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Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) On How 2020 Democrats Can Win Michigan; President Trump Uses Racist Attacks On Baltimore And Rep. Elijah Cummings; Democrats Work To Win Back Michigan. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 29, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:34:24] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it has happened again. Overnight, a mass shooting -- this one, Gilroy, California. Three people are dead, 11 others hurt after a gunman opened fire at a food festival -- the Garlic Festival in Gilroy.

One of those killed was a 6-year-old boy -- that's his picture -- Stephen Romero.

Joining us now is Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan. He's the top Democrat on Homeland Security and a member of the House -- Senate Armed Services Committee.

First of all, thank you for being with us. We're here in your home city, we should say, Detroit.

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Absolutely.

BERMAN: We're here for the Democratic debates.

I do want to ask you about the breaking news overnight. When you see that picture of a 6-year-old, Stephen Romero, one thing we know for sure is we're not doing enough.

[07:35:05] PETERS: Yes.

BERMAN: We're not doing enough. Enough is just not being done to stop these shootings. So, what now?

PETERS: It isn't. And first off, your heart just is broken when you see that image of a 6-year-old child that has his whole life ahead of him to be taken away in such a tragic way. We do have to do more.

In fact, just last week in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, we had a hearing on school shootings, which we see all too often. How do we deal with it in a comprehensive way? There's no one simple solution, but how do we make things more secure -- both physically more secure, but also how do we identify folks who may eventually commit such an atrocious crime.

We also have to be able to protect our places of worship and I'm working on legislation to increase grants to places of worship. The one place where you think you're always safe is when you are in a place of worship but unfortunately, you're not.


PETERS: But there are no simple solutions -- no easy ones -- but we have to be focused on this and we have to do it in a broad, comprehensive way.

BERMAN: A high school, a church, a synagogue --


BERMAN: -- a garlic festival. There's no one place --


BERMAN: -- at this point, that you can point to and say --


BERMAN: -- we are completely safe.

Obviously, we're here for the Democratic debate. I imagine that this will be a subject they discuss there.

You, Senator, represents what has become a swing state -- a key swing state --

PETERS: Right.

BERMAN: -- and you've written about how to win in Michigan.

What are the one or two things that you think the candidates who will be behind us should focus on?

PETERS: Well, you're right. I don't believe you can be President of the United States unless you win Michigan. That's pretty clear from just the electoral politics right now -- it's critical.

I wrote a letter, as you mentioned, to each of the candidates and I hope they talk about some of the issues that I hear every day here in Michigan.

One of those is to make sure that our workers have the type of training that they need so they can get the jobs of the future. And that's not a 4-year college degree, it's career technical education. We don't do a good enough job preparing folks.

We have jobs here around Michigan that are available but people don't have the right skills. We've got to make sure they have those skills.

We've got to make sure prescription drugs are priced in an affordable way. You know, we're right here on the border with Canada. You can drive across the river to Canada and get insulin at a fraction of the cost of --

BERMAN: Bernie Sanders did it. PETERS: And he did that, as well.

I mean, we live it every day here in Michigan -- that disparity which doesn't make sense.

And then, there are some issues that are -- we think about as Michigan issues but are really national issues, and that's the Great Lakes. And it's about protecting this incredible resource that we have here.

BERMAN: You talked about very concrete things -- very concrete issues and proposals. So, where does -- or where do the president's comments over the weekend fit into that? If the president is saying racist things, how should the candidates address that?

PETERS: Well, you have to call it out. There's no question about it. That's simply unacceptable.

And I think what -- who wins in 2020 is going to be someone who is about having concrete solutions to the everyday problems that people face but bringing the country together in a -- in a united way. We've got a president that appeals to people's fear and tries to divide folks.

This is -- we've heard it said before, this is about the heart and soul of this country is what's going to be on the ballot in 2020 and we've got to make sure that that's called out. And we offer, though, a very positive vision of what this country is and should be going forward.

BERMAN: Here in Michigan there are a lot of those voters, many of whom voted for Barack Obama and then voted for Donald Trump -- Independent voters in some places. Our Maeve Reston went out and talked to some of these voters over the weekend to get a sense of where they were.

And I want to read you a comment from a man named Grant Gaither, who is an Independent Michigan voter who was trying to give a sense of how all this fits together.

And this man said, "I'll take progress over a few" -- you know, he says 'crappy' things, although he didn't use the word 'crappy' -- "that are said here and there. The guy says stupid things" -- he's talking about the president -- "but as long as things are going good, I could give two s's. Until he says a literal n-word or something like that then, yeah, I might pissed, but that is beyond irrelevant to me."

So he's saying it's the economy, it's the issues, it's not the racist statements.

PETERS: Well, yes. I think it's very -- in my mind, it's difficult to be able to separate that. Certainly, people want to have growth. You want to have economic growth, you want to have a stronger country.

But I would argue we are a whole lot stronger when we are a true community -- when we come together. And it's very clear that the -- some of the best days in this country is when this country has been united with common purpose and a common vision.

And to have a President of the United States seeking to divide folks -- well, in the long run, it only makes us weaker. And we're facing very stiff international competition. We've got challenging times ahead of us with changing technology.

We need to be united. We need to be thinking about this in a comprehensive way. President Trump is taking us the wrong way.

BERMAN: It may be a false choice, right? You can talk about health care and prescription drugs prices but also --

PETERS: Right.

BERMAN: -- confront racism.

PETERS: Absolutely, and you have to confront racism. We cannot be a divided country and you should do both.

I think it's important for Democrats, obviously, to confront that and to call it out when we see it. And unfortunately, we see it just about every single day from this president.

[07:40:02] But you also have to offer a positive aspirational message and appeal to folks' hopes for the future and to make sure that their children have the opportunity to live their version of the American dream, whatever that dream may be.

BERMAN: You served with Dan Coats when he was in the Senate. He is now the director of National Intelligence and he's stepping down.

The president is nominating John Ratcliffe, a congressman from Texas, to replace him. The congressman has been very critical of the Mueller investigation.

His qualifications, some people are questioning. He was mayor of a town of some 8,000 before he was in Congress and also worked as a U.S. attorney.

Do you see yourself confirming the nomination of John Ratcliffe?

PETERS: Well, I have a lot of questions for all the reasons that you just mentioned. I'm not sure he's qualified for this job.

I was sorry to see Mr. Coats go. I've had a chance to work with him. I always thought he was very even-keeled and thoughtful.

And I know he did challenge the president from time and when he did that I certainly figured he's probably not going to be around very long. The president doesn't want people to challenge him.

And when you think about an intelligence director you want independent advice. You want to have the best available intelligence to make decisions that are based on facts and reality. That is not something our current president wants. BERMAN: Richard Burr, who is a Republican from the Senate -- "The New York Times" is reporting has voiced some concerns that the pick may be too political. Do you see him having problems getting through the Senate?

PETERS: Well, certainly, I think with my side the question will be will Republicans step up and look at the country as what's best for the country, not what's best for this president. We've got to move beyond that kind of partisan politics.

But we've got to -- we're already in such a hyperpartisan environment. Some of our folks that are giving independent advice need to move away from that partisanship in order for us to do the best job for the country.

BERMAN: Just very quickly, last question here as, again, we're sitting in Detroit right in front of where the debate will be.

Are the Democrats on the right track? You know, you're trying to win in this swing state. You've got an election coming up. Do you think that the national Democratic figures are on the right track?

PETERS: Well, you know, it's still -- it's also still real early. I mean, one of the great things about the Democratic Party is we are a big tent and you have got 20 candidates, you've got all sorts of ideas being kicked around and debated. To me, that shows a very healthy party.

We'll see how it all coalesces. We're still a long way away from that coalesced candidate but right now it's good to have a lot of ideas.

BERMAN: Senator Gary Peters, thank you for joining us here. Thank you for having us in Detroit. It's great to be here this morning.

PETERS: Welcome.

BERMAN: Alisyn --


Former President Barack Obama does not speak about the current president much but now, something has gotten his attention. Why now is President Obama going public with his feelings? We talk to one of the president's closest advisers, next.


[07:46:54] CAMEROTA: This morning, President Trump is continuing to unleash his attacks on African American Congressman Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore. And now, President Obama is weighing in, sort of. One hundred fifty former members of President Obama's administration have written an op-ed slamming President Trump's divisive nature and words.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, we have Valerie Jarrett, former Obama senior adviser. She is also the author of the book "Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward". She's also one of the authors of this new "Washington Post" op-ed.

Good morning, Valerie.


CAMEROTA: Let me just read a portion of this op-ed that 150 members of the Obama administration have written in "The Washington Post". Here's just a portion.

"We stand with congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, as well as those currently under attack by President Trump, along with his supporters and his enablers, who feel deputized to decide who belongs here and who does not.

There is truly nothing more un-American than calling on fellow citizens to leave our country by citing their immigration roots or ancestry, or their unwillingness to sit in quiet obedience while democracy is being undermined."

Why did you all feel compelled now to write this?

JARRETT: Well, I think, Alisyn, it's a -- it's really the culmination of a lot of the rhetoric and policies that we've seen from this administration that are intended to divide us -- that are intended to make us feel separate and diminish us.

And I think this act of saying 'go back' struck such a chord with us because you put it in the context we for so long have been told that we should go back -- that we don't belong. That we're different, that we're other.

And the birther conspiracy that President Trump led before President Obama even took office, the rhetoric towards President Obama while he was in office that we had a front seat to as -- serving in his administration.

And the acts that we've seen as recently as this weekend directed at Congressman Cummings, an extraordinary public figure whose responsibility is accountability.

And I think the attacks against the elected representatives -- these women of color -- all are intended to silence us in obedience.

And what we said in this letter is we're not going to be sitting idly by. We're Americans, we're patriotic, we love our country. And one of the important ways that you demonstrate that love is by speaking up when you see behavior that you think is divisive and destructive to our country. And that's what we've been observing during the course of President Trump's time in office and before.

CAMEROTA: How do you think of the language that President Trump is using this morning and this weekend about Elijah Cummings and about Baltimore being infested?

JARRETT: Well, I think it's racist.

I think that there are a lot of people who have been critical of what we've seen at the border -- the separation of the families living in squalor, treating them terribly. And for the congressman, obviously, who has spoken up against that -- he's the only one that this kind of anger was directed to diminish the people in his community.

[07:50:04] First of all -- first of all, the community he represents is one of the most affluent in the country. It is African American so you have to say why is President Trump saying it's rat-infested and people living in squalor? And why is he criticizing the people -- the good people of Baltimore who love our country?

It's his responsibility as president to take care and represent all of the people. And in a sense, he's smacking them to try to do a bank shot to criticize the congressman when all the congressman is doing is representing his responsibilities and his constituents.

And so, what happens is -- and it's this pattern -- anyone who speaks up against the president is fair game for this personal criticism and anger, and that's not what makes our country strong, Alisyn. What makes our country strong is when ordinary citizens and elected representatives do what they think is best for our country and bring us together.

And so, I think -- again, back to our letter, we wanted to signal we will not remain silent. We care about our country, we love our country, we are patriotic. And part of how you demonstrate the patriotism is to speak out against hate, to speak out against racism, xenophobia, and all of the kind of nasty rhetoric and policies that we've seen from this administration.

CAMEROTA: And on that note, Valerie, speaking out against racism and against hate, why isn't President Obama speaking out more?

JARRETT: Well, he'd have to speak out every single day, wouldn't he? I mean, every single day we're seeing from this administration this kind of rhetoric. And so, what he did in his tweet is to lift up our voices.

And before he left office, his message to America is look, our country is only going to be as good as we, the people. The citizens, the most powerful office of all, demand that it be. And so, his effort is to really lift up the voices of others who care about making our country better, who care about speaking up, and speaking against, and speaking for.

And I think the good news is I've traveled around the country over the last couple of years, Alisyn. I've seen so many people -- I say ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

And we have an election coming up, not just for president but --


JARRETT: -- at the state and local level. And I think the activism that has been jet-fueled by some of this nasty rhetoric is going to result in more people participating in our democracy.

CAMEROTA: I do want to just read President Obama's tweet because you mentioned it. So, after your op-ed, he wrote, "I've always been proud of what this team accomplished during my administration. But more than what we did, I'm proud of how they're continuing to fight for an America that's better."

And, Valerie, I hear you. Lifting up your voices is certainly one way to contribute and to be valuable, but also speaking out against racism. I mean, that's what you're doing and that's the other 149 are doing. And, you know, you were just saying you have to -- you can't sit silently by.

And so, do you think that we will hear more from President Obama as this race continues?

JARRETT: Oh, I certainly think that we will as we enter into the general election. I'm hopeful that he and many of the other leaders in the Democratic Party will try to grow our tent. I know that there are Republicans who are deeply troubled by the kind of rhetoric and policies of this administration.

I think a country that elected Barack Obama president, not once but twice, is full of people who understand that we are stronger when we come together. And I am certain as we head into that general election you will certainly be hearing more from him.

But I also think it's an important point to make that it's not just enough to hear from President Obama. We need every single American who cares about our country and who is concerned about this direction that we're going to participate and get involved and vote and encourage other people to do. That's what it means to be a part of a democracy.

CAMEROTA: Valerie Jarrett, thank you very much for being on the show. Congratulations on becoming a grandma. We're very excited about Laura's baby.

JARRETT: Thank you so much. Thank you. She said to tell all of you guys hello.

CAMEROTA: Great to see you.

JARRETT: Nice to see you, too.

CAMEROTA: We miss her but we look forward to seeing more baby pictures. Great to see you -- John.

BERMAN: All right.

Democrats in Michigan working to make sure that recent presidential history does not repeat itself. What they're doing to turn this battleground state blue again. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:57:23] BERMAN: We are here in Detroit just prior to CNN's special Democratic debates. Of course, winning back Michigan is a priority for the Democrats heading into the 2020 race after Hillary Clinton lost this battleground state to Donald Trump in 2016. So, what would it take for Democrats to turn things around?

CNN's Miguel Marquez spoke with Democratic voters here in Detroit.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): How motivated are you to vote in 2020?

ANTONIO "SHADES" AGEE, DID NOT VOTE IN 2016: I'm motivated as heck because look at who we've got now.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Detroit artist Shades, a muralist, in 2016, didn't vote.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Do you regret not voting in 2016?

AGEE: No, I'm OK.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): He felt the Democratic nominating process was rigged. He liked Bernie Sanders then and likes him now. But this time, like many who sat on their hands in 2016, he plans to vote.

AGEE: I don't know about sitting on my hands -- not this time. I do have to make a decision, but I've still got to figure out what's going on.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Every vote here counts. Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in Wayne County, Detroit, its biggest city. Seventy-six thousand fewer voters pulled the lever for Clinton than Obama in 2012.

TASHAWNA GILL, FOUNDER, UNITED PRECINCT DELEGATES: Michigan was a Bernie state, you can say. Bernie started early. That's what people don't know. Hillary came here late.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Michigan political organizer Tashawna Gill says the Sanders-Clinton friction and the DNC's part in it turned off voters in 2016. Today, she's seeing none of that.

GILL: Democrats know how important this is, right, to win. And the DNC now is doing a wonderful job, I can say, of staying out of it and let the process happen.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): So turned off by Democratic infighting in 2016, Dennis Black, son of auto-working union Democrats, voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

DENNIS BLACK, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Strong Democrats -- always has been. Always probably will be.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Who did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. BLACK: That's correct, that's correct.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Why?

BLACK: Hillary was not the candidate for our community.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Then he backed Bernie Sanders in the primary. Today, he likes Elizabeth Warren. But no matter who becomes the nominee --

MARQUEZ (on camera): Joe Biden? What if Joe Biden is the candidate?

BLACK: If Joe Biden is the candidate, then we will be working to leverage what we can. And yes, I would be voting for him.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Democrats here upbeat after a strong showing in the 2018 midterms, sweeping statewide offices and flipping two Republican House seats.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Can you maintain it for November third, 2020?


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Jonathan Kinloch chairs Detroit's 13th Congressional District Democratic Party and is a vice-chair of the state party. He says Democratic enthusiasm --