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Hickenlooper Considering Shifting To A 2020 Senate Race; Pompeo's Actions Stoke Questions of 2020 Kansas Senate Run; Trump May Not Commute Blagojevich's Sentence After Pushback; Pelosi Calls McConnell "Moscow Mitch" At Illinois Event; New Rule Targets Legal Immigration. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 14, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Texas in a presidential year, that's why a lot of Democrats wish Beto O'Rourke would drop out of the presidential race. He says no, for now he has until December. Can they do0 that?

Iowa, Joni Ernst up for her first re-election. That's where you normally look. But again, can Democrats win Iowa in a presidential year? Montana, lot of Democrats wish Steve Bullock, the governor would get out of the presidential race and run for Senate against the Republican incumbent. Again, a very tough race in a presidential year which is why Colorado and Governor Hickenlooper come up.

This state tends to go blue in presidential elections. Ticket splitting has become rarer and rarer. Meaning, if a Democrat carries Colorado, that could help a Democrat to win in the Senate race which is why a lot of Democrats say please go home, Governor. Help our math.

Colorado's current Democratic Senator Michael Bennet who also happens to be a presidential candidate says a candidate like Hickenlooper here might make this map a little better for Democrats.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democrats have to win Senate races in states like Missouri in the middle of the country. We have to win these races. There's no shortcut around that. And the only way that we're going to begin to make the policy changes that we want to make as Democrat is by winning races in the middle of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would Hickenlooper be a good senator?

BENNET: He was a phenomenal governor.


BENNET: A phenomenal governor who's a phenomenal mayor so I don't see any reason why he wouldn't be a phenomenal senator. But he's got to make his own decisions.


JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: His chief of staff by the way as mayor, it was a really capable guy named Michael Bennet. A small world.

KING: Yes. It is a small world although they have somewhat test of relationship when it comes to the presidential campaign too so they have been both friends and some tension there. But your colleague (INAUDIBLE) is reporting that he got -- Governor Hickenlooper got in Senator Bennet's car and they took a little ride as these conversations about getting into the race. I mean, Hickenlooper is not going to probably not going to make the next debate, his presidential campaign.

Despite the normal appeal of governors, the governors have not taken off out there. So that would one, that would be one recruiting win for Chuck Schumer, is that the way to put it if it happens?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know if it's a clear-cut win in part because that primary has already taken off in Colorado and it's pretty crowded. Hickenlooper would obviously come in as the former governor of the state with quite a bit of stature and quite a bit of establishment money behind him. It's not a sure thing, though.

You know, these are hard decisions for candidates to make even when you are polling at zero in the presidential race. The idea of jumping in, you know, if you're someone like Hickenlooper, you come from a state like Colorado, a purple state, you were a pretty successful governor, and then you get into the race for president and you realize there's no appetite for you. I think that's a tough blow to the ego.

KING: And if you're one of those other people in a Democratic primary and Governor Hickenlooper gets in and says I want to be your senator, guess what? This is going to pop up in a primary ad.


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL RACE: I respect senators. Some of my best friends are senators. I don't think I'm cut out for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That clip is going to be used against you right there.

HICKENLOOPER: Yes, I know. Well, maybe if I create enough of those clips, certain leaders in the Senate will stop. Just kidding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How often -- how many times has Chuck Schumer called you?

HICKENLOOPER: Seventy-six. No, I'm just kidding. We've talked once or twice and he's been great. He is one of the persuasive people I think I've ever met. And if anybody could persuade me to do it, it would be him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now he wouldn't be the first politician to say I don't want that job, and then ran for that job. But that's -- you know, if I were to run against him in a primary, that'd be in my ad.

MARTIN: Oh, a primary, certainly if he's the nominee in that other election. I think it's safe to say that Chuck Schumer has called Hickenlooper once or twice by noon today already as the show went on the air.

Look, he is somebody who wouldn't clear the field necessarily, but would be a formidable candidate as the popular former two-term governor. And look, it's a state where the Democratic nominee is going to be, you know, likely the eventual winner and it would be hard for Gardner to outrun that margin.

And look, you mentioned the sort of -- the challenge of running for president and fall along on your face or not doing that well, this is kind of a decent exit ramp for that kind of a candidate, right? If your (cut) having to sort of come to terms with the fact that your race hasn't worked out that well, you can still take this ramp and say, I'm entering to the greater good for my party and my country. And maybe it's contrived but it might work.

KING: I didn't circle Kansas on that map. If you're the Democrats and you're trying to figure out your path in a presidential year even though the map is better than it was last year for Democrats. I mean, looking at it and you're saying, can we really win in Texas in a presidential year? Can we really win in Montana in a presidential year? North Carolina in a presidential year. Alabama in a presidential year.

Kansas has a seat, and, you know -- Kansas has an open seat. If the Republicans nominate certain candidates, the Democrats think we have a shot which is why there's a lot of pressure on Mike Pompeo to give up his very nice job as secretary of state and go home.

Here are some of the headlines just in recent days. "Mike Pompeo talked Senate run with Steve Bannon". "Republican donors told to wait as Pompeo considers Kansas Senate run." "Kansas GOP weighs Senate hopefuls while pining for Pompeo." "Nation's top diplomat visits international house of pancakes" back home.


[12:35:03] MARTIN: The best. I'll play you an (INAUDIBLE) in part for that one there.

KING: That is the best but, you know, he has given the wink nod here for people to wait for him.

PACE: Yes.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I don't think there's any question about that, and whatever enthusiasm Chuck Schumer has given towards getting Hickenlooper into the race, Mitch McConnell has given equal enthusiasm to getting Mike Pompeo into the race. And if Mitch McConnell is any way persuasive, Mike Pompeo will get another race.

I don't think anybody knows the answer right now but there's no question about it. He's playing footsie with it, he's dancing around it, with it, and sometimes across from it. I think the big question now is whether or not he pulls the trigger. Do you want to leave a position like a cabinet official particularly given all that's going on right now to go into the United States Senate where when you talk to a lot of United States senators who aren't thrilled with their day job on a regular basis? And what does he view for the long term is better for him because I don't think anybody expects that this -- that state is going to be his last position or if he's a senator it's going to be last position.

PACE: Pompeo has --

MATTINGLY: There's something in the future that Mike Pompeo is looking towards.

MARTIN: Are you a better 24th candidate or 28th candidate for president if you break from the Trump administration to take a Senate seat in your home state? Or are you better off having left after the end of the president's first term? That's really the question.

Real fast, John. I heard this morning from a very plugged-in GOP source, Pompeo has told folks that he will make his plans known by Labor Day which is actually less than a month here, so.

KING: Well, that's interesting in the sense that you think part of his calculation might be is President Trump going to win or lose so you want to wait as long as possible into 2020. But that's a responsible position to the other candidates to say you're going to make it now.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If in fact that is the case, yes. I mean -- and that is really what this is all about is the presidential race. In a presidential year, almost everything hinges on the presidential race. For both parties, you want good candidates in all of these races no matter how much of a long shot they look like on paper because you have no idea what those coattails are going to do. You have no idea who's going to blow up on the other side.

Kansas has a Democratic governor right now which is not something you would expect on paper. And it's because of who ran on the other side. So, both parties are (INAUDIBLE) it's always what happens in an odd- numbered year. They're scrambling to get good people --

MATTINGLY: Is that person running for Senate?

BALL: And so -- and particularly in the Trump era, there is this feeling that all bets are off, the political calculus is very scrambled. Nobody is quite sure which states are even going to be in play next year much less which party is going to have the advantage. But it is definitely the case that who -- that whatever happens on the top of the ticket is going to repel all the way down.

KING: And a great reminder and you should all make sure that I heed my own reminder that we should not just focus on the presidential race.


KING: There's a lot great under -- down-ballot drama out there in 2020.

Up next for us, a bit of a lightning round, President Trump having second thoughts about granting early release to a political felon.


[12:42:13] KING: To move quickly through some other big political news today, Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro launching a new campaign ad today. He talks directly to the president, and listen to the message. It's tough.


JULIAN CASTRO (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racist. Innocent people were shot down because they looked different from you. Because they looked like me.


KING: It's a tough message to the president also by a candidate, let's be honest, trying to break through in a Democratic primary where he's trying to move up his polling numbers so he qualifies for debates.

BALL: Yes, I mean, it's been -- if there's anything that's been surprising about this Democratic race so far, it's how few surprises there have been and how hard it has been for anybody to have a breakout moment. And so it's -- you we're reaching desperation time, the time when candidates' campaign staffs quit and beg them to run for something else. The time when candidates launch a last-minute long- shot, you know, attention-grabbing ads on Fox News.

Anything to try to create that moment and for so many of these candidates who got into this race because it looked like it was wide open, because it looked like anyone might have a shot because there was no clear frontrunner. What they're finding is nobody is breaking out and pretty soon it's going to be time for a lot of them to call it a day.

KING: Right, because you've had the same five essentially frozen at the top from Biden down to Buttigieg. That has not moved.

So you got a month -- about a month to go to the next round of debates and nine of them have qualified so far for the fundraising threshold. Tom Steyer now says he has -- there's the nine who have qualified. Tom Steyer says he now has enough donors to qualify for the debate but he spent nearly $4 Democratic candidate and Montana Governor Steve Bullock says that's wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL RACE: A billionaire literally just spent $10 million to qualify for the next debate stage. If we think as Democrats that spending $10 million to get 130,000 donors is grassroots support, we're missing something. We're not going to win this election based on Facebook ads.


KING: Does he have a point or is that a guy who is having trouble moving up in the polls whining?

MARTIN: All of the above, john. And -- but this actually plays nicely into Bullock's wheelhouse. He has tried to make campaign finance reform sort of one of his go-to issues in this primary. And this obviously gets at what some Democrats would see as the absurdity of this process in which you have somebody who hops into the race fairly late in the process and then drops millions of his own personal wealth to get attention on Facebook to, therefore, get grassroots donors. It sort of hard to wrap your head around that. And I get why he's frustrated.

That said, I think Governor Bullock has a larger challenge which is the fact that times have changed in 2019. A red state governor does not have the sort of same cache among many folks in the party that he may have had, say 20 or 30 years ago.

KING: And most of the political oxygen has moved to Washington. Governors used to have more of a shot out there but most of the oxygen is here.

[12:45:02] It's another example of reality TV meets politics in the Trump age.

The president may be backing off plans to commute the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's sentence. What do we make of this? And we do know, we do know there was a lot of incoming from Republican lawmakers saying, Mr. President, this sends a horrible message at any time but especially heading into an election year.

PACE: This is one of the things that sounded really good to Trump in the moment. He sort of seemed to empathize with Blagojevich a little bit and then he did hear a lot from Republicans about this. In part because it goes against -- whether you believe Trump has fulfilled his promises to drain the swamp or not, it goes against what was a big part of his message in 2016 which was basically like these politicians are using their jobs to make money, to bolster their own influence.

Again, you can argue whether Trump has backed that promise or not. But it just really went against the whole premise of his 2016 campaign.

KING: Yes.

PACE: We'll leave it at that.

MARTIN: And there's no political offset. KING: Right.

MARTIN: There's no Democratic constituency that sort of crying out for --

PACE: The White House was trying to make is sound like there was with a period of time and nothing to back it up.

MARTIN: But the free Blago caucus is not a crucial element in the 2020 landscape as far as I can tell.

KING: I think you could fit it on -- I have a couple of fingers to spare.

MARTIN: There are a few alternates in Chicago.

KING: Perhaps. And this today from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, talking about her passion for the Democratic agenda using a term about the top Republican in the Senate we haven't heard her speak before.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): They sent our legislation to the Senate. Moscow Mitch says that he is the grim reaper. Imagine describing yourself as the grim reaper. That he's going to bury all this legislation.

Well, we have news for him. All this legislation is alive and well in the general public.


KING: Maybe alive and well in the general public but it's not moving in the Senate. The Democratic agenda right now. Why is she going in on Moscow Mitch?

MATTINGLY: And I'm not totally sure going after him with a moniker that he very clearly disdains and give a very lengthy floor speech attempting to rebut is necessarily going to help tow any of the legislation that's currently frozen in the chamber. Look, Speaker Pelosi knew what she was doing. It's very clear, both she and her team are keenly aware this has been trending, Moscow Mitch on Twitter, in the left sphere over the course of the last couple of weeks, it has kind of blown up. And I think there's a little bit of a tweaking back and forth.

And Mitch McConnell does the same exact thing with the legislative graveyard, and yelling about socialists on a pretty regular basis talking about the Democratic agenda and why he's there to kill it. And so we're getting a little back and forth. The interesting thing about them is their relationship, they've known each other for a long time, they worked together on the Appropriations Committee. They've never been particularly close but they've always been able to work with one together, maybe on budget, maybe on appropriations.

But also equal one another. They know what they're doing. MARTIN: One final observation. I was so struck by watching Pelosi there from Springfield, Illinois. Can you imagine Nancy Pelosi went to Springfield, Illinois for public event in the 2014 or 2016 or 2018 campaign cycle? Of course she wouldn't but she is not the face of the opposition anymore. The Dem boogeyman has now moved and it's now AOC and the squad and Republicans have kind of given up on framing Pelosi as the villain. And her folks now recognize that and she is free to go and do events in places like, yes, central Illinois.

KING: That's interesting to watch.

Up next for us, the president's new front man on immigration says he's not trying to rewrite history or the poem on the Statue of Liberty.


[12:53:03] KING: President Trump's new front man on immigration policy taking some heat from the left. Critics say he's trying to rewrite the welcoming message on the Statue of Liberty. Citizenship and Immigration Director Ken Cuccinelli, he's acting in that job says no. He says he's just trying to give those famous words some context as the Trump administration now adopts a new policy that would make it harder to get a green card or a visa, you see the details there, if the government determined an applicant was likely to end up asking for government benefits like welfare, food stamps, or subsidized housing?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus' words etched on the Statue of Liberty, give me your tired, your poor, are also part of the American ethos?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.

I was answering a question, I wasn't writing poetry. Of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies where people were considered ratchet if they weren't in the right class.


KING: He's trying to make a point that he believes, and to advance this policy. Is that a smart way to do it?

PACE: No seems to be the -- I mean, what Cuccinelli essentially did is, you know, we've had these assumptions made by Democrats and supporters of immigration that what the administration is trying to do is essentially change the face of immigration in the United States, make it wealthier, and in some cases make it whiter. And Cuccinelli gave voice to that idea, basically making clear that, you know, he wants people in this country and the president wants people in this country who come with some financial backing, who are not going to be a drain on the system. And the reality is that a lot of immigrants coming from places like Latin America and Africa are poor and those two continents in particular are black and brown. And so this really does make it look like they want a whiter and wealthier immigration class.

KING: The Wall Street Journal editorial board making some of that point today saying, sure, it supports work requirements for public benefits and you want to have -- you get some screening in immigration.

[12:55:08] But it ends up by saying, this rule looks like one more attempt by White House advisers to even make America a country of no more immigrants.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Look, the Journal ed board has long been in a very different position than the Trump administration. On this, but I also think this is a merit-based system or pushed towards a merit-based system that the administration has always said they wanted. They wanted this rule for a long time, they're pushing it forward. They weren't lying when they said they wanted it.

KING: They weren't lying when they said they wanted it and they understand the calendar as well.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you this time tomorrow as well. Brianna Keilar starts after a quick break. Have a great afternoon.