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Team Trump Touts Strong Economy Heading into 2020; How Chief Justice Roberts Will Handle Trump Impeachment Trial; Dem Candidates Get Personal on the Campaign Trail. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 12:30   ET






DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That was President Trump at his latest rally in Battle Creek, Michigan. His messaging is much the same today on Twitter touting new trade deals and promising the best is yet to come. His campaign team is also using the economy as a selling point, saying Americans are winning big and that the economy is booming. Team Trump sounding confident the economy will propel him to victory in 2020.


MARC LOTTER, DIRECTOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, TRUMP 2020: James Carville said it well back in the '90s, it's the economy, stupid. When you look at the polls that we have seen internally, the president's re-elect numbers are very strong and they see the economic gain.


BASH: It's so much easier when you have people who are paid to message, to go out and say these things which are cogent and clear. The problem that the Trump campaign and the Trump team has had since day one is that the president then, you know, tweets up a storm or says something else in Battle Creek, Michigan about John and Debbie Dingell, for example, and everything -- you know, the focus changes. So, is the question whether or not the economy is going to propel him, whether he stays focused on it or not, or does he really need to stay singularly focused on it?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY DC: What I've heard from people around the president is that frankly they wish that he would stay focused on his economic message which they see as the single biggest thing that he could be running on right now. And instead he has been on Twitter tweeting repeatedly about impeachment even when he goes to those rallies, you were talking about the Dingells, he also brings up windmills, he brings up a whole other host of other topics besides the economy, and that's what reporters end up talking about. And that's what they end talking about.

And with some of the Democratic candidates who were staying on message, that's part of the reason that they're getting more attention to those policies that they're putting forward is because even if sometimes as reporters we don't like their messages. They are narrowly driving a single issue and Donald Trump is not doing that in those sprawling rallies that have started ago upwards of an hour at this point.

BASH: Which are entertainments for his voters. I mean, that's how they see it.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think there's any question about it. And look, I think -- look, he is who he is and I don't think he has mean any different since we started covering him back in 2015 and probably long before that if you look at some of the things he's written and said. And I think with that in mind, you've seen his campaign kind of be more agile perhaps than some in the sense of, OK, well, let's take advantage of it, right?

Like we'd like him talking about the economy, Marc Lotter is going to be out talking about the economy, his campaign circuits are going to be talking about the economy. And meanwhile, whenever the president tweets something in rage about impeachment, we're going to raise a ton of money off that and we're going to make sure that his base is fired up because they care about that message as well. And I think the idea, at least the best I can tell up to this point is we can do multiple things at once.

BASH: Exactly.

MATTINGLY: And I think the question becomes, do you stretch yourself too thin or do you lose focus on the thing that perhaps, you know, suburban voters may want to care about more or people who are kind of Trump skeptics but aren't sold on where the Democrats are which will sell them on it because you're so focused on impeachment or everything else. But I think at this point in time, they see benefit to pushing multiple tracks because that's where he's going to be.

BASH: But you mentioned suburban voters, and I think that's a really important way to look at this because if you go back to the midterm elections, a lot of the voters that said bye-bye to the Republican Party and voted for Democrats were suburban voters who for various reasons are disgusted with this president.

But, you know, now we're in a presidential year and some of those suburban voters maybe disgusted with him but they're also really excited about their 401(k). And so that is kind of the choice that either, you know, conservative Democrats and Republicans are going to be making in these swing districts which could determine Pennsylvania, could determine Michigan, could determine Wisconsin and even in the southwest.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: I do think we got to be -- when we invoke the midterms that we have to acknowledge that either a very angry dark rhetoric that the president offered up in the waning weeks before the 2018 election did not help Republicans. There are couples -- I think Phil's point is very well taken that there's a range of Trump comments and people react very differently. But as -- at bottom, Republicans just want him pounding away the message that change is scary, right? Whether it's the economy -- you could see he does a lot of lifestyle changes, scary messaging. You know, oh, my God, these light bulbs that make me look orange, that kind of stuff.

BASH: All about (INAUDIBLE).

KNOX: And so --

BASH: Don't forget the toilet bowl.

KNOX: Right, the -- right, the terrible plumbing at the White House. But I think they look at these categories of Trump's comment and as long as he's hammering away that change is scary, meaning handing power to the Democrats, they're content. They're not as content when he goes after Debbie Dingell or John Dingell.

BASH: Yes, that's an understatement. And there's another thing that we cannot talk about the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee without mentioning which is that they are swimming in cash.

KNOX: Yes.

BASH: I mean, they could spend all their day just counting their money and not raise any more and they would be in great shape. And that matters because they also have a stellar digital operation where they can find their voters. One of the ways that they've been able to do this is by having, you know, a marketing campaign that seems really quirky and sometimes silly but it works.


And that is, if you pull it up here, selling gear, selling merch. Schiff t-shirts, stop the witch-hunt posters, stop the impeachment limited edition (INAUDIBLE), you can even get a set of two there apparently. These raise millions and millions of dollars but they also give them -- right, it helps them build their list.

KNOX: Yes, this is the modern online campaign story. These were all donations, you're not actually buying a shirt. You are giving the campaign a donation which requires disclosure of some amount of personal information in return for that shirt. This is something that goes back to Bush-Cheney. They took the sign-making operation in- house, and by doing that, they launched the modern era, the online campaign store. The Obamas did a really good job of using it to track their donors and their voters.

If you bought 10 t-shirts, you're probably willing to knock on some doors. It's really, really a useful weapon.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And another -- since we're kind of on the topic of data, what I found actually interesting is looking at the number and the kind of the demographics of the people who attend the Trump campaign rallies. And what I've been kind of fascinated by for the last couple of rallies is the number of Democrats, self-proclaimed Democrats that actually show up.

And so you had the rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, about 17 percent were Democrats. In Hershey, Pennsylvania, it was 20 percent Democrats. In the Florida homecoming rally was about 24 percent Democrats. So, that cross-over appeal that the Trump campaign does talk about, I think there is evidence that that could really there.

BASH: All right, everybody stand by because up next, the impeachment battle is shifting to the Senate at some point. The real pressure could be on the nation's chief justice. We're going to talk about that with an expert. Stay with us.



BASH: Once there is an agreement on the impeachment process and the trial begins in the Senate, much of the responsibility for keeping the historic proceedings dignified and fair falls squarely on the shoulders of the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts. Here to offer her insight on this immense burden and how he'll handle it is CNN Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic who has a book out on this very topic the "Chief: The life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts."

Thank you for coming in.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: I feel very lucky that you're here on a holiday week. So first, what is the chief justice's role as prescribed by the constitution?

BISKUPIC: Sure. In fact, the only time that the chief is even mentioned in the constitution is in terms of his presiding over an impeachment trial when the president is impeached. So it says that and only that.

And then there is Senate rules that dictate that he should be the presiding officer. He is not a judge or a juror, that falls to the senators. But he's there to make sure everything runs on schedule. The Senate rules do allow him to decide matters of evidence, but the senators with a majority vote, can overrule him.

BASH: They can. OK, so let's listen to his famous line when he was testifying at his confirmation hearings before the Senate about how he will approach the bench.


JUDGE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules, they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules, but it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.


BASH: So translate that for us given your expertise on John Roberts and the court itself on what that will mean for how he sees his role in an impeachment trial. Because it's not like they happen every day.

BISKUPIC: No. And in fact, what he is hoping is that nobody comes to this Senate impeachment trial to see the presiding officer. You know, you know that when he's across the street deciding cases, they're essentially behind cameras. They're not filmed, no cameras are allowed in there, they navigate their cases behind closed doors, so this will be the American public's first chance to really see John Roberts since that 2005 clip.

So he -- what he will do is take his lead from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and perhaps also from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer which is what happened back in 1999 when chief Justice William Rehnquist presided over the Bill Clinton trial.

BASH: And that's what I was going to ask you is whether you think because there's only been three trials in history, only two in modern history since television cameras existed. And do you think that he will take his cues from how the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist operated and saw his role in '99?

BISKUPIC: I do. First of all, John Roberts is even more reserved than the late chief. He will probably want to have a low-key role. And Chief Justice Rehnquist saw his role as much more ministerial than substantive. In fact, he would joke, using a line from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, I play -- I did my job but -- I did nothing in particular and did it well.

I think Chief Justice John Roberts is going to want to recede into the background, but he might be under a lot of pressure to rule on things like evidence and witnesses, you know, given the divisions we're already seeing. But however he rules, again, Dana, this is the Senate show and a Senate majority could overrule what he does.

BASH: And that's really the key, is that, you know, it's not like things where hunky-dory in '99 but there was a bipartisan agreement, at least, going into the trial on how to deal with it and this is different. And the Democrats, their whole M.O. is hoping to pick off some Republicans on votes on whether or not witnesses are allowed, and there could be, you know, times where they all look at the chief justice and say, you decide.

BISKUPIC: Yes, and I think what the chief would do is try to take his lead from where the Senate majority sentiment is only because he knows that under the constitution, even though he presides, the constitution also says it is the sole responsibility of senators to decide whether a president is acquitted or convicted. And remember, it takes 67 votes, two-thirds of the majority so in some ways we know the outcome already.

BASH: OK, thank you much. Appreciate you joining me and explaining all that, breaking it down.

And up next, Mike Pompeo says he has no plans to run for the Senate, one report though says that the president might be hedging his bets. We'll explain, next.



BASH: Topping our political radar today, Mike Pompeo says he has no plans to run for Senate next year. But the Washington Post reports President Trump is actively searching for a new secretary of state just in case. The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he wants Pompeo to run for a soon-to-be open Senate seat in Kansas, and the president recently said he would easily win if Pompeo did run. The filing deadline, though, isn't until June.

And Jane Fonda and friends are back at it, protesting for action on climate crisis, and the U.S. Capitol, they're there for the 12th Friday in a row. Fonda's well-known co-star Lily Tomlin was among those arrested today. The two have teamed up together in hits like "9 to 5" and "Grace and Frankie".

And these arrests are a common occurrence at these Fire Drill Fridays as they're called. Their demands include fast action on the Green New Deal and a ban on new exploration and extraction of fossil fuels.

And this quick programming note, if you are looking for New Year's Eve plans, you know where to come, CNN. An epic night of two best friends, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. They're going to ring in the New Year right here on CNN. It all starts New Year's eve live at 8 p.m. Eastern.

And a campaign flashback for Friday, was it crying or just snow? Whatever it was, those wet spots on Ed Muskie's cheeks back in 1972 did not help his presidential campaign. We're going to talk about what all that means in today's politics. How getting personal might now be a winning strategy. Stay with us.



BASH: Welcome back.

The 2020 Democrats are always looking for ways to stand out in a very crowded field. Now, in previous cycles, being too vulnerable, getting too personal or emotional sparked scrutiny, even at times ridiculed. But this year, it seems more presidential hopefuls are opening up about their personal lives on the campaign trail.

Now, I will refer all of you and you at home to a great story out this morning by Dan Merica on which is what sparked the idea for this discussion because it is so true. And I have been saying, just looking at the women alone, how different they have approached the campaign in talking about their own vulnerabilities even than four years ago, Hillary Clinton. But let's just -- we're going to talk broadly, it's not, you know, just about women, about both genders, but look at Elizabeth Warren and listen to what she said about what she was saying to her mother when she was a teenager and she was getting married.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She wanted me to marry well, and I really tried. And it just didn't work out. There came a day when I had to call her and say, this is over, I can't make it work. And I heard the disappointment in her voice. Sometimes you just got to do what's right inside. Give me a hug.


BASH: So now that's perceived, rightly so, as a human moment. She's showing her humanity, something about herself. You know, it was not that long ago that could have happened and she -- it could have been an aha, see, this is why women shouldn't be on the campaign trail, they can't control their emotions.

CHAMBERS: Yes, but it's also not just women.

BASH: No it is, we're going to get to that in a second but I just --

CHAMBERS: OK, we'll get to the men in a second. OK. Yes, in 2016, Hillary Clinton and I was embedded with her frequently, she didn't open up like that and she has now said that she regrets that, not humanizing herself more in this race because she had qualities that she wasn't able to show off, and that she came off as cold and people felt like she was really unrelatable, and that is something she now believes looking back did hurt her in this race.

BASH: And so let's talk about the men. Pete Buttigieg also talked about his experience coming out as a gay man.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was well into my 20s before I was ready to say even to myself that I was gay. It was really that experience of going to war in Afghanistan and realizing that I could lose my life in my early 30s, be a grown man, not to mention a mayor of a city and have no idea what it was like to be in love.


KNOX: Yes. I mean, it makes me -- all these things make me think of Bill Clinton and I feel your pain of using his biography to project that empathy with voters who are struggling in the poor economy of '91 and '92. To me, it seems to serve two purposes, one is to build that bridge to individual voters, and the other one is to tell story about America. And that's what Elizabeth Warren has done really well with her plans as well, is weaving in biographical traits. So she's telling a story about what America in 2019, 2020 is like. And you're right, it would have been dangerous just a few years ago to some degree, you're going to get flak for this to some degree, some of these folks owe a debt to Sarah Palin, bringing her families as much as she did. You know, carrying her very small child in one of her first prime time speeches and essentially making it OK for women candidates to do that.

BASH: OK, we're definitely going to have to continue --