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Justin Amash Back in Home District After Leaving GOP; Fact- Checking Trump on "Salute to America" Costs; Trump Event Compared with Nixon's 1970 "Honor America Day". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 4, 2019 - 12:30   ET




[12:31:52] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Independence Day! Nice to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy Independence Day everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, happy Independence Day.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Amash this morning getting some support as you heard there from one of the whops at the Fourth of July parade in his home state of Michigan just a few hours after making this announcement. He said today I am declaring my independence. Now the former Republican Congressman is making his big announcement with a Washington Post editorial this July 4th, and here is what he writes.

He writes, "Modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral, but there is an escape. I'm asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. I'm asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system and work toward it."

Of course, it didn't take long for the president to weigh in. And he said that it is great news for the Republican Party. He deemed Amash one of the dumbest and most loyal men -- disloyal men, rather, in Congress. And speculated that the move comes because Amash, quote, knew he couldn't get the nomination to run again.

And we are back with our panel. So the first question to you is, obviously, this is principled. He wouldn't have come out and said that the president should be impeached as a Republican, the lone Republican to do that on both sides of the Capitol if it was in principle. But in terms of his decision to change parties, in my experience covering candidates on Capitol Hill, they generally don't change parties unless they don't see a path forward in their own election as whatever party they're in, in this case, a Republican. So would he have lost the primary?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly a possibility. And I don't -- I haven't spoken to him since the op-ed so I can't say exactly what his thought process was here. But the reality was he was facing a couple of primary challengers. One that had name ID in the state legislature, and there had been a lot of rumblings including on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr. that the Trump operation was going to help anyone who had a legitimate challenge against him and that would obviously be problematic for him.

Look, he's obviously known in the district since this is his fifth term in Congress so he has high name ID, to begin with. But I think the real question was if he actually had a chance to win. I think he had a chance to win, but could he win?

I agree with your assessment. One of the things that I heard a lot this morning, obviously a lot of chatter going for those who aren't on vacation about what this all means. And I think the big question was, is he not going to run again and that's why he's saying this right now for Congress? And if he doesn't run again, what's he going to do next?

SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, VICE NEWS: Well -- and also, the conversation that he's trying to start is an interesting one. We do have to give him that. That like, is our politics only about loyalty and the president in his tweet was basically, yes, I think our politics is only about loyalty.

But Justin Amash's problem depending on what he's going to do next is that our two-party system basically controls everything. So whatever he wants to do, if he is going to, for lack of a better term, piss off the head of the Republican Party, come out against him, then the two- party system is not going work for him anymore.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and it's interesting, you do hear some angst from, you know, this largish contingent of Republicans who don't like Trump particularly in the sort of establishment circles.

[12:35:03] They do worry about what's going to be left of the party after Trump departs the scene, and whether it's going to continue to be viable as a party of conservative ideas rather than a cult of Donald Trump. But they would like to see someone like Justin Amash, you know, stay and fight, try to change what the party stands for. Try to lead the party out of the post-Trump period.

And Amash is saying with this decision that he doesn't think that that's possible. He doesn't think the Republican Party is the vehicle for conservative ideas anymore. That's a pretty strong statement.

BASH: Well, maybe this is an example of why. June 11th, so almost a month ago, his own leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, was asked about his opposition to the president and his call for impeachment. Listen to how he responded.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your reaction to the news that Justin Amash is leaving the Freedom Caucus? And should he also leave the GOP conference?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Justin Amash can determine his own future, but I think in a philosophical basis he's probably in a different place than the majority of us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still welcome in the GOP conference?



BASH: And -- as you answer this question, I also just want to refer back before this segment ends to what Phil said, which is his future and whether or not it could be that he sees a place on the presidential campaign trail running as a libertarian as an alternative to conservatives, libertarians to Donald Trump. He himself has not totally ruled that out.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I mean, given how many people are running on the other side, you know, nothing would surprise me, I guess. It seems like everyone wants to get in on that game but I can't speak to whether he actually would or not. But I do think just the comments from McCarthy and others really underscore that this is Donald Trump's party and there isn't space in this party for Trump critics.

BALL: And we've seen that play out in elections before, right? I mean, there have been anti-Trump Republicans like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake who have not even tried to stay in the race. But then you have someone like a Mark Sanford who did lose his primary after being critical.

BASH: All right, everybody standby. Before we go to break, though, it is not the Fourth of July without hot dogs. But the question that is being asked here and I want you all to really ponder this at home. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Well, the Senate is weighing in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a sandwich.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a sandwich. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a sandwich, it's a hot dog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a hot dog. You don't ask for a hot dog sandwich.



[12:41:58] BASH: Topping our political radar today, Vice President Mike Pence spending part of Independence Day at a naturalization ceremony. It was this morning at the National Archives just outside of Washington, D.C. Pence congratulated the 44 new U.S. citizens more than once for following the naturalization process legally.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But all of you aspired to be Americans. You stepped forward. You followed the law. You went through the process. America has the most generous system of legal immigration in the history of the world.


BASH: And a federal court says no again to a White House plan to use Defense Department money to build a wall on the southern border. It was an appeals court this time agreeing with an earlier decision to block that plan. It's a major setback for President Trump. Remember, he declared a national emergency in February hoping to divert billions of dollars from the Pentagon budget into wall construction.

And elsewhere on the border, Senator Cory Booker walking across from Mexico into El Paso, Texas. He did it with a group of people seeking asylum in the U.S. The Democratic presidential candidate told reporters he wanted to use his office to help people through the process.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My Senate office will continue to follow up. Again, my belief is they should be granted asylum, but they have a process to go through. And we're going to try to follow them all the way through that process.

This is not my first time here. One year ago almost to the day, I was down in McAllen, Texas and walked -- did a similar thing. I walked into Mexico and then my staff and I tried to help people better present themselves for asylum.


BASH: And before we go to break, bipartisanship this Fourth of July on the very critical issue of food. Democratic presidential candidates, Congressman Seth Moulton and Senator Cory Booker who you just heard there, as well as Republican Senator Susan Collins all tweeted photos of their holiday breakfast. It turns out pancakes can be patriotic too.

We'll be right back.


[12:48:49] BASH: What you're looking at is a parade that is going on. These pictures happened moments ago right here in the nation's capital. The White House says that President Trump is hoping for a good-sized crowd to salute America at his event tonight, the one of course that he is hosting. In fact, some White House aides are working overtime today to make sure the national mall where the president will speak will be filled. The president doesn't seem to be worried, though. He at least is saying so on Twitter because he said, quote, people are coming from far and wide saying this is going to be one of the biggest celebrations in the country's history. Trump promises a large flyover of an Air Force One appearance too. Flyover and an Air Force One appearance too, I should say.

So let's talk about this. First of all, the facts. At least as we know them because there are lots of facts that we don't know and our team put together what we do and don't know about what we're going to have tonight. White House and agencies have not provided cost estimates on this event tonight. But we do know that the costs go way beyond fuel, security, and logistics as the president has suggested.

According to the Washington Post, we saw the National Park Service is going to divert $2.5 million for this.

[12:50:01] Up to 900 National Guard members are called in. Commercial flights will be suspended for flyovers and fireworks which is not surprising at all.

So where do we think we are with this as somebody who covers the White House?

LUCEY: Well, where we are is where President Trump wants to be, which is that we know he's wanted to have sort of a grand display of military might. He wanted this parade ever since he went to France for Bastille Day celebrations. He's been really trying to do something like that. And the efforts to do a parade seemed to have stalled for now and he has really sought to put a lot of those elements into July 4th. And he wants -- So I was in the Oval on Monday and I asked him about this, about the, you know, talk of tanks and he talked, you know, at length about it. He wants tanks, he wants flyovers, he wants a big show.

And he's going to get, you know, a certain amount of it. There are things that are harder for them to control. We know they're trying to give out tickets. The RNC has been giving them out, the campaign, tickets have gone to the military, there's a VIP ticketed area which is new. And he's drawing a lot of criticism over the idea that this could politicize what is typically a nonpartisan celebration on the mall.

THOMAS: And that's one of the things that we don't know that's not on the list is what will he say tonight. And I am sure there is a White House, you know, scripter, a speechwriter who has written a very like rah, rah America speech out there but you never know what he's going to say. And the moment he starts to talk about campaigning or how bad Chuck Schumer is or like anything that smells of 2020 politics, then you are in a place where it's not that he is breaking the law necessarily because the Hatch Act does not apply to him, but it's that if taxpayer money is used for a political event, that is problematic.

BASH: Exactly.

THOMAS: Also, we're talking about, you know, it's a holiday. One way we have to look at this is that the Fourth of July is an inherently political holiday, right? It is celebrating the birth of America. But somewhere along the way, we have also decided that this is one way we can all come together.

We all like barbecues, we like flags, we are proud of the United States. We have decided that maybe we don't need division on this particular day. And there's no way to say that he is not introducing division into this day.

BASH: And to -- but to be sure we've talked to people, we don't have time to do this right now, tourists on the mall of all stripes, political stripes saying, you know what, it's not so bad. Like so he wants to do this. OK, it's a nice way to show patriotism. Very different views on this.

And you mentioned what is the president going to say. Well, here at CNN we are going to let you decide. And we're going to play this speech for you live. Is he going to be political or is it going to be a show of patriotism that is nonpartisan? You can decide for yourself right here on CNN. It is going to be in the 6 p.m. Eastern hour.

We'll be right back.


[12:57:28] BASH: As America celebrates its 243rd birthday in this tense political environment, it pays to have some historical perspective. And there's no one better to do that than Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley who joins me live now from Austin, Texas. First, your thoughts on the event that we're going to see that the president is putting on tonight.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's a bizarre idea. I mean, it's the thinking of an autocrat. You know, at the time of our American revolution, our soldiers used to have chants warning against people like Julius Caesar or Oliver Cromwell. The idea that we need to militarize the Fourth of July in this sort of frenetic display of tanks and airplanes seems to me to be a mistake.

I think President Trump is better off when he was golfing and giving people a rest from politics of that nature, partisan politics on July 4th. But alas, this is what he wants to do and let's hope it goes off well and we can all put it behind us.

BASH: All right. So you give us that historical perspective going back to the founders. It's not as if there haven't been political displays on July 4th particularly aimed at the president or around the president and his policies. Richard Nixon, July 4th, 1970. Take us back then.

BRINKLEY: That was Nixon, you know, Vietnam War going on and there was a big counterculture protest. Then he decided he wanted to do an honor America thing just like Donald Trump is doing and it's very, very similar. Nixon had Reverend Billy Graham though bring the Christian element into play. Bob Hope was the impresario of the event, J. Willard Marriott the great hotel magnate, you know, organized it all. And H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's White House chief of staff wrote a note said, keep it cornball.

This was Nixon backing the silent majority, and Donald Trump yet again is taking a page from Nixon on today's proceedings.

BASH: Very different time back July 4th, 1951. A big birthday for the president then and that president was Harry Truman. And he gave a speech on the mall talking about self-control, patriotism, faith, and institutions. Meaning, he gave a pretty political statement and speech at that time.

BRINKLEY: Yes. And Truman only had about 150,000 people there. Nixon in 1970, which you asked me about, there were about 400,000 people. This was in the middle of the Korean War, the election cycle was coming up in 1952. They used to say (INAUDIBLE) he had a 27 percent approval rating.

BASH: Wow.

BRINKLEY: He thought by speaking at the mall might bring him up a little bit. It didn't, and Truman couldn't run for re-elect --

BASH: Thank you, Doug. I appreciate that. Sorry to cut you off. Brianna Keilar is picking up now.

We'll be right back.