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House to Vote to Condemn Trump's Attack on Four Congresswomen; New Book Details Trump's Takeover of Republican Party. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Republican leaders have chosen not to comment on President Trump's racist rhetoric, but today, they may have to make a choice. NEW DAY continues right now.


[07:00:06] REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): This is the agenda of white nationalists.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you hate our country, if you're not happy here, you can leave.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): This is a distraction. We should not take the bait.

TRUMP: It doesn't concern me, because many people agree with me.

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): I think those tweets are racist and xenophobic. And they're also inaccurate.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): My Republican colleagues are hoping that the president realizes the error of his ways. The president just doubled down on his racist comments.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. And today is the day lawmakers will not be able to hide behind silence. Today is the day Republicans will have to choose whether to take a stand against the president of the United States. Today they will count the votes.

The House of Representatives is planning a vote to condemn the president's racist attack on four members of Congress, specifically calling it racist.

So far about 19 congressional Republicans have voiced some level of disapproval, but the party as a whole and its leadership is standing by the president, either in silence -- that's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- or through a full-throated defense like House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, four Democratic congresswomen of color are fighting back against President Trump's racist attacks, and this is a conflict the president seems to want. He is stepping up his rhetoric, claiming the lawmakers, quote, "hate America," and they need to leave if they are not happy here.

But the congresswomen are having no part of that.


OMAR: This is the agenda of white nationalists. Now it's reached the White House garden.

PRESSLEY: This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I want to tell children across this country, is that no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone. And today that notion, that very notion was challenged.


BERMAN: All right. I want to bring in Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator; Astead Herndon, national politics reporter for "The New York Times"; and Bianna Golodryga, CNN contributor.

And Ana, I want to know what happens today. We've seen 19 or so Republicans come out publicly with some level of disapproval, elected Republicans, but today they could be forced to take a vote. So what will they do? What will the Republican Party say?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have no idea. I hope that what they say is the right thing, which is to call racism racism and to call a racist a racist. You should be able to do that whether it's somebody from your own party. You should be able to do that whether it's somebody that's not a celebrity or somebody that's famous, whether it is the president or whether it is a Joe Schmo from anywhere.

And, you know, the congresswoman said something there that is so right, how many times have we read stories in the last three years about how children, how kids used Donald Trump's words to bully other children? I know that our children all across America today with names like mine, who speak with accents like I do, who are getting told to go back to their country, to go back home when this is their home, when this is their country.

And that's why we must stand up to this. That is why we have to condemn racism every single time it raises its ugly head.

Look, I realize so many Republicans are tired of this, of commenting on Trump, of having to define themselves and their identity on reacting to what Trump says. But there is no choice. There is no choice, because America's children and America's values demand that we do it every single time. And we cannot normalize, we cannot accept what is not normal and what is not acceptable.

CAMEROTA: Astead, this is such an interesting gamble of Nancy Pelosi's, to force this vote and decide and get Republicans to have to be on the record. Because just allowing them, of their own volition, to speak out yesterday was a mixed bag. It was very interesting to see who gave lukewarm, sort of condemnation; who gave strong condemnation but then added an addendum, you know, a caveat. "But these women are socialists" or whatever the caveat was.

And so this one will be, you know, in perpetuity for history to see, and it's just very interesting to see how Republicans will respond today.

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Exactly. I think this is kind of a window into the kind of political calculations of Republicans right now.

On one hand, you have the kind of clear racism and racist connotations that are emanating from that tweet as kind of a -- on a baseline, as -- as she lays out, kind of a clear line for folks to kind of call out.

But if you're a Republican right now, you're operating with the understanding that Donald Trump holds the Republican base in his hands.

This is a president whose words folks may -- folks may find surprising or offensive, but they're not necessarily unpopular among the Republican base. And that's an important thing to remember.

When we looked yesterday at those statements, now, you certainly have some folks coming out and saying kind of tepid condemnations, but you also had some full-throated shows of support from Republicans who come from those more deep red areas.

Now, why is that happening? That is happening, because they know that his words on this front are not unpopular among the Republican base.

And so when you have Nancy Pelosi putting up this resolution, it is -- it is trying to force those moral and political calculations to come into conflict. She wants to see which Republicans will stand up against the president. But if the last three years are any -- any indication, we don't know if that's going to be a universal condemnation.

BERMAN: Or they're supporting him because they agree with what he says.

HERNDON: Exactly.

BERMAN: Or they're staying silent because they agree with what he says. You know, that is an assumption I think we all have to make. The flip side of that, Bianna, is the president is leaning into this.

He's not running from it. So is he getting what he wants? He had a news conference. He spoke out loud at the White House yesterday in the Rose Garden, where he once again told people who criticize America to go home.

And there was a news conference late yesterday with the four members of Congress that he has specifically called out. Is that a news conference that he welcomes, do you think?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In the short run, let's look at how this played out. On Sunday, he issued that tweet, and reportedly, he reached out to those amongst his circle and asked what the response has been. It has been deafening, as we know. So he doubled down. He tweeted again Sunday evening, and then he held that press conference yesterday.

So in light of what happens with this vote again, today, if history is any judge or indication, I think we're going to see a lot more Republicans siding with the president than Nancy Pelosi.

As for the Democrats, if anything, this could be a learning opportunity and lesson for them. Remember, we had one of those four accused, subtly, Nancy Pelosi of, perhaps, some racism in her tone or her comments. I think from a bigger standpoint now, they may think twice about accusing each other of racism when they're dealing with the president who's now issuing statements like this.

But you also think about the hypocrisy. What got this president elected? He criticized the system. He criticized the system relentlessly, saying America wasn't great any more. So for him to come out now and say, for those who don't agree with the system, they should go back to where they came from, it makes no sense.

CAMEROTA: I'm glad you brought that up, because Ana, again, he's again criticizing these lawmakers as being, I guess, too negative for the U.S. But let's remember, on -- at the inauguration, the most negative view we've ever heard cast by a president, let's just rewind the tape for a moment and hear how Donald Trump saw America.


TRUMP: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime, and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.


CAMEROTA: Ana, that's how he saw the country.

NAVARRO: Yes. I apologize to our viewers for having them start the day with such an inspirational, optimistic view of America, and it's a hell of a way to start the morning.

Look, it's not just that Donald Trump controls the base. It's that he weaponizes that base against any Republican who dares speak against him. There is a political cemetery full of, you know, folks who were in Congress who decided to not run again or who lost in primaries, or who lost in general or who actually died, because Donald Trump goes after them.

Donald Trump went after John McCain when he was dying of cancer, because John McCain dared speak up against him. And there's people, there's names like Jeff Flake, like Charlie Dent, like Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, like Carlos Curbelo, like Mia Love, like Mark Sanford. I could go on and on of people that Donald Trump has taken on, Republicans. He prefers a Democrat than a Republican who dares say the truth and speak up and confront him.

[07:10:20] And look, what he's doing, from a political standpoint, is very simple. He believes that, in 2016, he won, because he divided and conquered. Because he pitted us against each other as Americans, and that that for him was a winning strategy.

And he believes that these congresswomen, in particular, are not the mainstream; and thus, he is making them the face of the Democratic Party. And he's trying to define the Democratic Party with these four women and attack them relentlessly with -- through his surrogates and through himself as communists, as socialists, as un-American, as people who shouldn't be here, as anti-Semitic, on and on and on. That's what he's doing. It's a "us versus them" tactic.

It's his old playbook. It's the only thing he is capable of doing. He is not capable of uniting America or of leading this country.

GOLODRYGA: Can I just put this in an immigrant's perspective? Because all of this reminded me of an old Soviet joke in the early '70s, where two college students, an American and a Soviet, are debating over which government system is more just, right?

And the American says, "Mine is more just in the United States. I can go in front of the White House and criticize Richard Nixon all day long, and nothing will happen to me."

The Soviet says, "Oh, no big deal. I can go in front of the Kremlin and criticize Richard Nixon all day long, and nothing will happen to me."

And everyone laughs, and it's a funny joke. But we find ourselves in a situation where you have immigrants and American citizens, and some who have been here for generations, criticizing this administration, criticizing the government, and look at the payback and the response that you get from all the way at the top.

BERMAN: There is nothing more American than trying to make the country better.

GOLODRYGA: Absolutely. BERMAN: The Constitution begins with the phrase, "We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union," which is an admission that it can be better. I'll just put that out there.

But Astead, I want to know from you and your reporting, what are you hearing from Democrats? Do they have any concerns? Or what are their concerns about being led into this discussion?

HERNDON: Yes, Democrats understand what the -- what the president seems to be trying to do. There is a recognition among Democrats that this is someone who is going to run on an agenda that's pretty explicitly won in that kind of white identity politics lane that seeks to use issues like immigration and race to motivate his largely white base.

What that -- what that requires from Democrats is a kind of uniting around the opposite values, which sometimes has been difficult for them to do. Especially that's true in the House, where the House caucus has a little bit of a different incentives then we talked about 2020 Democrats.

Remember, Nancy Pelosi is managing a House caucus that has to win gerrymandered districts, that has to win in these largely Republican areas and maintain that majority, or the kind of 2020 scene that's focused about a primary which has a more vocal embrace of liberal ideals, a more vocal kind of -- goes further on the kind of anti- racism stances. And so you have those kind of two versions of the Democratic Party.

The question when we look at 2020 is going to be which one of that side is going to win out and how they are going to approach the president.

There's a lot of criticism coming out of 2016 that the Clinton campaign was just reactive to Trump's insults and did not offer a proactive vision of the country. And so there's a lot of focus among Democrats right now to make sure that they provide a cohesive vision, and not one that's just tit-for-tat with the president.

CAMEROTA: All right. It will be very interesting to see what happens today with this possible vote. Thank you all very much.

What will also be interesting is our next segment, because are you with President Trump or against him? That's the only choice that our next guest says Republicans need to face after President Trump has successfully hijacked the Republican Party. So we are going to speak with the author of "American Carnage," next.

BERMAN: And later in the hour, a CNN exclusive: How did WikiLeaks get the hacked material that upended the 2016 election? Our investigation with the details you will want to hear, next.


[07:18:23] BERMAN: One of the biggest questions over the last 48 hours or so is why were Republicans so silent in the aftermath of the president's racist attack on four members of Congress? Now, 19 or 20 have now spoken out to voice some disapproval, but the party officially not getting involved. Leadership also very quiet. So why the silence?

Well, one man has an answer. In fact, he wrote an entire book about it, largely --

CAMEROTA: You've been lifting weights, I can see.

BERMAN: -- largely -- I needed to, to lift this book up. Joining us now is Tim Alberta, chief political correspondent at "Politico" and the author of the new book, which is out today, "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump."

And Tim, I'm telling everyone here who will listen to me that inside the pages is the answer to every question that has been asked on TV and in the newspapers the last few days about the Republican Party, why they responded the way they did when the president made racist statements about four members of Congress.

So broadly put, why was there such reticence? Why was there such silence? How do you see it?

TIM ALBERTA, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN CARNAGE": It's very kind of you. First of all, thank you.

Look, I think that this -- these events of the last 72 hours are actually serving as a pretty good microcosm of Trump's takeover of the party, which is to say that, when Donald Trump came onto the scene in 2015, he had diagnosed the old Republican Party as weak.

He viewed the party itself and the leaders of the party, the standard bearers of conservative writ large, as sort of feeble and as fearful of confrontation, and as people who were unwilling to take the fight to the left, not just politically but really much more so culturally. And that was a big part of Trump's decision to run in the first place.

[07:20:07] We spoke at length about this in the Oval Office, and he talked about, you know, McCain in '08, basically vouching for Obama's character at every turn. Romney in 2012, refusing to kind of get in the mud and swing back at Obama when the Obama campaign was brutally defining Romney in really unsavory terms in that campaign, in his reelection.

And so Trump comes onto the scene and says, "Look, I think I can take over this party. I think that I can vanquish these 16 other Republican candidates for the presidency, because they're all afraid. None of these guys are willing to get in the ring and throw the haymakers that I'm willing to throw." And he was right in that calculation. He was absolutely right.

If you recall, think about the first six months of that campaign, before it became abundantly clear that Donald Trump was running away with that thing. Nobody would touch him. I mean, Jeb Bush here and there would take some shots at him. But Rubio, Kasich, Cruz, they all played footsies with Trump, many of them under the assumption that Trump would eventually just get out of the race, that they wouldn't have to worry about him in the long run.

And I think that reluctance to engage, that -- that reluctance to kind of take on Trump and Trumpism head on early, really gave him the oxygen he needed to take off.

And so that -- again, what you're seeing over the last couple of days with so many of these Republicans essentially avoiding confrontation with Trump is exactly what we saw during his political assent. So it's no surprise to see it again now, because he has effectively taken over the party at this point.

CAMEROTA: And so many voters say, "How did we get here?" I mean, how -- we understand, once the campaign started, that he had a strategy unlike the others.

But how did we get to the point where the country embraced that style and wanted Donald Trump? And you say rewind the clock back to the end of George W. Bush. And the GOP didn't seem to have any new fresh leaders, no new fresh vision. And that's when it sort of started to collapse. And it was -- little did they know they were looking for an identity and that they would find one eight years later.

ALBERTA: Look, the post-George W. Bush Republican Party was like a war-torn country with, suddenly, war lords and tribes moving in and filling the vacuum of a stable government. Right? There was -- it was chaos. It was the Wild West.

And what you obviously began to see, with the Tea Party wave, was this incredible civil war that really broke out in the party between the conservatives and the moderates; these outsider insurgent candidates with these establishment-backed, more -- more country club traditionally Republican office holders. And it was fascinating to watch this sort of ideological warfare break out.

And look, some degree of that can be really healthy for a party when you're in the minority. And when you've had a two-term president leave office, you have this kind of natural void of leadership. We're seeing that now in the Democratic Party. You do have some of these big ideological debates.

What's so interesting is that those fault lines have completely changed now, whereas the debate within the Republican Party was largely at that point, still over ideas, still over policy.

What Donald Trump was really pressing in identifying, guys, is that many Republican voters didn't really care about the policy. We all -- we all associated the Tea Party with fiscal issues: Obama is bankrupting the country, debt, deficit spending.

Really, Trump looked at the Tea Party and saw culture. These folks see a culture that no longer resembles the one that they knew and grew up with. They see a government that they no longer trust. They want somebody to come in and blow this entire thing up. And there were other people who saw it early. Ted Cruz, obviously, I

think is another one who came in and recognized this and tried to tap into it. But nobody tapped it into it quite as effectively as Trump.

BERMAN: John Boehner is all over this book, in sometimes amusing ways, sometimes prescient ways, and sometimes very reflective ways. And one of the things he says in here, you're asking him about the Republican Party versus the party of Trump, and he begins to say there is no Republican Party.

ALBERTA: Yes, and Boehner would know better than anyone, because he was this bridge between the old Republican guard and this new era of Republican politics.

And it's so interesting, because Boehner was a guy who, not to do the full history, but it's actually quite fascinating. When he came into Congress in 1990, he was the hell raiser. He was the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed. John Boehner, you know, and a group of these renegade congressmen, they ferreted out all of this corruption in Congress. They took down the House bank, the House post office. They got indictments. These guys were serious troublemakers, and they tortured the party establishment.

And then, of course, as John Boehner's career progressed and he climbed the ranks, he became something of an institutionalist. And when he saw this Tea Party wave coming along in 2010, and then when they took the majority in 2011, he knew that this was trouble. And he could see that this wave was sort of cresting, and he didn't know who was going to ride it. He certainly didn't think it was going to be his golf buddy, Donald Trump, because nobody thought it was going to be Donald Trump.

But Boehner was effectively, ultimately, run out of office by a lot of folks who were, again, sort of agitating for this party purity. But Boehner and Eric Cantor, his deputy, who was also run out of office by the Tea Party, both of these guys would say to me, looking back, "You know, all of these policy arguments, all this ideological warfare, it was sort of happening up here, but below the surface, there was this churning cultural thing that was happening that was driving so much of this. And it was really hard to put your finger on what it was.

[07:20:17] And then Donald Trump came along, and he exploited it, he weaponized it in a way that nobody thought was possible.

CAMEROTA: Tim Alberta, stick around if you would, because we have many more questions for you, including some juicy tidbits. Our conversation with the author of "American Carnage" continues after the break.



GRAHAM: I want to talk to the Trump supporters for a minute. I don't know who you are, and I don't know why you like this guy. I think what you like about him, he appears to be strong, and the rest of us --