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2020 Dems Debate Just Weeks Before First Vote; Senate Impeachment Trial In Limbo as Congress Begins Recess. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 05:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We will miss Dave Briggs. And that was a beautiful, classy way to say good-bye.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He is a lovely, classy human being. And I know we are going to stay friends.

CAMEROTA: As are we, since he lives about a block away from me.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, December 20th, 5:00 here in New York, for a special early edition of the program.

[05:00:04]

It was a smaller stage for the Democratic debate last night, but it delivered big moments and a lot of substance. This on the day after President Trump's impeachment.

For the first time, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was a target after his rise in the polls in Iowa, and Senator Elizabeth Warren slamming him for his big-dollar fund-raiser, causing the term "wine cave" to trend on Twitter. The seven candidates had heated discussions over health care and experience. So, we'll bring you the biggest moments from last night, in a moment.

BERMAN: Also, we know the president has been impeached. We don't know when or if the Senate will put him on trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now says, fine with me, if House Democrats never transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate. McConnell claims he feels no need to force the start of the Senate trial.

But the new and potentially big problem is that the president is not fine with it, which might be the button that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was pushing all along. The president is angry about the delay. And stated overnight he wants an immediate trial.

And another major development overnight, a crack in the most solid base of the president's support. An evangelical magazine founded by the late Reverend Billy Graham himself is calling the president grossly immoral and urging his removal from office.

Let's start, though, with the debate that many of you watched right here on CNN.

Ryan Nobles in Los Angeles.

This was really something. Almost two separate debates, Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, John. And this was important for these Democratic candidates, the last opportunity for them to perform in front of a massive audience in 2019.

And you're right. For the most part, this was a dense policy discussion. But that did not stop the candidates for taking the opportunity to go after each other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): For the first time, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, felt the fire from his Democratic opponents.

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

NOBLES: But Buttigieg, whose polls show was among the leaders in the first caucus state of Iowa, was prepared to fight back.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: According to "Forbes" magazine, I'm the only person on this stage, who is literally not a millionaire or a billionaire.

NOBLES: Buttigieg took criticism for his high-dollar, closed-door fund-raisers, including one held in a wine cave in northern California.

But the mayor stood his ground.

BUTTIGIEG: So, to denounce the same kind of fundraising guidelines that President Obama went by, that Speaker Pelosi went by, by you yourself went by, to build the Democratic Party and build a campaign ready for the fight of our lives, these purity tests shrink the stakes of the most important election.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was looking for a breakout moment, offering her pragmatic politics as an alternative for Democratic voters.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not come here to listen to this argument.

NOBLES: Giving a standout answer, defending the House's vote to impeach President Trump.

KLOBUCHAR: As we face this trial in the Senate, if the president claims he is so innocent, then why doesn't he have all the president's men testify? Richard Nixon had his top people testify.

NOBLES: All of the candidates on stage weighed in on the House's vote to impeach the president.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a constitutional necessity for the House to act as it did.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me remind everyone that I'm the person who started the Need to Impeach Movement over two years ago.

NOBLES: Businessman Andrew Yang, arguing that Democrats need to start looking at the big picture.

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we have to do is we have to stop being obsessed over impeachment and start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place.

NOBLES: The debate was the smallest and the least diverse. No African-American or Latino candidates cracked the standards to make the field. But identity politics were still on display.

DEBATE MODERATOR: Senator Sanders, you are the oldest candidate on stage, this evening.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm white, as well.

NOBLES: With several candidates forced to explain how they would reach out to minority groups.

SANDERS: The issue is, where power resides in America. It's not white or black or male or female. We are living in a nation increasingly becoming an oligarchy. We have millionaires spending millions of dollars buying elections and politicians.

NOBLES: And several asked if their age might be disqualifying.

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

WARREN: I would also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated.

NOBLES: Two of the top tier candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, clashed with their vision over health care.

[05:05:01]

BIDEN: Put your hand down for a second, Bernie, OK?

SANDERS: Just waving to you, Joe. Saying hello.

BIDEN: I know.

So, look, it covers everybody. It's realistic. And most importantly, it lets you choose what you want.

SANDERS: Under Joe's plan, essentially, we retain the status quo.

BIDEN: That's not true.

SANDERS: That is exactly true. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And this captive audience, so important for these candidate because there's many distractions in front of them. Of course, we are already into the holiday season. And in January, that Senate impeachment trial is expected to fire up, which means this campaign could take a backseat, once again.

Of course, John, a reminder, we are now only 45 days away from the Iowa caucuses.

BERMAN: It's basically tomorrow, Ryan. Basically tomorrow. Not much time left.

Ryan Nobles out there in Los Angeles, thank you so much.

So, coming out of last night, who were the big winners and losers? We'll talk to the insiders and get their take, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:10:37]

CAMEROTA: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg on defense for the first time, as seven of the Democratic presidential candidates faced off on the debate stage in Los Angeles last night. So, who had the best and worst moments?

Let's bring in Elaina Plott, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times", and Jess McIntosh, CNN political commentator and former director of communications outreach for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

OK. Let's start with the losers.

BERMAN: Wow, wow. When you have to get up early --

CAMEROTA: Yes, you want me here at 5:00, we're going full loser right now, all right, Jess?

So, who -- what were the worst moments of the night or who lost?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I went into this debate, thinking there was a large swath of the Democratic primary voters, who were very sad to see a stage without Castro, or Booker or Kamala Harris. And that this was an opportunity for folks who were on the stage to really make a play for those voters.

And instead, we saw Bernie Sanders sort of revert to his 2016 race issues where he got asked a direct question about race and he tried to pivot to climate change. And he got called out on that. He made the joke about also being a white guy, which fell really flat --

CAMEROTA: He came out as a white guy last night.

MCINTOSH: He did. It was the wrong moment to do that, when we were feeling the strain of having what had been a really diverse field winnowed to a very white one. So, I would say those were real misses.

Joe Biden answering a question about reparations by dodging it entirely was another major miss on race last night. When I think race mattered to people watching that stage. So, I would put those in -- probably wouldn't have done that if I were those camps' territory.

It was a pretty strong night for most of the people on the stage.

BERMAN: You could do a lot more when there's only seven on the stage.

MCINTOSH: That's true. It's definitely truth.

BERMAN: Elaina, let's look at the other side of it. Let's look at the winners.

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would say Amy Klobuchar. She is somebody who I think consistently in debates has been able to leave viewers with the impression of what her candidacy would bring to the White House. I think she's a strong messenger.

But I think this was the first night that she intensely injected herself in the night's marquee moment, which is to say, anytime you saw Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg getting in the fray, she made a point of making herself a part of that moment. On the debate stage, that's what it takes to leave a critical impression.

BERMAN: It was interesting. It's hard to be progressively moderate, right?

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: It is.

PLOTT: What a perfect slogan that would be. I love that.

BERMAN: Separate.

MCINTOSH: And there's no way that wine -- I've never been to a wine cave, I've been to the wind cave. There's no way that that was in the can. She wasn't expecting wine cave to trend during the debate.

So, it was nice to see -- I thought it was a great night for both women, actually.

PLOTT: I think I saw it coming.

MCINTOSH: She could have been ready with a wind cave --

(CROSSTALK) MCINTOSH: I think it was a good night for the women on stage and Pete

Buttigieg tried to take both of them on and came out bruised with each encounter. So, I think -- I think that was fun for the people who are rooting for the women.

CAMEROTA: I think that's really interesting. There was an authenticity to Amy Klobuchar, which came through last night, in terms of her argument to voters, that you can be pragmatic and progressive simultaneously. That's what she was trying to prove, and somehow, she does thread that needle.

PLOTT: Yes, absolutely. A moment you saw that was when you sad Biden and Sanders over the merits of the other's health care. And she I think had a really strong moment when she said, you're having a fake argument right now. These are both of these plans have elements, in her view, sort of in fantasyland.

And what I want to do is build on Obamacare, something that this party has already made strides on. And I think, you know, having that exasperated, like what are we doing right now when we finally have a chance maybe to take the White House and move forward, why are we existing within sort of like an esoteric policy right now.

BERMAN: I want to play a moment from Joe Biden that we did not hear in the piece. There are a lot of people looking at this debate this morning saying, it was one of Joe Biden's stronger, if not strongest performances. And one of the things he's been running on is that he's willing to work with Republicans if he wins. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never get to a place where we have cooperation again.

[05:15:02]

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He did two things there. He answered the question about working with Republicans, which is something he is trying to differentiate himself from some of the other candidates there, and he also delved into the impeachment saga in what might be a deft way.

MCINTOSH: I think he answered that question much better than he has before last night. He usually talks about how the Republicans are going to have an epiphany and come to the table when Trump isn't there. I don't think that resonates with Democratic primary voters who lived through the Obama administration when that didn't happen, and so did Vice President Biden.

Last night, he made it clear that he would try to convince them. And if that failed, he would try to beat them. And I think that's probably more -- where more progressive voters are. We're sitting, you know, under an administration that currently still has children in cages. And I'm not hearing a lot of the people I talk to interested in compromising with the folks who think that's a good idea at this point.

So, I thought he was -- he was much better about staying true to himself, which is the guy who wants to get along with everybody, but also recognizing that we are in different political times than we have been previously.

CAMEROTA: Final thought?

PLOTT: I would say that Biden was able to be as strong as he was because Buttigieg was the one taking, I think, the harsh lines of attack last night. And Biden I think was sort of able to safely recede and make his case in an unobstructed way.

BERMAN: I would say it's the dangers of going negative in a multi- candidate field, which is that no matter what you say about candidate A, there's always another candidate C who might benefit from the attack than the person you're knocking down.

Jess and Elaina, great to have you here.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: Coming up, we're going to speak to two of the Democratic presidential candidates, one of whom was on the stage physically, and one that had a presence even though he wasn't there. Amy Klobuchar joins us and Senator Cory Booker, as well.

CAMEROTA: So, the stage is set for a major face-off, between two of the biggest power brokers in Washington. The latest in the impeachment standoff, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:21:57]

BERMAN: This morning, two of the great congressional tacticians of all-time are facing off. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, maneuvering over the Senate impeachment trial.

Right now, it's frozen. The status of the trial in limbo until lawmakers leave Washington until the New Year.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with the very latest.

They've been circling each other for days now. It's not clear where this is headed, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yesterday, you had Democratic as well as Republican leaders holding their year-end press conferences. They literally wished us merry Christmas and happy holidays before they left town. In the meantime, so while Congress is on its winter recess, you have

the Senate impeachment trial in limbo, as this standoff between Speaker Pelosi and Mitch McConnell intensifies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): A clash on Capitol Hill, between its two most powerful lawmakers.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Frankly, I don't care what the Republicans say.

MALVEAUX: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, going head-to-head with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in the fight of timing of President Trump's Senate trial.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The speaker of the House continues to hem and haw.

MALVEAUX: McConnell failing to reach an agreement on its format with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, three sources tell CNN.

MCCONNELL: We remain on an impasse on these logistics.

MALVEAUX: But Schumer and Democrats are still pushing to hear from key witnesses, like acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and former national security adviser John Bolton.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If the House case is so weak, why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents?

MALVEAUX: Thursday's private meeting between McConnell and Schumer stalled, while discussing when the articles of impeachment will be sent from the House the Senate. And that is in the hands of the House speaker.

PELOSI: I'm not prepared to put the managers in that bill because we don't know the arena that we are in.

MALVEAUX: McConnell blaming the back up on the quality of the House Democrats' investigation into Trump.

PELOSI: Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid -- too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate.

Mr. President, looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet.

MALVEAUX: Pelosi firing back, with this scathing response.

PELOSI: Our Founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected we could have a rogue president. I don't think they could suspect we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.

MALVEAUX: Meanwhile, President Trump downplaying being the third president to be impeached.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't feel like I'm being impeached. It's a hoax. It's a setup. It's a horrible thing they did.

MALVEAUX: But behind closed doors, Trump is feeling the heat of impeachment. A source telling CNN, the White House is waiting for Pelosi's next move. And President Trump's fearful any further delay of a Senate trial will lessen the chances of a quick vindication from the Ukraine scandal.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): 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.

[05:25:00]

This is a political stunt that's not funny.

MALVEAUX: Democrats confident in the House speaker's strategy.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Speaker Pelosi is doing it for a very good reason. She's going to take some time to work with Mitch McConnell and make sure it's a fair process.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: So, amidst the uncertainty of when a Senate impeachment trial would take place, it is expected that President Trump will sign a spending bill to keep the government open and then we'll go on his own vacation heading to West Palm Beach -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Suzanne, thank you very much for all of those interesting developments.

And now, to this development. Overnight, a prominent evangelical magazine calling for President Trump to be removed from office? What does this mean for his evangelical support? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)