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Biden and Trump Hit Iowa; Biden Draws Contrast in Speech; Pelosi Pivots Away From Impeachment. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:11] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Battleground Iowa earns its name today. Both President Trump and Joe Biden will be there. And the former Democratic vice president plans a harsh critique of the Republican incumbent.

Plus, Justin Amash quits the House Freedom Caucus. The Michigan Republican helped establish that conservative group. But his view that there's a case for impeaching the president is not welcome there.

And Nancy Pelosi ducks a question about whether she said the president belongs in prison, but answers one about his harsh criticism of her while attending D-Day events at Normandy.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How do you work with him after he levels such an insult against you overseas?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I just consider the source.

RAJU: What do you mean by that?

PELOSI: My stock goes up every time he attacks me, so what -- what can I say.

But let's not -- let's not spend too much time on that because that's his victory, the diverter of attention in chief.


KING: Back to the speaker and that contentious conversation in a few moments.

But we begin with a big afternoon in American politics, a competition of heavyweights in one of America's most competitive battleground states. President Trump and Joe Biden will be on opposite ends of Iowa today. And it's guaranteed to be interesting.

A big test of Biden's strategy of focusing on the president and all but ignoring the 22 other Democrats in the primary race. Also, a big test of whether the president can stay focused on the economic message he wants to sell in Iowa and elsewhere and not get too distracted by Biden.

And, above all else, it's a reminder that Iowa may be a small prize when it comes to electoral votes, but it's one of the best laboratories to starting our shifting politics and the question of whether President Trump can defend the map he followed to a stunning victory in 2016.

Let's take a closer look at the state of Iowa. This is 2016. Look at the size of that victory over Hillary Clinton in the state of Iowa. You don't have to go back that far in time. This is 2012. President Obama won the state. He also won it in 2008. Look at all this blue. Look at all this blue. President Obama in 2012 won 38 counties in Iowa, 38.

Let's come forward to 2016. Hillary Clinton won six. It was a dramatic flip. So where is the vice president today? One of the places he will be, ironically, campaigning today and tomorrow, in Clinton County. This is one of the -- there are 31 so-called pivot counties in Iowa. Twice they voted for Barack Obama and then they flipped. Thirty-one counties just in Iowa twice voted for Obama and Biden and then flipped and voted for Donald Trump. This is one of them.

Look at the margin. This is 2016. Vice President Biden will campaign here on this trip.

Let's just go back in time and look. Wasn't even close. Wasn't even close. So how does that happen? That's one of the lessons Joe Biden is trying to learn, one of the messages he's trying to sell.

One other quick look at where he will be. He will be down here as well in Henry County. Look at the side of the president's victory here in 2016. I'm going to go back and show you 2012, much more -- Obama lost. It's one of the places Obama lost but margins here. In a close race, the margins matter and Obama runs relatively close. Six points there to Mitt Romney. Hillary Clinton, 30 points there.

So Biden going to the places that flipped, going to the places that went way more Republican. That's one of the big challenges. The president himself will be on the western part of the state, renewable fuels, trying to make his case that the economy in Iowa has gotten much better in his presidency.

As this plays out, CNN's Jeff Zeleny live in Ottumwa, one of the places the vice president will campaign.

Jeff, give us your lay of the land.


I'm standing in Wapello County. That is one of those flip counties as well. In 2016, President Trump carried it by 21 points. Four years earlier, Barack Obama won it by 12 points. So you're absolutely right, that is why Joe Biden is here. As in real estate, like politics, location always important.

So the vice president is continuing his -- his introduction tour of his third presidential campaign, not introducing his biography, of course, but introducing his candidacy. He is making the case, or trying to, that he is the strongest Democrat to take on the president. He's trying to overlook some of the issues confronting his own campaign, how strong of a frontrunner he is, if he's been shifting positions, by focusing squarely on the president, going after him on economics, going after him on tariffs and trade. I'm told he will continue that message here and then as he goes on through his trip here.

But, John, Joe Biden has to prove that he is the frontrunner in the race. His lead has shifted ever so slightly since he jumped in. He is doing very much of a play it safe strategy.

I was just inside the room where this event is, looking inside it. It's a very small event. Not very large. Not a big real. So Joe Biden is going through these county by county, but he's not working as hard as some of the other candidates. So, of course, he is trying to prove that he is the man, or candidate, who can beat President Trump.

President Trump here, of course, for a reason as well, raising money for state Republicans here tonight. They want to keep this state red. And Iowa has been trending Republican in state and local elections as well. So a tough state for Democrats, but the former vice president reminds people he was on that ticket too in '08 and '12, the Obama/Biden counties, he would like to call those.


[12:05:20] KING: Jeff Zeleny live in Ottumwa. I'm not sure when we're going to get Mr. Zeleny back. Enjoy your day in Iowa -- your days in Iowa, Jeff.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Pass," Tamara Keith with NPR, Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

Let's talk a little bit about the Biden strategy, because there are 22 other Democrats in the race. His lead in Iowa is there, but it's not huge. And if you look deep into the numbers, he's at risk. But he wants to make the case, those are all nice people, let's focus on President Trump.

In the speech -- they released excerpts of the speech, the Biden campaign. He wants to make the case, again, in a state the president won big, in a state where the economic situation, big numbers, unemployment rate, things like that have improved, here's what the vice president is going to say, America's farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China. No one knows that better than Iowa. He thinks he's being tough. Well, it's easy to be tough when someone else is feeling the pain. How many sleepless nights do you think Trump has had over what he's doing to America's farmers? Here's the answer, Joe Biden will say, just as many as he had when he stiffed the construction workers and electricians and plumbers who built his hotels and casinos. Zero.

So here's the Biden strategy. Yes, the numbers might be better. He's trying to make the case, this president promised he'd care about you. He doesn't.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Two really interesting things from Biden's prepared remarks. One, again, clearly pointing to the role that he's going to play in this Democratic primary, which is as the frontrunner looking ahead to a general election. He knows that the way he wins this Democratic primary is to try to get voters to imagine him on the debate stage with Trump, to see him as a general election candidate and not really worry about some of the fights that the Democratic Party is having.

But also he -- he's crystallizing what his message is going to be against Trump in these remarks, which is basically going to be, he's in it for himself. He's not in it for you. And maybe the economy looks good at a macro level, but you know how your personal situation feels. You know that you aren't feeling quite as good as you think you should be given how the unemployment rate looks or growth looks in this country.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes, his other message there is that President Trump is norms busting and that America is better than this. This was in his initial rollout. This is what continues to be his message in the speech -- excerpts that we've gotten today.

What isn't clear is whether Iowa voters and other voters will decide that, yes, that is the message that we want rather than, you know, a message of, we need to tear things up. And, you know, his message, Biden's message is really a restorative message whereas some of the other candidates who are -- have got some traction on the Democratic side are talking about more structural changes.

KING: And to the point about being, a, about Trump, but, b, also a more centrist, more pragmatic Democrat is the case he wants to make. I mean Iowa Democrats, if you go out and talk to them, they get this because they lived it. If you watch their state, it's just a -- it's a small electoral prize, but the Democrats in 2018 flipped the congressional districts. It was 3-1 Republicans. Now it's 3-1 Democrats. If you go back through the last two elections, 31 counties just in Iowa, just in Iowa, Obama wins twice and Trump wins 31 of the 99 counties in the state. I think, how does that happen?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and that's the thing. And Biden thinks he can undo it, right, with a more incrementalist message, right? Not a big structural change message, like somebody like Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren. With a, like you said, sort of a nostalgia for those eight year, a nostalgia for the way Obama and Biden comported themselves in office. And talking directly to those voters who flipped from Obama/Biden to Trump. It's not clear if this is going to work though. Sort of shaming those voters into saying, you know, you were fooled by Donald Trump and I'm here to deliver in a way that Donald Trump couldn't deliver. It's not clear that that actually works and a lot of the data actually shows that it won't work, that essentially there's sort of been more desperate some of these voters get, the more they actually might cling to Donald Trump, somebody they see as a fighter.

KING: Or look for other bold ideas.


KING: This is the Biden challenge in the primary. He doesn't want to mention his opponents, but his case in Iowa essentially is, Hillary Clinton didn't come here and say she understands you. Hillary Clinton didn't understand your pain, to borrow a Bill Clinton term. She doesn't understand what it's like. She didn't make her case. He won't say that directly, but that's his point.

The other Democrats say, no, that's not it. They just don't want someone who can relate to them. They want big, bold, new, different.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the question, right, when you look at Obama and you look at Trump, they've both very charismatic individuals who managed to deliver a personal kind of appeal to people, right? So that's one thing that it could be that you say, well, Clinton didn't have that. But they also were saying, I'm different. I'm really different than what you're used to. And Clinton couldn't be that. So which one is it is a really open question. And if Biden is banking on the idea that his charisma is going to carry him all the way through, then he better hope that the other members of the Democratic primary are not able to actually poke holes in that in the next seven months before we get to the Iowa caucuses. And that is something that they certainly are trying to do and trying to do openly right now and are gaining ground in that they're closing that lead gap that he has. And there's plenty more votes out there to be taken by any of the above in terms of, you know, the -- the undecideds that are out there as well. So this is not like Biden's got a lock on it and can just choose the strategy absent anything that comes in between him and Trump in the general election.

[12:10:23] KING: And to that point, there's a little bit of cleanup going on here in the vice president's speech too -- former vice president's speech. He's happy to share the Iowa stage with Trump. The optics of that help him and reinforce his message. So, smart scheduling in that. But he's also, if you read the speech excerpts, a couple of weeks ago he kind of said, eh (ph), about the threat from China. Let's not worry about China. And his point -- he says his point was, the United States is strong, strongest economy in the world. We can withstand any challenge. But it came across as, eh (ph), I don't really care. I'm not worried about it.

In the speech today he says, we are in a competition with China. We need to get tough with China. They are a serious challenge to us and in some areas a real threat. And every single step that Donald Trump is taking is only exacerbating the challenge. While Trump is tweeting, China is making massive investments in technologies of the future. You bet I'm worried about China, if we keep following Trump's path. So there's -- that is clearly, you know, cleanup on isle Iowa.

PACE: Yes, for sure. I mean in a state like Iowa, this message about trade really -- really resonates. What he needs to do is convince people that all Trump is doing is talking about trade, that the actual actions aren't just going to backfire and hurt you, but he can't appear to be weak on trade. We had reporters across Iowa and in other states talking to what Trump calls the patriot farmers, and you do hear from some of these folks who will be directly negatively impacted by some of these tariff policies, they're happy that Trump is taking the fight to China. They know that they're going to be hurt and they still want him to be acting in this way and acting tough. That's --


KING: That's the -- the president's challenge is to keep them.

PACE: Yes.

KING: To keep them as they go through another planting season, another borrowing season, and if this -- if this continues is to keep them. I didn't mean to interrupt, but I just to jump in on that point. The Republican Party, the national committee, essentially trying to, I think, write the president's speech for him, remind him today what they would like him to talk about, sending out a tweet this morning, important to note, Donald Trump travels to Iowa today.

On manufacturing jobs, have gone up 15,000 since he took office. Unemployment rate has gone down from 3.4 percent to 2.4 percent. That's remarkable. They say 2,293 jobs thanks to the tax cuts there.


KING: The president -- we can put some of his tweets up just to show -- he likes to attack Biden personally.


KING: Say "sleepy Joe," say low IQ. The party is really hoping he goes out there and says, you know, look, I know -- I know you have long- term worries. I know this trade war is hard. But the numbers prove I'm here for you.

HENDERSON: Yes, but numbers are boring, right? You know, Trump is all about emotion, right? He's going to go there, and he did this before, this idea that China and Mexico and all of these other countries have been ripping you off for all of these years. The Democrats did nothing. Republicans really did nothing. And he is the one that can fix it. He's going to fix it by punching people in the nose over and over again. And if there is some collateral damage to some of these farmers, in the long run they say, listen, he's fighting for us. He's sticking up for us. That is a powerful and emotional message that really resonates with people who feel like they've been screwed over.

KEITH: Well, and he's calling them patriot farmers because they're sticking with him.


KING: Right. KEITH: Also, though, he had this big bailout package of farm aid to help offset the China retaliatory tariffs. So he's out there -- he's -- he has his eye on these farmers. He -- he wants to keep them.

KING: And the question is, can he? And that's why Iowa is just one of the fascinating laboratories of the tug-of-war in American politics. And we've seen it for many years. Fun to watch. Fun day. Jealous of Mrs. Zeleny.

Up next for us, the House speaker says she wants to stop talking about the president. And as we go to break, House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, you might remember, had a recent health scare and he got a concerned phone call from a frequent nemesis, the president.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president made that call quietly and he wanted to check on his health. They've known each other a long time.



[12:18:27] KING: The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, today turning combative and at times dismissive when asked to answer questions about her own words and about the president's scathing attack on her as vicious and more. This from a sometimes testy morning conversation with CNN's Manu Raju.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I'm done with him. I don't even want to talk about it.

It's a waste of time.


KING: Now, Pelosi said impeachment is not off the table, but she made clear again her immediate preference is investigating the White House and then going to court when the administration tells Congress no about documents or about witnesses.

Not wanting to talk about the president's attacks on her in any detail is one thing, but this was her first interview here in Washington after it was reported that in a private meeting with Democrats Speaker Pelosi said she didn't want the president impeached, she wanted him in prison.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I came here --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Did you actually say that? Did you actually say that the president, you would rather see him in prison than impeached?

PELOSI: When we have conversations in our caucus, they stay in our caucus. Do people think that there's some impeachable offenses that the president committed? Yes. How serious are they? Are they criminal? Many people think they are.

RAJU: Do you think they are?

PELOSI: But that's not the -- I'm here to talk about --

RAJU: And we will -- we will get into that. I promise you we're going to --

PELOSI: I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not going to that place of what happens within our caucus.


KING: Why not? It leaked.

CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

It was a nice try, Manu, but why not? She didn't want to go there. What was your biggest take away from -- it got a little testy at times.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she did not want to get into the debate within -- about impeachment that is dominating her caucus. It was elements of her caucus right now because she views that as essentially a distraction from what they're trying to do. She is dead set in her mindset that going the route of impeachment is not the way to go. She certainly does not want to feed into more discussion about her comments from last week that reportedly she made that she does want the president, to see him in prison rather than being impeached.

[12:20:23] I tried to -- I've been trying to press her for days about whether or not she believes the president committed crimes while in office. And I had that opportunity there to try to press her about whether or not she believes the president committed crimes. I asked her about that twice. She side-stepped that question. The second time she said, well, look at the Mueller reports. There are ten instances of obstruction of justice. But, still, wants to maintain her current strategy to investigate, to litigate.

But one interesting aspect, John, is behind the scene Democrats have been trying to make the case to open up an impeachment inquiry because they believe it will help their case in court. And she talked about that at length. She talked about how that is an argument that is being made. But, she said, she's not sure if that is correct, whether or not they would actually be bolstered by this fight.

But she talked about distractions and one thing she also mentioned, John, is a distraction of the Mexico tariff threat by this president. She accused the president of using that as a way to divert attention from the Mueller probe. So an interesting exchange through the course of that interview. But she makes it very clear, she wants to pursue her course, even as some in her caucus want to go a different way.


KING: It was interesting to watch her choices, what she did want to talk about and what she didn't want to talk about.

CNN's Manu Raju, appreciate the effort. It was well worth of it.

Let's bring in into the room.

I just wanted to defend my colleague. She seemed offended. You know, I'm here at the Peterson Forum. We're supposed to talk about legislative issues. Her own press release from her staff said she would talk about, yes, the -- for the people agenda, lower health care costs, but also other news of the day.

It is certainly other -- it is news of the day when the speaker is reported -- she, I get it, maybe she thought this was in a private meeting. Maybe, although insert eye roll here, how long have we all worked in Washington and she, for a long time, maybe she didn't think it was going to leak out. So why doesn't she want to talk about it?

DEMIRJIAN: In a way she's undercutting her own argument. The fact that she said this in a private meeting and caucus meetings are not like Vegas, things do come out of them all the time. What happens in them does not usually stay in them actually, especially when it's fairly incendiary and newsworthy, right?

But Pelosi has been the person who is kind of standing against the tide, right, which is that there is an increasing number of House Democrats that want to move forward with the impeachment proceedings, either because it -- they think that it will help them in these investigations, which the White House is stonewalling by not providing witnesses, or simply because they just think that that's the thing that they should do, and, you know, no worries about what may be the blowback in the election. That's just what they ought to be doing.

Pelosi is the one who does not want to talk about, even as the chairs of committees are actually saying, maybe we should start to look at this impeachment thing. The fact that she would then be behind closed doors saying, actually I want to see him in jail, I mean that could -- that suggests that she thinks there's criminal activity there, which would be a reason to pursue impeachment, and then it just makes her decisions look like they're political and not as substantive. It's difficult for her to play both characters, one behind closed doors and one in the public, and that's why she probably doesn't want to talk about the message she gave in closed doors, which completely undercuts what she's been saying publicly in --

KEITH: It underscores what a tight rope she is walking right here because she needs to, on the one hand, show how seriously she is taking this, how she actually is in pursuit of real, tangible information about what the president has done. On the other hand, if you come out, to Karoun's point, and say, I want him in jail, or many people think there are crimes, if you really think there is something there, why aren't you following much of your caucus and trying to move forward on this already? What more information do you need? And that that seemed to have been a moment, behind closed doors, yes, where she may have pushed a little bit too far and -- and given a little more ammunition to the people who say, hey, we know -- we agree with you, we do want to move forward on impeachment here.

KING: Plus, she has used a public escalation of the rhetoric to cover up and obstructing to try to poke the president at times and to manage her own herd, to show her herd that she's in the fight with the president. If you say publicly he belongs in prison, how do you escalate? Where do you go -- where do you go -- where do you go from that?

To that point, and it's interesting, she was -- she did talk with Manu -- she says she's not under any pressure. And she says she has this managed. But it is interesting, to the point Manu was making about, you know, would it -- some Democrats say if we have a formal constitutional impeachment process, judges have to side with us asking for document. Speaker Pelosi talked about, yes, that comes up sometimes.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Do you get more information by having an inquiry than if you just have investigations? Well, I don't have a straight answer on that.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If the majority of your caucus wants to go forward with an impeachment inquiry, would you go for it?

PELOSI: It's not -- it's not even close in our caucus right now.

RAJU: But eventually if it gets there?

PELOSI: Well, if it's -- well, you know, why are we speculating on hypotheticals? What we're doing is winning in court. We won a victory getting the documents from the Justice Department today.


[12:25:01] HENDERSON: So, yes, I mean, she's on a tight rope herding cats and wearing high heels while she's doing it. And you see her there, sort of her frustration, sort of talk to the hand, you know, stands when it comes to Manu's questions. But, yes, it's incredibly difficult. I mean she's sort of repeating the Nadler arguments, too, the idea that, you know, maybe you get more documents. She's saying, well, we're doing fine now in the court. Nadler, of course, wants everything under his committee. So, my goodness, I -- in some ways I think we got a glimpse of what this whole deliberation is like and how difficult it is behind closes doors.

DEMIRJIAN: So she's giving right there a list, a bullet points and the high points, the court cases that they've won, the fact that the DOJ, at the very last minute, before they were going to push forward with a sort of contempt enforcement thing today decided to actually start to pony up some of those documents. But the fundamental issue is, the Democrats are trying to control this investigation, and they do not have control over it. The White House is stonewalling them until at the last minute when they decide, no, OK, maybe we won't. We'll set a schedule of doing this. And that puts Democrats a bit on the back foot of having to then say, OK, we need to look reasonable so we need to wait. So they do not control the time strings here. And doing that is incredibly important if they're going to make an ultimate decision to impeach or not to impeach in a way that actually is the right decision for how it sells on the campaign trail.

KING: With -- the campaign trail part being important.


KEITH: And the White House is going to continue being Lucy moving the football just a little bit as they -- as the congressional Democrats try to get these documents.

But if you look at public polling, Democrats are divided on this.

PACE: Yes.

KEITH: Democrats are not 85 percent let's go get him. In fact, it's -- it's really evenly divided. And -- and I think Pelosi is reflecting that as well as some of the louder forces in her caucus.

KING: Right, and because the part that says no, or at least I don't think so, or not yet are from the 30 or 40 seats that were very hard to get in Democratic hands and she doesn't want to the lose them. In an election, it's -- it is fascinating. But she had a little Trumpian tactic there at the one point saying, you know, Manu -- she's trying to accuse Manu of being obviously akin to the diversionary tactics of the White House.

No, no, he was asking perfectly legitimate questions. Thank you very much.

Up next, the libertarian congressman making waves in Washington, again.