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Interview with Sen. John Kennedy; Interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Discussion of Democrats and Mid-Term Elections; Interview with Tom Perez; Interview with Abdul El-Sayed. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 27, 2018 - 21:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: All right. Thank you very much, Anderson.

I am Chris Cuomo. And welcome to PRIME TIME.

Elections have consequences. President Trump may not be remembered for anything he says or policies he gets through, but the impact of cementing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court during his tenure will make him a relevant figure in history. We have tonight key players on the left and right who may decide if the president's nominee gets a vote.

Republican Senator John Kennedy is here to tell you about what he calls the most important vote he may ever cast.

The stakes in the midterms now higher. The Democrats facing an identity crisis of what we just saw in the New York congressional primary, candidates popping up around the country who are being called socialists.

Tom Perez, the chairman of the DNC, says they are all on the same page. But we have someone else tonight who is saying the Democrats are turning a new page. Is a Muslim progressive millennial doctor running for major office in Michigan the key to a blue wave in November?

What an important night. What do you say? Let's get after it.


CUOMO: All right. I know there is a lot of talk about what Justice Anthony Kennedy's leaving could mean. But let's focus on what it does mean. There is going to be a vote so this would come down to numbers, 51-49 in the Senate right now, Republican obviously. Dems need to knock down a nominee, they're going to need two votes. Where are they going to get votes? They're not going to have anymore if it happens before the election.

Well, Republican senators, Collins and Murkowski, both say they are abortion rights supporters. Now, they also both voted for Neil Gorsuch last time. But with Roe v. Wade potentially on the line with a 5-4 conservative majority, maybe they might make a move to protect reproductive rights.

Now, if Senator John McCain is absent, this gets more interesting now. First of all, we wish the senator the best, we hope he recovers. He's in our thoughts.

And we are not trying to be morbid here, but it is about the math. If he is absent, then it's 50-49. Then it can play out different ways. You could see the Democrats needing one to get to 50. Anything short of that, though, that's where we have the big "but" here, all right?

There is a big if. There are actually two. But on the vote there is a big if. If the Democrats get all their membership, that's where votes like Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin come into play, both are in tight races in red states. In fact, Trump is in Heitkamp's home state of North Dakota right now with a rally working to beat her. Both voted for Justice Gorsuch.

So if one of them defects to the other side, this is over because the best case scenario would be 50/50. That means the Vice President Mike Pence can come in to cast the tie-breaking vote. What a dream that would be for him to tip the scales for a justice that could be the difference on Roe versus Wade.

Now, there is an even bigger if. That's if the vote can be delayed. Who would do that? Maybe Senator Mitch McConnell. Perhaps based on a sudden allergic reaction to hypocrisy because of what he said on the Senate floor in 2016.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country. So, of course, of course, the American people should have a say in the court's direction.


CUOMO: Now, today the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, called out the GOP to stand by what they said then. Will they? That is the single biggest question tonight.

And one of the key players who has to answer the question is Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. He's on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They may make this call.

So we put the question to him. Here it is.


CUOMO: Now, the big question is, will you support what Schumer is asking for, which is to reinforce the McConnell rule, so to speak, which is, you don't confirm, you don't vote on a Supreme Court justice in an election year?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: No, I will not. And here's why -- there is no McConnell rule. There is the Biden Rule, which was established by then-Senator Joe Biden when he was chairman of judiciary. Then-Senator Biden says -- said it is improper to confirm a Supreme Court nominee --


KENNEDY: -- during a presidential election year.

We're not in a presidential election year. We are in a -- have midterm elections, but we have those every two years anyway. We only have a presidential election, of course, every four years.

CUOMO: Do you believe there will be a vote before the midterm election?

KENNEDY: I do. I think there will be a long confirmation hearing. I hope it's orderly, I hope everybody has plenty of time to ask questions.

I know who I'm looking for. I want a cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry. I don't want a hater. I want a whip-smart man or woman who understands the role of the United States Supreme Court, vis-a-vis Congress and the president.

I think Neil Gorsuch was an excellent choice. I don't know if Justice Gorsuch has a twin sister or twin brother but if he does, that's the kind of person I would look for.

CUOMO: So, you want somebody who makes conservative, extreme positions at every opportunity?

KENNEDY: No. That's not what I'm saying. That's not what I'm saying --

CUOMO: That's what Gorsuch has done.


CUOMO: He's voted with Clarence Thomas, not even Scalia as a model.

KENNEDY: Let me make a prediction, Chris.


KENNEDY: I think you -- over the next five or 10 years, you will be very surprised at how Neil Gorsuch votes. Now, I'm not saying he's not a so-called conservative, if some people define that term. But Neil Gorsuch sees his job as looking at a statute and looking at the Constitution and trying to discern what Congress -- or in the case of the Constitution, our founders and the ratifiers and the people who voted for the Bill of Rights, meant.

He is not the sort of person who is going to make policy on his own. That doesn't mean Supreme Court justices don't make policy --

CUOMO: They just did it.

KENNEDY: Of course they do. But they do it within the confines and in the context of a particular case. If you want to be a free-roaming policymaker, you shouldn't aspire to be a federal judge. You ought to go run for the Senate or the House or president of the United States. That's the kind of justice I'm looking for. Let me say it again,

whip-smart, understands the role of the court, is not a hater, will call it like he sees it, will call the balls and strikes, as Justice Roberts once said.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: That's the kind of judge I think Judge Kennedy was and that's who I'm looking for. I don't care about their politics --

CUOMO: Well, Justice Kennedy actually was that because he did make occasional decisions that weren't as expressly partisan as we see from this court --

KENNEDY: That's true.

CUOMO: -- all the time. I mean, look, you know, John Kennedy, you're a plainspoken guy. And it makes you appealing to a lot of people because of that.

You know that there is a game afoot. We always have these men and women come up no matter who's in power at the time and they all say the same thing. They say: I want him to look at the law and the statutes and make it on the basis of that, not politics.

And all the nominees come up and say they'll do exactly that. And then they get on the bench and every decision falls on partisan lines and that's what we're seeing right now, even if that means judicial activism.

This union case, the Janus case, that was existing precedent that the court had agreed on, but now the composition is different and they've made a different ruling. The only difference is politics.

And Trump wants people on there who will echo the sentiments of his voters. And that's who he's going to pick. And you're going to have to live with that.

KENNEDY: Well, Chris --

CUOMO: It's not going to just be somebody who looks at the law and the facts. They're going to look at the politics as well, no matter what they say.

KENNEDY: Well, and -- and that -- and that's one point of view, Chris. And I do realize that some people see it that way.

And I've never been a federal judge, maybe -- certainly not on the Supreme Court, maybe that's the way it works. But I pretend to think otherwise -- I want to think otherwise. I pretend to -- I would want to think otherwise --

CUOMO: But look at Gorsuch. Gorsuch is a living example of this.

KENNEDY: Yes, but he's --

CUOMO: Every decision is --

KENNEDY: No, no, no. No --

CUOMO: -- Very conservative.

KENNEDY: I think you're being unfair to Gorsuch. I don't think he's been on the court, what, one term?


KENNEDY: I think you -- I think you have to look at -- minimum of five years, preferably 10. And I honestly believe that. I wouldn't have voted to confirm him had I not.

I think Gorsuch is a call it as he sees it. And if you look at some of his -- his circuit court -- court opinions --


KENNEDY: -- you would look at them and go, I don't know whether that's liberal or conservative.

CUOMO: Some of them -- you're right.

KENNEDY: Some of them could be liberal.

CUOMO: I remember that during our analysis period of doing it. I looked back at it today, it's true.

On this court, though, the Supreme Court, it's been a little different. But let's leave it at this, Senator Kennedy. Do you believe that you reflect the entire corpus, the body of Republican senators -- do you believe that McConnell will get everybody onboard to pick a Supreme Court Justice now, before the midterms?

KENNEDY: Yes, I do. Now, will everybody get on the board of a particular nominee? It depends on the nominee.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: I've been the only Republican to vote against one of President Trump's nominees. I did it --

CUOMO: But were they good reasons, by the way?

KENNEDY: Yes, and I pretty harshly questioned another one that he withdrew. So I want to see who the nominee is, but I hope the president chooses well, and I have no reason to think he won't. I do think there'll be a vote.

I'm not so naive, Chris, as to think this wont' be a knock down, drag out, in the dirt, bare knuckle -- you know, nose-biting fight.

But it doesn't have to be. I hope we have a rational discussion. Because this is a decision -- this will be one of the most important decisions, if not the most important I will make in the United States Senate.

CUOMO: There are predictions that after this man or woman is chosen, you'll have at least 20 states maybe more who knows? Making up state laws that will change reproductive rights anticipating going to the Supreme Court and maybe a change in one of the most fundamental pieces of law in culture politics that we have today, Roe v. Wade.

So, Senator Kennedy, thank you for weighing in.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

CUOMO: Kindly and importance, sir. Be well.

KENNEDY: Thanks, man.


CUOMO: All right. Let's get perspective from the other side of the aisle. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota joining me. She's also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank you for joining us.


CUOMO: You know, what do I have wrong? I mean, John Kennedy does it in a folksy manner and he's trying to be nice about it, but the McConnell rule, there is no rule. They are having a vote. This is what they were hoping for.

Elections have consequences. And you're going to lose here.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, the one thing I agree with Senator Kennedy on is that this is an incredibly important moment. And the decision here and the person that's going to be put forward literary makes decisions that affect people's lives. And I think it's been really important for us to get it out there to the American people.

Decisions about who they can marry. Decisions about how safe their working conditions are. Decisions about in the past even who can go to school.

And when you look at the 5-4 votes that you pointed out, even in the last week about establishing unions, my mom moved to become a teacher in Minnesota because they had strong teachers' unions. The decisions about refugees, the decisions about voting rights -- those are all cases that were closely decided. And you've got a pre-existing condition case where basically the --

CUOMO: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: -- administration is arguing that you're not going to be able to keep your insurance if you have a pre-existing condition. They can kick you out. That's coming right up to the court.

CUOMO: It all matters. But that's why elections matter. We had one. You have a Republican in there. He's taking the advice from counsel,

also known as the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Group, for who to pick as judges. And he's going to do that.

Can you stop it?

KLOBUCHAR: We can. And that is by getting the American people behind us.

CUOMO: And then what?

KLOBUCHAR: You have seen over the last year whether it is pushing back and we picked up three Republican votes in a dramatic moment to uphold the Affordable Care Act, because of public pressure. We have thrown out some judges that did not make it through the committee or did not even get nominated because of public pressure. Senator Kennedy himself undid one nominee. Those things have happened.

And I will admit this is going to be a tough fight. But I think it is important that we make the case to the American people. And as for the McConnell rule, I have culled through some of the statements of my own colleagues on the Republican side during that year of 2016 when they held up Merrick Garland. Some of them referred to a presidential year, but a lot referred to senators.


CUOMO: Yes, we saw it, too. With McConnell, though, I was trying to box him in with Kennedy. McConnell talked about a presidential year. He did do that. He didn't do it all the time.


CUOMO: But he did do it, and he used Biden as a reference for it. But I guess in the political question for you comes down to, you have -- then have -- you have two plays here. One is can I get people on the other side to forestall a vote until after the election?

KLOBUCHAR: And you have people like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski who have shown to be independent before, especially when it comes to women's rights and privacy rights.

CUOMO: Right. They voted for Gorsuch. But with Roe v. Wade potentially on the table, and the conservative majority as we laid out at the top of the show, maybe they might make a play. But what would do that get you? One, that might be political suicide for them because if they were to forestall a vote and then lose control of the Senate, they would always be forever blamed for that.

But you would just be delaying a vote until after the election in, what, the hopes that you would take over the Senate.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, that can make a major difference --

CUOMO: Oh, yes.

KLOBUCHAR: -- for the hearings and everything else.

CUOMO: Sure.

KLOBUCHAR: And actually, one thing that hasn't come out a lot today is the average time for these hearings is well over 140 days.

CUOMO: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: And that gets you past the election anyway. So, if you look at through history how long these hearings have taken before you have a vote and before confirmation process ends, it is past the election time.

CUOMO: But that's custom, not by rule.

KLOBUCHAR: That's correct. But again, the public pressure and focusing on what matters to the people here, that's on our side. The other thing we have is some Republicans that have shown some independence over time.

Then we have the right to ask questions and ask as many as we want in writing, at the hearing. And we have to be ferocious about it so that the American people know what they are getting here.

CUOMO: But what's the chance that he puts somebody up that you'd be OK with?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't know. It doesn't sound good given that he's been pointing to the number of some of the people that have come out in the top group, a number of those people. I had not supported the top five that they are talking about today or top four.

And so, I -- that's not looking good. But again, I think that my colleagues have to weigh in now. He should be consulting with Democrats and Republicans and people like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

I want a judge who is independent-minded. Justice Kennedy, yes, you get a lot of conservative things.


KLOBUCHAR: When you look at when he showed those incredible, major sparks of independence and when he wrote the case guaranteeing -- the opinion guaranteeing marriage equality --

CUOMO: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: -- when he took a stand and voted to affirm Roe v. Wade, something that is part of his legacy, you look at that kind of independent spirit, someone that brings people together in consensus, that's what we want to see. And that's what --


CUOMO: A couple of votes can make a big difference. But the president doesn't have to consult with anybody. He just needs to get the votes and this is such a prize for him, for President Trump to get a conservative majority. It would cement him in the history books. And that alone may be enough for him to exert every bit of political capital that he has.

But I do appreciate you, Senator, laying out the possibilities. And we will be watching this --


CUOMO: -- very closely.

KLOBUCHAR: His goal may be a prize he's holding up like a trophy. And our goal is to keep the rule of the law in place and to put an independent judge that does -- follows the law and listens to the American people in terms of having a judge like that. That's our job. It's not a trophy. It's the future of America.

CUOMO: Senator Klobuchar, thank you very much for being on the show tonight.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

CUOMO: So, what have we seen? Two giant wake-up calls for the Democrats within 24 hours. The stakes arguably changed with the Supreme Court upheaval. And the players for the Democrats have changed with this shocking upset in New York for the Democratic establishment. It seems to reflect a shift to the far left.

The impact of both of these, huge topic, perfect fodder for the great debate, next.


CUOMO: There were a number of big decisions by the Supreme Court and they all broke against Democratic interests this week, OK? That's the fact.

So what do we know moving forward? The court could be cemented as conservative. Any chance that the GOP would hold the vote after the election? Is there a way the Dems could force that?

How are the Democrats looking in the midterms? Sure, now you have the stakes higher because of this. But are they really going to have a socialist component to their party given the upset in New York that reflects this Bernie acolytes moving into the party?

Let's take it up in our great debate. We have Karine Jean-Pierre and we have Steve Cortes.

So, let's start with how "The Daily News" put it, OK? Here is their cover. We are -- and you can figure out the rest yourself.

You just heard Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota. Karine, the idea of this going one of two ways. One, that Democrats will prevail upon Republicans to vote against Republican interests to keep a conservative judge off the court or that they will honor the people's will not to have a vote until after the election.

Make the case for either of those being realistic.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISOR, MOVEON: I think that we should wait until the midterm elections are over. As Mitch McConnell has said in the past, let's wait -- let's not do these votes during an election. Let's wait until after. Let's the people decide.

Look, everything is on the line, Chris. Everything is on the line. When Donald Trump's choice for the Supreme Court to replace Kennedy is going to erode a decade's worth of work, progress in the LGBTQ community, in the women's right community.

CUOMO: That's what they want. You're making it sound like it's a bad thing. From their perspective, this is what they have been asking for for years.

JEAN-PIERRE: But it's a -- but it's a horrible thing for us, for the majority of the people, for the Democratic Party as I'm here to kind of talk about this side of things. This is a real, real issue here, because here's a thing, even though we talked about how recently the Supreme Court voted on -- you know, they voted in the conservative majority, yes, on the labor organization weakening that, upholding GOP gerrymandering, yes, they have voted that way, but the thing about Kennedy is when it came to -- there were key issues when it deals with LGBTQ community.

CUOMO: Right, he gave you a chance.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, he gave a chance. And he was the deciding vote.

CUOMO: That's true. And it's very unlikely that you get someone else like that.

JEAN-PIERRE: And the folks that we're hearing about, Donald Trump could pick are far right to Kennedy. And that's incredibly dangerous. So, everything is on the line.

CUOMO: All right. So, now, Steve Cortes, of course, you agree with all those assessments. You just see the interests completely in the opposite way. But there is one little hanging item out there.

McConnell in 2016 made this such a big deal of protocol and decorum and the right way to do it and respect what Biden said and let's not do this. And now, he would have to swallow the thought. Do you have a problem with that at all?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I'm not going to defend Mitch McConnell on this. That's up to him to defend that. I would also say, though, there is precedent in 2010. Justice Kagan in a midterm year was approved in three months very quickly right before midterm election. So, it certainly has happened.

But I'm going to leave it to McConnell to depend his own apparent hypocrisy on the issue. I think the more important issue is -- you know, if I can take a quick

look backward to 2016, I think one thing that doesn't talk about enough is one of the main reasons that Donald Trump won, I believe, was the untimely death of Justice Scalia, because that sudden death of that intellectual giant really rallied a lot of conservatives. I can't tell you how many I talked to in 2016, conservatives, particularly religious conservatives who didn't necessarily love then- candidate Trump but they couldn't fathom Hillary Clinton replacing Justice Scalia with her court pick, and so, they voted for Trump.


CUOMO: Oh, there's no question. You heard me say at the top of the show, Steve, no matter what Trump says, no matter what policies he tries to get through, a lot of it at this point are question marks or won't be remembered. But if he cements a conservative majority on the court, he will go down in the annals of history.

Do you believe the Republicans would let this opportunity go by in the interest of doing the right thing, of letting the election happen first?

CORTES: Well, I don't believe that's the right thing, no. And they won't let this opportunity go by.

CUOMO: It was in 2016, though, right?

CORTES: By the way, here's I think an important point --

CUOMO: It was in 2016.

CORTES: Here is an important point. That wasn't my decision. I'm not defending that.

CUOMO: You know, you've got to defend it, my man. You can't just pick and choose. That's why there are two boxes. I'm not asking --


CORTES: No, I'm a Trump guy, I'm not a McConnell guy. I'm not a McConnell guy, I'm a Trump guy.

Here's I think the reality right now, by the way, and what I would say to Karine and those who are worried. Look, if you believe that gay people should be married and if you believe that women should have abortions, if the court would overturn those decisions, the court would not make a marriage illegal, it would not make abortion illegal.

What it would do is say we are sending these decisions back where they belong, to the people and to the states, because federalism works.

CUOMO: That's the problem -- but that's the problem with protected classes.

CORTES: And in places like New York and California --

CUOMO: Hold on, Steve, I get your point. I get your point. But that's what protected classes are all about.

Karine, unless Congress were to come in to define these categories as protected classes then they would be exposed to the vagaries of different states and different standards.

CORTES: Or democracy. Not vagaries.

CUOMO: But we dealt this on race as well. You know, that sometimes the operative effect, Karine, of the supreme law of the land is to say certain things are not OK anywhere any time.

What would happen if you left issues like same-sex marriage or reproductive rights to states? What's your concern?

JEAN-PIERRE: I think that's a lot -- that's a big concern, because we're not there anymore. It is the law of the land, same-sex marriage. You know, we have Roe versus Wade.

So, why should we go backwards when we have already made progress over the last couple of decades? So, this is the thing. We shouldn't have to take us back. We should uphold what we have currently. And that's a very -- I think that's a very dangerous kind of thought.

So, people -- so LGBTQ community people are supposed to feel like, oh, now I have to be concerned? Women's right to choose, now wait, I have to be concerned?

Because if this happens, then in 18 months, if he gets to pick someone who does not believe in the woman's right to choose, then in 18 months, that will be -- abortion will be outlawed.

CORTES: Look, these are --

CUOMO: Steve?

CORTES: These are some of the most fundamental questions of life quite frankly. They are political, moral, philosophical questions. When does life begin? What constitutes marriage? These are serious questions.

This shouldn't be decided by five unelected justices. They should be decided by the people, via legislatures, via the presidency, via governors. It should be decided by negotiation and persuasion, not by judicial fiat.

And that has done great damage to the Constitution and great damage to our society. So, these are important questions. We should handle them the democratic way, small D, through the American process, not by the Supreme Court dictating from on high.

CUOMO: But aren't some things bigger than that? But sometimes there are bigger principles, right? I mean, that's why I brought up race.

Now, look, this point cuts both ways, by the way.

CORTES: Sure. CUOMO: It is an argument for why you need a federal standard. You need one standard overall so states can't make decisions that are out of line with American thinking.

But at the same time, things do change, Karine. This is the rebound of this one point. Plessey v. Ferguson, separate but equal, you know, was the law at one time. It was Supreme Court law at one time. Things changed as the culture changed, thank God, in terms of progress on that issue.

Isn't that why we say elections have consequences?

JEAN-PIERRE: Elections certainly do have consequences. I hope people listen to that and are awake and our side certainly has been energized as we go into the midterm elections. But this thing -- the thing about it, Chris, is same-sex marriage, that became the law of the land just three years ago.

Look how far we came from three years ago. I mean, before three years ago, decades of working on that issue. Why should we take that away or give the potential of that going away? That's incredibly scary. That's not the way we should do this.

CORTES: Because, Karine, you should make your case and convince the American people, not rely on judges to intervene. Convince the people that that's what constitutes a marriage and, by the way, California will end up with very different answers than will Alabama.

And that's fine. That's federalism. That's what our founders want --

CUOMO: Right, but the majority of people do support it.

CORTES. It's the laboratory of democracy.


JEAN-PIERRE: That's the thing. Majority of people do support same- sex marriage. We've moved -- that's my whole point. We have moved a long way in over three, four decades. We have really transcended things.

So, what are you talking about? The majority of people are there. It's Donald Trump who will decide who to pick -- who to pick to put in the Supreme Court to replace Kennedy who is going to overturn -- potentially overturn these things, important issues to people.

CORTES: The court would not make -- the court would not make those things illegal. The court would send it back where it belongs, the legislature, the states.

JEAN-PIERRE: But that's such a dangerous way to look at things. We are talking about real people's lives.

CORTES: Well, that's democracy. People can't be vagaries --

JEAN-PIERRE: No, but we're talking about real people's lives. CORTES: The Constitution --

JEAN-PIERRE: But that's not where we are. Here, where we are currently --

CORTES: The Constitution says nothing about marriage.

JEAN-PIERRE: Steve, where we are currently is that there is potentially a Supreme Court justice that's going to be chosen by Donald Trump that could reverse a lot of important issues for people. And it's not just LGBTQ issues --

CORTES: The Supreme Court should be reversed sometimes.

JEAN-PIERRE: It's not just women's rights. It's also workers as well. Environmental issues we're talking about as well.

CORTES: The Supreme Court was wrong on Dred Scott. It was wrong on Plessey versus Ferguson. It was wrong on Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court at times makes catastrophic errors that should be reversed. I believe Roe v. Wade is one of those examples that should be returned to the people. The Constitution says nothing about marriage, says nothing about when life begins.

Those are political --

CUOMO: It says a lot about equal protections for people under law.


CORTES: Including unborn people, including unborn people.

CUOMO: No, it doesn't make that distinction.


JEAN-PIERRE: It does not make that distinction, Steve.

CUOMO: And, by the way, here is why it gets sticky, OK? We have this conversation. Let's deal with the hardest one, OK, because thank God we have made some room on race. We have a long way to go. It does make the point that things change all the time and culture takes time to change. Law usually comes last.

But Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights, it's so sensitive. When you say, no, they do not regard the fetus as a person under law, which is why it's not a homicide, right? People get angry. They say, you want to kill babies. It's so volatile that sometimes you need a standard of understanding what the Constitution means under law that rises above the simple politics.

We both know, Steve, after this conversation, you know, Karine is going to get beat up, I'm going to get beat up because people will say, well, I'm in favor of life and you want to kill babies which is both not fair because you don't know where we are personally, you know what we are arguing professionally, and me as a journalist encouraging both sides.


CUOMO: But the question is so important, Steve, that if you just leave it down to the will of people, where can you have access to reproductive rights and where can't you, think about what that could mean for people's lives. Don't be insensitive to that.

CORTES: Right, I understand that point because I would argue, it's so important that we can't possibly leave it up to five unelected justices to make the decision.

CUOMO: But that's how the system works.

CORTES: Not in a democracy.


CORTES: Like it did in Dred Scott.

CUOMO: Stare decisis has been around since the 1700s.

CORTES: Dred Scott was stare decisis.

CUOMO: It's true. You need to have really overwhelming proof of an inhumane wrongdoing. And we'll see if that's the standard enough but the idea that --

CORTES: I can't think of something more inhumane than assaulting defenseless unborn baby in the womb. That is not --

JEAN-PIERRE: Women should have the right to choose.


CORTES: -- and positions of millions of Americans.

JEAN-PIERRE: Women should have the right to choose. Nobody should be legislating on what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

CORTES: And we haven't had this debate because of the court. We haven't had this debate because of the court. We should it.

CUOMO: You know what? Look, this is the conversation to have. I know it is uncomfortable. I know it's provocative, but it's going to be real and we're going to have it going forward.

Thank you for giving us a first step tonight. Karine Jean-Pierre, thank you. Steve Cortes, appreciate it.

CORTES: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. I've been saying it all night. And, look, it's just true. You have to deal with it. Elections have consequences, especially when you're looking at the Supreme Court. It's been such a piece of red meat for Republicans to have this chance. Now they have it. It's the theme of the night.

All right. So, to go along with this theme, a big upset win for a progressive candidate in New York. Elections have consequences there, too. Voters chose Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes. She beat a ten-term Democratic opponent.

What does this mean for the future of the Democratic Party? We've got the chairman of the DNC here. He's going to be put to the test, next.


CUOMO: Before today, the Democrats have been hell-bent on taking over the House. But with Justice Kennedy saying he's out, the Senate is in very sharp focus as is a set of tough questions about who the Democrats are.

CUOMO: Joining us now, perfect timing, DNC Chair Tom Perez.

Tom, thank you for being with us on what has turned out to be a huge day.

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIR: Chris, good to be with you.

CUOMO: I have to talk to you about the reverberations to the plans for the House and who just won here in New York, what it means about your party. But, but, but this headline that just shifts all intensity to the Senate, Justice Kennedy, maybe the most impactful decision he has made is when to retire, and that decision comes today.

How does this change the stakes for your party?

PEREZ: Well, our strategy has always been the same, Chris, we're organizing everywhere. You know, we competed in Alabama last year. People thought we were kind of nuts because Democrats can't win down there. We always understood that in the world of Trump, we had to be prepared for consequences just like this. That's why we've been organizing early and organizing everywhere.

And, quite frankly, you know, we're at an inflection point in our nation's journey to form a more perfect union. And what we have to do now is what we've been doing throughout, which is get people out to vote.

CUOMO: But the stakes, Tom, you know, for all of Trump's talk about what he wants to do, Judge Gorsuch and the other judges that are being put through the Senate with McConnell's help, that's his big impact.

How big is this judicial appointment in terms of the future path and the partisan trajectory of this country?

PEREZ: Well, it's undeniably important, Chris, and that's why we're fighting like heck. And we're going hold them to the standard they held Democrats to. In 2016, Mitch McConnell said you shouldn't consider a nomination during an election year. Well, this is an election year. So if we're going to --

CUOMO: Are the Dems able to stall a vote?

PEREZ: Well, we're going to -- I mean, what we're going to do is make sure we uphold the Constitution. I think there's bipartisan consensus that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and if you nominate a judge to the Supreme Court who is not going to uphold Roe v. Wade, that should trigger overwhelmingly bipartisan opposition.

And so, what we're going to continue to do is fight for the Constitution.

CUOMO: Right, but, Tom --

PEREZ: And we're going to make sure that we're -- we're doing our level best. And we need more Democrats, no doubt about it.

CUOMO: Tom, but that -- but, Tom, I get that that's -- you know, that's got to be your goal. You're running the DNC. But, you know, Tom, that's how elections have consequences. We just saw with the Janus case -- I'm sorry, the union and collective bargaining --

PEREZ: Sure.

CUOMO: And what that means for public unions. That was stare decisis too. That was former precedent. Judges can change decisions if they want to and this court has shown that inclination. So Roe v. Wade is only as good as this bench says it is.

The question is, what can you do about it?

PEREZ: Well, we can win elections, Chris. And that's what we're working to do.

CUOMO: But can you take the Senate?

PEREZ: Oh, absolutely. We've got opportunities --

CUOMO: Which races?

PEREZ: Oh --

CUOMO: Because you've got some people who are venerable too, red state Democrats.

PEREZ: Well, hey, we've -- here's -- here's the deal, Chris. We've got opportunities in Nevada. We've got opportunities in Arizona. We've got opportunities in Tennessee, an opportunity in Mississippi, an opportunity in Texas. Five states right there where we have opportunities to play offense.

CUOMO: I'll give you three of those five where you've got a shot, but you have a couple where you're venerable also. And do you think those senators, the Joe Manchin category of Democrat, do you think they'll step up and stall a vote, even though it could hurt them at home?

PEREZ: Well, listen, you know, health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. That is in danger with this Supreme Court. And we have seen Democratic solidarity on issues of health care. And the thing that we have going for us in the Senate races this year, Chris, in these states where we're playing defense, is that we've got a spectacular stable of incumbent Democrats. And that is why I have a lot of optimism that we can take over the Senate.

CUOMO: All right. All right, let me ask you one political question while I have you here on the House side.

This race in New York and this young woman, 28-years-old, who beat a 10-term congressman in Joe Crowley, that matters.

She represents things that are decidedly different than a lot of people in your party. She is left. And she might be left of Bernie Sanders on some issues, saying that ICE has to go. Is that a reflection of who your party will be across the country?

PEREZ: Listen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran a spectacular campaign. And as a Latino, it's inspiring to see another Latina run and win. And she ran because she was focused on the issues that people in her community cared about, just as when Conor Lamb won a few months ago. He was focused on the issues that mattered to people in his districts. And we've been winning elections, Chris, statewide elections, congressional elections, state legislative elections, mayoral, et cetera, because our candidates have been laser-focused on health care, laser-focused on immigration, as Alexandria was doing, laser-focused on --

CUOMO: But her solutions, Tom, Medicare for all. Her solutions on immigration, get rid of ICE. Are those things that the party will adopt as a platform or are you going to leave it to district by district, make the choices that work for you as a candidate?

PEREZ: Well, listen, we believe, as Democrats, that health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. We certainly have a debate about how to get there. And there are differences of opinion among Democrats.

Joe Crowley, who had a -- has had a distinguished career in Congress, was a proponent of the Medicare for all proposal.

So we're going to have -- I think what's most important is where we are united as Democrats. Unity doesn't mean unanimity.

CUOMO: Are you united on single payer? Are you united on that? Is Medicare for all the Democrat position?

PEREZ: No. We are united on the fact that health care must be a right for all and not a privilege for a few.

CUOMO: Right, but what does that mean?

PEREZ: And we have been winning --

CUOMO: What model are you going to adopt, Tom? Are you going to adopt single payer?

PEREZ: There's -- there's many different ways -- there's many different ways, Chris, to get there.

CUOMO: Single payer is a hot button for a reason. I keep saying it for a reason, Tom. I understand the economics. I understand the logistics of it. We're all doing our homework on the journalism side to understand this and it's very complex.

But to voters, what that will signal is a cost shifting that will make health care from the government perspective a lot more of a heavy lift. I -- it's going to cost a lot more money if you go to single payer. And I just want to know, where's your head in terms of whether or not that's where your party is, single payer?

PEREZ: No. Again, our party is, I think, very clear, which is that we believe that health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. Yes, we're having a debate on how to get there. But what's important to know is, the Republicans are having a debate on how to move the ball backward. They want less people to have access to health care. They don't believe that a pre-existing condition matters, that you can be denied insurance coverage for that.

And so I --

CUOMO: That does seem to be on the table for them right now, it's true.

PEREZ: And that's why this nomination matters. There's so much at stake. And I think the most important thing Democrats can do is, don't fret about this. We've got to fight back. We've got to organize and we've got to vote.

CUOMO: Well, I'll tell you what, it's no longer hypothetical. This is an existential battle in terms of political realities and it's all going to come down to November and there's going to be a big eye on the Senate.

Tom Perez, thank you very much for joining me.

PEREZ: It's been a pleasure to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. So, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,, Abdul el-Sayed is gaining popularity as a Democrat with a bold progressive platform some say is simply socialism. He's 33 years young, running as a Democrat for governor in Michigan. And if elected he would be the first Muslim governor in American history.

El-Sayed joins us on PRIME TIME.

Good to see you, Doc.

ABDUL EL-SAYED (D), CANDIDATE FOR MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: Chris, thanks for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here with you.

CUOMO: All right. So, let's make the most of it and get after it.

Where is the party? You know, Nancy Pelosi will say New York, what happened there, is a one-off. Congratulations to her. She ran a good race, but there are characteristics that make it not indicative of us overall. Let's wait and see.

What do you say?

EL-SAYED: Well, I'll tell you, I think the party now is soul searching. What we realized in 2016 is our party lost a lot of voters. And the reason why is we didn't have a message that was inspiring young people, people of color, progressives.

And then people like my Uncle Rick. I'll tell you about my Uncle Rick for a second. He's from the middle of Michigan. I mean, this is a man who's driven truck his whole life. And in 2008, he lost his trucking company.

And he was between a rock and a hard place, because the economy is not back for people like my Uncle Rick. And he said, well, look, I've got one person who won't come to communities like mine and won't talk about why the economy actually isn't back. The talking point, of course, is the economy is back.

And another who is saying, you know what, your pain is real, but here are crazy things that we're going to do about it. We're going to blame it on brown and black people in urban communities. And so, he voted for Trump.

You got to imagine the awkward conversation he and his nephew had. Fact is, is that we've got to find our core. And at the core, we are a party that has always been about people, about how we empower people against big corporations and against the exploitation we have seen for a long time.

This is what our party has always about.

CUOMO: Do you think a little bit of it, Doctor, is about which people? You know, the Democratic Party was the blue collar party. Now demographics in recent election suggest that the party is not white collar, but, you know, higher income level than blue collar, largely about diversity -- women, younger people and minorities -- and that that's the play for the party.

Forget about going back to what you were. Then you have this other inclination within your party that says, no, no, no, we have to reclaim the working class, because they, too, are browning up like the rest of the country and we have to make an overall fight.

What's going to win as those two kind of exigencies?

EL-SAYED: So, Chris, I'll tell you, I don't -- I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I actually think they come together. We've got to remember we have always been about giving opportunities to working people and poor people. Giving opportunities through access to jobs that are union protected that pay a fair wage, $15 minimum, about providing people access to health care, which is a human right, it shouldn't have to have a job, or whatever your job is to be able to afford something like health insurance. You should just have it. And in my community in particular, access to clean water. I live in a

state where our state government poisoned 9,000 kids in the city of Flint.

CUOMO: Well, you're official in charge of what was happening in Flint and that is what motivated you to run for office because of what you were seeing there in Detroit and what you were seeing in Flint. I get that. And I hear what you're doing on the environmental side.

And some of the ideas are provocative. The question is whether they are salable and politically doable. Even -- that's why I kept pushing Tom Perez about single payer. It's not whether I like or don't like single-payer. People simplify my interviews and our debates that way.

It's not about what I like. It's about what you can get done. Single payer, very expensive. The environmental shifts you're talking about near term, expensive. Free college, expensive.

What's the chance of getting them done? Promise versus practicality.

EL-SAYED: Yes. So, I'll tell you, I wouldn't promise something unless it was possible. When I was health commissioner in the city of Detroit, we did things outside the box. Providing kids glasses and, by the way, that was revenue neutral. This is about righting the ship.

I live in a state right now and I aim to govern a state where right now, we subsidize corporations to the tune of billions of dollars. We are the second biggest subsidizer of corporations in the country. Now, we won't talk about paying a fair share. It's about making sure that those corporations pay a fair share, too. We were able to take that money, invest it in things like schools, invest it in things like a 100 percent renewable energy infrastructure, invest it in health care, I bet we'd be a lot better off economically and certainly a lot better off socially.

And that includes people like my Uncle Rick in the middle of the state and people in communities like Flint and Detroit. These aren't mutually exclusive ideals. It's about embracing who we are as a party, as a party that has always been about bringing people together and bringing government so that we can help to solve problems that we uniquely can solve and get out of the way when we're not needed.

CUOMO: So then you get into the political realities of this. You have some Bernie people working for you. You're sympathetic to a lot of his views, reminds me of Ocasio-Cortez in that way. She was obviously an organizer for Bernie Sanders.

But it's not lining up for you well now in the primary. I'm not going to put poll numbers up because they're none that meet CNN's standards. But you're taking a beating now.

You're in third in what's essentially a one-person race now with Whitmer who is a woman, and she is a veteran legislator. A lot of women running, especially on the Democratic side. Now that's seen as progressive change as well, welcomed by most of the party. So, why aren't you doing better?

EL-SAYED: Well, I'll tell you, my job is to have a conversation with the people of the state of Michigan. I travelled all over the state, been to over 120 cities. We've knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. We are building a grassroots movement.

Fact is, polls this early doesn't say anything. If you'd ask about Alexandria's race, who by the way I just find so inspiring in what she was able to pull off is amazing, if you'd look at her race at this point in her race, the fact, she wouldn't have been able to be on the board.

CUOMO: True, fair point.

EL-SAYED: The thing is, that she was able to build a movement of people believing in their politics again. And, look, if you just take the news of the past couple of days, what we've seen is an assault on basic things like union rights, basic things like the fact that you shouldn't allow the president to discriminate against certain groups of people. And we're seeing that assault.

I think Alexandria's star is really just a nice bright light in what is ultimately a cloudy day. And what I know is that when I've had conversations with folks across the state, they are looking for leadership that allows them to believe in the concept and the ideals of America again. My dad immigrated to this country back in 1978 from Egypt, and he took a bet to this society where it shouldn't matter the color of his skin, how he prays, that his name is Muhammad, that he could just as American as anyone else.

We have a responsibility to remind ourselves of who we are and we ought to be and that our government, for people and by people, not for corporations and by corporations, for people and by people, can really be a force for good. And I'm reminding folks that every day and they're reminding me that every day.


CUOMO: It's interesting how it all comes together because, you know, one problem will be if you have people who have somewhat similar, but also two degrees very different ideas within the party, you can say you got a big tent. But if you win, you've got to govern and you've got to come together on things. And if you' have some people talking about how to secure the border and other people saying there should be no ICE, you're going to have some ass fights within your party before you even to dealing with the other side.

But, Dr. El-Sayed, thank you very much for your perspective. It's a helpful one on the show. Thank you.

EL-SAYED: Chris, thank so much.

CUOMO: All right. Don Lemon is standing by with a preview of "CNN TONIGHT," which is, of course, just minutes away.

Very interesting what's going on in the Democratic side, and that turbo charged by what's happening on the Supreme Court.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN TONIGHT": Yes, and well, that's what we're doing to talk about, Chris. Of course, you've been covering all the angles, we are as well. But a couple of new ones for you, because the Supreme Court may have a role in the Mueller investigation because, right, they could decide whether a sitting president can be subpoenaed or indicted. So, stay tuned for that one.

And also, we always talk about elections have consequences, the Supreme Court weighs in on national security and terror issues as well.

General Michael Hayden, you know who he is. He's a former head of the NSA and CIA. He's going to join us. He's going to break it down. Those issues and more in just a few minutes.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

Imagine though, you know, I don't know if you were paying attention to the debate or working on their pretty hair of yours. But, you know, one of the arguments that was made, hey, you know Dred Scott was wrong, Plessey v. Ferguson was wrong. But look at it in the adverse.

Look at it -- if you reverse it, what would happen if you had a court come up and say, well, you know what, though, Brown versus Board of Education, you know, maybe, let's just leave it to the states.


CUOMO: Certain questions are too big just to be left to states and have a randomness on what must be absolute. That's what makes the stakes so big, don't you think?

LEMON: Yes, and what we have to remember is that even decisions that came for women's rights, or rights for minorities, for black and Latino peoples' civil rights, the majority of the country was not always on the side of those issues.

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: It took them a while to get there. So, by handing it over just to random states, I think it's a very dangerous precedent to set.

CUOMO: Yes, Don Lemon, see you in a second.


CUOMO: All right. So, tonight, if you've been watching, we have tackled some of the big stories of the day. But you know what happens in the media sometimes, we get overwhelmed with the immediate and we get a little myopic in our focus and sometimes stories get through, and you don't hear about them that you should not.

Not on my watch. We have some important updates for you. Stay with us, next.


CUOMO: Welcome back to CPT.

This is a monumental day for America because of the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. No question about that.

But there are other stories that you shouldn't ignore, and we won't, not on my watch.

Anyway, the first one is this, North Korea. You got to keep your eye on this situation. Satellite pictures show the rouge regime is upgrading, not dismantling at least one of their nuclear sites, despite Kim Jong-un's pledge at the Singapore summit.

What does that mean? It means the threat is not over. There is no guarantee of anything. So, we will keep watching.

Two, President Trump's pick to head the Veterans Affairs Department, Robert Willkie. He was on the Hill today for his confirmation hearing. He's a controversial nominee, one time defender of Confederate symbols. He built a career working fort the likes of Jesse Helms. But also Trent Lott and Donald Rumsfeld.

Is he the best Trump could find? Will he past muster? We're going to keep watch.

Also, the family separation crisis, what's happening on the border and now all over the country, very much still happening. The executive order did not stop it as promised. You won't hear the president talk about this at his rallies like tonight, but we will because more than 2,000 children are still separated from their parents in custody.

And for all the talk about how its over and they're fixing and reuniting, six kids have been reunited with their parents since the day the president signed that order on June 28th, six out of more than 2,000 (AUDIO GAP) administration, HHS numbers released yesterday. We will stay on it because it matters.

And thank you to all of you for watching us tonight.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon is going to start right now -- Don.