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Inside Elizabeth Warren's Policy Shop; Democrats Prepare For First Debate. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 24, 2019 - 16:30   ET



JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exhibiting a quality that, frankly is lacking in our current president, which is empathy.

He's not, obviously, solving the situation for them. Now, while it is very different, that -- those scenes that have been played remind me of times that I was traveling with President Obama, and he was there talking with -- and he was the first African-American president, as we know -- but listening to and hearing from communities that were impacted by gun violence.

He has done some things as mayor. Obviously, the statistics are troubling. The reason that police have body -- have cameras there is because he equipped them. He took a step to ensure that the cameras were turned on. That wasn't something that was done in this case, which was criticized.

I think he needs to stay there as long as he can leading up to the debate and he needs to find more ways to continue to be with the community, not in front of the press necessarily, but visiting with families, going into the community, showing that he's not somebody who is just looking for the one moment and then he is going to move on to his national campaign.

So I think he's doing the right thing now. How will it impact him politically? I don't know. I don't know that voters in South Carolina, African-American voters, are looking at statistics in the end. I think they're looking at his empathy and how he's handling it on a personal level.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That may be, but there is how he's handling it now and then there's the record, the eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and obviously people feeling that not enough progress has been made.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And he doesn't have much of a record beyond that. This is his calling card. How he managed his small size city is how he's introducing himself to the rest of the country and saying, I was able to do X, Y and Z in South Bend, this is why you should make me the president of 300-plus million people.

And I think this is one of the problems that he has, is that if people are looking at him for the first time and seeing that he's facing trouble in his city and having residents believe that they have not been heard, they have not been listened to, that he's not done a good job of managing that city, then it's going to be difficult for him to show voters on a national stage that he can do what they want him to do for the country.

So I think that's the challenge that he faces in introducing himself to black voters, but also to voters of all different nationalities and backgrounds, as he tries to manage this issue locally, while also running a national campaign.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders today unveiled his plan to completely eliminate the student debt of every American. He says he's going to pay for it with a new tax on Wall Street.

Between this plan, plans for tuition-free college, Medicare for all, I mean, he has been in many ways previous to this presidential run leading the charge in the Democratic Party. What do you make of it?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is many, many, many, so many trillions of dollars. And the thing about a very crowded primaries that he will -- he will be asked very specifically at times, where those trillions of dollars are coming from?

And when you're trying to up the ante on Warren's attempt to give debt forgiveness, she's going to ask you, OK, well, this seems sort of unrealistic, although I think hers was fairly unrealistic as well. And I should add, by the way, that part of the reason we have a lot of college debt and prices go up exponentially over the years is because more cheap debt allows universities not to be accountable for those prices.

And I would say that free debt might make that problem worse.

TAPPER: Interesting.

And, Sara, the moderate think tank Third Way, which Bernie Sanders has been attacking as like the corporate Democratic arm, they have been sparring with Sanders. They said this about the proposal -- quote -- "There's nothing about that which will help Democrats appeal to the bulk of black, white and Latino voters -- Latin voters who don't have a degree. They want policies that equip them with skills, so they can earn a good life, not ones that shovel more tax dollars only to the four-year degree holders who are already doing well in this changing economy."

Interesting that they're kind of like attacking Bernie Sanders...


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: ... between Third Way and Bernie Sanders. I kind of want to like go to cocktails and figure out what's actually going on there.

But I do think, look, that is a fair criticism that all Democrats, I think, who are running right now are going to have to grapple with. I mean, sure, student loan debt and the price of college, those are both important issues. Those are both very important things to talk about.

But there's a wide swathe of people who do not have college degrees, who are not going to get college degrees, and increasingly have seen themselves sort of slivered out of the American economy.

So what is the answer for those people going forward? And I don't think we're hearing that same conversation around vocational training, around making sure that you can still make a living wage in the United States, if you are not one of these people who has the privilege of being able to go to college.

I mean, I think, certainly, some candidates would say that everyone should go to college. But I think there are others who would say that it's not for everyone, that there are people who should be able to make a living in the United States and can offer a lot to the United States economy without getting that advanced degree. And we haven't really seen much of that conversation.

TAPPER: And, Toluse, Beto O'Rourke proposed something interesting today, a war tax. If the U.S. were to enter a new war, this would impose a tax on households who don't have current members of the family in the military or any veterans in the family, and that would help cover the health care costs of people who fight in the war.

It's -- I have seen a lot of blowback on social media about it, but I found it a very interesting idea in terms of the sacrifice that 1 percent of the country pays and for the other 99 percent of us.



O'Rourke has had a long history. He served on the Veteran Affairs Committee while he was in Congress, but he's also been really concerned about these sort of unending wars that we have been in the Middle East. And he believes that there needs to be more shared sacrifice, there needs to be more of a sense that every American is paying attention to the fact that we have soldiers and troops all over the world and that other people should be sacrificing as well.

And I think that's why he put that policy forward.

TAPPER: Stick around, everyone.

Elizabeth Warren keeps saying -- quote -- "I have got a plan for that." We wanted to know who's behind these plans. It's a CNN exclusive, a look inside Warren's policy factory next.



TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, candidates are kicking it into overdrive, rolling out policy proposals ahead of this week's debates.

Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, Jay Inslee all announcing new proposals on the campaign trail today addressing ways to pay for college loans, veterans care, and different ways to address the climate crisis, respectively.

To supporters of Elizabeth Warren, however, those guys are just playing catchup. Warren has put out more policy proposals than any other candidate.

And, according to the polls, it might be working.

CNN's M.J. Lee now has an exclusive look inside of Elizabeth Warren policy shop.


M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Elizabeth Warren's campaign headquarters in Boston, every day is policy day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we have got our plan rolling out tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're calling it the Small Business Equity Fund.

LEE: On this day, the team behind the ideas candidate is preparing for another policy rollout, already their 22nd plan this year.


LEE: Warren's substance-heavy campaign has helped catapult the senator to the top tier of a crowded Democratic field.

From student debt cancellation to the wealth tax to breaking up big tech, her top advisers say Warren's ideas are endless.

JON DONENBERG, POLICY DIRECTOR, ELIZABETH WARREN CAMPAIGN: We will get e-mails at all hours of day. What do you pick first, right? And what do you pick next? And what is the most important and how would you prioritize them and how much detail do you go into? Because there is only so many hours in the day.

LEE: CNN got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the team that helps Warren's policies come to life.

ROGER LAU, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, ELIZABETH WARREN CAMPAIGN: This is all mobilization here. This is our data team.

LEE: Warren's policy team has four full-time staffers. But for a campaign that is constantly turning out proposals, a single policy plan from the conception of an idea to its public rollout requires input from nearly every corner of the organization, from the social media and mobilization teams to the political and communication shops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we get feedback, I think we will start to figure out, like, OK, how is this going to look and feel on the ground? KRISTEN ORTHMAN, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, ELIZABETH WARREN CAMPAIGN: How do we put it in simple terms? How do we make anyone understand them, understand how they will affect their lives, how they will change their lives for the better, and how we communicate better?

LEE: On any given policy plan, advisers telling CNN that Warren herself weighs in at every step of the process through memos, phone calls and in meetings, and that it is the senator who ultimately signs off on all major details of a proposal.

And helping fuel Warren's policy factory, the real-life stories from voters on the trail.

LAU: Some of it is from the selfie line. Some of it is from meetings and town halls that she's done. She listens and she remembers and, if she hears it enough, she wants to make sure that she does something about it.

LEE (on camera): How many more policy plans can we expect?

DONENBERG: Well, there will be a lot.


LEE: Now, Warren's campaign says to expect another policy proposal coming out tomorrow. We should see her discuss it in Miami tomorrow evening. This is all, of course, ahead of the first night of the Democratic debates on Wednesday, where she will be center stage -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, M.J. Lee with the Warren campaign, thanks so much.

The one thing President Trump says he would do over since being sworn into office -- that is next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a very good vetting process. And you take a look at our cabinet and our secretaries --


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A very good vetting process the President said. That was after the departure under cloud of sorts of his previous acting secretary and two and a half years of massive staff and administration turnover.

Our friends at Axios got a hold of some vetting notes from the Trump transition team, documents with a red flag after red flag detailing swamp-like ties and background checks, cozy relationships with lobbyists, and even domestic violence allegations missed or ignored and a rush job to fill administration vacancies as one Axios editor put it, not only were many since scandalized cabinet secretary problems foreseeable, they were foreseen.

And as CNN's Tom Foreman reports, the President says he regrets one hire but not for the reason you might think.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A Republican document accusing a possible Homeland Security boss of taking donations from a group linked to white supremacy, also from the Republican National Committee an Environmental Protection chief plagued by allegations of coziness with big energy companies, and an Agriculture Secretary with serious conflicts of interest.

All those damning assessments, not all proven true show how a vetting team assembled by the RNC described candidates under consideration for the Trump administration. Many of whom ultimately got the jobs. This according to internal papers obtained by Axios on HBO even as Trump was on NBC saying he has few regrets.

TRUMP: If I have one do-over, it would be -- I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General.

I, Donald John Trump --

FOREMAN: The Axios documents from early in the Trump term seemed to foreshadow all of the investigations and allegations to come, painting the selection process as chaotic and laced with private suspicions, even amid the President's public praise for his entire team.

TRUMP: Great job.

She's fantastic.

He's a great guy.

FOREMAN: Among other allegations in the vetting papers, now ousted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke describing Trump as undefendable, Budget Director, now acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney saying Trump is not a very good person, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry describing Trumpism as a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense.

[16:50:03] TRUMP: Rick Perry is doing a great job. I'm proud of you.

FOREMAN: The Republican National Committee is dismissing the report telling Axios, these over two-year-old documents were initial pre- interview briefings and those selected would have gone through more thorough background checks. And the White House is characterizing the paper as disgruntled establishment D.C swamp creatures cowardly leaks.


FOREMAN: Still the papers would seem to be even more evidence that Donald Trump does not run the tight ship he claims. Rather his ship is full of turmoil accusations and yes, a lot of leaks. Jake? TAPPER: You bet. Tom Foreman, thanks so much. So this was great in the Axios piece. One RNC vetter said, "to be honest, the process was such a disaster and such an S-show and there was -- there were so many unqualified people coming through." And then they talked about Ben Carson who's the secretary of HUD.

He went on to say you know, I'm like oh, Gentle Ben is unqualified and thinks that pyramids store green or whatever. Great. At least he's not beating his wife and his wife's not appearing on Oprah. That's a reference to failed Commerce Secretary nominee Andy Puzder. Has he learned any lessons since this disastrous process, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I want to say it's gotten a little bit better. I mean it's not such a disaster as it was in the very beginning. And remember, it was supposed to be Chris Christie was in charge of his transition. He got the boot and then there was essentially no vetting for anyone coming in. It was just such a catastrophe. I mean, we were covering it at the time.

So I think in some ways it's gotten better. In other ways, I mean, you look at the stuff like the Shanahan story last week and you can't help but wonder like this is -- these are court documents. I mean, these are public records.

This is not like super top secret stuff you have to go out there and find. You know, if investigative journalists are able to dig it up through public records, then the administration should be the one who's kind of like finding that and raising those questions early on also because it's hard it's embarrassing for people to go through this process publicly.

TAPPER: Yes. And in fact, you're talking about how it might have gotten a little bit better. But I was thinking about this weekend when the guy who is tapped to be the new immigration czar in the White House went on Fox and started openly attacking the Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Take a listen.


TOM HOMAN, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, ICE: You got the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security resisting what ICE is trying to do. He does not support this operation. And I tell you what, if that's -- if that's his position, then he's on the wrong side of this issue.


TAPPER: I mean, is it really getting better? That guy's going to be -- I mean, according to reports he's going to be the immigration czar.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, there's -- that's not a disciplined operation and it stretches the imagination. And look, the last time that we went through this, they had a bit of an excuse in that they did not know they were going to win. That was a real -- that was a real issue. And then part of the vetting process which probably should not have been part of the vetting process was get rid of people who said maybe some bad things about Donald Trump, right.

So that cut down their pool and they ended up with this not good vetting process and a very small pool of people and couldn't get people where they need it. Next time being the incumbent, that will not be the case because you have to have the expectation that you'll get there. But I have not seen a ton of change or a point person put on this that actually makes that change.

TAPPER: Even today, the President is handling a very sensitive situation with Iran with an Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper who just started on the job today. He's got ten secretaries to be working in acting capacity right now.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And the President believes that having them in acting capacity means that they're sort of trying out for the job and that's not necessarily what you want when you're making life-and-death decisions at the Defense Department. You don't want someone making decisions on an acting basis trying out for the job trying to tell the president once what he wants to hear.

You need someone who's confirmed by the Senate, who has the full sort of backing of the Senate in order to make sure that they can present the president with the best information even if it's something that he doesn't want to hear and it's not clear that's what the President is getting.

He'd rather have people that are more like on The Apprentice where he can say you're fired, I'm going to I think someone else in, and that seems to be how he likes to operate right now.

TAPPER: You've actually been through this process, Jen Psaki.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Certainly. And I remember also being in the White House during the transition when Chris Christie was fired and there was nobody to give information to. But I will say what is normal as I remember vetting people for the Supreme Court of when -- even when there was like eight options in the end, and we each had stacks for each person this big and this is going through the White House counsel's office.

So just -- it's a reminder it's not normal. This isn't how things should go. And that's why they're not catching things clearly.

TAPPER: A suggestion for Vice President Pence before his scheduled visit tomorrow, that's next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our Earth Matters series today, Vice President Pence will visit the National Hurricane Matters tomorrow. Perhaps while he's there, he could check in with the scientists of NOAA on the climate emergency. Those scientists say it is a "threat to the health and well-being of the American people. Here is the Vice President yesterday.


TAPPER: Do you think it is a threat, manmade climate emergency is a threat?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the answer to that is based upon the science.

TAPPER: But the science said yes. I'm asking what you think.

PENCE: Well, there is many in the science --

TAPPER: The science community in your own administration at NOAA, at the DNI, they all say it's a threat.

PENCE: Yes, I got it. I got it. Look, what the president has said --

TAPPER: But you won't for some reason.

PENCE: I think we're making great progress reducing carbon emissions. America has the cleanest air and water in the world. We'll continue to use --

TAPPER: That is not true. We don't have the cleanest air and water in the world. We don't. According to -- well, you get back to me with statistics to show it.


TAPPER: According to one academic study, the U.S. actually ranked tenth in the world for air quality, 29th for water and sanitation quality.