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EARLY START

Democrats Spar at Sixth Debate; Mitch McConnell Accuses Democrats of Having Cold Feet on Impeachment; Trump Unapologetic After Being Impeached. Aired 3:36-4a ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 03:36   ET

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


[03:36:32]

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- and the only guy who's not interrupted, all right? And I'm going to interrupt now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Frontrunner Joe Biden showing more confidence on the debate stage in the final Democratic showdown of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Wine caves is now trending after the candidates trade shots about wealth and rich donors.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is an early, EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs, Friday, December 20th, 3:37 now a.m. in New York.

There are 45 days to the Iowa caucuses and that's where we start with the 2020 field and a strong night for frontrunner Joe Biden at the sixth Democratic presidential debate last night in Los Angeles. The former vice president appeared in command as did Pete Buttigieg. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor now more of a target with a sizeable campaign war chest, and still holding on as frontrunner in most Iowa polls. This will also go down as the debate that made wine caves a thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I have never even been to a wine cave. I've been to the wind cave in South Dakota. ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't have to go shake

the money tree in the wine cave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: I've been to both the wind cave in South Dakota and to wine caves, frankly. Jeff Zeleny in Los Angeles with more.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the last Democratic presidential debate of the year ends with Joe Biden standing strong at the center of the stage, certainly having one of his strongest debate performances that he has had all year long. He of course struggled with debates throughout the summer and the fall. But appearing at ease, appearing strong.

(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. If anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate, it's me the way they've attacked me and my son and my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Pete Buttigieg coming under fire from all directions, from Elizabeth Warren, over his fundraising practices, from Amy Klobuchar over his experience. Now Pete Buttigieg who would be the youngest president ever elected should he win the primary and defeat President Trump, he took it all in stride and certainly responded and held his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: 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)

WARREN: 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.

[03:40:04]

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.

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you for that.

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

YANG: 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)

BRIGGS: Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders now admitting she was disrespectful and apologizing to Mr. Biden after tweeting about this moment in the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: 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 talk, what do I do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: In a now deleted tweet, Sanders appears to mock stutterers. The backlash was immediate. At first Sanders tried to suggest her post was not about stuttering but she eventually removed the tweet and apologized after Biden tweeted back that stuttering is something he has worked his whole life to overcome.

ROMANS: 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)

ROMANS: 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 up there.

BRIGGS: 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: She owned that one, as my kids would say.

BRIGGS: Yes. That was pretty well-played. You could see the crowd agreed. Warren would be 71 at the time of her inauguration if elected. And I don't think anyone looks at Elizabeth Warren or listens to Elizabeth Warren and says she, you know, seems old and out of touch. ROMANS: No, not at all. 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.

BRIGGS: All right, ahead the term wine cave getting a lot of buzz after the debate. Will it continue to resonate into the first primaries and caucuses? We discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:46:48]

ROMANS: Seven candidates in the final Democratic debate of the year, and this was the debate of the wine cave. What was that all about?

Pete Buttigieg held a big 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 --

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)

ROMANS: Buttigieg said that Democrats are in the fight of their lives and shouldn't try to beat President Trump with, quote, "one hand tied behind our back."

BRIGGS: All right, joining us now from Washington to talk wine caves, wind caves and everything in between, the editor and publisher of "Inside Elections," Nathan Gonzales. He's a CNN political analyst.

Good to see you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Appreciate you leading us off here on team no sleep.

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning. BRIGGS: So let's talk about the wine cave exchange and who do you

think got the best of it?

GONZALES: Yes. Well, how honest are we being this morning? I admit that I helped put my kids to bed, listened to part of the debate on the radio, went to watch "Star Wars" then watched the debate while wrapping Christmas presents. So it's been a long night but a couple of things stood out in that wine --

ROMANS: No spoilers please on "Star Wars" because we got a long --

GONZALES: I definitely won't.

ROMANS: A long Christmas week ahead of us.

GONZALES: I definitely won't. Couple of things stuck about the wine cave moment. The first is that, you know, we're getting -- as we get closer to Iowa, things are going to get testier, things are going to get more divisive because someone has to win. And if you're not leading in the polls you want to get to that point and you have to bring the person that you perceive to be as the threat or the frontrunner, you have to bring that person down.

The other thing that came to mind was that this -- if a candidate can't handle these attacks or this back and forth in a primary, how are they going perform when they got on to a debate stage with President Trump? And I think I know it pains some Democrats to go to listen to this fighting and go through this, but you'd rather have some of this come out now rather than eight months from now when it's in a general election.

ROMANS: Yes. The seven of them trying to differentiate each other from one another but at the same time also trying to chip away at what is -- something that really is in the president's back pocket, and that is a strong American economy. You know, it's --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It's the economy, stupid. The highest approval number he has is on the economy. I mean, there are many economists who say if the election were held today just on the economy, not on personality, impeachment and other things, this president would have a clear advantage.

Here are the candidates trying to show that the Trump economy doesn't work for everyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The middle class is not as behind the eight ball.

[03:50:01]

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: Does it break through?

GONZALES: Well, I think when talking about the economy we're talking to -- I think both these candidates and the president, they're talking to a very limited number of people who haven't made up their mind already. The vast majority of Americans have already decided whether they like President Trump or not or whether they're going to vote for him or against him. But it's that economy piece that is keeping the president afloat because even some people who don't like the tweets, that don't like the rallies and when he's attacking late members of Congress, they don't like that but they still believe the economy is heading in the right direction.

So if that slips over the next year then the president is really on unfirmed ground to say the least with independent voters, and he has a rallied, a unified, and energized Democratic base ready to vote him out.

BRIGGS: And for the Democratic side, whether it was last night or throughout this entire debate process, it's relatively unchanged, too, similar to that Trump dynamic. Has anything changed the fundamental element of the field that Joe Biden is clearly a reluctant vulnerable frontrunner and everyone else is just chasing him? What could change the dynamic?

GONZALES: Right. I mean, you bring up a great point. I guess I'm just skeptical. That's part of the reason why I felt like it was OK to not watch this wire to wire live. Because, usually, you know, in the media we tend to overreact sometimes and we try -- we treat everything as a game changer and when the dust settles it usually hasn't changed that much. We talk about the primary, you know, Joe Biden I would argue has been the frontrunner since he announced, since before he announced, he's still the frontrunner now even if he's a little bit behind in the first couple of states, and the same thing goes with President Trump.

When you look at his job approval rating over the course of the year, from January, going all the way through impeachment by the House, it's virtually unchanged. And so I just -- I start as skeptical that things are game changers until the polling and the date proves otherwise.

ROMANS: Right. You know, all the papers this morning are going to say who are the winner, who was the loser, you broke out, who lagged. What is your, I guess, analysis, horse race analysis of who did well last night? GONZALES: Yes. I'm comfortable to take in a couple of breaths and

wait for some polling to come out.

ROMANS: OK.

GONZALES: Specifically in the early. But I think that who the media declares as the winner is important to the extent that that person will get more attention, they'll get some positive media. But does that -- what does a candidate do with that and does it last? For example, when Senator Kamala Harris got a bump out of that debate, you know, it seems like years ago now but months ago, she did get a significant bump but it wasn't able to last and now she's no longer in the race. So, you know, we just have to wait and see on some of this.

BRIGGS: Tell you what, the online polls, the Andrew Yang supporters are thrilled with this repeated debate performance.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: But we shall see if anything moves the needles.

Nathan Gonzales, we'll check back with you next hour. Thank you.

ROMANS: Yes. Come back. No spoilers please for "Star Wars."

(LAUGHTER)

GONZALES: Don't worry. Don't worry.

ROMANS: But I'm impressed with your fortitude. All that, wrapping presents, the whole bit. All right. We'll talk to you in a few minutes. Thank you.

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 a fair process in her view 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 week 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.

[03:55:06]

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 a 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 has more.

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

This a leading evangelical Christian magazine publishes 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, EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: -- and the only guy who's not interrupted, all right? And I'm going to interrupt now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Frontrunner Joe Biden showing more confidence on the debate stage in the final Democratic showdown of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Wine caves is now trending after the candidates trade shots about wealth and rich donors.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, December 20th. It

is 4:00 a.m. in New York, 45 days to the Iowa caucuses. A strong night for frontrunner Joe Biden at the sixth Democratic presidential debate last night in Los Angeles. The former vice president appeared in command as did Pete Buttigieg. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor now more of a target with a sizable campaign war chest and still holding on as a frontrunner in most Iowa polls.

This will also go down as the debate that made wine caves a thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president.

KLOBUCHAR: And I have never even been to a wine cave. I've been to the wind cave in South Dakota.

YANG: We don't have to go shake the money tree in the wine cave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Jeff Zeleny is in Los Angeles with more.

ZELENY: Christine and Dave, the last Democratic presidential debate of the year ends with Joe Biden standing strong at the center of the stage, certainly having one of his strongest debate performances that he has had all year long. He of course struggled with debates throughout the summer and the fall. But appearing at ease, appearing strong.

(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. If anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate, it's me the way they've attacked me and my son and my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Pete Buttigieg coming under fire from all directions, from Elizabeth Warren over his fundraising practices, from Amy Klobuchar over his experience. Now Pete Buttigieg, who would be the youngest president ever elected should he win the primary and defeat President Trump, he took it all in stride and certainly responded and held his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: If you just go by vote totals, maybe what goes on in my city seems small to you.

END