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Trump Digs in Deeper, Defends His Racist Comments & Democrats Plan Resolution Condemning Comments; George Conway Calls Trump a "Racist President" in New Op-Ed; Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez Discusses the Massive Turnover in Trump's Cabinet, Trump's Racist Comments About Democratic Congresswomen, Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Essentially, it happens here or it happens in China, right?

(CROSSTALK)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting, you have disparate groups, Republicans and Democrats --

HARLOW: Totally.

SCIUTTO: -- crucially who support this idea.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Brian Fung, great to have you on.

HARLOW: Thank you all for joining us today. Jim and I will see you back here tomorrow morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Triple down Tuesday is about the only way to describe it at this moment, because that is what President Trump is doing with his racist comments aimed at four Democratic Congresswomen of color.

This morning, he's been stewing and digging in even deeper, defending his comments. I know, you're shocked, right?

What is somewhat shocking is the reaction or really the lack thereof from many elected officials. So far, CNN has counted 19 Republicans have denounced the president's comments. That is barely a fraction of the Republicans in Congress.

Now Democrats are going to force the members of the House at least to go on the record and where they stand on this. A resolution, a symbolic vote, but a recorded vote condemning Trump's racist tweets. What would that do? Where will this go? Is this really the fight the White House wants right now?

Manu Raju, Kaitlan Collins have been covering all of this.

Let me start with Manu.

Manu, you've been talking to lawmakers. What are you hearing from them about this resolution, where is this going up there?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the vote is going to be tonight. The House is going to pass this resolution and expect this to be along party lines to condemn the president's remarks. It's called a resolution of condemnation. Some Democrats wanted a censure resolution. The leadership has pushed back, saying there's not a lot of difference between condemnation and censure. So they're moving forward with the symbolic vote to slap the president on the wrist and say that is not OK.

But Republicans, for the most part, are in line with this president. The House Republican leadership just had a press conference and they said the president is not racist. The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, said he attacked Democrats and others did as well.

You're seeing a bit of a split between Senate Republicans and House Republicans. Some Senate Republicans going a bit further and raising concerns about these remarks. And House Republicans for the most part aligning with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): I think it was a poor choice of words, but I don't concern myself a lot with rhetorical disputes between freshmen congressmen and the president. I wish he didn't concern himself with it so much, frankly. I don't think the president is a racist.

RAJU: -- undercut that message?

SEN. MIKE BRAUN (R-IN): I think we spend time coming back to does it undercut that message and I would say that it doesn't help.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): This is about a frustration from the president of the United States on some of our Democratic members in the House not willing to address a crisis at the border.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): And I think that if people are offended by the president's tweets, that he's going to either have to do two things, either stop tweeting, which I don't think he's going to do, or the people probably shouldn't follow him on Twitter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So you're seeing that divide play out right there. Some Senate Republicans a little squeamish about the president's remarks. House Republicans mostly saying what the president said is perfectly fine. But for the most part there has been very little outcry from Republicans in both chambers.

And we still have yet to hear from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who has been silent on this so far. We do expect him to answer questions this afternoon. We'll see what he has to say -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And just a note, just if you didn't follow the president, doesn't make the comments go away or not actually be reality in what he's saying, from what you talked to that one Republican about.

Manu, thank you so much.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. It's not going to make it not actually happen.

Kaitlan, the president's new tweets show -- he's tweeting this morning, he's defending himself this morning, tripling down this morning, clearly shows that he thinks the uproar is not hurting him. What are you hearing behind-the-scenes? Is this what they want?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Behind the scenes, you'll be hard pressed to find one person inside the White House who thinks it was wise for the president to make the attacks on Sunday.

But publicly, Kate, you're seeing something different. That's the president's aides trying to essentially to rebrand his attacks, saying instead there are criticism of these women individually, statements that they've made, policies that they have, and of course, Socialism generally, framing it with an eye toward the election.

Of course, that ignores the fact that the main attack that the president made on Sunday and that one that has drawn the accusations of racism ,not just from Democrats, but even from some Republicans, was when the president told these congresswomen to go back from the countries from which they came. That's something that you're seeing the president's aides and allies publicly ignore.

Not only, as Manu just laid out, what Republicans are doing up on Capitol Hill, but also back here at the White House with the president's aide, Kellyanne Conway, and several others focusing on the individual lawmakers and their comments, instead of the fact that the president has telling them to go back.

Of course, the president is still in his third day of attack and he is not backing off. But instead, we are seeing him change his tactic, essentially saying they can leave the country if they're unhappy, instead of relying on the one criticism that was most sensitive where he told them to go back.

[11:05:10] Something I'm told privately, people have told the president that was not a good idea to tweet that. But as he made clear on the South Lawn of the White House yesterday, he is standing by those remarks -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens today, this morning, in one minute. Who knows?

Kaitlan, Manu, thanks guys. Really appreciate it. Joining me now for more perspective, CNN political analyst and

congressional reporter for the "Washington Post," Karoun Demirjian, and "The Post" national reporter, Wes Lowery, who is a CNN contributor.

It's great to see you guys. Thank you for being here.

Karoun, the president clearly thinks picking these fights are good for him. Kaitlan was just talking about behind the scenes it seemed to be different. It's astonishing to say out loud that the president thinks these comments are working for him.

The four lawmakers that he's attacking said yesterday that they won't be distracted from all of this. But it seems Washington is already distracted by this, right?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Washington has turned its focus this week. You're going to see the House floor taking a vote about condemning the president. If this is a distraction, I think a lot of people would say it is for certain issues. But it's also important to focus on it given that this represents the tenner of the country and the tenner of the parties.

BOLDUAN: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: It's taken over everybody's attention here. We're not talking about anything else right now.

And yet, it's difficult to see the fact that you could ignore the president did tweet this and back it up on the White House lawn, and say, oh, let's just go about our business. It doesn't work that way. When something is this is egregious and people have to work together, and the president thinks people should just be going home if they disagree with him. It does not create a solution that says, let's move on.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's a great point.

Wes, the fact there is -- just compare to Charlottesville. Let's take the latest example of racism. The fact that there's so much more of a muted response from Republicans, it seems to this than what happened -- than his responses to Charlottesville. What does that indicate?

WES LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly. I mean, there certainly is a much more muted responses than there was for Charlottesville. Charlottesville, we have to recall, someone had been killed so there was a different type of pressure. It wasn't just writing off the president's tweets or a political spat versus a physical manifestation of this clash. You couldn't villainize Heather Heyer the way that you might Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ayanna Pressley.

But beyond that, look, many Republican members of Congress were elected in 2012 campaigning on the idea that they were going to send Barack Obama back to Kenya. People like Mark Meadows were on the stump saying things like that. So when you have a Republican caucus that uses this exact type of racist language previously, it's unsurprising that they are not rushing to the microphones to condemn the president for using the racist language.

So, look, I think the reality is that not everyone in the Republican caucus, but there are certainly members of the Republican caucus who themselves have used this exact language politically before. So it doesn't make sense, it wouldn't make sense if, suddenly, they were condemning it and thought it was inappropriate.

BOLDUAN: Except what I said in the past has no -- dictates nothing about what I say in the present or the future. Hypocrisy is what rules the day as we have seen recently.

Karoun, in what we will see later tonight with this resolution in the House, what does it do?

DEMIRJIAN: It gets lawmakers on record as either backing the president or condemning the president. It will be a stark -- it will be a mark of history, frankly. You put these things into legislative vehicles and that is not just the tweets, not just the statements on television. That is in the congressional record forever from that point.

And I think that really for the Democrats, it's important to get their opposition documented that way. And they also want to challenge the Republicans in the most challenging way possible. You could go further and have different forms of resolutions to do that.

But in this way, to challenge Republicans to actually make their historical mark of saying I oppose this. And if they don't, that is going to be something that will -- I'm sure Democrats will bring back and remind them up for years to come.

As Wes was saying, yes, it's not surprising that Republicans have not turned on a dime to condemn statements that are very like statements they have made themselves. But if you're talking about the Republican Party thinking long-term strategy, they can't rally around this type of commentary and defend it going down the line, given the fact that the president is diversifying.

And that's going to be a problem for them, and these sorts of reminders that will be etched in a vote later today, could be problems for them going down the road if, some day, they do decide they have a change of heart and want to start moving away from this type of rhetoric as we enter new political environments in the future.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

Wes, George Conway, well-known conservative attorney, Kellyanne Conway's husband, who has become a vocal critic of the president, he wrote an op-ed for the "Washington Post" today.

[11:10:03] And in part he wrote this: "No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him a benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn't want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot. But Sunday left no doubt."

Sunday was when the president tweeted this. And he also goes on to say, "The president's comments are racist to the core."

This is the impossible question for me to ask, but do you see how folks move forward from this?

LOWERY: I'm frankly not really sure how folks move forward from this. At the end of the day, you do have an increasing grappling among white Americans and, certainly, some white Republicans who are now seeing and hearing and coming to an understanding that many other people, certainly the vast majority of people of color in the country, have long been to.

I think that politically it's certainly significant that one of the president's closest advisers, husbands wrote an op-ed calling him a racist.

That probably does very little for the black family who couldn't rent an apartment in the Trump Tower back in the '70s or '80s because he and his father were racially discriminatory. It doesn't do much more the Central Park Five who thought they might get murdered in the streets or much less face the death penalty as Donald Trump was openly campaigning for them to be killed.

So I think it is important for us collectively to be able to kind of call a spade a spade and tell the truth about things when they happen. And there's very few, you know, slurs or attacks in our nation's history as clearly racist as telling someone of color to go back where they came from.

But that said, that it took the president of the United States saying something like this and then doubling and tripling down on it for folks to be able to grapple with not only the many other things the president has said but his policies, his political ideology and his campaigning.

So certainly it's significant and important. And I don't think we would be able to move forward without an honest reckoning of the truth.

With that said, I don't know that, this far into the Trump presidency, a few Republicans saying, oh, yes, you're right, maybe he is racist sometimes, is really going to be a balm for the divisions that we're talking about and that we're seeing.

BOLDUAN: It's like -- this is almost a crystallization of limbo -- limbo is probably the wrong word -- that we live in. Maybe it's purgatory, which is shocking and not shocking all the time.

I think you guys have made a really good point. Not surprising, maybe, but still not something that you can say deserves new attention. It's a strange place that we find ourselves in all the time. But thank you, guys. Let's see what happens next. I really

appreciate it.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, on the heels of the president's racist comments, could a vote on impeachment come in the next two weeks? We'll talk to the man who is trying to force that vote. That is next.

Plus, his death sparked national outcry. This morning, prosecutors announce the officer involved in Eric Garner's takedown will not face federal charges. Why? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:00] BOLDUAN: Soon, President Trump will be meeting behind closed doors with his cabinet. And we're waiting to see if we'll be able to hear from the president during that meeting. But he's holding this cabinet meeting and it's the first cabinet meeting since losing yet another member of the cabinet. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigning last week.

Since taking office, Trump has seen record turnover among his cabinet, more than any president in recent history. And some of those around the table today still aren't even Senate confirmed. They're not permanent. They're just acting members of the cabinet. And the result is a personnel crisis and serious questions about the administration's ability to function.

Joining me right now is a man who knows a little about this, a former member of George W. Bush's cabinet, a former Commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez.

Secretary, thank you for being here.

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, FORMER COMMERCE SECRETARY: Thank you. Thank you, Kate. Pleasure.

BOLDUAN: I want to get to functioning and not functioning and what it means inside a cabinet meeting.

But I do first need to ask you about the discussion we've been having since Sunday about the president attacking four members of Congress, telling them to go back from where they came from, saying also, when pushed on it, that he's unconcerned that people see his tweets as racist.

You're a life-long Republican. What do you say to this?

GUTIERREZ: Well, I think the tweet itself was racist. And it's just hard to argue against that. I can't see the president saying, go back to Germany.

But, you know, the issue here, Kate, is that this helps him with his base. And he knows that. And he's doubling down because this is what his base would like to hear. They like the idea that this is a president who says things that others would never say.

The problem is this will have a big impact on the GOP brand on the Republican Party. And there will be a time when a lot of Republicans have to explain, where were they when they were supposed to speak up.

So I think it's a critical moment. I think the vote tonight will be important. But this is important for the Republican Party and for Republicans to really stand up and show what they're for.

[11:20:00] BOLDUAN: If this is that moment, it seems many Republicans have already taken their stand, which is to not. I mean, we have not seen some elected Republicans speak out against this. But we are also hearing a lot of Republicans ducking, dodging or making excuses.

I mean, Tom Cotton just this morning said that the president is going to tweet what he's going to tweet. He goes on to say that -- and this is what we also heard from Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, today that the president was simply just trying to highlight extreme rhetoric from House Republicans. Both sizing this situation.

What do you say to those Republicans?

GUTIERREZ: Well, one day, they're going to have to explain. And one day, they're going to have a lot of explaining to do. Because it's this example, there have been so many other examples, and they have supported the president. So the Republican Party has gotten behind him.

But the question is, will there be a Trumpist side of the Republican Party, a Trumpist faction after Trump? I don't see the Republican Party following in the footsteps of Trump or being a Trumpist party without Trump.

So I think all these Republicans will have to -- there will come a day when they have to explain why they didn't signal this out as something that was not true to our values.

BOLDUAN: Secretary, either -- what is it, then, with Republicans that you say this moment is critical, this moment is different, they need to speak up or they're going to have to answer for it later. Do you think that -- what is your assumption then? The elected Republicans right now think that folks have short memories, folks are very forgiving, or they just don't actually -- that's how divided this country is pre- and post-Trump, that they don't think it's politically risky?

GUTIERREZ: I think that they're looking out for their jobs unless they agree with what the president said. So they're lining up. They're on the party line. They're not going to criticize the president. They don't want to be on the wrong side of a tweet. That's what's happening. That is the dynamic --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Is he that scary? I mean, for -- GUTIERREZ: I think he's very scary to Republicans. He's very scary to Republicans who are about to have an election.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

GUTIERREZ: Look, he intimidates Democrats. He's willing to go that extra mile when he insults someone, where most people aren't willing to go. So he has the edge.

And, yes, people would rather pick a fight with someone else. And that's happening inside of the party. Those who don't agree have left, and they will continue leaving. But those who stay will have to explain one day.

BOLDUAN: Do you think there's strength, if someone in office would stand up to him while they're still in office, or not the folks that have left the party or left office? Do you think there's something, some strength in that, or would that be just one more person?

GUTIERREZ: Well, there are 18 Republicans who apparently have condemned the statement.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

GUTIERREZ: And I know a lot of those Republicans and it doesn't surprise me that they would come out and say this is wrong. What surprises me are the other Republicans.

But, Kate, I think it's all fear. I think this is a moment where they just duck their heads down, let's not get in a problem with the president, let's not insult him, let's not get ourselves in electoral problems, let's just go with the flow.

The problem is that this flow is changing the party and it's tarnishing the brand for a long, long time in the future.

BOLDUAN: There's something else that is becoming kind of a brand of the president that I want to ask you about. You have worked -- you have fought throughout your career for comprehensive immigration reform. I want to get your take on the latest move by the Trump administration on this, that migrants now have to apply for and be denied asylum somewhere else before they can apply for asylum at the U.S. border. That would virtually stop all Central Americans being able to apply for asylum in the United States, like they have so far.

What is your reaction to that, Secretary?

GUTIERREZ: I think it's very ineffective. Essentially, what you're saying is Mexico has to stop all these immigrants before they get to the U.S. border. I don't think they have the systems in place. I don't think they have the processes in place. I don't think it's that easy to do.

So as a deterrent, I think -- again, this is one of those things that may play symbolically with the base. But in terms of deterring immigration, illegal immigration, I don't think so. I think it's a tactic that sounds good --

BOLDUAN: Yes.

GUTIERREZ: -- but, in practicality, I don't think it will work.

BOLDUAN: Just so everyone knows, Secretary Gutierrez is not for open borders.

That is not your position at all.

GUTIERREZ: No. I think --

(CROSSTALK)

GUTIERERZ: Every --

BOLDUAN: That is not your position at all.

GUTIERREZ: Every country has the right and the obligation to protect its borders. I don't quarrel with that.

BOLDUAN: Right.

GUTIERREZ: The problem with immigration is that it's an economic issue. And we can't grow our economy without immigrants.

And if the president truly wants to grow the economy over the next five, 10 years, we're going to need a flow of immigrants. And that's the part -- when this administration talks about reform, I get the impression they just want to cut legal immigration. And, boy, our economy will suffer.

[11:25:16] What you just said is completely left out of the conversation 99 percent of the time --

GUTIERREZ: That's right.

BOLDUAN: -- which it's such a critical part.

GUTIERREZ: We're talking about refugees, which is something else.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

GUTIERREZ: Immigration is core to our economy.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

On the cabinet, we lost another cabinet secretary last week. He's not more vacancies and more actings than any recent president in history.

What is -- if you're sitting in a cabinet and you're seeing people dropping like flies, Secretary, what is the impact of that kind of turnover in getting anything done and functioning?

GUTIERREZ: The lack of certainty, the dysfunctionality. If this were a corporation and we were on the outside looking in and we saw this kind of turnover, we would say something is deeply wrong with this place.

The issue here -- and it's interesting that the way the president runs the executive branch, he's almost able to get away with it because the inner agency processes aren't in place, in most part, where decisions will come up to the Oval Office with all the agencies being in agreement, and then he would say yes or no.

The discussion starts in the Oval Office and it ends in the Oval Office. So it shows that cabinet secretaries just aren't as relevant in this administration.

And as you say, there's no question that it is a sign of dysfunctionality.

BOLDUAN: Secretary Gutierrez, thank you for being here.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you. Appreciate it, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Coming up next for us, we have some breaking news on the ICE raids that were planned for this past weekend. Did, quote, unquote, "mass arrests and massive operations," did that really happen? That's been a question all week. We have some new details. That's next.

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