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Pompeo Blames Iran, Calls Saudi Oil Attack an "Act of War"; Trump Revokes California's Power to Set Its Own Vehicle Emissions Standards; Trump's Comments on California's Homelessness Raises Eyebrows; Jimmy Carter: There Should Be Age Limit on Presidency; Buttigieg: Every Time Democrats Play It Safe, We've Come Up Short. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 14:30   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because on the one hand, they know full well that Iran was behind it. The world understands that by now.

But they don't want to be the ones that have to take decisive action. They really seem to want right now for the U.S. to kind of ride in on its hobby horse and save the day and fight the fight for them.

I think they're also very embarrassed, frankly, about glaring inadequacies that this has shown with their infrastructure, protecting their oil fields, their inability to fend off this kind of attack, their vulnerability to this kind of attack.

For a number of reasons it seems the Saudis are playing this middle- ground game where they want to make it clear it's Iran but not totally take ownership of it and, therefore, escalate tensions, whereby, they have to assume responsibility. They want the U.S. to step in and do it for them.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Why is it the U.S.'s place to step in and do that for them?

WARD: Well, there's a good argument to be made that it's not. Except that it's important to understand this is not just an attack on Saudi Arabia. In fact, primarily, it's an attack on the global energy industry.

We'll see probably pain at the pump here in the U.S. in the coming weeks as oil prices will have been affected by this attack.

So this is Iran trying to gain leverage at the negotiating table, escalating tensions in a way that makes it clear, hey, listen, we are able to affect energy prices, to have ripple-on effects across the global economy with relative ease.

That is something that is not just a Saudi issue. That become as U.S. issue, too, and really an international community issue.

HILL: Secretary Pompeo was so quick to speak out over the weekend as we know. The fact he is at this moment meeting with MbS in Saudi Arabia, that he got off the plane talking about this being an act of war, that seems quick in the grand seem of things. There's that. I'm curious if it seems quick to you. And also the fact he's meeting with Mohammad bin Salman. How much of what comes out of that meeting can we trust?

WARD: We've seen Pompeo do this before, right after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and Pompeo sat down with Mohammad bin Salman, and made it clear we're still with you, and while we might have issues with this, this is an important alliance. And that's to be expected.

Saudi Arabia still is, in the eyes of the U.S. foreign policy, a major ally, and strategically, an important ally.

A little more confusing to me, I guess, is what is the White House's policy right now on Iran? Despite the tough talk we've heard from Pompeo, fingering Iran for this almost immediately, sitting down now with Mohammad bin Salman saying it's an act of war.

On the other hand, we see John Bolton departing from the White House, the big hawk on Iran. And we saw the U.S., President Trump specifically, decide not to retaliate after a drone was shot down. He's reaching out to President Rouhani saying he's willing to meet without preconditions.

It's like, what is the strategy here? Is the U.S. embracing a more diplomatic strategy? Or is this going to be a military strategy?

And it's normal in the context of foreign policy to implement elements of both --

HILL: Right.

WARD: -- a carrot and stick, if you like, or good cop/bad cop. In this instance, it's very difficult to see there's a sort of broader vision going --


HILL: Right, a strategy.

WARD: That there is a strategy, yes. And it's going to take a lot more than some kind of photo opportunity between President Trump and President Rouhani, which seems unlikely now anyway --

HILL: Right.

WARD: -- to make this better or forge a path ahead towards a kind of stability.

HILL: It's a lot of unknowns. One consistency we've seen.

Clarissa, great seeing you. Thank you.

WARD: Thank you. HILL: Still ahead this hour, the state of California has the toughest

vehicle emission standards in the nation, stronger than the federal government's. Today, the Trump administration is changing that.



HILL: As promised, President Trump just making a move that could bring unwanted air pollution back to California. Doing away today with the state's right to implement tougher auto emission standards compared to those set by the federal government.

The president has been coming for California's political establishment on several fronts for some time.

California's governor had a few words for the president and the GOP.


GAVIN NEWSOM, (D), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: I don't know what the hell's happened to the Republican Party.

By the way, where is the Republican Party right now? Where are they pushing back? Why aren't they pushing back? They believe in federalism, in state rights, at least they assert that, and are nowhere to be found on this.

And 100 waivers approved over and over again. Courts upheld our rights with these waivers. I'm confident we'll prevail eventually. It will take years and years, more uncertainty, more anxiety, but California will prevail.


HILL: CNN's Nick Watt is in Los Angeles.

Nick, where do we stand now?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are going to be probably years of legal wrangling over this.

The issue, since the late '60s, early '70s, California has been able to set its own emission standards, 13 other states follow those standards, a bunch of automakers follow those standards because obviously it is a huge auto market out here in California.

Now, President Trump is, as we know, trying to dismantle the environmental legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama. And to do that effectively, to roll back the federal emission standards, this waiver that California enjoys is a kind of thorn in his side on that issue.


But, listen, it is also bigger than that. This is also a political battle between the president and arguably the bluest state in the country and also between the president and Governor Gavin Newsom.

There are nearly 60 lawsuits that California has filed against the Trump administration. Newsom this morning quoted Pericles and also stating California's role as a leader and not an imitator in the global fight against global change.

And he also had this to say to the president. Take a listen.


NEWSOM: We're winning. That's the frustration he's having. We are winning. He's losing. And we're winning because we have the law, science and facts on our side. And we have not only the formal authority, we have the moral authority. And that is something missing in this White House.


WATT: We have been getting reaction to the president from other quarters. Governor Inslee, from Washington, says, "This shows callous disregard for state's rights." Mayor Garcetti, here in Los Angeles, says, "Trump is trying to sabotage progress."

And a consortium of doctors has come out saying, "This move threatens the health of our people and our planet."

Opponent of this say that President Trump is just trying to throw a bone to big oil -- Erica?

HILL: As you point out, Nick, far from the end of this. It's only the beginning.

Nick Watt, appreciate it. Thank you.

The president's announcement comes amid his visit to the southern California border this afternoon following a series of million-dollar fundraisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Maeve Reston, CNN national political reporter, joining us now with more perspective on this west coast swing and the back and forth emerging.

And one of the things that's really come out and had a lot of people sit up and take notice are the president's comments on homelessness.

You've reported extensively on this in California. I know one of the things you've made a point of is there's a lot the president doesn't understand in terms of some of the key factors here that go into homelessness, including the impact of deregulating the housing market.

What is the president missing?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's been so interesting, Erica, because we don't exactly know what the Trump administration is going to do on homelessness. But clearly, from his tweets, Trump is signaling that he wants some kind of federal intervention.

So you've got a lot of California leaders here who have been working on different strategies to address this problem saying, whoa, what's going to happen. And really worrying that the Trump administration might contemplate something like rounding people up and moving them into, you know, into a different building, or something along those lines.

The Trump administration has not gone there yet and said that. But, clearly, there are those fears.

And what the Trump administration is focused on is saying that they're trying to make some moves to deregulate the housing market. They say that this has to do with, you know, a lot of red tape around the cost of housing.

And while it's true that the cost of housing is a huge contributing factor to homelessness here, there are so many other issues. There are the facts that, you know, that California, the three strikes law let a lot of people out of prison at the same time without services to catch them. And tons of homeless veterans here and lots of people on the streets who are really struggling with mental health issues.

So what people like Gavin Newsom and Eric Garcetti, mayor of L.A., are saying to Trump, work with us here. We are trying to do this all in an approach to build more beds, build more shelters, often with huge resistance in the neighborhood. And they would really like to see President Trump partner with them.

So it's this very tricky dance where Trump has sort of declared war on California and California prides itself on being at the center of the resistance to his agenda. And yet, they're trying to figure out whether there's some way to work together on this issue.

The other thing that's so interesting, Erica, is that if you look at just what the California legislature has done since Trump has come into office, I mean, all of the deals they are passing is in direct conflict to the Trump agenda, whether expanding health care to undocumented immigrants, state-wide rent control, forcing Uber and Lyft drivers to be classified at employees to get more benefits, outlawing private prisons.

So California is just trying to sort of do everything they can to put up a fight against Trump policies, and that's what makes it such an interesting fight here.

HILL: It is interesting. Also the fact the president raised, I believe, $15 million in less than 24 hours there in the state of California. A lot going on, which we'll keep you very busy with.


Maeve, appreciate it. Good to see you. Thank you.

RESTON: Good to see you, too. HILL: Still to come, former President Jimmy Carter questions whether an 80-year-old could really do the job of president. Why he says he actually hopes there's an age limit.

Plus, more on the breaking news. A disturbing development involving the American Airlines mechanic who is accused of sabotaging a flight. Prosecutor now say that mechanic had ISIS videos on his phone.



HILL: It turns out age is not just a number when talking about the presidency. Just ask 94-year-old former President Jimmy Carter.

Here's how he put it at a town hall in Atlanta last night when someone wanted to know if he would consider running for a non-consecutive second term.




CARTER: You know, if I were just 80 years old --


CARTER: -- if I was that many years younger, I don't believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president.


HILL: Mr. Carter didn't mention the names of any current presidential candidates, but let's be clear, age has been part of the discussion.

The top of the pack is dominated by candidates in their 70s. Bernie Sanders is 78, Joe Biden is 76, Elizabeth Warren is 70. At 73, President Trump is America's oldest first-term president.

Dana Bash is not in her 70s. She's CNN's chief political correspondent.



HILL: I just wanted to be clear that neither one of us is.

BASH: Fact-check.

HILL: Not that there's anything in wrong with that.

In terms of this conversation, it is uncomfortable for Democrats specifically to have publicly. How much is this a concern privately?

BASH: It's funny. We just went back knowing that the segment was coming up and looked at the poll numbers of how Democratic voters view these candidates, particularly those older and older voters, how they do.

If you look at Jimmy Carter as an older voter and someone who happens to have the experience of a president of the United States, very experienced, you can cross -- look at the crosstab there. And Joe Biden still is winning across the board in CNN's latest poll, but essentially, among voters who are 65 and older. He's still got a 13- point lead among -- over Elizabeth Warren and a big drop to Bernie Sanders.

When it comes to younger voters, though, Erica, no surprise, Joe Biden is trailing. Of course, as we saw in 2016, it is the oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, who's winning among younger voters at 26 percent. So it's not really clear.

There's a true dividing line there. You asked about anecdotally. I've heard from anecdotally from people my parents' age, saying -- who are about the age of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, a little younger, saying, kind of what Jimmy Carter says. Like, I would be tired running for president right now.

HILL: Yes.


BASH But that's not -- exactly, but they're not necessarily -- that's not what people are going for. People are going for, who can win. That is still in all of the polls the number-one factor that will go into how Democrats are going to vote for their candidate. When it comes to the general election, then that's a different story.

HILL: Right. I would like to thank you for setting me up perfectly for my next question about who can win? As we know, Pete Buttigieg has really been making the case Democrats should not go for the safe candidate. Here's what he said most recently.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & SOUTH BEND MAYOR: Every time that we have tried so hard to play it safe, that we put forward the person with the, maybe the most familiar face but also the most time in Washington, the most kind of established figure, every single time we've done that, going back to Hubert Humphrey, we've come up short.


HILL: Elizabeth Warren making a similar point in be New York. Don't just go for the safe candidate. She said it earlier this week.

What I'm curious about, in conversations you have with people, those at the top within the Democratic Party, they have a lot of say, how does that sit with them?

BASH: You know, I think, it depends who you ask. Pete Buttigieg is right about the history of nominating -- not just Democrat side but Republican side. Obviously, they're focused on Democratic side. He is right that Democratic voters tend to look for and succeed with somebody who is new, younger, somebody who represents change, whether Bill Clinton or Barack Obama in recent history.

Democrats have never had Donald Trump in the White House. It is just a totally different deal. Yes, they despised George W. Bush. Yes, Democrats wanted to get George H.W. Bush, his father, out of the White House. And so that was the driving factor.

It's not as dire to these Democratic -- it wasn't as dire to these Democratic voters as it is right now. I don't think it's comparable.


Having said that, we started with Jimmy Carter, he was the fresh face. The out-of-nowhere peanut farmer from Georgia, who knocked on doors in Iowa and surprised everybody and became not just the nominee but the president. That is the history of the Democratic Party.

HILL: Dana Bash, always good to see you. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

HILL: New breaking details into CNN. An American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a flight, ISIS videos on his phone, according to prosecutors. And new details as well about his brother.