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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Signals 2020 Strategy as Crowd Chants "Send Her Back"; Mixed Reaction from GOP about "Send Her Back" Chant; Graham on Congresswomen: "This is Their Home as Much as Mine"; Elizabeth Warren Unveils Plan "Reining in Wall Street"; Tonight on CNN: Life Drawing for Democratic Debate Lineup; Acting DHS Secretary Faces Questions on Migrant Detention. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This is a Russian company.

Donie O'Sullivan, thanks for coming in.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

If there was any doubt what direction President Trump wants to make his reelection campaign, last night he made it crystal clear - division. Us versus them. Racism. And I don't say that slightly.

Continuing his almost singular focus on four Democratic congresswomen of color last night at a rally in North Carolina. His rhetoric met by this chant from the audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.

(CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: They were chanting "send her back."

President Trump making no attempt to stop the crowd from playing on a time-worn racist trope. Of course, none of the four targets of Trump's anger in the last week are on the list of Democrats running for president.

So what is the president doing here right now?

Let's get to it. CNN's Abby Phillip has the latest from the White House. Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Abby, first to you.

What are you hearing there?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this was not an off-the-remark by President Trump, as these campaign rallies often are. This was scripted. It was in his Teleprompter for him to go person to person on each of the members of the squad describing them as Socialists and using all kinds of terms to reframe this debate as being about why they are unacceptable.

But then when the crowd responded with "send her back," as you noted, President Trump stood there and seemed to almost bask in it. Did not say anything about it. Even though the White House for several days now have been saying that this is not about racism, this is not about necessarily that trope that he utilized over the weekend, saying that they ought to go back to where they came from. This is about their policies.

Well, the crowd clearly did not believe it was about those policies at all.

And what we're seeing here now is that the White House is going to have to explain what happened, what happened to the idea that this was about policies. It seems pretty crystal clear that it's about what President Trump said it was about originally, using that phrase "go back."

And now I think we're hearing a lot of reaction from Republicans who are finding it very difficult to defend this.

But the president is obviously watching his defenders. He's paying attention to who is coming to his aide here. And I think that even the president's allies are willing to dish out retribution at those who are criticizing him and criticizing his comments as being racist -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Abby, thank you.

Manu, we have seen very clearly where the division lies between Democrats and Republicans and other Republican lawmakers when it comes to the president's original tweet and attack, that kind of got us to where we are right now. What are they now saying after the rally last night, after the chants, after the transparent direction where the president wants to take his campaign?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPNDENT: Well, Republicans are in a very difficult spot. I spent the morning trying to get reaction from Republican Senators. Most of them don't want to go anywhere near this. They don't want to get crosswise with the president. They also don't want to defend his remarks.

One Senator, Lindsay Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, someone who is now close with the president, did sympathized with the concerns by the president but also said that there shouldn't be chants of "send her back," because she's an American citizen. Congress Omar is.

At the same time, I asked Lindsay Graham about how John McCain -- the episode where John McCain famously, in 2008, told a woman at a rally that president, then-Candidate Barack Obama, was Muslim and John McCain said, no, he is not, he's a good man.

He also compared that situation to this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Was it appropriate for people at that rally last night to be chanting "send her back" to Omar and the president to be presiding over that?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Yes, let me be clear. My beef is with policy, not personality. All of these congresswomen won their election. They're American citizens. This is their home as much as mine. And I believe their policies will change America for the worse and that's the debate for me.

RAJU: How much has this changed? John McCain, in 2008, when he went up to that woman famously at the rally and said that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. How much has this party changed since --

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: I'm proud of John. My policy differences with President Obama were real, but I never doubted that he loved the country.

RAJU: President Trump would never do that.

GRAHAM: He took a different tack. He's fighting back.

But I don't remember anybody treating president -- John McCain the way they're treating Trump. I don't remember John McCain having to go through this crap every day, all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:05:08] RAJU: So he says that Trump wasn't being racist by saying "send her back", because he says that if she were a supporter she would be welcome at the White House.

But he still wouldn't say the chants of "send her back" were racist when I asked him directly.

Kate, as I mentioned before, a number of Senators would not comment, including Joni Ernst, who is up for reelection in 2020. John Cornyn, also up for reelection, said he didn't see the rally, wouldn't talk about it. And Ted Cruz, of Texas, I asked him if it was appropriate, and he said, I'm not interested in giving color commentary -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's fine, but the explanation of, what, convenient racism is a strategy? He's not actually racist, Manu, but he's conveniently spouting racist rhetoric if you speak out against him? The Congressman Don Beyer is a perfect counter to that. He was born outside the country and Donald Trump, I would guess, doesn't even know his name.

MANU: Ted Cruz, too, was born in Canada as well and he didn't want to engage on this topic.

Lindsay Graham tried to make the point that -- he said to me that, well, if Trump were racist, he would want all people who came from Somalia to go back to Somalia. He's not saying that. He's only talking about a critic of his policies. That's the distinction he's making.

But of course, last night, those chants of "send her back" did not have that kind of distinction. When I tried to ask him about that directly, he sidestepped that and said, look, this is not about -- I wouldn't be saying that. But he also didn't call it racist -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Manu, thank you so much.

Let's see what else we'll hear from Capitol Hill today.

Abby, thank you.

I can only imagine what's going to come from the White House.

Joining me now, national political reporter for the "Wall Street Journal," Tarini Parti, CNN political analyst, Julian Zelizer. He's a historian and professor at Princeton University.

Guys, thank you for being here.

Tarini, should there be any doubt in anyone's mind now that division, including racism, is going to tb a pillar of President Trump's 2020 campaign?

And again, I want to say to the audience and our viewers, I don't say that flippantly. That's not something we should ever be throwing around. We take it very seriously when you make the point that racism is a pillar of a presidential campaign.

TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: So this is clearly, you know, a big part of his strategy from what we've seen just in the last few weeks.

But I want to take a step back here and look at the state and the demographics of where President Trump was speaking last night. This is North Carolina. Yes, the president won North Carolina in 2016. But it is a purple state. In the last few presidential elections, it has been a swing state. Where the president was speaking, Pitt County, that county voted for Hillary Clinton. It voted for Barack Obama. So he was speaking to a very small part of that county.

You know, the demographics split-up into -- for the county, it's 60 percent white and 40 percent non-white. So what we're seeing is the white part of this county really supporting President Trump. But there's a significant part that could take his comments in an offensive way. So he's really not trying to reach out to those other voters here.

He's trying to expand his -- to keep his base and not really expand it much.

BOLDUAN: And excite them and enrage them and get them out to the polls.

Julian, President Trump literally said last night, if they don't love it, tell them to leave it. Literally evoking the slogan, the bumper stickers that encapsulated the Nixon '68 campaign.

Is the way that Trump is designing his 2020 campaign a throwback then, or is this different?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's different. You've seen elements of everything President Trump does. So Richard Nixon did play to white backlash with those kinds of arguments and talking about law and order in the streets.

George H.W. Bush, in 1988, famously talked about a furlough program in Massachusetts to stoke some of these racial divisions as part of the campaign. But it was never the total part of the campaign.

What's different is he takes all of this, President Trump, and he's wrapping it together, and he's elevating it into his message. It's a message of fear, division and anger. And there's nothing else really there.

And so that's why it's not just a throwback to Nixon. It's, in some ways, taking the worst of it and making it the centerpiece.

BOLDUAN: That's a really interesting perspective, Julian.

Tarini, Trump is no stranger to hypocrisy but his argument at its core is hypocritical at its core. If you don't like the current state of the country, you can't criticize it, you have to leave it. His description of America in his inaugural speech was American carnage. He is always singling out an enemy. In 2016 it worked, 2018 it didn't.

Do you see signs of how it's going to work in 2020?

PARTI: I think that's an interesting question. You're right, the president feels that he's the only one who can criticize the country, it seems, if that is his message. He was very critical of President Barack Obama. That was part of, as you said, how he won in 2016.

[11:10:08] And right now, he claims that he can criticize the country, but no one else can. And that's kind of a message that's inherently un-American in many ways. And he's trying to pin the concept of being un-American on these four Democratic lawmakers.

So, yes, hypocrisy is clearly a part of his message as well. And I think it will be interesting to see if voters see through that, if they punish him for that, or if they stick to his policies, which Republican voters seem pretty content with. BOLDUAN: And this is a long campaign to go to see exactly how this

theme evolves, if it does at all. Which I likely think it would not. And how voters react to it when we get closer and closer to actual moments of voting or a face-to-face matchup between a general election in the general election, and how that will really be.

I'm not in a place of pretending like we know exactly how it's going to play out in 2020, Julian.

But we've seen racism from the White House and presidential campaigns before. But what can history tell us about what, who, how, turns the tide away from it?

ZELIZER: He's doing this at a time when it doesn't sit well with a lot of the electorate. So even in the '70s and '80s, when you saw some Republican candidates and presidents talk about these issues, Reagan talking about a welfare queen when he was president, which a clear target of African-Americans.

But we're in a different place. The country has changed. Ideas about race have changed. We're a much more pluralistic society.

So while this might help with the people at the rally and it might help at the base, it also makes him vulnerable in places like the place he was speaking.

So I think Democrats, in some ways, can't be scared to take this on directly, because I don't think it's necessarily "working," quote, unquote.

BOLDUAN: The amazing turnaround of where we've come from 2012 autopsy report after the Republican loss and the RNC coming out with that autopsy of how they need to widen the tent, expand their base, and how they need to reach out to minority voters and Hispanic voters. I mean, it is the exact opposite of what you see in how the president has run his campaign and another showing of how it is not that Republican Party right now, it is Donald Trump's Republican Party.

Julian, thank you so much for the perspective.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

Tarini, great to see you. Thank you.

PARTI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, rolls out another big plan to reshape the U.S. economy. This one brings her back to her roots. Details on that ahead.

And in moments, we could learn the fate of Jeffrey Epstein as he awaits trial. Will the multi-millionaire and accused sex trafficker remain behind bars? We'll take you there, live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:17:47] BOLDUAN: It's the issue that put Senator Elizabeth Warren in the national spotlight. This morning, she's returning to her roots, taking on Wall Street, making it front and center of her presidential campaign. She just revealed her latest plan to reform banks and take on private equity.

CNN politics and business correspondent, Christina Alesci, is joining me with this now.

Cristina, walk through what Elizabeth Warren is proposing.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS & BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: She's doing two things. For one, she's reminding people she's always been tough on the banks.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Yes.

ALESCI: Exactly. And she's also throwing red meat to Bernie Sanders supporters who really feel like the system is rigged.

So the specifics of this plan, if you look at it, she wants to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which separates the bread-and-butter commercial banks from the, quote, unquote, "riskier activity" that goes on in the investment banks. She wants to implement more regulations around private equity investments. And she wants to tie executive compensation closer to performance. Pay to perform, right?

And these are things, however, that are not new. And they're not that radical, if you look at these things.

Actually, I was on the phone with industry sources all morning who said, eh, we've heard this before from Elizabeth Warren. We expected her to do this. We think if she was to win the nomination and win against Trump

BOLDUAN: Yes --

(CROSSTALK)

ALESCI: -- then maybe.

Remember, Obama was tough on the banks, too. But when push came to shove in the financial industry hit, he helped bail them out. So this is all playing to the base.

BOLDUAN: What is -- is that the general sense that you're getting, though, from Wall Street and the banks, is just they're unimpressed with this rollout?

ALESCI: A little bit. Now, some of that might be spin, right?

BOLDUAN: Right.

ALESCI: So we don't want to discount that. BOLDUAN: Yes. They don't have to deal with it until they really have

to deal with it.

ALESCI: Exactly. And they don't want to engage right now because they feel like they'll give her oxygen. So if they come out hard against this, it will give her an opportunity to really fight back.

I think the dynamic that changed for Wall Street is that some of the candidates are not accepting Wall Street money and some are.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

ALESCI: So it does essentially make it less likely that Wall Street will have a huge voice in this, like more so than other years and other elections.

[11:20:01] But Elizabeth Warren, again, just kind of repeating what she said in the past, nothing too radical in this plan. And these are things that have been floated before many times in Congress and have gone nowhere.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what it looks like and how it all is discussed in the debate. That's fascinating to me.

ALESCI: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so you. Really appreciate it.

ALESCI: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: So Elizabeth Warren is one of the 20 candidates who have qualified for the big CNN debates coming up on July 30th and 31st. Tonight is the night that we will all find out who is going to face off and when. The lineups for the debates will be decided in a live special event right here at 8:00 Eastern on CNN. The draw, it is called. And it is in reality.

Joining me now, CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston for this.

Mark, tonight is going to be different from the last debate draw. Not only are we going to be able to watch it, which I'm loving, there are now tiers. How is this going to work?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Kate, there are tiers, there are specific tiers. In fact, there are three of them. And as you said, 20 candidates across two nights.

How do we split them up? We'll show you right here.

We're going to do in three parts. We'll have one part of candidates where 10 candidates will be. You're also going to have a second part where you're going to have six more candidates. And then the final draw, the third part will have four candidates. These were all separated by polling, Kate.

But when we do that, we will then have these three different boxes. And on those boxes, we will have all of the candidates' names placed into each of them based upon their draw. A second box will accompany each of those boxes that will have dates on the cards. What the anchor will do will reach in, pull out a card with a name, and at the same time pull out a card with a date. And that's how we will decide.

So the candidates are going to learn at the exact same time, Kate, that we all learn who the matchups will be in Detroit at the end of the month.

BOLDUAN: So now let's talk about -- let's prognosticate and just think about what the options could be and what it means for them.

If you look at kind of how it went for the first round of debates, the top -- four of the five top-tier candidates ended up together on night two, leaving Elizabeth Warren really on night one kind of all by herself in terms of that top tier.

I am kind of wondering today if she's looking forward to this tweaking in the draw and in the system so she knows she's going to be head-to- head at least with another top-tier candidate.

PRESTON: Here's what's very interesting. A lot of people are focusing on what happened with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, saying will we have that moment again, will we see them on stage again, will something explosive happen.

What I would say to everybody, and to your point about Elizabeth Warren, going into this debate, they all have to have different strategies, but the angle of all their strategies is to have a moment. Some of these candidates need a moment to continue to survive, to continue to keep their presidential campaign moving forward.

Someone like Elizabeth Warren, to your point, wants to try to separate herself from the other three right now but, at the same time, she doesn't want to be put in a position where she gets hurt.

It's going to be interesting to see these matchups -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And Governor Steve Bullock making it on the stage. He did not last time.

PRESTON: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Making it onto the stage for the first time. So there's already going to be some difference. It's going to be fascinating. It starts tonight.

Great to see you, Mark. Thank you.

PRESTON: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And be sure to watch the draw for the CNN Democratic debates tonight at 8:00 Eastern.

Coming up for us, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is facing questions on Capitol Hill, defending the Trump administration's policies of separating families at the border. What he told Congress, that is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:11] BOLDUAN: On Capitol Hill this morning, acting secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, facing tough questions by the House Oversight Committee, all about the ongoing crisis at the southern border.

Here's what the secretary had to say about the conditions that have faced so much criticism, including from inside the government, about the migrant detention facilities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: First, on the conditions, there's no one in this room that has warned more often or more stridently about the overcrowding and the conditions in our facilities than I have. So I'm very concerned about them. I've been asking Congress for help.

We did not get the money for single adult beds that would allow us to move those adults out of our custody from Congress. So I just want to make that point very clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Is that point clear? Is that answer good enough?

The lawmaker who is heading to the border this weekend will be joining us right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:00]