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America Ready For Female President?; Trump Considering Offering Billions to Iran to Return to Nuclear Deal?; Democratic Presidential Candidates Set to Debate. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:37]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Just a couple hours from now, we will see the most streamlined Democratic Party debate thus far. Of the 20-plus candidates that started out, just 10 made the cut to reach the stage at Texas Southern University this evening.

And for the first time, the face-off among those front-runners, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, literally taking center stage. This is the podium position here, Joe Biden sandwiched right smack dab between Senators Warren and Sanders. Never before have all three been together for a debate.

And here are some numbers. A new CNN poll shows why the former vice president continues to get a star spot, because, once again, he is the top choice for potential Democratic voters, with Warren and Sanders vying for second place.

So we start with Jessica Dean, our correspondent there in Houston covering this big debate.

And so just expectations, what should people be looking for?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, good afternoon to you, Brooke.

That's right. As you mentioned, we're going to see Sanders, Warren and Biden on the same stage for the first time. So people are going to be watching for the dynamics between the three of them. Specifically, Biden and Warren have never been on the same stage together.

And an adviser from the Biden campaign kind of telegraphing potential attack lines, saying that the vice president, the former vice president, is going to make the case that America needs more than plans to get progressive action taken, that he's got the history of, that he knows how to work within the system to make progressive change.

Meantime, Elizabeth Warren's campaign saying she's going to continue to make her case that the system is broken and not working, and that there is big structural change that needs to be made.

And then looking at Warren and Sanders, will they continue this kind of precedent of not attacking one another? Will we start to see some differentiation between the two of them?

Those are some key things to watch among the front-runners. Another kind of moment that we should keep out for -- or keep watching for is, we heard from an adviser that Vice President Biden is going to continue to highlight his time with President Obama.

And, in fact, we saw a new digital ad release. They tweeted it out earlier today, and it talks all about President Obama, about the Obama-Biden record. Of course, we have heard the former vice president talk about that again and again.

And if you dig into the numbers, Brooke, the most recent CBS News poll asked voters, what about Vice President Biden would prompt you to vote for him? And 87 percent of them said his time as vice president with President Barack Obama.

So that's a very key number for the Biden campaign. And then really the third thing to keep an eye out for is, which of these candidates that are in kind of the lower tier, in those single digits, are going to have a breakout moment?

Can they find a way to kind of break out as we get closer and closer to the moment where this field is going to start to winnow, Brooke? And who are going to be the people that are standing? Well, those candidates that still have single digits are looking for the moment to break out tonight.

BALDWIN: All right, Jessica, thank you in Houston.

With me now, a guy who knows a thing or two about getting candidates elected. He is our CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod. And, of course, before he was a senior strategist on the Obama reelection campaign, he managed communications strategy for more than 150 local, state and national campaigns.

So, you know a little bit about this. Good to see you.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was laughing when you said a slimmed-down field of candidates.

BALDWIN: Slim. Slim at 10.

AXELROD: We had what we considered a large field, and there were seven candidates on the debate stage.

BALDWIN: Yes, this is now slim at 10.

What are you looking for?

AXELROD: Well, I think Jessica said it well.

The Warren-Biden dynamic is going to be really interesting. She is the ascendant candidate. And that's particularly true in Iowa, which is where this process begins. And so there is this tension there. And they haven't been on the stage together before.

She has attacked him from a distance on his role, for example, in sponsoring bankruptcy legislation in the 2000s that she fought vigorously against as anti-consumer. It'll be interesting to see if she's willing to raise that on the stage. We heard what he might say in response to some of her ideas.

So that's one subject. One thing we should mention, by the way, is that, in terms of the link to President Obama, if you look into the CNN poll, what you will see is that Joe Biden is dominating among African-American voters.

[15:05:02]

That's very much related to his relationship with Barack Obama. And that's very much why he is in the lead in this race.

BALDWIN: Which some of the candidates take him to task for. They're like, oh, my gosh, how many times are you going to mention Barack Obama? But it's helpful for him.

AXELROD: Yes.

No, I think it's -- I don't quarrel with his strategy at all there. I think cleaving close to him is really important. The African-American vote is going to be a real firewall for him.

BALDWIN: Yes.

AXELROD: One of his challenges is that Iowa doesn't have a large minority population. And he's going to have to get through Iowa, New Hampshire before the African-American vote really comes into play.

But, no, generally, Democrats like Barack Obama. And you saw some -- a bit of a backlash in previous debates when candidates appeared to be attacking the Obama record. So Biden is -- there's very deliberate strategy behind his release of that video today.

BALDWIN: On you and your "Times" opinion piece that you wrote about letting Trump destroy Trump, right, so you talk about that the candidates should -- quote -- "will have to turn Trump's negative energy against him without embodying it themselves."

And you also talked to the former A.G. Eric Holder about this on what Democrats should do. So let's look at a clip from this weekend's "AXE FILES."

AXELROD: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: You kind of amended Michelle Obama's signature statement. She said, when they go low, we go high.

You had a different interpretation.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: They go low, we kick...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: Right-wing media had a field day with that.

HOLDER: Yes, the snowflakes on the right were all concerned.

It was like, give me a break. Give me a break.

AXELROD: What did you mean by it?

HOLDER: It meant simply this. Democrats need to be tough, you know?

2008 is about 100 years ago. They're not going to be running against John McCain, who's going to stop that woman who said all kinds of negative -- saying all those negative things about President, then candidate Senator Obama.

Democrats have got to be tough. We have to be prepared to fight for our democracy. It doesn't mean we got to get into the dirt with Donald Trump on a daily basis. We have got to be strategic in how we use that. But we have got to be prepared to fight, to be tough. And that's what I was trying to say in using that phrase.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, are you guys saying the same thing, like be tough?

AXELROD: No.

Well, he made the point that you don't want to be engaged in a daily tussle with Donald Trump. And my point is, I think that there is a great deal of exhaustion out there in this country among Americans, even some who voted for Trump in 2016, over the kind of daily tumult that we have become accustomed to, the tweets, the tantrums, the gratuitous, often gratuitous fights, the chaos that gets in the way of getting things done.

And so I think that is a winning argument for Democrats. But in order to employ it, you can't sort of jump into a wrestling match with him every day over every tweet and chase every barb down the rabbit hole, because he thrives on that.

BALDWIN: Well, you mentioned wrestling, but you I love the jujitsu quote in the piece.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Jujitsu, yes, using his negative energy against him.

BALDWIN: Who is the best candidate with the strongest jujitsu skills?

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: It's an interesting question, because, first of all, it takes something other than jujitsu to get through a primary process. So some of the skills that are necessary to win a primary might not be the best skills for a general.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: You see a guy like Pete Buttigieg and his temperament, I think that would be very frustrating to Donald Trump, because he's an unflappable person. It doesn't necessarily mean he's going to get to be the nominee.

BALDWIN: Yes.

AXELROD: I think Elizabeth Warren's energy and toughness and willingness to talk about fighting is something that has appeal to her voters.

Whether that would be as appealing in a general election context, I don't know. So we will wait. We will have to wait and see who emerges here.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: OK.

We will watch for your analysis this evening.

AXELROD: Thank you.

BALDWIN: David, thank you very much.

And, of course, just a reminder to all of you, "THE AXE FILES" Saturday night at 7:00 with special guest former Attorney General Eric Holder.

Thank you.

Ahead, a CNN exclusive: why Chief Justice John Roberts changed his mind and voted against the president's census question.

And President Trump is reportedly considering a plan to give Iran $15 billion in credit if they get back in line with the nuclear deal, you know that same deal, the one that they violated after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of it?

Also, breaking news on that deadly dive boat fire. The NTSB just shared new details about what the crew was doing at the time, this as the Coast Guard is pulling this boat called the Conception out of the water.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:14:47]

BALDWIN: So, remember the Iran nuclear deal that President Trump walked away from almost as soon as he took office?

Well, now there's new reporting from The Daily Beast that Trump is considering a French plan that would actually extend a $15 billion credit to Iran if it comes back and complies with the very same nuclear deal that Trump walked away from.

[15:15:05]

Here was Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reacting today when asked if the White House is working with France on such a deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Absolutely not. So we have 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.

QUESTION: Sea change? Is there a sea change with Bolton gone?

MNUCHIN: No, no sea change. I have 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)

BALDWIN: CNN political commentator Jen Psaki served as the White House communications director under Obama.

You know all about that Iran nuclear deal.

Does this feel like whiplash?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, it certainly does, Brooke.

I mean, I think, in the least surprising development today, perhaps, Donald Trump did not have a plan when he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, you know, the first deal in decades that gave not just the U.S., but the world, a look into what Iran was doing and prevented them from creating a nuclear weapon.

So that's pretty clear. I would dispute, while I'm not in the administration, what Secretary Mnuchin said. One, we have seen evidence time after time that sometimes Cabinet secretaries don't know what's in the president's head. But, two, President Macron invited Foreign Minister Zarif of Iran to the margins of the G7 to have a conversation. He wouldn't have done that without some sort of wink or nod from the U.S. and the U.S. delegation.

There's Trump -- there's no way out for Trump here. Right now, there's no plan with Iran. And he needs to kind of -- they need to figure out a way to get back to the table, but there's not an easy way to do that.

BALDWIN: Do you think Iran would agree to it?

PSAKI: Hard to say.

I mean, Iran has their own politics. The leaders have their own politics. Years ago, a couple of years ago, when we got the deal passed, Rouhani was a little bit more powerful than he is today.

There was kind of a hope of him helping the economic situation in Iran. They have kind of indicated they wouldn't want to come back to the table. But if there's some sort of deal where sanctions are eased, where the Europeans are negotiating it, maybe.

I think it's hard for us to predict from here.

BALDWIN: OK, I want to move on to something else, just tapping your brain, as someone who worked in the White House.

Politico is reporting that Israel was most likely behind the cell phone surveillance devices that were found around the White House, around Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu has denied, denied, denied any of this.

I know people know that President Trump has oftentimes used an insecure cell phone to get in touch with friends. What was it like when you were in the White House, and what could the Israelis have learned?

PSAKI: Well, I think, one, it's -- any official who has worked in the intelligence community or around the intelligence community will kind of tell you that it's very likely and happening that Israel is spying on the United States, the United States is spying on Israel.

And while they don't admit that when they're in the administration, I think it's well known that's happening.

When you're in the White House or when you're traveling on behalf of the White House, there are well known protocols that are in place for a reason, because it's known that the spying occurs, that there's intelligence-gathering that many countries are trying to gather on the United States.

President Trump does not abide by that with cell phone use. When he goes to Mar-a-Lago and he is sitting at a table sharing details of North Korea, there's lots of ways he doesn't. There's lots of reasons that's concerning, but one of them is that our

partners and allies around the world, some who we have close intelligence-sharing relationships with, that makes them nervous. They don't want to give us intelligence and information that, frankly, we could use to keep the United States safe because they're worried about what the president of the United States will do with it.

BALDWIN: Yes.

PSAKI: That's not good for us. That's not good for the safety of the American people. That's one of the areas that's pretty concerning around his kind of loose use of the protocols.

BALDWIN: Jen Psaki, thank you very much. Good to see you.

PSAKI: You too.

BALDWIN: We are hours away from the next Democratic debate. And three women will be on that stage.

We have the results from this fascinating new survey about where American voters stand on electing a woman as president.

Plus, 145 CEOs signed this letter urging Washington to act on guns. We will discuss why corporations are increasingly jumping into these political fights.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:24:29]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Three women will be among the 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls taking the stage in Houston tonight. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar all made the cut for their party's third debate.

And some new research is revealing how Americans feel about electing a woman. In a survey of more than 2,000 registered voters, LeanIn.org found more than half of the voters say that they are very ready or extremely ready for a woman president, but only 16 percent of those same respondents think other Americans are actually ready.

[15:25:03]

Rachel Thomas is the co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.org.

It is such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for coming on.

RACHEL THOMAS, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, LEANIN.ORG: Thank you.

BALDWIN: So what I'm getting from that is, we're ready in America to elect a woman, but if we're thinking other people aren't ready, then we're not going to go there.

THOMAS: That's exactly right.

Our research shows, if you're ready, but you don't think I am, you are less likely to vote for a woman.

BALDWIN: Wow.

THOMAS: And the flip, if you know I'm ready, and you're ready too, you're much more likely to vote for a woman. And we want to get that out. We want America to hear loud and clear, we're ready. We just don't quite know we are.

BALDWIN: But the words presidential and electable and all the focus on those terms, you say stop it.

THOMAS: We say stop it.

So they're everywhere right now in the election. And what we know from the study that we did is that the biggest predictors -- or two of the biggest predictors of whether someone's going to vote for a woman or a man in the primary or whether or not they think they're presidential and electable.

And let's unpack that for a minute. They're less likely -- voters are less likely to think men are electable because what we just talked about. They're also less likely to think -- I mean more likely to think that men are presidential.

We have only seen...

BALDWIN: Because we've just had male presidents.

THOMAS: We've only seen men in the White House.

BALDWIN: OK.

THOMAS: So it's -- we're stuck based on what we have seen and what we think presidential looks like and what we think electable looks like.

BALDWIN: What I thought was super interesting, just reading through some of your research, was the group that is most ready to have a woman as president is?

THOMAS: Black women.

BALDWIN: Black women. Why?

THOMAS: So here's why I think it's true.

If you're a black woman, you experience biases for being a person of color, biases for being a woman. You are all in to see change in this country. And that's why I think that's the case.

And if I were a candidate, a woman candidate, running for president, I would be doubling down on black voters and particularly black women.

BALDWIN: Black women. I want to ask you, just as a CEO, we have been talking a lot about gun

violence in this country. And there were three mass shootings just last month. And so the CEOs of major, major corporations, right, Walmart, Kroger, Wegmans, others, are changing their rules for open carry, depending on the store.

And so 145 CEOs have all gotten together, and they have written this letter to lawmakers, basically saying, like, we're taking action. What about you?

What do you make of -- what was the phrase you used with me -- an activist CEO? Is that a new wave?

THOMAS: I like this idea of activist CEOs. If you're in a position of power, you have a large audience, use it. Stand up for the issues that matter to you.

And so I think it's fantastic to see that. I think the next question is, but what can we do when the rubber hits the road? So signing a pledge is the beginning. Where does it end?

BALDWIN: Lastly, I wanted to ask you about, "Forbes" magazine is in a little bit of trouble. I don't know if you have seen...

THOMAS: Yes, I did see this.

BALDWIN: Yes, OK.

If you have not seen this, "Forbes" magazine, they're in a bit of trouble for releasing their annual list of 100 innovative leaders, 99 men, one woman. And you have to scroll all the way down at number 75 to even see her name, Ross Stores CEO Barbara Rentler.

How does something like this happen? How are people not like, umm, one woman?

THOMAS: I don't know. There are clearly so many women CEOs who are innovators. So that you could put together a list with only one woman on it is shocking. And shame on them.

But what I will say is, they have apologized. And I think that's important. As we're on the journey to equality, I think recognizing when you make a mistake and then committing to do better is a big part of the -- part of the journey, part of getting it right.

BALDWIN: OK.

Rachel Thomas, thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Pleasure. Pleasure.

Now to the breaking news: the Trump administration taking new steps to roll back clean water protections put in place by President Obama. We will explain for you what's at stake there. Plus, a Triple Crown controversy. So the 2018 winning horse reportedly failed a drug test. But the horse's trainer is fighting back with a fiery response.

We have all of that for you next on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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