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Interview With Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA); Will Congress Respond to Trump's Racist Attacks?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 15, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:56]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Well, top of the hour now. I'm Pamela Brown.

The president's racist attacks may be getting a congressional response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for Republicans to join her party's proposed resolution condemning -- quote -- "the president's xenophobic tweets."

And it's happening just as the president denied that the tropes he tweeted against four congresswomen are racist. What's more, he's asking for an apology from the four Democrats he told to -- quote -- "go back and fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came."

Well, here was the president moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country. And all I'm saying, that, if they're not happy here, they can leave. They can leave.

And you know what? I'm sure that there will be many people that won't miss them.

QUESTION: But they're Americans.

TRUMP: When I hear the statements that they have made -- and, in one case, you have somebody that comes from Somalia, which is a failed government, a failed state, who left Somalia, who ultimately came here and now is a congresswoman, who is never happy, says horrible things about Israel, hates Israel, hates Jews, hates Jews.

One of them kept Amazon out of New York, tens of thousands of jobs. Would have been a great thing. That was a terrible thing she did, a terrible thing she did. They're socialists definitely. As to whether or not they're communists, I would think they might be.

They're free to leave if they want. And if they want to leave, that's fine. And if they want to stay, that's fine. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: So not only is the president rejecting that he was being racist; he's also further slamming the lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, all are whom of women of color, but only one of whom was not born in the U.S.

The president tweeted they're -- quote -- "communists, anti-Semitic and anti-America."

And while Democrats are up in arms about the racist attacks, the majority of Republicans have failed to condemn the president's words.

Now, some are coming forward. You will be hearing a specific breakdown on which Republican said what.

But, first, let me turn to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So, Dana, let's try to peel back the layers here and go to the why. Why is the president saying these things against the Democrats?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there are a couple things going on here.

First and foremost, just as a raw political strategy, what he is trying to do, and for the past 24, 36 hours, has been successful, is not only elevating these four women, but making them the faces of and the prime examples of the Democratic Party.

It serves him incredibly well politically to do that, because what better foil than these four women, who are on the left side of the Democratic spectrum, particularly as he's going into a presidential year?

The Democratic candidates, none of whom -- these four obviously are not running for president -- are fighting amongst themselves. But this is this is a classic case of him wanting a foil, needing a foil and loving the idea of having a foil who -- and, of course, this is...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: He needs an enemy.

BASH: He needs an enemy.

And the other thing is that the idea that this is a racist trope is his M.O. It's just the way -- it's the way he moves. And it worked for him in 2016. He saw success with that in 2016, and even before when he went after Barack Obama, claiming he wasn't a citizen.

And this is just his go-to move. And that is 100 percent the strategy here. I have talked to people, as I am sure you have, who have told me that it's not like he sat down and had a strategy session with his top political advisers. He just went with his gut, because this is what he did as a private citizen.

BROWN: How he got elected. But, at the same time, so he's trying to appeal to the base, but is he

also unifying Democrats?

[15:05:03]

BASH: It's amazing, Pam.

BROWN: Because this was a time where there was some division among the Democrats.

BASH: He handed a big, giant -- I know this is going to sound counterintuitive -- but he handed a giant political gift to Nancy Pelosi Sunday morning when he sent this tweet, because when you woke up that morning, and you saw Maureen Dowd had a comment about the differences between the and the so-called Squad, these for congresswomen.

She was still dealing with backlash against the things that she was saying about them and vice versa. Not anymore.

BROWN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: With one tweet or a series of tweets...

BROWN: He was able to shift the focus, yes.

BASH: ... he unified them. He got them on the same side against him. And what are we going to see today?

We're seeing that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is going to call for a condemnation the floor of the House of Representatives of the president because of what he said about these very women who she was fighting with for part of the heart and soul of the Democratic Party just a couple days ago.

BROWN: Yes.

I mean, that's really interesting too to look at that side. And let's talk about the Republican side of things, because when it comes to the president's fellow Republicans, condemnations are slow to trickle in, and they're at various levels as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: These -- the comments coming in from Republicans, not from everyone. This is Senator Lindsey Graham today. And then I want you to hear Meghan McCain responding to the words of a man who used to be very close to her late father, John McCain.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Yes, Mr. President, you're going to win. Just knock it down a notch.

QUESTION: In what way?

GRAHAM: Well, we all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country. They're calling the guards along our border, the Border Patrol agents, concentration camp guards.

They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They're anti-Semitic. They're anti-America. Don't get down. Aim higher. We don't need to know anything about them personally. Talk about their policy.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: It's deeply xenophobic and racist on a lot of different levels.

My sister was not born in this country, OK? My sister wasn't born here. She's as American in every way as I am and everybody else. And she also has been at subjected to many racist political campaigns, which, by the way, Lindsey Graham, you were present for.

I remember when you were there when it happened. So seeing that on "FOX & Friends" this morning was particularly, particularly hurtful. Just I can't do this right now. And whatever is happening to Lindsey, this is not the person I used to know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Strong words there from Meghan McCain.

Why are the majority of Republicans failing to call out the president? Where's the majority leader, Mitch McConnell?

BASH: Yes, well, it's a great question.

Trickle is a really good word that you used. They're starting to trickle in. They're not physically here. And it's going to probably change the -- it's going to tick up a bit more once you see -- or once our colleagues Manu and Phil and everybody else chase after them in the hallways, once they get back.

But you don't -- everybody knows you can use Twitter, and you don't need to be chased by a reporter in a hallway to say what's right and wrong...

BROWN: Very true.

BASH: ... and to...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: ... what is moral and immoral and what is American and un- American. And I think that's the point that Meghan McCain was trying to make there.

They are slow. And this is also -- this defines the Trump era and the Republican Party. And that is that people who have constituents, which is most of the Republicans in the House -- the majority of their constituents are huge Trump supporters -- and a lot of the Republican senators -- they don't want to cross him, because their voters like him.

They like many of his policies. I'm not saying that they like that this particular approach that he took, this racist approach, but the question is going to become, when is enough, enough? When are you willing to go the route of Bob Corker or Jeff Flake or a lot of other Republicans who did either have to retire or knew that they were going to lose their seats because they spoke out against this kind of thing?

BROWN: Right.

BASH: And event after event, tweet after tweet, we have these moments of truth. And this is about the most stark that we have seen in a very long time, moment of truth.

And we don't know where the majority leader is.

BROWN: We certainly don't.

BASH: Or others. He's not alone.

BROWN: And it's -- time and time again, these things happen. And there's like this outrage, we talk about it and then they just -- we move on, and it keeps happening. So we will see if this is a tipping point.

Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: And you just heard from Senator Lindsey Graham.

Listen to Republican Congressman Will Hurd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): I think those tweets are racist and xenophobic. They're also inaccurate, right? The four women he's referring to are actually citizens of the United States. Three of the four were born here.

It's also behavior that's unbecoming of the leader of the free world. You should be talking about things that unite us, not divides us.

And also, I think, politically, it doesn't help. While you had a civil war going on within the Democratic Party between the far left and the rest of the party, now they have circled the wagons and are starting to protect one another.

[15:10:08]

We can disagree without being disagreeable. I don't agree with many of the things that they're -- that they're talking about, and that -- or proposals that they're putting forward. But that's where the debate should be on, not these other issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And other Republican congressmen have come out as well through statements.

Mike Turner says the president should apologize for his -- quote -- "racist tweets." Congressman Pete King and Chip Roy called the president's words wrong. Congressman Pete Olson urged the president to -- quote -- 'disavow the tweets."

And Representative Thomas Massie said he thinks it's counterproductive for a president to insult members of Congress.

And the only African American senator in the GOP, Tim Scott, has come out to say this: "The president interjected with unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language. No matter political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further."

Well, several senators have echoed those thoughts. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio also-called the president's racist tweets wrong. Senator Lisa Murkowski tweeted that the comments were -- quote -- "spiteful."

And the number five in the party, Roy Blunt, said -- quote -- "There is plenty to say about how destructive House Democrats' policies would be for our economy, our health care system, and our security. I think that's where the focus should be."

But check out the dodge from his fellow senators from Tennessee and Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You saw the president's tweets this weekend.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): Actually, I was out of town.

QUESTION: Well, he said that these progressive congresswomen should go back to their countries. I'm wondering what your reaction is to that.

ALEXANDER: I'm working hard as I can on reducing health care costs. I'm not giving a daily commentary on the president's tweets.

RAJU: These are racist tweets. Do you have any concerns about it?

The president said that these minority congresswomen should just go back to their countries. Do you have a response?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL): I hadn't read that, but I'll go check it out.

RAJU: OK. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Haven't read it.

All right, let me turn now to Democrat and California Congressman Pete Aguilar.

Congressman, thank you for coming on the show.

And, bottom line, what is your response to the president's comments telling your Democratic colleagues to go back to the countries where they came from?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): It's terrible. It's awful. It's racist, and clearly so is the president.

And that's the unfortunate part of this discussion, is that the president has shown us exactly who he is, from campaigning and saying Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, to saying that the prior president was from another country.

He stokes this fear in the country to fan his political base, and it's truly unfortunate.

BROWN: What do you think about the Democrats' response so far? We just played several responses of Democrats condemning it to various levels.

AGUILAR: Well, we're going to...

BROWN: But we haven't heard from Mitch McConnell.

AGUILAR: Sure.

And not enough of my Republican colleagues have commented, clearly.

BROWN: Did I say Republicans or Democrats?

AGUILAR: You said Democrats.

BROWN: I'm sorry. I meant Republicans. My bad.

(LAUGHTER)

AGUILAR: I can't speak for them, but clearly not enough of them have commented, or, as we just saw in your clip, have read these tweets. So that's unfortunate.

They need to read these tweets. They need to work to tell the president to take this back.

I mean -- but, clearly, he's shown us who he is with these comments. And he does time and time again. We can't pretend that we're surprised by this. And, at some point, you have to ask the question, is the Republican Party going to continue to stand for this? BROWN: I was just talking to Dana Bash, my colleague, about how, in a

sense, he handed Nancy Pelosi a gift with this, because this, of course, comes amid divisiveness within the party with Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democratic congresswomen we're discussing.

So did he had a gift? Is this uniting Democrats?

AGUILAR: Well, nothing unites Democrats like fighting against racism and bigotry. And so, clearly, that's something that we're going to continue to stand for.

But, just this week, we're going to stand for the American worker by raising the minimum wage. We're united behind that. We have passed 10 of 12 appropriations bills. The Senate hasn't moved on a single one of them.

We're united and we're moving forward. But, clearly, when it comes to racism and bigotry and xenophobia, the Democratic Caucus is going to continue to stand to push back against that.

BROWN: And let's talk about another word that you didn't use, but it's demagogue.

Let's look at the definitions here: a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power; a person, specifically an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions and prejudices of the people.

Is the president a demagogue?

AGUILAR: Yes, by that definition, absolutely, racist demagogue.

It's terrible that we're in a country that -- where we have to talk about this, and that this is the political discourse that the president is fanning. But he does it for strictly political purposes, but this is who he is, when he talks about welcoming immigrants from Norway, but making any immigrant with dark skin feel like they are less than an American.

[15:15:08]

That is clearly what he has done time and time again. We can't stand for it. We have to push back every time we see this behavior.

BROWN: Congressman, thanks for coming on the show.

AGUILAR: Thank you, Pamela.

BROWN: Much appreciate it.

And just ahead, we're going to discuss why these four progressives in particular have become such a target for conservatives.

And the president just claimed the weekend's deportation raids were -- quote -- "very successful," but CNN has not yet been able to confirm any arrests -- why advocates aren't letting their guard down.

Plus, an update on that secret Facebook group run by Customs and Border Patrol officials, where they shared inappropriate comments, aired grievances. Over 70 people have now been identified.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:48]

BROWN: Well, this just in.

Customs and Border Protection has now identified 70 people connected to inappropriate posts as part of a secret Facebook group and groups. The investigation has determined that most are current CBP employees.

The Facebook groups came under fire for showing an image that mocks separating migrant families. The page also included multiple demeaning memes of Democrats who have criticized the president's immigration policies and the overcrowded conditions at the border.

CNN's Nick Valencia broke this story for us. And he now joins us with an update on that investigation.

So what more are you learning, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, we were just on a call with Customs and Border Protection and DHS investigators.

They tell us that 70 individuals connected to this vile and disgusting Facebook group with a nexus to CBP called I'm 10-15 are now being investigated. But they say the vast majority, while they're tied to this group, 10-15, they're also looking at another group, a group that we first reported on here at CNN, myself, as well as my colleague Geneva Sands, called The Real CBP Nation.

And this is how they're looking into these individuals, 62 of whom are current CBP employees, the other former. But these cases have been categorized in three ways. One is those who have posted inappropriate memes or photos, those who have made inappropriate comments, as well as those who may have been just loosely associated with the page, perhaps just tagged in posts.

And here is what the assistant commissioner for the Office of Professional Development with CBP is saying to CNN: "Obviously, the number of cases, we anticipate, will continue to grow as we receive additional information and perform further research and conduct interviews."

That's a quote again from Matthew Klein. Matthew Klein was on the call, Pamela. And I got a chance to press him about a memo that we obtained a couple weeks ago, if you remember from our reporting.

We obtained a memo from February 8 of 2018 that showed that Matthew Klein, who was the author of that memo, as well as other leaders in Customs and Border Protection, knew that there was a closed Facebook group with a nexus to CBP that featured inappropriate comments and posts.

Well, we asked Matthew Klein why he didn't take steps for an investigation back in 2018. Here we are, more than a year later, and a new investigation has started.

He said that that was a separate case, that they were two separate incidents that were not related. He did say that investigation -- investigation was taken, but they did not provide details as to the type of action, if any, was taken against the group, that they were investigated back in 2018.

It is worth noting these two groups that they're looking into currently, 11,000 members, Pamela, 11,000 members in those two groups -- Pamela.

BROWN: That is a lot.

VALENCIA: Yes.

BROWN: Nick Valencia, thanks for giving us an update on this very important story.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BROWN: And we have more on our breaking news, the president defending his racist attacks on four women of color in Congress.

And the Senate's top Democrat just made a big announcement on the floor.

Plus, protesters in Puerto Rico are calling for their governor to resign after leaked conversations from a group chat reveal profane and homophobic comments, even death threats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:22]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: So I'm left to wonder if the silence of many Republicans in the wake of President Trump's xenophobic tweets is out of embarrassment or agreement, embarrassment or agreement.

Both are inexcusable.

Some of my Republican colleagues are hoping that the president realizes the error of his ways, they said, disavows or delete his tweets from yesterday.

But the president just walked out of the White House a few hours ago and doubled down on his racist comments.

My Republican friends ,he's not backing off. Where are you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Strong words there from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announcing Senate Democrats will join the House in a resolution to condemn the president over his racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen.

April Ryan is the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.

April, thanks for coming on.

The president may have not said any names, but there is no doubt about who he is attacking.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BROWN: And the question is, why -- why is he doubling down on these attacks on these congresswomen in particular?

RYAN: Pam, first of all, you know the answer.

The answer is the fact that this president is running for president again. This president is looking to get that core base that likes these things.

There is a certain sector in America that feels certain people should leave.

But here's where the devil is in the details, and people need to look in their history books. Everyone should be offended if they're not -- and we're hearing a cross section of people, from black, white, Jew, gentile, Protestant and Catholic, and our Latino brothers and sisters.

Here's the issue, Pam. The president is telling people they should go home. One, you know, if indeed we are this.

[15:30:00]