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INSIDE POLITICS

How Trump Won Michigan in 2016; Coats to Resign, Trump Picks Congressional Ally to Replace Him; Biden Campaign Reacts to Harris' Healthcare Plan; Who's Benefiting From Progress in Detroit?; High- Stakes Dem Debates on CNN Tomorrow and Wednesday. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 29, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:30:00] JAY ANDERSON, MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: -- and those numbers could have made up the bigger difference. And even now, I think a lot of black people don't vote because they feel that it does not count and they're absolutely wrong, every vote counts. So we've got to show up this time for sure.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: When you say show up this time for sure, is the president himself a motivator or is it up to the Democrats to give you a candidate who will get everybody to turn out?

ANDERSON: He is the motivator. And hopefully -- if they don't get out this time then nothing is going to motivate them.

KING: So when Trump gets up on a Sunday morning and tweets that four Democratic women of color, go back to where you came from, how does that break through out here?

MELODY ARMSTRONG, MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Well, it was a gut check for me. Anybody that ever has had that statement said to them, it's not meant to be a compliment at all, OK? And being a minority, we always resent that.

ERIN KEITH, MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: I think for me it was really just -- it revealed to me exactly how ignorant Trump is. Because we already knew he was a racist. We already knew he was a bigot. But the fact that many of those congresswomen and their families have literally been in America longer than Trump's family, it was just like he's just saying things to be xenophobic and hateful.

ANDERSON: But I kind of disagree with that. I think he's the epitome of reality TV, fake news. Any time he wants to change the direction, he'll just throw up something in the air and hope that it sticks. So he's masterful at that. He's not ignorant, he's just ignorant of government, the policies and so forth.

KING: Do you think he's a racist or you think he's just -- thinks it's entertaining?

ANDERSON: I do think he's a racist but that's irrelevant. ARMSTRONG: I think it goes to decorum. It goes to what's right. And I believe that we're emotionally bankrupt in this country where we don't have empathy for other people, OK? We don't have to result to name-calling, we can have civil discourse without name-calling.

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KING: Up next, the president picks a new intelligence chief and a Republican near-silence speaks volumes.

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[12:36:46] KING: Today an important shuffle atop America's intelligence community, out, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, in, if the president gets his way, Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe. The why now is easy. The president and his top intelligence official, Mr. Coats, have repeatedly clashed over national security priorities.

Why Ratcliffe? Well, that's easy too especially if you watched the Mueller hearing last week. A lot of Republican grumbling about this though, the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell praising Coats as, quote, deliberate and thoughtful and unbiased and saying he's, quote, very sorry he's stepping down. That statement from the Senate's top Republican made no mention of Ratcliffe.

But it did say this, "I want to thank Director Coats for his role in the administration's comprehensive response to Russia's ongoing efforts to interfere in our democracy.

CNN'S Abby Phillip joins us now live from the White House. Abby, why Mr. Ratcliffe and is the president -- is the White House worried about the very tepid Republican reaction?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Ratcliffe has been on President Trump's radar for a while now. Since last year, he's been under consideration for a number of jobs, namely attorney general but was passed over for William Barr. Now President Trump is naming him as his top intelligence official after last week in that hearing with Robert Mueller. Radcliffe really made the case publicly for what Trump has been saying all along that Robert Mueller should never have written the second volume of the Mueller report on obstruction of justice at all.

Now, that performance got President Trump's attention. And even though Dan Coats' departure has been in the tea leaves for some time now, it seems that this decision was made in the last several days. But the problem is, as you noted, Republicans are pretty tepid on Ratcliffe. Few of them mentioned him even as they praised Dan Coats who is leaving the job.

There is some concern that not only is Ratcliffe potentially too political for the job, he clearly has taken President Trump's view of this entire Russia investigation, pushing for an investigation into the investigators. But he also has a fairly limited intelligence experience. He's only been on the House Intelligence Committee since January, so there are a lot of questions now about where this goes.

Will Republicans back him? And will it be easy or straightforward to get him through a Senate confirmation process? We will find out in a little while, but as of right now, many Republicans are not on Capitol Hill so it may be quite some time before we find out what's behind some of this reticence that we're seeing in the written statements, John.

KING: I'm sure Republicans not happy but rare are the day of these days when we see them actually challenge the president. We'll see as this one plays out. Abby Phillip, appreciate the live reporting and the insight.

Let's continue the conversation. David Gergen, you served several presidents. Nothing against Congressman Ratcliffe, he's 53-years-old, elected in 2014. He was a mayor, U.S. Attorney, he was a Romney campaign aide back in the day, five years experience.

No deep experience. He's been on the committees for a couple of years but no deep experience in this realm. This job was created after 9/11 to try to bring together all of the FBI, the CIA, the defense and military intelligence agencies. Is this the right guy?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It's not just his lack of experience, it's the fact that he sees the world through an ideological lens. And what you get in that such situation, we spent billions upon billions of dollars as you know, every year trying to understand and analyze a very complex world, and making sure that the president and people around him understand that world.

[12:40:09] And you begin cherry-picking the facts out of a national intelligence estimate and using those as a basis for how you make decisions, you can get into real trouble.

Example number one, John, as you well remember, many of us think we got into Iraq in large part because the evidence there was cherry- picked, and we were presented with, you know, with a view that was not accurate.

KING: Right. Mike Pompeo, the current secretary of state saying a lot of people raised the same questions about him when he took the CIA job, but he was a West Point graduate. He served in the military, he served in Congress a lot longer than Congressman Ratcliffe.

We'll see how this plays out. We'll see if Republicans rise up against the president on this one or whether they just bite their tongue, which is what they do mostly.

And while we've been here, we talked at the top of the show about this new Medicare for All plan by Kamala Harris which tries to spot the difference. You called it a sweet spot. It doesn't go as far-left as Bernie Sanders. It takes 10 years to implement. It preserves some role but a limited role for private insurance and so-called Medicare Advantage Plans. It would eliminate the private as we do.

At CNN, we get our healthcare from our employer. It would eliminate that in favor of Medicare for All. We thought this would become a fighting point with the former vice president. This is from his Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield.

"This new have-it-every-which-way approach pushes the extremely challenging implementation of Medicare for All part of this plan 10 years into the future. Meaning it would not occur on the watch of even a two-term administration. The result? A Bernie Sanders-lite Medicare for All and a refusal to be straight with the American middle class, who would have a huge large tax increase forced upon them with this plan."

There's a debate preview for you right there.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. I mean, he accuses her of attempting to unravel the Affordable Care Act which is insanely popular with the American public. And so this is a strong line of attack for Biden. He -- and we expect as you just said him to continue this into tomorrow night's debate.

And so he wants to really pinpoint Harris in the same camp as Warren and Sanders, even though as Phil pointed out, she's trying to do a bit of a balance.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think half the battle for Kamala Harris will be how exactly she sells this onstage. She has to be able to own this new policy plan. Healthcare is incredibly difficult and complicated. And, you know, because this is a new plan for her and because we have seen her kind of struggle to explain exactly where she falls on the issue of Medicare for All and what her vision is for healthcare in this country. I think Wednesday night will be really critical for her, purely in terms of the performance aspect of this field.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not just that it's complicated, it's also personal. It's extremely personal to people as you can look at any polling. And I think that what the Biden campaign is making clear, what the Sanders campaign has made clear is there's two lanes here. Don't try and create a third one and it kind of have the slip polls for both. And in that sense, I completely agree with M.J. She's going to get hit on this and she's going to need to be able to explain it in detail on stage.

I have no doubt they are prepping her to do just that, and she knows what she put behind the plan. But this idea that there is a middle ground, that there is a sweet spot, both sides, both polls are going to try and take that away from her immediately.

KING: And can the former vice president make that case. Again, his first performance is not so great. We'll see what happens Wednesday night, right there behind us.

Coming up for us here, what history tells us to watch for in this week's debates but for some candidates, one simple goal.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your mission in this debate specifically? And in going off --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To not mess up. Sorry. A little too much sugar.

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[12:48:08] KING: Let's talk about tomorrow's debate and what it means for the people right here in Michigan. I'm joined by Bankole Thompson, he's a columnist for Detroit News, editor-in-chief of the PuLSE Institute. And David Axelrod, the former senior advisor, of course, to President Obama and host of the "Axe Files". Welcome to the conversation.

Bankole, I want to start with something you touched on in your column. I want you to listen here, we sat down yesterday with four undecided African-American voters. And I asked them about this city and how it's doing.

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KING: How is Detroit doing?

ARMSTRONG: I think better. I really do.

KEITH: I think we've made some gains. I moved back about a year ago and I've seen a lot of progress. But I think the question is, who's the progress for? I want to see it for people who have been here, who have been here through the recession, who have been here through the bankruptcy, who have never left like my parents who have been here. They're lifelong Detroiters. And I think too often people who are in the neighborhoods get left out of these conversations.

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KING: That's part of your point too. We looked around, it's great to be back in a downtown Detroit that is vibrant. But we are at sweet potato sensations just starting to get out of it. They're worried that the new prosperity here is not going to reach them out there.

BANKOLE THOMPSON, COLUMNIST, THE DETROIT NEWS: No. John, we are sitting right now in what I call an island of opulence. This downtown, this weather revitalization is taking place but outside of this downtown business district, I mean, you have mass economic desolation. And, you know, the U.S. census report, 2016, says Detroit leads the nation among big cities on poverty. The second city that comes close is Cleveland.

So we are in the belly of the beast and this is ground zero of the urban crisis. That's why I think it's very important and significant for the presidential candidates to be here in Detroit.

KING: And so they will come into Detroit, and they will come at a time when the president is talking about another American city and calling it rat-infested and putrid and saying no human being would want to live there. How do Democrats get, without getting too drawn into Trump, I guess, get at the challenges?

[12:50:03] You're from Chicago, we're sitting here in Detroit, you mentioned Cleveland. Should urban America be a bigger issue in this campaign?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that the issue that is most likely to reach most Americans is Trump himself and his propensity to divide every single day for his own political project at the expense of cities, at the expense of minorities. I think people wherever they live may be wary of that by the time voters come to the polls. And I think Democrats need to concentrate on that. And we'll see what happens tomorrow night.

But he throws this stuff out. He mentioned, you know, that they have reinstated the death penalty, for example. He's throwing this stuff out as catnip to try and provoke the sort of discussion he wants.

KING: And so if you check a complicated state like Michigan, some Democrats look at it and they think it's an either/or. And I mean it in this context. You heard those voters here in the inner city. Look at 2012, Obama was on about seeking re-election, he gets 61 percent African-American turnout here in the state of Michigan. Hillary Clinton is the nominee four years later, it drops to 49 percent.

She didn't lose Michigan by all that much. You could make the case right here in Wayne County if more people had turned out, more African-Americans had turned out. So that's the show. That's how some Democrats look at it. Turn out the base, and that's why a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would say focus on the base.

But I want to show you these other numbers here. You come over here, other Democrats say, no, wait a minute, go up to the road to Macomb County. Mitt Romney lost the state. He won the white vote by 17 points and lost Michigan. Donald Trump wins it by twice as much and wins Michigan. Is it an either/or or can you do both?

THOMPSON: You can. Look, Trump won the war in Michigan, Macomb County here. He talked about how he's going to give everyone a job. In Detroit here, Hillary Clinton -- I mean, the Clinton campaign virtually abandoned this state. Bernie Sanders won the March 8th primary in 2016. The next day, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton was not here. They abandoned this state and she only came here during the weekend of the election which was too late.

So I think it's also about the message of the candidate. It's about what message the candidate has. And at the end of the day, economic inequality cuts across race. You know, Trump talked about economic inequality in Warren while Detroit is the belly of the beast when it comes to economic inequality. But I think I'm afraid though and I hope that Democrats do not repeat the mistakes of 2016.

AXELROD: There's been enough analysis done recently to suggest that this isn't necessarily enough just to talk about the base. His base will be torn up. But you have white men, I think white women and even women in rural areas and small towns are going to be a big target for Democrats. KING: Appreciate you both coming in. You're going to stick with me because when we come back, some lessons from Barack Obama on the debate stage. The good, the bad, and what Mr. Axelrod would agree was the ugly.

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[12:57:23] KING: Close the hour today with David Axelrod who of course was chief strategist for the Barack Obama presidential campaign back in 2008. And your candidate was proof you can have a bad debate or three and still go on to be president.

Let's have a little flashback here as these candidates, this 20 prepare for this week, let's go back, January 2008 and the likable enough moment.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see your resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue where they seem to like Barack Obama more?

HILARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, that hurts my feelings. He's very likable. I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: You're likable enough, Hillary --

CLINTON: Thank you so much

OBAMA: -- no doubt about it.

CLINTON: I appreciate it.

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KING: Do you think that hurt?

AXELROD: Oh, there's no doubt about it. We all grimaced in our war room when we saw that because it seemed like an ungracious thing from a guy who was known to be gracious. And we were ahead going into New Hampshire, we lost by two points. I think without that moment, we may have crept across the finish line.

KING: Right, you could have won that. You would have won Iowa, you would have won New Hampshire. That would have been it. Instead, you had the protracted race. But you still won the White House.

That race, think back, got a little testy at times. So this is kind of a blood bath moment.

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CLINTON: You just talked about admiring Ronald Reagan --

OBAMA: I'm sorry --

CLINTON: -- and you talked about the ideas --

OBAMA: -- while I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Walmart.

CLINTON: You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader. I did not mention his name.

OBAMA: Your husband did.

CLINTON: You -- well, I'm here, he's not.

OBAMA: OK, well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

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KING: We have 10 candidates each night here. That's one of the big differences with that when you had one-on-one and by that point, there was a lot of tension.

AXELROD: John Edwards was on the stage but not much of a factor. Oh yes, that was a decisive -- the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, South Carolina primary was huge. And they just opened up, they backed up the truck and let everything go. And it was quite different than many of the other debates.

KING: And so when you hear like Sanders and Warren, they don't want to go at each other. At some point whether you want to do it or not, it happens.

AXELROD: There is physics to all of this, yes.

KING: A physics to all of these. That's a good way to put it, I guess.

Thanks for watching us on today on INSIDE POLITICS as we get ready for the debates here. Mr. Axelrod would be with us throughout the next few days too. Don't go anywhere.

As we prepare for the debates here in Detroit, we're going to go talk to some voters. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN'S Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, three dead in California by a gunman opening fire.

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