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Interview With Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL); Congress Debates Censuring Trump Over Racist Tweets; Mitch McConnell Defends Trump's Racist Attacks on U.S. Lawmakers. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Democrats are going to be introducing a resolution that will call out each Republican on whether he or she thinks it was racist.

Nancy Pelosi is speaking.

Let's take a listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): ... raids into the homes of families.

I went to Spanish mass this weekend, and saw the dignity of those families, the beauty of the children, and the fear that the president had struck in their hearts, as we are listening to the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, to show mercy and love thy neighbor as thyself.

That very same day, unfortunately, there were those who were not informed by that Gospel.

And so here we are. Later in that day, it was stunning to hear the words that were used, go home, to some of our colleagues, the same words that were used to so many people in our country, whether because they weren't born here or because they didn't look like some others here, go home.

As annoyed, as insulted as we all should be about the president saying that about our colleagues, it's also not showing mercy for him to say that about so many people in our country, as he wants to split up families.

So I thank Mr. Malinowski and Mr. Raskin for their -- the opportunity to speak to the statements that the president made later in the day of the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, Mr. Malinowski, who was born abroad, Mr. Raskin for his firm leadership in advancing this important resolution.

The House hopefully has come together, standing as one to denounce the White House's xenophobic attacks on our members, on our people, and to defend the values of America.

And what is America? America is many things, the land of a great Constitution, which is under threat, a beautiful land that God has given us, which is being degraded, values that we share that are being undermined.

But America is also a nation largely, but not totally, largely of immigrants. As this resolution so beautifully states, the founders conceived America as a haven for refuge for people fleeing from religious and political persecution.

And Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, having opposite views on other subjects, all emphasized that the nation gained as it attracted new people in search of freedom and livelihood for their families.

The resolution quotes our most iconic residents, who all recognized that immigrants are the constant reinvigoration of America, of hope, determination, optimism and courage to make the future better. Those are American values. Those are American traits, hope, optimism, courage.

And many of these immigrants, when they come here with those values and those traits, make America more American.

Franklin Roosevelt said, remember always that all of us -- and you and I especially -- are descendants from immigrants.

President John F. Kennedy, who wrote that the contribution of immigrants can be seen in every aspect of our national life.

And President Ronald Reagan, he said it so beautifully in his last speech as president of the United States, which is quoted in this resolution, who said, if we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.

Yet the president's comments about our colleagues this weekend show that he does not share those American values. These comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting, and the comments are racist.

How shameful to hear him continue to defend those offensive words, words that we have all heard him repeat not only about our members, but about countless others.

Our caucus will continue to forcibly respond to those attacks on our members, which reflect a fundamental disrespect for the beautiful diversity of America.

There is no place anywhere for the president's words, which are not only divisive, but dangerous, and have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.

It's so sad, because you would think that there would be a given that we would universally, in this body, just say, of course, of course, and there's no excuse for any response to those words but a swift and strong unified condemnation, every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, to join us in condemning the president's racist tweets. [15:05:16]

To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.

I urge that a unanimous vote, and yield back the balance of my...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just going to give the gentlespeaker of the House, if she would like to rephrase that comment.

PELOSI: I have cleared my remarks through a parliamentarian before I read them.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... be taken now.

I make a point of order the gentlewoman's words are unparliamentary and (INAUDIBLE) be taken down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair will remind all members, please, please do not make comments toward personality-based -- or personality-based comments.

The gentleman from Georgia is recognized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I made a point of order to the gentlewoman's (INAUDIBLE) parliamentarian and request they be taken down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the gentleman making a demand that the words be taken down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I request the gentlewoman's words are unparliamentary and request that it be taken down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All members will suspend. The clerk will now report the words.

MARQUARDT: All right, we're seeing a bit of a back and forth there on the floor of the House of Representatives following remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In those last few moments there, Doug Collins, representative from Georgia, calling on the gentlewoman, so Nancy Pelosi's comments to be taken down. She was just told by the chair there not to make personality-based comments.

But what was clear from the speaker's comments is that she viewed the president's comments over the weekend to be not just divisive, but dangerous. She called them disgraceful and disgusting, and said they are racist.

In no uncertain terms, in the view of Nancy Pelosi, the president's comments are racist.

I want to bring in CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, some very forceful language from the speaker of the House.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And just procedurally the notion of a speaker, any speaker of either party going into the well of the House, making a speech is not done very often and done in a very deliberate way.

It wouldn't be surprising if she actually voted, which, again, speakers don't tend to do. They don't actually tend to cast -- cast votes. But she wants to be front and center on this. She wants to be the face of this resolution for a lot of reasons, one of which is because she was on the other side of a very vocal, very open disagreement, and has been -- and they still have disagreements with the four congresswomen who the president has talked about and vilified the way he has.

What the president did with that tweet saying they need to go home is, in that single tweet, unified Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders with those four congresswomen, particularly Andrea (sic) Ocasio-Cortez, Cortez, who they were -- had very severe differences over -- on policy, but also, more importantly, on approach and on how to approach one another in this very broad, diverse caucus that is the Democratic majority.

So that very much was what she was doing. I also noticed that she, at one point, kind of related the whole controversy to immigration, which is the flip side politically what Mitch McConnell did the last hour, which you took live.

MARQUARDT: Right. Right.

BASH: Obviously very different. I think his was much more of a punt, but it just shows the yin and the yang of the politics here.

MARQUARDT: Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, did speak in the last hour. He said that he did not view President Trump to be racist. He said, in no uncertain terms, that the president himself is not a racist.

Let's take a quick listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We have seen the far left throw accusations of racism at everyone, anyone who disagrees with them on anything, including the speaker of the House.

From the president to the speaker, 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.

The president is not a racist. And I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country. (END VIDEOTAPE)

[15:10:02]

MARQUARDT: Dana, the speaker -- sorry -- the Senate majority leader there chalking all this up to heated political rhetoric and essentially trying to equate everything on all sides and make it sound like the president's comments were not out of the ordinary for this moment.

BASH: Yes.

No, it was both-sides-ism, and at its worst. It really was. And I think, in his heart of hearts, he understands that intellectually, but he also is dancing on the head of a pin politically in his head, first of all, as the leader of a Senate caucus that has a lot of members who are from very red states, but also a lot of members who are not from very red states, who are up for reelection next year, who have to appeal to people who aren't classic Trump voters.

He himself is up for reelection next year in a more red state. But you never know what's going to happen. But he also has to make sure that his base is happy.

The most fascinating and telling moment of the McConnell press conference was when our colleague Manu Raju...

MARQUARDT: Absolutely.

BASH: ... asked about the fact that McConnell's wife is an immigrant from China.

And, effectively, what would happen if somebody told her to go home? And that was where the punt came, saying, well, I'm all for legal immigration, which is not relevant at all to the question.

MARQUARDT: At all.

BASH: It's about ethnicity and it's about race. And it's not about immigration. It's not about the policy. As much as these conversations should be about policy, it wasn't.

And he didn't have -- he didn't answer. He didn't answer.

MARQUARDT: Not a question about...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: He's very quick to defend his wife, usually, let's be clear. And he was trying to do it in the context of how much success her family had, which they did when they came here.

But that wasn't the question.

MARQUARDT: A very quick pivot to legal immigration, of course, that not at all an issue when it comes to these four women, three of whom were born in the States, the other who is a refugee.

BASH: Precisely.

All right, we're going to switch gears very quickly.

Just minutes before all of this back and forth, President Trump's counselor and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was asked at the White House about the president's racist comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: You should be talking about it.

ANDREW FEINBERG, BREAKFAST MEDIA: Following up on the previous question, if the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, which countries was he referring?

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: What is your ethnicity?

(CROSSTALK)

FEINBERG: Why is that relevant?

CONWAY: Because I'm asking a question.

My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.

FEINBERG: Kellyanne, my own (OFF-MIKE) is not relevant to the question I'm asking.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: No, no, it is, because you're asking about -- he said originally. He said originally from.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: And you know everything he has since, and to have a full conversation...

FEINBERG: So, are you saying that the president is (OFF-MIKE) Palestinian...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: The president's already commented on that.

FEINBERG: (OFF-MIKE) go back to the occupied territories...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: The president -- the president has already commented on. And he said a lot about this since that one tweet.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: No, he's put out a lot of tweets, and he made himself available to all of you yesterday.

FEINBERG: He has not. (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: Yes, he has. He's tired.

He -- we -- a lot of us sick and tired in this country of America coming last to people who swore an oath of office, sick and tired of our military being denigrated, sick and tired of the Customs and Border Patrol people that -- protection people -- I was with, who are overwhelmingly Hispanic, by the way, in McAllen, Texas, sick and tired of them being...

FEINBERG: I understand.

CONWAY: No, you don't understand, because you didn't go -- being criticized, being doxed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: A very heated exchange there between Kellyanne Conway and a reporter.

That reporter joining me now.

He is Andrew Feinberg, a White House reporter for Breakfast Media.

Andrew, you say that, by asking about your ethnicity, which she did very clear there at the beginning of that clip, that Kellyanne Conway confirms what the president meant. Explain that.

ANDREW FEINBERG, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BREAKFAST MEDIA: Well, not by asking initially, but when I asked her how it was relevant, she said the president was talking about where these congresswomen in question were, as she put it, originally from, which, in the case of everyone except Congresswoman Omar, who was born in Somalia and came here as a child, is the United States.

And so, at least to my thinking, and I think a lot of the people who are around me, my colleagues, she was essentially saying what she had denied only seconds before, which was that the president was not suggesting that the two African-American congresswomen could go back to Africa or Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez could return to Puerto Rico or -- and similar, if they don't like his policies, which he often equates as not liking the United States.

MARQUARDT: What went through your head when you started in this back and forth with her?

FEINBERG: I just -- I thought it was bizarre. I mean, she frequently responds to questions I ask her by asking questions of her own.

A few weeks back, when I asked, if the Fourth of July event the president put on was nonpartisan, why was the RNC handing out tickets, she asked if I knew why we celebrate the Fourth of July.

[15:15:09]

So, it's something I'm used to from her, but it still felt very weird to be asked about my own personal background.

MARQUARDT: Right. She's nothing if not combative, but this was also a very different turn for her.

Now, this doesn't really have anything to do with this debate. You are Jewish. You said after this that you didn't find the exchange with Kellyanne Conway to be anti-Semitic.

She tweeted in response to that, saying, "In fact, that same gaggle, I made clear my outrage at the anti-Semitic comments flowing so easily out of Ilhan Omar's -- out of her -- out of the rep -- the congresswoman, and how absurd it was that the House could not condemn her by name in a resolution back in March."

So you didn't find any of this to be anti-Semitic?

FEINBERG: No. And I was responding actually on Twitter, sadly, to someone who asked -- who asked if she was trying to get at the fact that I was Jewish, or if there was an anti-Semitic overtone to what she asked.

And I didn't -- I didn't detect that. I just saw it as a deflection that in her case went wrong. And she ended up confirming, as I said, the thing she denied moments before.

MARQUARDT: But don't you think this is a way to deflect, to spin this, to move on to a different subject?

She really wanted to engage, and not just engage, but really heatedly as well.

FEINBERG: Yes.

And she kept bringing things back to Congresswoman Omar and this resolution that the House considered several months back. But we're not -- we're no longer talking about that, because we're talking about the president of the United States.

And Congresswoman Omar's comments about Israel and various lobbying groups that advocate for Israel can be taken in different ways, depending on who you talk to.

But the president's tweets starting this past weekend, I mean, there's really not many ways to look at them, except as racist.

MARQUARDT: When you look at the -- at what was said today, and then you compare that to what her husband, George Conway, wrote in "The Washington Post" -- and this is not the first time that these two spouses have been at odds over the president's comments and his policies.

George Conway wrote: "Naivete, resentment and outright racism roiled in a toxic mix have given us a racist president."

This is a new one. This puts senior adviser Kellyanne Conway in a rather awkward position.

FEINBERG: I don't envy her. And I don't want to -- I don't want to guess as to what's going on in a marriage. Not being married myself, I would not presume to know.

It can't be easy. And I'm sympathetic.

But I think this whole thing goes to what a lot of -- a lot folks would say is a central tenet of the Trump presidency, which is that making America great again, in the president's words, means making America great for Americans as he and his supporters see Americans.

And asking my ethnicity...

MARQUARDT: Right.

FEINBERG: I mean, I'm an American.

MARQUARDT: Right.

FEINBERG: And that should be the only thing that matters.

MARQUARDT: Right.

FEINBERG: So I'm not sure what the point was there.

MARQUARDT: Right.

Well, way to stand your ground.

FEINBERG: Thank you, sir.

MARQUARDT: You have had quite a day.

Thank you so much, Andrew Feinberg.

All right, happening right now on the floor of the House of Representatives, lawmakers are currently debating whether to rebuke the president over those racist remarks.

But one conservative commentator says what Trump has done to civil discourse cannot be undone.

And breaking news just into CNN, an arrest has been made in the murder of a Louisiana civil rights activist whose body was found in the trunk of her car.

That's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:23:51]

MARQUARDT: As we speak, lawmakers are debating a House resolution to condemn President Trump over his racist tweets.

Here are some of the words that lawmakers will be voting on this evening, 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 the resolution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

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

MCCARTHY: Yes, it's all politics.

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)

[15:25:00]

MARQUARDT: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy there, like Senator McConnell, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, said that the president's tweet was not racist.

Today, Senator Tom Cotton, also a Republican, said he would not condemn the president's bigoted attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): I think what he sees is a lot of extremism from the House Democratic Caucus, statements that have been anti- Semitic, anti-police, really far out on the far left wing.

Even Nancy Pelosi was attacking some of these congresswomen last week. So I think he's simply highlighting some of the extreme rhetoric from House Democrats. The president's going to tweet what he tweets. What he -- the point

he's made, though, is that the House Democrats have engaged in some truly outrageous statements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: "The president is going to tweet what he tweets."

With us, we have radio host Joe Walsh. He is a former Republican congressman from Illinois, as well as Joel Payne, who once served as a senior aide for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me this afternoon.

Joe, I want to go to you first.

So far, we have been counting the number of Republicans who have condemned the president's comments. That number stands at 19, but not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He came out last hour and said directly the president is not a racist.

Are you surprised?

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I'm disappointed, somewhat surprised, because, Alex, I think this was ugly.

I think what the president said was racist. I mean, here we are down in the mud again. And I think it's always important to remind ourselves how we got here.

Two days ago, the president of the United States told four brown- skinned congresswomen to go back to where they came from. I know we want to get into the politics of this and how it's going to play. But think about what he said. It was offensive. It was anti-American. It was racist.

This president it has no shred of decency, Alex. And that's why we're here. And that's why, in Congress right now, they're debating a resolution about whether the president's a racist or not. The Republicans are losing this fight. And, sadly, they deserve to.

MARQUARDT: Joe Walsh, staying with you for just a second, if you are a supporter of Trump, should you be, finally, some would ask, questioning yourself about whether you're supporting a racist?

WALSH: I don't support this president. I can't support this president.

And it isn't just because I think what he said was racist. I think he's dishonest. And I don't think he's fit to be president, Alex. But that's a bigger, broader discussion.

But I do think these comments of his are going to hurt him. And I think they're going to hurt the party. And I think they should.

MARQUARDT: Joel, your thoughts. Is -- are supporters of the president supporting a racist, in light of these comments?

JOEL PAYNE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think they certainly are supporting somebody who has shown himself to be a racist, to be bigoted, to be xenophobic, whether they themselves are racist or not.

I'm uncomfortable with those types of broad litmus tests just based off of who you support politically. But I will say this. Republicans have had a long time to come to grips and to do soul-searching about Donald Trump.

And this incident is just the long -- the latest in a long string of incidents. This is not a surprise. Nothing that we see on his Twitter stream or nothing that we hear from this president should be a surprise to us at this point.

I think Republicans are past the point where they can say, I'm shocked, I'm dismayed by what this president says.

What I would also say is this. President Trump puts a very explosive, very shiny jacket on all of these platitudes and all of these tropes and ideas, but they are ideas that a lot of Republicans have held for a long time and things that a lot of people with R's next to their names have felt for a long time.

It's just that this president is actually saying them. He's saying the quiet part out loud. And I think that's what is making a lot Republicans uncomfortable.

MARQUARDT: In the wake of all this, in this firestorm that this is created and a fierce debate over whether this is racist or not, do you think the Democrats are muddying the waters when they then raise the notion of impeachment, as we did see these Democratic congresswomen do in the wake of these comments?

PAYNE: Well, I don't think that's muddying the waters.

I think, honestly, when you hear Ilhan Omar talk about impeachment, that's her talking about doing her job, not because the president's a bigot, although that should be enough of a reason to have pause, but because he's shown in part two of the Mueller -- or, rather, part one of the Mueller report to have obstructed justice and to do things that is deserving of that type of conversation.

In the era of Trump, it's so hard to disassociate all of the different things that we're dealing with. There's a lot of factors to consider. There's Donald Trump, who he is as a person. There's his policy. There are the norms that he's breaking on a daily basis.

I think we, as media and as observers, are asked to consider these things in one large pail at one time, when we have to be able to disassociate and separate them.

I think it's totally appropriate to say you want to hold Donald Trump accountable and disassociate that from who he is as a person.

MARQUARDT: We have heard, after all this, from longtime conservative [15:30:00]