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INSIDE POLITICS

O'Rourke Restarts 2020 Campaign with Big Focus on Guns; Hickenlooper to End Presidential Campaign Today; Bullock: 2020 Dems on Their Way to Losing Presidential Race; AIPAC: Every Member of Congress Should Be Allowed to Visit Israel; Trump Promotes Lewandowski Ahead of NH Visit. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 15, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: -- and give another shot to see if it works. But the math is just not great if you look at it, back in April he was at six percent in Iowa. That's back in April, six percent not an outstanding number. The most recent poll has him at less than one percent.

So, I hate to be crass but the numbers matter.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Which for sure, which also raises the question why isn't he taking that message he gave there in El Paso today to a speech in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or Nevada. Instead he's going to Mississippi and Arkansas. So I think the -- he's grown frustrated by what his aides see as the frivolity of this campaign while he was back in El Paso. A lot of his Democratic rivals were walking around the Iowa state fair and things.

I mean, that is part of the process. He also could have flown to Iowa and given a serious speech about guns. So he is choosing to go kind of against the traditional nominating process and calendar here because he's frustrated by not being able to break through.

He was criticized at the beginning for jumping on counters. He went through all these. But the reality is he in a substantive way has not broken through. I think what Matt was saying, he's had a lot of different messages. Now he has this message so I think it is a right moment for that but he doesn't look like he's going to the places where this contest is playing out.

You know, a lot of attention on Iowa. A lot of attention on New Hampshire. Like it or not, that's how the rules of the monopoly game are played. It looks like he's going to try and go a reverse strategy. It hasn't worked for anyone before. We'll see if it works for him.

KING: And there are always complaints about the process, always, but the process is the process. That's how the Democrats get delegates. That's how Republicans gets delegates. You can go to Rudy Giuliani campaigning on Florida. You can find many examples over this in history.

The process is the process, like it or not. The question is can he find a way.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. And I think that, you know, he needs to be focusing on the early voting states, all of them do. So again to Jeff's point, it's not that the message won't resonate because I've heard from a number of Democratic strategists and activists that they feel as though there still is a void amongst -- in -- within the field of a Democrat who will really take it to Trump and who will talk very explicitly about race and about white supremacy and about white nationalism and so there is an opening there for him. But if he's giving that message in places that aren't going to boost him in the primary then it's hard to see how long he's going to last.

KING: Right. The Houston Chronicle on Sunday saying, get out, please get into the Senate race. He has until December 9th to make that decision so he can go another round of the debates. He says, no, I want something bigger. The question is what.

ZELENY: I guess the question is, is he playing to win the nomination, which, you know, he has a lot of serious advisers, or is he playing to enhance the Beto brand here? I think that's what we'll see play out over the next several months as he travels across the country. But again, he has a lot of good people on his team. Let's just let this play out for a month or so.

And as you said, he is on that debate stage. Several rivals would love to be in at least that position.

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think there's also a fundamental question with him as to how much political advice he is willing to listen to, and that's always been I think the struggle for him. There's -- I talked to him at moments --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He never did it on the Senate campaign.

VISER: Yes. At moments he's sort of looked to Bobby Kennedy and he liked that Bobby Kennedy went to the Indian reservation or went to places where there weren't primary votes and he did it for a reason. And you can see that a little bit in him choosing to go to Mississippi. But again, political advice is not that. That's not probably the wisest political move, but there's an aspect to him that likes it for that reason.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think it is tough for candidates like Beto who have shunned political advice and it worked for them. You know, he had a successful Senate run against Ted Cruz. This is what happened to Trump in 2016. He discarded all of the conventional political advice and ran a successful campaign. So for Beto, I think he thinks I did this successfully once, now I know what I'm doing.

KING: He did lose, however.

JOHNSON: Same goes for the president. I mean, I think that's what his advisers would counter with. And Trump's advisers likewise would say, you know, well, you lost the popular vote. Many would argue he won in a scenario that is highly unlikely to play itself out in 2020 or ever again perhaps in American history. So -- but I think the candidates themselves always attribute it to their own special political insights.

KING: We shall see. The volatility is still out there, but again the calendar is the calendar and no candidate can change that.

Up next, a 2020 candidate that might be deciding the Senate is a better race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:38:51] KING: Today the very crowded Democratic field for president will shrink by one. Next hour sources tell us John Hickenlooper will end is 2020 White House bid. The two-term Colorado governor won't commit today but he is now seriously looking instead to run for Senate, challenging the Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper has resisted entreaties run for Senate in months. As recently as this past Sunday right here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every time we've beaten an incumbent president of either party, it's been with a governor or former governor. And I feel that's -- you know, we're the ones who have to balance the budgets. We're where the buck stops. I've done, I've achieved the big progressive goals that Washington has been incapable of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He used to be, that was a message you could sell in all presidential politics. George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis, he lost but won a nomination. Bill Clinton won a nomination and won the presidency. What does this tell us, just Hickenlooper was never able to put it together, that governors don't have the cache they used to have, that the party has moved to the left, all of the above?

ZELENY: I think it's all of the above. And I think one of the things you have to, you know, place responsibility and blame on the candidate himself.

[12:40:04] He says the right words, you know, that a lot of people wanting to hear. He's not the sexiest salesman. And the reality is in this era of Donald Trump, in this era of a very diverse Democratic field of candidates, he sort of looks like, you know, one of the many.

His message actually is different. His message actually, you know, was like hold on, Democrats, you are about to as he says FedEx the election to be a president. But I spent a decent amount of time with him out on the road behind a bar in Des Moines, a brew pub. That's how he got his start before he was the mayor of Denver. He actually does pretty well or did pretty well in the retail space but he didn't ever really elevate that. The crowded field. I mean, had he been the only governor, the only outside of Washington figure perhaps. But as we go forward looking to the Senate, I am told that he's a -- you know, he's much more open about this than he was months ago. And people around him believe that he actually is pretty close to saying yes to this. We'll see if he does.

KING: In the presidential race, part of the complexity -- part of that problem for the moderates is that Biden sucks up a lot of that space. A lot of Democrats who identify themselves as moderate or more centrist voters are with the former vice president right now. The other governor you keep an eye on is Steve Bullock the governor of Montana, who I don't believe has qualified for the next round of debates yet, he is struggling. He sees Hickenlooper getting out, he sees his own struggle and he says, party, wake up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I do worry we're on our way to losing this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You worry Democrats are on their way to losing the 2020 election?

BULLOCK: On the way to losing it before we even begin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?

BULLOCK: Well, because I think that -- look, the core of the word progressive right is actually making progress in people's lives. And watching that last debate stage when the attacks are saying things like essentially beating up on President Obama's legacy or saying that it's Republican talking points not to disrupt the lives of 165 million people getting private health insurance, we've got to have somebody at the top of the ticket that can actually help red states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARRON-LOPEZ: I mean, if you're -- if your name isn't Biden and you're not very well known and you're running as a moderate, you're not doing very well in this field. And the ones that are, are ones like Buttigieg who -- and Beto potentially a little bit who fashioned more of in between moderate, in between the left-wing zone.

Klobuchar has been staying in there quite a bit, but other than that, I mean, Biden is the one who's dominating that lane. And so far no one other than Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, who have very different viewpoints from Biden are even coming close to touching him.

KING: And if you look at that, this is from 2016 Democrats who showed up in the caucus and the primaries. Twenty-five percent said -- when (INAUDIBLE) after all the caucuses and primaries, 25 percent Democratic primary voters were very liberal, 36 percent somewhat liberal, 32 percent moderate and seven percent conservative. So there's a space there between somewhat liberal and moderate. The question is, again, Biden is holding so much of that right now. Will the other moderates be around if and when he did come back to earth? And if and when he did suffer, who will be left at that point?

VISER: I do -- the party does seem headed toward this epic clash of those different viewpoints. And I think Biden's shakiness in some of his early debate performances does give an avenue toward a moderate alternative to Biden in that space, just like Warren and Sanders are sort of duking it out on the progressive lane.

The question is who can emerge in that way. And I think Hickenlooper was an imperfect messenger for that. And Bullock is trying to fill that space. Jay Inslee is trying to fill that space. And there are others sort of accomplished people who are sort of scratching their heads on why they are not catching on.

And part of that is Biden and part is that there's the crowded nature of the field. In Iowa last week there was just sort of a thirst for the field to narrow. It was just -- there's too many candidates for anybody to focus on and get to know and dig through the policies of these people. So maybe Hickenlooper getting out will help narrow that.

KING: It will be interesting to see what the conversation is after the next round of debates and how many candidates we have as we get past Labor Day and towards the end of the year. You'll get some winnowing. We'll see how it goes through.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:48:55] KING: New developments now in a major breaking political story today. Israel's decision to ban two Democrats in Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Israel says they are not welcome. They had planned a visit to Israel, also to visits some Palestinian sites while there. Israel says they are not welcome.

That decision coming after the president of the United States tweeting Israel would look weak, show great weakness if it allowed them to come. As reactions comes in now from interested political groups. This from AIPAC, the American-Israeli political action committee. "We disagree with Representatives Omar and Tlaib's support for the anti- Israel and anti-peace BDS movement", that's a boycott movement, "along with Representative Tlaib's call for a one-state solution. We also believe", though, the statement goes on to say, "every member of congress should be able to visit and experience our Democratic ally Israel firsthand."

And this from the Democratic leader in the Senate. Democratic Chuck Schumer saying, quote, denying entry to members of the United States congress is a sign of weakness, not strength. It will only hurt the U.S./Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America. No Democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision which the Israeli Government should reverse." [12:50:06] So APAC, which again has been critical of both of these congresswomen, essentially saying, yes, have the debate but why not let them come. Essentially saying to the Israeli Government, what are you afraid of?

VISER: That's the most interesting statement to me. You have somebody who's kind of aligned with President Trump and Republicans and their arguments against these congresswomen, but is expressing the viewpoint that they should be allowed to go. That Israel should not be scared to have them in their country. You know, they should welcome the dialogue and the debate.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, the question now is how many other Republicans come out, which we referenced earlier, now that maybe they feel like they have some cover from APAC because a lot of them are very closely aligned with those viewpoints.

KING: But do they come out and criticize or as we've been on the broadcast the president tweeting again that Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democratic Party. This is the president -- they're not the face of the Democratic Party, they're important new members of the Democratic Party but they don't have a lot of influence legislatively. The president is trying to make them a political foil. Prime Minister Netanyahu helping him on this day.

ZELENY: Exactly. Once again he has grown a little bit weary of the many Democratic presidential candidates so he wants to elevate these essentially back bench members of Congress. Yes, they are important new members of the Democratic majority but they do not have legislative sway, they are not the leaders of the Democratic Party. He wants them to be for these purposes here. I think we'll see again how the president elevates this at his rally tonight in New Hampshire.

JOHNSON: Look, had the president not inserted himself into this issue, I don't think Democrats like Chuck Schumer would be as eager to then insert themselves into it as well, because they would not be going face-to-face with the president, they would be going up against an independent Israeli decision. And I don't think they're particularly eager to do that given the positions that some of their own members, including Omar and Tlaib, have taken. But I do think that the president's decision to take a stance on this has made it a domestic political issue for Democrats and Republicans which is something that, you know, I think a lot of Republicans would wish that he would have avoided.

KING: Dead right. That's why Schumer used the term weakness in his statement.

Up next for us, another possible candidate for the Senate. This one quite controversial. Corey Lewandowski, the president's former campaign manager.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:56] KING: President Trump has a big rally in New Hampshire tonight and Republican leaders in the state are nervous. That's an understatement, nervous he's about to get behind a Senate candidate they don't like and don't think can win. That would be Corey Lewandowski, the president's blunt and often controversial former 2016 campaign manager.

CNN's Manu Raju reporting today Lewandowski has met with Republican campaign operatives here in Washington to discuss a possible Senate run, that back home in New Hampshire. And Lewandowski and his family will be on hand for tonight's rally. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is up for re-election next year and most top New Hampshire Republicans believe Lewandowski would be a disaster as her Republican challenger. But those Republicans also say, acknowledge the president's blessing would hold considerable sway with GOP voters.

And listen here, this is the president on the radio this morning.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like everything about him. I think Corey is a fantastic guy. If he ran in one, he'd be a great senator. He would be great for New Hampshire, he'd be great for the country. He has got a tremendous drive, and that drive would be put to the people of New Hampshire's benefit and the country's benefit. So I haven't heard that he's running yet, I know he's considering it. If he ran, I think he'd be number one.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Ruh-roh. I say Ruh-roh because this --I want to go through here, this from a political story. A number of prominent New Hampshire Republicans, Tom Rath, not a Corey fan. The governor, concerns. Judd Gregg, former Republican senator, he's a thug. Dave carney, long-time Republican strategist, a political hack.

Most top Republicans in New Hampshire think this is a recipe for disaster. The president clearly thinks just the opposite.

VISER: I mean, to be fair, all of those people would have said the same thing about Donald Trump in 2015 and did. And I think Trump, you know, shocked the world when he won New Hampshire in that primary and defeated Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and others at that moment. And he views Corey Lewandowski as a key to that. You know, Lewandowski's ties to New Hampshire.

So I think that's explaining a little bit of President Trump's favor for Corey Lewandowski.

ZELENY: I want to see what committees does he want to serve on, foreign affairs, you know, defense. I mean, what -- does he really want to be a senator or does he want to be Donald Trump's man on the Senate.

You know, look, we should not discount the possibility of this, because who knows with President Trump on the ballot, boy, that is a big help. But it's a pretty big gift for Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent. JOHNSON: I think that's right. You know, there aren't all that many potential Republican pickups on the 2020 map. And so to cede one to a candidate who's perhaps not the best possible candidate I think is tough, but also there are a lot of Trump allies who are hoping that he does run so he won't be around to put bugs in the president's ear and potentially derail his re-election bid.

BARRON-LOPEZ: The concern from local GOPers though is that they don't think someone like Lewandowski could beat Shaheen. He doesn't expand the base beyond the voters that are already with Trump. So he could maybe very well win a primary but again, Shaheen, his odds aren't that good.

KING: Who has proven she's a survivor. She's had tough races, she's a former governor, she's a survivor. It'll be another fun one to watch including that rally tonight. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, a very busy news day. Brianna Keilar --

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