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Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Meet Amid Party Tensions; Joe Biden Takes More Aggressive Approach on Campaign Trail; House Judiciary Goes to Court Today for Mueller Grand Jury Documents; Pelosi Allies Say She's Keeping Open the Option of Impeachment; Democrats Divided Over Impeachment After Mueller Testimony. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Happy Friday, everyone.

After weeks of tension they are finally meeting. The highly anticipated face-to-face between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is happening. And it's happening, Jim, right now.

SCIUTTO: It is indeed. To be a fly on the wall in that room. Democratic leadership hoping for a show of unity after a very public clash that escalated over border funding.

Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox. She is live on Capitol Hill.

So Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, they downplayed the friction ahead of this meeting. Is that kind of painting a nicer picture than it actually is?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, and the speaker going into the meeting tried to downplay that tension basically arguing that she meets with many of her members, this is just another meeting she's excited about. Here's what she said right as she was going into the meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I have a press conference at 10:45. I've had a series of meetings over the last few days as I always do with my members and I look forward to this one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has long been one of the most progressive members of the freshman Democratic class. Remember she came in after having unseated Joe Crowley, a long-established member who was seen as a future leader in the House of Representatives. And as she's come to Washington, she has pushed the speaker on the green new deal, on impeachment and most recently that fissure over the border bill over House Democrats could not pass on their own when they were trying to make it -- move it forward.

Instead what they had to do was go with a less progressive version of the bill. They passed the Senate version. That caused a lot of consternation among the House Democratic caucus, some frustration between progressives and moderates with Nancy Pelosi basically calling out those four freshman members including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for having not the kind of following that they have on Twitter. Of course that caused frustration from AOC. She then argued that Nancy Pelosi was going after these freshmen because they were Democratic women of color.

And that meeting, of course, under way and just finished. I see Nancy Pelosi behind me now. We will be standing by, of course, as we learn more details from what they talked about -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: That was Pelosi's fast walk, I think, behind you there.

FOX: Yes. It was. It was. She was really trying to avoid talking to reporters there.

SCIUTTO: No opportunity. But we know you're going to chase her down.

Lauren Fox, always good to have you on the Hill.

HARLOW: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Joe Biden wants to be president. He is not running for a lifetime achievement award. That is the word from the Biden campaign as they shift to a more aggressive strategy ahead of the CNN presidential debate next week.

HARLOW: Yes, they say that Biden learned his lesson at the last debate where Senator Kamala Harris gained on him in the polls pretty steeply after that sharp attack went viral. Now he is really to fight harder to try to win the nomination.

Harris will join several of her 2020 rivals at the National Urban League this morning. Her campaign says she will not mention Joe Biden in her remarks.

Our senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is live in Indianapolis.

Of course you covered her, you had that great sit-down with her last week. What should we expect with her today just a few days ahead of the CNN debate?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned poppy, the campaign says that she's not going to be mentioning Joe Biden by name. We are going to be listening carefully to see if in a veiled way she may be mentioning the debate, what she is going to be focusing on in these days leading up to that debate that's going to air here on CNN. But we are told that she will not be mentioning Biden's name.

What we are anticipating is that she'll be talking about a new plan that was rolled out today. Two planks of what her campaign is calling two additional platforms of her black agenda. And they're specifically aimed at -- one part of it at historically black colleges or universities or HBCUS, $60 billion investment in STEM. That's everything from research to facilities, so trying to boost the number of black students in STEM research and in those fields as well as $12 billion in black entrepreneurship.

All of this, Poppy and Jim, is aimed at trying to close the wealth gap. But, you know, the big elephant in the room is, what is she responding to, how is she responding to this more aggressive Joe Biden? Her campaign says for now she's going to be taking a pass.

SCIUTTO: Kyung Lah, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss this and a whole host of other political issues, CNN political commentator David Swerdlick, he's assistant editor at the "Washington Post," and Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters.

Jeff, I wonder, you look at this latest poll out of South Carolina and it really is almost no contest at least in South Carolina when you see the lead that Biden has there, 39 percent.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Twenty-seven points behind is Kamala Harris, Sanders, Warren even further behind here. And I just wonder, was talk of the damage done to Biden after the first debate overblown based on the lead he's been able to maintain since then?

[09:05:08] JEFF MASON, WHITE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, I mean it didn't seem overblown at the time but it certainly didn't last and I think that's the key thing. So he's going into this next round of debates with a lot of strength. And that makes him, you know, a target for sure for Senator Harris, for Senator Booker again. But it also gives him a lot of fortitude in his own -- in his own, you know, comebacks against the two of them.

He has telegraphed that he intends not to be quite so polite and we'll see. We'll see how that manifests. But for sure the fact he's got that polling, those polling numbers will help him going into this.

HARLOW: So, I wonder, David, if you think that proposals from Kamala Harris like today's that Kyung just went through, can help her take bigger bites into that apple in a state like South Carolina, for example? She's the only candidate who went to an HBCU, right? And she's putting out specific policy proposals for the African-American community, saying this is how I would help you on multiple fronts. She talked about African-American homeownership just about a week ago. Could that significantly help her to get those numbers up?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, good morning, Poppy. I think it can help her sort of nibble her way up the food chain. Senator Harris is in the top four, the big four. And she does have support among African-American voters, she is an HBCU graduate. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African-American Greek letter organization, women's Greek letter organization. But if you look at those polls that Jim just mentioned, Biden has a

commanding lead. He's leading among black voters in that Monmouth, South Carolina, poll. He has 51 percent of the black vote in South Carolina. The new Quinnipiac-Ohio poll, he has 36 percent of black vote.

HARLOW: Yes.

SWERDLICK: Way ahead of everybody else. So I think that Biden is going to go into these debates as we said. A little more aggressive, getting a little more on the balls of his feet, but he doesn't have to do that much to win over black voters. I still think that the two major black candidates, Senator Harris and Senator Booker, do have a lot of work to do.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Mason, there's some reporting that President Trump got a briefing on the 2020 Democratic candidates and that he was told, one, Biden is a threat. That's not entirely new, but also that Harris as well, specifically in Michigan. And it's notable that President Trump has not gone after her personally. And I wonder from Trump's perspective in your view are those the biggest threats to his reelection?

MASON: Well, I mean, I think that the campaign and his advisers have definitely been eyeing Joe Biden. And many of them when I've spoken to them feel very confident that they can attack Joe Biden because of that long record that you're seeing the Democratic candidates and his rivals attack right now. So in many ways if Vice President Biden ends up being the candidate for the Democrats in 2020 obviously this primary will help him strengthen his own argument against the type of attacks that President Trump will take against him.

But, yes, Jim, I mean, I think -- I think you're absolutely right, that the Trump folks see him as a potential threat and see Kamala Harris as well as somebody who is a --

HARLOW: Yes.

MASON: A rising threat among the candidates who might be his rival in 2020.

HARLOW: So, guys, you brought up, David, the Ohio poll, the Quinnipiac-Ohio poll, which is super fascinating on a number of frontiers, and other thing that interests us from it, let's pull it up, that right now if the election were today and your choice is Biden or Trump, you got -- Biden's got eight points there. Right? So, you know, almost three times the margin of error in the poll.

My question becomes, OK, but that is likely from in a state that's becoming increasingly red from more centrist voters who are not going to like this super left, liberal policies that we're hearing a lot about in this primary. And I just wonder could Biden become too damaged in Ohio to maintain that kind of lead there.

Nancy Pelosi just walked by after this meeting with AOC. But could he become too damaged? Could he be pulled too far to the

left when you have everyone on the debate stage raising their hand about, you know, Medicare for All for undocumented immigrants?

SWERDLICK: Well, in a field of 20 I don't think Biden is going to get pulled to the far left and just because he represents right now --

HARLOW: But a little more left.

SWERDLICK: Yes, he --

HARLOW: A little more left.

SWERDLICK: Right. Right. He represents the left of center, or right of the left, I guess if you will. He will get pulled a little more left and that will just be in keeping just with the priorities of some Democratic voters, the sort of Twitter segment of the Democratic electorate. But one of the reasons and his campaign knows this that he's doing well in these polls versus President Trump. And one of the reasons he's doing well against -- excuse me, with black voters, for example, is that he's seen as the biggest threat to Donald Trump.

You know, you were asking me before about policy. Policy matters, but for many Democrats including black voters, including in Ohio and South Carolina, both key states, the top line policy issue is getting President Trump out of office and I think that's what's going to sustain him going through this.

[09:10:04] He does have to have a better debate performance than he had last time because he really got dinged up by Senator Harris, but he has that strong lead because I think he's seen as a good matchup against the president.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Mason, just quickly before we go, you know, you look at that Ohio poll, and there is something of a conventional wisdom among both Republicans and Democrats that Ohio is less a swing state today and more a reliable red state. And I wonder when you look at those numbers, Biden's lead there, does that surprise you?

MASON: Well, I mean, I think that's a good point. And I think that's one reason why you'll see the Democrats, in particular Biden, really work on some of the other states that he thinks he'll have strength in. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. But Democrats can't afford to give up Ohio in the same way that they can't afford to give up Florida because both states have so many electoral votes.

But for sure that there's going to be a really tough battle for both of them. And it looks like at this point President Trump will have the advantage going in, in those states.

HARLOW: OK. Gentlemen, we know where your eyes will be next week, on Detroit for the CNN debate. Until then, have a great weekend. Thank you so much.

So the CNN Democratic presidential debates just a few days away, two big nights. Ten candidates each night. Wednesday -- Tuesday and Wednesday night live from Detroit only right here on CNN.

SCIUTTO: News in just this morning. In the last hour the U.S. economy slowing up as the president's trade war rages on. We're going to break down those numbers. Plus, some Democrats are worried that time is running out to launch a formal impeachment in inquiry. But this morning House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on CNN is signaling that he's pushing ahead.

HARLOW: Yes. That's a fascinating interview.

Also, CNN's stunning interview with the U.S. citizen detained by border officials for more than three weeks. 23 days without a shower. He says he was crammed into a holding area, not even given enough food. You will hear from him next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Is the country one step closer to a formal impeachment inquiry? Well, House Judiciary Chairman, very powerful position, Jerry Nadler says that his committee is going to court today hoping to get grand jury material from the Mueller investigation. The committee also expects to be back in court early next week to try to enforce a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn for him to testify before Congress.

Nadler says that winning in court would really open up his committee's investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): When we win and we will win the court fight because of the legal excuses the White House has been using are extraordinarily weak from a legal point of view. When we win that, it will open up the flood gates to all to enforce all the subpoenas and get all the testimony because they're all the same nonsense legal arguments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: There's still a big split in the party. Nadler says that next week's trip to court seeking the enforcement of the McGahn subpoena could happen on Monday and Tuesday. And that would certainly be explosive testimony, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes, it certainly would. And you heard Jerry Nadler say this morning, you know, if the White House were to defy a court order that would be unheard of. Let's talk about this and more with Congressman -- Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington. Good morning, sir, and thank you for joining us at the end of quite a busy and consequential week for the country.

I'd just like to get your temperature because there's a brand new "NBC"-"Wall Street Journal" poll out post-Mueller hearing, and you still have 50 percent of Americans who say no to impeachment hearings, 21 percent only say begin them. You have never advocated to this point for impeachment. Where are you now on this? REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Well, to this point is the operative phrase

there, Poppy. The truth of the matter is last night on the floor of the House of Representatives, I had separate conversations with no fewer than three of my colleagues, all of which surrounded the fact that we're going to go forth now and have some pretty deep soulful contemplation about our decision about whether or not to come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

But Poppy, I want to remind you at the beginning of the Watergate affair, the public support for impeachment of Richard Nixon was at 19 percent. So some of this is a matter of evolution and --

HARLOW: Yes --

HECK: Revelation. We just --

HARLOW: No --

HECK: Have to wait and see.

HARLOW: Look, I hear that, you're going home for a six-week recess. We're going to hear a lot from your constituents and it matters how they feel. But you also had a real change in sentiment during Watergate among Republicans. And that's something you just don't have in the Senate right now.

And that -- unless that changes dramatically, and I don't see that happening, now that's a big difference for you, guys. So, the chair of your committee of the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff was on CNN yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Twenty-twenty is unquestionably the only way he gets removed from office, so we can never lose sight of that. We do need to be realistic, and that is the only way he's leaving office at least at this point is by being voted out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Congressman, is he right?

HECK: So, again, I'm going to take you back to the Nixon impeachment, and remind you that Republicans were in fact united in their opposition to impeachment until it got to the point that the tapes were revealed in the 18-minute gap. So, I would suggest to you, frankly, that there's still the distinct possibility that something of that nature could occur here that would change the trajectory of this debate.

And you mentioned one earlier, Poppy, say for example, Don McGahn is ordered or compelled --

HARLOW: Right --

HECK: To come forth, and the White House orders him to refuse to do so. That has setup a bona fide constitutional crisis. There's no other way to put it. And that might change the trajectory of this as could any number of other things.

HARLOW: OK, except for the fact that the American people largely know what Don McGahn would say I think because of the 30 hours he sat with Mueller in what was described and quoted in the Mueller report. Congresswoman Jackie Speier sees it this way. Here she was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:20:00] REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): If we don't take action come September 1st, then we should just shut it down because we're not going to be able to do anything at all.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, THE LEAD: No --

SPEIER: I feel strongly that we should, but I think we're running out of time. So, there are 94 members who have come out publicly. I would say there's easily another 20 to 30 that would, given the opportunity to do so. They're holding back in part out of respect to the speaker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So, two questions on that. One, do you agree that after September, it's too late to move forward with impeachment? And B, do you also think there are 20 or 30 members of the house that are holding back out of respect for Speaker Pelosi, but actually feel differently than she does on impeachment?

HECK: So, I don't know that September 1st is magic date, but there's certainly some point in time that again, barring any additional unforeseen disclosures of information, it wouldn't probably make much sense to proceed with it. And as to the number of people who are holding back purely out of difference to the speaker, I have no idea.

I would tell you that there are at least 20 to 30 that are going to be doing a lot of that deep contemplation as am I in the next few days? And I wouldn't be surprised if it was at least that number. This was a pretty high impact week. I have said all along that having the Mueller report is like having the sheet music without ever having heard the song.

We heard the song this week, and I think it had a pretty big impact. The opportunity to go beyond reading the report, the opportunity to go beyond listening to -- from one's constituents or to talking with one another's colleagues would actually hear --

HARLOW: Right --

HECK: From the office of the special counsel was pretty high impact.

HARLOW: But you said back in December, speaking to my colleague Erin Burnett, quote, "this is the beginning of the end of the Trump administration." I wonder looking at these numbers, talking to your constituents, looking at this economy and how people feel about it, do you still think that?

HECK: I do. So, what I have said to my friends when asked is I had to make a political prediction and I'm not in the business of making political predictions. I --

HARLOW: Yes --

HECK: Predicted Donald Trump will not be re-elected. I still think there's a path for him to make -- to have a victory, and I wouldn't bet a large --

HARLOW: OK --

HECK: Sum of money, but I think the die has been cast.

HARLOW: Well, that's interesting. You're talking about election, not -- I was reading that as you're talking about impeachment. OK, I hear you, before you go, let me get you on this that I think is -- we all think is critically important, but not frankly getting enough attention, the budget.

You just voted for a budget deal yesterday that the house overwhelmingly passed that raises spending by $320 billion over existing caps. The committee bipartisan, nonpartisan committee for a responsible federal budget says this will increase the budget deficit by $1.7 trillion over the next decade.

Not to mention the increased interest payments on the debt. Should we just believe at this point that Republicans and Democrats in Congress largely just don't care about what this sets up for our children?

HECK: So, there's no question that Congress and the executive branch at some point in time are going to have to deal with the deficit. I don't think anybody would argue that. The only thing, however, that could be worse to the economy is if we had defaulted on our good faith and credit, and frankly, allowed sequestration to come back into play. If --

HARLOW: Yes --

HECK: Those two things that happened, I confidently predict, we would have plunged the nation into a recession --

HARLOW: Except what you could have done is made her choices.

HECK: Yes --

HARLOW: Democrats could have given, Republicans could have given, you could have done what taxpayers frankly pay you guys to do, and made her choices not to setup this situation for our kids. I have a one and three-year-old, right? You have two sons. You know, you don't want them --

HECK: And Poppy, and a four-year-old granddaughter as a --

HARLOW: Well -- HECK: Matter of fact --

HARLOW: Congratulations, they are the best I hear. But look, Leon Panetta, in all seriousness, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just said, "both sides this week so easily agreeing to fiscal defeat isn't bipartisanship, it is broken governance." Is he right?

HECK: In part, yes, absolutely he's right, Poppy, I'm not going to deny it.

HARLOW: OK, I think you guys have a lot of work to do on this front. Congressman Denny Heck, I appreciate your candor and you being here. Thanks very much --

HECK: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Pretty straightforward there, not going to deny it, broken government.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Well, the president loves to tout the economy as the best ever in the history of the country. But a new sign today that in fact it's slowing down.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: A sharp uptick in consumer-spending helped the Trump economy stave off what could have been a disastrous second quarter. This morning, the Commerce Department revealed the economy grew at a slower pace compared to quarter 1, growing at a rate of 2.1 percent down from 3.1 percent.

HARLOW: All right, so Christine Romans; our chief business correspondent is here with more. Big promises about 3 percent-4 percent --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yes --

HARLOW: Five percent growth, the tax cut was going to do all this.

ROMANS: Yes, tax cuts and regulation roll backs. I mean, look, when you look at some of these quarters, you guys, you know, pre-tax reform and post-tax reform, the growth kind of looks the same. I mean, let me look at some of these numbers, 2.1 percent, if you look at the bar chart, you could see how that compares with the first quarter.

It's a little bit of a deceleration. Look at the fourth quarter, there were some revisions here.

HARLOW: Yes --

ROMANS: In the same way that you read revisions, the fourth quarter last year, only 1.1 percent. And the second quarter last year, remember that bombastic 4.2 percent growth, that's been revised down below 4 percent. So, you're not getting those numbers, you guys, that the president said his policies were going to -- were going to hearken, it's just not there.

[09:30:00]