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Top Political Stories of 2019; Measles Scare; Biden and Buttigieg Battle For Iowa. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 24, 2019 - 16:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: With the Iowa caucuses just around the corner, former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are struggling to dominate the moderate lane.

And as CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, that means they're fighting for every single voter.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Pete Buttigieg came to town, Cheri Schieb was sitting right there in the front row, listening intently, and capturing the moment.

As he left, she gave him a high five.

CHERI SCHIEB, IOWA VOTER: I want to high-five you again. Cheri Schieb.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. All right, sounds good. Thanks so much for the support.

SCHIEB: Thank you, Pete.

ZELENY: And smiled with satisfaction.

(on camera): So do you walk away from here committed, or do you want to go see some of the others first?

SCHIEB: Well, Joe Biden is also in town tonight.


SCHIEB: And I'm going to go see what he has to say.

ZELENY (voice-over): Two hours later, Schieb and her sister Nancy were there.

SCHIEB: Thank you for coming to Perry.

ZELENY: For an up-close look at Joe Biden. She admires and values Biden's experience. SCHIEB: He's been there, so I feel good about that. I'm really happy

about that. I like him.

ZELENY (on camera): But you love Mayor Pete?

SCHIEB: I love Mayor Pete. What does a guy do? I don't know. I'm really kind of torn a little bit. I got to think about it and sleep on it. I don't know yet.

ZELENY (voice over): Just before Christmas, Democrats are still shopping for presidential hopefuls in Iowa. Biden and Buttigieg are going after the same voters, literally, which brought both of them Sunday to the town of Perry, about 45 minutes outside Des Moines.

For Democrats searching for a more moderate candidate, the choice is stark, a 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, delivering an optimistic message.

BUTTIGIEG: Even in this dark and strange time, I have never been more filled with hope.

ZELENY: Or a former vice president twice his age, who offers a dark warning about the consequences of President Trump winning a second term.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But if we give him another four years, I believe he will permanently alter the character of the country, at least for several generations.

ZELENY: Pat McPherson is torn, applauding Buttigieg's intellect...

PAT MCPHERSON, IOWA VOTER: Well, I think he might be the one.

ZELENY: ... but later impressed by Biden's grasp on the world.

(on camera): So, just a couple of hours ago, you told me that you were going to sign on the dotted line for Buttigieg.


ZELENY: Now you're -- you want to think about it a little longer.

MCPHERSON: I'm probably going to go with Mayor Pete, but -- but I just -- there's just so much to be said for being able to hit the ground running on day one, and it's going to be a huge task.

ZELENY (voice-over): While he's trailing Buttigieg in recent polls, Biden is showing that skills from a lifetime in politics also come in handy to people of all ages.


BIDEN: Say, hi. Go ahead.


BIDEN: That's it. You got it. OK.

That may be the most intelligent thing you hear all night.

ZELENY: Pat Mundy liked the charisma of Buttigieg and worried that Biden may be too old. But after seeing him up close, in this moment, she said she changed her mind.

PAT MUNDY, IOWA VOTER: And I made that comment he might be a little old before, but I'm a little old too, and I'm in pretty good shape, and he looks like he's in dynamic shape.

ZELENY (on camera): So you have quite a decision facing you now?

MUNDY: I have a terrific decision facing me, and it won't be made lightly.


ZELENY: So, with the Democratic campaign intensifying, with attacks swirling all about, it is notable that neither of these two campaigns have tangled.

They have not set a cross word about one another. Of course, the Biden campaign realizes that raising questions about Pete Buttigieg's experience could backfire. But they are watching with interest as Amy Klobuchar does raise those questions.

All three candidates competing for the same moderate lane here in Iowa, now less than six weeks until the caucuses -- Erica.

HILL: Who's counting?

Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

As we look at all of this, of course, outside of Iowa, we should point out Joe Biden still maintaining that front-runner status.

But "The New York Times" did this recognizability tests. You can take it online. Highly recommend it. And they found nearly all Americans say they have heard of Joe Biden, but most under the age of 40 cannot identify him when shown his picture.

And research has shown that that visual is something that really sticks with voters, Karen. How much of a concern should that be for the Biden camp?


I mean, we're still very early in the process. I know it doesn't feel like that, but really let's remember that the four early states represent only 10 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

So while Iowa is certainly important, and it will give us kind of our first sense of where voters are, the truth is that we have got a ways to go. And I think what we will see is exactly what we saw in Jeff's piece, a lot more of people kind of trying out -- dating, right?

I'm going to try. I'm going to try Pete, I'm going to try Biden. Who knows who's coming through next? And so I think we're going to see some movement until, again, as I say, once people start having the opportunity to vote.

HILL: And Jeff really focusing there on those moderate candidates, right, who are fighting for votes in Iowa.

There has really been this clash, though, between the progressives and the moderates over these so-called purity tests. And there's been a lot of pushback on both sides, whether it's about Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, fund-raising, and some pretty famous now pushback from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a Sanders rally.

I just want to remind you all of that moment. Take a listen.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): For anyone who accuses us for instituting purity tests, it's called having values.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's called giving a damn.


HILL: Former President Obama recently, just last month, warned about those purity tests, Bakari.

So, I mean, how is fighting over purity tests helping win over voters?


And they call it having values and they call it all these other things that AOC stated, but they're also-called having purity tests. And I think that you're starting to see those backfire with Elizabeth Warren.

This whole wine cave phenomenon, attempting to attack Pete Buttigieg from the way that he raises money, is backfiring on her, because what we realize is that how did she raise money prior to the time that she began to run for president of the United States?

She raised money the same way. And I am all for overturning Citizens United. I'm all for taking money out of politics. What I'm not for is unilateral disarmament. And individuals who want to go down that path of unilateral disarmament, we cannot beat Donald Trump raising $15 or $27 a person. We simply cannot.

And, no, I'm not saying that, because you take a donation, you're not going to sell your soul for the maximum contribution, which I believe is 2,600 bucks. You're not going to.

But what we are going to do is make sure that you can run ads. What we are going to do is make sure that you can get your message to voters, pay for canvassers, make sure field organizers are knocking on doors.

That is what you're using utilizing those resources for. And so I'm not for these purity tests. I think they're an abomination of the process. And I think that they're a red herring.

HILL: Alice, I have a real quick 15 seconds to let you tie this one up.


I think, clearly, if you're going to call out someone such as Pete Buttigieg for raising money from high-dollar donors, you need to make sure you haven't done it yourself.

But I did want to point out with regard to the Jeff Zeleny piece, this is going to be so exciting, this final stretch, when you have two candidates like them with such -- close on the issues. You have to be out there and connect and get out there and shake hands and take selfies.

And it's great to see the candidates out there doing it right now. Pete seems to be doing a little bit better than the rest, but this is -- there's going to be a lot of handshaking between now and February.


HILL: Thank you all. Thank you for the Christmas miracle. Always good to talk with you guys.



SELLERS: Merry Christmas.

STEWART: Merry Christmas.

HILL: Up next: Travelers don't just have to worry about delays this holiday season -- officials now warning, passengers may have been exposed to a highly contagious illness at multiple major airports.



HILL: A serious measles scare adding to already hectic holiday travel.

As CNN's Athena Jones reports, multiple U.S. airports now warning travelers they may have been exposed.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This holiday week could come with an unwanted and dangerous surprise: measles.

Authorities say people infected with the highly contagious virus traveled through at least five airports in recent days, and may have exposed others to the disease, just the latest in a string of similar incidents this year now happening at the busiest time to travel.

An unidentified person visited the airport and several other locations around Austin, Texas, between December 14 and December 17, including a restaurant, a grocery store and a Target.

DR. MARK ESCOTT, AUSTIN PUBLIC HEALTH: Now, that individual became ill on December the 14th and developed a rash on December the 17th. On that same day, December 17, he boarded a flight from Austin to Chicago, United Flight 790, with a connecting flight to Virginia.

JONES: Health officials are working to inform people who may have been exposed.

ESCOTT: It's important to remember that measles can be a deadly disease.

JONES: In Chicago, health officials are investigating possible measles exposures around the same time at O'Hare Airport and two restaurants. The state of Virginia is investigating possible exposures at the Richmond Airport and a doctor's office.

On December 11, three unvaccinated children with measles visiting from New Zealand likely exposed travelers at Denver and Los Angeles international airports. The CDC is contacting passengers who flew on the same planes.

The measles virus spreads through coughing and sneezing and can live in the air for up to two hours. Symptoms can include a high fever, cough, runny nose, pink eye, and, of course, a red, splotchy rash. On average, it takes about two weeks for the rash to develop, and a person is contagious for four days before and after the rash appears.

The best way to stay safe? Make sure you receive the recommended two doses of the vaccine. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States nearly 20 years ago. But there has been an upsurge in cases as vaccination rates have declined.

The CDC has reported more than 1,200 measles cases in 31 states in 2019, the highest number in nearly three decades.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I consider it really an irony that you have one of the most contagious viruses known to man juxtaposed against one of the most effective vaccines that we have. And yet we don't do and have not done what could be done, namely, completely eliminate and eradicate this virus.


JONES: Now, the CDC says the overall risk of getting a contagious disease on an airplane is low, but like any enclosed or crowded space, planes can create opportunities for transmission.

Bottom line here, get vaccinated. If you have been vaccinated, you have a 97 percent chance of being protected against the measles -- Erica.

HILL: Athena, thank you.

From the longest government shutdown ever to the president's impeachment, the top political stories of 2019 next.



HILL: 2019 started with a stalemate, the government shutdown.

And, as CNN's Dana Bash reports, it is now ending with another over the impeachment trial.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It has been quite the year in politics.

Here are the top nine political stories of 2019.

It didn't get as many headlines as other big political stories, but make no mistake about it.


BASH: The president's success in getting his judges on the bench will have implications for years to come. Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was focused like a laser on this, the Senate confirmed a record 50 circuit court judges.

McConnell took to Twitter boasting that is already the most in any president's whole first term since 1980.

TRUMP: The Constitution of the United States.

BASH: President Trump announced his reelection campaign the day he was inaugurated, a historically early start that his team took advantage of, raising more than $165 million, nearly $100 million in this year alone.

BRAD PARSCALE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It's much more efficient two years out to try to find a possible voter, possible donor. It's just a considerable advantage that the other side won't have, because you just can't replace time.

BASH: Control of those big coffers, not only his reelection campaign, but the Republican Party's, contributed to the president's firm grip on the GOP, which in various ways became even more clearly the party of Donald Trump in 2019.


BASH: The Democrats' 2020 presidential field took shape early in the year as the most diverse ever, more women and candidates of color running for a single party than ever before, the first openly gay candidate a major contender.

It was also the biggest. CNN's October debate was the most crowded stage in the history of presidential primaries.

KLOBUCHAR: I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth, because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires. We just have different approaches.

Your idea is not the only idea.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think, as Democrats, we are going to succeed when we dream big and fight hard, not when we dream small and quit before we get started.


BASH: That shrunk to seven in December, thanks to the party's increasing fund-raising and polling thresholds.

No question defined the Democratic primary fight this year more than this: Do voters want an ideological revolution or a candidate focused on relief from Donald Trump?

At the top of the field, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the revolutionaries, promising sweeping change, while former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar say incremental change is more realistic.

Nowhere was this more on display than health care.

BIDEN: Build on Obamacare. Add a public option.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Seventy-one percent of Democrats support Medicare for all.

BASH: Stay tuned for the answer in 2020.

2019 started with a historic new class of House Democrats, a record number of women sworn in and many more firsts, the first Muslim American women, the first Native American women, and the first female House speaker in history reclaimed the gavel.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I'm particularly proud to be a woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks the 100th year of women having the right to vote.


BASH: Speaking of Nancy Pelosi, going head to head with President Trump is one of the 2019 storylines, starting with the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

PELOSI: Federal workers will not be receiving their paychecks. The president seems to be insensitive to that. He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can't.

TRUMP: The State of the Union speech has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn't want to hear the truth.

BASH: In October, a clash over the president deciding to pull troops out of Syria ended in a Pelosi walkout. The president tweeted a photo of Pelosi having what he called an unhinged meltdown. She owned the image, making it her social media cover photo.

PELOSI: Article one is adopted.

BASH: The year ended with the speaker reluctantly leading the House and making Trump only the third president in history to be impeached.

PELOSI: I pray for the president all the time.

BASH: After nearly two years, Robert Mueller concluded his Russia investigation with a 448-page report.

On the key question of collusion, Mueller's probe did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in the election interference activities.

It noted 10 instances where the president may have obstructed justice, writing: "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Much to the outrage of Democrats, Attorney General William Barr tried to play it as exoneration.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

BASH: Democrats were hoping Mueller would clear it up. But his nearly-seven-hour testimony, slow-moving and drama-free, did not.

Then a whistle-blower complaint that Trump urged the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid.

TRUMP: That call was perfect.

BASH: Moderate vulnerable House Democrats, who had resisted impeachment before, changed their minds and called for an inquiry.

An equally reluctant House speaker announced the House would do just that.

PELOSI: The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution. BASH: A day later, the White House released a rough transcript of

that July conversation. In it was what Democrats would focus their impeachment inquiry on, an apparent quid pro quo.

The impeachment inquiry would make its way through the House Intelligence Committee with closed-door witness testimonies, followed by several days of notable public testimony.

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.

BASH: Former Trump-Russia adviser Fiona Hill called out some of the president's team for carrying out a -- quote -- "domestic political errand" and sent a warning.

FIONA HILL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: Russia's security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We're running out of time to stop them.

BASH: Republicans attacked the process, generally sidestepping the facts.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): You can't make your case against the president because nothing happened.

BASH: Democrats drafted two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, which passed the committee and later the full House on party-line votes, the year ending with Donald J. Trump, the third president in history to be impeached.

So, how does it all end? You're going to have to wait until 2020.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.