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INSIDE POLITICS

2020 Democrats to Break Out in Tonight's Debate; Castro, O'Rourke Fight to "Stay Relevant" in Tonight's Debate; SC Clears The Way for Asylum Restrictions to Take Effect; U.S. Delays Tariffs on Chinese Goods; Trump Speaks In Baltimore At GOP Retreat; Biden Tweets Pre-Debate Obama Video; Dem Voter Questions "Electability" Argument for 2020. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 12, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: -- Yes, I mean, the -- I mean, it's hundred and 40 days but it is now when you're talking to donors and you're trying to raise money. I mean, that money translates into this, and if you're not getting the money, you're not going to stay in the race. You're going to fall out.

And guys like Buttigieg who has raised a lot of money is realizing that, well, you also need to get support. And he's got a lot of money but that doesn't necessarily translate into votes.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And to that point, it's interesting because he's suddenly spending gangbusters on digital ads. If you just look in just in the last week, $350,000 if you round up a little bit in Facebook ads. Tom Steyer leads the pack if you look globally over the past several months.

But just in the last week, Buttigieg -- he's already in the debates. We've seen candidates spend money to try to boost their poll numbers to get into the debates. Buttigieg is trying -- he understands at some point it gets in the mind of donors that this is a three-way race or this is a five-way race, or, you know, I got to make a choice. The donors feel pressure to make a choice. What's that about?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he's still in the top half of the 10 that are on the debate stage tonight, but he's number five in that top half and so he has a chance of slipping, especially if the focus is on the higher tier -- the higher polling candidates and he starts to kind of lose the interest and the attention of others. I think that they all -- all of the lower polling candidates do need the breakout moment or they need to find their issue that is the thing that they can speak for that will actually propel them into the next few months of this campaign, and give them a reason to stick around other than just trying to grab at votes that everybody else has better claim to. Buttigieg hasn't quite stated what that issue is for him in the way some others had.

KING: And so you try to work the refs going into any even. That's just how it works. Amy Klobuchar, a moderate senator from Minnesota, Democrat, kind of blocked out by Biden essentially. That Biden is been the more -- you know, he's pragmatic, he's moderate, he's the leading candidate, the frontrunner, pick your term. She's had a hard time breaking through. She says she always gets asked to criticize the other plans to say, oh, they're too liberal or you can't spend. Here's how she explained it to the New York Times, "I had to give the mom answer. I hope that these moderators will ask one of the other candidates, bring up my ideas and say, why isn't this a good idea. That would be a nice framing. A lot of questions have been 30-second responses to other people's ideas."

It's hard. It's hard in a crowded state and it's hard -- it's a simple fact of life, moderators are trying to be fair but the candidates atop the polls tend to get more attention.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And Amy Klobuchar, there is really trying to turn the tables. Trying to make her message the central focus but you do have those three top frontrunners, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren who are going to suck up a lot of the oxygen in this debate. I think the question for these lower polling candidates is can they land a punch against one of those candidates or can they have some type of breakthrough defining moment of their campaign. And then the question after that is can they sustain that momentum.

Kamala Harris, she had a great moment against Joe Biden in that first debate, dipped in the polls. Cory Booker had a strong debate last time around, but he really wasn't able to sustain that heading out of that debate. So I think that's going to be key for these lower candidates.

KING: And so you have two Texans on stage tonight in their home state. A lot of Texas Democrats would like either Castro or Beto O'Rourke to come home and run for Senate. John Cornyn is on the ballot next year and Texas Democrats think that's impossible possible especially given that Beto O'Rourke ran against Ted Cruz.

It's a great quote in Politico from Chris Lippincott, he's an Austin- based Democratic consultant. "The first rule of being a shark, stay moving and find something to eat. They have to stay relevant, they have to stay in the discussion and they have to hope that that is enough to give them enough fundraising, give enough money to their campaigns to keep moving. You can apply that to O'Rourke and Castro, you could also say it applies to others tonight in the idea that you have to be a shark. Keep moving, bite something.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And this isn't a three-way race yet but it's close to becoming one. And so that is essentially the only goal for those other seven people on the stage tonight, is to make sure that Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders are not sucking all of the air out of the room because quickly it can easily become that. I do think the Texas backdrop will be really interesting tonight to see how much that plays into the debate. Of course, Texas has been the site of two recent mass shootings which have ignited this debate on gun control that is still facing lawmakers when they return to Washington. And the White House, they're still grappling with what to do going forward with this.

So it'll be interesting to see how they utilize not only Texas but also the gun debate during that tonight. KING: And to end immigration as well. Texas plays large in that.

You mentioned Harris a moment ago. She was a sort of early favorite, the early darling of the media. She got a lot of attention. She moved up in the polls after the first debate confrontation. She's kind of flat line, it's been interesting to see the number of reports quoting people saying, you know, if she doesn't have a breakout on this debate, the money is going to dry up. Here's your African- American senator from California, a big player in the party, what does she need to do tonight? Or is that overhyped?

SAENZ: Well, she, you know, entered this race with a lot of high expectations. She had a big rally that attracted a lot of attention, and her campaign is now saying, oh, she's going to try to make this little bit more personal, that she wants to highlight those elements of her personality that they see play out on the campaign trail that she also wants to paint herself a unifier. But I think for Kamala Harris, she does need to come out of this debate with some strong message for voters to bring them over to her column but also to excite and maintain that donor base.

[12:35:01] We're approaching the end of the fundraising quarter, and so that's going to be a big test for all of these candidates. Are they able to sustain that fundraising that keeps them in the race?

KING: It's a fascinating question, I don't know if we can pop this up one more time. But I'm just going to say the three in the middle have about 60 percent of the Democratic vote right now. But that means there's 40 percent of the Democratic vote out here. Eventually, some of these candidates, I'm not going to speculate on which one, they start to go. They just -- it's inevitable by the end of this.

There's another debate next month. They've all qualified, it's not going to happen but they're not going to leave that fast but by the end of the year. So this 40 percent of the Democratic voter, the math will change as the field shifts as well. A lot of fun tonight.

Up next, the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration in a big move that will make it much harder to request asylum at the U.S.- Mexico border.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:40] KING: The Trump White House is celebrating a Supreme Court victory that allows it to dramatically limit asylum request. The policy is being challenged in federal courts, but the highest court yesterday said the administration can enforce the new rules while the challenge proceeds in the lower courts. The policy aimed at sharply reducing asylum requests at the U.S.-Mexico border by requiring any migrant passing through another country en route to the United States to stop and make the asylum request there.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor issued a strong dissent to this decision arguing the ruling, quote, topples decades of settled asylum practices without affording the public a chance to weigh in. CNN's Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic is here with us. Let's go first to the policies. So the Trump administration gets a green light in the meantime as the challenge continues through the lower court. This is a conservative court telling a Republican White House, go ahead.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, this really was a big win for the administration. And it shows another example of this Supreme Court ruling favorably in this order on immigration and asylum matters for the administration and brushing back lower court judges who've tried to rein in the administration. Now, this was not a decision on the merits but the justices had to weigh the harm to each side when it decided, should this policy take effect. And challengers had said this is going to upend four decades of refugee -- of asylum policy to do this. And it would affect even unaccompanied children at the border, you know -- and it was done so hastily according to the challengers (INAUDIBLE) there. And only Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg picked up that argument.

KING: Yes. So I want to come back to the bigger theme in a minute but on this particular ruling, you mentioned Ginsburg and Sotomayor. They say, "Lower courts' decisions warrant respect. Granting a stay pending appeal should be an extraordinary act. Unfortunately, it appears the government has treated this exceptional mechanism as a new normal. Historically, the government has made this kind of request rarely, now it does so reflectively."

We know the president and we know that relatively new attorney general Bill Barr complained constantly about the lower court. Is that just the liberal complaining because they're on the losing side or the numbers back that up? Or is this administration goes to the Supreme Court essentially as an injunction court instead of being the last word?

BISKUPIC: The numbers back it up. And John, why wouldn't they keep coming to this court? Because they have been slapped back attached by this court but mainly the courts sort of had the welcome mat out for this. And on immigration asylum policies, you remember just in July this Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to go ahead and use Pentagon money to build a wall, and last year, five to four conservative-liberal ruling upheld the president's travel ban.

KING: Upheld the travel ban, upheld religious freedom in Colorado, struck down a California law, more liberalizing abortion policy. Upheld Texas electoral districts, upheld Ohio voter rule purges. I just -- you point out the examples because if anyone out there, you know, thought, you know, that this was going to move any other way, the president has had two new appointees confirmed to the Supreme Court. John Roberts not exactly a fire (INAUDIBLE) conservative but the court has tipped since Kennedy left.

BISKUPIC: You know, that's exactly right. And the other thing that's interesting is, who is exactly the voice of the liberal side? In this ruling, the two justices on the far left were the only ones that made their voices heard, Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg. Justice Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, if they dissented, they did not want to tell the public.

KING: New court term not that far away.

BISKUPIC: That's right, first Monday in October.

KING: First Monday of October. How would you know that, Joan? You have been thinking about the date, have you?

BISKUPIC: My favorite day.

KING: Going to be interesting. Your favorite day. OK. All right, Joan, appreciate the insights.

Up next for us, Mike Pompeo in the running for another job. And we're not talking about a Senate seat in Kansas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:49:12] KING: Topping our political radar today, does Mike Pompeo want a second job? Sources are telling CNN that administration officials are discussing whether to tap the secretary of state to also serve as the president's national security adviser. Pompeo would be the second person to occupy both roles at the same time. The first, Henry Kissinger did it back in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

A big slice of corporate America picking sides in the gun debate. Asking Congress today, the CEOs of Levi Strauss, Twitter, Reddit, Dick's Sporting Goods, and others say lawmakers should move to expand background checks to cover all firearm sales and approved so-called red flag laws. In the letter sent out this morning, the executives wrote, quote, doing nothing about America's gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.

And the United States opting for at least a temporary off-ramp in its trade war with China today.

[12:50:03] The president deciding to delay another round of tariffs on Chinese goods. His Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin disputing the idea that pressing the pause button means the president would take some kind of a deal, a moderate deal because of 2020 pressures. Secretary Mnuchin saying the tariffs can go back on at any time.

CNN's Christine Romans takes us inside the decision and the numbers. Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: John, an olive branch from President Trump to the Chinese, he will delay the next set of tariffs scheduled on imports from China. Tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods were supposed to rise to 30 percent from 25 percent on October 1st. Now that happens to be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. There will be a pump and parade with the Chinese President Xi Jinping presiding.

So it's a birthday present of sorts. Trump declared the delay a sign of goodwill and he pushed the tariffs back to October 15th. Now no question a Europe tariff now is hurting both economies. China has slapped tariffs on just about everything it imports from the U.S. but yesterday waived some of those. Experts say less is a concession to the U.S. and more really to protect its own consumers. It waived tariffs for a year on U.S. cancer treatment medicine and important feed supplies for its ag sector. But it kept tariffs on politically sensitive American soybeans and meat.

Whatever the reason, it's the first off-ramp we've seen in this trade battle with key trade talks ahead in Washington in October.

John?

KING: Christine Romans, appreciate the insights there.

Up next for us, a little bit of a lightning round. The president heads to Baltimore. Remember what he called it.

And Joe Biden sent a tweet that somebody important compares to a screen door on a submarine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:20] KING: All right, end the program with a little quick lightning round, talk about some other interesting political stories in the news.

The president is heading for Baltimore tonight. There's a House Republican retreat there. You might remember he called Baltimore rat- infested and worse. This back from the president in July saying, but they should still love me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those people are living in hell in Baltimore. They're largely African-American, you have a large African-American population, and they really appreciate what I'm doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: His beef was with the Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings who said he hopes the president has a good time. Again, he's going to a hotel room to speak to a Republican retreat. I'm not sure he's going to be wandering the streets or stopping in a local cafe, will he?

COLLINS: He's choppering in and choppering right back out because that's when the Democratic debate will be on also. Don't forget, not only did he call it -- he called it rodent-infested, filthy, and disgusting, he also compared the homicide rate to Afghanistan once at a rally. Of course, what it all boils down to is not his problem with the city of Baltimore but his problem with Elijah Cummings who is from Baltimore and he's leading that very powerful committee, the House Oversight. And that is what is investigating the president and his administration and many of the decisions that he's made.

KING: Let's take a look around, yes, the city has trouble like many cities but it's a fun place.

Another one here, Joe Biden on the debate stage tonight, we talked about that. He's at the center stage because he's the leading candidate. Funny, remember last time, some of the Democrats criticized Barack Obama, the President Obama. Joe Biden just moments ago tweeting a little video of him with Obama in the White House, little pre-debate love. Mm-hmm, subtle right?

David Axelrod who was the president's top political strategist, President Obama's, responding to the vice president. "This pre-debate video tribute is about as subtle as a screen door on a submarine." Yes.

SAENZ: Yes. I mean, Joe Biden is constantly on the campaign trail. His basically number one go-to topic is reminding people that he served with Barack Obama. It's that something when you talk to voters especially a lot of voters down in South Carolina, they remember that time and that's part of the support that he has had. And it's not going to stop.

Last time around, candidates went after President Obama or criticized elements of his record and Joe Biden kind of emerged as the defender. I think that they're thinking that's going to be the same.

KING: Subtle and Joe Biden not always -- not often in the same sentence.

So you mentioned real voters. So we were in Detroit for the debate a couple of months back, we met Erin Keith, he's a young progressive Democrat looking around at this field undecided. Listen here, a lot of the Democratic conversation has been about who best can beat Donald Trump. She's fine with that part of it, but she says the electability argument often excludes candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN KEITH, UNDECIDED MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: This idea that if a person is not electable then somehow they aren't worthy of votes. And I've really been wanting to question where that idea comes from. Is it the trauma of Trump's presidency that makes us question a candidate's quote-unquote electability? Is it sexism because quite frankly you hear the word used most in the context of women candidates?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's an interesting point because after Hillary Clinton lost, you even hear some female Democratic voters at Democratic events saying, I like Senator Harris or I like Senator Warren, I just worry, can they win? This is a chance for Warren and the others tonight, Klobuchar and Harris as well to try to puncture that, isn't it?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I think it's a chance -- all of the non-traditional candidates, some by that I mean, all of the candidates who aren't white men are going to have to kind of, you know, try to back this argument of the safe argument -- that the safe position being maybe the country is not ready to elect a woman, maybe the country is not ready to elect a black woman, maybe the country is not ready to elect a Hispanic president. You know, all these different arguments that people take out of fear of who can actually beat President Trump. And so anybody who fits that description or those descriptions needs to kind of prove that they're electable to go against what the common wisdom is which is based on free conjecture and also trying to play it safe.

KING: The question will go away when a woman wins I guess. That's the way to do it.

ORDONEZ: I think it's a valid -- I think it's a valid concern but it's a tough --

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