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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Controversy Continues Over President Trump's Racist Tweets. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: That does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for joining us.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We soon will know, maybe, where every congress man and woman stands on the matter of impeaching President Trump.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news this hour, the House of Representatives could vote on an impeachment resolution against the president. What are Democrats saying constitutes grounds for impeachment?

Also this hour, President Trump on his way to a campaign rally, as we find out that his trump card in 2020 could well be the race card.

Plus, Trump's tell. The one word that our fact-checker says is a telltale sign the president is in the middle of a whopper.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news.

This hour, we expect a vote on the House floor over whether to impeach President Trump, after Democratic Congressman Al Green of Texas, for whom this has been something of a cause since December of 2017, introduced the impeachment resolution against him, not for any Russia- related reasons, but over the president's racist tweets, in which the president told four Democratic congresswomen of color, all U.S. citizens, three of the four born in the U.S., to go back where they came from.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. AL GREEN (D-TX): This is about bigotry and racism and that racism that has been infused into policy.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are racist tweets really high crimes and misdemeanors? GREEN: His tweets can incite people to do harm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Congressman Green going a bit rogue there, telling CNN that he did not speak with Speaker Pelosi about this move.

Pelosi saying this afternoon that she's not sure what Democratic leadership is going to do with this resolution, though she personally opposes it.

Now, this decision how to vote, this decision comes while some moderate House Democrats were already privately expressing concern that, because of the president's racist tweets against their four colleagues, they have now been put in the position of embracing members of Congress who have said and done things they disagree with, controversial things, even anti-Semitic sentiments.

Moreover, as one House Democratic congressman told me this afternoon -- quote -- "The president's words and actions speak for themselves. We need to focus on the issues that got us the Democratic majority here, jobs, health care, instead of the issues the president brings up deliberately. Anything that takes away from bread-and-butter issues is playing into his hands" -- unquote.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us right now.

And, Phil, a source tells CNN that Democratic leaders want to kill Congressman Al Green's impeachment resolution?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right.

Democratic leaders from Nancy Pelosi on down have made clear they want no part of this effort by Congressman Al Green. And the reasons are twofold. First and foremost, they believe and Speaker Pelosi has made clear there is a set pathway that Democrats can take and are taking related to investigating the president.

And that investigation in large part focuses on obstruction, which, as you noted, this impeachment resolution doesn't at all, but there's also the political element here. Democratic leaders have been very wary of forcing their members into an up-or-down vote on this issue.

So what they will be doing is using a procedural mechanism to essentially kill this without having an actual vote on impeachment itself. Keep in mind, while there are 80 Democrats -- more than 80 Democrats who support opening an impeachment inquiry, that is less than a third of the Democratic Caucus.

The vast majority of Democrats right now are backing Speaker Pelosi's effort in terms of investigations, not moving forward with impeachment, Democratic leadership trying to keep the peace here. They have to deal with this, but they're going to do their best to dispatch with it as quickly as possible, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Phil, we have heard a lot about the Squad, those four very progressive members of Congress that were just elected.

What are you hearing from more modern -- I'm sorry -- more moderate Democrats, especially the ones who were elected in November from more swing districts and are the reasons why Democrats retook the House?

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, there's palpable frustration. I think it's been there from, to be frank, the beginning of Congress. There's been a sense the progressive Democrats, with their large social media followings and kind of big picture, big sweeping proposals, have garnered much of the headlines, much of the attention, to the frustration of a lot of these Democrats, who are keenly aware that they're the reason Democrats are in power in the U.S. House.

They're the reason Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House. But there's also very kind of minutiae frustration when it comes to what's happened over the course of the last couple of days, the fact that there was a very lengthy and boisterous debate on the floor related to a resolution condemning the president, the fact that they're having to hold this impeachment proposal vote in a couple of hours here.

They're not here to do this, was what one Democratic member told me earlier, really echoing what the Democratic lawmaker told you. He said, bluntly, "I wasn't sent here for this kind of stuff."

And I think there's frustration right now. The big question is, given the fact the party needs to unify with some big picture items going forward, how do they rectify that? Well, we will have to wait and see, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Let's chew over all this.

We can talk about the Squad in the next block. I want to focus on impeachment right now, if we can.

Is it a mistake for Pelosi and the Democratic leaders to try to squash this impeachment resolution?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think they should let one of these resolutions at least see where the votes are going to come from, right?

[16:05:03]

Let's get it on the floor. Let's let people express themselves. Maybe that will let some of the energy out of the balloon. But there are a lot of people in the base of the Democratic Party that want to hold the president accountable. And it might just take having a vote to make them feel better about it.

TAPPER: And we should note that Congressman Green has been introducing this since December 2017, back when Republicans still controlled the House.

But now Democrats are in control. And I think about a third of the Democratic Caucus, a third of the House members are on record saying they support impeachment, a lot of them not giving any answers.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

You saw a slew of Democrats publicly embrace at least an impeachment inquiry, especially after special counsel or former special counsel Robert Mueller gave what has so far been his only public statement on the Mueller report just a couple months ago.

But then you kind of saw that talk really taper off for a little while. And I think what's frustrating for House Democratic leaders in this moment is what this vote does is, it casts the spotlight back on some of the internal divisions within the Democratic Party, when you really saw this unifying moment over the course of the past couple of days, where the party came together to defend the so-called Squad.

And it kind of then took the conversation away from this back and forth you have had between some of these more progressive members of Congress who are demanding action from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her efforts to say we're just not there yet on impeachment.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Squad, if we can.

I have been spending the day talking to a lot of Democratic House members. They are very frustrated with the Squad. They are very frustrated with them for any number of reasons you heard in the introduction.

One House Democrats saying we need to be talking about bread-and- butter issues, not the president's tweets. But others say they don't want to be in the position of defending things that they disagree with from, say, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

I mean, this is exactly what -- this is the position that the president and the Republican Party, who has backed him up on this, has forced Democrats into. They are painting the entire Democratic Party with the same brush.

They're even painting the entire Squad with the same brush, which, frankly, is a simplification of what is happening here. Not everybody in the Squad has made controversial comments, frankly.

And so that's part of what has become the strategy from the president. And it's what's going to make this really tricky for Democrats. On the one hand, the president has successfully unified the Democratic Party in opposition to him, which has been the key unifier for the last two-and-a-half years.

But on the other hand, there is some heartburn and probably rightfully so that they're not going to be able to control the simplicity of the president's message, which is that Democrats are embracing socialists and communists and anti-Semites.

All of that is an oversimplification, but this is how the president operates. It's in tweet-size bites, and things that he can then take to his rally tonight, which we will see, and make this about, do you love America or do you hate America? That's going to be a hard argument for Democrats to counter.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think what surprises me is, despite Trump unifying the Democratic Caucus over the past couple days, it's still clear that -- and I'm surprised by it -- that Pelosi doesn't have a lot of control here.

And this impeachment vote is another sign of that. I would not have predicted that when the Democrats took the House. I thought she was going to roll with an iron fist like she normally does. And her problem gets worse the more high-profile the Squad becomes, and this fight is obviously elevating them, which is not Trump's strategy, because he has no strategy.

But it is a consequence of this fight they're having. And Democrats will have to come to the aid loudly of folks who are policy-wise on -- not in the mainstream of America -- with American voters. So that's going to be an issue for them while Trump continues to suffer from his own very big problems.

TAPPER: Well, one House Democrat told me, speaking on condition of anonymity, that what Trump has done is brilliant, that he's won this one, because what he's gotten them to do, what he's got -- what he's established is, first of all, now, the Squad is the face of the Democratic Party, instead of Nancy Pelosi.

And also that Nancy Pelosi had gotten all her lieutenants on board to try to marginalize the Squad, and then he did this racist tweet. And now she's had to do a 180 and defend them. And people -- a lot of people don't like what they stand for. A lot of Democrats don't like what they stand for.

SIMMONS: A lot of people don't, but they're up to two different things.

I think here's -- the challenge for the -- quote, unquote -- "Squad," as some people call them, is that they have to decide how much they're going to participate in the institution of the House. And I think there are people who are in the House who say, listen, when the president attacks you, we're going to come to your defense and we're going to look out for you.

But that means that you have got to kind of come to our defense and be there for us too. That means not challenging incumbent members who haven't really done anything wrong. Don't organize to challenge them.

At the same time, the people in the Squad and some of the more progressive members are thinking about the long-term vision, direction of the Democratic Party. They're not thinking about passing legislation this year, necessarily. They're thinking about, where does the Democratic go -- where does the Democratic Party go? What does it stand for?

[16:10:03] Nancy Pelosi is a counter. She wants to know how many votes do you have this week, and how are we going to pass this piece of legislation? Yes or no. And that determines whether or not you're going to stand with -- you're going to be a part of the caucus and be revered by her.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We're going to keep talking about this subject.

The branding plan that President Trump hopes will stick after his rally tonight in the great state of North Carolina.

Plus, tonight, what could be the largest protest yet in the streets of one U.S. city in the wake of alleged corruption and scandal.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our politics lead now.

President Trump this hour will depart for a rally in the Tar Heel State, North Carolina, a state key to his 2016 victory and his 2020 reelection campaign.

And President Trump left no doubt today that he will target those four Democratic congresswomen of color who he told back -- he told to go back to their home countries, tweeting -- quote -- "I will talk also about people who love and hate our country, mostly love, this evening."

The president insisting that his racist comments were not, in fact, racist. But he might want to consult the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission manual, which states -- and I'm quoting here -- that harassment based on national origin includes, quote, insults, taunting or ethnic epithets such as making fun of a person's foreign accent or comments like "go back to where you came from", whether made by supervisors or by co-workers, unquote.

[16:15:22] As CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports, the president and advisers believe it is to his political advantage to brand these four Democrats as the face of the Democratic Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my opinion they hate our country.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's the message President Trump plans to test-drive at his rally in North Carolina tonight.

TRUMP: They shouldn't hate our country.

COLLINS: The president will be in friendly territory surrounded by supporters, but before he left Washington, he made clear he'll bring his fight with four Democratic congresswomen of color with him.

In a tweet, he'll talk about people who love and hate our country.

(CROWD CHANTING)

COLLINS: The rally coming one day after every House Democrat plus four Republicans and an independent voted to condemn Trump's racist attacks on the four lawmakers whom he has now labeled vicious young socialist congresswomen. It's a message the president hopes will help him win in 2020, sources say, as he hopes to cast the Democratic Party as left-wing and un-American.

ERIC TRUMP, SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is what is happening to the party and it's totally feeding into our hand, and I hope they keep on doing it.

COLLINS: The president's son made the strategy clear today.

E. TRUMP: And the reason my father is going to win again is this isn't the party of JFK any more. I mean, this isn't the Democrat Party. I mean, this is literally a radical socialist party that does not relate to every day Americans.

COLLINS: But the women Trump will portray is the face of the Democratic Party are pushing back.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): This is a distraction. This is a person that really wants to vilify and demonize not only immigrants but communities of color as many of my sisters have been talking about.

COLLINS: Publicly Democrats have rallied around the four women. Days after the group sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tensions the freshman members downplayed today.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): That does not mean there is a fundamental fracture or dehumanizing going on within our caucus.

COLLINS: But congressional sources tell CNN some Democratic moderates are not happy with having been dragged into this week's drama and forced to defend the so-called squad who themselves have been accused of controversial actions and statements including anti-Semitism.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, now that the shock has worn off among the president's aides over those tweets. He's viewing them as a success and says he wants to use them as a political strategy, including here tonight at this rally in North Carolina. But, of course, the question, Jake, is going to be whether or not that's a strategy that works.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins in beautiful Greenville, North Carolina -- thanks so much.

Abby, when push comes to shove, the president's advisers thinks that going after these four women will be good for his re-election and I could see how it would play well in North Carolina, but there are other states, other battleground states where it might not play well. Florida, for example.

PHILLIP: I think we need to make a distinction between the strategy that they landed on after the fact, after the president tweeted it and what the president intended when he tweeted it. There is no way that anyone is going to seriously make an argument that a racist attack against four Democratic women of color is a campaign strategy.

On the other hand, it has played into the president's campaign to paint the entire Democratic Party with the, quote/unquote, socialist brush. That has been the strategy from the beginning. They thought that they would use Bernie Sanders to do that and now I think they believe they could use the squad to do that.

So that just happens to be where they have landed. But the race part of this has nothing to do with a campaign strategy. In fact, that could actually hurt the president in all of the places that he needs to actually improve upon in his 2016 performance, particularly in the suburbs.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, you're actually from North Carolina, from the research triangle area.

HAM: Durham, to be specific.

TAPPER: OK. Democrats and Republicans you know there. Do you think this will work? Is it going to help him get voters that he didn't get before?

HAM: Well, I think there is always an upside and a downside, and the downside which is very large is that it will turn off suburban, college-educated female voters and you need some of those to pull a state like North Carolina, that is a little purplish. And this is the exact kind of thing that seems calculated to turn them off.

On the other hand, many of those voters are not policy-wise or rhetorically on the same page with the squad, and the squad is not historically careful about the way it uses the rhetoric of the left and their ideology to keep it sort of tamped down and appeal to those voters.

[16:20:06] TAPPER: Speaking of which --

HAM: So, it goes both ways.

TAPPER: Speaking of which, Jamal, you heard both Kaitlan and Phil report about House moderates upset about how they're being portrayed as embracing the squad when they have some issues with them.

Take a listen to what a different member of the House, a Democrat told me this afternoon. Quote: Everybody was completely outraged by what the president said and everybody thought it was appropriate to criticize him but this is the first time the House has taken action to criticize him in any way, and we couldn't even bring ourselves to have a resolution exclusively condemning anti-Semitism uttered by one of those members, a reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

Quote: But we leapt to their defense here. Granted it comes from the president, and that's a different animal, but some of us are getting pushback from Jewish supporters.

And as the member noted that the squad, or at least some of members of it, is now going to bring up a measure to boycott Israel, the BDS resolution next week, quote, so we will hear a tirade of attacks from the same group. Hopefully, they won't be anti-Semitic.

So, the unity of Democratic, you know, support for one another actually behind the scenes is a little different.

SIMMONS: Yes, this is what I was talking about a second ago. There are a lot of people in the Democratic caucus who look at this and they say, listen, we'll be there for you, but you've got to be there for us too and don't put us in a tough spot all of the time.

You talked about North Carolina and some of the things, let me give you a little bit of ancient history. In 2002, I worked in Georgia for Max Cleland, who's a senator in his re-election race. One of the things that was very concerning to us and we didn't understand was why Saxby Chambliss was not spending time in the Atlanta suburbs. You know what? Because he was going around on anti-Confederate flag removal campaign throughout the rest of the South, and he turned out more voters in a rural county that no Democrats expected to show up.

I'm convinced this is not a strategy by the president to go find a bunch of voters and say, I'm only at 48 percent in the existing electorate, I've got to go out and change the nature of the electorate. And I'm not convinced that they are trying to change the nature of the electorate by finding people who'd be animated by attacks like this.

PHILLIP: I think you're absolutely right about that but that worked for him in narrow margins in 2016, mind you, a victory in the Electoral College. But in 2018, there is not a lot of evidence that worked out well for Republicans.

SIMMONS: Does he care about other Republicans?

PHILLIP: But at least as an open question, is this a strategy that will work beyond just that one election. We've only had one case study of this strategy for President Trump and will it work again.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the president has shown he's willing to exploit race and identity for political gain. That was very much at heart of his strategy in 2016 and he's showing a willingness to do it again.

Now, the challenge for Democratic leadership is that he has seen in the squad an opportunity to exploit their own backgrounds, particularly with Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first women elected to Congress. The White House has openly talked about they kind of see someone like Ilhan Omar as the perfect foil for someone like president Trump and as the Democratic Party leadership is reckoning with some of the ways in which they are challenging business as usual or some of the long-standing policy positions that the party has held in Washington, how do they not then have that exploited by Trump and Republicans as a conversation that really becomes much more about race and identity rather than the underlying issues where they are trying to act as agents of change.

HAM: There is also another open question which is how do 2020 Democrats trying to run against him deal with this kind of thing which will happen over and over again. The squad like you said, whether they are part of the team here, they're sort of happy to engage in this back and forth. But that may not work for the 2020 candidate, whoever that person may be.

And I don't know what the secret formula is for knowing when to engage with this stuff and when not to, but Democrats are going to have to figure it out because he tends to not get dirtied by his own dirt but other people do around him.

TAPPER: Yes, it'd be interesting to see what the Democratic presidential candidates are going to say about this BDS bill, boycott, divestment and sanction bill against Israel. This resolution next week.

Everyone, stick around. We've got more coming up.

Today, it's Bernie Sanders taking a swipe at Joe Biden. Why he says the former V.P. is taking a page out of the Trump playbook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:47] TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our 2020 lead. Right now, you could see Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, is drawing a very clear line in the Democratic presidential race, fiercely defending his plans for Medicare-for-All, which would get rid of all private health insurance. And he's calling out his rivals who disagree with him, including perhaps especially Joe Biden who Sanders accused of lying about what the Sanders plan would do.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is now live for us at the Sanders' event.

And, Ryan, Senator Sanders is not just talking policy today. He's lauding some very pointed attacks at his opponents.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're right about that, Jake. And Bernie Sanders usually goes out of his way to avoid a direct attack on any of his Democratic opponents but this week, he is naming names. And it's not a surprise that it is his signature issue of health care that led him to do so.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): In a week when health care is dominating the 2020 Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders is reminding voters where he stands.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot continue with the current dysfunctional health care system.

NOBLES: Sanders, whose popular 2016 campaign included Medicare-for- All, is now testing the position of his fellow Democrats, calling on them to reject donations from lobbyists or executives of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

SANDERS: You're looking at an industry which has spent in the last 20 years hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign.

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