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Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Interview; El Paso Shooter Reportedly Traveled 600 Miles to El Paso to Commit Shooting Far from His Home Town; Mitch McConnell Discusses Possible Senate Vote on Background Check Bill; Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Gives Speech on President Trump. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] SAM NUNN, CO-CHAIR, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: I worry more about accident miscalculations, some type of mishaps, and some type of technology going awry. And right now you've got hypersonic speedy missiles that are being developed by a number of countries including U.S. and Russia. What that does is cut down decision time. It means that you could have a false warning and a president thinks he's only got two or three minutes to make a fatal decision of the future of this country and indeed the world.

So those are things that are really breaking down. And we've in addition had a breakdown of arms control. We're in danger of having no regulatory understandings at all on arms control, including if we do not renew new START, which is sort of the last treaty standing, we won't have any verification. And when you have no verification, both sides assume the worst about each other. And there you go into a spiral. So we're in a period of -- yes, and we're in a period of growing instability in the nuclear arena.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: That we are. And one of the other suggestions you have is for both houses of Congress and the White Houses to set up a bipartisan group to look at Russian policy, nuclear dangers, and NATO will see how that could work out as well. Sam, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us this morning. Sir, thank you.

NUNN: Thank you very much.

HILL: And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom with Max Foster is next. For our U.S. viewers, brand new reporting just coming in here to CNN about the massacre in El Paso. NEW DAY continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Friday, August 9th. It's 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill with me. And we do have breaking news just in to CNN. Sources tell us the alleged El Paso killer told investigators that he targeted that city because he thought it would be wrong to carry out the attack near his hometown which is near Dallas. HILL: We want to get straight to CNN's Ed Lavandera who just broke

this story. Ed is on the phone with us. So tell us more about what you learned, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We've been reporting over the last few days that investigators have been speaking with the gunman in the El Paso Walmart shooting and get a little bit more insight into some of what has been said. And what we are hearing from sources with knowledge of the investigation is that this 21-year-old suspect has shown a reticence and a shame as one of his reasons for picking the El Paso area, that for some reason he thought that if he had carried out an attack like that in his hometown, that his parents and his family and friends would know that he was the one who did it, and that that is one of the reasons why he wanted to get away from the Allen, Texas, area which is that suburb of Dallas where he had he'd driven some 600 miles from for more than 10 miles to get to the El Paso area. That is one of the reasons these sources say that the El Paso area was targeted in the end.

BERMAN: All right, Ed Lavandera again, thank you very much for the report down in El Paso for us. Again, the news the alleged killer in the El Paso Walmart, he targeted that city because he didn't want to carry out the attack, sources tell us, near his hometown. I will note, El Paso is no abstraction here. El Paso has been ground zero for the discussions about the border and migration. It is well-known that El Paso is 80 percent Hispanic, and this killer made clear in this suspected screed that he wrote that he wanted to target Latinos. So maybe he didn't want to carry it out near his hometown of Dallas, maybe that's what he's saying now and told other people. But it does seem that El Paso was carefully, carefully chosen. And that as you know from being there, that's how the people of El Paso think.

HILL: Absolutely that's how they feel.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Josh Green, national correspondent for "Bloomberg Businessweek," Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter for the "Washington Post." Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. There is also new movement this morning on the issue of battling gun violence in America. And when I say new movement, new words and new language. The question is, will it lead to new action? But the new language is notable, and it's largely coming from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. We've played the sound a bunch. Let's play it one more time just so people can hear it, so people can hear Mitch McConnell use language I have not heard about discussions about background checks, expanding background checks for gun purchases, he wants that to be front and center in the Senate. Listen.


MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: There's also been some discussion about background checks. That's an issue that's been around for a while. 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:05:10] BERMAN: OK, Josh Green, again, the language from him on expanded background checks being front and center to the debate, to me that is new. What it isn't, though, as news as it might be, is action. And those two are very different.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's meaningful in the sense that clearly McConnell feels political pressure to speak up and not duck on this issue. But the two things that stood out to me were the language he used. Front and center is different than saying I'm going to take that bill and I'm going to put it on the Senate floor for a vote. That's a big deal.

The other thing that McConnell said, we didn't have in that clip, was that he was not going to call the Senate back into session. He's going to drag this out, wait until it gets back in September. That to me obviously suggests a lack of concern or a lack of urgency on this issue. And as we've seen after past shootings, a lot of times if enough weeks go by, the news cycle changes, all of a sudden the urgency, the promise to act that people expected to happen in the immediate aftermath trails away and we go back to the normal of no new gun control laws.

HILL: Toluse, I'm curious what the take is at the White House on this this morning, because we've been talking about the president's conversations with the NRA this week, the president having multiple conversations, even with Democratic leaders. And those are important. But has this sound from Mitch McConnell, who, as you point out, was talking to local radio, and sometimes you get more when they're talking to a local news outlet than when it is a national news outlet because they're speaking directly to their constituents, I wonder if any of this is making any waves whatsoever at the White House this morning?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, the White House knows they have an immense amount of power over this situation. The president can decide to tell Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back into session and Mitch McConnell would have no choice but to do that. So right now the president is on the phone as he normally does, and he's talking to gun rights leaders, he's talking to people in the NRA, he's talking to various leaders in Congress including McConnell, including leaders on the Democratic side.

He talked to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer recently. So he's having a lot of conversations, but there's no sense yet that the president is actually going to lead on this issue, that he's actually going to push Mitch McConnell to do exactly what he wants, because it seems like the president is trying to figure out where he is on this issue, whether or not he can support background checks, and whether or not his base will abandon him if he pushes for any kind of gun control.

But there is a clear sense that if the president decides that he wants a background checks bill to pass as soon as possible, that he is the only single person who can make that happen. Not even Mitch McConnell could stop that because we know the president has leaned on Mitch McConnell in the past to put things on the floor, and it has happened with criminal justice reform, even with health care when Mitch McConnell was reluctant to go back into that. So the president knows that he has the power but it's not clear that he's ready to use it yet.

BERMAN: On that note, we do have some breaking news. There's some breaking tweets from the president on this very subject. I don't know if he's watching us, because he chose to weigh in minutes ago. He said "Serious discussions are taking place between House and Senate leadership on meaningful background checks." Meaningful background checks, he says. "I've also been speaking to the NRA and others to that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected. Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people, I'm the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our country. Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone.

I want to bring Susan Glasser into this discussion.

HILL: I think even just the fact that the president used the words "common sense," those could be tough to use. When you're having a discussion about gun legislation, depending on the audience that you're talking to when you say common sense gun legislation, that has very different connotation depending on who you're speaking to and who is saying those words.

BERMAN: Although he says serious discussions are taking place also, what he does not say here, Susan Glasser, is that I want expanded background checks now, Republicans give me expanded background checks, and he could say that. So he's maybe pushing in some ways but not as far as he could go.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's right. There's a circularity to this conversation, right. We've all seen horrible tragedies like this play out. We've all seen the president. I would say that Trump has been fairly consistent in the immediate aftermath of some of these. He will come out and he will say, he often mentions background checks, he often mentions mental illness. He's never pressed or expended his political capital anyway. I think it's very important to note that the NRA was really the most steadfast supporters of Trump in 2016 at a time it looked like even other pillars of the Republican Party at points were abandoning him. And so he's really stuck politically in a tough place.

I think both Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump have done the bare minimum this week in terms of communicating there's a political uproar around this. But Josh is right, the language matters here, and you're not hearing from either the president or the Senate majority leader a real meaningful commitment to actually do anything. I think they probably want to see what the politics look like in September when Congress comes back from its recess.

[08:10:07] HILL: Which is a great point, because, as John pointed out earlier, we're in August. The president is getting ready to leave on vacation. We know that Congress is still on recess. Mitch McConnell is not going to call anybody back. Anything could happen in the next couple of weeks as we lead into September, anything could happen that could change the discussion. And that may be, sadly, Josh, part of the calculus too. Let's just wait and see, and if this is still as important, if people are still fired up about it, really feeling concerned, then that will dictate what we do come September.

GREEN: That's absolutely right. President Trump would not be leaving for his golf course if this were a matter of true urgency for him. And I think that Mitch McConnell, as clever as he is, understands that and knows that, and knows that Trump going off golfing is likely to be the end of this discussion at least at any kind of serious level.

One of the things McConnell has done in his signal has say I'm willing to put this front and center, but he made clear it is on Trump to take the lead on the issue. And what we've seen from Trump in his statements yesterday, what we've seen from Trump in his statements just now, as Susan says, his circularity makes clear he's more concerned about the views of the NRA than he is about responding in a meaningful way to the massacres we just saw.

BERMAN: If you see skepticism in the face and hear it in the words of our group gathered here, it's because all of us have covered this unfortunately for a long time, and I think we need to see action before we believe anything. That's just the nature of this.

I want to move on to Iowa, if I can, because Joe Biden gave what was considered a blistering speech about President Trump. It was a moment that some said was one of the strongest in his campaign to date. He's been out there on the stump doing retail politics. It is a version of Joe Biden that some people think is one of the better versions of him. But he's also the version of Joe Biden that says things that are controversial inadvertently, to be sure. And Toluse, I want to play you something he said when he was speaking to a group of what we understand was Hispanic and Asian voters in Iowa yesterday. So let's listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had this notion that somehow if you're poor you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids, wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.


BIDEN: I really mean it, but think how we think about it.


BERMAN: Poor kids are just as talented, Toluse, as white kids. The distinction there are there are poor whites and, how do you think that plays there? A gaffe, something more than that, a window to his soul, what do you see?

OLORUNNIPA: It's definitely a gaffe, and Joe Biden has a long record of making gaffes. So I don't think this one will stand out in that long record, but it does add to the question of whether or not Joe Biden is attuned to the moment, whether or not his moment has passed, and whether or not he knows how to speak to the Democratic base in 2019 and 2020 which is a much more modern, much more woke, if you will, base where words like that and statements like that are sort of seen as relics of the past and not sensitive enough to the diversity of the country.

And he may face some of those questions from specifically younger members of the Democratic base, more diverse members of the base. And even though he's leading in the polls, his lead has been very fragile in part because there's some agitation among those members about whether or not he's ready not only to take on Trump, which is whole other question, but whether or not he's ready to speak to the issues that face the country in a way that relates to the modern times and not necessarily to his history in the Senate in the 70s and 80s and 90s.

BERMAN: And again, to make poor synonymous with minority is something that's in difficult territory.

HILL: Yes, it absolutely is. But he was also asked specifically about calling the president a white supremacist. And we've seen other candidates come out, most recently Elizabeth Warren in that "New York Times" interview, she said yes when talking about where they stand on who and what the president is and what he stands for.

Josh, he was not willing to go that far. In fact, making the point that he's not going to essentially give the sound bite to be used again, and I think we have that now. Let's play that.


JOE BIDEN, (D) 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 supremacists. You can determine what that means. I know everybody wants somebody to call somebody a liar. When you say -- I don't call people liars. I say they don't tell the truth, OK? You want to hear me say liar so you can put it out and say Biden called someone a liar. That's not who I am. You got the wrong guy.


HILL: As a response, you can go a couple of different ways with this, but as a response how smart is it of Biden in this case to say I'm not going to give you that, because clearly he doesn't want it to come back and haunt him, whether it be in a campaign ad from the Trump campaign or elsewhere.

GREEN: He did say that Trump enables white supremacists and encourages him, so I don't really see the distinction between saying he encourages them and saying that he is one.

[08:15:03] And Biden evidently does. It seems sort of silly to me. The facts are the facts. A lot of other candidates have come out and said, you know, he is a white supremacist.

I think Elizabeth Warren tweeted it last night or this morning. So, you know, I don't know what he gains other than the fact that Biden sees himself as being a notch to the right of the left, woke, as Phil would call them candidates, and want to stay positioned in the center as a moderate.

Whether positioning yourself like this and the issue of white supremacy is appropriate or politically helpful, I don't know. But it seemed like a strange distinction for Biden to make.

BERMAN: And again, that combined with the white versus poor and, Susan, he also keeps referring to Theresa May as Margaret Thatcher, called himself in the process of it yesterday. Again, part of what has been seen as a successful trip to Iowa for the former vice president, but does this continue to raise certain questions about him?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, it's all very on brand for Joe Biden, and what you see is what you get. A gaff-free candidacy was never an option. You know I've talked to advisers, supporters of Joe Biden who, you know, recognize that's part of what makes this such an uncertain moment for the former vice president is that they themselves don't know what's going to come out of his mouth at any given time.

But again, you know, right now, he's running in the Democratic primary where gaffes like that have a different meaning than they would if he was taking on Donald Trump who we know also has a lot of challenges speaking and you can't even sort of grasp one of his sentences. So that would be the heck of a general matchup in 2020 between two candidates who -- anything could come out of their mouths at a given time. But, you know, I do think his statement yesterday about the poor kids really plays differently in the Democratic primary than a general election context.

BERMAN: A gaffe-free campaign was never an option.

HILL: It may be the line of the morning.

BERMAN: Susan, Toluse, Josh, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

Staying on politics now, he is now part of the next Democratic debate. He made that debate stage. He's getting on his soapbox later. What Andrew Yang wants voters in Iowa to know, next.


[08:21:20] BERMAN: A new poll of Iowa voters shows former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren on top, but the person who might be getting the biggest reward from this poll is down there at 2 percent. That is Andrew Yang because the 2 percent means he just got a ticket to Houston, the site of the next Democratic debate. He now qualifies for that debate.

And Democratic candidate for president, Andrew Yang, joins us now.

Thank you very much for being with us. Your reaction to the news?

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We were thrilled, John. We know it was just a matter of time that we punched our ticket to the fall debates. Americans want solutions not sound bites. That's the message that went through loud and clear at the last debate, and we're thrilled to have two more debates to make our case to the American people.

BERMAN: All right. You say Americans want solutions, not sound bites. This is the first time we've had a chance to talk to you since the massacres in El Paso and Dayton. What's the solution there? And is there one being voted (ph) now by Democrats and Republicans?

Mitch McConnell saying we will discuss expanding background checks and red flag laws. Is that a solution in your mind?

YANG: It's very much a big, big -- the biggest part of the solution. We need common sense gun laws, gun safety laws in this country, universal background checks, red flag laws. The vast majority of Americans support this legislation, and I'm optimistic that Republicans will do the right thing, overcome the NRA's objections and help pass these laws to help make the American people safer.

BERMAN: And again you have experience in the business worlds where often you look for compromise in ways that politicians don't seem to now, so from the perspective of a Democrat, what would Democrats settle for or should they settle for here in this discussion? How much could they pocket, do you think?

YANG: Well, if you look at the polling, John, 85 percent, 90 percent of Americans support universal background check, support red flag laws, so these to me should be very clear goals that Democrats and Republicans come together to meet. This isn't a situation where Democrats should fall short of the goal line, where those laws are concerned.

BERMAN: OK, but if you can't get an assault weapons ban, for instance, which I knee your also in favor of, would you walk away from red flag laws?

YANG: Well, you have to get done what you get done, but you're right I'm completely for an assault weapons ban as well. And that should be on the table. Hopefully, we can get that done along with these other measures.

BERMAN: I want to get your reaction and you are in Iowa right now and I hope you enjoy the fair. I want to get your reaction to something that former Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday when he was speaking to an audience of largely Hispanic and Asian voters. Listen.


BIDEN: We have this notion somehow if you're poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids, wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no, I really mean it. But think how we think about it.


BERMAN: Poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids. What do you read into that formulation?

YANG: I think it's Joe Biden trying to convey a message and it came out the wrong way. I mean, the fact is there are many, many poor kids in this country who are underrepresented minorities, kids of color, and, you know, it's Joe just trying to express something that came out the wrong way.

BERMAN: So, a gaffe. You would chalk it up to just misspeaking.

YANG: Well, I heard the segment before me where they said a gaffe- free campaign was never an option.

[08:25:04] And so, I mean, we know who Joe Biden is, and this to me should not be something that comes out of left field.

BERMAN: Why do you think there is now a discussion about whether or not the Democratic candidates choose to call the president of the United States a white supremacist as opposed to creating room for white supremacy or promoting white supremacy? Why is it important in your mind to call him that directly?

YANG: Well, to me, you should judge an individual by their actions and words. And so, in this case, I mean, it's very clear the president's actions and words have conveyed a very strong sense to many, many Americans that he has white supremacist beliefs and that's the only standard we can go by.

BERMAN: And would you call him a white supremacist since all the candidates seem to be getting asked that now?

YANG: I mean, again, if someone acts and speaks in a certain way, then you have no choice to say that's what he is.

BERMAN: Have you tried the fried butter yet at the Iowa state fair?

YANG: You know I had the turkey leg, I saw the butter cow from afar, but I've not actually tried the fried butter or the fried Oreo, and I hear they're excellent.

BERMAN: All right.

YANG: So, I've been fasting all day just to be able to have it today guilt-free.

BERMAN: You have work cut out for you. Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, thank you for being with us. And good luck at the fair and good luck on that meal ahead.

YANG: Thanks, John. Thanks, Erin.

BERMAN: Erica? HILL: I like that he's also focused on the fried Oreo --

BERMAN: He thought about it.

HILL: -- because I don't want -- I don't think that should be overlooked.

BERMAN: He thought about it.

HILL: Well, the 2020 Democratic candidates descend on Iowa, and President Trump is headed to the Hamptons today for a reelection fund- raiser that's being hosted by the billionaire head of the company that owns SoulCycle and Equinox gyms. And today's high dollar event has customers worked up to say the least.

Cristina Alesci is in Southampton, New York, with more this morning.

The backlash continues today.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erica. I am in Southampton as you said just two hours outside of New York City where Donald Trump will arrive to attend two high dollar fundraisers. His supporters will pay up to $250,000 to hang with him. The RNC expects that these two events will bring in $10 million.

Now, just a little background on this area, Trump won this area in 2016, but that is not reflective of the politics during the summer and here's why. Wealthy New Yorkers, bankers, lawyers, investors flock to their summer homes in the Hamptons over the summer and they're both Democrats and Republicans. These are the people that Donald Trump chides in his rally and says they are out of touch with the average working person and yet he is here taking money from them from the RNC, and also he has friends here including to your point billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross, who is also an investor in high end gym concepts, which is why I'm in front of SoulCycle.

So, SoulCycle and Equinox that have made diversion and inclusion and diversity, I just made up a new word, part of their business model. And consumers really feel betrayed by the fact that the owner, one of the largest owners and investors in these businesses is supporting Donald Trump because they see his values as antithetical to his -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Cristina Alesci, this has been very controversial over the last few days, and I don't see it going away anytime soon. Thanks so much for being with us outside SoulCycle out in the Hamptons.

Children in class as their parents get caught up in immigration raids. How a Mississippi superintendent is dealing with this situation, next.