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President Trump Nominates National Intelligence Chief; CNN Special Coverage Of Second Round Of Democratic Presidential Debates; Issue Of Race In The 2020 Campaign And Debate; Calls For Impeachment Inquiry Getting Louder; Democratic Candidates And Their Policies; Immigration Plans And The Democratic Debates; Democratic Party Divided Over Impeachment Of Trump; Elie Honig Answers Legal Question On "Cross-Exam". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 28, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Ana Cabrera live in Detroit. This is CNN special coverage of the countdown to the Democratic presidential debates. We'll get to that in just a moment, but first, we have breaking news on the fate of the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. Let's get right to CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House. Fill us in.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ana. Yes, we just got confirmation from President Trump to news that we've been following all afternoon that the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, is leaving the administration in mid-August.

And President Trump has nominated a replacement in Congressman John Ratcliffe -- forgive me. Here's the tweet from President Trump he sent out just a moment ago.

The president writing, "I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the director of National Intelligence. A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the country he loves. Dan Coats, the current director, will be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our country. The acting director will be named shortly."

A source familiar with the conversation between President Trump, Dan Coats and Vice President Mike Pence tells CNN that the three of them discussed a departure date for Dan Coats several weeks ago. This lines up with what CNN had previously reported that the president had been having conversations with White House officials about who to tap to replace Coats.

It's interesting that the president says that Dan Coats gave great service to the country considering that the two men publicly disagreed on multiple fronts most notably on Russian election meddling. Dan Coats contradicting President Trump on a number of occasions. Sources indicated that that infuriated the president.

As hear for his potential replacement, John Ratcliffe, he's a former U.S. Attorney as the president noted there, the former mayor of Heath, Texas. And this week -- last week I should say -- as the House Judiciary Committee had Robert Mueller testify about the special counsel's report, he grilled the special counsel.

He actually suggested that Robert Mueller violated Department of Justice guidelines by explaining why he would not exonerate President Trump. Listen to some of that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): I agree with the chairman this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He's not. But he damn sure shouldn't be below the law which is where volume 2 of this report puts him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Now, Ratcliffe faced criticism for that because according to the Department of Justice guidelines, Mueller was asked to give justification both for prosecuting and indicting individuals and also for why he chose not to prosecute certain individuals.

I should note one important thing. Ratcliffe is actually the chairman of a House subcommittee on cybersecurity. So you can bet there will be many questions during a Senate confirmation process about Russian election meddling and just how he sees the relationship between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, something that certainly Dan Coats is very critical of, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Boris Sanchez, we know we're going to continue to work this story. Thank you for that breaking news. Now to the countdown to round two of the Democratic presidential debates. Now, just a little over 48 hours away, what topics should we expect? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and what are the possible wild card moments? You know there will be at least a few.

Joining us now for this discussion, a highly qualified panel of CNN political commentators and analysts, we're almost as well-populated as the debate stage today. Angela Rye, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for the Obama White House.

Kirsten Powers, columnist for "USA Today," Paul Begala, the chief strategist for the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign and former adviser to Bill Clinton, Mia Love, former Republican congresswoman from Utah and Jess McIntosh, former director of communications of outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

So welcome all of you. Good to see you. I want to start with race in the race because racial politics already playing a huge role in the campaign. We've seen conflict between the Democratic candidates already -- more on that in just a moment.

But also, President Trump is very obviously trying to stir the pot. This weekend he's gone after Congressman Elijah Cummings and the city he represents, Baltimore. It's front page news for the "Baltimore Sun" today. And this morning, the president also attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who he says was recently called racist by those in her own party. That's a quote from the president.

Divisive? You better believe it, and clearly its early campaign strategy for President Trump, although his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney insists the attacks on Cummings are not about race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:04:54] MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: The president is attacking Mr. Cummings for saying things that are not true about the border. I think its right for the president to raise the issue of -- look, I was in Congress for six years.

If I had poverty in my district like they have in Baltimore, if I had crime in my district like they have in Chicago, if I had homelessness in my district like they have in San Francisco and I spent all of my time in Washington, D.C., chasing down this Mueller investigation, this bizarre impeachment crusade, I'd get fired. And I think the president is right to raise that and has absolutely zero to do with race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Zero to do with race? Anybody agree with that assessment?

JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I mean, look, I think first of all, Donald Trump has been a racist since he ran for president. It's not --

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Since before that.

PSAKI: Since before that. Fair enough. Since before he ran for president, he has long been a racist. This shouldn't be surprising to any of us. What's interesting here is that he has decided that this is his political strategy. That he is going to double, triple, quadruple down on racist attacks every time he gets uncomfortable, every time there's kind of an uncomfortable story line out there.

The big question to me is, is that going to be successful? It will certainly, you know, excite some in his base. Not all. Not all Republicans are racist. I've heard you say that before. No one is saying that.

But the question is, is the majority of the country comfortable with these racist comments and racist commentary? I think not. And I don't think that this is a strategy that if he plays this out for the next year-plus it's going to be to his benefit.

CABRERA: Mia, are you concerned Republicans are going to go along with this?

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think that the president really has to be concerned at this point. He's actually -- those comments sound like someone who is actually losing, which is incredibly -- that's concerning. I had a conversation with someone that's been a complete Trump

supporter from the beginning and he said, "Mia, I've hit a wall." I mean, I'm at the point where I can defend going after a socialist president more than I can defend -- more than I can go after or defend a president that is clearly being racist.

You know, one of the things I've always said is that if he really wants to let America know that he's not racist, why isn't he even apologizing? He's not even coming -- he's not been going out and saying this is not what I meant. This is not how it should be taken.

He's actually given people permission to be absolutely racist and -- I mean, people used to hide it, but now it's just like, whatever, the president has just given us permission to just be out of control. He's got to stop. I am fed up. I'm sure a lot of other Republicans are fed up. They just -- they've got to hold him accountable.

CABRERA: He thinks this is a winning strategy and he is successfully driving the conversation. He's setting the agenda. He is, you know, putting the narrative that he wants out there. Jess, how do Democrats prevent the president from being the one to set that narrative?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's, I mean, that's really the only narrative that he's putting out there. I can see why some diehard Trump supporters who were still OK with everything he was doing are this week jumping off the bandwagon.

There is almost nothing of substance to this presidency aside from the racism. Whether we're talking about the policies that he's implementing at the border or the rhetoric that he continues to use every week, that is really what he has decided to hang his hat on 100 percent.

So, if you're not all right with that, if you can't condone that, you can't really be for this president any longer. So, I see why this dynamic is happening. There's simply nothing else to him.

CABRERA: Look, the Democrats don't need the president to insert race into the debate conversation. We're already seeing it from the Democratic candidates kind of, you know, going after each other's record, between Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Cory Booker. Let's just listen for a moment and -- oh, do we have the sound, guys? Maybe we don't have the sound about they're going after him. I'm getting ahead of myself. Oh, we do. Let's listen. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's the problem with Joe Biden, and I respect his public service, but Joe Biden needs to back up that warm folksy rhetoric with action, with a vision that will actually help working people.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what's a raging crisis in our country. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, it is one

thing to work with people -- I do -- of all political differences. But it is another thing to boast about a civility which really masks some very ugly policies.

SEN KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what? We're on a debate stage and if you have not prepared and you are not ready for somebody to point out a difference of opinion, then you're probably not ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Paul, I know you want to get in on this. How do you expect to see race come up especially among those three that I mentioned, you know, Booker, Harris and Biden when they go face-to-face on debate two?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it has to come up, one thing. This is 2019. It's the 400th anniversary of when we started bringing African slaves into this country. This country has a long, tragic history on race. It is America's original sin. And so I'm glad the Democrats -- they'll have their fights about this, about the Crime Bill, it is about busing, and I think that's all fine.

[17:10:02] But it's very different from the intentional strategy the president is putting out of dividing people. But I think there is peril for the Democrats in how they respond to Donald Trump. We all hear it. And Democrats, we're all emotional. I get very upset.

If Democrats cross the line from attacking Trump to attacking his voters, they've made a huge mistake. I think the better way to do this --

CABRERA: But Democrats are attacking each other.

BEGALA: Well, that's fine. But I think --

CABRERA: Is that fine?

BEGALA: Yes, it's just part of the game. I mean rubbing this race in, you know, its fine. But what I want to hear on this debate stage is someone to say, look, this is a strategy, as Jen Psaki said a moment ago. And the strategy has been around for 400 years where the ruling class comes in and divides white people from black people so they can rule from above.

White working class, African-American, Latino, Asian working class, they have a whole lot more in common than what divides them and Trump is trying to divide you so he can pick your pocket. I think rather than simply condemn it, they have to contextualize it in the history in this country and, frankly, that kind of strategy from Trump has been pretty successful the last 400 years.

RYE: You know, I think the challenge that I have now is I think for the first time in a long time, you know, being a life-long Democratic voter, I am now starting to feel a lot of separation within the party within myself.

And this very same thing that we used to say about Republicans, you know, at some point your rhetoric has to match your policy, same thing. And I know that there's arguments to be made about well, even if we push certain policies they wouldn't be signed by the president.

Well, that hasn't been a concern when it comes to election security and whether or not Russia meddled in an election. Black folks are old reparations because slave owners got reparations in this country. Black folks deserve to not be struggling on a minimum -- at minimum wage.

Black folks deserve to vote without anything put in their way. And I think the frustration that I have with the party that I have voted for all of my -- since I could vote, is that the only time we really hear the rhetoric I'm talking about is when it comes time to cast the vote.

I am not OK with that anymore. I am not. If you're going to be -- if we're going to be a big tent party, I don't want to hear what you have to say anymore and know that, yes, inside the party there is some battling going on, even when you talk about the DCCC, the Congressional Campaign Committee.

There's not a single person of color at the top making decisions. We're still talking about whether or not there are vendors of color. And I don't even need to talk about the Republicans. Absent, absent, absent. But if this is the party that's going to do the right thing, they need to do the right thing all the way down to impeachment, which we also don't want to talk about because it is not politically expedient.

CABRERA: Well, stay with us, because we're going to talk about that in the next --

RYE: -- and you're not talking about that.

CABRERA: -- it literally is.

RYE: This is an internal battle that I'm facing. I'm not comfortable struggling with it internally anymore. It's something we have to talk about. That's the only way to victory. It's not covering it up anymore.

CABRERA: Kirsten, quick final thought before a quick break.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I think the Democratic Party has taken African-American voters for granted. There is no question about that for a long time because the attitude has been, where else are they going to go? And so you get rhetoric during election time, but then after the election, it sort guests forgotten.

And so I think that, you know, now is a particular -- I'm interested in hearing more from Angela about what she's going through because I think it's a particularly difficult situation when you're looking at Donald Trump as president if you're a Democrat and saying I really see this as an existential crisis to the country. RYE: Yes.

POWERS: At the same time, you know, this is an existential crisis to the black community.

CABRERA: But I also wonder, as a white candidate because there are a lot of those in the race, obviously, if they need to address racial issues differently than the candidates of color.

PSAKI: Yes, I think an interesting dynamic to watch is probably on the second night of the debate. I think the points you've made are so well taken. There is o much to dive into there. But, you know, if you are, say, Cory Booker and you watched the first debate and you watched Kamala Harris go after Joe Biden.

You know, they're friends. He's friends with Kamala Harris but he's thinking, I'm the criminal justice candidate and he's got a legitimate point. I mean, he's been fighting for these issues for decades. That hasn't helped him in the pools, but we'll see.

Joe Biden has just put out a criminal justice reform package. He has kind of reversed himself on things that he was working on for decades. Is that enough? Should it be enough? I mean, that's a whole other question. So, I think we'll see some of this play out.

I do think that, you know, there are white candidates who were trying to become more progressive or get to what they see as the right place on this, but the question is, if they're just coming out with policies now is that enough for voters?

CABRERA: Right.

PSAKI: Or are you looking at what they've been doing for decades?

CABRERA: OK, quick break everybody. Stay with me because when we come back, the divide among Democrats on impeachment, which candidate will be the most aggressive on getting President Trump out of office? We're live from Detroit with CNN's special coverage, the countdown to the Democratic presidential debates.

[17:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: At the first Democratic debates last month in Miami, the candidates spent about two and a half minutes total between both nights on the subject of impeaching President Trump. It definitely wasn't a front and center topic but that's likely to be different here in Detroit this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.

And that's because of a growing crowd and growing again today by our count right now. More than 105 members of Congress are publicly calling for at least an impeachment inquiry, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that the House will move in that direction only when it's time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm not trying to run out the clock. Let's get sophisticated about this, OK? OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For how long do you think this court fights will take?

PELOSI: We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed. Not one day sooner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: OK, so she said we'll see. Paul, you are the only person who has advised a president who has been impeached so I'll start with you. How will the --

BEGALA: Yes, I'm undefeated in impeachment.

CABRERA: How will the 2020 candidates handle this issue do you think?

BEGALA: I hope it's less than 2 1/2 minutes.

CABRERA: Really?

BEGALA: I'm not going to elect a new president to impeach the new one.

CABRERA: Even though this was the week we heard from Robert Mueller?

BEGALA: We need to ask Nancy Pelosi. We need to ask Jerry Nadler. We need to ask members of Congress. I guess some of the people on the stage, probably 30 or 40 are members of the -- but no, that's not where -- the next president should be thinking about the future of the country and the next agenda.

I do think if I can just inject some reality, we're not going to remove Donald Trump by impeachment. It's not going to happen. That's a fact. Does he deserve it? Yes. Will it happen? No.

[17:20:01] So how much time and energy do Democrats want to invest in something the Republicans have rigged it? I think that's unfair. It's terrible. I'd rather have a Democratic Senate that could have be a fair judge of a real impeachment trial but we don't have one.

Mitch McConnell wouldn't even bring up an election security bill after his Republican committee in the Senate on intelligence reported that the Russians are still trying to hack our elections. You really -- does anybody really think we're going to have a fair and honest trial from Mitch McConnell? No. So, I want to destroy Trump's presidency the only way we can, which is at the ballot box.

RYE: You don't have the ballot box, right? So that gets back to the --

BEGALA: That's the truth. That's a great point.

RYE: -- that get's back to the whole thing. So it's like, we can continue to make decisions that are politically expedient. If we impeach Donald Trump, there's no way we're going to win back the House. If we impeach Donald Trump, there no way Mitch McConnell is going to be fair.

Mitch McConnell won't consider election security legislation, that's HR-1 from the Democrats. So my point is simple. It's just like, at some point, you have to do the right thing. We know what the right thing is. There are a gazillion reasons.

I just did a podcast, it's not out yet, but I did do a podcast on my closing argument for impeachment for Donald Trump. I know that it's not where Democrats want to spend their time. He's not signing their bills into law anyway. Do the right thing.

MCINTOSH: I think the 2020 candidates actually have an -- like a considerably easier job than anybody who is in the House Judiciary Committee --

RYE: Yes, that's true.

MCINTOSH: -- in congressional leadership. And that's why we see them out front of on it. I mean, almost all of them are saying, yes, he should be impeached and it's pretty obvious sitting here, the conversation that we're having is whether or not impeachment is a logical possibility, not whether or not it should happen.

CABRERA: Right.

MCINTOSH: These candidates are aware that most of Americans who are paying attention are and that's going to make it a lot easier for them to explain their position.

LOVE: I think we have to be very careful and I think all of the candidates that are going to be on that stage has to be very careful not to spend too much time on this because there are still independent voters that they need in order to win.

This is about, I mean, you can talk about impeachment all you want. It's not going to happen. I understand you feel like, do the right thing. I'm not really sure whether, you know, I can call the comments racist. I can do all of these other things.

Still, America is just pulling back from it saying, OK, he's gone too far, but I'm not sure that America is there on impeachment. I mean, the last polls we saw, America is not there on impeachment --

RYE: But America was --

LOVE: -- and that says something about the United States when they start impeaching their president especially when it's almost over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why we're looking for investigations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not almost over, like --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the beginning --

CABRERA: So let me ask you this question because beyond like what will the 2020 candidates say or, you know, is it a politically possible thing to happen because of the Senate, and Kirsten, what is the best political calculation for the Democrats? I mean, if it were just pure politics, do they move forward on impeachment or is that going to doom them in 2020?

POWERS: Well, I mean, I think the idea of just doing the right thing, right, this is the thing like, you know, Angela was just saying, is the question of what is the right thing. So, is the right thing to go forward with impeachment even if you know or believe strongly that it will help him get re-elected?

And I would argue that it's not. I would say it's actually not the right thing if you really believe that it's going to help him get re- elected, because then what do you have, you impeached him, and he's president again? And how could that possibly be the right thing.

The only argument in favor of impeachment is if you truly believe, which Jerry Nadler seems to believe, that once you start doing the impeachment process, that it could move people. And that's what happened with the Nixon impeachment, right?

CABRERA: Yes.

POWERS: So, people were opposed to the Nixon impeachment. And then they started having hearings and then John Dean testified and people started moving. And then the tapes came out and the Republicans started moving. So, you would have to believe that those hearings are going to change the trajectory of what's happening. That would be the only reason to do it.

RYE: They won't even comply with congressional subpoenas right now. So there's been an argument that, well, we have all of the jurisdiction and the constitutional powers to investigate. He's not adhering to your investigation.

CABRERA: So the question becomes is there even time?

PSAKI: Well, first of all, I think as Paul -- no one knows better than Paul. Impeachment is a political process. And Nancy Pelosi is making a decision about how to get Trump out of office. And she is determining right now, it's better to let the voters decide in 2020. Now, she may be right. She may be wrong. We won't know until then.

I also think it's important to listen to what she's saying in her language. She's not saying I will never proceed with impeachment. She's -- obviously, Nadler is moving forward with what he's moving forward with and what he announced on Friday, that's almost an impeachment inquiry. It is for all intents and purposes.

BEGALA: Right.

PSAKI: And she's listening to her caucus. That's her job. They have their ears to the ground in districts that are swing districts where people are talking about all sorts of issues. If they switch, she may switch. And that's where we can watch.

CABRERA: I got to get quick more break. I got to get another break. Thanks Paul, sorry.

Leading up to the debates, the candidates are on a policy blitz. A plan for this, a plan for that, but what's the strategy behind pumping out all these policies? We'll talk about that, next. You're watching CNN's special coverage ahead of this week's debates live from Detroit. Stick with us.

[17:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: They've got plans, a whole lot of plans. The 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls this week unleashing a blitz of new policy roll- outs ahead of the CNN debates. What exactly are these 2020 policy initiatives tackling?

Well, just about everything, from health care to Wall Street, education and economics, clean water to climate change. Major rollouts this week included frontrunner Joe Biden unveiling his criminal justice plan. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand debuting her foreign policy plan.

Pete Buttigieg on Friday rolling out his economic plan aimed at boosting the middle class, you get the idea. My panel is all back with me. What do you guys make of the timing of this big policy dump? Kirsten, do you think this is a debate prebuttal of sorts do you think?

POWERS: This is coincidence? Yes. I mean, look, I think everybody realizes that obviously you need to have policies that you can tout and you can reference in the debate. But, you know, in the end there's only so much time on the debate stage to get into your policies.

I mean, you're going to tick, tick, tick really quickly through them as fast as you can. What's going to be more important frankly is how you, A, cast a vision like what is your vision? Are you accurately diagnosing the problem in the country so people feel like you understand what's wrong and giving them a vision of a different kind of America?

And then, you know, basically, are you going to start to see some people going after the people that are in there, for lack of a better word, lanes, right?

[17:30:02] Are you going to see a Bernie and Warren maybe start to distinguish from each other because, you know, Bernie Sanders has to be realistic about the fact that she's taking his voters and is he going to decide to go after her, you know.

We have the rematch of, you know, Biden and Kamala. How is Biden going to react to her? Is he going to be more aggressive? Is he going to, you know, sort of take the fight to the people who are coming after him? I think those are the things that are going to make the big difference.

CABRERA: On Bernie and Warren, I do think that that's an interesting dynamic a lot of people will be watching because so far, they are very similar. In fact, you even had Warren in the first debate not debating against Bernie Sanders, raised her hand and say I'm with Bernie on Medicare for All. What do you think, Jen?

PSAKI: Well, Warren has had kind of a slow rise and it's -- her support is very solid. So, if all the candidates, she almost needs the debates the least because she's pretty solid with who is supporting her. She has really painted herself on a number of ways as having policy plans, as being the better Bernie and that's not good for Bernie Sanders.

There are some policy differences between their proposals. And if you're Bernie Sanders, you're probably looking at Elizabeth Warren's Medicare for All positions and you're thinking how do I differentiate that because he's for blowing up the system immediately.

She's actually co-sponsoring a number of other proposals, including ones that would give subsidies, including ones that many progressives would consider to be almost moderate. So, how does he kind of point that out? He has to be careful a little bit, but he knows that she's taking his support so he has to figure out a way to navigate that.

MCINTOSH: Or he decides to stop her momentum I think is what's going to happen the first night, but I want to pull back for a little bit and just say --

CABRERA: But can he stop her momentum by trying to distinguish himself or does he have to go on the attack? I mean, how does that happen?

MCINTOSH: I think he would have to go on the attack a little bit. I mean, she is really --.

CABRERA: Our reporting is they're not going to. They want to be friends with each other.

MCINTOSH: She's really used -- I don't think it would be a good idea. But if he was going to, what she was doing is basically putting out better details, more pragmatic versions of the policies he's been championing for a while.

But I'm just really excited that we are having policy conversations. I think one of the lessons that we learned in 2016 was how difficult it was. No matter how much Hillary Clinton talked about policy to have that breakthrough the media narrative as part of that campaign --

CABRERA: Well, that's what is really interesting because as you bring that up, talking policy didn't work in 2016 for Hillary Clinton.

MCINTOSH: Right.

CABRERA: It didn't work for the challengers in the Republican primary going up against Donald Trump in 2016. What makes Democrats think it's going to be different this time around?

MCINTOSH: This year it seems to be the candidates are really -- and maybe it's because of the size of the field. Maybe it's because of the length of time we have. Maybe this is an odd up side of all this. Candidates really seem to be seeking to differentiate themselves policy-wise and also smartly using the news cycle.

We have to talk about their policy proposals because the debate is coming up and they know that and they're using it. We saw Elizabeth Warren define herself way early in January before anybody else had really gotten in, and she could drive an entire news cycle or two with an ultra millionaire's tax. That's a really exciting development that's very, very different from how it felt on the inside in 2016.

CABRERA: Everyone stay with me. We're going to do lightning round when we come back. Much more of our special coverage in just a moment.

[17:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: All right. We're back. It's lightning round and so, obviously, keep your answers tight, everybody. We like to gab on this panel. OK, the first question here, in just a sentence or two, who will you be watching the most in the two nights of debates and why?

BEGALA: The new guy, Steve Bullock. He's a governor of Montana. He's actually carried a state that Trump won and he has yet appeared in a debate. And I don't think he's missed very much.

CABRERA: OK.

LOVE: I'm going to have to say, of course, Joe Biden who is leading in the polls and everyone is going to go after him. I know it and that you're going to have to -- he's going to have to figure out how he's going to handle all of this and still be the grown-up in the room.

MCINTOSH: Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. The first debates, the trend coming out of that was that both of their numbers skyrocketed up while the two male front-runners sort of stagnated. I think if they give performances like they did the last we're going to see that happen again.

CABRERA: Kirsten?

POWERS: I would say the same as what Jess said. But also watching it -- whatever happened to Beto O'Rourke, right? I mean, is this going to be -- this is sort of do or die for him, right. So, I mean, he started out being sort of the, you know, bright, shiny object that everybody was watching and now he's kind if petered out. Can he do something in this debate to kind of bring himself back?

PSAKI: I'll just add some new people, fresh meat. So, I would -- I'm going to watch Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, some of the people who could make the third debate but they're really on the cusp. I mean, some of them are on track to do that and they have a couple of calculations.

One, they want to stand out but two, they're factoring in picking up the support of the people who drop out between now and September. So they have to kind of play nice and also stand out. It's tricky, but there could be movement I would say in the shuffle post debate.

RYE: I will echo Jen on Cory Booker. I think that he is so smart and so compelling as a presenter, I've been wondering why he's had such a hard time breaking through. So, I'd really like to hear him not only on policy but also come with some punches. He's a nice guy too often. I know he's a superman in Newark but he needs to show that on the stage.

CABRERA: All right everybody, thank you so much. Kirsten Powers, Jess McIntosh, thank you both for being here. I know you guys have to break, but the rest of you are going to be back with us in the next hour.

And all sides agree the U.S. immigration system is messy but can Democrats fix it? The debatable ideas emerging in the 2020 race on immigration, next.

[14:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: The issue of immigration is front and center in the 2020 election and CNN's Ed Lavandera takes a look at what Democratic candidates are saying about this key issue and how their views differ from President Trump's.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What happens here along the U.S. southern border casts a long shadow over the 2020 presidential election. And Democrats are pushing their own immigration vision in the age of Trump.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDAITE: The president thinks that he can turn people against immigrants in order to distract from them the things that are making it so hard to get ahead in this country right now.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The constant theme from most Democrats is they are the opposite of President Trump, vowing to end what they see as Trump using immigrants to stoke the fears of Americans.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can enforce our immigration laws and still uphold our humanitarian obligations and the values of this nation.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The two Texans in the Democratic field cast themselves as some of the strongest voices on this issue. In April, Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor who served as Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Obama was the first to unveil a detailed immigration plan.

While immigration is also a constant theme of former Congressman Beto O'Rourke's campaign stops. Both, as well as many others in the Democratic field call for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country, citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as dreamers, and the funding for more border wall construction.

They want to close private for-profit immigration detention centers and reform the immigration court system. Castro and O'Rourke have clashed over a section of the law that makes it a crime to enter the U.S. illegally. Castro wants to repeal the law making illegal entry a simple civil violation.

JULIAN CASTRO (D-TX), PRESDIENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are using Section 1325 of that act, which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them. Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O'Rourke, have not.

BETO O'ROURKE (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I helped to introduce legislation that would ensure that we don't criminalize those who are seeking asylum and refuge in this country --

CASTRO: I'm not talking about -- I'm not talking about the ones that are seeking asylum.

O'ROURKE: If you're fleeing desperation --

[17:44:57] LAVANDERA (voice-over): The detention of families over the last year has shaped the rhetoric of most Democrats. Elizabeth Warren is like most of these candidates, calling for families not to be detained while their immigration cases are being processed.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No great nation tears families apart. No great nation locks up children. We need at the -- we must at the borders respect the dignity of every human being who comes here.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The Trump administration's hard-line approach on reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in the country has inspired some candidates to call for the end of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

DE BLASIO: You don't need this ICE though. That's the other thing I should say. This ICE as it's formed now should be abolished.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Most candidates aren't going that far, instead calling for ICE to be reformed and some of its immigration enforcement duties to be passed off to other agencies.

SANDERS: I think it's not just ICE. It is very clear that the immigration system itself, I mean, you've heard some of it and there is a lot more we haven't discussed today is completely broken. It's absolutely broken.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Democrats are facing accusations from President Trump of pushing for open borders and being weak on security. It's a question that will follow these candidates.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it is part of what this president is trying to do to really misinform the American people. To say that Democrats don't care about border security. We have to enforce our laws and keep our borders safe.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The shadow of the border is casting a deep divide on the presidential campaign trail. Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: The lineups are set for the CNN Democratic presidential debates, two big nights, 10 candidates each night at 8:00 p.m. eastern. The first is on Tuesday, July 30th with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the center. And then on Wednesday, July 31st, see the rematch between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. Again, the Democratic presidential debates live from Detroit only here on CNN.

House Democrats are going after former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify. The White House blocked him once before. Will they do it again? You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."

[17:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: After Robert Mueller's testimony on Wednesday, Democrats are now vowing to continue investigating President Trump and his associates, but they are still split on whether to open a full impeachment inquiry against the president.

As of today, 105 House Democrats are now calling for an impeachment inquiry. That number has gone up this weekend. Democratic leadership does agree on one thing about President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: He has violated the law six ways from Sunday.

PELOSI: The American people now realize more fully the crimes that were committed against our constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So what happens next? That brings us to our weekly segment, "Cross-Exam" with Elie Honig. He is to answer your questions about legal news. Elie is a former federal and state prosecutor and now a CNN legal analyst.

Elie, always good to see you although we're usually in the studio together, but let's get right to it. You just heard Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler previously saying crimes were committed. One viewer asks, do they now have a constitutional duty to impeach the president?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Ana. So, Robert Mueller has now testified and the focus now shifts to Congress. Now, there's been plenty of debate about what the impact was of Mueller's testimony. But one thing I think that is certainly happening is we are seeing escalating rhetoric from key members of Congress.

We just heard the quote from Nancy Pelosi where she said crimes that were committed against our constitution, those last three words are very important, not just normal crimes but against our constitution. Jerry Nadler also has stepped up his rhetoric and has referred to high crimes and misdemeanor. Those are magic words. That's exactly what our Constitution says in Article II about impeachment. So the question now is what happens next? And as the rhetoric

escalates, I think it gets harder and harder for Congress to do nothing. And ultimately the question here is what will prevail political expediency, thinking about how this will play in the polls tomorrow or next week versus that broader sense of constitutional duty.

And I thought it was so interesting. Right after Mueller testified, House leaders had a press conference and Representative Elijah Cummings got behind the microphone and said we need to think about this from a duty standpoint, from a constitutional duty standpoint. What are future generations going to think?

And he said, "This is our watch." I thought that was a really powerful moment of moral clarity and I don't think it's a coincidence who did Donald Trump choose to lash out at very shortly after? Elijah Cummings because I think the president really fears that sense of moral clarity on the constitutional duty.

CABRERA: Congressman Jerry Nadler says the judiciary committee is going to go to court next week to enforce the subpoena to require former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to testify. Another viewer asks if the president can legally prevent McGahn from testifying?

HONIG: This is going to be a very close call in the courts, Ana. I do expect Congress to prevail but it's going to be a close call. The White House and the administration are going to argue absolute immunity and executive privilege.

I don't think either of those arguments ultimately will be a winner especially if Congress has formally declared an impeachment inquiry because there are tactical legal advantages to having an open impeachment inquiry because when the court says, OK, why do you need this information? Why do you need these witnesses?

There is no stronger answer Congress can give than we are holding an impeachment inquiry. Congress' power is at its zenith, it's at its high point when considering impeachment. Don McGahn is going to be so key because he is going to be a floodgate one way or another for all these other witnesses.

If Congress gets to call him, then we will hear from McGahn and we will her from Hope Hicks and Andy Donaldson and Jeff Sessions, on down the line. But if Congress loses and McGahn is shut out, none of those witnesses are going to come to fruition and there will be nowhere to go. So, the stakes are very high with that one.

CABRERA: Quickly switching topics to the case of Jeffrey Epstein where prosecutors say Epstein sexually abused dozens of underage girls. One viewer asked whether Attorney General Barr is recused from this case and if he can intervene in any way?

HONIG: He's a little bit recused. He recused himself from the review looking backwards to what happened in Florida 10 years ago but he has not recused himself from the current Southern District case. I don't think that distinction makes any sense, but that's what the decision he's made.

The Southern District of New York where I used to work is famously independent but it is part of the Department of Justice.

[17:55:00] It is subject to oversight by the Attorney General. I think Bill Barr needs to be very careful here if he is going to intervene. There are more shoes to drop. Will Bill Barr let them drop I think is the big question. And if he does not, I think the media and Congress are going to have some very tough questions for him.

CABRERA: And, finally, your top legal questions for the week?

HONIG: So first of all, DOJ is seeking to impose the death penalty on five inmates for the first time since 2003. That's going to be a very important dispute as it plays out. We're going to keep an eye on that. I think we will see legal action to try to stop it.

Second of all, will the Court of Appeals let Jeffrey Epstein out on bail? The trial judge, Richard Berman, is holding him in, locking him up, but he has now appealed to the Court of Appeals. It is very, very rare for the Court of Appeals to overturn, but it is possible.

And third, how will the candidates past records on criminal justice play into the debates and into the campaign that we see ahead of us especially keep an eye on Joe Biden who is a central player in the 1994 Crime Bill, which some credit for contributing to lower crime rates but others say contributed to over incarceration and Kamala Harris, who has long record of both aggressive and progressive policies when she was attorney general and district attorney in California.

CABRERA: Elie Honig, I love how you brought it back to the debates. You are so good, my friend. Thank you.

HONIG: Everything is pointed to Detroit this week, Ana. Have a good trip out there.

CABRERA: You know it. Thanks. You can submit your legal news to Elie by heading over to cnn.com/opinion.

Detroit could be the end of the road, let's be real, for a lot of these candidates. So how are they going to break out if they want to stay in the race? And the fine line that they'll be walking to try to impress voters without gaffing. CNN's special coverage of the Democratic presidential debates live from Detroit continues, next.

[17:59:59] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)