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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump Talks Prison Reform; Congressional Leadership Battles. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:19]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All smiles today on Capitol Hill as freshman House Democrats posed for their class photo. But there is underlying tension about who might be the party's leader come January.

Some not quite ready to commit to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY STEVENS (D), MICHIGAN CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: At this time, Nancy Pelosi does have my support. We're waiting to see if somebody else is going to emerge to challenge her.

JEFF VAN DREW (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: I think it's a new time and there has been some change. And I think it would be good if we had some change in leadership.

MIKIE SHERRILL (D), NEW JERSEY CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: I have made a commitment to my district that I would not be supporting Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pelosi had to see this coming, of course. Is there enough energy among this new class to generate new leadership?

Symone, what do you think? Is Nancy Pelosi -- I mean, that's you know, that's three Democrats saying...

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Those are three new democratically elected Democrats senators in the House of Representatives. I think the fact of the matter is, look, a challenger to Leader Pelosi has not currently emerged.

And I frankly don't think anyone is going to step up at this point, but there is still time, so we never know. Some of these members can decline to vote. They can vote present and not vote yes or no, so there are maneuvers that can happen for folks who don't want to be on the record voting for Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker of the House.

But I think, again, if there is someone who would like to take Nancy Pelosi's job, come get it. But you need to demonstrate you can raise the money she has been able to raise, you can keep a caucus together the way she has been able to keep a caucus together, and you have the gravitas and the prowess.

And I don't see anyone that has emerged to say that I can do this job and I can do it better.

TAPPER: So 226 Democrats as of right now. There are still nine races undecided. She can only lose a few of those. She needs 218 votes.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

I think there was something like four dozen Democratic nominees who ran for the House that actually publicly said they wouldn't support her. I don't know what the exact number of that is going in.

But, look, you see inklings of the Democratic House Caucus being similar to the struggles that Republicans have dealt with over the last decade, right, where, you know, some faction that's constantly going to be anti-establishment and very public about it.

And unlike the other races, speaker of the House is a public vote. Right? All the lesser offices that run the House are internal...

TAPPER: Secret ballot?

LIZZA: Secret. So you don't have to do as much work.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My prediction is that's the last time you will see that caucus smiling together.

And you saw Ocasio-Cortez leading a protest outside the speaker's office, leading a protest, right? It's already started.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Governing is very difficult, right?

SANDERS: And Nancy Pelosi has done it before.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: But you can't beat something with nothing.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's the thing. There is nothing.

I think part of the critique of Nancy Pelosi is that there needs to be a generational change, bring some youth in. But this is a real job. It's not just about symbolism. Like, you can't be qualified for the job just because you're young or...

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes. You have to know things. You have to know how to raise money.

So part of the critique, I think, feels like she's too old for the job. No old lady should have so much power, which I think is, you know -- I think they have to have a better argument for why she should be replaced, other than she's too old and we need somebody young.

TAPPER: So the outgoing speaker, Paul Ryan, had a moment with his old running mate. You might remember Paul Ryan was the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.

There he is meeting with Mitt Romney, who is a freshman senator from Utah. Ryan and Romney together again. He wrote, "An old friend dropped by to ask directions to his new office."

It did make me wonder, though, what is the role of Mitt Romney going to be? You could argue that Republicans really don't have any lions of the Senate with McCain having passed away and you have Flake and Corker, who were critical of President Trump, they're leaving.

There is possibly a role for him, a national role, but I don't know what he's going to do.

SANDERS: This is me not holding my breath, Jake, because I do not think Mitt Romney is going to stand up to President Trump.

Even Flake and Corker, who were on their way out, who had no incentive to go along to get along with the Trump administration and Republicans in the Senate, did so. They hemmed and hawed, they tweeted, then they voted with the president.

I think that's what we will see from Mitt Romney.

URBAN: Plus Utah is a pretty conservative state. It's not like a bastion of liberalism. I don't think there is going to be a hue and cry.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Well, it is a bastion of anti-Trumpism.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Again, tone, right, more than substance, I think.

TAPPER: But these disagreements that Republicans have with President Trump are not really policy disagreements, except for the ones on tariffs and trade. It's generally about the kind of thing that they're very polite in Utah.

HENDERSON: I imagine that at some point he will critique the president's language, and we have seen some of that. But, you know, Mitt Romney has I think often embraced Donald Trump when it's been convenient for him.

[16:35:05]

When he was running for the White House in 2012, he sought out the endorsement of Trump, who was at the time a birther.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: No, no, he was a birther. He was a raging birther at that time.

TAPPER: Trump was. Romney was not.

HENDERSON: Right.

URBAN: So, again, my good friend John James, who should be the senator from Michigan, had it down.

He said, I could be critical of the president without attacking him. And I can agree with him without worshipping him. Right?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: But what about the votes?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I think that's the tone Mitt Romney is going to take.

LIZZA: But Romney gave a speech that we are all going to play every time Romney is...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He gave the most scathing anti-Trump speech of anyone, I think, who wasn't running against him.

LIZZA: And so I think a lot of people in the media are going to hold him to that standard. Right? And so he's going to have to, you know, either live up to or live down those words from that speech.

TAPPER: There was an election. We talked about Nancy Pelosi and how she's going to fare.

But House Republicans met and they elected Kevin McCarthy, who was next in line to become speaker -- or not speaker, I guess, minority leader, because they lost. And so that did happen.

But I also just want to bring in this new news. This just happened. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking an effort from a fellow Republican, Jeff Flake, who we were just talking about, to force a vote on the Senate floor on legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

This coming even after the president just fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Republican Senator Jeff Flake attempted to force a vote today. The bill had been reported out of committee. And Flake just announced he will not vote to confirm any Trump administration judicial nominees if that legislation doesn't receive a vote in the whole Senate.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: One further note on this unanimous consent request that has just failed today.

Senator Coons and I are prepared to make it again and again until there is a vote on this vital bipartisan legislation on the Senate floor. And I have informed the majority leader that I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor until S-2644 is brought to the full Senate for a vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, that's not an idle threat, Symone, because let me just point out, Jeff Flake, if he votes against any of the 32 judges that come before the Senate floor, that makes it 50-50 and Mike Pence gets to be a tiebreaker, but that's still ugly that Pence has to do it.

But more importantly, the 21 judicial nominees who haven't been reported out of committee, Republicans only have a one-vote advantage in that committee. If Jeff Flake refuses to vote for any of them, that means they don't get reported out of committee.

SANDERS: They will not get out of committee.

TAPPER: Isn't this what you have been begging for Jeff Flake to do?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Jeff Flake, thank you. Why did it take so long?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Maybe because Jeff Flake is on his way out.

URBAN: I heard he may be running for president. Maybe Symone wants to work on his campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Maybe I don't. Maybe I want to see a different kind of president elected.

URBAN: I think you just saw on the Senate floor the beginning of his Senate primary campaign against...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Presidential.

URBAN: Excuse me. On the floor of the Senate, you saw the beginning of his presidential run there.

TAPPER: But, Ryan, the issue that Jeff Flake is saying is like, they reported this out months ago from committee, this protect the special counsel bill.

LIZZA: Yes.

TAPPER: And McConnell said you don't need to do it, he's fine. And then this happened with President Trump, firing Sessions and putting in Matthew Whitaker, who is very critical, as acting attorney general. So they really feel like they need to protect him.

LIZZA: And this shows who was serious about protecting the Mueller investigation and who wasn't, right?

The truth is, a lot of Republicans up on the hill warned President Trump from taking any rash action. They warned him against firing Sessions. They certainly warned him against firing Mueller. And lo and behold, he takes an action that is short, of course, of firing Mueller, but puts this loyalist in charge of the investigation now.

There's a lot of controversy over whether it's even legal, right, this acting attorney general. And Flake is the one person who is living up to his promise.

TAPPER: We're going to continue with this conversation.

But, first, we are going to dip into the White House right now, where President Trump is talking.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... members of the House and Senate who have poured their time -- and they really have -- their heart and energy into the crucial issue of prison reform.

A very respected man, Chairman Chuck Grassley and my friend -- where is Chuck? Chuck. Thank you, Chuck, very much.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Thank you. You bet.

TRUMP: Worked hard on this.

And Bob Goodlatte. I saw Bob here. Thank you, Bob. Great job.

Senators Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, Rand Paul, and Doug Collins, fantastic people who have worked so hard and we appreciate what you have done. We really do. Thank you all very much.

Working together with my administration over the last two years, these members have reached a bipartisan agreement. Did I hear the word bipartisan?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Did I hear -- did I hear that word?

(APPLAUSE)

[16:40:03] TRUMP: That's a nice word.

Bipartisan agreement on prison legislation known as the First Step. And that's what it is. It's a first step, but it's a very big first step.

Today, I'm thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our community safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.

So important. And I have to tell you, I was called when I announced and when we all announced together this news conference by some of the toughest, strongest law enforcement people, including politicians, by the way, who are so in favor of it.

And I was actually surprised by some, like, as an example, Mike Lee and Rand Paul and others.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: No, it's got tremendous support at every level. It's really great.

And we're all better off when former inmates can receive and reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens. And thanks to our booming economy, they now have a chance at more opportunities than they have ever had before.

And it is true. Our economy is so strong that when people are getting out of jail, they're actually able to find jobs. And I have three instances of companies that hire people coming out of prison, and they are so thrilled by the performance of these people.

And now they're doing it more and more and more. And a lot of people are seeing this. It's great. They wouldn't have had the opportunity, frankly, except for the fact that the economy is so strong. And our job market is the lowest and best it's been in over 50 years, and seems to be getting even better.

Our pledge to hire American includes those leaving prison and looking for a very fresh start. New job. New life. The legislation I'm supporting today contains many significant reforms, including the following.

First, it will provide new incentives for low-risk inmates to learn the skills they need to find employment, avoid old habits and follow the law when they're released from prison.

These incentives will encourage them to participate in vocational training, educational course work and faith-based programs. And I want to thank Paula White very much, because I know you very much wanted that.

Thank you, Paula.

That reduce their chances of recidivism and, in other words, reduce their chances of going back to prison, substantially. Second, this legislation will allow federal inmates to be placed closer to their home communities in order to help facilitate family visitation.

So important, because we know that maintaining family and community ties is key to a successful reentry into our society. Third, the bill includes reasonable sentencing reforms, while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.

In many respects, we're getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals, of which, unfortunately, there are many. But we're treating people differently for different crimes. Some people got caught up in situations that were very bad.

I give an example of Mrs. Alice Johnson, who served 21 years, and she had I think another 25 or so to go. So she would have been in there for close to 50 years for something that other people go in and they get slapped on the wrist, which is also wrong, by the way, which is also wrong.

But I will never forget the scene of her coming out of prison after 21 years and greeting her family, and everybody was crying. Her sons, her grandsons, everybody was crying and hugging and holding each other. It was a beautiful thing to see. It was a very tough situation.

Among other changes, it rolls back some of the provisions of the Clinton crime law that disproportionately harmed the African-American community. And you all saw that, and you all know that. Everybody in this room knows that. It was very disproportionate and very unfair.

Throughout this process, my administration has worked closely with law enforcement. Their backing has ensured that this legislation remains tough on crime. It's got to remain very tough on crime and supports the tremendous work of our police and the tremendous job that law enforcement does throughout our country, our communities. They do an incredible job.

We have great respect for law enforcement. We're honored that seven of the major police organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Police Chiefs, have fully endorsed this bill.

We could not have gotten here without the support and feedback of law enforcement. And its leaders are here today, two of them, especially Chuck Canterbury of FOP and Chief Paul Cell of IACP.

Thank you very much.

PAUL CELL, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CHIEFS OF POLICE: Sir, I appreciate that very much.

TRUMP: And these are two tough cookies. They want what's right. They want what's right. And insert seeing, if you look at Texas, if you look at Georgia, if you look at Mississippi and Kentucky and some other states that are known as being very tough, these are big supporters of what we're doing and some of its been modeled after what they've done. They've done a tremendous job.

My administration will always support the incredible men and women of law enforcement and we will continue to pursue policies that help the heroes who keep us safe. They are truly heroes. We also thank the more than 2,000 leaders in the faith community who have signed a letter of support. We have tremendous support within the faith community, unbelievable support. Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption. So if something happens and they make a mistake, they get a second chance at life.

Today's announcement shows that true bipartisanship is possible and maybe it'll be thriving if we're going to get something done. When Republicans and Democrats talk, debate, and seek common ground, we can achieve breakthroughs that move our country forward and deliver for our citizens and that's what we're doing today and I have great respect for the people standing alongside of me. I urge lawmakers in both House and Senate to work hard and to act quickly and send a final bill to my desk and I look very much forward to signing it. This is a big breakthrough for a lot of people. They've been talking about this for many, many years. I want to thank Jared Kushner for working so hard on the bill. Thank you, Jared.

He really did, he worked very hard. He feels very deeply about it. And it's my honor to be involved and it'll be an even greater honor to sign so good luck Chuck, and Mike, and Grand, and everybody, Lindsay, everybody, back here go out and see if you can get that done. And if you can, I'm waiting, I'll be waiting with a pen and we will have done something. We will have done something that hasn't been done in many, many years and it's the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do. Thank you all very much. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, that's President Trump talking about criminal justice reform bill, the first step act that he's calling for Congress to come together and pass in a bipartisan way. One of the first moments of bipartisan expression that we've heard since President Trump and the Republican Party did so poorly in the Midterm Elections. Let's take a brief moment just to talk about what this legislation is. This is -- this is not a grand sweeping reform of the criminal justice system as people like Van Jones for example have been pushing for. What does this bill do?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is prison reform. So the first step act is the act that actually passed the House of Representatives earlier this year but that has been stalled in the Senate, but it's specifically prison reform. It does not go broadly and deal with sentencing which is why 57 Democrats voted against it. They said it did not go far enough because sentencing issues are something in this country. How you get to jail is just as important is how you get out of jail.

But what this bill does do it is it does mandate the Attorney General to create an assessment to -- an assessment tool to assess the recidivism, the potential recidivism rate of potential prisoner going into jail and then creating a program and a reassessment so that folks can get out of jail earlier. It can actually be a rehabilitative process that we are not just warehousing disproportionately if we're being frank, black, brown people in America.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, the name is a up -- is up right, First Step Act. This is a great first step. The President has to thread the needle here, the members of Congress too. You know, as Simone points out, it doesn't pass -- the Democrats think it doesn't go far enough, Republicans are very suspicious, so you kind of have to run through the raindrops without getting wet on this, right? And by all accounts it's something it should be done. Let's see if the politicians get out of the way and get it done.

TAPPER: And why now?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things. One, Jeff Sessions is now gone. He was an obstacle to this legislation right? So the opponent -- the cross-currents on this issue are fascinating right? You have Democrats who don't think it goes far enough and you have big divisions within the Republican Party. You're the libertarian maybe that supports it.

URBAN: You could do this in the lame duck.

SANDERS: The Koch Brothers (INAUDIBLE) as well.

[16:50:01] TAPPER: You know, they're in favor of it.

LIZZA: But you also have the tough on -- traditional tough-on-crime Republicans which Trump is also been one.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. We have some breaking news in the "MONEY LEAD" now. With huge consequences for the world's economy, British Prime Minister Theresa May just secured a deal with her cabinet on Brexit, the plan for the U.K. to get out of the European Union. Let's go to CNN's Bianca Nobilo in London. And Bianca, tell us about this major step.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a decisive step forward, Jake, today. Almost 900 days after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the British Cabinet have finally agreed on a Brexit draft deal. Now, this was no easy feat for the Prime Minister who herself is under constant speculation about whether or not she'll remain in post. She is in a very weak position as Prime Minister. But today she claimed victory and said she'd agreed on a Brexit deal with her cabinet, something she said she believed in with her heart and her head that would be the best thing for the future of Britain.

But Jake, this cabinet agreement is just the first skirmish that she's managed to get passed and the true battle lies ahead, and that's getting it through the raucous House of Commons which is in complete division over Brexit. It's split not just along party lines but in many other directions and the Prime Minister will have a very difficult time passing anything through there. But today is a historic moment. A prime minister who never wanted Brexit to happen taking Britain one big step forward to removing itself from the European Union.

TAPPER: All right, Bianca Nobilo, thank you so much for that update. I appreciate it. Coming up, connected by hate, did the synagogue shooter inspire a potential copycat? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "BURIED LEAD" now. That's what we call stories we think are not getting enough attention. The FBI reported this week that hate crimes in the United States have increased 17 percent with a notable surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes which brings us to our next story which we almost hesitate to tell you because of fears that even reporting on these incidents may in some sick way bring celebrity to bigots and criminals and yet it is clear from recent events and FBI statistics that this type of violence is a growing problem in the U.S. and important for everyone to be aware of. And thankfully this story about a racist and anti-Semite with access to firearms, an individual who was friends on social media with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, this story has a different ending because thankfully his family went to the authorities who acted quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Less than the week after the massacre of 11 worshipers at Pittsburg's Tree of Life Synagogue, the FBI received a call warning about two Washington, D.C.-based brothers, "heavily involved in the alt-right movement." The eldest connected to the Pittsburgh shooter. Days later, one of the brothers was dead, the other had been arrested for illegal possession of a high-capacity magazine.

Newly released arrest records show family members warned the FBI that siblings Jeffrey and Edward Clark, "openly discussed killing Jews and Black people." They also "believed that there would be a race revolution, and they wanted to expedite it." The eldest brother, 30- year-old Jeffrey, who was currently being held without bond, was active on Gab, the same controversial social media site where the synagogue shooter posted minutes before the massacre, "I'm going in." The FBI says the two were friends online.

Jeffrey later posted that the victims, "got shot by the hero, Robert Bowers, and every last one of them deserved exactly what happened to them and so much worse."

BRIAN LEVIN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: We saw the worst massacre of American Jews in American history this past month by a loner. And that is where a lot of the danger is. It's not that these anti-Semites are growing significantly, but they're more emboldened, they're more public and those who are unstable feel they can act out.

TAPPER: The synagogue attack occurred just before 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 27th. Less than three hours later, Jeffrey Clark's younger brother, 23-year-old Edward, shot and killed himself in a Washington, D.C., park, according to the FBI. Police recovered a pistol and two additional magazines of ammunition. Edward's family told the FBI they believed, "he may have been planning to commit an act of violence on the day that he died.

LEVIN: We're seeing a more emboldened set of white nationalists who are running for public office and getting engaged in large rallies. We're also seeing an increase in bigotry on the internet. And that increase dovetails many times with increases we're seeing in hate crime.

AMERICAN CROWD: Jews will not replace us.

TAPPER: According to the affidavit, both Clark brothers attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where anti- Semitic chants and Nazi symbolism filled the streets. And where a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed. District of Columbia records show the brothers owned four registered guns. In addition, FBI agents also recovered two boxes of AR-15 rifle conversion kits and four high-capacity AR-15 magazines. And in a disturbing second post on gab following the Synagogue Massacre, Jeffrey warned, "get used to it, libtards, this is a dry run for things to come."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And we should note that CNN has reached out to the defendants' attorney twice and we have not heard back. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.