Return to Transcripts main page


Congress Grills Hope Hicks; Booker Demands Biden Apology Over Segregationist Remarks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me here the last two hours.

Let's go to Washington, D.C.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Cory Booker this afternoon demanding Joe Biden apologize for his comments about segregationists.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Joe Biden says a racist senator never called him boy as an example of a time when there was civility in the center. The major Democratic backlash today on the 2020 campaign trail.

What year is it? President Trump heading back to Washington right now after kicking off his campaign by rehashing his bashing of Hillary Clinton, as a woman who had his ear for years refuses to talk about the past.

Plus, burning questions, the EPA rolling backup plan that the agency once said could prevent thousands of people from dying early. They're doing so in order to keep a Trump campaign promise.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with the 2020 lead today, and Joe Biden under attack from many members of his own party, an outcry today over his comments last night at a fund-raiser.

The former vice president, who was in the U.S. Senate for almost 40 years before that, recalled his working relationship with segregationist senators, bemoaning that, while he disagreed with them on racial issues -- quote -- "At least there was some civility."

Of former Senator James Eastland, a Democrat of Mississippi who once called African-Americans an inferior race, Biden said -- quote -- "He never called me boy. He always called me son." Of another segregationist, former Democratic Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia, Biden said -- quote -- "We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But, today, you look at the other side and you're the enemy."

Today, many of Biden's 2020 rivals, Senator Cory Booker, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, are calling Biden out. Booker demanding that Biden apologized.

De Blasio tweeting, along with an image of his family -- quote -- "It's 2019 and Joe Biden is longing for the good old days of civility typified by James Eastland. Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal and that whites were entitled to -- quote -- 'the pursuit of dead'" -- and then de Blasio uses the N-word, quoting Senator Eastland.

De Blasio adding -- quote -- "It's past time for apologies or evolution from Joe Biden. He repeatedly demonstrates that he is out of step with the values of the modern Democratic Party" -- unquote.

The outrage coming as a larger discussion about slavery and reparations drew considerable crowds on Capitol Hill.

As CNN's Sunlen Serfaty now reports for us, Biden's team is right now trying to play defense and explain what he really meant.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Vice President Joe Biden's attempt at talking about civility turning into a verbal war of words.

At a fund-raiser Tuesday night, Biden brought up working in the 1970s with former Mississippi Senator James Eastland and former Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge, both avid segregationists and opponents of civil rights, as examples of how -- quote -- "We got things done," telling donors about Eastland -- quote -- "He never called me boy. He called me son."

Though Biden made clear he didn't agree with the pair's racist views, the 2020 Democratic front-runner is now getting backlash.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's about time we find the common ground and the common purpose to deal with the ugly past.

SERFATY: Primary opponent Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey releasing a statement, saying: "I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology," adding: "You don't joke about calling black men boys. He's wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together."

Sources tell CNN Biden has been warned by advisers not to bring up Eastland, a person close to Biden telling us: "He needs to use a new, less problematic example."

BOOKER: I believe right now, today, we have a historic opportunity to break the silence.

SERFATY: Biden's comments come as Booker and others, including actor Danny Glover, took to Capitol Hill today to talk about reparations for the descendants of slaves, an issue Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threw cold water on.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea.

SERFATY: Pointing to the election of former President Barack Obama as a way he believes the nation has dealt with slavery.

MCCONNELL: We have tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We have elected an African-American president.

SERFATY: But that is coming from someone who tried to stop the first African-American president at all costs.

MCCONNELL: We will stop the liberal onslaught.

SERFATY: Telling "The National Journal" in 2010: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one- term president."

McConnell's stance quickly being chastised by Democrats.

TA-NEHISI COATES, "THE ATLANTIC": For a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell.


BOOKER: There's a tremendous amount of ignorance in that statement, and you hear things like that.


SERFATY: And back on that moment of controversy right now for Joe Biden, his defenders up here on Capitol Hill, they are trying to make the case that both those former senators, they are people who had enormous power up here on Capitol Hill in the '70s, people that members just had to deal with.

But that argument, Jake, not likely to satisfy the critics and opponents of Biden who are calling him out for this -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with our with our experts here.

Karen Finney, let me start with you.

Here is how Biden's campaign is defending his remarks. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANITA DUNN, BIDEN CAMPAIGN SURROGATE: And as he says in the story either that he didn't agree with them and he absolutely did not agree, but that they were able to disagree and that there was civility involved. He didn't praise them. He didn't praise their positions. He certainly didn't endorse their positions.

It's a story he has told many times.


TAPPER: So that's Anita Dunn, who's an adviser to the Biden campaign.

But we should point out Biden advisers, according to our reporting, have told the former vice president stop invoking segregationists that you had a pleasant working relationship with.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: How about that, for starters?

And happy Juneteenth, of all days that we would be having this conversation. There are a couple of problems with this. I'm going to put the race piece aside, as much as I would like to get into that, and say...

TAPPER: That's a pretty big piece to put aside.

FINNEY: I know.

But I think part of this is, there has to be someone else that Joe Biden has worked with, during his time in Washington, than segregationists. He keeps going back so far.

TAPPER: Strom Thurmond.


FINNEY: How about during the Obama years? How about pick a Republican senator that maybe you were able to get something done with?

If the point is to say, we can get things done, you can have that conversation. But you cannot in 2020 -- 2019 talk about civility and say things like, well, he didn't call me boy, he called me son.

And I will pull the race piece in. I have been with my father pulled over on a dark Southern road and the cop called my father boy. And it was the most terrifying moment of my life.

So, yes, he's got a stop. But I think it also suggests that this is part of the age problem that we keep hearing that they keep trying to cover up. Somehow, in his mind, he keeps forgetting, don't quote the segregationist.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And, by the way, I mean, the picture is a little more complicated than Anita Dunn suggested there, because, in fact, he did work with the most conservative -- conservative senators on racial issues in his opposition to busing in the late '70s and early '80s.

TAPPER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: He allied with them on a series of efforts to roll back the use of busing.

I look at this as episode 20 of what will be 200 episodes of the underlying issue, which Karen alluded to. We have talked about this before, Jake. Biden is the nominee in 2020, it will be 50 years after he was first elected to public office.

That would be the widest span in American history for any nominee of any party Democrat, Republican or Whig. And what that means is that he has taken a lot of positions and said a lot of things over a lot of years that are now looked at differently within his party.

And this issue in different form comes up all the time, and it will continue to come up. And, ultimately, Democrats are going to have to decide whether they are willing to accept that he has -- quote -- "evolved," or whether these earlier comments are going to be held against him.

And he doesn't make it easier when he kind of praises figures like Eastland.

TAPPER: And, Ayesha, the highest ranking African-American in Congress, congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, defended Biden today, his fellow Democrat, saying that this isn't all that different from when he talks -- Clyburn talks about how he worked with Strom Thurmond on issues.

And maybe it's a generational thing in that respect. I don't know.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR: I mean, there -- I think the larger issue here that can be talked about is this idea of civility and what that means.

When he says that, OK, I work with segregationists on certain issues. I was able to be civil with them, but the positions that they were taking were detrimental to Americans, to people in this country.

And so there's a question I think now that people are asking, do we want to be civil and just kind of be polite to people who actually hold views that are detrimental and that are harmful to people? And is that the way that the Democratic Party wants to handle it? Or do they want to be more aggressive?

That's the fundamental issue that's going to have to be answered.

TAPPER: And that's one of the arguments I saw is that Biden saying we didn't treat people like the enemy right then.

And so there are people in the Democratic Party and in America in general think, well, maybe you should have treated some of these segregationists as the enemy, because they were in favor of oppressing millions and millions of people because of their race.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Yes, it's odd in so many respects, including -- I mean, that one sentence.

I hadn't really realized it. I read about it earlier today -- when he said, "He didn't call me boy."

TAPPER: But why would he call you boy?


KRISTOL: That doesn't really excuse calling adults -- men boys and the whole pattern of what was happening in the South,obviously.


So there certain cluelessness there. It does remind one of his age. James O. Eastland came to the Senate -- and I looked this up -- the summer before Pearl Harbor.


KRISTOL: So Joe Biden worked proudly with someone who was in the Senate before a huge majority of Americans were born.

But I do think also, look, if you're going to cite bipartisanship and civility, fine, that's a card -- it's a legitimate claim for Biden to make. Cite an actual piece of legislation that he passed with a Republican co-sponsor. I mean, that's fine.

I worked with Bob Dole on, I don't know -- I'm making this up -- the American With Disabilities Act or something. He probably did work with Republicans.


BROWNSTEIN: Voting Rights Act.

KRISTOL: Voting Rights Act.


KRISTOL: But instead just vaguely citing a segregationist who died in 1978 is a little weird.

FINNEY: I think it's even more pointed, Ayesha, just from something that you said, because, also, if you think about who it is Democrats are up against and what the last two-and-a-half years have been like, we have seen an increase in anti-Semitism.

We have seen an increase in acts of violence by right-wing crazies. We have seen -- we had Charlottesville. I mean, we have seen a rise in hate and a rise in that sort of divisiveness.

And so to try to use the example of a segregationist as civility, it also just -- I mean, it's shocking, but it also -- it belies the moment that we're in and the person that we are trying to say we are and differentiate ourselves from.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

President Trump probably hoping that one of his closest confidants stayed loyal to him while testifying behind closed doors today. Hope Hicks could wrap up her testimony any moment. We will bring that to you.

Then, Captain Sully Sullenberger is responsible for the Miracle on the Hudson, and now he's giving some killing testimony about the grounded Boeing 737 MAX.

Stay with us.


[16:15:38] TAPPER: We have some breaking news in the politics lead.

One of President Trump's closest former confidants Hope Hicks is on Capitol Hill right now refusing to answer questions about her time in the White House. Frustrated Democrats are vowing to take Hicks to court and just moments ago, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said his committee would, quote, destroy the White House claims in court.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, did Hicks answer any of the questions the Democrats had?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She did. She answered questions about her time on campaign trail. That is one focus of today's day-long hearing still going on and should wrap up in a matter of moments.

One of the questions that Democrats had going in is what she knew about the hush money payments that occurred in the run-up to the 2016 election to silence those alleged extramarital affairs involving then candidate Trump. She told, according to multiple sources with knowledge of her testimony, that she had no knowledge about those hush money payments during the campaign.

Now she was asked what she knew about those hush money payments at the time in the White House. That is when White House lawyers objected to that and virtually every other topic about the White House saying she's covered by immunity to prevent some senior White House officials from testifying to Capitol Hill about matters occurring in the White House.

Now that just didn't extend to that topic but all of the other topics in the Mueller report, with regarding potential obstruction of justice, allegations of the president might have undermined the Mueller investigation. She would not talk about those topics because the White House attorneys in the room said she's immune from testifying about those matters and that's what Democrats are saying, we'll see you in court.

TAPPER: Yes, the president asserting executive privilege.

Assuming Democrats do ultimately take this to court, what would happen next for Hope Hicks?

RAJU: Well, we think this will happen fairly soon. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman said moments ago he does plan to fight this in court and as he noted, Jake. He said that he would destroy the White House's claims in court and at that point presumably the Democrats do win that could force her to answer these questions.

But that could take some time, Jake. So, how this ultimately ends up, no one quite knows, but at the moment Democrats not happy and Republicans are saying this is all been a waste of time -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this.

Ayesha, the president tweeted today, quote: The Democrats are very unhappy with the Mueller report so after almost three years they want a redo or a do-over. Hope Hicks was mentioned 184 times in the Mueller report.

What makes Democrats think they can get any more from Hope Hicks than Mueller got?

RASCOE: Well, it seems like what they want to do is get her on the record with Congress about what happened, because she was kind of a key player in all of the points where there was the statement about what happened in the meeting about the Russian adoptions --

TAPPER: The Trump Tower meeting, that big lie that they put out there. Yes.

RASCOE: And all of these things. And so, some of the -- and the questions about obstruction. So they want to get her on the record for that, and to be able to use that information and to see if there is anything they could uncover that Mueller didn't uncover.

Now, what President Trump is saying, and he seemed really upset about this, said they're putting Hope Hicks through hell by asking her to come in again, that he tweeted, is that he seems to say that they're just trying to get what Mueller couldn't get and just trying to kind of keep going over this over and over again. But, you know, the White House -- I mean, the Congress has the right to call people in to ask questions and what is going to happen is that the courts are going to decide whether they can question these kind of high-level White House officials.

But, I mean, this is the sort of things, these are the sort of investigations that are really kind of common for Congress to ask.

KRISTOL: But I think your comment shows the weakness of the position the House Democrats are in by not saying we're looking into the possibility of impeachment, because the truth is they don't normally call ex White House officials in just to randomly check up on whether the special counsel got something right or is there something more. What do they need to know that for? They are not a court of law or something.

So, I'm not -- again, I think you would want to hear from very important witnesses like Hope Hicks and Don McGahn, but I think it's much easier both maybe legally in terms of the court fight. But I think especially in terms of the rhetoric and the political fight to say we're looking into the possibility of whether or not we have to move ahead with impeachment proceedings or not.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. You know, it is easy to forget why you started this and why do they want to kind of redo, to the extent they did of the Mueller report. They want to lay it out for the public in all likelihood did not read 400 pages of densely argued, reverse back flip, double negative kind of language from Mueller and his team.

[16:20:09] And they wanted to crystallize the issues in a way that might develop more support for acting on impeachment and they have been systematically stymied I think in their goal of creating kind of a clear public narrative. And in fact this kind of moved beyond the issue of what the president did, the kind of the process issue of the fight for information. And they still face the reality that at the end of every legal pathway they pursue are five justices on the Supreme Court, appointed by Republicans and they will ultimately need one of them at least to side with them or else this could end up with a diminishing of Congress's ability to demand information.

TAPPER: Karen, do you agree it would be easy for Democrats rhetorically and legally to do this through impeachment inquiry, and basically saying, we need to talk to Hope Hicks because she was there when that false statement was put out to the public about what the Trump Tower meeting was about, when so and so did such and such, having to do with firing Mueller or firing Comey? Would it be better for Democrats?

FINNEY: See, I just have a different take as to why they brought her up there. This is, to my mind, this is more part of building the case on the road to impeachment, right? Because what -- what Democrats are able to say is he's invoking executive privilege to hide the truth. And remember, part of their narrative is what is he hiding, the president's not being transparent, they'll take this to court. I think they hope to get another favorable ruling, right, and they keep citing that.

We got two rulings now. We got three rulings. So, I view this more as part of building the case for impeachment and I certainly hope, though, once we get there, they have a concerted effort, I think you're right, with a message around at least a couple of weeks very clearly laying it all out. But I think this is part of just trying to get there.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

President Trump just got back to the nation's capitol and he better be ready to read some resumes. That's next.


[16:26:37] TAPPER: Welcome back.

President Trump landing moments ago on route to the White House right now after kicking off his re-election campaign in Florida with a rally littered with his greatest hits and his grudges, highlighting his opposition to illegal immigration, and attacking the media and promising to, quote, making America great again and attacking Hillary Clinton and President Obama. 2020 say hello to 2016.

Mr. Trump arrives back to the administration in throes of some chaos. The acting defense secretary is heading for the door and nearly a dozen top level positions are being filled by someone serving in an acting capacity, an unusual trend to say the least.

But as CNN Pamela Brown reports, not for President Trump who says he likes chaos.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump returning to the White House after launching his 2020 re-election bid in Orlando, Florida.


BROWN: Much of it a repeat of his greatest hits from the 2016 campaign.

TRUMP: I say I'm going to build a wall and it is going to be a real wall, a big wall, a strong wall, nobody is coming through unless it's legal.

BROWN: Trump not letting go of the former opponent Hillary Clinton and her email controversy.

TRUMP: They set up an illegal server, destroyed evidence, deleted and acid washed 33,000 emails.

BROWN: The crowd briefly bringing back an old chat.


BROWN: Another favorite target of the president, the news media.

TRUMP: By the way, that is a lot of fake news back there. That's a lot. That's a lot.

And this crooked media, you talk about crooked Hillary, they're worse than she is.

BROWN: And now, the president is returning to a mostly acting administration with at least 11 officials in the acting capacity. Even though President Trump claimed he's happy with his cabinet.

TRUMP: We have a very good vetting process and take a look at our cabinet and our secretaries, very good.

BROWN: This is after Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his name from consideration to be the official head of the department. Now, President Trump says the new acting secretary of defense, Mark Esper, could be nominated soon.


BROWN: And a top RNC official says President Trump raised nearly $25 million in less than 24 hours. That is a massive number to raise in such a short amount of time. And, Jake, it underscores the financial advantage President Trump has over his Democratic contenders running right now.

For comparison, the leading Democratic contender Joe Biden said his campaign has raised around $20 million overall so far -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown at the White House.

And we have with us in our panel of experts, Alex Nazaryan who has a new book about the Trump cabinet. It's called "The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington".

Congratulations on the book.


TAPPER: Who better to have to talk about this.

First of all, let me just ask you, you make the point in the book that the chaos that the Trump administration has surrounding it, you use a different word that starts with an "S" and ends with the word "show". But that that chaos actually serves a purpose for him to get his agenda through.

NAZARYAN: Well, look, even today, we had the big EPA Clean Power Plan repeal. We have many, many policy initiatives of the Trump administration moving forward often under the cover of darkness, just because they're assault on our media infrastructure and just on our attention is so unrelenting.