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Armed Man Confronted and Arrested At Missouri Walmart; McConnell: Background Check Legislation Will Be "Front and Center"; Pressure Mounting on Trump, McConnell On Gun Control; Trump Aides Admit Visits to El Paso and Dayton Didn't Go Well; Trump Announces New Intel Chief, No. 2 Official Resigns; 2020 Democrats Stump At Iowa State Fair; New Iowa Poll: Biden Leads, Warren Rises to Second. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Friday, August 9th. It's 6:00 here in New York this morning. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me in New York for the first time this week.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Nice to see you in person as well.

BERMAN: Quite a week it has been. And as we wake up this morning, there is new movement on action to prevent gun violence. And new fallout from the president's visits to Dayton and also El Paso, visits that we heard first here on NEW DAY that some White House insiders considered a debacle.

First the action, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now says legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases will be front and center in Senate deliberations. He says there's a lot of support for that. This is very different language than we have ever heard from the majority leader. But for now it's just language. He will not call the Senate back from vacation to work on the issue immediately.

Now the president, he's been talking a lot about background checks including talking with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. CNN reporting is that the president's instinct is to expand background checks but again, what will his action be? He has talked about background checks before but has yet to spend any political capital to get them passed. Will he now especially as he heads to summer vacation today?

And this morning, a controversial picture posted by the first lady holding a baby who lost her parents in the El Paso massacre, she is smiling, the president's flashing a thumbs up, there was a great deal of anger over this photo this morning but also some important context. We're going to have much more on that shortly.

HILL: And as these discussions continue about potential gun control legislation, advocates say every single day that passes matters. And putting that into new perspective this morning, take a look at this breaking news from overnight. Reality playing out once again this time in Missouri. Police this morning and frankly plenty of other folks want to know why a man walked into a Walmart heavily armed, wearing combat fatigues, all while recording himself on a cell phone that causing police to respond frantically to calls him an active shooter in the building. Now no shots were fired, the panic however real.

Omar Jimenez is live in Chicago with more of the details. What more do we know this morning, Omar?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, good morning. I mean, bottom line, these were some scary moments for these people. This man walks into this Walmart as you mentioned, good news, no shots fired and no one injured. But police were responding to what they thought was a call for a potential active shooter, this time at another Walmart in Springfield, Missouri.

Now when they walked in, you see what he looks like as he walked in. You see what he was wearing and you see what he was wielding, body armor and a rifle as he did so.

Now the motive is still under investigation by police but we do know he was recording himself on a cell phone, pushing a cart around. When the manager there saw what he was doing, just casually walked around with that rifle, he pulled the fire alarm urging people to get out. That's when people started evacuating.

As we can imagine the calls for the potential active shooter came in. And then it was an off duty armed firefighter who actually held this man up until police got there, only minutes later. And again, the good news, no shots fired and no one was injured. But here's what police had to say about the scene when they arrived again just mines later.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LT. MIKE LUCAS, SPRINGFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT: He walked in here heavily armed with body armor on and military fatigues and caused a great amount of panic inside the store. So he certainly had the capability and the potential to harm people. He was compliant with us but his intent was not to cause peace or comfort to anybody that was in the business here. In fact, he's lucky he's alive still, to be honest.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

JIMENEZ: Now, it should be noted Missouri is an open carry state for anyone above the age -- who's at least 19-years-old. But it is illegal to carry a weapon in a threatening manner. Now when you put this in context as well, I mean, this happened just five days after the shooting that unfolded in that in El Paso Walmart. And between this and the events earlier this week in Times Square where people were running when a backfired motorcycle is clear. This is still very much on peoples' minds.

John? BERMAN: Omar, you can understand why people were nervous and scared about that to be sure. I can't imagine what I would have thought had I saw that man walking through a Walmart this week.

Joining us now, John Avlon, CNN's senior political analyst, Tanzina Vega hosted "The Takeaway", and Errol Louis, political anchor at Spectrum News and a CNN political commentator.

So we were saying there is new movement on action to battle gun violence this morning. Whether we choose to believe it's significant and lasting, that's another story. But people are talking in ways they have not talked before.

I want to play the sound of Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader is on a radio show and he's explaining what he is going to do and for lack of a better word allow in the discussions over battling gun violence. So listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

[06:05:00] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There's also been some discussion about background checks. That's an issue that's been around for a while, there's a lot of support for that. And there's a bipartisan bill in the Senate, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, 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.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BERMAN: Background checks front and center. Now, who knows if Mitch McConnell will follow through with this when the Senate comes back in September? He's not calling them back now. Maybe this is just to relieve pressure. But Mitch McConnell hasn't spoken like this before in my memory.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And we run the risk of the trying for hope over experience here because he killed that very bill he loaded after Sandy Hook. But he's recognizing reality, background checks are massively popular with Republicans say, 87 percent support as well as Democrats.

This is 90 percent issue. The president in seems to have the instinct to go there as well, he initially tweeted it then took out of a speech. The NRA opposes it. Usually, that drives the agenda in the Senate.

But if Mitch McConnell is talking that way on local radio because very often in local radio is where going to see senators actually say what they really think. That's a hopeful sign that something, maybe something, might get done.

HILL: There's that hopeful sign and then there's also, of course, the reporting, we talked a little about this yesterday, but the president speaking with Wayne LaPierre, the influence of the NRA. There's actually a little bit of movement there too. Where some of our reporting is that aides are saying the NRA may not be as powerful now as it has been in the past, Errol.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right.

HILL: And this could be exactly why we could see movement. All of these things brought together.

LOUIS: That's right. There might be sort of a perfect confluence of opportunity, right? I mean, when you've got the NRA which has been, you know, really divided by -- at the top in fighting lawsuits. They've shuttered their TV division, you know, they really have much less of a presence.

And while they are sort of trying to gain their feet, you actually have 24 Democratic candidates who are out there trying to sort of push in a different direction. They're not necessarily going to be sort of coward or back down by it. You have members of the Senate where that is also true.

You have Mitch McConnell who frankly is in trouble in his home state. He's up for re-election next year and he's not doing so well. So, you know, there are a lot of different things that could all fall into place.

However, we all know that different things can happen. We've got this long break. They're clearly sort of playing for time. We know that other things can sort of take over the news cycle, we're going into fire season, we're going into hurricane season, protests in Hong Kong.

There are a million different things that can happen, as well as some of the distractions that the president has already hinted at talking about video games. You know, maybe we have a culture war discussion instead of actually doing some real legislating. But, again, you know, we should all stay hopeful.

BERMAN: And look, the president is going on vacation starting today. And John, I know you're going to talk about this later but who knows what things he can say when he doesn't have as many of the babysitters around as he normally does inside the White House. Anything could happen, but the president does have the power to force this issue, Tanzina. I just think he does. There's no question that he has so much support among the base of the Republican Party and folks that have fought for gun violence prevention acts, that if he were to come out very publicly and say this is the specific bill, the specific bill I want, wouldn't that make a difference?

TANZINA VEGA, HOST, "THE TAKEAWAY": I think a lot of Americans are expecting not only the president to take action but the Congress to take action at this point. I mean, what is it going to take? We've seen children, elementary school children mowed down by guns. We've seen, you know, innocent people at a Walmart. I mean, you can't go to the movies anymore.

Like, at what point are public spaces becoming so unsafe that government officials are going to take action? I think that's what Americans regardless of what side of the political divide they're on are looking for. This is about common sense gun reform. This is not an either or issue where we're saying no guns or all the guns, right? And I think that's where the NRA really stumbles. And the president talking to the NRA like this is a real problem for a lot of Americans.

The question is does the president have the confidence of the American people. And I think at this point, given what he did in El Paso and Dayton and beyond, I think he's lost a lot of that confidence.

HILL: He -- yes, but I wonder too if they -- if enough people can get in his ear to say you have lost that confidence, but this a real opportunity for him. And we know that he was apparently talking about AIDS. He wants this Rose Garden signing ceremony. He could do things through executive order which then he can say, look what I did. This is the president saying --

VEGA: Which he'll probably do it.

HILL: -- he did his biggest appeal.

VEGA: Right.

HILL: Which would be his biggest appeal. And looking at all that too, there's also the issue, John, that this is, to your point, it's not an either/or. It's not so not just a one size fits all issue. So starting with one thing, moving on, the question then too is, how much can we see in a more holistic approach overall?

AVLON: Sure. And Republicans always unilaterally sort of focus on the mental health and the video games of it. And Republican -- Democrats want to deal with, you know, the guns. There is hope that you can make some gains on different fronts of this issue. I think a big ambitious omnibus bill probably isn't going to happen given the nature of the divided nature of Congress. The question is can you actually make some measurable progress, and at least on the red line and the background check. That should be doable.

BERMAN: It's doable if they want to do it.

AVLON: That's right.

[06:10:00] BERMAN: What we don't know and we really don't know is if they actually want to do it in September when they come back. And we say it's not unknown, really is genuinely unknown.

I want to put up the photo that caused a lot of controversy over the last 12 hours. This was posted by the first lady Melania Trump on Twitter and she's holding a baby boy. I spoke incorrectly before and I said it was a baby girl. It's a baby boy who lost his parents in the massacre in El Paso.

And the reason this photo is causing controversy is this, look, the first lady is smiling, the president's flashing the thumbs up there and this baby lost his parents. Now people look at this and say Errol, how could you take a picture flashing the thumbs up with an orphan like that essentially? The other side of it is that the uncle who is standing in that photo is a Trump supporter. Apparently the father who was killed was also a Trump supporter. There is that context there. Still, you know, you take a step back when you see that.

LOUIS: Yes, yes. Well, it is. It's -- and, look, I would fault frankly the president's staff, right? I mean, the president himself, you know, you put him in front of a camera, he's going to do what politicians do.

You know, they smile, they flash, they give those little thumbs up, they do what they're going to do. They needed to stage that quite a bit differently if they knew it was going to be for public consumption.

Frankly, if this individual, if he's a big Trump supporter, if he wanted to say, look, it would be the honor of my life, I'm meeting the president of the United States. Even in the middle of this tragedy, you know, I'm proud to meet the president. That's one thing. But for public consumption on what is a public trip on which every step, every photo, every word is supposed to be, if not scripted, at least thought about.

I'd say they really failed that much.

HILL: Well, and the fact that it was tweeted out too by the first lady, the photo, it would have been to your point Errol, a little bit different if this had come from the uncle who was there --

LOUIS: Right.

HILL: -- in the picture saying what an honor to meet the president today. But seeing that tweeted out from the first lady with the thumbs up sign, it's tough to ignore those optics.

VEGA: And there was a tone deafness to the visit as a whole and I think, you know, we're seeing that now from president's aides who'd been saying that this didn't go quite so well. The president flies into El Paso, there are protests everywhere, there's a lack of empathy coming from the president. So I think this is just another example of that level of tone deafness.

AVLON: That's the issue. I mean, apparently, reportedly the baby was brought back to the hospital. They tried to keep the press out. And some other footage that's come out, the president's talking about how big the crowd size of his rally in El Paso was. And then this photo which you have this a picture of a president who has an empathy deficit. He keeps acting like a malfunctioning automaton with this opportunities.

Here, he's with an orphan child and he reflexively does the grin and the thumbs up. That's just an empathy gap. And it's not too much to expect the president would act like a normal human being but instead, he's talking to, you know, the doctors at this hospital which is flooded with shooting victims, and talking about how big his crowds were a few weeks ago. That's not a normal human response. BERMAN: Or a helpful.

AVLON: No.

HILL: No.

BERMAN: A human response which is the most important thing I think to the victims and the families of the victims and the people in El Paso and Dayton. Not helpful.

All right, Errol, Tanzina, John, thank you very much.

New overnight, President Trump announced his new pick for acting director of national intelligence. This came just minutes after we learned the nation's number two intelligence official chose to resign. The resignation is very controversial, Alex, because she has a ton of support inside the intelligence community.

CNN's Alex Marquardt here in Washington with all the details.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. It is now not just that top intelligence job that the president needs to fill but the top two.

The intelligence community now losing one of its most capable and respected leaders in Sue Gordon. She is widely adored not just within that tight-knit community but widely respected all across the aisle here in Washington. The writing to some extent had been on the wall when the president didn't name her to be the acting director of national intelligence when her boss Dan Coats steps down next week. Normally, she would have been the automatic and really logical choice but now they are leaving together on August 15th.

In a handwritten note to the president, Sue Gordon made it clear that leaving was not her preference, she said, but she told him, you should have your team.

Now, when Coats and Gordon leave next week, Retired Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire will step in as the acting director. He is currently the head of the National Counterterrorism Center. The president still hasn't said who he wants to be -- wants to nominate as a permanent DNI after his first choice, Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe withdrew himself after a five-day firestorm over his lack of experience and exaggerated resume.

With that move with Ratcliffe, the president had communicated that he wants more of a loyalist who he gets along with in the DNI role unlike Dan Coats. And he is less interested in someone from the intelligence establishment like Sue Gordon.

Lawmakers have also expressed their regret that Sue Gordon is leaving with the Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr calling it a significant loss. The ranking Democrat, Mark Warner, far harsher saying that the president has shown he has no problem prioritizing his political ego even it comes at the expense of our national security.

[06:15:11] Erica?

HILL: All right, Alex, thank you. Well, moving into politics, this weekend -- oh John, you look excited.

BERMAN: Because I read --

HILL: Are you having fond memories?

BERMAN: -- I read ahead here a little bit. But go ahead.

HILL: So John skipped ahead but you don't know this yet. So get ready, this weekend is all about butter, fried food --

BERMAN: Well, two of my favorite things which every weekend by the way is a fun.

HILL: And you can even get fried butter so there's -- really it's such a win. Presidential politics in Iowa, why the state fair could once again be a make or break event but this time for those Democratic presidential hopefuls, who's going to make it past Iowa.

BERMAN: And fried butter.

HILL: There's fried butter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:20:21] HILL: The 2020 Democrats descending on Iowa for the state fair and some meet and greets that could really shake up the race. The political stakes are high in the key early voting state. Today, day two of the Iowa state fair, we'll see more candidates and more soapboxes.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Des Moines. Good morning.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Erica. There's no question that all eyes on this Democratic primary race are here in Iowa. Joe Biden, at the state fair yesterday really making his case, trying to reframe the race that -- he's trying to show that he is the strongest Democrat to take on Donald Trump.

When Joe Biden was walking around the grounds of the Iowa state fair yesterday, he was asked how it feels to be a frontrunner, if he feels he is still the frontrunner. He said do I still have that target on my back. So clearly, Joe Biden had a bit of a bounce in his step.

One reason why is in this new Monmouth University Iowa poll that was out just yesterday, he is showing a steady lead. He is still leading the pack of candidates here. And Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have essentially flipped. Elizabeth Warren has gained considered ground since the last poll was taken in April.

So that is sort of setting the mood here in Iowa as all the candidates are descending. As you said four candidates will be here on the fair ground so later today. But then all candidates tonight will be at the Wing Ding. That is a traditional event in northern Iowa at the surf ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Each candidate will have five minutes to make their case to voters here.

But really the moment is Joe Biden leading the pack and others trying to make their case as well. Kamala Harris is making significant move here in Iowa. She was out with her first ad yesterday.

But it is the race between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders that has a lot of Democrats here keeping an eye on the movement there. Bernie Sanders, of course, he nearly won the Iowa caucuses four years ago coming just behind Hillary Clinton but he has fallen a little bit. So that has sort of setting the table here as a big Iowa political weekend begins.

John?

BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny, I see the fried butter stain on your shirt this morning Jeff. Stand by. We have a lot more --

ZELENY: Right here, yes.

BERMAN: We have a lot more to talk about including, I think, this is the most we've seen of Joe Biden and the retail politic setting in this campaign. How did he do? What does it mean for his chances in Iowa?

And what is the state of the Democratic race this morning?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:26:55] HILL: This morning, a new poll shows just how the race in Iowa is shaping up as the candidates stump for votes at the state fair. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains a steady frontrunner as you see there on your screen. Senator Elizabeth Warren though making some moves, now as a firm hold of second place.

Let's bring back Errol Louis, Jeff Zeleny, and Tanzina Vega. And, you know, Jeff we just talked to you briefly but just to get your take too as we look at these polling numbers and what we're seeing on the ground. What is the sense there in terms of how these numbers translate to what you're hearing?

ZELENY: Well, there's no question that Elizabeth Warren has been organizing and building a campaign here that by all accounts, by all measures is stronger than most of her other rivals. So the rise of Elizabeth Warren here is coming at the same time she's building this ground organization. And some of those same people who are working on her team here worked on that Barack Obama campaign some 12 years ago.

It seems like a long time ago. But it's still relevant in politics today because he really did build this county by county organization. So Elizabeth Warren's rise in many respect she is Bernie Sanders 2.0. She's sort of a new version of what he was representing four years ago, so all eyes will be on Elizabeth Warren.

And I am hearing fewer questions about her electability. That's one thing you heard earlier this year, you know, is she able to win? Is she able to beat Donald Trump? Fewer Democrats are saying that they like her plans.

But I also after talking to a lot of voters here at the Iowa state fair yesterday, Kamala Harris also has a lot of interests. They like how she performed at the first debate, not the second debate perhaps so much. But she is certainly is gaining ground as well.

But I do I have to say, Joe Biden remains a favorite as the poll indicates. And, you know, he has had a strong couple of days here in Iowa, perhaps the strongest of his campaign. But there is still a question hanging over him, you know, is he the new fresh blood that Democrats usually choose?

If you look back to election to election, you know, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama going before that, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy. Barack Obama certainly doesn't fit that mold but he may fit the moment for this party as Democrats are looking for someone to take on Donald Trump.

BERMAN: And Tanzina, as you watch Joe Biden over the last few days. You know he is trying to carve out a very specific space because he gave that really tough speech, blistering speech about the president. But then yesterday, he was pressed a number of times if he would out now call the president a white supremacist which some of the other Democratic candidates have done.

And listen to how he responded here. This is (INAUDIBLE).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why are you so hooked on that? You just want me to say the words so I sound like everybody else. He is encouraging white supremacist.

You can determine what that means. You can -- I know everybody is like everybody wants somebody to call somebody a liar. When you say I don't call people liars, they say they don't tell the truth, OK.

You want to me hear me say liar, so you can put out and say Biden call someone a liar. That's not who I am. You got the wrong guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: How do you read that?

VEGA: John, we have to remember, right, that rhetoric has consequences. And the president's rhetoric has had serious consequences to the point that people have lost their lives, right? And I think what's interesting about Elizabeth Warren's rise is that she has called the president a white supremacist. And she's getting this bump in polling.

So I think that it's important to note that maybe this idea.

[06:30:00]