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Sen. Angus King (I-ME) Discusses President Trump's Comments On The Coronavirus Spreading; Bloomberg To Focus Entirely On Sanders At Debate Tonight; Bernie Sanders And The 270 Electoral Vote Question. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 25, 2020 - 07:30   ET

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


[07:30:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're working on that. We're working on that.

REPORTER: Good evening --

TRUMP: It's not a fair situation when one company is paying 100 percent -- in the case of numerous companies, not just Harley -- but where they're paying tremendous. And actually, tariffs were raised not too long ago.

And we also did something. There was a form of rental control that was -- if you put it in a different sense, it was -- it was given to India and we terminated that. You know that. We terminated it.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: No, we're talking. We have -- we have great discussions.

Look, it's a -- I can't lose this. I can't lose it. You know why? I'm never losing. It's too easy.

Because I want reciprocal. It has to be reciprocal. And the money you're talking about is major.

But the United States has to be treated fairly and India understands that. The relationship is outstanding but India understands that.

We've had a tremendous deficit for many, many years with India -- with everybody. You know, with, frankly, so many different countries. We've had a massive, massive deficit.

But a large deficit -- $30 billion worth, India. It's now down to $24 billion because of what we've been doing but still, that's too high. We shouldn't have a $24 billion deficit.

Where in other countries we have more than that. Japan, we're doing -- now $40 billion is coming in.

A lot -- a lot of very good deals are being made and they'll be kicking in toward the end of the year. I would say if the deal happens with India, it will be toward the end of the year. And if it doesn't happen, we'll do something else. It'll be very satisfactory -- it'll be very good.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: Yes. President, my question is that you said at the time of the Article 370 application that you would like to mediate in Kashmir, but India rejected it.

TRUMP: No, I --

REPORTER: What is your -- what is your --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You're seeing the president delivering a news conference in New Delhi in India, following two days of meetings with the Indian prime minister. He covered a range of subjects from coronavirus to the Russian attacks on the U.S. elections, to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We will discuss all of them over the course of the next hour or so.

First, I am joined by Independent Sen. Angus King. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee. Of course, the senator from Maine. Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

I do want to start with coronavirus because I know this is an area you have been working on very hard over the last few days.

The president says, quote, "It is very well under control in our country."

Yet, Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said yesterday, "The Trump administration has been asleep at the wheel. President Trump, there is a pandemic of coronavirus. Where are you? Where is your plan?"

So which is it, very much under control or asleep at the wheel?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Well, I think it's probably somewhere in between.

I think -- number one, I think the president is to be given some appreciation for the emergency request of $2.5 billion that has come out in the last couple of days. That was the right thing to do and I'm sure Congress is going to approve that very quickly.

On the other hand, I think what Chuck was probably referring to was two years ago -- a little less than two years ago, John, John Bolton abolished the position of global health coordination in the National Security Council and disbanded the office, and that office has been empty until today.

And why is that important? Because we've already seen conflict between the CDC, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and there really is a necessity for someone at the top -- for someone in the White House that can knock heads in the bureaucracy and make decisions and have them stick throughout the federal government. The other piece, which I find kind of astounding, is last fall -- just last fall, the State Department abolished a program called "Predict" which was designed -- it was under USAID -- designed to examine and, indeed, predict and work on global potential pandemics. That office was abolished last fall and hasn't yet been replaced, although they are talking about it.

So I think there is -- you know, just on the record, a lack of preparation. And I put in a bill just in the last few days to create this position in the National Security Council as a permanent position because these kind of things are going to happen in a -- in a globalized economy and we need to be prepared; not scrambling to play catch-up.

BERMAN: On the subject of scrambling, Ken Cuccinelli, who is Deputy Sec. of Homeland Security -- acting deputy -- he tweeted yesterday -- he's on the -- he's on the Coronavirus task force. He tweeted, quote, "Has the Johns Hopkins map of the coronavirus stopped working for other people or just me?"

KING: Yes. Well --

BERMAN: What does it tell you that some of the coronavirus task force is complaining on Twitter about I.T. problems?

KING: Well, you know, I rest my case. And also, by the way, Ken, you've got the CDC, which is a pretty substantial -- the Center for Disease Control -- a pretty substantial organization to look at issues like this.

[07:35:00]

But that's my point. There is a lack of coordination and I think it goes back to May of 2018 when they kicked out the guy that was there and disbanded the office. Talk about bad timing -- that was it.

BERMAN: Yes, it is a little concerning when someone working on the task force basically says hey, Siri, help us stop coronavirus.

KING: Right.

BERMAN: I do want to ask you about some other questions the president faced --

KING: Sure.

BERMAN: -- namely, about the Russian attacks on the U.S. election. Our Jim Acosta asked him if he would foreswear any help from any country and the president said, quote, "I haven't been given any help."

Just historically speaking, you are on the Intelligence Committee that's been investigating this for some time and in 2016, at least, that wasn't the case. It was the finding of the Intelligence Community that what -- the Russians did attack and did want to help President Trump, correct? KING: That's no -- there's no doubt about that, John. That's well- established by the unanimous reports of the Intelligence Community and has been confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is a very bipartisan committee. So there's no -- there's no doubt about what happened historically.

I think the -- what's missing is a full-throated rejection of any interference in this coming election and that's where I'm concerned. If the president can get over 2016 and say OK, that's history but there -- I am against foreign involvement in our elections, and if the Russians or anybody else get involved in 2020 they're going to feel the full weight of the response of the U.S. government. So far, he hasn't said that and I think that's a -- that's, in effect, partially disarming us in terms of our ability to react to this kind of interference.

BERMAN: In fact, he refused to say when asked point-blank whether he agrees that the Russians are trying to interference in 2020. What does that tell you?

KING: Well, you know, I think he's -- again, seems to be unable to acknowledge what happened in 2016. It feels -- it feels to him like it undermines his mandate. And, you know, I ought to remind him he lives in the White House, he won the election. He is the president and now his job is to defend the country.

And we know that the Russians are gearing up in 2020 -- in 2020. We don't know -- at least I don't know what their direction is but we need to put them on notice that this is unacceptable.

BERMAN: So, the president was also asked about the reports over the last few days that his administration have lists -- has lists of people who are loyal and disloyal to him, and that the disloyal people should be weeded out. And, of course, we saw the acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, fired or pushed out after issues or concerns about some briefings.

You have concerns about the very idea of loyalty bars inside an administration. Why?

KING: Well, I think there are two important points.

Number one, when anybody goes to work for the United States government, whether it's the Department of Agriculture, the Department of State or the White House, they take an oath. And the oath is to the Constitution of the United States. It's not to the president, it's not to the Senate or the House of Representatives; it's to the Constitution. That's where their loyalty is supposed to lie.

Now having said that, the president has a number of political appointments -- cabinet members, director of National Intelligence. There are a lot of political appointments throughout the government and the president has the right to appoint the people that he wants and to push out the people that he doesn't like for whatever reason. So I think that's important. There's a deeper issue here though, John, and that is the turnover and the number of vacancies and acting officials in the government right now. It's an absolutely all-time high and there are two problems with that. You don't have continuity of leadership.

There are a huge number of vacancies, for example, in the Defense Department, all over the government, in the State Department. Those jobs are important jobs, like the pandemic coordinator at the -- at the White House that's vacant.

But also, when you have all these acting officials -- and some of them have been for a long, long time -- you're avoiding the Constitution. You're avoiding Senate confirmation. You are sidestepping the requirement that this is supposed to be with the advice and consent of the Senate in these important positions. And I think that's worrisome.

So you've got a vacancy problem, you've got an acting problem, and that's impairing our ability to respond to whatever the situation, whether it's coronavirus or some kind of a terrorist attack or anything else. So that's, I think, a deeper problem with this administration.

And you can -- you Google vacancies in the Trump administration and you get all kinds of stories and charts about how there are more -- there are more vacancies and more turnover than in any prior administration, at least going back 40 years or so.

BERMAN: Of course. There are signs that the White House Google is not working, at least in terms of investigating coronavirus.

[07:40:03]

Sen. Angus King, it's a pleasure to have you on. Thanks for waiting throughout the president's news conference.

KING: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: I appreciate it.

KING: No problem.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John. As you know, there's a big debate tonight --

BERMAN: I know.

CAMEROTA: -- in South Carolina as the battle for the nomination enters a critical phase. Can Mike Bloomberg recover from his last debate? We speak to a top adviser to his campaign about their plan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: We are in the middle of the most important eight-day stretch in the Democratic primary yet. There will be another CNN town hall tomorrow night and a high-stakes debate in South Carolina tonight. The South Carolina primary is on Saturday and then, Super Tuesday is one week from today.

So, will any of the candidates be able to slow the current momentum of Sen. Bernie Sanders?

Joining us now is Tim O'Brien. He's the senior adviser to the Michael Bloomberg presidential campaign. Tim, thank you for patience.

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, SENIOR ADVISER, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Sure thing, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for being here.

O'BRIEN: Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you in-studio.

What did your team, the Bloomberg team, learn from the last debate that you plan to do differently tonight?

[07:45:01]

O'BRIEN: Well, I think Mike has to answer these questions forcefully and clearly. I think he has to be ready to be the target of everyone else on the stage. I think there was something of a circular firing squad in the last debate. I think he got his sea legs halfway through that debate but he has to have his sea legs at the beginning of the debate tonight, for sure.

CAMEROTA: It's interesting that you say that you think he'll be the target because we've heard from some campaigns, including yours, that it will be Bernie Sanders who is the target. In fact, our CNN reporting is that Mayor Bloomberg plans to challenge Sen. Sanders on his record and that he plans to zero in on Bernie Sanders.

Interestingly, when you were on recently -- about 10 days ago with Jim Sciutto -- you said, "We're not going to -- you know, we're not feuding with other Democrats. We have not had a bad word to say about any of our competitors in the Democratic field." Does that change tonight?

O'BRIEN: That does change tonight and I think something changed, unfortunately, over the last 10 days. You know, it's a primary now. People are holding each other accountable.

For the most part, we haven't gone after other Democrats. I think Bernie's campaign has run itself in a very thuggish way. There are very Trumpy-like aspects to the way that Bernie's been running things.

CAMEROTA: Or it is just that they're winning? I mean, is that what's changed?

O'BRIEN: No, because this became -- this happened before the debate. Bernie's team put out falsehoods about Mike that we had to answer.

Bernie has gone through this campaign without behind held accountable. He hasn't been vetted as thoroughly by the media as some of the other candidates. Other Democrats on the stage haven't challenged him on the debate stage as much as they challenge each other. And, Bernie has a very trippy record, to say the least.

CAMEROTA: Look, I hear you but, I mean, it's still a Democratic primary. You're still -- if you're trying to avoid the circular firing squad, this is still the circular firing squad if you're going after another Democrat.

O'BRIEN: But we've got a candidate who's got a better record. We've got a candidate who has more governing experience than anybody on that stage. We've got a candidate who has risen in the polls because of his track record.

Bernie has all of this loopy stuff in his background, saying things like women get cancer from having too many orgasms or toddlers should run around naked and touch each other's genitals to insulate --

CAMEROTA: I'm sorry, what?

O'BRIEN: -- themselves from porn.

CAMEROTA: What?

O'BRIEN: Why has this stuff not been more surfaced? He's written about women's rape fantasies. That hasn't been surfaced. That's the looney side of Bernie.

The policy side of Bernie is he has not been good at immigration, he has not been good on criminal justice reform. He was an avid backer of the '94 crime bill. He's bad on guns, bad on immigration.

And as a legislator -- as a member of the Senate, I think he's only sponsored seven pieces of legislation; two for post offices in Vermont.

CAMEROTA: Well -- I mean, look, obviously, Mayor Bloomberg has his own record that he has to defend --

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- in terms of -- obviously, stop-and-frisk has gotten a lot of attention --

O'BRIEN: As it should.

CAMEROTA: -- and he has recently apologized for it. But there are lots of people who think that it was too little, too late.

We, yesterday, just sat down with a group of black South Carolina voters and they talked about the hard time that they have with Mike Bloomberg. So let me just play you a portion as it relates to stop- and-frisk.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENNY STARR, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRAT: The apology has got to match the action. He's caused a lot of harm. And I don't think he's undone the harm that he's caused just by saying oh, yeah, you know what -- guess what, I was wrong. I'm sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: How does he address that tonight?

O'BRIEN: We are addressing that. I think Mike has to continue to apologize for the stop-and-frisk. It was a mistake. I think it's a stain on his career. I think he stood by it for too long.

But he has been incredibly proactive about this. There's not been much coverage of the Greenwood Initiative. We know we're making a lot of progress with voters of color because they're responding to the Greenwood Initiative.

Again, I would refer to the fact Joe Biden wrote the '94 crime bill. Bernie supported it with great advocacy on television. It's one of the most oppressive pieces of legislation. In communities of color, it helps accelerate mass incarceration.

CAMEROTA: So, Mayor Bloomberg is going to bring all that up tonight?

O'BRIEN: Well, why isn't the media, though -- this is the thing I'm saying. Why aren't other people focusing on those aspects of Biden and Sanders' records on criminal justice?

CAMEROTA: I think that the 1994 crime bill has come up a lot but I admit -- but --

O'BRIEN: Not on the debate stage and not much in vetting of Bernie, I think, in the last several months.

CAMEROTA: Well, in terms of stylistically -- so those are your plans substance-wise tonight.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Stylistically, what will you be fixing from the last time? What lesson was learned by Mayor Bloomberg last time that he will try to change, if anything?

O'BRIEN: First and foremost, he has to be a great advocate for himself and he wasn't at his best in that last debate. He's got to be that person tonight.

I think secondly, he's got to be prepared for personal attacks, which I don't think -- I think he was taken aback that Joe Biden misrepresented his record as mayor -- that Elizabeth Warren put words in his mouth on that stage that he never said about women.

CAMEROTA: So he's going to be more aggressive is what I hear you saying?

O'BRIEN: I think he needs to be clear, and a self-advocate, and aggressive for his values because there's nobody on that stage tonight who is going to be able to beat Donald Trump in November but Mike Bloomberg.

CAMEROTA: Four days ago, Mayor Bloomberg said that he would release three women from their NDAs that they signed as part of -- being a part -- employees of his company.

[07:50:06]

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Have any of them come forward since then to do that?

O'BRIEN: I don't know the answer to that.

You know, the thing I would point out is that the lawyers of Bloomberg L.P. went through 30 years of sexual harassment cases. Bloomberg L.P. has not had an unusual number of sexual harassment cases.

There's been headlines saying 45 women or 64 women have filed sexual harassment suits against Mike Bloomberg. That is simply not true. They were filed against the company. Mike Bloomberg --

CAMEROTA: Is that better? I mean, if the company had a culture where sexual --

O'BRIEN: Well, the implication --

CAMEROTA: -- harassment was running amuck, is that better?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, I was a manager there for the last seven years. That is so defamatory and unfair to say that Bloomberg L.P. had a culture of sexual harassment. No -- my experience there is that it's absolutely unfounded and not true.

I think it's been made into a political issue by Sen. Warren because it's politically useful for her. And I admire her. I think she's --

CAMEROTA: Well, also because this is the moment. I mean, this is a moment right where we're looking at NDAs and we're looking at sexual harassment.

O'BRIEN: As we should.

CAMEROTA: And Harvey Weinstein was just found guilty.

O'BRIEN: As we should, but it should be fair. It should be handled fairly.

Mike Bloomberg had -- was involved -- named in three NDAs over a 30- year period. None of them involved predatory behavior. It's alleged comments he's made that he's denied. We've said we'll put those out there in the open as long as the women are comfortable with it. He doesn't have the blanket authority, as the senator well knows, to just lift NDAs involving other people.

CAMEROTA: Understood, but you don't know if those three, which he was involved in personally, have come forward to take him up on that?

O'BRIEN: I don't know. Yes -- no, I don't know.

CAMEROTA: And very, very quickly, you had all these, I thought, funny memes yesterday where you were going after Bernie Sanders --

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- seeming to give -- to cast Fidel Castro in a positive light. And then you took some down. What -- how --

O'BRIEN: Oh, you mean the campaign? I thought you were talking about stuff on my own Twitter feed.

CAMEROTA: No, no, I mean the campaign -- all of these funny memes where they kind of played on that.

O'BRIEN: I think in one of them he was misquoted, as far as I understand. But it was -- there was, I think, a statement in there attributed to him that wasn't from him so we took it down. But I don't think that -- the other ones stayed up -- yes.

CAMEROTA: Tim O'Brien, we really appreciate you coming in --

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- and we will be watching very closely tonight.

O'BRIEN: All right, all right. Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: A quick programming note. CNN will host four town halls tomorrow night from Charleston, live, including former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. So you can watch tomorrow night beginning at 7:00 p.m. eastern, only CNN.

BERMAN: I've got to say, if that's any sign, tonight, tomorrow night, the next few days are going to be --

CAMEROTA: Fascinating.

BERMAN: Yes, that's one way to put it.

Bernie Sanders leading the field right now. Will that be the case after tonight? A reality check is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:56:34]

BERMAN: Sen. Bernie Sanders the clear front-runner right now in the Democratic race. The question is, and the question that some Democrats have been asking is, is he the strongest candidate to take on President Trump this November?

CNN's John Avlon with a reality check -- John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, guys.

So, look, Donald Trump, back in the day, was a populist outsider who broke all the rules and beloved by the base, while the GOP establishment warned he'd be a disastrous nominee.

Now, many people see a mirror image of that script with Bernie Sanders. This outsider's built a populist movement and his supporters are passionate and quick to condemn the Democratic establishment.

And after two caucuses and one primary, Sanders is the front-runner after trailing Joe Biden for most of the campaign. He has momentum, but can Bernie win? That's the 270 electoral vote question.

Now, the most ideological extreme candidate is usually worst positioned to win over swing voters in swing states. Barry Goldwater and George McGovern are iconic, if dated, examples. Both lost in landslides.

But what if this time it's different, as Peter Hamby argues in "Vanity Fair"? "Instead of asking if Sanders is unelectable, ask another question: what if Sanders is actually the most electable Democrat?"

Now, this may sound like magical thinking but Hamby explains. "In the age of Trump, hyperpartisanship, institutional distrust, and social media, Sanders could be examined as a candidate almost custom-built to go head-to-head with Trump."

So let's dig into that. Now, Bernie is an authentic political celebrity. People know what he stands for. But there's plenty to suggest his views play better in a polarized primary than in a general election.

Let's look at Democratic Party divisions. According to a 2019 Pew study, only 15 percent of Democrats identify as very liberal; 32 percent, liberal; 38 percent, moderate; and 14 percent as some flavor of conservative.

Now, let's zoom out to the overall America electorate. Twenty-seven percent of Americans now identify as Democrats, according to Gallup; 30 percent, Republican; 42 percent, Independent.

America remains a center-right nation with 37 percent calling themselves conservative in 2019; 35 percent, moderate; and 24 percent, liberal. So any nominee is going to need to reach out beyond the base to win.

Bernie's argument echoes Trump. He'll drive turnout by connecting with working-class voters who have been alienated by the establishment. It may be true but the new voters predicted haven't materialized yet. And the label of socialism, under which Democratic socialism lives, is really not popular. Now, you could say Americans vote on authenticity; not ideology --

fair point. But the center-right center of gravity is tougher to argue against. Democrats need to understand why Reagan and Nixon won 49 state reelections while Clinton and Obama had to fight for their second term.

The Electoral College also seems to favor the GOP, with Trump and Bush 43 losing the popular vote. So, running up margins in New York and California ain't enough. You can't write off Florida or ignore swing- district Democrats' warning against Sanders.

But, bottom line, could Bernie win? Sure, anything is possible. Donald Trump is an unpopular president despite a strong economy to date. Top- tier Democrats beat Trump by different margins in head-to-head polls like this. The same is true for key swing-state polls in Pennsylvania and Michigan -- better gauges of who might actually win the White House.

But, Bernie Sanders has built a movement. He has momentum. But there are rational reasons to think that nominating a Democratic socialist in a center-right country is a real risk that could reelect Donald Trump.

And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: The message anything is possible is a good one, I think, to reiterate often John, as you do.

AVLON: It's -- you know, that's just -- that's reality.

BERMAN: And it will -- it will be up to the voters in South Carolina and then all those voters on Super Tuesday, one week from today.

CAMEROTA: John, thank you very much.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, the final debate in a crucial week in the Democratic primary. NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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