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Biden and Democratic Rivals Spar Over Policies; Trump Admin. Raised Red Flags over Family Separations; Impeachment on the Campaign Trail; Biden Tops Trump among Ohio Voters; GOP Blocks Election Security Bills. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: -- aggressive with his competitors about certain issues. And so we were seeing him ramp up on issues like criminal justice where a lot of his competitors actually say that he is responsible for a lot of the mass incarcerations because of the 1994 criminal justice bill. And so he's having to defend himself but to also go after their records on these issues. Same thing with Medicare for All and he's trying to find the gaps in that, as well as foreign policy issues.

And so, yes, definitely starting to kind of gear up for next week's debates but going after some of these people that he feels will target him.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And he's also polling very poorly. So he realizes that that helped give Kamala a boost and he is seeking something similar to that. This fight has also kind of been brewing for a while between the two of them, Cory Booker and Joe Biden because remember, after Joe Biden talked about working with the segregationist senators, they got into that scuffle where Cory Booker was like you should apologize. Joe Biden was like no, you should apologize to me.

Well, they didn't get the chance to have their moment because they weren't on the debate stage together and now they will be. So it seems like it's going to come to ahead.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And nice always ends. Remember, the 2016 Republican primary was never nice once Trump got in. That the nicknames and insults came in. Sanders/Clinton was not nice. Obama/Clinton was not nice. So this had to happen at some point, ambition ends nicely even if you're really friends.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The thing is, John, I mean, you're actually heading on an important point because when you were talking about Sanders versus Clinton, this race is wide open, it really is. I mean, that was the lesson of the last debate. Is, you know, Booker is taking the shot because there is a path for Booker. He is polling low but there is an opportunity, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll hit it but he could.

And I think that you are going to see Biden has some of the same -- that's why I think you're talking about this. Biden has similar challenges that Hillary Clinton had with Black Lives Matter protesters in her 2016 race where she found herself on really the wrong side of a generational issue where there had been a civil rights issue that had changed a lot over time. Biden is obviously not going to be as complacent as he was last time. I think that's been drilled into him. But that doesn't mean we know what this is going to look like for him either.

KING: Right. And the question is does it actually happen on the debate stage.


KING: What candidates often, you know, say on television interviews, say in one speech when it's just them, they get more aggressive. And then they're standing side by side, and it will be Biden in the middle, Booker on one side, Harris on the other one. We'll see if it plays out but if you listen to Senator Booker in recent days, the vice president is target one.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm disappointed that it's taken Joe Biden years and years until he was running for president to actually say that he made a mistake. That there were things in that bill that were extraordinarily bad. Now that he's unveiled his crime bill, for a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.


KING: And again, you can tell the vice president, former vice president is preparing. He says Senator Booker, you want to talk records? Then let's talk records.


JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at the mayor's record in Newark, one of the provisions that I wrote in the crime bill of pattern and practice of misbehavior, his police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African-American men. If he wants to go back and talk about records, I'm happy to do that, but I'd rather talk about the future. I'm happy to debate with anybody the effects of the things that I did as a United States senator, as I did as a vice president. I'm anxious to have a debate with Senator Booker.


KING: He doesn't sound very anxious. You do get -- in the week before a debate when candidates talk to reporters, you get their briefing books. They started today just talk about what they've been reading and what they've been preparing. So it's clear he's been studying Senator Booker's record, it's clear in recent days he's been studying Kamala Harris' record as a prosecutor out in California so that he can exchange fire.

He does not seem terribly energized by the prospect of fighting his fellow Democrats, but he has to, given his slide in the polls, right?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. And I think this is an evolution for Biden because when he first came out he acted like he was the only Democratic candidate and Trump was the only opponent of his. And now after the segregationist comments, he had to respond to Booker. And ever since then, we've seen him kind of punch Booker and Harris on various things. And I think he's realized that he can't just be the presumed frontrunner and not respond to these criticisms from his fellow Democratic candidates.

SALAMA: A lot is also responding to the changes within the Democratic Party itself. President Obama remains very popular within the Democratic Party, but the party is also changing. And a lot of his opponents actually reflect those changes and so he's having to juggle the two where he's trying to also stay true to his roots with the Obama administration but also to communicate to this changing tide within the party itself.

KING: And you have this fierce competition for the Democratic base, African-American voters. And if you go back to 2008 and early on, that was all for Hillary Clinton. Even though Senator Obama was in the race, because nobody thought he was ready yet, nobody thought he was viable. Once he proved he was viable, the floodgates open.

And so that's why you have Senator Harris and Senator Booker saying look at me, but they need to prove themselves. And that's why you have -- this is former vice president Biden on the Tom Joyner show again targeting African-American voters saying I guess I'm going to have to mix it up with Kamala Harris too.


BIDEN: I thought we were friends. And I hope we still will be. You know, she asked me to go out -- called me and asked me to go to her convention and be the guy from outside of California to nominate her at her convention for the Senate seat.

[12:35:10] I did. We've talked, we worked a lot together. She and my son Beau were attorneys general who took on the banks.


KING: She did invite him for the California convention. There's no nominating piece of that, so there's a factual discrepancy there. But again, he says I guess I'm going to have to -- he doesn't sound enthusiastic about the challenge he faces next week, which is, stand your ground, defend your past, but then pivot and don't be afraid to attack.

HABERMAN: He sounds like he wants to keep talking about being victimized by her which I have to say at a certain point is going to annoy voters, specifically women voters. Why would he think that she's not going to fight for the race that she entered because they were once friendly at a convention?

KING: Right. HABERMAN: Just making a point.

KING: Friends and nice as we have learned. Pay attention to any campaign, friends and nice gives a way to ambition every time. That's how it works.

As we go to break, some insight from some of those African-American voters. This is from yesterday's NAACP presidential candidate forum in Detroit.


DORETHA BROOKS, FLORIDA VOTER: Joe Biden is of my era, OK. And I think he has been second in command for quite a while.

JACKIE VICKERS, FLORIDA VOTER: I am leaning more towards Cory Booker. I just felt like he has that determination.

TERRI HUGHES, UTAH VOTER: Bernie Sanders really -- I hear that if he gets elected we won't have any more student debt so I'm cool with Bernie Sanders.



[12:40:47] KING: Topping our political radar today, the Justice Department opening the door for the federal government to resume capital punishment after a nearly 20-year lapse. The attorney general William Barr directing the head of the Bureau of Prisons today to execute five federal death row inmates convicted of murder, torture, and rape.

Democratic presidential candidates are already weighing in against this move on Twitter. Senator Bernie Sanders promising to abolish the death penalty when, he says, he is president. Senator Kamala Harris calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, not it's a resurrection.

Now an exclusive report here on CNN, according to documents reviewed by CNN, hundreds of red flags, hundreds, were raised within the Trump administration about how families were being separated at the U.S./Mexico border. Joining me now, CNN National Correspondent Dianne Gallagher. What do these documents tell us, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, look, for the most part, John, these were government officials reporting those hundreds of cases of family separation and it happened long before that policy was ever announced. They were reporting them to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Now, they were exclusively seen by CNN and some really excellent reporting from my colleague, Priscilla Alvarez. They're all sorts of allegations for children just being blindsided. One referral describes a 14-year-old who was separated from his father after a meal break while in custody and told by officers that his dad would be deported. Another one details an 11-year-old who says that he was called aside by an officer and then just didn't see his father again.

So, of the 850 referrals of family separation between January and June of 2018, the overwhelming majority are from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Even House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler cited these documents during a panel hearing today. He called them startling and noted that the majority of the dozen children under the age of one were separated before the zero-tolerance policy was officially enacted.

More than a hundred of the referrals even predate the announcement of that controversial policy. And look, in some cases, they do cite criminal history as a reason behind the separation. That could fall under a long-standing child welfare policy but the referrals don't explain how or if the case was resolved. An HHS official tells CNN that given the ORR was unaware of a zero-tolerance separations type policy before the official announcement was made, the reports were submitted as incidents of abuse in DHS custody and they were sent, of course, to the Department of Civil Rights and Liberties Office, John.

KING: Dianne Gallagher, Priscilla Alvarez as well, thank you for the groundbreaking reporting. Important that we keep our focus on this and other issues.

Up next for us, as Democrats look to November 2020 as their best and perhaps last chance to get President Trump out of the White House.


[12:48:07] KING: The impeachment divide among Democrats includes those looking to move into the White House come January 2021. More than half of the 2020 Democratic field backs impeachment proceedings now. Others though like the former vice president, Joe Biden, have said that for now, they support Speaker Nancy Pelosi's take it much more slowly approach.

But even some of the candidates calling for impeachment understand the math and acknowledged whether the president stays in office is almost certainly up to the voters in 2020.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that an impeachment inquiry would bring more facts to light. I also believe that the Republican Senate will not act. And so I'm focusing on the best thing I can do about the Trump presidency which is to defeat it in November of 2020.

BOOKER: What we ultimately must be prepared to do should Congress fail, remember, the power of the people is greater than the people in power. And we need to be ready to beat Donald Trump soundly in the 2020 elections, and that's why I'm running for president.


KING: Does yesterday, Mueller's testimony, change anything about the presidential race and the calculations of the 2020 candidates? HABERMAN: It's too soon to say. I think that -- I do think that -- look, again, I think there's a difference between whether this is a -- the hearings are a durable news story past today and whether this left a lasting impression for people past today. And those are two separate things. And so I don't think we're going to know until we see whether this factors into debates, whether people start talking about it more in the fall.

It certainly could. I think it is likelier that it factors in only in the sense that you have people who are trying to make the point, and you're starting to see them, Cory Booker did a bit of that. There has been a sense the Democrats have been waiting for Mueller to sort of save them and be (INAUDIBLE). And ultimately it is voters who are going to have to make this decision. And I think that you will see more candidates start saying that more urgently.

KING: And Dan Balz, one of the best in the business, putting it this way in the Washington Post today under the headline, Democrats are one last option to end Trump's presidency in the 2020 election.

[12:50:03] "After Wednesday, the prospects for impeachment appear more remote, which means it will be left to the eventual Democratic presidential nominee with the help of the party, to develop a comprehensive case against the president, one that can win 270 electoral votes. To date, that hasn't happened. Mueller did not deliver what the Democrats had hoped he would. If they hope to win in 2020, it's now on them to convince the voters."

To the 270 part, you could do this half-empty or half-full, there's an Ohio poll out today, one of the states the president won, we could give you all the cliches, Republicans can't win without Ohio. A Quinnipiac poll that shows Biden beating Trump, 50-42, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, more or less in a dead heat with the president right there.

On the one hand, you can say, well, Ohio is more competitive than it was in 2016. On the other hand, you can say at a very early time, the president is in play there.

And if you look deeply in the Trump base among white Ohio voters without a college degree, Trump wins. That's been a key part of his base. Trump leads all the Democrats among white Ohio voters without a college degree, not by the margin. He beat Hillary Clinton by 30 points among those voters in the state of Ohio.

So the Democrats who are running, they're stronger than Hillary Clinton, but there is still -- if you go state by state, despite the president's polling numbers with a strong economy, he's got a map that he can win.

COLLINS: And that's going to be the question here going forward. As the White House, if they do turn away from all of this impeachment talk, as you saw the president saying yesterday we need to start focusing on other things, that's kind of the message you've heard from his allies. If they start talking about things like healthcare, what is that going to do? Does that -- that seems something that resonates more with these supporters, these -- or these swing voters that the president and his campaign are going after than something like what we saw play out yesterday, these hours of testimony from Robert Mueller which doesn't seem to be a concern when you're talking to people -- to voters on the road.

CAYGLE: And this is -- it's interesting because Nancy Pelosi is getting criticized within her own caucus, but this is a talking point that all of these presidential candidates have latched onto. What she's been saying for months, if not more than a year, which is, sure, I would like to impeach him, he's committed impeachable offenses, but the best thing to do is to beat him at the ballot box. Let's do that, you know.

And so I think they see the smartness of doing that even if her own caucus doesn't.

KING: All right, when we come back, remember Robert Mueller yesterday saying the Russian meddling is ongoing? Well, the Senate decided to bring up the question just after the hearing was over. What happened?


[12:56:56] KING: Senate Democrats tried yesterday just after the Mueller hearing to pass a new election security measures to prevent future election interference by Russian and other foreign actors. Republicans objected. Today, the Democratic leader of the Senate tried again. The Republican leader of the Senate said no.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We are asking our Republican colleagues to join with us in doing everything we can to stop it. This is serious stuff.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): My friend, the Democratic leader is asking unanimous consent to pass is partisan legislation from the Democratic House of Representatives relating to American elections. It's just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia. Therefore, I object.


KING: Now one provision of the legislation would require a campaign if a foreign actor reached out, would require you, make it the law you had to tell the feds. The Republicans argue we've done enough already. Have they?

CAYGLE: Well, I think there was a briefing, a classified briefing with Trump administration officials for both the Senate and the House about two weeks ago. And members left and they couldn't say much under the guise that it was classified, but they did say that these officials said we have the resources that we need to protect the integrity of our elections. If we need something else we will come to you, and even Democrats were saying that.

And so I think some members left feeling comfortable that, yes, they have done enough. We'll see.

KING: They don't like to talk about this around the president, though. That's what's interesting. They do say and he's been mad at Dan Coats and others who have said yes, there's interference. Yes, it's ongoing. But in this new system, there's a national security official who can call into the agencies and say act, right? They have created a command and control structure which they didn't have before.

COLLINS: Yes, and -- well -- and they see this is like a rebuke of the president by going forward with this. That's why McConnell is acting so forcefully about this saying we don't need. But of course this comes as you're right, this is a topic that people will go out of their way to avoid bringing it up with the president, even though there are officials who insist this is something they are working on, that they're working on it stringently because they know that behind the scenes this is a big issue. And that was the big golf moment of yesterday's hearing when Robert Mueller said yes, this is happening, Russian interference, as I am sitting here before you today. But that has not, of course, the takeaway from that.

But that's what -- the question is going forward is if they're doing enough. And of course from Republicans yesterday you did not see a great cause of concern about election interference, and you even seen that echoed in people like Kevin McCarthy's comments saying they don't see a problem with the president's behavior.

SALAMA: Well, adding to it, it's just the president's, you know, responses too when we just saw him with Vladimir Putin last month and he sort of teased him and said, you know, Mr. President, don't interfere in our elections again. And so a lot of people concerned that the president isn't at least publicly taking a tougher stance but his administration insists that behind closed doors they are doing much more to address this problem.

HABERMAN: Right. And Republicans are taking a gamble that they are not going to pay a price, not just the president, but the entire party filled with elected officials in Congress and in the Senate if there is interference. And that's a big unknown right now. We don't know what this might look like down the road.

KING: It's an important question, and one would hope that based on the experience of 2016, we're all better at what we do in watching for it in 2020, including not just from reporters, including people when you log online.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now.