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Key Moments From Last Night's Democratic Debate; Gordon Sondland Testifies Everyone Knew Of Quid Pro Quo With Ukraine. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 21, 2019 - 05:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Ten Democratic presidential candidates squared off last night in a debate in Atlanta. What did they say about impeachment and who were the winners and losers?

CNN's Jessica Dean joins us now with highlights. Good morning, Jessica.


Yes, quite the timing on all of this with that pivotal testimony from Gordon Sondland and then this debate happening right after that. It really underscores just how unique this situation is with the impeachment inquiry rolling on in Washington, D.C. and the 2020 Democratic primary race in full swing.

And those candidates turning their attention, of course, to the impeachment inquiry. That kind of led off the debate. And then they swung back around to the other issues that are very important to these primary voters.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone who wants to give me a big donation, don't ask to be an ambassador because I'm not going to have that happened.

DEAN (voice-over): President Trump and the impeachment inquiry taking center stage at last night's Democratic debate after another day of bombshell testimony on Capitol Hill --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a criminal living in the White House.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Congress can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. We can deal with Trump's corruption but we also have to stand up for the working families of this country.

DEAN (voice-over): -- as Pete Buttigieg fought to defend his experience after emerging as the clear front runner in Iowa.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that from the perspective of Washington what goes on in my city might look small. But, frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small.

DEAN (voice-over): Buttigieg's Democratic rivals highlighting one of the biggest weaknesses of his candidacy, low African-American support.

HARRIS: For too long, I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Black voters are pissed off and they're worried.

DEAN (voice-over): The mayor of South Bend, Indiana welcoming the challenge of connecting with black voters in America.

BUTTIGIEG: While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country.

DEAN (voice-over): Former Vice President Joe Biden said he could attract the Obama coalition in order to win, but that led to another misstatement.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community. The only African- American woman that ever had been elected to the United States Senate -- a whole range of people.

HARRIS: No, that's actually not true.

BOOKER: No, that's not true.

HARRIS: The other one is here.


BIDEN: Well, I said the first. I said the first --

HARRIS: Thank you.

BIDEN: -- to (INAUDIBLE). Kamala Harris --

DEAN (voice-over): Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar making the case she's electable.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.

DEAN (voice-over): Billionaire Tom Steyer looking to stand out from the crowded field.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only person on this stage who will say that climate is the number one priority for me. [05:35:02]

DEAN (voice-over): Businessman Andrew Yang taking a shot at President Trump when asked what he would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin if elected.

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well first, I'd say I'm sorry I beat your guy.

DEAN (voice-over): Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard hoping to translate her message into much-needed momentum but instead, took fire from many of her rivals on stage.

BUTTIGIEG: So let's also talk about judgment. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad. I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What you've just pointed out is that you would lack the courage to meet with both adversaries and friends to ensure the peace and national security of our nation.


DEAN: Next month, CNN will join with PBS local stations to air the final debate from the DNC in 2019, John, before we cross over to 2020 and the first voting begins.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and that debate next month could have the fewest number of candidates on stage, which will make it significant.

DEAN: Yes.

BERMAN: We could hear from -- much more from each one of them.

Jessica, thanks so much for being there for us.

DEAN: Yes.

BERMAN: So what's the impact that last night's debate will have on the Democratic race going forward? Who might get the biggest bounce? We'll discuss, next.



CAMEROTA: Ten Democratic candidates took the stage last night after a day of huge revelations in the impeachment inquiry. So what was their focus and who scored some points?

Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.

OK, so let's play a moment where impeachment did come up in the debate, though it certainly was not the largest issue that came up. JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

CAMEROTA: So here is one moment where Biden addresses it.


BIDEN: And by the way, I learned something about these impeachment trials.

I learned, number one, that Donald Trump doesn't want me to be the nominee. That's pretty clear. He held up aid to make sure that at the same time, innocent people in the Donbass are being killed by Russian soldiers.

Secondly, I found out that Vladimir Putin doesn't want me to be president.


CAMEROTA: OK, how else did it play?

AVLON: Look, it did not dominate the night disproportionately. There is unanimity within the Democratic field that he should be impeached. Biden did try to flip it in his favor saying look, he's clearly afraid of my candidacy. But it didn't dominate the debate entirely.

This was a strong, fairly civil, sometimes funny debate. There were some fascinating clashes, particularly Tulsi Gabbard coming out on the conflict with Harris and Buttigieg in ways that she clearly did not benefit from. That trip with Assad is never going to be an asset, people.

And you had some candidates in the second tier who had a very strong night. Booker, Klobuchar, Andrew Yang all had very strong memorable lines that connected with the audience and showed a command of issues in a broad way.

BERMAN: The biggest dynamics heading into this debate were that Pete Buttigieg has been rising in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. It struck me that the other candidates on stage didn't really seem to treat it that way. They didn't seem to go after him like he was rising in the polls.

And the other major dynamic is that Bloomberg and Deval Patrick getting into the race because of perceived weakness in Joe Biden.

I'm wondering how you saw both of those dynamics play out.

AVLON: Sure. First one about Buttigieg not coming under fire. The first debate where he's been in poll position in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Unlike Elizabeth Warren, he did not take the brunt of people's attacks. I think that's interesting. It could actually be a little condescending to the extent that they see him as a threat in those states but not in the overall field. Also, the fact that his message hasn't been particularly divisive or slashing to them. So they did not attack him the way that Warren came under fire before, so I think that's significant.

Look, to simplify Deval Patrick and Bloomberg getting in the race, there are some folks in the center lane of the Democratic Party who worry that Biden is too old and Buttigieg is too young, and so they see a Goldilocks spot -- a sweet spot in there.

Biden had a couple of gaffes last night -- you can't get around that -- but he also had some very strong substantive moments, particularly on foreign policy. But it's not like he's taking concerns about his durability off the table entirely. Some of these are just Bidenisms -- you know, they're just the way he is. But I don't think all those issues were quieted last night.

Buttigieg had a very strong debate but no major breakout moments.

CAMEROTA: We have Sen. Cory Booker coming up on the program and his campaign says that they raised more in the 20 minutes after the debate because he said that he's not going to be making the next stage --

AVLON: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- in December and so he put out that plea to people and in 20 minutes they raised --

BERMAN: But also -- but also because he stuck up for pot and -- seriously.

CAMEROTA: And potheads were just dialing in like --

BERMAN: There are people who like marijuana. There are people out there who like marijuana and that was --

AVLON: Would you like to play that moment?

BERMAN: I don't know if we even have it. Do we have the pot moment? Let's play the pot moment.


BOOKER: This week I hear him literally say that I don't think we should legalize marijuana. I thought you might have been high when you said it.


BOOKER: Let me tell you because marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people and it's -- the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people.


BERMAN: There is a marijuana constituency.

AVLON: There is clearly a marijuana constituency.

But I think it would be a mistake to sort of dismiss Booker's moment to that one moment.

He did a very strong debate on foreign policy -- very tough on Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. Strong comments on China. So he actually did, I think, a very strong debate overall last night. He's had trouble connecting.

But at the end of the debate -- you're right -- he said look, I need -- I need -- I need your help for me to make the next debate because the window is closing for folks. And then he also did a very well- timed tribute in Atlanta to John Lewis and to the larger tradition he's trying to advance.

So -- and I think Klobuchar also had an exceptionally strong debate last night.

BERMAN: I just loved Joe Biden's face --


CAMEROTA: I liked Joe Biden's face.

BERMAN: -- when Cory Booker says you must have been high.

CAMEROTA: He raises an eyebrow -- he raised an eyebrow like maybe I was.

BERMAN: To me, it was like on the wacky weed, on the reefer? What is this? What is this you're talking about here?

AVLON: I'm going to go with reefer madness for $200 on that one.

CAMEROTA: Just say no.

All right, thank you very much, John.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker will join us live, as we said, in our next hour. Stick around for that.

BERMAN: All right. So, coming out of the impeachment hearings yesterday heading into today, one of the big political questions not about what we learned. What are Republicans going to do about it? How much are they willing to accept?

We will discuss with some of the smartest political minds -- one from each side of the aisle -- next.



BERMAN: All right.

This morning, Republicans are trying to figure out how to defend President Trump after Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony admitting that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine, saying that his actions were directed by President Trump, and saying that everyone was in the loop. That the people surrounding the president -- the senior-most figures in the administration all knew about it.

Joining me now to talk about the political impact of this, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings. He's a Republican strategist. And, Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist who was deeply involved in President Clinton's impeachment defense.

You know it's a big day if two people like you will get up this early to talk politics with me. That's how big it is.

And, Scott, I have two questions with you to lead this off. Number one -- and I'm asking you this as much as a reporter as a strategist -- what were Republicans' feelings as Gordon Sondland was delivering his opening statement? And the follow-up to that is what are Republicans' feelings this morning?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, it was obvious to me that Congressman Nunes, the ranking on the committee, was caught flat- footed by Gordon Sondland. And I've read and seen some accounts of this that Republicans were surprised at what he had to say when he came in. They didn't know he was going to -- he was going to do that. So I think that was sort of front-end surprise.

Back end, what they're really hanging their hat on is the word presumption. Sondland laid on that word a lot yesterday. It was my presumption that we should be doing this. It was my presumption that this is what the president wanted. And so they keyed in on that throughout the day.

The other thing that you're seeing Republicans doing today now, at least at the higher levels of the Trump government, is deny what Sondland said even though the president says this was exculpatory -- what his testimony said.

You've got now Pence, Pompeo, and Perry who were all dropped in at varying points, saying Gordon Sondland didn't tell the truth about his interactions with me. So there is a bit of a contradictory take on what he had to say.

BERMAN: Their denials are denials of specific things. I wouldn't say they are total denials, and I think that most of them beg the question well then, come tell us what you know and be fulsome about it. But I get the political impact of that.

Just to follow-up quickly, Scott, any Republicans that you feel -- any -- I mean, like a single one in Congress that you think would be moved to change their vote if you're in the House to vote for impeachment or if you're in the Senate to vote for removal?

JENNINGS: Well, one of the most likely Republicans that you would be watching if you were trying to keep up with that is Will Hurd of Texas, and he's on the committee. And I have not seen any evidence this week that Will Hurd looks like he's heading towards impeachment.

By the way, while all this was going on yesterday, two surveys came out -- one from Wisconsin showing that --

BERMAN: We're going to get to that. We're going to get to that, I promise.

JENNINGS: Anyway, there's a political calculation going on as well.

BERMAN: I promise.


BERMAN: Paul, I want to talk to you about this now because the facts are the facts and the evidence was the evidence, and an impeachment inquiry is to find out what happened. But then there are the political implications -- what changes? And did you see any change over the last 24 hours?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST WHO HELPED LEAD CLINTON IMPEACHMENT DEFENSE: Well, yes, facts matter, right? We have a firsthand witness to the bribery scheme. And I do think Scott is right that the Republican defense is simply deny, which make work for their base.

I am aware -- I have a lot of degrees -- there's a little-known codicil, article eight of the Constitution. It's written in invisible ink on the back. Nicolas Cage showed it to me. And it says if you say this is not a crime while you're doing it, it doesn't count.

So you shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and you say no shooting, no shooting, and then you're clear. That's the kind of garbage that they're left with. But frankly, there's a part of the Republican base that will just accept any garbage from them and that's what they're going to hang their hat on.

I think in that sense, politically, Scott may be right. You can fool some of the people all of the time.

BERMAN: When you say some, in Congress, is it just some or is it all? Do you see Republicans moved this morning inside Congress, Paul?

BEGALA: No, no.

You're right and Scott's right. Look at Will Hurd. He's carrying more water for Trump than Gunga Din. And we all thought oh, he's a reasonable guy -- baloney sandwich.

So what's going to happen is the corrective will have to come maybe in the Senate -- we'll see how they do -- and maybe at the ballot box.


BEGALA: And I think Scott was sort of previewing that that's where this thing goes. BERMAN: And then, I shut Scott down when he was trying to introduce into evidence this poll that came from Marquette University yesterday --


BERMAN: -- Wisconsin. A reputable polling outfit in Wisconsin polls Wisconsin more and better than most outfits here.

And you can see that support for impeachment has dropped and opposition has risen. It is now minus-13 for impeach and remove the president in Wisconsin.

And I do want to offer a disclaimer here and people are going to say oh, Wisconsin, this is a key Electoral College place. I do not think everything in life is dependent on the Electoral College. Impeachment, specifically, isn't an Electoral College issue; it's an investigation and for the whole House. However, after Congress is done with it, it might have Electoral College implications there, Paul.

So when you see that vote what is the impact on voters?

BEGALA: It is -- well, let's look at what voters have actually done. That poll might be right, it might be wrong. I -- most places, including swing states, support for impeachment is at or above 50 and rising.


Where we have voted -- I live in Virginia now -- the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Republicans closed out their campaign for the State Legislature, saying stop impeachment. They lost the House and the Senate for the first time in 26 years.

In Kentucky, Scott's home state, Matt Bevin ran his whole campaign against impeachment. And guess what? He had President Trump come in. He lost.

In Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, was able to win. Trump came in and campaigned for the Republican, saying give me a win. I need to stop impeachment.

So every time, so far, the Republicans have tried to make a stand against impeachment the voters have said no, actually -- no, we're going to go with the pro-impeachment party.

BERMAN: I don't think, Scott, you are as quick to dismiss the Wisconsin poll.

JENNINGS: No, because I also saw a Gallup poll that came out yesterday showing 90 percent of Republicans are supporting the president. Also, by the way, his biggest number ever on the economy. Fifty-seven percent of Americans in the Gallup poll yesterday said they approved him on the economy. So apart from all the legal arguments about impeachment, if you're a Republican congressman or senator and you're looking at what's my party want and are people running away from this president, it's not really happening.

And so you could make a legitimate argument that I have some degree of discomfort with what I've heard but it's an election year and I think we ought to let the people decide. And honestly, you -- the polling underpinnings of that would make it a rational position.

BERMAN: You know, though, you have all this evidence at this point. You have everything that has come out. And a minimum there appears to be broad agreement that there was a quid pro quo to at least, at a minimum, get the meeting inside the White House.

At some point, do Republicans have any concern that they are allowing this to happen and that long-term this could come back to bite them politically and I think from a policy or governing standpoint?

JENNINGS: Well, I think you're right to note that the separation of the meeting from the aid that was starting to happen in Sondland's testimony yesterday, that's a subtle but important shift.

Number two, I think the Republicans would say -- some of them would say I don't like bad judgment, I don't like some of the conversations that have happened, I don't like the irregular way this was done. But if bad judgment was impeachable every administration would die a thousand deaths. I think you're going to see a lot of people fall back on that argument.

BERMAN: And, Paul, Democratic strategy going forward. Still the rush to get this done by Christmas? Why the rush? Why not after yesterday when there were so many new questions raised about Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, why not go to court to get them to come forward?

BEGALA: It's a really tough call actually because I think Scott states their strategy well, which is to run out the clock, right? So, first you deny, then you distract. You say, well Joe Biden's cousin's sister's wife, blah blah -- then you cover up, right?

You stop the fact witnesses from testifying. You block the testimony of Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, the vice president, even the president, right -- we block everything. We block all their records, all their memos, all their e-mails, all their notes so that -- so that we can't get the facts. And then we run out the clock.

And it is -- it's like the guy that murdered his parents and then asked for mercy of the court because he was an orphan.

They are delaying this and then they're going to say well, we're too close to the election. We may as well just give it up.

BERMAN: Right. So what do Democrats do about it, Paul -- very quickly? Do you just think they go ahead and have the impeachment vote? BEGALA: I think they're likely just to press forward on it. I think they should do both, actually. I think they should continue to try to enforce these subpoenas.

We can't live in a country where the rule of law is ignored like that. My God, the President of the United States is not above the law and I think Democrats ought to pursue it in court even while they're pursuing impeachment in the Congress.

BERMAN: Gentlemen -- Paul Begala, Scott Jennings, thanks for waking up early this morning.

BEGALA: Oh, I've just been up all night. Are you kidding?

BERMAN: That's probably true. Appreciate you being here.


BERMAN: All right, we want to talk much more about the fallout from Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony. CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wheels have now come off the cover-up.

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As every day goes by, Adam Schiff and the Democrats' wishful thinking for impeachment crumbles.