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Pete Buttigieg Jumps to First Place in Iowa; Buttigieg Unveils Plan to Help Students Pay for College; Bloomberg Apologizes for "Stop and Frisk" Policing Tactic; Trump Meets Fed Chair Powell and Mnuchin at WH; Trump Changes Tune on Flavored E-Cigarette Ban; Trump Attacks State Department Official Ahead of Testimony. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 18, 2019 - 12:30   ET



JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: -- is that only 27 percent of his supporters believed that he can defeat President Trump. So he still has a bit of an electability hurdle. Joe Biden in that case is 57 percent of his supporters do so. He still has to make the electability argument.

But if you're him he is rising. Is he picking too soon? Who knows? You can decide when you pick but every reason to believe he's been spending a ton of money and that's what it gets.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And so we're going to have a debate in the middle of this week, he'll be obviously a focus because he's now leading in Iowa. Elizabeth Warren has come down a little bit in part because of the conversation about Medicare for All, how would you pay for it, how long would the transition be, when she came out with her new plan, to pay for it, is it realistic. Buttigieg trying to stalk that debate, again, more of a centrist versus liberal debate with the education plan today. He offers Pell grants and, you know, up to a hundred thousand -- you have to make up -- making up to $100,000. It's much less generous if you look at Warren and Sanders to the right of the Buttigieg plans.

His is ambitious but much less generous, meaning much less expensive. He's trying to make a point that you can't do as much as they say.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. And I think he's obviously trying to get out ahead of the debate because he knows that he will be a target. And, you know, in October we saw him attacked Warren for her healthcare and then she tried to soften some of that criticism by releasing the pay for it plan. I won't tax the middle-class and saying I won't do Medicare for All immediately in office and things like that. So it will be interesting to see if she goes after him in the same way. And like Jeff said, if he's able to handle it and not stumble like we've seen some folks in the past when they are at the center of attention.

KING: This, I think, is a certainty. The former president of the United States weighed in on recent days, and I'm guessing it comes up in the debate because it does seem to draw a line between the centrists and the more progressive candidates who want to do more and do it more quickly. This is Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The average American doesn't think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it's important for us not to lose sight of that.


KING: Bernie Sanders who is among the candidates who might take take offense, the former president said more along those same lines. You just you know, slow down, don't scare people. Bernie Sanders says, oh, no, this is all overdue.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This country faces an unprecedented moment in our history with enormous challenges before us. And tinkering around the edges just won't do what has to be done. We need a political revolution.


KING: And what Obama says is consistent with what Vice President Biden has said, what Mayor Buttigieg says, what Amy Klobuchar says. But saying it right now with the debate this week, another one next month and then the voters are about to start this in 11 weeks. He knew what he was doing.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He absolutely knew what he was doing. He was trying to, you know, present a forceful reminder to the candidates but also to the party at large as to the sort of the, you know, dangers of driving off a kind of too liberal cliff and, you know, making yourself essentially unelectable. But, you know, it's interesting, because for all that Barack Obama represented, this kind of new hope, this new generation, you know, the hope and change generation, you know, by the end of his eight years in office, one of the legacies is that the progressive wing of his party became really disaffected with him, they didn't think that he went far enough.

And there's all sorts -- I mean, part of what fueled the Bernie Sanders and the Elizabeth Warren rise was a kind of assessment, a kind of end of the term assessment of Obama, that he hadn't seized the moment the way he might have and that he became too cautious and that he became too much of a sort of establishment figure as opposed to the kind of, you know, progressive person that they think they needed. And I think that he's -- that's what he truly believes, and I think he fears, you know, heading down the other path.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And part of it is learning from experience. I mean, he had to go through a grueling court battle just to get portions of his healthcare plan through. And so, a lot of it is just saying, you know, maybe reserve your fight for later on and think of, you know, stay in the centrist line because that was hard enough to get through as it was through the courts and through the Republican resistance. And so, get it through there and then maybe have this debate after we elect a Democrat into office.

KING: He lost the House and then he lost the Senate during his presidency. The progressives would say, go bold. Don't worry about that go bold hoping someone who's been through that might say take it a little more cautiously. That's why we have debates. It's going to be fun.

Up next, Michael Bloomberg apologizes for a controversial policy from his days as mayor.



KING: Topping our political radar today, President Trump says he had a cordial meeting today with the Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, that at the White House. The Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also joining the meeting. The president tweeting today, it was very good and cordial. The president, you'll remember, has repeatedly attacked Powell in public over the last several months, trying to convince him to slash interest rates more deeply. But today the Fed says they discussed economic growth, employment, and inflation.

And investigation into Rudy Giuliani's business deals appears to be widening.


Sources say federal prosecutors in New York now contacting people associated with a Ukraine state-run oil company, Naphtha. Investigators may be looking into whether Giuliani and his associates sought to secure energy deals by asserting influence over that company.

And Michael Bloomberg facing some praise and some blowback today after apologizing for supporting New York City's stop and frisk policy back when he was mayor in the early 2000s. Bloomberg telling a Brooklyn church congregation he did not fully understand the impact of that controversial police tactic back at the time.

That policy of course had a disproportioned effect on black and Latino communities. Bloomberg about to jump into or at least considering jumping into the Democratic presidential race. And at least one of his potential 2020 rivals, well, a bit skeptical about the timing here.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Over time I've come to understand something that I long struggled to admit to myself. I got something important wrong. I got something important really wrong. JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's interesting timing that the mayor would apologize for that now, but that was a wrong policy. I guess it's better late than never.


KING: Smart?

ZELENY: Sure, it's essential if you're actually going to run in the Democratic primary which -- I mean, by all accounts, he absolutely is. His advisers say this is going to be coming very soon. Look, he has to do that to at least open the doors to some changes of minds among African-American leaders and others. But it's hard not to think this is anything other than a strategic play. He is a numbers guy, he has -- you know, there's been plenty of information, academic studies, judicial studies to say, look, the policy just created a disproportional effect here. But, you know, doing it on a Sunday in a Brooklyn church seems pretty political.

KING: Seems pretty political. And how would it be to be Jerome Powell to walk into the Oval Office for a meeting with the president at the White House. He's tweeted that you're an idiot, that you're incompetent and worse. But they said they had a nice cordial meeting today.

SALAMA: Well, the president has never made a secret of how he feels about Jerome Powell's, you know, decision to raise interest rates and then to cut it too slowly according to him. He's attacked him on quantitative easing, so.

SHEAR: And I wouldn't put too much into those readouts because as we've seen in other context Ukraine not the least of them. Those readouts don't necessarily comport with what actually happened.

KING: It just don't hold up but look, they have now -- I kind of give the president some points here for saying they had a nice cordial meeting, and I think maybe realizing he's trashed the guy maybe a little much. We'll save the last, I get it. I get the shelf life question, I get it.

Up next for us, President Trump backing away from a proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes. The reasons? Political not medical.



KING: President Trump now rethinking a major public health promise, to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Vaping, the president said back in September was killing kids. But the New York Times reports the president now dramatically backing off a proposed ban after a warning from advisers. Those warnings included being shown polling in battleground states showing negative results for the president if he followed through on a ban.

Just listen to the president's words in September and then earlier this month, and you can notice the shift.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking at vaping very strongly. It's very dangerous. Children have died, people have died.

We have to take care of our kids most importantly, so we'll have an age limit of 21 or so. And we have a lot of people to look at, including jobs, frankly, because it's, you know, become a pretty big industry. But we're going to take care --


KING: The jobs part, that part as the -- you can see in the evolution, now they're coming to the president saying this job is at stake here. But that's a pretty big flip n a pretty short period of time.

ZELENY: It definitely is. And it's something that -- I mean, we've seen other examples of this, you know, after several mass shootings, for example, he said he was going to introduce something on guns and then nothing has happened. But this was something that even a lot of people around him thought, you know, he was serious about this. He has a son who -- he was at the age when can start doing vaping and things. But this was clearly a reversal, you know, because his political aides have said it's not popular.

And also part of his charm and appeal is not regulating, you know, and does not want to be seen as the sheriff, if you will. So for those reasons, but I think, you know, it seems not necessarily what the first lady had said she was going to influence him on.

KING: Right. And he had mentioned the first lady in the announcement when he said they were going to do something about this, talking about their son. He mentioned the first lady as being someone pushing him to do this. Stephanie Grisham, the White House secretary, saying this today in reaction to this, "Through her initiative "Be Best", Mrs. Trump has put her priority on the health and safety of children. She does not believe e-cigarettes or any nicotine products should be marketed or made available to children."

So, trying to keep the focus there on under 21 on children. But, she had hoped -- the first lady had hoped for more from the administration without a doubt.

SHEAR: Well, and I think what we've seen for the entire three years Trump has been in office is that there is a disconnect between the first lady and sometimes Ivanka Trump as well and the president's actual policy beliefs. You know, the first lady and Ivanka have expressed opinions about guns, about climate change, about other things that are perhaps at odds with the president's policy positions and nothing seems to change. You know, those -- whatever influence they might have or might exercise over the president, either they pull it back or it doesn't have the influence that they might have thought -- [12:50:00]

KING: And part of the challenge here is the timing. We're heading into what everybody knows will be a very close presidential election, the president likely to lose the popular vote, trying to put together the Electoral College map again. These ads are from Ohio, an organization called the Vapor Technology Associates which conducted the polling that we know the Trump's -- the president's campaign manager Brad Parscale shared with the president, saying, Mr. President, if you do this, you're going to take a hit. These are the ads to back up that point.


JEFF KATHMAN, CINCINNATI, OHIO: President Trump, I voted for you in the last election. If you enact a flavor ban, I cannot support you any longer.

SARAH RUTLAND, COLUMBUS, OHIO: There are 545,000 registered voters in the state of Ohio that also vape.

KATHMAN: If you enact a flavor ban, this will cost you the election.

RUTLAND: I vape and I vote.


SALAMA: It goes along with the idea of the government trying to impose itself on personal rights, and I think that the advisers have gotten to President Trump and have really advised him to say that, you know what, this is not a battle that you want to prioritize and so maybe just step back from this and let people do what they're going to do with some slight regulations, but don't just go out all in ban.

KING: And you see states getting (INAUDIBLE), I want to put out these numbers. This is from the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, 2,172, 2,172 lung injury cases linked to vaping, 42 confirmed deaths, injuries reported in 49 states. I'm sorry.

CAYGLE: No, I was going to say it on the other side though the advisers that support the vaping ban and the first lady and others who made the argument to Trump this would help you with suburban moms. And those are the voters that fled from you in 2016 and that we need to win in 2020. And they're looking around and they're saying, what other issue do we have that can really appeal to them. So they're pretty dismayed.

KING: Yes, at the top of the campaign doesn't -- just doesn't believe that strategy is going to work. They believe you got to stick with what -- dance with who brung (ph) you and we're going to try to recreate the 2016 map. That's a very telling point there.

The president when we come back goes after another witness in the impeachment inquiry. Why did he single her out?


KING: President Trump is directly attacking one of the eight witnesses scheduled for public impeachment testimony this week. So why single out Jennifer Williams? She is a veteran State Department official detailed to the vice president's office as a national security aide. She was on that July call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. And unlike Mr. Trump, she did not find it to be perfect.

In private testimony she told Congress she found it, quote, unusual for the president to ask Ukraine to launch investigations about the 2016 election meddling and about the Bidens. She went on to say, "I believe those references to be more political in nature and so that struck me as unusual."

The president calls her a never Trumper, saying he doesn't know her and basically has never heard of her. Why? Just because, you know, that -- saying it's unusual, saying it was for political purposes. That's not good for the president. But why decide to, in advance, after Republicans were not happy when he live tweeted essentially during the Yovanovitch testimony, why do it again?

SHEAR: Republicans may not have been happy but the president has his strategy. And one of the pieces of that strategy is to communicate to his supporters and to the people who, you know, are about him that this is a big, you know, deep state conspiracy against him. And that these people who we're going to hear from, we heard from last week, we're going to hear from again this week, are nothing more than, you know, the resistance, you know, sort of dressed up and gussied up in fancy jobs.

And I think that -- I don't think he understood, really, or internalized the objections to the tweet last week, and I think he, you know, sees it as a good political move to undermine the credibility of the people who are testifying against him.

KING: Her pedigree outside of government is Republican not Democratic. Normally, it doesn't matter because she has served in both -- you know, both Democratic and Republican administrations. And she was part of campaign -- a letter-run campaign objecting to the Obama Syria policy. So she is not an Obama partisan or Democratic partisan. He calls her a never Trumper.

SALAMA: And he's essentially just trying to discredit her. At the end of the day she came out and said that there were -- it was clearly a politically motivated request in the phone call. And so that alone just made President Trump want to go after her and essentially lump these never Trumpers and a couple others he's called that as well with the so-called deep state. That has also been, you know, an accusation with some people on the inside of the government.

So, that's the effort right now. And whether Republicans see it that way on the Hill is another story.

KING: But one of the things they have to do though in these live hearings is at least have their staff follow the president's Twitter, right? Because you're a Republican and you go into these hearings with a strategy, what you're going to do to a witness, you could be undermined by the president at any minute.

CAYGLE: Yes. And, you know, we saw with Yovanovitch, cleanup duty, right? After the tweet, Republicans all took care to heap a lot of praise on her, probably more than we would have seen if he hadn't tweeted. And Williams is testifying tomorrow morning, and I think folks -- Republicans are really afraid that he'll do it again, and, you know, it will totally undermine their whole narrative and they'll have to do cleanup again.

KING: It's interesting to watch as it goes through. She is someone -- she's just one of the witnesses he's gone after. Yovanovitch and Williams are the latest, two of being women, but he went after Bill Taylor, he went after George Kent, and again, I mentioned Ambassador Yovanovitch. Another one who'll be testifying this week is Colonel Vindman, too. You have Colonel Vindman up this week and the president in the past has done a little bit about him. We'll see if that one comes up again.

SALAMA: Well, if Republicans are going to have a very interesting week in terms of you have a Purple Heart recipient with Colonel Vindman because he was wounded in Iraq, and then Tim Morrison and Jennifer Williams both Republicans who have served under both administrations. So we'll see how it goes.

KING: So watch us out. A very busy week ahead. Three days of hearings. Hope you stay with us as we go through them all day long.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. Be back here this time tomorrow. It's going to be interesting. Brianna Keilar starts, though, right now. Have a great afternoon.