Return to Transcripts main page


Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez Interviewed on Democratic Electoral Strategy in 2020; President Trump Focuses Comments on Four Democratic Congresswomen at Campaign Rally; Protestors in Puerto Rico Call for Resignation of Governor Rossello; Dangerous Heat Wave Scorches More Than Half of the U.S.; Robert Mueller to Testify Next Week Before Congress. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] TOM PEREZ, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: They want a president who is competent. They want a president they can be proud of. And this president is none of the above. He's patently ineffective. He's patently incompetent at doing anything that moves us forward as a nation. And people have seen that and people are tired of it.

And that's why both moderate voters, voters in our Democratic base, they're all going to come out. And I have a lot of confidence that we're going to move forward and take back our democracy just like we did in 2018, in red, blue, purple states across the country.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to ask very quickly. And I know you're the child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Has anyone ever told you or your parents to go home?

PEREZ: Not recently. And I was talking to a person yesterday, a member of Congress actually, who was telling me that his son for the first time, and I think his son is 10 or 11 years old, started hearing that in his school. And the president sets the tone for America. People are only as optimistic as your leader. Seldom more optimistic. And if you have leaders who divide us, they set the tone for a behavior.

It should come as a surprise to no one THAT we've seen a proliferation of hate crime activities in this country. And as someone who formerly ran the Civil Rights Division, I find that disturbing and not surprising, because when you set the tone the way he has set the tone, the incidents that ensue should come as a surprise to no one.

This is not who we are as a nation. This one of the darkest moments in our nation's history. But on the darkest nights you see the brightest stars. And so many people have stepped up and organized and gotten engaged. And the reason I have chronic optimism about the future of our nation, John, is because I see the number of people who have stepped up. The number of Republicans I talked to who have left the party because they acknowledge that the party of Lincoln is dead, it's been replaced by the party of Trump, it's remarkable. And they understand this is a where were you moment in our journey to form a more perfect union. This is about health care. This is about women's reproductive health. This is about our immigrant tradition. And this is about the character of our nation. And that is why I have confidence moving forward that just as we put an end to the McCarthy era, just as we put an end to some of the darkest eras in American history, we're going to do the same thing in November of 2020.

BERMAN: Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez, thank you very much for being with us. You have a big few weeks ahead of you. We appreciate you taking the time this morning. Of course, you can all find out which Democratic candidates will face-off at the next debates at a special live event. Watch the draw for the CNN Democratic debates, that's tonight 8:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you CNN Newsroom with Max Foster is next. But we want to bring in our NEW DAY panel right now because we have a lot to talk about.

Joining us is Abby Philip, CNN White House correspondent, David Gregory, CNN political analyst, and Bianna Golodyrga, a CNN contributor. We have so much to talk about between what's happening tonight with the draw as well as what happened last night.

So there was this campaign rally for President Trump, Abby, in North Carolina, as you know. And what we've learned is that this was a scripted rant, basically, that the president went on about the four congresswomen of color who he's been targeting. And it was in teleprompter. This wasn't a riff, I guess is my point. It was in teleprompter, it was scripted. And as we have learned, this is an actual campaign strategy to focus on them and try to, I guess, deal with racial tensions or stoke racial tensions rather than focus on the economy. What do you know about this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Alisyn. Oftentimes these types of rants from President Trump at his rallies are things that he does on his own where he goes off his teleprompter in an effort to give his supporters some kind of show. But in this case, this was part of what I like to call the emerging strategy that has come out of these tweets from the president. The tweets themselves were not a strategy from the campaign side. But what they've decided to do is they want to elevate these women and characterize -- and elevate them in the most negative way possible, and then characterize the entire Democratic Party as being exactly the same as these four congresswomen in the squad.

But what ended up happening in the rally that I think is extremely instructive, while the campaign is saying that this is just about policies, this just about socialism, this just about the things they stand for that we don't stand for, the crowd reads right through that, and they see exactly what President Trump intended to say, and they said back to him, "Send her back."

[08:05:08] And I think that's what's going to become problematic. The crowd is not going along with this campaign strategy. They are taking what they believe is the meaning of President Trump's words, which is that these women ought to go back to wherever they came from. In this case, these are four Americans, and I think that's why this strategy, it might be too clever by half because I think it's going to start to be seen as transparent as it is.

BERMAN: It is potentially dangerous. It is potentially threatening to a U.S. member of Congress when you have people in that hall chanting what they're chanting. And David Gregory, I don't know if you were watching the Tom Perez interview, but it seemed like he was channeling advice you had given the Democrats earlier, which is how to respond to this, which is you've got to, on the one hand, make it about character, which you heard the chairman do there. But you also have to continue to talk about the issues and the policy. And you saw him trying to juggle that.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He is trying to juggle it because I think Democrats realize that they face this difficulty with voters. This is going to be a referendum on who we are, who Trump is, what the country stands for, or the condition of the country. Are voters who support him going to start compartmentalizing and saying I don't like what he's says about those congresswomen, but I certainly don't like their policies, and I certainly don't like Congresswomen Omar with her anti-Semitic comments, or other congresswomen, their views that are more socialist, or getting rid of ICE, or getting rid of Homeland Security.

And that's where the president always overdoes whatever he tries to do and goes into the realm of the nativist and the ignorant and the racist and the offensive instead of trying to say, look, they are the emerging Democratic Party that we are running against, that Republicans are running against. And the crude politics of this on his part is that he is forcing the Democratic leadership to embrace these congresswomen, the same women who accused the Democratic leadership of being essentially segregationist in their views, or harkening back to the Democratic Party of the 1940s.

So this is the president, as Abby was saying, really trying to go so far beyond what Nancy Pelosi has been trying to do, which is to marginalize these congresswomen and say no, no, no, this is the entire Democratic Party and that's what we're up against. And so that is the challenge for the Democratic Party, for Tom Perez, to say, no, we've got to let that speak for itself, we have to condemn it, but then we've got to find a way to get back to what was successful for Democrats in the off-year in the midterm, which is to talk about health care, talk about the future of the country, and they would argue, the president has let the country down.

CAMEROTA: Bianna, one of the questions is, how do other Republicans in Congress feel about the president's campaign strategy of doing this. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was on a different morning show this morning, and she was asked what he thinks about the president's strategy of going after these four congresswomen. So here's Mitch McConnell.


MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I think the president is on to something. We're having a big debate now and next year about what we want America to be like. Do we really think socialism applies here at a time of great prosperity, 50-year low unemployment? That's what the election I think is going to be about.


CAMEROTA: That's what you keep hearing all other Republicans do, which is pivot away as fast as possible from the president's racist tweet and start using the word "socialism." It could be a drinking game how often they use the word "socialism" because, obviously, if you can brand the Democrats as that, it, they believe, will be effective.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So in this country we vote people out of office. We don't say go back to the country from which you came. And so you're seeing the shifting tactics now from Mitch McConnell. Earlier this week he talked about embracing legal immigration. By the way, Ilhan Omar came here as a refugee. She came here legally. So you can't accuse her of being an illegal immigrant. They are constantly playing catch-up to this president, and I think the silence is deafening. And what Republicans don't realize is the demographic shift in this country is not on their side. It is not playing in their favor.

CAMEROTA: I think they do realize that.

GOLODRYGA: The president is focused on one person, and that is himself, and that is winning 2020. That's what he's got his eye on. The Republican Party has really got to figure out what they're going to look like in the next 10, 20, 30 years. And I think all of their silence right now, all of their sort of deflecting away from what the president, and we all know what he is saying. We all know what he's supporting when these crowds are saying send them home. Instead of shifting over to focus on socialists, they should be denouncing what the president is saying, and then, yes, talk about policies. Talk about what these four women are espousing. And again, that onus now goes onto Nancy Pelosi. She has got to prove that she can walk and chew gum at the same time. She can defend these four women but also say this is not where the Democratic Party, as a whole, stands.

BERMAN: Go ahead, David.

[08:10:07] GREGORY: To Bianna's point, I think actually Liz Cheney has done that, the very conservative congresswoman, daughter of the former vice president, has made just that distinction that Bianna is talking about, which is it's not about race, gender, ethnicity. It's about what they believe.

But this is what Trump is trying to force into the public debate now, which is that we should make a decision based on who we are rather than what we believe, and his terms of what it means to love America. And by the way, this is not new. John and I remember obviously covering President Bush right after 9/11. The Patriot Act so-called, which was offensive to many, and those debates coursed through Congress about the administration defining what the meant to support America at that time and then what it meant not to, and they were going to define those terms. Or you go back to the Nixon era and the idea of protests against the Vietnam War and the idea of love it or leave it. So this part is not new, and I think that's what's defining our

politics right now. We're in a situation where we're making decisions based on who we are versus what people believe who are in high office.

GOLODRYGA: Can I say quickly, though, if any of those people at the rally said send them back to coworkers, they could be sued. They broke a federal law, right, EEOC law. So the president himself is lighting fire to equal opportunity employment laws, right, in this country where any other venue if the president had said this, any other venue, people, there would be consequences. Seemingly now there are no consequences, but that needs to be addressed. Yes, we need to focus on the issues, and the president does not like to focus on policy issues, but I think you can't move on from this topic without acknowledging that.

CAMEROTA: Such a great point. Bianna, thank you very much. Abby, David, thank you very much.

All right, now to what's happening in Puerto Rico. Police firing tear gas at protesters who are demanding that the island's embattled governor resign. CNN's Leyla Santiago live in San Juan covering it for us. She just spoke to Puerto Rico's secretaries of public safety. And what did the secretary tell you, Leyla?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alyson, I immediately asked him how long they can sustain this, having officers block La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion, working these protests with thousands of people. And he said he didn't know but is committed to safety. This morning as the sun has come up, we have seen people trying to repair the damage done to building, church groups actually scrubbing off the graffiti that is calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.


SANTIAGO: A tense standoff in Puerto Rico's capital escalating to a clash between police and riot gear firing tear gas into crowds. Thousands of protesters taking to the streets of San Juan late into the night demanding the island's governor resign. Marching for a fifth day chanting "Ricky Resign," a direct message to Governor Ricardo Rossello.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll be out here until he resigns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're tired of the abuse, of so many years of corruption.

SANTIAGO: Rossello is under intense scrutiny after Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism uncovered nearly 900 pages of a leaked private group chat between the governor and his inner circle. They include violent and misogynistic messages about San Juan's mayor and homophobic references to singer Ricky Martin who joined protestors in their march along with other Puerto Rican stars, calling for people to come together.

Even under increasing pressure and despite several members of Rossello's staff resigning amid controversy, still the governor refuses to step down.

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

SANTIAGO: Calls for Rossello to leave office reaching the mainland USA, too, as frustration grows for Puerto Ricans living in Florida and New York City where "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, also a subject of the leaked messages, marched alongside demonstrators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so numb from politics in America, but the people of Puerto Rico aren't numb, and they're waking us all up.

SANTIAGO: In San Juan, protesters say it's more than just the leaked messages. The governor's former education secretary and five others were arrested and charged with steering federal aid money to unqualified politically connected contractors.

[08:15:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's more about the people who died in Maria and everything that he said in his chat, also the fight against women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's about dignity, it's about people, it's about family, it's about everything.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And all eyes are not just on the governor, also on the legislator today, to see if they will move forward with impeachment proceedings.

But I've got to tell you, as I have spoken to the people of Puerto Rico, the words they use -- indignation, disrespect, corruption -- this is more than just some chats that were leaked to them. This is about seeing themselves in many of the insults that came out in those chats between the governor and his inner circle when he spoke of countryside folk, when he spoke of the bodies that were piling up after Hurricane Maria.

When someone in the chat said that we have fooled even our own, people are seeing themselves in those insults and say the corruption must end -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Leyla Santiago, thank you for your reporting. Thank you for being there. Please keep us posted as it develops this morning.

The dangerous heat wave set to scorch more than half of the United States, more than 130 million Americans are under a heat advisory today.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers with the forecast.

Oh, my God, look at all that red, Chad. CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, this is the hottest week of the

summer that we've seen so far, and maybe the hottest one that we'll get. At least we can hope, John, and we're dangerous out there for the next couple of day.

We're to the point where you get to 105, 106, even 110 for heat indexes and your body can't cool itself down if you're outside. The sweat doesn't do anything when you're sweating. You need to actually find a place at least dry or cooler than what it feels like 110.

It doesn't even cool down at night, either. Morning lows somewhere around 80. Afternoon highs feeling like 109, 110, 115 in places over the weekend.

Today is the coolest day of the rest of the week for the Northeast. Then it warms up from there. Today is one of the hotter days in Chicago and it moves east from there.

So, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, how do you tell the difference? Well, first of all, you'd get heat exhausted first. That'd be the first thing. You'd get a little dizzy. But you'd still be sweating.

When you stop sweating that's when you're in danger of heatstroke. When your mind is confused, you can't function anymore, you can't feel anymore -- that's when you absolutely need to get inside. Get someplace cool, get water on your body or something like that.

Same idea for the elderly but the transition from here to here goes much faster. After 65, you can't cool yourself down as much and certainly the sun makes a big difference, too. You don't want to be out there in the sunshine.

That sun will make your body 10 degrees warmer on the skin surface. So, the shade is important. And drink plenty of water. That's the way to get by all of this.

But if you're outside working, let's say you're working on the tarmac moving luggage for an airline today, you need to take breaks, you need to get inside just to cool that body temperature down. Once you get to 102, 103 like you have a fever, that's when you get to be in the danger zone; 104 is just entirely too high, guys.

That's where we are today but it's only going to last for four days. Try to endure it because the next week really does look much better.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Chad, thank you very much for all those warnings and reminders for people.

MYERS: You bet.

CAMEROTA: So what are the key questions that Congress should ask Robert Mueller when he testifies before Congress next week? We ask former acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, what he would want to know and how Mueller will prepare.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:22:49] CAMEROTA: All right. Special counsel Robert Mueller heads to Capitol Hill next week to testify about his 448-page report. So, what will lawmakers ask him? What should they ask him?

Joining us now with insight into all this is former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe who you'll remember President Trump had fired hours before he was set to retire.

Great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: You had the experience of preparing Robert Mueller in the past for testimony.

MCCABE: I did.

CAMEROTA: And so, just tell us about that process. How does he prepare? What do you expect to see next week?

MCCABE: Director Mueller will be impeccably prepared. That is part of his strength as a witness.

I remember those sessions, they were legendary. The hallway that led to his office on the seventh floor would be lined on both sides with briefing teams. They would bring in one team after another on different issues.

He would be given these massive three ring binders with information all of which he had consumed and committed to memory before we came into the room. And he was always prepared to kind of grill us and cross-examine us on the issues that we were talking to him about.

He's very studios. He's not a verbose and dramatic witness but he knows his stuff.

BERMAN: And, of course, this time might be a little different than the times you briefed him because he doesn't want to be there at all this time. So, he's a hostile witness, let's say.

MCCABE: Right.

BERMAN: So if you're Congress, how do you get something from him?

MCCABE: Well, you know, what he won't do is go beyond the four corners of the report as he's already said in his own statement. I think the more frustrating parts of the report for many people is that he didn't come out and address the kind of hypothetical questions of if the president was not the president and just a private citizen, would he be charged with obstruction.

So, if that's the place that Congress wants to get to, there are many, many ways they can get very close to that. The report outlines at least ten different categories of obstructive activity. In eight of those 10 categories, Director Mueller concluded there was significance evidence to support each of the three elements of the offense.

Were I Congress, I would pick the two top or four areas that they think are most impactful and go through a very deliberate series of questions to get Director Mueller to talk about the evidence that supports each of those elements of the crime.

[08:25:08] CAMEROTA: But I don't understand that claim that he's not -- that he'll only talk about what's in the 448-pages, he's not going to go beyond that. What if they say to him were you happy that Bill Barr did his own summary weeks ahead of the report coming out? That's not in the report. Doesn't he have to answer to that? Or what happens?

MCCABE: I don't know if he has to answer anything. He's a reluctant but voluntary witness.

I think from his own personal style, from my own experiences with him, I think he'll avoid trying to get down between a personal conflict between he and the attorney general.

CAMEROTA: So, he'll say what? So, if somebody says, were you pleased with how Bill Barr handled it, what does he say?

MCCABE: I think he'll immediately reflect to the report itself and say, well, I made my own statement about the report, I think the report is very clear on what we concluded and I'm happy to talk about that.

BERMAN: And attorney general is entitled to say --

MCCABE: Of course.

BERMAN: -- without ever actually giving an answer to the question there.

You do note, again, there are ways Congress can ask questions here that will put the former director on the spot. For instance, does DOJ typically seek to convict subjects of obstruction with evidence like this?

MCCABE: Right.

BERMAN: If posed with that direct question, what do you think he would say?

MCCABE: I think he'd have to say yes. He is a prosecutor by background. He brought cases. He tried cases in federal court.

If you walk him through the evidence on one particular act of obstruction, you say, was there an obstructive act, and he describes one. You say, was there a nexus to a proceeding, and he describes it. You say, was there intent, and he describes the evidence, and then pose that question to him.

It's going to be very hard for him to say that in similar circumstances, a person confronting that sort of evidence wouldn't be charged with obstruction.

BERMAN: Isn't that the ball game, though? Won't Democrats jump up and down for joy if they got Director Mueller to say, yes, we wouldn't just charge but convict someone some?

MCCABE: I think it's an enormously significant point, I think it's one the report comes very close to. But it's also one the Democrats could elicit from the director if he's questioned effectively and that's a very big if.

CAMEROTA: So if you were in Congress, what's the one question that you would ask Robert Mueller to get a different answer or to elicit some sort of new information?

MCCABE: I think that's the key, though, Alisyn. You don't go for something different. There's so much in the report to work on. I would pick out those three or four most offensive acts of obstruction with the most solid evidence and make sure that that's communicated in a clear and simple way to everyone watching.

BERMAN: Biggest mistake Congress can make next week?

MCCABE: Food fight. The Republicans are going to burn the clock there going to raise all kinds of objections to the questioning. They're going to attack director mule on his choice of staff and things like that. If they allow themselves to get drawn into that area and taken away from the substance of the report, they lose.

CAMEROTA: When under attack, does he ever take the bait?

MCCABE: Very rarely, very rarely. He is not someone who wants to be involved in kind of a personal argument. He certainly doesn't want to get involved in pointing an accusatory finger at the attorney general or anyone else.

However, I think he will very forcefully stand up and defend the work of his team and the folks who spend so much time working on the investigation.

CAMEROTA: Andrew McCabe, you're going to be back with us next week --

MCCABE: I will.

CAMEROTA: -- to help us parse and analyze everything we do here when Robert Mueller testifies, and that will be so helpful.

MCCABE: Yes, looking forward to it.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for previewing this with us.

MCCABE: Thank you.

BERMAN: The human decoder ring on Mueller speak, what it all means after the fact.

Outrage after a pair of Republican senators blocked a vote on a bill that would fund 9/11 first responders health care.


JON STEWART, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS ADVOCATE: This is an outrageous place for them to take a stand and cause once again pain and heartache and suffering within a community that's felt so much of that within these past few years and is going to be suffering more.


BERMAN: You see that angry face on the right there, John Feal, our friend, 9/11 first responder. He's here this morning to talk about Senator Rand Paul. That's next.