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Hope Hicks Snubs Lawmakers' Questions About White House, Denies Knowledge of Hush Money; Rivals Criticizing Biden for Touting Civility of Two Segregationist Senators; China Courts North Korea Ahead of Global Summit; Former Trump Aide Hope Hicks Snubs Questions About White House; Democratic Senators Criticize Biden for Touting "Civility" With Segregationist Senators. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Hope on the Hill: former Trump aide Hope Hicks becomes the first member of the president's inner circle to get grilled by Democratic lawmakers but snubs many of their questions as the White House asserts immunity.

Will Congress take her to court?

Demanding an apology: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is facing fierce backlash for touting civility in his dealings with two segregationist senators. His rival White House hopeful Cory Booker said Biden must say sorry immediately.

Will Biden apologize?

Reparations resistance: huge crowds turn out as a House panel holds an emotional hearing on forming a commission to look at reparations for slavery. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is already dismissing the idea.

Can lawmakers come to terms with it?

And Comrade Kim: in a rare front page op-ed, China's president pledges support for Kim Jong-un and praises what he calls their irreplaceable relationship.

Are the two Communist leaders cozying at the expense of President Trump?

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee vowing to take the White House to court as President Trump's former aide and long-time confidante Hope Hicks snubbed lawmakers' questions about the White House in a lengthy closed-door hearing that just ended.

We're also following a new controversy facing presidential candidate Joe Biden. A growing number of fellow Democrats are blasting him for touting the civility of his dealings with two segregationist senators decades ago. White House hopefuls, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, are criticizing the remark.

We'll talk about that and much more with Congressman Ted Deutch of the Judiciary Committee, who was in the hearing with Hope Hicks today. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by.

First, new details of Hope Hicks's closed door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly has the latest from Capitol Hill.

Phil, Democrats are angry and say they expect to go to court to force Hope Hicks to answer questions.

What are you learning about what she did and did not say behind closed doors?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The White House counsel said they would deploy the idea of absolute immunity for any questions related to Hope Hicks' time at the White House and they have certainly asserted that in a major way over the course of the last seven hours.

Hope Hicks refusing to answer any questions related to her time in the White House, including basic questions like, where was her desk and where was her office or was there a war in the Middle East while you were in time in service at the White House? Making very clear no answers would be given whatsoever.

Now she did answer some questions about her time before the White House, while on the campaign. She did say, according to sources, she had no knowledge of the hush money payments that occurred to alleged women who had relationships with President Trump while he was a candidate or before he was a candidate.

But Wolf, as it goes to what Democrats were looking for, particularly in the Judiciary Committee's long-running investigation into potential obstruction, Hope Hicks providing no answers, providing a lot of frustration for Democrats. As for Republicans, the top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins,

called the whole thing a waste of time.

BLITZER: So what options do Democrats have to get more information from Hope Hicks?

MATTINGLY: There is no longer any hedging. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee, said that they will go to court. He said that they believe they could absolutely destroy the idea of absolute immunity that the White House has been using when they take it to court.

He didn't give a specific timeline, only said that it would be soon. Made clear Democrats feel they have -- they are on the right side of the legal arguments here and they will be planning to go to court, not just for Hope Hicks but also for other White House officials, who have utilized similar legal theories up to this point.

This is not going to end anytime soon. While the hearing may be over, while Hope Hicks may have departed, Democrats on the committee say they are going to continue to pursue this; next step will be the courts -- Wolf.

Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

President Trump has just returned to the White House from Florida and his campaign kickoff rally and Hope Hicks is clearly on his mind. Let's go to our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

The president just tweeted, quote, "Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell."

What is the latest?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, clearly the president has been keeping close tabs on Hope Hicks being on Capitol Hill today, tweeting multiple times and again just in the last hour, talking about the way Democrats are treating his former aide, saying that they are putting her through hell now for three years, quote, "After total exoneration by Robert Mueller and the Mueller report," he said, "they were unhappy with the results and they want a do-over" --

[17:05:00]

COLLINS: -- and he said, "it is very unfair and costly to her," and he leaves us with this question, "Will it ever end?"

Wolf, this comes as the president has been telling aides and allies he wasn't worried about Hope Hicks testifying. But of course, now there are questions being raised about just how close the two of them still are.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): She was once President Trump's top aide and closest confidante. But when Hope Hicks returned to Washington today, she was on Capitol Hill instead of the West Wing.

Trump fired off this simple message while Hope Hicks was testifying behind closed doors.

"Democrat congressional hearings are rigged," adding, "they gave crooked Hillary's people complete immunity yet now they bring back Hope Hicks."

Sources tell CNN his relationship with Hicks has changed dramatically. While they were once inseparable, now the two hardly speak.

When Hicks didn't return several of his calls last year, Trump asked allies, "What happened to Hope?"

Despite the distance, her friend said she's still on Trump's side and just wanted out of his orbit. Trump making clear in Orlando Tuesday night where that orbit is.

Going after his 2016 opponent before mentioning those running against him in 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 33,000 emails deleted, think of it. If I deleted one email, like a love note to Melania, it's the electric chair for Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS (voice-over): It was supposed to be the official launch of his 2020 campaign. But Trump focused on airing his grievances instead.

TRUMP: They went after my family. My business, my finances. My employees, almost everyone that I've ever known or worked with. But they are really going after you. That is what it is all about.

COLLINS (voice-over): Telling a packed stadium he would cure cancer if he's re-elected.

TRUMP: We will come up with the cures to many, many problems, to many, many diseases, including cancer and others.

COLLINS (voice-over): And painting a dire picture if he's not.

TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.

COLLINS (voice-over): The charged rally coming amid drama back in Washington, after Trump's acting Defense Secretary took himself out of the running for the permanent job when details of domestic abuse in his family became public.

Patrick Shanahan's sudden departure highlighting how Trump's cabinet is full of the last person standing. Trump now has an acting Defense Secretary, acting DHS secretary, acting U.N. ambassador, acting SBA administrator and acting chief of staff, among many others.

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COLLINS: Now Wolf, we noted the president himself wasn't concerned about Hicks revealing damaging information while on Capitol Hill today.

But those around him aren't so sure because you'll recall the last time she testified, that was when she admitted that she had told white lies on behalf of President Trump. Now, of course, the transcript is going to come out and you'll be able to see what it is that she told lawmakers behind closed doors today.

BLITZER: Look forward to that. Kaitlan, thank you very much. Kaitlan Collins over at the White House.

Let's get more on all of this. Democratic congressman Ted Deutch of Florida is joining us, he's a member of both the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. And I know you just left this hearing with Hope Hicks and the chairman of your committee, Jerry Nadler, said the White House assertion of immunity, in his word, is "ridiculous" and said he'll destroy that argument in court. A strong statement from your chairman.

Is it fair to say this was a frustrating hearing?

REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): It was a frustrating hearing and it is also fair to say that the characterization by Chairman Nadler is exactly right.

This was the first opportunity for Congress to hear from one of the central figures in the Mueller report, one of the close confidantes of the president of the United States and they asserted this blanket immunity that doesn't exist. We will go to court like we now have to because of what Hope Hicks did today.

But she simply refused time and time again to respond to any questions, including the questions that she answered for Robert Mueller. We need to find out from her, the American people deserve to hear directly from the people who were the subjects of the Mueller report, what they were doing in all of the cases of obstruction of justice that were laid out in the Mueller report, that he then handed over to Congress to do the investigation that we're now pursuing.

BLITZER: Can you give our viewers, Congressman, specific examples of the types of questions Hicks --

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BLITZER: -- was prevented from answering by the White House lawyer who was there, the Justice Department lawyer who accompanied her.

DEUTCH: Sure. I can give you two examples. And it will help explain the range of issues. On the subject of the obstruction of justice, laid out by Mueller,

that is, the president asks the -- his personal lawyer to fire the special counsel. Then when that was reported, the president asked him to lie about it and then he asked him to create a false record.

Well, Hope Hicks knows about all of that, given the role that she played in the White House. And I asked her about each of those. And we have a right to hear from her to fill in what was missing from the Mueller report.

And in each instance, the White House lawyer jumped in and said, no, you can't answer that.

Those were really troubling. But to show you how absurd it is, she couldn't even answer a question about whether she told the truth to the Mueller team, whether she might have perjured herself to the Mueller team, any questions at all, whether she had opinions today about what is in the Mueller report, whether she could read an article and give her opinion about the article.

If it had to do with her time in the White House, the White House lawyers jumped in to try to block our ability to get the truth, to continue stonewalling Congress and to obstruct our investigation into what happened, particularly all of those areas of obstruction of justice that Mueller laid out for us and urged Congress to take the next step.

BLITZER: Chairman Nadler did say that Hope Hicks did give you, in his words, a lot of good information. I know he wants to go to court to open it up and get her to answer questions while she was in the White House.

What kind of good information did she provide?

DEUTCH: Well, there was worthwhile information about her time on the campaign and her time during the transition. And we'll have an opportunity to talk more about that going forward.

But what is so troubling is this refusal, based on this nonexistent blank immunity to answer those questions. Wolf, and the reason we're going to court, here is what is important, the reason we're going to court is not only to push back against what happened today, so that we could get the truth, but once a court makes clear that there is no blanket immunity, that there is nothing that the White House is asserting that should prevent people who testified to Mueller from actually testifying to Congress, once that is clear, it is not just Hope Hicks that we should then be able to hear from in public.

But it is Don McGahn and it is all of the others who were so instrumental in the decision-making in the White House with the president at the time that these obstruction of justice claims as laid out by the Mueller report were taking place.

BLITZER: I know you asked her about these alleged hush money payments to women.

What did she say about that?

DEUTCH: Well, when she talked about her -- what she's unaware of, what she doesn't remember, the language and the reason that it is so important to get -- it is unfortunate that the American people couldn't see this -- but it is going to be important for us to go back and take a look at the transcript.

There were a lot of things that she didn't recollect. But then the little white lies, she tried to characterize what those might have been. But then she said she didn't remember what those were. She couldn't remember any specific examples.

Those are the sorts of things that will be important for us and for everyone who is watching this so closely, to look at these transcripts, since she refused to appear before the TV cameras so the American people could hear her answers directly.

BLITZER: Let me also, Congressman, get your reaction to Joe Biden's comments that he could work across the aisle even citing his past work decades ago with Senate segregationists. He's getting a lot of criticism from some of his fellow Democrats, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and just weighing in.

Do you believe he needs to apologize for that?

DEUTCH: Look, Vice President Biden has a strong record -- a strong record on civil rights and working across the aisle. And I think that in order for anything to get done we have to work across the aisle.

I also think that there is -- when it comes to talking about segregationists and people who so clearly laid out this issue, no matter how many years ago, that is so anathema to us now, that those perhaps aren't the best examples to use when talking about the ability to work across the aisle.

And I would expect that vice president Biden will talk more about this in the coming days.

BLITZER: I suspect he will. All right, Congressman Ted Deutch, thanks so much for joining us.

DEUTCH: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll have more on the breaking news. Fellow Democratic presidential candidates piling on Joe Biden right now. Some of those --

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BLITZER: -- candidates demanding a formal apology from the former vice president for his remarks about these two segregationist senators.

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BLITZER: There is more breaking news we're following tonight. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are now joining the list of Democrats criticizing Joe Biden for his remarks about two segregationist senators. Our political reporter, Arlette Saenz, is joining us with the latest.

Bernie Sanders just weighed in as well, and Cory Booker in demanding a formal apology.

What is the latest?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This all stems from comments that Joe Biden made last night at a fundraiser in New York City, where he talked about his previous work with segregationists while he served in the Senate.

And I'll read you the quotes about what Biden said last night.

He said, "I was in the caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy; he always called me son."

He added, "Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done."

Now those comments have prompted swift criticism from his 2020 rivals, including Kamala Harris, who weighed in moments ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Biden. He's done very good work and he's served our country in a very noble way.

But to coddle the reputations of segregationists, of people, who, if they had their way, I would literally not be standing here as a member of the United States Senate, is, I think -- it is just -- it's misinformed and it is wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should he apologize for that.

HARRIS: He'll have to make that decision. But let's be very clear, that the -- that the senators he's speaking of with such adoration are individuals who made and built their reputation on segregation. The Ku Klux Klan celebrated the election of one of them. So this is a very serious matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now Senator Cory Booker was among the first candidates to come out and push back on Biden for these comments. He released a statement earlier today, where he said, "Vice President Biden's relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people and for everyone."

And he added, "And frankly, I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should."

You mentioned that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have also come out criticizing Biden. We'll see if this prompts the former vice president to respond any further going forward.

BLITZER: Was Joe Biden warned to avoid telling this story about working with known segregationists?

SAENZ: Wolf, he was. Our colleague Jeff Zeleny and I reported earlier today that advisers had previously told Biden that he shouldn't bring up these segregationists in his speeches or stories that he tells. But he went ahead and did that.

And his advisers are arguing that what Biden meant last night was that even if you find people's views repugnant, you can still find ways to work with them. They're pointing out that he wasn't praising these segregationists for their views.

But you've also had some prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus today coming to Biden's defense over all of this, including Congressman James Clyburn along with Congressman Bennie Thompson. He said, if he was able to work with Eastland, he's a great person -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz reporting for us, thanks very much.

There is more breaking news. The House Judiciary Committee chairman vowing to destroy the White House's immunity claim over Hope Hicks.

Will it stand up in court?

Plus more on the controversy involving Joe Biden's remarks about segregationist senators.

Is he struggling to stay in touch with where the Democratic Party is today?

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[17:25:00]

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BLITZER: Breaking news: during hours of congressional testimony today, the former White House communications director Hope Hicks was tight-lipped about her time in the White House, frustrating Democrats who wanted her account of events described in the Mueller report.

And now a powerful committee chairman is vowing to fight back against the White House stonewalling. Let's get some more from our experts.

And, Abby Phillip, Jerry Nadler said he plans to, quote, "destroy" the White House immunity claim over Hope Hicks. How does the White House feel about this very aggressive push by Democrats to compel testimony not just from Hope Hicks but from other officials, including the former White House counsel Don McGahn?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're going to fight it. I think that is -- that they've made that clear. They believe that Congress is trying to ask for far too much.

And frankly their assertion of privilege in these cases has been pretty broad. They've basically said that all of these officials can't talk about anything related to their time in the White House. And I think the courts will decide how this all shakes out.

But you're going to see the House -- these House committees basically say that can't be the case and the White House is going to fight this for as long as they can and as hard as they can.

And on the -- on their side of this, they're going to have the backing of the Justice Department as they craft their legal arguments around this. But in a lot of cases, for this White House, it is about denying Democrats the opportunity to create these kinds of images to create these kinds of, in their view, PR opportunities.

And I think they believe they can regain the narrative if they deny basic information at these different committee hearings and making it harder for Democrats to make their case against Trump more broadly.

[17:30:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Shawn Turner, what do you make of the White House's immunity claim?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. You know, Wolf, I think, first of all, we have to point out that this letter that the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent to Congress claiming that Hope Hicks would have immunity is somewhat peculiar. You know, to be clear, there is no concept of presidential immunity in the constitution. He actually refers to this as constitutional immunity.

Now, that said, I do think it is the case that we want the President, we want the executive, to certainly have access to advice and counsel from senior advisers, particularly as it relates to governance and policy issues. But if you look at what happened today on the Hill, you had Hope Hicks there refusing to answer questions about various mundane things, including whether or not she actually talked to Robert Mueller.

So this isn't about governance or policy issues. This is a case in which the White House is continuing to step in the way of Congress' ability to exercise oversight. So I think that for those who have said that this will be challenged in court and that this is a somewhat absurd claim, I think that's absolutely right. There is no provision for this sort of immunity. BLITZER: You know, Gloria, the President just tweeted his reaction to

what's going on. Let me read it to you. So sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell for three years now after total exoneration by Robert Mueller and the Mueller report.

That was the President. We know their relationship, though, has changed substantially, Gloria, since Hicks left the White House. Do you think the President is worried at all about Hicks sharing her account with lawmakers?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, she wasn't exonerated or convicted of anything by Mueller. What she did was testify to Mueller.

And she gave a more fulsome account, obviously, about what occurred, for example, on Air Force One when she wanted to get the whole story out about that meeting in Don Junior's office with the Russians, and the President -- as reported by the Mueller report, the President said to her, this is it, we're going to give -- you know, I don't want the whole story, we're just going to give this little paragraph, which is we all know was misleading at best.

And so I think he doesn't want her to tell the whole story because the President was in charge, the President dictated what was going to be in that statement, and we know what was in that statement was not the truth. And so, you know, he doesn't want Hope Hicks to go back there and to revisit that because he doesn't look good.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the -- Hope Hicks already gave her account to the Special Counsel's team. Her testimony is cited in dozens -- dozen of -- dozens of times in the Mueller report, 448 pages of that Mueller report. What additional value is there to having her testify before Congress?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think this was a situation where Democrats, if they were honest with themselves, probably didn't have the highest of hopes.

But, look, she's been out of the White House and out of the President's orbit now for a few months. She's had time, one would think, to read and digest the Mueller report. And perhaps they thought there was a certain chance that she may want to revisit how forthcoming she was about what she saw and what she witnessed, though clearly, we know that wasn't the case.

Look, she's always defended the President. In the Mueller report, she admitted to telling white lies from time to time. But if you think back to even the drafting of that letter on Air Force One, it was reported that she even told one legal aide and counsel to the President at the time that, you know, we will protect him, no one has to know about this.

So she was always somebody who was there to defend the President. And now, she clearly came in sticking to her immunity claim. And this was a delicate balance for the Democrats because they didn't -- they couldn't look too aggressive with her either. BLITZER: Everybody, stand by --

GOLODRYGA: And it's another opportunity --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, finish your thought.

GOLODRYGA: I will just say it's another opportunity for the Trump administration to kick the can down the road as well.

BLITZER: Because the -- if it goes to court, this could go on and on and on.

GOLODRYGA: Right. Right.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There is a lot more breaking news we're following. We'll be right back.

[17:34:11] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our experts. And, Abby, let's turn to the former Vice President Joe Biden's rather controversial comments about his personal relationship with two segregationist senators during the early -- his early years in Congress. We're going back decades.

During a fundraising event, Biden said, and I'm quoting him now, at least -- he said, at least, there was some civility; adding that one senator, James Eastland, never called me boy, he always called me son. What did you make of those comments?

PHILLIP: It's just very perplexing. I think what's confusing about this and -- is why Biden always seems to want to come back here. I don't think there is really much of a constituency for any sort of teachable moment about working with segregationists truly. I mean, I think there is no constituency for that, particularly not in the Democratic primary.

But I also think, Wolf, the last part of what Biden said that you just described, where he says, "he didn't call me boy, he always called me son," is, for a lot of people, one of the most problematic parts of what he said. Because it seems that Biden didn't really explain or even maybe understand that the reason he wouldn't have been called "boy" by this avowed segregationist is because he is a White man, and that was a word that was reserved for demeaning people of color.

[17:40:03] And so, you know, for Biden, this is going to be something that he has to figure out. There is no reason to invite this kind of controversy into his own campaign at this stage. But I think, also, he has to get smarter about talking about race in this kind of context, that working across the aisle is not enough of an excuse to bring up these kinds of stories.

BLITZER: Shawn, what did you think?

TURNER: Yes, you know, I think with candidates like Joe Biden, you know, someone who has been in politics for almost 50 years, you know, that can be one of the greatest assets. But I also think that it can trip him up sometimes.

Look, if I'm giving Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt in this case, I'm taking a step back and I'm looking at this and I'm saying, what he was trying to communicate was simply the fact that he has the ability and the wherewithal to work with people who he vehemently disagrees with. And I think that what he was trying to do is he was trying to say that that's what he did.

Now, certainly, with someone like Joe Biden who has had to, over the past 50 years, not only adjust to changes in our society and culture but also adjust to the sensitivities of each new generation, I think this is a real challenge for him.

I -- you know, look, I personally know people who are working on Joe Biden's campaign right now, and those are people who have looked at his record, as I think every American should do as they make their decision to look at candidates, and who have decided that Joe Biden's record is what you -- is what really holds him up and makes him a candidate that they -- candidate that they support.

So I do think that he needs to have his advisers, his team around him, make sure that they -- that he understands some of these sensitivities with regard to the new generation and understand that some people are going to hear these things very differently.

But I also think that, at the same time, this is the political season. His opponents are going to jump on this. And sometimes, you have to take a step back and ask yourself, what was he really trying to say here?

BLITZER: And that's a fair point, Gloria. Do you see this as yet another example of Joe Biden struggling to stay in touch with where the Democratic Party is today?

BORGER: Well, he wasn't struggling very hard because this isn't where the Democratic Party is today. I think Biden has a real problem here, which is he's in danger of being seen as a relic. And instead of talking about the past so much -- and I understand why he's doing it, he wants to say he's bipartisan. He's trying to appeal to centrists who didn't -- you know, who didn't vote for Hillary Clinton and all the rest.

But he has to start talking about the future and stop dwelling on the past. We get it. We know he's bipartisan. We know he's worked with people across the aisle and all of that, but he has to start talking about what he's going to do in the future and how he is not somebody solely of the past but how he can represent young voters in the Democratic Party, how he can represent people of color in the Democratic Party.

So I understand what he's trying to do. He got jumped on, as one would expect, by his opponents in the primary contest. But, you know, he's in danger now of just being seen as somebody who did it that way 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. You know, he can't only be seen as that kind of candidate.

BLITZER: That's a good point, too. Bianna, how do you see it?

GOLODRYGA: Well, it comes on a day when there are hearings about reparations on Juneteenth, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas. I mean, the optics are terrible. This is yet another example of a self-inflicted wound.

Look, again, I think maybe Senator Harris is taking it a bit too far, saying that he was coddling these senators. But there's no reason that the Congressional Black Caucus needs to come out and defend something like this. It was unnecessary.

And this is, once again, a candidate who can be his own worst enemy. We know there have been gaffs in the past. There are definitely assets given his record in Washington and in the Senate, but here is another example of the liabilities as well. He needs to show that he's a candidate of tomorrow.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, the Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, he himself touched off a political firestorm yesterday when he said Congress shouldn't even be debating reparations for slavery, instead suggesting that the United States dealt with racism by electing former President Barack Obama. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER OF THE SENATE: We have, you know, tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, bypassing landmark civil rights legislation. We've elected an African-American president.

I think we're always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that. And I don't think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Abby, what did you make of those remarks?

PHILLIP: Well, it seems that McConnell is really just reflecting what is the view among a lot of people, frankly, in the Republican Party, and a segment of the population.

[17:44:59] And, you know, frankly, reparations is one of those topics that has come up time and time again, but the vast majority of people don't even understand what it is, what it means, and how it could even work.

And so I'm not surprised to see that McConnell has that view, but to bring Barack Obama up as an example of how the country has gotten past racism or slavery or whatever it is, is really, I think -- it was an interesting choice on McConnell's part.

But today is a good day for this conversation to happen. I think that hearing on Capitol Hill that they had, talking about the details of what it means about the -- not just what slavery was but all of the hundred-plus year legacy of slavery and what that means for people today is important as part of this conversation.

And I -- but I think that, for Democrats, whether this is a teachable moment, it just shows you that there are a lot of people who believe what McConnell believes. And if they're going to change people's minds about reparations, they're going to have to start with that particular viewpoint.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There is more news we're following. President Trump may have a new competitor in his bid to court the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un -- the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. What could their alliance mean for President Trump's push for trade deals, a nuclear agreement, and more? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[17:50:59] BLITZER: President Trump may tout his ties with Kim Jong- un, but China's President Xi Jinping may be trying to one-up it. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with more.

Brian, Xi arrives in North Korea very soon for his first visit.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, arriving very shortly. And you're right, he does essentially try to one-up Donald Trump here, Wolf.

Xi is heading to Pyongyang tonight for a key meeting with Kim Jong-un before Xi meets with Trump at the G-20 Summit next week. It is another indication that the North Korean dictator is playing three major powers like a maestro.

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TODD (voice-over): China's President is so enthusiastic about his trip to North Korea and his meeting with Kim Jong-un that he's taken the time to write an op-ed on it.

PATRICK CRONIN, ASIA-PACIFIC SECURITY CHAIR, HUDSON INSTITUTE: He's done this big editorial, giving Kim a blank check, saying you are an irreplaceable relationship.

TODD (voice-over): Xi Jinping's essay in a North Korean state newspaper praises Kim for his diplomatic outreach, promises stronger economic ties, and even throws in a little Cold War era phrasing, calling the dictator Comrade Kim Jong-un, saying they formed a deep and close friendship supporting each other in socialist revolution.

The visit from Xi to Pyongyang puts the 35-year-old North Korean dictator back in the game after months of silence between Kim and President Trump and his team following a disastrous summit in Hanoi.

It's the latest chess move in a game between Xi and President Trump to win influence over the young strongman with nuclear bombs at his fingertips.

CRONIN: Xi and Trump are bargaining for Kim's affections, but Xi now has got the upper hand. He is going to have the lever that Kim needs to make a deal with Trump.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts expect Xi to use the lever next week at the G-20 Summit in Japan to pressure Trump into restarting nuclear talks with North Korea. They say there's little doubt this meeting with Xi in Pyongyang emboldens Kim Jong-un in his personal relationship with Donald Trump.

PATRICIA KIM, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, UNITED STATES INSTITUTE OF PEACE: I think this summit between Xi and Kim definitely gives strength to Kim. It helps him show the world that he has more options than the United States and South Korea, that he has the backing of Xi Jinping.

TODD (voice-over): It's the fifth summit between Kim and Xi since early last year, a far cry from the first six years of Kim's rule. During that period, Kim ordered the killings of two of China's favorite top North Korean figures -- Kim's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. And he routinely tested nuclear weapons. All of which, experts say, infuriated Xi and his inner circle.

CRONIN: You can see the anger coming out of the communist party of China. Leadership at the highest level, not necessarily a quote from Xi Jinping but people around him, saying that North Korea is a complete troublemaker, a problem, a spoiled brat.

TODD (voice-over): But tonight, Kim has turned that dynamic back in his favor, creating tension between Trump, Xi, and Vladimir Putin as they vie for influence over him.

CRONIN: This 35-year-old Kim Jong-un is a master at Machiavellian politics, and now he's got the major powers, the major powers of the world, at his beck and call doing his bidding.

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TODD: And to add to the personal tension, the clock is ticking tonight. Kim Jong-un has given the Trump team until the end of this year to come up with some kind of advancement on a nuclear deal or bust.

President Trump is entering his re-election campaign where he may soon have his attention diverted away from North Korea. And to top it all off, President Trump's top man at the State Department on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, today, came out and said the two sides still don't even have a common definition between them of what denuclearization even means -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's pretty significant. Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.

The breaking news next. House Democrats target President Trump's inner circle, grilling former aide and confidante Hope Hicks but find their questions snubbed.

Plus, more of his fellow presidential candidates are now calling out Joe Biden in a growing controversy over his remarks about civility and segregation.

[17:55:05] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:58] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Holding out Hope. Longtime Trump confidante Hope Hicks refuses to answer Democrats' questions about her time in the White House. We're learning new details about her testimony.

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