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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New Presidential Poll Numbers; Trump Worried About Recession?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 20, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: OK, because, I mean, there is another president he does happen to golf with quite a bit.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Maybe he will be your next partner when you're on the links.

OTIS FERGUSON, INSPIRED STEPH CURRY TO SPONSOR HOWARD UNIVERSITY GOLF TEAMS: Hopefully.

BALDWIN: I got to go.

FERGUSON: Yes.

BALDWIN: Otis, thank -- thank you very much.

FERGUSON: All right, thank you.

BALDWIN: Barack Obama, you know that guy.

All right, I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: So, which is it? Is the economy strong or does it need steroids?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: One day after the White House said this was not a thing, President Trump today saying his administration is looking at a new tax cut. Are the president's recession worries being revealed as 2020 gets closer?

As a brand-new CNN poll shows Joe Biden cementing his top spot in the 2020 race, his wife's candid moment seems to reveal the campaign's clear strategy.

Plus, gangsters stripping the jungle of gold and leaving a trail of blood behind. A CNN exclusive on how one dictator is mercilessly trying to cling to power.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. HILL: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in for Jake.

And we begin today with breaking news in our money lead.

President Trump declaring in the Oval Office just moments ago he is considering a payroll tax cut, something White House aides repeatedly denied over the last 24 hours. But he's not considering it because he's worried about the economy. The president insisting that move would have nothing to do with increased fears of recession, instead using the opportunity to once again slam Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

CNN's Pamela Brown starts us off today from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump pushing back against recession fears.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the word recession is a word that is inappropriate.

BROWN: And defending the U.S. economy to reporters in the Oval Office today.

TRUMP: We're very far from a recession. In fact, if the Fed would do its job, I think we would have a tremendous spurt of growth, a tremendous spurt.

BROWN: The president starting his day on Twitter, sharing more than a dozen tweets from allies and supporters praising his administration's efforts on the economy.

From Vice President Pence: "Our economy is thriving and Americans are winning."

To the RNC chairwoman: "Economic confidence is at record highs."

But even as the Trump administration touts the economy, CNN has learned behind closed doors White House officials are mulling a payroll tax cut to offset anxiety over an economic slowdown.

TRUMP: Payroll taxes, I have been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time. Whether or not we do it now or not is -- it is not being done because of recession.

BROWN: The economy not the only issue Trump is considering. On gun control, Trump once again seeming to back down from his push just a few days ago for extended background checks.

TRUMP: We have very, very strong background checks right now. But we have sort of missing areas and areas that don't complete the whole circle.

BROWN: After talking with lawmakers and NRA head Wayne LaPierre in the last week, Trump today using the lobbying group's language on gun control measures.

TRUMP: A lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment. And I am also.And we have to be very careful about that. They call it the slippery slope, and all of a sudden, everything gets taken away. We're not going to let that happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now in addition to pressure from the NRA, the president's shift on background checks comes after his discussions with lawmakers and a briefing from White House officials who have been looking at various options.

Now, White House officials still maintain that gun control legislation is not off the table. The true test will be once lawmakers return from summer recess. But, Erica, this appears to be yet another example of the president touting certain initiatives, only to back away under political pressure.

HILL: That, it does.

Pamela at the White House for us this afternoon, Pam, thank you.

As we look at all of this, I do want to go back for just a moment to this payroll tax, which we have heard so much about. And there was this pretty strong denial, I know, Kaitlan, for a little while.

What is your sense? Is this a serious consideration for the president or is it a bit of a trial balloon?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he admits he has been thinking about it.

But really what you're seeing, the broader point, they're looking at multiple things behind the scenes to stave off any kind of an economic turndown, because even though they say publicly they're not worried about the recession, we are seeing concern inside the White House.

The double-edged sword part of it is that they feel if it gets out that they're planning for some kind of recession or downturn, then it's going to lead to Americans tightening their belt and then lead to more problems with the economy.

So that's why you're seeing them say behind -- or publicly that they're not considering anything, even though the president admits publicly today that, yes, a payroll tax cut is something that has been on his mind, among other measures.

HILL: Among other measures.

But there's also the fact, Jackie, that a payroll tax cut would directly undercut the president's own message about the strength of the economy.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right. But the president doesn't really concern himself with undercutting his

own message. It's what he's saying at this moment, not to mention the payroll tax cut would take money away from Social Security, increase the debt, which no one cares about right now, because there's a Republican president.

[16:05:03]

But that aside, it -- the president believes that a recession is a self-fulfilling prophecy, that if everyone starts talking about it, and as Kaitlan said, people start tightening their belt, it's going to happen.

And this -- and he has put all of his eggs in the economy basket for reelection. So he has every incentive to keep this message up that everything's fine and we're just doing it because everything is great.

HILL: Well, let's just remind people what a little bit of that messages. Here's a little bit more from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our economy's doing fantastically. Our economy is incredible. And we're right now the number one country anywhere in the world by far as an economy. Very far from a recession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: To Jackie's point, how long can the president continue with that message when the debt and the deficit continue to bloom, when there is this increasing concern of a trade war, which he again tried to downplay today, but it is there?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I mean, look, reality is reality.

Either the economy is slowing or not, will slow or not. Germany is going into recession. There's quite a lot of evidence that we might be heading towards -- I think we are heading towards a slowdown. We might be heading towards a recession.

At that point -- I was in a White House in 1991. We went into a very mild recession. We talked a lot about payroll tax cut, capital gains indexing, all the same things, desperate -- what every White House will start talking about this, in my experience, they're sliding into a -- they're flailing about trying too late.

The truth is, even as you cut the payroll tax in September, it's not clear it would affect any -- the stuff that's already built in is probably leading us to a slowdown.

But I agree the politics of what happens for the first time in the Trump presidency with a real slowdown is a big question mark. We're very used to interpreting Trump now for two-and-a-half years. We have interpreted him against the backdrop of a pretty good economy, pretty good economic growth. And we don't know kind of what the politics of the Trump presidency,

what the politics of the Democratic race are either if you really get a serious slowdown.

HILL: Well, and that's the big what if, right, especially on the Democratic side, is, what if there is a slowdown? But it's also the when, because that depends a lot on the message.

JENNICE FUENTES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's both.

Let's not forget that there's only some much control any president has over the economy. Let's not forget that on voting day or voting week or voting month, it will be about your perception of economic conditions vs. your personal circumstances, right?

And let's not forget, most importantly, what President Trump is really good at. He's an entertainer. He's looking to see what else I can say to distract of the possible recession that's coming that everybody who's educated on economics has substantiated with studies and reports this is what's coming.

Now let's make a distraction. I think it's all about getting that latest tweet out.

HILL: He is running, though -- if we do look at some of the numbers, right, we hear the words from the president. There are numbers, though, in this case, Ronna McDaniel actually tweeting out six million new jobs, six million-plus new jobs, over half of those for women, in this tweet, 500,000 manufacturing jobs created, record low unemployment among African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.

Now, just to be clear, we went and we looked at all of these numbers. They are accurate. There is one minor tweak that I would make. And that is while there has been record low unemployment for Asian under President Trump, it has ticked back up recently.

So we are not in that moment right now. But given those numbers, that is a strong platform for this president to run on.

FUENTES: Again, it's all personal.

And if you look at the tweet that's right under her tweet, you could see that it is the third lowest from January to July of any of the last 10 years. So, yes, the numbers are correct. But if you compare them to the last 10 years, especially the Obama administration, it's not marginally done much better. It really isn't.

The markets may be strong, and he benefited when he took office from Wall Street. There was economic growth, he inherited a good economy, but whether or not he can sustain that, he has also increased a lot of the trades.

And if you look at the numbers, it is 95 percent of all those tariffs are on the backs of America and only 5 percent on China. So that doesn't bode well for the American farmer or for the American worker.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I just -- any normal president would be at 55 or 60 percent approval. He has had -- maybe a lot of the credit may be due to President Obama. Maybe he's slowed things down.

Still, objectively, if you went to a political scientist or historian said, here are the economic numbers for the first two-and-a-half years of this guy's presidency, and we're not in any terrible war, like Vietnam or anything like that, what's his approval rating likely to be?

People would say, 55, 60 percent. The fact that he's at 42 or 43 is because he's Donald Trump and people disapprove of a lot of other things he's done, as I think they should. And the question is, how much lower does that 42 or 43 go without the strong economy bucking up some of those reluctant Trump supporters who don't like a lot of things he's doing, but do you think, geez, the economy's pretty good?

I think, if he loses that sort of, geez, the economy's pretty good sentiment, he's in real political trouble in the general election, and maybe even to a Republican primary challenger.

COLLINS: And that's -- the people who do approve of the job he's doing, one of the main reasons is because of the economy, despite what's going on inside the West Wing, the chaos, the turmoil, the policy back and forth that you have seen over the last two-and-a-half years.

They know that they can bank on the economy. And you see officials do that regularly. That's why you see the president saying he believes it's the media or it's the Democrats or he's blaming the Federal Reserve for the state of the economy, because he doesn't want to take that blame, because he knows that's his argument he can make to 2020 voters.

[16:10:11]

And he's hearing it even from people inside the White House who agree that it's being overplayed, those fears of a recession, and that he doesn't have to be that worried about it, though some of his economic advisers are.

HILL: So we know the economy is going to be big in 2020.

But that may not be what Democratic voters should really be looking at. Jill Biden's stark calculus on why she says people should vote for her husband, as another candidate who tried to take on the former V.P. sees a major drop in our new CNN poll.

Plus, the Trump administration making a surprising admission.

That's all ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: The 2020 lead. Joe Biden, you see him there campaigning right now in Iowa, as a new CNN poll shows he is dominating the race, ahead by double digits, bolstering his campaign line of the week, which says he's the strongest candidate to beat President Trump.

And it's his wife, Jill Biden, who largely stays out of the fray, out with a similar, new, blunt message to voters.

As CNN's Arlette Saenz reports, Jill Biden telling Democrats there is one reason to back her husband and it's not about the issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Joe Biden back on the campaign trail in Iowa, holding on to a status as the Democratic front-runner. Biden's electability factor at the center of the pitch, in the first TV ad of his campaign, hitting Iowa airwaves today.

BIDEN CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: We have to beat Donald Trump. And all of the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job. No one is more qualified.

SAENZ: His wife Jill Biden stressing a similar message in New Hampshire as she spoke to a group of teachers not necessarily committed to her husband's candidacy.

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: Your candidate might be better on, I don't know, health care than Joe is, but you've got to look at what who is going to win this election, and maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, OK, I personally like so and so better, but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.

SAENZ: The electability push comes as a new CNN national poll shows that the majority of Democratic voters want a candidate with the best chance of beating President Trump. While 39 percent say it is more important for a candidate to share their views on issues.

In the overall race, the new CNN survey has Biden maintaining his perch at the top of the Democratic field. The former vice president with a double-digit lead over his rivals. As Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren battle it out for second place. Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris both coming in at 5 percent, marking a 12-point dip for the California senator since June. Warren today honing in on the issue of criminal justice, releasing a plan that would repeal the 1994 crime bill, a measure Biden helped to write.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a direct criticism of a bill that has been very harmful to millions of people. We need to correct that mistake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, Joe Biden is kicking off a two-day swing through Iowa, speaking here in Prole, Iowa. Right behind me, tomorrow, he'll be addressing a labor convention, and later this week, he'll be heading to the early primary state of New Hampshire -- Erica. HILL: Arlette Saenz live for us in Iowa, thank you.

Jennice, as we look at this, as we will listen to it, too, from Jill Biden, you've got to swallow a little bit, she says, your bottom line has to be we have to beat Trump. Is that the best message?

JENNICE FUENTES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D-IL): That's a clear message.

HILL: It is clear, but is it the best one?

FUENTES: What's best? I mean, let's be real. Look at who he has to defeat. And let's not -- let's think in terms of a presidential campaign and name recognition which really, really matters, and he really has that and nobody else does. Let's not forget who he was. Senator and ex-vice president, I mean, he is the leading politician and he makes mistakes, but, God, look who is in the White House.

So, he is not perfect and neither is Donald Trump, and I think what Jill Biden did was she was a very realistic wife. Hey, you might not agree with my husband, he's not perfect, he makes mistakes but he's your best bet.

So, much like President Trump saying you've got to vote for me if your 401(k), you want to keep it, which is not necessarily true. She's saying something similar but in her own Democratic Biden way.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This isn't like a soaring vision for the future kind of message.

FUENTES: No.

KUCINICH: This feels like a message that happens later in a campaign when it is down to a couple of people and you're saying, OK, well, you want to beat Trump, go with me. It doesn't have the sort of forward- looking optimism that you're hearing from some of the other candidates that -- that appeals.

FUENTES: Maybe it is too early for that.

KUCINICH: Maybe. Anything is possible.

KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And also, you see Democrats for the last two and a half years saying they've got people who they think could be a better president than president Trump and now making this argument, an argument similar to the one you saw Trump make in 2016 where it was, at least I'm not Hillary. Joe Biden, if it's going to be, at least I'm not Trump, which was effective for Trump in 2016 because people knew what they were getting, they thought in Hillary Clinton, they didn't know what they're getting in Donald Trump.

Will that work for somebody who occupied part of the White House is another question.

HILL: Well, it's also interesting, too, because if you look at the new CNN poll, there has been a slight dip in terms of what is more important, people were asked what is more important, beating Donald Trump or sharing positions with the nominee? And this is down a little bit from June. But 54 percent say beating Donald Trump is the most important thing, which makes Jill Biden's point.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE BULWARK: And it is unfair to say that is not an elevated or inspiring message. Some of us would be inspired by removing Donald Trump from the White House. And honestly, more inspired than that.

KUCINICH: You.

KRISTOL: Yes, me.

KUCINICH: His name is Bill Kristol.

KRISTOL: I think a lot of Democrats, a lot of independent voters, and honestly, more inspired than, well here is my detailed health care plan which differs in the following three tiny ways from this one --

HILL: Who wants details.

KRISTOL: All of which is going to get changed by Congress any way.

[16:20:01] The one thing we know is if a Democrat defeats Donald Trump in 2020, Donald Trump is no longer president. We don't know what health care plan Congress will pass. We don't know exactly what gun control will get passed. We don't know if foreign policy things.

So, I'm very much sort of on board that -- I mean, I think, A, it is as you suggested, it's a card he has to play any way, right? He's not going to be the fresh new face in the Democratic field.

He's got to play the card that I can win, but more than I can win, I could bring the country back together. I can restore decency in the White House. I can restore kind of normalcy to our politics. I think that's a pretty big message for that.

HILL: And that is his message clearly. We're seeing that in his new ad. I want to play a snippet of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN CAMPAIGN ANNOUNCER: The threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump. And all of the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: So he's drilling down on that with the polling, with the messages. But there's also the voice in it. Sort of the reminder of he's middle class Joe.

I'm curious, to your point of the messaging that the Trump campaign had in 2016, right, anything is better than Hillary, this is the Joe Biden that he's putting out there, that people are very familiar with. Is there concern in the White House that that may start to resonate?

COLLINS: Well, there is concern about it because of course they are the same people who will say they don't agree with the president's tweets and insulting former staffers or insulting congressmen or insulting people like Elijah Cummings, they understand that kind of -- that is not appealing to those middle class voters they want.

But, of course, as it was in 2016, the question is that is your strategy for the election, what is it once you're in the White House and you're governing? And we've seen it play out with Donald Trump who made this argument, I'm not Hillary Clinton and put me in the White House, I'll listen to my advisers, when increasingly two and a half years, we're seeing him rely more on himself.

I think voters will have that question, if someone does defeat Donald Trump, and Joe Biden or whoever gets in there, they still want to know what's going to happen to their 401(k)s, to their health care -- plans, what they're going to do with that? So, I don't -- I think that is a short-lived promise for voters who still care who is president in four years -- in however many years if it's not Donald Trump.

HILL: And the other thing fascinating in this poll is we saw Kamala Harris dip 12 points between June and this most recent polling in August after the last debate. Warren and Sanders stayed pretty steady.

KUCINICH: It just shows how soft her support is right now because it's sort of diffused and nowhere, because there wasn't one candidate that went up so much because of Kamala Harris. You've seen that little bit with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The support kind of teeter-totter between the two of them.

She had that moment but it doesn't have a staying power yet because it's early. And she's not someone that voters know -- it says in the poll she's one of I think the top two candidates that voters want to know more about. So, there is still time and room but surely she didn't solidify that support behind her after the debate performance.

HILL: Stick around. We're going to tackle ISIS next. President Trump claiming ISIS is totally defeated. You heard him say it.

Up next, though, why his secretary of state now says it's complicated.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:37] HILL: In our world lead, this is not the answer you want to hear when the secretary of state is asked if ISIS is gaining strength.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago. But the caliphate is gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: This, of course, after a Pentagon report reveals the terrorist group is actually resurging in Syria and Iraq.

CNN's Barbara Starr joining us now live from the Pentagon.

So, Barbara, the president has said ISIS was 100 percent defeated. The report, though, seems to disagree.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not so much, Erica.

You know, the President I think in recent months has acknowledged when he says 100 percent defeated, he means the territory, the physical territory that ISIS once controls across Iraq and Syria largely now not under their control. But pockets of ISIS are re-emerging, ISIS has money, financing and according -- and the ability to carry out attacks as we've seen.

Now, according to the latest estimates there may be something like 15,000 ISIS adherents and fighters now in Iraq and Syria.

Listen to a little bit more of how Secretary of State Pompeo explained all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: In their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult. We've taken down a significant risk, not all of it, but a significant amount.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So they do have some capacity to finance, train and equip and still carry out attacks and there is even more. There is something like 70,000 people in displaced persons camps inside of Syria, 70,000. Fifty thousand are under the age of 18 and that becomes a new breeding ground, a new recruiting ground for ISIS, a new generation of ISIS fighters.

HILL: So, Barbara, in terms of the president pulling troops out from Syria, how much of a factor is that in ISIS for gaining power?

STARR: Well, you know, now, there is about a thousand U.S. troops left in Syria and so, this means the security forces that they've trained there may be just a bit more vulnerable, a bit more struggling to push back against ISIS in that area. And when ISIS sees vulnerability, that is when it comes to the front -- Erica.

HILL: Barbara Starr with the latest for us from the Pentagon -- Barbara, thank you.

As we look at all of this, I keep going back to hearing Secretary Pompeo say it's complicated. That's a tough status update when you're talking about ISIS, Bill.