Return to Transcripts main page


Kavanaugh Confirmation Fight; House Congressional Races; Trump Plans to Campaign. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks so much for joining us on this Labor Day. "INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special Labor Day edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

The president's second nominee for the Supreme Court preps for his grilling this week on Capitol Hill, while Democrats fume over the White House holding back over 100,000 documents related to Brett Kavanaugh.

And as the president ramps up his September travel schedule, Republicans in tight midterm races are split about whether to run with him or without him.

Plus, President Trump begins Labor Day tweeting about economic wins, attacking a union boss, and Joe Biden is joining union marchers and getting a few shout-outs for 2020.


QUESTION: What's your message about what's at stake here in the midterms, sir?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Everything. It's simple, everything. We're in a fight for the soul of America here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Mr. Biden, we've got -- we've got your vote. (INAUDIBLE) you're going to win. (INAUDIBLE). You got it. I'm telling you, you can do this. We need you. (INAUDIBLE). We need you, brother.


BASH: We begin with a legacy making week for the president and a painful lesson in simple math for Democrats. The president's second nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Opening statements tomorrow, questioning starting on Wednesday. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cried cover-up over the weekend after the administration shielded some 100,000 pages of documents on the nominee. Urging from -- urgency, rather, from Schumer and others reflects the far-reaching implications of this nomination. If Kavanaugh reaches the bench, conservatives will outnumber liberals on the court, likely altering lots of aspects of everyday life in America for a generation. Democrats say Kavanaugh's commitment to Roe v. Wade is too flimsy, and his view of executive power is too tilted toward the president.

But whatever bruises Kavanaugh takes in his hearing, it probably won't change the math. Democrats are outnumbered on the committee and also in the full Senate. His confirmation depends more on two Republicans than anything Democrats can say or do.

CNN's Joan Biskupic joins me now.

And, Joan, you have been covering fights like this for a long time. You know the court as well, if not, better, than anybody. Senators are going to try to cover a lot of ground this week. What big issues are you hearing from your sources they're going to focus most on?


And you're right, this is legacy making. We're about to start one of the most important weeks with huge consequences for decades for the Supreme Court. I would put them in two categories, Dana, social policy issues, like abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action, and then also executive power, given the fact that right now President Trump is under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team looking into the Russia interference in the 2016 election.

But let's start with the social policy ones. You mentioned Roe v. Wade. Senators will be asking for his sentiment on any chance that he would vote to reverse that 1973 precedent. He voted last year in the one abortion case that's come before him, and in that case he dissented as the full D.C. circuit voted to allow a pregnant teenager held in an immigration detention center to have an abortion. In his dissent, Judge Kavanaugh talked about government's interest in fetal life. He said that this young woman should have been forced to get a sponsor before her abortion. So I am sure senators will be asking about that decision.

They'll probably ask about gay marriage and affirmative action also, because just like with abortion, new Justice Kavanaugh would be the swing vote because his predecessor, Anthony Kennedy, controlled those issues.

The other area will be executive power, again, because of the investigations now ongoing. As you probably remember, Brett Kavanaugh worked for Ken Starr, but then he served George W. Bush. And he said that he believes in more protections for the president against investigations, and I'm sure senators will ask about that.

BASH: Absolutely. And, again, we cannot underscore enough the --


BASH: Importance of this particular seat that the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, is gone and this is the nominee to fill that seat.

Thank you so much, Joan. We're going to be seeing a lot of you over the next week.

Here with me at the table to share their reporting and insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Jeff Mason with "Reuters," David Drucker with "The Washington Examiner," and CNN's Manu Raju.

[12:05:00] Manu, let me start with you. You've been talking to your sources as well. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, talking to Senate Democrats today, they really plan to hone in on four key areas in the questioning this week. the questioning will beginning on Wednesday. The four areas include untruthfulness, referring to specifically the 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings when Brett Kavanaugh came before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They believe he was not truthful in his testimony in some key areas, his involvement on some wire-tapping issues and as well as detainee policy and as well as three federal judgeships that they say that he was more involved than he let on during that testimony.

But also the Affordable Care Act. Of course there's that very controversial Texas case that is going through the courts right now that he may have a chance to rule on and that could ultimately undercut the ACA and the pre-existing conditions in particular that the Democrats are concerned about that he may strike down.

But also on executive powers, as Joan was just mentioning, how he views investigations of a sitting president and not -- and perhaps most significantly on Roe. They believe that his private comments to senators that Roe versus Wade is settled law is not enough. They plan to poke holes in that to suggest that he would not be a reliable vote and could very well overturn the landmark ruling.

BASH: You mentioned one of the things that Democrats are going to look for is his truthfulness. And it's a reminder that Kavanaugh, obviously, is a sitting federal judge. And back when he was nominated for that, it was a very, very intense fight. We have a flashback for you from 2004. Senator Dick Durbin, who was on judiciary then, will -- is on now. Will be questioning him. Watch what happened then.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: As I look through all of the different issues that you have been involved in as an attorney in public service and private sector, it seems that you are the Zella (ph) for Forest Gump of Republican politics. You show up at every scene of the crime.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: Well, senator, my background hasn't been in party politics. I've been a lawyer for clients, working for judges and Justice Kennedy, working in the Justice Department.


BASH: He has been on a fast track for this role for a long time, which is part of the reason why Democrats way back then, what was it, 14 years ago, tried to sort of rough him up a little bit politically.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And there was some truth to what Durbin was saying in the sense that Kavanaugh has shown up at all these pivotal moments in political history, but particularly his role in the Clinton investigations of that era are one that really Democrats -- probably at that --

BASH: He worked for Ken Starr.

PHILLIP: He work for Ken Starr at that time. And the interesting transformation in his views on executive power is something that it will be interesting to see how that plays out. He started out in an investigation that a lot of Democrats think was going off of the rails and then later changed his view of that same investigation of the inquiries that he was helping to lead to say that he believes that the president should be more protected from those kinds of things. So he's had an interesting history and has had his hand in some of the most controversial moments of the last 20, 25 years in politics, not just in law.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "REUTERS": And as a result of that, there's a massive paper trail that he has produced from being a judge, from being a lawyer, from being a White House aide. And that's why Democrats want their hands on as much of that paper as they can possibly get. And Senator Schumer has suggested that they might sue the National Archives if they can't get all of that material before these hearings begin.

BASH: One of the really interesting, maybe it's inside baseball, but it actually has a lot of reach, the whole question of Democrats and the outside groups and the power that they're trying to amass to put pressure on fellow Democrats, it is a relatively new phenomenon. We have seen this with Republican elected officials getting pressure from, you know, conservative groups on a whole host of issues, including and especially when a judge or a Supreme Court nominee is up.

Brian Fallon, who was a long-time aide to Chuck Schumer, the now Democratic leader, was press secretary to Hillary Clinton. He is leading the charge, raising money, running ads, and is very aggressive at his fellow Democrats.

Watch him on CNN just last hour.


BRIAN FALLON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WE DEMAND JUSTICE: What's the point of even Democrats showing up? If I were them, I'd consider walking out of the hearing tomorrow. You cannot act like this is business as usual. I think any Democrat that votes for Brett Kavanaugh is risking suppressing the historic level of enthusiasm we're seeing right now from Democratic voters because there's no reason why any red state Democrat should feel any political pressure whatsoever to have to support this nominee.


BASH: It's a test what we're going to see over the next coming weeks for Democratic Party unity, pressure again from the left, just as we've seen from conservatives. I'm not so sure that they're the same kind of animal. DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER":

Well, look, Dana, this is what happens when you're in the minority and you don't hold the White House is the base gets very anxious, and they get very aggressive. And, obviously, you have a lot of energy. And we're going to see that in the midterm elections because of such deep dissatisfaction with President Trump.

[12:10:14] But I think that it's easy for Brian Fallon, who we all know very well and is a very good operative, to say that no Democrat should vote for Brett Kavanaugh. If you're not Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, if you're not Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Joe Manchin in --

BASH: Democrats in red states..

DRUCKER: Yes, because, guess what, in those red states, they're not just red states. They're red states that really like the president, both personally and his policies. And, in fact, I think that it's a big mistake for Democrats in theory to try and hold this vote after the midterm elections because all of a sudden Republicans can run on this idea that you better help us retain control of Congress or you're not going to get your conservative judge.

And when have we seen this work in practice? We saw it work in 2016. Many Republicans will tell you that one of the things that helped them win was turning that entire contest into a race about who was going to end up in the seat now held by Neil Gorsuch. And so I think that is a big miscalculation for Democrats to not just get this thing done because they have zero power to stop it. And I think we've seen some of the regrets with Amy Klobuchar saying -- the senator from Minnesota -- saying this past weekend, maybe we shouldn't have begun the nuclear option of changing the rules.

BASH: Yes.

Well, let me -- let me now drill down quickly on some of the issues. One of the big issues, of course, you mentioned is going to be Roe v. Wade. I talked to Lindsey Graham, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee, about this question yesterday on "State Of The Union."


BASH: Do you hope Kavanaugh does overturn Roe v. Wade?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, here's what I hope he'll do. If there's a case before him that challenges Roe v. Wade, that he would listen to both size of the story, apply a test to overturn precedent. Precedent is important, but it's not invalid.


RAJU: I mean that's -- that's really what's going to be a huge line of questioning going forward. And what's -- what the ultimate goal of the Democrats is going to be is to try to make him seem, you know, hostile to Roe v. Wade or evasive in the hopes of convincing two key Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, who are more supportive of abortion rights, to say that we can't trust him to uphold Roe v. Wade because, at the end of the day, it's really going to all come down to those two Republican senators because if they flip, the chances of those red state Democrats defecting will be much harder. And so -- but if they vote for him, it's a lot easier in some ways for some of those red state Democrats to vote for him. So that is the real challenge for Kavanaugh heading into tomorrow. How does he navigate the issue of Roe v. Wade and will that be satisfactory to those two key senators?

BASH: It is so hard -- it is so hard for him to navigate.

David, you mentioned -- excuse me, Jeff, you mentioned that he's got a paper trail, Brett Kavanaugh. He also has a television trail. He was on CNN back in the day in 2000. A great show called "Burden Of Proof." Watch what he said.


BRETT KAVANAUGH: I think presidents can pack the court, but it takes a lot of political capital and willpower to do it. And most presidents don't want to expend a lot of political capital on a Supreme -- a bloody Supreme Court nomination. And we've seen that time and again depict the consensus pick who turns out to be more moderate.


PHILLIP: Well --

BASH: Not so much.

MASON: Yes, not so much is right. And I think it goes again to -- there's just so much material on this guy and that the Republican -- the Democrats, in particular, are looking for as many of those types of sound bites as well as written sentences they can use in those hearings.

DRUCKER: And I think it's important to understand, Republicans wanted somebody with a paper trail because they're concerned that they're going to nominate somebody who will end up more moderate over the years.

BASH: Yes.

MASON: Sure.

DRUCKER: So they want proof that somebody is grounded in conservatism and originalism.

PHILLIP: And, let's face it, Kavanaugh would never have been on the short list if he weren't already preapproved by some of the most conservative groups out there.

BASH: Yes.

PHILLIP: That's the reason he's where he is today, not because we don't know. BASH: That's such an important point as we go to break. President Trump, I think, in large part, got the Republican nomination over all those others --


BASH: Because he smartly put out a list, it was kind of unprecedented --


BASH: Of conservatives he would promise to put on the bench, and that is what kind of gave these -- especially evangelicals who were not so sure about a guy who was, you know, married three times, OK, we got you.

PHILLIP: Absolutely.

BASH: We got you. You got our back.

OK, before we go to break, some confirmation hearing pointers, perhaps, Brett Kavanaugh could take from the now Chief Justice John Roberts. Keep it simple, and sports metaphors, they never hurt.

[12:14:37] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: And I will decide every case based on the record according to the rule of law without fear or favor to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.



BASH: Welcome back.

The president says his agenda is on the line in November's congressional elections. New signs today that his party's midterm hopes are, in fact, grim, particularly GOP control of the House.

CNN is moving 11 congressional seats away from Republicans and towards Democrats. Only three seats are moving towards the GOP. Of 30 seats that CNN considers toss-ups, 28 are held by Republicans and 12 are running in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016. For Clinton district Republicans, the president's brand is toxic, and some Republican groups are now making events to separate vulnerable candidates from the president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: America is a nation of immigrants. That's why Congressman Will Hurd is working to protect the dreamers, standing up against his own party, because Will Hurd knows we can defend our borders and protect dreamers.


[12:20:00] BASH: So Will Hurd is one of those classic vulnerable Republicans in the House, and yet we see a pretty heavy travel schedule by the president in this month, in September, mostly focusing on some of those red states that we were talking about in the last segment.

Check that out. I'm told he is going to go to North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, and Tennessee, all in the month of September.

Our White House reporters, what does that say to you?

MASON: Well, and he's also doing that in addition to having to spend a few days in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. So he's packing in trips.

And I think the White House really views his ability to influence these elections as critical. I mean, and you see that in his tweeting. You see that in his travel schedule. They believe, and he has shown, that if he gets active, if he gets out there, he will energize the base that will come and help him preserve that majority that he wants to keep.

BASH: And my sense -- and my sense, Abby, is -- I don't know if you're hearing this too -- is that he wants to get out and be with these candidates as much, maybe even more than the candidates want his help.

PHILLIP: Absolutely. My sense is that the president is the one who believes that his political power is perhaps more potent than it might actually be. But he can do some really important things. I mean check where he's going just this week. He is targeting some red state Democrats, trying to potentially flip some seats or at least make it harder for Democrats to hold on to them. He's also raising money. So these are kind of critical things that he really can do. He can raise money that Republicans are going to need in order to fight the battles in the places that he simply can't go.

But the president has been talking about the red wave. No one thinks there's going to be a red wave except for perhaps the president. And the extent to which he is being realistic about that or is just trying to change the narrative, it's unclear. But there's a really big distinction between the president's views on this red wave thing and what Republicans actually think is going to happen.

RAJU: And the ultimate question too is, at what point does he view and Republican leadership, both sides ultimately view, is that the Senate ultimately becomes the fire wall to keep the Senate because the House is looking more dire almost by the day. You talk to most Republicans around town. They believe that it's a very small chance of them keeping the House at this point. The map is just so daunting. It looks worse by the day. The Senate's map still very favorable to the Republicans. But in a Republican -- in a Democratic wave, you never know what happens to the Senate. So at what point do they really hone in to try to keep those Senate seats. BASH: And I have a key example of the point that you just made, which

is such an important one, Manu. Tennessee, it's a vacated Republican seat. Bob Corker is retiring. Marsha Blackburn wants to fill it. And the ad that she's running in red, red Tennessee, probably not surprisingly, wraps her arms around the president.


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: I'm Marsha Blackburn, and I approve this message.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Phil Bredesen was recruited by Schumer to run for the Senate.

Bredesen donated a lot of money to Hillary Clinton.

Phil, whatever the hell his name is, this guy will 100 percent vote against us every single time.


BASH: Now, that's happening in Tennessee. And as you answer this, David, I want to put up one other example that's maybe less of a sure thing in Virginia, which is a purple state. Cory Stewart, the Republican candidate for Senate there, is putting up tweets showing how much the president supports him.

DRUCKER: Yes, look, Manu makes a great point about how people in Washington are looking at this midterm election. A lot of lobby shops around town are starting to interview Democrats, preparing for a Democratic chairman in the House. But it really, this midterm election, is so fascinating because it's a tale of two campaigns. On the Senate side, Republicans have so many pick-up opportunities because the map is so starkly different. And that ad from Marsha Blackburn that you showed is not desperation. It is smart politics.

Now, Phil Bredesen is a very formidable Democrat. I kind of think of him as a unicorn candidate because he's so well-liked in Tennessee, which has become so Republican, even though he's a Democrat. But the best thing Marsha Blackburn could do to win this race is tell everybody, look, at the end of the day, he's a vote for Schumer and the Democrats and I'm with President Trump. And so that's why you're seeing the president's schedule taking him to these red states. He's even going now in October to help Senator Ted Cruz, who's found himself in a big heap of trouble because they're thinking of turning out all of those voters in the (INAUDIBLE) and rural Texas to help him deal with his problems in the suburbs. And so there's a lot the president can do, even while at the same time the party is in so much trouble in the House.

BASH: Yes. One more example. You mentioned the House. Of a House Republican who is just, you know, twisting herself into a pretzel trying to, you know, get away from the president, Barbara Comstock, Republican from northern Virginia, not too far from here, in a statement, our public servants have been getting shortchanged for years. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our federal employees and I will work with my House and Senate colleagues to keep the pay increase in our appropriations measures that we vote on in September. A slap at the president for freezing federal pay increases.

[12:25:19] PHILLIP: Yes. I mean those suburbs -- I mean, Barbara Comstock is a classic example of a suburban district that is not a good place for the president to even be heard of or from. And this issue of federal worker pay has been an interesting show of how this White House works. They announced that they're -- they opposed the pay increase, only to find out from some vulnerable Republicans, namely in Virginia where there are a ton of federal employees, so that may not be a great idea. The president then says later, oh, I might think about changing it.

But it just goes to show the president needs to do no harm, including to some of these people like Barbara Comstock and even a Cory Stewart in Virginia, who just need him to not do any harm, especially with suburban voters, and let them run their races.

BASH: So well said.

All right, everybody stand by because up next, on this Labor Day, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are making their cases to unions. Their push to woo the working class voters before the midterms. We'll talk about that, next.