Return to Transcripts main page
Joe Biden Being Nice To Segregationists; White House Claims Absolute Immunity; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) Is Interviewed About A Legislation About Reparations That She Proposes; House Holds Hearing On Reparations For Slavery; Trump's EPA Rolls Back Obama-Era Plan; GOP Embraces President Trump's Angry Rhetoric. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired June 19, 2019 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden fighting back and refusing to apologize tonight for talking about the civility of two well-known segregationists.
Biden was discussing his long record of bringing opposite sides together to get things done and brought up working with Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland and Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge in the 1970s, both segregationists and opponents of Civil Rights.
Biden at one point saying, "I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy. He always called me son. Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. 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, not the opposition, the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore."
While the Democratic field slammed Biden for those comments, here's how he responded to the criticism tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- Eastland more. And said he was a segregationist. I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationists. There are many of them in the Senate at the time.
As I led the judiciary committee, I was able to -- what I was talking about was the Voting Rights Act. I was able to pass the Voting Rights Act while when I was a young senator when he was still the chairman. We voted against him and beat him on the voting rights act.
The point I'm making is you don't have to agree, you don't have to like the people in terms of their views, but you just simply make the case and you beat them, you beat them, without changing the system.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize like --
(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thanks, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Cory Booker has called for.
BIDEN: Apologize for what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.
BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There is not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in the Civil Rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, I spoke to Senator Cory Booker in the last hour and here's what he had to say about Biden's comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the vice president said I should know better and this is what I know. As a black man in America, I know the deeply harmful and hurtful usage of the word boy and how it was used to dehumanize and degrade.
I know that segregationists like the two people he was talking about through their laws and their language deeply wounded this nation and the present-day manifestations of their work can still be seen in black and brown communities like the one I go home to.
I know that somebody running for president of the United States, somebody running to be the leader of our party should know that using the word boy in the way he did can cause hurt and pain and we need a presidential nominee and the leader of our party to be sensitive to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, Biden is still dominating the polls, though they were taken before the story made the news. The new poll from Monmouth University shows him leading the Democratic presidential field with 32 percent. Look at that. Thirty-two percent support.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are neck and neck for second place, Warren jumping five points in just the last month. Stop it right there. Look at that. Thirty-two percent and the nearest person is half that at 15 percent. Sanders is at 14 percent. Really, that's an incredible -- those are incredible polling numbers. Both those opponents are taking on Joe Biden tonight over this issue.
So, let's talk about all of this now. Arlette Saenz is here. Astead Herndon, and Annie Linskey. All with me this evening.
I'm so glad to have you on. So, let's get right to it. Astead, good evening, everyone.
Astead, you know, Biden is, you know, taking hits from several Democratic candidates for these comments. His remarks about segregationist senators. This isn't the first time that he has taken heat from his rivals, but why are these remarks striking such a chord here?
ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it plays on a couple of levels. One, just the kind of the instinct that folks have that Joe Biden has been having questionable relationships or talking about segregationists in a way that has put some of the -- certainly the ones on the left of the party off for a while now.
He of course eulogized folks like Strom Thurman. He's touted his relationship with people like Senator Eastland. And to newer side of the party to the more diverse, the more progressive and liberal side of the Democrats right now, those folks are unacceptable.
And even if the Senate used to work in a way where those relationships with what people apprised, that still is going to -- that still is going to be something that folks are going to want Joe Biden to answer for.
But I also think it leads to the question of has -- is this a candidate that's been in the party for too long? Is this a time for a new voice for Democrats? Is this a time for them to break out of that shadow? Because some of this is just a vestige of the past. And these candidates his rivals want to make a break from that and that's why they're trying to hit him.
[23:04:56] LEMON: Arlette, I got to bring you in because as I understand it, you've been in touch with the Biden campaign. How worried are they about this backlash?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think you've seen throughout the day some of their concern. Just the fact that they have been out there trying to explain what the former vice president meant by those comments last night.
We know that advisers in the past had previously warned him not to bring up these stories of his work with segregationists. They had advised him against doing that, yet he still went forward with it.
So today, you really saw these explanations from the advisers trying to say that what Biden meant in his comments last night is that while you may find some people's views repugnant, you still have to find ways to work with them.
But I also think that the former vice president's comments tonight kind of take everything to another level. So, we're going to have to see what kind of response either he or his aides might have going forward.
LEMON: So, Arlette, at another fund-raiser tonight, Biden talked about how ugly this race will get. What did he say?
SAENZ: Yes, so he told donors at his first fund-raiser tonight that this race is going to get pretty ugly. And when someone in the crowd shouted take them on, he added specifically here's the deal, I'm not going to participate.
Now, those comments he made before he went back and pushed back against Cory Booker. And that really was the first time that you've seen Biden directly engaged with one of his 2020 Democratic rivals when it comes to their criticism.
Biden in the past has said that he's not going to speak ill of any Democrat. So, he's really opened up this new line of attack between himself and Cory Booker that you really haven't seen from Biden, who is really trying to refrain from engaging directly with Democrats, always trying to keep the focus on President Trump instead.
LEMON: So, Annie, I want to bring you in now. A lot of people have been worried that something problematic would come up from Biden's decades of service, but do these comments, do you think they show the bigger worry is that what he's going to say now, he may have good intentions, but I just wonder if these comments are a sign that he hasn't grown with the times.
ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, no, I think that's exactly right. And I think with a lot of these candidates, particularly with the older ones, they've got chapters in their past and bits of history that aren't in sync with today's politics.
And I've found, you know, when I'm out talking to voters, they're willing to forgive, you know, mistakes from the past, but I think that when you see a candidate like Biden making the mistake again, you know, like he did yesterday, I'm not sure that sort of capacity for forgiveness is the same.
And so, he's going to be asking them a different question, you know, he's showing that he hasn't really evolved the way perhaps they thought that he had.
LEMON: That he is too steeped in the past or --
LINSKEY: Well, he's not changing the way he's talking. I mean, not only is he saying -- he's making a point about civility, which is all well and good, but the other point that he made yesterday was that the segregationist senators were also civil.
I mean, that was the point that really, I think rubbed many people in the party that I've been talking to today the wrong way. You know, it's funny -- well, it's not funny, but he made a similar point this evening but he left that portion out.
He wasn't saying, again, hey, look, these fellow senators were so civil. He was saying I was able to work with them, but he left that boy part out, the sort of second part of the comment, and that's where I think he was really getting into some trouble.
LEMON: Astead, I'm going to you. I know because you want to get in. If he had not said boy, would it have been different? HERNDON: I think Annie's point is true, that the general takeaway is
that the casting of segregationists as civil, as people who are equally coming to the table and that their views were not something to hold against them is something that is going to get him in trouble if he continues to say that, but I think we can make a bigger point.
If Joe Biden wanted to say something about bipartisanship, there is a lot of Republican senators he could talk about that would not run into these same problems. He can --
LEMON: Astead, let me ask you something -- let me ask you something.
HERNDON: He can mention all these other folks.
LEMON: Let me ask you something. So how do I say this? So if Joe Biden is making a point that you guys think it's bad now that you have to work with these folks, think about what it was like in the '70s when I really had to work with some segregationists and racists and people who didn't want integration, people who really believed in Jim Crow, people who were way far behind what the folks who are in the Senate now, and I worked with those people. These people are nothing.
Is that -- is everyone maybe missing that point? I don't mean to speak for him, but if he's saying, look, if I can do it with these characters, these jokers from back then then, you know, these guys are nothing. This is a walk in the park. Astead? No?
HERNDON: I don't think that's what he -- I don't think that's what the comments yesterday were. I think that's certainly what they are trying to cast them as.
[23:10:00] But the crux of the statement was that these segregationist senators were still coming from a place of civility and that civility has been lost now. And so, I think that that is not the point -- that's not the kind of framing that he put on it.
And certainly, Joe Biden has an interest in talking about himself as a unifying candidate and leaning on that experience. I think what people want to see him do, what his critics want to see him do is do that without casting a new light on people who had racist views in the past.
LEMON: Very well said. Thank you, guys. I appreciate you and I'll see you soon. Thanks so much.
Hope Hicks on Capitol Hill testifying behind closed doors today but she refused to say really much of anything. So, what should Democrats do next to get the answers they want? We'll talk about that.
LEMON: The former White House communications director Hope Hicks testified behind closed doors today on Capitol Hill, spending nearly eight hours before the house judiciary committee, but answering very few questions.
[23:15:02] Her attorneys claiming absolute immunity. Frustrated Democrats say the White House is stonewalling.
So, let's discuss now. Matthew Rosenberg is here, Laura Coates, and Max Boot. Look at my dream team. You guys look amazing. Thank you so much. So, I'm ready to hear it.
Laura, I'm going to start with you. The White House is claiming absolute immunity on Hicks' testimony for anything related to her time working in the West Wing. What is absolute immunity?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we're all trying to figure that out. It's such a novel term here, Don, because we've all been told that it's a qualified immunity. The president doesn't get to have a blanket, a cone of silence around everyone who has ever worked for him.
Remember, she's the former, the former employee of the president of the United States in the executive branch of the government. Not somebody who is currently there.
And so, yes, is there a tradition of having this very forthright candid conversation with the president of the United States and protecting those communications? Absolutely, Don. But can it be used to try to defy congressional oversight entirely? No. That's not what immunity is for.
And by the way, Hope Hicks has already in some ways perhaps had it waived. There is no such thing as absolute immunity when she's already communicated with people, particularly the Mueller probe.
LEMON: Max Boot, by the way, the author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right." I didn't put that in the intro. But I want to ask you. Democrats on the committee are clearly frustrated with Hicks, her silence. Let's listen to this and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): She simply refused time and time again to respond to any questions, including the questions that she answered for Robert Mueller.
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): The White House lawyers on behalf of the president prevented her from answering any questions that related to her service in the White House. Making this very bogus claim about something called absolute immunity.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Were there any questions about her time in the White House that she did answer?
REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Nope.
RAJU: Not a single one?
COHEN: Not a single one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, with all of the stonewalling from the White House, I mean, why did Democrats expect anything else? Should they have expected anything else?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, the Democrats are getting played and they got to get used to it.
LEMON: They're getting whooped.
BOOT: They're getting whooped. They're getting a kicking in the behind --
BOOT: -- that I hear from the president. I mean, remember, Don, it's been three months since the Mueller report came out and there have been no substantial hearings in public. With the whole Hope Hicks thing it was ridiculous from the get-go. This was a hearing in private.
What is the point of holding these hearings in private? There's going to be another one on Friday with Felix Sater. It's pointless. We've already had a closed-door fact gathering inquiry, it's called the Mueller report, it's called the special counsel's office. That is not what Democrats in the house need to be doing.
They need to be presenting the facts to the American people so the American people can understand the enormity of the president's crimes, but they have not figured out a way to get that message to the American people.
Trump has played them by figuring out how to stymie their investigations. Trump is bringing a howitzer to the fight. The Democrats are bringing pop guns. This is working out entirely in Donald Trump's favor so far.
LEMON: But is it -- OK, and I think most people would agree you're right, but until it goes to court, there's not much that they can really do because in the end everyone -- and Laura, correct me if I'm wrong, the diplomats will win in court, right? But that's going to take some time.
COATES: Well, they are expected to -- it will take -- Max, the idea of redefining this idea of a win, Don. If you're not going to win not until perhaps an election year, which is when probably a lot of resolution (Ph) will occur, how do you really define whether or not you've actually won?
But on the larger issue here, remember, the traditional oversight mechanism of going to the courts, trying to get compliance with subpoena, well, there is one way to go -- circumvent that in a way that might be more effective and efficient. That's the old I word coming in, the impeachment inquiries about being able to avoid having a sort of stonewalling.
COATES: That strengthens the case as to why perhaps Hope Hicks should, in fact, be part of an impeachment inquiry as opposed to behind the closed doors of a private session.
LEMON: Yes. Matthew, can we move on to talk about -- I want to talk about Felix Sater, OK? You know, as Max mentioned, the House intelligence committee announced that the Russian born businessman Felix Sater will testify behind closed doors on Friday. He was the top negotiator for the Trump tower Moscow project. What does he know about the inner workings of the Trump administration?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, at this point it's unclear, and it's unclear what they're hoping to get out of this. I know he can tell them about the Trump Tower Moscow project, what was going on in that stretch of the campaign when the -- or the primary campaign when Donald Trump was clearly by Michael Cohen's admission negotiating to build a Trump tower in Moscow.
But what he knows about the actual inner workings of this administration, that's really unclear. I don't think he knows that much.
[22:19:59] LEMON: Do you think House Democrats are making a mistake by allowing hearings like Hicks and Sater to be closed-door hearings?
ROSENBERG: I mean, it's sort of looking like it, you know? I love this term absolute immunity. It's a very Trumpian feel. I have no idea what it means. I'm not a lawyer. But apparently the lawyers don't know either.
But letting people come in there and behind closed doors and tell you nothing, what's the point? It's like when somebody wants to go off the record to give me talking points, it's pointless, you don't do it. And you say you give him one chance and you move on.
LEMON: Yes. Everyone, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
Should descendants of slaves be paid reparations? That's a question that congress was trying to figure out today and things got heated.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was at a contentious hearing today and she joins me next.
LEMON: A House hearing on reparations for slavery in the United States brought the issue front and center today. For many, including leaders on the Hill, there are a number of outstanding questions when it comes to reparations, starting with how would it even work.
And at the hearing, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of the 2014 piece "The Case for Reparations" suggested one of the most talked about ideas, checks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[23:25:03] TA-NEHISI COATES, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC: I don't think we should necessarily rule out cutting checks. There are people who deserve checks. And so -- and I think that actually should be part of the study. We aren't ruling out any solution. I don't think we should rule out that one either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, that leads to another big question. How do you put a cash value on hundreds of years of forced servitude? Most formulations from studies and from experts have produced numbers from as low as $17 billion to as high as $5 trillion. That's a lot of money. And there are even more questions about where it could come from.
And then there are the people who oppose reparations for a lot of reasons. Many of them argue that all the slaves are dead. No white person living today owned slaves or that all the immigrants that have come to America since the Civil War don't have anything to do with slavery. Also, not all black people living in America today are descendants of slaves.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, said similar things yesterday. Well, today Senator Tim Scott, the only African- American Republican in the Senate, backed the majority leader up.
Senator Scott says this, and I quote, "The question is, are reparations a realistic path forward? The answer is no. The fact is, if you just try to unscramble that egg to figure out who are we compensating, who is actually paying for it and who was here in 1865."
Well, Senator Scott points out that it would be -- it wouldn't be easy to -- an easy process, I should say, and at the hearing today, Ta- Nehisi Coates pushed back on some of those ideas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
T. COATES: Yesterday when asked about reparations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a familiar reply. America should not be held liable for something that happened 150 years ago since none of us currently alive are responsible.
This rebuttal proffers a strange theory of governance, that American accounts are somehow bound by the lifetime of its generations. But well into this century, the United States was still paying out pensions to the heirs of Civil War soldiers. We honor treaties that date back some 200 years despite no one being alive who signed those treaties.
Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Today's hearing was just the beginning of the conversation about the issue. In fact, the hearing itself was organized to discuss legislation proposed by Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
That legislation would establish a commission to study the consequences and impact -- impacts of slavery and make recommendations for reparations proposals. Well, for Congresswoman Lee it's personal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): I am clearly a child that has walked this path. No, I did not pick cotton, but I will say that those who picked cotton created the very basic wealth of this nation. For cotton was king. There was no other product.
LEE: And so, I ask my fellow colleagues that this is simply a constructive discussion that will lead to the practical responses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee joins me now. Congresswoman, thank you so much. You sponsor this legislation.
LEE: I do.
LEMON: Give us an idea of how you think this could actually work. Because, you know, as I laid out, it's a very complicated issue.
LEE: Don, I think we had a stupendously breakthrough moment today. I heard so many accolades and support for my colleagues who will have to be the architects of the final vote on this legislation and also the advocates for it.
I think what we had today was clearly an opportunity for what I hoped it would be, and I thank our chairman and ranking member and as well our subcommittee chair.
A constructive discussion on the brutality, discrimination, racism that was the very basis of slavery, even though, of course, it was also an economic element to the United States.
All of that, I think, was made clear by very effective witnesses and certainly Mr. Coates, who wrote the centennial article on reparations gave us some opportunities for discussion. What it --
LEMON: So, Congresswoman, listen, I understand -- we played that. I get your point, but for the sake -- you know, in the interest of time, how would it work? Because as I've said, it is a complicated issue. Give us -- our audience an idea of how this would work.
[23:29:54] LEE: Well, how it would work is it's establishing a commission to study reparation proposals. What does a committee do? It brings together the appointees appointed by the president, the speaker, the leader of the Senate and six other scholars and activists and others who have been engaged in this journey for a very long time, and you begin to assess what would be the best practices, the best approach.
And I think in the hearing today, we talked about the impact on contract home purchases that was done and not law in Chicago. We talked about redlining. We talked about ensuring that historically black colleges wouldn't have to close their doors. Talked about educational -- the disparities in education and, of course, the million persons, African-Americans incarcerated through mass incarceration.
So I think what was being said today, that we're not focusing on payments but they're not excluded. How it will work will be the charge of the commission, and the commission will then bring proposals back to the Congress.
LEMON: Got it.
LEE: And the Congress will then assess what will happen. First of all, the nation is not broke. Let us be very clear. The United States of America is not broke. It is a choice of how you respond to the brutality and the inhumanity of 250 years of slavery.
Remember, we as African-American people, as African, as slaves, as descendants of slaves were chattel, were property. No other population in the United States has that history. And no matter how much patriotism and how much successes we've had, how much we've overcome, we've never received that 40 acres and a mule. That was not a joke, it was not frivolous, but it was eliminated by a dastardly president in the name of Andrew Johnson.
LEMON: I want to ask you about the only African-American Republican Senator, Senator Tim Scott. He told CNN that he agrees with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the U.S. shouldn't pay reparations. What do you say to that?
LEE: Well, first of all, we asked both Senator McConnell and Senator Scott, who I consider a good friend, to read the bill. We also asked Senator McConnell not to make light of the serious nature of this. To suggest civil rights laws that have been broken or the election of a president of the United States which was elected by people because they thought he was the best candidate is the Vaseline or the coating to ease the violence and pain of slavery is both insulting and unacceptable.
To my good friend, Senator Scott, I would only say if he read the legislation, he would understand that this gives America its moment in history in this time for an effective discussion on race, slavery and what the solutions would be. And I believe in his reasonableness, he would see that this was a worthy effort and that the results that may come from the commission may be results and solutions and proposals that may be welcomed by those on both sides of the aisle. What shocks me is that this is an opportunity for Republicans. They can say that they did something that would lift up the discussion and raise a constructive approach to this question of racism in this country.
LEMON: I want to ask you about someone that you've known for a long time and that is the former vice president, Joe Biden. Pointed to two segregationist senators as examples of colleagues that he could work with during an era when at least there was some civility, that's a quote from him, in the Senate. What did you make of his comments and his defense of them tonight?
LEE: Well, first, I'd hope that the vice president would join us along with other presidential candidates and support H.R. 40, the reparations legislation. I know Joe Biden. He has a strong and impeccable record and a dedicated and passionate record on civil rights. He's right. And he made that statement. We worked together on a number of issues as I've served in the United States Congress.
But what I would say is that words matter. Those of us who either know the history of the senators that he mentioned or knew them, in my instance it's a history, I would say that that is just not -- even in the spirit of civility, probably not the most apt comparisons.
And certainly I think the point about being called "son" versus "boy" is two distinctive comparisons as you would relate that to African- Americans. I'm sure Senator Eastland called many African-American men "boys" in his lifetime. So words matter.
I don't think it infringes on his very strong record, but I certainly would hope that we could all work together for what I think is a pathway for constructive dialogue and response to the heinousness of slavery, but as well the de facto discrimination and racism that African-Americans experienced through the 1800s, the 1900s and now into the 21st century.
Let's find a way to reconcile and to come together and to get the best solutions for what obviously are disparities in the life of African- Americans in this country.
[23:35:03] LEMON: And congresswoman, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you coming on. Thank you.
LEE: Thank you for having me.
LEMON: President Trump's EPA rolling back Obama-era clean air protection. Up next, we're going to talk about the potential impact on air quality.
LEMON: The Trump administration today killing President Obama's signature climate emergency policy, the Clean Power Plan, and enacting its own plan which EPA is calling the Affordable Clean Energy rule.
Let's discuss now with Jody Freeman, who served as counselor for Energy and Climate in the Obama administration.
Jody, it is good to have you on. Thank you so much.
[23:40:00] So tell us specifically what the Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy rule will do.
JODY FREEMAN, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR, FORMER COUNSELOR FOR ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE UNDER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right. So, here's the way I think about it, Don. I think it's the most significant environmental rollback in U.S. history, and the reason I say that is that it's a dramatic reversal of the policies that the Obama administration put in place to try to make progress on cutting greenhouse gasses, to do something about the problem of climate change.
The rule the Trump administration put out is basically a proposal that is trying to do as little as possible. It's about as meek as possible in terms of what it's asking for from the electricity sector. So whereas the Obama Clean Power Plan would have cut CO2 emissions almost 20 percent below what the market would do anyway, the Trump proposal proposes to do less than one percent cutting CO2 emissions.
So, you can see that they're really trying to accomplish about as little as they can with this reversal.
LEMON: Could this policy actually increase greenhouse gas emissions?
FREEMAN: Yeah, it's interesting you ask that because even using the projections that the Trump administration itself is making, it's actually possible that this will wind up increasing greenhouse gas emissions. And the reason that could happen is that they're pairing their proposal with another policy, which they're going to finalize a little bit later, and that will allow coal plants, the oldest, dirtiest coal fired power plants in the country to actually extend their lives and to upgrade to update so that they can run more and run longer without putting pollution controls on.
So if you think about that and if you think about actually extending the life of coal plants and you create a rule that asks them to improve only the tiniest amount imaginable, you actually can wind up blowing up the greenhouse gas emissions.
LEMON: You know, in his re-election kickoff speech, President Trump made this claim. Watch this, Jody.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our air and water are the cleanest they've ever been by far.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Facts first. I want to give you a fact check. U.S. air quality is now worsening after a prolonged period of improvement, according to statistics from the American Lung Association. Is this administration in flat-out denial about climate crisis?
FREEMAN: Yeah. I think there are two things going on. One is that, you know, our clean air and clean water laws are really a model for the world, and we should be very proud of them. The problem is this administration is not doing anything to try to use them. And the second thing I'd say is that the administration has made a point of unraveling every piece of the Obama administration's climate agenda and replacing it with absolutely nothing.
So what's clear here is they want to freeze everything the Obama administration did. They want to freeze fuel efficiency standards, which was a landmark policy that the Obama administration put in place. And now they're proposing a so-called Clean Power Replacement Plan that actually doesn't clean up the electricity sector, and they've announced a withdrawal from the international climate agreement, the Paris Accord.
So you couldn't do more to unravel what the Obama folks did to put us on a pathway to cutting our emissions. And that's, of course, going in exactly the wrong direction --
FREEMAN: -- because if you --
LEMON: Go on. Sorry.
FREEMAN: Go ahead.
LEMON: No, finish. Sorry.
FREEMAN: Well, it's going in the wrong direction because if you look at all the scientific reports, all the recent studies, in fact the Trump administration's own agencies put out the National Climate Assessment just recently in 2018 and his own agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, not just the EPA, they all put out a report saying that climate change is not only real but it's happening now, that the evidence is unequivocal, and that this is going to be very expensive for the U.S. economy if we don't start reducing emissions now.
And the president's response to his own government's report was to say, "I don't believe it." So this is the level of denial that we're dealing with.
LEMON: Jody Freeman, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
FREEMAN: Thank you.
LEMON: The president's 2020 campaign sure sounds a lot like 2016, but this time his party is fully embracing his angry rhetoric.
[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Four years ago, President Trump was an outsider and political novice at odds with much of the Republican establishment. Well, today, it is a much different story. It looks like the GOP is now fully embracing Trump's angry rhetoric, which was front and center at his re-election kickoff rally in Florida last night.
Let's discuss now with Alice Stewart and Peter Wehner. Both are here. By the way, Peter is the author of "The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump."
It is so good to have all of you on.
Peter, I want to start with you. You worked in three Republican administrations. Your latest op-ed in The New York Times says, "Trump is betting that anger can still be power." And you write this. You said, "His imprint on the Republican Party is at least as large as that of Ronald Reagan's at a comparable point in his presidency. The Republican Party has been transformed by Mr. Trump." Expand on this for me, please, Peter.
PETER WEHNER, AUTHOR, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH: Sure. I mean, it was unthinkable four years ago when he went down the escalator at Trump Tower that Donald Trump would win the nomination, let alone the presidency, but he has. And at that time, and at the dawn of his presidency, there was support for him among Republicans, but it was qualified support, uneasy support.
That has changed. If you talk to Republicans now, they're energized behind Donald Trump, they're passionate for him, and they not only like a lot of his policies, but they like his style. They like his approach.
[23:49:57] I was in touch with a friend of mine who is pro-Trump who was at this rally in Orlando, and he said he's never seen anything like it in terms of the worshipful approach. And all of them, he said to a person, so they like him because he's a fighter, that they feel like he's been wronged by Mueller, by the media, by people like Alice and me.
And so his grip on the party is as tight as Reagan's was. And I think it's going to lead the Republican Party. It is leading them to very dark and dangerous places. I think it is going to a price to pay. But right now, if you were a critic of Donald Trump, you don't have a home in this party.
LEMON: Are you saying that the GOP is embracing his anger and rhetoric too?
WEHNER: Yeah. In fact, I think it's deeper than the policy. There is something visceral about it. There is a tremendous amount of resentment and grievance that now characterizes much of the Republican base. Not all of it but much of it. And they see Donald Trump as a wrecking ball, the guy who will bring a gun to a knife fight.
I've heard this a lot during the campaign and I've heard it a lot since, people say that George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain were decent and god people, certainly more decent and more honorable than Donald Trump, but they were too gentile.
There is something about Trump's dehumanization of his opponents. His cruelty actually inspires a lot of Republicans and attracts them. I find that to be deeply depressing, but I think it's a reality that you just have to accept and confront.
WEHNER: And hope it works its way out of the system.
LEMON: Alice, give me your view here. Peter says Trump's take over the Republican Party is complete, so I want to hear what you have to say. Go on.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as we look at things right now, it is complete with regard to looking at 2020. He is the face and the voice of the Republican Party. The RNC is on board. And he has 80, 90 percent of the support of the Republican Party. Let's be clear and I hope everyone understands, the heart and soul of the Republican Party is still right there front and center. Donald Trump happens to be the face and voice right now.
Peter has worked for many men who have brought to the White House the dignity and respect and the reverence that the Oval Office deserves. Right now, we happen to have a president who uses his words, as Peter so eloquently described, this president uses words to demean people, to distort the facts, and to distract from the current crisis at hand.
But at the end of the day, Republicans and people that support him do not look at the words he uses but rather the success that he achieves. And that is why he has the support of the people and in our party.
I did not like the policies and the demeanor that he used when I voted for him, but I did support the policies that he promised to achieve. And so far, he's accomplished that. And if he continues down this path, unfortunately, he will continue the words and actions that he uses, but he will continue to fulfil the promises that he campaigned on.
LEMON: Peter, I want to play some of what we heard last night at the president's rally versus what we heard during the 2016 campaign. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Crooked Hillary Clinton.
Crooked Hillary Clinton.
Thirty-three thousand e-mails deleted.
The acid wash. These e-mails. Never to be seen again.
Thirty-three thousand e-mails deleted. Bleached. Acid washed.
We are going to keep on winning, winning, winning.
We will have so much winning if I get elected.
We are building the wall.
Folks, we are building the wall.
We will make America great again. Thank you.
We will make America great again. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And there you have it.
STEWART: Groundhog Day.
LEMON: You got Hillary Clinton e-mails, you have the wall. I mean, this all gets to the point about the politics of anger.
WEHNER: Yeah, it's politics of anger and grievances. I agree with a lot of what Alice said. I do think that Donald Trump is actually transforming the philosophy of the party, too. He's a protectionist. The Republican Party had long been (INAUDIBLE) his attitude on foreign policy, the Atlantic alliance, confronting dictatorships, entitlement reform and so forth. He's transforming it. But I'm telling you, Don, this is not a policy attachment that's there. It's much deeper than that.
WEHNER: At least -- I think the polling evidence shows that and my own experience with people says it. There's something about the rage of Donald Trump and they feel like --
LEMON: It's resonating. I'm running out of time. I just want to ask Alice. What do you think of that? He is not expanding his base. Literally, I have 10 seconds here. Can he win without expanding his base and going back to the Groundhog Day as you said?
[23:55:01] STEWART: He absolutely can. Look, the base that he had back in 2016 is the base he has now. He will benefit from the power of the incumbency.
STEWART: And look, he will continue to build on certainly what he has. But a lot of people that are critics of him will focus on the words and the demeanor, but the reality is his base and the people that support him are focused on --
LEMON: I know --
STEWART: -- what are his accomplishment and --
LEMON: I know you will say that, Alice, about his accomplishments. Those people who are at those rallies are cheering those words as well. They are embracing the words even though you said they don't like it, to Peter's point.
OK, I got to go. That's got to be the last word. Thank you. I'll see you guys soon.
STEWART: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: And thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.