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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Defense Secretary Says Some U.S. Troops Will Stay in Syria to Stop ISIS from Gaining Access to Oil Fields; Interview with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Syria and Impeachment; Warren Says Will Release Details on How She Will Pay For Medicare for All Soon; Former VA Secretary Decries Toxic, Chaotic Culture in Washington. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: -- obligation if you will to defend the Kurds against a longstanding NATO ally.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: What's your reaction to that?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I mean it's like I guess technically we don't have an obligation but the question then goes back to this. What are we as a country? And I think this is where we need to get out of the fog of war in politics for a little bit and say, you know, when you talk about the history of this country, we talk about the great ability that we have, that we're kind of ashamed of, you know, we're always the world's policemen. I'm not sure quite proud of the fact that we have the ability not to police the world but to set the rules of order and we've done pretty well after World War II.

So while we may not have signed an agreement to protect the Kurds, the reality is when you look at what America stands for, there is something there that we have to as a country never forget. And I fear that we're losing that edge and that belief in ourselves beyond just saying, it's about a good economy and it's about taking care of the 300 million people here. Of course that's important, but there's an obligation beyond it when you're the United States of America. It's why we have all the great things we have, frankly.

TAPPER: President Trump said that one of the reasons his crowds support him, is because he's bringing American troops home. I find that curious, my understanding is that there's actually been an increase in U.S. service members moved abroad, especially into the Middle East. Is that your understanding?

KINZINGER: Yes, and look, it's -- most of those are good moves, right? I do think we have to stand against Iran and some of those other things with it. But I also don't -- I'll tell you, there's not people out here in D.C. on the streets demanding to bring all the troops home. You look at the 800 or so in Syria, if it was really just bringing 800 people home, you could reduce the force in South Korea by 800 less. The reality is, we've got to stand -- when you have that small of a military footprint doing that big of a thing and giving us a position at the table to negotiate a solution in Syria which we don't really have now. That's exactly the kind of thing we should be advocating. Small footprint, big effect.

TAPPER: One quick question on Ukraine, obviously most Republicans are focused on Syria right now, not Ukraine as an issue. But outgoing Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida, one of your colleagues, told me yesterday, that his mind is open to voting for an impeachment inquiry, based on what he has seen on the Ukraine scandal. He hasn't made a decision, but his mind is open, take a listen.

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REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): What I heard so far is quite troubling. It's quite troubling that we had a rump diplomatic outreach of civilians derogating our paid public servant diplomats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree, and is your mind open to an impeachment inquiry if it came down to it, voting for it?

KINZINGER: Yes, my mind is open to doing what's right. And I know that sounds like -- but look if I say yes, it's a big headline, which I don't mean. The reality is this, you can never involve a foreign government in a domestic election for political reasons. So I'll see what all information comes out, and I'll ultimately do whatever the right thing is. So I think there's going to be even this week probably just a ton of developments, and we'll see what that looks like.

TAPPER: But you agree with Congressman Rooney when he said what he's heard so far is quite troubling?

KINZINGER: Yes. Yes. I fully think that what we've heard so far is troubling. The question is, what threshold does that reach and there's so much we don't know.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Kinzinger, thank you so much for your time. And thank you for your service as always, sir.

KINZINGER: You bet.

TAPPER: Now she says she's working on a plan for that, Senator Elizabeth Warren talks about a plan to pay for Medicare For All. Next, stay with us.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today after mounting questions and growing scrutiny, Senator Warren of Massachusetts now says she will finally release specifics on how she intends to pay for Medicare For All. The announcement and details should come in the next few weeks. And as CNN's MJ Lee reports for the candidate running on an I have a plan for that strategy, her Democratic challengers have seized on her lack of details on this plan.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Health care is a basic human right, the least expensive way we can fix that is Medicare For All.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Under pressure from her rivals Elizabeth Warren now says she's working on a new plan on how to pay for Bernie Sanders' Medicare For All. The announcement coming after her campaign told CNN the Senator has been studying multiple revenue options to fund Sanders' signature plan.

WARREN: We need to talk about the cost and I plan over the next few weeks to put out a plan that talks about specifically the cost of Medicare For All, and specifically how we pay for it.

LEE: Warren's comments fueling criticism from some of her Democratic rivals.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think she's not being honest about her plan.

LEE: A spokesman for Joe Biden reacting in part, it's mystifying that for someone who has put having a plan for everything at the center of her pitch to voters, Senator Warren has decided to release a health care plan only after enduring immense public pressure for refusing to do so. Warren has branded herself the candidate with a plan for just about everything. But on health care, she's embraced Sanders' Medicare For All.

WARREN: I'm with Bernie on Medicare For All.

LEE: But at the CNN/New York Times Democratic Presidential debate last week, Warren repeatedly fielding criticism as she refused to say whether taxes would go up under Medicare For All. Something Sanders himself has acknowledged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you raise taxes on the middle class for -- to pay for it, yes or no?

WARREN: So I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations.

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And for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We heard it tonight a yes or no question that didn't get a yes or no answer.

LEE: Warren now saying her yet to be released plan on Medicare For All has been in the works for months.

WARREN: I've been working on the financing part of this for a long time now. And reaching out to different experts and putting those pieces together.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: We did just ask Senator Warren about Senator Bennett saying that she hasn't been honest about Medicare For All. She declined to engage him directly, she simply said that all candidates could agree that health care costs are too high for too many Americans -- Jake.

TAPPER: MJ Lee, thank you so much, appreciate it. Let's chew over all of this and Jennifer Psaki, one of the things that's so interesting about the way

that Democrats are going at Elizabeth Warren. Is not just that she doesn't have the details of how's she's going to pay for Medicare For All, but they seem to be suggesting that she's not an honest person, I mean she's not being straight. She didn't give a yes or no answer. They're making it a character issue.

JEN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think they're calculating that there's only a couple months until that people start voting around the country. They're recognizing that if the election were tomorrow, she's probably become the Democratic nominee. And that's what we're seeing come out.

I will say, you know, she has been the candidate running as the candidate with plans for everything. She has not put out a health care plan. This is the biggest issue, the number one issue among Democratic primary voters. She has effectively walked that tightrope, by hugging Bernie Sanders. But now that she's the front-runner, you're seeing people ask tough questions.

Now at the end of the day, what she said in her town hall this weekend about how she will not sign a plan unless it lowers costs for Americans, that is what every Democrat will run on. But right now, what we're seeing, they all want to be the nominee, so they're going to pick apart what they see as her weakness.

TAPPER: I just have to say, Ryan, it just seems strange to me. Like President Trump didn't put on any detailed plans about anything. And Democrats are still feeling this need to propose legislation that will never be signed into law exactly they are proposing it on the campaign trail. Why are they doing this?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In fairness candidate Trump's plan on healthcare was, it was going to be an excellent plan that covers everyone.

TAPPER: Thank you. I appreciate it. That was good.

LIZZA: No, that's a great point, I think it's fair criticism of the press all the through about you know how we treated candidate Trump versus how we treat the Democrats. Frankly, in the Democratic primary on the issue of health care and this goes back, you know, as long as I've been covering presidential politics, healthcare has been a central issue in Democratic primaries. You can't jump into a primary race without having a health care plan.

Obama learned this in 2007. Jen will remember, in the early months of 2007, Obama did not have a health care plan, got smacked around in a couple forums, and went back to work and came back on the campaign trail with a much more detailed plan. But just to go back to your point, one of the things that the Obama team learned going after Hillary, is they did not want to get into a policy white paper war with Hillary Clinton in those primaries. Because they knew they would lose.

And I think Buttigieg thinks the same thing about Warren. It is about character not necessarily the details.

TAPPER: But so here's the thing, can just say, Gloria, then I want you to respond. Obama went after Hillary and Hillary went after Obama. Obama did not

support the individual mandate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right.

TAPPER: Then as President he embraced --

BORGER: He did.

TAPPER: -- the individual mandate. Nothing they come out in favor of on the campaign trail actually becomes law because we have to negotiate with Congress, why even do it? Why not just lay out here are the 10 philosophies I believe and this is what I stand for, and then I'm going to work with Congress.

BORGER: Or why say build a wall. I'm going to build a wall. And then wall doesn't happen. I mean look these are Democrats who all believe the same thing on health care, which is, you have to make it available to more people. You have to make it cheaper and you have to figure out a way to pay for it. So this is the debate they have. What else do they really disagree on?

PSAKI: I guess a lot of Republicans think well, that moderate Dems are asking the right questions.

BORGER: Well, but she can't -- Elizabeth Warren can no longer say, you know, I'm with him, with Bernie. Because he says, I'm going to raise taxes. And now that she could win the nomination and she's very high in the polls. She's got to have some answers, because even voters know, I think, that it's going to change. They kind of want to know what you believe.

TAPPER: I mean maybe.

BORGER: All right, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm wrong.

PSAKI: It's just how you pay for what you believe.

LIZZA: If you say I've got a plan for that, you have to have a plan for that.

TAPPER: I guess, I'm just saying, like it just seems like a lot of -- just like here's everything you can attack me for, go at it. That's what is just seems like to me. I don't think -- there's no evidence that voters actually care about detailed plans, that's my 2 cents. Everyone stick around.

Leaked schedules and secret staff meetings are just some of the details exposed by a former Trump cabinet secretary. What he says it's really like inside the Trump administration. That's next, stay with us.

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TAPPER: A brand new insider account of the Trump administration, detailing utter chaos, secret meetings, infighting, betrayal and backstabbing. Joining me now is David Shulkin, the former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs under President Trump who was fired by tweet. He is the author of the brand-new book that goes on sale tomorrow, "It Shouldn't Be This Hard to Serve Your Country -- Our Broken Government and The Plight of Veterans." Thank so much for being here.

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Glad to be here.

TAPPER: Really appreciate. Congratulations on the book. People can go on Amazon right now and buy it, and it will arrive tomorrow, when this goes on sale.

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So you detail in your book how you believe that the Trump administration political appointees as these weird outside political advisers in Florida were constantly undermining you, working against you, ultimately got you fired. But surely, though, President Trump is the one that created this environment, right?

SHULKIN: Yes, the President is the chief executive of the administration and I think has accountability for the environment that exists in Washington. But it takes this partisanship, this political gamesmanship that we see everyday going on to really make this and environment where it's hard to get the work of government done.

TAPPER: And these people, these guys on the outside, you think they had the ultimate goal of having the VA be privatized?

SHULKIN: Well, I think that there was a strong feeling that I wasn't moving the department in the right direction. That I had come out and I had spoken against privatization and I said that the VA was a system that was essential for our veterans, for our national security and that veterans themselves wanted a strong VA. And I think there was some frustration that I wasn't willing to go along with the strategy that they wanted. TAPPER: You write in the book, quote, ultimately the political chaos

that became evident with the Trump administration overtook the ability to get the job done.

You are -- it will come as no surprise to you, not the first person to complain about the chaos in the Trump administration. Pretty much every former cabinet secretary has said the same thing and many, many others. Are you saying, though, ultimately, your job to help veterans was hurt by the fact that the President's administration and his White House are so chaotic in his decision-making and his leadership, so whimsical and capricious, that it hurt your ability to help the people that you have devoted your life to helping in many ways, veterans.

SHULKIN: Well, I think it is a little bit ironic because initially having the White House under the Trump administration being so loose and different than it was under the Obama administration where I worked, that allowed me to get a lot done. We got 11 bills that the President signed during my first year as secretary and we were making great progress. But ultimately this political chaos caught up and actually stopped the progress that was being made and that's really to the detriment of us serving veterans.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about Mick Mulvaney, the Acting White House Chief Of Staff. He's still trying to clean up his comments where he basically confessed to the fact that there's a quid pro quo that the President was demanding that Ukraine conduct investigations that would help him political in exchange for military aid.

In the book you wrote, Donald Trump did not usually give explicit orders when he wanted something done, but he made it clear through other means exactly what he wanted you to do. Essentially, these people are my friends and confidants and I expect you to listen to them and make them happy.

Michael Cohen kind of described a similar culture which is like, I'm not going to come out and say it, but you know what I want. And do you think that is possibly what happened with the Ukraine situation? Obviously, you're just speculating but does that ring familiar?

SHULKIN: Well, I think we've seen a pattern of behavior that as you said many people have described very similar types of scenarios in different settings and I do think that the President is very careful sometimes about how he gives orders. But that it is pretty clear that he has a certain way that he wants decisions to be made and for policies to be carried out and I think people are very sensitive to the way that he wants it done when you work for him.

TAPPER: I'm sure you saw the White House gave an unkind statement about your book to "The Washington Post." Accusing you of choosing to profit off your time in office and they said your claims about your conversations with President Trump are outlandish. I want to give you an opportunity to respond.

SHULKIN: Well, I think it is something that -- the book hasn't been released yet so I don't think that they read the book yet. They were willing to put out a statement on it. But you know I think this is the problem that we have. Part of the reason I wrote the book, the reason I wrote the book was for veterans. I believe so strongly that they deserve the best care that America could offer and I was working hard to do that. And I think most Americans agree with that.

But the other reason I wrote the book, Jake, was because public service has become so difficult that when people raise their hand and they leave private sector like I did to go and serve government and they're trying to fulfill a mission, this environment has made it too tough to have the job done. And yet they continue to do personal attacks. There have been 17 members who have gone through the revolving door of the President's cabinet at this point, and then when they leave, we see great Americans who have done public service like General Mattis being personally attacked.

And frankly there is no reason for that. We all came to serve. We came to help this President and help the country. And the personal attacks just need to stop.

TAPPER: Is it safe to say that you're not going to vote for President Trump in 2020?

SHULKIN: You know, I came to Washington. I did my very best to stay out of politics because veterans shouldn't be politicized and I'm going to continue to make sure that I stay out of politics. But I can tell you, I think it's every American's duty to vote in this next election.

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TAPPER: All right, David Shulkin, the former Secretary for The Department of Veterans Affairs, the author of "It Shouldn't Be So Hard to Serve Your Country, Our Broken Government and The Plight of Veterans."

Thank you so much for being here. Good luck with the book and thank you for what you did and continue to do for veterans. We appreciate it, of course.

SHULKIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Pierre Delecto, comic book villain or Mitt Romney's secret twitter handle? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: President Trump seemingly testing the limits of those who could ultimately remove him from office. THE LEAD starts right now.

Walk-backs. Blowback, fighting back. President Trump goes off with more witnesses expected in the impeachment --

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