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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Calls Danish PM "Nasty" for Shooting Down Greenland Sale; Jewish Groups, 2020 Dems Slam Trump for Claiming Jews Who Vote for Democrats are "Disloyal" to Israel; President Trump on Background Checks?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The fires have been burning for weeks. We just wanted to call your attention to what is happening there in Brazil.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: President Trump looks to the sky and declares: I am the chosen one.

So, does that make Greenland the promised land?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Flip-flop and flip again. After supporting and then caving on background checks for guns, President Trump today says he hasn't changed positions at all. So is being all over the place actually a policy?

Something is rough in the state of Denmark. President Trump snubs this staunch U.S. ally, pitching a fit because they scoffed at his interest in buying Greenland. Today, he follows up, calling the Danish prime minister's comments nasty.

Plus, the president's latest outburst aimed at Jewish voters, doubling down on his accusation that Jewish Democrats are disloyal, stirring outrage again for reviving a vile anti-Semitic trope.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Jake Tapper.

And we start with the politics lead.

President Trump all over the map today on gun control, even questioning his own moves, saying he wants to -- quote -- "fill in loopholes" on universal background checks, but then moving on to NRA talking points which question that very idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we also have to remember the gun doesn't pull the trigger, a person does. I don't want to take away people's Second Amendment rights. We're talking about background checks. Then all of a sudden, we're talking about, let's take everybody's gun away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: This just one day after, according to a source, President Trump told the NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, that universal background checks were -- quote -- "off the table."

As CNN's Boris Sanchez reports, the president's flip-flop and flip again comes as a new CNN poll most Americans want stricter gun control laws in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Donald Trump again shifting his stance on background checks for gun purchases, today insisting that he supports pursuing new gun control legislation.

TRUMP: I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks. We're working with Democrats, we're working with Republicans, and we already have very strong background checks.

SANCHEZ: But sources indicate Trump's support for stricter gun laws has cooled as he repeated NRA talking points to reporters before departing for a veterans event in Kentucky.

TRUMP: It is a slippery slope, and that is what actually your gun owners and a lot of other people are concerned with.

SANCHEZ: But just a few days ago, Trump also said he didn't believe in the slippery slope.

TRUMP: They think you approve one thing and that leads to a lot of bad things. I don't agree with it. I think we can do meaningful -- very meaningful background checks. I want to see it happen.

SANCHEZ: The president's comments now also a softer tone from what he said in the days following the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

TRUMP: I believe that this -- and I can tell you from my standpoint I would like to see meaningful background checks. And I think something will happen. But I don't want guns in the hands of a lunatic or a maniac. And I think, if we do proper background checks, we could prevent that.

SANCHEZ: The president's softening coincides with recent conversations between White House officials and the NRA, including a recent phone call between Trump and Wayne LaPierre, in which a source says Trump told the NRA head that universal background checks were off the table.

LaPierre tweeting on Tuesday -- quote -- "I spoke to the president today. We discussed the best ways to prevent these types of tragedies. Donald Trump is a strong Second Amendment president and supports our right to keep and bear arms."

Trump today denying he got into specifics with LaPierre.

TRUMP: I didn't say anything about that. We had a great talk with Wayne yesterday. Didn't say anything about that. We just talked about concepts. Wayne agrees things have to be done also.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Important to point out, we have seen this kind of pattern from President Trump before. You will recall after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, he taunted lawmakers, suggesting that they were afraid of the NRA and that he was not.

He even talked about passing some form of comprehensive gun control legislation back then. After direct talks with the NRA, Erica, the president backed away from that position.

HILL: Indeed, he did. Boris, appreciate it. Thank you.

As we look at all of this, it is important to point out too there is this new CNN poll out today which finds that 60 percent of Americans actually favor stricter gun control laws.

So it begs the question -- and, Mehdi, I will throw it out to you -- why it is so hard to move here on an issue that really does have a good amount of support in this country. Is it simply about money and the NRA having the president's ear, or is there more to it?

MEHDI HASAN, THE INTERCEPT: I think money and NRA is definitely a big factor.

And I think, as Boris just mentioned, he said, oh, you're all afraid of the NRA. With Trump, it's always projection. He says, you're afraid of the NRA. Really, he's afraid of the NRA, which is why he rings -- he initiated a call to the head of the NRA to say background checks are off the table.

[16:05:07]

Clearly, it's an issue with support; 90 percent of Republicans support universal background checks. A majority of NRA members, according to one poll, support universal background check.

So, yes, why isn't it happening? Because the NRA doesn't represent its members. It represents gun manufacturers. And Trump also has an issue with his base. It always comes back to his base. There were reports that when he gave that speech last week in New Hampshire and talked about, well, the person doesn't pull -- the gun doesn't pull the trigger, the person does, he loved the applause that got.

And he knows the economy, we're going to talk about it later, is going downhill. He doesn't want to lose those supporters. He sees himself as the Second Amendment guy now, even though he wasn't for most of his life.

HILL: Go ahead.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: No, I was just going to say, I think the point about he heard the applause...

HASAN: Classic Trump.

CILLIZZA: If you look at Donald Trump and who he is from June 2015, when he announces, until now, the one thing that has become very clear is, one, he loves campaign rallies because he hears the applause.

And, two, he's effectively like a comedian doing a greatest hit or a band doing a greatest hits show, right? You go to see -- you want to see "Hotel California," if you go see the Eagles.

He is giving them what they like. They cheer. He feels validated and he always says I don't understand why polling doesn't look good for me, all I do is go around and people cheer for me.

That is very much a smart way to understand him. So when you see something added into his rhetoric, like, for example, it's guns don't pull the trigger, people pull the trigger -- or guns don't kill people, et cetera, you know what I'm saying -- that is when you know, well, he's happy with that line because it got a response.

That is who he is.

HILL: Right. He knows when something sticks. I think you're right.

What is interesting -- and you brought this a little bit up, Mehdi, but also Boris touched on this -- is that we did hear from him, Mary Katharine, after Parkland, right, listen, it is time for you lawmakers to stand up to NRA.

The reality of where we sit today in august of 2019 is the one person who really has the power to make something happen is the president, because we know no lawmaker is going to push anything through without knowing that the president 100 percent has their back and that he actually means what he says.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that is why, by the way, Mitch McConnell wisely, tactically speaking, was, well, let's see what happens with the president because the president will change his mind in six days.

He wasn't for that idea before. He's not necessarily for this idea now, and that could change in two seconds. I will say as far as getting things through Congress, I think many people misunderstand it when they think that the NRA is the big bad guy and the NRA is the big block here.

The reason that Second Amendment supporters win is because they are extremely passionate about this issue, and they are extremely passionate, then, now, forever more. And they vote and they always act on it. And it does not ebb and flow, unlike the other side, which does ebb and flow based on the news cycle. Now, when it comes to something like universal background checks, one of the reasons I think Democrats do themselves a disservice on the 2020 trail pushing things like registration and licensing because it makes people think, well, now you're just saying the stuff out loud.

When you're telling me we want to just do this reasonable thing, you're saying, no, you actually want to do this other stuff too. So you lose trust with those voters.

HILL: Which really plays into actually the NRA's talking points which the president has picked up about universal background checks, Julie, being a slippery slope.

If they are hearing these other things from Democrats, it also says Democrats, Joe Biden included, who said -- tweeting: "Once again, President Trump has folded to the NRA, broken his promise to pursue the most modest of gun safety policies."

They could also be setting themselves up if they say we want to do a modest gun safety policy, and they can't get it through because look what they may be stuck with.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. Absolutely.

I mean, there is a risk here of -- a political risk for both parties on both sides. And it's not just about the money. I think Mary Katharine is right. It is about the political power of some of these voters. And for years and years and years, members of both parties, Republicans and Democrats, have been afraid of being targeted politically by those people being turned out, losing their seats over some of these key votes.

And if gun legislation were -- if the president -- the irony here is if the president were to be able to bring himself as with so many other issues to actually bring up a modest gun -- proposed gun rights -- gun safety proposal that polls show that the majority of voters would support, that would put Democrats in a really difficult position.

It could potentially be a really hard vote for some of their more moderate Democrats, who do not want to go as far as some of the presidential candidates, do not want to go as far as some of their leaders do in imposing gun safety measures.

They have taken votes on things that they all do agree on, on the Democratic side. But the president could make this harder for them politically than he actually is, because he can't seem to bring himself to go on the record and stay on the record in favor of some of these proposals.

CILLIZZA: That's exactly, exactly right. He could.

He won't, because he is so enthralled to his base. One other point I want to make, because people do often say, oh, Mitch McConnell, Mitch McConnell, Mitch McConnell. Sure, but 2013, 20 kids have been murdered in Newtown, 26 total people dead three months earlier. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has a series of proposals, including expanded background checks and a few other things, that are open to the amendment process in the Senate.

[16:10:00]

He is pushing hard. Who controls the Senate then? Fifty-four Senate Democrats. They're in the majority. Now, they don't get 60 votes for anything. They would have needed six Republicans.

The point is, it's not just because while Republicans are in control now they won't do anything. Democrats had opportunities and they had a president pushing hard, and they couldn't get it done.

I think it's more just -- just to add Mary Katharine's point, I actually think some of it, this is about the way in which -- the makeup of the Senate. There is every state gets two votes. Therefore, Wyoming has the same votes as California. So there's going to be a little bit I think of a rural bias, more pro-gun.

So it's not necessarily representative of the country as a whole. But that's a complicated thing. You want to change that, you got to change the whole Senate.

HILL: Right.

That requires much more than the time we have in this segment here.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Here's the good news.

There are lots more things for you to weigh in on today, including whether this was actually some sort of joke, that reaction. There's a lot of that reaction after President Trump canceled a visit to Denmark because the country won't sell him Greenland.

So, yes, it may sound like a joke, but it also puts potentially a longtime close relationship in jeopardy.

Plus, the president floating a dramatic change to U.S. citizenship, one that would require changing the Constitution.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:19] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: In our world lead, President Trump blowing up diplomatic relations with one of the United States closest allies, attacking the prime minister of Denmark after she called his push to buy Greenland, which just to be clear isn't for sale, she called it absurd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought that the prime minister's statement that it was absurd, that it was an absurd idea was nasty. I thought it was an inappropriate statement. You don't talk to the United States that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Danish politicians calling Mr. Trump's cancelation of his planned visit deeply insulting.

CNN's Anna Stewart joins now from Copenhagen.

So what are people saying there in Denmark to this latest attack from President Trump?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been plenty of reaction as you could imagine all day long. The Danes woke up to that the state visit was canceled and politicians across the political spectrum are rarely united in voicing incredulity and saying they feel insulted not just by the idea that the U.S. thought that the U.S. president thought that Greenland was for sale, which, of course, it isn't, but also by how it escalated.

Take a look at how it unfolded in the last 24 hours.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART (voice-over): After abruptly canceling a trip via tweet and possibly insulting a long-time close American ally, today, President Trump went one step further and attacked Denmark's prime minister.

TRUMP: I thought that the prime minister's statement that it was absurd, that was -- it was an absurd idea was nasty. I thought it was an appropriate statement. All she had to do is say, no, we wouldn't be interested.

STEWART: The president referring to the Danish leader calling Trump's idea of buying Greenland, which is owned by Denmark, absurd, and adding, I strongly hope this is not meant seriously.

Today, all around Copenhagen, Danes reacting to the Trump's cancelation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's truly disappointing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a great display of his character.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's really disrespectful to the queen.

STEWART: The spokesperson for the Danish queen who was scheduled to host the president told CNN: It was a complete surprise. This has never happened before.

From the prime minister --

METTE FREDERIKSEN, PRIME MINISTER OF DENMARK: I have been looking forward to the visit, our preparations were well underway. It was an opportunity, I think, to celebrate Denmark's close relationship to U.S.

STEWART: This all started when the "Wall Street Journal" reported last week that Trump was interested in buying Greenland.

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

STEWART: But the Danish prime minister quickly responded, telling a Danish newspaper, Greenland is not for sale.

The continued fallout left one of the United States most reliable alliances in jeopardy, according to the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark.

RUFUS GIFFORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO DENMARK: This is just not the way you treat an ally.

STEWART: Denmark has been a robust contributor to U.S.-led military missions despite its relatively small armed forces, including joining the Coalition of the Willing during the 2003 Iraq invasion, and sending 750 troops to Afghanistan during the height of NATO-led military missions. In fact, the Afghan war ended up being the deadliest military campaign in modern Danish history, losing more service members per capita than the U.S. did.

GIFFORD: They went and they fought alongside our troops and they died alongside our troops.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART: And, Erica, the Danish prime minister actually spoke again this evening, just hours after the statement responding to the U.S. president saying that some of her comments were, quote, nasty. In an interview with a national broadcaster, she said: I do not feel the need to enter into a war of words and not with the U.S. president, saying she wants to focus more important issues, clearly trying to draw a line under this whole episode and not allow a spat with a current sitting U.S. president overturn centuries of a strong alliance -- Erica.

HILL: Anna Stewart, live for us there in Copenhagen, thank you.

Laurie Fulton is the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark under President Obama, and joins us now.

I just have to begin with your reaction. We just heard, as Anna said, the prime minister saying she's not going to go any further. She's going to stop this here from her end. What are your thoughts on what the president had to say today?

LAURIE FULTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO DENMARK UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think President Trump got one thing right. He said yesterday Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, and, boy, I think of that they have proven that over the last two days. And this whole unfortunate episode in U.S./Danish relations was avoidable.

If you think about it, if you're going to try to buy a piece of another sovereign country's territory, how is that the appropriate way to do that? Isn't it to go to that country and talk?

[16:20:01] Instead, this administration went to the media and it was a big media story and it pushed everybody into having to take public positions without there ever having been any kind of discussion. But I think Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has done a very measured and appropriate response as you would expect from the leader of a western democracy.

HILL: So, what's the fallout here? Based on your experience?

FULTON: The fallout here is I think the Denmark/U.S. relationship is longstanding and it's strong, and it continues regardless of who is the president of the United States, or regardless of who is the prime minister of Denmark. And I think this is an unfortunate curve in the road. But I think that Denmark at least will get beyond it. I'm hoping that our administration gets beyond it.

HILL: It is interesting because we're hearing too in terms of fallout from other Danish politicians, the former prime minister called it deeply insulting. As we said, the head of the Danish social liberal party saying it shows why more than ever we should consider the E.U. countries our closest allies. The man is in incalculable.

Talking about aligning more closely with the European neighbors and focusing more on that than perhaps this very important relationship that for both the U.S. and Denmark that we've seen for such a long time, does that give you pause?

FULTON: It does give me pause. Denmark has always been a strong member of the E.U. in terms of, you know, how it agrees with the political stance of the E.U. and how it participates in the E.U.

That said, I think they have looked to the United States for best practices in all kinds of areas, anti-terrorism. I mean, they've joined us in various wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, you know, the -- and wars that Denmark was not used to fighting in foreign wars. They have gone above and beyond for us.

And to hear people now say, maybe we should think differently about our relationship with the United States is really a shame, because the United States has benefited from the strong relationship with Denmark.

HILL: Laurie Fulton, I really appreciate you joining us with your perspective today. Thanks for coming in.

FULTON: Thank you.

HILL: President Trump repeating an anti-Semitic trope again today. The outrage and the silence, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:06] HILL: In our 2020 lead, outrage from Jewish groups and Democratic candidates among others after President Trump once again said Jews who vote for Democrats are either dumb or disloyal. Questioning Jewish loyalty has been an anti-Semitic trope and as CNN's Tom Foreman reports, the president has a history of making similarly offensive comments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: You vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people and you're being very disloyal to Israel.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel, to siding with the Jewish nation on territorial matters, to his stand on Iran, Trump is painting his support for the Israeli government's causes as so profound only idiots would not agree.

TRUMP: I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.

FOREMAN: He has even embraced a right wing trope that said Israelis see him like he is the second coming of god, re-tweeting a conspiracy theorist who like Trump has questioned President Obama's birthplace.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): It's outrageous, it's offensive and it's dangerous.

FOREMAN: Jewish lawmakers, rights groups and several Democratic candidates for president are howling, Trump's stance is anti-Semitic, pure and simple. These comments are insulting and inexcusable. The Jewish people don't have to prove their loyalty to you.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am a proud Jewish person --

(CHEERS)

And I have no concerns about voting Democratic.

(CHEERS)

FOREMAN: The fury is not merely because Trump is winking at an old stereotype, suggesting American Jews maybe as loyal to Israel as their own country, rather much of the anger flows out of a sense that Trump has been here before, inviting the creator of an anti-Semitic comic to the White House, telling a group of Jewish Republicans the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is your prime minister.

And when right wing marchers in Virginia chanted "Jews will no replace us", there was Trump acknowledging their violent clash with counterprotesters but also giving them cover.

TRUMP: You also have very fine people on both sides.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Still, politically, this all makes sense. Less than a quarter of Jewish voters supported Trump in 2016, so offending the whole group cost him almost nothing. He has a strong cheering section among white supremacists who don't like Jewish people anyway, and don't forget, Christian evangelicals, his strongest supporters, some of whom openly believe Trump is a historic character sent to promote the Jewish state before the coming end of times -- Erica.

HILL: Tom Foreman -- Tom, appreciate it as always, thank you.

Tom actually sets this up perfectly. As we look at this, Julie, sowing this division among Jewish voters, does it help the president?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't really think so. I mean, if you look at the numbers the way they are, you know, the majority of --

[16:30:00]