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Congress Debates Reparations; Congress Grills Hope Hicks; Booker Demands Biden Apology Over Segregationist Remarks. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: "We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done."

CNN's Rebecca Buck has been following the reaction to this from Biden's fellow 2020 Democratic contenders.

And Senator Cory Booker had a pretty rare fiery response to this. What did he say?


I have been following Senator Booker on the campaign trail. And I cannot think of any occasion when he has directly rebuked any other candidate in the way that he is rebuking former Vice President Joe Biden today.

I will read you part of his statement here. He said: "First, you don't joke about calling black men boys."

He went on: "Vice President Biden's relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people and for everyone. I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should."

And a campaign aid, Brooke, went on to add to me that Senator Cory Booker is not only disappointed in Joe Biden. He is pissed, is the word they used.


BUCK: And so that's why we're seeing this very fiery response from him today.

Meanwhile, the Biden camp not commenting. They tell -- some aides telling our reporters here at CNN that they tried to warn the former vice president not to use these segregationist senators as examples. He didn't listen, but the vice president so far silent -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We will wait. If there is a response, we will report that out. Rebecca Buck, thank you so much on how Senator Booker responded to this.

Let me also remind everyone today is Juneteenth. Juneteenth is a holiday which commemorates the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865. And for the first time in 12 years, Congress is having a hearing about reparations, massive crowds turning out for the debate today.

The conversation has been gaining new attention from Democrats ahead of 2020. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says even researching what could be done, he says it's not a good idea.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We have tried to deal with our original sound of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We have elected an African-American president. I think we're always a work in progress in this country.

But no one currently alive was responsible for that.


BALDWIN: We will come back to that in just a second.

Among today's witnesses -- we were just talking about him -- Senator Cory Booker, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who reintroduced the case for reparations back in 2014, and actor Donald (sic) Glover.

Tone of the room, serious, but quite contentious.


TA-NEHISI COATES, "THE ATLANTIC": And the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that, a dilemma of inheritance. It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.

As historian Ed Baptist has written, enslavement -- quote -- "shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of America, so that, by 1836, more than $600 million, almost half of the economic activity in the United States, derived directly or indirectly from the cotton produced by the million-odd slaves."

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): There are serious questions about this from all sides of the political spectrum, and they're honest and sincere questions that we want to address.

But putting aside the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans for many generations ago, the -- let me finish -- the fair distribution of reparations would be nearly impossible once one considers the complexity of the American struggle to abolish slavery.

We have an obligation to acknowledge that any monetary reparations that might be recommended by the commission created by HR-40 would almost certainly be unconstitutional on their face. The reason for that -- listen. Wait a minute. The reason for that is a legal question. See, the legal question is, the federal government can't constitutionally provide compensation today to a specific racial group, because other members of that group, maybe several generations ago, were discriminated against and treated inhumanely.

DANNY GLOVER, ACTOR: I sit here as the great-grandson of a former slave, Mary Brown, who was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. I had the fortune of meeting her as a small child.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): HR-40 is, in fact -- is, in fact, the response of the United States of America long overdue.

Slavery is the original sin. Slavery has never received an apology. I just simply ask, why not, and why not now?


BALDWIN: My next guest shared his own personal connections to slavery, a quilt made by his great-grandmother. We will get him to talk about that.

Cornell Brooks is the former president and CEO of the NAACP. He is also a civil rights attorney.


So, Cornell, a pleasure, sir, of course, to have you back on.


BALDWIN: And before we get into the quilt, I just have to get your reaction to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his comments.

BROOKS: His comments really reflect the kind of ignorance and arrogance.

To simply say that we can't have a discussion about reparations for slavery because slavery occurred so long ago ignores the fact that slavery lasted for at least 250 years. It gave rise to Jim Crow, the Black Codes, the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration.

And the voter suppression which was conceived as a vestige of slavery post-Reconstruction continues today, perpetuated by his party.

And so...

BALDWIN: No, I was just going to say, so, I mean, it's not just Mitch McConnell, I mean, obviously, who thinks that.

BROOKS: That's right.

BALDWIN: A lot of privileged folks retreat to the argument, well, I wasn't alive, so why should I pay for that? And, so, that is your response. Can you tie it into the quilt for me, and why is that so special for you?


So, my great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, the Reverend Pompey Lavallie, was born and enslaved as a child, as a boy. His -- I should say, my great-grandmother made a quilt from his britches. My grandmother gave the quilt to me. I slept under it as a boy.

BALDWIN: There it is. You have got it with you right now.


BROOKS: That's right.

BALDWIN: Look at that.

BROOKS: The vestiges of slavery continue today in the form of mass incarceration, segregation.

And so, when I think of my great-great-grandfather's quilt, I think about this being wrapped around his body, and the body and the brilliance of black people that were commodified, to the tune of trillions.

The fact of the matter is, we need to have this conversation. We cannot make the moral case disappear as though we're invisible. And we cannot act as though the mathematical case, or the economic case, if you will, is impossible.


BROOKS: It can be done and should be.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you about the mathematical case. And thank you so much for bringing that quilt. It's incredibly special.

BROOKS: It is.

BALDWIN: This is what Senator Cory Booker argues.

He says -- he says it's not just about direct payments. The wealth gap between white and black Americans is incredibly stark. When you look at the numbers -- this is according to the Federal Reserve -- the median wealth for white households in 2016 $171,000, for black households, $17,600.


BROOKS: That's right.

BALDWIN: Let's keep those numbers up on the screen just for people to digest that.

Now, this committee hearing today, it's not to make any sort of decision on reparations. It's just about a committee to explore what can be done about the inequities that still exist.

What do you hope comes out of this?

BROOKS: What I hope is that we have a conversation, such that we understand that the moral case for reparations is clear and compelling.

That is to say, slavery existed over the course of centuries, and was perpetuated into the last century, and certainly into this century, in terms of segregation, in terms of the African-American community literally having its wealth extracted from it, in terms of the foreclosure crisis, in terms of contract purchases of homes, segregation in the labor market.

We have to have a conversation about the morality behind reparations, but also the math, that there's a compelling economic argument. And it's simply a matter of us having the moral will to have this conversation at this time.

But let's be clear. We can't get to reparations until we have, serious thoughtful discussions about reparations. And that needs to involve the whole of the country. And so it's not right for Mitch McConnell to simply say, we can't talk about it, because he doesn't see it and doesn't understand it.

And I believe most Americans are willing to have this conversation and know we need to have this conversation.

BALDWIN: 2020 candidates having the conversation.

And I wanted to ask you about another issue on 2020.


BALDWIN: I was just talking to our correspondent Rebecca Buck.

So Senator Biden was behind closed -- was speaking at this fund- raiser. His point was, he was trying to say, hey, I can work across the aisle. I can work with Republicans.

And he was speaking specifically about the segregationist senator. And to hear the Cory Booker's camp, his word, he's pissed. He's pissed over this. And we haven't heard anything since from Joe Biden.

But what do you make about the former vice president's comments about working with segregationists? Is that a problem?

BROOKS: I'm, frankly, perplexed, because he -- Vice President Biden suggests, because a segregation referred to him as son, as a white man, as opposed to referring to black men as boys...



BROOKS: ... that is a mark of civility between two senators, when, in fact, it's simply one white senator according a modicum of respect to another white senator.

That is not the full measure of civility. Civility would be for someone like that to work with people who he segregated, that he discriminated against, that he spoke ill of.

And so I, frankly, don't understand the point that the vice president was making. But, more to the point, you can't make fun of -- or, I should say, make light of African-American men being dismissed, morally speaking, as boys. That's just not appropriate.

And I do think the vice president should really take responsibility for this, apologize, and get back to the substance of the campaign.

BALDWIN: Cornell Brooks, thank you so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Just into us here at CNN, Fed Chief Jerome Powell saying he will keep interest rates steady, and also responding to reports that President Trump considered demoting him.


QUESTION: Could you clarify what you would do if the president tweets or calls you to say he would like to demote you as Fed chair?

JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: I think the law is clear that I have a four-year term, and I fully intend to serve it.


BALDWIN: Rana Foroohar is a global business columnist and associate editor with "The Financial Times" and CNN global economic analyst.

So, thank you for being with me.

Just talk to me a little bit about the significance of this announcement from the Fed today and what he just said, obviously, trying to stay out of the political fray, but still sending a message.


So Trump has been politicizing the Fed for months now. And just to be clear, yes, the president could remove the Fed chair, but only for cause. And the courts have said that that means legal misconduct, a basic neglect of duties.


FOROOHAR: That is not an argument over monetary policy. You can't just go fire somebody because you don't like whether they're going to raise or lower interest rates.

And it's coming at such a bad time, because this is a really delicate time for the Fed. I mean, in some ways, the economy looks great, right? You have got low unemployment numbers, you have got growth still going, but there are signs of jitters.

And there's an asset bubble in the markets. The housing markets in various cities are looking wobbly. So they have a really tough decision to make right now. And the president is really muddying the waters, I got to say.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you about -- there have been these fears of a recession. You and I have talked about it.


BALDWIN: I'm just wondering if it's overblown, because the head of this investment group, Blackstone, says the trade war with China won't do enough damage to push the U.S. economy into a recession.

How do you see it?

FOROOHAR: I don't think that anybody can say definitively what the trade war is going to do. It depends. I mean, if we're talking limited tariffs on just a few products, maybe not.

If we are talking a full-blown out-and-out war over technology, over the high-growth industries of the future that pulls the rest of the world in, and that's the big worry -- if you remember, if you go way back in history to the Great Depression, it's not one single tariff that blows up a global economy.

BALDWIN: It's the collective.

FOROOHAR: It's this sort of snowball effect which you get into.

And one of the things that I'm very worried about now is this tit for tat that you're having around issues like technology, around the idea that you may -- you may be moving to two separate worlds with a splinternet, where you get one Internet and one in China.

BALDWIN: Splinternet.


I mean, these are some of the worries that economists are thinking about. So we don't know really how all this is going to play out yet.

BALDWIN: OK. Rana Foroohar, thank you very much.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here on CNN, one of President Trump's closest former aides on Capitol Hill today testifying behind closed doors. Here she is, Hope Hicks. But we have breaking news now on what she said.

Plus, a new poll has Senator Elizabeth Warren gaining ground on Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2020 race for president. We will discuss what is driving her rise.

And President Trump claims he can cure cancer and eradicate HIV. We will check the facts for you on that.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

For several years, Hope Hicks was so close to President Trump that she was reportedly viewed as a member of the family. And, right now, Hicks is once again on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers grill the former White House communications director behind closed doors.

But the Democrats who run this House Judiciary Committee may come up short in their latest fact-finding mission, after the White House in a letter claimed Hicks has immunity.

Now some of those Democrats are pushing back, saying the next step could be the courts.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): The White House issued that letter making a claim of absolute immunity. It doesn't exist in the law. It is quite clear that witnesses are required to answer truthfully questions asked, unless the privilege is available.

There is no such thing as absolute immunity that prevent someone from answering questions about any subject related to their work in an administration. It just doesn't exist.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it acceptable for the White House to be saying that she has complete immunity?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): I think the courts will decide that. It's wrong.


BALDWIN: Kaitlan Collins is our CNN White House correspondent. Jeffrey Cramer is a former U.S. attorney and former federal prosecutor.


Kaitlan, to you first.

Before get into that, we have got some breaking news about what Hope Hicks actually told lawmakers about those hush money payments specifically.

What did she say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, my colleagues Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju are now reporting that Hope Hicks told lawmakers today she did not know about those hush money payments that were made to women alleging they had affairs with President Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Now, of course, Brooke, Hope Hicks was right by the president's side every step of the way throughout that campaign, but she has told lawmakers behind closed doors, according to sources, during this testimony that she did not know about the payments during the campaign.

Now, whether or not she knew or when she found out about them during the White House is a question that hasn't been answered yet, because, of course, the White House is trying to assert privilege over those comments, saying that she has immunity from answering anything about -- during her time at the White House.

And that was a time that when "The Wall Street Journal" was doing some really good reporting on these payments, that Hope Hicks said that one of them, the payments made to Karen McDougal, she said that that was totally untrue. That's what she told "The Wall Street Journal" reporters, and now she's denying knowing about them during the campaign, though it's unclear when exactly she found out about them, as this testimony behind closed doors with one of the president's top aides and former closest confidants is still going on.

BALDWIN: Jeffrey, why are these questions about hush money payments? Why is this germane today?

JEFF CRAMER, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, it's germane because they are trying to just get whatever facts they can from the beginning to the end.

In the beginning were the hush payments not only to Stormy Daniels, but to other women. And it culminates with what we saw in the Mueller investigation. They have a better chance at least of having Ms. Hicks and others answer questions pre-inauguration, so some of these comments right now, than what we have seen once they get into the White House.

So they're trying to get what they can. Unfortunately, according to Ms. Hicks, she didn't know anything before the inauguration. And it's an open question what she learned afterwards.

BALDWIN: We know also that -- Kaitlan, this is to you -- that President Trump sent out a tweet about Hope Hicks' appearance today, slamming this whole hearing as rigged.

Do you think that could be a sign that the White House is at all worried about what she may say?

COLLINS: So, Brooke, it kind of depends on who you ask here, because some officials say they're not worried at all about Hope Hicks going and appearing on Capitol Hill because they say she's still in the president's corner.

So they're not worried about her giving any damaging information up. But, of course, as we're noting, we're talking about hush money payment scandals here. So it's not a flattering topic anyway that they ask these questions.

So, regardless, there is a chance that this could, in the end, potentially be unflattering, at best, to the White House, as it was when Hope Hicks testified previously, when she admitted that she told white lies on behalf of the president.

So some say they're fine with her testifying, but others are not so sure that nothing will come out of this.

BALDWIN: And inside this hearing, Jeffrey, White House officials claim that she has absolute immunity regarding her tenure in the White House. And you say that that is a -- quote -- "legal Alice in Wonderland."

What do you mean by that?

CRAMER: It's -- there's no such thing. I mean, there is an executive privilege. And there's a logic to having executive privilege.

Certainly, the president needs to be confident that people coming to him talking about policies are not then going to be called into testify about it. That makes sense.

When you extrapolate that to what we have here, which is not talking about policy, but, arguably, obstruction of justice or other criminal activities, the executive privilege doesn't exist. And there's certainly nothing such as absolute immunity.

And I think that was indicated with some congressman that came out of the hearing. It's going to go to the courts. The courts have actually already opined on this. They have already said that absolute immunity doesn't exist. There's a spousal privilege. There's a clergy privilege. There's a doctor-patient privilege.

There simply is an absolute immunity. And whatever White House counsel said that knew what he saying. They didn't want to exert privilege, the executive privilege, because then you're in a legal framework. They want to stay out of that legal framework as long as possible.

BALDWIN: Jeffrey Cramer and Kaitlan Collins, thank you both very much.

Coming up next here on CNN, Senator Elizabeth Warren getting the biggest jump in the latest 2020 poll. I will talk to a reporter who spent a lot of time with her on the campaign trail about what she thinks is driving this increase.

Plus, just in, news on the investigation involving the deaths of American tourists in the Dominican Republic. What is going on? Stand by.



BALDWIN: We have got some breaking news here.

Interstate 80 is shut down in both directions near Elko, Nevada. A cargo train has derailed and may be carrying hazardous materials. We don't know exactly what might be aboard the train, who may be aboard the train.

The Elko County Sheriff's Department and fire are on the scene, along with a Nevada Highway Patrol. As soon as we get more information, we will have pass it along to you.

Now to 2020. And we are getting this new look at where the 2020 Democratic hopefuls stand. And the big news is actually who's in second place now. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders are neck and neck for second in this new Monmouth University poll. Former Vice President Joe Biden is still top of the list with 32 percent.

This is just the latest poll showing Warren picking up momentum.

And with me now, staff writer for "The New Yorker." Sheelah Kolhatkar is with me. Her new profile is in the June 24 issue of "The New Yorker." She was with Warren on the campaign trail and at her home.