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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Comments on Kavanaugh Controversy; Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) Speaks About Saudi Oil Attack; Biden Gives Speech on Race. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00]

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": As if he can order them around as a personal investigative force. He also asked that President Obama be investigated. So we should take note too that in his response to Kavanaugh also reveals a not normal, not correct way of using the Justice Department.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

To Lynn's point, Daniel Strauss, this is not the first time the president has called on the Justice Department to investigate a political opponent. And there's some evidence that the Justice Department has heeded hose calls at times.

What's the significance?

DANIEL STRAUSS, POLITICS REPORTER, "POLITICO": I mean, look, this is -- this shows that once again President Trump kind of views the Department of Justice as the White House's or his own personal legal arm. And that's not the DOJ's job. This is a continuation of that. This is what -- this is a lot like what he would urge Jeff Sessions to do with the Russia investigation.

But I think for both Republicans and Democrats, there's a no-lose sort of situation here. On the one hand, as Lynn said, the 2020 Democratic candidates, there's really no downside for calling for Kavanaugh's impeachment, and for Trump and Republicans, who really galvanized around Supreme Court appointments, this is an example -- yet another opportunity for them to rally behind Kavanaugh.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The easiest thing to do in Washington is call for something with no consequences.

STRAUSS: Yes.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: There you go.

I do think, Lynn, you know, it's not surprising to see the president this outspoken on it, taking to Twitter this much on this, because the Supreme Court was a big reason for and a big part of, you know, revving up his base for his win in 2016 and getting so many appointments, both, you know, the Supreme Court, but also federal judges, you know, is something the president's going to tout and tout very loudly as he continues his run for 2020.

SWEET: That's so correct. That is one of his bedrock achievements, indisputable, and he bragged about it again in a tweet this morning. It's an often -- it's an often cited accomplishment from the president of some hundred plus, maybe 150, judges, more in the pipeline. Confirming judges is just about the only thing that the Senate is able to do now. And the judges under the Supreme Court, the appellate and U.S. district court judges, in some ways are almost as important as the Supreme Court justices because they are lifetime appointments. Those people will endure and rule for decades after Trump leaves office.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

And, Daniel, there's a reason the president tweets about that often, right, because he -- that is perhaps the most concrete takeaway from his presidency, is it not?

STRAUSS: Yes, look, I mean, the Supreme Court justices and judicial appointments are really what rallied evangelicals around to President Trump during the 2016 campaign. And he knows that is a key group he needs to secure and really maintain his popularity among Republicans. And it is really an accomplishment on his part. He's moved -- he's confirmed more judges than President Obama. And he takes great pride in that. And it's something that even moderate Republicans or Republicans who really wouldn't like President Trump otherwise see as valuable in his presidency.

SCIUTTO: Lynn Sweet, Daniel Strauss, good to have both of you.

HARLOW: Thank you both.

STRAUSS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Could the attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility draw the United States further into a growing conflict in the Middle East, perhaps even military action? We're going to speak to a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the dangers of all of this coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:38:25]

HARLOW: President Trump, his words, saying the U.S. is, quote, locked and loaded, to respond and take action after those drone strikes in Saudi Arabia knocked out five percent of the world's daily oil supply.

Now the White House is saying locked and loaded more diplomatic than military speak.

Joining us now, New York Representative Adriano Espaillat, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, appreciate you taking the time, as always.

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D-NY): Thank you. Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Are you clear on what the administration's approach is to this, because the president said locked and loaded. Now they're saying that's diplomatic speak, which is somewhat hard to believe. But, of course, the president pulled back from a military response when Iran shot down a U.S. drone explicitly, right?

ESPAILLAT: Locked and loaded is more of a Twitter response. I think that we should engage in (INAUDIBLE) professional diplomacy. Go back to a mindset that will guarantee us some kind of a diplomatic and peaceful solution out of this conflict.

HARLOW: You're on the Foreign Affairs Committee. We heard what Pompeo said immediately about Iran. We have heard what -- what Iran has said, and military advisors to the supreme leader, about an increasing proxy war in all of this.

Do you believe that the Houthi rebels in Yemen could have carried out something with this magnitude, this expertise, this precision without Iran?

ESPAILLAT: Absolutely not. We know that this is a highly sophisticated attack. It came from the northwest, leading us to believe that Iran was involved in it.

We have very strong sanctions on Iran. I'm supportive of that. But we should not be involved in this humanitarian disaster in Yemen. And I think that this has escalated to a level --

HARLOW: Wait, that we -- we should not be involved at all?

[09:40:02]

Even given the humanitarian --

ESPAILLAT: Well, I -- I supported the War Powers Act submitted by Representative Ro Khanna that tells us that we should not be poking our nose in every single conflict around the world. This leads to a situation such as the one we're facing today.

I think we should go back to high powered diplomacy, the likes of which helped us get out of conflicts of this nature in the past, rather than the Twitter rhetoric that's often irresponsible.

SCIUTTO: It strikes me that Iran is poking the president where they believe it will have effect, which is on oil prices, which, of course, have an economic effect and might affect the economy as we head into 2020. In a way we talked about this in an earlier segment, China is on the trade war.

ESPAILLAT: Trade war, yes.

SCIUTTO: They know, for instance, if we don't buy soybeans in Iowa, that upsets Iowa farmers. They're going to be voting in an election coming up.

Does that weaken the U.S. position here as these countries --

ESPAILLAT: Well, I think the sanctions against Iran are working. I think that they're hurting in their central sort of like main street economy. I think that we're doing the right thing. We should strengthen them. We should have sanctions if they use anti-ballistic missiles, if they sell armaments --

HARLOW: Right.

ESPAILLAT: As we believe as is happening.

SCIUTTO: But what do you do if Iran retaliates, which seems to be what they may be doing here? Does the U.S. -- should the U.S. retaliate with military action?

ESPAILLAT: I don't think we should retaliate with military action. I think we should go to the table. I think it's irresponsible for the president to be handling diplomacy through this Twitter apparatus approach that he has in the middle of the night. I think we have people that are very qualified to go to the table and hammer out an agreement with Iran. That's the road to peace.

HARLOW: OK.

So let's switch gears here and let's talk about guns, because there is an increasing divide within the Democratic Party about the way forward on gun legislation in this country. We know the hardline that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer took with the president on the phone over the weekend on universal background checks, nothing less.

But then you have Beto O'Rourke saying in the debate on Thursday, we're going to take away your AR-15s. We're going to take away your AK-47s.

Chris Coons, Democratic senator, on this show said, look, that's going to be played at Second Amendment rallies to scare people to believe the Democrats are going to take your guns.

And then listen to this exchange yesterday with Jake Tapper and Pete Buttigieg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Beto O'Rourke say something that's playing into the hands of Republicans?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Look, right now we have an amazing moment on our hands. We have agreement among the American people for not just universal background checks, but we have a majority in favor of red flag laws, high capacity magazines, banning the new sale of assault weapons. This is a golden moment to finally do something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Who's right? They believe Beto went too far. Beto O'Rourke shot back and said, no way.

ESPAILLAT: I think Mayor Pete is wrong in this one. I support background checks. I think that's a low hanging fruit, if you may. I think 80 percent of the American people support background checks.

But I think the vast majority of the American people also don't see how someone should be walking around with an AK-47 at a mall. And I think that's also a piece of legislation that we have the majority of the American people supporting.

So walking away from an assault weapons ban, I think, is wrong.

HARLOW: But they're talking about mandatory buybacks.

ESPAILLAT: And I agree -- I agree with, you know, with Beto. I think that we should not be playing this very conservative approach with regards to weapons ban, with background checks, with the -- all the -- the whole array of our bills that are on -- on way to be passed and not supported by the American people.

First it's background checks. I think 80 plus percent of the American people support it. But I think next is an assault weapons ban.

SCIUTTO: Majority of NRA members even support it. A majority of Republicans support it.

But the president, you need his support to move forward. Mitch McConnell has said so much. After Parkland, the president talked about it, backed off. In this case, it's CNN's reporting that he may be backing off again. Is the president going to support it, in your view?

ESPAILLAT: And this is his M.O., right? When there's a crisis and when there's horrendous killing, he says he will support background checks and then he -- he weasels out of it. I think it's wrong. I think it will hurt him down the campaign trail. And I think the American people, frankly, are really upset that these horrendous killings happen almost every weekend.

HARLOW: Thank you so much, Rep. Espaillat.

ESPAILLAT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, great to have you on.

HARLOW: Come back. We appreciate your time very much this morning.

ESPAILLAT: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: African-Americans key to keeping Joe Biden on top of the polls in the Democratic primary right now. That support, though, a target for his rivals. How does the frontrunner hold on to a key voting bloc?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:49:23] SCIUTTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden, and current Democratic front-runner, of course, is looking to build on his already strong support among African-American voters. The key voting bloc could prove a firewall for his campaign.

HARLOW: And despite his popularity within the African-American community, he is still facing a lot of questions, a lot of criticism over recent statements and answers in the debate, for example, and his past record, of course, on race issues.

Arlette Saenz joins us from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Of course South Carolina a key part of all of this for the president. And I think it's important to note generationally the divide, too, within the African-American community.

[09:50:02]

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Poppy and Jim, South Carolina is very important to Joe Biden's strategies. And yesterday we saw him in Birmingham, Alabama, delivering a speech at the 16th Street Baptist Church on the anniversary of the bombing that killed four young girls 56 years ago. And trips to states like Alabama and South Carolina are all part of his effort to court black voters, which make up a key component of his constituency and is helping fuel his current front-runner status.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hate is on the rise again, and we're at a defining moment again in American history.

SAENZ (voice over): Joe Biden, speaking from the pulpit of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, 56 years after a bombing by the KKK killed four young girls.

BIDEN: Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole, Denise, their murders lay bare the lie that a child could be free in America while oppressions long shadow darkened our cities and ruled our countryside.

SAENZ: The former vice president drawing a direct line between that attack and modern day hate-filled massacres, like the shootings in El Paso and Charleston.

BIDEN: This violence does not live in the past. We have not relegated racism and white supremacy to the pages of history.

SAENZ: Biden's trip to the Super Tuesday state of Alabama comes as he's courting the black vote, which is critical in the path to the Democratic nomination. Nearly five months after entering the 2020 race, Biden is still leading the Democratic field, fueled largely by his consistent support from black voters.

JEFFREY LANIER, ALABAMA VOTER: My mind's been made up pretty much from the beginning.

SAENZ (on camera): And who's that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden.

SAENZ (voice over): A recent CNN poll found 42 percent of Democratic black voters back Biden, nearly four times more than his closest rivals.

BIDEN: I watched my buddy Barack stand up there.

SAENZ: For many black voters, Biden's service alongside President Obama is a strong credential.

JAMES SCOTT, ALABAMA VOTER: The first black president was President Obama, and he was -- he chose him. President Obama chose him for a reason. He had to choose him because he was a good man and he was all on board with what Obama stood for.

SAENZ: But others think the rest of the Democratic field deserves a look too.

KAT BROWN, GEORGIA VOTER: While I think Vice President Biden is an amazing public servant, I don't think that that should make him the automatic Democratic nominee.

SAENZ: Biden's history with race-related issues has come under scrutiny in the 2020 race, from his opposition to school bussing, to his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill.

This answer at last week's debate after he was asked about the legacy of slavery drawing some criticism.

BIDEN: We bring social workers into homes with parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It's not that they don't want to help. They don't want -- they don't know quite what to do.

SAENZ: But for some considering Biden in 2020, those issues aren't impacting their decision just yet.

MARILYN CALDWELL, CALIFORNIA VOTER: He's -- make you feel like he knows you. And we know he really can't, but he makes you feel good.

LASHUNDA SCALES, COMMISSIONER, JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA: I'm like everyone else, we're looking. But I -- but I will tell you that I think that Biden in the overall general election, that he will probably be one of the more stronger candidates that could take on the Trump administration and actually win. We're interested in winning, not just running.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, here in South Carolina, black voters make up 61 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. And Joe Biden has been coming to this state for years, building long-time relationships with voters here.

The question going forward, though, is, can Biden turn those relationships with black voters into actual support at the ballot box?

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: It's a big question.

You've been talking, Arlette, and great reporting there, to a number of people in the African-American community. And it's important to point out, this is not a monolith. You don't have, you know, just all of them in support of one candidate or not. And generally, generationally there is a big breakdown in terms of a divide over those who support Biden and those who don't.

SAENZ: Yes, that's right. If you look at the poll that we released last week, it found that the majority of his support among black voters comes from older voters, voters over the age of 50 support him by 53 percent compared to voters under the age of 50 which back Biden at 30 percent.

And I've talked to a lot of voters, older voters here in the state, who have said that they like to go with someone that they know. And they know the vice president. He's been coming to this state for decades, when he previously ran for president, and also that service alongside President Obama cannot be underestimated.

But, of course, there are questions, and some criticism, about Biden's handling of race related issues in the past. We'll see going forward if that's going to impact his vote -- support at all among this community.

[09:55:03]

SCIUTTO: Arlette Saenz, great to have you on the campaign trail. Thanks very much.

Just moments from now, General Motors and the United Autoworkers Union will meet for the first time, this since more than 48,000 union workers walked off the job. Biggest strike in nearly a decade. More than a decade. How long will the biggest auto strike last?

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