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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Is Interviewed About Tonight's Presidential Democratic Debate; Source: Meghan Markle Did Not Dial Into Queen's Emergency Summit; Rep. Elijah Cummings' Widow Runs For His House Seat. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 14, 2020 - 07:30   ET




JEFF WEAVER, SANDERS CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Can sometimes get misconstrued, Chris.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So the wires may be crossed here but Warren was very clear in a statement last night where she said that she and Sanders had a difference of opinion as to whether or not a woman could win. She said that Sanders believed a woman could not and that she believes that a woman can win.

So, do expect this to be a big issue that's talked about (video difficulty).

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think we just lost Ryan Nobles in Des Moines. What he was saying is we can certainly expect Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to address this issue. And there will be much more discussed on this debate stage with just six candidates, the fewest number -- the lowest number yet.

Joining me now is Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Oh, you're welcome, John.

BERMAN: Four years ago you endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. This time around you have not endorsed a candidate yet.

As we get ready for the all-important debate -- the last debate before the Iowa caucuses -- what are you looking for? Is there anything a candidate could say or could address that could win your endorsement?

MERKLEY: Well, probably not, John. I have many of my friends who are there, still in this competition, and I just believe that any of them would be a tremendous improvement over our current commander in chief, Donald Trump.

And that's it's been very valuable to have their perspectives, their variety of emphasis ranging from everything from the fundamentals of jobs, and health care, and education, and the challenges we face with climate change. So it's been a very productive primary.

BERMAN: What's the most important issue you think they could address tonight?

MERKLEY: Well, I think, right now, the country is riveted on three issues. One is impeachment and Iran -- or two of them. And the third -- and I know this because I just did a series of 12 town halls out in Oregon in a variety of counties -- is health care. People are still very concerned about the complexity and cost and stress of our existing health care system.

BERMAN: You brought up impeachment. It is interesting -- three of the senators on stage tonight, it might be their last time they can even campaign in Iowa because they're going to be brought back to Washington to serve as jurors in the impeachment trial.

How do you think that could affect their campaign?

MERKLEY: Well, in one sense, the whole nation will be focused on the Senate and they'll be right in the middle of it. On the other hand, they're not able to be out going to the rallies generating new issues, new support, new perspectives, new mobilization. We're getting awfully close to the Iowa caucuses so I think they'd rather be out campaigning.

On the other hand, they're fulfilling a very important function and showcasing that importance because in impeachment, it's not just the president who is on trial. It's whether the individual senators can live up to their oath to do impartial justice. And it's the entire Senate on trial. Can it fulfill the appropriate role as a check and balance on the executive?

BERMAN: Do you have faith that four Republicans would vote with the Democrats to hear witnesses at some point? Do you think they will follow through with that?

MERKLEY: More hope than faith and the devil is in the details.

What we do know is that a -- when you have witnesses and you have documents, you have a full and fair trial. When you don't, you have a cover-up. So I hope more than four. I hope they'll be a cascade of Republican colleagues deciding to fulfill their responsibilities for a full and fair trial.

BERMAN: I want to talk a little bit about Iran and you do sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You've been watching the demonstrations that have been taking place in Iran for the last several days -- people on the streets angry at the Iranian regime for lying about shooting down that Ukrainian jetliner.

You wrote, "I stand with the Iranian people who are protesting for democracy and a government that is accountable to them and tells the truth. All people in all countries deserve no less."

How should the American government stand with the Iranian people protesting the regime?

MERKLEY: Well, I'd like to see us stand with them the way that we recently stood with the people of Hong Kong.

We passed a resolution here -- two resolutions. One was my bill saying we will not sell anything to the Hong Kong police and the other being a focus on human rights in Iran -- excuse me, in Hong Kong. And it was very important to the people in Hong Kong. They replayed that at their mass rallies in the street.

I want the Iranian people to know we stand with them in arguing for transparency and accountability just as, right now, we're fighting for transparency and accountable -- accountability with our own government.

BERMAN: On that note, there have been a lot of questions about just how imminent the threat of Qasem Soleimani was to the United States. The president said he believed that four U.S. embassies were under threat.

He says in a tweet yesterday to the questions of whether it was imminent, yes -- but he added this line. "It doesn't really matter because of his horrible past."


How do you respond to the president saying the question of imminence doesn't really matter?

MERKLEY: Well, it's just further evidence the whole argument of imminence -- imminent threat was an after-the-fact argument. When you have no identifiable target or actor or time schedule or place, you don't have an imminent threat. When you don't have a decision, you don't have an imminent threat.

It was an effort to place it into a stronger construction of international law. This -- the administration has stumbled all over itself. It reminds me of how intelligence was corrupted during the war against Saddam Hussein.

We have to be very careful. I'm very concerned our Intelligence Community in this case, with Gina Haspel at the top, is bending their presentations rather than giving us a full straight-out accountability of the facts.

BERMAN: What do you mean, bending their presentations?

MERKLEY: Well, what we heard was basically, Gina trying to stand with the team to make the case. But she didn't have any facts to make the case so it became just an assertion, and that's not the role of the Intelligence Community. The Intelligence Community needs to be very straight in a classified presentation.

This is the type of information we got, this is where we got it, this is who was involved, this is our level of confidence in it. That's the type we're accustomed to seeing. We saw nothing like that from Gina Haspel.

BERMAN: Very -- finally, I want to play you some sound from the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canada, of course, lost dozens of its people when this jetliner was shot down. And the Canadian prime minister seems to be blaming the tension overall, at least in part -- listen.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be, right now, home with their families.


BERMAN: You know, given that it was the Iranians themselves who shot down the jetliner, is that a fair statement to make, do you think?

MERKLEY: Well, we're very aware that the Trump administration, by pulling out of the JCPOA -- the agreement over Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment -- basically started -- and then applying huge sanctions -- a high-pressure campaign of sanctions -- led -- it's a -- it's a system of provocation and escalation that President Trump has been involved in.

And so, I think it's fair to say that the U.S. has a role in the sequence of events that have arisen. Certainly, the direct responsibility exists with the mistakes made by the Iranians themselves and what a tragedy it is.

BERMAN: It is a tragedy, indeed.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, thank you so much for being with us. We haven't seen you yet so let me say Happy New Year.

MERKLEY: Happy New Year.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


What is next for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex? New information about the royal summit with the queen and why Meghan Markle was not part of it.

BERMAN: Do we even call them the Duke and Duchess of Sussex anymore because we --

CAMEROTA: I don't know. We'll find out, next.



BERMAN: This morning we're keeping an eye on a storm stretching across the United States, dumping snow, ice, and rain as it moves east.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the forecast -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, a very colorful map today, John, from rain to fog to snow in the west. It really just depends on where you are.

An awful lot of rainfall across the south again, right now. More flooding possible. Flood watches and warnings will be posted here. Over six inches of rain fell in parts of Alabama over the weekend and now we're getting another two or three in the same areas.

But the change you're talking about comes in here on Friday and Saturday. Temperatures go from the 50s and 60s down to the 30s. And here comes a storm to work with that colder air.

So by Saturday night, that's when the snow gets to the northeast and it could be very deep in places. This is a spring-type storm, kind of, but there's enough cold air in place, as I showed you on the map, to make this. All of that purple, four to eight inches of snow.

New York City, you are right on the line; so are you, Boston. We're going to have to watch this -- an I-95 storm. As we get to the east of I-95, it'll be all rain and very, very close to that border.

It always is. It seems like New York City is always on the cusp of something. We'll keep watching it -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, two days ago it was on the cusp of 68 degrees, but OK.

MYERS: Keep watching.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much, Chad.

MYERS: All right.

CAMEROTA: All right, now to this developing story.

CNN has learned that Meghan Markle did not call into that emergency summit with Queen Elizabeth as we had expected. This summit was to deal with the bombshell announcement that Harry and Meghan plan to step back from their royal duties.

The queen releasing a rare personal statement about the meeting, writing, "My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family."

Joining us now, CNN anchor and royal correspondent Max Foster, and CNN royal commentator Victoria Arbiter. That was quite an introduction we give to both of you. A lot of pomp and circumstance there.

Max, tell us about your new reporting about why wasn't Meghan a part of this phone call and summit.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, all we know is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex felt it wasn't necessary for her to dial into the meeting.

It's off the back of some speculation in the British papers that there was a security risk there. Perhaps the royal family didn't feel that they would know was at the other end in the Duchess' room, as it were, on this call or whether or not people could hack into the line. I don't know how much truth there is in any of that.


What you could perhaps take from it is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex went into this meeting with one outcome in mind and therefore, she didn't have to be part of the discussion -- part of that negotiation.

We certainly got a sense in the statement yesterday that the queen was pretty disappointed with the ultimate result. She wanted them to remain as working royals but she will support them as they transition, effectively, out of that role speaking to them -- speaking about them as Meghan and Harry, suggesting they're already out of these informal roles.

But also, you've got to consider this is family as well. A very sensitive statement from the queen yesterday, one we haven't seen in many years -- that kind of language, really, from the queen.

CAMEROTA: Victoria, let me read a little bit more of that statement because I know you, too, were struck by the language.

"Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives. There will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the U.K. These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done."

What did you hear from the queen?

VICTORIA ARBITER, CNN ROYAL COMMENTATOR: Well, really, as Max referenced in terms of the sensitivity of this statement, it really struck me for an institution that is steeped in formality and tradition and precedent and protocol that this was a very personal statement from the queen.

And I think she was, in a sense, trying to remind everyone that yes, I am the head of the institution and yes, I'm responsible for coming up with a solution that's acceptable to the British public, but I'm also a grandmother. And I think she's very keen not to alienate Harry and Meghan as they go on with this new independent life.

I think the statement's 153 words long and she mentioned family nine times. She referenced my grandson a number of times. She talked about them being such valuable members of her family. So I think, really, yesterday was all about waving a white flag. Yes, Harry and Meghan, we hear you. We're disappointed by your decision but we support you.

CAMEROTA: Max, is it possible that Harry and Meghan are going to get exactly what they appear to have wanted for a while now, which is to basically become private citizens, to live where they want -- it sounds like Canada at the moment -- to be able to make their own money, to be able to travel freely, to be able to pursue their own pursuits? I mean, is it possible they sort of won this round?

FOSTER: They did win this round. I think that's what we can read from the statement. They got what they wanted, which is to transition out. I think now, the real challenge for them is making it work.

Very interesting hearing from the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last night saying they were in very early-stage discussions about security costs, for example, and how that's going to be carved up. They've had discussions with the Sussexes and the royal family on that. So clearly, the Sussexes have gone to the Canadian government, suggesting that they might want to pay for the security costs of the couple.

This is all happening after they announced that they were moving to Canada and the prime minister hasn't signed up to it, which is -- really shows how extraordinary this situation is. And I know from speaking to people in Canada over the last couple of days that there's huge sensitivity around public funding of things like this at the moment.

It also puts Harry in direct conflict with the governor-general of Canada whose job it is to represent the queen in Canada. How will those two roles conflict? I'm sure the governor-general's got a few things to say about that. And, has Harry thought about that?

These are all the sort of things that need to be ironed out and they're going to be really, really tricky.

CAMEROTA: Hmm, security costs in Canada. That's a new fly in the ointment that I actually hadn't thought of. So, you're right, the devil's in the details and this is not ending this story.

So, Max, Victoria, thank you both very much for --

ARBITER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- all of the insight.

We have a quick programming note for you. CNN presents the story of the world's most famous royal family, "THE WINDSORS: INSIDE THE ROYAL DYNASTY." It premieres Sunday, February 16th at 10:00 p.m. on CNN.

BERMAN: We're revising (ph) the last 15 minutes as we speak. Actually, we don't know how it's going to turn out. Stay tuned -- what will the ending be? So it has been almost three months since the passing of legendary congressman Elijah Cummings. His widow is now running for his seat. She joins us next to talk about her late husband's legacy and her effort to win his seat.



ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: When we're dancing with the angels the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing. We have got to get back to normal. With that, this meeting is adjourned.



CAMEROTA: That was the civil rights icon and late congressman Elijah Cummings delivering a fiery speech to lawmakers in one of his last public appearances before his death. A special primary election will be held next month to fill his seat. Twenty-four Democrats and eight Republicans are running.

Joining us now is one of the Democrats running who has a personal investment in that seat. She's Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the wife of the late congressman. Great to have you here in the studio.


CAMEROTA: What's it like to watch that moment of your late husband speaking?

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: It's a moment of pride but also a moment of sadness, you know. I miss him. I miss him every day. And so, you know, whenever I hear his voice it commands my attention.

And so, you know, Elijah was a giant and so, you know, I've been pleased about all of the support I've gotten from all around the country.

CAMEROTA: I don't think you're alone in missing that voice. I mean, I think that anytime so many of us hear that voice it makes us turn and stop what we're doing because it was so singular in that way.

And I know these past almost three months have not been easy for you dealing with the grief and you had your own health scare.


ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: Absolutely. So, Elijah passed on October 17th and I buried him on October 25th. I launched my campaign on November 13th and then on November 15th, I actually underwent a preventative double mastectomy. And so, these last few months have just been incredibly tumultuous but at the same time, I feel like my steps are ordered. I trust that the pathway is for a purpose.

And so, Elijah and I met fighting -- when I was fighting -- and we fought alongside of each other for so long and he wanted me to continue fighting and that's what I'm doing.

CAMEROTA: So you want to fill his seat, as we've said. How long -- for how long did he know he was gravely ill and did you have conversations with him about what he wanted to happen next?

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: So you should know that he knew that he had a life-threatening illness approximately 25 years ago. And so, he lived with this, almost like a chronic disease, for decades. And so, no, no one knew when the end would actually be near because he pushed through this for years upon years.

And you saw what he got done. I mean, he was fighting and he worked hard. And he was in the community and never did he ever say that he was tired and he couldn't do it. He just kept forging forward, literally, until almost his last breath.

And so, you know, I'm now running to build on his legacy in Congress. And I'm focused on yes, carrying on his legacy around defending and protecting our democracy, fighting for human rights and equal rights, but also making sure that there are increased opportunities for -- especially for our young people. And so, I have a hope agenda for the Baltimore region that is focused on healthy and safe communities, more opportunities for youth, prosperous families, and economic justice and equitable development.

CAMEROTA: As you watch President Trump's impeachment play out, including on the eve of what looks like it will be the Senate trial, what do you think your husband would have said about this? What advice would he have given to Democrats like Nancy Pelosi who, as you know, withheld these articles of impeachment? Would he have liked that ploy? I mean, do you hear his voice during all of this?

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: Oh, he considered Nancy Pelosi -- Speaker Pelosi a master at her craft. I think that people underestimate the speaker. Elijah never did and he highly respected her and they were close confidantes and friends.

And so, I think that he would have very much agreed with her strategy of trying to maximize her leverage to try to ensure a fair impeachment trial on the Senate side. I think that ultimately, the strategy is really one to draw Americans' attention to the fact that Senate Majority Leader McConnell was actually colluding with President Trump to actually ensure that he didn't get a fair trial.

And so, more people are paying attention and if that's what the strategy actually ended up producing, then that's just fine. I think Elijah would have been proud of Speaker Pelosi.

CAMEROTA: And what do you think he would have thought of the current Democratic field? The fact that tonight is the CNN debate and there will be white -- all-white candidates on the debate stage. Cory Booker bowed out yesterday. What do you think he would have said about all of that?

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: I think Elijah would have been absolutely disappointed that none of the candidates of color made it to the last round, so to speak. At the same time, there's still diversity in the field with women still remaining in the race. And so, I think that it's important for Americans to pay careful attention to the proposals that these candidates are pushing forward.

And, you know, Elijah would have, of course, been happy that any of them are prepared to beat Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that --


CAMEROTA: -- because when Congressman Cummings started speaking -- well, not started speaking out loud -- I remember one episode where Congressman Cummings was speaking out about what was happening at the border and children being separated from their parents. And he was, I think it's fair to say, disgusted by it.


CAMEROTA: And, President Trump just started launching this barrage of nasty and very personal tweets against your late husband. I mean, I won't read all of them but basically, he was saying he was going after Baltimore. He was saying that Congressman Cummings had mishandled Baltimore for years.

What was it like for him to be on the receiving end of all of that?

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: It was very intense and I think it saddened him tremendously and put undue pressure and stress on him at a time when he absolutely didn't need it. And so, you know, President Trump basically lobbed a sucker punch against the city of Baltimore and the Seventh Congressional District.

Now, I'm proud of the way that my husband handled it. He took it in stride. Publicly, he did not escalate with President Trump because he didn't feel like that was the tactic. But he always expected Trump to continue his low-blow and low-class style of communication and he always wondered when the hit would come. Well, it came then and so he was incredibly disappointed.