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Moderate And Progressive Divide On Display In Democratic Debate; Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York Vows Aggressive Hearings In Trump Probe; Rep. Ro Khanna, D-CA, Interviewed; Felicity Huffman To Be Sentenced Today. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

The center strikes back. The biggest winner in last night's Democratic Presidential Debate may very well have been President Barack Obama.

HARLOW: Moderates no longer running from Obamacare, actually embracing it, pushing back at progressive's big plans for Medicare for all.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that the Senator says she's for Bernie. Well, I'm for Barack. I think the Obamacare worked. I think the way -- add to it, replace everything, it's been cut, add a public option, guaranteed that everyone will be able to have affordable insurance.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On Medicare for all, costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals and costs are going to go up for giant corporations. But for hardworking families across this country, costs are going to go down and that's how it should work.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every study done shows that Medicare for all is the most cost effective approach to providing medical care for every man, woman and child in this country. I, who wrote the damn bill, if I may say so --

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

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the problem, Senator Sanders, with that damn bill that you wrote and that Senator Warren backs is that it doesn't trust the American people.


HARLOW: All right. Athena Jones is with us now from Houston. It's good to see so much focus on the issue that voters say is the most important one to them in the election. And what it shows us is how divided the party is on the answer.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy. That's exactly right. Healthcare has dominated the conversation for all three debates because it's the main issue that you see these Democrats disagreeing on. And you laid it out right there in that mash up of the candidates, the essential fight between progressives who want Medicare for all but it would eliminate private insurance and those who say it goes too far, it will be easier and faster to start with, say, adding a public option to Obamacare.

Vice President Biden kicked it off when he asked by the moderators. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are trying to go too far with their plans. He said it's for voters to decide but he highlighted this idea of cost, saying that neither of those two candidates has been very, very clear about how much this massive overhaul of the healthcare system is going to cost.

Biden arguing his own plan, which would be adding a public option, is already costly. But Elizabeth Warren's plan and Bernie Sanders' plan would cost much, much more.

You also heard from Amy Klobuchar saying, look, people don't want to lose their private health insurance. And polls show that across the board, that's not a popular idea. And so she's saying it's not a bold idea, it's a bad idea. It's not surprising to have seen that debate continuing. Poppy?

SCIUTTO: So Julian Castro was the latest far trailing -- distant trailing candidate to take a shot at Joe Biden in a debate, a personal one, and it didn't go over well, did it?

JONES: It didn't. You could hear the reaction in the crowd. Listen to what Julian Castro said. This was about the debate during their healthcare plans. Take a listen.


JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in, and 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. Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already [10:05:00] what you said just two minutes ago?

I mean, I can't believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you're saying they don't have to buy in. You're forgetting that.


JONES: So you can hear the reaction from the crowd when Julian Castro. He seemed to have a plan of being pretty aggressive all night last night. When he made that comment, you could hear the crowd kind of sighing, booing, it was not a positive reaction.

Now, Biden did have a somewhat muddled explanation of his healthcare plan, so he did come back and say, look, if you already qualify for Medicaid, so you're low income, you don't have to buy in, you're automatically enrolled.

But still, it seemed that Castro wanted to have an opportunity to kind of have a standout moment. He may have had a standout moment in the wrong way because of the reaction from the crowd and the reaction afterwards in social media and elsewhere. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Athena, thank you for the great reporting this morning.

Let's talk a lot more about this. David Gergen here, former presidential adviser to four U.S. presidents, Kirsten Powers, Columnist with USA Today. Good morning to you both, delighted to have you.

Where do we start? Let's get to guns in a moment. But, Kirsten, let's begin with even Cory Booker going after Joe Biden's ability to carry it to the end zone but he waited until after he was off the debate stage and he did it on CNN. Here was that moment.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we are at a tough point right now 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. And I think that Castro had some really legitimate concerns about can he be someone in a long, grueling campaign that he'd get the ball over the line, and he has every right to call that out.


HARLOW: Jim did a good job of pointing out to one of his advisers in the last hour, he sort of said two different things last night on that front. What's your read, Kirsten.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I saw it a little differently than other people, I think, last night on the panel. A lot of people felt this was kind of, you know, Cory going too far, it was discordant with his message of uniting. And I don't agree with that. I think that he -- look, he was asked a direct question and that's very different than just bringing something up, you know, making an attack against somebody. He was asked a direct question, he answered it honestly. And I think that he was saying -- and he even said later in the interview that, you know, that it wasn't about age. This is something he has observed in Joe Biden for a long time. And so I think that there is a concern in the Democratic Party exactly what he said, that, you know, can he carry the ball over the line without fumbling it. And I think that that's a sincere question. It has nothing to do with age, because there are people in the race who are older and obviously are having no problems and there are people on the Supreme Court. I mean, nobody thinks Ruth Bader Ginsburg is too old, right? So it's not about age, it's about Joe Biden and whether or not he can carry this to the end.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, the voting public doesn't seem to share that concern, does it? I mean, Biden maintaining a lead for months now and particularly on electability. Even as his lead has thinned a bit in relation to particularly Elizabeth Warren on first choice in terms of who has got the best chance of beating Trump, the voting public among Democrats, their clear choice is Joe Biden.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. And I think if you watched that debate last night and you were in the Biden camp, you weren't in the Biden camp from last night. I do think Castro's chances of being on the ticket as a Vice President went down some last night.

But, overall, I thought the debate, you know, was one of those kind of things that everyone has a different interpretation because there was no dominant theme that emerged. From my set point of view, if you have never heard anything about Democratic politics walked in for the first time and watched that last night, you would have said, you know, those second tier candidates are doing pretty darn well. They looked better in many ways, I thought more relaxed, I thought more pointed.

The first tier candidates tend to be more defensive. They try to rush things too much. I wish if they could just slow down and be more conversational and you would be more welcome in living rooms across the country.

HARLOW: So Beto O'Rourke, Kirsten, may have saved his campaign for a little while here at least. Let's listen to this moment that stood out to everyone on guns.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hell, yes we're going to take AR-15, AK-47, we're not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.


HARLOW: All right. So Democratic Senator Chris Coons just told me last hour that is a clip that will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies to scare people and say that Democrats are going to take your guns away. It got broad applause but did it really help him in the long run? Is it going to hurt the Democrats on the gun efforts now? What's your read?

POWERS: I just want to quickly address the Biden thing. And, Jim, you were saying that he's the frontrunner. I think [10:10:00] an important thing with him is, though, he's on a downward trajectory. He is not -- he has been losing. He has been going down as Elizabeth Warren has been going up.

So I'm not sure he's necessarily somebody who people are overly enthusiastic about. I think a lot of people are parked with him but I don't know if they're going to stay with him.

Beto, I think he had a great night last night. I appreciate his moral clarity. I happen to agree with him. But I do think, Poppy, you hit on something that -- and I was thinking as he was saying, and as much as I think he is substantively correct that this is what the country needs, I think it could be a very difficult message for a general election.

I think it's true. It will be something -- this is what people always are saying Democrats want to take your guns, and that's essentially when he's saying. And so it's that message that I think Democrats have pushed back against. So it's risky. That's all I would say.

SCIUTTO: David, can that fear be overestimated though? Let's look at some of the recent polling, Monmouth poll from August just last month, 56 percent of the public supports banning future sale of assault weapons. Of course, that's different from taking away existing ones. NPR/PBS poll, should Congress create a mandatory buyback program of assault guns, there, it's split down the middle. I mean, there is a difference.

But on the bigger picture here, do Democrats overestimate the fear but not leaning more into gun control measures?

GERGEN: That's an interesting question, Jim. My own feeling is that, in general, the general direction of what the Democrats are proposing this election are very mainstream and I think will be bought into by a lot of people. The danger is when they go a bridge too far or two bridges too far, there's a big difference in people's minds whether, in fact, they are going to -- you create an option for them in Medicare and then they can decide for themselves, like Buttigieg had a really wonderful argument, Trust the people to make up their minds and play with it an option for three, four, five years, and then decide where to go on.

And if you insist that you -- no, no, no, you've got to get rid of the insurance companies, no, no, no, you can't keep your AK-47, no, no, no, you're not going to be able -- we're not going to make you pledges on this or that, I think that it puts them in an uncomfortable position.

And I do believe that, over time, the old adage that applies in politics is still going to be true, and that is, in a Democratic primary, you go to the left when the nominee gets the post, you come back more toward the center and vice versa for Republicans.

SCIUTTO: All right, although that didn't hold for Donald Trump in 2016, just point of order.

GERGEN: They did not. Some people are totally generous, yes. SCIUTTO: David Gergen, Kirsten Powers, thanks to both of you.

Still to come this hour, a key House panel moving forward to establish rules of an impeachment investigation. What that means, actually, depends on who you ask.

HARLOW: Also, Bahamas now facing yet another storm threat as it struggles to recover from Hurricane Dorian.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. House Democrats are moving closer to deciding whether to formally impeach President Trump. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler vowing to hold, quote, aggressive hearings as they investigate the president.

Nadler's committee took steps yesterday to outline exactly how that process would work moving forward. And as soon as this coming Tuesday, we could see testimony from former Trump statures -- staffers, rather, if the White House allows it, of course. The process is a far cry from actually voting to convict the president.

Joining me to talk about this though, Congressman Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California. Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Jim, great to be on.

SCIUTTO: So, notably, in the debate last night, a word that did not come up a lot, if at all, impeachment, on the very same day that the House Judiciary votes to begin these formal proceedings. And I wonder if that indicates to you that the candidates who are obviously -- they want to grab as much public support as possible aren't sensing public support for impeachment. And, of course, you've support it.

KHANNA: Well, Jim, they have a different job. They need to inspire the country and convince them on a positive vision. We in the House have to hold this president accountable under the powers of separation of powers. And so Jerry Nadler has begun an impeachment investigation and that's our constitutional duty. And I fully expect that he's going to be aggressive and make sure that this president is held accountable.

SCIUTTO: But for that to be a realistic impeachment effort, you also need public support and commitment. And the polls just don't seem to show you got that. So what is the end result of all this?

KHANNA: Well, he's going to build a case. I mean, the polls, as you know, can change. And what he's going to do is highlight sale of public office, emoluments clause, where the president may have profited or his family may have profited based on U.S. tax dollars. He's going to highlight, with witnesses, the serious issues of obstruction of justice. And we will build a case and see where the facts take us and then look at where public opinion is. SCIUTTO: Okay. A topic that came up was a real focus last night, of course, guns. [10:20:00] And we just spoke about it prior to you in the panel, Beto O'Rourke saying that he supports not just an assault weapons ban for future purchases but buying back -- requiring buyback, really, of folks who already own these kinds of weapons. Do you think that's a bridge too far?

KHANNA: Well, I agree with Senator Warren and Senator Sanders that we need to have an assault weapons ban and then an aggressive voluntary buyback program. Let's first do an assault weapons ban. I mean, we haven't even passed that in the House. When the President Clinton passed that, that led to 138 percent decline in mass shootings. And then you can have aggressive voluntary buyback programs. I think that is where the Democratic Party should be.

SCIUTTO: I see. So don't force the hand, in effect, the way Beto O'Rourke seemed to be stating last night?

KHANNA: I would be more where Warren and Sanders and Biden are, which is a voluntary program. And I think you can do that effectively. David Cicilline has a voluntary buyback bill in the House. I'm on that. We ought to get a vote on that and we ought to get a vote on the assault weapons ban. Those are two things that would go a long way, and we haven't even been able to pass that out of the House.

SCIUTTO: Okay. You, of course, support Senator Bernie Sanders for your co-chair of his 2020 presidential campaign. The polls show some worrisome signs for him, Elizabeth Warren seeming to eclipse him, his support flat or declining. Do you feel that his voice is fading a bit in this campaign?

KHANNA: Jim, I really don't think so. In fact, there was a recent poll that actually had him first in New Hampshire. I do agree with you that this race is going to come down to Senator Sanders, Senator Warren and Vice President Biden. But I think even their campaigns would acknowledge that the polls are all over the place and any of those three can emerge. And I feel good about Senator Sanders standing in the early states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire.

SCIUTTO: And you're right. I mean, the national polls show one thing but this is all about states, those early voting states, and they can, of course, upend things.

On the issue of the current frontrunner though, the former vice president, Joe Biden, you saw Julian Castro take a very personal shot at him yesterday. Afterwards, you saw Senator Cory Booker question whether he's the guy to carry the ball across the end zone, into the end zone, as he said. Do you think that Joe Biden is a weak frontrunner for the Democratic nomination?

KHANNA: I don't think he has the vision to take us to the future. But I think, as a person, he's had such an admirable story. I mean, when he spoke about losing Beau Biden and almost choked up, I think we have to respect his service. And so I didn't appreciate the way Castro attacked him but I think the argument needs to be about the future and he is not the change agent for the future leading the party. You can say that while still respecting his lifetime of public service.

SCIUTTO: All right. Well, thank you for going high on that, Congressman Ro Khanna, because a shortage of that in Washington today.

Final question, with the departure of John Bolton, president's national security adviser, you wrote an op-ed titled, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief with Bolton gone. But are you concerned as well about what may be the end result of this, which is the president maybe, in effect, being his own national security adviser, finding someone more pliant in that role that he's had so far?

KHANNA: Well, Jim, I don't see who could be worse than John Bolton. I mean, John Bolton was the cheerleader for a war in Iran, he was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq, he ripped up the agreement Bill Clinton struck with North Korea to help end their nuclear program in the 1990s. So I hope the president will pick someone with greater military restraint in the role.

I am concerned there have been so many changes in national security advisers but I really don't think you can pick anyone who would be worse than Bolton.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

KHANNA: Thank you.

HARLOW: Nice to hear people go high, as you say, Jim.

All right, so, today, the first parents involved in that college admission scandal could be sentenced to time in prison. Actress Felicity Huffman will face the judge in just a few hours. She's written a letter to the judge trying to spare herself. We'll see what happens.



SCIUTTO: Today, the former Desperate Housewives star, Felicity Huffman, will be sentenced for her role in the college admission scandal. Prosecutors want the actress to spend a month in prison and pay a $20,000 fine. Her lawyers are pushing for probation and community service only.

HARLOW: Of course, she pleaded guilty earlier this year to paying $15,000 to boost her daughter's SAT scores. She's the first of 34 parents to face sentencing in this case. Other parents are expected to face the same judge in just a few weeks.

Paul Callan, our legal analyst and former New York City prosecutor, is with us. Good morning, Paul. Jim and I find this whole thing just sort of astonishing and riveting at the same time.

Okay, so prosecutors suggest one month prison time and a fine. Her lawyers say just probation. She wrote this letter to the judge imploring the judge to give her a break here with a lot of contrition. What's going to happen?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I have to think that there's a good possibility that she's going to get no jail time at all. And the reason that I say that is because the judge that she's in front of sees a docket all day long of terrorists, drug dealers, people who have committed murders, and then in comes --