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Trump Claims Support for Background Checks; Joe Walsh is Interviewed about Gun Legislation and White Supremacy; Words Trump Uses at Rallies; El Paso Suspect's Reason Behind Attack; Trump on Billionaire Hosting Fundraiser; Immigration Raids in Mississippi. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: And that's the big question, do they care. And we'll have to end it there.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Pamela Brown is in for Brianna Keilar. She starts "RIGHT NOW."

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, six days after two mass shootings in America, the two top Republicans in government signal a potential move involving gun control.

As Democrats call the president a white supremacist, does his campaign think it's helping him politically?

Plus, disturbing new details about why the suspect in El Paso decided to attack there instead of his hometown.

And think about this for a moment, the top two positions in charge of America's intelligence are empty after another official resigns.

But first, under immense pressure to act on gun control, President Trump striking an optimistic tone today that something will be done on background checks, claiming there is tremendous support for it on both sides of the aisle, including from Senator Mitch McConnell. And he says he believes the NRA will get there.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This isn't a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat. I will tell you, I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He's totally onboard. He said I've been waiting for your call.

I think we can get something really good done. I think we can have some really meaningful background checks. We don't want people that are mentally ill, people that are sick, we don't want them having guns.

I think a lot of really meaningful things on background checks will take place, including red flags, including a lot of other very, very important items.


BROWN: However, CNN has learned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not endorsed any specific strategy on gun control despite what the president just told reporters there that you just heard.

Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.

So, Kaitlan, there seems to be a bit of a mix-up here. What can you tell us?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the president is claiming, Pam, that he's gotten strong congressional support on strengthening these background checks, something he mentioned multiple times as he spoke with reporters before leaving the White House and cited conversations he has had, not only with Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but also going back to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who, in a radio interview just yesterday said he was not going to call the Senate back despite those calls from Democrats to pass that universal background checks bill that has already passed the House but that the Republicans have voiced pretty fierce opposition to.

Now, Mitch McConnell, yesterday, did sound a little bit more open than we've heard him in the past when he's been pretty opposed to any kind of background checks expansion. He did sound open to that yesterday, but as his office noted after the president's remarks today, he did not endorse any kind of specific legislation there. And though they are facing pressure, it's still unclear if the Republicans are going to do anything about this as the time goes by in between these shootings and when they come back to Capitol Hill.

The other thing the president said, he sounded hopeful about, is potentially being able to persuade the NRA to get behind strengthening background checks as well. That is at direct odds with what we've heard from the NRA just in the last 24 to 48 hours when they have said very specifically they do not think these calls to expand background checks would have stopped these two mass shootings and they also don't think it's a good idea moving forward. And it's not something that they say their supporters and their members are in favor of. They've warned the president about that in phone calls with the NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre, telling the president his base is not going to be behind those kinds -- those calls for expansions of background checks.

So the president is sounding hopeful. Whether or not his support alone can help move the Republican Party and the NRA is still something that is going to be a big question. But we should also note, the president has expressed support for background checks in the past, only to have that not go anywhere. And when he was asked about that today, he said, what he's saying now is different than what he said before. But after that shooting in Parkland, Florida, the president did express support for expanded background checks.

BROWN: And other pledges as well on gun control that he didn't follow through with. He gave in under pressure from the NRA.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much, from the White House there.

I want to bring in former Republican Illinois congressman and radio host. Joe Walsh joins me now.

Thanks for coming on, congressman.

You know, when the president talked about intelligent background checks, he said it wasn't a question of the NRA, Republicans or Democrats. Do you believe he will actually continue to take a leadership role on this and push for change? As I just noted, we've seen in the past how the NRA can persuade him otherwise.

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, you know, the problem here, Pamela, and it's always a problem with President Trump, and you know this, you just can't believe anything he says. He goes -- he's been down this road on gun control before. Nobody knows where he stands. Nobody generally knows where he stands on any issue, which is why I think Mitch McConnell and the Republicans rightly are trying to just slow walk this.

[13:05:10] This is just the president right now playing politics, I think, Pamela, because, let's be honest, he had a horrible week this week.

BROWN: He did. And, you know, Kaitlan made a good point that, what will his tone be? Will he have the same sense of urgency in a few weeks when Congress comes back into session? You know, there is this big time gap in between then.

So let me ask you directly, in light of that, do you think Mitch McConnell will get onboard with background checks? It sounds like you believe it's all talk for the most part, but what about Mitch McConnell?

WALSH: I don't, Pamela. I think, again, over the course of August, Mitch McConnell and most of the Republicans will hear from a lot of their voters. And I know like -- you know, people like to just bang the NRA over the head, but what is the NRA? The NRA is five to eight million gun owners. And I think these Republicans are going to hear from those gun owners. And these Republicans, Pamela, are going to be reminded, look, both of those shooters in El Paso and Dayton, they passed a background check.

Again, I think this is just the president talking because he had a horrible week. He's made no effort to unify this country during this terrible week.

BROWN: And he had the opportunity, of course, when he visited the victims of the El Paso mass shooting and Dayton, Ohio, as well, he had the opportunity to unify, but the president, he did thank the first responders but he also bragged about the crowd size of a rally he held in El Paso several months ago. Later the first lady tweeted a photo of herself, as we see right here on the screen, of her and the president holding an infant who lost both of his parents in the shooting. A baby, who was reportedly brought back to the hospital at the request of the White House. In fact, one hospital official saying the president really lacked empathy about bringing the baby back.

What is your reaction when you hear about this?

WALSH: Pamela, who does that? What other president would use a tragically orphaned infant as a prop? What other human being would do that? Why would President Trump stand there and smile with a thumbs up with an infant who just lost his mom and his dad?

Look, this guy in the White House is utterly incapable and completely disinterested in unifying this country. No other president would have posed in a picture like that. That's just indecent.

BROWN: Let me ask you about this reporting from Axios that Trump campaign officials think the president will benefit from being called a white supremacist by the Democrats. They actually believe it will embolden his base and alienate some mainstream Republicans.

Now, the president today said he didn't agree with that, that he doesn't think it's a good thing for him. But what do you think about the campaign's view of these calls -- or these claims that he's a white supremacist?

WALSH: Pamela, Trump believes and people around Trump believe the only way he can win is to divide this country. Again, how sad is that? So all he's doing is he's speaking to his 35 percent of the American people who would do anything for him. But this doesn't play with the vast majority of the American people.

Look, again, here we are six days removed from the --

BROWN: But could it backfire on the Democrats? But I think the point is could it backfire on the Democrats calling him a white supremacist going out there and saying that?

WALSH: No, I don't think so because this president has given them the opportunity to do that. Whether he's a white supremacist or not, Pamela, he dips his toes into that pool every day that he campaigns. So he's certainly encouraging this ugly bigotry and racism that we're seeing around the country right now.

BROWN: I want to ask you before we let you go about Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Earlier this week he portrayed the concerns about white supremacy as a hoax. It's clearly not a hoax. But what is your reaction to those comments?

WALSH: You know what, Pamela, my reaction to what Tucker said was despicable. I mean he -- Tucker said that two days after 22 people were killed by a white supremacist, Tucker Carlson said white supremacy is a hoax.

But then I get really sad, Pamela, because three to four million people listen to Tucker Carlson every single night. And when Tucker Carlson had the nerve to say white supremacy is a hoax, how many of those three to four million people watching him nodded their heads? That makes me so sad. And that's the bigger problem here.

BROWN: And we know from the FBI that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases, which are on the rise in the FBI, are white supremacists.

[13:10:06] Joe Walsh, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

WALSH: Thank you, Pamela.

BROWN: So if you listen to the words President Trump uses to describe illegal immigration, words like invasion, killer, alien, criminal and predators, they are incendiary. What's worse, a new "USA Today" analysis shows the president has used those words about 500 times since 2017.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (August 31, 2016): Zero tolerance for criminal aliens. Zero. Zero.

TRUMP (December 9, 2015): We can't allow radical killers into this country.

TRUMP (July 5, 2018): We will track down the gang members, drug dealers, child predators, and criminal aliens.

TRUMP (November 3, 2018): These people were vicious. And they broke through into Mexico, throwing rocks and stones.

TRUMP (November 4, 2018): We're not letting these people invade our country.

TRUMP (May 8, 2019): I was badly criticized for using the word "invasion." It's an invasion. How do you stop these people?


TRUMP: You can't.


BROWN: I'm going to bring in White House correspondent for "USA Today," John Fritze.

John, you counted those words. Take us through the numbers and what you learned.

JOHN FRITZE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "USA TODAY": Sure. So we wanted to dig into the transcripts of his rallies since he became president. He's done about 64 rallies since January 2017. You know, with this debate going on about whether his rhetoric is elevating the potential for violence or contributing to the kind of violence we saw in El Paso and Dayton, we wanted to sort of take a second look at what he was saying onstage and we wanted to try to quantify it somehow. And so what we found is that we're looking at words like alien and criminal, invasion, predator, those words and words like it, he's used those words 500 times as least. That's just on the rally stage. Some of those words are also cropping into official events when the president is speaking as president at a White House event.

BROWN: It's interesting because, you know, the president says his rhetoric is not divisive in the wake of the El Paso shooting in particular, where the shooter there had used some of the same language as the president.

I'm just curious, for our viewer, what was your process in coming up with these numbers?

FRITZE: Sure. Well we -- you know, we have a -- we keep a database of all of his -- all of his transcripts of all of his rallies and it was basically a process of going through, looking at each time this instance came up.

And I wanted to make sure that we only included the words if they were relevant, right? Like sometimes he uses criminal not in relation to immigration. It may be something else.

BROWN: I was just about to ask you, yes.

FRITZE: Yes, we backed all of those out. I mean I -- and there's a --

BROWN: Because there's a question of, is he talking about like MS-13 gang members calling them killers?

FRITZE: Right. Right. Exactly.

BROWN: So you took that -- you filtered that out or you --

FRITZE: That's an -- that's an important caveat. We didn't. It's an important caveat. I mean I think Trump would say, has said, and his supporters would say, and we said in the story that many of the harshest words are targeted at MS-13. We can all agree that there are killers and that's a fact.

BROWN: Yes. Absolutely.

FRITZE: But Trump also conflates MS-13 with MS -- broader immigration all the time. And, for instance, there's a quote where he says something like, you know, predators and aliens are poisoning our communities with drugs. We know he's talking about drug dealers there. That will come in a sentence dealing with much broader immigration and it can be hard to figure out like who he's referring to when he's talking about that.

BROWN: Interesting. Right.

FRITZE: You know, and --

BROWN: So he may in -- he may, in his mind, be referring to MS-13 gang members, drug dealers, but he doesn't differentiate. And so he's sort of painting ever -- those people with a broad brush.

FRITZE: Right. President Trump goes very quickly from legal immigration to illegal immigration to MS-13 killers, sometimes in a way that's not compartmentalized. And so it can be hard even when you're reading it on paper months later to figure it out. I think that if you're seeing it on a rally stage at a raucous rally where everybody's excited to see the president, it can be really hard to pick up these nuances that his supporters are talking about.

BROWN: Well, it's really interesting, your study here. And it just shows you that words matter, particularly when they come from the president of the United States.

Thank you so much, John Fritze. Do appreciate it.

FRITZE: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, disturbing new details about why the suspected gunman chose El Paso for his racist attack.

Plus, new details today about the white man who walked into a Walmart in Missouri, armed, dressed in body armor. So disturbing.

And, as the president defends his raids in Mississippi, we're hearing more about the children left without their parents and what happened inside their schools.


[13:19:07] BROWN: We are learning more about a disturbing incident at a Walmart in Missouri. Police say a man walked into the store wearing body armor and heavily armed. Understandably, it caused panic and the store cleared out, sending customers running. The man was pushing a cart and recording himself when the store's manager pulled the fire alarm. An off-duty fireman held the man until police arrived. He has been charged with making terroristic threats. That -- I'm sorry, that is just sick in the wake of the El Paso shooting where a gunman opened fire in the Walmart there.

And we are also learning that the alleged Texas shooter revealed to investigators why he chose the city of El Paso where 22 people were killed and dozens injured at a Walmart there.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has been uncovering these new details for us.

Ed, what exactly are investigators learning?


Well, three sources with knowledge of the investigation tell us that this suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, as he has been speaking with investigators this week, has shown a reticence and shame over the idea and asked why he was attacking the city of El Paso, that he had expressed some reticence and shame of carrying out this deadly attack in his hometown in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas. We are told that he thought it would be wrong to carry out this -- this attack near his hometown in that he was worried that his family and friends would find out about it and then they would know it was him. [13:20:35] Of course, that is a preposterous idea considering that this attack was going to garner worldwide headlines no matter where it happened. But it is an insight into some of the conversations that investigators have been having with this suspect.

It doesn't really change, Pamela, the underlying motive that investigators still believe is behind this attack that was expressed in that manifesto, that this suspect was -- feared a Hispanic invasion of Texas and that there was a racist motivation behind all of this. But it does give your some insight into the very question that so many people here in El Paso are still struggling to find an answer to, as to why their hometown was chosen and they were targeted in this way.

BROWN: It's just crazy, such a senseless act, yet he put the thought into, you know, making sure it wasn't his hometown and he chose El Paso.

Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for bringing us that reporting there in Texas.

Well, President Trump says the billionaire under fire for hosting a fundraiser is, quote, even hotter now as the billionaire's own companies protest it.

Plus, we're hearing from more children who were left alone without their parents, as the president defends those massive ICE raids.


[13:26:30] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: No more silence. End gun violence.


BROWN: President Trump was greeted by protesters as he arrived in South Hampton, New York, for a controversial fundraiser hosted by Stephen Ross, the billionaire investor and the SoulCycle and Equinox gyms. Well, that isn't sitting well some with customers. Many are calling for a boycott of the fitness chains. Ross is also the owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

Cristina Alesci is in South Hampton for us.

Cristina, what is President Trump saying about this controversy?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, first off, there is a fierce backlash against SoulCycle and Equinox. SoulCycle is right behind me. These are two brands that Stephen Ross, who's hosting the fundraiser for Trump, backs. He's an investor in both of those brands.

And these brands really promote inclusion, diversity, LGBTQ rights. So clientele really feel betrayed by the fact that a partial owner of this business is going ahead and supporting Trump in this way. And now there are calls for boycotts online. The company clearly feeling the heat, trying to distance itself from Stephen Ross.

And President Trump himself, to your point, probably didn't help because as he was leaving the White House today, he basically highlighted the friendship between the two men and he said Stephen Ross is not suffering, clearly trying to counter this criticism that there is a backlash against Ross.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stephen Ross is a great friend of mine. He's a very successful guy. We were competitors, but friends in real estate in New York in the old days. He's a great guy. He is -- by the way, I think he's probably more inclined to be a liberal, if you want to know the truth, but he likes me, he respects me. We're doing a fundraiser there.

The controversy makes Steve Ross hotter. He'll figure that out in about a week. But he's very happy. He's got a very successful -- a lot of people are going.


ALESCI: SoulCycle clearly doesn't think that this makes their brand any hotter. They're out there today basically telling employees that they're going to be hosting social justice rides, basically free rides. The proceeds will be covered by the company and then donated to a charity of the instructor's choice. Again, trying to combat the criticism.

Pam, back to you.

BROWN: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there.

Meantime, President Trump is defending the ICE raids that targeted nearly 700 undocumented workers in Mississippi, leaving many children without their parents.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want people to know that if they come into the United States illegally, they're getting out. They're going to be brought out. And this serves as a very good deterrent. If people come into our country illegally, they're going out.


BROWN: I want to bring in our Nick Valencia in Jackson, Mississippi.

It's interesting there, Nick, the president didn't address all of these children who were left without their parents in the raids. What's the latest there? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's absolutely an emotional scene

here in these communities. And what happens to these communities and what is happening here throughout the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi, is what happens to a lot of these communities that see these raids, they become ghost towns.

[13:29:51] But I want to get to some new information that we just got a little while ago, Pamela, from an ICE spokesman who tells me that the raids that we saw here on Wednesday, those massive raids, were part of a broader federal criminal investigation. In fact, we're outside in front of the U.S. attorney's office here in the southern district of Mississippi where we just got our hands on these probable cause affidavits. Affidavits