Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Administration Planning to Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes; Trump Comments on Bolton Firing; Will Trump Back Any Gun Control Legislation?; Democrats Prepare For Next Presidential Debate. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired September 11, 2019 - 15:00   ET



ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's another step there in this, though, that anti-tobacco advocates are a little concerned about.

And that is that they made it clear that, after they're taken off the market, companies like Juul can apply to put them back on the market. And so there is some concern about this.

And activists are saying and advocates saying, can we just make it clear that those applications will be denied? Let's just make it clear that those applications will be denied. And they're hoping that the administration does that. They don't want to see those applications approved.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: But if this is so dangerous -- and I heard you mentioned the flavored e-cigarettes -- why not ban all of them? Why some are OK, some are not?

COHEN: Right.

So, this actually has to do with the histories of e-cigarettes. And it really came about as way for people to stop smoking regular cigarettes. It was a way for people to sort of taper off. And for many people, it's actually been a very effective tool.

So, the thinking is, we will leave tobacco-flavored vapes on the market. And those don't really appeal to kids so much anyhow. Kids aren't smoking those in great numbers. They're smoking the fruit- flavored, the candy-flavored one.

So, the thinking is, if you take the flavor, the candy- and the fruit- flavored ones off, you're really going a very long way to ending the epidemic of youth vaping.

BALDWIN: And what are the companies saying?

COHEN: The companies really haven't responded very strongly.

Now, it will be interesting to hear what they have to say. And what will be really interesting is, are they going to apply to put these back on the market? Because they can. So, if they apply to put them back on the market and they are allowed to put them back on the market, then what was all of this for?

So, it will be interesting to see how quickly and if they apply to put these candy- and fruit-flavored vapes back on the market.

BALDWIN: OK. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.

COHEN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And in that news conference where a lot of headlines were made, President Trump also offered up several reasons why he thought his national security adviser, John Bolton, needed to go.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John wasn't in line with what we were doing. And, actually, in some cases, he thought it was too tough what we were doing, Mr. Tough Guy.

You have to go into Iraq. Going into Iraq was something that he felt very strongly about. So we're right now in for over $7 trillion into the Middle East. And I disagreed with that decision from the beginning, even though I was a civilian, so nobody cared.

But I was out there. I was outspoken about it. I thought it was a terrible mistake.


BALDWIN: Trump also criticized Bolton's approach with North Korea and said he didn't get along with a number of unnamed important people in the Trump administration.

Regardless of whether he quit or was fired, the departure leaves a significant gap at the National Security Council at a time when the U.S. is confronting multiple foreign policy challenges.

John Gans is the director of communications and research at Perry World House and is a former chief speechwriter over at the Pentagon. He is also the author of "White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War."

So, John, welcome to you.

You know the deal. Three national security advisers now have come and gone within essentially two-and-a-half, three years with this administration. What do you make of the president's rationale for firing him?

JOHN GANS, PERRY WORLD HOUSE: Well, it's sort of like blaming a leopard for his spots.

Trying to claim that firing John Bolton was over his hard-edged views is akin to firing somebody for the first line of their resume. In addition, trying to say that Iraq was the reason, a decision that was made 15, 16 years ago, just doesn't quite add up. So, there was obviously a lot more to this decision, including some of

the ways that the president -- National Security Adviser John Bolton tried to hem the president on Afghanistan and other decisions clearly did have an impact. It was not just the first hard-line views.

BALDWIN: What about also just the ramifications of Bolton, the man himself, right?

Like, you wrote about how Bolton effectively destroyed -- your words -- the National Security Council system. Explain what you mean and just how crucial that structure is.

GANS: Absolutely.

The national security adviser's first job, other than sort of staffing the president, is managing the system of information and decision- making that has sort of been running in Washington for almost 70 years.

Information and hard choices work their way up through the bureaucracy to the president, and then the president makes a decision, and the system takes the decisions down for implementation.

John Bolton's job was to keep that system running, especially for -- and that was especially difficult with a president like Donald Trump, who had never served in government.

Now, John Bolton, though, took a bit of an odd approach, somewhat counterproductive approach, which is that he tried to informalize it and sort of make it smaller, make it less inclusive, and, to a degree, make it less formal.

And that left him really trying to make just decisions with the president alone. And after all, when he fell out of favor with the president over his recent views, what ended up happening is that the system wasn't there to sort of save him. And the system is no longer there because the system was really just him and Donald Trump making decisions alone.


BALDWIN: So, then what kind of person do you think should step into this role as national security adviser number four?

GANS: Well, I think two things are clear.

I think the first thing is, is that it's a hard job. It would be a hard job for Donald Trump on day one. And he's now gone through three national security advisers.

The second thing that is very clear is that Donald Trump has been shown that he doesn't really need government to make decisions. John Bolton so shrank the decision-making circle that it seemed as though Donald Trump was just doing this alone with just a few other aides.

And so that really hearkens back to an era before the National Security Council, back in the 1940s, when the world was a much smaller place, and the United States government was much smaller. So trying to run the U.S. government with just the president in charge is basically not only counterproductive, but it's kind of a crazy approach to it.

And so what you actually have is, I think that John Bolton's tenure showed Donald Trump an important lesson, which is, you don't really need government to do this. And that's a scary thought for those of us who sort of worry about the decisions the president makes.

But it's also a scary thought for those abroad, who some count on what the United States is doing around the world.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. Checks and balances, right?

We know one of the most recent disagreements was over Afghanistan. So John Bolton was not at all a fan of these proposed peace talks with the Taliban that President Trump did eventually cancel over the weekend. And, today, he explained why, referencing an attack they killed an American soldier.

Here was the president.


TRUMP: When they did what they did in order to create what they thought was a better negotiating stance, I said, that's the end of them, get them out. I don't want anything to do with them.

And they have been hit very hard. And I know for a fact they said that was a big mistake that they made. And it was. But that was my decision.


BALDWIN: So it's now been, John, 18 years since September 11. Where does the Trump administration go from here on Afghanistan?

GANS: Well, it's a good question.

I mean, I think that, generally speaking, we now have -- the president has sort of shown his cards a little bit. This has been a mess. But, to a degree, we have sort of seen that his inclination is towards making some sort of effort to try and remove the United States at least from some level of engagement in Afghanistan.

The question, of course, is, is anybody going to trust what's coming out of Washington now? It's still to be seen how serious the peace talks were, how serious the plan was to come to Washington and Camp David, and things along those lines.

But how does anybody trust what the United States is saying at the negotiating table? And how does anybody in Afghanistan trust that a deal is going to be made in this situation? I think that's one of the real ramifications of a mess and a breakdown in Washington is that those around the world come to trust less and less what they hear from Washington.

And so on issues like Afghanistan, North Korea or anything more, the credibility and the sort of legitimacy of America's communications and decision-making is now in doubt.

And so, on Afghanistan, that puts not only American troops at risk, but America's interests at risk as well.

BALDWIN: Yes, global ramifications.

John Gans, thank you very much. Nice to have you on.

GANS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Tomorrow may be the third Democratic debate for president, but it offers a first for this 2020 race. Why? Because these two front-runners, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, will be standing side by side.

This is the podium positioning there on your screen. The former vice president is showing some of his cards in these hours ahead of this 10-candidate event in Houston, Texas. His adviser says that Biden will talk about how -- quote -- "We need more than plans for the nation."

More than plans. Who is he talking about? Yes, Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren, of course, and her known strategy of having a plan for just about every policy issue.

The Massachusetts senator also gave a preview of how she will counter Biden after she was asked about Biden saying we need more than plans.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we start with a plan and then we get out there and fight for it. To me, that's what being president is all about.


BALDWIN: Nia-Malika Henderson is CNN's senior political reporter, Tara Setmayer is host of the "Honestly Speaking With Tara" podcast, and once served as a Republican communications director on Capitol Hill.

So, ladies, thank you for being with me.

And to you first.


BALDWIN: So, all right, exciting because they're all going to be up on the stage.

But Joe Biden's notion of saying there's more -- that we need more than plans, do you think that that is a smart strategy? Because people love Elizabeth Warren for her plans.

HENDERSON: People love Elizabeth Warren.

I think Elizabeth Warren is probably the best debater out of this field of 20. It'll only be 10 on this stage tonight. She's got the policy. You might not agree with her policy. She's got passion, as long as she's able to connect that policy to people, right?

So, listen, you got Joe Biden picking a fight with Elizabeth Warren. So he's got to really bring it on that stage, because I think -- I mean, if you just look at sort of what she's been able to do, she's probably the only person in this field who's gotten much better, right?

If you remember, roughly a year ago, when she had the DNA test, people sort of wrote her off.

BALDWIN: Was that a year ago? Wow.


HENDERSON: It was a year ago or so, give or take. And she's just...



BALDWIN: And look at her now.

HENDERSON: And look at the crowds. Look at the passion. She's going head to head with Bernie Sanders.

He seems to be declining. So Biden better bring it tomorrow if he wants it with Elizabeth Warren. And he clearly does.


I mean, Tara, to me, just -- I think just listening to how else Elizabeth Warren responded to that, as she's just drawing this energy contrast. It'll be fascinating to watch.

I want to switch gears on you, Tara, because I want to talk about North Carolina, bellwether election in North Carolina. The Trump candidate, Republican Dan Bishop, won by two points. You can see there how close this race was.

And so, earlier, the president gave himself credit for the victory since he did some last-minute stumping for Bishop. Here he was.


TRUMP: I want to congratulate Dan Bishop last night on an incredible win. He was -- Dan was 17 points behind three weeks ago. The media thought he was going to lose.

Dan Bishop worked really hard and I worked very hard with him and he made up a 17-point lead in a few weeks.


BALDWIN: But, I mean, this should have been a ruby-red seat, right? You saw how close it was.

How concerned should Republicans be going into 2020?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, the 2018 midterm elections should have been enough to send alarm bells ringing to Republicans because of how they lost in suburban districts.

And the president's numbers with independents and women in these suburban districts are terrible. He's underwater in every demographic except for white men non-college-educated men.

So this was a plus-12 Republican district. Donald Trump won it by 12. Mitt Romney won it by 12. It's been a Republican district since 1963. The fact that the -- that a Republican won by two points is not really -- they shouldn't be up -- they shouldn't be real happy about that.

That should be alarming to them. I mean, yes, you only need 50 plus one. But this is indicative, in my opinion, of a pattern of other districts that resemble this, where Republicans are going to have a tough time winning because Donald Trump could be a drag on them.

And it's a dilemma. What do these Republicans do? That's why you see so many Republican retirements. If you look at where some of these Republicans are retiring, they're in areas that are vulnerable like this. And they're like, we have had it. We're not going through this, because they don't want to hitch their wagon to Donald Trump, because that's what you have to do, because it's his party now.

I mean, we see what's going on even with the Senate race with Nebraska and Donald Trump now endorsing Ben Sasse.


BALDWIN: You're getting ahead of me, Tara.

SETMAYER: I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: Stop doing all your homework.



BALDWIN: No, I want to get there in a second.

But I just wanted Nia to jump in on this, because Tara mentioned the Republican weakness in the suburbs. Why is that such a big deal?


You have Republicans who obviously want to back the Republican, right? They're fiscal conservative, sort of Chamber of Commerce, garden variety, Mitt Romney Republicans.

Donald Trump is not that person, right? He's not that kind of Republican. He likes to play on a sort of divisive field around racial issues, on the kind of culture war issues, which definitely engage and I think very much make parts of the Republican Party enthusiastic.

Particularly, Tara was talking about working-class white men. He's able, I think, to really make an emotional connection with them. He tells them, listen, Democrats want to take away your way of life. And I'm the only one that stands in the way of them doing that.

So that's very good. Other folks, college-educated white voters in the suburbs, it makes them uncomfortable. So that's why you see a lot of these Democrats in these races, they're fielding good candidates, right?

If you think about Dan McCready, he was a veteran. He went to Duke, which is an excellent school, UNC also a good school.

BALDWIN: Thank you.


BALDWIN: Thank you.


HENDERSON: And so yes, they were -- and that's what you saw throughout 2018.

So it was a real blueprint, I think, for 2020 as well. How do you really kind of capture of the suburban white voters who are sick of a lot of the sort of chaos and culture war that you see coming out of this White House.

BALDWIN: OK. Ben Sasse. Ben Sasse, right?

So we remember, of course, Ben Sasse, the 2016 tweets about then candidate Trump, saying Trump doesn't get America and saying dumpster fires were more popular than Trump. Well, Sasse has been silent for a couple of months now. And now we know why.

Trump via Twitter sings his praises and ends with -- quote -- "Ben has my complete and total endorsement!"

And all -- Tara?

SETMAYER: So disappointing.

I was -- I had so much hope for Ben Sasse. He was sticking to his principles. He did not vote for Trump in 2016. He went on the Senate floor and gave these rip-roaring speeches in his Nebraskan way, going after Trump, really just speaking the truth about the way Donald Trump is and how he's not really a Republican or a conservative and he's a megalomaniac and all these things. And I was like, yes, thank you, Ben Sasse. But then the reality of reelection emerged upon him and he was actually losing support in Nebraska. The Nebraska GOP was threatening to field a primary challenger. And they have.


And so he recently -- since he stopped criticizing Donald Trump a couple months ago, he's risen 14 points in a poll locally back home in Nebraska.

So, unfortunately, it's the reality of, you're a single seeker of reelection. That's what every elected official's number one priority is. And I guess his calculus here is, look, if I get reelected in 2020, I can outlast a second term of Donald Trump and go back to being -- once he gets reelected, then he can go back to being a critic.

I just hope that he doesn't compromise himself too much. I mean, we just -- he knows -- we already know how he feels about Donald Trump. But let's see how long this love affair lasts, because it was pretty tenuous in the beginning there, because Donald Trump doesn't like criticism.

BALDWIN: It was incredibly tenuous.


BALDWIN: And it's a total 180.

SETMAYER: Surprised.

BALDWIN: Tara, thank you. Thank you very much.

Nia, thank you very much, and for the shout-out to my alma mater. Love you.


BALDWIN: President Trump failed to make a commitment on gun control legislation today, but he is talking to Democrats, as is Senator Ted Cruz.

He just sat down with Alyssa Milano and the father of a student who was killed in the Parkland school shooting. I'll talk to that father, Fred Guttenberg, just ahead. Please don't miss that.

And the acting Philadelphia police commissioner is now apologizing after this old photo -- like from the '90s old -- surfaced of her wearing a T-shirt that appeared to make light of the police beating of Rodney King. Details on how this has outraged this city.

We will be right back.


[15:21:16] BALDWIN: President Trump just spoke with a group of senators on background checks and in the wake of four mass shootings during congressional recess.

It could be a sign that lawmakers are keeping their promise to actually do something. Also this week, a House committee just voted to approve three pieces of gun safety legislation, but because President Trump has left lawmakers in the dark about what exactly he would be willing to sign, there are fears the momentum to change this nation's gun laws could stall.

My next guest is doing everything he possibly can to prevent that. Fred Guttenberg lost his daughter Jaime in the Parkland school shooting. And with the help of actress and activist Alyssa Milano, he just returned from a candid 90-minute meeting with a Republican who received an A-plus rating from the NRA.

I'm talking about Senator Ted Cruz.

Here is just a piece of their conversation.


FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM: That picture taken the day before she was killed, it's the last picture I will ever, ever, ever have the chance to take with my daughter.

That picture, also my daughter, underneath that black oval, that's her dead body. That's what that is on the third floor, not the first floor, not the second floor. She was number 33 of 34 to be shot. That's her on the third floor.

And that picture is kids running for their lives over my daughter's dead body to not get shot.

If nothing else comes out of this meeting, nothing else, except maybe some little kernel of common ground that saves some lives, this will have been the best day of my life.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The agony you and your family felt, it would be easy for that to paralyze you and overwhelm you. And thank you for channeling that into fighting to make a difference.

I -- that takes courage. And it means you also have to relive what happened that day and talk about it. So thank you for that.


BALDWIN: Every day, you hear Fred say.

And Fred Guttenberg is with me now.

I mean, what a moment, Fred. And I want to hear all about it.

But -- but before we even get into your meeting, we just heard actually President Trump speaking on guns. He just said that he is working with Senators Manchin, Murphy and Toomey. He says that they are looking at background checks, putting everything together in a unified way, but that there will be some sort of progress.

All right? So this is according to the president.

That said, let's talk about you and your meeting.


BALDWIN: Do you feel more hopeful today than you did yesterday?

GUTTENBERG: Listen, it was, I think, a really important day.

And I'm very thankful that the senator not only scheduled it, that he gave us 90 minutes. I'm thankful to Alyssa Milano for the fact that she and I and the senator got involved in this Twitter spat, and the two of them arranged this.

And I'm thankful that she asked me to come.

And this weekend, I was in New York because my brother was being added to the New York Fire Department 9/11 Memorial wall. Today happens to be 9/11.

And so because I was in New York and doing 9/11 things, I was able to just hop on an Amtrak and get there. And I'm just truly appreciative of the chance to sit down with somebody and to have them sit down with me, where we really do talk from two different sides of the room, and actually look each other in the eye.


That's, I hope, progress. We don't agree on prescriptions yet, on what you do.


GUTTENBERG: But we agree that we're going to keep talking about it.

And I think that's important.

BALDWIN: And, as you pointed out, the fact that this all came from a spat on Twitter, and there you were for 90 minutes talking to who you may think is your ideological opposite.


BALDWIN: And I just want to play a little bit more from -- you mentioned Alyssa Milano. This is this is some of what she said afterward.



ALYSSA MILANO, ACTRESS AND ACTIVIST: And I said to him, I said, no 17-month-old baby should ever have shrapnel in her chest in this country.

I think he got -- I think he gets it.

Now, to understand it, and then to have the courage and the fortitude to do something about it are two very, very different things. So I'm cautiously optimistic that he knows the issue and hopeful, I guess, that he's willing to do something about it.


BALDWIN: Fred, do you share her same cautious optimism? I mean, do you think Senator Cruz can pull through on this?

GUTTENBERG: So I am optimistic we're going to keep talking.

I think the most pressing thing that he could have done yesterday -- and it didn't happen -- was acknowledge that he needs to consider more strongly a background check bill.

BALDWIN: Are they going to take it up?



BALDWIN: I mean, this is up to Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell says he's waiting for a directive from the president. It's like this round and round and round we go.

GUTTENBERG: So here's when I grew up going to school.

My understanding of democracy was the House and the Senate make bills. They come to the conference and eventually agree on a bill. That got sent to the president to sign. That's the way democracy works.

So when Mitch McConnell says he's waiting on the president, that's a cop-out, OK? That's him saying, I'm not going to utilize my constitutional role in the democracy, because he doesn't need to wait on the president. They need to send a bill to the president.

So, Mitch McConnell, for me, is a failure.

The Democrats in the Senate, especially those running for president, who are not pushing McConnell harder, who are not using the theater of their office to do more, are also getting me a bit upset.


And I think -- I think you did something really profound sitting in that office in showing Ted Cruz those images, those graphic images. I have had so many conversations with parents who've lost children to gun violence, and then they have wondered, should we show them what we have sadly seen, what law enforcement has seen, right?

I mean, you talk about the picture of where you see other students running for their lives over Jaime's body. And my question is, do you think, as a father in this position, do you

think more Americans need to see these photos? Do you think more lawmakers? Does Mitch McConnell? Do you think that would be a game- changer?

GUTTENBERG: I think the issue is with the elected people who are choosing to ignore it, who are choosing to do nothing, who are choosing to put blinders on.

I think the American people get it. I think it's the folks like Senator Cruz who needed to see it. And so I don't put this burden on the American voter. I think the American voter has it right.

And I think, if the Senate doesn't get it right, the American voter is going to punish them seriously in the next election.

BALDWIN: Talk about leading by example, though. I mean, Ted Cruz said you're courageous the fact that you two and Alyssa could sit in a room and have this kind of conversation for 90 minutes.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of more and more and more of progress and then, to use your word, prescription.

Fred Guttenberg, you're excellent.

GUTTENBERG: I hope so.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

GUTTENBERG: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We will keep talking. Thank you.

Coming up next, calls for Philadelphia's acting police commissioner to resign after an old photo of her has surfaced where she's wearing this T-shirt that appeared to make light of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles.

You will see the city meeting that got so heated over this issue.