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Trump's Chaos Strategy?; Elizabeth Warren Rising; Warren Grabs Sanders' Attention As She Soars In New Poll; Trump Delivers On Coal Promise, Rolls Back Obama-Era Policy; Hope Hicks Leaves After Testifying Behind Closed Doors. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 16:30   ET



ALEXANDER NAZARYAN, AUTHOR: Just because their assault on our media infrastructure and just on our attention is so unrelenting.

And Bannon will admit that that was the goal. And others will say, what you see as chaos is our method. And that was someone in -- the chief of staff's suite. A senior official told me that.

And what they mean by that is, they use what seems like the chaos, the daily chaos, the feeling that this administration is about to come apart, which is the feeling we have had since pretty much January 20.


NAZARYAN: They have used that to their advantage. Now, it also, of course, is often true that this administration looks like -- I mean, that it is seemingly on the verge of collapse.

TAPPER: That it is chaotic, yes, sure.


TAPPER: So let me ask you, Ayesha, the idea that the president likes all these acting secretaries, first of all, it means he doesn't have to have confirmation battles.

Second of all, he says he likes it. It gives him a lot of flexibility. But there are drawbacks to it, aren't there?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: There are absolutely drawbacks to it, because if you have someone in an acting position, then there's a question of, OK, how can this person actually drive the policy, because you don't know how long they're going to be around?

And they just don't have the authority of someone that's been confirmed. So he may like it as far as flexibility. I would think that Congress would have an issue with it, because then you are bringing up constitutional issues by basically just having people in acting positions and kind of circumventing what the Constitution requires, which is for these people to be confirmed. But it definitely does affect -- it affects the workers. It affects people working under them, because you don't have a clear vision of what should happen. And, at times, you can have legal ramifications because you can challenge some positions by saying or some actions that a department took by saying this person was acting, they didn't have the authority to do this.

TAPPER: I mean, one would think that if there were a Democratic president doing this, a Republican Senate would be offended. They have the advice and consent power. But this Senate, Mitch McConnell's Senate, doesn't seem particularly bothered by the fact that the president's basically ignoring them and usurping their power.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Yet another case where the Senate is contrary I think to the intentions of the founders not standing up for its usual power.

But you're absolutely right. I mean, look, it strengthens the president, it straightens White House staff to have an acting secretary over there or an acting person in other senior positions. They don't quite have the standing they have if they were confirmed.

And further what happens in confirmation hearings? Senators on the relevant committee exact promises and pledges and commitments from the person who's up there, and which also -- which strengthens the senators. It lessens the flexibility that the White House has to order them to do something that they -- the Senate doesn't want them to do.

And it gives actually that secretary -- I remember this when I was in government -- a Cabinet secretary a bit of excuse to say to some White House staffer who is badgering him to do something, I'm sorry, I committed to the chairman that I can't do that. And I just can't now go back on it.

The balance of power already tilting way too far to the White House, to the executive branch in general, and to the White House within the executive branch, and the president and a few staffers in the White House within the White House organization, tilts even more when there's just -- when there are just acting people in these positions.

TAPPER: And, Karen, Politico has a good story about this today.

And it described the difficulty President Trump has had in assembling this Cabinet. They say: "Trump has had a Cabinet by default with many of its members simply being the last person standing after others pulled out of the running, declined the president's offers or couldn't get through the confirmation hearings. If there's a thread running through them all, it a president with a penchant for choosing many top appointees based on instinct and without regard for prior government experience."

And we have seen that time and time again.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, absolutely. Why would you want to take a position where you know you're not going

to have much power and authority, you're going to be told what to do by the White House, and they're not going to have your back if something happens?

TAPPER: And, Alex, in your book "The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington" -- it's a great book -- pick it up -- you say Trump has kept Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and Ben Carson in the administration because he -- quote -- "forgot about them."

What do you mean he forgot about them?


NAZARYAN: I mean, they're basically just making less trouble for him than others. So they get to stay. They're not bothering anyone. They're the house guests you don't really have to think about.

TAPPER: And is that why some people get fired in his Cabinet and other people don't, because they cause trouble for him? I mean, I don't know what happened with Shanahan, whether he actually withdrew his name, or Trump said, forget it, I don't want you to do this.

But if they really cause enough headaches, then they go out the door?

NAZARYAN: What led to Scott Pruitt's firing? I believe it was a tweet from Laura Ingraham. It wasn't any of the more than a dozen investigations into his apparently unethical conduct.

KRISTOL: But the Shanahan fiasco reminds us who is not secretary of defense right now, which is Jim Mattis, who was a person who reassured a lot of people when he was there.


TAPPER: And resigned as protest for a policy decision by the president.

The book, again, "The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington." Thanks for joining us for this panel.

Everyone else, stick around.

One 2020er whose plans and six-word phrase seem to really be paying off -- that's next.



TAPPER: In our 2020 early today: Are all of her plans paying off?

A new poll shows Senator Elizabeth Warren surging to second place in the Democratic presidential race, surpassing Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders throwing shade today at some of the centrist Democrats who are now publicly praising Senator Warren. The subject line of a Sanders campaign e-mail on the subject: "Sanders to corporate America, I welcome your hatred."

CNN's M.J. Lee reports.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have done more than 100 town halls now.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elizabeth Warren enjoying a breakout moment.

WARREN: Shoot, I'm over 30,000 selfies now. Yes. So I'm in this.

LEE: And it seems to be paying off. Warren is gaining ground in the crowded Democratic race for president in a new national poll. The Massachusetts senator seeing a five-point bump among Democratic voters since last month, putting her even with Bernie Sanders.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got to run my campaign. Senator Warren will run her campaign. And I think what the evidence will show is that I am in fact the strongest candidate to defeat Trump.

LEE: In a potential warning sign for Sanders, Warren gaining significantly among self-identified liberals. The countdown now on to next week's first Democratic debate.

Warren taking center stage the first night, a prime-time opportunity to go big on her ideas-heavy approach that has fueled her success.

WARREN: I have a plan for that. I have a plan for that. I have a plan for that.

LEE: Warren's ideas even attracting more moderate Democrats who disagree with Sanders.

The co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way telling CNN that Warren's policies are "within the lines of Democratic policies. They are not Democratic socialist policies."

Sanders striking back, tweeting today: "The cat is out of the bag. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is publicly anybody but Bernie."

So far, Warren showing no signs of hard feelings towards Sanders.

WARREN: Bernie and I have been friends for a very, very long time. I think it's great for him to get out and make the case that he wants to make. Bernie fights from the heart.


LEE: Now, we asked the Warren team about her rise in the polls.

And a senior campaign aide gave us this rare statement. They said -- quote -- "We don't pay much attention to the polls. They will go up and down throughout the race. And focusing on the daily headlines, tweets or cable news chatter is not a recipe for long-term success."

The Warren team, Jake, clearly trying to downplay the horse race -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, M.J. Lee

Let's continue some of that cable news chatter that the Warren campaign team so bemoans.


TAPPER: Let's take a look at the trends from April of the same Monmouth poll.

Now, this is a national poll, not state by state, and it's one poll, Monmouth. It shows that right before Vice President Biden entered the race to now, Biden is up five, Warren is up nine, Sanders is down six, Kamala Harris holding steady, Mayor Buttigieg down three.

What do you see here that's significant, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first, it is striking how much the national polling and the state polling has had the same pattern of these five candidates separating from the rest of the field at this point.

They are consistently the top five everywhere. There's no question that Warren is rising at Sanders' expense. I mean, that is just indisputable, I think, in both, again, national and state polling.

But, again, this, I think, polling does underscore one structural advantage for Joe Biden, which is that his side of the field is less crowded than the other side of the field. If you look at that Monmouth poll today, he's at about 40 percent among moderates. Among liberals, it's kind of a crack-up between Biden and Sanders and Warren.

And similarly on age, if you look at people under 50, it's a close three-way race between those big three with the others behind. But when you get to 50 and older, and this is what we are seeing in state after state, Biden's ahead by 25 points.

So ultimately the question -- to me, the question is, can -- and, by the way, the moderates and the older voters are a bigger share of the party than people realize. And what this means is that Biden has less competition for what may ultimately a bit be a bigger share of the party.

And until some of the other candidates can show more strength in that, he still has a leg to stand on, despite the kind of sauce that he is applying to his own legs. (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Ayesha, it's interesting, because Senator Sanders, responding to reports of this centrist group, the Third Way, siding with Senator Warner, at least praising some of the things she's done, tweeting: "The Catherine is out of the bag. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is publicly anybody but Bernie. They know our progressive agenda of Medicare for all, breaking up the big banks, taking on drug companies and raising wages is the real threat to the billionaire class."

I have to say, I think that Elizabeth Warren supports all of those things as well. It's kind of hard to paint her as a tool of corporate America, no?

RASCOE: But I guess what he's trying to do is say that I am the true standard-bearer, I am the true one who's going to really kind of start the revolution and do something -- and to -- really, that's why I'm making people uncomfortable.

So kind of turning it into an advantage, like, yes, these people are maybe going with a Warren, but that's because she's telling them or at least telling them what they may want to hear. And I am speaking the truth.

And so he's trying to turn that into his advantage. We will see if it works. But that's what he's trying to do.

FINNEY: I think the difference, in 2016, right, it was about railing against the establishment. It was railing against Hillary Clinton.

In this time, you have a number of different candidates, some of whom like you said, clustered around the left, the center, and you have someone like Elizabeth Warren, who her whole strategy of slow and steady wins the race, I think it may be working, because, from everywhere she's traveled, I continue to hear people say, actually, I wasn't sure what to expect, but she was really good. She took the questions.

She's clearly hit her stride. She was a professor, so she knows how to talk to people.

Bernie has just a different personality style. And there's something about Elizabeth Warren that I think is -- maybe I would call it a palatable populist, that I think could have appeal beyond just the left.

[16:45:00] I mean, I wouldn't count her out in that. And again Bernie is so dug in on this Democratic Socialism and I think a lot of Democrats don't believe that that's going to be the thing to beat Trump.

TAPPER: You found it surprising that Bernie was going with an electability argument over Elizabeth Warren in that clip where he said that he was the strongest one to take on Trump. KRISTOL: And there are some polls that suggest that I'm not sure it means much -- I don't think it means much. Yes, I just -- I mean, I don't think he wants to say the truth which is I am -- never joined the Democratic Party except like when he has to get on the ballot for presidential elections because I don't like this party either Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I don't like the compromises they make with the private sector.

I really am a socialist. Elizabeth Warren I think said, didn't you say pretty early on I'm not a socialist? She said she's a capitalist.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, she did.

KRISTOL: She said she wants to fix capitalism, reduce the power of the banks. That is a much more mainstream position in the Democratic Party. There's just not a majority the Democratic Party that has signed on I don't think for Democratic Socialism.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, this is something they could get resolved fairly early though because New Hampshire has been critical for New England candidates historically. And it is hard to imagine that the one of those two Warren and Sanders who finishes behind the other in New Hampshire will not be significantly wounded by that.

I mean, I've got to think that one of them is going to come out of New Hampshire a lot more viable than the other. And then as you move on, obviously, in South Carolina, and Nevada, and the Super Tuesday.

TAPPER: And they're both from neighboring states.


TAPPER: One of them is likely --

BROWNSTEIN: Kennedy in 1980 is the only New England contestant who has lost the New Hampshire primary and that was against a sitting -- a sitting president. So there's a big a kind of spar that they're expecting.

KRISTOL: I would go further. One of them is likely to -- one of them will beat the other in Iowa.


KRISTOL: Right now, that looks like that could be Elizabeth Warren who has a little -- grew up in Oklahoma as a little more maybe under -- feel for middle America. if she wins Iowa and then was New Hampshire, she's a very, very strong as a candidate for the actual nomination. Certainly, Sanders is finished.

So I agree. The whole elimination process, the more one looks at this race to think through scenarios could be faster and the field could close to a smaller number faster than I at least once thought I think.

TAPPER: Karen, as a Democrat who really wants to win the White House, are you not concerned at all about the electability questions that have been raised about Senator Warren having to do with the DNA test and her claims of Native American heritage? Does that -- does that not concern you at all?

FINNEY: No, it doesn't and I'll tell you why. I think wisely she went back to doing exactly why people love for reminding people about again this pragmatic populism.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. Up next, why the Trump administration's latest move to eliminate an Obama era regulation has some scientists really worried about the air you breathe. Stay with us.


[16:50:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've ended the war on clean coal.

Coal is coming back.

We're going to have clean coal, really clean coal.


TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD," President Trump delivering on that promise as his administration rolled back an Obama-era plan that would have had by 2030 strict limits on carbon emissions from coal power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency head says the old policy would have cost low and middle-income Americans more money.

But as CNN's Bill Weir reports, critics of the move point to the ties the current EPA head has with the very industry for whom he's loosening regulations.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Before leading the EPA, Andrew Wheeler was a coal lobbyist. And today's rule change announcement made it hard to tell he ever left that job.

ANDREW WHEELER, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The contrast between our approach and the green new deal or plans like it couldn't be clearer. Rather than Washington telling Americans what type of energy they could use or how they can travel, or even what they can eat, we are working cooperatively with the states to provide an affordable, dependable, and diverse supply of energy.

WEIR: In reality, American coal consumption is at a 40-year low not because of regulation, but competition. For the first time ever, more power is being generated by cleaner, cheaper renewables. A free market trend President Obama tried to accelerate with a tough carbon cap called the Clean Power Plan.

But after several groups sued, a conservative supreme court majority kept the rules from taking effect and today the EPA killed them. Instead, they'll give states three years to come up with their own pollution standards. TRUMP: Our air and water are the cleanest they've ever been by far.

WEIR: This is a lie. In fact, the American Lung Association said the air has gotten measurably worse in the last two years and four in ten Americans are now breathing unhealthy air. And according to a New York Times analysis, this is just one of 83 rules being rolled back on everything from toxic chemicals, to endangered species, to the climate crisis so scientists can't help but worry.

MICHAEL MANN, CLIMATE SCIENTIST, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: The people who have been appointed to run the EPA are industry sort of lap dogs, close ties to fossil fuel interests and the Koch Brothers. And what they've been trying to do is to literally roll back the environmental protections of the past half-century.


WEIR: Well, there are a couple of coal miners in attendance there today, no one bothered to tell those guys that the two fastest-growing jobs in America right now by far are solar and wind technicians.

But ultimately this will probably end up in court. Pollution burn in one state doesn't stay there of course so you could imagine one state suing another.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Even the man behind the miracle on the Hudson has problems with Boeing's troubled 737 Max. That is next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We have breaking news. Just moments ago, long time Trump confidant Hope Hicks left her closed-door hearing at the House Judiciary Committee where she spent most of the day testifying, most of the day really refusing to answer questions about her time in the White House though she did discuss other matters.

In our "MONEY LEAD" today, he knows how to land a plane under pressure. Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the man behind the Miracle on the Hudson was called to talk to Congress today to talk about the Boeing 737 Max which of course had two fatal crashes within five months. Sully said he spent time in a simulator and still had difficulty landing the plane.


CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, AVIATOR: I could tell you firsthand that the startle-factor is real and it is huge. Even knowing what would happen, I could see how crews could have run out of time before they could solve the problems.


TAPPER: The 737 Maxs have been grounded for three months in the U.S.

That's all the time we have. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.