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Democratic Presidential Debate Recap; Interview with Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY); Public Statements by Trump During Mattarella Meeting. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- President Trump has been known to take reporters' questions. When we have that, we will bring you that footage right away.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, one interesting note. Italy's just banned the sale of weapons to Turkey because of the Syria incursion. The U.S. hasn't.

SCIUTTO: Has not.

HARLOW: You can imagine, though --

SCIUTTO: And that's key. I mean, even though --

HARLOW: -- that that will come up.

SCIUTTO: -- even though -- yes, of course, Turkey has bought Russian surface-to-air missiles.

HARLOW: Exactly. OK. We'll keep an eye on that meeting.

Also, a major shift in the strategy on the Democratic debate stage last night. For months, 2020 contenders have set their eights on former Vice President Joe Biden. Last night, though, those candidates turned their attention to Elizabeth Warren. One by one, Warren's colleagues called her out for being unwilling to answer the question of will taxes go up for the middle class under her Medicare for All plan.

SCIUTTO: Pretty basic question, one that I think Americans at home want to have answered.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by David Gergen -- he's a former advisor to four U.S. presidents and CNN senior political analyst, and Democratic strategist Bob Barnett. Thanks to both of you gentlemen.

Bob, looking at your notes this morning, you are unusual, for folks who kind of -- you know, Monday morning quarterback this debate, in saying that you thought Joe Biden had a strong night. Tell us why.

ROBERT BARNETT, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, I think he had a very strong night. I think that he showed the old Joe Biden. There were obviously, as you talk -- certainly as I talk, you have little gibs (ph) and gaps (ph) and things. But all in all, I think he was strong, he was forceful, he brought his experience to bear. I personally thought he had a very good night.

HARLOW: But, Bob, should be team be freaked out about these numbers? The money, the fundraising, the FEC data that shows, just this morning, he's way behind, you know, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg?

BARNET: When you look at this process, there are things that go beyond the debate. One of them is money. And obviously, you have to have a lot of cash on hand as you move into these four first key states. And he'll have to do a big fundraising push to get up there.

Now, remember, unlike some of these people, Joe Biden has name recognition. Joe Biden is known by everybody. So there's things that other candidates like a Kamala Harris or a Buttigieg have to do that Joe doesn't have to spend money on.

But, of course, you want to have a big treasury as you go into these first four key primaries and caucuses.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, you've watched a few presidential elections.

HARLOW: Just a few.

SCIUTTO: We should note, Biden, as Bob said, Biden's lead has stayed strong --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- through months and months of a lot of the, you know, the glitterati looking for his downfall. That said, it's all about the election calendar. Right now, he's behind in New Hampshire, where Warren has strength. Iowa, even (ph) grants (ph) doesn't look good for him. As those first races come, you could have a realignment of who is seen as a frontrunner, could you not?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And we've already had some realignment. I very much respect Bob. He's been preparing Democratic candidates for debates since 1976. That's when I got my start as well, with a Republican, on the Republican side.

And I thought that Joe Biden had a good night. I did not think it was particularly strong. I thought he had two terrific answers, one on Syria and then his closing statement was very strong about why he's running.

But I thought other than that, the focus was really on Elizabeth Warren. And I think she's the one who's surging. And last night, we saw a great deal about the promises of her candidacy as well as the perils of her candidacy.

HARLOW: So on Elizabeth Warren, Bob, she did not answer the very direct question, will middle-class taxes go up under a Medicare for All plan, which Bernie Sanders has said unequivocally, yes. And now, the Biden camp is calling her out this morning -- Symone Sanders just did it on our air -- for her call to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East, saying I wonder what Israel would think of that, et cetera. They want clarity.

They're going to try to go after her, it's clear, on foreign policy. Achilles' heels for her, those two points?

BARNETT: When we were together yesterday, I mentioned that she's going to face -- and did face -- the perils of frontrunner status in a debate.

HARLOW: Yes.

BARNETT: I have three takeaways. First, I think she obviously needs a clear and concise and truthful answer to the whole how do you pay for the -- the health care plan. That's obvious. Second, I think she showed that she can take incoming and give it back. And that's going to be important as we look at a general election.

And, third, caught in the middle there, right at the end of the second hour, was, I thought, her best rationale for her candidacy that she's ever given, her sort of Think Big idea. She gets criticized for being -- having too many plans, too expensive, being too far out there. And those, some people believe that.

But on the other hand, she gave a full-throated and very convincing argument as to why she's doing that. Think big, don't think small. If we don't try to make big plans, we'll never get anything done. Now, buy that or not, that's your choice. I thought it was a really good answer.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, one candidate who came out swinging, Pete Buttigieg --

HARLOW: Oh, yes.

SCIUTTO: -- no question. In a marked change of tack (ph) on him. I want to play one exchange and get your sense of how he did tonight. This was with Beto O'Rourke over the question of gun control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I expect my fellow Americans to follow the law, the same way that we enforce any provision, any law that we have right now. We don't go door-to-door to do anything in this country.

[10:35:09]

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You just made it clear that you don't know how this is actually going to take weapons off the streets. If you can develop the plan further, I think we can have a debate about it.

O'ROURKE: Listening to my fellow Americans, to those moms who demand action, to those students who march for our lives, who in fact came up with this extraordinarily bold peace plan --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Congressman.

O'ROURKE: -- that calls for mandatory buybacks, let's follow their inspiration and lead and not be limited by the polls and the consultants and the focus groups. Let's do this right --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Buttigieg, your response?

O'ROURKE: -- while we have time to do what's right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Buttigieg?

BUTTIGIEG: The problem isn't the polls, the problem is the policy. And I don't need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That's a zinger there.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But on the bigger -- he's basically portraying himself as the plan B moderate --

HARLOW: Totally.

SCIUTTO: -- in this race.

David Gergen, did you see a credible candidate to break through at some point?

GERGEN: Well, listen, I felt that if Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had started this campaign as strong as they were last night, they would be in the top tier right now. They both had very, very good nights.

Klobuchar was much more, I thought, relaxed. She was, you know, she had a sort of a warmth about her that drew you in. She has the middle-class Midwestern values that are going to be so important at the end of the day, who gets elected to the office.

And Buttigieg continues to be not only the most eloquent of the candidates, but last night, he showed some muscle. And both of them did well. The question becomes, is it too late? Can you still break in? Is it still fluid enough?

Traditionally, as Bob will tell you, this is -- this has still been very fluid, at this point in the campaign. The person who is ahead right now usually never gets the nomination.

But we've had enough debates, we've seen enough of this now. I don't know whether this is a more stable field now than we normally see, or whether fluidity --

SCIUTTO: Yes. GERGEN: -- still would permit --

SCIUTTO: Well --

GERGEN: -- Buttigieg and Klobuchar to move up.

SCIUTTO: Unless you have one of them pick off a victory in one of those early states. We have had --

GERGEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- candidates do that. Like in Iowa, a guy named Barack Obama --

HARLOW: Who?

SCIUTTO: -- in 2008.

HARLOW: No one went after him last night on stage --

SCIUTTO: I think that worked out.

HARLOW: -- I think there was that.

BARNETT: No, none of that. A couple -- couple of thoughts on that. I think that he --

SCIUTTO: Oh, just quickly because we're running out of time. But you're a wise man, so I'm going to give you extra time.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNETT: Thank you. A couple thoughts on that. He had a very strong night. I thought Amy had a particularly strong night. I was e- mailing with her this morning, and she's actually having fun.

But let's remember at this point in the process, back in history, we were electing President Giuliani on one side, and President Howard Dean on the other. So a lot can change.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

HARLOW: Fair enough.

SCIUTTO: Just remember the cry of Howard Dean. That changed.

HARLOW: Wise words, gentlemen.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, Bob Barnett, thanks to both of you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BARNETT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo head to Turkey later today, pushing for a ceasefire in Syria. [10:37:59]

The Turkish president, though, he's not interested. He says no intention of stopping the military action. We're going to speak to a GOP lawmaker who supports the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Turkish president has, quote, "created enormous risk in Syria." This comes as both he and Vice President Mike Pence prepare to leave for Turkey later today. This, in an attempt to push the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to stop his offensive in Syria. But Erdogan is dismissing any calls for a ceasefire.

Here with me now to discuss, Republican congressman from New York Tom Reed. He sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. TOM REED (R-NY): Always great to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I want to begin by showing some pictures of Russians taking over the U.S. military base in northern Syria, which U.S. forces summarily left in the last several days. Here, you have someone there, kind of showing off himself inside the U.S. base. He's asking, oh, let's look at what foot they ate, et cetera.

I mean, this is just a demonstration of who is moving in as the Americans move out, and that happens to be U.S. adversaries, Russia and Iran. How is that a win for the U.S.?

REED: Well, it's a win in regards to, we're bringing our men and women home. And as I supported during the Obama administration, no boots on the ground in Syria because I did not see a concrete military action planned.

I also agree with the president that bringing our men and women home from this region is a good policy. And obviously --

SCIUTTO: Two points --

REED: -- now, obviously, Jim, we have a very complicated situation that we have to deal with.

SCIUTTO: The mission there, as you know, was to fight and defeat ISIS, which those U.S. forces, as a force multiplier, really, for the Kurdish forces, who were the tip of the spear, has enormous success in recent months. What could be a clearer mission for U.S. forces than to defeat the ISIS caliphate?

REED: Well, and that's why I do appreciate. If that is the mission, you know, we've been playing fast and loose with Congress not doing its job in authorizing military force and putting our men and women in harm's way. So if the mission is to defeat ISIS, let's go to Congress, let's have Congress vote on this. The leaders in both parties should put a vote up in Congress to authorize the use of military force. And if it's to defeat ISIS, when that defeat occurs, then we know we can bring our men and women home. But right now --

SCIUTTO: OK. So to be clear, you would --

REED: -- it's not exactly sure that was the issue.

SCIUTTO: If there was a vote today, let's say you all got together and had a vote and said the mission in Syria for U.S. forces is to help the Kurds fight ISIS, you would want those U.S. troops to go back on the ground there?

[10:45:01]

REED: That would give me a clear military plan of action, with a clear definition of success. I'd feel much more comfortable with the situation, rather than this nebulous, we're using 2001 law to try to authorize the troops in harm's way.

We're stronger as a nation when Congress is doing its job and the president is leading. And so, therefore, that would be my path to recommend, going forward.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Because you say, and the president said, the troops are coming home. In fact, the A.P. is reporting that the soldiers that are being withdrawn from Syria, they're being redeployed to Iraq, where many of them will still do cross-border raids against ISIS forces if they rear their ugly head again, as it were, or to Kuwait and Jordan.

So those troops aren't coming home, they're still in the battle on the ground there. Explain the benefit then.

REED: Yes. So it's unclear to me, exactly, if that's the case. I'm reading those reports, just as you. But the fact is, they're not on the front line. They're not in that hostile war zone of Syria. So the risk to their lives is that much more diminished in regards to what is occurring with the redeployment.

SCIUTTO: But they weren't -- they weren't on the front line when they were in these bases. They were -- they were -- it was the Kurds who were fighting and dying.

I just want to play another piece of video here, because these are pictures of our soon -- very recent Kurdish allies being slaughtered by Turkish forces. I believe we have the pictures that we could show here. I know you're at a disadvantage of not being able to see them --

REED: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- congressman, but you've seen reports of this, substantiated by the U.S. military. What do you say to those former allies who fought so hard against ISIS? They're now being slaughtered by America's NATO ally. REED: Well, and I appreciate that. And, you know, obviously, this is

a situation that is going to have to be dealt with. But when we put our most previous asset, our men and women, in harm's way, I want a clear mission. I want a Congress to support that mission.

And because we don't have that, that is the outcome that you're seeing. You're seeing this as a result of Congress' failure to act, in my humble opinion. We should be doing this together.

And to our Kurdish allies, I understand where they stand and the risk that they're absorbing, and the loss that they're incurring. But that's where Turkey also has to be sent a message. You cannot get away with this.

And I appreciate the fact that the vice president is going there firsthand, and we need to send a message and I believe today, we'll send a message with this vote to sanction Turkey for their aggressive action in going way too far in regards to taking on the Kurdish allies.

SCIUTTO: Very quickly, will you call on this president, call a vote in the House to describe the mission of U.S. forces in Syria and send those troops back there to fight ISIS?

REED: That would be my recommended course. If we're going to put our men and women in harm's way, their risk and their actual lives, these leaders in Congress can risk their political lives. But their political cowardice has put us in this position.

SCIUTTO: All right. From your lips to God's ears. Congressman Tom Reed, you're always welcome on the broadcast.

REED: It's great to be with you, Jim.

[10:47:49]

HARLOW: We are getting some critical headlines from the White House. The president, in that meeting with Italy's president, some important news on the situation in Syria. Those, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right. We do have breaking news. The president, just speaking to reporters in the Oval Office on a number of issues including, namely (ph), the situation between Syria and Turkey.

Let's go straight to the White House, Jeremy Diamond is there. So what did the president say?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, essentially, the president's message -- and this is a quote, according to reporters who were in the room in the Oval Office -- is, it's not our problem. That is the president of the United States' comments as Turkey continues to attack Kurdish -- U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.

And, you know, the president's message could not be more muddled. Because, of course, while he did withdraw those troops and he says now that all U.S. troops on the Turkish-Syrian border have now been pulled from that region, we're also seeing the vice president of the United States, later today, heading to Turkey to try and broker some kind of a ceasefire here.

So whether or not it is the United States' problem or whether it's something that the United States is trying to solve, clearly is in question here. The president, also saying --

SCIUTTO: Jeremy --

DIAMOND: -- that it is time for -- sorry, go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Did the president have any explanation for what's happened to the Kurdish allies who have now been -- the ones who were fighting alongside U.S. troops until days ago, now being slaughtered by Turkish -- America's supposed Turkish ally. Did he have any defense or answer for that?

DIAMOND: No. As far as we can tell from the initial reports we're getting from the pool reporters in the room, that is not something the president's talking about. His focus here is on saying that this is not the U.S.' problem, that it's between Syria and Turkey. And the president is also saying that the United States is not a policing agent and that it's time for us to go home.

Of course, in the president's statement just a couple of days ago about the withdrawal of most of those 1,000 U.S. forces in Syria, the president made very clear that those troops will be remaining in the region. So they will be largely remaining in Iraq, for example, where as you were just talking about, Jim, they will still be conducting some of those cross-border operations, potentially.

So when the president says that this is ending the wars in the Middle East, bringing the troops back home, that's really just not the case.

SCIUTTO: And remember, 2,000 troops, the president just authorized, are going to --

HARLOW: Saudi.

SCIUTTO: -- Saudi Arabia. Mixed messages.

DIAMOND: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy Diamond, great to have you at the White House, as always.

There's so much going on today. Here's "What to Watch."

TEXT: What to Watch... 11:05 a.m. Eastern, Trump speaks at meeting with Italian president; 12:00 p.m. Eastern, Press conference with Trump, Italian president; 3:00 p.m. Eastern, President Trump meets with congressional leadership

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:55:28]

HARLOW: All right. Still to come, we are going to hear more from what the president just said, some really significant headlines there in the Oval Office. Stay with CNN for that. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:00]