Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats Face Off in First Primary Debate; Iran FM: The U.S. "Not In A Position to Obliterate Iran"; Trump Takes Aim at Fed Chair Jerome Powell; Warren Leads in Polls Among Her Debate Night Stagemates. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 26, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight is debate night for 10 of the 2020 Democratic candidates for president, 10 more tomorrow night.

Let's look at the debate one line-up as these candidates finally get onstage with each other. Ten candidates tonight, you see them -- they're lining up here just as their podiums will be on the debate stage. This is a historically-diverse Democratic field. Let's just walk through a little bit about the profiles of tonight's contenders on the debate stage.

For starters, you have three women on the debate stage tonight. Three tonight, more tomorrow. Take a peek here of the age. Senator Warren, Elizabeth Warren in the middle, 70, she's the oldest candidate on stage tonight. Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii, 38, she's the youngest candidate onstage tonight. You see a great mix there as well.

How have they served, where have they served in government? Well, Mayor de Blasio down at the end there, former congressman, a governor, several members of the House, former member of the House, three senators on the stage as well, a former cabinet secretary in the Obama administration. So diversity in public service as well.

You watch it play out just a little more, what do you notice here? Of this group tonight, Elizabeth Warren is the only one who is doing well in the polls. She's at 15 percent and this one, the Monmouth national poll, consistent if you look at the other national polls. These other candidates have been struggling at the lower end of the pack, looking for a breakthrough moment tonight, looking for something to help them raise more money, to get more attention to move those numbers more up closer to her.

Elizabeth Warren center stage tonight, she has put policy number one in her campaign, visiting a detention center today in Florida, the site of the debate. She says she is hoping very much that a lot of the conversation among these 10 tonight is about immigration.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I put out a plan to end the private incarceration of our children in facilities like this. And part of the reason is because this is wrong. We should not be doing this. And part of the reason is we do not need for-profit companies that then come in and lobby Washington to keep our broken immigration.

I hope it comes up in the debate tonight. I'm glad to have a chance to talk about what I've seen here today.


KING: Ten on the stage tonight, you're in Miami anyway so immigration was going to come up. Obviously, given the news, we have seen the horrific image that came out tonight, the issues with the detention centers. It also comes at a time, and you did some reporting on this in Politico, where progressive groups are trying to take these candidates who are already far to the left if that's the right word than President Trump on these issues and push them even more so.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. So, I reported that a number of progressive groups, MoveOn, United We Dream, Indivisible are all trying to get these 2020 candidates to sign on to their policy platform. They've been frustrated because they feel a lot of candidates don't have aggressive plans. We've only seen about a handful of the candidates issue some.

Castro's goes the furthest according to a lot of these operatives. Warren, just yesterday, released a minor plan to decriminalize border crossings and that's something that these groups want all the candidates to get behind. They also want them to defund ICE and CBP. So, I expect that we're going to hear about immigration a lot during tonight's debate.

KING: And this is one of those issues where you have this energy and activism in the Democratic Party, you also have people, whether it's Joe Biden, whether it's the centrists in the field saying hello, you know, Trump won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan for a reason. We better be careful on these issues. You mentioned decriminalization. Cory Booker joining that tonight, you see his tweet right here.

"Nothing criminal about seeking a better life for your family. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Now we have to do the right thing and decriminalize border crossers." Elizabeth Warren tweeting she agrees with Julian Castro, another one of the candidates, we shouldn't criminalize. Castro, Tuesday doing the same thing.

Again, in the Democratic Party in a primary where often the impetus is, keep moving left, this is a big issue. Are the Democrats on this issue? Some people say Medicare for All as well, wiping out all college debt or most college debt is another. Is this an issue where the party is going to get pushed to the left in these debates and in the primary season and then maybe come general election regret it?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's a real risk. We actually saw some of this play out on the Hill this week. Indivisible was one of the groups that were lobbying against Democrats supporting this border funding bill because they really feel like you need to just turn off the system we have now and do something completely different. But there are a lot of Democrats who understand that that is not going to be appealing to the public at large. That could potentially scare away voters in the middle and more in the center of the Democratic Party and certainly independents.

What they know is popular is to criticize what President Trump has done. It's pretty clear when you look at the numbers that there is not broad support out in the country for demonizing immigrants, for mass deportations, for the sorts of things that he's talked about. But he did win those key states talking tough about immigration and the last thing they want, many of them, is to be seen as an open borders party, which he has kept saying about them.

[12:35:03] It's not true if you look at the policies, necessarily. But the more they have a pressure to talk about decriminalizing immigration, the harder it is going to be for them to tuck into the center.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: That is something that the Trump campaign and Republicans are really looking for as the debate starts. They want to see any evidence of a shift with these candidates further to the left. They see that as a winning message that this party has becoming socialist. That word came from the president. And so they're really be seizing on any -- and not just immigration but with any of these issues, with healthcare, with education, that this is a party that it is out of step with the values of a lot of these (INAUDIBLE).

KING: That's why debates are fun and important in the sense that if you have legitimate policy differences within the family, you have to settle those and then the voters will settle pick a nominee before you can take the general election. It would be fascinating to see, he's not on the stage tonight, it's tomorrow night, but how Joe Biden deals with this issue. He wants to be the more moderate but he's also trying -- he has a lot of skeptics on the progressive side so how does he deal with the language?

Among those though who I think you would put more to the center, Seth Moulton, a member of the House, he's been struggling so far but he's a more moderate member who says no, you cannot say decriminalize.


REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Asylum law is a moral responsibility that we have in the United States and we've got to return moral leadership to the White House. So I'm not going to compromise on that. But what I would do is make sure that we have many, many more asylum judges so that people don't come here and wait two or three years before they get their case decided.

If you cross the border illegally, then that's illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It should be a crime.

MOULTON: I want people to come to America legally. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Outnumbered in the current Democratic field. The question is how does that position hold?

BARRON-LOPEZ: So Moulton and Biden see a very different pathway for themselves than candidates like Warren or Booker or Harris which is that they see that they need to win swing voters that Trump took over from Obama. But Warren and Booker and Harris' of the world say no, the way to win in the general is to actually talk to minority groups is to build our coalition, to speak to the base, and make sure that they turn out and vote. Because if you don't get those and there's no way we're going to beat Trump. It's not through winning over those swing voters.

And that's an argument that a lot of these mobilizers have as well. Is that if you depress voter turnout amongst the people that are more willing to vote for you, then there's no way you can beat Trump.

KING: All right, that will be one of the first in this primary campaign but then in 2020 where we know Trump is a very base-focused guy. Just getting started, can't wait for debates.

Up next, the top Iranian official talks to CNN in response to President Trump's latest warnings against Tehran.


[12:42:00] KING: Topping our political radar today, very important international news. Iran responding today to President Trump's threat of, quote, obliteration if Iran attacked any American assets. The Iranian foreign minister speaking to CNN earlier today. CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins me live from Tehran.

Fred, you had a chance to put a few questions to the foreign minister. What did he say?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Yes, I caught up with Javad Zarif on the (INAUDIBLE) in Tehran. We're actually the only western media that was there. And I asked him flat out what he made of President Trump's threats from yesterday and of course this morning as well. Here is what he had to say.


PLEITGEN: What do you make of President Trump's threats of obliteration and that a war with the United States wouldn't last very long?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, he's certainly wrong, but that statement indicates that the United States' intentions are certainly illegal. The United States is not in a position to obliterate Iran. They do not have the capability other than using prohibited weapons to do this.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PLEITGEN: And John, he also went on to say that Iran does not want war but he believes, he says, that the U.S. is the country that's in flagrant violation of international law for leaving the nuclear agreement and putting sanctions on Iran, John.

KING: Certainly doesn't sound like there's any short-term opening for negotiations. Fred Pleitgen on the ground for us in Tehran. Very important reporting, appreciate it, Fred, very much.

When we come back, President Trump heading overseas momentarily for some critical meetings at the G20 summit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to Japan right after this, so I'll be meeting with some nice fellows.



[12:48:11] KING: President Trump leaves this hour for Osaka, Japan, it's the annual G20 summit. In an interview with the Fox Business channel this morning, he talked a lot about the meetings on his agenda, sitting down with Vladimir Putin, sitting down with President Xi of China, something that his hosts, the Japanese, might take as an insult. We'll get to all of that in a minute.

Also big on the president's mind, his continuing displeasure with the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, appointed to that job by President Trump. The president says he should be slashing interest rates not holding firm, and offered this take.


TRUMP: We have a man that doesn't -- he doesn't do anything for us.


TRUMP: We're sitting there and we stay. He should have never raised the rates to the level that he raised them. He's trying to prove how tough he is because he is not going to get pushed around.


TRUMP: Here is a guy, nobody ever heard of him before and now I made him and he wants to show how tough he is, OK? Let him show how tough he is. He's not doing a good job.


KING: Just for the record, to the "I made him" part, Jerome Powell is a pretty distinguished economist. He was confirmed as the Fed chairman in 2018. He was a member of the Fed Board back in -- since 2012. He was the undersecretary of the Treasury for President George H.W. Bush, former investment banker, former private equity partner. Twenty-five, 30 years known as a pretty influential, smart guy but the president made him.

DAVIS: Well, I mean, what's so striking about this, you know, putting aside his background and all of his qualifications for that job, this is typically a position that the president takes pains to keep separate from himself. A Fed chairman is supposed to be independent.

KING: Other presidents.

DAVIS: Other presidents, right.

KING: Although some other presidents haven't been perfect in this regard either but again --

DAVIS: Exactly. But Barack Obama was criticized once for having the Fed chairman at a table during a photo-op with others of his economic advisers and you hear the president talking in this way about his Fed chairman. So it's different.

[12:50:00] OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Also, what part of the economy does the president think is underperforming? I mean, the recurring message from him is, this is the best economy in the history of the world. Everything is awesome. Just simply could not be any better, unemployment growth, manufacturing, all this stuff.

You would cut rates to boost the economy a little bit. What part of the economy does he feel as underperforming?

KING: He is on the election -- re-election ballot next year so he wants it to better perform. You get the logic of it but there are protocols and rules and standards and practices and all those. Why did I say there are protocols, rules, standards, and practices, right?

Let's move onto here. A part of the issue about economic growth and part of the nervousness in the markets is the threat of a continued protracted trade war with China. He will sit down with President Xi, the Treasury secretary says, you know, we were 90 percent there and then China backed off.

You're rolling your eyes. OK, you had a chance -- you'll have a chance in just a second. But the president says I'll sit down, I'll try to make progress but if I don't, it's OK, I like my tariffs.


TRUMP: They know what we have to have. And if we don't have intellectual property theft protections and we don't have the opening of China, you have another $325 billion that I haven't taxed yet. It's ripe for taxing. So, when you say, are we going to make a deal? It's possible we're going to make a deal, but I'm also very happy where we are now.


KING: The president using the word taxing instead of tariffs which he usually uses. KNOX: He's right, though.

KING: He is right because the tax ends up on the person who buys the Chinese good. Whether you think it's a good idea or bad idea you, the consumer, end up paying that tax. Are we going to get progress?

LUCEY: I think there's a lot of hope, and I think some expectation that you might see some kind of pause out of this. I mean, I think we never know and the president is I think purposely trying to sort of, you know, play both sides of this. He likes to, you know, manage expectations. But, a lot of people think that there is a scenario where both sides agree to some kind of holds, you know, plans for accelerated talks, and no new tariffs go into place.

I mean, which is not unlike what they did in Argentina back in December which was sort of, you know, stalling tariffs and try and work. Of course, the stakes are now much higher because tariffs have already gone into place.

KING: We don't have time for it in this block. This president also said something about our long-time ally, Japan, that I think it's not going to quite go over well where he's about to head.

When we come back, again, it's debate night for the 2020 Democrats. We'll take you, as they say, down the red carpet.



[12:57:00] And my opponent in this race, Mr. Booker, he's only the Hollywood stand-in for Barack Obama's ballot.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It seems like he's doing more to try to run and replace Rush Limbaugh than Frank Lautenberg. The reality is here is that's the kind of rhetoric that's going to drive further gridlock and further divisiveness.


KING: Six years ago, Cory Booker in a Senate debate back home in New Jersey. Cory Booker will be one of the 10 Democrats onstage tonight for the first of two nights of the 2020 Democratic debates. Let's just show the line-up if we can as we look here.

Just quickly, I don't know the answer to this question. Some people think it's make or break, especially for the candidates on the outside who are lower in the polls, who are trying to find a way to raise more money to get into the second round of debates where the bar is a little bit higher. What is the big question each of you has for tonight, round one? Elizabeth Warren, the highest ranking candidate in the middle, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Booker to her side.

What's your biggest question tonight? BARRON-LOPEZ: I guess if someone like O'Rourke who a lot of people expected more from -- who was surging in polls at first and then has faltered, if someone like him or if Booker are going to utilize tonight to really set themselves apart or if they're going to keep going with more of their same policy points or their same rhetoric. And both of them are kind of a lot about healing and compassion. And O'Rourke not with very many specifics.

So if they try to change it up a bit to get more of the attention. They've said that they're going to try to use this moment to really introduce themselves since they don't have so much name recognition.

KING: And that's important. And so if you go negative when you're introducing yourself, sometimes, you know, people get turned off by that. Elizabeth Warren is the highest-ranking candidate in the debate. Does she take the heat? Or do the other candidates if they're trying to draw a contrast with somebody instead go after the guys who are onstage tomorrow night like the former vice president Joe Biden or Senator Sanders?

LUCEY: I think we're more likely to see more conflicts in the debate tomorrow when you have Biden and Bernie and some of the other candidates. They're together. But Warren, there's an interesting test for her I think. She is surging in the polls, she's coming in with a lot of momentum. Can she sort of put forth her policy proposals and ideas in a way that captures people's imaginations? I think her test might be a little bit more about sort of running against herself tonight than anyone on the stage.

KNOX: I have a day after question which is how many currently undecided Democrats or only moderately committed Democrats either come off the fence or now say, OK, now I'm -- I was a Harris/Beto person, now I'm definitely this person? Because that is still I think the largest population of Democrats, they still the people who haven't firmly committed to a candidate.

KING: That's a great point. Do people lock-in or do they get more open-minded?

KNOX: I don't think they do, by the way.

DAVIS: I also think that -- I'm going to be very curious to see how each of these candidates is stylistically right because President Trump has such a different debating style than we've seen from other candidates and certainly as president, he has shown that he is going to be really aggressive. He kind of thrives on the viral moment and sort of really jabbing at people.

So who is the Democrat or who are the Democrats at this debate who actually stick out as people who could take on that kind of a challenge in the debate and come out not looking bloody but actually looking like they were on top? And I think that's going to be something that they'll have to demonstrate.

KING: We're guessing we won't have nasty nicknames but we might see some aggressive. We'll see.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now.