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Soon: Trump Leaves White House Amid Greenland Flap, Tax Cut Push, Cave on Background Checks & New Push to Detain Migrant Families; Outrage Builds after Trump Says Jewish Democrats Are Either Disloyal or Ignorant; Former U.S. Ambassador to Greenland Rufus Gifford Discusses Trump's Snub of Danish P.M. over Sale of Greenland. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:17] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

We're watching this breaking news out of Hong Kong right now as protesters are facing off with police at a train station there. Protesters have barricaded themselves inside the station. Police are threatening to intervene. We're keeping a close eye on this, and we'll bring you any major developments as they happen.

But we're also watching the White House. President Trump is about to head out once again, which means he could very well head to the cameras once again.

Will he cancel another state visit? Will he explain why he really canceled his visit to Denmark? Will he explain why he's backing down from supporting stronger background checks for gun owners? And will he lay out how seriously he really is about pushing new tax cuts as fears grow about an economic slowdown?

This just as a new CNN poll shows for the first time in Trump's presidency Americans' perception of the economy is on the decline.

Let's get to it. CNN's Sarah Westwood is in Louisville, Kentucky, where President Trump is headed today.

Sarah, first on Greenland. Are you hearing anything more from the White House on the president's decision to postpone this meeting with the prime minister?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, President Trump's stated reason for not heading to Copenhagen is the fact that the Danish prime minister had signaled that the government was not interested in talking about the sale of Greenland to the United States. In fact, the Danish prime minister had described that as an absurd idea.

The announcement of Trump's postponement to Denmark has not been received well by Danish politicians, to put it mildly. The Danish prime minister said she received the news that Trump was no longer coming to Denmark with, quote, "regret and surprise."

The former U.S. ambassador to Denmark telling CNN this morning that this is just simply not how a U.S. ally should be treated.

Keep in mind that on Sunday, when President Trump was talking to reporters, he confirmed his interest in Greenland, purchasing it for the first time. Sources told CNN that the White House counsel's office had been directed to look into the possibility of purchasing Greenland.

Also, on Sunday, President Trump told reporters that his trip to Copenhagen, which was less than two weeks away, that he had nothing to do with his interest in buying Greenland. In fact, he had said that was an issue that was pretty much on his back burner.

So, Kate, we've seen a pretty dramatic shift, from President Trump saying the two things had nothing to do with each other, to now citing Denmark's disinterest in selling Greenland as the sole reason for why he's scrapping this travel -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right. We'll see as the president will be leaving the White House shortly, we'll see what happens. We'll bring any big headlines.

Sarah, thank you so much.

I'm also going to be talking to the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark in a moment about all of that.

Joining me right now, much more to discuss, Elaina Plott, White House correspondent for "The Atlantic," and Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter for the "Washington Post," both CNN political analysts.

Guys, it's good to see you.

Elaina, you broke the story last night about the president's call with the NRA and the fact he would be taking universal background checks off the table in this conversation about what to do in the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. What are you hearing today?

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Today I'm hearing that the White House is scrambling to try to assure conservative allies that the call was, in fact, real, that what they would like to say is there's a difference. That universal background Trumps were never an understanding of meaningful background checks. That pursuing avenues of getting guns out of the hands of mentally insane people, as he calls them, is itself a form of a background check.

So you know, from what I'm hearing inside the White House this morning, Kate, they are a little bit upset at the NRA right now. But as we have seen from the beginning, even if Trump's instinct is to say that he cannot be cowed by this organization, shooting after shooting, he returns to the line that they would most like him to stand behind.

BOLDUAN: This is so interesting, Elaina. This morning, I was starting to wonder, Toluse, if this could come

down to something of a game of semantics. I'm wondering if you can see the possibility or if you're hearing something that if the president could still support some kind of expanded background check, some closing of some loophole in the background check system without supporting universal checks for gun purchases.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you look at just the president's language itself, compare what he was saying right after these shootings happened in El Paso and Dayton. He talked about the need for strong background checks, meaningful background checks. He talked about how he was in position to bring Democrats and Republicans together to do something significant.

Then more recently, he's talked about how we already have background checks, and this is all about mental illness. He's really retreated to the lines that the NRA likes.

[11:05:05] Even if the president ultimately lands on something that has to do with background checks, his language has shifted so much that it's unlikely he'll back anything significant, anything major, or anything bipartisan.

Democrats control one House of Congress. They've already passed a major background checks bill. They're not necessarily looking for very small incremental changes. They want to be able to show their voters and people who will be voting in 2020 that they're backing bold ideas.

The president seems to be retreating from anything major or bold. It's not clear he'll land on anything that could pass with both Democratic and Republican support.

BOLDUAN: And, Elaina, that leaves me to wonder, is this conversation over before it even really began when Congress returned to Capitol Hill? All the smart money was nothing is going to happen without real leadership or direction coming from the White House when it comes to pushing Republicans to do anything. But specifically on something so politically sensitive as anything with regard to guns.

Is that what you're hearing, this is over before they've even returned?

PLOTT: I mean, I think it's a great question, Kate. I think it's the reason that, in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, a lot of my sources will get frustrated, and rightfully so, hearing from reporters, wondering if it is different this time, if the president's initial tweets about supporting strong and meaningful background checks or gun control in some way are just false flags to fizzle immediately.

We saw it after Parkland. I mean, we've seen it time and time again in the 31 months of this presidency. You do have a lot of Democrats on the Hill, Democrat aides in the Senate saying, you know, why is anyone surprised by this? BOLDUAN: And, Toluse, real quick, I want to ask about the other thing

percolating from the White House right now, the president considering tax cuts to stave off an economic downturn. His staff -- he says he's been thinking about it for a while. His staff denying it for days, saying they weren't considering anything. Or maybe it's another game of semantics because they kept putting on this very specifically at this time.

Does it tell you anything, this disconnect, yet again, about how seriously the president's actually considering pushing something like a payroll tax cut?

OLORUNNIPA: The president likes to talk about tax cuts. It's clear the White House is not on the same page when it comes to responding to these signs of a potential economic slowdown. And if we were to actually have a major crisis, it would be hard to figure out who to listen to within the White House because you have a president saying one thing, advisers saying it's not true, and the president confirming it.

The fact of the matter is, if the president wanted to get a pay control tax cut through, he'd have to work with Democrats and have a bipartisan approach to anything he wants to do on reducing tax rates because Democrats control one House of Congress. He hasn't really shown the ability to work in a bipartisan manner, specifically when it comes to issues of the economy and issues like tax cuts.

So it's not clear that this is anything more than just internal discussions within the White House. If we were to face a major crisis, then we may see the president wanting to bring Democrats and Republicans to the table to stave off what could be a major recession that could have impacts on his political fortunes as well.

BOLDUAN: But then again, according to the president, as we heard yesterday, his consideration of this has nothing to do with any looming recession, nothing to do at all. Such amazing coincidental timing.

Thank you, guys, very much. Really appreciate it.

We're following another story this morning. The Trump administration just announcing a new rule to hold migrant families indefinitely. That includes children, who, right now, are, by court order, only allowed to be held for 20 days then must be transferred elsewhere, to family, to relatives.

But we know from recent history that the Trump administration has had a real problem come plying with that kind of an order.

Joining me with more details on this is CNN's senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt, in Washington, where the acting secretary of Homeland Security just laid out this announcement.

Alex, what did he say?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Acting secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, is essentially saying that this new rule that they're putting into place will replace what is known as the Flores settlement agreement. That, as you said, allowed migrant children to be held for no longer than 20 days.

As a result, McAleenan said, that created an incentive for migrant families to come to the U.S. illegally because they know that they could then get released after 20 days.

So what this new rule will do, if and when it goes into effect, would mean families will be held for much longer period of time. As you say, it could be indefinitely, but essentially, McAleenan said, it's as long as the immigration proceedings will last.

The second core component to this new rule is that it sets a higher standard for the way that children are kept, the way that they are held. Obviously, we've seen these horrific scenes of children being separated from their parents, held in dark and dirty centers.

[11:10:08] So what he laid out at length the elements they're putting into place to make sure there's a higher standard of care for these children.

Let's take a quick listen to what McAleenan said about how this will de-incentivize families from coming to the U.S. illegally.


KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The result of holding families together under the previous administration was a dramatic reduction in the flow of unlawful crossings by families.

By closing this key loophole in Flores, this new rule will restore integrity to our immigration system and eliminate the factor fueling the crisis.


MARQUARDT: So McAleenan there saying that it closes a key loophole, but what it really will do is it will ensure that families with their children will be held as long as these immigration proceedings last. As I mentioned, that could take months.

McAleenan saying that this has happened before, and generally proceedings can be over within 50 days.

McAleenan was very clear that he wants to make sure that these children, by doing away with the Flores agreement, are not used as what he called pawns or passports.

Kate, this rule will be published on Friday. If it was smooth sailing, it would go into effect in 60 days. That's not expected to happen.

McAleenan himself saying they're expecting fierce opposition in the courts. This does have to clear the courts. They are expecting groups who have already come out today with statements against this new rule to require a lengthy legal process before this rule goes into effect -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Alex, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, much more on President Trump's snub of a long-time U.S. ally because its prime minister would not discuss the sale of Greenland. The former U.S. ambassador to Denmark is our guest.

Plus, President Trump attacks two Democratic members of Congress, and in doing so, sparks outrage and charges that he's making anti-Semitic remarks. The head of a major Jewish advocacy group joins me next.



[11:17:01] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where's the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they're defending these two people over the state of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.


BOLDUAN: That was President Trump from the Oval Office yesterday, continuing his attacks against two Democratic members of Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. In doing so, the president tapped into a centuries old anti-Semitic trope that Jews can't be trusted because they have dual loyalty, a concept that's long been used to try to belittle the Jewish people.

The president's comments faced swift and wide-ranging backlash.

One group speaking out forcefully is the American Jewish committee, a non-partisan Jewish advocacy group tweeting this: "Enough, Mr. President. American Jews, like all Americans, have a range of political views. Your assessment of their knowledge or loyalty based on their party preference is divisive, disrespectful, and unwelcome. Please stop."

Here with me now is David Harris, the CEO of that group, the American Jewish Committee.

David, thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: I read, in the statement you put out, you also call what the president said is down-right dangerous. Why is that?

HARRIS: Well, it's downright dangerous for the reason you mentioned a moment ago, because there are historical overtones to what's being said here, the issue of disloyalty, disloyalty to America, disloyalty to other countries in which Jews live. No matter how long we've lived in a country, the service we've

rendered, our military participation, no matter what, there are those who ask, do Jews really belong here? Unfortunately, that's what the president did yesterday.

BOLDUAN: What did you think when you heard that come from the president's mouth in the Oval Office?

HARRIS: To be very frank, I was appalled. I understand this is going to be a very closely contested, heated presidential campaign. We should be under no illusions. But the fact he would refer to Jews as ignorant or greatly disloyal if they choose to vote for a Democrat, to me, was way over the top.

BOLDUAN: And do you see the president pedaling anti-Semitism from the Oval Office there?

HARRIS: I've never personally believed that the president is an anti- Semite. Not at all. He has family, close family who are Jewish. But knowingly or unknowingly, he's pedaling in places and spaces which allow anti-Semites to believe they have more room to maneuver. And that's what makes this --


BOLDUAN: And that can be just as dangerous and just as horrible.

HARRIS: It can, indeed.

Of course, what we've seen in recent years is anti-Semitism globally and in this country have been on the rise. They've come from multiple sources. But all of us need to ask, beginning with political leaders, are we doing anything to contribute to that environment? Are we tamping down the danger?

BOLDUAN: And, David, to be clear, you have been critical of the Democratic members of Congress and how they handle the controversy around the trip to Israel. You've spoken out against what you call their hostile views toward Israel.

I say that because I want you to answer to the criticism this is political for you.

[11:20:08] HARRIS: Thank you. This is totally nonpolitical. I may be among the last nonpartisan standing in America. Certainly, the American Jewish Committee is nonpartisan. We're swivel headed. We'll take on anti-Semitism wherever it comes from.

Our goal is to de-politicized by some in different parts. We're trying to de-weaponize it and say, you can be on the left and be anti- Semitic, you can be on the right and be anti-Semitic, and we're going to call you out.

BOLDUAN: I've heard commentary this that isn't about Jewish voters at all. We heard the president there. Instead, it's more about evangelical support for the president in the election.

A "Washington Post" columnist, Jennifer Rubin, she put it this way: "Trump's indulgence of Israel stems not from my love of the Jewish people, but from," she goes on to say, "an even greater desire to thrill his evangelical followers."

Do you see that, David?

HARRIS: I'm not sure I see it that way. I see it as an election that may come down to places like the state of Florida.

Let's recall the year 2000 when it came down to a few hundred voters in Palm Beach County. Therefore, every vote counts in those swing states, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, where there are a number of Jewish voters.

I think there are going to be a number of scare tactics, essentially saying, if you vote for the Democratic, you're voting for a party that hates Jews and hates Israel and hates Zionism. I'm afraid some of the Democrats may take the bait and play the game similarly. That's dangerous.

BOLDUAN: This isn't a game. As you point out, especially with the rise of anti-Semitism and hate crimes here in the United States and definitely around the world, this is far beyond politics and why it deserves this conversation.

Thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

HARRIS: My pleasure. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, its soldiers have lost their lives alongside American troops in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Iraq. And the president just snubbed its prime minister because she wouldn't discuss the sale of Greenland. The former U.S. ambassador to Denmark joins me to discuss next.


[11:26:48] BOLDUAN: This morning, the Danish prime minister is speaking out after President Trump abruptly canceled his upcoming visit, all over Greenland. Listen.


METTE FREDERIKSEN, DANISH PRIME MINISTER: It is with regret and surprise that I received the news that President Trump has canceled his state visit to Denmark on the 2nd and 3rd of September. I had been looking forward to the visit. Our preparations were well under way. It was an opportunity, I think, to celebrate Denmark's close relationship to U.S., who remains one of Denmark's closest allies.


BOLDUAN: What the prime minister is responding to is this -- it came this week: "Based on the prime minister's comments," the president wrote, "that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting."

Essentially, the president saying that, since you will not consider selling me an island, I'm not going to meet with you.

And this isn't just a head-scratching, almost silly self-created conflict with another world leader. This is a very close and very important ally of the United States.

Denmark was the only Scandinavian country to approve of the invasion of Iraq. Denmark has fought alongside the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. And 43 members of the Danish military have died in Afghanistan. Another seven died in Iraq. Denmark is also a founding member of NATO.

So again, this isn't just any fight with just any country. So what does it mean now?

Joining me now, Rufus Gifford, the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark.

Ambassador, thank you for coming in.

RUFUS GIFFORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO DENMARK: Thank you, Kate. Thanks so much for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

What did you think of the prime minister's remarks this morning?

GIFFORD: Well, I think she was appropriately diplomatic. Frankly, I would have loved to have seen the American president display the diplomacy and the fact that the Danish prime minister did. I think she paid homage to this great relationship that has, not just the last 70 years, since the formation of NATO, but that's been in place for hundreds of years. So I respect it, I do.

I think behind the scenes, though, this is so much more problematic, that we have a president who, like you said, Danes have fought and died alongside Americans in war after war. I had the great responsibility of asking Danes to go to places like Syria and Iraq.

And the idea that you would make a state visit contingent on the idea, on the concept of negotiating the sale of part of their kingdom, this is offensive. It's a slap in the face. It's just not how you treat an ally that has been as good to us as Denmark has been.

BOLDUAN: As you mentioned, you know firsthand how strong of an ally Denmark has been to the United States. This might not jeopardize hundreds of decades of work together, but what does it do in the short term?

[11:30:06] GIFFORD: Kate, I think -- listen, Danes, Europeans more broadly --