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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Beto O'Rourke's Campaign Launch Continues; Conway vs. Conway. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 20, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: As he begins to shore up support from major backers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On his first swing through New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke is sharing more details about his record $6.1 million fund-raising haul in his first 24 hours.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: More than 128,000 unique contributions made in the first 24 hours from every state in the country; $47 was the average contribution.

DEAN: The former Texas congressman plans to hit all 10 counties in the Granite State.

O'ROURKE: My vision for the country is something that I offer and introduce at every stop. Your vision for the country is something that I listened to at every meeting and every stop. And I will continue to do that.

DEAN: And after initially receiving criticism for lacking specifics, O'Rourke also taking questions from reporters about policy.

(on camera): What is Beto O'Rourke's immigration policy?

O'ROURKE: Let's free those dreamers who have already contributed so much to our country's success from any fear of deportation. Let's acknowledge that there are millions of our fellow Americans who are working some of the toughest jobs in the shadows, sometimes paid less than a minimum wage.

Let's bring them out of the shadows, which will demonstrably make us safer.

DEAN (voice-over): Meantime, Joe Biden continues to dance around a possible entry into the 2020 race, with people close to the former vice president telling CNN an announcement is a matter of when, not if.

Biden has been working to shore up major endorsements and is making calls to donors ahead of an expected April announcement. This as some 2020 Democrats push for big changes, such as calling for the Electoral College to be abolished.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.

DEAN: President Trump dismissing the idea, writing in a tweet -- quote -- "I used to like the idea of the popular vote, but now realize the Electoral College is far better for the USA."

Several Democrats also saying they're open to expanding the Supreme Court.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to begin to debate on what it will take to make sure our Supreme Court is less political.

DEAN: Another idea of opposed by the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only reason is that they're doing that is they want to try and catch up. So, if they can't catch up through the ballot box by winning an election, they want to try doing it in a different way. And it won't happen. I guarantee you it won't happen for six years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: There was a recent CNN poll that showed people are very, very excited to vote in the 2020 elections. And that has certainly been the case on the ground here in New Hampshire.

As we have traveled from county to county, we have talked with people who have been at these events. And, Jake, they're very excited to hear from all the Democratic candidates. There's enthusiasm just across the board here. They're hungry for information, for ideas, for policy, and that certainly seems to be the case as you go all across the state -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Dean in Conway, New Hampshire, the beautiful Granite State.

Let's talk about all this.

We should put note a little bit more of the details that Beto O'Rourke announced today from his haul, his financial haul from the first day of campaign, $6.1 million from 128,000 donors. The average contribution was $47. You compare that to Bernie Sanders, the previous record holder a few days before, who in his first 24 hours raised $5.9 million from 223,000 donors, for an average of $27 a person.

So more money for Beto, but fewer donors and a bigger average. It could come down to these two candidates.

TIFFANY CROSS, THE BEAT D.C.: Yes, look, I think Beto's fund-raising record is definitely impressive and deserves to be talked about. So this is no shade to Beto. This is more saying to the media is, he

enjoyed all lot of free coverage in advance of his actual announcement. And I think that's something that we have to be cognizant of this time around. We saw what happened in 2016 when other candidates enjoyed all this free press and they I think helped them deliver them right to the White House.

I think Beto, while his fund-raising is impressive, I think we saw last week that Stacey Abrams said 2020 is still a possibility for her. And I just find it interesting that when all of these -- the three white men, Beto, Bernie and Biden, get all this attention, and Stacey Abrams was really in a comfortable position to Beto.

And for the past year or so, it's been all about Beto. I think we just have to be careful about how we cover these candidates and laud praise on these candidates this cycle.

TAPPER: It's a fair criticism. I will say, if Stacey Abrams were in Iowa or New Hampshire, I'm sure she would be getting coverage. But I take your point.

And, in fact, I want to read an excerpt from "Washington Post" op-ed columnist Margaret Sullivan, who's making this exact point about there's all this buzz around Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders and Biden. She calls them the three B's, while candidates like Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, who have also released a number of policy proposals, are not getting as much attention.

She writes: "Somehow, despite a remarkably diverse Democratic field, which includes a record number of women, a gay man and several people of color, the B boys, that is Beto, Biden, Bernie, were off and running."

[16:35:03]

And Biden, we should note, has not even become officially a candidate.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's true.

Look, sexism is alive and well in politics and in media coverage and all these things. I do think we have to be careful about when we throw the sexism criticism out there. Whether people like it or not, Biden and Beto and Bernie -- or Bernie and Biden especially -- gosh, that's a tongue-twister -- are leading in the polls right now.

That may not be the case in a month. If Stacey Abrams were in New Hampshire or Iowa, people would be covering it wall to wall. And I think -- I read that column as well. I do disagree with one thing she said about the "Vanity Fair" piece, which I thought was actually cringe-worthy and horrible for him. And I think it was a mistake.

TAPPER: Because you actually read it.

PSAKI: I did read it.

TAPPER: I think she was mainly talking about the cover. PSAKI: The media was covering it, but I don't think that people

contributed because they saw coverage of Beto O'Rourke from the "Vanity Fair" piece.

I think there's buzz coming -- about him coming out of the Texas race. Whether that continues, that's up to him. And we will see. But he just announced he's running. That's why there's coverage.

TAPPER: So Elizabeth Warren, not talking about this specifically, but was asked about one of the hardest aspects of running for president as a woman. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: I think the hardest part is guys still expect to be in charge all the time.

(LAUGHTER)

WARREN: And it's just an expectation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And, sometimes, I find us, as women, we sometimes count ourselves out.

WARREN: No, that's what I mean, on both sides. I think that is exactly right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, first of all, we need to send a microphone to wherever that is.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But just to explain what she said, she said, "I think the hardest part is guys still expect to be in charge all the time. And it's just an expectation."

The other woman says, "Sometimes, I find, as a woman, we sometimes can't ourselves out."

And Warren says: "That's what I mean, on both sides. I think that's exactly right."

What do you think?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there are an awful lot of women who aren't counting themselves out on the Democratic side this time around.

And so I think that piece of her argument, I don't think quite stands. She has thrown herself in the ring. She's made a name for herself. I think you see Kamala Harris doing quite well, doing better than Elizabeth Warren, and they are both women.

I think Kamala Harris had a better rollout. I think the reason why she's doing better is that she has demonstrated a little bit more that she can take on Trump in a way that I think Elizabeth Warren through the whole controversy with the DNA test and the heritage just sort of failed the can you stand up to Trump and go toe to toe with him and walk away?

I think that's more of what's going to be hurting her than sort of perceptions of sexism within the Democratic Party.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: Go ahead.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Well, I was going to say, this is not new. The media covers three things. They cover polls, they cover money, and they cover attacks.

And if you look at the top of the polls, it's the three B's, right? That's the reason why that they're there.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: But every once in a while, like, Kamala Harris will show up in a poll, show a very strong position, and she got a lot of coverage for her announcement.

She also raised a lot of money in the first 24 hours. She got a lot of coverage as a result. And every time she has attacked the Republicans or Donald Trump and draw the starkest contrast rest in the field, she's gotten more coverage.

That's how they're going to really break out. When they start rising up in the polls and they start raising more money, that's when they will get more coverage. I really don't think it's chalked up to sexism. I think it's chalked up to just the nature -- the natural way that these campaigns sort of filter out who's at the top.

CROSS: It's not just sexism, though.

MADDEN: No, it's not.

CROSS: Because, when you go to the polls, I mean, you look at Iowa and New Hampshire and how the media kind of descends on these two states, and Iowa is 90 percent white, New Hampshire's 93 percent white.

And when you look at the electorate, these two states are really out of step. I mean, the rising majority of them...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: And they happen to go first.

CROSS: Right. That's my point.

MADDEN: And that's why.

But now that California and Texas have moved up their primary, I think that is something to look at.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: You will see Kamala Harris get a lot more coverage, as the broader, diverse Democratic Party that's going to be activated in these early states.

Throw in South Carolina, Texas, California. She will get a lot more coverage.

CROSS: Nevada.

MADDEN: And then I think Elizabeth Warren will be complaining everybody's favoring Kamala.

TAPPER: And then we should note also that Kamala Harris is -- Senator Kamala Harris is in third place in the brand-new CNN poll.

You can tune in to CNN tonight for a live town hall with one of these Democratic presidential candidates. This time, it's former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. CNN's Dana Bash will host the live event. That's tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Coming up, President Trump is building the wall, a stonewall. The serious standoff going on right now between the White House and Democrats investigating this president.

Then, things just keep getting weirder, as Kellyanne Conway defends the president for attacking George Conway, her husband.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:53]

TAPPER: In our politics lead today, the head of the House Oversight Committee is accusing the Trump administration of an unprecedented degree of stonewalling, delay and obstruction.

Chairman Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, writing an op-ed in "The Washington Post" stating that the White House has ignored all of the committee's requests for documents or ability to question witnesses.

As CNN's Sunlen Serfaty now reports, it's all part of the Trump team's strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle between the White House and House Democrats is escalating.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We are in search of the truth.

SERFATY: Clashing in the fierce tug of war over access to information essential to the Democratic-led congressional investigations into the president.

TRUMP: The witch-hunt continues.

SERFATY: Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, blasting the White House in this "Washington Post" op-ed for what he calls an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction, saying: "The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress."

[16:45:00] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Cummings committee has been demanding information from the White House over the handling of security clearances for White House staff including son- in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I want the American people to understand that when you cannot get information, you cannot be a check.

SERFATY: Many other Democratic-led Congressional committees investigating nearly every aspect of President Trump's personal and professional life are running into the same roadblocks, including just this week the White House ignoring House Judiciary's deadline to turn over papers related to their broad investigation into possible corruption, obstruction of justice, and hush money payments to women.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace to our country and the people understand it. When they look at it, they just say presidential harassment.

SERFATY: Behind-the-scenes, the White House has attempted to block the Democratic probes by not only failing to hand over requested documents but also hiring White House attorneys to argue any conversations with the President or White House staff are matters of executive privilege.

Those moves prompt the third-ranking House Democrat Jim Clyburn to call on Congress to step it up.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's time for the Congress House and Senate to grow spines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And all this certainly just sets the stage for a potential -- excuse me -- subpoena showdown on Capitol Hill if the Democrats, of course, do not get what they want. Chairman Cummings, he has made it very clear that this is something that he's considering, considering issuing a subpoena. He said he's not ruling anything out yet, Jake, but that's something that he certainly is weighing. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Also in our politics lead today, it wasn't just late Senator John McCain that the President was attacking today, President Trump also escalated his feud with conservative lawyer George Conway after Conway started publicly questioning the President's mental fitness for office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He's a whack job. There's no question about it, but I really don't know him. He -- I think he's doing a tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife. Kellyanne is a wonderful woman and I called him Mr. Kellyanne.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So a couple of things to note here. First of all, George Conway is an esteemed lawyer Donald Trump is the president, but neither of them are mental health professionals so the diagnosis that George Conway is a whack job or George Conway's diagnosis that the president has narcissistic personality disorder, none of that is considered expert.

Two, we should also point out the tweets from the president and his team trying to besmirch George Conway have been proven demonstrably false. The President has known George Conway for years. Conway turn down the job to work in the Trump Justice Department as evidenced by this letter obtained by The Washington Post.

OK, once again, is there any sort of strategic advantage for President Trump to be attacking George Conway? Does this help him in any way? It obviously brings George Conway a lot of attention and Twitter followers.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Again, this is -- this is in some ways a little bit of a Streisand effect problems.

TAPPER: Explain what the Streisand --

ANDERSON: Streisand effect is essentially the idea that when you complain really loudly about something that you don't want to -- don't pay any attention to this person they're terrible, you just draw more attention.

TAPPER: Barbra Streisand was trying to make it so nobody knew where her house in Malibu was.

ANDERSON: Yes. And by complaining that there was this photo out there of her house, suddenly everyone was exposed to this photo for Barbara Streisand. So in a way --

TAPPER: So Trump is doing that with George Conway?

ANDERSON: Yes. I mean, the George -- the George Conway going after Trump thing was sort of a Washington inside the beltway like this is kind of curious story. You know, it was the sort of thing that where I would I just feel bad for Kellyanne to sort of be stuck between a very prestigious job that's obviously very important to her and husband who she you know, presumably loves.

But I think from the -- just strategically this is another one of those things that I don't think it's a strategy thing. I think it's just the President doesn't like when people attack him and as Kellyanne might say, he likes to kind of punch.

TAPPER: He kind of punch into it. George Conway counterpunching to keeping up his responses to President Trump as they come. Today responding, you are nuts. That George Conway to President Trump. What do you think of all this? Is George Conway doing the public service by calling into question these issues doing it the way he is? Is he hurting his own cause? What about the President's role in all this?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean sometimes we think the President is playing chess and he's actually playing tiddlywinks or something that's much more elementary. But I do think in this case we're talking about the Conway V Conway battle here. We are not talking about the fact that he's in Ohio in a place where the plant is closing down and people are losing jobs even though he promised he'd bring them back.

We're not talking about his weird relationship with Deutsche Bank. We're not talking as much perhaps about all the ups and downs of the Mueller reports. So he's a marketing expert. If I'm going to a dark place, I would say he's trying to distract and have a conversation about something else and that may very well be what he's doing.

TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER & MANAGING EDITOR, THE BEAT DC: Thank you. Yes -- I'm sorry --

TAPPER: You agree?

CROSS: I completely agree. I could care less about Kellyanne Conway in her marriage. I think voters can care less about this issue. I just -- I think it's kind of you know a tabloid thing to talk about, and to your point it's very inside the beltway.

For the people out there who are worried about getting laid off at their jobs, worried about how they're going to pay their mortgage, or worried about health care expenses, those things matter. Kellyanne Conway's relationship with her husband just doesn't.

[16:50:18] TAPPER: You know, the other thing that's interesting, Dana Bash spoke to Kellyanne for her series about -- this is before this latest round. And this is Kellyanne Conway talking about election night and how excited George Conway was. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: George was so excited literally crying with joy in his MAGA hat, black not red with his MAGA hat on election night. And so in that way he's changed. He's changed his opinion on I guess matters with the president, the presidency, but I haven't, and Donald Trump hasn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So I do wonder though, beyond the George versus Kellyanne Conway, I know there are a lot of people who think the president is distracting or even that this is just an act. I do not think it's just an act. But there is this thing. George Conway keeps talking about how President Trump is mentally unfit and he says to the President on Twitter, you're bringing attention and he tweets out pages of medical diagnoses that suggest that you know, the president has you know some of the malignant narcissism or whatever.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, again this is one of those things where I just have to rub my eyes every time I watch this actually playing out on screen. I still can't believe it. I have -- like you, I have zero interest in talking about their marriage. And I think most of the American public do too.

But yes, this is one of those things where I think what George Conway is doing is just offering a big distraction away from all the bigger issues when he's focusing on things like mental health, when he doesn't really have the sort of platform to be making that type of judgment.

And that's why I think I don't pay much attention to it. I don't even think it's a beltway thing. I think there are people in the Beltway that don't want to talk about this.

CROSS: Yes, it's true.

MADDEN: And you know, it's -- you know, I know we used to turn kitchen table conversations a lot in politics, like these are not the kitchen table conversations I think we were talking about.

TAPPER: No. People are talking about health --

MADDEN: Yes, health care, you know, not what a wife and a husband are arguing about over whether or not the president -- about the president -- state of the president's mental health. That's not it.

CROSS: But you know, quickly, what I found interesting in that clip is that she talks about during the campaign he was very excited about Donald Trump. And I think there are a lot of people who were very excited about Donald Trump who may not be as excited now. And I -- that is the thing that baffles my mind. What did you think you were getting?

Because this president has been very consistent with the things that he said that were just as asinine in 2016 as they are in 2019. So I do wonder, what is this turning point? What -- who did you think you were voting for and 2016.

MADDEN: I'm in favor of getting back to the other kitchen table Congress.

TAPPER: All right, this is a kitchen table but this a substantive issue. This doesn't happen every day. The Pentagon quickly deploying bombers and hundreds of American troops to Europe. The reason, sending a message to one man. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "WORLD LEAD" now. The Pentagon pushing back on Putin. The U.S. deploying Air Force bombers to the U.K. and more than a thousand service members to Poland for snap exercises, to practice a quick deployment in an emergency.

This comes amid concerns that Russia has or will send its own bombers to Crimea. As CNN's Barbara Starr now reports, top commanders in the region tell her that the American military is trying to send a direct message to Kremlin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Call it a possible message to Vladimir Putin. The U.S. military can quickly deploy to Europe to stop Russian aggression. In just the last few days, six B52 bombers, the Air Force's nuclear-capable bomber arriving in the U.K., 1,500 army troops suddenly in Europe on short notice on their way to Poland for armory and artillery exercises.

And it's all happening as the Russian president traveled to Crimea to mark the fifth anniversary of Russia's military annexation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): Today, another important step has been taken to strengthen the energy security of the Crimean Peninsula and of the south of the Russian Federation.

STARR: The Pentagon stepped up its military exercises to counter Russia and Moscow clearly is not happy.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They will always take any kind of deployment of U.S. forces in Europe in a very negative way and they will be very (INAUDIBLE) about it. They will message it, say that it's a threat to Russia. They have always done this.

STARR: Putin has stepped up his provocation in recent months ramming the Ukrainian ship and the U.S. has reacted consistently sailing ships and flying aircraft in Europe and Asia where Russia operates. But the top U.S. commander in Europe says it doesn't appear to be working.

GEN. CURTIS SCAPARROTTI, COMMANDER, U.S. EUROPEAN COMMAND: I'm not comfortable yet with the deterrent posture that we have in Europe.

STARR: And Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti says he is not getting what he needs from the Trump administration.

SCAPARROTTI: When you look at both the building capability and modernization of the Russian forces that we face there. And then finally of concern is my intelligence and reconnaissance capacity given that increasing and growing threat of Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So the question always remains the same. The U.S. may be sending the message, but is Vladimir Putin even listening? Jake? TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.