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Live Coverage of House Republican Press Conference; Interview with Rep. James Comer (R-KY); Justice Department Will Not Bring Charges in Eric Garner Death. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:52] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: This is the House GOP leader, responding to questions about the president's repeated comments and tweets. Have a listen.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I understand when I listened to their press conference yesterday, they talked more about impeachment than anything else. Even one of those individuals, this wasn't the first time they talked about impeachment.

On the night of being sworn in, they brought all their supporters together. And they spoke about impeachment in words that I will not use here. This is more from their base, it's about politics. And it's unfortunate. We should get back to the business of America.

Yes?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to hear from both you and Mr. Scalise, here, going back to a couple things you said.

MCCARTHY: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've said that this is politics.

MCCARTHY: Yes, it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Scalise, you said that this is one more chance to go after the president. You have a resolution like this on the floor today, though --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: I will vote against this resolution, if you're asking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and you're going to encourage your members to vote against that resolution?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, it's all politics. If you look at the resolution itself and you look at the rules of the House, you can't even name the resolution on the floor. If this is the case of what they -- of what they are concerned most about, let's go through every comment individuals have (ph) made on the other side of the aisle. Are we bringing a resolution up on the floor about their comments? No.

When they question a person's faith, where they can actually believe, if somebody of the Jewish faith could support America, or do they have to support Israel.

When the questions and comments individuals have made -- and that's why this body should be better than this. The individuals that you continue to play politics with, let's solve the problems that are before us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But this is the root of my question, here.

MCCARTHY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a perception, whether it be right or not, that the Republican Party and members have not sufficiently what the president said. You say that these comments are not racist. Is that (ph) --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: I think the president clarified that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- even if it is the situation that those comments are over the line, even if you don't believe it, isn't it a problem with the optic for the party, that members are going to vote today to -- on your side of the aisle, to support the president and what he said about --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: I think this party has been very clear. We are the party of Lincoln. This party believes in the content of the individual. I've watched from our own actions, I've watched an individual in my own party do something that we disagreed with, we took action.

I've watched the other side of the aisle, though. When it came to questioning a person's faith, a person's loyalty to American (ph) other (ph) -- that no action was taken. I've watched what was written in a resolution, using words that you can't even use on the floor.

I've watched a press conference that only talked about impeachment. I've watched a chairman of the Judiciary Committee that handles impeachment, use as their platform to win the chairmanship, that he would be better to impeach the president.

Long before the Mueller report ever came through and said, "No collusion," or others, let's not be false about what is happening here today. This is all about politics and beliefs of ideologies of what individuals have.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that there are decent chances of getting a (inaudible) caps (ph) on the debt limit before the recess? And if there's not a caps agreement, do (ph) you want to ask your members to vote for a clean debt limit this month?

MCCARTHY: I do think there's a -- that we can get this done. And I would say to the speaker, if we are as close as I believe we are and we need a day or two longer, we should stay here and make sure we get it done.

There is a real concern -- and I don't think this is a question on any side of the aisle -- that when the debt ceiling could hit, that it could hit early September or maybe sooner. We should not leave for August without dealing with that.

And I would say if we can't get this done, we should do a 30-day. I don't think that's ideal. I'd rather get a cap agreement and a debt ceiling agreement before we leave in July. And I think we are very close to making that happen.

(CROSSALK)

MCCARTHY: Yes, last question.

QUESTION: Do you agree with President Trump that former Speaker Ryan was weak, ineffective and stupid as leader?

MCCARTHY: Look, I think Speaker Ryan worked very hard. I think he was a good speaker and he was a great speaker. Speaker Ryan is a very good friend of mine. I've watched what he's been able to achieve. I've watched what he's been able to achieve with this president. Tax reform that has not been done in 30 years. All those statistics, as I laid out (ph) for you in the economics of where it was, was a team that was built.

[10:35:10] I've watched what -- you're quoting something based upon a book that I have not read, and then I hadn't (ph) -- talking to the Speaker Ryan, I know that's not the words of what he would use because I've been in rooms with him and with the president. These are two individuals that worked very well together.

I know that someone can take a language out -- in there, they talk about Mr. Ryan talking about the president coming from business, that's exactly what America needed. A president who could come in and shake up Washington.

Speaker Ryan was perfect in the job that -- where he was at, the knowledge of what he had. And that combination together was able -- we made sure in this Congress, that we got tax reform done. Because, remember this. Article I, Section Seven. Tax reform doesn't start in the Senate, it starts in the House. And without Speaker Ryan and without President Trump, it never would have gotten done. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: You heard the response, there, the House Republican leadership, essentially saying, "Listen, it's the other side that's had the offensive comments," right? And they will not say -- in fact, McCarthy, there, saying the president's comments, tweets, et cetera were not racist.

We're back with Toluse Olorunnipa, Jeff Mason.

Jeff Mason, you know, we asked the question prior, how will the Republicans respond? Will they stay in lockstep with the president? And that's what they appear to be doing here.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes, a hundred percent. I mean, I think it's interesting that Leader McCarthy said this is the party of Lincoln, which it was and is supposed to be. But it is certainly also the party of Donald Trump and you see that in the fact that they are not addressing some of the concerns that people had about what the president said, and focusing instead on their concerns on the other side.

Now, he also said this is about politics. Certainly, both sides are engaging in politics. That's what is done in Washington. But the president has put enormous pressure on his own party because of some of the things he has said and tweeted. And we've seen now, with this response about how they are going and how they are reacting to that.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Toluse, how significant is it that Leader McCarthy tried to frame the entire conversation -- the first words out of his mouth in this presser today were, "The new Democratic socialist majority." I mean, how dangerous is that for the Democratic Party? And if you're Nancy Pelosi, how do you deal with that labeling?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Leader McCarthy definitely thinks that that is a successful political strategy, to label the Democrats as socialists. The president is on board with that. It's a way for him to turn the script around and not be talking so much about defending the president's racist tweets, but instead attacking his opponents.

But I did think it was very interesting that he was willing to break with the president to a certain degree when it came to defending Paul Ryan and saying, you know, "Paul Ryan was a perfect House speaker for the time," where President Trump said that Paul Ryan was weak an ineffective.

But when it came to breaking with the president over his racist tweets, Leader McCarthy was not willing to draw that distinction or draw that contrast. He stood right next to the president.

HARLOW: Yes.

OLORUNNIPA: So he did show that he's able and capable of at least putting some daylight between himself and the president. When it comes to racism, he chose not to make that distinction.

SCIUTTO: Well, Jeff and Toluse, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys. SCIUTTO: Always good to have you on.

Let's speak now with Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky.

Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning, and also for being patient as we waited for the press conference there. It's good to have you on.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, let's begin. You have said like Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP Leader there, that the President's tweets and comments since those tweets are not racist. Let's just remind people he has said that these congresswomen should go back to the broken and crime infested places from which they came.

Though of course three were born here in the U.S., he said that they hate America.

He's falsely claimed that they're pro-terrorist again today. You say they're not racist.

I mean are those comments offensive? Are they divisive? Are they nationalist in your view?

COMER: I don't - I do not think they're racist. I've said that many times over the last 48 hours. They probably are divisive.

I think if you broke down America on the tweets right now. The people that absolutely despise the President are offended by the tweets, and the people that support the President don't have a problem with the tweets.

You know, this President campaigned outside the box. He was a self proclaimed, not politically correct person running for office. And you know the majority of America that elected President Trump are sick and tired of politicians that are politically correct. The ones that come on your show and just speak in sound bites, and don't really answer the questions.

SCIUTTO: Hey, wait but politically correct here? I mean listen, as you just said, you said his comments are probably divisive. Is that a response that, I mean we both have three kids, is that a description of America - of an America that you want to say listen, if you disagree with me, you must hate this country. The President's repeated that, this is a country founded on political disagreement and the right to express it.

[10:40:00] COMER: Well there's a battle going on in Washington right now. Right here in the halls of Congress where I'm doing this interview. And you have four congresswomen who the President - who has been at the root of the President's ire on twitter. They are the new face of the Democrat Party and they are trying to take the Democrat Party in a socialist direction.

And the overwhelming majority of Middle America, the majority of people - the overwhelmingly majority of people that support the President are afraid of this socialist agenda and they support the President's agenda. And they've gotten to the point where they don't really worry about the tweets...

SCIUTTO: But that's - that's not a different...

COMER: ...they just support the agenda.

SCIUTTO: You're talking about - first of all there are four congresswomen of more than 220 democratic sitting who have diversity of opinion here. But beyond the policy issues, and I acknowledge there is genuine disagreement, even within the Democratic Party on many of these issues but on the vision of America.

Do you want to see a sitting President say you should leave this country in effect if you disagree with my view of it. You must hate this country and to be fair, falsely claim that they're pro-terrorist. There is nothing in the comments there that supports the President's attack on them. Is that a vision of America that you support?

COMER: What I think the President was trying to imply is if you're not proud of America, if you do not want to stand when the National Anthem is being played, if you're ashamed of the way that our country is operated, you're more than welcome to leave the country.

SCIUTTO: Are they ashamed...

COMER: I don't think there's anything racist about that.

SCIUTTO: ...for disagreeing with the President? The President said in a 2017 interview when he was confronted about Vladimir Putin, he compared the U.S. to Russia. This was with Bill O'Reilly, Bill O'Reilly said Putin is a killer, the President said I'm quoting him, "There are lots of killers, we have a lot of killers, well you think our country is innocent."

That's the sitting President of the United States comparing America to an authoritarian country, Russia, that's criticism, does he hate America for making that comment?

COMER: No, I don't think that anyone in America would agree with 100 percent of what President Trump says. I don't think anyone in America would agree with 100 percent of what any of the Democrats say.

The bottom line is the brute of this interview is about is the President a racist? And just last week Ocasio-Cortez implied that Nancy Pelosi was a racist. I don't think Nancy Pelosi is a racist, nor do I think that Donald Trump's a racist.

I think that anytime they get in the...

SCIUTTO: Are the comments racist though? Are the comments racist?

COMER: I do not take the comments as being racist. I think...

SCIUTTO: But divisive you said?

COMER: ...basically saying if you think there are other countries and if you sit in the committee's, I'm on several committee's with all four of the members of the so called "squad" and they're constantly complaining about America.

And that's one big difference between conservative, we're proud of America, we want to improve America.

SCIUTTO: They're not complaining about the country, they're....

COMER: And...

SCIUTTO: They're making - they're expressing disagreements with policies. That's different from - is that not different from complaining about the country? I mean this is a President who was elected, he made many very public criticisms of the way he saw America today.

I mean that was his essential message in 2016. Can't you and others make a distinction between criticizing the situation in the country from somehow saying you dislike the country or hate the country. I mean this is the nature of politics for 230 some odd years.

COMER: I honestly do not think the tweets were racist, I think that the media has over blown the tweets. This isn't the first time the President has tweeted something that may or may not be helpful to his cause. It will not be the last time he tweets something like that.

I think that that's part of his style and I can tell you from representing a district in southern Kentucky, where the President's popular, I've not received anything negative about anything the President's said. The calls that I get, the conversations that I have with people back home are we support the President's agenda...

SCIUTTO: Right.

COMER: ....we know it's a battle up there, we know that there are bickering. Everybody would like for Congress to be more civil but I think that both sides probably cross the line in some of their tweets and some of their rhetoric.

The media certainly fans the flames but at the end of the day this is a battle and the people that support the President want the President to stay strong and try to pass the agenda.

SCIUTTO: The President's been repeating these comments. I know folks like to blame the media and I've got lots of family in Kentucky so I hear you. And I talk to them and many of them support the President, just very quickly before I let you go.

Will you vote for or against the resolution before Congress today to condemn the President's comments?

COMER: I am 100 percent against the resolution. It's purely political. We need to be voting on the USMCA. We have a strong economy. We can do things to make the economy stronger.

The Democrats can not get the 218 votes, that's what it takes to pass a bill in the House, so they're trying to keep their base happy with their lack of legislative achievement by having more resolutions about impeachment, about the President, about contempt from half of his cabinet, we need to move on and do the business of the people.

[10:45:00] SCIUTTO: Congressman James Comer from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, I should say, thanks very much for coming on.

COMER: Well, thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: You'll want to see this moment. The family of Eric Garner is speaking out emotionally, angrily just minutes after the Justice Department decided not to bring federal charges against the New York City police officer accused of fatally choking Garner.

[10:50:05] You may remember Garner's last words, "I can't breathe." That became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

HARLOW: Let's go straight to our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

You brought us the news as it broke last hour. Now, we're hearing from the family.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, as you can imagine, very emotional. The family, not happy at all. I could tell you, his daughter, Emerald, who we're going to hear from in a second. She came out the moment they learned of this decision, yelling, screaming, just really, really unhappy.

And then the family came to the podium. They finished their meeting with the U.S. attorney here and they spoke -- Emerald spoke, and here's her reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMERALD GARNER, DAUGHTER OF ERIC GARNER: So where's the justice? Don't apologize to me. Fire the officer. Don't give me your condolences, I heard that five years ago. We want justice and we want it today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PROKUPECZ: And so really, what the family here now is talking about, for them, justice at this point would be the firing of this officer. That is the last piece of this. And they're calling on the mayor, they're calling on the NYPD, the NYPD commissioner to fire the officer in this. And that's their next move here. That is all that's left for them to do, to try and get justice for their father, for their son. And that's what they're asking. They're asking that the NYPD now fire

this officer.

HARLOW: So that would be, though, the most justice that they could at this point, right? Because the legal sort of window for federal charges ends tomorrow.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. This is it. Legally, criminally, no more charges, no more investigation here by the FBI or any other criminal authority. That is over. That part of this investigation is over. What they really want now is for this officer to lose his job. That decision will ultimately rest with the NYPD commissioner.

HARLOW: OK, Shimon. Thank you very much on that this morning.

SCIUTTO: Other news we're following this hour, internet giants in the hot seat. Representatives from Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, facing lawmakers on Capitol Hill today. Could the hearing be the first step in breaking up Big Tech?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:57:11] SCIUTTO: Some of the biggest names in technology -- Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google -- giants in the industry, will be on Capitol Hill for a high-stakes hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. The companies are under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties -- a lot of their customers as well -- over their handling of user data, anti-trust issues as well as accusations of partisan censorship.

HARLOW: CNN tech reporter Brian Fung joins us now.

So this is the second hearing as part of this sweeping top-to-bottom House Judiciary probe of anti-trust. So (ph) are these companies acting in a monopolistic way?

Today, as we understand it, the focus is going to be on the impact of the tech giants on innovation and entrepreneurship. Does that really just translate into calls to break up Big Tech?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Well, I think that's certainly something that we can expect to come up. You know, you've got a number of outside experts and high-profile critics of these companies, like Tim Wu -- the Columbia Law professor, who has called for Facebook to be broken up -- you know, testifying against some of these companies.

You know, you also have lawmakers here, setting up what's going to be, you know, the biggest, most important hearing in this series that we've seen yet because it really does touch on the big picture here, questions of whether or not these companies, these tech platforms are able to stifle innovation and strangle competition.

TEXT: Issues Facing Big Tech Companies: Antitrust concerns, are they too big and too powerful?; Privacy concerns, what are they doing with our data?; Online radicalization and real-world violence; Debate over free speech vs. hate speech and harassment; Are they doing enough to protect our democracy?; Addiction and public health issues

FUNG: And that's really, you know, compared to the last hearing, a much broader set of questions compared to the previous hearing, which just focused on the impact of tech on local journalism and media.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: There had also been questions raised by folks in national security, right? About their role, you know, election interference and how well or not well they respond to that.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean, the question is how this would happen, right? I mean, Congressman David Cicilline made the point to Poppy Harlow for her documentary, Congress can't just pass a law tomorrow breaking them up. I mean, this would be, what, a Justice Department case? This would require the administration to act.

FUNG: That's right. This would -- you know, a breakup would probably take years of litigation. It would involve a lawsuit, probably, by one of the anti-trust agencies, saying, you know, company X has broken the law in these specific ways, and trying to persuade a judge that, you know, this is the course that -- the only course that must be taken now.

So, you know, Congress can't actually break up companies. But what it can do is compel testimony from company executives. It can get documents. It can subpoena, you know, evidence from other companies who have had dealings with these firms.

So all in all, Congress can make life very, very difficult for these companies. And also put pressure on some of these federal agencies as they begin some of their inquiries into these companies.

HARLOW: I wonder if we'll hear the refrain that we heard from Mark Zuckerberg not long ago, you know, essentially, you know, "It happens here or it happens in China," right?

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: You know it's interesting --

HARLOW: (inaudible) threat.

SCIUTTO: -- interesting is, you have disparate groups, Republicans and Democrats --

HARLOW: Totally. Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- crucially, who support this idea.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Brian Fung, great to have you on.

[10:30:00]