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Trump Praises Labor Secretary Acosta Amid Calls For His Resignation; New High-Stakes Battle Over ObamaCare Kicks Off Today; Gillibrand Fighting For Space In Crowded Field; Tom Steyer Officially Enters 2020 Democratic Field. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 9, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I made the deal to bring him on into the administration, I can tell you that for two and a half years, he's been just an excellent secretary of labor. He's done a fantastic job.

Now, part of it is our economy is so good, our unemployment numbers are at record lows. You know, so many good things are happening. But the fact is he's been a very good secretary of labor. What happened 12 or 15 years ago with respect to when he was a U.S. attorney I think in Miami -- is it Miami?


TRUMP: You know, if you go back and look at everybody else's decisions whether it's a U.S. attorney or an assistant U.S. attorney or a judge, you go back 12 or 15 years ago or 20 years ago and look at their past decisions, I would think you'd probably find that they would wish they maybe did it a different way. I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him. I can only say this from what I know, and what I do know is that he's been a great -- really great secretary of labor.

The rest of it we'll have to look at, we'll have to look at very carefully. But you're talking about a long time ago. And again it was a decision made I think not by him but by a lot of people. So we're going to look at it very carefully. We'll be looking at that very carefully, OK? OK, anybody else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Jeffrey Epstein is a terrific guy?

TRUMP: Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan -- I was not -- yes, a long time ago. I'd say maybe 15 years.

I was not a fan of his. That I can tell you. I was not a fan of his. So I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta because I've known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we're going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely. We're also going to be signing a big contract in a little while so we're going to see you in a little while in a different room in a different part of the White House where we're going to be signing up a big deal with Boeing. Thank you very much. We'll see you in a couple of minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, make your way out. We're finished. Press, let's go, we're done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Press, this way. Go, go, go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, we're finished. Let's go. Press, we're done. Let's go.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You see reporters there leaving the Oval Office. The president of the United States with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani taking several questions. The longest question and answer there about the fate of the labor secretary, and quite interesting. The president, number one, as to Jeffrey Epstein, the man now accused of running a sex trafficking ring involving underage women, some of them in their early teens.

The president says he had a falling out with him. Knew him in Palm Beach 15 years or so since they last spoke or any way. And then of his Labor Secretary Alex Acosta who was the U.S. attorney in Florida at the time who cut a deal that allowed Mr. Epstein essentially to not go to prison? He was in a home release program, almost -- could leave for the office. Saying he's done a great job, I'll look at it.

But that was very -- the president sometimes chooses -- you know, backs off. Great job, great job, great job. That was an embrace.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it was. I mean, and it's -- he said that he's done a good job. What the president didn't say was any sense of empathy or compassion for the victims of this crime. This is the Justice Department, the Department of Justice in the southern district of New York making this case here. So did not talk about the victims, which is something the president often doesn't do there.

But he distanced himself from Jeffrey Epstein. And in the reality, he's been -- you know, he said I was never a fan. In fact, he was a fan. He was a fan of him in the early 2000s or so. He was quote in saying --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Said he was a terrific guy.

ZELENY: -- he's a terrific guy. So we -- I'm not sure if they have spoken in the last 15 years. The president says they haven't. But I think most notable from that was him not mentioning a word about these young, young girls.

KING: Right.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The part about him just saying that he's been an excellent secretary of labor is also interesting. And it's a far less important kind of undercurrent to the Acosta storyline but we've been reporting about some agitation elsewhere in the administration over Alex Acosta and his handling of various issues as labor secretary. Mick Mulvaney is not a fan. He's been clashing with the Domestic Policy Council over kind of the pace of rolling out deregulatory efforts. Obviously, not as serious as what's going on right now, but that's another storyline to watch as well.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And so if Acosta stays in the news over the next 72 hours or more, I mean, the question is whether or not Trump starts to change his tune. And we've seen him come out before where he defends some of his former secretaries and then eventually ends up deciding that there's too much pressure and that person --

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You could never be completely confident when Trump says you're a good man and excellent at your job. You can never be completely confident he's going to stick there for days to come.

KING: Also because it was so clear from Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, that he made it very clear without naming names that he thinks they made a horrible call in Florida.

[12:35:02] And so as this -- as the pre-trial proceedings go on, more and more of this could come out, especially as the victims are called in as witnesses and how this was handled before. I think that that's the point where you have mentioned the president who often watches coverage on TV. If he thinks this is going to damage him, that's when he'll pull the trigger.

KIM: And remember there's a Justice Department investigation looking at the handling of that initial plea deal. A lot of key Republicans on Capitol Hill are holding off on saying anything about Acosta's fate until that DOJ is completed such as Rubio and Ben Sasse. But again, another big one.

ZELENY: And the voices of the victims, I think, is something that the president watches a lot of television and sees a lot of that. That's one unknown here that we're going to be hearing a lot sooner.

KING: Also, I thought it was interesting, not the most important issues that came up there but he was asked about new Democratic subpoenas. He said I don't know anything about it. The president often then goes off on presidential harassment, he often decides to, you know, speak longer shall we say at those moments. And he was asked about Iran, a very important moment, he said, you know, a lot of bad things happening but we'll see, they better be careful.

But again, restraint on both of those issues on which in the past the president has sometimes wanted to have more to say.

Up next for us, ObamaCare facing yet another big test in the courts today. Why it could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:40:35] KING: Topping our political radar today, the president will just have to deal with all the haters. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling today, President Trump because he uses Twitter for government business cannot block users on Twitter. Limiting his critics' access to his account the court says violates the First Amendment.

Republican is closely watching a North Carolina runoff election today. Pediatrician Joan Perry is running against a fellow doctor, Greg Murphy, for the state's third congressional district seat. That seat previously held by Republican Congressman Walter Jones who died back in February. Whoever wins today's contest will face Democrat Allen Thomas in the special election in September.

Special, this is it. President Trump taking new swipes this morning at the British prime minister and her ambassador to Washington. Wacky, very stupid, and pompous are how the president in a Twitter storm describes the British ambassador Kim Darroch. That this morning the fresh adjectives in response to leaked diplomatic cables in which Darroch describes the president as inept and incompetent. The ambassador now deciding to skip out on a meeting between President Trump's daughter, White House advisor Ivanka Trump and another British official.

An ObamaCare lawsuit back in court today with the potential to reach the Supreme Court. This after a Texas judge ruled last year that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. The Trump administration says it agrees with that court ruling and that said the entire law should now be struck down. An appeals court about to hear arguments from both sides.

CNN's Joan Biskupic joins me live from New Orleans. Joan, tell us about what we should expect today.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Hello, John. Yes, hanging in the balance is healthcare for millions of Americans with this challenge, the third major challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Lawyers for Texas and for the Department of Justice are going to argue that in 2017 when Congress amended a tax penalty, it effectively invalidated the individual insurance requirement and also invalidated the whole Affordable Care Act, sunk the whole thing. Democrats who are coming in from California and other states and from the Democratic-led House of Representatives are going to counter that that 2017 law did not change the individual insurance requirement and it certainly did not doom the entire Affordable Care Act.

This case, John, is going to be heard by a three-judge panel, two Republican appointees, one Democrat appointee. We're not going to get a ruling today. That won't come for several months. But when it does, John, it certainly is destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.

And I'll just remind you that twice before these justices upheld the Affordable Care Act, so this is a really long-shot bid by Republicans.

KING: But in an election year we'll keep watching it. Joan, appreciate the live report from New Orleans. When we come back, Kirsten Gillibrand like Eric Swalwell struggling in the polls. He just dropped out. She says just wait, she's going to win.


[12:46:45] KING: Welcome back. Congressman Eric Swalwell is gone from the 2020 presidential field saying yesterday that since he was unable to move the dial in the first debate, he decided to call it quits. Other struggling candidates face similar struggling pressure, with the next debate now just three weeks away. Among them, the New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She spoke with CNN this morning and was asked why she thinks she's yet to break through.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's so early, Poppy. We've had one debate and there's going to be 10. So it's a long process between now and the first primary in New Hampshire and the first caucus in Iowa, and those are states I intend to win.


KING: Confidence there. The Washington Post magazine out with a profile examining her struggles called "The Ignoring of Kirsten Gillibrand." That profile includes this, "At a time when our national cortisol level is tied to the president's Twitter feed, and when candidates are live streaming and clapping back and eating salads with hair equipment, it has become unforgivable to be boring. Gillibrand's brand, motherly, responsible, pragmatic, experienced is going to be a tough sell if what we really want, at some level, is for our politicians to entertain us."

Is that it? Is she too boring? Or is she in a crowded field with other candidates, other senators and other women including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris who have had at least so far, it is early, better luck?

PACE: Yes. I mean, I would quibble with that. I don't think -- I don't find Gillibrand boring, I find her to be a really interesting figure in the race. She is running unabashedly as a feminist. She has a track record as a senator that she is really leaning into.

I think the problem is that the public just isn't really responding to that right now. There -- it is a crowded field and you've got five or six candidates at the top who are really turning it on with fundraising, getting big crowds, and there's just not going to be room for everybody. And Gillibrand is finding herself at the other end of the spectrum.

And yes, in terms of the calendar it is early, but a lot of these candidates, Gillibrand among them, may struggle to get into the debates when we get into the fall. How do you keep going if you're not on the debate stage that way?

KING: Especially if you just look at this. Here's our polling. You go back, Democrats' choice in March one percent, April one percent, May one percent, June post-debate less than one percent. It's hard. It's hard for all of them when you have 23, 24, it's hard to lose count sometimes.

So one of the things -- here's a risk she's taking. It's hard when your numbers are like that to keep raising money. She's spending some of her money, not a ton of it but spending money on a new TV ad trying to break through by saying the president of the United States, if you live in the manufacturing areas of America, has broken his promises.


TRUMP: If I'm elected, you won't lose one plant. You'll have plants coming into this country. You're going to have jobs again, I promise you. You'll be seeing drug prices falling very substantially, I promise you.

GILLIBRAND: As president, I will take on the fights that no one else will.


BARRON-LOPEZ: It's an interesting strategy that she's decided to spend money on a TV ad as opposed to on-ground game which some of the other candidates have done. And she in the first quarter only raised $3 million. She hasn't released her numbers for the second quarter. And if she isn't able to get above two percent in four polls in a really small window, then she's not going to make it to the fall debates.

KIM: For the record, she struggled to get 65,000 unique donors the first time around but that number jumps to 130,000.

[12:50:06] It's a struggle to see how she gets to that point as well.

ZELENY: Right, and she doesn't necessarily have an ideological home in the race. Liberals view her with suspicion because she used to be much more of a conservative. Some conservatives or some moderates don't necessarily -- aren't paying that much attention to her. Some people blame her for Al Franken being ousted so she has a lot of different things.

But the reality is as Julie said, it's too crowded. She's not, you know, a novel figure in this field so she has time to break out. Look for her to do something, perhaps something dramatic or dire at that CNN debate in Detroit. Because boy, that is a time when she needs to make a showing.

KING: I think that's -- you learn from the first round, you see if they grow. That's the big test, can they grow.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: And before we go to break here, the passing of a man who made history challenging America's two-party system. The self-made billionaire Ross Perot died today at the age of 89. Perot you might recall back in the '90s mounted two unsuccessful third-party presidential campaigns getting nearly 20 million votes in the first. That was 1992. He was also a philanthropist known for his support of military causes especially veterans. Perot on stage, always entertaining.


ROSS PEROT: I've got a theme song for our campaign and here it comes. Just listen to it.



[12:56:06] KING: Tom Steyer, the quite familiar face from ad selling a need to impeach President Trump making his new campaign official. He's now running for president in 2020. It's the first real political run for the billionaire who has spent hundreds of millions supporting other Democratic candidates. The 62-year-old Steyer estimated to be worth $1.6 billion which he began amassing after starting a hedge fund in the late '80s. Steyer made it official in a video statement this morning.


TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My parents were very uncompromising about doing the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steyer and his wife are worth an estimated billion and a half dollars. They pledged to give half of their fortune to charity

STEYER: We have a society that's very unequal. And it's really important for people to understand that this society is connected. If this is a banana republic with a few very, very rich people and everybody else living in misery, that's a failure.


KING: He's not in the first debates because he wasn't in the race. Not going to make the second debates because it is on three weeks but has a billion dollars. People who donated to "Need to Impeach", he has their names. What's the impact?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, I'm not sure what pathway Steyer sees for himself because we hear in that TV ad that he's talking about society being very unequal. That kind of sounds a bit like Sanders, it sounds like Warren. So I'm not sure what he thinks that he's bringing to the race that isn't already occupied by a certain candidate. And to even make it to the fall debates, yes, he may have the money but he's going to have to reach two percent in four different polls in a matter of two months. So that's a really small window that he has to --

ZELENY: With national ads though, it's certainly possible. I think we don't know what his outcome on the race, I think particularly on the impeachment factor. This is all happening at the same time where Bob Mueller is going to appear before the House committees next week. You know, there is a rising call in the House to, you know, urge the speaker to do this, so it's going to complicate her life, no question.

I don't know the effect it's going to have on the race. But he's a fresh face at this point in the race. Had he gotten in January when he was thinking about it, he'd be old news now so I think it's going to be frustrating to the other people who are running but we'll see.

PACE: And I think it'll be interesting to see how aggressive he is in leaning into that impeachment message. Notably was not in the announcement video today even though that's probably the message he's most known for based on his commercials. If he does lean into that, you know, what does that do to these other candidates who have come out for impeachment but don't want to make that the centerpiece of this race. They want, you know, to be where they feel on the right side of this but want to be talking about healthcare, want to be talking about immigration. Does he kind of force the conversation in this primary into that direction?

KING: And so he back in January said he wasn't going to run. He thought it was best for him to focus on trying to drum up support for impeachment. Now he is running after having all those ads up, and again asking people to donate to the cause or at least sign a petition so he might have the names.

David Axelrod tweeting this morning. "Now the two years of impeachment ads starring Steyer make sense." Essentially trying to make the case, oh, it was part of the plan all along. You raise your profile and you get a lot of names on a petition that now you reach out to and hopefully, they'll support you.

KIM: And it is interesting what is driving him at this point to run. Because you're right, he said earlier this year he would not and now he's saying there are issues that are not being addressed in this race right now. He mentioned the issue of climate, the issue of corporate influence in politics. But those issues are being brought up in the Democratic primary. Maybe not as prominently as the news of the day but they are certainly being discussed.

KING: And you see the candidates, Buttigieg, $24.8 million, Biden, $21.5, Elizabeth Warren a surprisingly big number, $19 million, Sanders, $18 million, Harris at $12 million. These are the top five there. They're racing their money, the question is does a billionaire reach deep into his pockets and try to change the race by spending even more than that?

PACE: He certainly could if he wants to but, you know, the DNC has set up these rules for these debates that will make, you know, a self- funding candidate not necessarily guaranteed of being on stage. That's the complication for him.

ZELENY: And he'll get scrutiny for the first time which he hasn't done. And if he starts taking off, look for others to go after him. So let's see what plays out, it's only July, folks.

KING: It's interesting every day. Every day. Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. A lot of news today as you might have noticed. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.