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Dems Try to Woo the Labor Vote; Biden Downplays Future Political Ambitions; Kerry Doesn't Rule out 2020 Bid for President; Who Will Fill McCain's Seat? Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00]

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DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Democrats are hoping for a blue wave in November and they're going back to their base with basic messaging they abandoned in 2016 at their peril.

Democrats are the party of the working class. That's at least what former presidential candidate, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders shared -- the sentiment, that is -- today at an event for labor unions.

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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VT.: We will not allow Trump or anybody else to divide us up based on the color of our skin, our religion, our nationality or our sexual orientation. When we stand together, we win. When they divide us up, they win.

Our job is to stand together, to have the courage to take on the greed of the billionaire class and Trump and his friends.

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BASH: And former Vice President Joe Biden spent his morning at a parade with labor workers and their families, reminding all of us about one of his historically favorite campaign lines, that he's just a scrappy kid from Scranton. But he was quick to say that the Pittsburgh pit stop doesn't mean Biden 2020 is a sure thing.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does this mean in terms of your political future here?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't mean anything in my political future. I've been with these guys my whole life. My grandfather said, Joe, you're in labor from belt buckled to shoe sole, man.

I go anywhere with these guys. These are the guys that brung me to the dance, as they say.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: "Belt buckle to shoe sole," Rebecca Berg, you are joining us live from Pittsburgh and you asked the former vice president about an important topic for labor unions these days.

What happened?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dana. Joe Biden is now speaking right behind me where the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers here in Pittsburgh. It's a few hours after the parade he marched in, the third time in four years that Joe Biden has marched in the Labor Day parade here in Pittsburgh.

But we asked him about NAFTA and about the president's trade policy. Obviously this was such a crucial issue in the 2016 election. Joe Biden has been one of the loudest Democratic voices, saying his party needs to better engage on these types of issues with voters. Take a listen to what he had to say.

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BERG: Do you support renegotiating NAFTA?

BIDEN: No. We always can renegotiate everything we have to make it better. But not the way he's 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: So not drawing a firm stance on trade, Dana, but certainly drawing a contrast with the president on trade. One of the other questions Joe Biden was getting along the parade route today is what is going to happen in 2020, are you going to run?

Lots of workers and reporters urging him to run against President Trump in 2020. He was noncommittal, of course, but he did say, if he runs for president, he will be here in Pennsylvania a lot -- Dana.

BASH: You can bet. Rebecca, thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it.

You know, let's talk about Joe Biden for a second. Look, it is no secret that he's wanted to be president. He's run. And as the president has frankly rightly said, when he's run his own campaigns, they haven't gone so well. But since then, he was vice president for eight years and established a different kind of relationship with Democratic voters.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And the question is does he pull the trigger. You talked to Democrats, they're split about whether or not he ultimately decides to do it. I think he's probably also split about whether this is the right time, he's the right candidate. I think this presidential campaign is going to happen very quickly. It's going to take off soon after the midterms this November. You hear candidate after candidate, making their intentions --

[12:35:00]

RAJU: -- very clear, that either they're going to do it, seriously thinking about it. This is going to be a huge Democratic field. It's going to be wide open, no clear front-runner. Biden may be considered the most well-known name.

But he may not end up being the nominee if he were to choose to run because this is such an unwieldy, unpredictable field. The base wants someone who's going to go toe to toe against this president, resist him at all costs.

The question is, is Biden that person?

Or is anybody else in this field?

It's too early to tell.

BASH: One of the 734 other people.

RAJU: Exactly.

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: You have to think after this last week where he gave that very emotional and forceful tribute to John McCain, that people may have looked at that, Democrats, and said, hey, Vice President Joe Biden could stand up to President Trump pretty well.

BASH: Yes, he sure could. Let's talk about the broader issue of labor unions and the Democratic base and getting working voters out to the polls again.

First, I want to show you what the president tweeted this morning. Shockingly, the president was tweeting this morning. So weird.

"Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, represented his union poorly on television this weekend. Some of the things he said were so against the working men and women of our country and the success of the U.S. itself that it is easy to see why unions are doing so poorly. A Dem."

DAVID DRUCKER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well and I think the president has a point here when he talks about who is better representing the interests of a union worker from their point of view. The president has completely co-opted the old liberal trade policy.

If you were listening to the Bernie Sanders clip we just had or the former vice president just now saying, well, I have so many differences with the president, I can't discus them here, I think the president in a battle in Ohio or in some of these other Rust Belt states is in a better position than a Joe Biden who, as a part of the Obama administration, championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which I would argue was the right thing to do but what a lot of Rust Belt working class voters and old-school Democrats would probably say was not the right thing to do.

BASH: And this isn't theoretical. Check this out. We went back and looked at households, union households, how they have voted over the past few presidential election cycles. I want you to really home in on the Democrats.

Obama, it was 21 percent of the electorate in 2008. He got 59 percent, an 8-point drop in 2016 to Hillary Clinton. She got just 51 percent of the union vote.

Since the president has been in office, he has only made arguments and tried to remake and reshape policies that one would think union voters would be happy about, at least in the long term; maybe short-term pain, long-term gain. And that's what he's trying to convince them.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a really tricky issue for unions and it has been since the Clinton campaign. Trump is talking the right way for unions but I think the policies are not quite landing right for them.

I think that's what you heard Richard Trumka say. He said this weekend, which is why the president is upset, that he doesn't think workers will be better off if there is a NAFTA that only includes Mexico but does not also include Canada.

Now the president has made it clear he might want to do a NAFTA that is Mexico alone. I think that, if you're Richard Trumka, you can potentially make that argument, that even though the president might be talking the right way, these policies aren't going to shake out right for us.

BASH: And just an example of how complicated this is for Republicans, never mind Democrats, Maine's second congressional district, it was the only one in the whole northeast to go for Donald Trump in 2016.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running an ad, pushing the notion of free trade and against the president's trade policies, in favor of the Republican candidate. Watch this.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Trade powers Maine's economy. We export around the world. From lobsters to boats and cranberries to footwear, trade supports 180,000 jobs right here in Maine. Bruce Palanquin (ph) knows Maine depends on trade. He's working to protect our jobs by fighting against tariffs that are pushing us to a trade war.

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BASH: So for free trade, for a Republican candidate who the president likes.

MASON: And against tariffs, which is a buzzword for President Trump. Yes, it just goes to sort of the different dichotomies on trade for the Republican Party and for this White House.

Looking specifically at the NAFTA deal this last week that the White House announced with Mexico, he does absolutely have some protections for labor; in particular, for wages and trying to keep jobs in the United States.

But both labor and business have expressed concern about Canada not being involved because there are states that really rely on that trade with our northern neighbor.

BASH: All right. Everybody stand by. Up next, John Kerry, he's hinting that he hasn't given --

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BASH: -- up on the idea of becoming president.

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BASH: Topping our political radar today, former secretary of state John Kerry isn't ruling out a second bid for the presidency in 2020, more than a decade after he lost to George W. Bush.

On Sunday, Kerry appeared on "Face the Nation" to promote his new book, "Every Day is Extra," and was asked specifically about his future plans. Kerry left the door open to taking on Donald Trump. Take a listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to run in 2020?

JOHN KERRY (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm really not thinking about it. Talking about 2020 right now is a --

[12:45:00]

KERRY: -- total distraction and waste of time. What we need to do is focus on 2018.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to ask you that same question sometime after November.

KERRY: If you catch me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Certainly didn't hear a no there.

Today's verdict from a court in Myanmar is causing international outrage. Two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the country's official secrets act. The men were investigating the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's military -- by the military, rather.

The journalists say they were framed by the police and Reuters' president is calling the verdict a major step backwards for Myanmar and a sad day for the press everywhere.

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STEPHEN ADLER, PRESIDENT, REUTERS: These two admirable reporters have already spent more than eight months in prison on false charges designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press, without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police setup.

Today's ruling condemns them to the continued loss of their freedom and condones the misconduct of security forces.

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BASH: And Jeff Mason, you are a colleague of these two brave journalists.

What are you hearing?

MASON: Number one, I can just echo what our editor in chief, Steve Adler, just said. Reuters views this as a setback for Myanmar, certainly a setback for freedom of the press. And the company is going to look at its next steps, at what it can do.

But in general, I think it highlights just the real serious issue of freedom of the press in that country. Certainly we've dealt with issues of freedom of the press here.

But to see a court send two reporters, who were working very hard on stories that we're looking at, the deaths and the killings of the Rohingya in that country, and then to be apparently framed, it's outrageous and really concerning.

BASH: It's very scary. And I can just see, this is an early example of the voice of John McCain being missed because we can all hear him going straight to the Senate floor and calling Myanmar out and maybe the journalists by name.

And before we go to break, speaking about John McCain, a final goodbye. Cindy McCain weeps over her husband's casket. This powerful image captured by legendary photographer David Hume Kennerly on Sunday during a private ceremony.

Senator John McCain was laid to rest, in his words, at the cemetery on the Severn River, back where it all began, at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was buried next to his dear friend and classmate, Admiral Chuck Larson.

We'll be right back.

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BASH: After a week of tributes and farewells, John McCain now rests among heroes at the U.S. Naval Academy. The difficult decision of who will be appointed to finish McCain's term in the U.S. Senate is now in the hands of Arizona governor Doug Ducey.

In many ways, it's a litmus test for Republicans.

Will the governor, who is facing his own re-election bid in November, will he choose a Trump loyalist in a very Trump loyal state -- Arizona -- or someone who's more aligned with McCain's politics?

What do you guys think?

RAJU: Well, it's an interesting decision he's going to have to face. As beloved as John McCain was, there's a very vocal segment of the Republican base in Arizona that had expressed extreme disdain for McCain over his years in office.

You look at what just happened in the Senate primary there. Roughly 47 percent voted against the more establishment candidate in that race, split between two separate candidates, who were fighting for that Trump loyalist wing of the party. So Ducey has a very difficult choice to make and is going to have a significant choice because this person whom he chooses could be an extra vote to get Brett Kavanaugh, for instance, confirmed as soon as October.

BASH: What are you hearing, David?

DRUCKER: My sources tell me that the governor is less interested in choosing a caretaker. He'd like to choose someone who will run for election in 2020 and then run for re-election in 2022, which is when McCain's term actually ends.

The governor wants this person to be somebody who can actually satisfy the Trump base, the Republican base, while still doing well with a general election electorate, which could be very competitive in 2020 at the presidential level.

BASH: I want to play for you all again Meghan McCain from Saturday, from her eulogy of her father, and then what Lindsey Graham, John McCain's close friend, told me yesterday what he thought it meant.

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MEGHAN MCCAIN, ABC NEWS HOST: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: She is her father's daughter. If you say something bad about her dad, you will know it, whether you are the janitor or the president of the United States. She is grieving for the father she adored. And I think most Americans understand that.

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PHILLIP: I think in many ways, Lindsey Graham is the perfect example of why the McCain era may not be the way Ducey goes for that seat. Because even Lindsey Graham is not a McCain Republican anymore.

So it's going to be difficult. But I think his choice has to be someone who can fit the politics of the state and fit the politics of this president.

MASON: Also seems unlikely that Cindy McCain would get the choice.

BASH: I agree with that. I agree with that.

OK. Before we go, thank you, all. Some of our conversation, my conversation with former senator, Joe Lieberman, and Senator Lindsey Graham, two of the senator's best friends.

The three of them, McCain, Liebermann and Graham, were known as the Three Amigos, colleagues in the Senate but dear friends first. Liebermann and Graham reflected on their friendship and the legacy Senator McCain leaves --

[12:55:00]

BASH: -- behind.

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SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: And he said something to me that actually is an adjective I -- one doesn't use much toward John McCain -- I think, was adorable.

(LAUGHTER)

LIEBERMAN: He says to me...

BASH: No, they don't.

GRAHAM: Yes, I have never heard that one.

(LAUGHTER)

LIEBERMAN: He says to me: "Joey, you and Lindsey and I traveled to places that billionaires can't go to."

(LAUGHTER)

LIEBERMAN: So, of course, by the nature of our relationship, I say, "You're right. And some of them, nobody, including billionaires, would want to go." (END VIDEO CLIP)

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GRAHAM: John loved the Senate. He was a man of the Senate. He loved the institution. When you write the history of the Senate, he's going to be in the first chapter.

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BASH: Thanks so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Jim Sciutto is in for Wolf Blitzer and he starts right after a break.