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Trump Again Defends His Racist Attacks on U.S. Lawmakers; Mark Sanford Discusses Why He's Considering a Primary Challenge to Trump; Sen Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Discusses the ICE Raids that Did Not Occur, Trump's Racist Comments about 4 Democratic Congresswomen. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We've spoken to several officials behind the scenes who say they do not stand by the president's comments, they do not think those were wise comments for the president to make, the comment about going to the places they came from.

But then when you hear from officials on camera, in interviews or on the record, they typically have very different statements. You are not hearing a lot of criticism of the president, going from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying he does not find them to be racist.

Or even Kellyanne Conway, the president's senior counselor, speaking with reporters on the driveway here earlier after an interview where when reporters repeatedly asked her if she's OK with these comments that the president made, are these racist attacks, she instead turned to comments that these congresswomen have made pointing to things -- points about Socialism in the country.

And even asking, at one point, one reporter out here what their ethnicity was. The reporter didn't answer. They said they didn't see what that had to do with their question about the president's attacks telling these women to come back to the places they came from.

But you're seeing just how the president's aides are straddling this, trying to rebrand his criticism as not a racist one but a comment and a critique on Socialism -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Why did she ask that, Kaitlan? Why did she ask the ethnicity of a reporter? Can you give us more context?

COLLINS: I don't know. It really surprised reporters.

I was actually there while she was taking those questions, something that typically they have within doing since they haven't been doing the press briefings. I walked over to do a television hit and when we got back, she turned to one reporter who was asking specifically about the president's racist attacks. She turned it around and said, what's your ethnicity.

There was kind of a pause when you watch it on camera and the reporters who were around there as that exchange was going. But something surprising for a White House official to make that comment to a reporter, asking about something that the president himself has said.

KEILAR: And also -- also making people wonder, certainly if she shares some of the views that we've seen from the president. That's a very interesting moment,

Kaitlan, I do want to tell our viewers we're going to get that tape, turn it around.

We'll take a quick break in just a moment and bring that back after the break.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us.

In the wake of this racist attack, one Republican critic, who lost his seat, says he's now considering a primary run against President Trump. We'll have Mark Sanford joining us live.

Also breaking today, why the feds decided not to charge a police officer accused of putting Eric Garner in a deadly choke hold.

And despite the president's claims, an ICE official tells CNN there have been no mass arrests of undocumented immigrants.


[13:37:19] KEILAR: Former Republican Congressman and governor, Mark Sanford, says he has something to say and he may decide that a presidential challenge to President Trump is the way to say it.

Mark Sanford joining us now from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

Sir, thank you for being with us.


KEILAR: So you're considering a primary run against the sitting president. Tell us why.

SANFORD: Because I think, again, these are not my words, but they're the words of Erskine Bowles, the former head of the Bowles Commission. I think that we're walking our way toward the most predictable financial crisis in the history of man.

There's little to no -- I guess I'd say no discussion of debt, deficit and government spending in Washington these days. I've watched two Democratic presidential debates and there's been zero discussion on both of them as to this issue. The president has said we're not going to touch the very things that touch debt and spending.

So I think we're walking our way into one heck of a financial storm and there's no discussion. And yet presidential years have been the year we do discuss these things.

KEILAR: Does any of his -- I guess the way he conducts himself and the most recent example being this attack on these four congresswomen, does anything like that contributing to your decision or is it truly just an issue of spending and Republicans really getting away from their fiscal-hawk roots that is motivating you?

SANFORD: It's the second. I mean, in other words, there's more than enough commentary. I was just sitting on set and listening to people discussing both sides of the president's comments. I think that they're noxious and they're weird and all those different things that people are discussing. But there's, again, plenty of discussion on that front.

The place where there's no discussion is the way in which interest is the largest growing expense in the federal government. We will spend more on interest than we do on our national defense bill in just three years. Nobody is talking about it.

So we'll talk about national security issues, but leave out what Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described as the biggest national security threat, which is the debt and deficit.

So it's the second for me because -- again, and I'm not sure that a presidential run is the way. Maybe it will start an advocacy group. But we have got to, again, register this in this presidential year, in this presidential race in a way that is currently not finding any currency.

I think that's a real problem and that's what I'm going to explore, the next 30 days, on go versus no go.

KEILAR: The South Carolina GOP chair, Drew McKissick, said, quote, "The last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb it killed his governorship. This makes about as much sense as that trip up the Appalachian Trail."

[13:40:07] So support will be key to you. And you're not going to get it, as in the past, from the GOP establishment, which has chosen not to support you in the past as well. So where --


SANFORD: I've never gotten --


KEILAR: That's right. That's right. But that said --

SANFORD: I've never gotten a lot of support from the GOP establishment.

KEILAR: Sure. Exactly.

But this is the presidency. So where -- where is your support going to come from?

SANFORD: Again, that's where I'm going to begin a conversation with Americans over the next 30 days. Because when I talk to a lot of mom- and-pop little businesses out there, when I talk to retirees, when I talk to young Millennials, what they say is, this is weird. We're not talking about the biggest threat to national security out there.

And so the GOP establishment will naturally circle the wagons around Trump and they will say, well, we're not going to have a debate or you're an Appalachian boy.

And again, is there a feeling of vulnerability from my ending on that front? Absolutely. That's why I have pondered this the last year. It's been coming up by different friends for a year now and I've said no, no, no, on all the obvious reasons based on the ways I'll get hit.

But I have invested the better part of my professional life in terms of doing something on debt, deficit and government spending. This is at a tipping point now.

This is not a grandkids problem or kids' problem. This is our problem. If we don't address it in this window in this presidential debate, then basically we're saying we're not going to talk about it for the next six years. We're not going to deal with it.

I don't think we have that much time.


SANFORD: So I think it's natural that Drew McKissick would say what he said.

KEILAR: People looking at your chances say this would be like shooting the moon that you would be able to do this.

So I wonder, you ran for re-election in 2018, just to remind people. And you did not have support from your party. You were primaried by a Trump supporter who, in the end, went on to lose to a Democrat there in South Carolina.

And I wonder, if the outcome in a situation of challenging President Trump would be to not win, but damage President Trump for the general election, would you have considered your impact to be positive?

SANFORD: I wouldn't look at it as damage to him. I would look at it -- as John Boehner said, I don't know where the Republican Party is. I think it's sleeping somewhere.

I think we have to go back to our roots as a party. And financial conservatism and financial reality has been one of the cornerstones --


SANFORD: But if you helped a Democrat win, does that -- deliver does that deliver that for Republicans, going back to those roots?

SANFORD: I'm just -- again, what you can't do is say, well, you know, you're the reason somebody lost or you're the reason somebody won. What you've got to do in life is say what you've got to say. And the idea of saying, I'm not going mention this and I'm not going

to challenge the president's thinking on this and I'm not going to challenge the party's thinking on this, though we have late become hypocritical with regard to debt, deficit and government spending issues, I think is a real problem.

It creates the very cycle we're in right now, which is the three monkeys. If I hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, we'll just not deal with it. But guess what? We will deal with it. And our kids will deal with it in profound ways in terms of their economic prospects, in terms of their savings, and, ultimately, in terms of the value of even the dollar itself.

So I just think that -- I'm going to look at it over the next 30 days and say, is there a way forward either in terms of a presidential run as a high of highlighting debt, deficit and government spending issues, or if not do you look at an advocacy group, is that a better way? I don't know. But I will know by the end of 30 day.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be checking back in with you on that.

While I have you here, I want to ask you, you're watching this controversy here in Washington. The president with his racist attack against these four female Democratic lawmakers, telling them to return to the countries from which they came, when all of them are citizens and three of them were born in America. What's your reaction to this?

SANFORD: I said publicly what I just said a moment ago, which is it's more inflammatory rhetoric from the president. It goes without saying they're Americans and the country they would return to would be right here at home.

And so the press is good at creating division and throwing out divisive comments and tit for tat and everybody is in an argument back and forth over what he meant or what he didn't mean or what was the real meaning. And I keep going back to there's plenty of conversation on that.

But what we're not talking about is --

BOLDUAN: And I hear you on it.

SANFORD: -- profoundly stark, our economic situation.

KEILAR: I know you want to talk about the economics.


BOLDUAN: But you're also uniquely positioned to answer this next question, which doesn't have to do with economics, if you'll humor me on this.


[13:45:03] KEILAR: You are someone who knows what happens when you challenge President Trump. You lost your seat in Congress. So as you do look at House Republicans, who are trying to figure out how to respond to this, and we are hearing from sources privately, they do not -- not only do they not agree with these comments, many of them think that they are racist, but they can't say that publicly or they don't feel they can say that publicly.

What do you say to your fellow House colleagues?

SANFORD: I simply empathize with them. For too many, the name of the game is staying in the game. So people will contort themselves in different strange ways to basically stay out of Trump's glare or stay away from the receiving side of bad Trump tweet. And I get that.

KEILAR: But you didn't.

SANFORD: But they have to find for themselves -- well, again, everybody -- I was given a second chance in politics a lot of people weren't given. I said to my folks, look, I owe it to folks to shoot it straight down the middle. I'm not going to look for a fight but, if something comes along, I've got to speak honestly about it. And that's what I'm trying to do in this debt, deficit and government spending issue.

So I'd say, you know, they are between a rock and a hard place and I get it. It's incumbent upon all of us as private citizens to demand at times a voicing of the different perspectives and opinions, given the fact that people are in leadership positions and people look to people in leadership positions to say what they think.

KEILAR: All right, Governor, thank you so much. Mark Sanford with us. We appreciate you.

SANFORD: My pleasure. Take care.

KEILAR: The feds not charging the officer in the Eric Garner chokehold case. The person who made the call is Attorney General Bill Barr. Hear why.

Plus, an ICE official tells CNN there have not been any mass arrests of undocumented immigrants, despite the president's claims.


[13:51:38] KEILAR: It's going on day three, and no sign of any massive ICE raids taking place anywhere in the country. The president said the immigration sweep started on Sunday.

One ICE official with knowledge of operations tells CNN it's not exactly the case. Our source says it's been, quote, "business as usual," adding there's been no surge of arrests, activity, or roundups since Trump's announcement, despite the president saying this just yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ICE raids were very successful. People came into our country illegally. Illegally. Many were felons. Many were convicted of crimes. Many, many were taken out on Sunday. You just didn't know about it.

In fact, I went to -- I spoke to the head of ICE. I spoke to a couple people. We had many people -- it was a very successful day.


KEILAR: Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Thanks for being with us.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Of course, thank you.

KEILAR: How do you characterize this behavior by the president where he's threatening to round people up, he doesn't follow through on it, then he insists it happened when it didn't.

BROWN: This is politics to this president. He plays to fear. He plays to demagoguery. He plays to his political base.

That's why we can't get an immigration bill. I'm 100 percent convinced we could have enough Republicans and Democrats in both Houses, where we have a good immigration bill, strong border security, helping those people who are fleeing violence, sexual violence and drug violence and political violence. And we would have a path to citizenship for the 11 million, many of whom are serving in the military or in school. Almost all of them are working and providing for their families and paying taxes.

We could fix that. But the president wants to continue to roil the waters. He does it by name calling of people in his own party and in his own employee, in some cases. And he does it by the -- he wants to continue to do this because he thinks it's his path to re-election in 2020.

KEILAR: You recently toured some facilities and went to the border to see operations there. You weren't able to see everything you wanted to see. Can you tell us about what you were able to access and what you weren't?

BROWN: The public employees we talked to were professional and decent. But their bosses wouldn't let us in to some of the holding facilities. They don't want elected officials or the public or the media to see things.

We do -- people have seen some things. We wonder what they're hiding behind that.

What we did see was people that -- so many people in El Paso have stepped up and been charitable with their time and resources to help people. Especially those families that have been separated from children -- separated from their parents.

What the Trump administration is doing, they're -- they all -- the president almost gleefully talks about his policy to separate children from their parents. It's immoral. It's wrong. It's un-American. It's not who we are as a people. That's why so many people have stepped up and want to help.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you about the president's racist tweet targeting these four Democratic congresswomen. And the top Republican in the House, Leader McCarthy, said it was not racist.

[13:55:13] We're going to be hearing soon from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, next hour. What do you want to hear from him? And what do you think of the GOP reaction?

BROWN: Well, I -- I would say I'm aghast that Republicans continue to cover up for Trump, continue to just not step up and say what this is. It is racist. It's un-American.

I was speaking to a guy that works in the basement of this building. He's cut hair for 40, 50 years. He came to this country as a 10-year- old from Italy. He heard growing up, "Go back where you came from." So many people have heard that, so many immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, or if they haven't heard it, their parents or grandparents heard people say, "Go back to where you came from."

That's what's despicable about what this president did and said. I've -- it breaks my heart that my colleagues are not willing to call out his racism.

Mike Turner, a Republican from Dayton, did. I spoke with him yesterday. He said what it was.

I wish more of my colleagues would. Maybe then the president would stop dividing people and start working on real issues that affect families, putting food on the table, taking care of their health care, helping them send their kids to community college.

KEILAR: I want to ask you, as a Senator, because the president said these women hate America. I've covered Congress, and I have never -- I've met lawmakers who have different views of what America is at its best. I've never ever met a lawmaker that I thought did not love America. Can you speak to that?

BROWN: I can't imagine -- I can't imagine anyone running for Congress and not loving this country. Not wanting to make -- look, a lover's quarrel with your country means you sometimes are upset, but you want to make the country better. That's what all of us are.

I almost -- not laughingly, but I contrast that when Trump talks about making America great again, I've always thought it was. And I always thought that I'm proud of this country and what we stand for.

I guess the president went from, the country wasn't great to when he became president it became great. I wonder, it makes me shrug my shoulders when I heard President Trump saying make America great again, as if in the Obama years it wasn't great. It's been great in my lifetime.

We have faults, we have problems, we have to deal with all kinds of issues. But I'm proud of this country. Apparently, the president wasn't when he first ran.

KEILAR: Senator Sherrod Brown, thank you so much.

BROWN: Thanks.

KEILAR: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell notably silent on President Trump's racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen. He's expected to finally speak any moment. These are live pictures as we await him. And we're going to bring this to you, live.