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Trump Defends His Racist Attacks on Congresswomen; Trump's Racist Tweets Fuel Impeachment Push from Some Democrats; Trump Defends His Racist Attacks on Congresswomen; Kamala Harris Unveils New Healthcare Plan. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:23] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Nice to be back next to Poppy in New York.

HARLOW: So good to have you. It's been like weeks.

SCIUTTO: It's been a hundred years. This morning, though, we have a lot of news.

The president is digging in trying to flip the script on Democrats after his own racist tweets sparked backlash. The strategy is clear, no walk backs and even launching new attacks. Today he is calling the four congresswomen pro-terrorist. There's no basis for that to be clear. Saying they have, quote, "spewed some of the most vile, hateful, and disgusting things ever said by a politician."

HARLOW: All right, this is from a president who has publicly praised and elevated brutal dictators, called African countries S-holes, publicly slammed and threatened U.S. allies. And lest we forget the president who is now criticizing Democratic women for saying, quote, "vile things" is the same man who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we have the tape. But the president says it's the Democrats who should be rebuked. Today we could see a very public rebuke in the House of Representatives. Speaker Pelosi announcing a vote to condemn his racist tweets. What will Republicans do?

CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill.

In the last 24 hours, Lauren, we have seen a number of Republicans criticize the president's tweets, even call them racist as well. Do you expect more of that today from the Republican Party?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we're going to have watch for that vote later this evening when the House votes on that resolution condemning the president's comments. But I want to get to something that Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez tweeted just moments ago responding to the president's latest tweets with him digging in. She tweeted, "Hey, Mr. President, remember when you bragged about sexually assaulting women, talking about feeling their breasts and genitals because, quote, 'when you were a star they let you do it,' and then you imposed DOE policies to make it harder for sexual assault survivors to report assault."

She continued to tweet, "Donald Trump has decided he does not want to be president of the United States. He does not want to be president to those who disagree and he'd rather see most Americans leave than handle our nation's enshrined tradition of dissent. But we don't leave the things we love."

That's what she tweeted this morning, and again they will be voting later this evening on that resolution condemning the president's tweets and his comments in recent days -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow. OK, so before you go, Lauren, I mean, we heard the House Republican leadership, Kevin McCarthy yesterday say the president is not a racist, I think this is coming down to a battle of ideology. Is that the line that he is maintaining this morning as this has developed?

FOX: That's right. You know, Kevin McCarthy saying yesterday that the president is not a racist. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate didn't comment on the president's tweets, saying he would address them at his press conference that we expect later today. And then of course, you know, other top leaders in the GOP saying that if the president disagrees with the squad's policies then he should focus on that, not condemn their personal backgrounds or make the comments that he made which some Democrats have called racist -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: OK, Lauren Fox on the Hill. Thank you so much for bringing us this.

It's surreal that this is happening, by the way. Just some thinking.

SCIUTTO: The year 2019. The year 2019.


SCIUTTO: It is amazing. Let's go to the White House now, CNN's Joe Johns.

Joe, clearly the president has calculated this is his in issues, right? Politically, even tweeted to that effect yesterday. Are you hearing from anyone in the White House that they disagree with the strategy or they're uncomfortable with the strategy or is it -- are folks there in lockstep on this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing everybody knows, quite frankly, is if you go out and oppose the president and you work at the White House you've got a problem here. That's the first thing. The second thing is it's been difficult for some of the people here on the White House message team to explain themselves and to work with what the president has said. So they are in an awkward place, but especially when you have the president sort of turn the gaslight up on full blast as he has over the last 24 hours on Twitter essentially accusing Democrats especially those four women Democrats of doing the very things Donald Trump has been involved with ever since he got in the race for president. So, he is accusing them of using vile hateful language, saying the Democratic Party doesn't really want to stop those women Democrats from talking because they're afraid of them.

[09:05:06] These are all things right out of the Donald Trump playbook. But there's also the divisiveness. And one example is this tweet from this morning. "Our country is free, beautiful, and very successful. If you hate our country or if you are not happy here, you can leave."

And that, perhaps, is the big thing. So as far as politics goes, the president does have a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, tomorrow. And so, yes, politics is a lot of this, just one month after the president announces his re-election. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be -- it's going to be dirty, this campaign.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

HARLOW: It's shocking to hear. Let's talk more about this with former Republican congressman and House Intel chairman Mike Rogers.

Good morning, Chairman Rogers. And I just kept thinking to myself, I mean, isn't one of the most beautiful things about America that you have the protection of the First Amendment, that you have this First Amendment right to say what you believe, to work toward what you think might be a better America?

Let me get your reaction this morning to the husband of the senior counsel to the president, Kellyanne Conway. If you haven't read his op-ed, let me read you part of it in the "Washington Post" this morning. George Conway writes, "Naivete, resentment, outright racism roiled in a toxic mix have given us a racist president." Is he right?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Oh, I don't -- I think we've entered this new era of Peewee Herman name-calling, you know, I know you are but what am I politics. And I think it's dangerous. I think it's really dangerous.

This dissent and making it personal the way it has I think is not good for the future of the United States. And everybody, both parties, ought to stop doing it. And the problem here is I think the president --

HARLOW: But is it --

ROGERS: -- is using his social media to engage others who have used pretty inflammatory language, and they both love it. And I think both sides of that conversation love it.

HARLOW: But is this, Chairman Rogers, respectfully --

ROGERS: And I think that's bad.

HARLOW: Respectfully, is this really a both sides comparison? Is there a moral equivalency here? The president of United States who should be at the top, right.

ROGERS: Yes, no doubt.

HARLOW: When it comes to using this stuff, using these words, in these tweets over the weekend, why don't they elected members of Congress go back and fix the totally broken crime-infested places where they came from. Three of four, you know, are from America.

ROGERS: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Saying you can't leave fast enough, and then this morning calling them pro-terrorists. This is about brown and black elected members of Congress, all women. And I'm just wondering if that's not racist, what is it?

ROGERS: Well, listen, I think his -- and I have been on these programs for many times condemning the president's words and his actions. I think it's wrong and it's divisive that he uses that language. But some notion -- I'm an old-fashioned guy when it comes to the Constitution. Congress is separate but equal and the words of members of Congress also have consequences. I think the president was wrong, don't get me wrong, and he has done this before and I doubt this is the last time we'll hear this kind of language.

But now the House has engaged in this same kind of thing. I argue we should be discussing and debating policies, and the things that we have to do to get something done. Think of the oxygen we have wasted --

HARLOW: So given --

ROGERS: -- in the last few months talking about things that won't impact people's lives versus what will.

HARLOW: OK. Except --

ROGERS: And I'll tell you, it's frustrating to me and it's frustrating to people I know on both sides of the aisle.

HARLOW: I hear that, and I can -- it's palpable, your frustration, and I understand that. But I also wonder, sir, if given this country's ugly and very real history with racism and slavery, not that long ago, don't you think it's important to call out racism at face value for exactly what it is when you see it even, sir, if it is the president?

ROGERS: Listen, again, I think his comments were wrong. I think racism is wrong. I have to tell you nowadays, though, everybody and everything is racist. Democrats are calling each other racist because they disagree with each other. I think we have to take a deep breath. Everybody takes a step back. Because someone disagrees with your politics, white, black, I don't care what color you are, or where you come from, or what geographic region of the country you come from or the world, your ethnic background may come from, it doesn't mean that that person is racist. So this is important. We can't use that these political infights to

label all people of a different color racist in this country. It's gotten to a point where it's getting dangerous. And this is what worries me about all of this. A, I think the president should stop it. I wish somebody would rip the Twitter machine from his hand and he would get about the business of running the country. And same with members of Congress who are trying to be important on Twitter and social media versus actually doing committee work and other things that are important to get things done.

HARLOW: OK. I would just --

ROGERS: And I tell you, if we don't get back to that you're going to see more of this in the election.

HARLOW: I would note, for example, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, who has taken to Twitter a lot to criticize the president, as we heard this morning, has also asked some of the most important questions in her hearings on members of her committee of any of them.

[09:10:04] For example, last week Larry Kudlow praised the question she asked about the economy and the Phillips Curve so I would just say she's doing --


ROGERS: Yes, I -- but I'll just tell you --

HARLOW: She's doing both. Let me ask you --

ROGERS: We should ask all members to ask great questions and that's great.

HARLOW: Yes, we should. No question.

ROGERS: And we shouldn't condemn her for what her ethnic background is or --

HARLOW: Right.

ROGERS: Just because she's a freshmen member.

HARLOW: Of course.

ROGERS: A person of color, she asked a great question, we shouldn't be amazed by that.

HARLOW: Of course. All right, final question.

ROGERS: We should say good job. That's what you're there to do.

HARLOW: Larry Sabato who studies the electoral college said something really interesting. He said that the math here is on the president's side. Quote, "His electoral college path is clear. Even if he energizes minorities as much as whites Trump still gains more overall votes." Is it a winning strategy? Is this a winning strategy for the


ROGERS: I don't even know. Is it a strategy? Sometimes I don't think it is.

HARLOW: I don't know.

ROGERS: I think he just -- he comes right out and throws up on Twitter sometimes and I don't think it's helpful. And if it is a strategy, we should condemn it. And if it's -- if we have identity politics as a strategy from either Democrats or Republicans we should condemn it. Because over time these wounds get deeper and you're teaching a whole generation of new folks who are showing up to the polls that racial division is a strategy at all. It should never be a strategy.

HARLOW: Of course.

ROGERS: We should condemn it on both sides. We've got really big important issues. Think of this, the industrial revolution is meeting the digital revolution head on, and there is -- and that is causing friction in people's homes and lives and livelihoods, and we're not dealing with any of that. We're dealing with this kind of name- calling personal attack politics that I don't think helps anybody.

HARLOW: You're completely right.

Chairman Rogers, I appreciate your time this morning as always. Thank you, sir.

ROGERS: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Let's get some reaction now with David Swerdlick. He's assistant editor for the "Washington Post," and Errol Louis, he's a CNN political commentator but also host of the podcast "You Decide."

David, let me ask you a question here because Poppy and Mike Rogers were on this topic for a moment.


SCIUTTO: As to whether this was a wise strategy. Former speaker Newt Gingrich, he said, "What the president did was shrewd forcing Nancy Pelosi to defend the very people who were criticizing her last week." The president himself said Democrats are now, quote, "forced to embrace" the progressive women he racially attacked.

Those statements there indicate, you know, whether you think it's a cohesive strategy or not.


SCIUTTO: That they feel this is strategy that works for them. And you even hear from some Democratic commentators, oh, wait, you know, you're giving the president an opportunity here somehow. I just wonder what your view is of whether this is somehow a smart strategy by the president politically.

SWERDLICK: Yes, good morning, Jim. So I think Speaker Gingrich is half right. He's right that a lot of Republicans think that the president is playing smart four-dimensional chess here by forcing an issue, forcing Democrats to -- forcing Speaker Pelosi to embrace members that she was just sort of in a spat with a couple of days ago and then allowing the president to say, see, it's either them or us, and making the election about that.

But the reason I -- and I believe that a lot of Republican voters like this kind of racial back and forth. I don't agree with Congressman Rogers in the last segment that this is sort of a both sides, can't we all just get along issue? This was a dispute about policy that got a little personal, intermural among Democrats. The president took it there on a Sunday morning and said essentially to these congresswomen, go back to Africa.

It's that blunt, it's a racist series of tweets and that's how we got here. We're no longer in a situation where this is, you know, the politics of insult and this is about let's get back to policy. That was a really jarring statement by the president so now we have a situation where the Democrats have a stark choice of their own. They said, okay, wait a second, we were fighting over a little thing about the budget supplemental? Guess what? Here's a real issue.

There's President Trump and then there's what we're trying to do. And so in a sense the president helped himself but he also helped Democrats focus back to what the big picture is from their point of view.

HARLOW: Interesting. Sure. So, Errol, I wonder if anything is different this time? Because for a third time Texas Congressman Al Green, a Democrat, is going to push for an impeachment against the president. This time he says because of, quote, "the president's bigotry." This push by him failed twice over the last two years. Are things different now?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, one hopes that people will be waking up to what is going on here. Al Green's attempt -- and he and other members of Congress -- to push for impeachment now on the grounds that the president is simply unfit, not getting into the weeds of what's detailed in the Mueller report, that will come out in hearings, but just sort of saying, like, look, this is somebody who has broken his covenant with the American people, who has disgraced his office, who is not fit to lead.

[09:15:00] LOUIS: They have every right to have that debate on the floor of Congress, and if, you know, people like Mike Rogers who can't seem to grow a spine and figure out how to do anything except, you know, chuckle about it and say, gee, I wish the president would put down his iPhone.

If they can't do any better than that, then you have the Al Green alternative which is to fully air out all of what everybody has seen, what the whole nation has seen and then embarrassed quite frankly, and not to default to this kind of foolish both-sides argument and hold the president accountable.


POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: David, Errol, don't go anywhere, obviously a lot more to talk about this on the other side, so stay with us, we have a lot ahead this hour. Still to come, reaction from 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard to all of this and what she thinks the Democratic Party should actually do about it -- that's ahead.

Plus, healthcare clash. Presidential candidates coming out with their own plans this week. The latest, Senator Kamala Harris' plans this morning. We'll break it down.

SCIUTTO: Plus, the DHS Inspector General says that the Department of Homeland Security has fallen short in its efforts to tamp down on overcrowding in border facilities. He'll be testifying today on the Hill.


SCIUTTO: Less than one hour from now, we're going to hear from top Republicans in the House of Representatives. They're expected to face questions on the president's racist tweets. What will they say? Will they call him out as a small number of their members have?

Let's discuss now again with David Swerdlick, Errol Louis back with us now. Errol, I want to ask you a question because I want to push back on this conventional wisdom that somehow -- let's set aside for a moment whether these tweets are right. They are not, but let's look at the political effect of them, whether it's smart politics here.

The president tried a very strong anti-immigration message going into the mid-terms and lost really virtually all of the battleground districts there. Even the Republicans own study of that election concluded that it was not a good message for them politically.

And when you look at independents, you know, first, we know the president owns the Republican Party, but among independents, he is very much under water here. So for 2020, does this benefit the president politically in your view?

LOUIS: Well, we'll find out whether it works. I mean, it may be the only path to victory that he can imagine. That -- I mean, I beg think that's really the point of it, Jim, is that this is not necessarily a winning strategy, but it is a strategy that the president could very well pursue.

Denigrating people of color, dividing the country every which way he can. We should always keep in mind that things play out very differently in the electoral college compared to district by district. So, you have swing districts, there are not that many swing states. And so, if you add up the powers of incumbency and economy that appears to be doing well and a divisive strategy, I think those are the three pillars of his campaign strategy.

HARLOW: David Swerdlick, listen to --


HARLOW: Conservative commentator George Will, he was on the "New York Times" podcast, and he's talking about the damage that he believes the president has done to the foundation of this democracy as compared to President Nixon. Here he is.


GEORGE WILL, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse, you cannot un-ring these bells, and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he is now in a very short time made it seem normal for school-boy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream.

I think this will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon's surreptitious burglaries did.


HARLOW: His argument that I think is really interesting and worth exploring --


HARLOW: David, is that what Nixon did was supposed to be in secret, and when it came out what he had done, then he was largely admonished by the public, right? And essentially --


HARLOW: Forced to resign. What's different he says --


HARLOW: Is that the president is doing this in full public view and retains a 90 percent approval rating within his party.

SWERDLICK: Right, Poppy, he's doing it full public view and with basically the full support of somewhere between 30 percent and 45 percent of the country. I still maintain that there are a lot of Trump supporters who don't just tolerate the president's antics, if you will, they actually sort of enjoy it.

I don't always agree with George Will, I think he's basically right here as a long time George Will reader, I think implied in what he's saying is also that President Trump has done damage to George Will's notion of conservatism, right? Whatever was left of Calvin Coolidge and Barry Goldwater in the conservative movement is being sort of crushed and squelched by President Trump now.

The one thing that I think that I still don't quite agree with George Will there on is that this is now at least, as of Sunday, but probably before that more than just poor decorum or -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

SWERDLICK: Vulgarity or insults. What the president tweeted the other day was racist. I'm willing to have a conversation with anybody about whether the president himself is a racist, period, capital "R" in his heart. But the sentiments he expressed on Twitter on Sunday, it's not up for debate. And I think that's what we've got to get past before we can have an additional part of this conversation.

SCIUTTO: And you know, another point is, you know, is the question whether the president is racist, we can't get inside his head --


SCIUTTO: But you could say independently that the comments, telling people to leave the country --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Themselves --


HARLOW: Just honest face --

SCIUTTO: Are racist, nativist, nationalist, et cetera.

HARLOW: Yes, that's a good -- it's a good and important distinction. David, thank you very much, Errol Louis, we appreciate --

LOUIS: Thanks Poppy, thank you --

HARLOW: You both this morning. So ahead, 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is going to join us. How does she think Democrats should handle this? Next.


SCIUTTO: This morning, President Trump doubling down, tripling down, quadrupling down his defense as the fire storm over his racist tweets continues to erupt. Several 2020 candidates condemning the president including my next guest with me now, presidential candidate and Democratic Congresswoman from the great state of Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning --

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI): Aloha, Jim, good morning.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you just straight up, were the president's tweets racist in your view?

GABBARD: Yes, they were. And what's so dangerous about Trump's racist tweets is really two things. First of all, that he is using his platform of the presidency to foment racism and religious bigotry, and to try to further divide our country. END