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Trump Defends His Attacks On Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Baltimore; Trump Comments On China Trade War; CNN Democratic Debates Kick Off Tonight At 8:00 P.M. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some sort of response from the community.

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And I asked him specifically in light of that. There are lawmakers from Virginia who are boycotting his event today in Jamestown, who say they are not coming because they are highly offended, he does not belong there to talk about freedom and democracy. And he essentially put that aside, minimized that, saying that they are not serving their own community, that they are not a large number of people who feel this way.

And so it's interesting, Poppy and Jim, to listen to what he is saying here in the light of the fact that there are so many African-Americans that we have heard from who are very angry and very upset about the kind of broad brush stroke that he has given to Baltimore and other cities.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes. Phil Mattingly, the President also talked about China and the tariffs. And, again, as Jim rightly pointed out, falsely claimed that China is paying us billions of dollars. Even the President's own administration has said that that's not how it works.

But one thing that struck me is he said that his second bailout to Midwest farmers, by the way, because of the tariffs on China, was more than China has ever spent on U.S. agriculture, $16 billion. Our Daniel Dale, who is a great reporter and a great fact-checker here at CNN points out that's just inaccurate, because just a few years ago, 2014, China spent $30 billion on U.S. agriculture. That is the price that American farmers are paying in all of this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, some of the numbers he was tossing out and also kind of the President's understanding and kind of repeated explanation as to how tariffs work are fairly, wildly inaccurate. I think the interesting element here is this is an area where the President is kind of on his own inside his own party. You look at the aid that was given to farmers, that aid was pushed for heavily by republicans on Capitol Hill who were uncomfortable with some of the tariff positions he's taken.

Look, you're going to get bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to come down harder on China related to some of their trade issues, to how they deal with I.P., how they deal with government secrets, things of that nature. But the posture that the President has taken has made a lot of folks from states that the President won very uncomfortable and that's why the aid has come in through the back door from the Agriculture Department.

I think the big question now is, and, Poppy, you've covered this stuff and you know it very well, how long does this go. I think there's not a lot of optimism right now that a big deal with China is in the offering (ph), even though administration officials are heading over there.

What is kind of the breaking or tipping point even if the aid is coming from the government from those who are wary of how long this fight can go. The U.S. economy clearly in a position to probably outlast where China is right now, but that doesn't make it any easier for the people on the ground who need the aid right now, guys.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes. And it's an interesting point because the President brings up what is a genuine concern that China waits out the Trump presidency just to see if he is re-elected, because why make a big and potentially costly deal with Trump if you have the perception that you might get a better deal after the election.

Wes Lowery, the President has made baseless allegations of corruptions or crime before. You can think of a few, perhaps saying that Ted Cruz's father was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination. Here, we have a sitting president accusing a sitting U.S. Congressman, Elijah Cummings, of taking but also, well, stealing, it seems, billions of dollars in federal aid without basis. How do you respond to that? How do you cover that? Does the White House -- is the White House uncomfortable, a word we often hear, when the President makes claims like that?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm sure we'll hear more from our colleagues and the White House reporters about the way we always get this cycle. The President does and says these things and we get the unanimous account of all the people who were uncomfortable. And then by tomorrow, they'll say, actually, it's the most brilliant thing he's ever done.

First of all, let me note, I'm not a Russian asset, none of my colleagues here at The Washington Post are Russian assets. That was clearly baseless and made up. Second, I do think this, this attack on Congressman Cummings, I think it's important to note, look, any member of Congress is not above scrutiny, right? And there are clearly problems in the City of Baltimore and more broadly in the district.

But that said, Elijah Cummings isn't the Mayor of Baltimore, right? He's a member of Congress, right? And so the idea that you would walk around the city and pick any problem, and this is somehow the Congressman's personal responsibility does betray the fact that this isn't really about accountability, right?

The President is, in the same way that he used to talk about American carnage, he would talk about sending the National Guard in Chicago, that in many ways, these are code words, right, that for a lot of voters, especially the President's voters, white suburbanized, white rural folks, those people who live in the burbs and rural areas for a reason, they don't live in the cities. In many cases, there are cohorts here. When you talk about Chicago, when you talk about the rat-infested Baltimore, that means something.

And I think there is an important -- one other point, because I think it's really important to note here, right? When we talk about the problems in Baltimore, there are certain problems locally, right, that they do have real issues with the local government at times and there's been massive turnover with mayors and police chief.

This is also a city that pioneered a lot of racist housing policy, right, that a lot of what we see in terms of the problems today in Baltimore can be traced directly back to how the city made decisions to force poor black and brown people into certain parts of the city and allowed white people to go into the other parts.

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And the parts where the black and brown people were forced to live are still the parts that are plagued with drugs, with crime, with gangs, with police shootings.

And so, look, if we want to talk about the problems in Baltimore or any major city, there is some government corruption, there's a lot of history and inequality there, I just don't think it's what the President is talking about.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Well, they go there. I mean, Jim, you heard Ayasmar Glader (ph), who is working with the President's re-election campaign. Is he going to go? Ivanka Trump has spent -- I think made a few trips to Baltimore, but the President hasn't gone to two of these neighborhoods, you know? I mean, it just -- it struck me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point. Listen, you know, if you care, you go there. And you made this point too, Poppy, as well, that there are many urban areas and rural areas that face poverty and other issues. Why not the attention there as well?

Listen, thanks to all of you, always good to have you on. Poppy, back to your end.

HARLOW: Okay. All right, so with me here on set, Bakari Sellers, former South Carolina House of Representatives and CNN Commentator, Todd Spangler, Washington Correspondent for the Detroit Free Press, a great paper, and Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor at Large. Also back with me, former Michigan Governor James Blanchard.

Thank you for your patience. We were mid-interview when the President started talking.

FMR. GOV. JAMES BLANCHARD (D-MI); And what I heard was outrageous and sad. But let's talk about other things perhaps.

I do want to mention Elijah Cummings.

HARLOW: Yes, because I know you're friends with him.

BLANCHARD: I was at a lunch with him a couple, but there is not a more honorable, decent, kind, respected member of Congress anywhere and all the republicans on his committee know that, and I hope they step forward.

The other thing is this. The average income in his district is above the national average. In one of his cities, Columbia is the safest city in the entire Washington metropolitan area.

And, finally, let me say, the republicans are planning their annual conference in Baltimore in September. I wonder if they're going to cancel it.

HARLOW: I hope everyone goes -- well, I hope not because that could hurt the economy there, but I hope everyone would go and look at the amazing development on the waterfront there in Baltimore, what they've done, companies like Under Armour building up. It's a beautiful city. And now, I want you to go and spend money there and help.

Okay, but let's talk about tonight. Kind of a big night, Cillizza.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes, kind of a big deal.

HARLOW: Kind of a big night.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, look, I think a lot of times people in years past would say it's a debate in June. Look at what happened, and Bakari who is supporting Senator Harris is well aware of this, look at what happened in the first debate and what happened afterward. Kamala Harris, yes, did she have a boom and then fade back slightly, yes. But she's in a lot better place today than she was two months ago, and there's a lot of reasons for that. But the big one is there are a lot of eyeballs on this. And the truth is we don't have a front-runner like we did in 2016 on the democratic side.

Hillary Clinton at this point was at 60 something and Bernie Sanders was at 15. Joe Biden is the frontrunner nominally in this race. But he's at in this latest poll, which is a good poll for him, 34. That is -- there's a lot of people who are undecided. There are also a lot of people, I think, who were for him, who will peel off quickly. As we saw, debates dot matter in a field where people don't know as much about candidates and don't have a clear favorite.

HARLOW: Bakari, talking about tonight, I know you're a supporter of Senator Harris, we'll see her tomorrow night, but tonight, big standoff between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, then you've got Pete Buttigieg as well. And my question to you is we've seen the polling that has shown that Warren and Harris have pulled away Sanders' most liberal voters. That is obviously a cause for concern for his campaign. What does the Sanders camp have to do tonight to try to turn that ship around? BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the clashes you're going to see tonight are going to be around ideological lines and I think they're going to be sharper than people give it credit for. I mean, I think people are looking at this and kind of saying, oh, it's going to be Bernie and Elizabeth and they're going to get along and then you're going to have Pete and Beto, and one of them is going to have to stand out. I don't look at it like that.

I think you have people on stage like Steve Bullock, for example, who are going to make the case that a moderate has to be a nominee. And they are going to draw a sharp contrast against Bernie and Elizabeth. I think that is going to be the tension that you see on stage from some of the individuals who are around the stage. I believe Hickenlooper on is on stage tonight as well.

CILLIZZA: It's basically -- I mean, if you look at it's -- Bakari's point, it's largely Sanders and Warren, the two sort of big liberal iconic figures, and everybody else on that stage would probably describe themselves as moderate.

SELLERS: And that's where Beto and Pete will also be able to kind of make some hey.

The other thing is we can't discount what we just heard from the President in that impact on the debate tonight. I said this earlier this morning, and I don't know a better way to say it other than this stage tonight, lacks diversity.

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And so it's going to be very interesting how these individuals on stage. And we know that Beto and Pete, Elizabeth and Bernie can deal with race. I want to hear how everyone else deals with race. Because this is not -- he's not picking on Baltimore because he doesn't like the clam chowder. He's not picking -- this is a race issue.

HARLOW: To that, I think, and the Detroit Free Press has done such a great job staying on the Flint story, the Flint, Michigan story. I was reading your guy's latest piece this morning. And that's also a race issue. I mean, look what happened in Flint, Michigan, look how much of the population there is African-American and just, you know, the total abdication of responsibility by the federal government, by the state government there.

A lot of these candidates have gone to Flint in the last few weeks, but a lot of the people in Flint feel like years after they found out there was lead in their water that affects their children for the rest of their life. The candidates are going there, many of them feel, according to your paper, for photo ops and politics and they're not really going to change anything.

TODD SPANGLER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, DETROIT FREE PRESS: That's right. I think there's a lot of feeling in Michigan generally that politicians tend to come in, give some lip service and move on. And with Flint and with Detroit, there's been a lot of that over the years where things haven't gone done (ph). It's really interesting though. I think that the President's comments maybe are meant to serve him politically but may backfire on him in a place like Michigan that has dealt with racial animus in its suburbs and its urban areas over the years, and they know how to deal with this. I mean, it may gin up his base but at the same time, it's going to hurt him in other ways.

HARLOW: All right. Help me understand that because I see it two ways here. I see the Warren, Michigan G.M. plant that's been open for 78 years, just news this week that it's shuttering right? That's not good for the President. He said don't sell your house, don't move. You've got Lordstown and now the Warren G.M. Plant.

At the same time, I look at the economic numbers. I look at the GDP growth in Michigan. I look at like 4.2 percent unemployment under Trump and I think that's a good story.

SPANGLER: Right. No, there is absolutely people that the Trump economy has not worked for in Michigan. Other people like in a lot of other places, it's done okay. I honestly think though this president would be much further ahead in a state like Michigan, in a moderate state, if he were less insulting and more civil. I mean, if he did not do the things that people in places Macomb County and Oakland County don't want to hear him doing.

HARLOW: Cillizza, switching gears here a little bit. You had a really interesting column yesterday and I was like, come on our show in the morning, because I find it really interesting, people I'm pointing out. Kirsten Gillibrand laid out all of her cards. Why?

CILLIZZA: I mean, so it's relevant to tonight and tomorrow night.

HARLOW: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Because last week, to our colleague, Eric Bradner, the Beto O'Rourke people said, Beto is itching to go after Pete Buttigieg, which to me --

HARLOW: And why would you say that?

CILLIZZA: And then they said, and we're going to go after him on his record in South Bend. Why are we -- strategically, I don't get the point. Because, guess what, Pete Buttigieg's campaign probably is going to get to be made aware that they're planning that. Same thing with Gillibrand, she's in Iowa last week and she says, several of the candidates don't think it's okay, have said it's not okay for a woman to work outside the home. Then they won't say who it is, because it's clear she's saving it up for this debate tomorrow night when she's on stage with Joe Biden, who is probably the person who has said something like that over his long Senate career.

What I don't understand strategically is if you find that nugget of opposition research, why not do it prior to the (INAUDIBLE)? Why not do it the way Kamala Harris did? Don't fore-signal what you're doing. Don't telegraph. Do it in the moment so they don't have time to prepare. Joe Biden stumbles and bumbles over that answer. Kamala Harris looks presidential, she looks in command, she's speaking from her life story, everything you want out of a candidate. I just don't -- I would want someone from either the Beto campaign or the Gillibrand to tell me why, if you have an attack, you think it's going to work --

HARLOW: Help me understand.

CILLIZZA: Help me, help you. I just don't -- I don't get it.

SELLERS: Also today, one of the things tonight -- because I know that even as a Harris supporter, I can tell you her weakest link has been healthcare, right? Everything that I told her is --

HARLOW: I still don't fully understand the plan and I read it.

SELLERS: Her plan is good but she has to be able to articulate her plan clearly and stand in it. Who else has to do that tonight? Elizabeth Warren. Because you know what's not a healthcare plan, I'm with Bernie, you have to be able to articulate that.

HARLOW: Gentlemen, yes, very quickly.

BLANCHARD: The President is the Pied Piper of hatred. That will backfire in Michigan. I guarantee it. And that's one reason Gretchen Whitmer, our new governor, one by 9.5 points.

SELLERS: Why don't you run? You can go on stage tonight.

BLANCHARD: I've already done that.

HARLOW: Gentlemen, thank you all very much. It will be an exciting, exciting night, that's for sure.

All right, still to come for us, tonight could be the start of something big or the end of the road for some of the 20 democratic presidential candidates who are going to be on the stage. We're going to talk about what it is going to take for tonight's debaters to breakthrough with you, the voter.

SCIUTTO: Also ahead, President Trump continues his attacks, maybe even worsens them on Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings this morning.

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I'm going to speak to Senator Chris Murphy, who says he unfollowed the President on Twitter as a result of his attacks on the Congressman.

Plus, candidates visiting Flint, Michigan saying if they were president, they would do more to help that city's lasting water crisis. But many voters there simply don't buy it. We're going to be speaking to Flint's Mayor. That's coming up as well.

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All right, it is debate day in Detroit, just a few more hours before the first night of CNN's democratic debates. Tonight, ten candidates will have another chance to make their case to be the democratic nominee for president. For some, it could be the last to make an impression on you, the voter.

Joining me to talk about who is up to the task, who is not, who might need to throw in the towel, such a good voice on this, former campaign manager for former President Obama and the Campaign Strategist of the Year. You know you got that title at one point, Jim Messina? That's what we called you, Campaign Strategist of the Year. Thank you for being with me.

JIM MESSINA, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'll take it. Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: I know now your job is figuring out, you know, what to do in the U.K. and all of that. But let's talk about the U.S. right now and tonight and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I mean, you have said, despite the polling that puts Bernie Sanders ahead of President Trump in head-to-head matchups, you don't think that he could beat the President in a general. Why?

MESSINA: I don't think his economic contrast with Donald Trump is the right contrast. I think he would spend the entire time on the defensive about some of his avowed socialist politics and I think he'd be a difficult standard bearer for the party. But, look, I'm just one voice. And the great thing about this primary process is we have 24 candidates and the voters will decide, not a bunch of consultants like me. And so that's what these debates are about.

And I'm really excited for the next two nights, because for some candidates, this is the last train station before the crash. They've got to figure out a way to move here, because if you can't get in the September debates, Poppy, and only ten candidates are going to get in, you're basically not relevant anymore. So people have got to have a big night tonight and tomorrow night.

HARLOW: And so who has the most to lose or the most to gain, whichever way you see it, tonight on the stage?

MESSINA: Tonight on the stage, it will be interesting to see Vice President Joe Biden, right? Tough first debate but he's rebounded pretty well after that. He's a presumptive front-liner, but the race is consolidating, as we always knew it would. And so he's got to have a moment here where he looks and talks about the future, right? He's done really well talking about the past and President Obama and all their work together. But now, he's got to lay out a compelling vision for the future and excite some folks.

It's going to be difficult, because I'll bet you a lot of money that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Earren are going to come out with shovels after him tonight and they don't want to hit each other, so the person they're going to want to hit is the Vice President. And so he's going to have to kind of fend that off a little better than he did with Kamala last time and then try to stay positive. And those are two difficult things. But I think it's what he has to do tonight.

HARLOW: So he'll be on -- he's going to be on the stage tomorrow night.

MESSINA: I'm sorry, tomorrow night.

HARLOW: That's okay. Two big nights, I hope you're watching both nights. He'll get to react to those attacks if he does see them from Warren, from Sanders, et cetera.

Let's talk a little bit about Mayor Pete, Pete Buttigieg, who is going on the stage tonight. You have talked in detail about his struggle with African-American voters. And our polling shows that he just hasn't -- he hasn't gotten that up. I mean, Monmouth polling from last week had Joe Biden at 51 percent among African-American democratic voters and Mayor Pete Buttigieg at like 1 percent. So if he can't get that number up, is that the end of the road for him?

MESSINA: It is. There's no pathway to the democratic nomination for president without a significant African-American vote, partially why Bernie Sanders didn't beat Hillary last time was he just couldn't get there with African-American voters. You know, I don't think there's a pathway for Mayor Pete, who has been kind of the breakout star of this campaign and been a great candidate. But I just don't think he can be the democratic nominee for president given his current approval ratings and numbers with African-Americans.

So tonight in his debate, he has a very specific task and I think a difficult one, but one he's got to move. That's why I don't think he can be the nominee.

HARLOW: So if you look at the numbers, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are splitting 30 percent of the vote. I mean, they're splitting it. So how do they tell the average American voter that they are actually different from one another? I know it seems like sort of a very simple task, but I don't know how you do it. I mean, Bakari Sellers just pointed out on the panel, like it's not a healthcare plan to say I'm with Bernie on Medicare for all, right? So what does she need to do to make herself stand out from Bernie Sanders more for the most liberal voters?

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MESSINA: Yes, it's a great question. And, you know, they had this kind of avowed mutual pact where they don't want to hit each other. I don't think that pact is going to last very long in this primary because they're going to have to distinguish they're competing for the same voters in the same lane and they're going to have to tell the story.

I think her story is easier to tell. She's obviously a female candidate in a party that desperately wants to elect the first woman president, but she's got to kind of differentiate herself from him eventually here. And he sort of slid. He's not the new fresh face that he was last time. And his numbers have kind of gotten more difficult. And I think both of them are going to have to eventually look at each other and say, hey, we are different and here's why. Whether that will happen tonight is one question. But it's got to happen eventually or they're going to let someone else walk right up to the middle of the two of them.

HARLOW: It's a great point. Okay, Jim Messina, thank you for waking up extra early for us. I know you're in San Francisco. I appreciate your expertise this morning. Come back soon.

MESSINA: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got it.

Okay, so this morning, President Trump continuing his attacks just moments ago. He did it as he left the White House on Congressman Elijah Cummings. He says he believes he is helping himself politically with those continued attacks. We will talk to Senator Chris Murphy about how democrats should respond. He unfollowed the President on Twitter over all of this.

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