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Trump Downplays Recession Fears; Israel Controversy; Reps Omar & Tlaib Speak After Israel Ban, Trump Insults. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 16:00   ET




"THE LEAD" starts right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: President Trump says everyone in America is loaded with money. If you believe that, I have a giant melting Danish-owned island to sell you.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: the first two Muslim women in Congress who were barred from visiting Israel speaking in moments. What will the so-called Squad have to say to President Trump?

Apologies and promises. Senator Elizabeth Warren tackles the controversy over her self-proclaimed Native American heritage head on after President Trump promises to revive a racist slur to attack her. One of Warren's 2020 opponents is here to react to that.

Plus, a mysterious blast, fears of a doomsday weapon, and now radiation stations are going silent. How do you say cover-up in Russian?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

And we do start with the politics lead.

Any moment now, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will step to the microphone together for the first time since Israel banned their visit over their support for an economic boycott against Israel. Now, that ban came less than an hour after President Trump suggested it.

Israel agreed to lift some restrictions for Congresswoman Tlaib, who wanted to visit her grandmother in the West Bank. But she declined to go, saying a visit under oppressive conditions stood against everything she believed in.

Now both women are back to square one, protesting Israel and taking on President Trump.

CNN's Ryan Young live in Minneapolis, where the two women are holding a news conference. Ryan, what is the new position of these two congresswomen?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that will be the big question. Excuse the hushed voice. I'm sort of standing in the middle of the news conference. And we know that, in the next few minutes, this should start.

This will be the first time we will be able to ask them significant questions about this. Of course, will they take the president straight on? He's been doing a lot of talking on Twitter. Will the women directly face those charges that he put out there?

Remember, this happened less than an hour after that tweet where this was sort of said they couldn't go there. So, of course, you want to hear from these two women in the next 20 minutes or so. We will be able to ask them the questions about what was their trip and details, what happened with this, and how do they feel emotionally about this?

So that is something that we will be focused on in the next half-hour or so when they walk into this room -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Ryan Young, please stand by for us. Let us know when they arrive.

Also in our politics lead, the president playing the blame game. First denying the threat of a recession, which many economists warn is coming, then saying the economy is completely fine and maligning the Federal Reserve chairman he picked and Democrats, tweeting: "Our economy is very strong despite the horrendous lack of vision by Jay Powell and the Fed. But the Democrats are trying to will the economy to be bad for the purposes of the 2020 election."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more on the president in attack mode.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the economy on his mind, President Trump is lashing out.


COLLINS: Claiming economists who have said a recession isn't happening now, but could be on the horizon, are wrong.

TRUMP: Most of them are saying we're not going to have a recession.

COLLINS: It is not just the president who is downplaying the pessimistic forecast. His own aides have convinced him the media is overplaying fears of an economic downturn.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: It is nice to see the media finally cover the Trump economy. You seem to cover it only when you could use the Sesame Street of the word of the day, recession.

COLLINS: But as Trump claimed today on Twitter that the U.S. economy is the best in the world, he's also preparing a scapegoat just in case, blaming his hand-picked Federal Reserve chair, Jay Powell, claiming the Democrats are trying to will the economy into a recession and calling for a big federal rate cut, even though some experts say his trade policies are to blame.

Lately, Trump has turned to economic hard-liners like trade adviser Peter Navarro for advice, who disputed Sunday the bond market is flashing signs of a possible recession.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: That is not technically an inversion. It is a flat curve, which is a very weak signal of any possibility.

COLLINS: Navarro claiming the so-called yield curve inversion, which has preceded U.S. recessions for at least the last 40 years, isn't a good indicator, even though he's argued otherwise in his own books, claiming the curve is a powerful forecasting tool.

The economy isn't the only thing Trump is watching. He also lashed out at his former communications director after he claimed he's forming a coalition of ex-Cabinet members to speak out against Trump.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I'm in the process of putting together a team of people that feel the exact same way that I do.

COLLINS: Trump attacking Anthony Scaramucci as a highly unstable nut job he barely knew.


COLLINS: Now, John, as these concerns about a recession are heating up, and the White House is continuing to downplay them, we should note that president's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, is going to hold a series of phone calls this week with business leaders, state officials, local officials to talk about the economy.


And though the White House says these calls were long-planned, it's hard to see how this doesn't come up.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us in Washington, Kaitlan, thanks so much.

Let's talk more about this right now.

Caitlin Dickerson with "The New York Times," I want you to look at the factors that the president his allies have blamed as a possible threat on the economy here.

Number one, the Federal Reserve chair. Number two, the news media. Number three, China and other countries.

The one thing he's not talking about is the effect of his own economic policies and whether or not they may be hurting the economy. Is that a surprise?

CAITLIN DICKERSON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": No I was going to ask you the same thing. I mean, I don't think that it should come as a surprise. That's not the president's style of discussion.

I think the question of how the economy is going to evolve is a big one, and we don't know. And so he's going to try to get ahead of it. He's going to try to talk on Twitter as much as possible to sort of hedge his bets, to make sure that if there is, in fact, a recession, that blame is placed elsewhere, but if there isn't, that he can still claim a success, and still take all the credit for the positives that the economy has seen over time.

And so it's a risky move, but it's one that's very well-worn with the president. And so we will just have to see if his rhetoric can sort of stay ahead of where the actual story is.

BERMAN: Rich, I'm not -- Rich Lowry, by the way, "National Review."

I'm not surprised that the president's advisers came out as strong as they did this weekend. You wouldn't expect a White House to say, a recession is coming. It just doesn't happen that way.

But they pushed back so hard. Is the reason for that they see that a weakened economy is a mortal threat to the president's reelection?


I mean, a weak economies moral threat to any president's reelection. And no president says, oh, this downturn is my fault. And every administration tries to talk up the economy. And Larry Kudlow was out there this weekend.

I can tell you, knowing Larry a very long time, he's an inveterate optimist. This is what he would say about how the American economy in almost any instance.

But I think there are a couple worries one, obviously the political effect, the other the contention with China, because the president assumed for a very long time he was playing with house money, the economy is so strong, it could absorb any downward effect of tariffs, which don't just hurt the other guy. They hurt you.

If he's no longer playing with house money and the economy is weakening, that makes it much harder to get any meaningful deal with China.

BERMAN: Now, it's one thing to be optimistic. It's one thing to have glass-half-full views on where the economy is.

It's another thing to use information that's wrong or to say things that aren't true, which is what Peter Navarro did with Jake over the weekend on "STATE OF THE UNION," when he was saying that the effects of the tariffs are not hitting Americans at all. Just listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NAVARRO: The tariffs are -- are hurting China. China's bearing the entire burden of the tariffs.


BERMAN: So, Peter Beinart, the fact of the matter is, you could say it's worth it for the tariffs to be hitting the American people. It's worth it if you're trying to push China to a certain end here, but to say they're not hitting Americans just isn't true.


I mean, Americans are paying more and Americans will continue to pay more. I think Moody's suggested that 300,000 jobs have already been lost, because, remember, a lot of American companies are importing imports from China, right? And that makes the product they're selling more expensive, which means they have more trouble selling, which means they can employ fewer people.

One of the reasons the Democrats in the state of Iowa, for instance, which is a big farm state, won two congressional seats in 2018 was because, in farm states, the agricultural tariffs and the retaliation from China have already hit so hard. Trump knows this. This is why he's actually pulling back.

The problem is he doesn't have a realistic strategy for actually winning this trade war. It's not even clear what he's asking the Chinese to do. And that's why this is an economic and I think a political fiasco as well.

BERMAN: He's attacking the Fed chair, Jay Powell. What did he say? He said he has horrendous judgment.

Jess McIntosh is here with us as well. He said Anthony Scaramucci was a nut job. I suppose Jay Powell should be happy that he only got horrendous judgment, and not a nut job there.


BERMAN: But it is interesting that the way he chooses to attack criticism or people not doing the things he wants to do is to go right to the insult.

MCINTOSH: Well, of course.

And this is the problem with propaganda is that eventually it runs up with reality. So he can criticize everybody who suggests that the economy might be showing signs of slowing down. He can say that -- he can have his people come out and say that an inverted yield curve is not an inverted yield curve.

But, eventually, the math actually happens and the propaganda sort of falls away. So he's out there insulting everybody who is an expert in this field, and propping up folks who may or may not be.

I think eventually the American people are going to see through it. They're already starting to feel it. As Peter was saying, they're paying more. He's talking about consumers having more money than they know what to do with.

Usually, American presidents don't call Americans consumers. And I don't know anybody who feels so financially secure that they're really excited he's getting all distracted on Twitter all day and not dealing with the economy.

LOWRY: Say this about Trump and the Fed. No president should attack the Fed chairman, obviously.


But he was right that the Fed was going to tighten too soon. And his view of the Federal Reserve and interest rates is more correct than what was the consensus Republican view during the Obama era, which is that if you're loose during a downturn and what you should be, that you're inevitably going to have runaway inflation.

And many conservative economists said that. They were completely wrong. And Trump, his policy view, although it's filtered through this prims of insult, is more correct than the Republican...


BERMAN: Maggie Haberman and others reporting, though, that he doesn't even think the Fed should be independent.

And that, of course, gets into that problem zone.

To Anthony Scaramucci one more time. Let me just read you what he wrote about Anthony Scaramucci. "Scaramucci is a highly unstable nut job who was with other candidates in the primary who got shellacked, then, unfortunately, wheedled his way into my campaign. I barely knew him until his 11 days of gross incompetence made a fool of himself, bad on TV, abused staff."

That's the president's version. OK. Anthony was on "NEW DAY" this morning. This is what he said to Alisyn Camerota.


SCARAMUCCI: I'm in the process of putting together a team of people that feel the exact same way that I do. This is not a never-Trump situation. This is not just screeching rhetoric.

I have got to get some of these former Cabinet officials in unity to speak up about it. They know it's a crisis.


BERMAN: Now, Anthony Scaramucci has talked, Caitlin, about former Cabinet officials, even current people inside the administration who feel the same way he does, but as of yet, none have come forward.

DICKERSON: Not under this current discussion and not with Anthony Scaramucci, no, but he really, I think, is part of a growing chorus of people who once had close ties to the president, and who no longer do, but who now want to come out and say that he is unstable, or that he's unable to do his job.

But the problem that he has his credibility, is that people who come forth like him, even John Kelly, former secretary of homeland security and then chief of staff to President Trump, Michael Cohen, people who have very close relationships with the president and then try to step back and say, actually, he's completely unstable and unable to do his job, they just don't have a whole lot of credibility and are able to change minds, because their motivations are called into question.

BERMAN: So far, it's Anthony Scaramucci, Joe Walsh, also Mark Sanford, Peter.

But is that enough to pose a real threat from within the party to the president, not to defeat him in a primary, but to bruise him?

BEINART: No, because they have no media ecosystem, right?

So the media ecosystem that Trump voters are consuming is basically state propaganda, all pro-Trump all the time, right? And nothing that Scaramucci and the other guys are going to say are a surprise to anybody. Right?

The only surprise is why it took them so long to realize this, right? From the day Trump -- even before the day Trump announced, it was clear he was a racist and a conspiracy theorist, right? That's been clear for literally decades. So I don't think these guys actually have a lot of credibility as the truth-tellers about Donald Trump.

BERMAN: All right, friends, stand by for a minute.

We're waiting to hear from Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar together for the first time since Israel banned their visit. We will bring it to you live.

Then President Trump makes a completely false and frankly completely ridiculous claim about the 2016 election. We will fact-check it next.


[16:17:27] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Any moment now we will hear from Congressman Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. They are together in Minnesota, about to speak after Israel banned their visit. We'll bring you their statements live.

And while we wait for the comments, the president sending an outrageous patently false tweet, claiming that Google manipulated the 2016 election. All right. Hang on one second. Pause on that.

This is the Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): Sorry to be late. There was some traffic detours. I'm so glad to be here with my Sister Rashida today.

Today, we're here to highlight -- before I start, we were supposed to have a couple of the other -- speakers, are they in the room?

Do you want to join us?

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): Please come up.

OMAR: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for everything. Thank you. Thank you for speaking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, nice to see you.

OMAR: Wonderful.

Today, we're here to highlight the human cost of the occupation and the travel restrictions on Palestinians and others. As many as of you know, I had planned to travel to Israel and Palestine to hear from individuals on the ground about the conflict so that I could be more informed as a member of Congress and as a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Contrary to many media reports, and the statements of the Israeli prime minister, I plan to meet directly with members of the Knesset and Israeli security, along with Palestinian civil society groups and former IDF soldiers, Israel, Palestine and international organizations and United Nations officials.

Leading up to the trip, I met with constituents holding a wide range of views on the conflict. All of the activities on my trip had been done by members -- had been done by members of Congress in the past, including a nearly identical trip a few years ago led by the very same Palestinian organization leading this trip.

In addition to me and Rashida going on the trip, we were going to be joined by Stacey Plaskett (ph) from the Virgin Islands. The decision to ban me and my colleagues, the first my colleague -- the first two Muslim American women elected to Congress is nothing less than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials.

[16:20:15] But this is not just about me. Netanyahu's decision to deny us entry might be unprecedented for members of Congress. But it is the policy of his government when it comes to Palestinians. This is the policy of his government when it comes to anyone who holds views that threaten the occupation, a policy that has been edged on and supported by Trump's administration.

That's because the only way to preserve unjust policy is to suppress people's freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. My colleague and I are not the only ones who are being denied the right to see for ourselves the reality on the ground on the West Bank. The Netanyahu government for example is currently trying to deport Omar Shakir (ph), a human rights worker with Human Rights Watch because he has reported on human rights conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.

Last year, the Netanyahu government refused entry to American citizen Katherine Frank, and my friend Vince Warren who had arrived on a human rights mission. All of these actions have nothing -- do nothing to bring us closer to peace. In fact, they do the opposite. They maintain the occupation and prevent a solution to the conflict.

Fortunately, we in the United States have a constructive role to play. We give Israel more than $3 million in aid every year. This is predicated on their being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East. But denying visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expressions or self- determination is not consistent with being a democracy.

We must be asking as Israel's ally the Netanyahu government stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid. These are not just my views. These are the views held by the range of experts, peace advocates on this issue.

We know Donald Trump would love nothing more than to use this issue to pit Muslims and Jewish Americans against each other. The Muslim community and the Jewish community are being othered and made into the boogeyman by this administration.

But as we will hear today, people of all different faiths are coming together to speak up against the status quo in the region. I'm grateful for the solidarity shown by so many of my colleagues in Congress. I understand and appreciate the calls for members to avoid traveling to Israel and until Rashida and I are allowed to go without condition.

But it is my belief that as legislators, we have the obligation to see the reality there for ourselves. We have a responsibility to conduct oversight over our government's foreign policy and what happens with the millions of dollars we send in aid. So I would encourage my colleagues to visit, meet with the people we were going to met with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear.

We cannot -- we cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us. So I call on all of you to go. The occupation is real. Bearing -- barring members of Congress from seeing it does not make it go away. We must end it together.

Now it's with honor that I introduce my sister Rashida Tlaib who has been so brave and resilient and someone who has deep connections to the region and someone who I would have loved to have met her city -- Rashida Tlaib.

[16:25:14] TLAIB: Thank you so much to my dear friend and colleague, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for inviting me to her district to join y'all today.

I'm incredibly thankful for her leadership and strength through all she has been dealing with as a woman of color in Congress. I don't know how she does it sometimes, but the outpouring of support we have received from our constituents and supporters across the country shows us how important it is to keep fighting for justice.

Today's -- today, Reps Omar and Plaskett and I were supposed to be on a congressional trip and delegation to the Palestine and Israel and such delegations are common occurrence for members of Congress. Earlier this month, in fact, 71 other members of Congress traveled to Israel seemingly without incident. What is not common occurrence as members of Congress being barred from entering a country on these fact-finding missions unless they agree to strict set of rules curtailing rights or being required to submit their itineraries for stop by stop pre-approval.

History does have a habit of repeating itself. I learned this week that a former member of Congress, Congressman Charles C. Diggs Jr. was denied entry into apartheid South Africa in 1972. He was also the representative for the 13th congressional district in Michigan.

I was born and raised in the beautiful Detroit, where many of my African-American teachers taught me about the realities of oppression and justice and the need to speak up and take action. Growing up in a city that has been at the center of many social justice movements for civil rights, labor rights and equality and absorbing those lessons has shaped who I am today, and drives me to push for peace and justice for the Palestinian and Israeli people.

As a young girl visiting Palestine to see my grandparents and extended family, I watched as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints -- even though she was a United States citizen and proud American. I was there when my city was in a terrible car accident and my cousins and I cried so she could have access to the best hospitals which were in Jerusalem. I remember shaking with fear when check points appeared in the small village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, tanks and guns everywhere.

I remember visiting East Jerusalem with my then-husband and him escorted off the bus, although he was a United States citizen just so security forces could harass him. All I can do as my city's granddaughter, as the granddaughter of a woman who lives in occupied territory is to elevate her voice by exposing the truth, the only way I know how.

As my Detroit public schools teachers taught me, by humanizing the pain of oppression, our delegation trip included meetings with Israeli veterans, who were forced to participate in military occupation. They also desperately want peace and self-determination for their Palestinian neighbors. They could have shed light into injustices of raids, shootings and demolition and child detention.

The delegation would have seen firsthand why walls are destructive and not productive. They could have asked the people in Bethlehem how walls cut people off away from economic opportunities from a way to live and do psychological damage that lasts forever. All I can do as her granddaughter is help humanize her and the Palestinian people's plight. I know that when we could finally see them as deserving of human dignity, everyone who lives there will be able to live in peace.

It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently taken a page out of Trump's book. And even direction from Trump to deny this opportunity. And, yes, while folks are shocked this happened to us, but today we will hear from folks who helped show the reality for many who have been barred from going to Israel, not to be even able to reach the Palestinian people. They are fellow Americans who cannot visit their families or their loved ones.

They should be -- all of us should be deeply deserved, all Americans should be deeply disturbed and with that I thank you so much to my colleague Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for helping humanize the Palestinian people.

OMAR: Thank you, Rashida.

Next, we will hear from Lana Barkawi, Palestinian American and resident who has never been able to return to her family --