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Interview with Jim Messina; Trump to Hold Rally Tonight in Ohio; American ISIS Fighter Returned to States for Trial. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired August 1, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:32:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives, is a certain kind of rigidity. Where we say, "Oh, I'm sorry, this is how it's going to be." And then we start, sometimes, creating what's called a circular firing squad.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yeah, remember that? That was former President Obama, just a few months ago, warning Democrats of the pitfalls of attacking one another. Most candidates did not heed that advice last night, though, on the debate stage. Watch this.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I asked the vice president, point-blank, did he use his power to stop those deportations? He went right around the question.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Vice President, you can't have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign, you can't do it when it's convenient and then dodge it when it's not.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your plan, by contrast, leaves out almost 10 million Americans. So I think that you should really think about what you're saying.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't.


HARLOW: Well, there you go. Former campaign manager for President Obama, Jim Messina, is with me. He also served as Obama's deputy chief of staff.


HARLOW: So what do you think President Obama's thinking this morning?

MESSINA: I think he's probably smiling. And I know in this -- in this post, in this Trump world, the facts don't matter, but we're talking about a president who helped rescue the economy from the worst recession since World War II, who got us out of the Iraq War, who passed the first universal health care bill that 10 presidents in a row tried.

And so the facts are one thing, but then let's just talk, Poppy, for a second about the politics of attacking the former president --


MESSINA: -- who is the most popular political leader in the world. And in the Democratic Party, he and his wife are universally beloved. And so, you know, you're looking at voters who are looking at this, especially African-American voters and younger voters who came of age in the Obama years, and they're saying, "What are you talking about? Why aren't we focusing on President Trump? We are you going after a guy that we love?"

HARLOW: Well, why, then, Jim? You've advised people on campaigns. Clearly, multiple candidates got advice that this was a good idea, or at least not a horrible idea. And we looked back at the polling, 95 percent approval among Democrats. That is the latest polling on what President Obama has held (ph). So, why?

MESSINA: Yes. And his wife's probably at 150 percent. It is -- it is crazy.

I understand the theory. The theory is silly, but I understand the theory, which is, you know, right now, Joe Biden is getting a majority share of African-American voters because of his association with Barack Obama. And he's getting -- he's getting a bunch of Democrats who other candidates say, "We've got to go get these people." So they're trying to chip away at this.

The problem is, that's not what those voters want to hear. What they want to hear is what the plans are for the future, and how some candidate can excite them the way Barack Obama did. And I promise you, Poppy, trashing Barack Obama isn't the way to go do that.

[10:35:13] HARLOW: So give Cory Booker your grade this morning.

MESSINA: Oh, I think A-minus. I think he had a really good night. He was a happy warrior that I've kind of been waiting to see. He really kind of went at it in a way and really stepped it up. And that was the Cory Booker that's been missing from the campaign trail, and sort of gotten lost. And I thought last night he had a breakout performance that will assuredly help him as he continues on to this thing (ph).

HARLOW: What do you mean, "happy warrior"? like the Kool-Aid joke, in that he was smiling when he was attacking, or --

MESSINA: Yes, yes. He has a little bit of Obama ability to smile when he attacks. And to kind of do it in a way that, you know, spreads a little more love than anger. And it's always been one of his positive parts (ph). You know, there's been lots of stories about him wanting to be the love candidate, not the hate candidate, and you know, he put a little spice in there last night, but he stayed love. And there's a real lane in our party for that.

HARLOW: He doesn't have a perfect record in Newark, which he admits. I mean, in his book, he write about having his head up his you-know- what -- his words -- on this DOJ intervention under the Obama administration, under Holder, in Newark.

So I just wonder if you think his, you know, contrition and his saying, like, "I was wrong," and "I got it wrong at first in Newark," is going to be enough to help him on that front, when it comes to criminal justice and that issue.

MESSINA: Well, I think you're going to see lots of candidates deal with that issue, right? Obviously, Senator Harris has dealt with it, Vice President Biden has dealt with it.

HARLOW: Right.

MESSINA: You're going to see people say, "Look, I made some mistakes when I was younger. I learned." Voters want politicians who say, "Hey, I get it. I've grown. Here's my -- here's the way I'm now thinking about it." People appreciate that.

You know, lots of people want to call them flip-floppers, that's just not the way voters look at it. They say, "OK. We all make mistakes. Tell me what you're going to do in the future.

HARLOW: They're human.

MESSINA: Yes, exactly.

HARLOW: They're actually human, Jim Messina? We're giving them that?

OK. Before you go, I -- to me, Senator Harris seemed to falter a little bit last night, compared to her first performance. Did you see an weakness there, any vulnerabilities?

MESSINA: Well, I think she was in a different role, right? This was the first role in which she's been the frontrunner, and everyone's kind of going to swing at her for the first time. And that's a different position than she was in. I do think that, you know, counter-punching doesn't come as naturally to her. I think it takes a little bit of time.

I think -- interestingly, I watched the after-debate coverage, and she was great at that. She, you know, counter-punched really well on a Tulsi Gabbard hit, she did some other stuff with the vice president. I think once she had a little time to think about it, she was really good. It's just in the debate is a much different role than her, you know

programmed role where she went after the vice president in the first debate. You know, she's going to have to now take on the slings and arrows that comes with being one of the frontrunners.

HARLOW: Sure. Yes, comes with the territory.

OK, Jim Messina, so nice to have you. Thank you.

MESSINA: My pleasure. Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes. Interesting to see Democrats sort of playing self-defense there, a bit --

HARLOW: Yes, totally.

SCIUTTO: -- Democrats made their case to voters as well. Now, President Trump gets his turn during another campaign rally in the crucial state of Ohio. We're going to speak to former Ohio governor, John Kasich, next.


[10:43:02] HARLOW: Well, tonight, the president will get his chance to rebut the debates over the past two nights, in Ohio. He's holding a rally there.

SCIUTTO: That's right. The president, headed to Ohio for that rally. You can bet he will not shy away from bringing up the Democrats. We know he was watching, he's tweeted about it. Let's discuss with former Ohio governor and CNN senior political commentator, John Kasich.

Governor, always good to have you on the program.


SCIUTTO: So, Ohio used to be a swing state. In 2016, Trump won 51, almost 52 percent to 43.7 percent. I mean, is this state even in play, based on what you hear there, in 2020?

KASICH: Well, you had a former governor who did a heck of a job. Seriously, what happened in Ohio is, things got better. I mean, people were working. We expanded Medicaid, people had health care. We were dealing with the issue of race in a significant way, fighting the drug problem. All of those things sort of contributed to, "Why do we want a change?" And there's a lot of that still in play now.

Now, I know that the recent poll shows Donald Trump losing here. But to me, the states that you have to keep your eye on are Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Those are three. And whether Trump is able to keep all of the states that he had the last time around in his column. That's what you've got to watch. HARLOW: What Democrats did you see, Governor, on the stage, night one

and night two, that you think could actually flip Ohio back and make it blue? Who could win Ohio? In your mind, not --

KASICH: Joe Biden, Joe Biden.

HARLOW: -- about the polling, but in your mind. And that's --

KASICH: And you know --

HARLOW: -- and that's it?

KASICH: -- here's the thing about --

HARLOW: Is that it?

KASICH: Yes, well, the reason --

HARLOW: Bullock --

KASICH: -- well, right now, that's what I see. You know, look, this is -- this is like the first of August, OK?


KASICH: And we're already debating. And there's a lot of people who are not watching these debates. And secondly, you have a situation where, you know, these debates may not be, at the end, as important as we think they are. That what really is going to matter is a ground game. You know, that's what I experienced in New Hampshire, which is why I was able to do so well in New Hampshire, is because I worked the ground game.

[10:45:11] So if you have people sort of tuning out of these debates -- and it's very early to be listening to these debate, you know, at the end of July -- and you -- and you rely more and more on the ground game, that's pretty significant. That changes the way in which the calculus works.

But, look, here's what I see happening. Last night everybody was attacking Biden, OK?


KASICH: He fended them off. And what's he trying to do? He's trying to stay in that sort of moderately conservative lane. So when I talk to Republicans, you know, who -- they just do not like the Democrats. And I say, "Well, what if Joe Biden was the nominee? What if Joe Biden got elected, the Senate stayed Republican" -- then they go -- "well, then they'd clip his wings," -- "Well, that might be all right."

But many of the other ones, they're just so opposed to them that, you know, that's the problem the Democrats have. You know, these big ideas that are hard-left, I don't think they're going to sell. I'm just telling you the truth. Now -- as I see it. As time goes on, could somebody emerge? I don't know. Because right now, it's sort of a scramble, right? There's nobody really emerging big-time.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

KASICH: I don't see it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, Kamala Harris did after the first debates. Less so, it seems, after this.

I wonder, as you watch this friendly fire among Democratic candidates on the stage, even with a clear frontrunner who shows a pretty broad base of support in Biden, are they damaging their own party's chances in 2020, or is this just something you expect in primaries?

Because look back at 2016. I mean --

KASICH: It may be that --

SCIUTTO: -- the battle among Republican candidates was not friendly either.

KASICH: Jim, it may be that the debate, it might be that the debate brings out sort of the negativity. So you're not hearing anybody being so overly optimistic.

But let me ask you a question. Do you think that Ronald Reagan was a great debater? He was not.


KASICH: Do you think that Barack Obama was a great debater? I think he lost all the debates to Hillary Clinton, but he ended up being the nominee. Do you think George Bush, the first, was a great debater? I don't think so.



KASICH: Do you think -- I mean, this is heck of a way to try to figure out who's going to be a good leader.

HARLOW: That's a fair point. That's a fair point, how much of it is --


HARLOW: -- debating skill, how much of it is -- how much do people, like, like you.

SCIUTTO: And Clinton won the debates against Trump, most of the polls showed too.

HARLOW: So let me just -- this matters a lot to Jim and I, it matters a lot to you. You wrote an op-ed in "USA Today" yesterday, about opioids and how you think handling the opioid crisis in Ohio can be a national model.

TEXT: Ohio can be a model for other states: The plan we developed in Ohio to start turning the tide on the opiate epidemic is a model for other states to follow and I want to share it as far and wide as possible so more lives can be saved

HARLOW: That just didn't -- it wasn't a focus, either night. And yet so many of these lawmakers represent states where this is a crisis. Medicaid expansion is part of Obamacare in Ohio, it's been a big part of the recovery for many people addicted to opioids. So I guess my question is, are you disappointed, more of these candidates didn't take the opportunity --


HARLOW: -- to talk about a huge national crisis?

KASICH: Here's what's interesting about the health care debate, 90 percent of Americans have health care, OK?


KASICH: Now, what is the issue? The issue is the rising costs. Why is it that no one on that stage is talking about the problem of the rising costs of health care? I'm not talking -- I mean, why do we want to take a system and throw it out the window when 90 percent of the people are getting what they want?

And don't they remember what happened on Obamacare? When people turned against Obamacare because they thought they were going to lose their doctor or their insurance, and they're going to repeat it again?

And, listen, I want you to understand. When I'm on CNN, I am not doing this through the lens of a Republican. My job is to look at what I see, at the president, at the Democrats.

And my sense is this. If the Democrats do not come with somebody who is more moderately conservative, and if they think they need this dramatic change to the hard-left, I don't think they're going to win. And I think people are going to say, "You know, I don't really like Donald Trump, but, you know, the fact is, is that the economy is OK."

And by the way, their constant attacking of the economy, there were Democrats that ran against me that were talking, you know, bad- mouthing Ohio's economy when the economy was good. It doesn't work.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes. I hear you.

KASICH: And talk about what you want to do. That -- so I want you to understand that. So --

SCIUTTO: No, we do. We -- we --

KASICH: On opiates, by the way, we had great success out here -- HARLOW: I know.

KASICH: -- but it took a lot of work.

HARLOW: And there's -- and there's more to be done, for sure. We'll keep the spotlight on that issue. Thank you for writing that opinion piece. Governor Kasich, we'll see you soon. Thanks so much.

[10:49:42] Quick break, we'll be right back.


HARLOW: All right. First on CNN, the U.S. has brought another alleged American ISIS fighter back home to face trial.

SCIUTTO: CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne has more.

Ryan, what do you know this morning?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Jim, we're being told that the U.S. government has brought back another U.S. citizen from detention in Syria. And he was among some 2,000 foreign fighters that are -- continue to be held in Syria. These are foreign citizens who traveled to Syria, Iraq to join ISIS. And it's become a real problem for the U.S. and its allies.

[10:55:11] The Trump administration has been pushing European countries to take back several hundred European citizens that are still being held, for having fought with ISIS.

The U.S., trying to lead by example here. This is the second U.S. citizen, repatriated to face charges in this month. But this is a real problem, and it's complicating President Trump's plans to leave Syria, because what will become of these 2,000 fighters. Should they escape, or be released -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: And there's been an issue with other countries, being willing to take back fighters of their nationalities. A bone to pick with the Trump administration.

HARLOW: That's true.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Browne, always good to have you at the Pentagon.

Coming up, we're going to hear from both Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris' campaigns: What would they have done differently last night?