Return to Transcripts main page


Violence in Turkey; Interview With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; New Jersey Special Election; Interview with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; Thousands Riot in Turkey

Aired June 4, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER": New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a chance to put a Republican in the Senate for a year and a half, but he didn't take it.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The politics lead, it was Christie's prerogative. He could have filled New Jersey's Senate seat with a Republican until 2014. Instead, he made a move that could put it back in the Democrats' hands in just four months. How is that going to play with the GOP?

Also in politics, anger, accusations and tears -- conservative groups lashing out at the IRS in front of Congress after the agency confirmed their worst fears of big government.

And the world lead. It's the incongruous image seen around the world, a primly dressed woman in red sprayed in the face with tear gas by riot police in Turkey. Is she now the symbol of a movement?

Hi. I'm Jake Tapper and welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin today with breaking news and our politics lead, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who made a move today that did not exactly prompt the series of toasts to his name in the Republican Senate Cloakroom. Following the death yesterday of his state's senior senator, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, Christie found himself in a jam.

Conservatives wanted him to appoint a fellow Republican to the seat for the year-and-a-half remaining in Lautenberg's term, but that to Christie would not be characteristic of what he sees as the independent Christie brand. He simply doesn't think, he says, that it's right to appoint someone to an elected position for that long.

And one might note Christie is running for reelection right now. Election Day is in November. Christie is coasting to reelection now, casting himself as someone who puts his state above political party. He needs Democrats and independents to continue to think of him that way. And yet, yet not appointing a Republican to fill the seat, well, that deprives his party of a vote in the narrowly divided Senate at a time of important, contentious votes, immigration reform, fiscal issues, Obama nominees.

And should Christie run for president in 2016, Christie will need the support of Republican officials and conservative activists. What's a Jersey boy to do?


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I have deemed it advisable to have a special election, and we're having a special election. That's the end of the discussion.



Wrong answer, according to a lot of conservatives who are still angry with Christie after his public embrace of President Obama in the days before the presidential election, when the two untied in the cause of Hurricane Sandy relief.

Now, the decision today faced instant criticism because of the cost of the special election, which could cost New Jersey as much as $24 million.


CHRISTIE: I don't know what the cost is, and I quite frankly don't care. I don't think you can put a price tag on what it's worth to have an elected person in the United States Senate. And I will do whatever I need to do to make sure those costs are covered, because all the people of the state of New Jersey will benefit for it. And we're not going to be penny-wise and pound-foolish around here.


TAPPER: But what are the costs to Governor Christie and his support within his own party?

Joining me now, Maggie Haberman, senior political reporter for Politico, and CNN political reporter Peter Hamby.

Peter, you have been talking to your sources.

Why did Christie make this decision?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're pushing back really hard on this political criticism, saying that they were standing on the firmest legal ground, basically, that they consulted the Office of Legislative Services at the New Jersey legislature, and they told them that this would be the best way that you weren't going to get sued.

If you have -- if you appoint someone for the rest of Lautenberg's term, the Democrats are probably going to sue you, and that's sort of what they're saying. But there does appear to be a sort of nakedly political cast to this decision, as you were talking about.

TAPPER: Maggie, what's interesting to me about this is I know there was all sort of statutory requirements about if I announce a special election on this day, then we have to have the primary this day, the general election that day. The special election will be in October.

By having the special election in October, and not in November, when Christie himself is on the ballot, then that means that Cory Booker, the popular mayor of Newark, New Jersey, will probably be the nominee. And he will not be on the top of the ticket when Christie's on the ticket.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: Right, which both of them want realistically. Neither one of them wanted to be on the same ticket.

However, if I'm Cory Booker, what I don't want is a two-month-long primary against at least one opponent. Frank Pallone, the congressman from New Jersey, has been thinking about this for a long time, sources tell me is definitely going to run. Another congressman is also looking at running.

I don't think that Booker, who has not raised the money he was hoping to raise by now, was looking forward to this. That said, if he wins, he wins that election, he is then the incumbent most likely. It is hard to see a Republican winning statewide.

TAPPER: This helps Pallone. This would encourage Pallone because if he ran in 2014 --

HABERMAN: He would have to give up his seat.

TAPPER: He would have to give up his seat. By running now, if he doesn't win, he still gets to be a congressman.


HAMBY: -- million dollars saved in the bank right now.

HABERMAN: That's right. That's right. It's just easy for something he's wanted to do for a long time.

TAPPER: Maggie and Peter, stick around for a moment.

Joining me on the phone for reaction is former Republican Majority Leader and former chair of FreedomWorks Dick Armey.

Congressman Armey, thanks so much for joining us.

What is your reaction to this move by Governor Christie? Should he have appointed someone, in your view?

DICK ARMEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, of course. Of course he should have.

And this is what really rankles conservatives. There's not a Democrat governor alive that wouldn't have seized the opportunity to appoint a Democrat senator, no matter what the status. As a matter of fact, in some states, they might even go try to sell it and get rich off it, as they did in Illinois.

But all Christie had to do is appoint a Republican. That's the correct move for him to make. Now, I put it down as debilitating stupidity, because the first rule of politics is don't lose the friends you already have for the friends you're never going to get.

And if he thinks the Democrats are going to love him for being the guy who plays fair, rather than takes the political opportunity, he's crazy. Democrats hate Republicans. Democrats aren't going to vote for Republicans. They're not going to get a break from the Democrats. They will use him -- Obama will use him for political cover, as he's done twice now, and then actively campaign against him.

He will just have to learn the hard way, the way most fair-minded Republicans end up learning. I will do the right, fair thing, and you will cut my legs off and throw me under the bus. That's what will happen to Christie.


TAPPER: I just want to make sure I heard right. Did you just accuse Governor Christie of debilitating stupidity?

ARMEY: Yes, it's not the first time I have said that about political -- people that run for office in politics make political decisions, rather than policy decisions, often commit debilitating stupidity. Most often, it's not by the left, but it's frequently done by Republicans as well.

TAPPER: Well, Congressman, Christie's argument would be, it's an elected position. It's a very long period of time, a year-and-a-half. Why not put it up to the voters? Why not let the voters of New Jersey get to pick the next senator, instead of me?

That doesn't square with you?

ARMEY: Well, no, it doesn't square with me. And it hasn't squared with any -- for example, your commentators, who has believed that he's done this as a matter of principle?

Everybody that I have heard so far already is talking about, what is the political calculation here? And political calculations are dim- witted. The fact of the matter is, it is always about myself, it's always childish, and it's always the wrong thing.

Governor Christie has just diminished his chances of being reelected governor. If he believed in a sound set of principals, free markets, small government principles, which is what he got elected on in the first place, he wouldn't set a situation where a sad sack like Pallone would have a shoo-in for election, Pallone, who of course personifies the notion big government solves everything, big government should be in charge.

So, obviously, he can't believe in small government principles and then pave the way for a big government guy like Pallone.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman, Dick Armey, I really wish you would tell us what you really think. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. (LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: It's not true that this is going to hurt him with the voters of New Jersey. That is an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

HABERMAN: I don't see it in a million years. And he's like got a 30- point lead against his Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono. I think the primary is actually today, which nobody is paying any attention to.

Christie is looking for a huge margin. He is looking for a huge margin to roll him into 2016. But I don't think -- I think his team has been very focused on 2013. I do think they are more concerned about getting out of this state. I don't think this hurts him at all. And to the idea that he --

TAPPER: In the state?

HABERMAN: In that state.

And to the idea that he should chose from this crop of conservatives, I don't know where this crop of conservatives is who could meet the qualifications for Senate. New Jersey is an overwhelmingly blue/Republican moderate state. He's not looking at a bunch of deeply conservative options here. So, I think he -- for appointee options, it was a pretty short list.

HAMBY: Yes, I think the professional right like Dick Armey are upset about this.

If you look at the front page of The Drudge Report right now, they're absolutely drilling Chris Christie over this, saying, it's going to cost taxpayers $24 million. I called some activists in Iowa and South Carolina today. And they say -- I think Christie has the early stages of a bit of a problem with the base. They think he does things for political reasons instead of principled reasons.

But even activists I talked to said, they don't think people are paying attention to this stuff for 2016 right now.


TAPPER: It's a long way away.


HAMBY: It's a long way away.

And are 2016 voters going to look back on this date when they go into the ballot box in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, or whatever high school gym in Iowa?

TAPPER: Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't help. It doesn't help his 2016 cause. I think we can agree on that.

HABERMAN: It feeds a narrative. But I guess the thing that I would say that makes him different from someone like David Paterson, who was the governor of my state, is that picking Kirsten Gillibrand was like his defining moment. Christie is already seen with wary eyes by these folks.

TAPPER: All right, Politico reporter Maggie Haberman and CNN's Peter Hamby, thank you both so much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: So great to have you here.

Coming up, one brutal report says House Republicans cannot agree on much these days. Has John Boehner lost control of his own party? I will ask his number two, Eric Cantor, next.

Plus, who is this woman in the red dress, and why are police tear- gassing her even as she turns her back? Our world lead is coming up.


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

In politics news, they knew that the IRS had given them the moral high ground when the IRS admitted to unfairly having targeted conservative groups, and leaders of some of those groups today seized the chance to hit back in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.


BECKY GERRITSON, WETUMPKA TEA PARTY: What the government did to our group in Wetumpka, Alabama, is un-American.

They are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken. I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in, the America that people cross oceans and risk their lives to become a part of.


TAPPER: Democrats, feeling perhaps that they can't defend the IRS on this issue, are taking a different tack, accusing the Republicans of -- quote -- "overreach," their new favorite buzzword, on this investigation into these IRS practices.


REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Simply political theater. It is diverting attention from what we ought to be doing on this committee, is rewriting the law if it's wrong.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I'm going to deviate from my initial question in response to what I just heard.



RYAN: Welcome to Washington. We add the former IRS Commissioner Shulman, who knew about the political targeting long before Congress was told, since implied that the organizations were responsible for the targeting because they chose to apply for tax-exempt status.

So, you're to blame, I guess, is the message here.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joins me now.

You're unveiling a new Web site and Facebook app called I'll get to that in a second.

But first, I want to talk about some of the things in the news.

There was a big hearing on Capitol Hill today about the IRS, also, some back and forth with the White House, between the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, who called Jay Carney a -- "a paid liar," calling the White House spokesman "a paid liar."

I'm wondering your reaction to that, because some Republicans in the Senate and your equivalent, the House minority leader, Steny Hoyer, has said that Darrell Issa ought to apologize.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Look, Darrell Issa, Dave Camp, and the number of other chairman that we have that are involved in the oversight process are doing a fantastic job at trying to stick to uncovering the facts and getting to the truth.

And if you look at the situation with the IRS, I think it is a big concern of a lot of people in this country, because what we've seen is a president who, number one, has said he wasn't connected with the activity, yet the expectation is this is his administration. It's the Obama IRS.

And we've just not heard what the truth of the matter is.

Meanwhile, the concern is an abuse of power. When you have a -- an administration that somehow supports the notion that you could use a neutral instrument of government like the IRS, a tax enforcement agency, to go after political opponents, that's just unacceptable. That's -- that's not what we do.

TAPPER: But I haven't heard anybody in the Obama administration say anything to the contrary. And I'm wondering, what lie do you think Jay Carney told or does -- is it OK for Darrell Issa just to call him a liar? CANTOR: Well, you know, I -- I think that sticking to the facts, uh, and trying to, uh, uncover what really went on, who knew, who gave the directive for this kind of activity, did the White House know -- all of these things is what we're trying to uncover. And cooperation, a willingness on the part of the president and his administration to get to the bottom of this, to tell us what went on, in fact, could clear a lot up and we could go forward making sure it will never ever happen again.

TAPPER: "The Washington Post" today had interesting story about the House Republicans and some of the divisions within it. And there was this one description, after a coup attempt, and not a very successful one, in January, Speaker Boehner is depicted in the story as barely holding the party together.

And there is this passage I wanted to read to you.

"The leaders have come under intense scrutiny. Barely 36 hours after the caustic New Year's Day vote, Boehner faced a coup attempt from a clutch of renegade conservatives. The cabal quickly fell apart when several Republicans, after a night of prayer, said God told them to spare the speaker."

I guess that's good news, that God told these members to spare the speaker.

What can you tell us about the divisions within the Republican Party? I know Speaker Boehner has even acknowledged that sometimes some members of the caucus are a little difficult to control.

CANTOR: Jake, we're a party of ideas. We actually embrace robust debate and dialogue.

And you'll see in our agenda, what we -- what we have done is taken a -- a conference of individuals who are very passionate about the privilege of being a voice for the people and putting that to work to see how we can affect the dream of a more prosperous and more secure America.

TAPPER: That passion, though, somehow sometimes ends up -- meaning Speaker Boehner almost loses his job or is threatened?

CANTOR: No, I think Speaker Boehner has a -- support, without a doubt, overwhelmingly in our conference.

TAPPER: You're here today to talk about

What is

CANTOR: is an online destination to engender a national conversation about things going on in Washington. And, all folks have to do is go click onto and they can become a co-sponsor of any legislation that has been submitted to the -- for consideration in the House.

TAPPER: As individuals? CANTOR: As individuals. And it -- it is all legislation, those support by Republicans and Democrats.

And, Jake, it's part of our continued attempt to live up to our commitment to transparency in government. At the end of the day, this is the people's government. Washington ought to be working for the people, not the other way around. And when the people see all of this nonsense going on at the IRS and the administration losing its focus on the people, it's things like which I think come back and say to the constituents we represent that we mean it when we say we're here for you, please join us in this debate.

TAPPER: All right, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, thanks so much for being here.

CANTOR: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: If you're wondering, Congressman Cantor had no comment about the decision made by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Next in the "World Lead", riot police move in, while politicians apologize for their aggression. What exactly do protesters want? And will this one photo become their symbol?

Plus, the federal government requests a major recall of millions of SUVs, saying they could catch fire. So, why is one car company refusing to do it?


TAPPER: Breaking news -- we're at THE LEAD and we're looking at live pictures.

Nick Paton Walsh is in Ankara, Turkey.

Nick, what's going on behind you?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, let me explain how we came to this point this evening. There's been a lengthy stand-off between protesters parked down the street just over there. You can't see it because police vans are obscuring it now.

Parked down there were a line of riot police blocking their access to this main square behind me here. Now, in the last few minutes, we've seen some protesters, seen a panic, run away from that lengthy stand- off here, we're now seeing a riot vehicle move in towards that area. And these riot police you can see behind me here, who were all relaxed sitting around the restaurant, suddenly rushed to their vehicles, got their equipment together and are clearly mounting something here.

We don't exactly know why this panic has been sparked, but it's the first sign of real anxiety, real people running for fear, that we've seen in a day that's otherwise been calm, Jake. TAPPER: And, Nick, before I let you know, I wanted to ask you about the image, the icon of this woman in red being hosed, it's become a real symbol of the Turkish people uprising against their government, and the government striking back with uncharacteristic force.

And I'm wondering, who is this woman? Is there any idea? And how much is this image being embraced within Turkey?

WALSH: It's become extremely important to protesters around here. Very little is known about her. But it's simply the innocence of her standing there in that red dress, carrying a bag. Totally, no threat to the police near her. That becomes epitomized, the heavy-handed tactic of the past days here.

I've seen myself very young protesters simply gathering to express their discontent. As soon as they get in a large group in the past few days, tear gas was thrown at them. Many of them incapacitated. Some of them really not well, because of the real toxicity of the gas being used.

Today I should say, we've seen it calm down. The police clearly have given orders not to use tear gas in the same indiscriminate, relentless fashion we've seen in the past few days. But it's been the anger fuelled by that kind of use of tear gas that at times brutal tactics employed by the police that really kept these protests going, started over something small, a park in Istanbul began to embody greater discontent about rights being eroded by the Erdogan government.

These protesters saw it, and now, of course, simply about the violence in the eyes of many of the police have meted out against protesters in the past few days.

Just back to what's behind me here, it has -- it seems calm briefly but the police are very much in number here. The real issue has been protesters and police trying to negotiate through this, rather than using tear gas and rocks in the past few days.

But the flaring of real tension behind me just now, Jake.

TAPPER: Al right. Nick Paton Walsh in Ankara, Turkey. Thank you so much. We'll stay in touch with you, and come back to you if anything happens, where you are.

Coming up, today's decision by Chris Christie has implications for the U.S. Senate. And possibly even for the 2016 presidential primaries. Let's check in with our political panel in the green room.

Van Jones, did Governor Christie just give your pal, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, an alley-hoop in this race?

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know it kind of looked like it, but really, I think he was just throwing the ball up and running away. Cory was going to slam on anybody anyway. So, I don't think -- I don't think he did any favor. I think Chris Christie is afraid of Cory Booker. That's all that is. TAPPER: All right. Well, we'll talk more about that in a second.

That and more when THE LEAD continues.