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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Bernie Sanders Being Underestimated?; President Trump Continues Twitter Attacks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Erica Hill is filling in for Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD."

It starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: President Trump removed from a Christmas classic.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president fuming and furiously retweeting, as Congress remains locked in a battle over his impeachment trial. How long this fight could drag into 2020.

Edited for TV. President Trump annoyed and the right triggered that Canadian cut his cameo from "Home Alone 2."

Plus, the desperate search for a tour helicopter with seven people on board. It disappeared along the cliffs of Hawaii.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Jake.

And we begin with the politics lead.

President Trump clearly has Nancy Pelosi on the brain. Just moments ago, he continued his Twitter attacks against the House speaker, insisting Democrats are stalling because their case against him is weak. The president also targeting the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, for his attacks on Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, after McConnell said just days ago he's not an impartial juror.

Yet, at the height of the Clinton impeachment saga, then newly elected Senator Schumer said this on CNN:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This is not a criminal trial. But this is something that the founding fathers decided to put in a body that was susceptible to the whims of politics. And, also, it's not like a jury box, in the sense that people will call us and lobby us.

You don't have jurors call and lobby and things like that. I mean, it's quite different than a jury.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, both sides are playing politics, while talks for a Senate trial remain at a standstill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Trump continued his holiday Twitter barrage against Democrats on impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi continuing to press her party's case in her own tweet, saying -- quote -- "President Trump abused his power for his own personal gain."

Yet, for all the 280-character thoughts, the battle over what the looming Senate trial will look like remain where it's been for days, at an impasse -- sources telling CNN no conversations between the top two Senate leaders have occurred or are likely to before January.

And with tangible action tabled for the moment, it's the rhetorical fights sitting at center stage.

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): All the people that Donald Trump has said that can profess his innocence, he hasn't let come before Congress, and she's trying to make sure that they're going to be able to testify before the Senate.

MATTINGLY: To some degree, a clear Democratic strategy to get under the president's skin, something sources tell CNN is exactly what's happened.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're playing games. They don't want to put in their articles, their ridiculous, phony, fraudulent articles.

MATTINGLY: But even more importantly, Democratic sources say, to exert pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): It would be unprecedented for the United States Senate in an impeachment trial to -- that will decide on whether the president is convicted and removed from office -- to not hear any witnesses.

MATTINGLY: McConnell has rejected Democratic calls to subpoena witnesses and documents in the initial trial rules resolution and has scoffed at the Democratic pressure play.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want.

MATTINGLY: As Congress moves toward the new year, the most crucial questions still remain unanswered, from the most immediate, like when the articles will even be transmitted to the Senate and who Pelosi will pick to be managers, to how long the trial could last and, perhaps more importantly, whether the votes will be there to call witnesses and subpoena documents. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Erica, people I'm talking to on both sides of the aisle say, expect things to start moving to get some of the answers to those questions pretty quickly after lawmakers return in January from the holiday vacation.

But it's worth noting, nobody actually knows for sure right now. Speaker Pelosi has kept her plans very closely held, close to the vest. As one Democratic member told me earlier today, Erica, I guess just stay tuned at this point.

HILL: Just buckle up, and we will talk to you in January, I guess.

Phil, thank you.

As we look at all of this playing out, a Schumer spokesperson telling CNN his statements came after the conclusion of the Starr investigation, and that there was, of course, eventual testimony from President Clinton.

But, Joan, as we look at all of this, it really does show just how political the process is, not just today, but even then.

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, but back then.

I mean, sure, back then, Democrats said this was a political process and objected to some of the rules, just as they're doing with the Senate today.

But I have to say, the Schumer office statement is correct. They were basing their impeachment on a remarkable amount of cooperation. Despite the cries that it was a witch-hunt, the Clinton administration cooperated.

Aides testified. Secretaries testified. The president himself testified, so that, when it got to the Senate, Erica, they did have a body of evidence that they could rely on. They could rely on documents. They could see transcripts. They could even look at -- if they wanted to., they could look at -- and I believe they did -- look at video of the testimony.

[16:05:08]

So, there had already been a major foundation of evidence, whereas the House was stymied in all of its attempts to get that. So I think that Senator Schumer is right that this time is very different.

HILL: What we look at too, there's so much anticipation. And, as Phil pointed out, we're just going to have to keep waiting, which is not entirely surprising, Philip.

But when we think about the fact that we don't have the House managers yet, this is something I discussed last night with Democratic Congressman Denny Heck, and here was his take on waiting for them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): And it's hard to understand or determine what kind of floor managers you want to send into this impeachment trial if you don't know what the ground rules are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: I find it hard to believe that Nancy Pelosi does not have lists already in her head, even if they are -- OK, well, if it's this scenario, if it's that scenario.

Bottom line, she wants the best people.

PHILIP BUMP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. Right. Yes. Yes.

I think you're absolutely correct. I think Nancy Pelosi, we can at least give her the credit that she has done her homework in that regard.

Obviously, the major undercurrent here is power. The Democrats hold power in the House. They do not hold power in the Senate. They are trying to use whatever leverage they still have to try and influence what happens in the Senate.

I think it is a little silly to talk about precedent in terms of impeachment, since this is the third time this has happened in American history.

And I think that Joan is absolutely right, that politics is the defining characteristic of this, as opposed to justice. This is not about justice. It's fundamentally isn't. It is about politics. And, therefore, we're seeing this political power play between the two chambers.

HILL: And we're hearing a lot of it too.

Jane, I want you to take a listen. This is Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. So he was asked about the impeachment decision, specifically about the delay, and whether there was concern that could lead to losing some Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I'm saying, what if a Doug Jones is contagious, and there's three or four of them who say, you know what, case isn't clear enough, I'm going to acquit?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): But, no, I think that what you're going to have this, again, the opposite, because you saw already this from Alaska, and I think you're going to see some others who are looking at the camera of history also.

And their concern, I think, is the Republicans that you got to look at that may want to reconsider on what's taking place with this process.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: At this point, do you see Democrats or Republicans in the Senate really expressing concern in that respect?

JANE COASTON, VOX: No.

And I think that the idea that Republicans might come on board this impeachment really belies the fact that Republicans are incredibly reliant both on Trump and Trump's popularity. Trump may have short coattails for particular elections, but he has long coattails in terms of popularity within the Republican Party.

And I think that you're really not going to see a lot of aisle crossing. No matter what someone like a Susan Collins or Murkowski might say, I don't think you're going to see a lot of changes in opinion. There's not really going to be, as far as we know at this point, a big moment that's going to shift viewpoints in the Senate.

HILL: And, Brendan, what about as this does drag on? What about frustrations, specifically for senators who are looking at reelection?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER ADVISER TO PAUL RYAN: Well, you have got senators looking at reelection who I think need to be concerned about looking like they are fair, impartial jurors.

You have also got senators who are going to be sitting there on the floor for days on end. And I think that we probably underappreciate the strain that's going to put on and how grumpy people are going to get.

And then you have got just a matter of weeks until the Iowa caucus. So if this drags on for three or four weeks, it's hard to imagine Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker sitting on the Senate floor for four weeks and letting all of that campaigning go on by.

So there's a lot of pressure, I think, not just from Republicans who want to get this over with, but Democrats who frankly are going to at least want to be out on the campaign trail talking to voters, because they know how this is going to end.

It's not going to end with the president being removed. They want to get the nomination to take him out in November.

HILL: As we look at all of this, it was remarkable to me this morning.

Christine Pelosi was on "NEW DAY," was asked specifically about the conversation at the Christmas dinner table with her mother. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So was Christmas interesting around your dinner table this year? Were you -- did you spend it with your mom?

CHRISTINE PELOSI, DAUGHTER OF NANCY PELOSI: I did. And the funny thing is that we're probably one of the few families in America who did not talk about impeachment at the Christmas dinner table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: I mean, Joan, she is really just heading that one off at the pass.

Before you ask me, Alisyn, I just want to be very clear we didn't talk about impeachment.

Do you buy it?

WALSH: Christine is a friend of mine, so I cannot call her a liar. And I do actually kind of buy it.

Speaker Pelosi is a family person. She's got a fantastic family. She's got a large family. I have seen her in action being grandma in chief.

I can believe that they talk about it all the time. We didn't talk about it at our dinner table. We talk about him all the time. It was a Trump-free, impeachment-free zone. It was family only.

HILL: Do you think it came up between other family members?

BUMP: Among the Pelosis or in general?

HILL: Yes, among the Pelosis.

BUMP: Yes, I think it probably did.

HILL: Thank you. Thank you, guys.

As we continue on, and counting down to the first votes of 2020, the candidate one former top Obama adviser says you should not overlook.

[16:10:07]

Plus, the urgent search for a helicopter with seven people on board missing in Hawaii.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:14:17]

HILL: Senator Bernie Sanders is among the Democratic presidential hopefuls back out on the trail today, Sanders making a stop in Iowa this afternoon, as Democratic officials tell "The New York Times" the senator is being underestimated there, predicting he will likely finish near the top of the crowded 2020 field.

"The New York Times" also says a lot of Sanders' strength comes from his strong, very loyal group of supporters, which works out well when you have them, the issue, of course, being, Jane, then you need to grow that group of supporters that you have.

Do you think that loyalty is enough to succeed in Iowa for him? COASTON: I think, after 2016, I got out of the prognostication

business.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: Yes.

COASTON: So, I would say I have absolutely no idea, and I'm not afraid to say so.

[16:15:02]

I do think that that kind of loyalty could breed more loyalty as we've seen before with other presidential candidates. You know, Bernie Sanders is an incredibly strong candidate on the merits and especially in the context in which he's operating at a time when I think a lot of Democrats, some people on the left are turned off by the idea that they have to move toward the center to appease people who voted for Donald Trump.

I would also say, again, I don't know and I think it will be interesting to see what happens after Iowa and moving on towards South Carolina and Nevada as well.

HILL: As we look at all of this, there were questions about whether Sanders would stay in the race for his health issues obviously after his heart attack. I have to say, every time I see him out there, knowing people who have gone through something similar, I'm amazed --

WALSH: Yes.

HILL: -- at how fit he seems and energetic he seems. He also since then has scored the endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and he's remained steady in the polls while Elizabeth Warren has slipped. It seems to be working, whatever he's doing in terms of holding on to these numbers.

WALSH: Well, he's not getting any attacks for real. Elizabeth Warren is getting it from the left, right and center. She's -- everyone is hitting here, Buttigieg and not Bernie himself but some of his online lefty supporters, the Biden camp. So she's taking incoming and he is not.

The other thing I'll say is that he seems lighter on the campaign trail after his heart attack. I don't know what he's doing for -- to keep himself healthy but he seems like a happier person. And I think that is working.

But I will say about Iowa, he got 49 point something percentage of the caucus vote in 2016. So, he -- you could say he's underperforming, he's lost half of his support or more. But if he wins Iowa -- he could win Iowa and if he wins Iowa I think the rest of the race could look different. I think that would give him some ballast.

HILL: Well, in terms of the rest of the race looking different, "The Times" also notes that if he performs well in early states, quote, it would add to the likelihood of, buckle up, everybody, an extended primary battle with Mr. Sanders splitting delegates in early states with several other candidates.

Brendan, do you see a situation where Democrats could head to the convention without a nominee?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER TOP AIDE, HOUSE SPEAKERS PAUL RYAN AND JOHN BOEHNER: I mean, that would be a gift to Donald Trump. That would be a gift to political junkies everywhere. You know, we talk about this every four years. I know, in 2016, we talked about Republicans maybe getting there. This year, there is a greater potential for Democrats, given the way they changed the rules and there is more proportionality.

But I still subscribe to the theory that early momentum carries. If you win early states, money follows with you, momentum follows with you, attention follows, media attention follows. And all of that builds on itself and really every time we've seen this in the last few cycles, whoever wins early states ends up on top.

So I'm skeptical. I would love it personally. I think it is a ton of fun to watch but I'm skeptical that we'll get there.

HILL: You know, it is interesting in terms of the importance that is placed on early states for the exact reasons that you point out, but it is interesting to see the moves the candidates are making. So Joe Biden of course in Iowa and today we're learning the first trip of 2020 is five straight days in Iowa.

When you look at that, Philip, what does that tell you about how the campaign is really eyeing Iowa and what they need to do at this point?

BUMP: I think that Joe Biden is very well aware that Iowa and New Hampshire are not his strengths. He knows that a lot of his support is really in the strong support he has in the African-American community and positions very well in South Carolina. He seems to be doing very well in Nevada as well. I think Joe Biden knows he needs to have of a respectable performance. It's not as though he was ever ignoring the states really, but he needs to do decently there.

And we've really seen this massive field come -- narrowed down to about four people and Biden and Sanders have the advantage of having consistent basis of support.

WALSH: Right.

BUMP: Part of the reason that Warren has been attacked is because she gained support. So, therefore, people saw, this was not necessarily steady support. Same thing with Pete Buttigieg.

Biden and Sanders have the core base of support and Biden knows that he can't be blown out in Iowa because that will change the narrative around where he's headed.

HILL: What is so interesting about the narrative is we're seeing what we're hearing from the candidates change a little bit. So, CNN's Dan Merica did a great piece about how Democrats are now speaking much more openly about their personal lives and who they are and how they became who they are. Take a listen to some of these moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a special place for me, a special place for us and a special place for my son. He was a incredible young man.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I came out because I wanted to date. And if dating had been available to me in my 20s, I'm not sure I would have gotten as much done.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Husband number one -- hint, it is never good when you have to number your husbands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Jane, when we look at those moments, I would say it is two- fold. Yes, they're likely has been a push to connect more with voters but I think voters are pushing for more of it with so much reach now, whether it be social media, whether it'd be the selfie line with Elizabeth Warren, they expect a more personal candidate, Jane.

[16:20:02]

COASTON: Right. You know, we're long past the days of Calvin Coolidge. We want to know who candidates are and we want to know what candidates think.

It is interesting though because I think some of the old tests that we talk about, oh, could you have a beer with this candidate, does this candidate seem personable. It doesn't seem to apply to the real tests that will ask the future president to take on. I don't need to have a beer with someone if I need them to negotiate trade deal with Mexico. I want someone who is qualified and if their personable, that is great.

But it is interesting to see kind of the many balls that we're forcing 2020 candidates and politicians in general to juggle. You know, you also have to be qualified and personable but likeable, but likeable in a very specific kind of way. And it seems to just be adding extra challenge to the challenge that is running for office.

HILL: Brendan, does it stop at some point? To Jane's point, when you are throwing all of the things to candidates, this is the list of boxes you need to check, is there a point where voters reach maximum capacity, where voters reach maximum capacity.

BUCK: To me this is about electability, and that's one of the, you know, the buzz words of this cycle, but I think it matters. A lot of it -- the truth is a lot of the candidates have similar platforms and one of the big things that we know from polling that Democrat -- the primary voters care about whether they are nominating someone that could beat Donald Trump. And what is one of the biggest flaws we know Donald Trump has is his

personality. There's a lot of people, especially women voters, people in suburbs who just don't like his personality. And so, you need to be able to say I could go up and I can run against Donald Trump and I'm an electable person. I may have progressive policies, but people can still like me along the way, and I think that's why you're seeing this now.

HILL: And it is interesting, Phil, they're trying to make a contrast to Brendan's point about the president isn't likeable but we are. But there is such a wide swath of the country and there are a number of voters who say it is not about -- you know, to Jane's point, it's about whether I like the president, it's whether he can do what I want done, and if Donald Trump is doing what they want done and following through on promises then --

BUMP: Right. Yes, I mean, that is why Donald Trump maintains loyalty of the Republican base and there are a lot of Republican voters and hear them say I don't love the guy but -- and it is the key "but". And it is this issue of electability. Certainly is the case of a lot of American voters make their decisions based on how they feel about the candidates.

You know, I think part of the reason they're hearing personal stories now because people are starting to pay attention. I mean, all three of us, you know, five of us, spent a lot of time talking about politics, a lot of people don't. And so the candidates are sort of introducing themselves now and one of the factors in Iowa is the fact that everything is still so unbalanced. There isn't a lot of the field being set.

They are saying, hey, America, here is who we are and Americans are paying attention to, OK, you know what, Joe Biden comes across as a likeable guy and that will be something that influences their decision and polling shows it and it is scientific behind the scenes and that is the reason why they do it.

HILL: Right, that was the focus of that "New York Times" article in last days.

WALSH: It's Biden's number one asset. It really is. Obama's vice president is very important, but his likeability, his personal story, his suffering, his pain, that's what people want to talk to him on the rope lines. That's what he has that's solid that no one is able to shake right now. I don't know if it's enough.

HILL: And get ready for more of it, because I think we're going to see more of it from all of the candidates.

A reminder, too, that while we're counting down to Iowa, before we get there, we're getting to 2020 itself. And you can ring in the New Year with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen right here. "NEW YEAR'S EVE LIVE" starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, only on CNN.

"Home Alone 2" now the subject of an international incident after a Canadian broadcaster cut President Trump's cameo triggering a fresh round of tweets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:03]

HILL: Seven seconds and three lines from 1992 are suddenly a major talking point. The president's cameo in "Home Alone 2" where he gives directions to young Kevin McCallister was cut from the TV version of the Christmas movie airing in Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says it was all part of a routine edit made in 2014.

But as CNN's Pamela Brown reports from the White House, the facts aren't stopping the president's supporters from claiming a case of anti-Trump bias.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MACAULAY CULKIN AS KEVIN MCCALLISTER: Excuse me, where is the lobby?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a rating's obsessed president conscious of every television appearance no matter how small, these seven seconds are now putting "Home Alone 2" at the center of a Christmas conspiracy controversy involving President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: Down the hall and to the left.

BROWN: After the president said he was honored to make a cameo appearance in the movie during a video conference with U.S. troops just before Christmas --

TRUMP: It has been a good movie and I was a little bit younger, to put it mildly. It was -- it was an honor to do it and it turned out to be a big hit, obviously. It is a big Christmas hit, one of the biggest.

BROWN: The movie aired on the CBC later that day without that seven- second scene, something Trump supporters quickly took notice of with Fox News claiming anti-Trump censorship was the reason the scene was edited out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How bad for Trump derangement syndrome for you to cut that out after a happy movie.

BROWN: And after that segment aired on the president's favorite channel, he pounced on Twitter, claiming it was edited out as revenge by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tweeting: I guess Justin T doesn't like me making him pay up on NATO or the trade.

But here are the facts, even before Trump launched his presidential bid the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made the edits to "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" to get the movie under two hours. In 2014, multiple scenes were edited out including then private citizen Donald Trump's 7-second cameo according to a statement from the CBC.

Justin Trudeau wasn't even prime minister in 2014 and doesn't control how the CBC would edit a movie, but President Trump didn't miss an opportunity to get in on the joke.

[16:30:00]