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Four Democratic Freshman Congresswomen to Meet with Nancy Pelosi; Protests in Puerto Rico; Texas Voters Claim Race Nonissue with Freshman Congresswomen. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 17, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:32:15] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: This morning, we've just learned that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office is now working to set up a meeting with progressive leaders in her caucus, this at the request of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a big step as some paint the so-called Squad as an insurgency within the party, very public disagreements with the leader as well.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: They say that's not the case. One of the congressmen in that group put it this way.


REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): What we are, are four women who have an alignment of values, shared policy priorities. There is no insurgency here. There's nothing conspiratorial.

GAYLE KING, CBS HOST, CBS THIS MORNING: There is no insurgency?

PRESSLEY: There is no insurgency and there's nothing conspiratorial. What we are are four lawmakers who happened to land in the same place on the same issue, time and time again.


HARLOW: Joining us now, "New York Times" congressional correspondent Julie Hirschfeld Davis, FiveThirtyEight senior political writer Perry Bacon.

Good morning, guys.


HARLOW: Perry, it's striking to me, just in the moment, reading that, that that's a headline. That it's such a big headline that a Democratic congresswoman is working to set up a meeting with the speaker of the House, right? What does that tell us?

BACON: There is a -- I don't know what the word "insurgency" means to the congresswoman, but there is a real tension here, I mean between what I think of as sort of the left-left of the Democratic Party, which is AOC or Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren campaign (ph) versus Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, people I think of in sort of the center-left of the party.

There is real tension and it's about issues, also about ideology, it's also about age a little bit. And I don't know why they're trying to pretend as if there isn't. But we've seen these last six months, from impeachment to the Green New Deal to immigration policy, real fissures among the Democrats in the House.


SCIUTTO: Let's listen to another member, Rashida Tlaib, seeming to warn the speaker in advance of this meeting. Julie, I want to get your reaction to it. Have a listen.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): She is speaker of the House. She can ask for a meeting, to sit down with us for clarification. The fact of the knowledge is -- and I've done racial justice work in our country for a long time -- acknowledge the fact that we are women of color. So when you do single us out, be aware of that and what you're doing. Especially because some of us are getting death threats.


SCIUTTO: Julie, that's pretty remarkable to say. "When you single us out," a Democrat pointing the finger, in effect, at the House speaker. Now, it does seem that that meeting is going to happen. But that's a fairly stark division, is it not?

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, I think is part of the tension that Perry just referenced. But I also think that Congresswoman Tlaib, in that bite and also probably in this meeting, is in part trying to sort of defend herself and defend the four of them against what was a pretty lively reaction to the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman from New York, basically suggested that Nancy Pelosi was singling them out because of race.

[10:35:12] SCIUTTO: Right.

HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS: And what you hear her saying there is, "We're not saying necessarily that you're a racist, but understand that when people see that you're singling out just the four of us, they see that we are women of color. They see that we're coming from a particular place on the ideological spectrum, and they have to factor that in." And that's why the congresswoman made that remark.

So I think part of what we're seeing here is an effort to try to heal some of these rifts and explain away what is a very real sort of --


HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS: -- division there that is going to persist.

HARLOW: OK. Moving on to the president's strategy in doing this, right? In attacking those women, your colleagues at the "Times" this morning, Julie, have a great piece out -- and part of it says this. Quote, "Mr. Trump's re-election strategy is to solidify his base, increase turnout. A major component of that is to portray his opponents not merely as disliking him and his policies, but as disliking America itself."

And then mention and they hearken back to Nixon, 1972. A lot of the Nixon supporters had this slogan: "America, love it or leave it." Right?


HARLOW: And the question becomes, to what extent is that a wise, you know, fruitful strategy? Or is it just too early to know?

HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS: Well, I think -- I mean, we have a few reference points but one of them is the 2016 elections. And clearly, the president injected issues of race and xenophobia into that election and he won. And so that's one data point.

But another very important one is the 2018 midterm congressional --


HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS: -- elections, when he made this message about the caravan and of immigrants and asylum-seekers being invaders --

HARLOW: Right.

HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS: -- trying to flood the country, a real centerpiece. And we saw Republicans swept out, particularly in some of these competitive districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016, but now Democrats are representing them.

And so I think you have to note the risks of that strategy. But there's no question that this is the terrain on which President Trump wants to fight his re-election race and that he thinks that there's an upside for him in cementing his base by continuing to sound these themes.

SCIUTTO: Perry, I had a little bit of a gob-smacking moment --


SCIUTTO: -- interviewing a Republican senator in the last hour. And I asked him about his comments about the Squad, calling them "whack jobs," which of course the president quoted this morning in tweets. And he said they were heartfelt. He said that was a heartfelt comment, calling four sitting congresswomen whack jobs.

And it just strikes me that it's not just the president who is striking on this as a political strategy that they perceive works politically, but other sitting Republicans who are backing it and seeing political benefit in it.

BACON: I'd be a little cautious about calling this an intentional strategy from the president. He tends to tweet things. He watches the news a lot. So on Sunday, he sent some tweets. His staff afterwards said it's a strategy.

I'm not -- sometimes he says things that are inflammatory and racist because he thinks that and he says them. And I don't necessarily want to give too much credence to he's thought, you know, for July 2020, he's going to, you know, talk about AOC this much or that kind of thing.

That said, the Republicans have lined up behind him on this issue. And I do think you're going to see every ad in 2020, even if Joe Biden is the nominee, there's going to be a great effort to link him to AOC in particular and Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar.

And I do think this is an issue for the -- this is an issue that will keep coming up as the -- no matter what, you know, the Democratic nominee says, the views of these members will be put on them as well.

SCIUTTO: Perry Bacon, Julie Hirschfield Davis, great to have you both on. Thanks very much.

[10:38:37] Protestors, out in force this week in Puerto Rico, calling on the governor there to resign. Look at this scene. Seems like this could continue into today.


SCIUTTO: This morning, protests are set to resume in Puerto Rico after several very tense moments this week. Look at that. This was the scene as crowds were tear-gassed on Monday.

HARLOW: Look at that. That's in San Juan. The governor there is refusing to step down despite growing calls after messages with very sexist and homophobic remarks were leaked.

Rosa Flores is in Miami, covering the latest.

He's not denying any of this. He's just saying, "I shouldn't have said it."

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's being defiant, Poppy. He is digging in his heels. And even though he has apologized, he said, "I'm not going anywhere." Take a listen.


RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO (through translator): My responsibility is to continue working and provide you with these results. One will always face different challenges. This is a big challenge. But at the same time, we must fulfill our objectives.


FLORES: Now, there's been reaction from Puerto Ricans all over the country, and of course on the island. Even presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter this morning in support of the protestors that have been taking the streets on the island, in Miami, in Orlando, asking for the governor to step down. TEXT: Elizabeth Warren: I stand with Puerto Ricans who are taking to

the streets this week to protest government corruption and Governor @RicardoRossello's deeply offensive comments. His actions are hurtful and undermine the public trust, He must answer to the Puerto Rican people.

FLORES: But of course, he's being defiant. He is not doing that. And the situation in Puerto Rico seems so unstable that even Royal Caribbean cancelled the stop on the island, saying, in essence, that they don't feel it's safe for tourists to stop on the island.

Now, all this after about 900 pages of messages were published by the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism. Now, these messages were exchanges between the governor and 11 of his top aides and cabinet members. They date back to December 2018 and January 2019.

[10:45:05] And they are against politicians, celebrities, even members of the media. And they have a very nasty tone. Some are homophobic, some are profane, misogynistic. And some of them even take a very vengeful tone against politicians, including the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

But, again, Puerto Rico is still reeling from Hurricane Maria, and now it's being, in essence, caught in this political storm that is threatening the governor and his administration. Two of his cabinet members have already stepped down. And last week, two of the former administration officials were arrested by the FBI for federal corruption charges, Jim and Poppy.

So a lot of fallout already. But the governor, again, refusing to step down.

HARLOW: I have no idea how this is going to shake out, but it's very disturbing to see, you know, to see what's happening there. Rosa, thank you so much for the reporting.

Still ahead, four House Republicans broke with their party to be vocal and condemn the president's racist attack on four sitting Democratic congresswomen. How do female Republican voters think? You'll hear from them next.


[10:51:12] HARLOW: President Trump's racist tweets, telling four Democratic congresswomen to go back home where they came from, which is factually incorrect, and many other issues with it.

SCIUTTO: But what do female Trump supporters think about this? CNN's Randi Kaye spoke with several of them to find out.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How many of you don't think what the president said was racist? Raise your hand.

KAYE (voice-over): These eight Republican women from Dallas don't see anything wrong with President Trump telling four Democratic congresswomen to go back where they came from.

DENA MILLER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He was saying that if they hate America so much -- because of what we're seeing out of them and hearing out of them -- they hate America. If it's so bad, there's a lot of places they can go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a brown-skinned woman. I am a legal immigrant. I agree with him --

KAYE: You don't think that's racist to say that, to "Go back where you came from"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not at all. No.


KATHLEEN LIEBERMAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Actually, I think it's just -- it's a demonstration of how their ideology spills over. Even though they're American now, so to speak, they're not acting American.

GINA O'BRIANT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I'm glad that the president said what he said because all they're doing is, they're -- it's -- they're inciting hatred and division. And that's not what our country's about. We -- it's not about that at all. And I don't --

KAYE: But isn't what what the president does with some of his own comments? His own racist comments?

O'BRIANT: But he didn't say anything about color.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know the president is not racist. He loves people from, you know, Hispanics to black people, all across the board.

KAYE: Let me just share with you the definition of racism from Merriam-Webster Dictionary. "A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." Based on that definition, do you not think what the president has been saying --




O'BRIANT: He dated a black woman for two years. Two of his wives are immigrants. He is not a xenophobic racist.

MILLER: The first black billionaire is endorsing President Trump. How can you call him racist?

KAYE: So these congresswomen -- these congresswomen who said they ran for Congress, ran for office because they explicitly love this country, you're saying that's a lie? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.



KAYE: You're saying they hate this country?


LIEBERMAN: Whoever (ph) wrote these questions up, it's clear (ph) to me that they're very manipulative, to accuse us of -- instead of extracting the truth.


LIEBERMAN: Because when you say, you know, "Don't you think he's racist?" You're accusing us. You're accusing him.

KAYE: I'm asking. I'm not accusing. I'm asking you what you think.

LIEBERMAN: But you've been (ph) told (ph). We -- OK. It's irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the real issue. It has nothing to do with the premise of the issues here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And whenever someone --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The color of the four --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you keep bringing that up?

KAYE: Do you think it's just a coincidence --


KAYE: -- that these four congresswomen that the president is going after, none of them are white?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These four congresswomen --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going after him.


PEACHES MCGUIRE COATES, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't think it matters, but it's idiotic, what they're saying. So it doesn't matter whether they're white, man, woman, brown, yellow, anything.

MILLER: I wish that there was a white one, that they -- they -- why are they not racist? How come they haven't befriended one of their white female congresswoman colleagues and --


MILLER: -- let her join them (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they won't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a good point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't like white people. Come on.


KAYE: How many of you still plan to vote for President Trump?



KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Dallas.


HARLOW: That is fascinating reporting. Randi, thank you so much.

All right. There is a lot going on today. Here's "What to Watch."

TEXT: What to Watch... Now, Senate NASA hearing; 1pm ET, Speaker Pelosi news conference; 7pm ET, Trump rally in North Carolina


[10:55:11] SCIUTTO: Coming up, Congressman Al Green says that a vote on impeachment could happen hours from now and that President Trump should be punished today. The latest, coming up.


HARLOW: Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has died at the age of 99. He was nominated to the high court by Republican President Gerald Ford. He would later become known as a leader of the court's liberal wing, and he was the second-oldest and second longest- serving justice on the court.

TEXT: John Paul Stevens, 1920-2019

[11:00:02] SCIUTTO: He retired in 2010, this after nearly 35 years on the bench. Justice Stevens suffered a stroke earlier.