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House Formally Condemns Trump's Racist Tweets; Kellyanne Conway Asks Reporter about Ethnicity; Footage from 1992 Surfaces of Jeffrey Epstein with Donald Trump; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is Interviewed about House Vote to Condemn Racist Tweets. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This institution to join us in condemning the president's racist tweets.

[07:00:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our request, the gentlewoman's words are unparliamentary and request they be taken down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House Republican leaders called the resolution a personal attack on the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all about politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To which countries was he referring?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: What's your ethnicity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She denied the president was referring to the country of origin. Moments later, she said exactly the opposite.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is not racist. He loves people all across the board.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (R-MI): It's not the first time I've heard, "Go back to your own country." But it is the first time I have heard it coming from the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. John is off this morning. Erica Hill joins me.

Great to have you.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be with you.

CAMEROTA: It's a really hot summer day.

HILL: It is. CAMEROTA: It's a scorcher, and we will get that to you soon. But

first, we begin with the House formally condemning President Trump's racist tweets about four Congress women of color. The vote was mostly down party lines. So four Republicans and one independent joined Democrats to pass the non-binding resolution. This is the first House rebuke of a president in more than a century.

HILL: The debate itself on the House floor turning chaotic after Republicans objected to these words from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: These comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting, and these comments are racist. How shameful to hear him continue to defend those offensive words, words that we have all heard them repeat not only about our members, but about countless others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: GOP lawmakers say Speaker Pelosi broke House decorum rules by directly disparaging the president. Democrat Emanuel Cleaver so frustrated during the ensuing argument, as you see there, he actually dropped the gavel and walked off.

All this as the president continues to deny and defend himself, insisting he does not, in his words, have a racist bone in his body.

CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now to discuss everything that has happened is David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator and host of "THE AXE FILES"; Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent; and Charlie Dent, CNN political commentator and former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. Great to have you all here to talk about these wild hours that ensued on Capitol Hill last night.

David Axelrod, one more time. Here's -- here are the Republicans, only four of them, who joined with Democrats to officially criticize what the president's said. So it's Will Hurd of Texas. He had also vocally spoken out in the hours after those tweets. Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania; also Fred Upton of Michigan, Susan Brooks of Indiana and Justin Amash, who until a few hours ago was a Republican but now is an independent. And he has spoken out.

And so David, this was a symbolic vote, of course. It's for posterity. And so what's the significance, in your mind, in terms of our current climate?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure. I have a little bit of a feeling that this is deja vu all over again, in the words of the immortal Yogi Berra. Because we've -- how many times have we gotten together here and elsewhere and said, man, he can't -- he has gone too far this time. He can't get away with this.

And then we find out that he has gotten away with it. Yes, he was rebuked by the House. I think in the long run, if Donald Trump loses, it's going to be because people are just exhausted by these kinds of antics. But in the short run, he owns this Republican Party, and the only way

this vote would have been a disaster for him would have been -- is if large numbers of Republicans crossed the party lines to rebuke him. And what he showed again is that he is in control of this party.

You know, he once said, "I could go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and my base would stick with me." Well, the Republicans in Congress are now part of that base. And, you know, I hope he doesn't test the proposition, but you get the sense that if he did, they would say, "Well, he was provoked to do it," you know, and excuse it. That is where we are.

And -- and I think we're going to see more of this in the next 17 months, because this is part of the president's strategy. He wants to -- he wanted to elevate these four women, make them the emblem of the Democratic Party, make the case that the Democratic Party is too far left. And he doesn't mind whipping up his base around these kind of nativist/racist memes. So I think we're going to see more of it.

HILL: As a strategy, Congressman, if you look at it, there's one thing to whip up your base. It also works, in some ways, as a strategy if you want to distract from other things that are happening or not happening in the country.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, sure, Erica. He is -- he is distracting. He's very good at changing the subject. But as a political matter, if I'm a Republican in a swing or marginal district, this is terrible politics. I mean, how does this help? Brian Fitzpatrick, with whom I'm close or Fred Upton, Susan Brooks? How does this help them in their suburban districts, you know, this type of incendiary, racially incendiary language? It harms them. These suburban educated Republican women, you know, who abandoned Republicans in the 2018 midterm, how does this get them back into the fold? It doesn't.

[07:05:23] As David just said, this is exhausting to so many. That so many -- the challenge the president has is that this -- 2020 election may, in fact, be a referendum again on the president and his conduct in office and his behavior.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

DENT: And that's what people are objecting to. And this is the type of behavior that just so frustrates and infuriates so -- so many members of Congress in those swing districts. It's destroying them.

CAMEROTA: Well, to answer your question, Charlie, I mean, our colleague Randi Kaye happens to have an incredibly timely panel with Republican women voters, primary voters -- well, all voters, I should say -- in Dallas. And they like it. They liked what he had to say. They agree with him.

Here is a little portion of her interview. Then we'll play the longer version later in the hour. Here's just a taste.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATHLEEN LIEBERMAN, REPUBLICAN: Even though they're American now, so

to speak, they're not acting American.

GINA O'BRIANT, REPUBLICAN: I'm glad that the president said what he said, because all they're doing is they're -- it's they're inciting hate and division.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: I mean, Charlie, there's a lot more of that. He's giving voice to their feelings.

DENT: OK, those women, I guess, were from Dallas or suburban Dallas. Well, they just lost a congressman there, Pete Sessions, in the most recent midterm. He lost. And I think a lot of it, like other members in suburban areas, suburban Philadelphia, I can tell you suburban Republican women with a college degree are not really enamored with this kind of language.

I'm not sure how they found that group for the focus discussion. But that's -- those views were not representative of what I've been hearing of a lot of women in these suburbs. So I mean, those women, they have their views. But I can guarantee you in suburban Chicago, suburban Philadelphia -- look at New Jersey, a killing zone for Republicans in the last midterm -- I don't see how this is helping.

HILL: Abby, you've noted that there are actually two parts to this, to what we're seeing from the president. One is to consolidate his base. What's the other part?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the other part is simply to react, to get attention for what he's saying. I mean, one of the things about President Trump is that, as David noted, he continues to change -- to move the goal posts on what is acceptable behavior in the public square. He changes what -- what the Republican Party, first, is willing to accept, and what the rest of the country comes to see as typical of -- of his behavior. And I think this is yet another one of those examples.

Every day that goes by that the criticism from Capitol Hill is, frankly, as tepid as it is, is just yet another sign that the Republican Party has moved with President Trump to view these types of comments as -- as not very nice but not exactly -- not that far over the line, as they might have viewed it about two and a half years ago.

But the problem for the president and his campaign, on the political side, is that this is not strategic on President Trump's part. This is the president over the weekend, before he goes to his golf course, tweeting things out without really thinking through the consequences. And as a result, his campaign is being forced to explain it, to rationalize it.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying their very best to make it seem like something that it really wasn't. They're talking about socialism and communism and anti-Semitism. And that's not at all what President Trump was referring to in his initial tweet. So they're trying to make the best out of a not-so-great situation for all the reasons that -- that Charlie laid out.

And for President Trump, that's going to be -- I think we should expect this to be a pattern. This is how he's behaved for two and a half years. And I don't think it's going to change. He -- he creates problems for his party and for his campaign that they, then, need to try to turn around and fix.

And the problem for President Trump is that, for voters, it doesn't help him. It only alienates him --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

PHILLIP: -- from people he needs to bring over into his camp. But it does help him consolidate his base.

CAMEROTA: David, that is the pattern. I mean, I think Abby touched on it. The pattern that we see of the people around the president, including the leading Republicans, is they immediately pivot to what they think his message should be. Which is going after The Squad using terms like socialism. And so they were -- when they can't defend the words in the tweet, they pivot right away.

And you can see it happen. In fact, there is this strange moment with Kellyanne Conway, one of the president's top advisers, where a reporter asked her a very logical question, which is where did the president want these four U.S. citizens to return to? Three of them were born here. One is -- became a U.S. citizen. Where -- what country exactly does he want them to return to? And Kellyanne Conway had an interesting response. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONWAY: What's your ethnicity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is that relevant?

CONWAY: Because I'm asking a question. My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kellyanne, my own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I'm asking.

CONWAY: No, no, it is. Because you're asking about -- he said originally. He said originally from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am asking you --

CONWAY: And you know everything he has said since.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: So, David. I mean, that's just not being able to answer, I think, the question.

AXELROD: Well, I think it was bizarre is what it was. I read somewhere that she tried to clean it up after the fact but starting to ask reporters what their ethnic background is doesn't help the situation in any way. And it just -- it did seem like she was kind of off-stride there, because she didn't have a very good answer for this.

Look, I think Abby's right, which is that Trump is impulsive, and he does these things, and everybody has to catch up to him.

But if I'm sitting in his seat, I'm saying, "Hey, this is the way I've done this since I started. Everybody keeps telling me I can't do these things; I'm wrong. It's a political disaster. And here I am. I'm president of the United States."

So, you know, he's had a lot of negative reinforcement here in the sense that the negative has been reinforced.

And, you know, what happened, what we saw yesterday is a pattern, as well, with how Republicans react. Yes, they -- they repurpose his tweets on their own terms.

But they also try -- and this is why they went after Pelosi on her comments -- to turn it into typical Washington politics, that no, this isn't about the president making racist remarks. This is just about the Democrats trying to score points. And once they put it in that partisan frame, Republicans tend to follow in behind it.

And again, I think that -- I guarantee you that -- and I want it noted, it's on tape, we can go back to it. We're going to have this discussion again in probably in the not-too-distant future.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Probably in the next 24 hours.

Guys, we have just gotten a bit of a time capsule into our newsroom. NBC just unearthed from their archives a 1992 video of Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein at the party that I think Maggie Haberman had reported on, which is basically, they -- they ended up being the only two guys somehow at a party with lots and lots of girls who had been flown in. They were described as calendar girls. I'm not sure what that's a euphemism for.

But anyway, you see Donald Trump -- I mean, this is 1992 Donald Trump in his element. You know, you see him, how close he was at the time to Jeffrey Epstein. And you also -- I think this is the only clip that we have. But basically, he's also the only person who came to a pool party in a suit and tie.

HILL: That's a very important distinction.

CAMEROTA: So you hear him whispering to Epstein how hot the women are. I mean, this is not a revelation. And Jeffrey Epstein is laughing somewhat awkwardly. It's weird and creepy to see them together like that. But that's who Donald Trump was in 1992. That could have been any night of the week, you know?

Charlie, I mean -- well, what do you say when you see this old stuff now in the light of day in 2019? It all has just a grosser -- grosser veneer.

HILL: Slightly different filter on it.

DENT: All -- all I can say is this a great way to change the subject from -- from what we've been talking about, the president's racially incendiary comments. Now we're back to Jeffrey Epstein. So I suspect that -- look, obviously, that's really bad for the president just to be associated with Jeffrey Epstein. And it's just going to raise more questions about, you know, his relationship with that man.

And I'm not saying the president did anything untoward. But you don't want to be associated with a guy who's a sex trafficker.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

PHILLIP: I think some of the president's aides are aware of that and kind of keeping an eye on it, because it just feels like one of those things where you don't know where this is all going.

I mean, this case in New York is just getting started. There could be a lot more that unfolds. And just like this video footage comes out of nowhere, there is some concern that there's more where this came from; to kind of visually illustrate this relationship that President Trump now says was severed years ago. But -- but this footage does exist, and it does tell you about what was going on at that time and what kind of relationship they had.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And it does -- I mean, it's before he says the relationship was severed. This isn't a bombshell of any kind. But to your point, Abby, it does, for the first time, visually illustrate, not just in a still photo, but just what -- how close they were and what they were up to and what their relationship looked like.

[07:15:00] AXELROD: You know, again, this guy got elected after this "Access Hollywood" tape. He's been implicated in paying off women to not talk about the affairs that he had with them. This has not damaged him politically, at least with his base of supporters.

And absent new revelations in these lawsuits that would tie him more closely to some of the horrific things that Jeffrey Epstein did, my guess is that most of his supporters will shrug and say, "Well, that was 25 years ago. He -- you know, he said he doesn't have any relationship with this guy anymore." Just as they said about, you know, the women he paid off. "Well, that was in the past. This is now. It's not -- you know."

So I -- you know, again, I mean, it is -- you're right. It is creepy. The images of a jaunty Donald Trump, you know, chatting with Epstein there is really off-putting. Probably not particularly damaging politically.

CAMEROTA: Charlie, Abby, David, thank you all very much for being with us.

HILL: Just ahead on NEW DAY, we'll speak with two lawmakers at the center of the drama last night on Capitol Hill: Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who dropped the gavel during that tense debate, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

CAMEROTA: OK, the House votes to condemn President Trump for his racist tweets. What else can lawmakers do? We have a Senate Democrat join us next with some ideas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:20:30] CAMEROTA: President Trump seemed unfazed after the House passed a resolution to condemn his racist attacks on four Democratic Congresswomen of color. Four Republicans and one independent did join with the Democratic caucus.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Were you --

COONS: Let me just say off the top --

CAMEROTA: Let me just quickly -- let me ask you and then let you say whatever you want. Were you surprised that there were only four Republicans who joined with the Democrats?

COONS: Sadly, no. There should be more Republicans who work with us across the aisle to condemn racist comments like these on Twitter by the president.

But the reason he's unphased by it is this is an intentional strategy on the part of the president. Let me remind you, Alisyn, what we were talking about last Thursday when we were last in session in the Senate was a lawsuit Texas v. U.S., where the president, the Department of Justice and more than a dozen Republican attorneys general were trying to kill what's left of the Affordable care Act. They were trying, in a federal court, to eliminate preexisting condition protection for 130 million Americans.

And then on Monday, Joe Biden, the leading challenger to Donald Trump in 2020, roles out his healthcare plan: how to deal with prescription drug prices, how to expand coverage. What have we talked about nonstop for the last 48 hours? The president's racist tweets going after four House freshmen.

CAMEROTA: Yes. So is it a mistake?

COONS: Although they are despicable and inappropriate --

CAMEROTA: Was it a mistake to talk about those things?

COONS: It is an intentional strategy by the president to change the subject. We should be talking briefly, in a focused way, about how inappropriate and unacceptable these tweets are, about how they do not reflect well on the United States overseas or at home, and how they send destructive messages here within our country. Those of us who are people of faith who care about our relations with

each other and care about how we speak about each other should be able to find a better way forward.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

COONS: And we should, on a bipartisan basis, be condemning these comments.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But are you saying that the House vote took up too much oxygen? I mean, that they shouldn't have dedicated all of that time to this?

COONS: Alisyn, how much time are you spending today, this morning, talking about bipartisan bills that have come over from the House to reduce prescription drug prices, to secure protections for preexisting health conditions, or to protect Americans from folks who shouldn't have access to guns by strengthening our background check system? Those are are bills that have come over from the House and have seen no action in the Senate.

The Senate has become Mitch McConnell's legislative graveyard. There are great proposals from Democrats for how to improve our health care. There are bipartisan bills that have come over from the House that would affect average, middle-class working Americans.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

COONS: And instead, we're going to spend days fighting over the president's racist tweets.

CAMEROTA: Here's --

COONS: This tells you his strategy for 2020 right up front.

CAMEROTA: And his strategy may be working, because here's what's interesting, Senator. Is that when you poll Democrats in New Hampshire, as was recently done, health care is at the top of the list in terms of issues --

COONS: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- that they're concerned about and will vote on.

You know what's at the top of Republicans? Immigration.

COONS: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And so all of this falls into the president's strategy that you know, I think you could look at a couple of data points and show that his strategy is working. Here are just a couple.

This is from U.C. Davis researchers and courtesy of "The New York Times" this morning. "In research published in a journal in April, U.C. Davis researchers found that, among white voters, high levels of racial resentment, measured by asking people whether they agree with such statements as 'I am angry that racism exists' were a better indicator of how someone would vote than party affiliation or ideological beliefs. They found there was still a sizable number of white Democrats who harbor relatively high levels of racial resentment, and that is helping Republicans across the board."

And so listen, there are a lot of, as you know, I'm sure, from Delaware, there are a lot of voters who don't feel that they have been able to cash in on white privilege, which we hear so much about. And President Trump is -- I think -- effectively, if you believe this, animating them.

COONS: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: And so his strategy is working. And I guess I wonder whether you think the so-called Squad in the House and their tension with Nancy Pelosi is counterproductive to what Democrats want to do.

COONS: Alisyn, here's what I think is productive. Pointing out to undecided voters that Democrats who control the House under Speaker Pelosi's leadership have been able to take up and pass bipartisan bills that would address things that concern them, whether it's securing our border and providing better conditions and health care for those who are fleeing violence in Central America and coming to this country; or whether it's protecting pre-existing healthcare conditions and securing the advances of the Affordable Care Act. Or whether it's strengthening existing gun laws in terms of background checks to make our country safer.

That's what the average American, who really isn't following closely the back and forth within the Democratic caucus or between them and the president, they want to know in the next year, if the Democrats control the White House, how would things be different for me?

We know how things are going to be if President Trump is re-elected. We are going to spend more and more of our time over attacks like this that are designed to fire up and fuel his own base of folks, who frankly, as you mentioned, at times are motivated by resentment over what they feel is their loss of place or of centrality or of leadership in our society.

And I think it's important that we, as Democrats, show what we are trying to get done in the Congress that would actually make a difference in people's lives.

CAMEROTA: OK. And so just -- just button this up for me. You're saying that the next time the president tweets something inflammatory or outrageous, which may happen today, Nancy Pelosi --

COONS: It will happen today.

CAMEROTA: OK. Nancy Pelosi --

COONS: It will happen tomorrow. It will happen the next day. We know this.

CAMEROTA: -- and other -- I mean -- I mean, if history is any indication, yes. And you're saying that when that happens, The Squad and Nancy Pelosi and your fellow Democrats should ignore it?

COONS: No. I'm saying we need to be clear to briefly and, in a focused way, denounce things that are completely inappropriate so that it's clear to our children, our families, our country where our values are.

But we need to spend as much, if not more, time saying, if you give us the opportunity to lead in the Senate, these are the kinds of bills we would move forward.

Let me remind you, Alisyn, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Trump administration, on their website, cites as an example of the kind of language, if used in the workplace against an American, a person of color, something that would be not just offensive or inappropriate but potentially illegal saying something like "Go back where you came from."

The president's tweets have to be called out. It has to be clear, he is not a role model for our behavior towards each other.

But we have to spend as much, if not more time, making the argument, here's what we're passing in the House. Here's what we would pass in the Senate if Mitch McConnell were not blocking every bipartisan bill.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

COONS: And here's what we would do if we had the opportunity.

Joe Biden's healthcare plan was tremendous. It shows how he would build on the Affordable Care Act. And it's getting no attention, as a result of this dust up over the president's inappropriate and inflammatory remarks.

CAMEROTA: We did do a whole segment on health care, you'll be happy to know, this morning.

COONS: You did. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: You're welcome. So anyway, we take your point. We take your point, and we appreciate you making it on NEW DAY. Thank you very much.

COONS: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Erica.

HILL: It is all about the money this week for the 2020 candidates. Who's raising it? Who's spending it? Chris Cillizza has his mid-week grades next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:30:00]