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INSIDE POLITICS

Harris Campaign Beefs Up Ground Game in Iowa; Trump "Not Moving" On Any Gun Legislation Yet; Buttigieg Rolls Out Health Care Plan; Sanders: Biden "Will Generate Very Little Excitement"; Trump Touts Wall Construction At The Border. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- especially since that first debate. It means that they have to figure out a way to re-strategize. The idea of the sort of going into South Carolina and having that as a firewall doesn't seem to be holding up right now.

So she does need to do well in Iowa in order to try to change things in those states that follow. And specifically in South Carolina, if South Carolina voters see that she's not looking viable in Iowa, then they're not going to give her much of a chance. So it's an important strategy for her.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: As you jump in, I just want to make the point Toluse just made. I will show the poll numbers up there. If you go back to March, she was at 11 percent. In June she did spike back up to 17 percent after dropping down a little bit. She dropped back up at the first debate in there. There we have the numbers where you see the jump there but then back down eight percent right now.

Again, to your point about viability, you know, the Obama campaign figured this out. They originally were thinking, you know, where do we go? Obviously, the first African-American, you know, serious candidate for president sometime will go to South Carolina. It was viability in Iowa when he won that was, boom. Can she do that? Somebody will surprise us in Iowa. Somebody will surprise us. Will it be Kamala Harris?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is a definite fourth ticket out of Iowa, right? If the race stays as it is now, you have --

KING: They just laid the marker that that's three but OK.

LERER: Well -- I mean, look, if --

KING: Making changes if they have to.

LERER: -- as it is now, and if Bernie Sanders is able to expand his base of support which is an open question, and that, you know, you have Warren, you have Biden, there is a third or fourth ticket. I mean, look, this is a reboot. Clearly, she's not doing well in the polls but I also think it's an admission of reality. In a crowded race, a race this historically crowded, you can't hang out and wait until South Carolina and then it's all going to come together. I mean, it's just not going to work that way. It's not how politics work or momentum works.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: -- to the 137 -- there's only so much time and they've -- it's not like no one else has been in Iowa this whole time. A lot of them have spent huge amounts of time in Iowa. Elizabeth Warren, for one, has built a massive organization. A lot of people are looking at that maybe she is going to be a surprisingly strong that night. You're going to see this weekend that there's a repeating event, the steak fry, there's the Democratic dinner coming up. People are going to show up with armies of volunteers and celebrities and all kinds of things to sort of show their strength.

And so, there is some time but there's not that much time.

LERER: And some of these people have been in the states since before the primary. Elizabeth Warren had people in there during the midterms. Cory Booker has actually a very big operation. We'll see whether he gets traction from that. But the organization does matter.

KING: And there is time, and some of the lesser-known candidates or some of the more regional candidates have known this for some time. I just want to show you Des Moines register, scroll here of candidates who've been to the state. John Delaney is first, he's been there the most. He was one of the former congressmen who got in the race earlier and the like. He's struggling, too.

You know, Bullock the Montana governor and others, Harris is 15th in terms of the Democratic candidates as of today. That does not mean that she can't turn it around. My question is how in the sense that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they're progressives. Biden is known, I was Barack Obama's vice president, I'm your centrist candidate.

Kamala Harris, what is her -- who is she in the race? Does she have a specific ideological lane? Does she have a personal story? What's her card?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think she's trying to straddle a little of both and that has been part of her struggle, right? I mean, especially in such a sprawling field when the other candidates have such clear visions whether it's Biden or Bernie or Elizabeth Warren. And maybe that worked in 2008 but it's a lot more difficult when you have such a crowded field.

So, her strategy right now doesn't seem to be a messaging shift, though. She's more focused on getting on the ground in Iowa. She's been fundraising this summer which she's had to do. It's taken away from the trail, but now she's ready to refocus. But, we'll have to wait and see.

LERER: She needs to show that she is the alternative to Biden. You know, people are concerned that perhaps there is an age issue, perhaps he's a little loose-lipped. Those are concerns that have trailed him (INAUDIBLE). But since he first ran in 1988, there were concerns about Elizabeth Warren's electability in terms of her ideology and that goes the same for Bernie Sanders. Harris has to show that she is the most electable alternative to those three people and it's not exactly clear what her path is.

KING: Well, she's up to the test. She's going to spend more time in Iowa, you're in small settings, you have more close encounters with voters, what does she say? How does she try to make the distinction? We'll keep an eye on it.

Up next, why President Trump says he's moving, quote, very slowly on gun legislation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:39:13] KING: Topping our political radar today, sources telling CNN the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee now considering contempt citation against Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager. This follows his refusal to answer most questions during testimony earlier this week. Lewandowski's behavior provoked anger among many Democrats including the House speaker who told members of the committee could have held Lewandowski in contempt, quote, right then and there. Sources note today the contempt process will take weeks.

The president today, get this, suing his own accountants. That, in an attempt to stop them from handing over his tax returns to New York prosecutors. The president's personal attorney Jay Sekulow confirmed to CNN the president has filed legal action just this morning. It's a response to subpoenas issued earlier this week by the New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Vance's office demanded that Mazars, the president's accounting firm produce eight years of the president's tax returns as part of an investigation into hush-money payments.

[12:40:08] President Trump once again berating the Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell despite yesterday's Fed rate cut. The Fed lowered interest rates are a quarter-point but stopped short of signaling another cut in the near future. The president telling Fox News that shows Powell, in the president's word, has no guts but he can keep his job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're worried he's putting sort of a wet blanket ahead of 2020?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what he does is I don't think he knows how to play the game very well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Jerome Powell's job safe?

TRUMP: It's safe. Yes, it's safe. I mean, sure, why not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also in that interview, the president revealing very little about where he stands on any new possible gun control legislation. This, after his own attorney general Bill Barr, dispatched to the Hill to work with both Republicans and Democrats on the issue. The Justice Department circulating a draft plan to beef up background checks. That proposal though received a tepid reception according to a Republican source up on the Hill. The president says he's not endorsing that plan or anything else just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're not moving on anything. We're going very slowly in one way because we want to make sure it's right. And we want -- we're doing a very careful job. We're working with the Democrats, we're working with Republicans. Our attorney general has done a fantastic job in so many ways. He's also in on it.

I don't want to have crazy people to have guns. I don't want bad people to have guns. But we're going to do nothing to hurt the Second Amendment. And what we want to do is see if we can come up with a compromise and that's what we're working at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What are we working at? It's been six weeks since the El Paso and immediately after the El Paso shooting, the president says we're going to do background checks. And then there was a retreat, now there seems to be a re-engagement, sending the attorney general up. But you talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, they're not even sure, is this Bill Barr's plan or is this President Trump's plan? Are they serious or are they running out of the clock?

LUCEY: Well, what we know is the White House has been working on this process to review sort of what policy options are available. They looked at a whole range of things and they are trying to put together some kind of package that the president could get behind.

And yes, the AG was up on the Hill with an idea around background checks that is sort of similar to like the Manchin-Toomey legislation in some parts. It's on commercial sales. And -- but it's been described that everybody has basically like an idea they're floating, they are workshopping it. The president has not signed off on it.

The issue really and we kind of been in this space now for weeks. They're workshopping ideas, they're about this, they're talking to lawmakers, they're talking to Democrats, they're talking to Republicans. The issue is at some point the president has to actually make a decision on what he gets behind. And what we're hearing very clearly from Republican lawmakers is they're not doing anything unless it has the sort of clear backing of the president.

KING: And they don't want to do it so their signal to Bill Barr, we don't like this plan hoping that he goes to the president and says, if you want to do it, sir, we can push them. But they don't want it and they're hoping he backs off.

ZANONA: Right. Well, the problem is we're in a sort of endless feedback loop where the president says, I'm waiting to hear from Republicans about what they want to do. Republicans say we are waiting to hear from the president, and so no resolution is going forward.

I think the longer that this plan hangs out there, it was leaked yesterday to a conservative news outlet, the longer it hangs out there, the more likely that it's going to be killed. Republicans are already mobilizing against this, the NRA has come out against it. So I don't know where they go from here, but it does not sound like Republicans are backing this whatsoever.

KING: It's the same question we always have. The president needs to say, I want this and I want it now or else it's not going to happen.

Up next, Pete Buttigieg unveils his answer to Medicare for All, and you may hear it before.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:48:14] KING: Mayor Pete Buttigieg today adding his plan to the 2020 Democratic debate over healthcare. Medicare for All who want it, as Buttigieg calls it, would build on the ObamaCare by establishing a public health insurance plan, also known as the public option. Anyone could enroll in the plan. Buttigieg would automatically enroll eligible low-income Americans into either that plan or into Medicaid.

The plan would also expand ObamaCare subsidies and cap insurance premiums. Price tag, $1.5 trillion over a decade. Buttigieg says his plan is all about choice, meaning if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it.

Well, if you think that sounds familiar, you're not alone. The headline from the Washington Post today, "Pete Buttigieg's healthcare plan sounds like Sanders' but looks like Biden."

That's not a compliment. But is it the right place? You're looking -- if you're Pete Buttigieg, you're struggling a bit in the race, you're trying to find your spot. Is that the sweet spot?

LERER: Look, I think he's trying to present himself as an alternative to Biden, and while reports of Biden have been vastly overstated so far, I think people in the Buttigieg camp think there will be these moments that shake up the race, there generally are in this business, and they want him to be in the spot to best capitalize on those. And, you know, the purely generational argument which he was making earlier in the race really wasn't getting him there. And, you know, they would argue he's still in the process of introducing himself to voters and wants to be more in the centrist space.

KING: And he says in a Facebook ad and we're going to put up there, he says his Medicare for All will create a public alternative, but unlike the Sanders-Warren vision, it doesn't dictate it to the American people and risk further polarizing them. So he's taking out this middle ground, I would argue in the short term this almost helps Biden. To saying, see, there's Mayor Pete, he's with me, he's got a good plan, I like elements of his plan. But the idea of being if Biden collapses and struggles, Buttigieg can step up and say, I'm the centrist here.

[12:50:03] He'll have competition but that's the play, right?

OLORUNNIPA: And you're also seeing more of these Democratic candidates sort of back away from the full Bernie Medicare for All plan. Kamala Harris says that she supports Medicare for All but she wants to do it over 10 years. She doesn't want to soak the middle- class as much. You've seen other candidates say, you know, we support a different Medicare for All that maybe as not as expensive or not as expansive. And now Biden has more company with Buttigieg saying, you know, we support something that's not quite as much of a major overhaul of the healthcare system. And he's looking for a plan that allows him to say Medicare for All but it's not quite as expensive and it doesn't upend the current insurance system as it is right now.

KING: This is the defining fight in the race both on a policy and to show the whole how far do you go left. I want to bring this is in, this an interview Bernie Sanders did six days ago with the Young Turks. Senator Sanders himself today deciding to re-port this on Instagram. You decide why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe will generate very little excitement. In order to beat Trump, you're going to need a massive voter turnout. I just don't think that Joe's agenda is the agenda that's going to create the kind of energy and excitement you need to have this large voter turnout. I think it is very hard to make the case that Joe Biden can generate that kind of energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I think he said it enough times to get the point. Where are we going here? What's that about? Says the candidate who -- he has a terrible cold, well, we hope -- that's tough, it's tough campaigning for president. Whatever you think of Senator Sanders, that's what happens to candidates but just shaking up his staff in Iowa and New Hampshire as well because he has been -- he has a loyal group of supporters but he's been kind of a flat line in the high teens, low 20s.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, he's trying to make the argument -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

LUCEY: His policies and his ideas can excite people in a way that a more moderate pitch in the middle can't. And you certainly saw in '16 when he really was the only candidate with this approach, the kind of crowds he got, the kind of enthusiasm. The question is this time he's not the only person playing in that space. You see Warren, you see others, and so whether he's the person to make that argument or not is not really clear.

KING: You see it. We talked about these campaign shakeups, tougher, sharper elbows there. Look at the calendar. Look at the calendar. It may seem a long ways off but it's not. And the candidates know that I should make this footnote. We just talked about Mayor Buttigieg's healthcare plan. He's going to be jake Tapper's guest on THE LEAD. Watch that interview for a little bit more. And again, the big issue in the Democratic race.

Up next for us, is President Trump really delivering on his promise to build that wall? Moments ago, the Pentagon spokesman touting a big goal by the end of 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN HOFFMAN, CHIEF PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: Our goal is that by the end of next year, we will have completed over 450 miles of wall construction all told across the entire federal government. Right now, we're at a pace of about a mile a day and we'll see that continue to go up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:57:27] KING: A few other political stories to get through quickly before we go, beginning with the president's border visit yesterday and what looks like a perfect 2020 photo op.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This is all brand new wall. This goes miles up the mountain over here. This goes -- I mean, you're seeing that this goes miles down in this direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said about 14 miles so far.

TRUMP: And we're building now -- we have -- we'll have --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here. I mean, just here.

TRUMP: Well, in this section is 14, but we're building many that are 50 and 40 and 17 in different areas. We're building on many different sites all up and down along the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the term brand new wall can be a bit deceiving. This map right here shows the border areas with barriers back in August 2017. That map stands today. Thirty-six months into his presidency, the Trump administration has repaired and replaced more than 60 miles of barriers but has built zero new barriers. Now, more than a hundred miles of new wall are in the planning, meaning, officially planned.

Much more, you hear the Pentagon spokesman before the break likely to join that list at the administration transfers Pentagon and other funds. But again, as of today, zero new miles of wall along the U.S.- Mexico border. So, can the president say I kept my promise? Where they have repaired and replaced, you saw it there, it's higher, it's tougher, it's stronger. He can make that claim. But the idea that I'm going to build a lot of new walls that weren't there when Obama was president, as of today that's zero.

ZANONA: Right. I mean, he's certainly going to try to make that case to his voters. This is a huge issue for the base, something he ran on. In fact, he signed a wall with a pen the other day. I don't know if it was the same sharpie that he used in the hurricane map, but obviously, this is something that he's going to try to sell in 2020 leading up to the election. He's taking other moves to try to show that he's building the wall including taking money from military construction projects, but I don't know if the base will believe him.

KING: That the Pentagon is rushing to do some of it, and I bet you a dollar, they can't (INAUDIBLE) as soon as the mile or two are built would tape his campaign ad right there.

This is the president on Air Force One last night showing how humble he is. What are you going to say in your speech to the United Nations on Tuesday was the question. The president, "I'm going to say the United States is the greatest country in the world. It's never been stronger and it's never been better."

And here's the kicker, they certainly have one of the great presidents in our history.

OLORUNNIPA: It just reminds me of last year when the president bragged about his administration accomplished more in the last two years than any other administration. There were like guffaws and laughs at the U.N. so I wouldn't be surprised if the president goes again and tries to brag about his presidency and maybe gets -- met with some derision by the diplomats there at the U.N.

LUCEY: I mean, it's in keeping with his style and it's always with him sort of a sales pitch. That's what it is. He's pitching how great we're doing.

KING: OK. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. A busy news day. Stay with us. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a good afternoon.

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