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Trump, Economic Advisers Downplay Recession Fears; Trump Confirms Interest to Purchase Greenland; 3 Men Arrested for Making Separate Mass Shooting Threats; Trump Begins to Backtrack on Tougher Gun Restrictions. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Monday, August 19th. It's 6:00 here in New York, and I was looking at your new tat.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I felt that it was fitting for you and I. I got an anchor. I was at the beach this weekend.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I got an anchor. It's a henna tattoo so it won't last forever, but somehow it felt that for these times figuratively, and for you and I, I should have an anchor.

BERMAN: Or if you don't bathe, it will last forever. That's the way I deal with it.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's my plan.

BERMAN: All right. This morning a growing number of economists warned that the United States could be headed toward a recession. This is from a survey just out from the National Association for Business Economics. But the White House doesn't see it or doesn't want to see it. The administration has spent the last 48 hours trying to spin that the American economy is strong and they're certainly entitled to their own optimism. But they're not entitled to their own facts.

Despite the clear evidence that U.S. companies and consumers are being hit by the effects of the president's trade policy, the White House is making the bizarre and false claim that they're not.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, this important development. President Trump appears to be retreating on his calls for stricter background checks on gun purchases. The president told reporters he believes background checks are very strong. With Congress still on recess, there has been no movement on gun legislation following the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton and Gilroy.

A new national poll shows Americans want action. An overwhelming majority want background checks expanded. So we begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House.

What is the latest there, Joe? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, as you

know, Donald Trump has linked his presidency to the economy and after a week of uncertainty in the markets with many economists saying these are signs of a possible looming recession, the president and his top lieutenants over the weekend were saying you have nothing to fear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are doing better than any country or even area anywhere in the world.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump insisting the American economy is doing great despite a week of whiplash on Wall Street spiking fears that a recession may be right around the corner.

TRUMP: I don't think we're having a recession. We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they're loaded up with money.

JOHNS: His top economic advisers echoing the president, downplaying fears of a slowdown.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I sure don't see a recession. We had some blockbuster retail sales consumer numbers towards the backend of last week. Really blockbuster numbers.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: In this case, the flat curve is actually the result of a very strong Trump economy.

JOHNS: Even making bold claims about how tariffs are affecting Americans.

NAVARRO: This president has the backs of farmers. The tariffs are hurting China. China is bearing the entire burden of the tariffs in terms of --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's not --

NAVARRO: Hang on.

TAPPER: -- what a lot of experts say.

NAVARRO: This is what this expert says.

JOHNS: But economists and some farmers disagree.

GARY WERTISH, PRESIDENT, MINNESOTA FARMERS UNION: This was self- inflicted by our president and we definitely agreed at the beginning. But we -- it doesn't appear that there's a plan B.

JOHNS: The stakes could not be higher for the president who says the economy should give him a second term.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's some basic facts here that you can't escape. And one of them is that American farmers are getting killed. BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm afraid that this

president is driving the global economy and our economy into recession.

JOHNS: The president also seeming to back track on earlier support for some tighter gun restrictions, again emphasizing the need to focus on mental health. Despite a new poll finding overwhelming support for tougher gun legislation.

TRUMP: People don't realize we have very strong background checks right now. You go in to buy a gun, you have to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years.

JOHNS: President Trump also confirming his interest in purchasing Greenland from Denmark.

TRUMP: Essentially it's a large real estate deal. A lot of things could be done.

JOHNS: But the Danish prime minister quashing any future deal as, quote, "absurd."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The president also took a swipe at FOX News saying there's something going on at FOX and I'm not happy with it. That after he was asked about polls by that network showing him trailing Democrats in several head-to-head matchups.

John and Alisyn, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe, thank you very much.

We're going to talk about the background checks and the president's apparent retreat on that in just a moment because I think that's significant and those words there deliberate it seemed to me.

CAMEROTA: We've also seen that before after other horrible school shootings and mass shootings. The president says one thing and then the policy doesn't match it.

BERMAN: All right, we'll come back to that in just a moment. Joining us now is Andrew Gillum, CNN political commentator, former mayor of Tallahassee, Bakari Sellers, a CNN political commentator who has endorsed Kamala Harris for president, April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and Angela Rye, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Let's start with the economy because, as I said, the White House is entitled to optimism. If they want to look out and say we don't think a recession is coming, we think everything is good, they're entitled to that opinion. What they're not entitled to is their own facts. So, when Peter Navarro, and he was here with you on Friday saying the same thing. [06:05:02] When he was with Jake yesterday and Jake asked him about

the evidence, the evidence, that U.S. farmers are being hurt, that manufacturers are being hurt, that people in the United States are being hit by the tariffs, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAVARRO: The tariffs are hurting China. China's bearing the entire burden of the tariffs in terms of --

TAPPER: That's not --

NAVARRO: Hang on.

TAPPER: -- what a lot of experts say.

NAVARRO: This is what this expert says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: In other words, I'm keeping my eyes shut here. Black is white. Night is day. And water is not wet. You can make the case, Bakari, that it's worth it, that the tariffs are worth it to reach a certain goal. However, what you can't argue is that they are not hitting the American people because they are.

BAKARI SELLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's true. And I think first and foremost when you look at farmers not only throughout South Carolina where I am and where I'm from, and you hear that they're screaming from pain from these tariffs day in and day out, but through the Midwest where Donald Trump was extremely strong, you had a lot of Democratic candidates in Iowa going through the state and what they heard from farmers were that these tariffs are killing us. You have soybeans that are just being stored for weeks and days and not being able to move.

So I think what Peter Navarro is doing is a disservice. And by all economic indicators, I mean, whether or not you look at the fact that the last 30 months of the Obama administration versus the first 30 months of the Trump administration, there was a million-dollar -- million-dollar difference, a million-job difference in the amount of jobs that were created, or whether or not you look at the indicators that are showing that our economy is simply slowing down, the huge selloff we had last week, this Trump economy is not working.

And last but not least, Barack Obama turned over a deficit that was about $600 billion to Donald Trump. It's now $1.1 trillion because his tax scam simply has not worked. And when you look at everything that's going on right now, the American economy is going to kind of slow not to a stop, but slow down. And that's not good for Trump re- election in the least bit.

BERMAN: And Angela, by the way, when we talk about the farmers, they are getting a cushion of federal assistance to the tune of something like $25 billion which of course is great for farmers and their families, and we understand why it's needed, but Republicans used to call that a bailout. You know, when President Obama did things to help, say, the car industry or whatever, it used to be called a bailout. And of course, we no longer talk about the deficit but that has spiked. And so, we just need to be, you know, sort of clear-eyed about what the tariffs, even if farmers say that it isn't hurting them. It's certainly affecting the economy.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think that the main issue I have with Donald Trump's administration is the same issue I had with the Trump campaign and that is they are immune to facts until those facts support the case they're trying to make. So, for example, in the same interview with Jake Tapper, Navarro said this, well, you know, this -- what was it? All of the stats that Jake pulled, he had reasons why you shouldn't believe it. He said let's just do the math here. And it's like, no, let's also look at the data.

Data never works for them. Remember when Donald Trump had said that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had fake information until it was beneficial to him. I think the other challenge I have is I would love to know what economist he's talking to because most of them will tell you whether you're running from the recession or you're trying to pretend like the tariffs are not impacting the American economy, to the tune of 95 percent, they're hitting us 95 percent to China's 5 percent. I would love to know who they are speaking to because they are not experts. They are gaslight artists.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's the team that says that everything looks rosy at the moment.

RYE: Yes.

BERMAN: April, you've covered this White House for a long time. Are they equipped -- because there's this conversation out there and Catherine Rampell -- who we're going to speak to a little bit -- makes the case they're not equipped to handle a downturn yet. Do you get the sense that it's something that's even entered their mind?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, as a man think it so was he. You know, the grassroots American feels that something's not right in their pocket. This administration could say oh, the economic indicators don't line up. But let me say this, when it comes to the tariffs with the soybean farmers, the subsidies have been slow to get to them. They are hurting. When it comes to the tariffs in China, with the clothing manufacturers, leather goods. It's hurting people who are selling leather goods and the clothiers. American designers are feeling the hit.

Let's go to the Mexican tariffs. The domestic auto industry is being hit. They're laying off. They're absorbing the impact of those tariffs. When they make a product in Mexico or whether they make the product here and send it to Mexico, the tariffs are added and that translates to an extra cost to the consumer. And there's a -- you know, there's just so much more going on, you know. And then a big indicator is the trucking industry. When the trucking industry slows down, when they're not moving goods, that is a big indicator. Those are the grassroots indicators.

[06:10:02] When they go in their pocket and pull out lint and they don't have money to show for it, that's saying my pocket is depressed, suppressed, and repressed.

CAMEROTA: Andrew, I want to move on to the topic of Greenland. Last week I think we were sort of making light about this proposal. But it turns out that this is a serious consideration, it sounds like, from President Trump at least despite what Denmark says and what Greenland says about it. So here's what President Trump said about it over the weekend about his interest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, Greenland, I don't know. It got released somehow. It's just something we talked about. Denmark essentially owns it. We're very good allies with Denmark. We protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world. So, the concept came up and I said certainly, I'd be -- strategically it's interesting. I mean, essentially, it's a large real estate deal. A lot of things could be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Andrew, your thoughts?

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, all of us ought to be terrified any time we hear Donald Trump talking about a large real estate deal. We don't have to go too far back in his own history, with real estate deals to know that this man goes bust every time. Every deal he's associated with. And now unfortunately all of us are inextricably tied to him because he's serving in the highest office in all the land. I'm just going to agree with the prime minister here. This is a ludicrous idea.

What the president ought to be concerned about is the territory that is already under his control. He likes to bring up Baltimore, Maryland, all the time. Where is his aid package to Baltimore, Maryland? Where is his jobs program for the folks who live there, breathe there, try to raise their families there? Maybe we could go a step further and talk about Puerto Rico.

Where was the president when we needed him in Puerto Rico to help that community get back on its feet instead of tossing out toilet paper and paper towels? The president should have put together comprehensive package. Instead he treated it like some kind of -- I don't know, a charade of some sort.

And then just real quick, Alisyn. I just wanted to mention because I don't think any one of us on this panel are championing or cheering for the economy of the United States to go down. Not one of us. Because the truth is, is that when this economy slips, it's everyday working people who are impacted. Our issue, and I'll speak for myself here. My issue is this president has taken credit from day one for all of the hard work done by President Barack Obama and now that his policies, his economic policies are beginning to show impact, he doesn't like it. He's the one that started this tariff war. He's the one that gave away the top -- a tax break to the top 1 percent of Americans, the same people who are not turning that money back over. So any gain that we would have seen from the tax breaks have all diminished and now the chickens are coming home to roost. And this president is playing the blame game. It's ridiculous and the American people deserve better.

BERMAN: Hey, Bakari, I want to end on this note in this segment here. We're still learning a lot more about the people who went to that event. The union workers who went to the event in Pennsylvania last week. It turns out that if they didn't go, if they didn't go they would lose money, that their overtime pay for the week was going to be tied to their attendance at this presidential event. A memo to the Shell Union Workers said your attendance is not mandatory, this will be considered an excused absence. However, those who are not in attendance will not receive overtime pay on Friday.

So, Bakari, how are we supposed to see this if people were essentially being forced to go, else they weren't going to make the money they need to make?

SELLERS: I mean, first and foremost, we do acknowledge that there are a large swath of Americans that are supporters of Donald Trump. He doesn't have any problem filling rallies throughout this country. But what I will say is that that is utterly depressing that individuals who work extremely hard just to make ends meet to provide for their families were compelled to go to this rally and if not suffer hurt in their pockets.

I mean, what we're talking about right now, what Angela, April, Andrew, and I are all talking about right now, and Andrew surmised it pretty correctly here, is that American workers are hurting. And this is just another example where the Trump administration is using them as a political prop, as a ploy. And we have to get away from that.

For viewers to understand, a tariff is nothing more than a tax. This isn't some war that we're in with China. This a tax on American citizens. This is a burden on American citizens. And dragging them out to a rally is just example of that.

CAMEROTA: OK, panel, thank you very much. We'll talk about so many more topics with you shortly. But first we have to get to all of this breaking news because authorities in three states say they have foiled several potential mass shootings over this past weekend.

Police making arrests in Norwalk, Connecticut, Daytona Beach, Florida, and Youngstown, Ohio, in three completely unrelated cases.

CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us now with more. This is so disturbing -- Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alisyn, especially since the nation is extremely on high alert in the aftermath of both El Paso and Dayton. [06:15:05] Police across the country arresting three men as you

mentioned separately suspected of expressing some interest in carrying out their own domestic terror attacks as you're about to hear in a little while. One of them even publicly expressed some his white supremacist ideals. And that was one of the red flags and tips that eventually led police to pinpoint these people before they could possibly act on their threats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL (voice-over): An arsenal of assault rifles and large knives. A stockpile of ammunition and even a gas mask. People near Youngstown, Ohio, finding all this inside the home of James Reardon, a 20-year-old self-described white nationalist who they say made a threatening post about a mass shooting at a nearby Jewish community center. Reardon was on the radar of authorities after making this post on Instagram showing a man firing off a gun. A local Jewish leader say it had a disturbing caption. Police identified the Youngstown Jewish Family Community shooter as a local white nationalist.

CHIEF VINCENT D'EGIDIO, NEW MIDDLETOWN POLICE DEPARTMENT: That kicked off a very intense investigation. He was charged initially right now with telephone communication harassment and aggravated menacing.

SANDOVAL: Police say Reardon attended the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville as seen in this interview with National Geographic.

JAMES REARDON, SELF-DESCRIBED WHITE NATIONALIST: I want a homeland for white people. And I think every race should have a homeland for their own race.

SANDOVAL: His arrest the latest in a string of mass shooting threats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any weapons we need to know about?

SANDOVAL: In Florida this police body camera footage shows the arrest of Tristan Scott Wix outside a Daytona Beach grocery store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to set your bond at no bond for the protection of the public given the threat to kill at least a hundred people.

SANDOVAL: The 25-year-old detained after police say his ex-girlfriend alerted them to a series of text messages detailing plans to commit mass shootings writing chilling words like, "I want to open fire on a large crowd of people."

And in Connecticut, police arresting 22-year-old Brandon Wagshol last week after receiving a tip that he tried to buy a large capacity rifle magazine out of state. He's been charged with illegal possession of large capacity magazines. Investigators also discovering numerous weapons including a handgun and rifle ammunition, body armor, and tactical gear inside his home.

LT. TERRY BLAKE, NORWALK POLICE DEPARTMENT: There was some historical Facebook posts that indicated his interest in mass murder. That certainly raised an eyebrow. So the investigators worked very quickly and diligently.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: Social media is certainly playing a big role in some of these cases, John. Police using each one of those cases to remind many people out there that age-old device or that advice, if you see something say something, John, since it clearly worked in these cases.

BERMAN: Yes. Warning sign to be sure. At least they're following up on these, Polo. It may have prevented disasters. Thank you so much for that reporting.

So, along those lines, are we seeing signs this morning that the president is already backtracking on his pledge to look into expanding background checks? That news straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:22:40] CAMEROTA: Just two weeks after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy, President Trump appears to be backtracking on expanded background checks. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: People don't realize, we have very strong background checks right now. You go in to buy a gun. You have to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you're not willing to support universal background checks?

TRUMP: I'm not saying anything. I'm saying Congress is going to be reporting back to me with ideas, and they'll come in from Democrats and Republicans, and I'll look at it very strongly. But just remember, we already have a lot of background checks. OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: All right, let's welcome back Andrew Gillum, Bakari Sellers, April Ryan and Angela Rye.

Angela, once again, this is a pattern that we have seen repeated over and over. There will be a horrific mass shooting or a school shooting. There's been Parkland, there's been Las Vegas, there's been what happened two weeks ago. The president's gut reaction via Twitter will be, we need to raise the age to buy guns. We need to ban bump stocks. We need to do expanded background checks. And then something happens over the next few days and he changes his tune.

And so, everybody who thought, well, this time will be the tipping point. This time will be different because he certainly seems to want expanded background checks, now he sounds as though he's not a full supporter. RYE: Well, and just like normal, Donald Trump is not paying attention

to what the American people want. The American people overwhelmingly want background checks. It is a very small step, a very small step in the right direction. And so you would think that at this point, given the fact that he has a close connection to white supremacists, given the fact that there have been far too many people who have been killed regardless of their interest, their race, their gender, their age in this country that he would want to do something and take this in a different direction.

He could have a win under his belt for finally doing the right thing. And all of a sudden he is turning a blind eye to death, to bloodshed on his watch. And I can't think of anything, as irresponsible as he is, I cannot think of anything that is more irresponsible than this. Especially when this president -- when he wants to do something, Alisyn, we know that he does not wait for Congress He does not wait for Congress. And so he does not need to -- he doesn't need to wait for them to encourage them to do the right thing. He doesn't need to do any of that. He just needs to take a step, another step, a small step in the right direction.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: I just wanted to just --

[06:25:09] BERMAN: Go ahead, Mayor.

GILLUM: I'm sorry. There are a couple of us and we can't see each other. But I -- you know, the truth is about this president is that he's actually not a person of his word. He says one thing one day and then does another.

RYE: Yes.

GILLUM: I mean, when he's pretending to be bold in his actions, right? First, he threatens Mexico and goes right up to the line and then says, oh, we're not going to do that. Then he threatens China with these tariffs. And then all of a sudden it's, oh, we're going to delay them so that the American people don't feel the weight of them over the holiday season. Then he got out there on guns obviously and said, after Parkland, to be quite frank, in my home state of Florida, we need background checks. We need red flag laws. And all of a sudden now he's backed away.

Donald Trump is weak. The emperor has no clothes on. And it's really devastating to see on this issue where there's such unanimity, such as a pull, both on the left and the right, to see something happen here, to see him basically feckless for all intent and purpose.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Bakari.

SELLERS: But let me just -- let me just say this real quick because I actually think all my colleagues are wrong here to a certain extent because I don't -- I don't feel like this falls in the lap of Donald Trump. And that's going to sound a little strange to say. I think he's emblematic of a larger problem we have in the Republican Party. But back during Sandy Hook when there were 20-plus young white kids who lost their lives in a school shooting, and the United States Congress did absolutely nothing, I'm under no illusion that we're going to have any gun control or any laws changed that can make it more difficult for people who do not need to have weapons to purchase them.

So this has been a problem long before Donald Trump. I don't actually think this rests at his feet. I know he's the president of the United States now, but I think that lack of courage that Andrew has been talking about, that fecklessness that we're all talking about has been a part of the Republican Party because they've been purchased by the NRA for a very long period of time. And if they didn't do anything after Sandy Hook, I'm of no belief that they're going to do anything now.

And secondly, I'm about -- I'm about five miles away from Mother Emanuel AME Church this morning right here in Charleston, South Carolina. And the Senate chair -- the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, represents this area. He represents this state. And we still have the Charleston loophole whereby Dylann Roof was able to walk in and because his background check were not completed in the amount of time period by the FBI, he was able to purchase that weapons, go and kill nine people at a bible study.

And if the chair of the Judiciary Committee represents this area and he still will not do anything, I'm of no belief any of them will. So while we want to beat up on Donald Trump a lot, let me just say his cowardice is not his alone. The NRA has bought and purchased the entire Republican Party and that's where we are now.

RYE: But there's a difference.

BERMAN: April?

CAMEROTA: April.

RYAN: But let me --

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: I think April will (INAUDIBLE).

RYAN: Let me give you a little bit of insight as to what's going on. As you see, polls are showing right now that nationally the majority of people want something done. And it takes people. We keep forgetting, we the people are still forming a more perfect union no matter how great this president says this country is. The bottom line is that now the president is in the catch 22. Sources very close to the president in this situation are saying he's had a conversation with the NRA saying, we may not be able to hold off on this one. You've got the American public crying out. You know, just like you said, Bakari, about Dylann Roof, we're still dealing with Dylan Rood issue with Mother Emmanuel. We're still reeling from that. We're still reeling from the bump stock issue in Vegas. We're still reeling from Sandy Hook. We're still reeling from El Paso. We're still reeling from Dayton. We're still reeling from other places. But at issue is people have to stand up. We have seen John Legend cry

with a victim's son, a 7-year-old son. We've seen him sing. We've seen the American public come out. It takes the American people to change this president's mind. And as long as the pressure keeps coming, HR-8 could be a possibility. It's passed in the House. But where's the Senate? Where are the Senate Republicans?

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: Hold on, Bakari. I just have to say this. Wait. I need to refute your last point. I need to refute your point.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

SELLERS: Go ahead.

RYE: The issue is not that we're saying that this country hasn't gone far enough, hasn't been trying to hold politicians accountable, hasn't been trying to dismantle clearly the NRA for all of their wrongs and their abuses. The issue is this president's rhetoric is what is the problem. We saw Barack Obama cry on camera and say, what is it going to take? He was trying to help Congress move. It is Donald Trump who will say one thing and then do another, who will say one thing and then commit to something completely different behind closed doors.

That is the problem. It's not that -- of course we understand the Republicans have been irresponsible. Democrats haven't been responsible enough either. But the issue is this president's rhetoric, it is dangerous. We see that with the two white supremacist shootings. This president's rhetoric is dangerous because it's irresponsible and he's not taking leadership of this.

SELLERS: I don't disagree with any of that. His rhetoric.

END