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Beto O'Rourke's Gun Reform Plan; Debate Performances; Fellow Democrats Push Back on O'Rourke's Debate Line: "Hell Yes" We're Taking Your AR-15; Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days in Prison and 250 Hours of Community Service, Will Pay $30,000 Fine. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And then she goes on to apologize to her daughter, her husband, and her family, and she vows to become a better citizen.

That -- Felicity Huffman, she reports to serve that sentence October 25.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Take the needle off the record.

THE LEAD starts right now.

One candidate seems to accuse Joe Biden of having a senior moment. And Beto O'Rourke makes a promise on guns that some in the Republican Party are calling a gift to them. Where last night's debate takes the 2020 Democratic candidates going forward.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to die. I don't want to die. If I go back to Honduras, I will die.


TAPPER: Sick undocumented migrants facing deportation, fearing death, after a move by the Trump administration takes away a safety net that many say is keeping them alive.

Plus: As the Amazon burns, President Trump wants to open for business the largest national forest in the United States -- why chopping away at this natural wonder could affect all of us.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the 2020 lead today.

After the third Democratic presidential debate last night in Houston, today, Democrats and observers are asking a number of crucial questions, starting with, how solid is the front-runner status of former Vice President Joe Biden?

One attack on Biden in particular from former HUD Secretary Julian Castro about whether Biden had forgotten something he had said just two minutes before received boos from the audience and tut-tutting from the punditocracy.

Moments ago, Biden brushed it off when asked by CNN how he viewed the attack.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think there was anything. I think he just got his facts wrong.


TAPPER: But the questions about Biden's sharpness and his vigor hangs like the sword of Damocles above the Democratic Party. Is the candidate who has ridden so far on the mantle of electability actually going to ultimately prove to be electable?

And there was some pundits said the debate was arguably the best of the three so far for the former vice president, other progressive commentators are saying today that a rambling answer Biden gave about the legacy of slavery was disqualifying.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny kicks off our coverage.


JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Vice President Joe Biden brushing aside another round of attacks on a Democratic debate stage, this time from Julian Castro, a housing secretary under President Obama.

Biden's campaign calling it a cheap shot and a low blow in an e-mail to supporters today. Castro defending his words, but not repeating them, after being widely panned for a thinly veiled swipe at Biden's memory.

CASTRO: I wouldn't do it differently. That was not a personal attack.

ZELENY (voice-over): After the debate, Senator Cory Booker also raising questions about Biden's fitness for office.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because 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.

ZELENY: But reversing course today.

BOOKER: Forgive me if my football metaphor about fumbling the ball is being taken out of context. But the reality is, is, I want to get into the end zone. I think we need to win.

ZELENY: The Democratic debate in Houston last night proved at least one thing: The 2020 primary fight is likely to go the distance, driven by deep divisions about how far left the party is willing to go.

Front and center is health care and whether to expand on Obamacare, as Biden is proposing.

BIDEN: I know that the senator says she's for Bernie. Well, I'm for Barack. I think that Obamacare worked.

ZELENY: Or to follow the lead of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by dramatically overhauling the health care system with a Medicare for all plan.

While Sanders says taxes on the middle class would increase, but be offset by lower overall health care costs, Warren declined to answer that politically sensitive question.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The richest individuals and the biggest corporations are going to pay more, and middle-class families are going to pay less. That's how this is going to work.

ZELENY: Senator Amy Klobuchar sounding the alarm about the wisdom of abolishing private health insurance.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And while Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill. And on page eight, on page eight of the bill, it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it. And that means that 149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance.


ZELENY: So, certainly, a deep discussion of health care, Jake, that did not settle anything at all.

In fact, it just exposed the deep divisions that do exist inside this Democratic Party. But Joe Biden, for his part, is downplaying that moment with Julian Castro. At a fund-raiser earlier today in Houston, one donor tells me the former vice president didn't bring it up at all, but he did make a bit of a joke that, when people attack him, it doesn't turn out that well for them.


But, Jake, the question is, how well will it turn out for Joe Biden? He's still leading this race, but he had some challenges as well last night -- Jake.

TAPPER: He sure did. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this.

And, Angela, let me start with you.

I have seen a lot of criticism of former Vice President Biden over this exchange. Take a listen.


LINSEY DAVIS, ABC NEWS: What responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?

BIDEN: Well, they have to deal with the -- look, there's institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that, red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where -- look, you talk about education.

We bring social workers in to homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It's not want they don't want to help. They don't -- they don't know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television -- excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the...


TAPPER: I have seen a lot of people criticizing, and a lot of African-Americans in particular criticizing that answer for being from a different century.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know what he was answering. But it wasn't the question.

And I would start with the fact that just this same week, Jake, we are in the middle of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation activities, started the week off with a commemoration of the 400th -- the year that the first documented enslaved person arrived to these shores.

The fact that Joe Biden's response to that question would go to the same type of victim blaming that we have seen from conservatives for decades is sad. I think it also is highly problematic that Joe Biden has not yet dealt with whether or not he has a black agenda.

When we talk about racism in this country, it's not about parents not knowing how to raise their children. And then for him to say that on the stage at Texas Southern University, which is a historically black college, which -- shameless plug -- I did the commencement speech this spring.

I am -- I'm just -- I just -- I don't know if he's not listening to his black advisers, because he has them.

TAPPER: Sure. Symone Sanders is one of them, yes.

RYE: Yes, a good sister friend of mine. I know that Symone would not have encouraged him to give that answer.

And I want him to really come to terms with the fact that things are different from when he started in politics. He's been in politics a long time. Even different from when he served as vice president for both term for Barack Obama.

It is a different day and age. And it is required, it is incumbent upon him to have a black agenda. It is the reason why 52 percent of the respondents to the Black Census by the Black Futures Lab say they don't think politicians care about black people.

TAPPER: What did you think of that answer, Jen?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Angela raises a lot of important points. He didn't answer the question.

And it's an important one that he should answer. He does need to have a black agenda. He can't just rely on being a friend of Barack Obama and older African-Americans supporting him from now until all the voting is through.

I read this a couple of times, because when I heard it last night, I was focused on the record player, and that was just throwing me off. And what -- how I heard it was that he just lost his way on the answer, that he didn't answer the question. He started talking about poor schools, poor families, his wife, who was a teacher. His deceased wife was a teacher.

Then he started talking about what should happen for low-income communities, that he completely lost his way. Now, that's how I read it.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He finished the answer by talking about Venezuela.

PSAKI: He finished the answer by talking about Venezuela.


PSAKI: It was -- so I would argue that I don't think his intention was how it was heard. Now, that may not be important. What's important is how people are hearing it.

But I don't think he -- he didn't specifically say African-American parents are failing and they're doing X. I just...

RYE: What was he talking about when he said a social worker needs to go into the home and tell people how to raise their kids then?

And I just have to say, as the only black person sitting at this table, that I think it's not fair that we have -- we have to continue to accept that's not what this person meant, that's not what they intended, when the impact of this country for 400 years has been a devastating blow to my community.

I just want him to do better. I'm not saying he can't recover from this, but he's got to own that where he's been isn't good enough.

PSAKI: I agree he needs to do better. I'm not arguing.

RYE: Yes.

PSAKI: I just think that, hearing this answer -- and I think what's important is how people heard it and how they digested it and what they think they need to hear more. But that's just how I digested it as I read it.

TAPPER: And he continues to enjoy overwhelming support among African- American Democratic voters, really propping him up in a lot of places, 42 percent, I think, in our last national poll, compared to 24 percent among the population writ large.

I think a lot of that is because of his being vice president to Barack Obama. And I think a lot of it also is that a lot of African-American Democrats want the most electable candidate because they want to beat Donald Trump.

NAVARRO: Precisely, precisely, because African-American support is such a huge part of his winning formula, of him being able to win this nomination.


He needs to have a very good answers and very good policy proposals. He needs to really tighten this up.

Look, he should have. I was on "The View," the day after he announced. And Sunny Hostin asked him about reparations. He's been having to give answers and explanations about race and some of his past decisions since the moment he announced. He's got to get these answers buttoned up.

He owes it to everybody voting, but he owes it particularly to this community who is propping him up.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, what we haven't said yet, and although I Julian Castro was alluding to it, and Tim Ryan suggested, is that Vice President Biden will be 77 in November.

Now, age is not necessarily indicative of how somebody's mind is or how sharp they are. Bernie Sanders is actually a year older.


TAPPER: But there are a lot of people saying that he doesn't have his fastball.

CARPENTER: Well, his answers are confusing, like this question he got in the debate. It presents two problems.

There were black voters looking for an answer on institutional racism, but other people who just couldn't understand what he was saying, that plays into the idea that he doesn't have his act together. And it's not just that he's old.

He's been around for a long time. He's lived his public adulthood in full view, and he still doesn't understand these questions? That is what's alarming, because if you're looking for a statesman, he should be able to act like it. And he just fumbles these easy softballs.

NAVARRO: I got to tell you, I don't think he didn't understand the question.


NAVARRO: I think sometimes when you're doing debate prep, they try to put so much into your head.

And I think he was -- he had all these things he wanted to get out. And he got them out on the wrong question. And it made no sense.

TAPPER: And let me just say, props to ABC's Linsey Davis, who was really, really sharp, and that was a really good question.

NAVARRO: Yes. So was Jorge Ramos.

TAPPER: Jorge Ramos was great too.

Up next: Beto O'Rourke's big moment and why some Democrats are concerned that he just gave Republicans a big gift.

Then, the move that the Trump administration just made that could put the largest national forest in the United States at risk.

Stay with us.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back.

Sticking with the 2020 lead. and congressional Democrats today say that they're nervous about the line from Beto O'Rourke calling for a mandatory buyback of semi-automatic weapons. One Democratic source telling CNN that the line sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill for those trying to make a deal with Republicans and the White House on expanding background checks for gun sales.

Here's what O'Rourke said.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And in Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15 and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15. Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

(APPLAUSE) We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.


TAPPER: The crowd seemed to like it.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They did. Look, I heard what congressional Democrats have said. I've seen what some senators have said on the record. I think that's incredibly outdated and disconnected from where the American electorate is on gun violence. I mean, it's not just --

TAPPER: You're talking about Chris Coons, the senator from Delaware, saying that this line will be used against Democrats by the NRA forever.

PSAKI: Yes, look, and that would have been the case 15 years ago. I mean, I worked for John Kerry, we had to find slow birds for him to shoot so he could prove he could hunt, right?


PSAKI: Slow, and I'm not really a hunter. Things have changed a lot since then.


TAPPER: Like they give them --

PSAKI: Things have changed a lot since then. It's not just an issue obviously in inner cities and that continues to be an issue.


PSAKI: But it's also an issue in suburbs and, frankly, among a lot of white families and white mothers who thought they were moving into a suburb where it was safe and sending their 4 and 5-year-olds doing drills for gun violence.

This is impacting every community and I think the congressional Democrats are saying to get out of Washington and start to talk to some moms and talk to more people and I think this could help Beto O'Rourke. He's done himself a lot of damage. So his road back is very long. But, you know, it could help him in the polls.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me get in here. I'm one of the moms who is very worried about school shootings, who believe in the Second Amendment. I am angry with what Beto O'Rourke said. Not because it is workable, because I think it's going to stop any chance of anything getting done in Washington.

If you want stronger background checks, red flag laws, two things I'm interested in, Beto did a huge disservice to that because no Republican goat can go to the table in good faith thinking that liberals just don't want to take your guns, but you had Beto on the tape right there, and it is a huge --


CARPENTER: I think it significantly increases the chances that Trump will be re-elected. It is that damaging.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But, you guys, why would -- let me just ask you this. Why would something that Beto O'Rourke a former congressman who lost a Senate seat and what -- 3 percent in the polls matter?


RYE: But I bet it wasn't just Democrats applauding that. I think the reality of it is who needs an AR-15. Who needs an AK-47 and if Republicans and the crooked NRA can't understand that, that is too bad and that is exactly why they can't fund ads for the next 15 years because they're going out. They are gone.

CARPENTER: Listen, I'm not a fan of that weapon. I think there are things you could do to increase --

RYE: What do you have issue --

CARPENTER: It is harder to get.


RYE: So, what issue do you have with what he said?


CARPENTER: -- is going to go knocking on every door and taking guns out of someone's house, if you want federal licensing of guns, this is exactly what --

RYE: Amanda --


RYE: Hold on, Jen. Here is my question. Which gun do you want folks to have, the AK-47 or AR-15?


RYE: That is my point, because that is what he said. So I'm saying if we're going to blame him for doing something so damaging tell me which guns --


TAPPER: Let's bring in -- Jennifer for a second.

PSAKI: Your point you made, Amanda, would be relevant and applicable if we were in a real on-the-level situation in Washington. There is no situation where Donald Trump will sign gun legislation into law. He is not, I swear. And the Republicans and Mitch McConnell are not going to let him do it.

So what I'm happy to see is Democrats having a real conversation about this and not around the edges.

CARPENTER: There you go.

PSAKI: They're saying we need to have fewer guns. We need to go after people who have assault weapons. That is far better than these conversations about background checks and things that are important.

NAVARRO: Jen, what you just said is so different from what he said. If he had said, we're not going to have AR-15s and AK-47s going forward, we're going to institute an aggressive buyback plan, that's very different than going to that NRA talking point. All Democrats want is to take away all your guns and that has a visceral reaction.

Look, I'm not an expert in guns. I don't even know how to operate a glue gun, but I am an expert at seeing people bury their children and I am expert at seeing children have to do drills to evacuate a school, and I'm sick and sick and sick and tired of all -- as is all America of these mass shootings.

So we need to get to a practical place, a place that can actually pass politically. We need to demand more. But this is not the place to start. And I don't think that is productive to the conversation and the solution I want.

RYE: But that is -- I think, again, part of what we have to do as commentators who heard the words that came out of his mouth, are use the words that came out of his mouth. He didn't say I want to go and take away everyone's guns, but we're talking about the kinds of guns responsible for the mass shootings where we have to keep saying that you're in our thoughts and in our prayers. It is time for this to be in our actions.

And incrementalism has never served any of us well, particularly communities of color and low income communities.

We can't do this --


NAVARRO: But what he said is, hell yes, we're going to take away your AK-47.

TAPPER: AK-47, and, Amanda, I want to ask you because --


NAVARRO: And not going forward.

TAPPER: O'Rourke tweeted a picture of the rifle with a caption Beto has a ban for that, taking off of Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that.

Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain responded: My AR is ready for you, Robert Francis, his given name.

Twitter ultimately ended up removing Cain's tweet after O'Rourke reported to the FBI that it was a death threat, Cain said his tweet was just playing off a popular Texas saying, come and take it.

I mean, so you didn't like that. I'm sure you probably didn't like what Representative Briscoe Cain had to say either.

CARPENTER: Yes, it's pathetic, and it's especially pathetic when Twitter has higher standards for speech than a U.S. congressman does.

TAPPER: Yes. State representative.

NAVARRO: That's become so status quo and I find it unseemly.

You know, yesterday, we had Liz Cheney and Rand Paul in a Twitter fight. We've had Dan Crenshaw and Ocasio-Cortez and these ridiculous Twitter fights.


NAVARRO: And now it is -- folks, pick up a damn phone if you want to talk to a colleague or a fellow politician and have a real conversation and stop this stupid --


TAPPER: It is all -- the phonograph. But it's all part of the dunking culture where that is all that matters is dunking.

Everyone, stick around.

And the next Democratic presidential debate, we're announcing right now, is right here on CNN. We're going to team with "The New York Times" for the event in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, October 15th.

Coming up, moments ago, Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman just left court after being sentenced for her role in the college cheating and fraud scandal. She's heading to prison.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news.

Actress Felicity Huffman leaving court moments ago after being sentenced to 14 days in prison and a $30,000 fine for her role in the college admissions cheating and fraud scandal.

Let's get right to CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's outside of federal court in Boston.

Brynn, what did the actress have to say about this? BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, she

released a statement again taking ownership for her part in this huge college admissions scam. I want to read part of it to you. She says: I accept the court's decision today without reservation, I broke the law, I have admitted that. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions, period.

Now, she was very tearful in front of the judge before that judge handed down her decision of the two weeks behind bars, and the judge essentially explaining that punishment saying this wasn't about the colleges losing their reputation or about the test-taking process. This is about privileged kids getting yet another leg up in the college admissions system.

So, really sending a message there. And Felicity Huffman is going to have to report on October 25th to start this sentencing. Of course, the Bureau of Prisons will decide where she will serve that time -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brynn Gingras, thanks so much.

I want to bring in former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, what did you make of the sentence?