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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford; Florida Gubernatorial Battle; U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley Resigns. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired October 9, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He was my head political guy when I was governor. He reads the political winds very, very, very well.

And I didn't know if there was another shoe to drop from the Trump standpoint, Mueller standpoint, mid-election standpoint. But is it about exiting stage left before something comes on that front, something we don't know?

Or, on the contrary, is it something from her end? You know, all kinds of rumors are swirling down here in South Carolina. Is it, you know, this report that came out or this, I guess, letter of inquiry on private plane usage that came out, I guess, over the weekend or on Monday?

Is there something there she just wants to exit so she doesn't have to deal with that as a public figure? Other people are saying money. Other people are saying, no, what it is, is, Lindsey Graham is going to be appointed attorney general, and this is setting up so the governor can make the appointment with her to the U.S. Senate.

There are all kinds of rumors going on out there. All I know is that something is going on, probably more than meets the eye, given the timing of this particular announcement.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What did you make of the fact that, at this event, which was obviously well-choreographed, she had submitted her letter of resignation last Wednesday, and it was announced today with her and President Trump together?

And she preemptively said to reporters, I'm not going to run for president in 2020? Obviously, there's speculation and a desire from some never-Trump Republicans that she challenge him. "I'm not going to run. The only thing I'm going to do in 2020 is campaign for President Trump."

What did you make of that?

SANFORD: It's the obvious. I mean, she's been a strong supporter, as is everybody on his team.

There's a real penalty that goes with going against the president. And one of the things you can't do is to challenge him too heartily. And we see a long list of folks who have left the administration because in some cases they have done so.

So I think it's simply the price of admission. And she knows where the bread is buttered, as does everybody in the administration. And you're going to say the appropriate thing at the appropriate time on your exit.

TAPPER: Obviously, you have been critical of President Trump, and I know, in your view, you paid a price for it when he endorsed your opponent during a Republican primary, and she defeated you narrowly. Do you think that Ambassador Haley has not stood up to President Trump sufficiently?

I have seen other people make the case that it was almost as if she was running a different foreign policy when it came to issues such as Russia.

SANFORD: Maybe there are a handful of very slight departures, but they have been nuanced, at best.

I think the reality of this administration -- again, in fairness to any administration out there -- is that you have got to toe the line on the big things. And I think she has done so, just as every other Cabinet member has done, based on the -- the absolute bearing that this president has on directions that he wants to go.

So I don't begrudge her that. It just is what it is.

TAPPER: What do you make of President Trump today, when asked about people floating the idea of his daughter Ivanka Trump serving as U.N. ambassador, he said she -- there is no one who would be more competent than her, she would do a great job, although he did seem to bemoan the fact that appointing his daughter would lead to accusations of nepotism, I guess mainly because it would actually be nepotism?

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But what did you make of him basically saying there's no one that would be better at the job than my daughter?

SANFORD: Are you kidding me?

I mean, the nature of the American political system is that we have got roughly a pool of 300 million people to pull from, and we ought to. And there are a whole host of talented people, some with very considerable foreign policy experiences, that could be pulled from with a post like this.

And the idea of circling the wagons and saying, you know, we're going to run this like a -- again, a crime organization is not the right example. I'm not using that -- but we're just going to pick from family, is crazy. That is -- again, it's happened in a couple of instances in this country. It is the outlier, and I don't think it's a model that should be replicated, because it moves against this idea of meritocracy of ideas and instead to the idea of blood being the strongest of all ties.

Ultimately, what ought to tie us together in the political environment is the merit of her ideas and ability to advance those ideas in making arguments, rather than simply a blood tie.

TAPPER: What do you make of people making the argument that Nikki Haley might be a strong Republican candidate for president in 2024?

SANFORD: Well, I think that's the obvious.

I mean, I think she's running. I don't think Jon Lerner would be attached the way that she is to him for as long as he has been. I mean, that's in essence his job. That's what he focuses on, is the political world.

And I -- it would seem to me that she is running. I don't think you would find a lot of observers out there saying I don't think she's running. I mean, if it smells, tastes and looks like something, it probably is.

[16:35:10]

In this instance, you could look at a lot of different markers laid out, well done on her part -- again, she's very competent, and she, again, has done a good job in this posting -- that lay out I think a very strong road to the presidency in 2024.

TAPPER: All right, Republican Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, always good to see you. Please send my regards to your sons, Marshall, Landon, Bobo and Blake.

SANFORD: You're phenomenal to remember them. I appreciate it.

TAPPER: We're moments away from the next update on Hurricane Michael as it continues to make a beeline for the Gulf Coast.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In the national lead, a race to save lives as Hurricane Michael gets ready to strike the Gulf Coast.

This is a powerful Category 2 storm, but poised to gain even more strength before it slams the Florida Panhandle. Evacuations are currently under way as the governor, Rick Scott, makes this alarming prediction.

[16:40:00]

He's saying that Hurricane Michael might be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

TAPPER: Hurricane Michael is forcing many candidates in Florida to put a pause on politics at this very crucial time, with only four weeks until the election exactly.

Instead of campaigning for the U.S. Senate, Republican Governor Rick Scott is overseeing hurricane response in Tallahassee, the capital. The incumbent senator, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, is trying to shore up federal emergency assistance.

In the Florida governor's race to replace Scott, the Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum, announced he's briefly leaving his campaign to focus on his day job as mayor of Tallahassee. He's running against, of course, former Congressman Ron DeSantis, who is repurposing his campaign events into relief drives.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is live for us in Tallahassee, where all of the talk right now is on this hurricane.

And, Ryan, we should note, politics has not stopped for every candidate.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake.

You can see behind me folks here preparing for this storm, filling sandbags, but even while they prepare for this storm, they really can't escape the politics, because, as you mentioned, Ron DeSantis, who is the Republican candidate for governor, the former congressman, he and the Republican Party still running ads here critical of the mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, because of his leadership in prior storms.

Now, Democrats say those attacks are unfair, but they really show just how high the stakes are in this race for governor between two candidates from opposite sides of the political spectrum battling over the vote in one of the most important swing states in America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): Aaron Ward runs a barbecue food truck in one of the most important states on the midterm map, and he thinks Floridians are sick and tired of both Republicans and Democrats.

AARON WARD, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think people are pretty much hammered with politics.

NOBLES: Political fatigue could be a big problem, especially for the two candidates for governor, who won their primaries by appealing to the bases of their respective parties.

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I believe we're going to win this not by capitulating on what we believe.

NOBLES: On the left is Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee. He won his primary with the support of Bernie Sanders, calling for abolishing ICE in its current form, and plugging a multistate Medicare-for-all plan.

Gillum believes that policy portfolio will attract voters of all stripes. GILLUM: I actually think we talked about the issues through the

primary, and will in the general that, whether you're an independent or a reasonable-thinking Republican or a Democrat, that you care about.

NOBLES: Gillum is drawing big crowds of enthusiastic Democrats, such as Tony and Belva (ph) McNair.

GILLUM: Appreciate the support, you all.

NOBLES: Impressed with his bright blue politics and the fact that he's promised to take on President Trump.

TONY MCNAIR, GILLUM SUPPORTER: Starts from Trump and goes down.

NOBLES: But for many Floridians such as Meagan Morris, just being opposed to Trump isn't enough.

(on camera): So you're not even necessarily a fan of President Trump, but you think the focus on him is too much?

MEAGAN MORRIS, FLORIDA VOTER: I think there is a lot of focus on him, probably more than any president ever. And I would like to see the issues addressed more.

NOBLES (voice-over): Separating this race from the president won't be easy, especially for the Republican, Ron DeSantis.

RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Then Mr. Trump said, "You're fired." I love that part.

NOBLES: DeSantis ran arm and arm with President Trump during the GOP primary opposing tax increases, supporting construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, and voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act while in the House. DESANTIS: We need a governor who's going to work constructively with

the Trump administration to advance Florida's priorities.

NOBLES: He too has GOP base voters fired up and his Republican supporters believe that DeSantis can attract middle-of-the-road voters by just being himself.

NORMA RENO, SUPPORTER OF RON DESANTIS: What people really need to listen and follow him for that because he wants the best for the people, he was the best for Florida.

NOBLES: But at a time of fierce polarization, the middle lane in Florida politics may be up for grabs. And for Ward who talks to voters every day --

AARON WARD, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: Give him that break for a minute.

NOBLES: The candidate that's able to attract the middle and hold their bases effectively just might be the winner on Election Day.

How do you merge those together to come out to what is it that this one state wants? That's tough.

WARD: Right.

NOBLES: You're going to get -- you're going to get a ton of different backgrounds trying to merge into one civilization.

WARD: Sometimes they vote Republican, sometimes they vote Democrat because it's shifting, right?

NOBLES: Absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And back to how this impacts the storm. As we mentioned Ron DeSantis repurposing some of his campaign events an event today a scheduled for Veterans, it's now become a relief drive where they're collecting goods for the victims of the storm. And here at this spot where we've been in Tallahassee, all day long people filling sandbags. Earlier today, Jake, we saw some of them decked out in Andrew Gilliam for governor shirts so even as they prepare for this storm, they are still thinking about politics. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Four weeks till Election Day. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much. Be sure to tune in to CNN this month for special events leading up to the midterm elections. Next Tuesday we're going to host a Florida Senate debate between Governor Rick Scott and Senator Bill Nelson. Then on Thursday, we're going to host a town hall in Texas with Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Ted Cruz was invited, he declined to attend. Plus on Sunday, October 21st I'm going to host the Florida governor's debate between Mayor Andrew Gillum and Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Coming up, a surprising start to justice Kavanaugh's tenure at the Supreme Court after one of the most contentious information battles in history. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Justice Brett Kavanaugh making his presence known on his first day on the Supreme Court today. The newest justice laughing with colleagues as he settled into his new role despite the contentious, emotional and often quite ugly process of his confirmation. CNN's Jessica Schneider is outside the Supreme Court. And Jessica, we heard from Justice Kavanaugh today. What did he have to say?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite a bit, Jake. Justice Kavanaugh asked several questions. He even chatted up his liberal-leaning colleague, Justice Elena Kagan. It was a cordial courtroom after what was a contentious confirmation fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, wasting no time. The junior-most justice asked several questions on about seven different occasions during his first day on the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts started the session saying it was a great pleasure to welcome Kavanaugh to the court and wished him a long and happy career in our calling.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: I Brett M. Kavanaugh do solemnly swear --

SCHNEIDER: Justice Kavanaugh was ceremonially sworn in Monday night by the man whose seat he's taking over, Anthony Kennedy. Justice Kennedy was notably the court swing vote but just as Kavanaugh could sit much farther to the right both literally and figuratively. He's expected to vote consistently with the conservative bloc on key issues like immigration, abortion, gun rights, and health care while also sitting in the most far-right chair on the bench. Right next to him Liberal Justice Elena Kagan who hired him at Harvard Law School years ago. The atmosphere was cordial inside.

AMERICAN CROWD: Say it loud, say it clear, Kavanaugh is not welcome here.

SCHNEIDER: While outside, a handful of protesters persisted expressing their outrage that Kavanaugh has ascended to the nation's high after allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. Kavanaugh tried to turn the page on the sharp partisan fight during his swearing in.

KAVANAUGH: The Senate confirmation process was contentious and emotional. That process is over. Every American can be assured that I will be an independent and impartial justice devoted to equal justice under law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And justice Kavanaugh even had his own cheering section of sorts inside the courtroom today in the front row, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Of course, Justice Kennedy retired earlier this summer opening up that seat for Justice Kavanaugh. Jake, also in the front row watching Justice Kavanaugh's wife and two daughters. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider at the court for us, thank you so much. Now, obviously, we're waiting to see how Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation affects the midterms. Republicans say that their base is energized. The new CNN poll, however, shows Democrats in a much better position in that generic Congressional ballot. 54 percent of likely voters say that they prefer the Democrat in their district, 41 percent say they prefer the Republican.

Scott, this poll was partially taken after Kavanaugh was confirmed but it doesn't look like the Brett bounce that Republicans are talking about has manifested itself.

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, look, this is a little bit of an outlier. A lot of the other national polls have it more in the six to eight point range, somewhere closer than that. I tend to look at the polling averages. But look, there's no doubt, it's going to be an uphill battle for Republicans to hold the House. I've been realistic about that all year especially in these districts, there's 25 that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 that Republicans represent in the Congress.

I do think an individual battleground poll, if you talk to strategists, they're seeing some different results than the national generic. And then in the big red rural Senate states, you're seeing -- if you talk to people running those campaigns, Republicans finally getting a sense of what life would be like if you let the angry mob take over. And so, I do think you're seeing in the big red rural Senate states focus by Republicans on what's at stake here.

TAPPER: And Nina, this is really interesting. Democrats don't just hold this generic advantage. Take a look at the breakdown of women voters. When asked about their choice for Congress 63 percent of women polled say they support a Democratic candidate, 33 percent a Republican. Does that surprise you?

[16:55:08] NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not necessarily. And women have shown that they are upset, some would say mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. But Jake, I got to get back to something Scott said.

TAPPER: Go ahead. I knew you wanted to.

TURNER: Listen. I mean --

JENNINGS: What?

TURNER: Citizens out there are exercising their First Amendment right. They are not an angry mob.

JENNINGS: They looked angry to me. They were calling the front door of the Supreme Court.

TURNER: Well, listen. They have a right to show emotion in their disappointment but calling them mobs in the way that the leader McConnell has done it's just wrong.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, I just --

TURNER: Civil rights -- the people at the Civil Rights Movement, Scott, I'm sure the folks that didn't want civil rights to happen in this country for African Americans call those people angry mob.

TAPPER: Well, beyond -- without going to that era, I mean one can say look, when the Tea Party revolution was going on, there were people there were people who were paid to organize and there are a lot of people who were angry. There were Americans, same thing going on here. Kirsten, I want you to take a look if we can go back to the generic -- the number with the women for a second.

Majority of women are supporting a Democrat in the generic ballot but we have to note you know, numbers look really good when it came to Hillary Clinton running against Donald Trump too. Ultimately Donald Trump lost women but won white women.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well because the other thing is if you look at a national poll that's not necessarily going to tell you what's going on in the state. So what matters more I think when you look at the Senate is what's happening in those states and where are Democrats fighting. And unfortunately for a lot of them they're fighting in red states. And so in that -- that means it's probably not going to be good for them.

I think that Republicans are definitely energized by it. We can't say it's everybody equally energized right but I think -- I think he was fair to say Democrats were very energized before this happened and they were much more energized and now we have two sides that are both pretty energized.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, take a look at this. There's an interesting gender breakdown when it comes to supporting Brett Kavanaugh. CNN polls show that only 29 percent of women have a positive impression of Judge Kavanaugh, 53 percent have a negative impression of Justice Kavanaugh. Compare that to men, men evenly split 41 percent positive, 41 percent negative.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the White House's impression is that Brett Kavanaugh is going to help them with the Midterm Elections because President Trump had become resigned to the fact that Democrats could take back the House. He kept making these remarks kind of preparing his supporters for it saying that happens every time, went to a president of a certain party comes into power then they take back part of Congress so they kind of been preparing him for that.

But now with the cabin all drama, we've seen President Trump himself energized and he's been traveling a lot. He's starting tonight in Iowa. He's got four rallies on his calendar this week and he puts Brett Kavanaugh front and center essentially saying if you don't go out and vote for more Republicans, we don't have enough of a majority, this is going to continue to happen in the future. So he's trying to use that as a messaging tactic.

The White House feels that they've energized Republicans with this but whether or not they can sustain that energy for a month is a big question.

TAPPER: Is that smart? I mean, if Brett Kavanaugh is underwater with Women Voters 29 percent like him, 53 percent have a negative impression. Is it smart for President Trump to make Brett Kavanaugh the you know, the rallying cry at his rallies?

JENNINGS: I think a gender gap already exists in this election. It was clear in all the national polling. I think what was a problem for Republicans was energy. I mean, Democrats have had energy since they lost to Donald Trump. They've been -- they've been chomping at the bit to get to this election, Republicans were a little complacent. This focused in Republicans on what's at stake so their only hope in holding either chamber is to get enough Republicans. You know, there's enough popcorn in the bowl for Republicans to hold this thing. They just got to pop it and that is what Donald Trump's trying to do.

POWERS: Yes, I think the other thing he's doing is he's making it about Donald Trump and not about Brett Kavanaugh. So he's basically saying this is about me and you have to come out and vote. He's -- once he injected himself into it and instead of sort of being the hands-off, oh you know, she's a credible person and got in there and became the street fighter, and now got all his people ginned up and her like oh we've got to do this for Trump.

TAPPER: Ultimately, Brett Kavanaugh is in the Supreme Court which might -- I've heard some people hypothesize -- deflate Republican intensity because they want an inflate Democratic intensity. Is that what you're seeing in Ohio?

TURNER: Just a little bit. But I think you know, Democrats are going to continue to be energized by this no matter what. As we know, every election comes down to turnout, turnout, turnout. And I think Democrats is going to have a pretty strong, a really strong turnout this Midterm.

JENNINGS: If it were me and I were running one of these big campaigns somewhere, I would get video of this angry mob and put it in every one of my ads for the rest of the election.

TURNER: Oh my God.

TAPPER: Angry Mob.

JENNINGS: I would because there's -- they have got -- they have got to keep these Republicans engaged. They have to keep Republicans engaged.

POWERS: And I actually think that the -- if you -- if you really a step back and sort of look at the records of the last few weeks and try to be objective about it, I think the Republicans probably won the messaging game and it's precisely because of what you're doing right there, the angry mob, the angry mob, the angry mob even though these were peaceful protesters.

TURNER: They were and people can be mad.

TAPPER: OK. I'm sorry, we got five seconds left. Thanks so much. We're watching -- stay with CNN program. You've been watching THE LEAD with Jake Tapper.