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Warren Commits to Offering Detailed "Medicare for All" Plan; Justice Department Distancing Itself from Rudy Giuliani; Castro Campaign Asks Donors for $800K By End of October; U.S. Troops Leave Syria for Western Iraq; Mitt Romney Confirms Secret Twitter Account. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- this is a significant announcement from Senator Warren. This is a candidate as we've talked about a lot on your show who has a plan for really everything except for the issue of healthcare.

On the issue of healthcare, she had said from the beginning that she is with Bernie Sanders when it comes to healthcare, that she is fully behind Medicare for All. And that is why she has not put out a plan of her own on the issue of healthcare. But we saw her sort of run into some trouble with this strategy, right? Particularly last week at the CNN/New York Times debate where she was asked over and over and over again, how are you going to pay for this plan? Will middle-class taxes go up under this plan? And we saw her time and time again avoid answering that particular question and pivoting instead to the question of a total cost. She said over and over again, the total cost will go down for the average American under Medicare for All.

But I think we saw that politically, this sort of tactic became politically untenable. She had to sort of find a different way of answering that question. And I think her answer yesterday that she is now going to put out a plan of her own, explaining how she is going to pay for Medicare for All sort of allows her to remain fully behind Medicare for All but put her own twist on this. And hopefully, I think her campaign hopes that she can answer this question better of how to actually pay for this plan


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It's a fascinating decision. MJ, live in Des Moines. We just saw the senator walking upstage. 105 days until Iowa votes and the timing makes it interesting in the sense that Senator Warren has been dogged by this question for weeks and weeks and through several Democratic debates. Now she says she's going to do it and soon which means before the Iowa caucuses, she will either stay very close to Bernie Sanders or she will drift a little bit. And if she drifts, you're going to see Senator Sanders, his new campaign sidekick, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others say, aha, she's not a true believer if she drifts.

So, what does she do? ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, this campaign has -- which prides itself on this plan has really been tripped up on this question since at the very beginning. Even though she co-sponsored the Medicare for All legislation in 2017, it took her six months of the campaign where she was pretty evasive on healthcare, it took her six months to finally come up with the, I'm with Bernie answer.

But then she didn't want to take all the political heat that that answer would get namely, raising taxes. Because she's tried to thread this needle but now she's getting heat from the center. At first, she took heat from the left, now from the center. And to your point, it will be interesting to see if they do some very creative accounting. I mean, the team very much says they're very disciplined and they really want to get out their calculators, but they're going to be under a lot of scrutiny for this answer, and it probably won't go away because her opponents sort of smell blood.

Yes. And the way you framed it is, is she progressive or is she more to the center. That's really the key and that's why this matters.

The only reason this is such a big issue isn't necessarily because of the substance of the plan. Is that -- it's what it signals to her viability according to many, many Democratic voters? Is she going to be too liberal? Is she going to be seen as somebody who wants to spend too much money to take people's private health insurance away even though they may not love it, they might be afraid about the government running it? And will that make it hard, even impossible to Donald Trump?

I mean, that is why this matters. That is why -- and it didn't matter before she was ascending to the point where she was a co-frontrunner with Joe Biden. She is now and that's why --

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We're going to learn a lot about how likely Elizabeth Warren thinks she is to be the nominee through this decision because -- look, she makes the point and her aides make the point, and it is a fair one, that the tax question is not the full -- is not really what you should look at. You should look at the overall costs. Fine. Fair. But there is a real political problem to say you are going to raise middle-class taxes for any reason. That is a general election problem.

Her brand, though, has basically been I will take these tough decisions, I will be honest with you about why we have to do them, and I will sell the plan to you. I will explain to you why you have to do something that may not look politically popular. I will win you over on this front. And I think she's now finding herself a little torn between the political realities of doing that in a general election and this brand that has served her really well so far in a primary.

KING: It has served her very well so far. And to her campaign's credit, number one, you can disagree with her plans, on most other issues, she does lie out. Here is what I would do and here is how we'll pay for it. You don't have to like it at home but at least she's -- give her credit for laying out what she would do. On this one, she has been vague, she's been coy, pick your word for it. And some people have thought she was going to try to win the nomination and then shift back to the center. Well, now, she promises it. She promises it soon so we will watch and the criticism is coming everywhere.

The Biden campaign in a statement over the weekend, you know, saying we hope her plan will be straight with the American people about how much middle-class taxes will go up to pay for the $30-plus trillion it takes.

This is Senator Michael Bennet, a more longer shot candidate, a guy who is struggling to get into the debates, but they do see an opening. Elizabeth Warren says I'm going to come up with a plan, Michael Bennet says prove it.


[12:35:08] SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think she's not being honest about her place. You know, I think her plan which costs $30 trillion is the equivalent of 78 percent of all the taxes that the federal government will collect over the next 10 years. I mean, it is a massive increase in taxes to this country and it hasn't been explained to the American people. It's a sound bite.

And more than that, it doesn't -- it's not based on common sense.


KING: This is the defining issue in the Democratic campaign. The specifics of healthcare which is always a big issue. Go back to universal access versus universal coverage, Obama-Clinton 2007-2008. But how far left can you go, to the point you made? You know, how far left can you take the party and hope to be competitive in a general election?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And you're -- I mean, Elizabeth Warren is learning right now all the challenges of being a frontrunner in the Democratic race. And also just -- look, remember that while she has been consistently near the top for some time, and there's a new poll out today that shows her virtually tied with Biden in Iowa, it's the field that's still very much inflexed and serves that new pullout this morning from USA Today, there's a really interesting statistic in there, so back in June about 21 percent of -- or 29 -- or the number of people who say they're looking for someone else, they're shopping around, has actually gone up eight points. So voters in Iowa vary so much shopping around, and I think all the candidates are very cognizant of that.

KING: Well, again, I count, 105 days. 105 days, you're at the point, I don't say it to be snarky in the sense that once you get here, now it gets real. It gets very real for the candidates, every dollar you send, every -- you know, you're looking at 100 days, you better be smart about it.

And as we go to break, yes, Iowa is 105 days. That way, a little flashback. This is Joe Biden back in 2015 getting a high-profile setting for a very personal announcement.


JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. President, thank you for lending me the Rose Garden for a minute.


BIDEN: Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination. But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent.



[12:42:09] KING: Topping our political radar today, the Justice Department taking the unusual step, highly unusual, of issuing a statement, distancing itself from the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joins us now.

Evan, this is about a meeting Giuliani had with the Justice Department that the department now says shouldn't have happened?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. I mean, pretty much, John. What happened was early this summer, Rudy Giuliani came into the Justice Department to represent some clients on a criminal matter, and he was able to meet with Brian Benczkowski who is the top lawyer, the top prosecutor in the criminal division along with some of the other prosecutors in that section. And we now know that they wish they had not done that meeting because now, obviously, it's been -- become more apparent that Rudy Giuliani is under a lot of scrutiny in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan that is.

Let me read you a statement from Peter Carr who is the spokesman for the Justice Department says, "When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani's associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known." And that is, John, a sure sign as you said, the fact that this an unusual statement to come from the Justice Department but that's a sure sign of how much the fact that Rudy Giuliani keeps setting himself on fire that everybody is trying to just stay away from him simply because no one knows exactly where this investigation is going to be.

I should note that earlier this year, Bill Barr, the attorney general, was briefed on that investigation out of New York. But it is clear, I talked to someone familiar who said that it's clear that Giuliani has become a much more central figure in this investigation.

KING: Former federal prosecutor himself, you would think he would know better than to put Justice Department folks in such a position, but there we go. Evan Perez, appreciate the reporting there

Presidential candidate Julian Castro is giving his supporters a bit of ultimatum today. The Castro campaign says it needs to raise $800,000 by the end of the month, that's just 10 days from now or he'll be forced to drop out. An e-mail to supporters calling the situation dire. You might remember fellow candidate Cory Booker used a similar tactic just weeks ago and was successful.

The question, here again, 105 days to Iowa, we've been waiting to see when we would get a significant winnowing of the Democratic field. 20-plus candidates at the beginning, still 18 or 19 right, are officially in the race but only eight, I could show them here, only eight have qualified so far for the next debate. Mr. Castro here essentially saying I need money and I need it now.

PACE: He actually needs money. I mean, I think his last campaign finance report shows he has like $600,000 left in the bank, so that's not enough to run a viable campaign. And that sort of where a lot of these candidates have to, you know, have a come to Jesus moment. You can run a campaign that's essentially just you going around Iowa with an aide or two and having events, but does that actually a viable campaign for the presidency. Do you have the infrastructure in place to actually -- to win some of these states? Almost certainly not if you're talking about that kind of money.

[12:45:07] BASH: And it's also a reminder I think of the appetite that the Democratic electorate and the fundraising base does not have for candidates who attack one another very viciously, and that's what Castro did to Joe Biden a couple of debates ago.

KING: That's a great point, so we'll see. We'll see how this one plays out for us.

Up next, U.S. troops are leaving Syria but they're not coming straight home like President Trump often suggests.


[12:50:14] KING: So are U.S. troop levels in the Middle East and Afghanistan on the rise or in decline? If you aren't sure, that's understandable. The president says he's bringing troops home and getting them out of what he calls endless wars. But the defense secretary Mark Esper today says up to 200 troops may temporarily stay in Syria. Those troops to protect oil fields. And the troops that are leaving Syria aren't necessarily coming home.

Let's take a look at the numbers. Let's go back in time to last year in deployments. About 2,500 and 2,900, roughly 3,000 troops just shy of that in Syria. About 5,200 in Iraq, 300 in Saudi Arabia, 15,000 was the troop level in Afghanistan in 2018. So let's fast-forward and see where we are now.

Syria, the president says the number will come down but most of those troops going over to the neighborhood in Iraq. That number going up. The president has promised more troops to Saudi Arabia. We don't have a hard number for what that number will go to just yet, I don't think. Afghanistan, the Pentagon announcing today and acknowledging today that troop level has actually come down a little bit in the last year. So down here, down there, but up a bit here and up to be determined here.

CNN's Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon for us. Ryan, it's hard to keep track of these numbers, but when the president says I'm bringing them home, not necessarily true, right?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right, John. It's not necessarily true, and we actually just saw the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper attempt to kind of reconcile these two kinds of contrasting ideas. He issued a tweet saying that the forces coming out of Syria will be re-positioned elsewhere in the region. We can pretty much read into that, that's going to be Iraq.

Elsewhere in the region temporarily, he says, before coming home. But again, you know, troops rotate in and out of the country all the time. It's not clear if the total troop levels in the region are going to be impacted by this. The U.S. says it wants to keep pressure on ISIS which still very much remains a threat, so you're going to need those troops there.

In addition, as you said, the Defense Department announced recently 3,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia, part of a broader 14,000 Middle East deployment that's been conducted in this year alone. And so again, numbers in Afghanistan still remain in flux. The president says he wants to get down to about 8,000 or so in the near term, but no clear timeline when that's going to happen. So, again, despite a lot of political rhetoric about getting out of wars, getting out of the Middle East, reducing the troop numbers, for now, for the time being, the troop levels largely remain the same.


KING: Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, I appreciate that important reporting. We will follow the numbers, not the rhetoric. The numbers as they say don't lie. Ryan, I appreciate that very much.

Up next for us, Ryan, Pierre Delecto, unmasked.


[12:57:24] KING: All right, a little fun here. Words you probably didn't expect to find in the same sentence. Mitt Romney and secret Twitter account.

Slate over the weekend found an account under the nom de Twitter Pierre Delecto and noticed some strange overlap with the Romney family. A reporter for the Atlantic then asked Romney, is this you. C'est moi, Romney responded.

Now Romney says he used the secret Twitter to lurk and to keep tabs on the political mood. The internet as the internet tends to do is having a lot of fun now at the senator's expense. From a friend of the show, Matt Viser of the Washington Post, "Pierre Delecto, at your service." Mitt Romney on horseback there. Pierre Delecto, of course, follows Mr. Viser on Twitter.

And this one from John Kerry, the former Massachusetts senator, remember, Romney was once the Massachusetts governor. "Touche, Senateur Romney. J'approuve!"

If you know your history, Senator Kerry had his own issues with being French back in the day.

BASH: He sure did.

KING: Mitt Romney, a secret Twitter account.

THOMPSON: I just love that he was using it to sort of sound off on editorials that were critical of him. You do anonymous replies about, just because I don't agree with you on everything doesn't mean I'm a bad guy. And replying to Soledad O'Brien being like you're just being unfair. And just to use it anonymously.

You know, it's also sort of become a little of a status symbol of his anonymous account was following you. I didn't -- I don't have that. But it was interesting seeing people share around if they have been followed by him.

BASH: I mean, think about. This is by far the most racy, craziest thing Mitt Romney has ever done and it's fascinating, it's interesting, but it's -- I mean, the fact that that is where he is and that's what this represents tells you something about Mitt Romney.

PACE: It's a reminder of a simpler time or what could have been a simpler time in Washington.

KING: Is it a simpler time? I don't know. So to your point about how Pierre Delecto was using this to defend its actual owner, Mitt Romney, the Daily Caller says Romney says America is unreliable ally after Trump pulls troops out of Syria. And Brit Hume tweeted, some might say Romney is, too. Meaning, unreliable ally. Then Pierre Delecto, loyal to principle, Trump's loyalty to the party, right Brit?

KIM: Yes, well -- I mean, stepping back a little bit, I mean, I think there's a lot of speculation about the type of Senator Mitt Romney would be. I had a lot of Republican senators telling me we're worried that he's actually going to hate the Senate. He's been this big executive, big governor for some time. But the interviews like the ones that he did with the Atlantic and the way that he engages with a lot of us in the hallways of the Capitol shows he does enjoy having that platform. He does actually enjoy the Senate more than we thought he would.

KING: And he's going to be a very important voice if there's a House impeachment and moves over to the Senate.

BASH: He already is.

KING: He already is. Let's see what happens there.

All right, it's nice to close with a little fun there. Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, the president at the White House cabinet meeting. You'll get that with Brianna Keilar and she starts right now. Have a good day. [13:00:00]