Return to Transcripts main page


Moderate & Progressive Divide on Display in Democratic Debate; Biden Attacked by Rivals, Castro Questions Biden's Memory; Booker: "A Lot of People" Concerned about Biden "Fumbling"; Castro: Biden Takes Credit for Obama's Work When Convenient; Harris Repeatedly Took Aim at Trump; Democrats Struggle to Unite on Impeachment Message; Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) Discusses Impeachment, Mandatory Gun Buybacks, the Debate. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Be sure to watch "FRIENDS FOREVER: 25 YEARS OF LAUGHTER." It is this Sunday night, 9:00, right here on CNN.

Thank you all for joining us today. We'll see you back here Monday morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"AT THIS HOUR" Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

We begin with the clash of the top-10 Democratic contenders for president. They came out of the gate hard and strong last night. But what does it mean for today?

A big question going in was, what would happen when the top-three candidates were all on the same stage at the same time. It took almost no time to find out.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know the Senator says she's for Bernie. I'm for Barack. I think the Obamacare worked. I think we add to it, replace everything that's been cut, add a public option, guarantee that everyone will be able to have affordable insurance.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Let us be clear, Joe, in the United States of America, we are spending twice as much per capita on health care as Canadians or any other major country on earth.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Instead of paying premiums into insurance companies and then having insurance companies build their profits by saying no to coverage, we're going to do this by saying everyone is covered by Medicare-for-All.


BOLDUAN: That was just a bit of it on the health care front. It seemed from there they set the tone for the evening with lower-tiered candidates throwing punches as well, at President Trump, at each other, and definitely at Joe Biden, including this much-talked about moment when Julian Castro was criticizing Biden's health care plan.


JULIAN CASTRO, (D), FORMER HUD SECRETARY & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is you requiring them to opt in. I would not require them to opt in.

BIDEN: They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.



CASTRO: You just said that two minutes ago. You just said two minutes ago they would have to buy in.


CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?



CASTRO: Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can't believe that you said moments ago that they had to buy in and now you're saying they don't have to buy in. You're forgetting that.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Jessica Dean is in Houston where the debate took place for us. She joins us.

Jessica, if it wasn't a planned attack, it definitely seemed like Julian Castro was looking for that kind of an opening. Was he questioning Joe Biden's age? Was he questioning Joe Biden's mental ability? We do know this morning Julian Castro is defending his remarks, right?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. We'll get to that in a moment.

To answer your first question, Kate, I think there was certainly that implication. And you heard the crowd when he made that accusation. You heard the crowd in that debate hall.

Julian Castro was on "NEW DAY" this morning. Here is what he said about last night. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASTRO: I wouldn't do it differently. That was not a personal attack. This was about a disagreement over what the vice president said regarding health care policy.


DEAN: Now, Biden's deputy campaign manager was just on CNN as well. She categorized it as definitely a personal attack on Vice President Biden. And then she went on to say, look, other candidates in the race have personally attacked Biden and it hasn't gone well for them, in her words. She highlighted Kirsten Gillibrand and Eric Swalwell.

Kate, just to give everyone an idea, we did fact-check that. Castro was partially correct. Here is the deal. He stands for Medicare-for- All, which would automatically enroll all Americans. Biden's plan offers, you can buy into the plan if you don't like your health care, don't have health care, but it does automatically enroll those who are not able to afford health care who would otherwise be on Medicaid.

That's a little bit of the facts there for you.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Jessica. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Joining me for more on what last night means for today, David Axelrod, is here, former senior advisor to President Obama, host of CNN's "THE AXE FILES," Sabrina Siddique, national politics reporter for "Wall Street Journal."

Great to see you guys. Thank you for being here.

David, you did not think that was a good moment for Julian Castro. When you heard his explanation this morning on "NEW DAY," did that change your view how it landed?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE AXE FILES": No. It was fairly obvious what he was trying to do. I think he took a big risk making that attack. And I think it backfired on him.

If he had just stopped at challenging him on the point and making -- if he had stopped at making the point, I support a plan that would cover everyone, yours does not, and that's not in the spirit of where President Obama was driving, that would have been fine. But he seemed very gratuitous in that attack. And that does go --

Remember, Joe Biden is a well-liked person in the Democratic Party. Whether people are for him or not for president, he's held in high esteem. A lot of affection. I don't think that was a good moment for Castro.


BOLDUAN: Sabrina, Cory Booker had a moment as well after the debate that seemed that he was doing very much the same, questioning whether Joe Biden had the stamina to sustain a long primary and general election race.

Let me play what he said.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): There's a lot of people who are concerned about Joe Biden's ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling.


BOLDUAN: That was last night. This morning, then Cory Booker had this to say defending himself.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- throw a flag on questioning Joe Biden's memory.

BOOKER: Look, I definitely was not saying that. I think that we all have challenges at times.


BOLDUAN: Is this cleanup? Is it something else? Something in between? Does this even need to be cleaned up? What do you think?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's something in between. Up until now, you've seen some of Joe Biden's opponents attack him on policy, on not being sufficiently progressive. You now see some of the Democrats, particularly those who have been lagging in the polls, and who need a moment to perhaps break through, opening up these questions about his age and whether or not he's equipped to withstand what will be a very grueling campaign.

Is that strategy going to work? It didn't seem to land well with the audience at the debate. The gloves are coming off, in part, because Joe Biden holds a very commanding lead over the Democratic field.

Now, I do think we've talked a lot about Joe Biden's gaffes and they are --


BOLDUAN: Joe Biden talks about Joe Biden's gaffes.

SIDDIQUI: It has been built into his identity so I think a lot of voters give him a pass because, to David's point, he's well liked and part of who he is. Some might argue, and his campaign argues, this has nothing to do with age, he was gaffe prone 10 or 20 years ago, and sometimes he's gaffe pro now, and that's part of the reason people like him.

We'll see when voters go to the polls if they have any concerns about whether he can go toe-to-toe with President Trump.

AXELROD: And it is true that, by the end of the debate, he seemed to be flagging in energy. This is a real issue for Biden. You can see it in polling as well. There's a concern. He would be eight years older than any president that has taken office. People are looking carefully to see if he's up to it.

He'll either prove he can during the course of the campaign or he won't. But it's awkward when the other candidates serve overt references --


AXELROD: -- to it. I think what happened with Booker was he sat down after the debate, in which he spent the whole time talking about unity, and he turned into a commentator. And that was --


AXELROD: That was a mistake for him.

BOLDUAN: That's an interesting take. That's a really interesting take. After three hours, you sit down for these interviews and it's very different from what you were, in the position that you were on just moments before --


AXELROD: My guess is if he could do it over again, he would have phrased it differently.

BOLDUAN: There was a lot of substantive discussion on the debate stage. I mean, there was a real conversation about health care again. Finally, another real discussion about foreign policy again. A lot of time spent on gun violence.

President Obama kind of part of that -- all of those elements of debate. He got a lot of credit and he made out quite well.

It did lead to another callout moment, if you will, again between Julian Castro and Joe Biden that I thought was an important moment. Listen to this.


CASTRO: He wants to take credit for Obama's work but not have to answer any questions.


BIDEN: I did not say I don't stand -- I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good, bad, and indifferent. That's where I stand.


BIDEN: I did not say I did not stand with him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: What do you think of this one, David?

AXELROD: I think that Castro caught Biden in a mistake. Jorge Ramos asked a very challenging question about immigration --

BOLDUAN: Immigration.

AXELROD: -- and whether or not he would knowledge the policy of deport deportation was a mistake, and Biden said, "I was the vice president." The clear implication was, I was not the decisionmaker there. He can't do that. You can't have it both ways, run essentially as the partner of the president and claim credit for his record and then run away from it.

I think when Castro made that point, Biden quickly realized that he was in deep water here and swam back to shore and said, no, I embrace the whole record.

BOLDUAN: One thing that was clear from Kamala Harris during the debate, is that it seemed a very new strategy, a different approach to the debate stage than we'd seen in the prior two debate stages, rather not targeting Joe Biden but targeting Donald Trump.

Listen to this one.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): I plan on focusing on our common issues, our common hopes and desires, and in that way, unifying our country, winning this election, and turning the page for America.

Now, President Trump, you can go back to watching FOX News.




BOLDUAN: Sabrina, what are you hearing about what's behind the new approach to this debate? Is it more about the need to take -- to put the focus on Donald Trump or is it more about the need to not put the focus on attacking Joe Biden?

SIDDIQUI: I think it's a little bit of both. Kamala Harris had a big moment in the first debate and she saw a temporary bounce as a result, then her numbers fell back toward a middling decision in the field.

I think they realize simply attacking Joe Biden or trying to take down some of the other front-runners is not sufficient.

Clearly, polling bears out that Democratic voters are overwhelmingly concerned with ensuring that Donald Trump's presidency is limited to one term. That's why when Harris and other candidates on the stage turned the attention back to the president, that was always a moment where you heard a lot of applause.

I still think fundamentally the debate enforced the ideological question for the Democratic Party, about incremental change, a return to normalcy, or is it about sweeping structural reforms and a much more progressive platform.

BOLDUAN: I'd also add to that a question you laid out in your opinion piece before the debate, which was let Donald Trump sink himself. Do you see in what you saw on the stage last night that you see signs that the Democratic candidates are going to be taking that path?

AXELROD: Not enough. Primaries kind of force you to be more ideological, more partisan.

But I do think -- and Kamala had the opportunity. I don't think she implemented it well, Senator Harris, as well as she could.

I think there's a real hunger for unity. There's a weariness in the country about waking up every day to the tweets, the tantrums, the gratuitous fights, and the chaos that surrounds it.

So as someone -- a candidate who speaks to that and promises calm and stability, I think has a real path here. Biden is sort of occupying that place there.

One thing we should point out is that Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, many people on that stage are auditioning for the role -- Booker -- if Biden should stumble. Part of that role is being the healer and you saw that there.

BOLDUAN: I thought Klobuchar had the strongest debate in terms of that tier. I think it was her strongest performance yet.

Great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

AXELROD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it.

And a programming note for all of you. Be sure to watch "THE AXE FILES" this weekend. David sits down with former attorney general, Eric Holder, for a wide-ranging conversation, including his reaction to accusations that there's a Deep State conspiracy in the U.S. government. Do not miss it tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's something that really, really, if I can say it, pisses me off. That really, really pisses me off because I know these people, I worked with these people, I was one of those people.

And to see a president of the United States go after the Justice Department, the FBI, the Intelligence Community in the way that he has is totally inconsistent with what a president ought to do.


BOLDUAN: Much more to come there. That's tomorrow 7:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Coming up for us, just two weeks after Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, a new tropical storm warning for those very same islands. And parts of the United States also on alert. Details ahead.


BOLDUAN: The ground rules for an impeachment inquiry have been set, but what we still don't know is what to call it or where it goes from here. The House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to set the parameters to begin its investigation into President Trump on possible corruption, obstruction, abuse of power, and going beyond the four corners of the Mueller report. That according to the committee chairman

That chairman, Jerry Nadler, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though, aren't on the same page still when it comes to defining what the committee is actually doing.


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're doing.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Impeachment is a divisive measure. But if we have to go there, we'll have to go there. But we can't go there unless we have the facts.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, of Tennessee.

Thank you for coming in, Congressman.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): You're welcome, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I heard you say yesterday that it makes no difference to you what the work of the committee is actually called. Really? It doesn't matter if it's called an impeachment inquiry or not?

COHEN: Well, it's an impeachment inquiry or it's an impeachment investigation. Inquiry, investigation, doesn't make any difference.

We're looking at issues to determine whether or not they measure up to sufficient number of votes and sufficient number of strength in the public to bring an impeachment article out of the commit and into the floor of the House. That's what's important and it's important to get the facts.

By saying by not caring what it's called, it's an impeachment inquiry, impeachment investigation, I don't think there's any difference what those are.


BOLDUAN: What do you make of why the speaker then does have very clear reticence in what it is called and what she will call it? And why then doesn't she join the chairman in calling it what you say, what it is what it is?

COHEN: I think it would be good if we are all on the same page. I understand she has a different constituency and a different perspective.

Those of us on the Judiciary Committee, including our able chairman, are looking at impeachment as our issue because it comes within our province. I'm the chair of the Constitution Subcommittee so I'm passionate about it. So are the members of the committee.

We chose Judiciary because of our passion for Constitution, due process and justice, all of which are at stake. So we have a strong position.

The caucus as a whole has different members and different perspectives and different priorities. Some members are more concerned about agriculture, some are more concerned about different business issues, some are more concerned about health care. Not that we don't have those issues as well, but they may be their number-one issue that keeps them awake and their passion for life.

And so the impeachment issue may not be as strong in their minds, particularly in their districts. Most of us on Judiciary Committee come from districts that are pretty blue. There's a couple of people like Lucy McBath that may not, but there's a different perspective and Nancy has to look after the whole caucus.

BOLDUAN: From the outside looking in on something as important as impeachment, as important as impeachment is, what has become a name game, it seems ridiculous when everyone, as you said, should be on the same page.

Regardless, I want to ask you about an issue that came up last night. Beto O'Rourke made it very clear he's comfortable with a federal mandatory gun buyback program.

Let me play for you what he said about that.


BETO O'ROURKE, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Hell, yes, we're going to take your A.R.-15, A.K.-47.


O'ROURKE: We're not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.


BOLDUAN: Do you support a federal mandatory buyback program, Congressman?

COHEN: I think we should have a buyback program. Mandatory is probably aspirational. I don't see any reason for people to have A.R.-15s or A.K.-47s. But I think it would be difficult to implement and I don't think it's realistically going to happen.

Those are weapons the military should use. There's no reason to have them on our streets. The prohibition we had until 2004 should not have been allowed to die. It was not renewed, the Brady Bill.

You know, I recoil -- it's a bad term to use, I guess -- at the idea of people having those weapons and using them because they do kill people. The people that are not balanced or have some mission at the end of their life, because most of them are semi-suicidal --

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this, Congressman.

COHEN: -- shouldn't be taking other people's lives.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this about the buyback program. Chris Coons was on the program and he goes so far as to say, that clip of Beto O'Rourke from the debate, that he thinks it will be played for years to use against Democrats, to argue a conservative or NRA talking point that Democrats are trying to take away your guns.

Do you think this hurts your efforts to get sensible gun reform?

COHEN: It doesn't help. The NRA is never going to go for anything. They don't want the camel's nose under the tent program. They want to stretch it as far as they can to let guns be everywhere. That's where they are coming from.

I passed the Right to Carry Bill in Tennessee in the '90s when I was state Senator. Since I've left, they have now emasculated that law. Now they have it where you don't even have to go to a rifle, a gun range and show some proficiency and learn something about gun safety and gun law before you get your license. That was the condition of getting a gun permit, carry permit.

Now you don't even have to do that. You can take it online. And you don't have to take the actual test on the range.

They really want open carry and that's what they are pushing for. It doesn't help us.

There's a lot of things in these debates that really get at me. I want to beat Donald Trump. That's my intent. The worst president, the most impeachable president in history, an aberrant president, get rid of him.

I'm afraid these Democrat debates, going after each other, going after Joe Biden, taking extreme idealistic positions that are well intentioned and aspirational but have no chance of becoming law, are going to hurt us beating Donald Trump, which is what it's about.


As far as Joe Biden's age, let me tell you something, I turned 70 this year. I'm still advancing in terms of getting my focus on certain things.

The older you get, the more you have experiences that can guide you and be beneficial to you and you can be grounded better, and know I've been on this earth for X amount of years and there's certain things I want to do, and I don't care about superfluous things.

Having somebody who has been through things -- Joe Biden has been through tragedies with his children, with his first wife and all -- that's something that's important and beneficial.

I think Joe Biden has got the wisdom and the courage and the judgment if there's any question about any other issues that people who are younger don't have. We have to understand that. I think Joe Biden came out the winner.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks for your time. I appreciate your perspective today.

COHEN: You're welcome, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, a new storm threatening the Bahamas as the country is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Dorian with more than 1,000 people still missing. Florida also needs to pay attention to this. The new forecast is next.