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Biden Faces Backlash from 2020 Democrats for Abortion Stance; Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) Discusses GOP Opposition to Trump's Tariffs on Mexico, China Trade War, China-Russian Relationship, China Helping Saudis Escalate Ballistic Missile Program, Transit Bill, Prison for Trump; Officials Give Briefing after Deadly West Point Training Accident. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 6, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Let's talk about Joe Biden, though. He's in a bit of a pickle with primary Democratic voters, right? He is personally, when he takes a public stance, he is a supporter of "Roe v. Wade" but he's for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds for abortion, except in the case of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is in danger this.

This separates him from other Democrats in the field, who say, look, women, who get health insurance, who get their coverage through, say, Medicaid, and we're talking about a large chunk of women, should have access to abortion coverage. How problematic is this for Joe Biden?

A.B. STODDARD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's problematic now. The other contestants will be challenging him about it at the debates, fund-raising off of it and trying to build their poll numbers up and to knock down the front-runner for it.

But I remember a very, very large primary race in 2016, on the Republican side, where President Trump's, then-Candidate Trump's policy positions were anathema to the Republican Party on trade and a whole bunch of other issues and the voters followed him.

If the voters continue to support Joe Biden, it's because, in the end, they are worried most about beating President Trump. They think he has best chance. We'll see.

Abortion is going to play a bigger role than usual in terms of the energy on the ground, but it doesn't mean that it's going to be decisive.

KEILAR: What do you think, and how does he explain it?

TODD GILLMAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Well, he -- first of all, he's very personally religious and he has explained it over the years by saying there's a difference between protecting a woman's right to choose versus affirmatively supporting abortion through federal funding and moving your tax dollars to this purpose. He has an explanation for it.

He will certainly -- there will be a pile-on in which ever of those two debates later in this month he's a part of. One of the reasons that he's the strongest contender in Texas against

Trump is because he's the most experienced and best known of these candidates.

So the question is going to be, are enough Democrats going to be single-issue voters on abortion rights, and not just abortion rights largely, which Biden is on board with, but specifically federal taxpayer funding for abortion. I don't think it's going to be disqualifying for him.

KEILAR: All right, Todd Gillman.

Do you think it will be disqualifying for him with primary voters?



All right, A.B., Todd, thank you so much.

So what was behind the sudden death of three Americans at a Dominican Republic resort? The autopsy report just into CNN.

Also, two stories that we're following now. Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells Democrats she wants to see the president in prison. And Judiciary chairman -- Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler may subpoena Robert Mueller to testify very soon.


[13:37:19] KEILAR: Day two of talks between the U.S. and Mexico are about to get under way at the White House. And officials from both countries are trying to find some middle ground on immigration. If they fail to reach an agreement, a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports starts on Monday unless Republicans step in. That is right, the president's party.

Republican lawmakers are planning a last-ditch effort to convince President Trump to change his mind. They want to meet with him face to face to make their case.

But that plan might already be dead on arrival, because here is what the president thinks of those Senators.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people, Senators included, they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to tariffs. They have no -- absolutely no idea.


KEILAR: Joining us now, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, of New Jersey.

And, Senator, your Republican colleague, Rand Paul, said on this program he thinks that there's a veto-proof majority in the Senate to block an emergency declaration that would precipitate these tariffs kicking into place. Do you think that's the case?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, if Republicans are finally willing to stand up to the president on something they know they should, then that's possible because we don't believe that tariffs, which are basically taxes, taxes on the American consumer, that may cost the average American consumer $800, by some studies, is the right way to try to deal with something that has nothing to do with trade but everything to do with immigration.

So we think the president is wrong on this. He's going to hurt consumers on it. Mexico is the second-largest market for American goods and services in the world. If they retaliate, that means also consequences to jobs here at home.

So I hope my Republican colleagues actually either get the White House to back off or show the necessary courage to stand up and vote against this type of program.

KEILAR: The president now is ratcheting up his trade war with China as well. He's talking about putting in place even more tariffs against China. What's your reaction to that?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, China is a bad actor when it comes to creating unfair trade barriers, currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, and a whole host things, so I'm -- I'm not not in agreement with the president.

However, the tariffs, again, is not the way to achieve our goal. What we need to do is what we had started to do before this administration took office, which is create an international coalition of the European Union, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Australia, the big economies in the world, to come together and make China the outlier and challenge them at the World Trade Organization and in other entities.

If we did that, we could probably succeed. And it would take a little time and we could succeed with dealing with the structural approximate.

[13:40:10] But the tariffs are just a tit for tat. They are putting tariffs on us, and they are hurting American farmers and American manufacturers. So, again, the president is misguidedly.

When he says Senators don't know anything about tariffs, I don't think he understands about tariffs himself. He says these countries pay for it. It's consumers that pay for the tax.

KEILAR: From your perch on the Foreign Relations Committee, I know you're watching this relationship between -- actually, Senator, if you could stand by for a moment, we need to go to West Point where officials are briefing.

They are about to brief on this training accident there involving cadets. We know, at this point in time, one cadet has died, 22 others have been injured. Two active-duty servicemembers are injured as well. And this is an update that we're hoping to get right now from the superintendent of the academy, General Darryl Williams.


Today, was a tragic day for the West Point community and our United States Army. Early this morning, a troop vehicle carrying 20 cadets, operated by two soldiers, was traveling to a land navigation training site when it was involved in a rollover accident.

The cadets were involved in a standard training exercise that occurs as a part of their military training program here at West Point.

One cadet is confirmed deceased as of 10:58 a.m. The other injured personnel received care at Keller Army Community Hospital, and various other regional medical facilities. Their injuries are not life- threatening.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased and our injured.

I would like to commend the exceptional efforts and professionalism of the first responders and medical personnel and thank our great New York State Police and our mutual-aid partners.

We are working actively to notify next of kin, and we will provide more information when the notification is complete.

We'll take a few questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: General, who was driving the vehicle?

WILLIAMS: Army soldiers.

KEILAR: It was Army soldiers?

WILLIAMS: Yes, Army soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you give us more information on the injuries, General. The nature and what caused of death?

WILLIAMS: The nature of all the injuries or --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And the death. Can you give us more information - (INAUDIBLE)

WILLIAMS: No. I can give you -- I'll let the hospital commander give you some sense of the nature of the minor injuries, but we're not prepared to go into the nature of the injuries surrounding the deceased.



UNIDENTIFIED HOSPITAL COMMANDER: I'm the hospital commander.

So the injuries range from facial abrasions to a broken arm, but as the general mentioned, they are all non-life-threatening injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The cadet that died --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm sorry. The cadet that passed away, where was he situated in the vehicle?

WILLIAMS; I'm not prepared to talk about the deceased cadet at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you concerned there were too many cadets -- (INAUDIBLE)

WILLIAMS: I do not have those concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How did the accident actually happen? Did it go -- did it swerve to avoid something? Any more technical details on how the accident actually happened?

WILLIAMS: Yes, we'll know more about that when we investigate this. We're investigating it down. The investigation will continue. We don't know the details of how the accident actually happened.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was the victim male or female?

WILLIAMS: No, I'm not prepared to say that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What was the year of the cadets? What year are they --

WILLIAMS: Yes, these are cadets that are seniors. They were seniors, cadet seniors at West Point, as we call --


WILLIAMS: Rising seniors, the class of 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Describe the vehicle they were in and the training exercise they were going.

WILLIAMS: So our seniors, as you know, we train very heavily here at West Point, and the training they do is part of our normal senior training. They have been doing this for some time now. And they were headed to the land navigation training when they were in the back of the truck. And they were transferred to the training site, and that's when the vehicle had the accident.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it common for these vehicles to turn over?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How far were they from the training site when the accident happened?

WILLIAMS: Not that far, not that far at all it. Wasn't like it was 10 kilometers away. It was close. They were in the training area.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it common for them to turn over, or it was a freak - (INAUDIBLE)

WILLIAMS: Is it -- no, it's not common for these vehicles to turn over. It's very rough terrain. Can you see the hills that we have here? We want to make sure that our soldiers and our cadets train in a realistic training environment so this is part of our realistic training.


WILLIAMS: This vehicle was just -- the vehicle was transferring, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you describe the terrain that the vehicle was traveling on.

WILLIAMS: You can see by looking around. It's very hilly. They were in hilly, mountainous terrain.


WILLIAMS: I think I should wait until the investigation to have completed.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Where was the victim seated? And is it true that this vehicle is only meant for 12 passengers?

[13:45:17] WILLIAMS: I'm not prepared to address that now.




WILLIAMS: I'll end with that.


WILLIAMS: Very strong. I mean, this is the United States Army. We're strong. We're strong here at West Point. The community has come together very nicely. As I talked about, the medical support and all the great professionals we have here, along with our partners, as I mentioned. So we responded extremely quickly. I came out quickly this morning when I found out, and our great partners in New York were here already attending to our own.

Thank you very much.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- on social media are wondering --


KEILAR: That was a news conference from the officials there at West Point, including the superintendent, Lieutenant General Darryl Williams.

I want to bring in Alex Marquardt.

You've been following all of this. We did learn a few more details. These were firsties. These were actually seniors at the military academy.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. A number of more details. So these were seniors, the class of 2020. The commandment of West Points just said they were on their way to what he called standard training that takes place during the summer. They were in a light-medium tactical vehicle. He said that there were 20 cadets in that vehicle that was being driven by an active-duty soldier.

He said that it was a rollover incident that took the life of -- of this cadet. The 20 others who were injured and then taken to hospital, thankfully.

If there's any silver lining unless story, he said that they are not suffering from life-threatening injuries, which is always the fear when these things happen in these reports when you see these large numbers, there's going to be a fear that the death toll could go up.

He did confirm that the one cadet did die. He did not identify the cadet. They are, as he said, looking into contact the next of kin to -- to give them, obviously, this horrific news.

The investigation is still very much ongoing. He got an interesting question at the end, whether this vehicle is, in fact, meant for a fewer number of people?

KEILAR: Twelve, 12 passengers.

MARQUARDT: That's what the reporter asked, and he didn't answer that question, so that's going to be a big part of the investigation.

KEILAR: Yes. We're going to wait for that. It is a strong community, certainly, at West Point. MARQUARDT: Right.

KEILAR: But it is a tight community. And this is going to ripple through that community as well.

Alex --

MARQUARDT: Very much so.

KEILAR: -- thank you so much for that report.

I do want to get back to Senator Robert Menendez who is with us.

I want to touch back, sir, on what we were discussing before, which is from your perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we are -- I wonder what you're thinking as we see this blossoming relationship between the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and the Russian President Vladimir Putin. These two visited pandas at a zoo together, and Xi called Putin, quote, "his best friend."

What do you think? Are you concerned?

MENENDEZ: Well, before I answer that, let me just say, having listened to your reporting, and as someone who gets to nominate cadets -- nominees to West Point and to these other academies, these are among nation's finest. My thoughts and prayers go to the family of the lost cadet and to the others who are injured.

These are among the finest young people that we have in the nation. And it's a great institution. I'm sure there will be a full accounting.

As it relates to Xi Jinping and Putin, the reality is, look, I don't think that their interests in the long term are sustainable, but what they do see is a strategic moment in the chaos of President Trump's foreign policy to find a way in which to advance their individual interests.

And so this is a moment in China-Russia relations, which is strategic, in which they are looking to use this moment. And they will, of course, continue to exploit both the vacuum that the president has created in many parts of the world because of his policies and some of the chaos that he's created in our foreign policies. And that's what they are both doing right now.

KEILAR: Also on the topic of China, the Trump administration says that it has intel that shows China has been helping Saudi Arabia significantly escalate its ballistic missile program. This obviously raises some fears of an arms race in the Middle East. What is your concern level with this?

MENENDEZ: Well, I can't speak to classified information specifically. But I will just say this. That the realities when you start matching the possibility of greater ballistic missile capabilities and then you start matching nuclear capabilities, you come to a dangerous fusion that the Middle East can certainly not sustain. The last thing we need in the Middle East is so I'm concerned, in

general, about, in a tinder box of the world, the possibilities that this may exist.

[13:50:17] KEILAR: Are you getting the information that you need from the Trump administration? Are they keeping lawmakers as informed as they should?

MENENDEZ: No. This is a continuing challenge with this administration. They continue to either not provide information that they should pro-actively give and that normally an administration would pro-actively give, particularly the committees of jurisdiction, such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, to mention two, the House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services Committee. They do not share information.

And it is only when you find out through sometimes other sources and you challenge them that you finally get the information.

This is dangerous. Because at the end of the day, we cannot make foreign policy and national security decisions in Congress without having the totality of the information, to understand what actions we should and should not take.

And this is one of the dangers that the administration poses in its failure to consistently provide information proactively, and to, even when we ask, to, reticently, it takes us a lot to get information from the administration. It is a dangerous proposition.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about a bill you introduced. We've been talking about foreign policy but it is interesting to see what lawmakers have going on in the interests of their own states and other states.

You said this bill would help prevent New Jersey public bus drivers from being assaulted. What it would do is fund special training and provide barriers in buses. I don't think that a lot of people understand how big of a problem this is. Tell us about this.

MENENDEZ: Well, this Transit Workers and Passenger Protection Act (sic) is just that, it is two-fold. Number one is we see a rising tide of attacks, sometimes vicious attacks, sometimes deadly attacks, on transit workers. And they are exposed. So they're subject to assault, knifing, recently there was a murder of one of the transit workers in Tampa.

And so the reality is that there are ways to devise an enclosure where the -- say the driver or a bus driver can successfully operate the vehicle but have a degree of protection and have an exit escape if they are ultimately attacked.

It is important, obviously, for transit workers who should never ever have to face in the promotion of their public service getting people to and from work and to hospitals and what not, assaulted. And also for the passengers on board not to have a transit worker assaulted in the midst of their operation. And then also some of the vehicles need to be retrofitted and used

with modern technology to avoid the potential of a fatality with pedestrians.

We here in New Jersey just had a 10-year-old boy, on Memorial Day, who was struck by a New Jersey transit bus making an extreme turn. Didn't see the young boy in the crosswalk as the reports go. There's technology that could have possibly avoided that fatality.

So it is about protecting our transit workers, protecting passengers and pedestrians.

KEILAR: And before I let you go, I do want to ask you about comments that Speaker Pelosi has made during a private meeting with top Democrats, with Democratic chairs on the committees that are investigating President Trump. According to "Politico," Pelosi said she didn't want to impeach Trump, instead she wanted to see him in prison.

Is that how you see it? Do you want to see the president in prison instead of impeaching him?

MENENDEZ: I want to see the rule of law preserved. I want for -- for justice to be realized. And I want for Congress to continue to play its Article I roll under the Constitution of oversight and understand what transpired.

The Mueller report is a road map particularly in the second section, the second volume that speaks about obstruction.

There are a series of other things that were not broached by the Mueller report that Congress has the right to, ultimately, investigate. Those investigations should move forward full force. And when they come to fruition, and we know all of the facts, then that is a decision to be made about how to move forward.

KEILAR: You're reserving judgment until those come to a head. We'll see.

Senator Bob Menendez, thank you.

MENENDEZ: Thank you. Thank you.

[13:54:55] Just in, health inspectors are on-site at the Dominican resort where three Americans have died. And now the FBI is stepping in as we see the autopsy results.


[14:00:01] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

We begin with breaking news. We may soon hear from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as he could be testifying before Congress.