Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Washington Post: White House officials Eyeing Payroll Tax Cut in Effort to Reverse Weakening Economy; FEC Chair Calls Out President Trump over Baseless Voter Fraud Claims. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

There is breaking news tonight. There is new reporting in "The Washington Post" on White House discussions at a senior level of another tax cut to head off a possible economic slowdown.

Now, "The Washington Post" is citing three people familiar with the talks who say the White House is looking at a possible cut in payroll taxes and that talks are in the early stages. In the meantime, the White House is knocking down this idea saying, telling us that cutting payroll taxes is not under consideration at the this time. They said the same to "The Wall Street Journal".

Now if "The Post's" three sources have it right, what is significant is this move would be evidenced that within, the White House there is real concern the economy would be weakening, which is not the message they have been saying publicly. In fact, they are running a media campaign of denial and deflection and scapegoating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This is not the way we say it and, of course, it's nice to have the mainstream media finally covering the economy but they only cover it when they can use Sesame's Grover word of the day, recession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Grover, by the way, is my favorite long-time resident of Sesame Street. I'm just going to go on record on that. He's furry, he's blue, what's not to like?

He's not an economist, though. One other hand, this guy is. He's chief economist to Morgan Stanley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHETAN AHYA, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MORGAN STANLEY: I opt for 25 percent on the balance $300 billion of imports from China and stay there four to six months time, and China does take counter measures similar to overnight, then we will see global economy entering into recession in three quarters time, nine months time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: He was focused as apparently the White House may be on a number of policies and economic indicators that could signal trouble ahead, trade war of China, bond prices slowing business investment.

Now, thankfully, none of those indicators guarantee a recession and not every economists sees the same degree of danger, but few are dismissing it entirely, except, it seems, members of the administration, at least, publicly who have been doing this media blitz the last few days, and whose words ring especially false if "The Washington Post" reporting bears out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I think we're in pretty good shape and I want to just say, you know, we should not be afraid of optimism. I don't know what it is, everybody wants to talk about pessimism, recession.

DANA PERINO, FOX NEWS HOST: Is that why the president --

KUDLOW: There's no recession on the horizon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Does it sound like everybody's yelling nowadays? Maybe that was just me.

That was Larry Kudlow. For the record, he predicted higher economic growth for the last two years, and the economy actually saw. So, he's certainly, let's say, an optimist, just not a good economic forecaster, which he was asked about on another Sunday show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS HOST: OK, you say that. But, you know, you actually said that in 2007 right before the second worst down turn in American history. This is what you wrote.

There is no recession coming. This is in December of '07. The pessimistas were wrong. It's not going to happen. The Bush boom is alive and well. It's finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come.

The more to come was a massive downturn. So, I admire your optimism, but the data is pointing in another direction.

KUDLOW: Well, I plead guilty to that late 2007 forecast. I plead guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, yes, there is nothing else you can do. It's on the record.

As for Vice President Pence today, he cited a whole new kind of economic indicator, two guys who like beer and the beach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These two fellows walk by on the beach, true story. Couple of big guys wearing Budweiser t-shirts, one of them looked over at me and said hey, you're Vice President Mike Pence. I said yes, I am. And he said, well, listen, he said you got to tell the president that he's got to keep doing what he's doing because I made twice as much money last year as I made the year before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Which very possible and if it is true, that's great for them. We all should do twice as well next year, but signs are we won't or at least the economy could slow considerably.

Now, administration is looking to put any possible blame for a slowdown elsewhere, which means queue the attacks on the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONWAY: I think what has changed is that the two and a half years of the collusion hunt and the Mueller report were a big dud, and so, now, they are searching around and they are trying to burrow into the president's number one issue in the polls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The memo must have went out with talking points because the media is also being blamed by spokesperson Hogan Gidley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, they have tried systematically to destroy this president even before he was sworn into office. You saw it with the marches on Washington, D.C., before he had passed a policy or pushed some type of proposal. It happened from sun up until sun down, the media has been complicit and compliant with those efforts. But, listen, first, they pushed Russia, then they pushed racism, and now, they're now pushing a recession.

[20:05:00] The fact, this economy is doing better than it ever has before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The president set the tone, though, for this particular talking point, last week tweeting: The fake news media is doing everything they can to crash the economy because they think that will be bad for me and my reelection.

Today, he also blamed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, the person he appointed, quoting now from his tweet: channel: 100 date: 08/19/2019 time started: 20:05 time ended: 20:10 comments: Our economy is very strong despite the horrendous lack of vision by J. Powell and the Fed. But the Democrats are trying to wield the economy to be bad for purposes of the 2020 election. Very selfish.

Our Jim Acosta joins us with more on the story and the White House's denial on this "Washington Post" story about possible consideration of tax cuts.

Jim, earlier I said there must have been some memo that went out with talking points about the economy. I understand it turns out there actually was a memo that went out with talking points about the economy.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There were talking points that went out. Some of the White House surrogates earlier today, Anderson. They were essentially, according to this one source close to the White House, an extension of the president's rhetoric and tweets, these talking points describe the U.S. economy as the best in the world and the White House is predicting in these talking points that the economy is going to remain strong through the 2020 election.

But, Anderson, when they are knocking down reports that a payroll tax cut is under consideration, that's a pretty big deal. That is indication that they are talking inside this White House about ways to boost the economy and this White House official I spoke with earlier this evening, while knocking down this motion they may go after some sort of payroll tax cuts, and other tax cuts are under consideration. And so, they are looking at options it seems right now, Anderson, to try to juice in economy.

Meanwhile, the president is denying that there is really anything wrong with the economy right now. He's proclaiming it to be just fine. But make no mistake, when Larry Kudlow, the top economic adviser, is scheduled to go on calls throughout the rest of this week with business leaders and state and local officials to reassure those officials that everything is just fine with the economy, there is growing concern inside this White House and mirror what's happening across much of the rest of the country and particularly down on Wall Street -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta from the White House -- Jim, thanks very much.

Joining us now somebody who like Jerome Powell the president hired but soon tired of, Anthony Scaramucci, who famously served 11 days as White House communications and is now working to defeat his old boss next fall.

Anthony, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

The administration -- I'm wondering what you make of this "Washington Post" story. And again, "The Washington Post", three sources, White House saying not true, that they are looking at in early stages, according to "The Post", a cut in the payroll tax. And I'm wondering, A, what you make of that? And the fact they are denying it, would that be significant to you? ANTHONY SCRAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well,

you know, look, on the margin, I mean, I think that was tried after the 9/11 attacks and then there was also a tax rebate after the 9/11 attacks. And on the margin, it did improve consumption. But the problem with those sorts of things is that, you know, consumers plan for that and a lot of consumers will take a big portion of that and save it because they know that there is an impending downturn coming.

So, economists are mixed on that. Some think it improves it. Some think it's neutral. I would suspect that people are fearful out there because if you talk to business leaders and the smaller business community, they are quite fearful.

One of the big indicators for me, Anderson, remember, I'm running $10 billion of capital, is the trucking industry. You can tell in the trucking industry in terms of where shipments are whether or not the economy is going to be robust over the next two or three quarters. So, right now, it's probably a 60 percent chance we'll have a recession by the second to third quarter of 2020.

COOPER: How worried do you think the president should be about reelection prospects if -- I mean, if that 60 percent turns out to be right? I mean, if it's not doing as well come November, how much do -- you know, his futures based on the economic future?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, let me just say this. These important people know I do not want there to be a recession. I want there to be aggressive wage growth --

COOPER: Of course.

SCARAMUCCI: -- for all Americans and I definitely do not want there to be a recession. So, some people are saying they want a recession to have the president lose reelection. That is not me.

But, yes, if there is a problem with the economy, that will put very thin ice under his candidacy because again, if you look at the style of points, the manifestations of his tweets today, which are constantly in delirium, I think it's scaring people, and one of the talking points that I hear from Republicans -- well, it's the economy and we could be going up against a socialist. So, I'll hold my nose and do this. But if he's really fully weakened the economy, I think those people will change their minds very quickly.

So, unfortunately, they made one large bet. It's an economic bet and he's also -- I mean, the way he's talking about the Federal Reserve chairman, that is literally the way a head of a banana republic would talk about their central bank.

And so, again, I'm astonished that the politicians and Republicans in my party that believe in the regulated free market, again, a regulated free market are not speaking out about that because it's very important for the Constitution and trust in our capital markets that we leave some independence for the Fed and those governing agents at the Federal Reserve.

(CROSSTALK)

[20:10:17] COOPER: Look, I mean --

SCARAMUCCI: It is a very complicated situation because we're in new territory on every different front. I mean, the guy is attacking individual citizens. He attacked my wife gratuitously this morning for no reason. He's attacking the Federal Reserve chairman. He's got the entire GOP using their Twitter feed to attack fellow Republicans like me.

I mean, this is down the checklist of authoritarian behavior and it is very disconcerting to what I call the normal group of people in the United States that are moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans.

And so I'd love to see it end.

COOPER: Yes.

SCARAMUCCI: And we're working on it.

COOPER: I want to put on the screen something the president tweeted today because obviously this has been going on for quite awhile between you two. He tweeted out: Anthony Scaramucci is a highly unstable nut job who was with other candidates in the primary who got shellacked, and then unfortunately wheedled his way into my campaign. I barely knew him until his 11 days of gross incompetence-made a fool of himself, bad on TV. Abused staff.

The -- well, it goes on. Got fired. Wrote a very nice book about me just recently. Now, the book is a lie?

And then he goes on about your wife.

It's kind of amazing though his willingness and his first go to thing is to disassociate himself from anybody he ever embraced. I mean, it's Jerome Powell. Right now, it's you. He's done to just about everybody.

SCARAMUCCI: I'm OK with that. That's --

COOPER: But it's a sign of -- it's not a standup guy.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARAMUCCI: Now, come on. I had to go on the Keto diet so he didn't call me a fat slob on top of evening else. I mean, look, this is what he does. He has a checklist of things.

He didn't know me. I got fired like a dog. All this other stuff. I actually don't care at this point.

You know, I'm 55 years old. I have five beautiful kids. I'm really thinking about my children in this whole thing and I have to sit down and look at the future of the United States and the level of division that he's creating. He wants to personally attack me and try to shame me, I get the

motivation for that because his entire cabinet like hates his guts and most of the Congress. And so, you know, he's got to do that because he's very, very afraid that the dam is going to break and the insiders are going to say hey, no mas, we can't take it anymore. And when that happens, like I told your colleague John Berman, it's like the wicked witch of the west, the water gets thrown, the witch smelts. And then the gray soldiers are like, gee, Dorothy, I'm sorry about that. The perceived power of witch had me scared and I was quite frightened.

And so, I'm telling my fellow Republicans and my fellow Americans, there is absolutely no reason to be frightened. We have to come together now and call this for what it is and if we do that and we do that together, we can beat it back and we can get a really experienced Republican candidate to go against some of the Democratic adversaries that have already been declared.

There may be dark horses that come in later. But this is something that we absolutely need to do. Look, take a look at the word salad that the president put up against me. I mean, it's very laughable.

And he is doing a little projecting because -- I mean, I'm a lot of things. I'm not tall and I'm not that thin and I'm definitely not nervous, Anderson.

So, this is a lot of projecting going on for the president. It's sort of sad in a lot of ways. I don't like it personally because he is the leader of our country and I'd like him to settle down and focus on the problems that are right in front of us --

COOPER: Right.

SCARAMUCCI: -- as opposed to the ad hominem attacks going on right now. They won't work. It's a playbook that worked in '16. It's not going to work now. Everyone knows the playbook now. It's a tired playbook. It's not going to work.

COOPER: It does seem like he has an extraordinary amount o time on his hands, whether it's to watch Fox News or other cable shows or tweet. When you were there, I mean, does -- what -- you were there for 11 days. I know not a huge amount of time, but does he -- what is he doing all day?

SCARAMUCCI: I -- you know, I don't know the answer to that. I don't think it's fair for me to give you an 11-day sampling of what he was doing all day.

And, you know, I can tell you what I was doing all day, which was -- you know, I was interviewing the staff and try to figure out what was going wrong with all the leaking and I was genuinely from the bottom of my heart because I loved my country and I worked for the campaign and the transition was actually trying to help.

I made mistakes. I'm accountable for those mistakes. I got fired. General Kelly fired me. It turns out he and I built a very nice relationship with each other post-fact. I don't have any grudges and I don't take any of this personally.

This is really about the country. This is like step back, be brave, be courageous, look at the entire country.

When you're going to bed tonight, close your eyes and say, wait a minute, is this how it's supposed to be in my country?

[20:15:05] The country I love. Is America supposed to be like this?

I know I'm worried about my 401(k), but what about the fabric of my country? What about the division that's being sowed and the hatred? Is this what I want? And I'm hoping, if you guys will wake tomorrow morning, give me a call. I'm very easy to find, and say, hey, let's put this coalition together.

COOPER: Anthony, I appreciate you being on. Thanks very much.

SCARAMUCCI: Nice to be here. Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, the president's latest claims about voter fraud and the top official who's demanding he show evidence.

Later, the woman who failed in her run for governor of Georgia but is now something of a king or queen maker in the Democratic race for president, Stacey Abrams, ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Got new evidence over the weekend that President Trump is still so obsessed with his 2016 victory, it can crowd out even the most pressing official business, such as what do you in the wake of two gun massacres?

[20:20:04] He also tweeted a fresh and dubious claim on the subject earlier today.

But I want to play you this clip from yesterday because of how well it shows where his head still seems to be nearly three years after election night. It was in response to a question about banning high- capacity magazines.

First, he quickly changed the subject to mental health and then -- well, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The concept of mental institution has to be looked at. Unrelated to that, I believe that the concept also of voter identification has to be looked at because you can't have great security for the voter. People that vote, you can't have that national security unless you can have voter identification. It's something people have to look at very strongly.

REPORTER: Sir, what does that have to do with guns?

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: What does that have to do with guns was the follow-up question. Nothing, actually. As he himself said, it's the worst segue ever, a segue to clearly what he wanted to talk about, which is voter fraud that says has nothing to do what I was talking about.

Voter fraud is not a thing as the president continued to claim it is but, of course, he still keeps hammering away at it. Today, he tweeted: Wow, report just out, Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 election. This was put out by Clinton supporter, not a Trump supporter, Google should be sued. My victory was bigger than thought.

So this takes a little bit of explaining but the bottom line is the thing he's saying is not accurate and I know that's surprising. CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale spoke with the researcher, Robert Epstein, behind the work the president was referring to. He said the president was wrong in saying that Google manipulated votes or search results.

And this study, which we should add is highly disputed, no peer- reviewed, claims that Google search algorithms have been influencing voters. In Senate testimony, Epstein said the search results were, quote, bias to favor Hillary Clinton over the course of 25 days that he studied.

The problem is he never says what bias in favor of Hillary Clinton means or how he extrapolates that it could have influenced at least 2.6 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

So, the whole thing is flimsy at best, but it was certainly enough for the president to hop on one of his favorite hobby horses, which is voter fraud. I want just to quickly follow the hoof marks for you.

First, as you remember, he trotted out the unfounded claims that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton. Then he went for a cantor with a voter fraud commission to establish that happened which subsequently fell apart because there was no evidence to find.

By last week, nearly three years after the election, which as we said he won, he was back on the horse at full gallop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: New Hampshire should be have been won last time, except we had a lot of people come in at the last moment which was a rather strange situation. Thousands and thousands of people coming in from locations unknown we I knew where the location was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I don't know what that means. Location is unknown. I knew where the locations were.

Let's just pause for a moment, because that was an actual statement by the president of the United States. It's made up and it doesn't really make actual sense, but it's something the president said, and I know, by now, it just seems normal and we often go, oh, that's how presidents talk. But just for the record, it's not.

Our guest tonight would like to know what the president is claiming to know, as well. She's Ellen Weintraub. She chairs the Federal Election Commission. We should point out that it says on her FEC biography she's a Democrat. Ms. Weintraub has written him a letter challenging the president to provide evidence to back up his voter fraud claim and I'm quoting now: To put it in terms a former casino operator should understand, there comes a time when you need to lay your cards on the table or fold.

Ellen Weintraub joins us now.

Thanks for being with us.

So, have you gotten any kind of response, any shred of evidence, documentation about these thousands and thousands of people who flooded into New Hampshire from secret locations that the president only he seems to know?

ELLEN L. WEINTRAUB, CHAIR, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION: No, Anderson, I have not. I don't think anybody has. And this, as you know, is not a new claim for the president. A couple of years ago, he made the same claim and I asked him then if he had any evidence for it, because if it were true, there were thousands of felonies committed and law enforcement ought to be pursuing that.

But there has been no evidence brought forth at all -- not then, not now -- and I think it is really damaging to our democracy to have these kinds of stories put forth by the leader of our country.

COOPER: Right. And I mean, New Hampshire is not the largest state in the Union and if thousands and thousands of people were being bussed in from secret locations to vote, I suppose, the idea is they somehow voted multiple times wearing different hats and disguises -- I mean, the president just refresh people's memories create a taxpayer-funded commission in an attempt to give credibility to this very conspiracy theory, among others, and millions of other immigrants voting in California, and the commission came up with nothing.

[20:25:04] I mean, Nothing.

WEINTRAUB: And the commission was not exactly constituted in the most even-handed way, and even they could not come up with any evidence of this supposed voter fraud.

COOPER: Has there -- I mean, we've done numerous, you know, fact checking reports on the president's claims over the years. I've talked to the people who did the study that the president cites and a lot of people site who believe in this who say they are misinterpreting what the study actually says. You obviously are involved in this very deeply.

Has there ever been massive widespread voter fraud in modern U.S. history?

WEINTRAUB: No and people keep looking for it. There are some folks who have an incentive to make claims and studies. One study looked at every election between 2000 and 2014 over a billion votes and found I think 31 instances of perhaps voter fraud, of somebody voting who was not legally allowed to vote in that election.

And it's an infinitesimal number. The Brennan Center, the non- partisan Brennan Center, associate with NYU, has stated that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be involved in voter fraud. It's so, so rare and the problem is that people use that as an excuse. They start talking about voter fraud and then citizens get scared about it and afraid it's happening and legislators use that as an excuse to adopt measures to make it harder to vote.

So, the end result is that it becomes harder to vote and more citizen end up disenfranchised. For my perspective, that is also very damaging to our democracy which will be stronger if we can get more people to vote. I want to see every American citizen who was legally entitled to vote exercising that franchise and not discouraged from doing so.

COOPER: It is extraordinary when you have the president of the United States who, you know, won the election and was voted in, continually -- I mean, three years on, making up stories about widespread voter fraud. And I mean, never producing evidence because there isn't any evidence to produce.

And yet, it's a marketing thing. He keeps repeating it and beats people into submission to believing oh, well, if he keeps repeating it, you know, OK. It just becomes sort of something he just says and people accept.

WEINTRAUB: And that is what is so damaging, is that people do believe the president of the United States, and that's why it's so important that we actually have facts behind what our leaders say -- actual verifiable fact checkable facts, not alternative facts, not conspiracy theories but real truthful facts because truth matters.

COOPER: Ellen Weintraub, thank you very much.

WEINTRAUB: My pleasure.

COOPER: Still to come, gun legislation in the wake of two mass shootings which the president, as you saw a moment ago, was asked about before changing the subject. We'll go into details on that. And now, he seems to pushing back away from his support for or his alleged support for background checks. Again, this has happened before.

We'll discuss it and immigration with Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:32:13] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: President Trump's support for background checks for gun buyers never appears to lasts long. He promised they would be fully backed by the White House after school shooting in Parkland, Florida last year. They were not, of course. Earlier this month, he said he was "looking to do background checks" after mass shooting in Texas and Ohio. And he talked about meaningful background checks and never saying what that actually meant. On Sunday, his enthusiasm appeared to waned yet again. This is what he told reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People don't realize we have very strong background checks right now. You go in to buy a gun, you have to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years. So I'll have to see what it is. But Congress is meeting bipartisan, a lot of people want to see something happen. But just remember this, big mental problem, and we do have a lot of background checks right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So basically we need background checks, two weeks ago, meaningful ones, according to the President, today there's plenty of them.

Joining me now is Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon who co-sponsored legislation that would expand federal background checks to all gun sales. He's also the author of a brand-new book, it's called "America Is Better Than This: Trump's War Against Migrant Families," which goes on sale tomorrow and we want to talk about it as well tonight.

Just on the background checks, I mean, it should be no surprise that the President now is saying -- seems to be indicating and, again, he may go the other way. It does seem like it's the last person in the room the President kind of goes with that and it seems like maybe the NRA or some other supporters of not doing anything was the last person in this room.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Well, right after a couple massacres, the emotions are very high and then Trump feels he needs to say something to that and then he immediately starts backing off. When he says we have a lot of background checks, we had 1.2 million guns listed for sale without background checks last year. About a fifth of the guns are sold without background checks.

COOPER: Right, private sales from people not making a profit.

MERKLEY: Private sales and online sales, gun shows. We've got a big problem with straw purchasers. Now, there is -- we have-- our background check system is anyone who wants to by pass it can bypass it. So, therefore, we need an effective background check system.

COOPER: The -- I want to talk about this book, because it's very easy to lose focus on this issue as the President is masterful at just sort of keeping everybody jumping with another issue or another outrage. You -- I mean, you have spent a lot of time looking at the border, looking at immigration.

Just overall, just the politics of it, is it possible to really get some sort of overall immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform in this political setting?

MERKLEY: It's certainly possible from a policy point of view because we did it in 2013 with Democrats and Republicans of the Senate working together and the House didn't take it up.

Now, the House is ready to take it up but without the President's support, the Republicans and the Senate don't want to touch it. And yet it is so much needed on every aspect, but it comes down to this. The President wants this as a political issue. He's not about to start solving the problem.

[20:35:10] COOPER: I mean, you in the book, "America Is Better Than This," you write -- you have a lot of different solution -- a lot of proposals, a lot of ideas. To you, how much of this stems from, let's say political decision by the President and backed by, you know, Stephen Miller who's become a top advisor according to a bunch of, you know, "New York Times" and "Washington Post" both had big things about him this weekend?

MERKLEY: Well, right from the beginning of his administration, just 13 days in was the first announcement that they were pursuing a strategy of separating children from their parents. And then a month later, John Kelly talked about it.

COOPER: They talked about it with Wolf Blitzer.

MERKLEY: Right, exactly. Then a month later, they instituted a pilot program but they didn't publicize it. They had a bad reaction to the little bit of publicity it did have. It essentially went underground for year until Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave that so-called zero tolerance speech.

That's what caught my attention, because when I read that speech, I said they can't be doing this. No administration, no one in America would support ripping children out of their parents' arms.

I went down to the border, found out they were doing it, saw the kids in cages, saw just a little children knee high to a glass hopper, maybe 4 years old, and said we have to shine a light on this, we have to put an end to this.

COOPER: And how do you do that? I mean, because what -- you know, obviously the administration now says, you know, we're not doing that any longer. But fear is still something they believe in making anybody afraid of what will happen to them if they come here.

MERKLEY: So the administration still is doing it. Hundreds of children over this past year separated from their parents for things like, well, this parent had a DUI for example or things would never separate a child from a parent.

COOPER: Even -- I think if a parent is -- their assessment was HIV positive, they will separate.

MERKLEY: They are looking for a whole series of minor excuses, but they're doing other things. They're blockading children at the border. I met this little girl, just 56 days old named Andrea who had been in her mother's arms and turn back at the border three times before her mother went to the car bridge and borrowed a squeegee and pretended to wash windows for tips across the car bridge into America.

So there's a border blockade. There are still the ice cold holding cells, the lights on all at night, the for profit prison. Homestead is a -- they're still holding it to reopen it, this massive corrupt operation in Florida.

COOPER: And some of these kids may never be reunited.

MERKLEY: Well, yes.

COOPER: I mean, the system is just so -- the fact that the bad record keeping on, it's not only done badly -- maybe wrong, but it's done badly.

MERKLEY: When I first went down there, the officials on the boarder said we know exactly where the kids are, the parents are, how to connect them. That was repeated by all the officials of the cabinet, wasn't true. They had no system set up. You had to wonder how much was callousness, how much was incompetence, maybe a combination of both because they keep coming back to this theory to inflict trauma.

If this was done by any other country, we would be putting on sanctions, we'd be holding hearings, we'd be saying what happen to that country, but it's with our taxpayer money on our land with our government and nobody can stop it except for us, that's why this book is a call to action. We can't let this issue drop.

COOPER: Senator Merkley, the book is "America Is Better Than This." Appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

MERKLEY: Thank you very much.

COOPER: I'll see you tomorrow.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, Stacy Abrams narrowly lost the Georgia race for governor in a controversial contest last year. She joins me to discuss her comments calling President Trump a racist and her new national push to protect voting rights.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:42:21] COOPER: The criticism over President Trump's use of racist language, describe for instance four non-white congresswomen or black majority district in Baltimore, appears to have hit a nerve in the White House.

A Republican source telling CNN that the White House now is telling all surrogates to say that Democratic candidates who call the President a racist are in fact calling the President supporters racist as well. Also this such accusations are "appalling." President clearly believes focusing on the four congresswomen is a wedge issue that works for him. His continued press -- you know, as you know, he continued to pressure Israel to bar two of the congresswomen last week from visiting, which they did last week. Today, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Oman publicly responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): We know Donald Trump would love nothing more than to use this issue to pit Muslims and Jewish Americans against each other. The Muslim community and the Jewish community are being othered and made into the boogeyman by this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Congresswoman Tlaib who was also at the news conference was later granted entry to visit her grandmother in the Palestinian territories would decide -- decline citing the conditions that Israel placed on her entry.

Joining me right now is Stacy Abrams who ran for governor of Georgia last year. Last week announced a new national program to fight voter suppression. It's interesting on the voter suppression in the light of what the President now is yet again claiming about New Hampshire and all these thousands of people who came in.

Just talk a little bit about, you know, the laws which are being pushed by Republicans in many states, because I've had people on and when they talk about it, it often sounds very fair that they don't want voter fraud. They are -- it's not about voter suppression.

STACEY ABRAMS, (D) FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: So, part of the insidiousness of voter suppression, and I use that word intentionally, we're used to the more aggressive 1950s, 1960s style voter suppression words, billy clubs, and horses, and dogs, telling people -- and laws that say you cannot vote.

Well, after the Voting Rights Act came into place, pre-clearance basically told those states that engage in that behavior to cut it out, that you could not pass laws that have the ability to suppress votes without getting pre-clearance. And for years, that worked. It worked so effectively that the Republicans pushed hard to get it gutted. In 2013, Shelby case gutted the Voting Rights Act.

But what's been happening over the last 20 years even with pre- clearance is that states that have seen a shift in the demographics and have seen a shift away from Republican conservative dominance, they've put in place laws that sound common sense on their face. But when you understand how the laws work, it eviscerates the right to vote.

[20:45:01]So for example, photo ID, everyone uses that as a perfect example. But we know that the administrative barriers to getting photo IDs harm elderly people, they harm students. We know in New Hampshire, they're trying to stop students from being able to vote. In Florida, and in Texas, and in Georgia, they've decided which college students IDs could be used versus whether they could use some other form of ID.

The most egregious example would be North Dakota in the 2018 -- 2016 election where they changed the rules to say that you have to have a residential address to be able to vote in North Dakota, knowing that most of the Native Americans who live on reservations do not have a residential address.

And so you create it what's in like a facially neutral rule but it disenfranchised a very specific community and that's how insidious it is. It convinces you that it's your fault that -- and that we forget that it's a series of laws that are designed to lower the ability of certain communities to enter the right to vote.

COOPER: So you're starting this initiative called Fair Fight. What do you -- I mean, is this about passing laws? Is this about just informing people?

ABRAMS: So Fair Fight 2020, and we can find more information at fairfight2020.org, is designed to build voter protection teams in the 20 battle ground states. And we defined those states that are going to be influential in the presidential election, have Senate races or have down ballot races, especially where state legislatures can write the new laws for how redistricting is done in 2021.

We are going to stand up voter protection teams by investing in those communities, by hiring and by training staff. And by having localized teams, we can respond to these new laws or to the old laws and help people actually fight back against voter suppression.

COOPER: When the President talks about millions of illegal -- you know, of undocumented workers or undocumented immigrants voting in the state of California for Hillary Clinton, that's why they he didn't win California or New Hampshire. Do you think that works?

ABRAMS: Well, it works for the people who want it to be true, but it's a lie. It is not true. Voter suppression is real. Voter fraud is a myth. Often examples of voter fraud tend to be mistakes made by Wellington people. We do not have a rash of people, you know, putting on disguise who's trying to vote twice.

We have a challenge in this country getting 70 percent of the people to vote. But we do know that it's hard to get on the rolls, it's hard to stay on the rolls, it's difficult for some communities to be able to cast a ballot and getting that ballot counted.

And so what we want to do through Fair Fight 2020 is be in those states and help push back against that through law making, but more importantly, through having volunteers who become full-time staff who do this all the time.

COOPER: Stacy Abrams, appreciate your time. Thank very much. It's good to have you.

ABRAMS: Thank you for having me.

COOPER: Just ahead, the President has a beef with his favorite cable news channel lands on "The Ridiculist," ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:51:48] COOPER: Coming up, President Trump takes aim at Fox News and winds up on "The Ridiculist." But, first, let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Hey, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Hey, how you doing my friend?

COOPER: I'm good.

CUOMO: We have two big things. One, what this playbook that has been revealed by the "Tampa Bay Times" tells us about why you hear Republicans not saying what they should about white supremacy, why this President is backing away from what he had said was common sense when it came to guns. We'll go through that.

And the idea of a tax cut now, if you have the strongest economy ever and you have this kind of deficit, makes no sense until you look inside the latest poll numbers. We have the professor, Ron Brownstein, here to do that.

COOPER: So -- I mean, because one of the arguments on this is if -- for folks who don't know, "Washington Post" is reporting that the White House is considering a payroll tax cut, which would certainly be an indication that they believe they are concerned about a slowing economy.

CUOMO: And that they're looking for a cheap thrill. They're looking to juice the economy, which is what a tax cut does. It's not targeted the right way. They're saying its middle class. They said that last time. They won't give specifics, but why not an infrastructure bill? That would do the same thing but it doesn't happen fast enough and that's what this is about. Why they need a quick fix, we'll get into it.

COOPER: All right, Chris, see you at the top of the hour, about seven minutes from now.

Coming up (INAUDIBLE), so President Trump angry with Fox News. His latest wrath and they're still in his good graces. Don't worry, he's not angry at everyone over there, next on "The Ridiculist."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:56:50] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And tonight, there's a new grievance from histories least busy president. It involves his favorite source of a compliments and conspiracy theories, Fox News.

President Trump is apparently furious over a recent Fox poll showing him struggling in a hypothetical match ups with certain Democratic presidential candidates. And speaking reporters that we're getting on Air Force One yesterday, it was clear the President had turned full on fickle in the absence of the old Fox News tickle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it. I'm certainly happy. I think Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs. And I think Tucker Carlson, and Laura, and Jesse Watters, and Jeanine. We have a lot of great people, even Greg Gutfeld.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Even Greg Gutfeld, that's a close one. Greg Gutfeld is on board. Everyone stand down in the missile silos. The President has got it from here. I love the President says, "we have a lot of great people at Fox," not even trying to hide that he thinks they all work for him, that they're all just, you know, all part of the party.

He just starts ripping names at Fox, like Justice Kavanaugh in his Senate hearing. We got Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Timmy, PJ, don't forget Scuwee (ph). Tremendous respect from Scuwee. Then, of course, there's Judge Jeanine Pirro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: As someone who's run for office five times, if the devil called me and said he wanted to set up a meeting to give me opposition research on my opponent, I'd be on the first trolley to hell to get it. And any politician who tells you otherwise is a bold face liar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I should got -- OK. I don't know why everyone is yelling. The first trolley to hell, that should be the name of her show, Judge Jeanine Pirro, first trolley to hell, doo-doo. Like after every interview that goes well, she'll be like, doo-doo. Coming up, next stop, voter fraud. So, yes, he country is -- that's not really -- yes, it is my Larry King voice. It's -- I have only one voice. That's all I can do.

America is best known -- the country is best known name sake of a fraudulent university might not like it when Fox News releases an, you know, actual scientific poll showing him with some weak reelection numbers, but surely the President hasn't forgotten all the network did for him and his allies. I mean, where else but Fox News would Rudy Giuliani been able to so smoothly and well, you know, defused the whole Stormy Daniels hush money scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know, it's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They funneled it through a law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm and the President repaid it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I did not -- he did? GIULIANI: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no campaign finance law?

GIULIANI: Zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Zero, a lot of Os, like in loser, zero, except, Michael Cohen is in federal prison for conspiring with the President to make those payments but, yes, zero. Let's just say it's zero.

So, where is the relationship between the President and the Fox News actually go from here? I have no idea. But I got to tell you, I've already bought my ticket for that first trolley to hell and "The Ridiculist."

That's it for us. The news continues. I want to hand it over Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time."

CUOMO: I was going to ask you for one of those, but the gift became even before the request. Thank you very much, my Brother. I appreciate it.