Return to Transcripts main page


Biden's Climate Plan Targets Net-Zero Emissions by 2050; Biden Jokes At Event With Voter; White House Instructs Hicks, Donaldson to Ignore Congressional Subpoenas; Buttigieg Splits With 2020 Dem Senators on Al Franken. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 4, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And spreads it out a little bit. It benefits Joe Biden to have a big field, no question.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: All right. And one of the criticisms from liberal groups, progressive Democrats mostly, number one is a generational thing. They want a younger candidate, they want a newer or fresher face. They say he doesn't get some of the big challenges right before us. And they have questioned -- there were some Biden aides who were quoted in an (INAUDIBLE) store I believe saying if you have a middle ground climate approach and Biden himself bristled at that.

This plan, he says zero-net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Congress would decide how to enforce it, a business could be fined, new standards for fuel, buildings, appliances, pollution limits for the oil and gas, infrastructure investments that could withstand climate change impacts, and paid for by undoing the Trump tax cuts. It's not exactly the same as the other Democratic plans, it's as ambitious or as expensive as Governor Inslee's for example who has tried to stick his claim on this issue. But is it enough, is it enough for the vice president to say we're essentially in agreement here and, you know, I'm fine.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's not a middle ground plan, it's a pretty aggressive plan but as you say not as far as some of the candidates. But it is a pretty aggressive plan. I think some of what you're just seeing him wanted to do is send a message with what he's doing as his opening gambits. The fact that he out a climate change plan as one of his very first policy proposals is him saying, hey, I agree with you that this is the urgent priority. This is one of the very first things I would look to do as president.

You know, he's never going to be as liberal as some of his rivals. I think he's also comfortable with that. I don't think what he wants to do is try to play in that space. He just wants to be out there enough that he can, if the field does -- we know that some of those voters stand a chance of coming to him. That he's not destined to lose liberals and to lose some of these black voters.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, the other thing is you had Senator Warren also putting out some -- part of her Green New Deal plan framework and that there was sort of a marked difference, right. So you have Senator Warren's plan which is looking at, you know, net-zero emissions by 2030 which is a framework that is laid out in the Green New Deal rather than 2050. And, you know, you're, you know, only talking about a few decades here but this is one of the key things that activists, Democratic activists are looking for when they want to know if somebody is really being serious about climate change.

And just talking to some of the Democratic activists this morning, I mean, they are very excited about Senator Warren's plan and they're not excited about Biden's plan. And part of this is because Warren, you know, shopped her plan around and discussed it with these liberal activists and Biden did not. They sort of did it in their own silo.

So, I mean, it's just -- the question is whether -- you know, Warren is getting so much enthusiasm from these activists and you saw it over the weekend in California, and Biden is just sort of trying to do enough, but it's -- it isn't what they really want. Not what they want to hear.

KING: His bet and we'll see if he's right is that there's a much bigger Democratic Party out there in the country than there is that shows up on Twitter or that shows up at state conventions. That is his giant bet.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think Julie is right. I think that he -- the Biden's strategy, his strategic call is that if people are in fact more taken with the idea of having someone who can beat Trump. And, you know, that's really the thing that he seeds upon, that his plan be good enough on climate, on so many of these other issues that they are OK coming to him because obviously, this is a marathon, not a sprint. I mean, there's still a lot to play out here, so I think he's just trying to kind of preserve that space for himself but he's not going to be where Elizabeth Warren is on the climate --


DAVIS: -- or Jay Inslee. I think he's not going to be the climate candidate. I think he's looking to sort of preserving the ground for himself so that people feel like he's doing something and he has an actual plan. It is an aggressive plan but it's not going to be the most aggressive plan and I think that's by design. Because he knows that if he wins it's because people buy his argument that you need someone who can go up against Trump and he's that person and that the policy details are a little bit less.

KING: And we'll get that -- we'll see and you mentioned the point about the degrees of difference. We'll see. The debates were coming up just a couple of weeks now. So this is all the next couple days just running for this.

One of the issues, since he got in the race, was Joe Biden himself admitting that he needs to learn to not be so touchy feely if you will. He's had issues in the past, he's offended women by touching them, he says none of that was sexual in any way, the women haven't said it's sexual, they said their space is invaded. It's come up several times on the campaign trail including when he was first starting to be active on the trail, he made a couple of jokes about it.

Today in New Hampshire, there's an event that's still going on. He saw a woman sitting on the floor. He went to get her a chair. Let's watch.


JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As you're sitting there, I'm going to -- for you.



BIDEN: We have a little secret going here. I want the press to know she pulled me close. I just want you to know, OK.


KING: We all saw what happened. The woman leaned in, she talked to the vice president. Does he have to do that? Is he right to do that? Is it off? Is that pitch-perfect or pitch weird? I just saw -- the idea that -- we all saw what happened there, it's just.

DAVIS: I think it's a little pitch weird. I mean, he clearly felt like he had to sort of lighten the moment that way.

[12:35:02] But for him to be joking about that stuff, I mean, it's just unnecessary and just don't go there, right? I mean, he clearly has this issue that people have been talking about. They've been talking about it less recently, and every time something like that happened --

PACE: Every time he does that --

DAVIS: -- it kind of brings it back up.

ZELENY: I've also talked to several women out there, voters in several states who love Joe Biden a lot and are just fine with it. So I think how you view that is how you view the whole situations. Some people -- other voters say, you tell Joe Biden that he can hug me anytime he wants.

So I think, you know --

LINSKEY: So what you said is right, too. I mean, here's this woman, she's sitting on the floor, she's --

DAVIS: It was nothing wrong with --

LINSKEY: There's absolutely nothing wrong with it but it does. It just -- he goes that extra little bit. ZELENY: And his aides are just like don't want him to go any further. Like that is the -- when he gets comfortable, that's when he has had some issues in years past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, like a hundred percent good and then he just goes a little further.

KING: All right, I just want to show that. We watch, we learn, we study.

Before we go to break, Senator Mitt Romney delivering one of his major policy speeches on the Senate floor. His message, America wouldn't be great without our friends around the world.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): We should strengthen our alliances, not dismiss or begrudge them. We should enhance our trade with our allies, not disrupt it. And coordinate all the more closely our security and our defense with them.



[12:40:45] KING: Topping our political radar today, a new push to arrest and deport immigrant families who've been given a court order to leave the United States. The new acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the agency now exploring options for evicting those who have exhausted all their legal options with no exemptions. Homeland Security officials in the past have resisted deporting family units. Though the Obama administration did launch a similar effort in its second term.

On this day back in 1989, China's communist government sent troops and tanks rolling into Beijing's Tiananmen Square to crush peaceful demonstrations pushing for democracy and human rights. The number killed in that brutal crackdown is still unknown. The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marking today's anniversary noting that 30 years later, quote, Chinese citizens continue to seek to exercise their human rights, organize independent unions, pursue justice through the legal system, and simply express their views for which many are punished, jailed, and even tortured. The Chinese embassy slamming Secretary Pompeo's words as an affront to the Chinese people and claiming human rights in China has never been better.

The Virginia Governor Ralph Northam recalling state lawmakers for a special session on gun control. That in the wake of last week's mass shooting in Virginia Beach. His new proposal included a ban on silencers, high capacity magazines, and broader authority for local governments to ban guns from public buildings. Republicans control the general assembly and refused to a similar push earlier this year.

When we come back, today, another deadline for the White House to provide documents to the Congress. And today another no from that White House. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:56] KING: Today, the White House again instructing former West Wing aides to give Democrats nothing, at least about their time working in the White House. Hope Hicks, the former communications director, and Annie Donaldson, the former chief of staff to White House Counsel McGahn faced morning subpoena deadlines to turn over documents connected to their time working for the administration. Both were witnesses in the special counsel investigation, and both key players in the special counsel laid out potential examples of obstructing justice by the president.

We should note Hope Hicks has agreed to turn over some documents to the House Judiciary Committee relating to her time on the Trump campaign, not in the Trump White House.

Let's get straight to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Manu, the White House again saying no.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Indeed they are rejecting these demands, but specifically about the time that Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director as well as Annie Donaldson who is the chief of staff for Don McGahn who was of course then the White House counsel. Their time in the White House, and of course that's central to what the Democrats want to investigate in the House Judiciary Committee, looking into potential obstruction of justice to examine those 10 episodes laid out by the Mueller report as part of the president's apparent efforts to undermine that investigation. The White House is saying those records will not be turned over.

In a letter that we just reviewed from the White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, he says that those are confidential communications that Congress is not entitled to. He proposes instead to discuss a middle ground between the House Democrats and the House -- and the Department of Justice to see if they can find any sort of deal. But I can tell you, John, that a number of Democrats that I've spoken with are just not satisfied with this request so far or this offer to work with them.

One Democratic member Jamie Raskin just said moments ago that this is essentially going to add more weight to the cause to do more, potentially even open up an impeachment inquiry. That's something, of course, the House speaker so far is resisting as well as the House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler who is not going that far. Now, one thing that Nadler did note was the fact that Hope Hicks has agreed to turn over her campaign-related documents to the committee, not her time at the White House but campaign-related documents. That is not going to satisfy Democrats here so the next step could be more members, former officials being held in contempt.


KING: Manu Raju, live from the Hill, appreciate the update. Let's bring it in the room, and just for a little context, Hope Hicks who is close to the president during the campaign, probably nobody closer to him on a day-to-day basis surrounding all time. But the reason Congress wants since she was on Air Force One for example when they were drafting the statement about the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Jr. That was not accurate to be kind, I could do more. And many other issues here, Annie Donaldson, Don McGahn's says he got the phone call from the president to fire -- get Rosenstein to fire Mueller.

So these are two key witnesses, the White House answer is no, no, no.

I mean, what the White House is doing is really trying to just test Democratic leadership. How long can Nancy Pelosi hold off her members as the requests get closer to the president and closer to the people around him and the answer continues to be no, you know? Can Pelosi -- can she say to her members, you know, that she is doing everything she can if she doesn't go down the road of opening an impeachment hearing?

[12:50:05] PACE: Hope Hicks clearly is trying to show some level of cooperation, some good faith effort here, but to your point, what they want to know about is what happened when she was in the White House. What happened in the campaign is somewhat irrelevant to what Democrats are after and that's what makes her willingness to go along with this White House position I think so frustrating and troublesome for a lot of Democrats.

KING: And to your point about testing the leadership, Nancy -- some of Nancy Pelosi's own members are testing her, too. Before Robert Mueller spoke last week, 35 Democrats had called for an impeachment inquiry. After he spoke, that number jumped to 38. The president spoke the next day, the number jumped to 48. As of today, 57 members of the House Democratic caucus say we should at least open an impeachment inquiry.

Now again, there's more than 200 of them so getting in the range of about 25 percent now, but the number keeps growing. Pelosi's job managing the flock gets more difficult.

DAVIS: Right, and I think Julie is correct that every time we have -- we see another episode of these, you know, they ask for something and they're told no. If that is going to continue to grow, I think what Nancy Pelosi and her team are trying to do is to sort of find ways of letting the steam out of the kettle a little bit. And that I think part of that will happen when they actually vote to hold -- that's why they're going to have votes to hold Don McGahn and others in contempt, we may see them go down that road with these additional figures here, Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson.

But clearly, they are going to come to a point where there is not going to be a whole lot of ability for them to get at crucial information that they would need to flesh out what's in the Mueller report and what they do know about obstruction. And the question is, you know, when is that, and then how many more Democrats have signed on to this effort at that point.

KING: And to that point, if you want to question Nancy Pelosi's hold especially on the leadership, this is her number three, James Clyburn on TV with Jake Tapper on Sunday, seems pretty clear.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: 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?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Yes, that's exactly what I feel. I think we've already begun.


KING: That was Sunday. The day after Sunday is Monday. Here is Congressman Clyburn to Politico. "I'm probably farther away from impeachment than anybody in our caucus. We will not get out in front of our committees. We'll see what the committees come up with. I've said that forever."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He must have gotten a phone call.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: And to the point, 25 percent of the Democratic caucus is still just 25 percent. That's really not a breaking point I think for the leaders who really do not want to have this fight right now.

KING: The speaker's position and the leadership meeting and the members meeting the other was, she still thinks this is a bad idea and for now she's holding firm. We shall see. The math is getting a little tougher but to your point still not there yet.

Up next, former Senator Al Franken's name is back in the news causing a rift between at least two 2020 presidential candidates.


[12:57:27] KING: An unexpected name causing a rift in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, Al Franken. Mayor Pete Buttigieg faced a question about the former senator in a town hall overnight. After a bit of prodding he answered that unlike some Democratic senators, he would not have been so quick to demand Franken's resignation.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it was his decision to make, by thinking the way that we basically held him to a higher standard than the GOP does their people has been used against us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they right or wrong in?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think it's not a bad thing that we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know but were they right to do that, to push him out of the Senate because they did?

BUTTIGIEG: I would not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more.


KING: Fellow 2020 candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who led the call for Franken to step down in 2017 was quick to respond. Quote, eight credible allegations of sexual harassment. That is not too high of a standard, regardless of the Republican Party handles his behavior, for many senators including myself and others in this primary field, that was not too high of a bar.

To Senator Gillibrand's point, Senator Cory Booker, Michael Bennet, herself, Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Elizabeth Warren all among those who said Franken had to go back at the time. This is interesting to have a debate between two of the Democratic candidates about something kind of out of the blue.

PACE: It's also interesting because Gillibrand's advisors have said that they actually think that this issue is something that has held her back in terms of fund-raising and generating some enthusiasm around her. But I do think it's important --

KING: Because Franken was so loved by the liberal base.

PACE: Because Franken -- because people look now I think of that situation and a lot of people do think he was held to a higher standard and Democrats maybe moved too quickly. But I do think that it's fair to Gillibrand to point out what was happening at that time. I mean, this didn't happen in isolation. There were a lot of pressures on Democrats and she may have been out front but I think I was even maybe sitting on this set when that happened.

And then it was one after another, Democrats coming out, minute after minute so she was maybe out front but she was hardly alone --

KING: On average in Democratic presidential primary, 60 percent of the voters are women. Is that a risk for Buttigieg or?

DAVIS: I mean, it could be. And Kirsten Gillibrand is sort of clearly trying to position herself as, you know, the women's candidate among other things but she clearly is, you know, wanting to go to that space. And to be seen in these political moments as an insufficiently supportive of women or as skeptical of, you know, some of these kinds of claims could be a risk for him. I mean, it's -- he made a very sort of reasoned and it sounds like personally true to himself evaluation, and that's what he was doing.

Maybe voters appreciate that, but I do think that there is a risk that they will see him as, you know, insufficiently concerned with the fact that, you know, these allegations in the past couple of years have been seen in a very different light. And so, you know, there are risks involved.

KING: Something else to keep on our list as we get ready for the debates coming up soon. Thanks for joining us.