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Press Secretary Ian Sams Discusses Harris' Medicare-for-All Plan, Bernie Sanders Campaign Criticism, the Debates; Trump Using Racism as Re-Election Strategy as He Attacks Baltimore, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Other Black Leaders; Rep. Cummings Defended Rep. Meadows Amid Racist Accusation; Mark Sanford Discusses Trump Nominating Ratcliffe as DNI, Possible Primary Challenge Against Trump, Debt & Deficits. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 29, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:18] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to AT THIS HOUR, live from Detroit, Michigan, ahead of the big CNN presidential -- Democratic presidential debates.

Before the break, we were talking about Senator Kamala Harris's new Medicare-for-All plan rolled out this morning that includes a role for private insurance. Bernie Sanders campaign already coming out very critical of the plan.

I want to bring in Ian Sams. He's the press secretary for the Kamala Harris campaign.

Ian, thank you so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: I think the best place to start is where it was left off with Bernie Sanders campaign manager. He was on just this morning with my colleague, Poppy Harlow. I want to play something that he told her, reacting to the new plan you guys just rolled out. Listen to this.



FAIZ SHAKIR, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, BERNIE SANDERS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: She started with supporting Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-All as a plan, and so we appreciated that. Now she has moved away from it.

Unfortunately, I think we've seen two major changes. One is, she's decided she would like to privatize Medicare. She'd like to introduce more insurance companies into Medicare. Obviously, that introduces more corporate greed and profit-seeking into the Medicare program. That's dangerous for Medicare in general. The second thing she says she wants to do is phase this in over 10

years. No, not in one term of a presidency, not in two terms of a presidency, but that you would have to wait for 10 years for people who have been struggling.


BOLDUAN: Ian, what do you say to that?

SAMS: A few things. I thin, one, Kamala Harris, from the beginning, has supported Medicare-for-All. She supported it in the Senate and started this campaign and supports it today.

What's changed is the fact that she's gone around this country over the last six months and heard anxieties and concerns from voters about what a transition might look like. People who really are worried, am I going to lose private insurance, how is this going to work, are we ready for this kind of a chance.

And what she's done has been directly responsive to those people and consulted with experts in putting together her own plan to get us to Medicare-for-All, which experts, like Kathleen Sebelius, are, the architect of Obamacare, are saying this morning is the best path to get us to Medicare-for-All.

BOLDUAN: Well, if -- go ahead. I'm sorry.

SAMS: So I think it's just important to remember what this plan is going to do is tell every single American, you can have access to comprehensive health benefits, doctor visits, E.R. visits, reproductive health care, vision, dental, hearing aids for seniors. All of these things are going to happen.

We're also not going to ban private insurance companies from offering a plan on the Medicare system just like we have today. A third of seniors get their health insurance today through a private Medicare Advantage plan.

So what we're going to do is say, look, we're going to let people have an option, do you want to be on the public Medicare-for-All plan with its expansive benefits, or if a company can offer a better plan that's competitive, we'll let you have that choice.

BOLDUAN: This other thing that you hear -- very strongly you heard from Bernie Sanders' campaign manager is essentially saying that Kamala is in the pocket of the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. He said that almost outright to Poppy on this. How do you want to respond?

SAMS: I mean, it's just total nonsense. I mean, look --


BOLDUAN: Why do you think this is coming at you from Sanders campaign? SAMS: I don't know. I would welcome Senator Sanders to actually read

our plan and hopefully sponsor it himself. You know, he sponsors other bills in the Senate like a public option plan.

BOLDUAN: Is she still -- is she still a co-sponsor on his bill?

SAMS: Absolutely. Just like Senator Sanders is a co-sponsor on Senator Brian Schatz's public option plan as well.

BOLDUAN: Is she going to withdraw her --


SAMS: No. She supports a number of legislative measures in the Senate to help improve access to care and expand access to care. What this is, is her plan where, if she's the president of the United States, how her vision to implement Medicare-for-All would be. And --


BOLDUAN: That's not at all contradictory?

SAMS: No, absolute not. If Senator Sanders' support of a public option plan in the Senate contradictory? I don't think so. I think that all the Democratic candidates and Senators agree we need to move toward universal access to coverage and lower costs for people. We have different ideas on how to get us there.

I think it's important in the process of rolling out the plans to help people get access to care, we're straightforward about what it's going to do and that we're responsive to the real anxieties that Americans have about how this is going to work. Because no issue is more personal to people than their health care.


[11:35:06] SAMS: Having a rigid ideological approach isn't the right way to make sure that people are getting the care that they need.

BOLDUAN: So you're thinking that -- rigid ideological approach, are you saying that the Sanders proposal is a fantasy land? Because Joe Biden is suggesting that the idea that middle-class Americans aren't going to have to pay increased taxes is a fantasy land.

SAMS: Two points on that. First, I think it's important we listen to voters and Americans on what their anxieties are. I think our plan is responsive to some of the real concerns that people have. I encourage the Sanders campaign to read it and take a look at that.

On the issue of cost, you know, what she has said and what Senator Sanders has proposed is that families making as little as $29,000 a year will have to pay an extra 4 percent tax to help pay for this. What she's saying is that's too much of a burden on working and middle-class people. I'm going to raise the threshold to $100,000 and I'm going to make up the difference for a Wall Street trade tax so that those are the people who are -- (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: One thing the Sanders campaign is saying is they've taken a pledge they're not going to take money from the industry during the campaign. Kamala Harris has taken some money from the pharmaceutical industry. Is she going to take that pledge and join them in that?

SAMS: Sanders also took some money from the pharmaceutical companies before he gave it back in his campaign. And Senator Harris is not taking any money from pharmaceutical executives. So I think that that sort of blurs the line of what the actual issue is.

BOLDUAN: When it comes down to it, everyone is laying out their plans, yet the Sanders campaign came out really hard, really fast after you guys --

SAMS: Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- laid out this plan. I mean, welcome to the big leagues. But do you think it's a cheap shot or do you think this is a true difference of position on policy position?

SAMS: Frankly, I think that they were attacking the plan before they read the plan. It came out first thing this morning, and within an hour, they were already attacking it. It's unlikely they had a chance to dive into the details.

I don't think Senator Sanders has probably had a chance to dive into the details.


SAMS: When he does, I think what he is going to see and what they will see is that this is a common-sense approach to Medicare-for-All that gets everybody covered with real options for people and a real transition period that people can feel comfortable that this is a plan that's going to work for our country.


BOLDUAN: So 10 years is more comfortable?

SAMS: Absolutely. We want to make sure this is done right. It's not about setting an arbitrary deadline. It's about doing what the American people, like making them comfortable throughout this process and ensuring that it works for people, not just some arbitrary deadline.

BOLDUAN: Let's see how this plays out on the debate stage and on the campaign trail.

Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.

SAMS: Thanks. Looking forward to the week.

BOLDUAN: We're going to talk about that off camera and then back on camera.

The CNN Democratic presidential debates, they start tomorrow with 10 candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. That is tomorrow tonight. All of it begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

President Trump ramping up his attacks on the city of Baltimore and Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings and other black leaders. So are racist attacks now just par for the course in the president's reelection strategy? We will discuss that, next.


[11:41:24] BOLDUAN: President Trump is showing no sign of backing down or reversing course on what appears clearly now is his political strategy for reelection, racial division.

This morning, his target continues to be Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore, calling Cummings racist and saying the city is a rodent-infested mess, and also one where no human being would want to live there. That is his tweet from the weekend.

We've seen this from the president before, singling out Democratic members of Congress of color. We've also seen the Republican responses to this before, silence.

But here's what's different with this episode. Elijah Cummings has come to the defense of Republicans before against charges of racism. Earlier this year, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows was accused of racism during a House hearing and Elijah Cummings, as the chair of that committee, and this is how he responded then.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Mr. Meadows, you know, of all the people on this committee, I've said it and gotten in trouble for it, that you're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): And likewise, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes, you are. And I can see and feel your pain. I feel it. And so I don't think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that.


BOLDUAN: Cummings there very publicly sticking his neck out for Meadows. He didn't have to say anything.

Meadows, of course, is a close ally of the president and one of the most conservative members of Congress.

The question now is, is Mark Meadows going to do the same and return the favor when it comes to this episode?

Here with me now is the host of the "VAN JONES SHOW," and CNN political commentator, Van Jones, and the former Democratic congressman of Illinois, CNN political commentator, Luis Gutierrez. It's great to see you guys. Thank you so, so much for being here.

Let's say where, let's say, Mark Meadows has left off.

Van, the relative silence of Republicans is not surprising. We have seen this. And sometimes it takes a couple of days for people to come out and say anything.

But Mark Meadows was at an event this morning and did not respond to shouted questions at the White House on this very topic. What do you say?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE VAN JONES SHOW": Look, Elijah Cummings is the definition of a class act. Part of why I think people are so outraged is because he is such an extraordinary leader. He is such a good human being. And you saw -- it's not just that -- listen, you can roll tape of Elijah Cummings doing heroic courageous stuff until the debates tomorrow.


BOLDUAN: Is there something different this time, though, when it comes to Elijah Cummings, because you said this is something Republicans aren't going to be able to ignore this time.

JONES: I mean, I'm just building it up to say, you know, Mark Meadows, he owes Elijah Cummings now a reciprocal act of courage and a reciprocal act of character and class. Listen, Elijah Cummings made no friends in the Democratic Party sticking up for Mark Meadows. It's time for Mark Meadows to put the same thing on the line for Elijah Cummings. If he doesn't, it says more about Mark Meadows' character, not just Republicans, but Mark Meadows' character than anything else.

BOLDUAN: We'll wait and see. Let's watch his Twitter feed.

Congressman, Donald Trump obviously thinks that works. Look back, "infested" is a word that he has used often about other cities and often majority black cities. Do you think the president is trying to change the subject with this or do you think that racial division really is just a plank of his political campaign? Can it be a combination of both?

LUIS GUTIERREZ, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's both things, right? He wants -- the president of the United States cannot spend one day when he isn't the central part of the news, right? And he will use whatever tactic he needs to use in order to keep himself but, at the same time, feeding a base of voters.

[11:45:15] Let's remember, I mean, this president of the United States was elected by a huge vast majority of white voters in the United States. He knows that. He understands that. He understands how he won Pennsylvania, how he won Michigan and how he won Wisconsin. It wasn't trying to build a broad-based coalition.

But I think that Meadows and other members of the Republican Party have a debt to the American people. They were not simply elected to represent their districts. They were elected to represent us all.


GUTIERREZ: But they will never put their -- they will never put their self interest in their own reelection -- they'll always put that before the American people. They're not going to stand up to Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: Most politicians -- a lot of politicians would do that, though. I wouldn't say it's an issue as -- pun intended -- black and white as this.


BOLDUAN: But I would say putting their reelection in front of a lot of stuff, we see from a lot of people.

JONES: Listen, the political class in this country is in the toilet and swirling and going down. Nobody expects the political class to do what's right.


JONES: But you expect men of character and women of character to stick up for their friend. And when your friend is being attacked -- this is not about politics to me.


JONES: When your friends are being attacked, you stick up. That's what Elijah Cummings did for Mark Meadows. That's what Mark Meadows should do for Elijah Cummings.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point.

Van, the question is, I guess, for you guys is, what do Democrats do about it this time? My colleague, Maeve Reston, is doing some great reporting out of Macomb County, Michigan. Important because Macomb County, of course, is something of a bellwether. It went for Obama, it went for Trump in 2016.

Here's what one Independent voter told her, a white male voter in Macomb: "I'll take progress over a few shitty words that are said here and there. The guy says stupid things, but as long as things are going good, I could give two shits."

What do you do with that?

JONES: Well, that guy may not be getable.

But do I think Democrats do have to be very careful. There are two things that Trump does. He does this thing where he kind of discriminates and divides and we react to that. That's actually the cherry on top of a bigger cake of distract and destroy. By having us talk about whether or not he is a racist at all means that we're not talking about a bunch of issues that might appeal to the working class of all colors --


BOLDUAN: If Democrats focus on that?

JONES: In other words, he's not losing. If we say, well, Trump is a racist, no, he's not, yes, he is, no, he's not. What we're not doing is we're not pointing out that he's in court right now, today, trying to make medical protection away from people with previously existing conditions. His party is refusing to defend the country from attacks by Russia.


BOLDUAN: So with that, what do people


BOLDUAN: What do people do on the debate stage?

You want to see Democrats do on the debate stage?

GUTIERREZ: I want to see Democrats on the debate stage do exactly what Van Jones was just talking about.


GUTIERREZ: I believe that we need to stick to the issues the same way we took back the majority in November of 2018.


GUTIERREZ: And I have to tell you, when I saw all those commercials about health care and preexisting conditions, I said to myself, what's wrong with my party. Guess what? They knew exactly where to stay. And they stayed on the issue of health care. They stayed on the issue of economic disparity that exists in this country.



GUTIERREZ: And guess what? It worked. That's what people want us to talk about.

BOLDUAN: Let's see the lessons of 2018, if they're learned in 2020. Let's see, first and foremost, what happens on the debate stage. And the advice is, apparently, listen only to Van Jones and you'll do well.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

Still to come for us, President Trump nominating a Republican congressman to replace the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. Why Democrats say that is a problem. That's next.


[11:50:57] BOLDUAN: President Trump picks a loyal foot soldier to be the nation's next spy chief. Dan Coats is out, and now Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe, of Texas, is nominated to be the next director of National Intelligence. The president announcing that on Twitter.

And it immediately set the stage for what could be a bruising and partisan confirmation battle on Capitol Hill for Ratcliffe. Critics arguing that the staunch Ratcliffe is too partisan and lacks the credentials for the job.

Ratcliffe, last week, made quite a name for himself with his questioning of Robert Mueller. Listen.


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 II of this report puts him.


BOLDUAN: Here's an interesting bit about that. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is now reporting that President Trump was so impressed with that performance that he deemed Ratcliffe a, quote, unquote, "warrior," and from that, decided that is who he wanted for the DNI job.

Joining me right now is former Republican congressman and governor from South Carolina, Mark Sanford. He is also considering a run for 2020. We'll get to that in just a bit.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

I do want to get your reaction to this move in general from the president. Kaitlan Collins reporting, about the Ratcliffe decision, that folks around the president actually didn't think he was aggressive enough but then Trump was so impressed by his performance in the Mueller hearing that he decided that that is when he wanted Ratcliffe for the Coats job. What does that mean to you?

MARK SANFORD, (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN & FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: What it means to me is that John is going to have big shoes to fill. I think that Dan did a spectacular job in that role. I think he had a particular pedigree, both given his time in the Senate and, frankly, ambassadorial post there in Germany. So he'll have to fill big shoes. That's what it says to me.

BOLDUAN: What was -- was it the feeling that you had on the Hill among Republicans that hearings and public statements were audition opportunities for other jobs, like we're seeing here with Ratcliffe?

SANFORD: I don't know that that's all that unusual given the dance of how Washington really works. There are a lot of auditions taking place on a daily basis up there.

I think that what's unusual, though, about Trump is the way he's taken it to the nth degree and it's sort of on steroids relative to how it's been. It's no surprise that he wants people who are loyal to him and loyalty comes first. Loyalty is always an important component in the political process, but so is competence.

I served with John. John is a competent guy. He does have experience both in Homeland Security and Judiciary Committee and Intel as well. But he's obviously not as seasoned as Dan was, given Dan's extensive experience in the Senate.

But it is in that regard, what you would not be surprised by, which is Trump wants a loyalist in that post. It has national security implications


SANFORD: -- though, given --


BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you. Do you have any objection to his nomination?

SANFORD: I wouldn't. I've known John. Again, John, as far as I'm concerned, he's obviously much more in the Trump camp than I am. He's always been a straight shooter in all my dealings with him.

What you don't want, though, coming out of Intel, is flavored reports that bias one perspective over the other. Apparently, that's some of what got Dan into trouble, given some of his pushback on the Russia front.

BOLDUAN: I do want to ask you about what you're doing right now, which is exploring a possible primary challenge to President Trump. By our count, you're about halfway through the 30 days that you laid out that you would take to make your decision. I mean, where are you now? Where is your heart? Where is your head on this one?

SANFORD: I'm still talking to a lot of folks, getting a sense - I mean, it's a herculean task if you're trying to jump in, particularly at this stage of the game.

[11:55:03] But, you know, I've been struck by the fact that there's no debate going on within Republican circles on debt and deficits and spending, which were historically a linchpin to really what the party was about, this idea of financial prudence or conservatism. I think we've lost our way on that front. I think the president has been particularly dangerous on that front.

We take it at face value the fact that we're spending well above where Obama was, where Republicans would have given President Obama the hardest of times with these levels of spending.

So I think it's a debate we need to have. Whether or not I can help foster that debate I'm exploring here for another couple weeks.

BOLDUAN: I'm looking forward to your decision. Where are the deficit hawks, is a question I think we've all been asking for a little while now.

Great to see you. Thank you very much.

SANFORD: That's a bird that's gone extinct, yes.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it. Much more --

SANFORD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Much more after a quick break.