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Controversy Clouds President Trump's 4th of July Celebration; Trump Defends July 4th Event Amid Cost; Donald Trump: Facilities at Detention Centers are Far Better Than Where Migrants Came From; Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Camp Clash Over Busing One Week After Debate; Trump Says DOJ "Working Very Hard" to Add Census Citizenship Question. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2019 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:13] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you and a very happy of Fourth of July to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow as the day off. Thank you so much for joining our special coverage on this July 4th and as the nation celebrates this holiday, as your family celebrates this holiday, there's no time off for Democrats on the campaign trail.

One week after the debate sparked a national conversation about federally mandated busing vice president Joe Biden's camp is clashing with Senator Kamala Harris on that very issue. Biden's camp claiming that Harris is, quote, "tying herself in knots." You'll remember last week Harris grabbed the spotlight for hitting Biden really hard on the topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not oppose --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there's a failure of states to integrate public schools in America.

BIDEN: No, but --

HARRIS: I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California, public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.

BIDEN: Because your city council made that decision. It was a local decision.

HARRIS: That's where the federal government must step in.

BIDEN: Now the federal government stepped --

HARRIS: That's why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, stark difference between the two candidates in that exchange, Harris is saying that the federal government does have a role to play to mandate it. But here is what she said in Iowa yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just to clarify you don't support federally mandated busing and de facto?

HARRIS: I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, so that seems to make the two closer on this issue than we thought.

Joining me now is CNN's Arlette Saenz. She's been with the Biden campaign in Independence, Iowa, well named for this holiday.

So what is the Biden camp saying now? Are they saying that Harris, her position is actually closer to Biden's position than it appeared during the debate?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jim, one week after the debate this is still an issue going on between the two campaigns and you saw varying spokespeople for the two campaigns yesterday kind of try to fight this out on Twitter. Biden's deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield kind of kicked things up yesterday with a tweet where she said, "It's disappointing that Senator Harris chose to distort Vice President Biden's position on busing, particularly now that she is tying herself in knots trying not to answer the very question she posed to him."

Now, the Harris campaign pushed back on that. A spokesman for the Harris campaign Ian Sams took to Twitter last night saying, "VP Biden said, who the hell do we think we are that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child. He called busing an asinine concept. Come on, y'all are better than this." Sams there was quoting a Biden quote from decades ago.

But it's clear that these two campaigns are still at odds over this issue of busing. One question is, will the candidates themselves decide to engage on this issue today here in Iowa? Biden will be here in a short while at an Independence Day parade in Independence, Iowa. Kamala Harris is starting her day about 150 miles away from here, in Indianola, as you're really seeing a lot of these top tier 2020 contenders descend on the Hawkeye State for the Fourth of July holiday. You'll have Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke. He's also going to be here in Independence, all trying to make their pitch. School busing is one issue that's unfolding and we will see what else this Fourth of July holiday brings for these candidates -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Certainly a lot of politicking, campaign. Arlette Saenz, with the campaign. Stay with us.

I also want to bring in David Swerdlick. He's assistant editor at the "Washington Post." So, David, help me understand, help our viewers understand, I mean,

are Biden and Harris closer on this issue than it appeared during the debate? I mean, the real question is, should it be federally mandated? Biden in effect saying he's fine with busing as long as it's a local decision. Tell us what your view is. Are they moving closer here?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, good morning, Jim, and Happy Fourth. I think the problem for both Senator Harris and Vice President Biden is that they're both naturally political moderates, slightly left of center, and they're trying to prove to the Democratic base which has gotten more and more progressive that they're progressive. Frankly, they both would be well-advised to get off of busing because this is not the top issue that's not resonating with Democratic voters.

The problem for Biden is that as long as the busing debate goes on, it reminds people of his bad debate performance last week. The problem for Harris is that as long as the busing debate goes on it reminds people that now in at least two cases she's gotten out over her skis. First it was Medicare for All and eliminating all private health insurance which she walked back and now with busing where she filleted Vice President Biden in the debate and now she's taking this nuanced view as his campaign has complained about saying well, it's one tool in the toolbox.

[09:05:03] They really -- they really, I think, at this point need to look at the big picture going forward to -- you know, rather than trying to whittle this down to the bare bones.

SCIUTTO: Right. Arlette, I know, I have to imagine the Biden camp not only sensitive to a poor debate performance but the polls indicating that. Let's look at the most recent, this is an ABC News- "Washington Post" poll and this one, though, a bit more positive for Biden than some of the others. Still shows him with an 11-point lead, and really doubling Harris' support here. But does the Biden camp think that staying on busing or clearing up the busing issue is a good look for them at this point?

SAENZ: Well, you saw that they were willing to engage in this by taking on Kamala Harris about this yesterday. But, of course, they likely want to change course away from this topic eventually. One big question right now is this issue of busing really going to be a deciding factor for voters or is it going to be issues like health care or a lot of people say that they're just looking for somebody that can beat Donald Trump.

And you mentioned that ABC News poll that paints a bit of a better picture for Biden but you've also seen these polls where the race is really tightening. And last night I tried to ask Biden about his drop in the polls and about that uneven debate performance that he had, and he simply told me that it's difficult to answer in 30 seconds, it's unclear if he was saying that to me or talking about the way that he responded on the debate stage.

But it's clear that right now the fact that the Biden campaign did want to engage last night and try to draw the Harris campaign back into this debate, that they do want to try to point out these differences between themselves and between Kamala Harris' approach with her answer yesterday.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Understood. So speaking of Harris on another issue, this was at a campaign picnic in West Des Moines yesterday, taking quite an attack at the sitting president. Have a listen and I want to get your reaction, David.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: I know predators, and we have a predator living in the White House. Donald Trump has predatory nature and predatory instincts. And the thing about predators you most importantly know, predators are cowards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That's quite a loaded term to use against the president there. In your view justified? Did she go too far?

SWERDLICK: Jim, I don't think she went too far. It sounds like they're road testing sort of ways they can tag the president should they get to a general election, see if it sticks, see if it works. But I think whether it's Senator Harris or something else, Democrats are not going to sort of buzz word their way into an election win next year.

Senator Harris did a very effective job of prosecuting Vice President Biden last week in that debate. I mean, the only thing that was missing was her saying, your honor, permission to treat the vice president as a hostile witness. She has to repeat that performance over and over again, and including, if she's the nominee against President Trump.

SCIUTTO: Right.

SWERDLICK: But President Trump is good at the insult game so calling him a predator, he will have something more sharp, more stinging, but more vulgar than that for her if she runs against him, so they just have to balance that out in their decision-making.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Awaiting the nickname.

SWERDLICK: Right.

SCIUTTO: Arlette Saenz, David Swerdlick, thanks to both of you and Happy July Fourth to both of you.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Tomorrow morning it is a CNN exclusive interview, the former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. They'll sit down with my colleague Chris Cuomo. As the competition surges, how does the 2020 Democratic frontrunner -- he still is the frontrunner -- stay ahead of the pack as his lead shrinks in some polling. That is tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. and 8;00 a.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Really a must-watch interview.

This morning President Trump says that his administration is, quote, "working very hard" through the Fourth of July holiday to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. This just one day after totally reversing a decision by his own Department of Commerce to back off that quest. The president falsely claiming that this about-face by his administration was fake. Keep in mind, these were on the record comments from the Commerce Department and Justice Department.

The sudden reversal sent administration Justice officials scrambling and now the federal judge that blocked the question from being on the Census just last week has ordered the DOJ to submit more information by tomorrow at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Joining us now is CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue.

So, Ariane, first really the simplest question for me, and I think fairly for a lot of folks watching at home, is there actually a path for the administration to squeeze this sensitive Census question back into the 2020 Census?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that was a remarkable question triggered by the presidential tweet.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

DE VOGUE: Keep in mind, the Department of Justice and Commerce had both said that the decision had been made that the questionnaire would include that citizenship question, and then the president tweeted that that was fake news.

[09:10:07] To be clear what he is saying is that his own administration had fake news. And basically that tweet triggered not only Department of Justice but this federal judge to haul the parties back in for a conference call yesterday. And he said, look, I am on Twitter, I follow the president and what the president just tweeted is exactly contradicting to what you had said the day before.

And what was really stunning in this hearing is that a Department of Justice lawyer had to talk about the reversal, and he told the judge, he said, "The tweet this morning was the first I'd heard of the president's position on this issue just like the plaintiffs and your honor. I don't have a deeper understanding of what this means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted. I'm doing my absolute best to figure out what's going on.

So then basically the judge said, I need to know and now the Department of Justice and the administration is huddling trying to figure out what they're going to say. And I've been told there are some options on the table but they're limited. One would be an executive order, somehow the president saying he has the constitutional authority to do this, that that would be immediately challenged. Another would be a possible kind of supplement or addendum after the questionnaire had been printed up.

And then the other would be maybe going back to the Supreme Court with some kind of motion to consider. But keep in mind Chief Justice Roberts didn't say that he didn't have the discretion. He said he wanted more of a justification.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DE VOGUE: But Roberts sent it back to the lower courts and that's the whole issue here, Jim, is the timing.

SCIUTTO: So just so folks at home understands, because I'm trying to keep up with this, too. First of all I find it amazing that the Justice Department lawyer arguing the case for the government says he doesn't have a deeper understanding of what the government's position is effectively. Now you have two paths, you got a Maryland judge who's requiring something by tomorrow, then of course you have the Supreme Court path here.

Just very simply, can the White House, can the Trump administration say forget all that stuff we've said before when we were arguing the case prior? That was our justification for including this question then. Forget that stuff. This is our justification now. Can the courts just sort of, you know, have amnesia on that and say, OK, we're going to consider your new justification for this?

DE VOGUE: Well, if the administration scratches all that or comes out with a new memo, it can say, look, you wanted a justification, here's our justification. But the deeper problem here is that things happen slowly in the court system, right? And usually you would start with the district court, the appellate court, the Supreme Court, and lower courts have not looked kindly upon the president in this so far. The Supreme Court blocked the question for now, said if you come back and give better justification then maybe we can look at it again.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DE VOGUE: They basically remanded it. But, Jim, what's key is the timing because even Census Bureau officials testified at trial that, look, the drop-dead deadline would be in October. And if you wait that long, first of all you jeopardize the actual administration of the Census. There's a lot of different costs involved and totally separate than what is before the Supreme Court.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DE VOGUE: Are these lower court hearings on issues that weren't before the Supreme Court so the (INAUDIBLE) court like the judge in Maryland could very well issue an injunction and block it all again.

SCIUTTO: And block it in the meantime. OK.

DE VOGUE: So that's the key here.

SCIUTTO: We'll keep watching it. Ariane de Vogue, thanks very much.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, another legal blow to the Trump administration. A federal court has blocked the use of military funds to fund to build a border wall. So what now for the president's plan?

Plus, America's military might on display in the nation's capital as President Trump prepares for what he is billing as the show of a lifetime. Just one question, will his Fourth of July festivities turn political?

And one person who is fed up with partisan politics, Congressman Justin Amash, announcing today his own Independence Day from the Republican Party. Why he's leaving coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: Just hours from now, the president is set to speak at his 4th of July event which he's calling "Salute to America", but there are some who aren't happy about a lot of the trappings of this event. Critics worried about both the cost, also whether the event will morph into something more like a political rally.

To be clear, CNN is going to air the president's remarks, we're going to let you judge for yourself what this means for the country and how to receive the event. CNN's Kylie Atwood is on the National Mall in D.C. So, Kylie, we're hearing this morning of administration aides scrambling a bit to make sure attendance is up today. What are you hearing?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, we want to speed up attendance to make sure that there does appear to be a large number of people here in Washington to support President Trump as he delivers this speech. Now, the first thing that we are going to see here in Washington is a parade just before noon.

It's a traditional parade that happens on July 4th in Washington. But the non-traditional thing, the thing that is different about today is that at 6:30 p.m., President Trump will be delivering remarks on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and then at 9:00 p.m., we will have the fireworks.

Those are going to be an extended show this year, about 35 minutes. One thing that we've learned today is that there were some talking points that were distributed to local service members from a local military authority. Not from the Pentagon, but these talking points encourage members of the service to say that they were proud to be working for the U.S. military, to say that they were proud to have their tanks with them, which are on display today.

[09:20:00] And the Pentagon told us that, that's pretty much typical guidance that they give to members of the U.S. military when they're in big public events like this. There have been questions, Jim, however, about the cost of this event. We don't know the full cost, how much it's going to tally up to at the end.

But what we do know, "The Washington Post" has reported that $2.5 million had been diverted from the National Park Service to help put on this event. Now, traditionally, that money is spent helping the national parks, you know, with everything that they need, but that money is going to be spent here today.

But we are seeing some really excited folks entering -- getting ready behind us to enter into the National Mall. And one of those folks I want to pull in right now, his name is Brent; he's from Washington State, and this is his first time in Washington D.C. for the 4th of July. So, what are you most looking forward to today?

BRENT WHITMAN, WASHOUGAL, WASHINGTON RESIDENT: I think the flyover is what I'm looking forward to a lot, you know, that should be a pretty interesting scene the jets fly over low, and then the fireworks show tonight, should be pretty cool.

ATWOOD: That's right. And, you know, there has been some controversy about the cost of this. What do you make of the president deciding to use taxpayer dollars on a big 4th of July extravagant event?

WHITMAN: I think that, you know, spend a little expenditure on celebrating the great nation is a good way to spend our tax dollars as long as it's not too out of control.

ATWOOD: Appreciate it --

WHITMAN: Yes --

ATWOOD: Thanks, and back to you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Kylie Atwood on the scene there, thanks very much. With me now is Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; she represents the District of Columbia. Congresswoman, we appreciate you taking the time on this holiday.

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-DC): Of course.

SCIUTTO: Let me begin with the president's event. You say that by holding this event, laws are being -- and I'm quoting you here, "disregarded or thrown out altogether". What laws do you contend that the president is breaking with this event?

NORTON: Well, the co-op of the mall in this way and to -- and for the president of the United States himself to interrupt it without any sense of what we have always done for the 4th of July. What I'm saying essentially is that, what the president is doing is -- what the president is doing is -- can you hear me? I'm sorry, this just fell off --

SCIUTTO: I can -- there you go, good job.

NORTON: It's more a question of disregarding long traditions than specific laws. What he's done, of course, is to fail to pay even for the inauguration where he's owed $7.3 million to the District of Columbia. But here, what he is doing is taking a hometown holiday here in the nation's capital and converting it into a political extravaganza and a partisan political extravaganza at that.

For example, the notion of having a presidential speech is unprecedented for a reason. Presidents have been at pains to bow out of the 4th of July. They do so because it is clear that if you intrude yourself into this national holiday, as for example he tried to intrude himself into veterans day, you're making holidays that are meant and have always been non-political into political events by your very --

SCIUTTO: Right --

NORTON: Appearance because you are a political --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

NORTON: Figure. And then in addition to politicizing the 4th of July, he is militarizing it. Nothing could be more incongruous than seeing tanks on our mall, and other hardware -- military --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

NORTON: Hardware. It --

SCIUTTO: We --

NORTON: Go ahead, son --

SCIUTTO: And we reported -- we reported yesterday that senior officials in the Pentagon were uncomfortable with the military display in particular. You mentioned $7.3 million, that is what you say that the White House still owes the District from the inauguration.

Of course, going back two years now. Do you know -- have you been told what this whole event will cost because reporters have asked the White House, the White House has not given a figure. We're kind of working off piece-meal information like this, $2.5 million being diverted from the National Park Service. Do you have any sense of the total cost of this event?

NORTON: What's particularly alarming is that we believe this event hasn't even been costed out by them. They're just throwing up whatever they want to do, and they certainly haven't told us what the cost.

[09:25:00] And by not telling the District of Columbia what the cost is, of course, what you're doing is forcing the District of Columbia to somehow come up with money that we don't have when you already owe us money.

The cost is just one of the many issues that this extravaganza is putting on the country because ultimately, I can tell you this as the member who represents the District, I am going to the appropriators and getting every cent of this money back, and I believe I will be able to get it back.

But that's because the president has put this on the American taxpayers, and it's a cost to the American taxpayers. I do want to say the incongruity of having these tanks on the Mall, they're trying to do it without harming the mall. The reason that they had to -- the reason that we're not doing something similar in the streets of Washington for Veterans Day is because the Pentagon spoke up and told them that they would have a massive(ph) to pay to repair the streets if tanks roll down the streets.

We're having --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

NORTON: The same kind of pressure on the Mall with these tanks, incongruously on the Mall, we've never had such because we've never been in a war. You have Bastille Day because they of course are commemorating the fact that there was a war on their shores. We are very fortunate that we haven't had wars, and that is why we haven't celebrated wars as a part of our national holidays.

SCIUTTO: No wars on our home soil. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, very happy 4th of July to you.

NORTON: The very same.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump claims migrants in detention centers are -- his words, living far better than they did in their own countries. Really? We're going to talk to someone who has visited those holding centers, seen those conditions first-hand.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:30:00]