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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Biden Unveils Criminal Justice Reform Plan Ahead Of Dem Debate; Trump Sues To Stop Release Of Tax Returns; Budget Deal; Gabbard: Harris Not Qualified To Be Commander-In-Chief; Next U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Has History Of Gaffes. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR: Well, Trump has never said that this was something that -- well, he said that he cared about this in the past, but it was never really his passion, right?

And he didn't come into office on this. And I think what it also shows is that maybe the public doesn't really care that much about this. And I remember, during the Tea Party days, the heyday, there will be people just crying and talking about their grandkids, and they're going to have to pay these debts.

But now people are kind of shrugging. And I guess they're saying the grandkids can pay it. We will work it out on the next side.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, Jeff, in 2016, when asked how long it would take him as president to eliminate the U.S. debt, then candidate Trump told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "I would say over a period of eight years."

Well, we're a few years into that and it doesn't look like we're headed in that direction.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We're certainly not headed in that direction. In fact, we're headed in the opposite direction.

But you mentioned Mick Mulvaney. He was not involved in these talks at all with Speaker Pelosi. I actually caught up with Speaker Pelosi on Monday afternoon as this was happening, and I asked her on Monday evening how this worked out. It seemed to be so smooth, compared to most deals.

And it was because she said she was working with Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary. She said there were two overriding principles, the president's fear of rocking the stock market and hurting the borrowing authority.

So if Mick Mulvaney had been involved in these negotiations, perhaps they wouldn't have gone so smoothly. But, look, he owns it. He signs off on it. He's the chief of staff. But it is hard to imagine that this would have happened under a Democratic administration without the Tea Party and others crying about it.

Deficits matter, except when Republican is a president.

TAPPER: And take a listen to Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic adviser, just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: But right now, jobs are booming, and consumer spending is really booming. So that bodes very well. And the president himself has said, if he's reelected, he will probably come down much tougher on spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So he will take it seriously in the second term.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, right. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Yes.

TAPPER: Right, because the president has so much power.

POWERS: The thing about it is, is that this has been a long-running issue, where Republicans always accuse Democrats of being the big spenders, and then act like they wouldn't be the big spenders when they're in power.

And then they end up being bigger spenders than the Democrats were. I mean, this happened in the Bush administration. So I think that it's never really been about the spending. It's about the fact that there's a Democrat in power, and they don't like the priorities that they're spending money on. And so they're complaining about it.

But they're not -- I don't think -- I honestly don't think they have ever been serious about it. Now, there are people like Mary Katharine who are serious about it, but I don't think the party itself has really been particularly serious about it, because it's something that they just use to bludgeon Democrats with.

TAPPER: And it is interesting, though, because $22 trillion, I mean, at some point, that's -- some of that is going to have to be paid down. And your children, my children...

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that crisis will cometh, right?

TAPPER: Yes, at some point.

HAM: You can't play with fake future money forever, and embracing that ideology will lead you to that place.

TAPPER: And the interest on the debt also consumes so much of the federal budget that we cannot spend on other items. Everyone, stick around.

The president may be done with that budget battle, but he just started another fight. This one involves his home state. We will explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:40]

TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our politics lead now for you.

President Trump sued this afternoon to try to stop his tax returns from being released. He's filing a lawsuit against New York state officials and the House Ways and Means Committee. The president and his legal team are also calling for the court to block a brand-new New York state law passed to help Congress get ahold of his tax returns.

Let's bring in CNN's Cristina Alesci.

Cristina, what are the president's lawyers arguing here?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They're arguing that this is nothing more than political retribution.

Just some background here, Jake. Lawmakers in New York passed a law that would allow them to hand over his state tax returns, Trump's state tax returns over to Congress. And what the lawyers are saying is essentially this violates his First Amendment protections against congressional investigations into Trump as a private citizen, and that the state tax returns won't help Congress in its stated duty of overseeing the IRS, which is why Congress says it wants his federal tax returns.

But let me tell you what's really going on here. These are not new legal arguments from the Trump camp. This is Trump hitting back in a position that he feels that he's strong on.

His attorney today giving CNN this statement, which I think you got from Sekulow: "The harassment tactics lack a legitimate legislative purpose. The actions taken by the House and New York officials are nothing more than political retribution," Jake.

And this comes on the heels of Trump winning two other court battles, one from D.C. and Maryland on the anti-corruption case, the emoluments case, and the other a court siding with Trump to basically stop or pause Democratic subpoenas for financial information from the Trump Organization.

So, Trump feeling really strong right now and hitting while he thinks that he's strong.

TAPPER: And, Cristina, the New York attorney general responded to this lawsuit. What is that?

ALESCI: That's right. Look, she ran on cracking down on Trump. She is very up front about

it, Letitia James. She says: "President Trump has spent his career hiding behind lawsuits. But, as New York's chief law enforcement officer, I can assure him that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States."

[16:40:00]

So sounds like a battle here. Look, I think it's just a matter of time before the American people see Trump's tax returns. The question is, can he hold off until the next election, Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

You might want to call it Joe Biden's prebuttal, the plan he released today hoping to stop attacks next week during the CNN debate. Spoiler alert: It's not going to work.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our 2020 lead now.

We are just one week out from CNN's Democratic debates. And, today, ahead of the showdown, former Vice President Joe Biden is unveiling a new criminal justice reform plan, a plan he hopes might deflect attacks from that controversial 1994 crime bill that he wrote 25 years ago.

[16:45:00] But 2020 rival Senator Cory Booker quickly fired back telling Biden, "you created this system." And as CNN's Jessica Dean now reports for us, this is all a sign of what's to come when the two are standing next to each other on the debate stage next week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former Vice President Joe Biden today unveiling his criminal justice reform plan.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm amazed how far we've come but I know how much further we have to go.

DEAN: The rollout comes as Biden is set to share the debate stage next week with Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both of whom have aggressively hit his record on the issue particularly his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill which critics say led to an era of mass incarceration.

BIDEN: I supported the bill. I will accept responsibility for what's right but I'll also accept responsibility for what went wrong.

DEAN: Biden's new plan includes a number of recommendations from Congressional Black Caucus members and seeks to reduce the number of people in prison while also reducing crime by creating a $20 billion grant program aimed at pressuring states to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes and incentivize inmates to complete educational and rehabilitation programs, retroactively eliminating the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine and decriminalizing marijuana use.

Booker's response, "Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right. The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it."

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was hurtful.

DEAN: As they've done during the campaign, Harris and Booker could take direct aim at Biden's record on the issue when they meet in Detroit for the debate.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's only right that he talk about everything from his support of the 1994 crime bill which was one of the sort of jet fuel to mass incarceration all the way to his stance on busing.

HARRIS: That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN: One of the key components of this bill that the campaign believes stands out is its focused on juvenile justice. They want to invest $1 billion in programs like the youth empowerment project here in New Orleans. Biden spoke here today, those projects speak to re- entry from the juvenile justice system and also mentorship and education. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Dean in New Orleans, thank you so much. Let's chew over this. Kirsten, Biden is going to be flanked a week from Wednesday by Senator Harris and Senator Booker. Will unveiling this aggressive, progressive criminal justice reform proposal, will that allow him to deflect?

POWERS: No.

TAPPER: No.

POWERS: I don't think that they're going to allow him to deflect on this. The view is that he as Cory Booker was saying he's the architect of the system. That's sort of what they're hanging around his neck. And so whatever he does today, I don't think it's going to change what's happened over the last 40 years.

The thing about it is of course for the you know, recent history he was working for Barack Obama. So it's kind of implicitly a criticism of Barack Obama too. I mean they have to consider that because it's not like Joe Biden could have come out and changed this system while he was under Obama unless Obama wanted to do it. And really that's the time period when I think Democrats have been getting more and more serious about this issue. So I think you know, it's fair to hold him accountable, absolutely, but I -- and I just think that they have to be realistic about where the whole Democratic Party was not just Joe Biden.

TAPPER: Is there a risk for Cory Booker or Kamala Harris in doing this again because Kamala Harris was very aggressive last debate. It definitely helped her in terms of poll numbers, in terms of fundraising, but you know there's always the risk that you attack somebody too much you look opportunistic.

ZELENY: I think there's absolutely a risk. And so many voters I have spoken to in the last three or four weeks since that debate have said you know, we like Joe Biden. We inherently believe that he was trying to do the right thing.

So I think it's his reaction is probably more interesting you know, how he deflects and moves on and makes the argument that he is a forward-looking candidate. But to be you know, fair and accurate here, Senator Booker is hanging all this on the former vice president at the fact the CBC, the majority of the CBC supported this crime bill.

TAPPER: The Congressional Black Caucus.

ZELENY: President Clinton signed it. Most of the majority mayors via black mayor's at the time supported as well. So I think it's incumbent on Joe Biden to pivot forward on this. He was not very agile in doing so at the first debate in Miami but sure there was a risk here of Cory Booker particularly where he is sitting in the polls right now.

And he of course promised to be all kind all nice. This isn't exactly what he promised but look, it hasn't worked out that well for him so far.

TAPPER: And Ayesha, one senior Biden campaign official told CNN about this strategy -- Biden's campaign strategy. "He talks about that he knows a number of people are going to try to weaponize his service in Congress against him. And I know some people in this race would like to believe he never served as vice president to President Obama but he's proud of his record. As he noted, he didn't always get everything right."

I thought that was interesting, weaponize his service in Congress. I mean you're allowed to discuss somebody's Congressional record.

[16:50:09] AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, I mean, it's his record. And it's what he's running, on right? His service not just under President Obama but in Congress. So I want to hear what former Vice President Biden will have to say about how he got to this point. So you were the architect of a bill that did include mandatory minimums. I know he said there were things in there that he didn't like, but how do you get to this point where you want to end all mandatory minimums. Like so how did that evolution happen.

And I think that he needs to explain that on that debate stage to say look, yes that's happened then but this is where I am now. I also think even with President -- with President Obama, when you talk to criminal justice advocates, there are people who felt like he didn't do enough even when you talk about clemency and commutations.

Now, Obama did a record number of them but criminal justice advocates felt like he could have done more.

TAPPER: And there's something else that's going to be going onstage a week from Wednesday -- a week from Tuesday is one debate, a week from Wednesday is another, and that is Tulsi Gabbard will be on stage, Congressman Tulsi Gabbard and she'll probably be aiming some fire -- rhetorical fire at Senator Kamala Harris because she just said on Fox Sports Radio the following:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RE. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Kamala Harris is not qualified to serve as commander-in-chief. And I can say this from a personal perspective as a soldier. She's got no background or experience in foreign policy and she lacks the temperament that is necessary for a commander-in-chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, we should point out that Harris's a communications director responded on Twitter saying "definite hard pass on taking national security advice from Assad's cheerleader. But they're going to be on the same stage and I'm expecting that Tulsi Gabbard is going to make this accusation that Senator Harris doesn't have the temperament or experience.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and Gabbard's performance I think in the last debate was very solid even though this part about Syria and Assad is a real vulnerability for her. As to Biden, this is a real vulnerability for him because he not only supported these things, he's spearheaded many of them that he now totally reject.

And I think you're right, he does need to speak to that evolution. He's tried inoculation via President, his friendship with President Obama which people aren't that interested in as an argument. Via policy is what he's trying now and finally, he needs to do it via performance because he did not do it last time. He needs to have a counter punch.

TAPPER: And you just did a great little pivot that maybe Vice President Biden could learn how to do. You did Tulsi to Biden. I'm just saying -- I'm just saying some people should take note the people who would be debating next week.

And Britain is bracing tonight for Boris. A look at the next prime minister that many are comparing to President Trump. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "WORLD LEAD" now. He speaks with bluster, has a propensity to gaffe. He fancies himself a bit of an unorthodox politico and he certainly lacks traditional decorum. Boris Johnson, the new U.K. Prime Minister will officially replace Theresa May tomorrow. And as CNN's Bianca Nobilo reports, Johnson has a long history of stirring up controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: The title of Britain's Prime Minister is a grand one held by Sir Winston Churchill.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: We cannot aim at anything left than the union of Europe as a whole.

NOBILO: And Margaret Thatcher.

MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: We are living in historic times.

NOBILO: Now Britains are bracing for Boris.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

NOBILO: The pro-Brexit Conservative Boris Johnson will take the helm after a self-described DUD campaign.

BORIS JOHNSON, LEADER, CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Deliver, Unite, and Defeat was not the perfect acronym for an election campaign since unfortunately it spells DUD, but they forgot the final E, my friends, E for energized. And I say -- I say to all the doctors DUDE, we are going to energize the country. We're going to Brexit done.

NOBILO: Unlike Donald Trump to whom he's often compared, the dutifully, disheveled politician has a long history in politics. Johnson has served as a member of parliament, mayor of London, and foreign secretary. Still, an unsettling history of hangups looms large over his career.

He's tackled P.R. disasters before. But now as P.M., his reputation will get more serious scrutiny. Johnson has insulted Muslim women, the people of Papua New Guinea, black people, and President Obama with racist comments. Diplomatically deplorable gaffes, alleged infidelity, and untruths have been commonplace.

JOHNSON: There is a rich thesaurus now of things that I've said somehow misconstrued that it would really take me too long to engage in a full global itinerary of apology to all concerned.

NOBILO: And in 2015, all concerned included Donald Trump, then across the pond political candidate plagued by well, alleged infidelity, racist remarks, and lies.

JOHNSON: I wouldn't want to expose Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.

NOBILO: He since changed his tune and now they're moving forward as two of the most powerful unpredictable politicians on earth.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The call him Britain's Trump and people are saying that's a good thing, that they like me over there. That's what they wanted.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: Jake, tomorrow Boris Johnson will officially become prime minister. He will go to Buckingham Palace, have a formal audience with the Queen and be invited to form a government. Soon after that he'll move into 10 Downing Street and he'll have to hit the ground running because he'll have to grapple with Brexit, chart a course for how to deal with the negotiations, de-escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf and of course, forge the key relationships with the European Union and the United States.

TAPPER: All right, Bianca Nobilo, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.