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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Rules of Impeachment; Trump in Baltimore; Pushing For Impeachment; Democrats Face Off At Third Debate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 12, 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: So, so great to talk to them after the show yesterday.

Ladies, thank you so very much for everything you do for this country.

And thank you for being with me the last two hours. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's go to Jake in Washington. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Normally, you would have to be wearing a Steelers uniform to get a reception like this in Baltimore.

THE LEAD starts right now.

For the first time since calling Baltimore rodent-infested and disgusting, President Trump is visiting Charm City to hang out with Republicans, as many in the majority black city are saying, send him back.

Surrounded. Round three for the Democrats and for the first time, and for the first time, Joe Biden will be flanked by his two closest, much more progressive challengers. Does Elizabeth Warren have a plan to attack him?

Plus, closer to the tipping point? More than 100 business leaders now saying doing nothing on guns is unacceptable, as a key Trump ally in the Senate says the president might be ready to talk.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the politics lead today.

President Trump is this minute preparing to leave the White House to visit Baltimore, Maryland, an American city that two months ago he denigrated, mockingly calling it deadlier than Afghanistan. He said it was a place no human being would want to live. He called it a -- quote -- "disgusting rat- and rodent-infested mess."

It was all part of a weeks-long attack on that city full of American citizens whom he represents as president. The attack came within days of those other gratuitous and nasty attacks, the racist ones where he told four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back where they came from.

This time, President Trump went after House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore. Cummings subsequently invited the president to visit Baltimore after the attack. The president did not take him up on that offer.

But, tonight, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, President Trump will speak in Baltimore at the long-scheduled House Republican retreat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a corrupt city. There's no question about it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump will soon head to a place he once said was like living in hell.

TRUMP: Those people are living in hell in Baltimore.

COLLINS: He claimed it was a rodent-infested mess. And he even compared the homicide rate to a war zone.

TRUMP: I believe it's higher than Afghanistan.

COLLINS: But President Trump won't be on an apology tour when he visits Baltimore, Maryland, tonight. Instead, he's going to speak to his fellow Republicans during their congressional retreat.

Trump's summer feud had less to do with Charm City, and more to do with this lawmaker.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): The days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over.

COLLINS: Congressman Elijah Cummings is a Baltimore native who chairs the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the president and his administration.

TRUMP: I think that Representative Cummings should take his Oversight Committee and start doing oversight on Baltimore.

COLLINS: Trump's trip comes as he is still down a national security adviser after John Bolton was unceremoniously ousted earlier this week.

TRUMP: I thought he was way out of line.

COLLINS: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was barely on speaking terms with Bolton, was practically gleeful.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed. That's to be sure.

COLLINS: And now sources say he could replace him. Administration officials are considering making Pompeo the new national security adviser, while keeping him as secretary of state.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: That would not be an unprecedented move, of course.

COLLINS: If so, Pompeo would become only the second person to hold both titles. The first was Henry Kissinger, who was the national security adviser when President Richard Nixon made him secretary of state in 1973.

Trump hasn't made a final decision yet and is still considering several names.

TRUMP: There are five people that I consider very highly qualified.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, that suggestion about Pompeo may seem unusual. And some people back here at the White House say it's only being pushed by his allies.

But the idea that it is being floated at all and not outright dismissed by White House officials is a sign of the power that Pompeo holds, power that is only likely to increase with Bolton's departure.

But, of course, you have seen what's happened to people in President Trump's eyes before when they have grown too powerful.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with my experts.

Van Jones, let me start with you.

President Trump, of course, heading to a city that he called a disgusting rat- and rodent-infested mass. I guess the big question, will he address that at all when he's there?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, he probably won't, and if he does, he will probably make it worse, unfortunately. Doing apology tours is not something he's really, really good at doing.

It's interesting because there's just this kind of divide in the Trump strategy. Kind of on the one hand, this week, they were talking to black colleges, talking about ending poverty with business.

[16:05:01]

None of that breaks through because you still have the S-hole countries comment just weighing them down, the rat-infested city weighing them down.

So it's interesting to watch them just at odds with themselves trying to figure out some way to reach this constituency, but yet still struggling with it.

TAPPER: As we saw with his feud with science in the last week or so, the president's not particularly good at letting things go.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

I think he's definitely going to mention it, because I think he considers that feud a hit of his. I think he thought that that was successful. And when you're going to a friendly audience, you play the hits.

And when you -- when you go to a concert, of course you're going to play the new album, but you really expect all the old classics.

JONES: Oldies, but goodies.

TAPPER: Yes. Yes.

CUPP: And so I think he's in that city. He's not going to be able to resist the obvious low-hanging fruit that's in front of him in front of a Republican retreat. I think of course he's going to do it.

And the question is, will anyone in that room care?

TAPPER: So kind of like a racially insensitive version of "Stairway to Heaven," I guess is what she's saying.

CUPP: "Free Bird."

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: "Sweet Home Alabama," perhaps more to the point.

Yes, but the president has an arena rock approach to his politics, but he is fundamentally an insult comic. And if there are folks in the White House wringing their hands about how come their message isn't getting out on the heroic work Van and other folks did on criminal justice reform, for which they deserve concern, it's because the messenger keeps saying really racist things.

And, yes, no kidding.

(CROSSTALK)

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, the part Republicans really need to think about if they're going to be in that room, and he plays his greatest hits, are the continued optics of what happens when a Republican Party and a conference of Republican electeds laugh at the president continuing to play that terrible hit.

CUPP: Yes.

HOOVER: And that does further damage to all of them and their seats, and to the sustainability of this project that was the Republican Party that, by the way, was the progressive party of the 1860s.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: I'm not writing that op-ed today.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: Talk about a greatest hit.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Yes, Jack Kemp is spinning in his grave somewhere.

Let's turn to the Pompeo of story.

Margaret, a recent "New Yorker" profile called Pompeo the -- quote -- "secretary of Trump, the president's most loyal soldier." A former senior White House official quoted in the story saying that Pompeo is -- quote -- "among the most sycophantic and obsequious people around Trump."

HOOVER: Well, he's going to need to ratchet up that obsequiousness right now, because these storylines are going to be very bad for him as Trump reads them.

And literally all of this speculation about how important Pompeo is, is exactly the kind of thing that will undermine Pompeo in the context of the president, because the president makes the decisions. And he's the guy who's making the policy. He doesn't want anybody to be bigger than him.

So while all that probably hurts Pompeo, I think it's an accurate characterization. Looks, he's lasted in two positions so far in this administration. People get fired, not promoted, with President Trump.

TAPPER: Yes.

HOOVER: And now he may get yet another job.

TAPPER: He's really good at managing up. I mean, I think, whatever you think...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Whatever you think of Mike Pompeo, he is really good at managing up.

And the truth is, ideologically, Pompeo and Bolton, if you go back to 2016, really not that different, really very similar.

HOOVER: No, but one is a deeply principled or ideological person, and the other is an operator who's managing Washington and managing the president in a more effective way.

AVLON: Quite effectively. To Margaret's point, he has risen up the ranks, and he's done it by making sure there's no daylight in public between him and the president.

And you can say that's an abandonment of principles or the absence of principles. The thing -- the reason that I think the Kissinger parallels are dangerous is that, A, it would rise his profile to a place that will be unsustainable.

And, two, when Henry Kissinger did it in the Ford administration, it didn't -- ultimately, he was replaced by Brent Scowcroft in the national security position. So even that was untenable for someone as talented at both policy and Washington politics as Henry Kissinger. Mike Pompeo is not going to be able to play...

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: I think the danger too -- sorry -- is that it seems as if Trump thinks these two positions are, like, smushable, they're somewhat related, they're kind of similar fields, we will smush them together.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: And I'm a small government conservative. I like consolidating government, but these are two very important and, by the way, discrete positions, sometimes in conflict with one another. And you like to have those checks and balances.

To have it be the same person could actually be somewhat dangerous.

JONES: In a White House, the process is so important. And you do want those functions separate.

And you want to be able to -- the thing is, every White House has factions and faction fights. They are usually well managed by a strong chief of staff and everybody doing their actual job.

I want to say this, though. I'm glad Bolton's gone. I just want to be very clear that Bolton leaving -- people are like, oh -- I -- hallelujah. I'm glad he's gone. I thought he was a dangerous and a reckless presence in American life.

And I'm glad he's not in the White House.

TAPPER: All right, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

One Republican saying that Democrats are just talking about impeachment for the Gram.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): What's happened today is great. The Judiciary Committee just became a giant Instagram filter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The moves on the Hill that sparked that outburst coming up next.

Then: devices planted near the White House to reportedly spy on President Trump and allegedly done by one of America's closest allies.

[16:10:07]

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our politics lead now.

A big moment today for the 135 House Democrats who want impeachment proceedings against President Trump to begin.

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In a party-line vote today, the House Judiciary Committee adopted the rules for their investigation. But, as one Republican noted, Democrats can't agree on what's next or even what to call this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): Do you want to give the illusion of impeachment without the reality of it? Some Democrats can tell their constituencies they're conducting an impeachment inquiry. While others can tell their constituencies that they aren't. You can have your impeachment and deny it, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Manu, Democrats in this committee want this but they don't want the full caucus?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Sizable number in the full House Democratic Caucus still not there yet in terms of getting behind formal impeachment proceedings, even though there's a majority of House Democrats that do want to move forward particularly in the House Judiciary Committee. There are some including some freshmen who are in districts that will be in risk of flipping in 2020. You're pushing back and telling me now is not time to move forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP ANTHONY BRINDISI (D-NY): I think the American people aren't there on the issue of impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think we've made the case to the American people that we need to, yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now the move on the House Judiciary Committee, essentially say what they're doing is the same as an impeachment inquiry means that the full House will not have to vote to formally open this investigation. That will spare them from a vote. But, Jake, if the committee does make a decision to actually recommend articles of impeachment, which Jerry Nadler wants to do before the end of the year, those members will have to cast a vote by then, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu, does debate among House Democrats to call what comes next an impeachment inquiry or an investigation. And even Speaker Pelosi won't say what it is?

RAJU: Yes. I've tried multiple times this week to try to get her on the record to say whether or not she supports or this is an impeachment inquiry. She has not said that. Simply a continuation, she says of the existing investigations. And today the press conference she was asked directly about this issue and she pushed back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you uncomfortable with the term "impeachment inquiry"? Is there another term we should using?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I'm not -- why don't we spend some time going over to see Mitch McConnell and asking him why he doesn't want to save lives? Why is it that you're hung up on a word over here when lives are at stake over there?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: She's referring to, of course, Mitch McConnell not moving forward on the universal background checks referring to gun sales. But nonetheless, her tone about impeachment much different than what the House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said after today's vote. He came out and said they're going to move forward with an aggressive set of hearings this fall. And calling one impeachment hearing next week with this former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, set to testify about the allegations of obstruction of justice laid out in the Mueller report. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us. Thanks so much.

A huge milestone for the Trump administration that he may not want to tweet. Today, the Treasury Department announced that the U.S. budget deficit topped $1 trillion. It is the first time in seven years. President Trump's 2017 tax cuts drove the increase along with a massive spending package passed by Congress.

Coming up it may be a third Democratic debate but tonight is a first for presidential hopefuls. We will explain and discuss what each candidate needs to do to keep their hopes alive. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:14] TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today for the very first time, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders will all stand on the same debate stage in Houston in the third Democratic debate this evening.

The expectation is that both progressive fire brands Warren and Sanders will take it to the more moderate front-runner in the former VP. As CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports from Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPNDENT (voice-over): A Texas showdown tonight between the top three Democratic presidential candidates, marking up first in the 2020 campaign as they all stand side by side sharing a debate stage in Houston. While Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have faced up once already, all eyes are on Biden and Elizabeth Warren. These competing visions represent the starchos (ph) choice for voters. Biden's advisers says the former vice president plans to question whether Warren will be able to deliver on her proposals.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Plans are great, but executing on those plans is say very different thing.

ZELENY: But Warren has imploring Democrats to dream big, arguing now is not the time to play it safe.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't choose a candidate we don't believe in because we're scared. And we can't ask another people to vote for someone we don't believe in.

ZELENY: The Massachusetts senator releasing another new plan today, calling for a major expansion of social security, to immediately increase benefits by $200 a month per person. And expand benefits for the poor. To pay for it she would require the wealthiest Americans to contribute more to the program.

Warren along with Bernie Sanders is calling for sweeping changes to health care and other government programs. It's a revolution that Biden and several other rivals fear is pushing the party too far to the left. Only 10 candidates out of the crowded Democratic field qualified for the debate to be held on the campus of Texas Southern University, one of the nation's historically black colleges and universities.

[16:25:02] Biden announcing the endorsement today of 59 black state legislators from 15 states, underscoring how support from African- Americans had solidified his lead. A new CNN poll shows the former vice president holds an overwhelming advantage among back voters with 42% supporting him about five times as much as Sanders, Warren and Kamala Harris.

And just hours before the debate, Biden reminding voters once again of his loyalty to his partner in the White House, former President Barack Obama.

BIDEN: Barack Obama is an extraordinary man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, it's know surprise that Biden is still clinging tight to President Obama. Of course, he's the most popular Democrat in the party, and Jake, you'll remember at the last debate in Detroit it was the Obama legacy that in fact was being debated. Advisers to all of the campaigns are telling us they do not expect that to be quite as sharp. There was a lot of backlash of course on the debates of the Obama legacy.

But Jake, one thing that's clear, Joe Biden is bringing in his argument for strong electability. Elizabeth Warren is bringing her plans in. Both of those are likely to get picked apart tonight. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny in Houston right before the debate. Let's talk about this, S.E., tell me what you think Vice President Joe Biden should do tonight?

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST, S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED: Well, I hate to say this, I'm not picking on him, but it seems like every Joe Biden's performance is worst of this campaign season. He hasn't found a way to redeem from the last one before he goes on to the next.

And so, I hope he just has sort of a clean, sharp performance. I think the thing he should do is drag out that recent Pew poll that found democrats have lost that advantage over voters that they had over Republican. It's vanished over the past couple of years.

I think he should raise that as a reason for his electability. As a reason for why some of these pie in the sky policy ideas are maybe well intentioned but unrealistic. He's the pragmatist. He can get stuff done.

TAPPER: And Van, if you're advising Sanders or Warren, what would you tell them?

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, THE VAN JONES SHOW: I mean we often overlook Sanders' strength. You know, people love this kind of comeback story of Elizabeth Warren. But Sanders is very, very strong. Very, very stable. I think he can humanize himself a little bit more. He is somebody we don't want to hear the greatest hits from over and over again, like we've heard all of that stuff before. And he's got to prove himself on the plan side.

I think Elizabeth Warren, look, she is so far the best athlete on the field. I think she needs to resist the temptation to go after Biden. I think Biden has a lot of love in this party. I think people feel he's a little unsteady on his feet. She can take him out at any point. I don't think she has to do it tonight.

TAPPER: What do you think, Margaret, what would you say?

MARGARET HOOVER, VETERAN OF TWO GOP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS : Biden not only has to avoid a gaffe, he has to defend the legacy that he's associated with in a way that gives mainstream Democrats something to hang their hat on. Because right now they're coming up with excuses, the senile guy is better than the crazy guy. And that's just not enough, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

HOOVER: And by the way, it's going to be one of these top three candidates, right, between Warren and Biden, Sanders, you've got two- thirds of the Democratic preference locked up. And all of the other 17 candidates are fighting over that one-third. So the likelihood that one of the other candidates is going to emerge is the leader in this run is very unlikely. CUPP: Margaret, don't you think instead of Elizabeth Warren focusing

on Biden, she has got to focus on Sanders. They're too alike to too many voters. And they eventually going to have to take each other out.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Eventually, she's going to make the case she's more electable than Bernie Sanders and that's going to blur. I do think if you look at the top three folks what's -- what I think is troubling for the Democratic field perspective is that it's not a strong field. But not only are they accept Janarions (ph), but also that, you know, they represents, Biden represent something like the center but historically he's been a very mainstream liberal senator.

Warren and Sanders are in their own zip code as it comes to the Democratic Party, let alone the national electric. So there's still a lot of Democratic voters who are not being represented and that's where there's an opportunity for say like Kamala Harris.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

AVLON: Somebody who really rose in the first debate, but then got hit by the Biden boomerang. That attack boomeranged back on. She's going to make a clear positive differentiated case for her campaign tonight. This debate matters the most for her.

TAPPER: What did you make, Van, of this video that Biden put out the Biden campaign, this homage to Barack Obama, reminding people that he was the vice president, that he was there?

JONES: Look, as much as people might roll their eyes and stuff like that, that brings tears to the eyes to a lot of people. I think it's hard for people to -- you cannot underestimate how much Barack Obama means to a big part of this party. The African-American voters who are the most reliable loved Barack Obama, love Michelle Obama. Loved the dog, loved the girls, the whole deal. So that's very smart --

TAPPER: there were two dogs, by the way.

JONES: Two dogs. Oh, he knows everything. But, yes, you've got to hold on to that base. You mentioned Kamala Harris, you know, she hurt herself in that second debate. That first debate she was strong, but there was a warmth there.

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