are helpless to stop this is -- the evidence points differently. We know that everything from licensing, like that Connecticut did, dropped gun violence in their -- in their state by 40 percent, suicides by 15 percent.
We know that there are communities like Oakland that did things by treating gun violence like a public health problem and by investing in communities, empowering them. They were able to lower gun violence.
I have a comprehensive plan that...
TAPPER: Right. BOOKER: ... people say is bold, but I will tell you that -- I will
tell you what. It's not bold. It's commonsense, evidence-based things that we can do to lower gun violence.
We are not helpless.
TAPPER: But you keep saying -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but you keep saying, we're not helpless.
So I'm saying, what would have prevented this tragedy? I mean, I think that's one of the issues that people wonder about when there are these horrible tragedies. What steps specifically would have stopped the massacre in Virginia Beach?
BOOKER: And you have taken a look at the 16, 17 things we have in my plan that would drop the levels of violence overall, from one-handgun- a-month laws, all the way to investing in the kind of mental health and the kind of community empowerment strategies that would do something about it.
In the aggregate, we can do things that dramatically lower the levels of violence in our community. But we have allowed this debate to be framed by the corporate gun lobby that has so eroded common sense...
BOOKER: ... from even stopping the CDC having money to study this problem, from stopping consumer product safety commissions having the ability to regulate in this space.
So, enough is enough.
TAPPER: So, I...
BOOKER: We can do so much more.
TAPPER: I hear you not talking about this specific massacre, but talking about gun violence in general, so let's talk about your proposals in general.
You have called for federal gun licenses that would require fingerprints, an interview, a gun safety course.
I want you to listen to former Vice President Joe Biden, who seemed skeptical about your proposal when he was asked about it in New Hampshire. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know whether -- where that is in terms of -- under the Constitution, whether we're able to do that. My guess is we could. But I think it was a lot of things we can do directly now. That's not going to change -- gun licensing will not change whether or not people buy -- what weapons -- what kind of weapons they can buy, where they can use them, how they can store them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your response? Is Vice President Biden correct that gun licenses aren't what ultimately is going to help here?
BOOKER: Look, there are states that have done this that have seen precipitous drops in gun violence.
We need to start looking at the things that work. And I'm -- enough of excuses. There are millions of Americans that live now in fear, fear of letting their kids go to school, fear of going to their house of worships, fear of walking in their own neighborhoods.
We need to have a much more courageous empathy for others that are dealing with this crisis, instead of waiting until it visits upon our neighborhood, our community, our mosque, our concert. We can do things about this problem. We know it.
And the only thing that seems to be lacking is a sense of moral urgency. But, unfortunately, after what happened in Virginia Beach, you see that growing.
And so I -- I'm sorry. You have your choice in this presidential campaign of a lot of folks. If you want someone who's going to take a fight on this issue, take a fight to the corporate gun lobby, take a fight against apathy and indifference, take a fight against the NRA, then I'm your person, for being a person that lives in a community where, on Fourth of July, you see children that react to fireworks with fear, hiding under beds, hiding in closets, because of the post- traumatic stress that happens in neighborhoods where you see shrines to dead kids on street corners.
BOOKER: You know, I'm an African American male. We're 6 percent of the nation's population, but we make up over 50 percent of the gun violence victims.
BOOKER: This is something that's going on all around our nation. Enough is enough. I'm bringing a fight to this. And we will win this fight.
TAPPER: So, you didn't specifically criticize Vice President Biden, but it sounds as though you're saying that you would fight more than he would.
But let me ask you, because the Obama-Biden administration, you're proposing something very bold, in your words, perhaps far-reaching, certainly. President Obama, Vice President Biden, they were not able to get even modest gun control measures through Congress when they were in office after Sandy Hook. So, my question for you is, how are you going to do it? Even if you're elected president, you might not have a veto-proof majority in the House and the Senate.
And, if you do have that, you might have a lot of Democratic members who come from states where gun rights are very important, such as Montana. How will you be able to get something passed, where Obama and Biden were not able to?
BOOKER: Well, this echoes to me the civil rights movement, where civil rights legislation passed time and time again. The longest filibuster in the Senate was Strom Thurmond trying to stop civil rights legislation from happening.
And people said it couldn't be done, that there were states that were standing firmly against it. But you know what happened is, we had leaders that called to the moral imagination of our country, called to the conscience of our nation, built the kind of coalitions necessary to tear down segregation.
And so here we have a nation that has untold levels of carnage and violence and shootings every single day, suicides, 90 to 100 people dying every single day.
I believe we -- that just because we have failed in the past doesn't mean we will fail in the future.
BOOKER: I believe it takes grit and fight and will.
And we could muster that in the United States to do commonsense things that do not take away people's Second Amendment rights. The only people that should be afraid of the kind of legislation I'm pushing are gun runners, criminals, and the corporate gun lobby.
TAPPER: So, Senator, we only have a little bit of time, but I do want to ask you about impeachment.
After special counsel Robert Mueller spoke this week, you came out. You tweeted that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings immediately against President Trump.
I'm a little confused, because Mueller didn't really say anything on Wednesday that he hadn't written in his report. What made you change your thinking?
BOOKER: Well, it was a few weeks of seeing a president who wants to undermine congressional -- excuse me -- constitutional intent, and say that he's above the law.
He has not been complying with subpoenas. He has not been complying with legitimate congressional inquiries to continue the investigation that Mueller very specifically said it's on Congress now to continue after he put this report forward that clearly indicated that there is potential corruption and obstruction of justice.
This president is not above the law. He should not be able to stop the checks and balances on the executive. And I feel like we have a moral obligation now to investigate this president.
Impeachment proceedings will give us more legal leverage to be able to get the information Congress needs to get to the bottom of what his administration has done while they're in office.
TAPPER: Senator Cory Booker, live in San Francisco, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it, sir.
BOOKER: Thank you for having me.
TAPPER: Many of the president's own advisers opposed his plan to impose steep tariffs on Mexico.
The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, will join us next exclusively to defend that policy.
Plus, another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is opening up about a topic formerly considered taboo for politicians, mental health. His exclusive interview about post-traumatic stress is coming up.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
President Trump tweeted this morning that Mexico is -- quote -- "an abuser of the United States."
The president is vowing to impose steep new tariffs on Mexican goods beginning in just over a week if Mexico does not stop the growing number of migrants crossing the southern border into the United States.
The plan drew immediately -- immediate criticism from members of the president's own party. It could raise the prices you pay on goods, from everything ranging from cars to televisions to avocados.
Joining me now, acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.
Mr. Acting Secretary, thanks for joining us. We have a lot to talk about.
I do want to start with the massacre in Virginia Beach.
The latest data from 2017 shows the highest number of U.S. gun deaths in nearly 40 years. About two-thirds were suicides, but it also includes about 15,000 homicides, much higher than the number of deaths from terrorists or from undocumented immigrants.
You are the acting Cabinet member in charge of keeping us safe in the homeland. Is it time for DHS to start looking at gun violence differently than it does now, as part of your job?
KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, let me just first say, our hearts go out to the community of Virginia Beach, all the victims and families.
This is a community that is very well-prepared. We have done four workshops and trainings with Virginia Beach on active shooter. And I know the investigation is proceeding with the FBI and ATF's help.
In terms of your question, one of my first acts was to create an Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorist Prevention. We want to do the best we can to support communities to get out in front of these kind of issues, to identify anything we can see to prevent this kind of violence up front.
TAPPER: But does that include guns and the kind of gun violence problem that really only exists in this magnitude in the United States?
MCALEENAN: We're focused on the violence, regardless of the ideology or motivation and regardless of the means to carry it out.
TAPPER: Let's turn to the tariffs.
President Trump is poised to issue a new 5 percent tariff on goods from Mexico. He's doing this, he says, to try to get Mexico to take seriously the problem of undocumented immigrants, migrants crossing the border, mainly from Central America.
TAPPER: They're not even Mexican migrants, generally speaking.
One overarching philosophy that you clearly hold on immigration is that, if the countries in Central and South America are strong, if they have strong economies, strong security, that will be good for the United States because there will be fewer migrants coming into the United States.
These tariffs are designed to hurt Mexico economically. Won't they just exacerbate the problem? If things go bad economically in Mexico, won't more people come in and cross the southern border illegally?
So, we got a situation we have to address, in partnership with Mexico. On Wednesday morning at 4:15 a.m., a group of 1,036 migrants crossed, just walked across the border between Juarez and El Paso, in an organized movement out of shelters. Nobody on the Mexican side interdicted that. At any given moment, we have got 100,000 migrants moving toward the U.S. through Mexico from the Chiapas, which is their southern state, all the way up. There are transportation choke points. There are natural choke points.
This movement is overt. It's happening on commercial bus lines that are owned and controlled by cartels. We need Mexico to step up and do more. And these -- these crossings into Mexico are happening on a 150-mile stretch of their southern border. This is a controllable area. We need them to put their authorities down there and interdict these folks before they make this route all the way to the U.S.
TAPPER: I'm not disputing the idea that Mexico and the Mexican government need to do more. Obviously, they could be doing more, if there are hundreds of thousands of people coming in from Central America through Mexico into the United States.
But tariffs will make Mexico and Mexicans struggle, and then more people will cross the border. That's -- that's the question. Won't this make your job tougher?
MCALEENAN: So, the bottom line for me is, we need them at the table looking at new strategies that we can aggressively move out on.
Operationally, we have had great partnerships in Mexico in the past, but 1,000 people a day, when we're apprehending 4,500 a day, is not making an impact. We need more.
TAPPER: I guess one of the questions I would have is, assuming that these tariffs go through -- and, right now, it's just a threat -- what specific benchmark are you going to be looking at to see if Mexico is actually doing what you want them to do?
You want them to secure their border with Guatemala, stop smugglers, work with U.S. on asylum reform. In April, 109,000, according to DHS, crossed the border illegally.
TAPPER: You have said that the number is higher in May. Do you know what the number is in May?
MCALEENAN: It will be higher in May.
TAPPER: It's going to be higher.
What is the benchmark? Would it need to be 50,000, as opposed to 109,000 from April? What are you looking for?
MCALEENAN: Yes, I think what -- what the president said, what the White House has made clear is, we need a vast reduction in the numbers crossing.
I outlined three things that I would like to work on with Mexico, one, interdictions on their southern border, going after the TCOs that are transporting these migrants and profiting from that, keeping them in horrible conditions through Mexico, and, number three, partnering and coordinating on asylum and how we treat people that actually need protections coming from Central America or elsewhere around the world.
They're safe in Mexico. They're able to apply in a full and fair proceeding. Mexico has reached out and offered asylum and refugee status to thousands of people since President Lopez Obrador's been in office.
That should be the place, if they're safe in Mexico, to request that.
TAPPER: I want to ask about a new report from your inspector general of DHS about an El Paso Border Patrol facility.
Rooms were overcrowded at up to six times their capacity, resulting in standing-room-only conditions...
TAPPER: ... making detainees stand on toilets just to get space to breathe.
President Trump has called for using funds from the Pentagon to pay for his border wall. I know you want Congress to pass the money you need to expand the facilities for children and for adult migrants, but until they do, would you like to see President Trump use some of the money he's using from DOD to build the wall to help you with these facilities?
MCALEENAN: So, first of all, I have been talking about my concerns about our conditions in our facilities and whether they're appropriate...
TAPPER: For months and months.
MCALEENAN: ... especially for families and children, since last year.
TAPPER: Absolutely, yes.
MCALEENAN: Testified on it in December.
In March -- we went down to the border on March 27 and said we -- the border is at a breaking point.
MCALEENAN: We have an emergency here. Our conditions are not appropriate.
So I could not agree more with the I.G.'s findings that we need a solution to change this. And we have solutions on the table with Congress. You mentioned the supplemental. We asked for $4.5 billion; 3.3 of that is to take better care of children in federal custody for HHS, not for DHS, for Health and Human Services. So we need that funding from Congress. We need it immediately. We
have also put solutions on the table that would prevent this flow from happening in the first place. So we need help from Congress to do this effectively.
But we're not resting on our laurels. I just got back from Guatemala, where we're trying to address these smuggling organizations at their point of origin. We're trying to get kids out of the cycle in the first place.
So we have got a lot going on. But we need this funding from Congress so that we can provide better care for people in our facilities.
TAPPER: Right. You want this $4 billion from Congress. And we will ask Jim Clyburn about that later.
But, until you do, would you like to see -- since President Trump sees this money as very fungible -- he's using some Pentagon money to build the wall -- would you like to see him use some of that money to help you with the facilities, so you don't have inspector general reports in the future like the one you just got?
MCALEENAN: Yes, we are -- we are actually working with DOD on that.
And they're going to help us with 7,500 additional spaces to prevent people from being too crowded in our facilities. We have already put up 1,000 temporary facility spaces on the border in Texas. We're going to add Arizona this month. We're driving as hard as we can to provide a better scenario.
TAPPER: Now, six children have died in custody. Six migrant children have died in government custody since September, including a 16-year- old boy who died after spending a week at a DHS facility in Texas.
We know that undocumented children are being held in DHS custody longer than the legal 72-hour maximum.
TAPPER: What's the longest you have been holding some of these children?
MCALEENAN: So, the -- the longest cases will be when someone's gone to the hospital and spent time in hospital care. So they're still technically in our custody, but they're -- they're not in a Border Patrol station during that time.
I think what we're concerned about is, the average hours in custody is increasing. And that's why HHS needs this funding. They need to be able to buy additional beds, especially for teenage males, which is the number one demographic that's crossing right now unaccompanied as children.
And we need to be able to move people very quickly to HHS custody, to a better situation. TAPPER: So, just for the people who don't know who are watching, HHS
is the ones -- that's the government agency charged with taking care of the migrant children...
TAPPER: ... whether the ones that were separated from their parents in the past, a policy that I don't think is going on any longer...
MCALEENAN: It's not.
TAPPER: ... or the ones who are unaccompanied.
A statement from HHS to ABC News says that its agencies' -- quote -- "shelters have beds available, and they are ready to receive these unaccompanied migrant children when processed by DHS."
So, they say they have some beds available.
MCALEENAN: So,just to clarify this and make it very clear, we have got 2,300 children in custody right now...
TAPPER: These are unaccompanied minors?
MCALEENAN: Unaccompanied minors in custody.
HHS has on any given day 300 to 400 beds available. So, yes, we're moving kids to their beds every single day. But we have many more in custody than they have capacity for. That's why they have asked Congress for a supplemental $3.3 billion to increase their capacity for beds.
TAPPER: Last quick question.
The U.S. is on track to have more than a million migrants, a million undocumented immigrants enter the country this year. Of that million, how many do you think are dangerous individuals, 500,000 of the million, 1,000 of the million? How many?
So, last year, we apprehended 17,000 criminals at the border and an additional 808 known gang members. And that was...
TAPPER: Eight hundred and eight?
That was on about half the crossing level we're facing today. The other challenge we have is that our humanitarian mission, processing these families, trying to care for these kids, is pulling our agents off the line. Forty percent of our agents are involved in processing and care of families and children right now. They're not on the border line. So we don't even know what we're missing with confidence. We need to
be out there on the line securing the border against those that are trying to evade capture, the smugglers bringing drugs across, and, as you noted, potential criminals and gang members in that flow.
TAPPER: All right, acting Secretary McAleenan, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.
MCALEENAN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up next: Could strong support for impeachment among African-Americans move the needle with House Democratic leadership?
We're going to talk to the House majority whip, Congressman James Clyburn, next.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
Brand-new CNN poll numbers this morning show support for impeachment has ticked up significantly among Democrats. Now three-quarters say President Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
Joining me now to discuss this and much more, the House majority whip, Democratic South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn.
Whip Clyburn, thank you so much for joining us.
I want to start with what we just heard from acting Secretary McAleenan. The month of May is expected to have the highest number of border apprehensions in 12 years. Migrants are facing dangerous overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
The White House and the DHS say they need another $4.5 billion. Most of that's going to go towards safe facilities for migrants. Why hasn't Congress passed this money?
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, I think we're doing what we think is necessary to effectively patrol and secure the border.
What we are having a problem with is the symbolism that seems to preoccupy -- be the preoccupation of this president. Let's put the money where we can effectively secure the border, take care of those people who are -- need to be hospitalized, need to be treated, need to be dealt with, with humanity.
And so Congress has done time and time again what I think is necessary. That is the House. The House is doing its part. It's over in the Senate, and we're waiting for the Senate to act. TAPPER: Well, I think McAleenan's point is, this $4.5 billion
supplemental, more than $3 billion of that will be going to the Department of Health and Human Services for facilities for unaccompanied minor children.
Of the remaining money, I think about $800,000 will go for new facilities for adults in ICE. This is, in the view of McAleenan, specifically humanitarian aid to help with these facilities. And he's wondering, why hasn't Congress passed it?
CLYBURN: Well, simply because we go through a process. It has to pass the House. Then it has to pass the Senate before it goes to the president.
And I think that we're doing it. Time and time again, we are passing bills. We have passed more than 200 bills that are sitting over in the Senate. And some of that has got to do with how to effectively deal with issues at our border.
So I cannot speak for the whole Congress, but I can say that the House is doing its part.
TAPPER: OK. Let's move on.
Let's turn to the growing calls for impeachment proceedings against President Trump among Democrats. Now, you have said that you think that, if President Trump weren't the president, he would have been indicted for obstruction of justice, but you also do not support impeaching President Trump.
So I think a lot of people might be wondering how to square those two positions. Why should President Trump not be impeached, if you think he committed a crime?
CLYBURN: Well, Jake, I have never said he should not be impeached.
What I have said time and time again is, Mueller has developed the grounds for impeachment. The House has to determine the timing for impeachment. There's a big difference.
I was telling one of my daughters earlier this morning, the longer I live, the more I get in touch with what those Gullah-Geechee parents and grandparents used to tell us all the time. Haste makes waste. Let's take our time and do this efficiently, not just effectively.
All it takes is 218 votes to effectively impeach the president. That doesn't say that it will be the efficient way to do it. What Nancy Pelosi is trying to do and the rest of us in the House of Representatives is to develop a process by which we can efficiently move on this issue, so that, when we get to a vote, it would be something that she calls ironclad, I call effective.
And that is why we are trying to take our time and do this right. So I don't see this as being out of whack with what the people's aspirations are. TAPPER: I'm trying to figure out the gauge for your timing. Are you
waiting for the public to support impeachment in majority numbers? Are you waiting for Republicans in the Senate to come on board, so that he gets convicted as well?
What exactly is your gauge here if you support -- if you think that he -- that he broke the law and would have been indicted if he weren't president?
CLYBURN: We think that we have to bring the public along.
We aren't particularly interested in the Senate. We do believe that, if we sufficiently, effectively educate the public, then we will have done our job, and we can move on an impeachment vote, and it will stand, and maybe it will be what needs to be done to incent the Senate to act.
So we aren't waiting on the Senate. We're trying to make sure that we do what is necessary to educate the public, make sure that the public understands exactly what we're doing, why we're doing it, so that people won't misinterpret this as being a political move on our part.
We believe that, if we do it efficiently and effectively, it will be one that the public will understand and will support. If the public ever feel that we are being political with this, we will have done a tremendous harm to the country, to the Constitution, and to the people that we are sworn to serve.
TAPPER: But it sounds like you're -- you think that the president will be impeached, or at least proceedings will begin in the House at some point, but just not right now?
CLYBURN: Yes, exactly what I feel.
I think we have already begun. We have got all of these committees doing their work. We're having hearings. We have already won two court cases. And there are other cases that are still to be determined.
So, why should we get out in front of this process? Why don't we just continue to go along? And we are -- right now, we are winning this issue. Why should we go out and make missteps and cause us to lose a court decision that will have people saying, why didn't you take your time? Why did you get out in front of this?
It's kind of interesting to me, as I talk to people, when you ask them what they think we ought to do, they agree with what we're doing. It's just that, emotionally, they would like to see something done and see it done quicker. But people want us to be effective in what we do.
TAPPER: All right, but the -- Majority Whip, they're just suggesting that you believe that the president will ultimately be impeached at some point. Thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.
CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me.
TAPPER: Many of the brave military men and women coming home from war are suffering from injuries that you can't see.
A 2020 presidential candidate opens up about his own struggle with post-traumatic stress.
And that's next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
A few months before 9/11, future Congressman Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
And now, for the first time, he's revealing the unseen effects of some of his military service.
Here's my exclusive conversation with Congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Seth Moulton about his struggles with post- traumatic stress.
TAPPER: Post-traumatic stress can manifest itself in many, many different ways. How does yours manifest itself?
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, after I got back from the war, there were times when I woke up with cold sweats, when I had -- had flashbacks, would have bad dreams. There are times when I just couldn't get through a day without thinking about some of the experiences that I went through.
And my story is one of success, because I got help for it. I decided to go talk to someone, to see a therapist. And now those issues are under control. Now I control when I want to think about these things.
They're still very emotional. They will stay with me for the rest of my life, but -- but I have a handle on them.
TAPPER: People don't discuss it. There's still a stigma about it.
Are you worried at all that coming forward as a presidential candidate, saying you have post-traumatic stress, that that could be used against you, that that might cause some voters to be concerned?
MOULTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, candidly, that's why I haven't talked about it before.
And I'm someone who talks a lot about the importance of courage, the value of courage in our politics, how so much could be better in Washington if politicians on both sides of the aisle just had the courage to do the right thing.
And I admit this is a place where I did not have the courage to share my own story, because I was afraid of the political consequences.
TAPPER: Tell me, if you would, what was tough for you in terms of what you now deal with and what you have been dealing with since you left the Marines. What was it -- I don't want to probe too much, because I don't want to ask anything that you think is inappropriate. I want to be sensitive to this.
But is it the action of taking a life? Is it survivor's guilt from a battle buddy that didn't make it home? Is it the carnage of war? What exactly is your PTS rooted in?
MOULTON: All those things. I have experienced all those things, all three.
There are a lot of stories that I have -- that I have never shared. But one I decided to share for the first time this week is from when we were on the third or fourth day of the invasion heading north towards Baghdad.
And the Iraqi army and some special forces were attacking us heading south. And there were a number of vehicles heading south. The Marines just a few hundred yards ahead of us shot up some cars and buses that they thought were full of enemy troops. But at least one car was an Iraqi family just fleeing the violence.
And we came upon this car. It had careened off the side. The parents were obviously dead. But there was a boy, probably about 5 years old, lying in the middle of the road wounded and writhing in pain.
And, at that moment, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life, which was to drive around that boy and keep pressing the attack, because to stop would have stopped the entire battalion's advance. It would have endangered the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of Marines.
But there is nothing I wanted to do more at that moment than just get out of my armored vehicle and help that little kid.
And there was a time when I got back from the war when I couldn't get through a day without thinking about that 5-year-old boy and leaving him in the middle of road.
And that's why I decided to talk to someone and get help. And I will remember his face until the day that I die. But at least I can control when I think about it, when I think about him.
TAPPER: You feel guilty?
MOULTON: Of course. But I will never forget him. And it was the first time in the war,
certainly not the last, but the first time that I came face to face with the just brutal inhumanity of war.
And you know what? I think that, having seen that, having experienced it and dealt with it has made me stronger. It's -- it certainly made me a better father. I think about that boy sometimes when I -- when I see my 7-month-old daughter.
TAPPER: And that was carnage caused by the Americans, that kid's pain and that kid losing his parents?
How does that affect, if at all, the way you, as a member of Congress, think about the role of the United States in the world, because we like to think of ourselves in the United States as a force for good?
MOULTON: It makes me a lot more thoughtful and careful about making these decisions.
It makes me take my role on the Armed Services Committee incredibly seriously. And it makes me think a lot about the responsibilities that I will have if I am the next commander in chief.
TAPPER: You talk to a therapist like once a month, just to -- just as a check-in?
MOULTON: I keep in touch with my therapist, the one who helped me through all of this, because I just think it's healthy. It's good practice.
It's just like when you get -- get a physical, and the doctor says, you know, you should go to the gym, you should go on runs, you should eat healthy. That's exactly what I believe about -- about mental health care.
And that's why I'm introducing these policy goals to talk about making sure that every soldier, sailor -- soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine gets regular mental health care checkups, just like they get physicals, that it becomes routine, both for active duty and for veterans at the VA.
And I hope that that will be a model for the rest of the country. That's why, if I'm elected president, I will make sure that every high schooler in America gets to get a checkup with a mental health care professional, and not only that, but learn how to proactively take care of themselves mentally.
And I have become a devotee of yoga and meditation. And I have learned that a lot of the top leaders in the world, a lot of the top CEOs in America believe in that too.
TAPPER: President Trump recently announced he's sending another 1,500 troops to the Middle East.
This comes amidst the United States government, the Trump administration talking about the increased threat from Iran. What do you -- what do you make of all that?
MOULTON: I think it's incredibly dangerous. And the parallels...
TAPPER: To send those troops?
MOULTON: Well, the parallels between how the Bush administration pushed us into war with Iraq and how the Trump administration, under a draft-dodging commander in chief, is pushing us into war with Iran are uncanny.
But I also think there's a parallel here with Vietnam, where what Bolton and Pompeo are trying to do is put enough troops in the Gulf, that there's just a good chance there will be a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident, the kind of interaction, the kind of altercation that set off Vietnam, that that will set off war with Iran.
And it's been very clear from things that the secretary of state in particular has said that that's -- that's what he hopes happens.
And the bottom line is that we have a commander in chief who's not tough enough, who doesn't have the credibility to stand up to these chicken hawks.
TAPPER: Who are you calling a chicken hawk specifically?
MOULTON: Well, John Bolton.
He was one who pushed us into war in Iraq. He's trying to push us into war in Iran. And, I mean, look, if you saw a definition of chicken hawk in a dictionary, you would see Donald Trump and John Bolton right next to each other.
And I think we all know who's the chicken and who's the hawk.
TAPPER: You fought in Iraq, even though, intellectually, you opposed the war.
Joe Biden was in the Senate at the time. He voted to go to war in Iraq. Was that a mistake? Does that say something about his judgment?
MOULTON: I have a lot of respect for Joe Biden. He is a mentor and a friend.
But I do think that it's time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.
TAPPER: But was it a mistake for him to vote to go to war in Iraq?
MOULTON: Well, I wasn't in the Senate at the time, so I'm not going to say that, but...
(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: I'm sorry, but that's a cop-out, because you were on the front lines. You have more of a right to make a judgment about that vote than -- than anyone I have interviewed who is running for president.
MOULTON: All right, fair enough, Jake.
It was a mistake, because we should have been a lot more careful about going into Iraq. We should have questioned the intelligence. We should have made sure -- made sure that we exhausted every opportunity before we put young American lives in danger.
TAPPER: Tune in tonight to three CNN presidential candidate town halls, including Congressman Seth Moulton, who will speak at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.
Coming up, the Navy was asked to hide the presence of the "USS John McCain" ship to avoid upsetting President Trump. So how else are the president's advisers trying to protect him? That's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion." Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
When it comes to folks who upset President Trump, is it true that out of sight is out of mind? That's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."
TAPPER (voice-over): Before President Trump went to Japan last week, his staff asked the Navy to obscure the name of the "USS John McCain" to avoid angering the president.
TRUMP: To me, John McCain, I wasn't a fan.
TAPPER: Which got us wondering what else might the president's staff to do to keep him from blowing his top. Do maps in the White House only show the states that he won? Does his staff hide from him the existence of other long gone and revered politicians?
TRUMP: We made America great again --
TAPPER: Perhaps his intelligence community could come up with some high-tech glasses, ones that make him see everyone he meets as more supportive even obsequious. We can call them Pence-nez (ph).
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump's leadership inspires me every single day. Our president is a man with broad shoulders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to thank you, Mr. President.
TAPPER: And of course the less high-tech option, bubble wrap.
TRUMP: I feel very comfortable.
TAPPER: President Trump causing controversy over his state visit to the U.K. Stay with us.