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Congressman Elijah Cummings Dies At 68; Pelosi Capitalizes on White House Photo Meant to Troll Her; Acting WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney Speaks. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- by their own account, we're best friends. And Elijah Cummings could not be more different politically from him, and it's actually -- you know, it's unfortunate that we have to have these moments to remember, even though things are so bad, and you don't have the relationships, not even close to what they used to be across party lines even a decade ago. But they do still exist, despite what you see in public. These are human beings and today we lost a big one.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I just want to read, this is part of an emotional and powerful Twitter string from Trey Gowdy, former Republican congressman, a former member of that Oversight Committee. We saw so much of Chairman Cummings who was about -- now it's held up by (INAUDIBLE), who was about to join the president's legal defense team in the middle of the impeachment inquiry. So about to become a partisan warrior on the part of the president.

"We never he never had a crossword outside of a committee room. He had a unique ability to separate the personal from the work. The story of Elijah's life would benefit everyone regardless of political ideation."

"He beat the low expectations of that former school employee who told Elijah to abandon the dream of being a lawyer, that he would never become a lawyer, to settle for a job with his hands and not his mind."

"Elijah loved telling the story because that school employee wound up being Elijah's first client as a lawyer."

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, so striking in particular because as you said, former congressman Gowdy was one of the members of that Benghazi committee which was so contentious. And, you know, Elijah Cummings could get really fiery and really worked up when principles were at stake, when he felt strongly about something, when he felt that the Republicans were in the wrong or his own party was in the wrong. But that was clearly such a heartfelt thing.

I'll just say, when I was a young reporter working for the Baltimore Sun, Elijah Cummings was one of the first members of Congress I met. And I was always struck by how he was -- he just felt deeply about being a just and fair member of Congress on big national issues but also he just -- was passionate about his district. He was passionate about Baltimore. If you recall when President Trump insulted Baltimore earlier this year, he -- you know, he thought -- he said, I have a constitutional duty to look into, you know, impeachment and the like, but I have a moral duty to my constituents.

And you always really felt like he felt both of those things really strongly and worked really hard on them.

KING: It gets forgotten sometimes because Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a congresswoman from San Francisco but Nancy Pelosi is a daughter of Baltimore, Maryland. She had this to say this morning about her friend.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Revered and respected colleague, congressman, Mr. Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, my brother in Baltimore. He was -- in the Congress, Elijah was considered a north star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity. He always strove to reach across the aisle and treat all of our colleagues with respect and even had a dialogue with the president for a while on this subject. So it would be very appropriate that HR-3 would now be the Elijah Cummings.


KING: HR-3 is the House Democratic plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs which was a constant passion for the chairman because he went home to a district that had a lot of people without much money for whom he would be told all the time, I can't make this choice, feeding my children, paying for my prescriptions.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So many different parts of Elijah Cummings' legacy here that are coming out. And, you know -- and as Dana said, it's a good reminder that this kind of relationship, his ability to build relationships across both sides of the aisle still exists today. You just hope that that's not something that was also lost today with his passing. And you wonder who in this Congress in this day and age is going to pick up that piece of his legacy.

KING: You don't see much of that. The acting chair of the committee is Carolyn Maloney who will take over. That's the important part of this, the committee is actually still involved in some very important investigations to the president as it goes forward. We'll watch as it plays out.

We'll be right back.


[12:38:50] KING: More now on the frayed, to say the least, the relationship between the president and the speaker of the House, and on that picture that is worth way more than a thousand words.

He tweeted it, you see it right here, claiming it showed a Nancy Pelosi meltdown. She quickly made it her Twitter page banner, believing what it really shows is America's most powerful woman putting the president in his place.

The issue of the moment was the president's decision to withdraw U.S. troops in Northern Syria, and the speaker was making clear the overwhelming bipartisan opposition. She offered her take on that moment just last hour.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us a little bit about that picture and what was being said at that time?

PELOSI: You know, I think I was excusing myself from the room. But at that moment I was probably saying, all roads lead to Putin. I think it would be interesting, you tell me, if we could have a recording of what goes on in those offices. Because they come out and say, oh, this happened and that happened, and you're like, we must have been at two different meetings.


KING: I want to bring back the picture from time to time in the conversation, but this is one of the most important relationships in Washington. So we have this moment of high drama and theater and interesting personality, but it is also incredibly telling as the Congress rebukes the president on his Syria policy in a bipartisan way.

[12:40:09] As the Democrats at the moment on a purely partisan basis proceed with impeachment. The tension between these two and the degree to which she gets under his skin is remarkable.

DAVIS: Well -- and she knows exactly how to do it.

BASH: Oh yes.

DAVIS: I mean, the fact that she brought up the vote, this resounding vote where all these Republicans had essentially condemned him, and then she says to him, all roads lead to Putin with you, he's insulting her in, you know, grade school ways which we're not even sure whether he called her -- she said a third grade politician, the White House is saying a third rate politician. But the basic idea is he's hurling insults at the speaker of the House. And, you know, it's just interesting that he chose to put out the picture because clearly what he saw was, you know, that she had been -- she was unhinged and she is crazy Nancy as he sometimes calls her, nervous Nancy, and what she said that it showed was that he was shaken up by that vote. He's shaken up by the situation and she came back to the capital and said that she had concerns for his health.

KING: And both of them played to the politics for this, and sometimes this confrontation helps each of them in the sense that the president is playing to his base, she's playing to her base. But if we could just put the photo back up, it's just striking -- it is a striking, just glimpse at the power in American politics and that's all white men around that table except for the speaker of the House of Representatives standing up and --

BASH: And listen, and that is why she has said to me and I'm sure others, you know, she's 79. That's why she's still in this job. That's why she wanted to be a speaker again. Because she goes to those meetings, she is in those meetings all the time. She looks around and knows that she's the only woman there. But -- so that's part of the dynamic.

The other thing that we were talking about before the break, if I can ask to put the picture back up one more time, is the faces of those men, especially those in uniform. Look at them. They are looking for the trap door. They just want to just be gone from that room, and they look embarrassed.

They look embarrassed at what has been said in that room. And they might agree on the kind of insult that the president hurled at her, but he hurled an insult at her to the point where she felt that she had to get up and leave the room. And she is two heartbeats away from the presidency. I mean, she is an incredible constitutional player, and the basic respect that she wasn't shown, now she had -- she gave it back to him really speaks volumes about how that was perceived by the president's own men.

BENDER: And we know a lot of those -- I'm sorry, that they disagree with the president as -- just as Pelosi does. A lot of Trump's own team disagrees --

KING: On the issue at hand like everybody in that room does.

BENDER: Correct, that's right. And the picture goes to show just how Trump has been unable to figure out how to handle Pelosi. I mean, he's been able to bend almost everyone else in Washington on positions of power to his will except Pelosi. He can't figure out how to attack or hardly even tries, frankly.

And inside the White House, it's incredibly frustrating for them because what they see is -- as a -- was a briefing going along from DoD and the NSA on the issue, Pelosi stands up, interrupts it, right, starts attacking the president using his own campaign slogans against them in the meeting, and then there's this, right. And then she's sort of celebrated as a hero afterward by her and her supporters.

The same thing happened in the immigration room with Nielsen and that meltdown. She started questioning Nielsen's facts in the middle of that briefing, and they viewed that as being interrupting the purpose of the meeting and yet, you know, she comes out, you know, with a lot of headlines and a lot of good clips.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, to me, what this photo incident is kind of indicative of is the fact -- and we see this time and again, where President Trump interprets a situation very different than large (INAUDIBLE) of the public. I mean, look at the transcript of the phone call he released with the Ukrainian president, the same situation. I would say by and large many folks interpreted that very differently than he did. And we see this with Nancy Pelosi putting it as her own Twitter profile page but clearly, he interpreted that photo very differently.

KING: And someone who is in -- would know about this, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, taking questions at the White House right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) -- host the G7 at his own resort? And how will the president continue to criticize the Biden family (INAUDIBLE) at the same time (INAUDIBLE)?


First up, you're not making any profit, I think we've already established that. I think some --


MULVANEY: I've heard that before. You know, I guess I've been the chief now for about nine or 10 months and I always hear whenever we go to Mar-a-Lago, it's a huge branding opportunity. (INAUDIBLE) you know, at Trump Mar-a-Lago, we play golf at Trump Bedminster, he goes to play golf at Trump up in Sterling. And everybody asks the question, it's not a huge marketing opportunity.

I would simply ask you all to consider the possibility that Donald Trump's brand is probably strong enough as it is and he doesn't need any more help on that. This is not like it's -- it's the most recognizable name in the English language and probably around the world right now. So, no, that has nothing to do with it. That's why -- listen, I was skeptical. I was.

[12:45:09] I was aware of the political criticism that we come under for doing it in a Doral which is why I was so surprised when the advance team call back and said that this was the perfect physical location to do this.

So I get the criticisms, so does he. He'll be criticized regardless of what he chose to do. But no, there's no issue here on him profiting from this in any way, shape, or form. What's the difference between this and what we're talking about, the Bidens? Well, first of all, there's no profit here. Clearly, there's the profit with the Bidens. And second of all, I think if there's one difference if you look at between the Trump family and the Biden family, Trump made their money before they went into politics. That's a big difference.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you -- you said it can be done (INAUDIBLE) -- do you have any idea of the cost estimate, how much money you're looking at? And also, will it remain a G7 or the admission of Russia (INAUDIBLE)?

MULVANEY: Yes. No, I don't have the numbers in terms of the cost. I don't know that it was -- there was a -- the only ones I saw was it was almost half as much here -- I don't want to butcher the numbers but it was millions of dollars cheaper by doing it in at Doral than it was in another facility, and that was roughly 50 percent savings.

As to the G7, G8, look, that discussion is ongoing. The president has been very candid about that, about whether or not he wants to have Russia to join the G7 again that used to be members of that organization. And I think he's been fairly straightforward not only to you folks but to other leaders around the world which is we got to the G7 and what dominates so much of the discussion, Russia. Russian energy, Russian military policy, the Russian economy, it dominates a lot of the discussion.

Wouldn't it be better to have them inside and have -- as part of those conversations? But I think that decision will be made later and we'll continue to review it.

Yes ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

G7 has been happening for decades, so how can you make the argument that this is the best place to hold it? Surely, there were other places that this could be held, and you can't make the argument the president is not going to profit because we can't know how much he might profit in the future, right?

MULVANEY: Yes. To your first point, again, the profit. Again, he's not making any money off of this just like he's not making any money from working here. And if you think it's going to help his brand, that's great, but I would suggest that he probably doesn't need much help promoting his brand. So put the profit one aside and deal with the perfect place.

I mean, who is here for the last time was in Camp David. Was that a perfect place? In fact, I remember the folks who participated in hated it and thought it was a miserable place to have the G7. It was way too small, it was too -- my understanding is the media didn't like it because you had to drive an hour on a bus to get there either way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I get your point, but there have been other G7 summits I've attended, numerous G7 summits that I attended --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can the White House really make the argument that this was the only place that the G7 summit could happen?

MULVANEY: It's not the only place, it's the best place. Those are two different things, OK? But we had dates --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- other good place without --

MULVANEY: There are plenty of other good places in this country to hold a large event, there's no question about it. Some of the limitations, we wanted it at a specific time, we wanted it in early June so that limits it a little bit. Then there's -- there are difficulties with going various places. Some places don't have the transportation that you need. I mean, there was one place, I won't say where it was, where we actually had to figure out if we're going to have to figure out if we're going to have to have oxygen tanks for the participants because of the altitude. So, yes, there's just -- there are limitations in other places, we thought of the 12 places that we looked and you recognized the names of them if we told you what they were, that this was by far and away, the best choice.

Yes ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very quickly, this is a business of optics. How is the president going to stand on the debate stage, if, in fact, vice president Joe Biden wins the nomination, and try to make an argument that he profited off his vice presidency --

MULVANEY: He's going to do that extraordinarily well.

Yes ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you were talking about how this is the best place or one of the best places to have this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, is this going to be self-contained just at Doral, or are there other hotel rooms you'll think you have to get or is there any Dorals that you'll have to --

MULVANEY: Yes, one of the advantages -- I understand that one of the advantages that the advance team came back from the Doral was the fact that it could be sequestered off from the rest of the city. And that nearly all or all of the operations could be on that one piece of property. I think there's (INAUDIBLE) there's almost 900 acres there so it's a huge facility and we'll be able -- with a lot of open space, I think there's three golf courses so there's a lot of space available to us. And we do anticipate the entire thing being on that campus.

Now --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including the hotel -- including hotels and (INAUDIBLE) to get additional hotels involved in that?

MULVANEY: Yes, I would -- well, I would -- again, I'm not sure about the -- when we talk about the delegations -- for example, when we went to (INAUDIBLE) and I think we were at two or three different hotels around that city. That would not be the case here. The American delegation will stay on campus. The British delegation will stay on campus, the Germans will stay on campus.

Whether -- and you folks will be there. Whether or not there'll be other folks who are using up hotel rooms in the Miami area, I can't speak to that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's talk about authorities. What local authorities have you been in contact to help us? [12:50:02] MULVANEY: Yes, I've been asked that question but we do that as part of -- the advance team will do that with each of the groups that we work with although I'm not familiar with those.

Yes ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. A video was shown last week and of that resort, actually a doctored video showed president Trump killing members of the news media and his political opponents, why do you think he hasn't spoken directly about the sentiment behind that video?

MULVANEY: Have you asked him?



MULVANEY: But we put out a statement. And you had a chance to ask that question yesterday, and you asked him something else which is fine.


MULVANEY: Hold on a second, your question was why hasn't he answered. What we did -- as a White House we -- listen, we don't like that. I think we condemned that.


MULVANEY: Did you think that we would?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, that doesn't sound like a very strong condemnation.

MULVANEY: (Inaudible) it was awful. I mean, I never seen the movie. No, no. We -- that has no place here. I think we've condemned that. I don't know if he's seen it or not. I have.

Yes sir?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just before the cameras and say --

MULVANEY: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) and then you're trying to put it in the place that you think is the best and maybe save some taxpayers my money which are important for all of us. But sometimes you -- because of the appearance of impropriety, we don't make that call. Can you at least understand and acknowledge that the -- just the appearance of impropriety makes us wince, inducing, and maybe this is something that you want to reconsider? How did that conversation go on the room?

MULVANEY: Yes, the president knows that. Listen, the president -- we know the environment we live in, you all know the environment that we live in, and he knows exactly that he's going to get these questions and exactly get that reaction from a lot of people and he simply was saying, OK, that's fine, I'm willing to take that. The same way he takes it when he goes to Trump Mar-a-Lago, the same place when he goes to play at Trump Bedminster. He got over that a long time ago. He -- we absolutely believe this is the best place to have it, we're going to have it there and there's going to be folks who will never get over the fact it's a Trump property. We get that, but we're still going to go there.

Yes ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think, Mr. Mulvaney, aside from what your advance team did to look for the perfect place, what role did the president play in selecting Doral including getting it on the initial list of 10 or 12 places in the first place?

MULVANEY: Yes, I think that's a fair question. We sat around one night, we're back in the dining room and -- by going over with a couple of our advance team we had the list and he goes, what about Doral and he was like, nice. That's not the craziest idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he is the one who actually brought it up?

MULVANEY: It makes perfect sense. I -- we're all familiar with it, so it's not like he said, this is what Doral is, we'll have to explain it, he said, how about Doral and like, you know what, that's not the craziest idea we've ever heard, we sat down and we'll go look at it.

Yes sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to ask you about -- as it relates to this decision that you've made. As the host country, couldn't the president simply -- as the host country, invite President Putin to represent Russia to the G7?

MULVANEY: Yes, I think we can. As I understand how the G7 works, there will be other leaders there anyway. For example, I met with Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia at the G7 even though they're not there. I assume he came at the invite of President Macron, and we could do the same thing.

But in terms of -- I think the question I got originally was turning it from the G7 into the G8.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question was, could he simply invite President Putin to the table?

MULVANEY: Yes. If the question is can he physically do that, yes, I think he can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) and he's president, would he consider doing that? MULVANEY: That's -- it hasn't come up. I think the conversation we had about whether or not we turn it from the G7 to the G8, that could be an intermediate step.

Yes sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mentioned that the president is willing to take the criticism on this, but what about the country itself? Is there any value of sending a message to the world, especially given that all that's happened with foreign interference and attempts of foreign interference in our country, that this president and this country is not open for the kind of self-dealing that happens in other countries? Is that not an important message to send when you're inviting the world to come here to the United States?

MULVANEY: No. What's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a non-G7 question.

MULVANEY: Any G7 -- any last G7 questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got one more.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say it's the best property for this to take place, my first question is, why has no other G7 ever been held there before?

MULVANEY: Yes, because they didn't go look at it, so. I don't know -- why do they have it at Camp David? I mean, seriously-- I mean, for those of you who were there, I'm a little bit familiar with it. I've talked to the folks up at Camp David because I was up there recently and I asked, didn't you guys -- I think it was a G8 back then, 2004, something like that, and they said it was a complete disaster and like, OK. When the hell that happened? How did that decision get made?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last G7 question and if I can, you were talking about the president, this video where the president was seen shooting members of the media and others that was played at the Doral property there. We haven't had the chance the ask him that question yet which we have. But broadly the president has tweeted 45,000 times, 45,000 times.

How come the president hasn't used that Twitter account to more than 60 million followers to condemn it? You're the chief of staff.

MULVANEY: Yes, the White House put out a statement about it. I mean, that's --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he's tweeted 45,000 times.

MULVANEY: But next time you ask him -- again, it's not like the man hides from you folks, OK. I think he's done almost a hundred face-to- face interviews with you.

Anybody else on G7?


[12:55:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any precedent in re-studying of the G7 of a G7 summit being held on a property owned by the president or a president? And my second question is, as you're looking at the content of what you want to do next year, it's probably going to be hot in Florida in June. Will climate change be one of the issues you'll discuss?

MULVANEY: The first question is, no, I don't know if another president has ever done -- I don't know if another president owned a property that was even considered for a G7, so no, we haven't -- I don't know the answer to that question. Climate change will not be on the agenda.

Yes sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. President Trump has called for the exposure of the whistleblower on Ukraine --

MULVANEY: Are we done with the G7 and is that the collective will?


MULVANEY: I got one gentleman -- yes sir, go ahead. Last one with G7.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You began your remarks (INAUDIBLE), just to show the American people that this is above board. Are you going to share documents that show how you arrived at this decision with the Congress?

MULVANEY: No. But you would imagine we would share dollar figures with you afterward. I mean, that's (INAUDIBLE).


MULVANEY: By that way, you're going to get this answer a lot, OK. I don't talk about how this place runs on the inside. So if you ask us -- if you want to see our paper on how we did this, the answer is absolutely not.

Yes sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There almost will certainly be a House Judiciary Committee hearing about this site selection.

MULVANEY: Do you think so?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jerry Nadler has already talked about that. Will --

MULVANEY: Do you really think so? Do you think they have time to do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the administration participate, cooperate with that?

MULVANEY: You know, that's -- by the way, that's a fascinating question. I had not thought of that, that this would prompt a judiciary committee investigation. On one hand, I'm thinking to myself, they don't have time to do it because they're too busy doing an impeachment, right. But now I think to myself, no, this is entirely consistent with how they spent the first 18 months in office, right? Their 12 months. How long they've been here? I guess it's been a year, right?

That, yes, they'd rather do that than talk about tax policy, than talk about drug policy, than talk about opioids, talk about healthcare. So that's a fascinating question. I don't know if there will be a judiciary committee inquiry into this. My guess is there probably will be and we look forward of participating in it.

Is anybody -- these are all G7 questions (INAUDIBLE). OK. Now we're moving on to something else.

Who hasn't asked (INAUDIBLE) who's not asked a question yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So actually a clarification on your first statement on the G7, you said five finalists and you said Mar-a-Lago was one of the finalists?

MULVANEY: Yes, four finalists I think. We started with 12 on sort of a list with the team visited the sort of -- at first, the team visited 10 of those and I think identified the states. We then get out senior team down and they visited four of which Mar-a-Lago was one, there was one in Hawaii and two in Utah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're telling me that in the entire United States, you came down to four finalists and two of them were Trump properties?

MULVANEY: No, one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't Mar-a-Lago --


MULVANEY: I'm sorry. I know, I'm sorry. Doral. Doral. Yes, Doral. I'm sorry.


MULVANEY: No. Mar-a-Lago was not involved -- Mar-a-Lago is not close to being sufficient for the G7. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for clarifying.

MULVANEY: If I said Mar-a-Lago (INAUDIBLE) about where we visited that was Doral. I apologize. (OFF-MIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So for the question of Ukraine, can you clarify -- and I've been trying to get an answer to this, was the president serious when he said that he would also like to see China investigate the Bidens? And you were directly involved in the decision to withhold funding from Ukraine. Can you explain to us now definitively why? Why was funding --

MULVANEY: Sure. Let's deal with the second first which is, look, it comes as a no surprise to anybody. The last time I was up here -- I've done this since I was chief of staff, right. The last time I was up here, some of you folks remember was for the budget briefings, right. And one of the questions you all always ask me about the budget is what do you all doing to the foreign aid budget because we absolutely got it, right.

President Trump is not a big fan of foreign aid. Never has been, still isn't. He doesn't like spending money overseas especially when it's poorly spent. And that is exactly what drove this decision.

I've been in the office a couple of times with him talking about this. He said, look, Mick, this is a corrupt place, everybody knows it's a corrupt place. By the way, put this in context, this is on the heels of what happened in Puerto Rico when we took a lot of hit for not wanting to give a bunch of aid to Puerto Rico because we thought that place was corrupt. And by the way, it turns out we were right, all right.

So put that as your context. He's like, look, this is a corrupt place, I don't want to send them a bunch of money and have them waste it, have them spend it, have them use it to (INAUDIBLE) to their own pockets. Plus, I'm not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either. So we actually looked at that. During that time before -- when the money -- when we cut the money off, before the money actually flow because the money flowed by the end of the fiscal year, we actually did an analysis of what other countries were doing in terms of supporting Ukraine. And what we found out was that -- and I can't remember if it's a zero or near-zero dollars from any European countries for lethal aid.

You heard the president say this that we give them tanks and the other countries give them pillows. That's absolutely right.