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Trump Looking to Background Checks; Dems Descend on Iowa State Fair; Dems Face Voters and Hecklers at Iowa State Fair. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired August 8, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:20] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. John King is off.

The president publically defending his trips to Dayton and El Paso while privately asking about executive action options on background checks.

Plus, a Trump fundraiser is causing a lot of headaches for Equinox and SoulCycle.

And no presidential campaign is complete without a trek back to Iowa for the state fair. The candidates are on the ground and the voters, they're still trying to figure out who's who.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's our corn down there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That -- that could be a potentially 200-bushel yield in that very fertile bottom.

WARREN: Uh-uh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These little soldiers --

WARREN: Uh-huh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Growing up are turnips planted about a week ago is all.

WARREN: Uh-huh.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Who looks good to you right now out of all these candidates?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think we have an embarrassment of riches.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biden looks good to us. Warren looks good.

And who do you like? Umm, what's her beef (ph).




HENDERSON: We begin the hour with a pair of familiar questions after gun massacres. What now and will anything get done? Today, a White House official tells CNN the president is considering an executive order to tighten the country's background check system in the wake of the deadly shootings in El Paso and in Dayton. The president publicly supported stronger background checks on the White House lawn.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important. I don't want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate, sick people. I don't want to -- I'm all -- I'm all in favor of it.


HENDERSON: But will that be the president's final word or will he change his mind? Another familiar question. The president waivered before after the Parkland school massacre under major pressure from the NRA. According to "the Washington post," the NRA's top official, Wayne LaPierre, called the White House Tuesday night and warned the president his base will revolt should he move on gun control. This morning, Dayton's mayor hopes the president's promises aren't empty.


MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D-OH): For Daytonians, you know, what we're really hoping to see is some action. And we just hope he's just not an all- talk politician.


HENDERSON: And we'll get straight to the White House and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, we've seen this before. What's your sense of the current White House thinking on gun control, specifically on background checks?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question a lot has to do with the pressure that's on not only the president but also Republicans because in times like this where the cable news coverage and the newspaper headlines are constantly about what the president is going to do, what Republicans are going to do and what his critics are saying, often that's something that the president is talking about a lot privately. But people have noted that as this stops being in the headlines, there's a chance it loses momentum in Washington for anything to happen. Now, right now the president is expressing support for these

background checks, not just on the South Lawn, as you showed there yesterday, but also privately he's been talking about it with aides and lawmakers as well, trying to get a sense of what the political appetite for that is, which right now he's telling people he believes is strong.

But, of course, the question is whether or not that's something the president actually moves forward with because as we've reported, he's had calls with that NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre, who we know has affected his opinion in the past.

Now, this all comes as the president is also facing some criticism and lashing out over the response to his visits to those two cities yesterday, those cities that were struck by these tragedies over the weekend. And while the White House did not let reporters in because they said they didn't want those visits to hospitals to be a photo opportunity, they did later release videos of their own. And now we're getting another look at just what it was that the president was doing, particularly in the hospital in El Paso. And we're getting a video from someone who was in the hospital that shows the president praising the medical staff there, praising them and their response to essentially what is such a tragedy, but then also pivoting to talk about himself.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at this group of people, can you believe this? Good looking people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are fantastic.

D. TRUMP: I was here three months ago. We made a speech. And we had a -- what was the name of the arena? That place was packed, right?


D. TRUMP: Some members of the crowd.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: Thank you for all that you do. Thank you.

D. TRUMP: And we had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot.


COLLINS: So you see the president there talking about that rally he had back in February when Beto O'Rourke also held a counter rally against the president talking about the crowd sizes while meeting with some of those people who were injured in that shooting in El Paso over the weekend.

[12:05:00] We should also note that right now that the city of El Paso has confirmed that the president and his campaign do still owe them over half a million dollars in response -- for police fees, safety, public officials fees from that rally, that they still have not paid the city of El Paso yet.

HENDERSON: Kaitlan, I can't imagine that a lot of folks in the White House think this was a successful visit on many accounts with the release of that video you just showed. The president there talking about his favorite topic, himself, instead of doing what we've seen other presidents do.

Thanks for that report, Kaitlan.

And here with me to share their reporting and insights, Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," Heather Caygle with "Politico," Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and Elena Schor with "The Associated Press."

Here we are again. I know all of you have been around tables like this before and on panels like this before talking about shootings and talking about what's next in terms of gun control.

What's your sense, Toluse, of how serious this president is? He's talked about background checks on the White House South Lawn there. He even said that he's willing to pressure Republicans he knows would be in a difficult position. What's your sense of how serious he is about this?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he said that in the past and --


OLORUNNIPA: You know, Republicans are afraid of the NRA but he isn't. But we heard and we reported in "The Washington Post" that the president was on the phone with the head of the NRA just a couple of nights ago and the president is hearing from the gun lobby basically what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. And right now he's saying, what is the political appetite on Congress. He's not saying, let me lead Congress and let me push them in the right direction because a number of members of Congress are saying, we're only going to be able to go as far as the president will lead us. And the president is instead saying, let me take the pulse of Congress, let me see what appetite there is for background checks. Definitely not for anything --


OLORUNNIPA: As far as an assault weapons ban.

But if there's going to be a movement on background checks, it doesn't seem like the president's going to lead that movement. It seems like he's going to be a follower and see where -- how far Republicans are willing to go. And then once he has a sense of that, then move in that direction.

HENDERSON: And you had Joe Manchin, who talked to folks in your paper, who, of course, was part of the Manchin-Toomey bill, here's what he had to say. If you don't stand up and say, this is a piece of legislation I support, we're not going to get enough cover to have Republicans stand tall. They won't be able to do it.

Of course he's saying that Trump should give these folks cover. But, again, the NRA a major factor.

And when you start to just look at the numbers, right, what Republicans can you imagine voting for a background check, even given the fact that lots of Republican average voters actually support it, Heather.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think, you know, the House passed its version of the universal background checks earlier this year. And it was a very middle ground version. Their whole -- Democrats' whole goal was to pass something that Republicans could support. Only eight Republicans crossed the aisle and supported it. And there's probably far less in the Senate. You know, you would need 60 votes. McConnell said he didn't -- hasn't said publicly but he's said through his allies this week, we do not have the votes for this. I will not bring it up until we have the votes. We are unlikely to have the votes.

HENDERSON: And maybe there's a smaller version of, you know, gun control or something like, you know, red flag laws or something like that.

ELANA SCHOR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Absolutely. McConnell has indicated he is interested in working on red flag laws. The question there though is, how many Democrats are willing to come to the table because they see public opinion overwhelmingly with things like the assault weapons ban, with universal background checks. It's important to remember, to Heather's point, that the Republicans in the Senate have actually lost supporters of the Manchin-Toomey bill since the last time it came up and failed. So McConnell may be right in that sense. The numbers just aren't there absent a push from Trump that hasn't appeared.

HENDERSON: And the public is certainly there. You had this "Time" magazine cover really outlining and giving sort of a scope of how massive this is and I think echoing public sentiment with that cover line saying enough, but again Congress, particularly the Senate, doesn't seem to be there yet.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, and, look, the public, I think, I'm sure the -- I believe those -- the surveys that suggest that there's like these overwhelming majorities, but the passion behind this as an issue fades. And, you know, President Obama found that after the Newtown Sandy Hook shootings. You know, there were a lot of people that were counseling him to try to do this within a matter of days after those shootings, to sort of get past the grieving and then immediately try to push some kind of a gun control agenda. And he chose not to. And they waited months. And by the time they got to March, and, you know, the -- and pursued the legislation, the passion was gone. I mean and that's a sad thing to say about the country. It's a sad thing to say about our media and the public. People move on. And if -- you know, we say, this 20 slaughtered kindergarteners wasn't enough to like keep the pressure on over the -- over the sort of time period that it takes to do this, then I can't imagine what would be.

HENDERSON: And you've had some movement in some of these states that have seen some of these massacres, in Connecticut, for instance, Florida too. And we heard in Ohio from folks there in the wake of Trump visiting, and here's what they had to say about the president's presence with those victims in Ohio.

[12:10:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): He was comforting --

MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D-DAYTON, OH.): He was very nice.

BROWN: And he did the right things. And Melania did the right things. And it's his job in part to comfort people. I'm glad he did it in those hospital rooms.

WHALEY: I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.


HENDERSON: And, of course, Toluse, this wasn't the end of it. The president didn't much like what those folks said, even though they were pretty complimentary of what he said. He later took to Twitter and said of those comments, just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with victims and families, law enforcement, medical staff and first responders. It was a warm and wonderful visit, tremendous enthusiasm and even love. Then I saw failed presidential candidate Sherrod Brown and Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud and bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing.

The president, again, every day is (INAUDIBLE) with him, even as the country is mourning dead in Dayton and El Paso.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, the president is much more comfortable not comforting other people but attacking his political foes and even creating controversy where there wasn't any. You know, he had two political opponents who don't support him on policy but who are willing to say, you know, the president was comforting, that he did a good job in the room. But he took that and took it -- the negative version of that and decided to go on the attack. And yesterday we heard the president attacking not only those two politicians but also Joe Biden, Fox News hosts and all manner of different people because he's much more comfortable being in the attack mode.

HENDERSON: On the attack.

And even when they're sort of not opponents, those two folks were pretty complimentary. He sort of creates (ph) that.

SHEAR: But can -- but can I just say -- I will say, I -- you know, we -- we -- there's been a lot of talk about the president's behavior yesterday. I also think that we are in such a polarizing time, I cannot remember a time prior to this that a candidate for president, like Joe Biden, would not have delayed that speech. It was a speech that was attacking a political -- it wasn't a high-minded speech. It wasn't a -- you know, it was an aggressive attack speech. And in the 2008 cycle, the 2012 cycle, I cannot imagine that if -- if Mitt Romney or John McCain or somebody else was delivering -- was preparing to deliver that kind of speech, they would have delayed it on a day of what should have been grieving for the -- with the nation and with these people. And so, you know, there is behavior on both sides here that has, not to necessarily equalize them, but like, you know, we're in such a moment that things are happening that I just don't remember from what happened before.

HENDERSON: And we'll talk more about that later in the show, Biden and other Democrats are really ramping up the rhetoric in this moment about Donald Trump and guns and white supremacy.

Up next, we head to the Iowa State Fair, where you can expect corn dogs, funnel cakes and lots of unscripted moments likely to go down in campaign history.


MITT ROMNEY (R), 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (August 11, 2011): We have to make sure that the promises we make on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are promises we can keep. And there are various ways of doing that. One is we could raise taxes on people. That's the way --

CROWD: Corporations!

ROMNEY: That's --

CROWD: Corporations --

CROWD: Big time rich corporations.

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

CROWD: No, they're not.

ROMNEY: We can raise taxes on -- of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.

Where do you think it goes?

CROWD: (INAUDIBLE) their pockets.


ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings, my friend.


[12:18:04] HENDERSON: Welcome back. The 2020 Democrats are preparing for their first major Iowa event of

the campaign. Today marks the opening day of the Iowa State Fair. And I couldn't be more excited, clearly. Most of the candidates will be stopping by giving soap box speeches and flipping pork burgers and trying to avoid any major faux pass.

Meanwhile, Democrats are getting a look inside the minds of likely caucus goers. A brand new Monmouth University poll out today, good news for Joe Biden, he's leading the field with 28 percent. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both seeing a bounce from a few months ago. They're at 19 percent and 11 percent respectively. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg rounding out the top five with 9 percent and 8 percent.

We've got CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who joins me live from the hallowed Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Jeff, you've got the best assignment. You look tan. You look rested. What are you looking for out of the state fair this year, and what strikes you about this new poll we've got out showing Biden on top?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nia, there's no question that Joe Biden does remain the summertime leader of this race. Of course we should point out every caveat possible that these polls are a snapshot in time. You know, voters are just tuning into this.

But if you're Joe Biden, you are happy that you're entering August in this position after a rocky first debate performance, a stronger second debate performance. Clearly, at least here in Iowa, which is going to be critical to Joe Biden's prospects going forward, he is still the leader. But I think the biggest take away from that, as you said, is the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren essential flip.

Bernie Sanders nearly won Iowa four years ago. Just a whisker behind Hillary Clinton in the 2016 caucuses. So many progressives here thought that he would be the leader at least on that side of the field going into this. But it's clear, based on this poll, and just other reporting we're doing on the ground, that Elizabeth Warren really is having a strong summer. She's well organized here. And in many respects, a lot of voters see her as Bernie 2.0, if you will.

[12:20:04] But, Nia, I caught up with one Democratic activist who's volunteering here at the fair this morning and this is what he said about summer frontrunners in Iowa.


JON NEIDERBACH, VOLUNTEER, IOWA DEMOCRATIC PARTY BOOTH: After Thanksgiving people will start really coalescing around my guess two or three or four candidates. Then we'll see whether Joe Biden still has a majority or not.

ZELENY: So you're not sure that he is the frontrunner?

NEIDERBACH: Well, he's the frontrunner right now, but a lot -- you know, remember the time Howard Dean was the frontrunner. He obviously didn't win the caucus. It's a long way to go yet.

ZELENY: So a long way to go yet. That is certainly true. Some six months or so until those Iowa caucuses. But, again, if you're Joe Biden, you want to be in this position.

Nia, one thing we'll be keeping an eye on this afternoon as Joe Biden addresses "The Des Moines Register" soapbox crowd, that's giving a speech here to a variety of people, they're not just talking to Democrats here. A lot of Republicans are here at the Iowa State Fair as well.

Iowa was once a swing state. Barack Obama won it twice, in 2008 and 2012. Donald Trump carried it four years ago. So that, of course, is the overriding picture here. Which Democrat are Democrats going to nominate what can be competitive with Donald Trump in the general election here in Iowa?


HENDERSON: It's early. It's summer. Jeff, thanks for that reporting. Bring me back some cotton candy and maybe a candy apple or something.

ZELENY: Sure. You got it.

HENDERSON: All right.

And we also want to note that Andrew Yang, in that poll, he was at 2 percent, so that means he's going to -- I think he's got a couple more polls to qualify for this debate.

But one of the things about this Iowa State Fair is, you know, it's fun, you're there with a bunch of people. Part of the challenge is just seeming like a normal person, I imagine.

SCHOR: Absolutely. It's a real test of these politicians' ability to seem spontaneous in kind of a stressful situation with some uncontrollable crowds, you know, people pushing food in front of you. I mean I'm, frankly, most worried about Cory Booker, who's a vegan. Like, what's he going to do with a burger in front of him?


SCHOR: How do you negotiate the fry switch (INAUDIBLE), you know?

HENDERSON: Awkward. Yes.

SCHOR: So, like, it will really sort of separate, I think, the candidates who can think well on their feet and connect well on their feet from those who can't.


And we see Kamala Harris, who was about 11 percent in that poll, she's trying to stand out. She's got a new ad up and here's a part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After we were fed and in bed, our mother would sit up trying to figure out how to make it all work. That's what I'm fighting for, real relief for families like yours. Not in 20 years, not in 30, starting my first day as president, because you've waited long enough to get a good night's sleep.


HENDERSON: This 3:00 a.m. agenda, Heather, it's something we heard, I think, in that first debate. It is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's. I think hers was a 6:00 a.m. agenda. It's --

CAYGLE: It's 3:00 a.m., who do you want answering the White House phone.

HENDERSON: Who do you want answering -- OK. OK. Yes.

And so Kamala Harris, up with a similar sort of framing, laying out all of her policy positions. But she is -- is in a crowded field. She's at 11 percent, struggling a bit.

CAYGLE: Yes, she is. And I think the message here gets back Elana's point earlier, which is, she's trying to say, I'm one of you guys.


CAYGLE: I know what it's like to be a middle class person. I know how to struggle. I know how to help you.

I think the point I want to make is the Iowa State Fair is a must-stop on any campaign, but I think most candidates just want to get out of it without going viral for the wrong reasons. Back in '87, Joe Biden gave a speech there. That's when the plagiarism scandal took hold. He dropped out, you know, shortly after. So I think everyone is kind of hoping to get through unscathed. And so we'll see what happens.

HENDERSON: And we flash back to 2008. You mentioned Biden in 1987. You go back to 2008, he was at 1 -- he finished with 1 percent. Didn't do too well back then. And Obama, of course, 38 percent, catapulting -- I think catapulting him to the -- to the nomination. A likely difficult, I think, in this moment to transition from these conversations that folks are having about guns, about white supremacy, to kind of the part of it the state fair is about eating pork chops on a stick, Michael.

SHEAR: Yes. I mean, look, it's kind of an unfortunate, you know, pairing of kind of moments. The fair is very light-hearted and the rest of this week has been anything but.

I think, for the most part, though, the candidates recognize that with -- unless something goes viral, as Heather said, the attention being paid to what they do at the Iowa State Fair is largely in Iowa. I mean it's really -- you know, they -- that's what the retail campaigning in Iowa is all about, it's connecting to Iowans in this very sort of odd way that the -- that presidential politics works in that state. It's a caucus. They have to sort of, you know, connect with them on a personal level and the Iowa State Fair is part of that.

But I think they're hoping that, you know, that that's sort of what happens in Iowa stays in Iowa kind of thing and then they can move on.

HENDERSON: And hoping to survive their soapbox moments. Here are a few from years past.


JEB BUSH (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (August 2015): Everybody in Iraq and everybody in Washington knew that this deal could have been expanded. And now what we need to do --

[12:25:01] CROWD: Your brother signed a bad deal.

BUSH: Now -- now we need to do something else.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (August 2015): Oh, here we go.

CROWD: Governor Christie, (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: I have to tell you the truth, when something like that happens, and I'm here in Iowa, man, I feel right at home.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (August 2015): Again, unintimidated. I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there. I will fight for the American people over and over and over and over again.


HENDERSON: Toluse, what are -- I love the again unintimidated line. What's your sense, Toluse, you look at somebody like Biden, or any of the other candidates who are in the top five, what are some of the challenges they're going to face going into Iowa?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, so, for Biden, he has the challenge that he's sort of at the very same -- the same place he was before he got into the race.


OLORUNNIPA: And you're seeing movement by people like Elizabeth Warren, who seem to be on his heels. For Bernie Sanders, he seems to be retreating and seeming to see some of his support go to Elizabeth Warren.

Some of the other candidates, there are so many that are below 1 percent or that are struggling to break out and do anything to really shake up the trajectory of the race that, you know, four months after the last poll, Biden still is kind of in the same position where he is and there is only movement from a few different candidates in the -- in the upward side. The fact that they're going to be voting in, you know, six months or so, the fact that we've seen so much happen in the news and we haven't actually seen --

HENDERSON: Movement.

OLORUNNIPA: The movement by so many different candidates, especially those polling at 2 percent or lower, they're going to have to do something to change that.

HENDERSON: Booker in particular, he's got a pretty big operation down there --

SHEAR: And Beto.

HENDERSON: And Beto. And Pete Buttigieg as well. A lot of these folks who are in the single digits betting it all on Iowa. They've got to make some movement.

And one more thing we want to note about this Monmouth University poll. Andrew Yang, I talked about this before, locking in 2 percent of the vote among likely Iowa caucus goers. That means he has officially qualified for the debate stage in September. He's the ninth Democrat to meet the polling and fundraising requirements.

And we'll be right back.