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Trump Talks About the NRA; Trump Talks About Gun Policy; 2020 Democrats Prepare for Wing Ding Dinner; 2020 Democrats on Trump as a White Supremacist. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:27] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. John King is off.

The president today spent 33 minutes talking to reporters this morning. Most of that was dedicated to his response to mass shootings in America. He said his influential over gun policy is stronger now than in past years, and he once again blamed mental health, not guns, for the horrific shootings that killed dozens of people just this past week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The gun doesn't pull the trigger, a mind, a sick mind pulls the trigger.

We want to take the guns out of the hands of crazy, demented, sick people.

I don't want to have crazy people having guns.


HENDERSON: We begin the hour right there with a big and risky promise. The president says he can bend the big gun lobby to his will.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a great relationship with the NRA. They supported me very early. And that's been a great decision they made.

We'll see where the NRA will be. But we have to have meaningful background checks.

The NRA, I've spoken to them numerous times. They're really good people. They're great patriots. They love our country. They love our country so much. And, frankly, I really think they're going to get there also.

I think in the end Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe we'll be a little bit more neutral. And that would be OK too. CROWD: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: But, look, look, the NRA has over the years, taken a very, very tough stance on everything, and I understand it. You know, it's a slippery slope. They think you approve one thing and that leads to a lot of bad things. I don't agree with that.


HENDERSON: President Trump this morning on the White House lawn says tighter background checks now have tremendous support after two massacres put the country's gun problem back on front pages. This moment, the president insists, is different than all the others. After Parkland, after Las Vegas, after Sandy Hook, after every other mass shooting that sparked the very same national conversation about guns.

But what exactly the president wants remains quite murky. He didn't define what meaningful background checks actually looked like, but his bed (ph) is clear that the NRA and his base will follow him wherever he goes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're looking at Toomey- Manchin. We actually, if you look, there are many bills that have been put in over a period of four or five years. They went nowhere. But there's never been a president like President Trump.

I think my base relies very much on common sense and they rely on me in terms of telling them what's happening.


HENDERSON: Here with us to share their reporting and their insights, we've got CNN's Manu Raju, Annie Linskey with "The Washington Post," John Bresnahan with "Politico," and Catherine Lucey with "The Wall Street Journal."

So here we are again everyone, a mass shooting, the president reacting to it. Mitch McConnell talking about it as well as other Republicans.

A lot of people are in the president's ear on this issue, Manu. Who ultimately wins out?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems a lot like what we heard in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre when the president made some very similar remarks. That we're going to be very strong on background checks, made that -- those famous comments that they're going to -- he's willing to take on the NRA, criticized some Republicans for not standing up to the NRA. And what happened ultimately? The president did not move forward the way that he did under pressure from the NRA. So right now, yes, he's talking about doing something on background checks. The word that he's been used -- been qualifying what he wants to do, he says sensible background checks. But what is sensible and meaningful?

HENDERSON: Right. And meaningful and -- yes, and important (ph).

RAJU: And what exactly does that mean? There are lots of different versions of background checks bills (ph). The House version is a universal background checks bill. The White House already opposes that. Republicans already oppose that bill. It's not going to pass the Senate.

The Manchin-Toomey bill deals with -- is narrower than the House- passed bill because it deals with commercial transactions, not private transactions. That bill failed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre.

HENDERSON: Right, it got four Republicans to vote for it.

RAJU: Exactly. And --

HENDERSON: Two aren't even in the Senate anymore.

RAJU: And a lot of -- most -- a lot of the Republicans still serve in the Senate. So that still has a -- it's very unlikely to pass. So what ultimately gets passed. It seems at the moment this is talk. We'll see when it actually gets (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: Look, President Trump here saying that he's got more influence, greater influence over gun policy than he did in the past.

[12:05:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On background checks, we have tremendous support for really common-sense, sensible, important background checks.

I think with a lot of success that we have, I think I have a greater influence now over the Senate and over the House.


TRUMP: I think we can get something really good done.


HENDERSON: And the idea of the president saying he can move his base on this, but in the past we've obviously seen his base move him.

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF, "POLITICO": I mean this will be a huge test for Trump.


BRESNAHAN: And think about where he's -- what -- where he's changed Republican ideology on trade, on immigration. He's moved the party in a whole new direction.

Guns is another issue. I mean he noted in his remarks today that the NRA supported him early and they've supported him very actively. They've dumped tens of millions of dollars into his re-election -- into his election in 2016. Now, they don't have the money this time --


BRESNAHAN: So we'll see what -- we'll see what happens.

And another point, our colleagues in Florida reported today the Trump campaign in Florida is sending volunteers to gun shows to register Republicans. Is that the base he's going to go after here? So, I mean, he's in a --

HENDERSON: Yes, that's interesting. Yes.

BRESNAHAN: It's a tough place for him.

HENDERSON: And here was Wayne LaPierre of -- who, of course, is one of those voices in the president's ear. This is what he had to say. The NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. The inconvenient truth is this, the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. Worse, they would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.

Annie, you want to jump in.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. I mean that's exactly what we've heard from the NRA in the past. It's sort of a -- you know, almost cookie-cutter statement from them.


LINSKEY: But what's changed here and what I think this will be a test for the NRA as well is, this organization is not the NRA it was two or three years ago. I mean they are -- they have had an enormous amount of internal turmoil. Chris Cox, their long-time top lobbyist is no longer part of this organization. And we're having, you know, headline after headline over the problems that they're having.

So I think it will be interesting to see if they really do have the muscle that they've had in the past or if they're -- they are internally distracted. I mean you could see it playing either way, where something like this brings the organization back together again, but they saw real losses in 2018 in those -- in those midterm elections and so organization --

HENDERSON: The suburban districts.

LINSKEY: Yes, the suburban districts. Absolutely right. And the organization just is not as united as it's been in the past.

HENDERSON: What is striking about this, even though the president on the South Lawn said he didn't talk this way after Parkland, we'll pull up this clip of the president after Parkland sounding exactly like he sounds now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (February 21, 2018): We're going to be very strong on background checks. We're going to be doing very strong background checks.

TRUMP (February 23, 2018): We want to be very powerful, very strong on background checks.

We certainly have to strengthen background checks. Everybody agrees with that.

TRUMP (February 27, 2018): We're really, I think, going to have the support of the NRA having to do with background checks. Very strong background checks.

TRUMP (February 28, 2019): I think it's time -- it's time that a president stepped up. And we haven't had them in -- I'm talking Democrat and Republican presidents, they have not stepped up.

TRUMP (February 21, 2019): It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It's been going on too long. Too many instances. And we're going to get it done.


HENDERSON: You know, the similarity is remarkable. In many ways he sounds stronger back then than he does now, saying, you know, they're going to be strong background checks, for instance.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, and at that time, as Manu said, he held a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House, accused some of them of not being tough enough with the NRA, insisted he would be tougher with the NRA. And then ultimately after some conversations with the NRA kind of backed away from some of this.

So I think the thing we really have to watch is, as you said, the specificity in what he will actually get behind with legislation because you have a lot of Republican senators who aren't going to make any moves unless they know they have cover from the president. And we've seen this not just on guns, but on lots of issues where they are really waiting for a signal from the White House that the legislation that's moving along will have White House backing.


LUCEY: That they're not going to walk out on something that he's not going to be with them on.

RAJU: And that's been the test for Trump for so long because when he moderates on some of these issues, he gets blowback from the right, then he ultimately goes back to what his base ultimately wants. Will he decide to moderate on this issue and risk the wrath from the right? I think that's still very much an open question.

LUCEY: And we heard from, you know, Senator McConnell yesterday saying that there will be a debate, they will bring this up, and some saw this as a, you know, as a move from him just acknowledging that there would actually --

HENDERSON: Yes, and he said --

LUCEY: Be discussion and conversation on this --


LUCEY: And that he cited background checks and red flag laws as two things that will be the center of the conversation, but he wasn't committing at this point to anything specific either.


LUCEY: So we really have to see.

LINSKEY: I think that's right.

HENDERSON: We'll see where this goes.

[12:09:51] Next, all eyes on Mitch McConnell.


HENDERSON: The president assumes Republicans in Congress will follow his lead on background checks. And, today, he said Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already with him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Frankly, we need intelligent background checks, OK? This isn't a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat. I will tell you, I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He's totally onboard.


HENDERSON: Already McConnell's office says there is a big disagreement over what "totally onboard" actually means, but both Trump and McConnell are now on record and agree on at least one thing, that the Senate can wait out these next three weeks.

[12:15:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the time you call them back, they're going to be back anyway. I don't think we'll need to call them back. I think we'll have a very good package by the time they come back and they can start debating and voting on it them. So I really don't think, for the extra little time, it matters.

Leadership is doing a really good job.


HENDERSON: And, Manu, you've got some of the reporting from Mitch McConnell, his office, about where he is on any of this. Obviously you saw Donald Trump there making the big claim that he is on board. RAJU: Yes, I mean, there's -- the president has been trying to suggest

that there's some serious movement when there actually is none at the moment. What McConnell is open to is not any specific piece of legislation. His office made that clear after the president's remarks that he was totally onboard. Instead saying that he's open to broad -- they talked about broad policy ideas, a larger outline of what can be done. And McConnell has dispatched his chairmen -- key chairman to try to figure out what legislative solution can move ahead.

What seems to be happening here, McConnell does not want to bring the Senate back because, if he did, the Republicans would be getting hammered every single day by Democrats who go to the floor and demand they pass the House passed bill, which does not have the votes to pass.


RAJU: And the Republicans don't have a solution of their own. So can they cobble something together in the next few weeks that could give them cover? Potentially. This red flag legislation to empower localities to try to deny people --

HENDERSON: This is with Graham and Blumenthal and (INAUDIBLE) --

RAJU: Yes, and there's some -- a few other different versions of that.

HENDERSON: And grant money to the different states to encourage them to implement these red flag laws.

RAJU: Yes, that's possible that could pass, but that's going to take some time to play out.


And we heard McConnell. He was talking to a local radio station about whether or not the Senate was going to come back.


TERRY MEINERS, TALK SHOW HOST: You're not calling people back in early for -- to address this gun legislation?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, if we -- if we did that, we'd -- we'd just have people scoring points and nothing would happen. Then -- there has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on. If we do it prematurely, it will just be another frustrating experience for all of us and for the public where people are just trying to score political points, they're not trying to get an outcome.


HENDERSON: The delay probably works against anything getting done, I would imagine, because that's what we've seen time and time again.

LUCEY: Yes. Certainly Democrats, advocates of doing something, would say that time is not their friend here. That the urgency of this moment, after these two mass shootings, is what's driving the conversation. And we've seen, especially in, you know, in President Trump's White House, when there is so much news and so many things happening, that things can get pushed out of the headlines. They just can. And so there's a big concern among advocates that three weeks, you know, sort of blunts their momentum.


And, Catherine, you mentioned McConnell's language on front and center. I think a lot of people heard that and thought this was sort of a different place that Mitch McConnell was.

Here he is with this quote around being front and center of the background checks.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There's also been some discussion about background checks. And that's an issue that's been around for a while.

TERRY MEINERS, RADIO SHOW HOST: Ninety percent of Americans believe in -- according to the most recent -- I saw it in "Politico," a morning consult poll, 90 percent say --

MCCONNELL: Well, there's a lot of -- a lot of support for that. And there's a bipartisan bill in the Senate, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat. So those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.


HENDERSON: You want to jump in here?

: Yes, because he's talking about Manchin-Toomey. Now, Lindsey Graham is on Air Force One today --


BRESNAHAN: And he gave a pool report -- he was speaking to reporters and he said, we're not for Manchin-Toomey. So --

RAJU: They all voted against it.

BRESNAHAN: (INAUDIBLE) -- they've all voted against it.


BRESNAHAN: So -- and then Tom Barrasso was in the Senate today because they were, you know, in a performance session. He said he's not for background checks or red flag.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes. This is -- we're reporting. Yes. As -- this is him. As for bipartisan background checks legislation, which he previously voted against and has repeatedly fallen short in the Senate, he said, I don't expect things have changed much.

BRESNAHAN: Well, there's two points I want to make here. Trump will do whatever Trump thinks he needs to do for his re-election and he won't care what -- you know, where the party goes. He thinks -- he'll do what he wants to do.

You saw it before the 2018 election. He kept pushing the caravans and that was a disaster for House Republicans. They, you know, that was not the argument they needed to make down -- going down the -- down to the election.


BRESNAHAN: And the second part is, look at the Senate races in 2020. You have, you know, Purdue in Georgia, you have John Cornyn in Texas.


BRESNAHAN: These are not states -- these are really strong gun rights states. But then again, you have Colorado and you have Maine.

HENDERSON: The suburbs --

BRESNAHAN: Yes, I mean McConnell is in a different -- he's a different dynamic.

HENDERSON: Yes. Annie, you want to jump in.

LINSKEY: You know, I do want to say that's a good point because I think it is true that typically when you have more time, the sort of urgency to get anything done fades.


[12:20:05] LINSKEY: The exception here may be all of these members of Congress are back home and they're -- they may be here if -- if activists want to start a real momentum, this is when they can start getting into town hall meetings and really pushing these members.


LINSKEY: And that's when members come -- come back to -- to Washington and say, oh, my goodness, I've been hearing from -- from my constituents and maybe we do have to do something.

So I think the ball is very much in the activists' court. And if they are more energized --

HENDERSON: And the --

RAJU: But one challenge, though, is that's why they don't have town halls anymore.

LINSKEY: Right. Right.

HENDERSON: No town halls. LUCEY: And one direction -- oh, sorry. So one direction it may go is

in this red flags direction.


LUCEY: You heard the president repeatedly talk about mental health --

HENDERSON: Mental health and mental illness.

LUCEY: Getting guns out of the hands of people with mental illness.

HENDERSON: It's a sort of small (INAUDIBLE).

LUCEY: So that could be a direction where there is some agreement.

HENDERSON: And we'll see how Democrats feel about that because they've already said, you know, these red flag laws without background checks are sort of meaningless, so we'll see.

Up next we go to -- we go live to Iowa for a key 2020 campaign event.

But before we go to break, a sobering reminder today from the Bernie Sanders campaign, releasing this online ad on the fifth anniversary on the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And over the last number of years, we have seen a terrible level of police violence against unarmed people in the minority community. People of color killed by police who should be alive today.



[12:26:11] HENDERSON: Welcome back.

Democrats running for president are being put on the spot this week, pushed to answer a stark question about the president. Is he a white supremacist? About half a dozen candidates say yes, but most of the candidates aren't willing to quite go that far.

President Trump was asked this morning if there's any way he and his base can use this to their advantage in 2020.


QUESTION: Does Democrats calling you and your supporters white nationalists and white supremacists help you?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think it helps. First of all, I don't like it when they do it because I am not any of those things. I think it's a disgrace. And I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are. For them to throw out the race word again, racist, racist, racist,

that's all they use to anybody. They call Nancy Pelosi a racist. She's not a racist. They call anybody a racist when they run out of cards.


HENDERSON: Nearly every 2020 Democrat getting ready to speak to voters at the Iowa State Fair and attend a key fundraising dinner tonight.

And we've got CNN's Arlette Saenz, who joins me live from clear lake, Iowa, where the famous Democratic Wing Ding Dinner takes place. I like saying Wing Ding.

Arlette, tell us what to expect tonight at that dinner, the Wing Ding Dinner.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nia, we are still a few hours away from the Wing Ding Dinner kicking off. But as you can see behind me, there's already a lively scene here. The various campaigns and their organizers have been out here chanting. You have Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris among others, Cory Booker as well. Campaign staffers here getting ready for tonight's festivities.

The Wing Ding has really become a must-stop for these Democratic presidential candidates. You know, back in 2007, Barack Obama was the keynote speaker here. In 2015 you had Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and others.

But something that's different about tonight's dinner is that there are going to be more Democratic presidential candidates here than ever before. Twenty-two of the 24 Democrats running for president will be here in Clear Lake, Iowa, at the legendary Surf Ballroom where the likes of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens have played and they're going to be giving their boiled-down stump speeches, making their pitches to Iowan voters in just a few minutes.

We'll see if the recent comments from the president regarding those shootings over the weekend and these Democratic candidates who have started to label him as a white supremacist, we'll see if that comes up in their conversations. But really this weekend in Iowa, it is the center of the political universe for Democrats as these candidates are trying to make their pitch to voters. Yesterday we had a poll showing kind of the way that the race is shaking out with Joe Biden still holding on to his lead, but Elizabeth Warren rising. And, tonight, all of those candidates will get to make their pitch to Iowans.


HENDERSON: Thanks, Arlette, from that -- for that report and we'll look forward to your reporting from the Wing Ding Dinner tonight. Thanks.

And, Annie, I'm going to go to you on this because you covered Warren and really all of the candidates. What does this get folks in terms of calling the president a white supremacist? And, as we said, a number of them have.


HENDERSON: Elizabeth Warren most recently yesterday in the pages of "The New York Times."

LINSKEY: Yes. I mean I think this idea of whether or not the president is a white supremacist has become this litmus test now.


LINSKEY: Yet another litmus test for this giant field of candidates where some can set themselves apart from others as being the most aggressive toward Trump. And you see it in candidates like Elizabeth Warren, you know, Jay Inslee also called him a white supremacist. It didn't get as much attention.


LINSKEY: But, when, you know, when Warren, one of the top tier candidates says it, she's doing two things there. You know, she's putting her position out there, but she's also speaking to her base, this massive base of support that she's got on the left. And that's who's powering her campaign, right? These are her --

[12:30:04] HENDERSON: And those are white liberals, right?

LINSKEY: This are white liberals.

HENDERSON: Yes, who are increasingly left on issues of race.

LINSKEY: Yes. That's right.