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Interview With NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Presidential Candidate; House Passes Controversial Border Spending Bill, Progressive Democrats Furious After Pelosi Compromises; Former Vice President Joe Biden And Sen. Bernie Sanders (D), Vermont To Take Center Stage Tonight As Democratic Debates Display Party's Leftward Tilt; Rex Tillerson Tells Top Congressional Aides Putin Seemed More Prepared Than Trump At 2017 Meeting; Supreme Court Allows Political Gerrymandering; Candidates Prepare For Democratic Presidential Debate. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 27, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Delaying the census. President Trump wants to upend the mandated count of the U.S. population, threatening a constitutional showdown, as he stews about a new Supreme Court ruling against him. It's one of two politically charged high court decisions ahead of the 2020 election.

Left of center. Progressives dominated the leadoff Democratic presidential debate. And, in round two tonight, moderate front-runner Joe Biden may be on the defensive, as he goes head to head with top- tier rivals.

And left out. We're learning new details of Rex Tillerson's frustrations with the Trump team before he was fired as secretary of state. A surprise encounter revealed that Jared Kushner was secretly working behind Tillerson's back.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

We're following a lot of breaking news, including the outrage among progressive Democrats after a House vote just a little while ago. A controversial border a bill passed after the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, reversed course and agreed to bring the Senate version of the bill to the floor.

We're getting more reaction this hour.

Also breaking, President Trump is threatening to delay the constitutionally mandated census count after suffering a major blow in the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices blocked the administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, this as the 2020 presidential race shifts into higher gear with the first Democratic debates. Tonight, Joe Biden's front-runner status and his centrist stance will be tested by Bernie Sanders and other top-tier competitors. The party's tilt toward the left on display during round one of the debate.

I will speak with one of the Democrats who was on the stage last night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, this House vote is causing an uproar among progressives. What are you hearing from lawmakers tonight?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, certainly a lot of anger among Democrats tonight, specifically among a group of very vocal progressive House Democrats, who tonight are outraged with the way that this standoff has now concluded.

And that concluded by way of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, forced to do something that earlier in the day that she did not want to do, take up and pass the Senate version of this humanitarian aid bill for aid at the border. That was after she faced significant pressure and pushback from the moderates in her caucus, saying, we have to pass this Senate bill.

In the end, the House in the last hour just voted that bill through by a vote of 305-102. Now, very notable in that number is 95 House Democrats voted against leadership, voted against this bill, very unhappy with the bill in the end.

We heard from them over the last 24, 48 hours, them saying that they believe that the Senate version of the bill that many Democrats did pass, pass through and have their support of, they thought it was inadequate. They said it didn't go far enough. They wanted more guarantees, specifically of how the administration intended to use that $4.6 billion and wanted the bill to have more protections for migrants at the border.

One of those vocal critics was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She said that this is essentially giving the administration a blank check and asking for a pinkie promise on how they will use that money.

Here's more of what she just said.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I do not believe that we should be throwing more money to ICE. My district is 50 percent immigrant, and I have an obligation and a responsibility to protect them. I believe that really what we should ideally be doing is passing a pure humanitarian bill to get money straight to those kids, no tricks, no riders, no poison pills.

We need to get toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and we need to make sure that these kids are protected, as well as having their resources funded. And the fact that this is even a game is, frankly, a huge, huge disappointment.


SERFATY: And just a short time ago, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi acknowledging the dissatisfaction of so many in her party, and really this internal family battle that has risen over in the last 24 hours, and only more so since the vote passed through.

She said on the House floor: "This is not the one we had hoped for, but the one we are voting on today." And she argued that this was just in order to get the money to the children fastest that they needed to put the Senate bill out on the House floor.

Now, meantime, this bill, $4.6 billion package, heads to the White House for the president to sign it, and indications are that he will, of course, given that Mike Pence, the vice president, was fighting behind the scenes to get this Senate bill passed through the House.

So, when it does, though, of course, when it officially gets signed, it leaves behind up here, Wolf, a very bitter fight among Democrats on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you, Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.

Now to President Trump and his angry reaction to a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling with big political implications.

Let's go live to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's covering the president over at the G20 summit in Japan.

Jim, the president has a lot on his plate at the summit, but he's been busy tweeting about his loss here in Washington at the high court.


After arriving at the G20 in Japan, President Trump is facing a major political defeat back home, as the Supreme Court has blocked his administration's attempt to place a citizenship question in the upcoming census.

The president is responding by questioning whether he can actually delay the census, setting up potentially another constitutional showdown. And we learned just this afternoon, Wolf, that House Democrats are now talking about what should be done to make sure the president doesn't mess with the census.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump has more to worry about the just the G20. It's more like 2020, as the Supreme Court just rejected his administration's move to insert a citizenship question into the upcoming census, a decision that could have a huge impact on next year's election. The president now wants to know if he can indefinitely delay the

census, something the Constitution won't allow, tweeting in the middle of the night: "Seems totally ridiculous that our government and indeed country cannot ask a basic question of citizenship. I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the census no matter how long until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information."

In his decision, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wasn't buying it, saying: "The sole stated reason seems to have been contrived."

Critics suspect the administration's move was at least partially aimed at discouraging Democratic-leaning Latinos from voting in the 2020 election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted: "Make no mistake, the Trump administration added a citizenship question to the census to deliberately cut out the voices of immigrants and communities of color. It's wrong and goes against our core values as a nation."

The idea has been a fixation of the president's for weeks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think, when you have a census, and you're not allowed to talk about whether or not somebody is a citizen or not, that doesn't sound so good to me. Can you imagine? You send out a census, and you're not allowed to say whether or not a person's an American citizen.

ACOSTA: In another ruling with major 2020 implications, the Supreme Court did hand the Republicans a narrow victory on gerrymandering, giving the green light to the controversial practice of drawing congressional districts for partisan gain. Democrats are crying foul over that one.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The consensus people have on health care, climate chaos, student loans, gun violence outside of Congress will not be reached inside because the lines are rigged, and you get people who are -- their candidacies are reinforced by the politicians who keep protecting them.

ACOSTA: The president was making waves at the G20 summit with other world leaders even before his arrival, making critical comments about Japan, China and India.

But, once again, Mr. Trump has steered clear of any criticism of Russia's Vladimir Putin, while touting his own relationships with U.S. allies.

TRUMP: I think I can say very easily that we have been very good to our allies. We work with our allies. We take care of our allies.

ACOSTA: The president is closing in on his first major meeting with Putin since their summit in Helsinki last year, when Mr. Trump sided with the Russians over his own intelligence community on the question of election interference. TRUMP: My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others.

They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

ACOSTA: And the president is already getting testy with reporters over what he might say this time around.

TRUMP: I will have a very good conversation with him. What I say to him is none of your business.


ACOSTA: And one question for this G20 summit is whether the president will make it clear to Putin that the Russians should stay out of the 2020 election. This is no longer a question that can wait, as Democrats are clearly already engaged in their own debates and heading into a critical period of the upcoming campaign.

Wolf, we are about seven hours away from that very high-stakes meeting the president will have with Vladimir Putin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Japan for us -- Jim, thank you very much.

Let's break down today's high court rulings with CNN Supreme Court Reporter, Ariane de Vogue.

Ariane, the president suggested he wants to delay the 2020 census. Is the administration going to keep fighting this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it's pretty ironic that he's asking to delay it, because all along his own solicitor general asked the Supreme Court to hear it, saying it had to be done in June. And it was the challengers who came back and said, look, it doesn't have to be done until October.

And, even this week, the solicitor general said that he wanted it done in June. So, somewhere, the Trump White House is going to talk to the Department of Justice because they're not on the same page here.

But, yes, these challenges are going to continue now.

BLITZER: He really wants this citizenship question to be asked as part of the 2020 census.


The high court did leave open the possibility they could change their mind.

DE VOGUE: Right, that's so important, because John Roberts didn't say that he didn't have the discretion to ask the question, but he wants more justification in court.

So that means they will go back to these judges, one in New York, maybe one in Maryland. But courts move slowly. And now there's the opportunity for more evidence, the challengers say, to come into the record.

So we will see. Timing is really going to be of the essence here in these lower courts.

BLITZER: Because that citizenship question, as important as that decision was by the U.S. Supreme Court, the other decision today may be even more significant.

The U.S. Supreme Court siding with basically a lot of Republicans. It's good news for the Republicans. Extreme gerrymandering in states can go on.

DE VOGUE: Right.

That was the big decision today. And that was a strong 5-4 opinion. The liberals here said that, look, partisan, gerrymandering has run amok, courts need to step in, they need to step into protect political representation.

Elena Kagan, the liberal justice, she was as passionate as I have ever heard her in dissent today. She was almost sad. And she said that this is a deeply sad day. And one of the things that's really important about that decision is, it was Justice Anthony Kennedy who always left the door open for maybe the court stepping in.

Today, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who took his place, slammed that door shut. That shows where this court is going and the difference between Kennedy and Kavanaugh.

BLITZER: Very, very important decision, Ariane. Thank you very much.

There's more news we're following, including news involving the Democratic presidential race.

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and eight other candidates, they are preparing to take part in tonight's debate. They have -- they may have a taste of what to expect if they watched 10 of their rivals face off last night.

Let's go to our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's over at the debate site in Miami.

Jeff, round one put the party's tilt toward the left on display. And we're likely to see more of that, I take it, tonight.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think there's no question about that.

I mean, the progressive movement in this Democratic Party has shaped the party in an entirely different direction than when Joe Biden last took the stage as a candidate himself. Now progressive ideas are front and center in the conversation.

Most of those are led by Bernie Sanders. That's why the dynamic between Sanders and Joe Biden, both standing on center stage, will help set the tone for the next chapter to come in this Democratic primary race.


ZELENY (voice-over): Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders side by side tonight for round two of the first Democratic debates.

The two 2020 front-runners offering a stark choice for Democrats trying to win back the White House. On stage tonight, the party's generational and ideological divide on full display, with Biden and Sanders flanked by Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, and joined by six other rivals searching for a breakout moment.

As Biden checked out the debate stage today, Sanders paid a visit to the Homestead shelter, where around 2,300 unaccompanied migrant children are being held just south of Miami. When asked about his debate strategy, he chose a boxing metaphor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm thinking like Muhammad Ali. He noticed the weakness in his opponent.

ZELENY: The question is whether he or any of the candidates lay a glove on the former vice president, as they have been subtly doing on the campaign trail by taking aim at his long record.

SANDERS: There is no middle ground.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It calls for a new generation of leadership in this country.

SWALWELL: We can't have a candidate who has ideas that are staler than Donald Trump's.

ZELENY: It's a far different Democratic Party than the last time Biden stood on a debate stage as Barack Obama's vice president, but aides say he intends to take a forward-looking approach, with one adviser telling CNN: "There is no need to try and draw contrasts with Senator Sanders. The contrasts couldn't be more obvious or stark."

Yet that is Biden's challenge. It was Sanders' progressive proposals that were largely driving the opening ground of the Democratic debate last night.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, yes, I'm with Bernie on Medicare for all.

ZELENY: Elizabeth Warren raising her hand, along with Bill de Blasio, when asked if they would abolish private health insurance for a government-run plan.

WARREN: There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it's just not possible, we just can't do it. It's -- have a lot of political reasons for this. What they're really telling you is, they just won't fight for it. ZELENY: As Warren emerged unscathed from the first debate, Cory

Booker snagged the most airtime, as he still tries to introduce himself.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I got out of law school, I moved into the inner city of Newark to fight as a tenant lawyer for other people's rights.

ZELENY: Julian Castro also stepping into the spotlight, challenging fellow Texan Beto O'Rourke on immigration, saying crossing the border should be a civil, not a criminal penalty.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some, like Congressman O'Rourke, have not. And I want to challenge all of the candidates to do that.

ZELENY: And it was Amy Klobuchar who offered a reality check on free college and other pricey proposals.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I don't make all the promises that everyone up here makes.



ZELENY: And those promises clearly will be front and center in this conversation, Wolf.

There's a sense of progressive ideas vs. a pragmatic approach. Joe Biden, of course, arrived here in Miami earlier today, but he watched the debate last evening in its entirety. I'm told Bernie Sanders also watched the debate.

So they have a sense of what this format and style is going to be like. But, Wolf, the question is, how are they going to interact? And, more importantly, what are they going to do when others standing on either side of them perhaps throw some bombs? Because that is the way to get attention and essentially have a breakout moment here.

But aides to Joe Biden tell me that he simply is going to present himself as a candidate of the future. Of course, many rivals are eager to talk about his past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny down in Miami.

Joining us now, one of the 2020 presidential candidates who was on the debate stage last night, the Democratic mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.

Mayor, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: There were moments last night where it looked like you were trying to run to the left of your Democratic rivals.

But a lot of Democratic voters simply want to find the most electable candidate to defeat President Trump. Why should those voters consider someone who seems determined to stake out some of the most liberal positions in the entire Democratic field?

DE BLASIO: Wolf, there's been a presumption that electability means being moderate. And I want to contest that right here right now.

I believe that, when we nominate a clear progressive, someone who's on the side of working people, we have a much better chance of winning. Look at the 2016 election. You had a lot of people who stayed home who would have voted Democrat because they just didn't feel the Democrats were on their side.

You had a lot of working-class folks who didn't hear a strong, bold message from Democrats drifted to Donald Trump. He said he was going to take care of working people. He sounded more convincing sometimes than our team did.

And so I would argue to you we have got the whole electability discussion wrong. When was the Democratic Party strong for decades? When we were clearly the party of working people, and we did really big, bold things to change people's lives.

So the things that I talk about, look, what I have done in New York, I want to do for the whole country, pre-K for all children for free, paid sick leave for working people, $15 minimum wage. These are things that improve people's lives. When they hear those ideas, they say, hey, wait, that's about me. That's about my family. That's what I need.

And that also presents Democrats as the party of change, not the party of the status quo.

So, honestly, my view is, I was trying to talk about both the things that I have actually done in New York as a chief executive -- and I do believe people want executive experience this time. We have had an amateur president. That didn't work out so well. I think people want an actual executive who knows how to handle big things.

I'm chief executive of the nation's largest city -- but also ideas that capture the imagination and make people hopeful. We're guaranteeing health care for all New Yorkers right now who don't have insurance. I think a lot of people in this country want to hear real fundamental change on the health care issues. They wanted that in 2018. They're going to want that in 2020 too.

BLITZER: Well, let's speak about that. Let's speak about health care.

You said last night you want to abolish, abolish private health insurance for the American people. Why should Americans who happen to like, those who like their private, for example, employer-sponsored, union-sponsored health insurance plans, why should they vote for you?

DE BLASIO: Wolf, look, let's be clear. Any major transition on health care what take time. It's not going to happen overnight.

But here's what I think we need to aspire to and the reason I do believe that a single-payer approach is better. Right now, we have a health care system that leaves out tens of millions of people right off the face. They don't even have insurance.

Then you have got tens of millions more who have insurance and cannot use it a lot of the time because of all the costs, the hidden taxes in it, the co-pays, the deductibles, all the things that just hit people time and time again, and cause them not to get the health care they need when they need it.

You also have a lot of things that aren't covered. This is not a health care system that's working for a huge percentage of the country. And God forbid a family has a single serious health condition. A catastrophic condition can wipe out a family, send them to bankruptcy.

We all know this. A lot of middle-class people, working-class people have had this experience. Why don't we aim for something better? It will not happen overnight. But why don't we aim for a system that actually takes care of the full range of people's health care needs, get them preventive care when they need it, makes it easy to use, instead of hard to use?

In America today, Wolf, you get a health insurance card, and it's good luck, you're on your own, hope you can figure it out. Why don't we create a system that is actually user-friendly and helps people get health care the first time they're sick, not later on?

That's what we should aspire to as a nation. And other countries with very similar societies to ours have managed to do it and make it work. We should be aiming in that direction too.

BLITZER: Let me give you a chance to respond and explain some controversy that has developed today.

At a rally in Miami, you quoted the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who was once, as you know, a top lieutenants to Cuba's Fidel Castro.


Let me play the clip of what you said.



Brothers and sisters, we will be with you every step of the way. Bring home a victory for all working people. God bless you all.


BLITZER: It means ever on to victory. You have just issued a public apology. You said you had no idea you

were quoting Che Guevara. So where did you pick up that phrase in the first place?

DE BLASIO: Yes, look, Wolf, that's an honest mistake. And I do apologize for it.

I literally meant it as a Spanish phrase, that these folks are going to be victorious, hang on to victory, that kind of thing. And you saw the response from the folks there working at the airport. They took it as just an affirmation of the strike.

These airport workers are getting a real raw deal. They're doing such important work. And they're not getting fair pay and benefits. That's what I was there for.

So, I do apologize because I didn't understand the context. And I certainly did not mean to offend anyone.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, it's deeply offensive to a lot of Hispanics, especially those Cuban Americans who are down in Miami.

DE BLASIO: Well, Wolf, I understand that now. And, obviously, if I had understood the phrase's origin better, I would not have used it.

But it is simply a case of, I literally understood it as a Spanish- language translation of something I was trying to say these working people about the fact that I thought they would be victorious in the end.

And I apologize. I think, in life, you have to, as a leader, be able to say, if you did something wrong, even if you didn't mean to, apologize and say, look, I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone. I understand the sensitivities. I have learned from that mistake.

BLITZER: Yes, nothing wrong with apologizing. As our moms and dads always told us, you make a mistake, you go ahead and apologize.

Let's talk about the debate last night.

DE BLASIO: Amen. They taught us well.

BLITZER: Yes, they did.

You said Russia was the number one geopolitical threat facing the United States. As you know, President Trump, he's preparing in the next few hours to meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. It's the first time since the release of the Mueller report.

The president says -- and I'm quoting him now before leaving the White House -- he says, "It's none of your business" what he and Putin plan on talking about.

What's your reaction to that from the president?

DE BLASIO: I think when it comes to Vladimir Putin, the president started in a place that was pretty treasonous, and now it's full-blown treason.

I mean, we heard that extraordinary interview in the Oval Office when he literally invited hostile foreign nations, including Russia, to find dirt on his political opponents. And I think the inference there was, find the dirt and let's make a deal. I will take care of you, if you take care of me.

It gets worse and worse. I mean, we remember when he stood next to Putin and immediately took Putin's side on every issue.

This is unacceptable. And what I said last night, and I was the only Democrat on the stage to say it, is, our number one geopolitical threat is the country that is trying to literally undermine our democracy and turn us against each other. It's not just that Russia is trying to destroy the sanctity of our elections.

Remember, all of those bots, all of that propaganda they were putting out was meant to divide. It was meant to foment hatred and division, to destroy us from within. They are a threat, and they must be dealt with. And it begins with a president of the United States who understands this guy Putin was a KGB operative.

How many times do we have to recognize the guy is not on our side? But we have a president who thinks he's his best friend. This is unacceptable. And I believe, Wolf, that a lot of everyday Americans, including independents and Republicans, look at this.

They remember the history with Russia, and they look at this and say, wait a minute, this just doesn't make sense. Why is Trump so cozy with this guy? And it's endangering our country.

And so I think this is -- look, look what they did in Ukraine. That's another example of we cannot allow Russia to keep expanding into other countries. That's something America never would have allowed in the past. We have got to stop that now.

But, yes, it's time for the president to be held fully responsible for the fact he is literally in a treasonous relationship with Vladimir Putin right now.

BLITZER: Mayor de Blasio, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck out there on the campaign trail.

DE BLASIO: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the outrage among progressive Democrats after the House of Representatives just approved the Senate's version of a border aid bill.

Will Speaker Pelosi's reversal come back to haunt her?

And we will talk about the Democratic divisions on the presidential debate stage later tonight. Joe Biden says he's prepared to defend his record.


BLITZER: The breaking news hour, outrage among progressive House Democrats after Speaker Nancy Pelosi compromised to pass the Senate's border spending bill, reversing her earlier call to reconcile it with the House-passed version.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Gloria Borger, I'm going to give you a little sample of the very angry reaction from a lot of these progressive Democrats.

Mark Pocan tweeted this: "Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the child abuse caucus? Wouldn't they want to at least fight against contractors who run deplorable facilities? Kids are the only ones who could lose today."

And that's just a sample of the very angry reaction.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it was incredible among Democrats.

I think Nancy Pelosi found herself in a situation where she was caught between the moderates and the liberals in her caucus. And the moderates -- once she had gotten some more provisions in a bill -- for example, she had gotten some more provisions in to reduce funding for ICE, for example, and more on standard of care.


And then the moderates complain because they don't want to reduce funding for ICE.

So she found herself in this situation where she had to do something, she felt, because of what was going on at the border. So she had to accept something that she found less than acceptable, and that's what she did.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca Buck, the Senate version passed the House, 305-102, almost all of the republicans voted for it. Among the democrats, 129 democrats voted for it. Many reluctantly, but they voted for it. 95 democrats, mostly the progressives, voted against it.

Since Nancy Pelosi became Speaker, have we ever seen a split like this in the House of Representatives among the democratic caucus?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Well, we haven't, Wolf. And part of that is just because nothing is getting done in Congress now. It's just a symptom of the dysfunction that we're seeing, especially with democrats in control of one chamber, republicans in control of the other and Trump in the White House. But this is a significant moment for Pelosi.

And I think it shows just how difficult it's going to be for her on these must-pass measures. This is something where the funding was urgently needed. She felt like she needed to act as soon as possible, which is why she decided it wasn't worth the political fight.

And I think that's a reasonable explanation for what she did, but you see the political backlash from some of the more progressive members who don't have that same sort of understanding here.

BLITZER: The Senate version passed the Senate overwhelmingly with very broad bipartisan support. Why are there such different attitudes among the senators, the Senate Democrats and House Democrats?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, I think it's a couple of things. First, you have that the democrats don't control the Senate, they do control the House, and progressive energy is all there in the House. I think Gloria is right that the Speaker ultimately felt like she got enough concessions that she had to push this through.

But you can see why the progressives in the House are mad. They see this as a situation where they didn't even make the republicans in the Senate work for this. You know, Speaker -- excuse me, majority leader McConnell didn't even have to sort of take off his warm-up pants. He just passed his bill and sat there while the democrats fretted, and then he got what he wanted anyway. And they wanted a fight out of this even if they ultimately had to make some concessions down the road.

BUCK: But, frankly, this is something that the administration has been asking for now for weeks, so it wasn't like this was just rushed through. This is something that democrats have been dragging their feet on and they realized, I mean, this reached a crescendo where they could not ignore it any longer, could not drag this out any further. And so I think it wasn't exactly that democrats didn't even try to exact any concessions.

SWERDLICK: I think you're 100 percent right, Rebecca. The only thing I would add to that though is that when republicans controlled the House, they just didn't bring bills up that they didn't like. And I think democrats were looking at --

BLITZER: Let me ask Bianna. Bianna, is this a setback for Nancy Pelosi?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't think she would deny that it's not a setback. I mean, in her eyes, there's only so far that she would go for the sake of principle, right? And I think between the images that we saw over the weekend, the reporting that we saw, the neglect that these children were under, I think Nancy Pelosi in the past has shown that she would fight for certain principles, i.e., the government shutdown last year when it came to immigration.

But I think in terms of seeing the humanitarian crisis there, especially the children suffering and the President every day going on television in interviews blaming the democrats for it, and the Vice President over the weekend stating that even the Mexican government is doing more than the democrats are doing as far as any sort of aid and stopping this human tragedy, I think she felt she had no other choice. BLITZER: Let's talk about tonight the second presidential debate, Gloria. The Vice President, former Vice President Joe Biden, is going to be on the stage, Bernie Sanders, eight others will be on the stage. Are you expecting fireworks?

BORGER: Yes, I am. I think not the Donald Trump version of fireworks because I don't think they'll be calling each other names the way Donald Trump did in his primary debates, but I think Joe Biden has a big target on his back.

I think he and Bernie Sanders are probably going to have some interesting conversations. The Biden people are saying, no, we don't -- you know, the differences between us are obvious, we don't need to respond to him, but I bet he is prepared to. And I'm sure Bernie Sanders is ready to give it to him.

And you have candidates on stage, Kamala Harris, really needs to introduce herself to the American people at large, Pete Buttigieg. I mean, he's 40 years younger than Joe Biden, and he will be right there with him. So that should be interesting.

So I think that since the Biden campaign has kind of kept Biden under wraps a lot, not speaking to the national media, this is going to be the first time we're really going to see Joe Biden perform on the campaign trail and see how he interacts with his competitors.


So for that alone, it should be interesting.

BLITZER: Yes, it should be very interesting.

And, Rebecca Buck, another candidate, Congressman Eric Swalwell, he went after Biden in a CNN interview earlier in the day with Brooke Baldwin. Listen to this.


ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): We can't have a candidate who has ideas that are staler than Donald Trump's.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN NEWSROOM: So you think Biden is a candidate of the past?

SWALWELL: I don't think we can nominate a candidate who has been in government for longer than 20 years. I just don't think that's going to work.


BLITZER: Do you think we're going to hear more of that, those direct attacks against Biden from some of these lower tier candidates?

BUCK: There is no question from the lower tier candidates, Wolf. This is potentially their only moment to try breakthrough in this race, get into a higher tier. But my question, especially with that generational argument that Swalwell was trying to make, is will we see someone like Pete Buttigieg making that argument directly to Joe Biden or hinting at that argument, or will he focus on trying to staying positive, trying to stay above that, and save that for later. But that could be a really interesting contrast.

BLITZER: David, what do you think?

SWERDLICK: Yes. I mean, Congressman Swalwell is a smart guy. He has a big future in politics. But I think that was a tactical mistake. Number one, he let Vice President Biden know what was coming. So now, he has got a couple hours to come up with a, I'm not going to hold his youth and inexperience against-type, snappy comeback. And the other thing is that now Congressman Swalwell is in a situation where if I'm a moderator, I'm going to ask him, what exactly did you mean when you said we can't afford to have someone like Joe Biden in the White House, you know. And now, he's going to have to come up with an answer to that.

BLITZER: Yes, his words -- ideas that are staler than Donald Trump's ideas.

Bianna, what are you looking for tonight?

GOLODRYGA: Again, I think it's the Biden and Bernie debate. And I think it will be interesting to see how closely Biden will defend the Obama legacy and the Obama economy. This is something that Bernie Sanders has been attacking and going after pre-Donald Trump, if you recall.

So this is something I am going to be closely paying attention to. How closely will Biden be defending the Affordable Care Act, in terms of Medicare for all, which is what Bernie is pursuing? Both of these candidates, unlike last night, have run for president before. So this isn't their first rodeo.

But watching these two, specifically Joe Biden, and whether or not he stays in line with the Obama legacy is something that I think will be key. And I personally think that the biggest setback that Joe Biden faces tonight is Joe Biden.

BORGER: We didn't hear Obama's name mentioned last night. I bet you're going to hear it tonight.

BLITZER: And we're going to probably hear it mostly from Joe Biden, right?

BORGER: I would think so. I would definitely think so. Remember, there are those friendship bracelets he Tweeted about. Maybe he will be wearing it.

GOLODRYGA: And remember, President Trump said that it was embarrassing that Obama has not come out in support of Biden.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Why hasn't he, Gloria? He picked him to be his vice presidential running mate, a heartbeat away from the presidency, served with him for eight years during the Obama administration, now Biden decides to run. Why didn't President Obama endorse his vice president?

BORGER: Well, Biden was asked about that and Biden said he didn't endorse me because I asked him to stay away from all this right now, because I want to earn it. Donald Trump said that's a load of bunk, I don't believe it for a minute, but that is what Biden says.

I believe.

Who knows if what Biden is saying is exactly what he asked the former president, but I believe that Barack Obama, at this point, needs to hang back. He can't get in the middle of this primary fight. Why would he? He's going to be very visible and very involved in this campaign, I guarantee you.

But at this point, I don't think he needs to pick favorites. I'm sure he has met with every candidate and tried to help them out, and clearly he has a fondness for Joe Biden. But if I'm Barack Obama, I am going to hang back.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more news we're following, including this. Former Secretary of State, get this, Rex Tillerson, voices anger and frustration at Jared Kushner for conducting what he describes as diplomacy behind his back.

Plus, the Chief Justice, John Roberts, provides the key vote in two politically charged cases. How is he running the highest court in the land?



BLITZER: President Trump is just about six hours away from his meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, at the G20 Summit in Japan. And tonight, CNN has learned of new concerns voiced by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about a previous Trump/Putin meeting. Our National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood, is here in The Situation Room with details.

Kylie, Tillerson recently met with senior staff over at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Tell us what he said.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. So one of the focal points of this discussion was President Trump and President Putin's first meeting in 2017, Tillerson was there, and it was supposed to be about 30 minutes. It ended up lasting for over two hours.

And Tillerson cast President Trump as being ill prepared for that meeting. He said that Putin had clearly done a lot of thinking about the topic at hand but the U.S. side hadn't done that kind of preparation.

Clearly, that's important as President Trump heads into another meeting with Putin this weekend.


Will the White House prepare him for topics that potentially they don't expect if a meeting lasts for longer than they're planning for?

The other thing that Secretary Tillerson really focused on was his frustrations with Jared Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law, his senior adviser, who has essentially freelanced as secretary of state many times.

And we know that there was tension between Tillerson and Kushner during his time as secretary of state, but he painted that picture for us.

One night, Tillerson was out to dinner in Washington. The person that owned the restaurant came up to him, said the foreign minister of Mexico is here having dinner, would you like to say hello. Tillerson said, of course I would. Not knowing he was in town. He walks up to the table, and lo and behold, he is eating there with Jared Kushner.

And Tillerson described his frustrations, said he was very angry as Kushner continued to get involved in these topics and didn't keep Tillerson apprised of what he was doing. It also happened with Saudi Arabia because Kushner drafted a strategic plan for U.S.-Saudi relations, and Tillerson had no real role in drafting that plan, which is very, very rare for someone who clearly is the secretary of state.

BLITZER: Yes, I was surprised he lasted one year as secretary of state.

Kylie, thank you very much for that report.

Just ahead: Chief Justice John Roberts at the center of two politically charged cases, upsetting liberals and conservatives.


[18:50:43] BLITZER: Chief Justice John Roberts has put himself in the center of two politically charged Supreme Court cases tonight. He sided with the four conservative justices to allow partisan gerrymandering to continue. But he also sided with the four liberals on the court to at least temporarily block the Trump administration citizenship question on the 2020 census.

CNN's Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger has a closer look at the chief justice.


BORGER (voice-over): In this class photo of the men and women in black, one justice sits smiling front and center, although ideologically he is on the right.

Chief justice John Roberts thrust into the top role 14 years ago, the youngest chief in more than 200 years, now leading a divided court as a divided nation watches.


BORGER: With a norm-busting Republican president and an aggressive Democratic House, colliding.

TED OLSON, FORMER U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: It's like two glaciers crushing together. And anybody that's caught between those two glaciers or icebergs can be crushed. There is high stakes. And lots of tension.

BORGER (on camera): And where does that leave John Roberts?

OLSON: Well, right smack in the middle of things.

BORGER (voice-over): On the docket, old questions, once considered settled about the issue of abortion. And new questions, about the president's power and Congress's authority.

JOSHUA MATZ, FORMER CLERK TO JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY: Every generation mass a moment where the Supreme Court seems to stand on the edge of the abyss. Right now, there are fundamental questions about the protection of individual liberty and about the basic structure of our government that are up for grabs in ways that we haven't seen in decades.

BORGER: In a stunning move, Roberts has already declared the court's independence in a public broadside after Trump criticized judges as political, writing: We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Roberts pushed back against Trump was an example of what an artful politician Roberts is, because it showed him defending the judiciary, pretending in my view that they are apolitical, but giving himself the political space to continue to be the conservative that he has always been.

BORGER: With extraordinary impact --

JOAN BISKUPIC, AUTHOR, "THE CHIEF": I don't think can you overstate his power in America.

BORGER: Joan Biskupic is the author of the John Roberts biography "The Chief".

BISKUPIC: He sets the agenda. The chief justice introduces each case that's going to be voted on after oral arguments or as they are deciding the new cases to take up. So, he is in a position to steer the conversation. I think he knows that people are looking to the Supreme Court to be neutral, to be setting a certain tone.

JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: We do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. We do not caucus in separate rooms. We do not serve one party or one interest. We serve one nation.

BORGER: But there is no denying the court's conservative majority since the retirement of swing vote Anthony Kennedy. But progressives continue to hold out hope that given Roberts concern for the institution, he might swing their way once in a while.

MATZ: Only a fool would say that John Roberts is not a profoundly conservative man.

TOOBIN: Don't kid yourself. John Roberts is not Anthony Kennedy. He is far more conservative on all the hot button issues, on abortion, on civil rights, on voting rights, on campaign finance. But he is also someone concerned about the institutional reputation of the court and someone who does not want to see the court lurch quickly.

But don't kid yourself about which way he wants to see the court go. It's to the right.

BORGER: It's where he has always been, a product of the Reagan revolution, that cadre of young lawyers who serve in Washington to change the world.

FRED FIELDING, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, the tenor of the times was that there hadn't been a Republican president. There hadn't been an acceptance or an involvement of the conservative movement.

OLSON: He was a special assist to the attorney general. Before that, he was clerk to Justice Rehnquist and a very prominent court of appeals judge.

[18:55:02] So, he was in the judiciary then. Then he was in the White House, the executive branch.

BORGER: When at 27, he went to work for Ronald Reagan's counsel, Fred Fielding.

FIELDING: When you're in the White House counsel office, you have to put in your thinking the ingredient of political impact and the social impact of something, not just the legalistic impact. And I hope that that was helpful to John in his developing his own philosophies.

TOOBIN: He was for limiting voting rights. He was for eliminating affirmative action. He was for restricting abortion rights. This was the Reagan agenda. And it was his agenda.

BORGER (on camera): And it is still his agenda?

TOOBIN: I think Chief Justice Roberts doesn't think of himself as having a policy agenda anymore. But his judicial agenda certainly is consistent with the values and policies he espoused almost 40 years ago in the Reagan years.

BORGER (voice-over): Married with two children, the son of an Indiana steel executive and the product of a private high school and Harvard and Harvard Law, the young Roberts always figured he would be writing history instead of making it.

ROBERTS: What motivated me to go to law school is that there were not a lot of jobs for history teachers. BORGER: Roberts had plenty of offers as a lawyer and became a federal

judge. And then in 2005, George W. Bush catapulted him to the ultimate job at the age of 50.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: In public service and in private practice, he has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court.

BORGER: Roberts was smooth.

ROBERTS: I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat. Judges and justices are servants of the law. Not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them.

BORGER (on camera): Do his rulings reflect that he is just an umpire calling the balls and strikes here?

BISKUPIC: No, no. He is trying to diminish his role.

But there is no strike zone in judging. There is judgments in judging. And, of course, the chief knows that.

BORGER (voice-over): Only too well. He voted against type to save Obamacare.

TOOBIN: Roberts basically said to his fellow Republicans, look, you want to overturn Obamacare, help yourself, but I'm not doing it for you.

BISKUPIC: His vote in the affordable care act case was not easy at all. In fact, he switched twice behind the scenes. And he had to have known how much conservative anger he was going to generate.

TOOBIN: Conservatives had come to depend on him, when he voted to loosen campaign finance laws and oppose same-sex marriage. And they praised him when he wrote the majority opinion gutting a key part of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal permission for some states to change their voting laws -- a decision that still horrifies the civil rights community.

SHERRILLYN IFILL, PRESIDENT, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: It's like whack-a-mole. How can you keep up with every polling place change? How can you keep up with every purge scheme? How do you keep up with all of that in thousands of counties in states all over this country, particularly in the South? It is overwhelming and exhausting, and we don't catch-all of it.

BORGER: The Roberts court is now doubt heading into even more controversy. The question is how quickly.

From abortion --

MATZ: We shouldn't expect a decision next year overly overrules. What we should expect is a death by a thousand cuts that he very carefully engineers over the next decade or so.

BORGER: -- to the power of the president.

TOOBIN: If I'm Donald Trump, I feel very confident that John Roberts will be with me at the end of the day, because executive power, especially vis-a-vis the Congress, has been one of Roberts core values since he got out of law school

BORGER: Donald Trump and John Roberts are stuck with each other, like it or not.

MATZ: We're asking the chief justice and his court to guide us through these treacherous waters even as they are themselves under siege. And I think everyone in the building has a sense, has a deep understanding that these are fraught times and they better get it right.


BLITZER: Gloria Borger reporting for us. Excellent report, Gloria.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Very timely as well.

What are the next issues that Roberts is going to have to choose sides on?

BORGER: Well, I think right away, we are going to see these questions of executive authority, Wolf. You see the subpoena fights that are going on between the Judiciary Committee and the White House counsel, and that's going to end up probably right in front of the Supreme Court.

Over the long term, as I said in the piece, you are going to see abortion come back before the court. You're going to see more civil rights cases before the court. You're going to see more gay rights cases before the court.

So, Justice Roberts -- and he's got another, you know, 20 years to serve at least -- he is writing his legacy right now and it is important legacy for this country.

BLITZER: Enormous legacy indeed.


BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Gloria, for that report.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.