Return to Transcripts main page


Virginia Governor Resists Calls to Resign; Trump Prepares for State of the Union; Interview: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 17:00   ET


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She didn't testify before the end of February. We've learned today she will testify on March 6 -- Jake.

[17:00:06] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Ed Lavandera at the border. Thank you so much.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Not backing down. Despite a chorus of calls for him to step down after the discovery of a shocking photo in his medical school yearbook, Virginia's governor is holding onto his job, pleading for time to prove he's not a racist, even as the man two may replace him faces a growing controversy of his own.

Between a rock and hard place. A new CNN poll shows most Americans don't want the president to declare a national emergency to build a border wall. But can the president afford to disappoint his base? Will he make an announcement during his State of the Union address tomorrow night?

Executive time. A new report based on leaked White House information shows the president spending about 60 percent of his schedule in unstructured, so-called "executive time," where he's free to watch TV and tweet. The White House insists he's the most productive president in history.

And Putin's supersonic nukes. After President Trump moves to suspend a key nuclear treaty, Russia's Vladimir Putin moves to develop powerful new weapons, including a nuclear-tipped supersonic missile that would be extremely difficult to intercept.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: even as calls for him to resign echo from all directions, after the discovery of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is begging for more time to show he's not a bigot, and a source says he's told his cabinet he doesn't want to leave office as a racist for life.

And as President Trump gets ready for tomorrow night's State of the Union address, which was postponed during the government shutdown, aides now say he'll appeal for bipartisanship, but sources from both parties say the president's demand for billions in border wall funding is the biggest obstacle right now to averting another shutdown, just 12 days from now.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage.

But let's begin with this real political firestorm, surrounding Virginia's governor after the discovery of a racist yearbook photo. He's resisting lots of calls for him to step down, even as the entire -- the entire story becomes even more complex.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is joining us from Richmond, Virginia, right now. So what's the very latest, Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now there's been 72 hours since those racist photos in Ralph Northam's yearbook emerged. And the governor right now is attempting to hold onto power.

We're told today, in a private meeting with his cabinet, he begged them to give them more time to make the case that he's not one of the two people in this photo. He said he does not want to leave office branded as a racist for life.



NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight Virginia's governor remains in office, clinging to a very thin shred of power.


NOBLES: As protesters took to his office to demand a resignation he was inside, huddling with his cabinet officials and top aides. Inside the room, Northam was emotional as he made a plea for more time and space to make the case that he is not one of the two people in this racist photo that appeared under his name in his medical school yearbook.

Complicating the controversy, the man who would replace Northam is facing problems of his own. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax forced to call an impromptu press conference to respond to reports of a woman accusing him of sexual assault at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a claim Fairfax vehemently denied.

LT. GOV. JUSTIN FAIRFAX (D), VIRGINIA: That did not happen. There was no inappropriate contact whatsoever.

This thing was not only from left field; it was from planet Mars, because it didn't happen.

NOBLES: It's a claim "The Washington Post" investigated before Fairfax's inauguration. The paper decided not to run the story at the time. Today, though, "The Post" writing, quote, "'The Washington Post,' in phone calls to people who knew Fairfax from college, law school and through political circles, found no similar complaints of sexual misconduct against him. Without that, or the ability to corroborate the woman's account -- in part because she had not told anyone what happened -- 'The Washington Post' did not run a story."

Northam's attempt to overcome the criticism from the release of the pictures was highlighted by a dramatic and often uncomfortable weekend press conference, where the governor made the argument that he knew he wasn't in the photo, because he didn't remember taking it. But he specifically remembered another time where he did don blackface to appear as Michael Jackson at a dance contest.

R. NORTHAM: I dressed up in a -- what's his name? Michael Jackson. That's why I have Pam with me. I had the shoes. I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under my -- on my cheeks. And the reason I used a very little bit is because I don't know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off.

NOBLES: And then resisted the temptation to moonwalk during the heated presser.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still able to moonwalk?

PAM NORTHAM, WIFE OF RALPH NORTHAM: Inappropriate circumstances.

R. NORTHAM: My wife says inappropriate circumstances.

NOBLES: Northam has struggled to explain his role in the production of the yearbook, which was published in 1984 and contains several other racist and objectionable photos, including other classmates in black face.

The press conference did not win him any new support, instead leading many to renews their calls for him to step down. And despite his calls for resignation from every corner of Virginia's government, Northam is still signaling he has no plans to resign. And it seems that decision will be his alone to make, as the state's Republican speaker, Kirk Cox, made it clear impeachment was not on the table.

KIRK COX (R), VIRGINIA STATE HOUSE SPEAKER: And obviously, on impeachment, that's a very high standard. And so I think that's why we have called for the resignation. We hope that's what the governor does. I think that would be less pain for everyone.


NOBLES: And to be clear, the controversy surrounding both Northam and the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, have complicated this situation. But we're told tonight that Fairfax will approach the accusations against him much differently than Northam did. He is prepared to mount a passionate defense of these accusations against him, because he simply believes they are not true and he is willing to defend himself.

Now, we are also told that the governor's very concerned about those around him, his appointees, his cabinet and staff members. So far tonight, Wolf, none of those cabinet members have said or even threatened to resign their post which leads us to believe that Northam should be able to hold on for at least the time being -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Ryan Nobles in Richmond, Virginia for us. Thank you.

And just a day after saying he likes having acting cabinet secretaries around, President Trump is now moving to make one of them permanent. That comes as he crams for his State of the Union address amid lots of questions about his scheduling.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, for the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president spent another day behind closed doors as he gears up for tomorrow's State of the Union address. He did make one big announcement, as you said, in selecting the acting interior secretary and former oil lobbyist, David Bernhardt, to take on that job permanently.

The president's schedule has become part of the news in recent days, with the White House pushing back on a report that he's spending too much time in what's been called "executive time."


ACOSTA (voice-over): Looking to get the administration back on track after a costly government shutdown, aides say President Trump will try something different in Tuesday's State of the Union speech, appeal for bipartisanship.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: This president is going to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution and call for more comity -- C-O-M-I-T-Y.

ACOSTA: The president is telling reporters he simply can't understand why Democrats would want to impeach him, given the job he's done.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only way they can win, because they can't win the election, is to bring out the artificial way of impeachment. And the problem is you can't impeach somebody for doing the best job of any president in the history of our country for the first two years.

ACOSTA: But a new CNN poll finds Mr. Trump's job approval at a cringe-worthy 40 percent as the public is adamantly against the idea of the president declaring a national emergency to build his border wall.

By contrast it's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who bested Mr. Trump in their showdown, whose numbers are on the rise, above where they were before the shutdown. Don't tell the president that one.

TRUMP: Well, I think that she was very rigid, which I would expect. But I think she's very bad for our country. ACOSTA: With Democrats feeling emboldened, there's another battle

looming over whether the president would authorize the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings in the Russia investigation.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: Would you make the report public because you say there's nothing in there?

TRUMP: Totally up to the attorney general.

BRENNAN: Congress can subpoena it anyway, though.

TRUMP: Totally up to the attorney general.

BRENNAN: What do you want them to do?

TRUMP: Even the Mueller report said it had nothing to do with the campaign.

ACOSTA: That's a strange response, as the Mueller report hasn't even been released.

The president has plenty of time to study up on the issue. The news site Axios found the president has spent about 60 percent of his scheduled time in what's called "executive time," the unstructured and largely unmonitored part of his day. That's used for tweeting, watching TV and talking to advisers on the phone.

In respond to that stunning leak of closely-guarded information, the White House said, "While the president spends much of his average day in scheduled meetings, events and calls, there is time to allow for a more creative environment that has helped make him the most productive president in modern history."

CONWAY: Whoever leaked it doesn't know what he's doing during that block of time, so that's pretty obvious. I'm told -- I'm told 388 people have access to that broader schedule. But very few have access to the other schedule.

ACOSTA: But Democrats are pouncing, wondering what happened to Mr. Trump's boasts about his stamina.

[17:10:02] TRUMP: She doesn't have the look. She doesn't have the stamina. I said she doesn't have the stamina. And I don't believe she does have the stamina.

ACOSTA: One decision the president has made in recent days has been to tap White House doctor Ronnie Jackson as his chief medical adviser, even though allegations that the physician has been abusive toward colleagues are under investigation at the Pentagon.

But the president likes the doctor, who praised Mr. Trump's health last year.

DR. RONNIE JACKSON, TRUMP'S PHYSICIAN: He has incredibly good genes. And it's just the way God made him.


ACOSTA: Now as for the president's move to offer the job of interior secretary to the current acting secretary in that job, Mr. Trump, as you know, Wolf, has a number of officials in acting roles these days, from his attorney general to his defense secretary, even his White House chief of staff. And it makes you wonder, Wolf, with all that executive time, why does he have so many officials in acting positions in his administration, Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. He's also the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Congress, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Good evening, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: So when the news about the racist photo first broke, you immediately called on Governor Northam to step down. Have any of his various explanations for how that photo ended up in his yearbook page, has any of that done anything to change your mind?

JEFFRIES: Not at all. And I continue to stand with those of my colleagues in the Virginia congressional delegation, as well as the two senators from Virginia, who have made it clear that the governor has lost the capacity to really bring the commonwealth of Virginia together and to move the state forward, given the divisiveness that is connected to him.

And therefore, I think that the best thing to do for the commonwealth, the best thing to do for the country, really, at this point would be for the governor to resign, do the right thing and to allow us to all come together.

BLITZER: Is there anything you think, Congressman, he could say or do at this point to convince you maybe he should stay on?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think what's troubling is that the explanation that he provided made the situation worse, not better.

He acknowledged, essentially, that he had actually engaged in some sort of black face in connection with what he had done in terms of this Michael Jackson impersonation situation.

And then, also, demonstrated some familiarity with respect to shoe polish and the reason why shoe polish shouldn't be applied in significant fashion is because it's harder to remove.

So the whole thing is a sordid situation. And if you even look at his undergraduate yearbook, and the name that was given to him, "Coon Man," is deeply offensive, as well. And so this is an unfortunate situation. We have enough divisiveness in this country. We should be trying to bring people together not tearing us apart. We want to move the country forward, not turn back the clock. And the governor's not in a position to do that right now.

BLITZER: Do you think he appreciates how serious, how offensive all that picture and everything else around it really is?

JEFFRIES: It's not clear. And that's lot of pain that is caused by the images that were brought to light, both in terms of the black face as well as, of course, the image of someone in a KKK uniform in 1984.

It would have been offensive enough in 1964, but certainly in a year when Jesse Jackson was first running for president. Howard Washington had already been elected the previous year as the first African- American mayor. Dr. King's holiday had been signed off on a few years prior to that. It's just a shocking thing that this would take place.

And we also have to start the question what was going on at that medical school? Why would the medical school sign off on this yearbook and deem any of those images appropriate? Why were the people who graduated with the governor silent for so many years in the face of what obviously was a bigoted and divisive image that was apparently proudly displayed in other places throughout the yearbook, in addition to the governor's page

BLITZER: Yes, those are very important points indeed.

Congressman, let me turn to some other important issues while I have you. The border security negotiations underway right now between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. What are Democrats going to do if the negotiations fail over the next few days, and President Trump declares a national emergency in order to find money for his border wall?

JEFFRIES: Well, I have the highest degree of confidence that the appropriators who are on the conference committee are going to try as hard as they can to find a bipartisan resolution, working with Republicans in the House, as well as Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

We support 21st Century border security. We're willing to invest in additional infrastructure along our legal ports of entry, invest in additional personnel, particularly as it relates to customs agents, who are understaffed, as well as the Coast Guard and bolster their capacity to interdict drugs and other forms of contraband that come in through our waterways.

[17:15:07] We certainly are willing to invest in additional technology -- sensors, drones, satellites, enhanced-communication capability -- the things that the experts have said would make a difference in terms of improving our border security.

And we're hopeful that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will engage in this evidence-based discussion. And if that, in fact, is the case, we can come to an agreement that I think the president would be hard-pressed not to sign into law.

BLITZER: Yes. But he says, he keeps insisting there's got to be money in there for a wall. Whether it's steel slats or whatever, there's got to be money for a wall. And we'll see what happens over the next few days. You guys got a tough challenge ahead of you.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Up next, there's more breaking news. The Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, is resisting lots of calls for him to resign after the discovery of a racist yearbook photo. And a source now says he's asking for time to prove he's not a bigot.

And after President Trump moves to suspend a nuclear treaty, Russia's Vladimir Putin now moves to develop powerful new weapons, including a nuclear-tipped supersonic missile.


[17:20:37] BLITZER: Our breaking news, after the discovery of a racist yearbook photo, the Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, is seeking more time to show he's not a bigot, and a source says he's told his cabinet he doesn't want to leave office as a "racist for life."

Joining us now, our senior political commentator John Kasich. He's a former Ohio governor, former congressman, former Republican presidential candidate.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us. Should Governor Northam step down?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he has to, Wolf. I think it's probably just a matter of time with the people around him. I don't know what the thoughts are in his head.

But the problem is there's so much confusion and double statements and misstatements. And the bottom line is he's -- he's just not going to be effective.

And I understand that he wants to get out there and try to clear his name. And I'm for a rehabilitation tour, but you can't do it from the governor's office. I just think you have much more responsibility, when something like this happens, to make sure that you're putting the people first.

And look, there's no great joy to have to say this, to say these kinds of things. And Wolf, you know, at the end of the day, you know, we're going to have to figure out, in the midst of all these things that turn up all the time, where does grace, where does forgiveness, where does another chance lie? And there is another chance for him, but I don't think he can achieve that by holding this office.

BLITZER: So you don't think he could wait for the scandal to blow over? KASICH: I don't think it is, Wolf. And the problem is they're so

divided. I mean, when you have both Democrat senators, and, you know, Senate Warner is really a terrific guy. You know him. He's conducted himself well. He wouldn't quickly say something like this. You hear -- you heard from a gentleman from the Virginia congressional delegation. He made very good points. The legislature itself wants him to leave.

So it's hard enough to try to get people to pass your agenda, but when something like this is hanging over you, you have to ask yourself, "At the end of the day, am I serving the public here, or am I trying to do something to redeem myself?"

And I'm all for redemption. I mean, we go through -- as governor, we have to go through and figure out who committed crimes and can we give them part of their life back? I mean, that's just for people who committed crimes.

But for normal folks who make terrible mistakes, we want to give them a chance to look at the body of what their life has been about. But these are things, this kind of a thing is so difficult, so difficult I don't see how he's going to survive this and get anything done. And it's hard enough to get things done when you've got sky-high approval ratings, let alone this problem.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, Governor, we're only 11 days away, as you know, from yet another potential government shutdown. If Congress is unable --

KASICH: Crazy.

BLITZER: -- to come up with an agreement on border security funding, should the president declare a national emergency --

KASICH: No. This is --

BLITZER: -- in order to find the money?

KASICH: Wolf, this is really just crazy. And I've been saying they will not have another shutdown. I think what's happening is the president's trying to figure out some way out of this.

I'd like to think that this bipartisan group can get together and give him something. You know, give him something.

Everybody is for border security. The question is you've got to have this wall. Like, if he doesn't have this wall, somebody's going to criticize him. I mean, you know, figure out how to get this done, Wolf.

And if he declares some sort of a national emergency, you know, it's going to go to court. Republicans are going to be very concerned about it. Because you know, you can't have unlimited executive power.

Having been an executive, I liked executive power. But the problem is there are just limits to it. And what will happen is they'll go to court. They'll block him, and they'll move on. But what a messy way to get through this.

Shouldn't have happened to begin with, Wolf. It just should not have happened.

But I will say this: people do want that border to be protected. But you know, in the 21st Century, there's other ways to do it that could be more effective than "I've got to have this certain, you know, four- letter word. Wall." I mean, come on.

BLITZER: Let's just hope there isn't another government shutdown. It was so painful for so many people.

KASICH: I don't think there will be.

BLITZER: I hope not. And I hope you're right.

Governor Kasich, thanks so much for joining us.

KASICH: I'll see you tomorrow night.

[17:25:00] BLITZER: I'll see you here for our coverage of the State of the Union address --

KASICH: All right, Wolf.

BLITZER: -- by the president.

KASICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, our political experts, they are here, as well. We have lots to discuss. Lots on the breaking news. Guys, stick around. We'll continue this conversation in a moment.


BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning more about today's cabinet meeting, called by the embattled Virginia Democratic governor, Ralph Northam. He's refusing to resign, despite the revelation of a racist photo on his page of a 1984 medical school yearbook. And a source tells CNN Northam told his cabinet he doesn't want to leave office as, quote, "a racist for life."

[17:30:20] Let's bring in our political experts. We'll talk about how this crisis is playing out.

And Cornell William Brooks, you're a former president and CEO of the NAACP, teaching at Harvard right now. You live in Virginia. You know these players and this whole debate.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, FORMER NAACP PRESIDENT/CEO: Yes. Yes. And I am as shocked as I am disappointed. I cast a ballot for both the governor and lieutenant governor.

But here's what I'll note. A couple points about where the governor is. Where you a have a meandering, moonwalking explanation -- series of explanations and apologies, it undermines the credibility of the governor. So where he seeks redemption and forgiveness, the price of forgiveness and redemption is candor and honesty. Where he asserts that, in one apology, that he either dressed as a Klansman or dressed in generic blackface, and in a subsequent explanation, apology, he suggests he's not the person that -- who's in generic blackface or the Klansman but, in fact, Michael Jackson in blackface.

This is intolerable. And as a consequence, a majority of -- overwhelming majority of Democrats across the country and in Virginia believe he has to go. He has to go. He's not in a position to govern.

BLITZER: Is there anything he could do to reclaim his credibility, his moral authority, and stay on as governor?

BROOKS: It would be hard for me to imagine that. Because the price of redemption is being candid and honest.

In other words, people across the commonwealth were wrestling with the notion of forgiveness. But forgiveness is the moral choice of those offended; it is not the political entitlement of those who cause offense.

And so you're not entitled to the office of governor. You're not entitled to people's forgiveness. If you want to show contrition, step down. Be candid about what happened; tell the truth.

BLITZER: He seems to think, Abby, that he can maybe ride this out and maybe the scandal will go away.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Even though he's done nothing but make it worse in the days since this first emerged.

This is really an extraordinary thing. Because as -- as the doctor said just a moment ago, he went from saying, "I am one of these people" to saying, "No, I'm not, but I was someone else in blackface at one point." I mean, that's -- that's ridiculous for a lot of reasons.

But I think for voters in Virginia, they're looking at this situation, and they're thinking, you know, "If I suspected that someone might have been dressed in blackface, I wouldn't want them to be elevated to the position of governor." To know a person would have done this at some point in their past, I think a lot of people are saying, "I definitely don't think that person should have been elevated to the position of governor."

So it's not that there is no forgiveness in his future but that a lot of people are saying this is not the promotion that someone who made those kinds of choices in the past ought to have. And at this point, I don't see many people, many Democrats or really anyone out there in the political sphere giving him much of a break here.

I think a lot of people want to put this behind them, which is one of the reasons why He's just had a hard time getting past this particular moment, especially after that press conference this weekend.

BLITZER: And Chris, you wrote an important column on, "Why Ralph Northam Thinks He Can Wait out His Blackface Scandal. He's Wrong."

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. I mean, it touches on a lot of what Abby and Cornell have said, which is you have a situation in which I don't know that that photo emerges. I see it Friday on my phone. And I think well, presumably, he's one of those two people. And if he is, that's it for his political -- his current political life.

If there was a chance, politically speaking, to save himself -- I don't think that it was -- but if there was one, the press conference on Saturday theoretically, if you look at the way in which these things play out, theoretically could have been him to say, "You know what? I'm not going to -- I'm not going to make excuses. It was wrong then. It's wrong now. I should have -- I should have been clearer." You be as transparent as possible.

The press conference both -- to Abby's point, both the "Well, actually, I said it was me, but it's actually, in retrospect, I now remember it wasn't me." That doesn't seem to me like the kind of thing you would forget, No. 1

And No. 2, the whole thing, it may seem dumb, and I know people laugh at it, but the whole, "Do you still know how to moonwalk," and he looks as though, if his wife is not there, he's going to moonwalk, or at least try, suggests to me he does not understand the gravity of the hurt he has caused and the political danger he is in.

So I think he can try to -- I get -- I get his explanation. I don't want to be seen as a racist for life. But the reality is, you don't always get to choose. When you make choices, you don't get to choose how things end, necessarily, for you.

[17:35:07] And I don't think he's going to get to choose how this one ends. I think he has to resign, and I think, more slowly probably than he should, he was coming to that realization.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But this isn't about him anymore.


KUCINICH: This is about -- this is about voters in the commonwealth. It is this crop of 2020 candidates, the most diverse field in recent memory.

I don't think any Democratic Party would want this person to be their representative in Virginia in recent -- in recent times, I don't think. But particularly, when you have the crop that is running in 2020, in a state that is still very purple. And they are trying to attract one of the more diverse populations to vote for them.

So he really is an impossible situation here on a lot of different levels.

BLITZER: You know the lieutenant governor, too, personally right? Justin Fairbanks.

BROOKS: I do. I do.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BROOKS: He is someone who's impressed me over the years. He's a smart lawyer. Very well-respected. Wonderful family. And so there were a great many people who thought that this might be a happy -- a historic and happy ending, on the sense of Justin Fairfax, a descendant of slaves, ascending to the governor's mansion in the wake of this kind of a tragedy.

CILLIZZA: I just -- you can't be -- this isn't -- Jackie made me think of this. It's -- Ralph Northam is the governor of a state. There's only 50 of them. You have to be able to go out wherever you go -- Roanoke, Richmond, Northern Virginia --

BROOKS: Right.

CILLIZZA: Tidewater. You have to go out and be able to say, "I was elected to represent you. I have" -- You don't say this necessarily, but "I have the moral authority to say I can represent you. I understand your hopes, dreams, your fears, your anxieties."

And whether that's economic development, nothing -- many things not having to do with race, you can't do that if you are him now. Not only because the first question asked of him at every event will be "Why haven't you resigned?" but because you have forfeited that moral -- I don't want to say high ground, but that moral certitude that is required to say, "I alone can lead this state, this town," whatever office is. He doesn't have it anymore. You just don't get that back.

BROOKS: Think about Charlottesville. Think about --

PHILLIP: Coming out of Charlottesville.

BROOKS: In the wake of Charlottesville, neo-Nazis, white nationalists marching through the streets, saying, "Blacks won't replace us. Jews won't replace us."

At that moment we were counting on the president of the United States and the governor of the commonwealth of Virginia to speak to the moral crisis. And you can't have a governor that is compromised this way.

And he's compromised not merely with African-Americans but with all of the folks who represent the commonwealth of the future. That is to say if it is this purple state, this Southern state in the Mid- Atlantic --

BLITZER: OK. Everybody. Hold on for one moment. We've got a lot more coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:42:34] BLITZER: All right. We're back with our political experts, and take a look at this, Chris. Our new CNN poll has the president's approval number right now at 40 percent; 55 percent disapprove.

But we compared his numbers right now to what other presidents at this point in their first term were going through. And take a look at this. He's at 40 percent. The only one lower than him was Ronald Reagan at 35 percent at this point, two years in, beginning a third year.

But remember what happened two years later. Ronald Reagan then got reelected, carrying 49 out of 50 states. Only Minnesota went for Mondale; 525 electoral votes. The Democrats shouldn't be too excited right now.

CILLIZZA: No. I mean I think that there's no question that Donald Trump is endangered as he prepares or is preparing to run for reelection.

But I hear from a lot of people, particularly Democrats, who are crowing that no matter they nominate they are going to beat him, because he's so damaged.

I think he is hugely divisive. I don't think we're looking at a repeat of Reagan's reelection, even though Reagan's numbers were below Trump's. I think the numbers are very locked in as it relates to Trump.

But I just don't rule him out for the same reason that I learned on November 8, 2016, which is everything that we used as a measure -- money, message, polling -- to suggest who would win said Hillary Clinton would win. So Donald Trump demonstrated an appeal to a national electorate. I don't know that he can do it again, but I'm not ready at this point to say, "Well, he's at 40 and most presidents at 40 lose, because most presidents don't --"

BLITZER: No. But take a look at this. George H.W. Bush in 1991, he was at 83 percent approval, and we know what happened two years later when he lost to Bill Clinton.

KUCINICH: Fortunes can change. That is for sure, especially in this news cycle.

But -- and I think that's why Democrats are really looking at a hard vet for these candidates going forward. It's not going to be an easy road. Because yes, they want someone they can fall in love with in a lot of ways in the Democratic Party. They also want someone who can beat President Trump.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, look at this number. Nancy Pelosi, she came out of the shutdown fight with even higher favorability right now than President Trump. Her number is 42 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable. That's pretty good for her.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's very good, considering that she's been the conservative boogeyman for many, many years. I mean, dating -- predating Donald Trump. And in fact, going into this midterm election that -- in which she helped Democrats, essentially, net 40 seats, folks in the White House were saying they thought that Nancy Pelosi would be a great foil for Donald Trump. That he performs best when he has someone to basically shadowbox against.


But what he has really done is made her a kind of a darling of the left, even when there were many on the left trying to rebel against her. He's really made her someone who has proven herself to be able to stand up to him.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Cornell, what would you like to hear from the President tomorrow night?


I'd like for him to speak to where the country is in terms of their visions. I'm not sure he can do that. I don't believe he can, given that he is the source of much of it, but that's what I'd like him to do.

BLITZER: Do you have any expectation he will do that?

BROOKS: I'm generally an optimist but no.

BLITZER: You don't think? You don't, all right. Well, we'll see what happens. We will, of course, have extensive live coverage throughout the day leading up --


BLITZER: -- to the address. And then, of course, all night, we'll have special coverage. Guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, there's disturbing new threats from Russia's Vladimir Putin. He is talking about developing powerful new missiles now that the U.S. is suspending a landmark nuclear weapons treaty.


[17:50:50] BLITZER: Now that President Trump has moved to suspend a key nuclear treaty with Russia, President Vladimir Putin may be moving to develop powerful new missiles. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, what kind of threat could this potentially pose?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no sooner than the U.S. announced that it's suspending its involvement in the medium-range nuclear weapons treaty that Vladimir Putin was crowing about the missiles he's got in development.

Now, the missiles that Putin is talking about could threaten all of Europe and American forces there.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, new concerns about a Cold War-style missile showdown between America and its biggest nuclear rival, Russia after Vladimir Putin announced he wants to create a new medium-range, nuclear-tipped missile with supersonic capability, similar to this.

MICHAEL KOFMAN, SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST, CNA: Not only are they far faster so they're incredibly difficult to intercept, but they also have very low flight times so there's very little warning or a possibility for the defending side to do much of anything about it.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say Putin could be ready to deploy that missile which would be capable of flying faster than the speed of sound within a few years. More concerning, they say, is that the Russian leader wants to modify a dangerous missile already in his arsenal.

It's a cruise missile called the Kalibr, similar to an American Tomahawk, that Russia has previously launched from ships and submarines. The Russian President now wants to deploy a land-launched version.

KOFMAN: Kalibr, realistically, can threaten all of Europe.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say that means all of America's European allies and U.S. forces stationed throughout the continent will be in the line of fire of Putin's new missiles, each having a range of at least a thousand miles.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL OF U.S. ARMY EUROPE AND THE SEVENTH ARMY: There are about six or seven major bases of all services throughout Europe -- some major air bases, certainly the ground bases which contain the 30,000 or so U.S. Army soldiers there, some naval bases in the Mediterranean.

TODD (voice-over): Putin's push to improve his arsenal comes just days after the U.S. announced it is suspending a key Cold War treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or INF. That deal forced the U.S. and Russia to eliminate the same kinds of missiles that Putin is now talking about developing which can fly between 300 and 3,400 miles.

The U.S. accused Russia of violating that treaty by secretly testing and deploying those missiles. The U.S. says if Russia doesn't back down, it will withdraw completely. The Russians deny they have violated the deal. Over the weekend, Putin went as far as to promise he would not act first.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): Russia will not deploy medium or short-range weapons unless such weapons appear either in Europe or in other parts of the world. Until such weapons of American origin appear in these regions.

TODD (voice-over): But experts say Putin has been aggressively trying to advance many of his weapons capabilities.

Last year, he boasted of trying to develop a supersonic ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching the United States, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range, even an underwater nuclear-armed drone.

HERTLING: He will take every advantage he possibly can to include an attempt at new military confrontations, conventionally. He is going to push it until someone pushes back on it.


TODD: Now, a key question tonight that we have posed to weapons experts, do U.S. forces have the capability to shoot down some of these new Russian missiles that Putin has just announced he's developing?

Analysts say U.S. forces can shoot down those Kalibr missiles but not if several of them are fired at once. They say American forces do not have the capability to shoot down any kind of supersonic missiles.

Although the American side is working on that, they don't have it yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, does Putin have the resources, specifically we're talking about the money, to develop all those advanced weapons systems that he talks about and engage in an arms race with the United States?

TODD: Wolf, Michael Kofman, a respected analyst on the Russian military, he told me today that the Russians have more money for this than they're ever given credit for. He says the Russians are going to have the money to develop these systems through the 2020s.

Beyond that, though, they may be a little stretched. They may not be able to produce those weapons in large quantities, but this arms race could be on for at least another decade.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.

[17:55:01] Coming up, the breaking news. Despite growing calls for him to step down after the discovery of a shocking yearbook photo, Virginia's Governor is holding on to his job pleading for time to prove he's not a racist.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Digging in. CNN has learned that Virginia's embattled Governor is asking his cabinet for time to clear his name as he rebuffs cascading calls for his resignation over a racist photo. And now, the Lieutenant Governor who would replace him is having to deny a sexual assault allegation.

[17:59:58] Loan trouble. President Trump's company reportedly was denied a loan by the German banking giant, Deutsche Bank, during the 2016 presidential campaign.