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Racist Comments From The President May Soon Be Part Of The Congressional Record. Senator McConnell (R) Says The President Is Not A Racist; We Need Someone Who Can Lift Us Up Again, Enter President Obama. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Hello, I am Alex Marquardt, in for Brooke Baldwin this afternoon. The racist comments from the President may soon be part of the Congressional Record. Just hours from now the fallout from the President's tweet targeting four freshmen, Democratic Congresswomen, all women of color, will come to ahead on the floor of Congress. Democrats will be introducing a resolution that will call out each House Republican on whether he or she thinks very simply whether this was racist.

When the President tweeted that these four Congresswoman should quote, go back to the crime infested places from which they came. Moments ago, the President continued to stand by his racist attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, you said that the Democratic Congresswomen should leave if they're not happy. Where should they go?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: It's up to them, go where ever they want, where they can stay-- but they should love our country. They shouldn't hate our country. If you look at what they've said, I have clips right here, the most vile, horrible statements about our country, about Israel, about others.

It's up to them, they can do what they want. They can leave, they can stay, but they should love our country and they should work for the good of our country. But not only as -- it's what they say about our country. It's my opinion they hate our country and that's not good. It's not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: So the President -- they are digging in. Now, here are some of the words that lawmakers, later today, will be voting on, saying that "The House of Representatives," quote, "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President, like immigrants should go back to other countries."

"And by saying that members of Congress who are immigrants or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America."

Republican House leadership is planning to recommend that their members vote against this resolution. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said today that the President's tweet was not racist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: ... when you have a resolution like this on the floor today, though ...

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I will vote against this resolution if you ask me.

QUESTION: And you're going to encourage your members to vote against that resolution?

MCCARTHY: Yes, all party. Let's not be false about what is happening here today. This is all about politics, and beliefs of ideologies of what individuals have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, you've been chasing down Republicans in both Houses of Congress today. What are they telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for the most part, in line with this President defending the President's remarks, saying that he is right to be frustrated in pivoting to attack on the Democrats. But we're hearing very few members of the Republican Party on both sides, speaking out some raising concerns but not going as far as calling them racist.

One, Senator Cory Gardner, who's up in 2020. I asked him whether or not this was a racist attack by the President. He said he disagrees with the President. The President shouldn't be saying that, but he stopped short of calling it a racist, going nowhere near what Democrats are saying.

We do expect the Senate Republican leaders to speak. In fact they're coming out right now to speak. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is yet to address this matter. We do expect him here in a moment to do just that -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, this is sooner than expected. Let's listen in.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, good afternoon, everyone. There's been a lot of discussion about the events over the last couple of days. So, I'd like to address it myself. I think there's been a consensus that political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated all across the political spectrum. We've heard facilities on the U.S. border called concentration camps.

We've seen the far left throw accusations of racism at everyone, anyone who disagrees with them on anything, including the Speaker of the House.

[14:05:01] MCCONNELL: We've seen a freshman Democratic Congresswoman use anti-Semitic tropes and imply people only support Israel because of campaign contributions. The most vile accusations and insults against our nation have become incredibly routine. And we've seen back and forth over the past few days.

Most of you know, Justice Scalia was my sort of all time favorite. Here's what he used to say. He said, "I don't attack people, I attack ideas." And I think that's a good lesson for all of us. From the President to the Speaker, to the freshman members of the House, all of us have a responsibility to elevate the public discourse.

Our words do matter. We all know politics is a contact sport. But it's about time, we lowered the temperature all across the board, all of us ought to contribute to a better level of discourse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And on a more upbeat note, there's good news in the economy again, and we're going to be dealing with some issues on the floor this week that relate directly to the economy.

We are going to be processing four tax treaties, all of which will have benefits for businesses here in this country. And it's a good opportunity to talk about tax policy and tax reform, which is, as you know, something that we fought hard for and something we thought that was critical to -- in growing the economy and creating better paying jobs for American workers. And the tax foundation last week came out with a report that showed that on average, every income group, with the exception of those making a million dollars or more a year, got a tax cut.

MARQUARDT: All right, there the Republican Senate leadership, responding, at least Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responding after two days to the President's racist tweets about those four freshmen Congresswoman.

What we did not hear from Senator McConnell there, was any sort of condemnation of the President's tweets, certainly not calling them racist in any way. What he did say, what his main message was, was that the political rhetoric, as he called it, has gotten way overheated. And he listed a number of examples of that, in his view, including the use of the word concentration camp for what is going on in the southern border.

He talked about the word racism being thrown around willy-nilly, if you will, he accused a Democratic Congresswoman of using anti-Semitic tropes. And he said that is the responsibility of everyone from the President on down to members of Congress is to elevate the public discourse.

These were very short comments from Senator Mitch McConnell. He joins a long list of Republicans who have not condemned the President for his racist remarks. He is simply saying that the temperature needs to be lowered all across the board.

I am being joined now by White House correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, your reaction to what we just heard from Senator Mitch McConnell. Was it enough?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it was about what we can expect. Republicans are trying to draw a line here between calling the President racist and condemning the tweets.

They recognize that the fervor is what it is, that they must say something. But you're not seeing a lot of Republicans, very few of them willing to say the "R" word willing to use the word racist to describe what happened here. I think Mitch McConnell followed that mold.

He's also helping the President by trying to pivot, trying to make this about what has been said in the past by some of these Democratic Congresswoman, and that is part of the process of trying to rehabilitate this moment for President Trump -- rebranding it as something totally different from what it was.

But Mitch McConnell saying, we need to rise above this, is one of the weaker comments, frankly, that we've heard from him in the wake of something like this from President Trump. And it shows just how strong President Trump's hold on his party is. You have Republicans who are willing to say, I wish she wouldn't do this, but not willing to really come out and condemn it, like they might have come out and condemned it after something like Charlottesville, for example.

And so, this is a shift that we're seeing. This is the new reality for the Republican Party -- a President who has a hold on his party and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has come a long way with President Trump. And he's saying this is the guy we have. We're going to stick by him.

MARQUARDT: I want to go to John King, who was right here. John, why is it so difficult for the President supporters on Capitol Hill to use the "R" word as Abby said?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They had become more and more increasingly afraid of the President because of his power in social media because of his proven ability in primaries to defeat Republicans who cross him.

[014:10:08] KING: Mark Sanford of South Carolina being number one of them. What you just saw, he is the Senate Majority Leader. Let me emphasize leader, one of the top elected Republicans in the land. That was a punt. That was the flip side of the President after Charlottesville and the President said there are good people on both sides.

That was Mitch McConnell saying there are bad people on all sides. And we all have to come up. Yes, yes, they can have debates about socialism, they can have debates about the anti-Semitic remarks of Congresswoman Omar, those are all legitimate debates in the public sphere. The issue at hand are specific words from the President of the United

States -- go back. It's a racist siren. He's a leader, leaders are supposed to lead. That's not leading, it's punting.

PHILLIP: And this is not, by the way, Alex, a partisan thing. There are plenty of Republicans who understand what this is about, that if President Trump, you know, President Trump would not say to a person who is white, who came from Ireland or came from France, "Go back to where you came from."

Many Republicans are willing to say that, some are not. And that is not a partisan thing that is just about where we have come in the in the public discourse and President Trump is trying to pivot. Mitch McConnell is helping him do that. And that tells you everything you need to know about where we are with the elected officials who need President Trump in order to survive.

KING: But who knows -- we're heading into what -- at least at this early moment, looks to be a base on base election of more polarization, more fire up the partisans, and if you're Mitch McConnell, you know, the Senate Majority Leader, you're trying to protect your Senate Majority and you're on the ballot next year.

In a state you should be able to win in a Presidential year. But Mitch McConnell takes nothing for granted. This is this is a leader on the Senate side for Republicans who used to be a very different politician proving that he is getting in line in the Trump age.

MARQUARDT: But is the President trying to pivot? We saw him on day two of the scandal, yesterday at that -- the event at the White House coming out and saying, "Well, a lot of people love what I said, a lot of people love what I tweeted."

We saw the President in the Cabinet Room today, doubling down. It doesn't seem to me like he's pivoting.

KING: I think he's trying to shift more than pivot, in the sense that if you go back to the initial tweets -- go back, go back to where you came from. Even though they're all four citizens, three of them were born here, the other one naturalized, that is a racist siren. You don't belong. I don't want you here. I don't think you fit here.

He doesn't want to focus on that, because it's so obvious. It's a racist siren that came from the White House, from the President of United States. So, he wants -- he's trying to shift now to say, I want to talk about, you know, the controversial things, the socialism, if you want to call it that. The policy argument or in the case of Congresswoman Omar, some of the things she has said that are legitimately subject to public debate.

He wants to get away from the words "go back" because there's no escaping those words. It's a racist siren.

PHILLIP: This is what we've seen often from President Trump. He's taking something that that people might perceive as a weakness and trying to turn it into some kind of offensive strategy. There was really no strategy in his tweets from over the weekend. But he and his aides in his campaign are trying to turn it into one by just shifting the debate and making it about something else, making it about socialism, about communism, about whatever. But that is just how they're trying to cope with the fallout.

It's not where they hope to be on Saturday morning before President Trump tweeted all of this. I think they liked the debate that was happening within the Democratic party where Nancy Pelosi and the squad were at odds with each other.

MARQUARDT: We are just going to take a quick break as Senator McConnell speaking again.

QUESTION: ... for some of these Democratic members. When the President uses such language that is so far over the line, regardless of what their points of view are or our policies, doesn't that undercut your argument that these issues are a problem with these policies, these approaches are a problem for the country? Doesn't that undercut your argument when they use ...

MCCONNELL: Well, obviously, I think it's a good idea to focus on what our Democratic colleagues are up to. The Grand New Deal, a version of a take away your job, Medicare-for-All would take away your private health insurance. And if they made any effort to pay for all of this, they'd have to go after the most productive parts of our economy, because remember, the top 10 percent of taxpayers provide 70 percent of the revenue for the Federal Government.

So, I think this is a prescription for slowing America to a crawl. And I think it's also important to remember that most countries that ended up adopting socialism did it by voting for it.

As Margaret Thatcher once said, the problem with socialism, I'm pretty sure you run out with other people's money." So yes, I think we're better off to talk about the policies of our adversaries. And as I said earlier, and I think quite clearly, to lower all this incendiary rhetoric, everyone involved should do that.

RAJU: Senator McConnell, you're married to an immigrant, a naturalized U.S. citizen, what if someone were to say to her she should go back to her country because of the criticism and Federal policies, wouldn't you consider that a racist attack?

[14:15:14] MCCONNELL: Well, the Secretary of Transportation came here at age eight, legally, not speaking a word of English and has realized the American dream. And I think all of us think that this is a process of renewal that's going on in this country for a very long time. And it's good for America, and we ought to continue it.

RAJU: Was it racist for him to say, go back to their country ...

MCCONNELL: As I said, the legal immigration has been fulfilling of the American dream. The new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country. And my wife's a good example of that.

QUESTION: Would you ever use the words, go back to where you came from?

MCCONNELL: Look, I'm obviously a big fan of legal immigration. It's been a big part of my family for quarter of a century. As I look around the country and watch the contributions that have been made by new arrivals, and the children of new arrivals, it's been reinvigorating America for hundreds of years. So I'm a big fan of legal immigration.

QUESTION: Do you think that the President would be more likely to turn down his rhetoric if Republican leaders like yourself spoke out more forcefully against it?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think I've just said, I think everybody ought to tone down their rhetoric. We have examples of that across the ideological spectrum in the country, all across it, everyone ought to tone down their rhetoric, and we ought to move back to talking about the issues.

QUESTION: But you've stopped short of calling his comments racist?

MCCONNELL: Look -- I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You stopped short -- but you stopped short of calling his comments racist?

MCCONELL: Well, the President is not a racist. The President is not a racist. And I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country. But it's coming from all different ideological points of view. That's the point. To single out any segment of this, I think is a mistake. They've been just kind of rhetoric from a whole lot of different sources all across the ideological spectrum and our country.

MARQUARDT: All right, Senator McConnell with his second crack at the mic and saying very forcefully, very clearly that the President is not a racist. Excellent question, John, from our Manu Raju, who pressed him on the fact that Senator McConnell's own wife is an immigrant, came here to this country, not speaking English, as the Senator pointed out, and then he tried to turn it into a comment about legal immigration.

KING: He did and he refused to answer the question twice. Do you think the remarks were racist? Then he did say he didn't think the President -- he said the President is not a racist.

Look, he's a very good politician. He knows how to not to answer a question. He knows how to deflect, he knows how to dodge. That's a nervous chuckle though, it's a nervous chuckle because the old Mitch McConnell, I'm just going to call him the real Mitch McConnell, I don't know if that's fair. The old Mitch McConnell is for legal immigration, was open to negotiating with President George W. Bush, for example, about sweeping comprehensive reform that would have given legal status to people who came into the country illegally.

He's in a very different box now because of the current occupant of the White House. But that was again, that was a punt from the leader there. And so -- but here's the debate the Republicans are in, if you accept Mitch McConnell at his word, and the President at his tweet, the President says he's not a racist.

So the debate is, is the President or racist or race baiter, right? That's the debate the Republican Party's in the middle of right now, it's not where you want to be.

MARQUARDT: Abby, aren't we risking convoluting these two things? Anyway, this is not about immigration. Three of these Congresswomen were born here, the fourth was naturalized, and yes, in that case, you could say it was about legal immigration.

PHILLIP: Well, Ilhan Omar was a refugee. So she, you know, she came here fleeing something and our laws allow for that. So, it is not at all about immigration, except in that, what the President really doesn't like that they're doing is criticizing his immigration policy on the border.

So, McConnell is trying to do some back flips to try to get around the real issue here, which is not just this moment, but the President's very long history of these types of moments -- going all the way back to the "birther" controversy, which was really his original go back moment, in which he said to the first black President, you are not an American. You were not born here when he was in fact born here.

MARQUARDT: And trying to stir up the fact that he -- trying to make people think that he was Muslim.

PHILLIP: Exactly. So, this is not about -- it's not about legal immigration. It's not about illegal immigration. It's not about asylum seekers. It's not about any of that.

[14:20:03] PHILLIP: It's about whether or not people in this country have a right to criticize this country without being told, go back to where you didn't come from. None of these people came from those places. Three out of the four of them were born in this country. Ilhan Omar has been here since she was a child. This is not about immigration. I think Mitch McConnell knows that.

KING: And to the point that Abby made earlier, for example, when he criticizes Bernie Sanders, he doesn't say, go back. He calls him a socialist. So he's a white man, there's just the facts of the facts here.

The President uses certain language in certain situations. He could have the socialism debate, he could have the Omar anti-Semitic debate anytime he wants. We all know he has his Twitter platform, and he uses it to his advantage. He did this against four women of color. And he said, go back.

That is the source of this. Back flip is a good word for it. Leader McConnell was trying to just get somewhere else. Let's get to a safer conversation, because he doesn't want to stay in this conversation and that's his politics. That's what he's supposed to do as the leader of the party. But what the President said in those in that tweet "go back" is racist. Period.

MARQUARDT: Does the -- Senator McConnell's comments there -- does he sweep this under the rug? Or does he fuel this controversy for little bit longer?

KING: It's impossible to answer that question, in the sense that we have just lived through the Trump age and to Abby's point and to your point about the "birther" controversy. Remember, this goes back to businessman Donald Trump, too -- the Central Park Five.

The Trump Organization settling a rent discrimination suit against black people. This is a gutter the President has lived in for a very long time as a businessman and as a politician, and now as President of the United States. He has lived in this gutter, he's comfortable in this gutter. This is what he likes to do.

Will it end? This is what Republicans have always done, whether it's Charlottesville, whether it's other tweets from the President, they just hold, deflect, do a back flip as Abby said, get out of the way, duck, hide whatever you have to do and hopefully tomorrow, some other controversy will start up that's more favorable.

PHILLIP: And President Trump has made a career out of coming back from moments like this time and time again. That's what Republicans see and that's what makes it -- makes it so difficult for them to figure out what to do next. Because even while some of them have not survived the President's political controversies, he has survived them.

MARQUARDT: All right folks, we are going to leave it right there. Abby Phillip, John King, thanks a lot for your analysis.

All right, more on this breaking news, including an eyebrow raising remark from one of the President's most senior advisers, again about ethnicity. We will be playing you that exchange with Kellyanne Conway that she had with a reporter.

Plus, silence from the First Lady that speaks volumes as an immigrant herself and an anti bullying activist, will Melania Trump speak out on this?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:27:27] MARQUARDT: As more and more lawmakers speak out both for and against the President's racist remarks over the weekend. There's someone we haven't heard from yet. That's President Barack Obama.

In an open letter to the former President, "The Washington Post," it's titled we can -- sorry, "We need someone who can lift us up again, enter President Obama." We have someone here who knows President Obama better than most, Joshua DuBois, is a former White House adviser to the former President on faith and race. Josh, what about that? Is this a moment where the first African American President should be speaking up?

JOSHUA DUBOIS, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA ON FAITH AND RACE: Well, I thought Karen's piece today was very thoughtful, definitely spotlighted the problem with President Trump's comments. But I kind of differ a bit when it comes to President Obama. There's nothing that Donald Trump would like more than to draw Barack Obama into a back and forth on race.

He likes it when people get down in the mud with him. It allows him to affirm his grievance politics and to lean into, you know, sort of his nationalist message. And I think it would diminish President Obama to go back and forth on everything that Donald Trump says.

I also think this is a moment when other Democrats have to find their voice on these big culture shifting issues. I think Barack Obama will pick his fights, I think he will find those big moments, particularly as we get later in the campaign season. But right now, I think we need to cultivate other voices. And also be careful about responding to everything that Donald Trump says, even on important things like this.

MARQUARDT: Yes. That's a political argument. That's a strategic -- that's a tactical argument, that surely President Obama knows better than most. But knowing the former President, as you do, do you think he is chomping at the bit to get involved in this in this debate?

DUBOIS: I imagine that the moral weight of this moment where you have a President of the United States basically telling people to go back to where they came from. I can't speak for President Obama. But I imagine it weighs on him like it should weigh on many Americans.

I was, you know, with him down in Selma, and was part of the conversation around the Charleston speech and the Philadelphia race speech, and more. And so, he's not hesitant to engage in moments like this. I think it's just more a matter of what is going to be most productive in the long run.

And right now, we really need other Democrats to step up. And they're doing that right now. But this is a moment where other voices have to be strengthened, and not always going back to the former President.

MARQUARDT: Are you surprised? And we'll get to Senator McConnell in a second. But are you surprised that there aren't more Republicans speaking up against these racist tweets?

DUBOIS: Absolutely. I think it's a tragedy for the Republican Party. I mean, in 1957, Hazel Bryan yelled at Elizabeth Eckford, a young woman who was integrating Little Rock Central High School, go back to Africa, in this Seminal moment with a Little Rock Nine.

We just had a President of the United States basically say the same things and there were ages, there are areas in the Republican Party, where people would have pushed back. I have to believe if John McCain was alive today, there's no way that he would not have said something about this and yet ...

[14:30:10]

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