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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump's Keeps up Attacks on Democratic Congresswomen; Biden Draws Line on Health Care; Democrats Divided Over Health Care; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 15, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:21] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump launches a racist Twitter attack on four new members of Congress. Instead of debating their liberal policy ideas, the president says these women are color should go home. Three of the four were born right here in America.

If you're looking for Republicans to condemn the president's reprehensible words, there are a few, but mostly you are disappointed as the president yet again flexes his race-baiting instincts, several conservative voices lament he's giving Democrats a political gift.

And Joe Biden draws a dividing line in the Democratic race for president. He says improving Obamacare must be the party's health care north star, not the more liberal Medicare for all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was great being part of the first Democratic debate in Miami. The question was asked whether we support eliminating private health insurance. Some said yes. I said absolutely not. I believe we have to protect and build on Obamacare. That's why I proposed adding the public option to Obamacare as the best way to lower costs and cover everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to that Democratic debate in a bit.

We begin the hour with new disgust about racist tweets from President Trump and a big question, is the president, in the ,end getting exactly what he wanted? The latest drama began Sunday morning. The president tweeting about the so-called squad, four freshmen congresswomen of color. Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came. That a tweet from the president of the United States.

It runs past the decency line, the racist line, the xenophobia line. Four tweets today, two last night made clear they're not an accident and the president does not intend to apologize. He is trying to shift the focus some today to what you might say is safer ground. If Democrats want to unite around the squad, the president tweets this morning, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. So many people are angry at them and their horrible and disgusting actions.

Now, it is fair game, of course, to debate the liberal ideas promoted by these new Democratic members and one has made repeated anti-Semitic remarks, but those are not the fights the president picked. His initial instinct was to tell four women of color, who won elections fair and square, to, quote, go back, making clear he doesn't think they belong. Criticism from fellow Republicans is sadly and pathetically hard to come by more than 24 hours after that initial racist tweet.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, somewhat of an exception.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Aim higher. We don't need to know anything about them personally. Talk about their policies.

Aim higher. You don't need to -- they're -- they are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies. The bottom line here is, this is a diverse country.

Focus on what they want to do for America and to America and compare it with what you've done. Don't get personal. Don't take the bait.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our team up on Capitol Hill trying to get more reaction from Republicans.

Let's get straight to one of them, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, I understand two more Republican members of Congress now denouncing the president's tweets. Who are they?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John.

I mean we've been combing the hallways as well as the Twitter accounts of many Republicans to see how they are responding. We're giving them an opportunity here.

I spoke with Representative Will Hurd. He is the representative from Texas' 23rd district. He is the only African-American in the House. And I had a chance to talk to him. He is an outspoken critic from time to time of the president regarding immigration, as well as child separation. This morning, making no doubt, no question in his mind that what the president did was beyond the pale. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): The tweets are racist and xenophobic. They're also inaccurate because the four women he's referring to are folks that have grown up -- they are U.S. citizens. It's behavior that's unbecoming of a president of the United States and the leader of the free world. We should talk about uniting people and not dividing us.

And, ultimately, politically it's hurtful. You are having a civil war going on within the Democratic Party, and now they've all encircled the wagons and are protecting one another, right?

So -- so that's -- that's my thoughts. And, unfortunately, for someone like me, who's the only black Republican in the House of Representatives, this makes it even harder when I go into communities that most Republicans don't show up to. This makes it harder in order to bring our message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, John, I also asked him, too, does he expect, is he disappointed other Republican colleagues are not actually speaking out about this? He said that he expects them to, that he hopes that they will. He also said he didn't believe that any kind of punishment against the president was necessary, like a censure, saying the president can tweet whatever he wants, but it does have long-term consequences and hurt.

We have heard from another Republican, a strong voice, Pat Toomey, Republican from Pennsylvania, releasing a statement to CNN this morning saying, President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left- wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry.

[12:05:17] And, John, I have to tell you, speaking with Democrats on the other side, this is a rallying cry for unity. They believe that they're on the winning side of this.

John.

KING: The president's given them a gift, at least in the short term.

Suzanne Malveaux, with some breaking news off The Hill, appreciate the reporting up there.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," Molly Ball with "Time," and Tarini Parti with "The Wall Street Journal."

We don't get personal on this program, but I want to ask our diverse guests at the table, because we were talking about this before the show and I hope I'm not putting you in a bad spot. It is the go back. The go back. I remember standing on the streets of Boston during forced busing where white racists were screaming at African-Americans who lived a block away or two blocks away, go back. Go back where? It's just blatant racism.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's pretty common for a lot of people in America, a lot of American citizens, a lot of immigrants, a lot of people who are here to hear that from people who disagree with them on anything that they're doing. As reporters, we often write stories that people disagree with and we get responses sometimes over e-mail, sometimes over social media. A lot of times those responses are personal and people tell you to go back to wherever they believe you might have come from, even if you are an American citizen, even if you were born here.

And it is something that the president is playing into. He knows that there are a lot of people out there in the country who rely on these racist tropes to make their arguments and to talk about how they feel about the country. And he is speaking out specifically to those voters and those people who he believes are part of his base to try to make a political point. But it's clear that that's a strategy that the president is going to use going into 2020, even though it's been widely condemned as racist and now we're starting to see some Republicans speak out against it.

KING: Some, when pressed. It's been 24 hours. And amen to those who do.

Two words you spoke are very important, he knows. If we went back to the 2016 campaign, and I've done this way too many times, sat at this end of the table and said, why? Why would he do something like this? It's reprehensible. It's racist. It's xenophobic. It's divisive. You -- the why doesn't matter anymore. This is who he is and this is what he thinks works, right? As he's fond of saying, he's president, you're not. It worked for me then. I'm going to try it again now.

TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, the simple answer to that is that he's been rewarded essentially for these types of tweets, for using this type of language. He won the presidency. His base has not punished him for any use of such language. He has been losing some support with -- in the suburbs, with suburban women, with moderate voters, but that does not seem to be a concern for him as long as his base supports him, he thinks that it's OK for him to continue to do this, especially when Republican members are not speaking out against this.

KING: Is there a why now? I've stopped asking why because it's a stupid question. It took me a while, but it's a stupid question. Is there a why now in the sense that, you know, the markets had a great week last week. The president's heading into his re-election. The Democrats are having this internal fight over leadership and over how progressive should they be, how liberal should they be, is Nancy Pelosi disrespecting these members of the squad.

Is it a smart instinct to do this now and, if so, please connect the dots for me, or is it they can't get the president to listen. The other side is setting itself on fire right now. Just step back.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He does not have that instinct. His instinct is to inject himself into the middle. If there is a dumpster fire on the other side, he jumps right into it, which, you know, most common sense and fire safety, not to mention political -- conventional political advice would tell you is not the best instinct.

But, you know, I think those who have defended this as a strategy, and you do hear this particularly from sort of anxious Democrats who think that he's got some kind of magical mojo and are kind of still dealing with, I think, 2016 PTSD, you hear them saying, well, look, what he's doing is he's elevating the so-called squad and turning them into the face of the Democratic Party.

And, you know, there are a lot of Republicans who are not racist themselves, but the reason they continue to support Trump is that they like -- they dislike the other side even more. And so to the extent that he can elevate the extreme voices in the Democratic Party and remind the Republican base, even the non-racists, even the ones who are uncomfortable with his presidency or his rhetoric, but remind them of what's on the other side, that can help.

But it's -- but, you know, when you're trying this hard to keep your base on board, if that is what he's doing, that's a desperation play, right, rather than trying to expand the people who support you. It's a desperation play to keep your people in the tent.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's -- yes.

KING: And -- and it's -- I think it's a defining question as we head from 2019 into 2020 because in 2018 one of the reasons Nancy Pelosi is speaker, one of the reaches you have these, you know, the new Democratic majority, these four members of the squad come from Democratic districts. But the reason they're in the majority now is because a lot of Republican women, suburban women revolted against this type of behavior. The president's bet is, in a presidential year, with him on the top of the ticket, he can recreate 2016.

[12:10:01] TALEV: Yes. And I think, to Molly's point, I think that's why this is mostly about sowing and fueling dissent within the Democratic Party is his instinct to do right now because he's going to bet that there are some people who are going to jump to defend AOC, Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, et cetera, and other people who are going to talk about, you know, unity and sort of vaguer things. And it's that wedge that he's trying to exploit.

He also knows, I think, that he may be sort of politically bulletproof with his base on this. I think he's less concerned about the implications for the Republican Party. And it's very interesting when you see like Senator Graham, for example, try to proceed strategically this morning, which I think he was doing, unlike Pat Toomey, unlike a couple of these other folks, he's not saying the president is wrong. He's saying, oh, the president's right, but, and then trying to pivot.

KING: Yes.

TALEV: Aim higher was, I think, the phrase that we kept hearing.

KING: And to that point, Lindsey Graham, I'm not going to say he's taking the high ground, it's higher grounding than the president, but the ground the president's on is pretty low, where, to Molly's point, he says, Mr. President, don't tell them to go back, don't attack them because they're women of color, attack what they stand for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): 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 benjamin's. They're anti-Semitic.

They're socialists. They're anti-Semitic. They stand for all the things that most Americans disagree with. Make them the face of the future of the Democratic Party. You will destroy the Democratic Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Members of the squad have said anti-Semitic things. They're not communists. They don't hate their country. But, to your point, this is clearly a, wait, Nancy Pelosi is in a fight with them. She's saying no. That makes Nancy Pelosi, what, less useful to Republicans because she's standing up to liberals, so we need a new poster?

BALL: Well, to Margaret's point, the Democrats were doing their very best to sow their own wedge within the party, right? They were eating each other alive. Now they are united. They are united because now what they can defending is the right of these women to be in Congress, their Americanness, their citizenship, rather than having to defend the way they voted on the border bill, or the things that they've said about the border patrol. This has, if anything, united the Democratic Party to say, we don't necessarily agree with him on everything, but we can all agree that we oppose Trump on this. And that -- and that is what I think Nancy Pelosi's been trying to do and been mostly successful doing with her caucus in the House is to say, look, we -- we might disagree on a lot of things and even get mad at each other sometimes, but they have a common enemy in Trump.

KING: And this is another one of these example where the president trusts his instincts in the sense that, pick up a phone, text a Republican strategist, is this a good idea, you've not going to get a lot of yeses back at you.

Conservative voices that are often in line with the president, sometimes they poke a little bit, but "The Resurgent" calls it the dangerous Twitter fingers. "Powerline" says a blunder of epic proportions. "RedState," as Democrats fight a civil war, Trump strips naked and runs onto the battlefield.

You know, these are essentially people saying, you know, Mr. President, you should have left them alone. But, again, this is one of his issues, it's his reflex. And he believes it's what got him there and you're not going talk him out of it.

PARTI: I think it's interesting that even in those blog posts that you pointed to, yes, they're, you know, somewhat calling out the president, but they're focusing more on the fact that he's given Democrats a political gift rather than, you know, the use of his language.

TALEV: The use (ph) of the argument.

PARTI: So they're kind of focusing more as a political strategy than actually criticizing the president too much or what he's saying. OLORUNNIPA: And as a political strategy, if you look at 2018, the

Republicans lost suburban women by large margins in part because the president was trafficking in this type of language, talking about caravans and immigration. So they are worried about the politics of this as well.

KING: All right.

And we're going to keep these pictures up. The president is at a Made in America event. This is outside of the White House. He's promoting American-made products. He has not spoken about this controversy. But, as you can see and hear, there are some microphones there. So let's see if he's going to walk over and talk here. See if he'll take a question.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, folks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back it up, guys. Back it up.

TRUMP: I know this company very well.

KING: You can see he's shaking hands and looking at American-made products as we watch this play out.

And, again, again, this is a -- it's a test of his instincts and it's a test sometimes of all the people who say, here are the rules, Mr. President, here's how this works. You're an incumbent. You have 3.9 percent unemployment. The markets are booming right now. You're having a Made in America event. The Chinese economy is slowing. You could talk about something like that. And, instead, he chooses on his own to wake up on a Sunday morning and say, nope.

TALEV: But -- and it -- it's also deeply offensive and concerning to some people given the juxtaposition with the timing of those ICE raids that were supposed to unfold this weekend where I think if you talk to a lot of immigrants, first generation, second generation immigrants, there is a concern that even if they do have citizenship status or residency status, that they could sort of get caught up in this through racial profiling. And I think that -- the timing of these two things at the same time has kind of served to elevate some of the real frustration or concern about it.

[12:15:14] KING: It's an interesting point. We'll keep an eye on the president. We'll see if he talks about it.

When we come back, big news in the other party. Joe Biden uses the launch of his health care plan to push back against many of his Democratic rivals.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:20:11] KING: The former vice president, Joe Biden, unveiling his ambitious health care plan today. And, in doing so, drawing a dividing line in the Democratic field. Biden says the best route is a more moderate approach that improves former President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Biden's plan would offer, for example, massive new subsidies under the exchanges to make coverage cheaper, but it would also offer a new public option, allow people, if they wanted to, to buy into a program similar to Medicare. The plan would allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug makers and allow patients to import drugs from other countries. The price tag, $750 billion over ten years. Biden says he'll pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

It's not lost on the former vice president that more liberal rivals say he's too meek and that the better answer is Medicare for all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand the appeal of Medicare for all. But folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I'm not for that.

I know how hard it is to get that passed. I watched it. Starting over makes no sense to me at all. I knew the Republicans would do everything in their power to repeal Obamacare. They still are. But I'm surprised that so many Democrats are running on getting rid of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Bernie Sanders, of course, a huge Medicare for all supporter, quick to punch back this morning on Twitter. The senator tweeting, quote, I fought to improve and pass Obamacare. I traveled all over the country to fight the appeal of Obamacare. Senator Sanders goes on to say, we must pass Medicare for all. Then he tweeted this little jab, I appreciate that President Obama has said recently that Medicare for all is a good idea.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is covering the Biden campaign, joins us live from Des Moines right now.

Arlette, talk about the strategy inside the Biden campaign here. He knows he's planting a flag here to draw a line against his rivals.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, and for weeks Joe Biden has really been teasing this forthcoming health care plan and he's finally putting some flesh to the bones of this plan, insisting that the answer is to enhance Obamacare, include through that public option that you mentioned, an increased subsidies for Americans. And he's insisting that Medicare for all is just not the best approach.

And really over the past week and a half, you've seen Biden enter this new phase where he's directly engaging in setting up this clear differentiation line between himself and other candidates, like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren when it comes to health care. Health care being one of voters' top issues in this 2020 race.

And over the weekend, you heard Biden kind of take aim at Bernie Sanders a little bit and also warn that -- suggest that Medicare for all could create a hiatus where there could be a break in coverage as they're trying to set up Medicare for all. Bernie Sanders pushed back on that in a statement suggesting that that was misinformation and saying that there would be a transition period.

Now, in Biden's announcement video, he also included a clip from that debate when the candidates were asked whether they would support eliminating private health insurance. And in that clip you see Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris both raise their hands. And recent polling has shown that 85 percent of Democrats do support a national health insurance program, but only 30 percent support eliminating private health insurance. So that's something that Biden is banking on going forward.

Now, while Biden has put out his plan today, on Wednesday we're going to hear more from Bernie Sanders about Medicare from all. And Kamala Harris has also teased that she will be putting forward a health care plan tomorrow.

So really you're seeing this health care battle between all of the 2020 candidates escalate as you have Joe Biden on one side saying Obamacare, enhancing it is the answer, and others saying Medicare for all is the way to go.

John.

KING: Arlette Saenz live in Des Moines. Just in time, all of this for the next debate. Just two weeks away now for the next round of debates.

Let's bring the conversation into the room.

We were talking a little bit in the context of President Trump's racist tweets about the generational divide in the Democratic Party. This is one of the big ideological divides. Bernie Sanders says he's most pure. Elizabeth Warren is closest to him, saying Medicare for all which would, in their view, take away -- if your -- get your health insurance from your employer, sorry, we're going to transition to Medicare for all.

Biden's going to plant this flag. We have the second round of debates. The first round of debates was not terribly kind to Joe Biden. Is this the next big flash point?

BALL: It could be. I mean it's interesting that health care is the issue that he's chosen to differentiate himself. And I think you can see that part of what that does is reinforce his message about Obama, right? And he's come in for some criticism for his entire campaign seeming to be about, you know, a noun, a verb and Barack Obama. So this puts some meat on the bones, right, and this gives people some actual substance to go with that. And it does differentiate him.

On the other hand, you know, this is the same attack that Hillary Clinton tried to use against Bernie Sanders in 2016, saying he wants to tear down Obamacare, trying to attack him for being too far to the left, but seeming to, you know, make -- seeming to imply that he wanted to take people's health care away and people just didn't believe that. People didn't believe that what Bernie Sanders wanted to do was take people's health care away, even if they might disagree with the policy. So we'll see how effective this is, particularly in a Democratic primary.

[12:25:13] KING: And you do have, again, with 20 something, more of them are in the Medicare for all camp, although there are degrees of difference about how fast to get there, do you actually have to get rid of private, all private insurance or could there be some middle ground there. That's a debate still unfolding.

I want to -- this is Mayor Pete Buttigieg on South Bend, Indiana, on "The Axe Files" this weekend, who sounds more in Biden's camp, although it's not completely clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot of people don't want to hear that we're just going to snatch away their private health plans.

But I do think that we should be realistic about what's going to work. And just flipping a switch and saying we're instantly going to have everybody on Medicare just like that isn't realistic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There's no one saying you flip a switch, but if your -- you've got to have a transition plan.

PARTI: So I think the health care issue basically exemplifies the biggest debate in the Democratic Party right now. And we saw this in "The Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll last week which said that there's a divide between the Democratic primary voters who want long -- you know, immediate change essentially. They want big, substantive ideas and sort of radical change and those who want small policy fixes. And, you know, the people who said they wanted small fixes were in favor of Biden, Joe Biden, and those who wanted the big ideas were in favor of Elizabeth Warren. So we're seeing the Democratic primary kind of take two -- divide into these two different camps and health care is basically encapsulating that right now. Whether you want to go all in for Medicare for all or start with smaller fixes to Obamacare.

KING: And then there are other pieces of this portfolio, if you will, how aggressive with the green new deal. What about -- what do you mean by free college? Is it mean for everybody or, you know, is it means tested?

TALEV: And age is part of this, by the way, to some extent, because if you're younger, first of all, you're healthy, so you're like, why do I need insurance. Like, you know you need insurance but you don't think about it the same way.

And, also, if you're older, you've had more years, if you are insured, as most Americans are, if you have had private insurance or if you rely on it now. If you're older, you know what's good about that when it's working, even if there are concerns about it, right? And so there is this pocket of Democratic voters who didn't have access to private insurance, relied on the promise of Obamacare, have been concerned about the chipping away at it and for them perhaps Medicare for all sounds good but there are a lot of Democratic voters, especially older, especially who have a high propensity to vote, who want people who don't have insurance to get insurance, but they don't want to come in at the -- for that to come at a cost of destabilizing their insurance. That might help Biden, but if Biden is trying to win over millennials who already think maybe he's old, maybe he's out of touch, he's maybe not arguing squarely into their messaging. So there's -- you can see the upside for him and also the downside for him.

OLORUNNIPA: And it's really a matter of how Democrats feel that they can beat President Trump in 2020. Are they going to take the path of trying to win back some of the Obama/Trump voters in the Midwest who Biden is making a direct play to, who may be a little bit more cautious and a little bit more concerned about Medicare for all, or are they going to try to fire up their base with a new policy that is inspirational and ambitious. And if they do that, it may be that Senator Warren or Senator Sanders may have a better shot. And I think that fight has not been fully fleshed out within the Democratic Party, but we may see it on the debate state (ph).

KING: You see that to the fully -- not fully fleshed out part. You're called Matt Viser, a frequent guest on the program, in "The Washington Post" on Sunday, Chris Savage, chairman of the county Democratic Party in Michigan, runs a liberal news (INAUDIBLE) blog, says, in my liberal bubble, people are excited about the options we have and the debates on climate and health care and immigration. Democrats haven't done particularly well being mainstream over the last eight or 10 years. Maybe this new approach will bear more fruit, he says.

But Ray Frederickson of Cedar Falls, Iowa, says, you can't just say free college for every kid. What are we going to do about the things that affect everyday people. We're not going to get away with all the health care in this country. We need to shore up the stuff we have.

So you see the Democratic Party is still trying to figure this out.

BALL: Well, this is the same Democratic divide that we were talking about between Nancy Pelosi and the squad, right? There is the wing of the Democratic Party that says, I don't care what you think you can get through the House of Representatives, we have to go farther. This thing that you're asking us to vote for doesn't go far enough. And that is the divide.

But, at the same time, when you saw, you know, the House moderates being attacked, there were a lot -- there are a lot of people of color in that caucus who came out and said, hey, you can't say we're all a bunch of racists. And there is a large part of the Democratic base, including a lot of people of color, who are more moderate. And this, I think, is a way also for Joe Biden to pivot away from the controversy about the segregationist senators because he's telling people what being a moderate means to him. And it means this type of policy that's incremental and doesn't try to tear everything down at once. It's not just, I could reach across the aisle and be chummy with racist senators. It's, I have ideas for policy that will move the ball forward toward the goals that we share but not try to tear everything down. TALEV: You can keep your doctor, in other words.

KING: Wow. Ouch.

TALEV: Keep your doctor and plan.

KING: We'll see -- we'll see if that -- we have a debate in two weeks. We'll see.

[12:30:01] Up next, Jeffrey Epstein back in court today as a judge weighs whether or not to grant bail, and prosecutors reveal to the court what they founding inside his apartment.