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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Immigration Battle; Interview With Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I spoke with the president, and those are actually directly his words that he gave me earlier today.

QUESTION: But why hasn't he -- why hasn't he said that?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: As I just said, the president, along with the entire administration, take domestic violence very seriously, and believe all allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and, above all, the president supports the victims of domestic violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Your response?

TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: This president has more sympathy for domestic abusers than the victims of domestic abuse.

I mean, it is just sad. It is a continuing litany we have heard from this president. I mean, this is a very serious issue. This is taxpayer-funded money being used to cover up domestic abuse.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Rob Porter's domestic abuse, you're saying?

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely.

And Congress needs to begin to do their job of oversight of this administration. They have been an abject failure on oversight of the executive branch. We ought to have an open hearing this week. Kelly and McGahn ought to go and have an open hearing and explain...

TAPPER: Congressional hearings you're calling for?

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely. Ought to get up and explain this. And if they don't, they both should resign.

This is a cover-up. This was federal taxpayer money being used to cover up. We have known for a year. The FBI had alerted the White House that we had these issues. Why was this man still there? Why did he not have a security clearance?

It is just absurd. Could you imagine for a second, Jake, if this were a Democratic administration? Just think of this. Just think of this for a second, and this had gone on, the hue and cry that would have gone on.

This needs to stop. There needs to be a message. This is federal tax dollars. This is the federal government. And this money was used to cover up domestic abuse.

TAPPER: Well, just because they didn't fire him or didn't come forward with his abuse? Is that what you mean when you say he was being...

MCAULIFFE: First of all, he should have been fired immediately.

Immediately, you had these -- both of these women had come out. Both his former wives had come out, explained...

TAPPER: To the FBI.

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: The FBI write a report, gave to it the counsel, McGahn. Who knows what was done with it.

But first he never should have had the job. And the issue, you let someone sit in there to see our most secret documents that go to the president's eyes, and this guy could not get a security clearance? And we still allowed him to see these documents and, at the same time, knowing that his two wives had said that physical and verbal abuse.

TAPPER: So, obviously, I don't think I'm making any risky bet by saying I don't think there are going to be congressional hearings on this. Republicans in the House and Senate...

MCAULIFFE: There should be.

TAPPER: OK.

But if that doesn't happen -- you said if there -- there need to be congressional hearings, and if Kelly and McGahn, the chief of staff and the White House counsel, if they don't go forward and explain, then they should be fired.

There aren't going to be hearings to begin with, in my view. So what do you think is going to happen? Or what do you think should happen with Chief of Staff Kelly and Don McGahn, the White House counsel?

MCAULIFFE: As I say, first, we ought to have an open hearing.

TAPPER: But I'm saying it's not going to happen. Yes.

MCAULIFFE: But if it doesn't happen, then the president of the United States ought to show leadership.

If he did not anything about this, he ought to fire people who were responsible, who knew about it and took no actions. Wives came out and said -- and we saw the picture obviously of the one wife with the black eye. This person should have never been working in the White House. And he never should have been looking at our sensitive data if you knew he was never going to be able to get a security clearance.

TAPPER: I want to play for you some sound from Jeh Johnson. He was the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama. He's a card-carrying Democrat. And I asked him if he thought that John Kelly should lose his job. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think, as long as Donald Trump is president, our government is best served if John Kelly is in the job of chief of staff. That is my view. It may be a minority view among my Democratic friends, but that is my view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He is a friend of Kelly's, I should disclose.

But he also respects Kelly and thinks that Kelly brings something to the job that is necessary, when the president is Donald Trump.

MCAULIFFE: What a horrible standard.

If that's the standard for the chief of staff to the president of the United States of America, that, even though they allowed this domestic abuser to be inside the White House, we just need to keep him there to protect ourselves from Donald Trump?

I mean, what kind of standard is that?

TAPPER: What do you make of the response from the White House that, look, I mean, the president believes in due process, and he had been -- he had gotten divorces from these two women and they have their story, and he has -- this is the White House's response. This is not my point of view.

MCAULIFFE: Sure. Sure.

TAPPER: And they have their stories, and he has his story and he is entitled to due process. It wasn't like there was an arrest warrant out for him.

MCAULIFFE: I would first of all say both these women were very credible. They have been on TV, explained their situation. So, they were very credible from day one. I'm sure the FBI felt they were very credible.

And the point is, when this information was relayed to the White House, forget about due process. They had due process happened a long time ago. He never should have been hired in the first place. Why do you allow an individual to see America's most sensitive data

when you know he never was going to be able to get a security clearance because of the domestic abuse allegations?

[16:35:01]

As you know, this went on over a year ago. And there was plenty of time, if he wanted to come out and correct the record.

TAPPER: So you're a good friend of Bill Clinton. He's been accused of some pretty tough stuff as well. He's been accused of some pretty heinous things as well. What do you say to somebody who is looking at this and says, Terry McAuliffe, I mean, Bill Clinton did things and you covered up for him?

MCAULIFFE: I clearly didn't cover up.

In fact, I wrote a book and came out and was very tough on President Clinton at the time.

But what we're dealing with today is a situation where we have someone in the White House. It was federal dollars used to cover up a domestic abuse situation. And I think that's very serious for the United States government.

TAPPER: There's been a lot of speculation about who the Democratic Party is going to run for president. There are a lot of names out there, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden.

Who right now do you think represents the best chance for the Democrats to recapture the White House of the people I have just named?

MCAULIFFE: Yes, listen, you have asked me this before, Jake.

I will be very honest with you. We have the biggest election coming up in 2018.

TAPPER: The midterms.

MCAULIFFE: This year. We have got the Congress up. We've got many seats in the Senate and, most importantly, we have 36 governors up.

These are the individuals. As you know, redistricting will be done in 2021. We're down to 16 Democratic governors. If we don't win a lot of these governors, we're not going to be able to veto bad redistricting maps.

That's the most important thing for the future of the party. You look at Virginia. I had to veto 120 very horrible bills, anti-women, anti- LGB, pro-gun, and anti-voting.

If we do not have Democratic governors in these statehouses with these Republican legislators, the things that we stand for as a party, the progressive values, it is all being taken away at the state level. So, my point would be...

TAPPER: It sounds like you're saying governors should be the ones running for president, not senators. Am I reading that wrong?

MCAULIFFE: I think governors are very important to run for president, because we actually are forced -- we create jobs. We run the economy. We build the roads. We fund the schools.

So, there's a background for a governor in an executive position to be an executive position of president.

TAPPER: You have been reaching out to Democratic state parties. When are you going to announce your intentions for 2020?

It seems very clear to people who know you, including fans of yours -- I'm not just talking about potential competitors in the Democratic Party. Fans of yours. People who want you to run. It seems very clear that you are on that road.

MCAULIFFE: I would make the same argument. Democrats should not be talking about 2020. The most important thing facing our future and the values, the progressive values we care about, are on the table in 2018.

If we don't do well -- two-thirds of the state legislatures, Jake, today are controlled by Republicans. We got wiped out in 2010. We paid a horrible price in 2011.

Look at what has happened in Virginia. I vetoed bills to sell machine guns out of gun stores. They tried to defund Planned Parenthood clinics. We stopped all that.

This is what is happening at the state level. So, the focus ought to be on '18. I think if people are interested in running for president, they ought to look at it January and February and March of 2019.

But your focus, if you really care about the principles and the values of our party, you better be working hard. That's why I'm traveling all over the country to help these governor's races. I have done a lot of events for House candidates.

That's where my focus is. That's what in front of us. It is not about winning the office. It's about fighting for the values you stand for as a Democrat.

TAPPER: It sounds like you just said that you want to come on this show in January 2019 and announce your plans. Did I hear that correctly?

MCAULIFFE: I will be glad to be with you in January '19, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Governor McAuliffe, always good to see you. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MCAULIFFE: Thank you. TAPPER: In the next hour, the Senate takes up a key immigration vote.

One group is on the sidelines closely waiting for the outcome.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, either I get shipped or not, either I get deported or not. That's basically what is at stake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The dreamers who are ready and willing to serve the very country that could kick them out, their personal dilemma is an issue that affects many.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:00]

TAPPER: And we're back with our national lead.

In less an hour, the U.S. Senate will vote to kick off the immigration debate, with no clear plan or idea of what might happen to 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, including 1.8 million who were brought here to the U.S. illegally as children, making them potentially eligible for the dreamer program.

We hear a lot from President Trump and others about undocumented immigrants who commit vicious and ugly crimes. We thought you might like the meet some other ones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN, DACA RECIPIENT: They say the two greatest days of your lives are the day you are born and the day you find out why. So, for us, this is our why.

TAPPER (voice-over): Identical twins John and James want nothing more than to serve in the military.

JOHN: Serving the United States has been our why for a long time.

JAMES, DACA RECIPIENT: Just give us a chance to prove that we're Americans.

TAPPER: The two, who didn't want to us identify them by last name, are currently under contract with the Army, but, as dreamers, brought to the U.S. illegally from the Philippines at age 10.

The decision Congress makes on immigration could determine whether they are deployed or deported.

JAMES: You're watching the TV if they're going to pass a permanent legislation for DACA or if you're waiting for that phone call to ship out. So, you don't really know, am I going to ship out or am I going to get

sent back to a country that I hardly know?

TAPPER: John and James were able to join the military's now defunct MAVNI program in 2016. That was a pilot program set us to allow skilled undocumented immigrants to enlist.

JOHN: You have to be here residing in the United States for two years. Well, we have been here residing pretty much half of our lives. You have to speak a strategic language. And it turns out Tagalog was one of them heavily needed.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN: Understand it, write it, everything.

JAMES: I guess the MAVNI program was a chance for to us give back. And we want to show you guys that protecting this country and potentially dying for it...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN: Is our priority.

JAMES: ... maybe is not our problem, because we love this country.

TAPPER: Foreign-born troops can become naturalized citizens only after they complete basic training and extensive back ground checks. The entire process can take years. John and James might not have that much time. Their DACA status expires in October and their race against time is continually detoured by changing requirements in delays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were scheduled to leave on October 2016, and then we got delayed. So come like, what, March 2017, right? They pushed it back again to October of 2017. So you know, it's just kind of, oh, man.

TAPPER: John is due to ship out to basic training March 5th. That's the same day President Trump has given as a deadline for Congress to come up with a solution for DACA. James has not yet received his call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of disheartening because like, we're practically the same person. You know, and for one twin to ship out and one to like wait in limbo, you know, you can't help but anxiety and paranoia to creep in.

TAPPER: Just a few days ago, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis tried to ease that anxiety telling reporters that service members such as John and James are in no danger of being deported adding, "we would always stand by one of our people." CNN reached out to the Pentagon to see what concrete steps are being taken to keep that promise. The Pentagon told us that Secretary Mattis has "been in contact with his counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security and were confident that our service members are not in any kind of jeopardy." UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really do hope that they find a solution for people like me and you know, it's because they can utilize us. We raised our right hands and swore an oath, and we knew what were the consequences. So that's no problem with us. The only thing that I would want to ask --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People of authority --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, people of authority and the American people, is that a chance to prove that we're Americans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: I want to bring in back my political panel. Take a listen to what President Trump had to say earlier today about the DREAMers and DACA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, they've been talking about DACA for many years and they haven't produced. We started talking about DACA and I think we'll produce. But if the Democrats want to make a deal, it's really up to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is there a deal that the President is willing to sign?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it's depending on what day you ask him. Because he's gone from saying he'll sign whatever they bring him to now, he's saying he seems like he's not suggesting he'll sign anything other than what he's proposed which is the pathway to citizenship along with the $25 billion for his border wall and border security in exchange for that. He doesn't seem open to signing anything else. And at times he's been a very complicated player in all of this situation because his support for anything is going to be crucial but at times the Hill has wished it that sometimes it's just better if he stays out of discussions. But now, we see the President ready to pin the blame if no solution has been thought of to blame it on Democrats.

TAPPER: One of the -- I mean, the obvious issue here is, you need 16 votes in the Senate to pass anything. There are only 51 Republicans, you need nine Democrats. Is there something that nine Democrats would be willing to support, not just the border security and DACA but all those major changes he wants to do to legal immigration, whether it's to end the diversity lottery program, bringing down the percentage of individuals who come because of family reunification or so-called chain migration. Is there a deal that these nine Democrats are willing to support that the House of Representatives, the Republicans are willing to support?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: I mean, maybe in the Senate, I think the House is pretty hard. But look, this is -- this is a hostage negotiation. You know, I really have to say like, I think it's incredible the United States is seriously considering possibly deporting people who came as children to countries they have not lived in. People need to really consider the inhumanity of this. This is an actual conversation. And the Democrats are basically saying, can we just delink this and just have one conversation about DACA, the DREAMers, because most Americans support letting them stay here, President Trump has expressed support for it. Let's do that and then let's deal with this other stuff on the side. And instead, like you've said, they've turned it into a hostage negotiation which is the only way you're going to get that is to agree to a bunch of stuff that you don't want -- that you don't think is necessary that you even think is harmful.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Look, President Obama did this is an irresponsible way. He used executive authority that he himself acknowledged he did not have. He put these people in a very, very bad position thinking that -- I don't know -- that there would be Democratic president who'd agree with him on this forevermore, despite the fact that the courts then when they tried to extend it said no, you can't do this. This is the right way to do it.

TAPPER: Legislatively.

HAM: Yes. You need to have a discussion in Congress. The President, although I do not agree with him often on immigration, or except for his old positions back when he was more liberal -- whatever -- although I don't agree with him, he made an argument to the American people, this is a large part of why he was elected. Democrats, I'm sorry, even though I agree with them on DACA, don't get to settle the agenda because they did not win. And so you have to have this discussion. And by the way, the border security part of this pretty popular. There was plenty of Democrats. I think there is a deal to be made. But do we have a functional system to actually make that deal? And Trump has been movable in the past on this as I noted. So I'm not sure that you would need every single one of every single one of those pillars. It just remains to be seen if they can actually pull this together.

[16:50:37] COLLINS: I think you made an interesting not in your piece as well about them being deported because we've seen not only Mattis, the Defense Secretary but also the President himself and the Department of Homeland Security Secretary say that these people will not be deported, they should -- they should not fear --

TAPPER: The ones who are in the military. Yes.

COLLINS: Well, no, not even that. They said also DACA recipients shouldn't be fearful of being deported f a deal is not reached by March 5th, but what tangible, concrete evidence do they have to hang their hat on if at the end of the day that that will not happen? It's just verbal promises, verbal statement from the Department of Homeland Security Secretary and the President, but nothing tangible that says they will not be deported.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about. Next, the reaction to a fusion of politics and art now on display. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:00] REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: Now the Republicans are doing just as bad as Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid did in 2009 and 2010. I think it jeopardizes the future of our country. I cannot use words that describe how dangerous this situation is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama, a deficit hawk, slamming the White House for its budget proposal and the potential spending within the $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. My panel is back with me. Mary Katharine, do Republicans care about deficits anymore?

HAM: No.

TAPPER: That's it?

HAM: No I think -- no, really. So I think the truth is that it is a vocal minority of one party that cares about the math here. And so when you have something like this, when they're in power, they want to spend everybody's money. And frankly, the way that you get the swamp moving as we did this week is that you pay off everyone on both sides. So they do that because it's fun. It gets the wheels moving and they ignore the damage they're doing. And there are -- there's like a constituency of myself and Rand Paul and three Think Tankers who get mad about it. But I don't think that that I is really like a sustainable voting majority. And yes, when they were in the minority and it was easier to complain about spending --

TAPPER: Well, all Republicans -- all Republicans, not just the minority in the Republican Party but all Republicans complain about this.

HAM: That's the thing when you were in the minority and it was easy to yell at someone else but no, I mean, this is an actual problem. Eventually, we will have to answer for math.

POWERS: They just complain. I mean, it's all they talk about, right? This isn't with someone like a little side issue for that. I mean, it was nonstop oh, my gosh, Barack Obama. All he does is spend money and the world is going to end because of the deficit and the debt and everything.

HAM: It actually will.

POWERS: So -- I know, but to now, just turn around.

TAPPER: It did double the national debt.

POWERS: No, no, no, but this was the biggest crisis we're facing literally. And now that they're in control, it is not.

TAPPER: It's pretty -- it's pretty odd. I want to ask you a question, Kaitlan. The President's budget -- and these are just blueprints, this isn't going to become law, but his budget which is like a wish list, it calls for cuts to healthcare spending by caps on Medicaid. The House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded that there's a tweet for everything with a clip to a President Trump tweet talking about how there would never be any cuts to Medicare or Medicaid under him. Obviously, that you know, this isn't necessarily going to happen. It's just a budget wish list but it does seem to be a pretty stark reversal of the President's position to protect Medicaid.

COLLINS: It certainly is. It's something he reiterated time and time again on the campaign trail. And it just shows how many -- how different the President is now that he's president. And we see that but yes, of course, this is not going to happen. A wish list is putting it nicely. This is you know, especially since they just signed a two-year budget deal, this is not going to happen. But I did think it's was funny that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget said he would not have supported this when he was a Congressman.

TAPPER: That was interesting. The national gallery portraits of the Obamas were unveiled today. Some have pointed out that the portrait of Michelle Obama isn't a photographic likeness of hers. And there's President Obama depicted in a bed of flowers, both of them by prominent African-American artists. Beautiful, portraits but certainly not what we're used to seeing in that sort of thing. Did you have any thoughts when you saw -- you don't want to play in this at all? Kirsten?

POWERS: I love these.

TAPPER: You love them both.

POWERS: Yes, I'm not even -- yes, I love -- no I love them. I loved them the first time I saw them. They're fresh, they're different, they're modern, and I don't agree that it doesn't look like Michelle.

TAPPER: You think it looks like her or you think it doesn't matter?

POWERS: I don't think -- I don't think it is a photograph of her but I think it captures her likeness and I think that's what it's supposed to do. I don't think it's supposed to be a picture.

TAPPER: Yes, Mary Katharine, your thoughts?

HAM: I like President Obama's, I'm not a fan of the first lady's portrait. And with President Obama, you get two portraits, that's Obama's and a Bush.

POWERS: Oh no!

HAM: You're right, I did it.

TAPPER: But you -- an Obama and a Bush? You really have no response to this at all? I mean, we should point out, these are not the White House official portraits which are usually much more staid and serious. This is the national portrait gallery portraits which is usually a little bit more of an artistic flair. But you're not going to weigh in at all?

POWERS: Don't push, you'll pressure her.

TAPPER: You're allowed to --

POWERS: Look, I'll take her time. The other important thing to note about this is they're done by African-American artists and I think that you know, the President and the First Lady were really, that was really important to them and I think it has -- maybe it has a different artistic expression than people are used to and that's a good thing.

TAPPER: The one of Obama, Google the artist's name whose name is (INAUDIBLE) right now. He did an amazing one of LL Cool J, it's also in the National Portrait Gallery.

HAM: All right, there you go.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, Kirsten and Mary Katharine, thanks for being here with me. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.