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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Blasts McCain Again; Kamala Harris Rising in Polls. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: He is the former Colorado governor.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me here on this Tuesday.

Let's go to D.C. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're about to bring you maybe the first big surprise in the 2020 race.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: one Democratic presidential candidate leaping higher in new CNN polls out this second, up 200 percent from December, and now in the top three. Should the familiar favorites start to worry?

He just can't let it go. President Trump stomping on Senator John McCain's grave again, still simmering and ranting, as more signs indicate that possibly it will soon be Mueller time.

Plus, Michael Cohen's call records, details on hush money and a half- mil in Russian money, just released documents laying out more of what the feds had on the president's former fixer.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in our 2020 lead. A brand-new CNN poll out right now painting a clear picture of where the 2020 race stands as winter becomes spring for Democrats who are just getting started and for President Trump.

Nationally, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, former Vice President Joe Biden is way out in front. And he's not even officially in the race yet. Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran in 2016, the closest behind him, but it's Senator Kamala Harris of California who has made the biggest gains with voters over the last few months, and climbing to double-digit support.

The poll also shows almost unprecedented enthusiasm. Voters are more enthusiastic about voting for president than any other presidential race since the turn of the century. But in those enthusiasm numbers is a warning for Democrats and a good sign for President Trump.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins me now from the Magic Wall.

Phil, let's start with the Democratic field and who voters want to see as their nominee.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, let's start digging in on the top-line numbers right now.

And you noted the top two, well, they're pretty recognizable, Joe Biden not in the race yet, but still pulling up top at 28 percent, Bernie Sanders seeing a little jump from his numbers in December up to 20 percent.

But it's the next to now in double digits -- they weren't there in December -- that are perhaps most noteworthy, Senator Kamala Harris and also Beto O'Rourke, up two points from he where was in December. And this poll was in the field the same day that Beto O'Rourke announced his campaign, perhaps the first seeds of a jump there.

Then you have Elizabeth Warren, John Kerry, who hasn't declared his intentions yet, but still pulling up to this point. And then you can move down the field, Cory Booker, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, all kind of within the 1 to 3 percent.

But who you want to dig into most interesting is who you already noted, Jake, and that's Kamala Harris. When you look at her numbers, up eight points overall since December, and perhaps what's more impressive, or at least more noteworthy at this point, she is up in every single demographic category that was polled in this poll that was over the course of March 14 through March 17.

In particular, she showed the most strength among women voters, among minority voters and among self-identified liberal voters. There's no question about it. Obviously, the top tier, at least in the top two, Jake, is what we have seen over the course of the last several months, but Kamala Harris seeing major jumps, something we have seen in some other polls leading up to this point, but certainly eight points at this point in time, Jake, that's significant.

TAPPER: Also, there's been a surge in voter enthusiasm. But in contrast with the 2018 midterms, it looks as though Republicans have the edge right now on enthusiasm.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Jake, a little twist when you get down to the details, but let's look at the top-line number first -- 40 percent of those polled were extremely enthusiastic.

Now, to put that into context, CNN has been asking this question since 2004. Never has it been this high at any point, let alone March the year before of an election. The closest to this was 37 percent just shortly before the historic 2008 election. So people are very excited, just short shy of 600 days out, to actually vote.

But when you dig into those numbers, it gets a little bit more interesting. Take a look at this. Republicans now, 57 percent say they are enthusiastic about the presidential vote. Pair that with Democrats, 46 percent. Now, it's the Democratic enthusiasm that really propelled Democrats to take control of the House back in 2018.

You're going to see some seeds, perhaps a leading indicator of sorts. Back in the 2018 cycle, Democrats flipped 42 state legislative seats. Already this cycle, Republicans have flipped five, Democrats none. Perhaps that's why you see this -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Let's dive into this with my experts that.

You just heard Phil break down the increase in support for Senator Kamala Harris among virtually every demographic. Why do you think?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's time.

People have had more time to get to know her. And clearly she's been using her time well on the ground talking to voters and talking about getting -- letting people get to know her and get to know what she stands for.

TAPPER: And we should always do this, the caveat, at this point in past presidential contests, Jeb Bush was ahead. Hillary Clinton was ahead in 2007. I mean, it's not necessarily indicative.

Still, if I'm in Senator Kamala Harris' camp, I got to feel good that she's at least gaining on Biden and Sanders.

[16:05:07]

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Going the right direction.

The one thing that I found interesting about the poll is 56 percent of Democrats said, we really don't care what policy they have. We care if they can be Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Yes.

ROGERS: And so this is an audition. This is this is what you're saying. So she's out on the road, she's auditioning, saying, I'm the one that can be Donald Trump. And clearly that's where she's pulling her numbers on that rise.

There's a lot of time, as a former candidate, a lot of time.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Many, many lifetimes.

Kirsten, take a look at how support is changed just over the last few months for the top finishers in the poll. Biden is slightly down, 2 percent. Not really a big deal. Sanders, Harris, Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, they have all gone up. They have all increased their support among Democratic voters.

Do you think there's a message here or a signal here as to what that means?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, people are getting more engaged and learning more about the people that are running. So, of course, the top two people are the people that are most well-known, a former vice president in Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders, who ran for president last time, so that makes sense.

I think the happiest person has to be Kamala Harris, because her trajectory is clearly in the right trajectory. And I think that the most concerning thing is the 57 percent of Republicans being extremely excited, not just excited, extremely excited, and only 46 percent of Democrats.

And it sort of jibes with what I hear anecdotally. I think Democrats aren't as excited because they don't really know who it's going to be and who should we support, and should we go with somebody who's safe or not safe or not well-known?

And so I think they're kind of waiting to see do decide who they're going to get behind.

TAPPER: I want to go back to the enthusiasm in a second, but before I do, I want to show you. This was really interesting.

The poll asked Democratic and Democratic-leaning the voters if they thought the Democrats have a better chance of winning if Bernie Sanders is the party's nominee; 33 percent say that party have a better chance with Sanders; 56 percent said the party had a better chance with someone else.

Same question about Joe Biden -- 51 percent say the party has a better chance of winning with Biden, 36 percent say someone else. So Bernie Sanders, number two, very strong, but a lot of skeptics among his voters that he can deliver them the White House.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, two things. Voters always want what they can't have. And Biden is not a candidate yet, but I would say Bernie Sanders' endorsement will be very coveted.

So I wouldn't expect many candidates...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: His endorsement?

He might get the nomination. We don't know that.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I understand. But if we're playing the long game, and people do not believe that he can beat Donald Trump -- and that is the most important thing to them -- it is unlikely he will make it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: But I do want to say, going back to the enthusiasm question, what is also good for Kamala Harris is the enthusiasm among women.

If you look at how that breaks down among women, women are 7 percent more enthusiastic than men, and Donald Trump's favorability rating with those women is in the 60s.

FINNEY: However, getting women to vote for women is like pulling teeth from a walrus with a toothpick, right? It's a very -- it's hard, right?

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: Women are the hardest on female candidates.

And so that's -- you're right. It's a great number. But two weeks out from Stacey Abrams' election in Georgia, you had that same group of college-educated white women saying, I'm just not sure if she's qualified.

So it's tough. And I think Kamala's team knows, is very aware of how tough it's going to be to hold on to that support from women. And I would also say, though, for the other candidates, this isn't bad news necessarily. They still have plenty of room to grow and plenty of room to define themselves.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the enthusiasm gap, because your party, the Republican Party, really has some good news here in this poll on that subject; 57 percent of Republicans say they're extremely enthusiastic about voting for president.

Only 46 percent of Democrats say that. Maybe that's the Democratic angst. They don't know who to get behind; 76 percent of voters who lean Republican say they're proud to have President Trump as their president. That's up 10 percent from September.

It does seem like Republicans are really getting ready for 2020.

ROGERS: And I attribute this to the Democrats and how far left they're going in their campaign. That will take even the most moderate Republican and make them stop for a minute and think, I may not be happy with Donald Trump, but, boy, I sure can't cotton to that.

And so I think that they're going to -- there's a lot that's going to happen in the next few months. And the farther they tack left -- and, remember, all of these folks are going for that 35 percent of that Democrat base that say, I want somebody that feels the way I do on these issues.

And that part of the base tacks more left. So these candidates are running in that direction, and that will invigorate Republicans across the board. It will all change when there's two candidates. That will change.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You look a little bit skeptical on what he was saying there in terms of the party going to the left too much. (CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Well, I mean, I don't think substantively, personally, I don't find them too far to the left.

But I do think there's something to be said for the fact that it will drive enthusiasm for Republicans, because Republicans really do believe that Democrats are interested in ushering in a socialist government and these kinds of things that are real trigger words for them.

[16:10:10]

And so I think that -- and I, again, sort of anecdotally have heard that from people who are like very alarmed by Ocasio-Cortez, and from Republicans. And so I could see it being something that definitely generates enthusiasm.

And Democrats have to figure that out, because they need to generate with his enthusiasm on their side as well.

TAPPER: Listen to the enthusiastic response that Senator Elizabeth Warren got at our town hall last night in Jackson, Mississippi, among an audience of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents when she talked about getting rid of the Electoral College.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, my view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting.

And that means get rid of the Electoral College.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's raw meat for Democrats, but I don't know how it's going to play more generally.

CARPENTER: Yes.

I mean, I think it solidifies Republicans to the idea that the Democrats want to be a coastal party, because the only way to eliminate the Electoral College is go through the Constitution and to have an amendment to get rid of it.

And, OK, so you do that. That means New York and California decides the nominee, which is what Republicans think the Democrats want to do anyway. And so you know what, Elizabeth Warren? If you want to pay attention to the rural states, go. You don't have to stop going to Mississippi if you get the nomination.

That's on you. Don't put it on the Electoral College.

TAPPER: Do you think that and other issues such as Democrats talking about getting rid of the filibuster, adding more justices to the Supreme Court, do you think that ultimately will help the party?

FINNEY: You know what? I think those are sort of more outlier issues.

I think it is far more important to people, like we said before, can you beat Trump? Are you going to lower my taxes? Are you going to make my health care more affordable? And I hope that what Democrats do, I think they also -- part of this socialism thing, though, this is the GOP snow job, right?

We're not socialists. There's one.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Bernie Sanders.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: There's one. He's one.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: That's one guy.

CARPENTER: We didn't make that up.

FINNEY: It's one guy. And, as your poll shows, maybe people don't think that's the guy.

That was his argument in 2016, was that he could win as a socialist. OK, well, we will find out, but point being, I think this issue about the fact we have so many candidates, it's when -- it's more clear who's our nominee, are they able to beat Trump, do they stand for the things that I really care about?

And all these other issues, they matter to people, as we saw in the town hall last night, but I don't think it's what people are going to vote on.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

We're going to keep talking about this and other issues.

President Trump first claimed his attacks on the late Senator John McCain were about policy, and then within a few seconds he proved it to the world it is in fact personal in many ways. We will show you.

Then, it didn't take very long at all. Newly unsealed documents reveal just how quickly special counsel Robert Mueller turned his attention to President Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:05] TAPPER: The politics lead now. President Trump just can't seem to be able to let his personal grudges go, today continuing to attack the late Senator John McCain who passed away nearly seven months ago after tweeting nasty personal attacks against the former Vietnam POW.

McCain's grieving widow and children notwithstanding, the president reiterated this afternoon he was, quote, never a fan of John McCain and never will be, unquote. McCain obviously not able to defend himself. His former top aide and co-author Mark Salter tweeted a response to the president, quote: OK, you aren't a fan, one more in a long list of things you are not -- honest, brave, smart, tough, disciplined, kind, generous, patriotic a fan of John McCain. Had you been a fan, the senator would have wondered what he had done so wrong that he earned the approval of a man he despised, unquote.

This attack on McCain just the latest in what's been a stunning trend, a string of personal grievances aired by the president.

CNN's Abby Phillip has more from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today finding common cause with a man known as the "Trump of the Tropics".

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been a wonderful time getting to know you.

PHILLIP: -- relishing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's adoption of his attacks on the media --

TRUMP: I'm very proud to hear the president used the term "fake news".

PHILLIP: -- and using the White House as a backdrop for the airing of more grievances against a host of perceived enemies, including big tech companies.

TRUMP: Something's happening with those groups of folks that are running Facebook and Google and Twitter, and I do think we have to get to the bottom of it. It's very fair. It's collusive, if they're conservative, if they're Republicans, if they're in a certain group, that there's discrimination.

PHILLIP: And once again going after late Senator John McCain, using his Oval Office meeting to continue a series of attacks that began over the weekend.

First, slamming McCain's vote against repealing and replacing Obamacare.

TRUMP: I'm very unhappy that he didn't repeal and replace Obamacare as you know. He campaigned on repealing in a place to replacing Obamacare for years, and then he got to a vote and he said thumbs down.

PHILLIP: Then, leaving no doubt that his grudge against the Vietnam war hero is personal.

TRUMP: I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.

PHILLIP: He also took a shot at Kellyanne Conway's husband George Conway, who questioned Trump's psychological state in the midst of his 50-tweet tirade this weekend. Trump firing back this morning, calling Conway "a total loser".

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: One of the reasons Brazilian President Bolsonaro is so controversial is in part because of his comments about LGBT people, indigenous Brazilians and also refugees. But there is no indication that President Trump talked to him about any of that during his visit here to Washington either in public at this press conference or in private based on the readouts that we've gotten from the White House, Jake.

TRUMP: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

[16:20:01] Let's take a listen again to Senator McCain, the comments about Senator McCain from President Trump, specifically about McCain's vote against repealing Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: For some reason, I think I understand the reason he end up going thumbs up and frankly, I had we even known that I think we would have gotten to vote because we could have gotten somebody else. So, I think that's disgraceful. Plus, there are other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, literally, his wife, his widow, Cindy McCain, and his children -- Jack, Jimmy, Bridget and Meghan, of course -- they're still mourning. It was just seven months ago.

Why is this happening?

CARPENTER: I think he's speaking from a place of insecurity. He's looking at 2020 and I think everyone knows, if he loses, it'll be because of lack of legislative achievements, accomplishments, and probably the Russia investigation.

So, who can he pin that blame on? Well, John McCain, and he's not here to answer for it, because remember the tweet storm over the weekend -- he was blaming John McCain for the dossier.

And the difference between how both those men have handled Russia relationships is stark. When John McCain got suspicious Russian information, he turned it over to the FBI. When Donald Trump's campaign was contacted by suspicious Russian figures, they lied and lied and lied about it even to the FBI. And so, no wonder John McCain isn't Donald Trump's hen because if he doesn't make it, it's because of those kinds of differences. TAPPER: You knew John McCain. What's your take on all this?

ROGERS: I think this is one of the president's great character flaws, is that it's not just that he wins, you have to lose, and he cannot get over it and, you know, I think it's atrocious. Let the man rest in peace. He had a great tour of service for his country both in the military and as a United States senator and legislator.

And here, this is where class really becomes important to the leader of the free world. And I just -- well, he missed that class, he missed that opportunity -- he missed that briefing apparently.

TAPPER: Yes.

ROGERS: And I -- again, I worry about what this says how you can treat other people who disagree with you. This is that blowing up of civil discourse that we I think so long and we would like to get back to.

TAPPER: Yes.

POWERS: I have a slightly different theory. I think that he does this to demonstrate that he has everybody in the Republican Party under his thumb and he's brought them to bear and there's nothing they can do about it. So, even -- the next thing that will happen is you'll actually have Lindsey Graham have to defend it, right?

I mean, so, first, Lindsey Graham doesn't say anything, he's sort of indirectly --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That's this weekend (ph), he didn't say anything, yes.

POWERS: -- sort of indirectly says something but doesn't actually say anything. I guarantee like the next like loyalty test will be for Lindsey McCain to actually attack John McCain.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Does he really have that much forward thinking?

FINNEY: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Hang on. If you look at the other things he's doing like right now what's going on with him attacking Kellyanne Conway's husband with the -- with the campaign manager putting out a tweet about Mr. Kellyanne Conway being jealous of his wife.

Now, again, it's putting Kellyanne Conway in the position to not be able to say anything back, right? Because it's making it very clear that he is just completely got all these people to just right under his thumb and there's nothing they can do about it. TAPPER: So, George Conway, a respected conservative attorney who's Kellyanne Conway's husband has been tweeting it very tough stuff about the president, suggesting very directly his narcissistic personality disorder and mental illness, putting out diagnostics --

FINNEY: Yes.

TAPPER: -- on Twitter. President Trump called him a total loser on Twitter today and George Conway wrote: Congratulations! You just guaranteed that millions of more people are going to learn about narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissism. Great job!

In his view, George Conway is -- George Conway says the president's just amplifying his criticism.

FINNEY: Yes, he is and he knows that. But at the same time, look, just -- we were looking at the poll and the president support numbers. He knows that he can afford to do exactly what Kirsten saying and I completely agree with her, which is -- this is my base, I have to hold on to my base, I can say what I want, I can demand loyalty.

I mean, look at what happened with Thom Tillis and the vote, you know, most recently and his shift on his vote about the constitutionality of declaring a national emergency. You know, it's such a pettiness.

And I think there's two things it shows. One question I think going into 2020 will be, does -- will that matter to voters, right? Is that character flaw going to be something that people will say, I want a president who's not so petty, I want a president who's not tweeting hateful things 24 hours a day.

The second thing, though, is for the Republicans, how far are you willing to compromise your principles in order to serve this man? And is -- given that, this person is -- he doesn't care about anyone other than himself. I think we learned that over and over again.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I wonder how much -- I mean, what the congressman here is talking about is how much this teaches the wrong lesson to people, to children obviously, but also to other partisans. We saw the Republican National Committee put out that St. Patrick's Day tweet this weekend that went after Beto O'Rourke for a DUI he had, but also did so in a way that struck me is like almost turn of the century -- two centuries ago, anti-Irish, suggesting that Irish have drinking problems et cetera, et cetera.

[16:25:14] And I just wondered, well he's really -- this maliciousness is really infecting the whole Republican Party.

CARPENTER: Yes, and I think that extends to a large part of conservative media at this point, too. It is -- it is Trump's party. I think we keep having this conversation, when are Republican going to stand up, when are they going to do something? That's not going to happen. It's going to become a shrinking party.

The pool of people that will put up with this stuff -- I mean, think about it, who would work for a boss that calls your husband a loser to millions and millions of people? Maybe there's two losers (ph) in that relationship.

TAPPER: To answer that question -- the answers is Kellyanne Conway, that's (INAUDIBLE). But I think from her perspectives, why is her husband insulting her boss? I mean, that's the others -- that's the other side of it.

POWERS: Yes, but then to have the campaign manager come out and attack him, attack her husband, claiming that he's just doing this because he's jealous of his wife, because --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I don't want to watch --

POWERS: I mean, it's really like it's on a different level.

TAPPER: It's very third grade. You're just jealous.

Everyone, stick around. We're now getting our first look at the FBI's search warrants for Michael Cohen. It's what's not in them that could reveal more about Robert Mueller and what he knows.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)