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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Meadows Denies Racism Claims as Videos Surface Showing Him Pushing Obama Birtherism in 2012; O'Rourke Says He's Made Decision on Presidential Run. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 28, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:41] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our politics lead, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows vehemently defending himself today against charges of racism after a heated exchange during Michael Cohen's testimony brought new scrutiny from Democratic critics to his past comments. During the Cohen testimony yesterday, Meadows introduced an African-American Trump administration official who has worked for the president for a long time to push back against Cohen's assertion that President Trump is a racist.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, said that action itself by Meadows was racist, an accusation to which he took exception. But as he tried to defend himself, progressive activists resurfaced these comments by Meadows from 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), THEN-NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: So, what we're going to do is take back our country. 2012 is the time that we're going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, Meadows responded this morning by telling CNN that he should not have said that and that he does not have a racial bone in his body. This afternoon, another video of Meadows speaking about President Obama resurfaced from just days after that first one in 2012, suggesting this wasn't just one answer but may have been something of a talking point at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEADOWS: You know what? We'll send you back home to Kenya or wherever it is. You know, we'll send you back home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's talk about this with more of our experts.

Karen Finney, Meadows has said he shouldn't have said that. What more does he need to do or is that enough? KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's all he can do,

right? I mean, look, the reality of this is that Congressman Tlaib was correct in that his actions were racist. But I understand how, as a white man, regardless of whether or not you have black or brown colored kids -- children of color, sorry, in your family, you may not understand how people who have skin my tone and darker experience the world and why we would see it as racist. And I think that's really the point here.

It doesn't -- the point she was making is, you know, from her perspective, it felt racist and it was racist. He may disagree. Obviously, he's got some issues in his background but virtually, you know, I have members of my own family as a mixed race person who are white who would say they're not racist. They're not racist but they still say racist things and I still find myself having to point out to them that some of the things that they have said are racist or hey, you know, that's why people think that's racist.

And so, you know, this is a conversation we started to have in 2008 with President Obama's running for office. And I suspect given the fact that we have the most diverse electorate in our country at this time and the most diverse field of candidates at this time, we're going to have this conversation again about race. And I think what you're seeing is people are much more comfortable speaking up and speaking out and calling foul and really saying, that's racist. That's what racism looks like. And I think we have to be open to have that conversation.

TAPPER: All right. While you're talking about candidates, let's turn now to the 2020 campaign, because even the 2020 candidates are still talking about the Cohen testimony.

CNN's Leyla Santiago caught up with one Democrat excited to make some news of his own. That's our 2020 lead today. Leyla joins me now from El Paso, Texas, where she spoke with former Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

And, Leyla, O'Rourke told you that he's made a decision about 2020. What did he say?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, he's made a decision. Step one, check, right?

[16:35:00] But when and where he will make this announcement is still very much unclear. I specifically went to find him after he released a statement, saying that he had made a decision with his wife, Amy, and kids. They were excited to make the announcement. And I went to him and asked him point blank, are you running for U.S. president?

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO: You're excited to announce something soon. What is that?

BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I'll be making an announcement soon. I'll be making the same announcement to everyone at the same time.

SANTIAGO: Are you running for president?

O'ROURKE: That's all I can say at this time.

SANTIAGO: Are you running for president?

O'ROURKE: That's all I'm going to say.

SANTIAGO: When will you make that announcement?

O'ROURKE: Soon.

REPORTER: Can you define soon?

O'ROURKE: I can't. I can't. I'm sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO: Don't -- you know, it was not lost on me that smile that he had on his face. You know, the last time he said something was coming soon was when he spoke to Oprah and that's she pinned him down and said is there a timeline? A few weeks ago, he said I will make a decision by the end of the month.

That has happened now that we are at the end of the month. I spoke with his family today. They, themselves, are still waiting to get word from him as to when this will come. But they did tell me -- his sister said she is on board with him vying for a seat in the Oval Office.

TAPPER: All right. I think the smile says it all, but we'll wait for the official announcement. Leyla Santiago, the tenacious Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

On the heels of those comments from Beto O'Rourke, take a look at this brand new poll out of Texas, in a hypothetical match-up between President Trump and Beto O'Rourke, it's a dead heat, 47 percent pick Trump, 46 percent pick Beto O'Rourke.

Here are other matchups from the poll. President Trump with a slight advantage in each match-up. One point above Joe Biden, two points above Bernie Sanders, seven points above both Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Five points above Julian Castro.

Of course, it's early. The polls don't necessarily mean much. But President Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016.

What do you think?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would be concerned if I was Donald Trump, definitely. That's amazing that you could have, really, any of those Democrats that close. But looking at Beto, who is known to Texas voters, right? So they're not just blindly, you know, saying I don't like Trump, so I'll go for this other person, that that's somebody they would consider voting for, I think, is really telling in such a red state.

So I think he would be crazy not to run. I would be very surprised if he didn't run. You know, he has this national profile that people would kill for.

And so he comes into the race, if he decides to run, already at the top of the heap. He knows how to fund raise. He's going to have a lot of money. He can go the distance.

And so, I think, yes, I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn't run.

TAPPER: Another Democrat may be looking to jump in the 2020 race. Sources telling CNN that Michael Bloomberg's team is searching for possible spaces for campaign headquarters, interviewing people to manage scheduling.

What does Michael Bloomberg offer the 2020 Democratic pool that is missing right now, if anything?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know. More money than Trump has? I don't know.

And the Beto point, can I say just --

TAPPER: Yes.

HAM: Maybe he's just announcing that he's got a really cool medium post going up. I think you're right about the --

TAPPER: Not a fan of Camp Caraway (ph)?

(LAUGHTER)

HAM: I think you're right about the numbers in Texas for Beto. I do think running against Ted Cruz is a very different ball game than running against Kamala Harris in your own party. He may need to watch out for her skills and many of these other guys' skills on a national stage. But he has the most valuable thing, which is name ID in a giant, giant field.

FINNEY: But Bloomberg can say that he has both been a successful businessman and -- remember, in the business community, that was one of the things that they said against Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: They trolled Trump.

TAPPER: Yes, more money, more success.

FINNEY: He's more successful. And he has been, depending on how you define success, a successful mayor of New York City. So, he has run, you know, a large city effectively. So, he can both, he knows the difference between running a country and running a city government or the country. TAPPER: And, David, you have said that you think former Vice

President Joe Biden would post the toughest challenge. But some Democrats in the key state of Iowa are raising concerns that Biden missed his chance.

Bret Niles, a Democratic Party chairman in Linn County, Iowa, told "Reuters", the longer he waits, the more people are going to start to want to follow some of the new and young voices, they're hearing. I know you don't want Biden to run because you think he's a threat to Trump.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, everyone in America just remember, this is about the electoral college, not about who's going to win California. You know, Michael Bloomberg will crush in New York. Great. You know, he'll win by a landslide.

This is about putting the pieces together, to get to 270. And who stands the best chance of winning those kind of swing states that President Trump won, that hadn't been won before, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky. You know, those are the states.

Who is going to stand the best chance? Sherrod Brown is a very strong voice there.

[16:40:03] I think Amy Klobuchar. I think Beto O'Rourke may have a good chance there.

You know, people who run to the center I think will do better in those states obviously.

TAPPER: Are you worried that Biden is waiting too long? Or not worried. Do you think that Biden has waited too long?

POWERS: Yes, I think he should make a decision and he should get in if he wants to win. But I -- you know, there's a big debate going on about what you just said, right? So, I'm assuming you're operating under the assumption that they would turn out white, middle-class voters whereas if you look -- you know, I think I'm actually more in the camp that you need somebody who's going to energize people that Obama energized, who didn't turn out during the last election.

And so, I think that could point to more of a Kamala Harris and, in particular, a younger candidate probably. So I think if you have most of those people turn out the way they turned out for Obama, things would have gone differently for Hillary Clinton versus going and trying to get voters who may be lost.

URBAN: Yes, but not in Pennsylvania. Look at the numbers. Hillary Clinton outperformed -- she did extremely well in Pennsylvania. So, you have to look -- I mean, those states, President Trump just got 50,000 more people to turn out than ever turned out before. Historic highs in some of these counties, and that's what I think that needs to be focused on.

POWERS: Bryce Harper to the Phillies.

(LAUGHTER)

Neighbors with bad blood and nukes closer to the brink. We're live in India as President Trump now weighs on the crisis between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "WORLD LEAD" today, two countries with nuclear weapons on the brink of all-out war. Over the last few days long simmering tensions have spiked between India and Pakistan. Bombings and airstrikes are sparking fears around the globe that the hostilities could possibly escalate into a catastrophe.

As CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports this latest round of fighting began after a Pakistan-based terrorist group killed 40 Indian soldiers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: With all the drama around President Trump's summit with Kim Jong-un and the President's former fixer testifying on Capitol Hill, it was drowning out a dangerous turn of events, the prospect of war between two nuclear- armed longtime enemies India and Pakistan.

Days of deadly violence flaring up between the historic adversaries after India said it carried out an airstrike against terrorists in Pakistan. Pakistan responding claiming they shot down two Indian jets in the contested Kashmir region which both countries claim as their own. An Indian pilot was captured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your mission?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. I'm not supposed to tell you this.

KELLY MAGSAMEN, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR ASIAN AND PACIFIC SECURITY AFFAIRS: This is a situation where you have militaries who are built up around each other. They see each other as primary threats. And it's been a very combustible situation for a number of years now.

MARQUARDT: Several of the world's major powers including the United States have called on the two countries to restrain themselves. President Trump telling reporters in Hanoi he's hearing attractive news.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been in the middle trying to help them both out, see if we can get some organization and some peace and I think probably that's going to be happening.

MARQUARDT: Between the two, India and Pakistan have almost 300 nuclear weapons. India's public and prime minister cheering on the actions of their military against Pakistan.

NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINISTER, INDIA: India will work as one. India will grow as one. India will fight as one. India will win as one.

MAGSAMEN: Both sides right now have both political incentives to calm things down. And of course they don't -- neither side really seizing the upside I think in a full military conflict at this stage.

MARQUARDT: Pakistan's new relatively untested Prime Minister Imran Khan as a former cricket star has called for dialogue between the two sides.

SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI, FOREIGN MINISTER, PAKISTAN: From day one you know, when this government came into office Imran Khan offered. But if you take one step towards peace, we will take two. Pakistan never wants to escalate. Pakistan never wants to be in a hostile position.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And, Jake, gunfire across the border has left at least four civilians dead in Pakistan according to the military. India has put its air defenses on high alert. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken to both of the country's prime ministers calling on them to de-escalate. Jake?

TAPPER: Marquardt, thank you so much. I want to go now to CNN Sam Kiley who's on the ground in New Delhi, India. Sam, Pakistan said it would release the Indian pilot who was in custody after his plane was shot down yesterday. Some are calling this an olive branch. How is India reacting to the offer?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far the only reaction from the Indians has been from the air force spokesman saying that he would welcome the return of the pilot. There's been no official government reaction. And that I think, Jake, is because at the moment of Prime Minister Modi is enjoying in a sense that rather Churchillian-bellicose language which has pleased the wider Indian public.

But more importantly in the longer term India is also set or reset the relationship, the bitter relationship with Pakistan now reserving for itself the right if you like of pre-emptive action. We've seen the west take pre-active -- take pre-activate intervention in the past of course against the alleged terrorist targets, now India is doing it.

So if there is another terrorist attack that the Indians blame on Pakistan then preemptive action would be taken again by India and that is new.

TAPPER: All right, Sam Kiley thank you so much. Former CIA official Phil Mudd joins me now. And you worked on this issue when you were at the CIA. What is more concerning to you, the failure of President Trump to achieve anything really concrete at the summit with North Korea or this standoff between India and Pakistan?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I would say easily North Korea a couple of quick reasons. Number one, Indian and Pakistan have faced off multiple times in the 70 plus years since their independence. They understand each other. The militaries understand each other.

And India understands the significance if they engage with the Pakistanis of their position in the global economy. They have really emerged in the past few decades. You contrast that to North Korea, I don't think we really understand Kim Jong-un. We don't understand his motivations.

Obviously, the North Koreans have focused on the United States. India and Pakistan are not going to take a shot at the United States. So if you look at understanding intentions and if you look at the fact that North Koreans have targeted us, I think North Korea is a bigger concern.

TAPPER: So when you hear the Indian Prime Minister sounding bellicose, sounding as if he's really enjoying this moment of sending in his fighters to bomb Pakistani terrorist cells, etcetera, you don't -- you don't think -- you think that's just bluster to a large degree?

MUDD: It's got to be -- he's got to say that. You have a Nationalist Party in India that's got to tell a bunch of Indians look, I'm going to stand up to defend you, but if you look at what's at stake for the Indians in contrast to the previous wars they've had with the Pakistanis, number one, both sides have nukes. You want to get engaged in a fight, you might get popped by a nuke.

Number two, I mentioned earlier, the Indians in contrast to when I work this issue, the risks they take by telling the global economic world hey, we're going to engage in a fight with Pakistan which is declining globally at the expense of our position globally in terms of economic integration with people like the China and United States, I don't think the Indians will do that but they've got to say we're going to fight the Pakistanis on this one sort of rhetorically.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much. We appreciate your time. We're the beginnings of an American political dynasty made in China. That's next.

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TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" now, they are one of the most potent political dynasties in American history, the Bush family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: I would like to introduce you to my family. The fact is I'd be nothing without them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now a new CNN original series documents the rise of a family that produced a senator, a governor, and two presidents and discounting. Joining us now is CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel. She's covered the Bush family for years. I want to play a clip from the series. This is when George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush were living in China when he was U.S. Ambassador to China. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barbara Bush loved getting on a bicycle going out with George. The two of them had a chance to be a couple without just a maelstrom of things all around them and she cherished it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All he said if he will be looking, what's this all about? They really made a great impression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They enjoy visits from their children and immerse themselves in Chinese culture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barbara Bush often said that their years in China were the happiest years of their lives. They absolutely loved it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Right after that, Bush was named CIA Director. How do these jobs prepare him to be president?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it goes to the phrase you hear so often best resume in town for becoming president. Whether it was China, CIA, U.N. Ambassador, Congress, vice president for eight years, but he also in addition to everything he learned about policy and experience, he made friends. This was perhaps his greatest talent. Wherever he went, he got to know people. And it wasn't -- to use a word we talked about a lot these days, transactional.

He kept in touch with them. When first Desert Storm happened, he had all of those allies there. And I'll tell you just on a funny note, when he passed away recently, there was a waiting list for people who wanted to come to his funeral. So this world was so large that it helped him in all kinds of ways throughout his career.

TAPPER: The series really highlights how competitive the Bush family was not just with other families and other people but in the family internally.

GANGEL: No question. And they're very good-natured about it. But they would stack the teams if they were playing tennis against each other. They would find a pro to play with them to make sure who won. But I also think it speaks to their drive probably why you had two sons go on to become governor, run for president.

Pierce Bush, one of the grandson says the best advice his grandfather ever gave him was get your jersey dirty. Get in the game win or lose. And I think that sense of competition, you know, speaks to all of them in and where they've gone in life.

TAPPER: And we only have a little time left but George W Bush and Jeb Bush are not the last too. The dynasty continues.

GANGEL: There is -- there is one that they have nicknamed 47. 41, 43, 47, that would be George P. who is Texas Land Commissioner. I think you will see a lot of the grandchildren go into public service and a couple more of them may run.

TAPPER: All right, Jamie Gangel, thanks so much. Be sure to tune into the Bush Years, Family Duty Power premiering this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. only on CNN. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage continues right now.