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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump in Pittsburgh Today; Trump Zeroes in on Immigration; Red State Democrats on Immigration. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 30, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:20] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

President Trump heads to Pittsburgh to pay respects to the victims of the synagogue massacre, but he won't have much company there.

And then he's off to make closing arguments on a midterm campaign blitz, hitting 11 stops in the next week. I recently travelled to one of the states, Missouri, where the Democratic incumbent is trying to beat back her GOP challenger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: If you look at the spectrum, he is very, very far right and I'm much closer to the middle. But that still makes me an appealing compared to him with most of the voters.

JOSH HAWLEY (R), MISSOURI SENATE CANDIDATE: Every time it matters, she's with the party and against the president and against the people of this state. And you know what, that is what this race is about. This race is about the fact that she's just at loggerheads with the voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And the city of Pittsburgh today is bracing for the first funerals of victims of Saturday's synagogue massacre. The Squirrel Hill community will bury brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal, as well as Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz.

In just a few hours, President Trump will travel to Pittsburgh with the first lady, as well as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Why today? A White House official says it worked best for his schedule because he has campaign rallies almost every day this week.

For some, the president's visit comes too soon. There are concerns his presence could distract from the families of the victims. The funerals happening today.

Perhaps that's why the president isn't accompanied by any leaders from Congress. Two congressional sources tell CNN the top four congressional leaders, as well as Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, all received an invitation from the White House and all declined. But they aren't the only ones. Neither the mayor of Pittsburgh, the county executive plan to be with the president while he's there.

But, remember, the rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue says he has no plans to meet with the president, yet he made clear that the president is welcome there whenever he likes.

Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who is in Pittsburgh, where the president will be this afternoon.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing about what the president is actually going to do there, who he will meet with?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, it's still a pretty big question mark, even for some officials in the White House who have been scrambling to put together a schedule for President Trump when he does arrive. And that's becoming increasingly complicated because they do have a slew of not only national, but local officials who say either they don't want to meet with the president today or simply it's not going to work out because these funerals are starting to get underway today. That's one reason why the rabbi from the synagogue says he won't be meeting with President Trump even though he did say that the president is welcome any time to visit when he wants to.

Now, the mayor of Pittsburgh has said there's some logistical issues to the president coming here because they don't have enough officers to not only handle the president's visit, but also to guard these funerals as they are starting.

Dana, there's also other concerns, whether or not that visit from the president is going to create some protests in the area that then they will also have to handle as well, whether it's going to get in the way of some of those families that are traveling to the area. But the White House wants to move forward with this visit because President Trump has been telling aides, hey, I said I was going, that's what he said on Saturday, and now he wants to stick with that plan.

And also, Dana, as you mentioned, the president has a pretty busy schedule starting tomorrow with those campaign rallies, doing up to two a day on some days ahead of the midterm elections next week. They also thought that if they had the president come visit here on Wednesday or on Thursday, a little bit later on in the week, that it could look bad -- the optics could be pretty poor if the president was here in a really solemn situation mourning, and then later on went on to one of his rallies where, of course, those are those high-charged events. And they also thought they could be criticized that the president waited too long to come visit.

So two different sides the story, here, Dana, but we do have an increasing number of officials saying that they just don't think today is the right day for the president to come and pay his respects.

BASH: Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that report. Here at the table with me to share their reporting and their insights,

Michael Shear of "The New York Times," Catharine Lucey with "The Associated Press," Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg," and Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast."

You know, it's unfortunate that that -- this is the conversation that we're having now, should he, shouldn't he go. But that is what's happening because he is going despite the reality that he's facing on the ground there by elected officials and by some members of the community, not all. The Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto, is a Democrat. But, in these times, we tend to see a lot of bipartisanship, frankly nonpartisanship, coming together to pay respects. Here's what he said about the president's visit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL PEDUTO (D), PITTSBURGH: I do believe that it would be best to put the attention on the families this week. And if he were to visit, choose a different time to be able to do it. Our focus as a city will be on the families and the outreach that they'll need this week and the support that they'll need to get through it. Once we get past that, then I think there's the opportunity for presidential visits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:05:26] BASH: Michael, what are you hearing from your sources about the trip today, why he's going and what he's going to do?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think Kaitlan said it well, you know, this is -- in any -- for any president this would be a complicated moment to try to fit this in. You know, a political -- the week before an election is the height of political season. It's hard to get away from partisanship at a time like that. So trying to fit it in, you'd have a difficult situation no matter where you did.

Look, the grim reality of our country is that presidents have had to become consoler in chiefs over the last couple of decades more and more. President Obama, I mean, I travelled with him to so many places where he had to go in the wake of tragedies. Not just natural tragedy, but more the man made, the shootings. And, you know, he went to a lot of rural places. A lot of places he didn't win, you know, or a lot of places that he wasn't necessarily politically the champion of, and yet, you know, he had a way about him that people on both sides of the aisle tended to say, you know, you struck the right note, you struck the right tone.

And President Trump's problem, putting aside politics, putting aside partisanship, is he doesn't do that well. He is awkward about it. He doesn't -- he doesn't leave people with a feeling that they're consoled very well.

BASH: And --

SHEAR: And that -- and that, more than anything, is what is causing the problem.

BASH: It's interesting you say that because that is -- and I'm sure you're hearing this as well, that is a well-known factor inside Trump world by people close to the president.

SHEAR: Inside. Absolutely. They understand.

BASH: I spoke to somebody in Trump world this morning saying, why is he going? And the response was, he does care, he's just not any good at it.

SHEAR: Yes.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes, I think -- I mean I've been with the president when he's made some of these other trips to Florida after the Parkland shooting, to Las Vegas. Likely what you'll see is a focus on first responders, hospitals. Both those trips, you know, he went there and he often, because as Michael said, he sometimes struggles with some of the empathy pieces of it, he tends to try and focuses a lot on the response and the law enforcement. So that's one way, obviously, that he tries to connect.

I do think also it's important to note that some of the feelings that are percolating today might also come after Saturday when during, you know, as these shootings unfolded, as the news was coming out, the president strongly condemned them, strongly condemned this as an act of anti-Semitism, but continued with his full schedule, including a political rally that night where he said he was going to tone things down, but still continued with his pretty standard attack lines.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Yes, I think this also goes back further than even Saturday. I think Charlottesville looms very large, particularly because this involves the Jewish community. The president had a chance to do the right thing in Charlottesville and he chose not to. He talked about both sides. And I know he's tried to fix that since then. But that's something that I've heard again and again, there are some wounds that are not healed and the president hasn't done a good job trying to -- trying to fix that.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Yes, this is the part of the skepticism I think you hear from the mayor and some of those who suggest that the president shouldn't come, which is that this community right now in Pittsburgh is a tinder box and the president is a match. He does not lean into unity and hope and that message. It doesn't come naturally to him.

Michael's talking about President Obama did this. President Bush was also praised for, you know, after 9/11 he struck the right chords of unity and hope. This is something that lots of politicians enjoy doing, but President Trump does not. Pugnaciousness, combativeness comes naturally to him. Hope and unity do not. And especially before an election, he has calculated that a strategy of division and polarization is good for his party. So it doesn't -- so anything he can say in Pittsburgh, if he were to strike the right notes, it does not comport with everything else he's been saying. That's the complication.

SHEAR: Right.

BASH: And the point you were all making is that generally, in times like this, a president is genuinely the president of all people. Goes to console. Goes to be a leader. Goes to give everybody a chance to take a breath and say, OK, this is still America and we're still the greatest democracy on earth and so forth.

That has been the role of this rabbi. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, of the Tree of Life, who has been extraordinary on television, has been on CNN a couple of times, talking about how apolitical this is and should be. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: Hate doesn't know a political party. Hate is not blue. Hate is not red. Hate is not purple. Hate is in all. I turn to them to say, tone down the hate. Speak words of love. Speak words of decency and of respect. When that message comes loud and clear, Americans will hear that and we can begin to change the tenor of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:09] BASH: And even in the face of that kind of language, that kind of attempt, as a spiritual leader should do of any religion, to try to tone things down and make -- try to make sense of things that are so horrible, he's getting e-mails, hate e-mails, he is, he said saying that, how could you do things, you know, be welcoming of the president and so forth? He said hate promulgating hate promulgating more hate, that is not the solution.

KAPUR: Yes.

KUCINICH: I think -- yes, of course. I don't think there is a willingness in our political environment for political leaders to take that path. And that's unfortunate because you have seen several Democrats in response to Trump's pugnaciousness, as you put it. They've tried to come back harder. They've tried to use some of his language. And it really has sort of caused things to devolve with both parties. And it -- no one really has the moral high ground at this point because there's just -- there's such a -- they're choosing to slug back rather than step back, which is what this rabbi is saying to do.

SHEAR: And, look, part of the problem is that -- I mean that is a -- such a great sentiment to sort of -- that we -- that we could all take a step back. But this -- this incident at the synagogue isn't happening in a vacuum. It's happening in a political dialogue and debate and argument and fight that is -- that goes across all sorts of issues. So, you know, what does the caravan have to do with it? What does, you know, the president's proposal today about birth right citizenship or the debates on any number of these issues are so intense and so bitter that you -- it seems unrealistic, as much as we might all hope for it -- KUCINICH: Right.

SHEAR: That around this one event, everybody would just sort of step back and say, like, we're not going to fight anymore.

BASH: Right. And especially, as you mentioned earlier, it's the climate that we're in and it's where we are on the calendar.

SHEAR: Right.

BASH: That it's just -- there's no way that they -- that they should or would or could probably stop what they're doing with the elections a week away.

LUCEY: That's right. And -- Republicans see that the president's hard line, divisive, tough rhetoric is working. So they don't really want to slow it down that much. They want him to do this rally schedule going into the midterms. They want him to be out there delivering those messages. And so there isn't a lot of incentive, at least in the -- from the political calculation, in doing that. I mean he's making the trip today to try and do that. They're pleased, I think, that there was an arrest. They think he did make a strong statement on Saturday and they want him to get credit for that, but they definitely want him to continue his political calendar.

KAPUR: Yes, the president is perfectly capable of giving a speech where he -- you know, reading a speech where he talks about unity and he talks about harmony and he condemns some of the hate, the vitriol that we're seeing. But the problem is, he doesn't stick to it and his very presence is raising alarms among people who don't believe he is there who, you know, as you mentioned Charlottesville, I think that certainly looms over. I don't believe he's ever disavowed those comments where he said there were fine people on both sides. I think a lot of people remember that.

SHEAR: Well, and the other thing he's not very good at is the one-on- one stuff that we don't normally see, right? I mean the one time that he tried to console -- remember the mother of the soldier who had been killed and that blew up in his face because the, you know, the sense that he was -- his words to her were awkward and not particularly well received. And that's something that, you know, makes it harder for the president and the White House to schedule one of these trips because that's normally something you do is (INAUDIBLE).

LUCEY: We also don't know if, you know, to the mayor's request, if he has reached out to any of the families, if they have tried to make contact and see what the family's wishes are. That's something we haven't really had an answer to.

BASH: OK, everybody stand by.

Before we go to break, I want to play what Joe Biden, former vice president, said about the shooting just moments ago, speaking in Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Two of my close friends belong to that synagogue. Eleven of them killed and another five wounded. Folks, this is not who we are. We need to recognize that words matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That was former Vice President Joe Biden.

I also want to highlight. as we go to break, the story of Jeffrey Cohen. He's a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue, who was also a physician in charge of the hospital where the man who murdered 11 members of his community was taken. Here's how Doctor Cohen described what happened when he went to see the man in his hospital room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JEFFREY COHEN, PRESIDENT ALLEGHENY GENERAL HOSPITAL: He said, I'm feeling OK. And I introduced myself as Dr. Cohen, president of Allegheny General. And I left. The FBI agent in charge looked at me and says, I don't know how you did that because I'm not sure I could have. Isn't it ironic that somebody who's yelling in the ambulance and in the hospital, I want to kill all the Jews, is taken care of by a Jewish nurse and there's a Jewish hospital president that comes in to check on him afterwards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:15:11] BASH: So this is not just a story about health care professionals doing their job no matter what. It's a story of something much bigger, that education is the only way to curb hate. That's what our colleague, Sam Vinograd, whose father survived the Holocaust, says he taught her. That's what Dr. Cohen was trying to do by saying his name, his Jewish name, to this anti-Semite, that Jews are not scary, not evil, they're your doctors, your lawyers, your nurses, your neighbors and your friends.

We'll be right back.

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[12:20:00] BASH: Today, more immigration red meat for the president's base. A week away from the midterm elections, the president has relentlessly and quite transparently tried to get his staunchest supporters out to the polls by warning of a caravan, closing down the border and blaming Democrats for a flood of migrants.

Now, as if we needed it, there's more evidence that immigration remains the president's animating issue. His new proposal, to end birthright citizenship for those whose parents came to America illegally. If the president is serious, though, it's a big if, though, we should note that, it would invite no question by a constitutional challenge like how to interpret section one of the 14th Amendment. And that amendment says, all persons, born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction there of are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. I'm sure you all had the 14th Amendment memorized and didn't need me

to read that to you. But in all seriousness, I mean I just -- let's talk about the big picture as we started this segment. This is part of it. But it's just beating the drum relentlessly on this immigration issue. Obviously because the Republicans knew, probably pre-Kavanaugh, that they had a sleepy base, trying to wake them up and, you know, they're just not giving in, facts be damned.

KUCINICH: It's an old play and it's a play that works. I mean I remember in 2014 talking about how immigrants were going -- going to bring Ebola across -- across the border. This is something we've heard before. And you started hearing that sort of strain yesterday talking about other illnesses they could possibly bringing in. This is a scare tactic. And it gets Republicans to the polls. And they know it. And yet -- so that's why they -- they're doing it because it works. And we --

KAPUR: Yes, the issue is central to the president's political identity. It worked very well for him in the 2016 election. I think he's playing on fears of demographic change that people have.

And I was in Arizona last weekend talking to a lot of Republican voters. One thing that kept coming up over and over again, as issues are motivated by security, security, security. They weren't just talking about terrorism or the fear of another 9/11, they were talking about immigration. I think the president's rhetoric and his party's rhetoric has really struck a cord and made a lot of these people more fearful of people crossing the border and even people coming here legally.

BASH: It's no wonder that people are fearful because of the words that they're using intentionally, invasion. It's not just the president, it's his sort of backup singers at another news network who use that same word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you look at that bridge loaded up with people, that's called an invasion of our country. This has nothing to do with elections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This invading hoard is -- you know, calling it a caravan is a misnomer and, frankly, sickening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to see anybody hurt here, but nor do I want to see our country invaded by 14,000 people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHEAR: Yes, I mean, look, it was interesting that one Fox News host yesterday specifically said it's not an invasion and took issue with that.

BASH: OK, you know what, you mentioned that. Let's play that.

SHEAR: OK. BASH: Because this -- and then I do want to talk about this more broadly. But -- so this is our colleague, Oliver Darcey, talked about the fact that there's this like truth portal that happened at that network during the Shep Smith hour. So this is the Shep Smith truth portal. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The migrants, according to Fox News reporting, are more than two months away, if any of them actually come here. But tomorrow is one week before the midterm election, which is what all of this is about. There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There's nothing at all to worry about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I mean, he's got you know what.

SHEAR: Can I just take one issue with that? I agree that this is all about the election and that the timing of this and the language of this is all designed to do what we -- what we've talked about, which is to drive up the base.

Let's not forget that it is also part of a determined and concerted effort to fundamentally change the way this country treats people who are coming in and who treat immigrants.

BASH: That's a very fair point.

SHEAR: You know, this president ran on this issue when he came into the White House. He assembled around him and has continued to assemble around him for the last almost two years a group of people who fundamentally see the issue of immigration and refugees and asylum and all of the other pieces in it in a fundamentally different way than has been the bipartisan -- general bipartisan consensus over the last 60 years. And so they're trying to change that. And they're trying to change it piece by piece. They're doing it in little ways. They're doing it in big, extravagant ways that have been blocked by the court in some -- in some ways. So while I think that it's important that we talk about this in an election context and point out the ways in which they're trying to motivate their bases, it's also true that this is -- this is not, you know, a kind of effort that is for no reason. They're doing it to change the policies of this country and in ways that could have long lasting impact.

[12:25:09] KAPUR: Yes, and when it comes --

LUCEY: That's right. I mean I think also we know that the president views this as the driving issue that brought him to the White House and the thing that motivates his people above all else. And we know that privately he's referred to the caravan as a gift, politically, as he's been trying to find ways to drive, you know, people to the polls next week. And he talks about this being the election of, what is it, Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order. And I was at the rally on Saturday and people cheer and it really gets his people going.

SHEAR: Right.

BASH: And it is having an impact. You said you were in Arizona earlier in the week. I was recently in Missouri. And one of the most fascinating moments that I think was very telling to me about how much this whole talk about the caravan and everything else is penetrating was when Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democrat, without being asked, again, an incumbent Democrat in a very red state, without being asked, talked about how she stands with the president on immigration. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: The idea of this caravan being used to divide us, I certainly support what the president needs to do to secure the border. Absolutely. He should use every tool at his disposal.

The notion that anyone in Missouri would thank that I somehow don't agree with the president that we cannot allow our borders to be overrun, they haven't taken a look at my record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: It's potent.

KAPUR: It's potent. It shows that Democrats are taking notice and they feel the need to respond to this.

Phil Bredesen, the Democratic candidate in Tennessee, has an ad out today where he touts his, you know, support for border security.

I do -- I do think it's important to clarify one thing, though, there's a big conflation going on between illegal immigration and gangs and MS-13 coming and these people who appear to be fleeing violence and those exact same gangs in Central America and appear to want to apply legally for asylum. That is legal. That is part of the law.

BASH: Yes.

KAPUR: President Trump wants to change that. He wants to eliminate that right to be heard in court if you claim a credible fear of persecution. But that is the law right now. It's not illegal to do that.

And, by the way, five -- 5,200 troops, there are fewer than that many people still in the caravan at this point. How many do they need to stop these mothers and children?

SHEAR: I also think it would be interesting to know what Claire McCaskill would say about, for example, creating tent cities along the southern border, which is what Donald Trump proposed. I mean she said she thinks that Donald Trump should use every tool at his disposal. I suspect --

BASH: Yes, I mean she doesn't -- right, and she also doesn't support the border law.

SHEAR: I suspect that means --

BASH: There are certainly things where they -- where they -- where they differ.

LUCEY: You can see where the president is going on his final sort of midterms push.

BASH: No question.

LUCEY: He's in Missouri twice.

BASH: Exactly.

LUCEY: He's in the states with these red state Democrats.

SHEAR: Right.

BASH: Bingo. Bingo.

OK, everybody, stand by.

Up next, the president's midterm campaign tour, but first look at a flashback to a very different message from the leader of a very different Republican Party on this very issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB DOLE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If there is anyone who has mistakenly attached himself to our party and the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln and the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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