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President Trump's Tweets Telling Four Congresswomen to Go Back to Their Country Draws Controversy.; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is Interviewed About Trump's Racist Attacks and Several GOP Leaders Staying Silent. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- a little dehydrated. And John and Alisyn, we'll send it back to you. And the dog is OK as well. Back to you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Fantastic. Good news on the dog, great news for that family. What a story. Dan Simon, thank you very much.

And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN newsroom with Max Foster is next. For our U.S. viewers, will lawmakers take a stand? Will they vote to condemn the president's racist attack on members of Congress? NEW DAY continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are people who hate our country.

REP. ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D) NEW YORK: We love this country. What that means is that we propose the solutions to fix it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're grateful for your support in the face of the most recent xenophobic, bigoted remarks from the occupant of our White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he's racist. I think he's an equal opportunity offender.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: They have no moral authority to talk about the border anymore. They voted against aid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cannot allow these hateful actions to distract us from the critical work to hold this administration accountable to the inhumane conditions at the border.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your New Day. It is Tuesday, July 16th, 8:00 now in the east. And today House Republicans could be forced to take a public stand against President Trump. Nancy Pelosi plans a vote to condemn the president's racist attack on four members of Congress. Mr. Trump is making it clear that his attacks are by design. It is also clear the GOP is under his control. The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, is defending the president, insisting that he is not a racist and that his tweets are actually about ideology.

BERMAN: As for other party leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, silence, silence for another day. At least 19 Republicans, they have already broken ranks and condemned at some level the president's rhetoric. The president wants to make those four lawmakers, we're talking about the Democrats, the face of that party, the Democratic Party in 2020. The president says they hate America and can leave if they're not happy here. This is their response.


REP. ILHAN OMAR, (D-MN): This is the agenda of white nationalists. Now it's reached the White House garden.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY, (D-MA): This is disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.

REP. ALEXANDRA 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.


CAMEROTA: All right, let's discuss this. We want to bring in Shawna Thomas, Washington bureau chief from "VICE News," Tara Setmayer, former GOP congressional communications director, and Tim Alberta, chief political correspondent for "Politico" and the author of the book "American Carnage."

Tim, I guess I'll just start with you because you're here with us and your book came out today, and it's getting so much attention. You are probably the least surprised person in America at what is happening and where we find ourselves and Donald Trump's comments. Donald Trump's comments over the weekend via Twitter took so many by surprise -- I don't know by surprise, but I guess shocked the system of so many people because they went beyond the pale. It was unambiguously racist. The idea that there could even be a debate, to tell people who are U.S. duly elected lawmakers, go back home, go back to wherever you came from, meaning your home country, when three of them were born here, there's no other way to read that, frankly. But you say that that's how he won, and the embrace of the Republican Party around him should be expected now.

TIM ALBERTA, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN CARNAGE": Yes, look, I think there are two things that aren't surprising this weekend. The first, to your point, Alisyn, is what the president had to say. And if you go back and track Donald Trump's, not just his political ascent but really his cultural ascent over a period of decades, this was pretty central to what he did and what he was all about. Donald Trump has always played with fire as it relates to race. And I would say in the last three to four years he has not just toed up to that racial line but he has crossed it on numerous occasions, and we've seen. So that's not surprising.

I think the second thing that's not surprising is the Republican reaction to it, or really in many cases the lack thereof. You mentioned Mitch McConnell still not having said anything. This is a perfect window into where we are right now. Mitch McConnell is up for reelection in 2020. He knows that to get reelected in Kentucky, which is still a safely red state, he cannot afford to get crosswise with President Trump's base back home, because Mitch McConnell does an awful lot of polling. He's got money in the bank. His team is very, very savvy. This is a good operation. They spend a lot of money on data and microtargeting and analytics, and they have reached one incontrovertible conclusion. Donald Trump is a hell of a lot more popular in Kentucky than Mitch McConnell is.

[08:05:00] And so he better think twice before he gets on the wrong side of the president. And again, he is just symptomatic of this entire Republican Party at this, save for a dozen or so exceptions. We've seen some people come out and voice their concerns, voice their criticisms, but they are a very focal minority.

BERMAN: Tara Setmayer, you have walked the halls of Congress and worked there. There is this vote on a resolution which should happen tonight which would condemn the president's statements and call them racist. Is this a hard vote for Republican members, and should it be?

TARA SETMAYER, FORMER GOP CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, apparently it is. If they can't even go on record to give a basic statement casting a vote which is a way to codify their opinion on something is going to be a bit more difficult. I'll be curious to see how this plays out.

They expected the House to reprimand the squad or Ilhan Omar when she made those anti-Semitic comments and they had this resolution, and it turned into a whole thing within the Democratic caucus, and Republicans were very strong about the fact that she needed to be condemned for her anti-Semitic statements, and rightfully so. But when it comes down to the president of the United States for making blatantly racist comments, racist, un-American comments, then Republicans tuck their tales and you can't find them.

I'm glad to see there were a handful that finally came out, but it's shameful that the leaders of the party are continuing to defend and enable and not call out what it is. This is the part of the demise and the corrosion of the Republican Party that I'm embarrassed to say has taken place because they've decided to bend their knee at the altar of Donald Trump at expense of the fabric and soul of our country.

CAMEROTA: I'll just read a little bit, Shawna, of what Congressman Kevin McCarthy said about this, House Minority Leader. "The president is not a racist. I think this is really coming down to a battle about ideology. It's really kind of a socialist battle versus a thing that we believe within America. I know there's a lot of frustration, there's a lot of things said on all sides. I've watched some of the comments said, some of the congressional women have made on the other side as well. I think what the American public really wants us to do is work on problems and solve problems." It's amazing how some Republicans are trying to redirect. They are trying to not have to talk about what the president said, and they are trying to cast aspirations on those lawmakers, and you hear the term "socialism" bandied about all the time. It seems to me they are attempting to show the president how to rebrand this argument.

SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "VICE NEWS": I agree. They're trying to figure out how do we make our way through this, because they know that those tweets were racist. I think the interesting thing is in the short-term thinking about what Tim Alberta said about Mitch McConnell, yes, that totally makes sense. But in the long-term the Republican Party has known they have a problem with Hispanics and African-Americans. And if you look at the autopsy that they themselves put out after the 2012 election, after Barack Obama won again, they specifically said that by 2050 it will be a majority minority country. We lost Hispanics and African-Americans in that election in 2012 by so much that if we do not change the way we speak to these people, if we do not do that, we will lose elections in the future.

So the question is, do you want to play the short game or do you want to play the long game. And right now the short game has you having to vote on a resolution later today, it seems, about whether these things are racist, are you willing to condemn racism? And if you're playing the long game, you have to think really hard about that and whether you want to be someone who is willing to stand up for, as our other guest said, the moral fabric of this country.

SETMAYER: How far have we come from the image that we saw during the primary in 2016 where I happened to be in the room and was very proud of that moment as a minority Republican female looking at Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio joining forces before Rubio dropped out of the race. And I looked at that and I said this is the future of the Republican Party that I've been fighting for so many years at that point, and that came crashing down after Donald Trump won that nomination and then eventually won the presidency, and to watch how many of these Republicans made the decision to throw that by the wayside and go along with this not make America great again. It's make America white again, apparently, according to the president of the United States, because everyone in the country isn't welcome. You have a difference of opinion, you're not welcome.

Who is Donald Trump to determine what makes America great? A guy who dodged the draft, who goes after Gold Star families, who bragged after about his sexual conquests instead of going to Vietnam to serve this country, who goes after war heroes like John McCain? This is the guy that is determining what makes America great? I believe Donald Trump hates this country. He hates what makes America great. He hates the rule of law. He hates diversity. He hates the freedom of dissent. And this is who Republicans decided to hitch their wagons to, and it's at their demise ultimately if they continue to do this.

THOMAS: And they have a choice. SETMAYER: They do.

THOMAS: They have a choice about whether they are going to continue to hitch their wagon to racist tweets our not.

[08:10:00] And the thing is, the problem with this conversation is we can't even talk about like the differences between the Republican Party and Democratic Party on other issues, on social issues, on economic issues. There are valid conversations to be had.

SETMAYER: Right, absolutely.

THOMAS: But I can't have that conversation because we're literally talking about racism in the year 2019.

BERMAN: And again, two things. Number one, Tara, if you haven't read Tim's book, do it.

SETMAYER: I'm excited. I'm going right after this to get it.

BERMAN: He's written several pages about that moment you described right there with Nikki Haley on stage and Marco Rubio and Tim Scott. The second thing, though, is, Tim, as you look at this week, the president didn't just tweet this on Sunday. He held a news conference on this yesterday. This is now a campaign strategy. This is the Trump reelection strategy as far as I can tell at this moment. It isn't those economic issues or health care or taxes that Shawna was just talking about there. It's culture.

ALBERTA: One-thousand percent. And to Shawna's point, think about our politics 20, 30, 40 years ago. There were ugly at times, no question, but there was at least this philosophical, this intellectual debate about the size of role of government. And that was by and large what defined what it meant to be a liberal or to be a conservative, what it meant to be a Republican or a Democrat. And that has slowly dissolved over the years.

And again, we cannot try to lay all of this at Donald Trump's footstep. That would just be a huge mistake. Trump exploited and weaponized these forces of culture and ideological warfare and socioeconomic displacement that were converging ahead of 2016. But Trump has now weaponized. And to point we were talking about earlier, he does not want this election to be about policy. He doesn't want it to be about ideology to the point one panelist was just making. Ideology means nothing to the president. He's not a small government conservative. He does not have necessarily a coherent, comprehensive ideological worldview. He clings to a few bedrock beliefs about globalism being bad and injurious to the American worker, but by and large Donald Trump realizes that if he's going to win reelection, he needs to have 100 percent engagement, mobilization, galvanization among his core supporters, and those people are fired up of one thing above everything else, and that is culture. Light those prairie fires when it comes to cultural issues, and he's done that really effectively.

CAMEROTA: And let's be honest, Shawna, part of that is because it's easier to talk about cultural issues. It's intellectually lazier than having to actually dive in and think about and do your homework on policy. A cultural issue just sort of rolls off the tongue, and it's easier to work everybody up to a lather about it. And when you say they should be playing the long game, don't you think what has been revealed in the past 72 hours is that the long game is they don't want a minority-majority country. That's what they're trying to fight. That's why he wants AOC and Ilhan Omar and all the women that he lumped together to go back to their countries, because he is trying to fight that demographic reality.

THOMAS: Well, I think it seems that the president is trying to fight that demographic reality. I'm unwilling to cast aspersions on the entire Republican Party and what they want. I think the Mitch McConnells of the world and I think the Kevin McCarthys of the world know that the demographics are what they are, and that telling people to go back to their own country, possibly unfortunately for the president that means they're going back to their home districts in America.

So I understand in that the president wants partially to just have this cultural conversation, which also gets back to his issues on immigration, his issues about building the wall, all of these other things. But the president is going to be the president. We already saw the 2016 election. We know how he's going to run this, and clearly he's kicking this into a higher gear. What is the rest of the Republican Party going to do? That's the real question here.

BERMAN: I also think it's a question about what the Democrats can do. And Tara, I'll ask you this question. You can choose to answer this or any other question.


CAMEROTA: Multiple choice.

BERMAN: But is there a way for Democrats to lose a culture campaign, a campaign based on cultural issues like this?

SETMAYER: Absolutely. And what they were doing before this latest debacle was exactly that. When you have Democrats like the squad, who I find many of their progressive ideas very objectionable as a conservative, obviously. But when you start talking about Medicare for all and open borders and let's decriminalize crossing the border, let's give health care to illegal immigrants, those are the kinds of hot button issues that will have people in the rustbelt states say, wait, we're not trying to go that way with that. With the Green New Deal when you're trying to guarantee incomes and the government is telling you what you can set your thermostat to, those are the cultural ideals that Trump and Republicans recognize as, quote, socialism and the government coming in and telling you what to do that people don't want. And they're willing to cast aside all the racism, all the lying, the misogyny, all of the despicable things that Donald Trump represents because they're like we don't want our way of life to change.

[08:15:08] So, that's the problem. We've come a long way from the conservatism of Bill Buckley, one of my heroes, who said that conservatives are supposed to be there to yell stop athwart history. Who are those Republicans going to be when you have someone like Donald Trump telling people that look me to go back to where they came from?

I think that that's despicable and I do blame most of the Republican Party when you have 90 percent support for this president.

BERMAN: Michael Turner, Will Hurd, just a few who've stood up. Joni Ernst in certain ways has stood over the last few days. There are a few -- there are a few speaking out.

SETMAYER: Not enough.


Tara, Shawna, Tim, thank you all very much for that conversation.

So, the House could vote to condemn President Trump's racist attacks in just a matter of hours. What about the Senate? Well, the minority whip is going to join us with what's happening there. That's next.


[08:20:00] CAMEROTA: President Trump trying to defend his suggestion that four congresswomen of color leave the country. House Democrats plan to vote as soon as today on condemning the president's racist attacks.

So, joining us now is Senator Dick Durbin. He's the Democratic whip who also serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for being with us this morning.

Have you been surprised by your Republican colleagues' response to the president's suggestion that these lawmakers of color leave the country?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Sadly, no. Unfortunately, the Republican Party of the United States, this party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, the surrendering its soul to Donald Trump, to think that this president can make the kind of racist, reprehensible statement he's made without reaction from Republicans is a sad day in the history of this party.

CAMEROTA: Well, listen, there has been reaction. I mean, 19 of them came out with some form of condemnation, some stronger than others, some much weaker than others. And what you often heard was they would condemn what the president said in one sentence and then pivot right away to criticizing also these four female lawmakers.

So, let me just -- I mean, one example is Senator Lindsey Graham. So, let me just play for you how Lindsey Graham reacted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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. They're calling the guards along our border, the border patrol agents, concentration camp guards.

They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They're anti-Semitic. They're anti-America. Don't get that, aim higher.


CAMEROTA: So, I mean, that's basically all he has to say to the president was aim higher than that.

DURBIN: I can tell you the fact that you can count on just 19 Republicans to step up and say anything negative of all those who identify with the Republican Party of the United States, just tells it all as far as I'm concerned.

My friend and colleague whom I've worked with over the years, Senator Graham, really was off base the things he said about these four women. Calling them communist, come on. You know, that goes -- harkens back to one of the darkest periods in American history where critics of the government even if I despise or disagree with their views branded as communist and we reached that opponent and the Republican Party is prepared to accept this president's racist statements of these four women.

I mean, the fact he would say to these women, three of them born in the United States to go back to where they came from? What in the hell is that supposed to mean? That is white nationalism at its worst.

CAMEROTA: You know, I'm glad you brought up the words, the compromises that you've tried to do with Senator Lindsey Graham, and we're aware of them. I mean, just recently, a few weeks ago, you and Senator Graham announced you'd be working together to try to fix or amend the country's asylum policies.

And so, obviously behind the scenes you're still working together, I assume. Correct me if I'm wrong, but when you hear him go after these women and call them communists, does it make it harder for you to work with him?

DURBIN: It makes it difficult to come up with a plan together that would appeal to Democrats and people across the board. It's just more difficult because this president is so divisive. And those who want to line up on his side of the ledger end up being very difficult to work with.

But I'll keep on trying. I feel and I hope Lindsey feels as well there's too much at stake when there's 790,000 DACA recipients who no longer have protection law because of President Trump. Whether it's the hundreds of thousands of those here on temporary status who are being forced to leave this country or whether we're talking about the border crisis and the innocent victims, the kids in cages, all of these things beg for some solution, some response.

I'll keep looking for it. I'm not going to give up. There's too much at stake.

CAMEROTA: You know, I don't mean to pick on Senator Lindsey Graham. We love having him on the program and on the network. And a short 3 1/2 years ago he was on this very show with us and talking about how dangerous at that time he thought Donald Trump who was running for president was. So let me just play a moment of that.


GRAHAM: He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party.


CAMEROTA: Times have changed, Senator, and I'm just wondering if you have any insight into that?

DURBIN: I don't. I try to catch Lindsey Graham when he's near the center stripe of American politics. There are times when he's off on the shoulder, right and left. But when I get him near the center stripe, he's my cosponsor of the Dream Act.

[08:25:02] When he's near the center stripe, he and I can sit down with John McCain and others and write a comprehensive reform bill that passes the floor of the House and Senate with 68 votes.

There are moments when he does try to solve problems and I want to be there to work with him when that times. There are other times when he's completely off the rails.

CAMEROTA: So, today, Nancy Pelosi is going to probably force a vote, a symbolic vote in the House where people have to, you know, into perpetuity say how they felt about the president's statements and whether they want to condemn them.

What are Democrats on the Senate side going to do about this?

DURBIN: Let me tell you the rules in the Senate make it clear that one man will decide if we speak out on this matter of principle. And that man is Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of Kentucky.

I will tell you he's been President Trump's greatest enabler. If you don't like the division in Washington, D.C., if you don't like what's happening to this country a as we pit ourselves one against the other, I'm afraid that Senator McConnell has been the enabler of this president who has created in just 2 1/2 years of division in America which was unthinkable before the last presidential election. I don't think Senator McConnell really has the will or the determination, or even the political courage to step up even in this clear a case and condemn the racism of the president's remarks.

CAMEROTA: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you very much for being on with your perspective on all of this today. DURBIN: Thank you.


BERMAN: So, by CNN's count as of this morning, about 19 Republicans have come out against the president's racist comments about the four members of Congress in some degree. We are going to hear from one Republican senator who has been critical. That's next.