Return to Transcripts main page

EARLY START

Strong Debate Performances by Smaller Democratic Field; Democrats Holds of Impeachment for a Fair Senate Trial; Impeached Trump Eager for Senate Trial Vindication. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- responded and held his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you just go by vote totals, maybe what goes on in my city seems small to you. If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900 a bottle wine. Think about who comes to that.

BUTTIGIEG: According to "Forbes" magazine I'm the literally the only person on this stage who's not a millionaire or a billionaire. So if --

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: This is important. This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: It'll be up to voters to sort of determine, you know, the reaction to this. But Bernie Sanders also, if you were a Bernie Sanders fan before this debate you certainly are one after the debate. He's pure on his issues. He's calling for big revolutionary change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe an American president, i.e. Bernie Sanders, can lead the world. Instead of spending money to kill each other, maybe we pool our resources and fight our common enemy which is climate change.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY: So when you break all this down, at the end of the day Amy Klobuchar probably gained the most because she had a lot of attention on her, a lot of time to make her case. But now all the candidates head to Iowa for campaigning. We are 45 days before those Iowa caucuses. That starts the 2020 campaign -- Dave and Christine.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

No surprise the first question out of the gate last night was about President Trump's impeachment. Here's what the candidates said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Now in the Senate, he's taken a constitutional oath to uphold our Constitution, and that doesn't mean loyalty to an individual, it doesn't mean loyalty to a political party. It means loyalty to our country.

BUTTIGIEG: We cannot give in to that sense of helplessness, because that's what they want. They want us to be taken in by that cynicism, to where we give up on the process altogether.

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we have to do is we have to stop being obsessed over impeachment, which unfortunately strikes many Americans like a ball game where you know what the score is going to be, and start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders now admitting she was disrespectful and she's now apologizing to Mr. Biden after tweeting about this moment of the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My wife and I have a call list of somewhere between 20 and a hundred people that we call at least every week or every month to tell them I'm here. I give them my private phone number, they keep in touch with me. The little kid who says I -- I can't -- I can't talk, what do I do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: In a now deleted tweet, Sanders appeared to mock stutterers. Now the backlash was immediate. At first Sanders tried to suggest her post, over there on the bottom left that Biden respond to, was not about stuttering but she eventually removed the tweet and apologized after Biden tweeted back that stuttering is something he has worked his entire life to overcome.

BRIGGS: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang lamented the fact he was the sole minority Democratic candidate to qualify for last night's debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) YANG: It's both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight. I grew up the son of immigrants and I had many racial epithets used against me as a kid. But black and Latinos have something much more powerful working against them than words. They have numbers. The average net worth of a black household is only 10 percent that of a White household. For Latinos it's 12 percent. These are the numbers that define race in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Yang pivoted to a main focus of his political platform, the universal basic income. He wants to give each American 18 and older what he calls a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month. He said he guarantees that if it already existed he would not have been the only candidate of color on the stage.

ROMANS: Senator Elizabeth Warren drew wild applause when she fired back at a question about her age during the debate when the moderator noted that she would be the oldest president ever inaugurated if she wins in 2020. She didn't miss a beat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM ALBERTA, DEBATE MODERATOR: Senator Warren, you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. I'd like you to weigh in as well.

WARREN: I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.

(LAUGHTER AND CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Boom. Warren would be 71 at the time of her inauguration if elected.

BRIGGS: Tallying up who had the most speaking time, Senator Bernie Sanders led the pack at more than 20 minutes. Klobuchar, Warren and Buttigieg were close behind, each with more than 19 minutes of air time. Biden spoke for more than 15 minutes. Steyer and Yang trailed further back. You can see Yang with the least amount of time.

[04:05:01]

ROMANS: All right. The president, President Trump, has often claimed this is the best economy in American history. During the debate, the candidates were asked what they would say to people who may not like everything Trump does but they're happy about this economy and don't know why they should make a change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The middle class is not as behind the eight ball. We have to make sure that they have an even shot. We have to eliminate a significant number of these god-awful tax cuts that were given to the very wealthy. SANDERS: As Trump goes around saying the economy is doing great, you

know what real inflation account for wages went up last year? 1.1 percent. That ain't great.

BUTTIGIEG: People are not getting paid enough. That is not the result of some mysterious cosmic force. It's the result of bad policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Economy growing about 2 percent right now. It's not as supercharged as Trump promised but it might not matter. Moody's Analytics has said that barring an unlikely recession or a global shock, the economy is strong enough for Trump to be re-elected.

BRIGGS: Just amazing the lack of movement in his polls, the lack of movement on the Democratic side, as well.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Ahead, the term wine cave, as we mentioned, getting a lot of buzz after the debate. Will it continue to resonate in the first primaries and caucuses? We discuss, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:10:55]

BRIGGS: This was the wine cave debate. What was that all about? Well, Pete Buttigieg held a fundraiser this month at a California winery in its so-called wine cave under a Swarovski crystal chandelier. Over the course of the debate, the term came to stand in for high-dollar campaign fundraising and the potential obligations to wealthy donors it can create.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900 a bottle wine.

BUTTIGIEG: I am the literally the only person on this stage who's not a millionaire or a billionaire.

WARREN: I do not sell access to my time. I don't do call time with millionaires and billionaires. I don't --

BUTTIGIEG: Hold on, Senator. Sorry, as a -- Senator, your presidential campaign right now as we speak is funded in part by money you transferred having raised it at those exact same big-ticket fundraisers you now denounce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Buttigieg said Democrats are in the fight of their lives and shouldn't try to beat President Trump with, quote, "one hand tied behind our back." ROMANS: All right, joining us from Washington to talk about wine

caves and wind caves, and everything else, the editor and publisher of "Inside Elections," Nathan Gonzales. He is a CNN political analyst.

Good morning there. Did that moment break through, I mean, other than just wine caves trending? Did he handle that well?

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it broke through because I think it will be one of the hot topics, you know, throughout the day and even into tomorrow.

ROMANS: Yes.

GONZALES: Depending on other news. I thought the mayor's answer was pretty good. We'll see if voters in Iowa and New Hampshire feel the same way. But I also wondered, though, is it worth it? And are those fundraisers worth it for him? Meaning, is he bringing in enough money from those to have to deal with the attacks that will keep coming if he keeps doing them? And I think one of the things that the mayor was alluding to is that Elizabeth Warren does have the advantage that she has run -- you know, she ran a high-profile United States Senate race in which she was able to build a national following.

And he didn't come to the presidential race with that. And so she can kind of push off some of those typical and traditional fundraising events because she has this network to draw on, where he's had to build it more from scratch.

BRIGGS: Yes. Yes, Nathan, I thought the whole stage missed an opportunity to pander to the "Star Wars" portion of their audience.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: I mean, that was an easy one. That was a slam dunk but no one took advantage.

GONZALES: Sadly.

BRIGGS: They did talk wealth tax, though, a central issue on the Democratic side. Let's listen to that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, DEBATE MODERATOR: How do you answer top economists who say taxes of this magnitude would stifle growth and investment?

WARREN: Oh, they're just wrong.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been for a wealth tax for over a year. I'm in favor of undoing all the tax breaks for rick people and big corporations that this administration has put through.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, we must deliver big ideas and, yes, taxes on wealthy individuals and on corporations are going to have to go up. We can also be smart about the promises we're making.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Look, this is going to be an issue for two reasons. Not just because the Democrats are talking about it. The Republican side wants them talking about it.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: So whose message will resonate?

GONZALES: Exactly. I think it's important that as Democrats to talk about it, to talk about the specific numbers. I think Senator Warren realizes this, that's why she puts specifics on who is going to be taxed and how much. You know, 2 percent on $50 million and above. Because I think when most Americans hear tax increases, you know, they feel like it's going to hit them. You know, and so, it's up to Democrats because Republicans are -- one of the core arguments from the Republicans in 2020 will be look at how much all of this costs. In order to pay for it, they're going to have to raise your taxes. And Democrats are going to have to find a way to message around it.

ROMANS: Well, and, you know, they haven't done a really good job really of pointing out that middle-class tax cuts were temporary, corporate tax cuts were permanent.

[04:15:02]

The companies got a bigger tax cut than they even asked for. They were looking for around 25 percent as a tax rate, they got 21 percent. I mean, they haven't really broken through on that as yet. You know, we'll see if they can do better going forward.

One thing that's interesting. The very first thing they're asked about was of course impeachment. But Joe Biden had an interesting moment where he was talking about how he thinks he'll be able to work again with the GOP. Kind of showing that he's got this history of being able to reach across the aisle and get stuff done. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again. And if anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not wanting to cooperate, it's me. The way they've attacked me and my son and my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Sort of smart of him to inject that, to bring that in, you know, what has been the big topic of conversation. But also, I guess, to show that he's got such a long history in Washington that he will be able to get over this moment. Did it work?

GONZALES: Yes. I think there's a potential for it to resonate. I'm not sure that -- I'm not convinced that every Democrat is reflexively against everything every Republican ever puts forward. I mean, just look at what happened in Washington not even 24 hours ago, with USMCA. That there was some bipartisan agreement on a fairly big, you know, piece of legislation.

We can argue about how -- you know, how much of a fundamental change it was.

ROMANS: Right.

GONZALES: But it was at least bipartisan, and so I think that gives credence to what Vice President Biden is saying.

ROMANS: Can I just say something about USMCA? Yesterday afternoon my inbox was full of accolades from every kind of business group you can imagine, some labor groups, the Treasury Department about the passage of USMCA. The president hasn't been able to stay on the message of those kind of successes.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: I mean, we're still talking about, you know, Congressman Dingell, and we're talking about, you know, well, wine caves. The Democrats took that story line.

GONZALES: Yes. Well --

ROMANS: Go ahead.

GONZALES: Christine, you bring up one of the big things that I think is coming in 2020, is that, you know, Republicans need to stay on- message. If the president can talk about the economy or talk about, you know, socialism and trillion-dollar health care plans, you know, that's where Republicans want to be in order to win. But he always gets distracted and diverted by saying other things. Whether it's Dingell or a six-page letter to Speaker Pelosi. He just can't --

ROMANS: Right.

GONZALES: He can't stay on message. He's his own worth enemy in a lot of ways.

BRIGGS: Message discipline, not his strong suit.

Nathan Gonzales, one more time we're going to need your analysis. Can't go to bed quite yet. We'll see you in about 40 minutes. All right?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Thanks, come back.

GONZALES: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right, coming up, President Trump's impeachment at a standstill this morning. What party leaders and the president are saying next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:27:29]

ROMANS: The impeachment of Donald Trump suddenly on pause this morning with Capitol Hill emptying out for the winter recess. Two titans of Congress have launched a staring contest to see who will blink first. Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a surprise move. She's holding back on sending the House impeachment case over to the Senate aiming to create pressure for what she sees as a fair process to remove the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We'd like to see a fair process but we'll see what they have, and we'll be ready for whatever it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Senate majority leader McConnell baiting Pelosi with claims she's withholding impeachment because she has, quote, "cold feet" over a weak case.

How will it play out over the recess and once lawmakers return, our Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Of course all day Thursday there was an expectation of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sitting down with Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, to hash out some kind of agreement for when the Senate trial on the president's impeachment would actually begin. They did meet, however they're still at an impasse. Here's what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the sticking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): As of today, however, we remain at an impasse. We have the curious situation where following House Democrats rush to impeachment, following weeks of pronouncement about the urgency of the situation, urgent situation, the prosecutors appeared to have developed cold feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: Democrats still want to hear from their witnesses. Remember Schumer sent that letter to McConnell over the weekend, and essentially they're arguing that their position has not changed. They still want to hear from people like John Bolton, the president's former National Security adviser, as well as Mick Mulvaney, the president's acting chief of staff.

So that leaves McConnell and Schumer both going into this holiday season without a clear path or expectation for what will happen when the lawmakers return in January -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: Lauren Fox, thank you.

Now that he's impeached, President Trump is looking for his vindication with a quick Senate trial. The president's top GOP ally Senator Lindsey Graham says he spoke to the president who asked him why the Democrats are holding up the transfer of impeachment to the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): So he thinks he should have his day in court sooner rather than later. I don't know what they're up to in the House. This is a political stunt. It's not funny. It tells me that they don't have confidence in their case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: CNN's Jim Acosta with more.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, even after being impeached President Trump is not sounding very apologetic about his actions in Ukraine or his nasty comments on Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.

[04:25:07]

As one of Mr. Trump's own advisers told me, the president's low blow aimed at Dingell was a, quote, "unforced error." The president is also ripping into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she warned she might hold off a trial in the Senate. Here's what the president had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now I understand they're playing games. They don't want to put in their articles, their ridiculous, phony, fraudulent articles. And I think they're not allowed to do that. I hear it's unconstitutional, a lot of other things, but they don't want to put them in because they're ashamed of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The president used his appearance in the Oval Office to introduce the newest member of the GOP, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who bolted from the Democratic Party. The president also told reporters he's all but settled on his White House counsel Pat Cipollone to be his lead attorney in a Senate trial -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you.

A leading evangelical Christian magazine publishing an op-ed Thursday calling for President Trump's removal from office. In Christianity Today, editor-in-chief Mark Galli says the Democrats have been after the president from day one, but he writes, "The facts in this instance are unambiguous. The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution, more importantly it is profoundly immoral."

He adds, "None of the president's positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character."

BRIGGS: All right, ahead here, the smallest debate stage yet produced some of the most spirited clashes of the campaign so far. We'll break down last night's debate, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:30:00]