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Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) Is Interviewed about Speaker Pelosi Refusals To Commit To Sending Articles Of Impeachment To Senate; CNN Reality Check: Fact-Checking Lawmakers' Remarks On Impeachment; CNN Poll Shows Biden Holding Lead In 2020 Race Ahead Of Tonight's Democratic Primary Debate. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 19, 2019 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:34:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: In a dramatic twist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that she will not pass the two articles of impeachment to the Senate until she feels that the trial in the Senate would be a fair one.

Joining us now is Democratic Sen. Chris Coons.

Well, this was an interesting wrinkle --

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- last night, Senator. What does Nancy Pelosi have up her sleeve and do you think it will be effective?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, it's good to be on with you again.

I don't know exactly what Speaker Pelosi has in mind. I am concerned that if she waits until we have a guarantee of a fair trial in the Senate it may be a long wait.

At this point, because the Republicans control the Senate, it will take just four members of the majority to go to Mitch McConnell, their leader, and say we insist that you negotiate with minority leader Chuck Schumer a set of rules around -- evidence around witnesses, around the proceedings, that will be fair and that will ensure a real and an open trial. Without that, Alisyn, we may see a very brief, quick, show trial.

[07:35:03]

I'll remind you during the impeachment trial of President Clinton, ultimately, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together and adopted by a vote of 100 to zero the rules that presided over the end of that trial.

CAMEROTA: Yes -- well, that's the rub, what will be fair. I mean, obviously, Democrats and Republicans have different views on that. Mitch McConnell has said no witnesses. Democrats, of course, want to call the witnesses who heard, perhaps, instructions from President Trump about what to do with the Ukraine aid.

Seventy-one percent of Americans would like witnesses at this trial but it's an impasse. So what's Mitch McConnell going to do?

COONS: Well, I think what Mitch McConnell is going to do is what he has to do in order to brace up his vulnerable incumbents. There's a number of Republicans up for reelection next year who are very unpopular in their own states and who have tough reelection campaigns, and in order to maintain a majority of his caucus.

I would like to believe that Mitch -- excuse, me -- majority leader McConnell will act with an eye towards history and will look at what the American people deserve, which is a fair and open trial. But his leadership of the Senate in recent months and years has shown that he leads, really, as a partisan.

So my concern here Alisyn is that Sen. Schumer's completely reasonable request for four directly relevant fact witnesses -- individuals who, if President Trump allowed them to testify, could present evidence directly relevant to the charges he's facing.

If that isn't accommodated by McConnell -- he's rejected that request out of hand -- then we're likely either in for a long impasse or for an effort by Republicans to bring in witnesses who aren't relevant to this trial, who don't have direct testimony.

One other thing Alisyn that I think we should be focusing on is the documents that have been requested.

This second count of President Trump's impeachment that was passed last night in the House in a dramatic moment relates to the obstruction of Congress. The ways in which President Trump, unlike even President Nixon, directed his own cabinet and senior officials not to testify and barred all efforts to get relevant documents.

I'm certain there is a trove of e-mails and documents over in the Executive Branch that would light -- that would illuminate -- that would bring to light everything that happened in and around the decision to dangle badly-needed military aid to a vulnerable ally, Ukraine, that has now, for years, faced aggression from Russia.

If we can't get those documents, if we can't get directly relevant fact witnesses, it's hard to see how this is going to be a fair trial, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK.

I don't know if you heard the president last night at his rally --

COONS: No.

CAMEROTA: -- in Michigan. Well, I'll tell you --

COONS: I heard what he said, yes.

CAMEROTA: OK. So he said these hurtful things to Congresswoman -- about Congresswoman Debbie Dingell who is, of course, the grieving widow of the late congressman, John Dingell. I mean, really a historic figure in Congress.

And we've already heard from fellow -- a Republican congressman from Michigan who has spoken out in favor of Debbie Dingell and said that he believed she is owed an apology.

Do you -- are you hearing anything from your Republican colleagues in the Senate similar to that?

COONS: Not yet, this morning, Alisyn, but we haven't convened yet this morning.

I will say this is tragically no surprise at all.

As candidate Trump, President Trump said disrespectful and inappropriate things about a lot of people, including John McCain. When Sen. McCain, who was a friend and colleague, passed away, you know, President Trump had things to say about him during his illness and after his passing that were comparably disrespectful.

In the state of Michigan, Congressman John Dingell -- Chairman Dingell, a veteran, himself, was a towering figure. And, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, his widow, deserves respect.

And this is another moment when Republicans, without disagreeing with the president's policy priorities, can and should come forward and demand some basic decency out of our president.

He has such a long track record now of using his massive Twitter following and his megaphone of the presidency to degrade our public discourse and to disrespect people. This is one area where we should expect our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to call our president to better conduct. It just is -- it is the sort of thing that degrades our nation as a whole.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about this important court decision that happened yesterday regarding Obamacare.

So this federal appeals court struck down, basically, the individual mandate upon which it was grounded -- that's what helps it to work -- and so it left the fate of Obamacare up in the air. So this lower court -- it goes back to the lower court now.

[07:40:06]

That is not good for people like you who believe in Obamacare and believe it needs to be fixed. This doesn't look -- this doesn't bode well for its future.

Your thoughts?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, this is just a reminder that the Trump administration and many of their Republican allies, both governors and here in Congress, have been relentlessly fighting to take apart what is left of the Affordable Care Act. For 130 million Americans, the most important thing that happened through the Affordable Care Act was the preexisting condition discrimination by insurance companies came to an end.

Where that case stands now is that the lower court is making a decision on a technical legal issue called severability, which means if we take this part of the law and saw it's unconstitutional, does that kill the whole rest of it -- everything else that remains or can some of those remaining mandates stay in place?

What this brings back in front of us Alisyn is that we need in the White House and we need here in the Senate folks who are actually committed to making health care affordable and accessible for all Americans.

One of the things I've been focused on here in recent hearings and as I've been home in Delaware is the opioid crisis -- the addiction crisis that is affecting every American community. We lost 400 Delawareans to heroin overdoses last year and 47,000 Americans last year, and it keeps growing.

One of the things that came along with the Affordable Care Act was Medicare expansion across the country in dozens and dozens of states. That's what's made access to treatment more possible. In the appropriations bills we are going to take up and pass today in the Senate, we are adding funding for opioid addiction treatment and research.

But without that Medicare expansion, without that safety net of the Affordable Care Act guarantees, all of this is going to become less sustainable, less significant, less meaningful.

We need leadership in the White House, not someone who is trying to tear apart what is left of our health care safety net.

CAMEROTA: Sen. Chris Coons, thank you very much for explaining all of that for our viewers.

COONS: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: We will talk to you soon.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It was really interesting to hear Sen. Coons not necessarily completely jazzed about the Nancy Pelosi maneuver.

CAMEROTA: It seemed like he was processing it.

BERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it happened to late last night I'm not sure that anybody knows what to make of it --

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- or what's going to happen next.

BERMAN: We will be watching throughout the day as that plays out.

A lot said on the way to this historic impeachment vote. Some of it was true, a lot of it not. We have a much-needed reality check, next.

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[07:46:42]

BERMAN: The President of the United States has been impeached. But before we got to that moment, before we got to that vote, there were hours and hours of floor speeches by lawmakers, and a lot of what was said is in dire need of a reality check. Thank goodness -- John Avlon here with that.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, guys.

Look, yesterday was a big day in which a lot of politicians acted pretty small. There were lies, loathing, and plenty of hypocrisy to go around under the Capitol dome.

So on the lies front, let's start with Congressman Louie Gohmert, who parroted a Kremlin backline (ph).

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REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): Stop the investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and Ukraine into the corruption of Ukraine interference into the U.S. election in 2016.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Now, he wasn't the only congressman to read from that conspiracy theory. But that was predictable nonsense compared to Congressman Barry Loudermilk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA): Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: And, Rep. Clay Higgins decided to go a little more Old Testament.

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REP. CLAY HIGGINS (R-LA): I have descended into the belly of the beast. America is being severely injured by this betrayal -- by this unjust and weaponized impeachment brought upon us by the same socialists who threaten unborn life in the womb.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: And, Rep. Kevin Brady cited Joe McCarthy's "Red Scare" --

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REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-TX): They abandoned American rights of due process and fairness, and just decency, reminiscent of Joe McCarthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: -- while some of his colleagues flipped the script to accuse Democrats of running a, quote, "secret Soviet-style impeachment inquiry."

Joe McCarthy or Stalinists, people. You can't be both. You've got to choose.

Well, Republicans railed against what they said was Democrats' hatred of President Trump. As their example, the often-cited Congressman Rashida Tlaib's rant on the night she was sworn in --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RASHIDA TLIAB (D-MI): We're going to go in there and we're going to impeach the mother (bleep).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: -- which is a good reminder of how unhinged statements that rally your base can come back to haunt you. You don't beat hate with hate, people.

But now, the impeachment is done, passed by more votes than Bill Clinton in 1998. The next decade is less than two weeks away and it will likely begin in Congress with a Senate trial as Democrats request witnesses who have been blocked, to date, by the White House.

Now, Republicans are resisting -- not typically what you do when you expect testimony will exonerate your guy. And it's ironic given this Republican refrain --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats never produced a single true piece of evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: -- which, by the way, itself, is not true.

But the hypocrisy is what to watch here because while Lindsey Graham is vowing no witnesses, he was singing a very different tune two decades ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Please give us a chance to present our case. We need witnesses, ladies and gentlemen, to clarify who said what, who is being honest, who is not, and what really did happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: That seemed a reasonable request to Mitch McConnell at the time, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It's certainly not unusual to have a witness in an impeachment trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: While Democratic leader Chuck Schumer was on the opposite side at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It seems to me that no good case has been made for witnesses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: But perhaps the greatest irony and hypocrisy in this entire impeachment drama was surfaced by our own Wolf Blitzer from a 2008 interview with Donald Trump in which he started out by praising Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's a very impressive person. I like her a lot. It just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[07:50:05]

AVLON: I guess where you stand really is a matter of where you sit once you get to Washington.

And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, there's so much there, John. There's so much there. It would be hard to know where --

AVLON: From Jesus to Joe McCarthy, people.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Thank you for that spectrum.

BERMAN: All right, seven Democratic candidates on stage during prime time tonight. The last Democratic primary debate of 2019 with huge potential consequences. We'll discuss, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:55:08]

CAMEROTA: A brand-new CNN national poll shows Joe Biden holding his lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. He is at 26 percent. He is followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 20 percent, and then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent. No other candidate breaks double-digits.

This comes just hours before the final primary debate of the year.

Joining us now is Jonathan Martin. He's a national political correspondent for "The New York Times." And, Joshua Green. He's a national correspondent for "Bloomberg Business Week." Both are CNN political analysts. It's great to have you both.

OK, your thoughts, Jay March (ph), first, on what we should be expecting tonight. Given where the polls are right now, what are you looking for in the debate tonight?

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think this is going to be a debate where people are starting to make a sharper case about their own electability and also make a sharper case about why it's important that the party nominate somebody who is not Pete Buttigieg -- if they are not Pete Buttigieg.

Look, he largely evaded any kind of attacks at the last debate. But I think his advantage in Iowa, guys, is going to make him a very tempting target, especially if you are -- if you are Elizabeth Warren, if you are Joe Biden and you want to win Iowa. He's standing in the way. This is a crucial debate going into the holidays for folks to start really confronting Mayor Pete.

BERMAN: Interesting -- target Pete Buttigieg, according to Jonathan Martin.

Josh, what are you looking for tonight? What's going to be different tonight besides the number of candidates on the stage? Seven is far fewer than we've seen in --

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESS WEEK": Yes.

BERMAN: -- one place before.

MARTIN (Sneezes).

GREEN: Well I do think you're going to see --

CAMEROTA: Bless you.

GREEN: -- these sharpened attacks and what I'm going to be looking at is Joe Biden. We just had the President of the United States impeached over his dirt-digging attempts to smear Joe Biden.

Biden's family situation -- the stuff that Trump and the Republicans are talking about -- really hasn't been aired much in the context of a Democratic debate. Opponents haven't wanted to go there and yet, it certainly stands as a potential general election liability.

And, Biden has been the front runner throughout. If you want to win the Democratic nomination, you've got to go through him. We'll see if the candidates really engage with him tonight.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan Martin, are you sick?

MARTIN: No, I'm fine.

BERMAN: That wasn't on our list of questions, by the way.

CAMEROTA: I'm worried about him. I actually was just -- can I get you a lozenge? Can I get you anything?

MARTIN: No, just a sneeze.

CAMEROTA: You're fine?

MARTIN: Just a sneeze.

CAMEROTA: Fine -- very good.

Then let's go back to what you were saying about Pete Buttigieg --

MARTIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- because I think it's very interesting. When you look at the national polls, why go after Pete Buttigieg? He's not in double- digits in the national polls. Why punch down, right, which is against the --

MARTIN: Sure.

CAMEROTA: -- conventional wisdom? But you're saying that his standing in Iowa --

MARTIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- makes him, tonight, the likely target.

MARTIN: Right. You guys know it's not a national primary. It's an Iowa and New Hampshire race at the outset and that shapes the contours of the race more than the views of Democrats nationally.

Yes -- and look, he has an advantage right now in Iowa and that is what is sort of driving the race at the moment. Because if he wins Iowa it's going to really scramble this election and obviously give him a real head of steam going into New Hampshire and create enormous pressure on Warren and Sanders to win in New Hampshire, which obviously is the next-door state to them.

And it's also, I think, crucial, guys because if Joe Biden does find a way to resurrect his campaign in Iowa and overtakes Warren, Sanders, and Pete in Iowa, he's going to be hard to stop. GREEN: Yes.

MARTIN: Because at that point, he's going to have won a heavily-white early state and he already has solid support among non-white voters, and it would sort of be, I think, a huge boost for him, which is why I think you're going to see Biden make a strong push there in the end.

BERMAN: Josh, should we just talk about someone we don't talk about nearly enough, given his standing in the polls -- his consistent standing in polls, which in some cases, might be going up -- and his consistent support which doesn't support, which doesn't seem shaken, which is Sen. Bernie Sanders, who I think is often overlooked and he's done nothing except be very consistent.

GREEN: Well, he is and if you look at his standing in poll aggregates over the last month, he's risen and risen and risen. He is at least a co-front runner or close to it in Iowa. He's at least a co-front runner or close to it in New Hampshire.

And if all the sudden, Bernie Sanders were to win Iowa, Bernie Sanders were to win New Hampshire, that scrambles the whole race and we're suddenly talking about a guy who for the most part -- despite his longevity, as you mentioned -- really isn't talked about much in the context of being a realistic Democratic nominee.

BERMAN: And is extraordinarily consistent in debates --

GREEN: Yes.

BERMAN: -- we've seen over this campaign on this --

MARTIN: And real fast, John --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

MARTIN: -- if the race is a true four-way race, that plays to Bernie's advantage. If this vote is carved up four or five different ways, Bernie's floor is rock-solid. He's not going to gain much for what he has but his floor is solid. If this is a four- or five-way race and he can get his 21 percent, he'll be very strong in Iowa.

GREEN: Yes.

BERMAN: Jonathan Martin, Josh Green, thanks so much for being with us. A lot to watch for tonight.

And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

END