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State of the Union

Virginia Governor Embroiled in Racial Firestorm; Governor Northam Insists He Isn't In Racist Photo, Refuses To Resign; Interview with Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe; Interview with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL); 2020 Democrats Split On Keeping Private Health Insurance; The Red Button On The President's Resolute Desk Is The Subject of This Week's "State of the Cartoonion". Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 03, 2019 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Not stepping down. Virginia's Democratic Governor Ralph Northam defies calls to resign, saying a racist yearbook photo is not of him after all.

GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: I am not the person in that photo.

TAPPER: Can he keep his job? Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe joins us exclusively.

Plus, deal or no deal? Just before his State of the Union address,, President Trump teases he's ready to flex his executive muscle to get his border wall.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will be looking at a national emergency.

TAPPER: Where does that leave congressional negotiations?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: You have to give and take. I have told the president that.

TAPPER: Top Senate negotiator Senator Richard Shelby responds next.

And left turn? Democratic presidential hopefuls tout progressive policies.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to have Medicare for all.


TAPPER: But not all Democrats think those plans are realistic.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is shaking our heads. The Virginia governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, is ignoring calls for

his resignation by his fellow Democrats from the top to the bottom of his party, demands that only intensified after the governor bizarrely changed his explanation about that racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page.

Now Northam insists he's not in the photo which depicts someone in blackface next to a person dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes.


R. NORTHAM: I finally had a chance to sit down and look at the photograph in detail. It is definitely not me. I can tell by looking at it.


TAPPER: That was a total contradiction of what Northam had admitted just hours before, when he said he was -- quote -- "deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo" -- unquote.

Northam did reveal yesterday his vivid memory of wearing blackface on a different occasion that year at a dance contest, where he dressed as Michael Jackson and colored his face with shoe polish, marking the first time in American political history that a politician attempted to explain his innocence regarding one racist blackface incident by pointing to another one that he recalled participating in.

Northam is now asking for the opportunity to earn Virginians' forgiveness, something the state's top Democrats, including both Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, former Governors Wilder and McAuliffe, the current state attorney general and the entire state Democratic Caucus said was not possible.

Joining me now is former Virginia Governor Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Northam was his lieutenant governor. And Governor McAuliffe called for Northam's resignation on Friday.

Governor Northam -- Governor McAuliffe, thanks so much for joining us.


TAPPER: Northam is now saying it's not him in the photo. Do you believe him?

MCAULIFFE: It doesn't really matter what I believe or anyone else believes.

When this first came out Friday afternoon, and I -- and, Jake, when you invited me on the show, I, in my wildest dreams, never thought you and I would be having this conversation.

So, when the photo came out Friday afternoon, when it was sent to me, I said there is absolutely no way that Ralph Northam is in this picture. And then, Friday evening, it came out that Ralph indeed was -- he said

he was in the picture. At that point, for me, morally, the only right thing to do -- and it was hard. I called Ralph on Friday night. It was one of the hardest things I had to do, was my lieutenant governor.

We worked closely together. We did so many great things working together for the Commonwealth of Virginia. But once that picture with the blackface and the Klansman came out, there is no way you can continue to be the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We have had a horrible and sordid past as it relates to race relations. We have worked very hard, Ralph and I, over the last five years to move the state forward.

If you remember, in 1902, a state senator said that I'm putting a felon disenfranchisement in our Constitution -- quote -- to eliminate "the darkey" from being a political factor in Virginia. I was proud to, 114 years later, give those felons their rights back.

But we have worked hard in Virginia.

So, this is -- I have got to tell you, it's heartbreaking. And it's been one of the worst 48 hours. But Virginia needs to come out of this stronger.

I can't sit here and pretend and be in the steps of those individuals who have been offended by those photos.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you...


TAPPER: ... if it's not him in the photo, which is what he's saying, why do you still think he should resign?

MCAULIFFE: Well, first, he said it was Friday night. And, if it wasn't him in the photo, he should have said that on Friday.


I have no idea what was going on in the governor's office on Friday. I just -- if you are not in -- instinctively, you know if you put black paint on your face. You know if you put a hood on.

And so, if it isn't you, you come out with -- immediately and say, this is not me.

So, I can't understand what's going on. But I do know this. Ralph is a good, moral, decent man, and may have made some mistakes in his past. We all have made mistakes. Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He will put Virginia first.

And I think that will happen relatively soon. He's worked hard. Thanks to Ralph's efforts, we got Medicaid expansion done.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm. MCAULIFFE: But we have to move on. You cannot be the moral leader.

I mean, we are now in crossover in Virginia, where the legislation goes from the House and Senate, back and forth.

I remember, as governor, this is your busiest time.

TAPPER: Right.

MCAULIFFE: You're working with your legislators to pass bills, kill bills.

I mean, you have got to work as one unit to move your commonwealth forward. And it's just -- he's just not going to have the ability to do it. The head of the Black Caucus yesterday said, if he doesn't resign, they will move to remove him themselves in the legislature.

So, we just need to put this behind us. We need to move forward.


MCAULIFFE: And that's what we have to do.

TAPPER: So, when you say you think he's going to do the right thing, you mean he's going to resign. You want him to resign.

Do you agree with the head of the Black Caucus that he should be removed from office if he does not resign?

MCAULIFFE: I know Ralph very well. It will not come to that.

And if Ralph is watching this today, I know how much he loves this Commonwealth of Virginia. And you have got to make the right decision. You have got to make the right moral decision.

We have to bring people together. We have had a horrible history in Virginia. He and I, working together -- and he chaired the child cabinet that I formed with my wife to feed needy children. He's done so many great things. It's not about Ralph anymore.

This is about who we are as Virginians and how we move forward. So he's going to do the right thing. I know, in his heart, he's going to do the right thing.

TAPPER: Governor, I want you to watch a clip from yesterday's press conference.


TAPPER: A question for Governor Northam, after he admitted that he did wear blackface, but not in that photo. He did -- wore -- he wore blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance competition in San Antonio in 1984. Take a look.


QUESTION: Are you still able to moonwalk?

PAM NORTHAM, WIFE OF RALPH NORTHAM: Inappropriate circumstances.

R. NORTHAM: My wife says appropriate circumstances.


TAPPER: So, as I don't need to tell you, Governor, there are a lot of people and throughout the country who are really hurting because of this racist image.

You just saw Governor Northam smiling, contemplating showing the press his ability to moonwalk. Do you think that Governor Northam understands how serious this is and how much pain he's caused?

MCAULIFFE: I think there is so much coming.

I mean, that -- I winced when I saw that yesterday. First of all, totally inappropriate question from the reporter. We're talking about a very, very serious issue.

And I agree with the first lady of Virginia. I agree with Pam Northam. That was totally inappropriate.

And I just think, Jake, he's sitting there. And you just can't imagine what's going on in his mind today with everybody, and calling for his resignation. And I just go back to the point, he has done so many great things for Virginia through the years.

It doesn't matter whether he was in the photo or not in the photo at this point. We have to close that chapter. We have to move Virginia forward.

Justin Fairfax, African-American lieutenant governor, will do a great job of bringing folks back together. But this is a part of the chapter of Ralph's life. And, as I say, he will be remembered for so many great things, but he will also be remembered, in a time of need, that he chose the right moral course for Virginia, and he resigned, and we moved forward.

TAPPER: I just have to ask you, though, sir. He was your lieutenant governor.

It's not just the photograph on his yearbook page. He also, in his Virginia military institute high school yearbook page, he's identified -- one of his nicknames is "Coonman," which he has yet to explain.

There is also a video out there circulating of him refusing to shake the hand of his black opponent after a 2013 debate.

I know that the Ralph Northam you know in your words is a good man.


TAPPER: But has he also been a racist?

MCAULIFFE: I have zero indication of that.

As I say, family doctor, had military service, had been a state senator, ran for lieutenant governor, and literally at my side. I mean, we made historic investment in K-12 to make sure that underserved schools had the right teachers, and, as I say, to make sure every child had a nutritious breakfast, working with my wife, Dorothy, on that.


TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

MCAULIFFE: When I did the restoration of rights, and was sued by the Republicans to stop me from doing it, Ralph was always at my side.

So I can't answer it, Jake. I'm telling you, I'm heartbroken. I don't know how -- I mean, I have been -- it is -- on Friday, I just don't -- I can't explain to you my feeling.

But it doesn't matter how Terry McAuliffe feels. That photo that was in that yearbook was so offensive to the African-American community, that I can't be in their shoes. And we have just got to get past this.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about another controversy.

MCAULIFFE: And I -- I knew, at a young age, blackface, 1985, you just didn't do it.


I have to ask...

MCAULIFFE: It was offensive. I'm...

TAPPER: I have to ask you about another controversy in Virginia over legislation that would loosen restrictions on late-term abortions.

I want you to take a listen to what Governor Northam said...


TAPPER: ... about third-trimester abortions on a local radio show, WTOP, I believe.


R. NORTHAM: It's done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that's non-viable. So, in this particular example, if a mother's in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen.

The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated, if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother. (END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you support this new legislation? And what was your reaction to the governor's comments there?

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely not.

And I think Ralph misspoke on that. No Democrat I know is for infanticide, none, none. I just don't know of anyone who is for it.

Listen, Ralph was at my side. When I ran for governor five years ago and got inaugurated, it was the Republicans who were changing all the regulations to make clinics, Planned Parenthood clinics put in more water fountains, more parking spaces, all to shut all our clinics down.

I am very, very proud that I replaced the Board of Health. And, working with Ralph, we got rid of all of those horrible regulations to shut own Planned Parenthood clinics down.

So, that's the battle that we have been having in Virginia. Where we come from, it's life of the mother in the last trimester. But I do not support that legislation, nor does Ralph.

And I just think, you know, he was speaking as a doctor. And what he was trying to say, I will be honest with you, was inartful. And that's not who he is.

TAPPER: Governor, obviously, we asked you to come on the show to talk about national issues having to do with Medicare for all, et cetera.

And I hope you will come back under different circumstances.

MCAULIFFE: Sure. You bet.

TAPPER: But, before you go, last question.

You said a month ago that the odds of you running for president in 2020 were about 50/50. What's the update? Are they still 50/50? Are you planning on running?

MCAULIFFE: So, I have said I'd make a decision by March 31. I have been talking to other candidates.

I want to see what the positions are out there. I am going through the process. I have outreached to over 400 people. I have talked to individuals out there.

And, listen, we had a very successful run as governor of Virginia, bringing people together, building a new economy. I have said we need a Democrat running for president that has practical, actionable -- can actually get things done and who can show results.

So, you know, we have got about six, seven weeks to finish making my decision. And I'm talking to a lot of people.

And, if I do, I promise you, Jake, you will be the first to know. How is that?



TAPPER: OK. I'm sure you -- I will be the first to know.

But still about 50/50, you think, or maybe 60/40 in favor? What do you think?

MCAULIFFE: Yes, I would say, you know, I would like to do it.

I think we had a great track record in Virginia, great success that we had, very -- results, record economic investment and all the things that we were able to do, very progressive agenda, but also very economic-focused. We built a new economy.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

MCAULIFFE: That's what America needs.

They want a president who is compassionate, who has empathy, and who tells the truth. Anyone who dealt with me in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I'm very authentic. I will always tell you, whether you like to hear it or not, and I lean in to get things done we can actually get done.

I have very aspirational goals, but I also temper that to what is reality. And that's why, as I say, I had a very Republican legislature. I got over 70 percent of my governor administration bills passed. I worked together.

We're a different state today than we were five years ago. We're open, welcoming, diverse. And that's what the country needs now.

TAPPER: All right, Governor McAuliffe, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

MCAULIFFE: Thank you, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: We will have you back again soon.

TAPPER: Republicans now telling President Trump to stay out of the way as they try to avoid a new shutdown and get his border wall. But is his mind already set on getting the wall his way?

One of the key negotiators joins me next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. With just 12 days left to make a deal, President Trump says

negotiations on Capitol Hill to avoid another government shutdown are a waste of time.

The president is threatening to build his border wall with or without a deal by declaring a national emergency. Possibly, he will make this announcement during this Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Joining me now is one of the lawmakers trying to cut a deal, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Republican from Alabama.

Senator, good to see you. Always good to have you on.

Your committee has just 12 days left to strike a compromise deal on border security to avoid another government shutdown. President Trump said this week those negotiations that you are helping to lead are -- quote -- "a waste of time."

Do comments like that hurt your efforts to find a compromise?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, it could hurt, but it could also help, because a lot of us are going to do everything we can to try to make this work, to get to yes, to avoid another shutdown, to show that we can do the job, like we did three-fourths of the funding already.

TAPPER: There seemed to be an obvious area of compromise here on fencing.

Speaker Pelosi indicated on Thursday she won't pay for a wall, but she is open to enhanced fencing or Normandy fencing in some areas. President Trump said during the shutdown that he was open to fencing, barriers, steel slats.

But, then this week, he kind of did a turnaround, and he tweeted -- quote -- "Let's just call them walls from now on and stop playing political games."


It seems as though the president has just kind of put up a wall in the way of finding common ground here.

Am I wrong?

SHELBY: I think that the president is dead set on keeping his campaign promise.

I support border security, a wall, a fence, a barrier, whatever it takes. I also support enhanced procedures, tech -- technology, and more manpower. We have got to have a comprehensive approach to this.

I believe that we have got a chance this week to move things. Will we? We don't know. The president could be right. We could be wasting our time. On the other hand, we could come up to a solution. But, as long --

Jake, as long as the speaker and the president are way at odds, the chances of us reaching an agreement are slim. But it could happen.

As a matter of fact, later this week, coming up, we have asked the professionals, the people who do the work, that know something about the border, know what they need, do they need a wall? Do they need a fence? Do they need more technology? Do they need it all?

We're going to have them up before the appropriations conference committee, and we're going to find out what they want. I think it's not what I need or what the speaker needs or even the president needs. It's what we need to secure our borders.

And if we get this information from the experts, it could move us off the dime.

TAPPER: Well, what if they say that they are fine with steel slats, barriers, but that they don't need a concrete wall?

And then that's something that I -- it sounds like the conference committee could agree to, even Nancy Pelosi could agree to, the speaker of the House.

But President Trump, it really just -- it matters whether or not he finds it acceptable, if he demands a concrete wall or border. But you're saying you will defer to the Customs and Border Patrol people?

SHELBY: Well, I think it's what you call it. The president calls it a wall. Sometimes, we call it a fence, sometimes a barrier.

But the president, I think, has already spoken out and said he's not talking about a concrete wall, 1,500 miles and so forth. I think he's been talking about steel barriers and slat -- slats and stuff like that.

But I think we have got to listen to the experts. We have got to listen to the people who do it every day, that know what the challenge is, because we do -- Jake, we do have problems with our borders. We have not secured our borders. The president is absolutely right there.

It's a question, how do we get off the politics and to the substance? If we can do that, we will get the job done. That's what I'm working to do to go to yes.

TAPPER: The president is signaling that he's likely to declare a national emergency to fund the border wall. That would then go to the House and Senate to affirm or -- or to vote against.

Do you think there are enough votes in the Senate to pass, to approve of President Trump's national emergency declaration? Or are enough Republicans concerned about such a thing, whether it's because of the precedent or whether because it takes away power from the legislative branch?

SHELBY: Well, we will have to see what would happen.

The president hasn't specifically said he's going to invoke an emergency powers. But he's -- under the Constitution, he's probably got some rights there, also, under the statute that gives -- speaks to emergency powers.

What we'd like to do is, do it in the appropriation process. We have shown we could do it. If people leave us alone, if we were tasked -- Senator Leahy, my counterpart in the Senate, Congresswoman Lowey and also Granger, if the four of us could get together, tasked by our respective caucuses, we will get this done before Wednesday night.

TAPPER: But, if you can't find a deal, if you can't find a deal that he would sign, you are OK with him declaring a national emergency?

SHELBY: Well, that's up to him.

You know, he does have power, and he has obligations under the Constitution to protect the country, which is to protect the borders. That would all probably play out in court some way. But the preferable way is through the appropriation process, which we have already done -- and I will say it again -- three-fourths of the budget.

Let us finish the rest.

TAPPER: I want to ask you a question.

You used to be the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The nation's top intelligence officials testified before Congress this week, and they contradicted the president in several of the priorities. They contradicted him on whether they think North Korea will denuclearize, on whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal as of right now, whether ISIS has been completely defeated.

The president got mad. He lashed out on Twitter. He called the intelligence chiefs extremely passive and naive. He told them to -- quote -- "go back to school."


Does this politicizing of intelligence bother you?

SHELBY: It's troubling to all of us.

But I think there's got to be real good communications between the president and the director of the CIA and the director of national intelligence. These are professional people. The president's briefed every day on it.

He's not an intelligence officer. None of us are. But they, the people on the front lines, the people who analyze, who gather and disseminate intelligence information to our higher-ups, we should respect them. Most of the time, they are pretty much on point. TAPPER: Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not ruled out

running in your home state of Alabama against Democratic Senator Doug Jones for his old Senate seat.

Have you talked with him about running for his old seat? Would you like to see him do that?

SHELBY: Well, that would be up to Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions and I are friends. We served together 20 years. We do talk from time to time.

But whether he does that will be up to him. If he runs, he will be a formidable force. If he doesn't run, we could understand that, too. But it's strictly up to Jeff Sessions. Let's see what happens in the months ahead.

TAPPER: Senator Shelby, always good to have you on. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, for being here.

SHELBY: Thank you, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: 2020 Democrats are calling for the Virginia governor, Northam, to resign over that racist photo.

Could his refusal to do so hurt their case against President Trump?

That's next.




GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I am in the picture in my yearbook.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

That was Democratic governor of Virginia Ralph Northam saying that a racist photo from his medical school yearbook was not him, and the reason he knows that is because he clearly remembers a different time he was in blackface. But then again, take a look at what he said in a statement on Friday night. Quote -- "Earlier today a Web site published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive. I'm deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.

Let's discuss. Karen Finney --


TAPPER: I've never before heard an explanation from a politician, that's not me in that blackface photo and the reason I know that is because I remember another blackface incident.

FINNEY: Right and it's OK because the other one was fine this one would be bad, right? It's completely incredible and the only person who does not know that it's over is Governor Northam. I mean, setting aside the substance because there have been a lot of conversation. We all know it's despicable, disgusting.

At 25 years of age, you should know that. Particularly right before you are about to take an oath to do no harm as a doctor probably shouldn't be appearing in those kinds of images. But it is also I think (INAUDIBLE) communications 101. When you run for office, a lot of people are making fun of the opposing side's oppo research team.

I would say his own oppo research team really screwed up. Because you do your self research to know what's out there and then be prepared for what you're going to say when it comes up. So the -- just the way they handled it, they kept creating more questions than he was answering as it went on.

And now you don't know what to believe. It's hard to have -- that he has -- to think he has any credibility. And I think as you were discussing earlier with former -- with Governor Terry, as I like to call him --


FINNEY: -- you know, who is going to want to work with him now? He has no credibility.

How is he going to go and say, talk about removing confederate monuments? How is he going to be the guy that people are going to see as a leader on some of these critical issues? And in a year, in a week where Jussie (ph) Smollett (ph) was viciously beaten and we know it was a hate crime, in a year where we have the most diverse candidates and the most diverse electorate, it's just -- no, you can't do it.

TAPPER: Bakari we have you on here because you're a political expert and a progressive voice but I want to ask you to explain to blacksplain what -- what emotion -- I could have asked you, but you gave a political answer in a lot of ways. What does it mean as an African-American to see that image because I think a lot of white people think it's ugly but it must mean something emotional.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it does and I'm glad you asked the question because first we have to say that Democrats and Republicans alike have problems with race in this country. And we can say that Republicans have more of an issue. That doesn't matter.

Racism is in the fabric of the United States of America. And when you see those images, you see the KKK. And we all know that the KKK just brutalized, lynched, raped, pillaged many African-Americans not just throughout the south but throughout the country.

And I think that many times white people do not understand what blackface means. When you have your son and he's going out in blackface for a costume or your son goes to prep school or one of these elite day schools and they dress up in blackface, basically what it means is that you're calling me nigger. The reason I say that is because blackface goes back to the mid-19th century where people were dressing up in minstrel shows showing African-Americans to be lazy, to be ignorant, to be hypersexual and to be all-out disrespectful to our culture.

And so when I -- when I see images like this, it harkens on the fact that we have a serious problem with race in this country. Governor Northam as a Democrat doesn't even understand his own actions. And so it's very traumatizing when we sit here and critique it because I'm like, Jake and everyone else can people just not be racist? I mean, can that be the bar?

And Democrats who want to hem and haw, I have no time for you. I'm glad that most people came to the trough early because we need to set a standard that racism will not be tolerated in our party, in our political discourse right now, especially in 2000.


The last thing I'll tell you, Jake, because this is equally important. We talk about systemic racism all the time. And the fact that you have doctors who dress up in blackface, who wear KKK garb.

TAPPER: Yes. At least one other image in that same year book of a different person.

SELLERS: That goes to question -- you have these doctors. How do we think that they are caring for African-Americans in their care when they do not even look as African-Americans and give them the benefit of their humanity? This is why we have systemic racism in this country. This is why racism is permissive in our systems and this is why we have disparities in health care amongst other things.

And so this is much larger issue than just Governor Northam and I'm glad you asked the question.

TAPPER: I want to read you a tweet from President Trump because it's it seems like everybody took to Twitter to dunk on Governor Northam. Even people with their own questionable statements and behavior when it comes to race.

President Trump said, "Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia just stated, I believe that I am not either of the people in that photo. This was 24 hours after apologizing for appearing in this picture. Unforgivable."

Obviously, the president's history with African-Americans goes back to being sued by, I think, the Nixon justice department for discriminating against African-Americans when it comes to -- when it came to people living in his apartments. LINDA CHAVEZ, DIRECTOR, BECOMING AMERICAN INITIATIVE: Well, absolutely right. And I just want to say something about the context. One of the advantages of being as old as I am, it was before Bakari was even born, I was head of the U.S. commission on civil rights in 1984 when this occurred. Race was very much in the public conversation.

Doug Wilder was running for lieutenant governor. But I was on the front page as was the rest of the civil rights commission talking about race, talking about affirmative action. So this isn't like it happened in 1934.

TAPPER: Right.

CHAVEZ: This is recent history. And the fact that, if somebody said to me we've got a photo Linda of you in blackface, I would know it wouldn't possibly be true because I would never do such a thing anymore than I would do heil Hitler. And so the fact that he couldn't immediately know, he clearly hung around with people where that was acceptable was acceptable, he clearly did it at least once himself, and I think that it just speaks of a kind of racism that, unfortunately, still exists.

TAPPER: Scott, what do you say to Democrats who say, you know what, Republicans, sit this one out. You've got Steve King who is still in the House of Representatives. You have a president who referred to African nations as s-h-i-t hole countries. We don't need to hear from you on that.

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think -- I agree with Bakari. I think there are people all over this country of varying political stripes that still have race problems. They don't get it. They don't understand how hurtful things are. They don't understand the policing issues we have in this country.

They just don't understand. They speak out of ignorance frequently. But I want to touch on a comment you made in the phrase human dignity because this was the second moment where Ralph Northam this week failed to respect human dignity.

The first moment, of course, was when he made his absolutely ghoulish, horrific statements about abortion. This was his second P.R. debacle this week. Previous to this blackface/KKK moon walking press conference he was on a radio show talking -- and he's a pediatrician --

TAPPER: We ran the clip earlier.

JENNINGS: -- talking about -- don't interrupt me -- talking about -- talking about aborting children at the moment of birth and then even after they had been delivered.

I agree with you, Bakari. Human dignity matters and we ought to respect every human life of every race, especially these poor babies who are laying in delivery rooms when you have governors of states that think we should have a discussion about murdering them after they were born?

FINNEY: OK, stop, stop. That's a lie. What you're saying is a ghoulish lie. I'm in the board of NARAL (ph) Pro-Choice (ph) America. That is a lie that the right wing has perpetuated.

JENNINGS: Listen to his radio show. Listen to his radio show.

FINNEY: I heard what he said. I don't agree with what he said and the way he said it but what we're talking about is making sure that in those instances it is a woman and a doctor not anyone at this table or anyone in Congress making the decision. That is not the same thing as what we are talking about when we are talking about, this is what we started talking about, racism in this country. And we know that largely drove why people voted for Donald Trump in 2016 so in 2020, this is a time when we are going to have to have that conversation.

You want to have that conversation? We will do it.

TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. Coming up, a searing attack by the White House on one of President Trump's potential 2020 challengers comparing him to a greeting card. That's next.




SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Who of us have not had that situation where you have to wait for approval and the doctor says, well, I don't know if your insurance company is going to cover this. Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you do away with private health care?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care, so, no.


TAPPER: Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker offering different takes on whether Medicare for all should also eliminate private health insurance as Bernie Sanders' Medicare for all bill would essentially do. The plot twist they're both co-sponsors of the Bernie Sanders' Medicare for all bill.

Let's discuss. Bakari, 56 percent of Americans favor Medicare for all. According to a new Kaiser poll. But when you ask, would you favor it if it eliminates private health insurance companies as the Bernie Sanders bill essentially does, it drops to 37 percent.

SELLERS: I think what you're going to see is throughout this process Democrats and their plans and their ideas and all of these proposals are going to be fleshed out and people are going to get to the root of it. But what you saw this past week was you saw a slight difference of opinion because I think that Medicare for all is a standard in the Democratic Party now. But you have different ways and different candidates who want to get there.

So I still favor, for example, making sure that we still have a healthy private insurance industry in this country but I do believe that we need to move toward a Medicaid for all let private insurance fill in those gaps. And I think that you have Kamala Harris and Cory Booker who have sponsored bills throughout the whole plethora or the whole genre of that making sure that we get -- and if we just drop the age limit for Medicare, five years I think we at least cover more people and we can at least start to have those discussions.


TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to the White House's comments this week about Cory Booker. They seem to have some -- had some rather pointed criticism.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Cory Booker announced today that he is also running. There are a lot of Democrats on the floor.

TRUMP: He's got no chance.


TRUMP: Because I know him. I don't think he has a chance.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think Cory Booker often sounds like a hallmark card and not necessarily a person who is there to tell you everything he's accomplished in the United States Senate and as mayor of Newark.


TAPPER: What's your take?

JENNINGS: Totally agree with the president. He has no chance. There's far more formidable candidates.


JENNINGS: This is a guy -- I mean, watch his performance during the Kavanaugh hearing. Completely discredited himself. He's flip-flopped on major issues over the years. He tends to say what the audience wants to hear.

That's not what people are looking for. I don't think in either political party. These Democrats have smart, strong candidates. I think Kamala Harris -- Kamala Harris --


JENNINGS: We were just talking about it.

I think --

TAPPER: At least he didn't say Kamila (ph).


JENNINGS: And I also think she led the way in some ways on the Northam issue. I thought she needed to speak and she did it. So she seems to be strong to me.

Beto I think is still lurking out there. Cory Booker is an interesting person, but he's not going to be the next president.

TAPPER: What do you think?

FINNEY: Well, I thought the president's statement was less racist than other comments he's made about black candidates.

TAPPER: So kudos.

FINNEY: Kudos. That's a plus.

TAPPER: Perhaps (INAUDIBLE) black history month.

FINNEY: Correct. But he didn't say -- exactly -- he didn't say they were ignorant or not educated as what he usually tends to do.

Look, I think Cory is someone if you've ever seen him on the campaign trail, he's very inspiring. And I think -- as with all these candidates, that is why we have a primary process -- right -- that -- where you get to see, how do they do? Can they flesh out their ideas about health care, how do we get to if it's Medicare for all or if it is do you maintain some form of private insurance?

How do we get there? And I think that's, what's going to be positive is that conversation.

CHAVEZ: I actually think that Cory Booker's problem is going to be within the Democratic Party and it's going to relate to his job as mayor of Newark. I think he was a terrific mayor of Newark. He supported choice for public school children in Newark, and he's going to have trouble with the teachers union, and it's very difficult to get the nomination if you have the teachers unions on the other side.

TAPPER: And Democrats were throwing a curveball this week with the possible entry, at least the testing for independent candidate Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is contemplating running for president. He hasn't announced but he does have some thoughts on Howard Schultz. Let's roll the tape.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so worried about PAC money, dark money --

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: You got this idiot Schultz running, maybe. He's an idiot. I mean, he's a total idiot.


TAPPER: For those of you listening on the podcast, that was -- a voter says, "I'm so worried about PAC money, dark money." And Sherrod Brown says, yes, "You got this idiot Schultz running, maybe. He's an idiot. I mean, he's a total idiot."

SELLERS: So what you saw is a packed room full of people and I'm not sure that Sherrod knew that his voice was being picked up. Regardless I concur with the sentiment of the senator from Ohio. I have a huge problem with --

TAPPER: He's not an idiot. You might disagree with --


SELLERS: Yes. I totally disagree with what he's doing. I don't know the man enough to call him an idiot. OK?


JENNINGS: He talked us all into paying 5 bucks for a cup of coffee. He's a genius.


SELLERS: I just think -- I think that he doesn't -- he doesn't even know why he's running for president of the United States other than the fact -- and this is going to be a lot of people. Anybody thinks they can be president of the United States now that Donald Trump is president. And that --

FINNEY: I don't.

SELLERS: His slogan should be Howard Schultz, because anybody can do it.

FINNEY: He wrote a memo -- this is the irony to me -- to Hillary Clinton when she ran -- for when she was running in 2015 and talked about branding and how you build your brand and how you roll that out. And you would think the guy from Starbucks should know a thing or two about that. He has followed none of his advice in the first week. So that is the problem that I have is he's so arrogant in getting out there and saying, you can't do this, and you can't do that. Not even following the very advice he once gave a presidential candidate.

TAPPER: We only have 15 second left but I assume you're a Schultz fan because he might take away some votes from the Democrats.

JENNINGS: You know what I love about these Democrats is everybody should be participating in our democracy. Everybody participate. Everybody vote.

Except you. You can't participate. You're not allowed to participate. Get out of our democracy.

TAPPER: All right. We'll all go get some $7.00 lattes. Thanks one and all for being here.

President Trump once bragged that the button on his desk is bigger than Kim Jong-un's. And just wait until you see what that button can do. That's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."



TAPPER: Welcome back.

So you're in the Oval Office and you see the president of the United States press the red button on his resolute desk. What's going to happen? That's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."


TAPPER (voice-over): According to the new book "Team of Vipers" by former White House special assistant Cliff Sims President Trump likes to use a red button he keeps prominently displayed on his desk to confuse White House visitors. Sims says Trump tells guests, don't worry about that. No one wants me to push that button.

Sims is right, it makes visitors nervous about what exactly the button does.

TRUMP: This is a very ominous looking because of the red button.

TAPPER: Might it deliver a shock to Vice President Pence if he gets out of line? Might the president use the button to summon a hairstylist when and if his comb over starts to deflate?

TRUMP: I try like hell to hide that bald spot.

TAPPER: Does the president press the button when he needs a boost from the base? Maybe the president uses it to call in Kim Jong-un for a dance party.


TRUMP: Tremendous talent. Musical talent, dance talent.

TAPPER: Or a visit from Roger Stone with a message from WikiLeaks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's called politics.

TAPPER: For all visitors know, the button calls in a Starbucks barista, delivering a latte and perhaps the 2020 election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would have to be disingenuous to try and run as a Democrat.

TAPPER: Sims says that just when the guests are on the edge of their seats President Trump reveals the button's true purpose. And it's the real thing.

TRUMP: It gets you something.


TAPPER: There's a new move by the Trump administration setting off an arms race with the Kremlin? That's next.