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Trump Looms Large Over Midterm Elections; Joe Biden Downplays Future Presidential Ambitions; Andrew Gillum Responds to Racist Robocall. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:01] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. I'm Ryan Nobles in today for Poppy Harlow. President Trump marking Labor Day with a word to the nation. Celebrate without actually saluting American workers, he claims they're doing better than ever and so is the country. And with the midterms now just a little over 60 days away, he'll be repeating those claims and many others in a jam-packed series of campaign rallies all around the country.

For most of this week, however, the spotlight will be on the president's second pick for a Supreme Court seat. Brett Kavanaugh is facing four days of hearings that got even more contentious when the White House decided not to release 100,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's time as a staff secretary to President Bush 43.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House for us this morning. And Abby, let's start with the president's hectic travel plans for the next two months.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now that's right, Ryan. President Trump has promised to be out on the campaign trail for Republicans this fall going into the midterm elections, at one point saying he would be out there five or six times a week.

This week, however, he has two stops targeting two vulnerable Senate Democrats that are up for re-election in red states. He'll be in Montana on Thursday and North Dakota on Friday before also having a campaign rally in South Dakota also on Friday. But he's targeting Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Jon Tester on Thursday in Montana. Both of those are potential opportunities for Republicans to stave off a blue wave.

Now President Trump has been saying he doesn't even believe there will be a blue wave to begin with. But if that's going to be the case, these are going to be two critical seats. President Trump also trying to raise money for Republicans who are facing a really formidable challenge from Democrats who have a lot of energy on their side going into these midterm elections.

NOBLES: And Abby, while the president is on the road, his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh facing some tough hearings this week on Capitol Hill. It seems, though, that the White House is holding firm on this decision not to release hundreds of thousands of documents about Kavanaugh's time during the Bush administration. PHILLIP: That's right. We were expecting there to be some kind of

battle over this issue of documents. There were hundreds of thousands of documents pertaining to Kavanaugh's time as both a judge and also as a staffer in the White House. And now the Trump administration along with Bush lawyers are holding on to about 100,000 documents related to his time as a staff secretary citing constitutional privilege.

Basically, executive privilege, holding onto those documents. Now the White House is saying they've already released 440,000 documents related to Kavanaugh and that these are just some of the documents that for various reasons they believe should not be released. But Democrats are saying this is another attempt to not be transparent about this nomination.

But again, Ryan, this is just the opening salvo in what is going to be a contentious fight for the Supreme Court nomination. And as you can see, what is at issue here is really just tomes and tomes of documents related to someone who has such a long history in politics and on the bench. It's going to continue to be an issue as we go forward -- Ryan.

NOBLES: And could also then end up being an issue on the campaign trail as well.

Abby Phillip, thank you.

Meanwhile, one of President Trump's potential 2020 rivals, Joe Biden, is marching with thousands of union members and their families. He is the guest of honor at the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade, a big event there in western Pennsylvania.

And joining us now live from Pittsburgh, CNN Political Reporter, Rebecca Berg.

Rebecca, what's the mood like there?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Hi there, Ryan. It was certainly festive. A lot of people excited to see Joe Biden. He was a senator from Delaware of course, but he is a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania. And he feels very much like a hometown hero here in Pittsburgh. And among the labor community, he's marched in this parade three of the past four years. And of course, he is back again today.

As the president is tweeting about Labor Day today, striking a contrast with the president with his support for the union, support for union workers. And we were able to ask Vice President Biden about trade policy. Take a listen to his answers to our questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERG: Mr. Vice President, do you support renegotiating NAFTA?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. We can -- we can always renegotiate everything we have to make it better. But not the way he is going about this.

BERG: Where do you differ from the president on trade policy?

BIDEN: You don't have enough time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERG: And so Vice President Biden not taking the bait on those policy questions here today. Also not taking the bait on questions of whether he could potentially challenge President Trump in 2020. Lots of excited workers here asking him about it today, suggesting he should consider running. But when one reporter asked him, does this make you hungry for 2020, the vice president said, no, it does not -- Ryan.

(LAUGHTER)

[10:05:03] NOBLES: All right. Well, we'll have to see if Vice President Biden telling us the truth there.

Rebecca Berg, live in Pittsburgh, thank you for that. Rebecca, thank you for walking in the parade as well. We appreciate that.

Speaking of that conversation that Rebecca mentioned regarding Vice President Biden and talking about his 2020 ambitions, let's actually take a listen to it right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: It doesn't mean anything in my political future. I've known these guys my whole life. My grandfather said, Joe, you're labor from belt buckle to shoe sole, old man. I'd go anywhere with these guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

NOBLES: All right. Let's talk about this now. Salena Zito who knows a little thing or two about Pittsburgh, CNN contributor and a national political reporter at the "Washington Examiner," and Ryan Lizza, the CNN political analyst and the chief political correspondent at "Esquire."

Ryan, I'm going to start with you. Let's talk about Joe Biden here. Not just Joe Biden but also this idea that maybe John Kerry is perhaps thinking about 2020. If I wasn't 100 percent sure of the calendar, I might think I'm in the late '90s. Not in the late 2010s.

Is this a good sign for the Democrats that all of these blasts from the past are thinking about running for president again?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, happy Labor Day to you, guys. I think that, you know, if you look at the field that is shaping up, you're going to have an enormous field of Democrats. Right? It will be as large or larger than the 17 Republicans that ran in 2016 for that primary. So you're going to have a lot of people at the top of the age ladder.

Right? If you just look at some of the people that are being talked about, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, John Kerry, they will all be in their early to late 70s in 2020. So you have the sort of geriatric caucus up there. But then I think you're going to have a whole slew of younger, you know, I think it's fair to say maybe more exciting candidates.

I bet some people who win election this year in the midterms and emerge in November as stars of the Democratic Party will take a look at running in 2020. There's no longer a sense that you have to serve for a long time at the state or federal level before you run for president. So I think it's going to be both ends. You're probably going to have -- you're certainly going to have double digit number of candidates. I would say you'll probably have over 20 candidates running. So it's going to be everyone.

NOBLES: I doubt there's too many people rushing to become the chair of the geriatric caucus, Ryan. But nonetheless probably enough of comparison.

Salena, let's talk about President Trump's role in all this. Usually, a president can be a very powerful force on the campaign trail. But seldom do presidents have numbers like Donald Trump is facing right now. The latest poll -- "Washington Post"-ABC News poll shows him with a disapproval rate at 36 percent, the lowest it's been in his presidency. Can he still be an asset to some candidates across the country?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. I expect that in red state -- in particular in red state Senate races. So in Montana and in North Dakota, in Indiana, those -- West Virginia, those states where Trump won -- Missouri. Those are states that Trump won by large percentage points, you know, in the upper double digits. So even if the Republican candidate running in any one of those Senate seats maybe gets 10 percentage points less, they still may be padding their possible win by five to eight percentage points.

So I think in the Senate races, he is going to be very effective. I also think in some House races. You know, I mean, some House races are swing districts. Right? Each candidate is different. Each district is different. That candidate has to figure out that, you know, for themselves. You know, do I run as part of the Trump coalition, do I run a very local race, which what seems to be the biggest appetite on both sides of the aisle that people have. Right?

They're really into localism, about the things that are most important about their community. I think those candidates will probably be the most successful for either party.

NOBLES: One of the -- Ryan, let me -- and you can expand on that in this question. One of the races that I think has become most interesting in terms of the president's role is Texas, in particular because of the relationship that President Trump has had with Ted Cruz who is running in what is surprisingly a competitive race. Of course, those of us in Washington always want the race in Texas to be competitive. And it never ends up being.

But, Ryan, talk to me -- and hopefully this falls in line with the point you want to make about the role the president could play in Texas.

LIZZA: Yes -- no, it's a great point. Texas for, you know, about two decades now has been often compared to California. Optimistically by Democrats. Right? A lot of Democrats think, the demographic change in Texas is similar to what happened in California.

[10:10:06] California is essentially a one-party state now where Democrats control everything. The Republican Party has been completely marginalized. A lot of people think that one day Texas could look similar to that. It has not happened. And Democrats are repeatedly frustrated by their inability to sort of mobilize some of the -- especially the Hispanic community in Texas as a reliable constituency.

But as we have all seen with these polls, it's much more interesting and closer race than I think Ted Cruz ever thought it would be. And Cruz has decided that Trump is an asset in Texas. Right? So, you know, you're going to see the president campaigning there.

NOBLES: And Salena, last question for you. This weekend the Ohio governor John Kasich, the guy who's been a foil of President Trump, told his supporters they should vote for the person over the party. Is he talking -- is he essentially telling Republicans, it's OK not to support a Republican, especially if they're aligned with President Trump?

ZITO: Sure. And I think this is pretty much a continuation of his viewpoints since he refused to go to the RNC convention. That was OK in his own state in 2016. He is not -- he does not support President Trump on most things. Maybe some policies. But their personalities just don't, you know, clash at all. And you know, for people who don't want to support Trump, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, he sort of gives that pathway, he opens that door that says -- and a lot of other people have, too. A lot of people that didn't like Trump that are Republicans have said, hey, you know, this is OK. You can do this. There's no consequences to this.

NOBLES: All right. Salena Zito and Ryan Lizza, excellent voices on this particular topic. We appreciate you being with us. And thank you for spending part of your Labor Day with us.

Still to come, the fight over President Trump's pick for the Supreme Court officially kicks off tomorrow. At least one Democrat now promising sparks at the hearing for Brett Kavanaugh.

Plus, it keeps getting uglier. A racist robocall targeting the Democratic candidate for Florida governor. Now he is responding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:49] NOBLES: And sparks set to fly as President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, kicks off his Senate confirmation hearings tomorrow. Both Democrats and Republicans preparing for a contentious battle.

Suzanne Malveaux joins me now. And Suzanne, what are lawmakers telling you?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can imagine, Ryan, most lawmakers put this on the back burner for a few days as they focused on paying their respects to Senator John McCain. But early in the week I did speak with both Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as Senator Dick Durbin about what they wanted to hear from Kavanaugh in these hearings and also in the private meetings with him.

So they both told me they were very frustrated in what they was a real lack of transparency from the nominee and from this White House because of a lack of documents coming their way. Kavanaugh has an extensive legal record as a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. circuit having issued more than 300 opinions and dissents. So he's an open book in that area. But the Democrats, they're complaining that the Republican colleagues on the same committee are handicapping their ability to truly assess this nominee by hiding Kavanaugh's record at the White House Counsel's Office from the public and just allowing the senators essentially to see this.

So now you've got the administration's refusal to provide 100,000 pages regarding Kavanaugh's time serving as President George W. Bush's staff secretary. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer exclaiming that this has all the makings of a cover-up. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar also saying that impacts how this committee is going to determine Kavanaugh's qualifications.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: This isn't normal. It's not normal because we are not able to see 100,000 documents that the archivist has just -- because the administration has said we can't see them, they've exerted their executive power. 148,000 documents that I've seen that you cannot see because they won't allow us to make them public. So I can't even tell you about them right now on this show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Kavanaugh's time at the Bush White House as the gatekeeper of documents included controversial positions around the administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina as well as internal debate over then the terrorist torture policy. So they want to get a clear sense of what his positions were.

NOBLES: Yes, they're going to try to get him on the record this week during these hearings, Suzanne. What are some of the issues you expect to come up?

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, certainly there's going to be boilerplate kind of questions regarding his stand on abortion rights, gun control, abolishing Obamacare. There is going to be interest as well on where he stands on marriage equality. We are not sure about that. But it is going to be his position on presidential power that's going to be most notable and perhaps most consequential because we are considering President Trump's own potential legal jeopardy that he is facing regarding the Russia investigation.

NOBLES: All right. Very busy week on Capitol Hill, no doubt. Suzanne, thank you for being here.

MALVEAUX: Thanks.

NOBLES: All right. Let's talk more about this. I'm joined now by former federal prosecutor and former assistant attorney general for the state of New York, Elie Honig.

Elie, thank you for being here. First I want to talk about all these the documents that the White House is refusing to hand over. Do you think this is a big deal? First, let me show what Chuck Schumer said about it. It's not only unprecedented in the history of SCOTUS noms, but it has all the makings of a cover-up. This is what Chuck Schumer tweeted earlier this week.

[10:20:04] Is he maybe going a little bit overboard in his description here or you think it's an appropriate criticism of this?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I'm not sure there's evidence of a cover-up, but I'd certainly be concerned if I was a Democratic senator on the Judiciary Committee. I'd be asking the question, what are we hiding here? What is being kept away from us? And an important wrinkle here is the Bush administration, which Kavanaugh worked for, has said, go ahead generally. The instruction from the Bush people has been, turn over as much as you can. It's the Trump people who have said, no, no, no, we're going to hold back these 100,000 documents. So I think it's absolutely appropriate for the senators on that committee to ask why and what's being kept from us.

NOBLES: It's not as though we don't know about Kavanaugh's background, particularly his background as a judge. He has hundreds of different court decisions. And so the pushback from Republicans in particular, the Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley, is that they wouldn't reveal anything about Judge Kavanaugh's legal thinking in particular because any advice that he provided a president would be -- through the president's role as his client, necessarily his own personal view. Do you agree with Chairman Grassley?

HONIG: To an extent. I do not agree with this idea of well, you already have enough, just look at his published opinions. First of all, it's not a question of quantity. It's a question of percentage. If there's other stuff out there to be had, let's have it. Why say, well, you have enough, we don't need to show you sort of this other stuff? I think it also could be particularly important because any judge when he writes his published opinions, he or she obviously knows those will be out there for public consumption.

But what these documents could show is really what's Judge Kavanaugh's or what was Judge Kavanaugh's private deliberative process? What was really on his mind? What was really his thought process. There is an interesting question of executive privilege and whether that privilege exists. But note that President Bush, the one who that privilege was sort of formed with, has said go ahead, let's turn over as much as we can.

NOBLES: The other interesting part about Kavanaugh's background is his role with Ken Starr during the Clinton investigation back in the 1990s. And he's actually said himself that he's had a change of heart as to how he conducted himself during that process. I want to read this for you.

In 2009 he wrote, quote, "Like many Americans at that time, I believed that the president should be required to shoulder the same obligations that we all carry. But in retrospect, that seems to be a mistake. Looking back to the late 1990s, for example, the nation certainly would have been better off if President Clinton would have focused on Osama bin Laden without being distracted by the Paul Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigative offshoots."

This echoes a lot to what we're dealing with in 2018, Elie. Do you think if confirmed that that means that Brett Kavanaugh should remove himself and recuse himself from anything related to the Mueller investigation?

HONIG: That's an interesting question. And it's one I would certainly pose directly to Judge Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. Do you believe you should be recusing yourself on things that you've already gone on record one way or another? In particular as they impact the Trump administration. The very president who's nominating you.

And I think you hit on before what would be, for me, if I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be sitting on that committee, a key point of questioning, which is, you took this position when you worked for Ken Starr. You took this position in the "Minnesota Law Review" article that you referenced. Do you still have that position or has your mind changed since then? And why? And I think that's where Judge Kavanaugh could find himself in a little bit -- in some tricky terrain.

NOBLES: Right. And of course, in these hearings, judges go out of their way to reveal very little. So even if he's asked that point of question, we may not get the full answer. We'll have to see how it plays out this week.

Elie Honig, thank you. We appreciate you being here.

HONIG: Thanks, Ryan.

NOBLES: Florida's first black nominee for governor now speaking out after a racist robocall targets him. His message to voters when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:28:27] NOBLES: The road to the midterms taking an abhorrent turn in Florida. This after a white supremacist robocall targeting the state's first African-American nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum. The robocall comes after his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis was criticized for warning, saying voters can't afford to, quote, "monkey this up" by electing Gillum. DeSantis later said his comments were not racist.

Gillum addressed both issues on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I have to tell you, I do find it deeply regrettable. I mean, on the day right after I secured the Democratic nomination, we had to deal some of the dog whistles directly from my opponent. I want to make sure that we don't racialize and frankly weaponize race as a part of this process, which is why I called on my opponent to really work to rise above some of these things. People are taking their cues from him, from his campaign, and from Donald Trump.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And we should --

GILLUM: And we saw in Charlottesville that that can lead to real, frankly, dangerous outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And joining me now to talk about this is Marc Caputo, a guy that knows a thing or two about politics in the Sunshine State. He is a senior political reporter for "Politico" Florida.

Obviously, this is getting a lot of attention outside of Florida, Mark. But what's -- what impact is it having on the race there from your perspective?

MARC CAPUTO, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO FLORIDA: My best guess is the impact it's having on the race is money and attention. One of the problems that Andrew Gillum had is he wasn't really very well-known. He had a big win on Tuesday night. He was a David candidate to the Goliath of the mega-millionaires who were in the race. And he won. And that gave him a good amount of buzz.

And then the following day on Wednesday, Ron DeSantis made the comments that even his campaign are essentially describing albeit not publicly as unfortunate.