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Top 10 Democratic Hopefuls Take Debate Stage Tonight in Houston; Elizabeth Warren Unveils Plan for Major Expansion of Social Security; President Trump Delays New China Tariffs By 2 Weeks. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:55]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

Well, this morning for the first time, the House Judiciary Committee is setting the ground rules and holding a vote over the possible impeachment of the president. We are learning more this morning and we're learning more from members on the committee. Some of whom are already apparently looking at a list of possible counts against the president, including obstruction of justice. Some echoing those filed against Richard Nixon, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It is a remarkable moment. But outside that committee, Democrats are divided on whether impeachment is actually what's happening here. House leaders say it is not impeachment, it is oversight, while other members say it's something in between.

Confused? The question this morning, is this confusion strategic to help members thread the needle in swing districts, or are Democrats confused themselves?

Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju, he is live on Capitol Hill.

I mean, this is a threading of the needle politically, is it not? Right? Allow those who support it to go the committee path, but the fact is the full House has not voted to do so.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jim. And what the Democrats are arguing in this committee room this morning is that it essentially does not matter what you call this. You can call it an impeachment inquiry, you can it a simple investigation. But the bottom line is what Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee announced this morning is that the committee is in an active consideration mode right now. Whether to actively -- they're actively considering whether to impeach the president of the United States.

So, call it what you want, but the ultimate decision might be that this committee could recommend impeachment of this president which would then go to the full House to vote. Now Jerry Nadler recognizes the confusion because he has been saying for weeks that they are in formal impeachment proceedings but the Democratic leaders have said that is simply not the case at the moment. Just moments ago he tried to clear that up as Republicans jumped on the confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): This committee is engaged in an investigation that will allow us to determine whether to recommend Articles of Impeachment with respect to President Trump. That is what we are doing. Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature. But let me clear up any remaining doubt. The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat, and we are doing so.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): We're so in fantasy land here nobody knows what's going on. This is the problem. You just went back to what we said. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, it doesn't matter. We're not in an impeachment inquiry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So what the committee is actually doing this morning is to vote on a resolution that will set the ground rules for how these impeachment hearings could take place. Essentially give authority to the chairman of the committee to call future hearings and call them impeachment hearings. Also allow committee staff counsels to question witnesses, something that is typically not done in congressional hearings, and also would lay out how evidence would be gathered and collected and how reviewed in closed door sessions.

Now that's going to happen in just a matter of moments. We'll see how long it takes because members right now are arguing about exactly what is happening here. But the Democrats on this committee say they are considering impeachment and that decision could be made later this year -- guys.

HARLOW: Tomato, tomato. Manu, thank you very much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss this, Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters and CNN political analyst Seung Min Kim, she is White House reporter for the "Washington Post."

So, Jeff Mason, forgive me, if Republicans were in charge of the House right now, they would be sky-writing impeachment over Washington, would they not? I mean, you wouldn't have this kind of technical technocratic debate over this.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, there's a bunch of things that if you looked at what would be happening if Republicans were in charge and there were a Democratic president, how things would be much different but, sure, they probably would.

[09:05:02]

And in this case, but I mean, there's clearly a divide between Republicans and Democrats on what's going on, but what's more interesting is the divide between --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

MASON: Amongst the Democrats themselves. I think it's important as we're talking about this to keep in mind that Speaker Pelosi has not given full throttle voice of support for any sort of impeachment hearing. Even though she's saying she supports Jerry Nadler.

SCIUTTO: OK.

MASON: And she supports (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: So we're going to fix your mic. Apparently someone is interfering with your mic as you made that point. But we'll get that fixed. But, Seung Min, your thoughts.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, it really -- I mean, semantics or whatnot, it's important. But the bottom line is this is an issue that is clearly dividing Democrats a lot and it's going to be a difficult issue for them to wrestle in the coming year as the time seems to kind of run out before the end of the year. And remember that the Judiciary Committee has been much more aggressive and out front in trying to pursue impeachment for some time.

You know, more of their members have been very outspoken about wanting to impeach the president. The committee is stacked with progressive members. I would imagine that if Chairman Nadler had his druthers he would have already gone forward with this. But really Speaker Pelosi trying to corral all her members here, because remember Pelosi's political imperative here. She wants to keep the House majority. She cares the most --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

KIM: -- about those members and those swing districts who won the majority back for Democrats last year. And I believe only two of them in those swing districts actually support an impeachment inquiry. So that is what she's focused on right now. But I think the pressure is building so much. You know, my colleague Rachel Bade had reporting this morning that the Judiciary Democrats are actually drafting their own potential impeachment charges so that pressure is just going to continue to grow on Speaker Pelosi.

HARLOW: I hope we have Jeff. Do we have Jeff's mic fixed? Hopefully.

SCIUTTO: Testing, testing.

(LAUGHTER) HARLOW: Testing. It's so fun to do this live on air to test the tech. All right. All right. So, Jeff Mason, you were in the Oval with the president yesterday and you got a really interesting read on the chaos that has been this week especially the ouster or the exit, however you see it, of John Bolton. What did you hear from the president?

MASON: So the first time the president has actually talked about why he and John Bolton parted ways. And I asked him what the reasoning was for that and one of the first pretty informative answers that he gave was the fact that John Bolton had referred to the Libya model when addressing how the United States --

HARLOW: All right. Sorry, guys. Tech issues.

MASON: Is it echoing?

HARLOW: Sorry. We're going to fix it. We're going to go to Joe Johns. We will come back to you, guys. Our sincere apologies for that.

So, on that note, this morning the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is pushing back on reports that the president is considering a plan to hand the Iranian regime a $15 billion line of credit.

Jim, obviously the optics of that would be problematic for a president that keeps saying that the Obama administration gave pallets of cash to the Iranians.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

HARLOW: Giving back their frozen money, I should note.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. But from a president who has made 180s like that before with other countries, North Korea among them, now Iran.

HARLOW: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now from the White House, CNN's Joe Johns.

Is this a serious consideration now, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Interesting question. And I did just ask the Treasury secretary a little while ago about it. And on the one hand, you can read it as him saying, no, we're not seriously considering that. But if you listen to his answer very carefully, it sounds like it's possible at the very least. The president also said just yesterday that Iran is trying to get a deal. This is something that's been proposed by the French president Emmanuel Macron. $15 billion credit deal or line of credit for Iran which would help them given all their economic difficulties. Listen to what the Treasury secretary had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Absolutely not. So we've had direct conversations with President Macron and with Bruno Le Maire, the Finance minister, and they absolutely understand they would need waivers from the U.S. to do that and that is not something we're contemplating at the moment.

(CROSSTALK)

MNUCHIN: No. No sea change. I've been perfectly clear. Secretary Pompeo and I have been executing the president's maximum pressure campaign. President Trump has said he would sit down with Rouhani with no conditions. That's not planned -- that's not planned at the moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Speaking to sources here at the White House, however, and asking the very same question about this $15 billion credit bailout for Iran, I was referred essentially to the president's remarks yesterday in which he continued to sort of say it's -- some of this and some of that, but not ruling out the idea that Iran wants a deal in exchange for denuclearization.

Back to you.

HARLOW: OK. All right, Joe Johns. Let's see where that goes. Thank you so much for that reporting.

We have a lot ahead. Late night for everyone tonight. Big debate. And for the first time, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will be next to each other and on the same debate stage.

[09:10:04]

What can we expect? We'll have a preview ahead.

SCIUTTO: Plus, President Trump says he is going to take action on e- cigarettes. At least six deaths so far have been linked to vaping. What the White House plans to do ahead.

And President Trump now says he will delay tariffs on China. Having trouble keeping up? Well, could there be a truce coming in the ongoing trade war? What's going on? It's not clear.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: What are you doing tonight? I know what we're doing at least. It is debate night in America. Hours from now, all eyes will be on the debate stage as the Democratic debate number three gets underway. It is in Houston and only ten candidates have qualified, Jim, so that means only one night of debates.

SCIUTTO: That's true, and a lot of the focus tonight will no doubt be on Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. The two sharing the debate stage for the first time as new CNN polling shows the former Vice President's lead getting thinner, those two candidates there at the top, CNN's Athena Jones joins us now from outside the debate hall in Houston. Good morning, how are the campaigns looking at this debate now as they see those new numbers come out?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim, well, it's another big night, another big opportunity for these candidates to make their case. And as you mentioned, for their first time, the top ten candidates will be sharing the same stage, and so we'll get to see a match-up for the first time between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

Let me talk about Joe Biden first. He's still going to be a top target because he's a clear front-runner. He may be on defense over his gaffes, his mis-statements, his record. And we know that Elizabeth Warren, there will also be a target in her own right as she's been rising in polls.

We're seeing a more momentum, big crowds at some of her recent events. And importantly, no one really landed a punch on Elizabeth Warren in the first two debates. Now, we're going to see Biden and Warren going head-to-head, we can see a clash between the progressive vision that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are pushing.

And the more pragmatic return to normalcy vision that Joe Biden is selling. We expect that Biden is going to argue that Democrats need more than plans to win. They need someone who can get things done and who has proven that they can do so by pointing to accomplishments. That more than plans line is seen as a swipe at Elizabeth Warren who of course has made a name for herself as someone who has a plan for everything.

We'll also be watching to see if the two progressives on stage, Warren and Bernie Sanders, clash at all or try to differentiate themselves. They've been amicable on the last two debates, we will see if that begins to change. And of course, we'll be watching what happens with the middle-tier candidates in the single digits.

Folks like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to see whether they can have a moment. Jim?

HARLOW: And another plan, Athena, from Elizabeth Warren, the thinking is you just lay it out that Biden is going to go after just having a bunch of plans, but she's got a new one this morning on a big issue and that's entitlements, Social Security, what is she laying out?

JONES: That's right, Poppy, and this is ambitious. She is proposing a major expansion of the Social Security program, she's calling it the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly half a century. Her proposal would increase the Social Security benefits immediately by $200 a month.

And it would increase benefits for low-income families, women, people with disabilities and people of color. It would be paid for by changing -- by imposing a 14.8 percent Social Security contribution requirement on individual wages above $250,000 a year. That's the top 2 percent of Americans.

They will also be that same 14.8 percent contribution requirement on certain investment income for that top 2 percent. So, a very ambitious plan she's out today, hoping to shape the conversation tonight. Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Athena Jones, thanks very much. We're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks are set to tick up higher at the start of trading, this after President Trump announced he would delay a new round of tariffs on China by two weeks. Tariffs were set to jump on October 1st, which is the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, we should note.

Those tariffs will now go into effect on October 15th. In response, Beijing is asking about the cost of U.S. agricultural products like soybeans and pork. We're going to speak to the former Chairman of White House Council of Economic Advisors Kevin Hassett, that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:20:00]

HARLOW: All right, it's debate night in America, so we're going to see for the first time Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden on the same stage and next to each other. We also have a new CNN poll out this morning that tells us where everything stands. Harry Enten is with us, our senior political writer and analyst. So, good morning Harry --

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER: Good morning, how are you?

HARLOW: I'm good, how are you?

ENTEN: Oh, I am fantastic. I love debates so much, yes!

HARLOW: All right, look at that enthusiasm for the morning. All right, top line here, what is it?

ENTEN: I mean, look, the top line is that Joe Biden still leads the Democratic race, and according to our latest CNN poll, but his lead has dropped, he's dropped down to 24 percent, he was at 29 percent versus say Elizabeth Warren who has risen up, she was at 14 percent, she's now up to 18 percent, Bernie Sanders at 17 percent basically and a tie with her.

But I think it's important to point out, this is Elizabeth Warren's best poll that we've ever conducted by CNN dating all the way back since last year. So, clearly she has some momentum --

HARLOW: All right --

SCIUTTO: Yes, you know, it's interesting you look at everybody, but Biden up in that poll. So, each one them seem to steal a little support there. Although --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: With the caveat that his lead still -- one consistency is he's still in the front. On race groups, because this has been key because a big portion of Biden's support is among African-Americans. Tell us what you learned there. [09:25:00]

ENTEN: Yes, I think, you know, if you look at our poll, we were able to -- we took such a large sample, we were able to get a significant sub-sample among African-Americans. And you see Joe Biden still very much clearly out in front with them at 42 percent. Elizabeth Warren for all of her momentum has not really been able to really reach into the African-American community and the same thing is true among Hispanic voters.

She's running fourth there, she's actually behind Beto O'Rourke. Bernie Sanders interestingly enough out there in front with 24 percent, they tend to be younger which is the group he tends to do best among -- Elizabeth Warren though has to find out a way to get what she's doing right now with white voters, leading among that group with 23 percent, barely really tied with Biden and be able to figure out a way to expand that out with Hispanic and African-Americans.

HARLOW: What I love most from this poll is the enthusiasm. In both parties, it is extraordinary --

ENTEN: Yes --

HARLOW: These numbers, the people that are enthusiastic to vote.

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, if you were to look back right now and take a look at how many people feel enthusiastic, you see that more voters feel enthusiastic at this point in the Democratic primary season and the Republican primary season than at any point dating all the way back since we first asked this question. And I think that's amazing --

HARLOW: Right --

ENTEN: Because it shows that voters are really interested in this election, they're really enthusiastic. And you know, I have looked back, this number does in fact correlate with vote -- with how many people vote, so, I expect --

HARLOW: Oh, wow --

ENTEN: That we're going to see a record number of people voting in this --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

ENTEN: Election season.

HARLOW: That's great --

SCIUTTO: And of course, turnout, if it's got an advantage in the Democratic Party, advantages that party and the results typically. Elizabeth Warren though, this is a continuing trend we're seeing here. She's rising in CNN polling and other polling. Why and how significant? ENTEN: Yes, I mean, if you were to look, I think the big thing that

Democratic primary voters are looking for this year is they want someone who can beat Donald Trump. That is more important to them than issue agreement. And if you look at those who say, OK, my number one priority is beating Donald Trump.

Look at this number, Elizabeth Warren was only winning 15 percent of the vote in August, she's up to 21 percent now versus Joe Biden has dropped from 35 percent in August to 26 percent now. And I think that's the real question. If Joe Biden loses that edge that she has on electability, then he has an electability then he's going to lose this primary.

If Elizabeth Warren can convince Democratic primary voters that she in fact can beat Donald Trump and do it better than Joe Biden, she will be the nominee.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: Great to have you, Harry Enten, thanks so much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Gracing us with his presence. He's usually like fancy in Primetime, but he's here with us this morning --

ENTEN: Oh, stop it, stop it, I love being with you guys --

HARLOW: All right, so coming up, look at this, this is the front of the business section. You think it's upside down? It's not. It's negative interest rates. What is it? Why does it matter? The former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for President Trump, now a CNN contributor, Kevin Hassett will be here to talk about what this means, why it matters to you. Stay there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:30:00]

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