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CNN Poll: U.S. Economy Receives Its Best Ranking Nearly 20 Years; DNC Raises Bar For 2020 Candidates To Make January Debate; Evangelical Magazine: Trump "Morally Lost" & "Should Be Removed". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:30:10]

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It's a new day on the economy today and some new numbers on the politics of the economy that should bring a big smile to the President's face.

The government reports gross domestic product. That's the broadest snapshot of overall economic performance, grew at a 2.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter. It's not the gangbuster's 4 percent growth that candidate Trump promised back in 2016. But it is proof the economy continues to expand as we approach the election year. And that is good news for an incumbent president, any incumbent president.

Here's more. Voter confidence in the economy is at a level not seen in nearly 20 years. Look at these numbers. Seventy-six percent of Americans now rate economic conditions in the country as good. You have to go back to February of 2001 to find a higher degree of optimism.

This is one of the -- it's like a parallel universe in the sense that we have impeachment front and center. We'll start the election year with a Senate trial. And yet if you look at these economic numbers whether you're name is Donald Trump or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or anybody, any incumbent president would be doing handstands with, number one, the basic economic numbers, and number two, voter confidence, that's it. People vote their lives. If you're that confident about the economy, are you going to pick a new president?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You sort through some of the noise from the President's Twitter account that actually could have ease his argument here both for reelection and on impeachment, you know, why would you get rid of me if the economy is so good?

There was an interesting exchange actually in the debate last night where there was a question along those lines to the candidates. And I do think this poses a bit of a challenge for Democrats where they have to be careful to not appear overly partisan on this question.

The economy objectively is better. Yes, Trump has inherited an economy that is on the rise. But it has gotten better on his watch. The Democratic argument is largely that that is impacting mostly wealthier Americans. They will try to argue that structural inequalities still exist. But if Trump can stay on message, if he can frame this in the right way, he certainly has a good hand going to this.

KING: So let's look at some of that, again, real GDP in the third quarter, 2.1 percent. President Trump said it would be 4 or 5 percent if you elected him. That was unrealistic at the time. But, you know, so he didn't meet that, but he still has a growing economy. The unemployment rate is a 50-year low, 3.5 percent. His approval rating on economy, up 54 percent, most of his numbers are underwater. The President's economic approval numbers are pretty good. So you are Democrat, you want to replace Trump. Here's how some of them tried to make the case things might be good but they're not great.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The middle class is getting killed. The middle class is getting crushed.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The biggest problem in our economy is simple. People are not getting paid enough.

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: GDP and corporate profits are at record highs in America today. Also at record highs, depression, financial insecurity, student loan debt.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you see a government that works great for the wealthy and the well connected and for no one else, that is corruption, pure and simple.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump goes around saying the economy is doing great. You know what, real inflation accounted for wages went off last year? 1.1 percent. That ain't great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is going to be -- they want to make it about the character of the President more than the economic numbers. But they're going to have to have a competing economic argument. One of the reasons Trump is president, a lot of people would tell you, is that in these key battleground states last time, Hillary Clinton didn't.

ASMA KHALID, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I mean part of, I would say what's going on right now is that to a Democratic primary electorate, there is an argument to be made that many voters feel like, sure, the economy is growing at a macro level but it's growing at a very unequal level. And I think in a primary electorate, that message makes sense.

The difficulty that they are going to have is translating that message to a general electorate. But one thing I want to point out is that President Trump does have a challenge to stay on message. The economy was doing really ahead of the midterms. Unemployment was also doing, you know, pretty well out of the midterms. We saw the Republicans with a number of losses in the House in part because there were other factors the Democrats could run on.

KING: The noise did matter and the health care issue both the specifics of the health care issue and then noise, tweeting all the time, attacking people, being callous, being rude with the tweets. There's no question. But to your point about the general election just look at this from our new CNN poll in the battleground states. This is across the battleground states. Biden versus Trump, 47-47. Warren verse Trump, 46-48. Sanders versus Trump, 45-49. Buttigieg versus Trump, 43-48.

So all the Democrats are competitive but you could flip that the other way. The incumbent president is competitive, if not leading, in all of those states heading in to what is going to be, here it comes.

PACE: Well, if you look at the vote in the House on impeachment, all of the Republicans hung with Trump. I think one of the worrisome signs for Democrats is that that's a sign of what's to come in the general election that all the Republican voters, the independents who sided with him last time hang with him. You know, we have seen people hang with this President through an awful lot. I don't think there is a lot of reason to believe that effect couldn't happen again a year from now.

[12:35:06]

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. And I think, you know, Republicans, this is why they've stayed loyal to him for so long despite him doing things that they don't agree with and can't defend in Ukraine. Even small things like attacking the late John Dingell or John McCain, you know, they don't speak out on any of these generally. And it's because as you said earlier, people vote by looking at their bank account more than anything.

And things are going pretty well. And the real question for him and for Republicans is can he not step on his own message, like you pointed out because all they want to talk about is the economy, and all he seems to tweet about is everything else.

KING: All right. Up next for us, when the President says he believes Ukraine did it, not Russia, people ask, where did he get it? Well, one person close to the President says, quote, Putin told me.

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[12:40:47]

KING: Topping our Political Radar today, President Trump set to sign a $1.4 trillion spending package to keep the government funded through fiscal 2020. He'll do that just before the deadline tonight, midnight to avoid the shutdown.

And before heading to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays this evening, he'll also sign a $738 billion of defense bill which funds the President's new space force and gives federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

A former senior White House official telling "The Washington Post" that President Trump once stated explicitly that he believes it was Ukraine not Russia that meddled in the 2016 election because President Trump said, that's what Russian President Vladimir Putin told him. Multiple former officials told "The Post" that after a private meeting with Putin at the 2017 G-20 Summit, President Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine had worked to defeat him in the 2016 election.

The Defense Secretary, Mark Esper sharing an update on the Pentagon's efforts to protect the 2020 election from foreign interference. Secretary Esper did not mention any country specifically, but he says the DOD understands the threat.

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MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The critical thing is that we preserve the integrity of our Democratic process and that our elections are free from outside influence. And I'm confident we're doing everything we can right now to ensure that going into 2020.

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KING: Still ahead for us, the Democratic National Committee has new debate criteria for 2020. And some of the candidates are not happy.

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[12:46:55]

KING: The Democratic National Committee not giving in, the DNC today raising the bar yet again for presidential candidates to qualify for the first primary debate of the actual election year in 2020.

To participate, candidates will need to hit 5 percent in at least four approved national or early state polls or 7 percent in two early state polls. Candidates also then must woo at least 225,000 unique donors and a minimum of a thousand donors per state in at least 20 different states. The thresholds have angered many candidates, especially candidates of color both those who have made the cut and those who have not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YANG: The question is, why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage? Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns. Do you know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's frustrating. So, you know, you see an Iowa here, wall-to-wall, you know, Steyer and Bloomberg ads. But I'm not a billionaire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'm not a -- Cory Booker did not make it. Says he's not a billionaire. He says it's a shame the DNC is trying to dictate choices to people on the ground. So now you have candidates mad at their own party. The party chairman would say, look, we have to beat Donald Trump. If we're going to beat Donald Trump, you have to prove that you can get support in the polls and you can get fundraising. Who is right?

KHALID: I mean I think you could argue both sides have a case to be made. I mean, when you talk to supporters of, say, Cory Booker or Julian Castro, the candidates themselves, they feel like the DNC has now become the first primary in essence. And that always the responsibility of the first voters went to Iowa, so why are you winnowing the field before Iowans even caucus.

You know, in the flip side, you know, the DNC feels like at the end of day, there's a really large field and you've got to winnow down the conversation in order for voters to be able to make a clear decision.

KING: You just said, you've got an e-mail from the Bennet, Michael Bennet campaign, a senator from Colorado, a white man.

PACE: Yes.

KING: But also a candidate, a candidate again on paper. You're looking at me. He's a senator from Colorado. We've gone through this. A number of people, we had a governor from Montana, a number of people who, on paper, credible candidates, have not been able to meet these criteria. Is the DNC right to say, well, the voters don't like you? That's part of politics, or --

PACE: Yes. I mean one of the things that has been happening for a year is some of these candidates, you know, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, have been out in Iowa. They've been in New Hampshire. They've been in South Carolina. They've been talking to voters. And their enthusiasm for those candidates has not shown up in the state polls. They also have been on the debate stage.

You know, Booker and Castro have had, Castro in particular, some real standout debate moments which have just not translated in the polls or into the donations. So I think you can argue if you are running for president and you want to make a credible case that you beat Donald Trump and you have had opportunities on the ground and opportunities on a national debate stage and its just not translating, maybe you won't be competitive.

KING: It is interesting. Let's go back to last night a little bit. Julie would request a question near the end. Is there anything you want to ask forgiveness for or you want to even give a gift to anybody? And I'm going to back out of this one as the man at the table, because a lot of people took note that the only candidates who talked about forgiveness were the two women.

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[12:50:11]

WARREN: I will ask for forgiveness. I know that sometimes I get really worked up. And sometimes I get a little hot. I don't really mean to.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would ask for forgiveness any time any of you get mad at me. I can be blunt, but I am doing this because I think it is so important to pick the right candidate here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why? Why? I mean this. I mean this. We went through -- look, we went through this and I've taken my fair share of heat on Twitter, among other people in the business too, after the 2016 campaign. But why does a woman candidate need to apologize for being passionate about what they believe in and sometimes mixing it up in a fight? Fights get contentious.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You could see it that way or you could see this as kind of a life lesson on a debate stage too. I'm sorry, you can. I think we're talking about a presidential campaign, but like in life, in relationships, and all kinds of things, women tend to be better at being, wanting to make peace, wanting to be self-reflective, and men tend to be a little bit more, you know, I haven't done anything wrong, I'm sorry if you got hurt or whatever.

Right exactly. And so this is like in a way or refreshing little out take on everything else that isn't this debate, that isn't this race to have that moment displayed like that. But sure, if you want to take it from the side of why do they feel that they have to apologize, I don't think that they would have run out on the stage to apologize, anyway. But when given the choice, can you be humble? The women said, yes, I can. And that doesn't necessarily like change who I am. And the men did not take bait.

KING: They did not take that bait, two of them trying to sell their books or talk about heading out their books. And none of them, none of them shockingly said, Obama was right, this past week, right, when Obama. No? Former President Obama said that women make better leaders. That's what he said. The men didn't jump in on that one.

When we come back, an influential evangelical magazine said the President has morally lost and should be removed. The President responded. That just ahead.

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[12:56:47]

KING: President Trump lashing out at the evangelical magazine "Christianity Today", that in a scathing editorial in which the magazine called for the President's removal from office. It says, he quote, attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution, the editorial says, more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The president firing back on Twitter this morning calling the magazine quote, far left. And he says as Ukraine call, was perfect. Insisting no president has done as much as he has for Evangelicals.

Interesting because Evangelicals are such a big part of the President's base, the President going out of his way here to try to push this magazine to the left. I don't want to make too much of this. But you do see a campaign that's going to be very competitive where I would argue the margins are going to matter.

You see the President making appeals to African-Americans, to Latinos, to women, the constituents of which whom he struggles the most. He's not going to win them. But if he can change the numbers among African-Americans a little bit in Georgia, there goes the Democratic dream. If he loses a little bit of his Evangelical support, what happens?

DEMIRJIAN: That's potentially a problem in certain states that he needs to, you know, that he swung the last time, that he has going to have to keep in his column if he wants to win. And there's always kind of been this question around, you know, where the religious community sides with Donald Trump, right? Because it tends to, you know, the people that are -- the Evangelical community tends to swing more towards the GOP, and yet Trump has kind of been labeled by some spiritual leaders as, you know, a newcomer to the fold or the faith or what have you.

But his actions, especially when it has to do with, you know, women and Stormy Daniels type stuff, there are things out there that if you want to say, wait a second, that's not morally upstanding, you can very easily do that as a religious voter. That split hasn't happened yet. But if that fracture starts to take place, that could be extremely problematic for him, especially if it takes place among women in the suburbs who, you know, think about these things. That hasn't broken yet, but if it does, that could spell electoral vote problems with him.

KING: And one of the risks when you pick the fight is that the media covers their fight, this is Mark Galli who is editor in chief. He's leaving the magazine soon. The President calls him far left. The editor says, not fair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK GALLI, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CHRISTIANITY TODAY: It's factually inaccurate that we're far left. We're pretty centrist. We rarely comment on politics unless we feel it rises to the level of some national or concern that is really important and this would be a case. We wrote editorials about Clinton during his impeachment process, we wrote editorials about Nixon during his. This struck me as rising to that level and I need to comment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He says they're centrist. They have written editorials in the past. There is one right after the President's election we could show you here where there are many Evangelicals who voted for Trump, many Evangelicals who advised him, it's time to advise him now that the immigrants are made in the image of God. So they have taken issues with him on some of the specifics. But that's not outside of the box. That has been -- we've heard that from even Evangelicals who strongly support the President to dial it back and at least tone on immigrants.

CAYGLE: Yes. And you know, remember in October, Pat Robertson who's arguably one of the most influential Evangelicals sharply criticized Trump, said, he was endanger of loosing the mandate of heaven over the curds. And it made a few headlines and then everyone moved on. I mean they're sticking with him. And I don't know if there's anything he can do.

[13:00:03]

KING: We will watch it in the election. While we've been on the air, Speaker Nancy Pelosi inviting the President to give his State of the Union on February 4th, we'll see if that date --