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Reporting Indicates President Trump Will Not Pursue Expanded Background Checks for Gun Purchases; Trump Administration Possibly Considering Payroll Tax Cut to Stimulate Economy; Democratic Presidential Candidate Julian Castro Interviewed about Gun Control Legislation and Immigration; Trump Caves on His Pledge for "Meaningful Background Checks". Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- there's so much going on I can't get it out of my mouth all at once.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It demands more than one date.

BERMAN: It is 8:00 in the east. And the big question this morning, why is the president saying, Denmark, you're cancelled? Why really has the president cancelled his trip there? He claims it's because the Danish prime minister dismissed the idea of selling Greenland to the United States. But according to the president just days ago that deal was, well, no big deal at all.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not number one on the burner, I can tell you that.


BERMAN: So could this all be about something else? For instance, could it be about the now abandoned effort to expand background checks to buy guns, which the president called meaningful and common sense after more than 30 people were murdered in El Paso and Dayton. Now after a series of calls between the president and the head of the NRA, a Capitol Hill source tells me the effort is, quote, dead, not going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Onto the economy, President Trump says he is considering payroll tax cuts despite denials from the White House all week and the administration's insistence that the U.S. economy is doing just great. This comes as brand new CNN polls out this morning show Americans getting a bit jittery about the economy, and the president's approval number has also slipped a tad.

BERMAN: Joining us now is 2020 Democratic candidate, former secretary Julian Castro. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us. A lot happened overnight, and if we can, I want to get your reaction to the news, as one Capitol Hill source told me, the effort to expand background checks is dead, not going to happen. The president has abandoned those efforts, which before he called meaningful and common sense. My question to you, though, and I know you want to get elected president, which you'd be inaugurated in 2021, before then, next week, next month, what should Democrats in Congress push to achieve?

JULIAN CASTRO, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, they should continue to push, as they have, passing legislation for common sense gun safety, including universal background checks. And they should continue to press Mitch McConnell who had an election next year that many people believe is going to be much closer than his elections have been in the past. They should continue to press him to allow a vote on common sense gun safety legislation that would include universal background checks.

But, John, we've seen this before from President Trump. He did this last time there was a mass shooting, or a few months ago, which is to say some words right after the incident, to make it seem he understands the problem and he's going to do something about it. And then when things die down, it turns out that, really, he's bought and paid for by the NRA. And it's the same old story of politicians in Washington, D.C. like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell that want to do the bidding of the NRA instead of the bidding of the American people when 90 percent of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, support something as straightforward and common sense as universal background checks.

This president came in saying he was going to drain the swamp and make changes. This is perfect example that he is the swamp. He has become what he was complaining about. And we need a new president that will pass common sense gun safety legislation. I will do that.

BERMAN: How do you convince people, though? After Newtown there was talk about it. It didn't happen. After Parkland there was talking about it, it didn't happen. After El Paso and Dayton, there was talk about it, this time not even two weeks worth of talk, and it didn't happen. So how do you change that conversation?

CASTRO: Well, that's not the job of any one politician. The way that's going to change is we have an election coming up in November of 2020. And folks will remember just a couple of weeks ago that scene in Ohio when Governor DeWine stood up, and he thought, I think, that he was just going to go and say a few words, but he got shouted down by Republicans and Democrats, citizens there in Ohio that were saying do something, do something on common sense gun safety legislation. So it really is a new era in this push for things like universal background checks. And I bet that there are going to be a whole bunch of races in these swing districts where gun reform, common sense gun safety legislation, is a major issue. That's going to provide momentum going into 2021.

Now, I believe that on January 20th, 2021 at 12:01 p.m., we're going to have a Democratic president, a Democratic House, and Democratic Senate. And so we're going to be able to do more than we've been able to do so far. But either way I think there's a lot of momentum on this issue, and Mitch McConnell should be listening.

BERMAN: I am going to move on, but I do want to note that with a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate, when it was President Obama and a Democratic Senate after Newtown, couldn't get Manchin- Toomey done then, but maybe things will change going forward.

I want to talk about immigration and Flores, because today we understand the White House is going to make an announcement that's a workaround against the Flores legal settlement, which basically said that immigrant children can't be detained more than 20 days.

[08:05:10] So what's your reaction to this news?

CASTRO: This is another example of this administration's cruelty. Your viewers will notice they go to so many lengths to be so much more cruel than anything that has come before us. And instead of working to keep families together, and with unaccompanied minors, for instance, to find them family members -- usually they have family members that live already in the United States. To find those family members quickly or to find a sponsor who would take them into a loving home, they keep them on the cold floors, sleeping in mylar blankets, don't give them soap and don't give them toothbrushes. This is completely unnecessary, it's cruel, and that's one more reason that we need to change the leadership to pursue immigration reform with common sense and compassion, instead of this cruelty that this administration continues to show. And I hope that whatever steps they take are challenged immediately in court and actually not put into effect.

BERMAN: They will be challenged in court, there's no question about that. And most legal experts will tell you that unlikely that they will survive. However, when you're talking about Flores, the idea in this case is to keep children with their parents in detention together. And if you talk to people who work on the border, at CPB and other people, they say that this settlement has been an obstacle towards reform and fixing the system going forward. If you're elected president, how will you treat Flores? The Obama administration, at one point, which you were a part of, tried to figure out a way around Flores and was told by a judge you can't, so they abandoned the effort. But what would you do with this settlement if you were elected president?

CASTRO: I think the answer is to keep family together, to keep families together --

BERMAN: But under Flores, so not detained. You'd keep them together but not detained?

CASTRO: That's right. So for instance, toward the end of the Obama administration, they started this family case management program where through intense case management they were able to monitor and keep in touch with individuals that had to come back for their court hearings so that we could make sure folks came back to their court hearings who needed to appear in court for immigration matters, but also be able to be on the outside and be with family members, for instance.

There are ways that we can do this that don't involve detaining people. It's a fantasy to think that the only way we can accomplish people showing up to their court date is by detaining them. We can keep families together. There's a common sense, more effective, smarter and more humane way to do this. It's just that the Trump administration is not the least bit interested in doing that. BERMAN: I want to ask you something else we're learning from the

White House over the last 24 hours. Despite denials, it turns out that the White House has been discussing a payroll tax cut. This is something, again, that did happen at one point during the Obama administration. Do you support the idea of a payroll tax cut?

CASTRO: Look, this is the first I've heard of that. What I do hear out there, I'm in Iowa right now, and you heard a little bit of this I think earlier in the interviews that you all played, a growing amount of anxiety about our economy. And that's understandable because this president has been so erratic with his haphazard trade war with China and other countries. You can feel a growing anxiety here in Iowa and in other places. And the erratic nature of this president is finally catching up with the American economy, unfortunately. Nobody wants that. We hope that we do not go into a recession.

But did anybody really think that you can have a leader as erratic and self-absorbed and lazy as Donald Trump and not have that have an impact on the economy? He inherited a great economy from Barack Obama. Job growth slowed under him, and now he's driving it into the ground. It's very unfortunate. So --

BERMAN: I want to ask you, just very quickly, you have qualified for the next Democratic debate, congratulations. It was based on a new CNN poll that was out. I want you to reveal your innermost debate strategies. What are you going to do on this debate stage that will help you secure the nomination?

CASTRO: Well, what I hope to do and I am going to do is share with the American people how I want to make our country smarter, healthier, fairer, and more prosperous for everybody. I think we need to focus on the needs of American families out there and how everybody can prosper. And so I was happy to make it. Gracias to CNN, thank you to CNN. These polls this time and thresholds that are put in place are kind of a work in progress.

[08:10:00] It's an experiment from the DNC. And so we weren't completely sure what was going to happen. But now I will be in the September debate and the October debate. I'm looking forward to that. I think people have seen in the first two debates that I've done a good job articulating my positive position for the future of the country, and that's what I'm going to do. And this will be neat because it's going to be in my home state of Texas in Houston.

BERMAN: Former Secretary Julian Castro, thanks you for joining us this morning.

CASTRO: Good to be with you.

BERMAN: All right, against.

CAMEROTA: All right, John, right after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump claimed to want to take action. Well, today that plan is dead. So what will Americans do when lawmakers won't do anything? We discuss next.


CAMEROTA: With the spate of mass shootings in the past two weeks, and as millions of children head back to school, many parents worry about their children's security. But President Trump is retreating from any plan to expand background checks for gun buyers.

[08:15:05] This is a problem that has only gotten worse on his watch. Four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. modern history have happened during the Trump presidency.

So, let's begin there as we bring in Kaitlin Collins, CNN White House correspondent, Karen Finney, CNN political commentator, and John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst.

So, John, the reports from CNN and "The Atlantic" and "The New York Times" this morning are that Trump had several conversations with the NRA, including Wayne LaPierre while he was on vacation in Bedminster and as of this morning, everything he said about wanting expanded universal background checks is, quote, dead. Which is fitting term, I mean, and chilling term because obviously what the Republicans in the Senate --


CAMEROTA: -- who won't come back from recess to address this and what President Trump is saying, you know, we just sort of have to live with this, I guess. This is our new normal. We accept we are the country of mass shootings and, you know, parents you're going to send your kids back to school, they're sitting ducks. Anytime you go to a big event like the Gilroy Garlic festival you're a sitting duck, and we have to live with that, I guess.

AVLON: Yes. Look, we don't of course, but it's a sign of weakness that the president has his initial impulse overridden by special interest. Remember, right after this happened, you know, the president tweeted we need background checks, this is common sense. Mitch McConnell recognizing a certain political self-interest said he'd be onboard if the president led.

And we all said, look, he said these things before. Mitch McConnell hasn't. Maybe things are aligning finally because the NRA is so weak and under its own internal scandals. And yet a couple of phone calls from Wayne LaPierre and the president proves that he's basically impotent on this issue. He may have those intentions but he's afraid of the NRA.

And it's particularly ironic because the White House is beginning outreach to suburban woman. And this is exactly the kind of outreach that might have appealed to them. Instead he's basically saying the body count is going to continue to rise, I'm going to keep cashing checks from the NRA, and I can't do what I know is right for the country because I'm too weak and afraid.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan, you have new reporting about how this evolution, if it's fair to call it that, that happened from the days after El Paso this morning. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the president had this call yesterday with the NRA chief Wayne LaPierre. They talked for about half an hour, maybe up to 45 minutes. It varies judging by different people.

But it was during that call that really cemented the president backing off that push for extended or strengthened background checks that we have seen from him in the last few weeks. During this call, a call that followed a series of calls the president has had not only with Wayne LaPierre but also multiple NRA officials, that is when Wayne LaPierre was making this argument to the president that it was NRA members that helped him get elected, recall that the NRA spent $30 million helping the president in 2016, and he said basically, they don't support this.

And he said, even if you do support this push for stronger background checks, nothing is going to satisfy the Democrats. So, no matter what you do, they're not going to be pleased. That's the argument he was making to the president, and you saw that reflected in what Trump said yesterday.

However, we should be clear -- it wasn't just that call that changed the president's stance on this. You started to hear him shift and backtrack on it starting on Sunday when he was leaving Bedminster and that comes with a coordinating messaging he was receiving from not only NRA officials but also Republican lawmakers and his conservative allies, who were telling the president, you need to back off this push for background checks, they said it wouldn't help those two shootings and they were essentially making this argument to the president.

Now, a sign this wasn't a receptive audience to this push for background checks, the president wasn't making the same calls to the people he typically phoned during his vacation in Bedminster in those first few days after those two shootings. Those same people have said he's started calling them again in recent days.

CAMEROTA: Karen, the chilling irony of this is, earlier, in the program, we had a whole report not only has there been a state of deadly mass shootings but also been a state of arrests. Police around the country being able to stop these before they happen by checking peoples basically primarily 19-year-old white males, checking their social media and seeing they were threatening and promising to do something.

And so, God bless the police for being on top of this, but they have asked for help. I think it was the Dayton police chief who we heard after the Dayton mass shooting, saying we're begging for help. We need to laws to change.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, and after the incident in Philadelphia we all watched unfold over several hours, you know, so there are a couple of pieces to this. I saw the earlier reporting and I think there's certainly a question to be asked around what is it that is making these young men believe that mass shooting is the appropriate way to express whatever rage they're feeling, their grievances. [08:20:09] Because we know in many instances, they're specifically

talking about targeting specific populations of people, black, brown, Jewish people. So, I think there's a whole set of issues around that.

But then you have to remember -- I mean, I think so many Americans are so tired of the excuse that, you know, well, this law wouldn't -- if we pass this law, that wouldn't have stopped this shooting. Well, that's not a reason to not do anything.

You know, I was in the Clinton administration when we passed the assault weapons ban, and obviously it was very contentious, but I think we are at another breaking point in this country. You mentioned kids going back to school, and I've said this before on this show, for a lot of parents when you have your children coming home talking about having doing active shooter drills, right, saying we got M&M's today because we were quiet for five minutes in the closet, that's chilling for people.

I think you add to that and I think we saw in some footage frankly earlier this week from different constituencies where people are clamoring for what are you going to do? We don't want to be the country of mass shootings where we just accept it, but I think people also feel so disheartened after each one of these incidents because when you talk to people it's like -- well, nothing is going to happen.

You know, and I think the president, of course, he's blaming the Democrats, of course, to what John said, he's terrified of the NRA because he knows he believes they can deliver a certain number of votes. But they are weakened, and a majority of Americans -- this is an American issue. This can't be a partisan issue. So, I think the numbers are there in terms of peoples willingness to support some real measures.

BERMAN: John, very quickly. I do want to talk about Denmark and Greenland. The president canceling a trip there.

People have made all kinds of jokes about it, but the bottom line here is that Denmark is an important NATO ally, and the president is claiming overnight he's canceling the trip there because Denmark won't sell Greenland to the United States.

This in and of itself, the whole thing is absurdist, Kafkaesque really bad play, but it has important, I think, diplomatic implications.

AVLON: Denmark has been a steadfast ally of the United States. It is absurd to see this whole tick-tock, the headline itself seems like it's from outer space. It is absurd. And it's a real insult to our allies.

You know, back in the Obama era, I remember so many conservatives would use this line, he's alienating our allies and embracing our enemies. Well, that's literally the tale of the tape when it comes to this president's policy, and this is just the most absurd, most recent example of it.

BERMAN: Just an example, he alienated Denmark yesterday and embraced Russia inviting them back into the G7.


BERMAN: John, Kaitlin, Karen, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thank you all.

All right. President Trump is under fire this morning for this comment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or a great disloyalty.


CAMEROTA: All right. Next, we talk to someone who has strong feelings about this, a Democrat, a Jewish Democrat who served in Congress, next.


[08:27:33] CAMEROTA: President Trump is under scrutiny for promoting an anti-Semitic trope after saying this yesterday in the Oval Office.


TRUMP: Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they're defending these two people over the state of Israel?

And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat -- I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or a great disloyalty.


CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now is Ron Klein. He's the chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

Mr. Klein, thanks so much for joining us. You say that was President Trump weaponizing anti-Semitism. What does that mean?

RON KLEIN, CHAIR, JEWISH DEMOCRATIC COUNCIL OF AMERICA: Well, weaponizing anti-Semitism means he's using it as a tool to drive wedges in this country, drive hate and violence.

You know, I'm personally sick and tired of the president using language which incites violence. You know, people give him a pass. And the president of the United States when he speaks, people listen and take cues and act on it.

The Jewish community among other communities has been one of those communities that's been under attack. And just the other day in Youngstown, a Jewish community there was another thwarted effort. But it's a very serious issue, and we know that this community, the Jewish community is less safe than it was three years ago.

CAMEROTA: But do you think what he just said there in the Oval Office incites violence somehow?

KLEIN: Absolutely. I mean, again, it's a matter of him, disloyalty is a concept of -- for some people, it's treason. It's going against our country, it's against patriotism. And again, it's not everybody's cup of tea in terms of acting on it, but there's a lot of people in this country unfortunately in this environment that he has created which is creating the problem.

Our organization, Jewish Democratic Council of America was formed after Charlottesville when he basically failed to condemn white nationalists, and it's only gotten worse unfortunately.

CAMEROTA: One of the confusing things is that this is the very same thing, the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty that President Trump claims to be outraged by when something similar was said by Congresswomen Ilhan Omar.

So, how do you make sense of that contradiction that he's now using the same trope?

KLEIN: Well, I think it's hypocritical to start but this is President Trump's game of trying to confuse people, win some votes on one hand or the other here. You know, ultimately at the end of the day, he's responsible for his own words, and he's president, OK?

A couple of members of Congress were saying certain things. They don't have any major political.