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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Grows More Erratic Amid New Economic Warnings, Flip- Flopping On Guns And Taxes, Drops Bid To Cut Foreign Aid; Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) Is Interviewed On Trump's Behavior And Rising Tensions Around G7; Tensions Rise As Trump Heads To G7 Summit; 2020 Dem Presidential Field Shrinks, GOP Field May Grow; Court Docs: El Chapo Associate Orders Hit From Prison. Aired 5-6 ET

Aired August 22, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now, West Wing whiplash: as the economy shows troubling new signs of slipping, President Trump is flip-flopping on taxes, guns and foreign aid. He insists the economy is doing really well.

But is his erratic behavior a sign that he's actually worried?

Avoiding conflict: the G7 summit begins this weekend but there will be no final communique. The French president suggesting that's a move to prevent friction with President Trump, who pulled out of last year's final statement.

And after President Trump pulled out of a trip to Denmark, calling the Danish prime minister's comments "nasty," can the State Department smooth things over with that ally?

Dropping out: with their next debate just weeks away, Democrats start dropping out of the 2020 presidential race.

But are Republicans now ready to jump in and challenge President Trump?

And El Chapo's hit squad: is the notorious drug kingpin El Chapo still running his organization and carrying out a reign of terror from inside a U.S. supermax prison?

Court documents offering chilling new details.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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KEILAR: President Trump insists the economy is doing really well. That's a quote but there are new hints of trouble ahead. It turns out that half a million fewer jobs were created in the past year than previously thought. U.S. manufacturing is slowing with a key index at its lowest levels in decades.

And an important bond market indicator of past recessions is raising a red flag. As the economic warnings mount, President Trump has become more erratic after flip-flops on guns and taxes, sources say he's now dropped a bid to cancel $4 billion in foreign aid.

An after a lengthy rant in which he called himself the chosen one in the showdown with China, "The New York Times" reports that former Trump officials worry about his behavior.

The president's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are Jewish, have kept a low profile as he openly questions the loyalty of many Jewish Americans. The White House won't say if they have addressed those comments with the president. I'll be speaking with Congressman Eric Swalwell and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories full coverage of today's top satires.

Let's begin at the White House with CNN White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As we're seeing these red flags start to pop up about what could be to come for the economy, we are learning that last year the job market was strong, just not as strong as we thought it was.

The Labor Department announced today that actually employers added half a million fewer jobs to their payrolls than was initially reported, something they noted today as they revised the data with more hardline numbers that they're receiving.

And that comes as back here at the White House, the president and his aides are trying to figure out how to keep that strong economy that they relied on for the last two years, intact as he heads towards reelection.

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COLLINS (voice-over): As economic warnings signs are flashing, tonight President Trump is sending mixed messages on his game plan.

TRUMP: I'm not looking at a tax cut now, we don't need it. We have a strong economy.

COLLINS (voice-over): Part of the confusion, whether or not the president is considering a payroll tax cut to ward off an economic downturn.

TRUMP: President Obama did that in order to artificially jack up the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much --

COLLINS (voice-over): That's a reversal of what he said only days ago.

TRUMP: Payroll taxes, I've been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time.

COLLINS (voice-over): The president's flip-flop coming as congressional budget forecasters says more red ink is to come.

The Congressional Budget Office now says the federal deficit will balloon to $960 billion this fiscal year and average $1.2 trillion for the next decade.

The president's most consistent economic message has been a contradictory one. Today, he insisted the economy is doing really well but he spent the week calling for a big federal rate cut, a move typically made when an economic dip is on the horizon.

TRUMP: If he does it, you'll see a rocket ship. You'll see -- well, if he does it, we have a very strong economy.

COLLINS (voice-over): The whiplash in the West Wing is widespread.

TRUMP: Well, I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump now says he will push for background checks and claims he never told the NRA he wouldn't, even though he spent the week repeating the gun group's talking points after a long phone call with the NRA chief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is an NRA talking point.

TRUMP: No, it's a Trump talking point.

COLLINS (voice-over): Sources tell CNN White House aides are working on gun control proposals for when Congress returns to Capitol Hill. But what the president will support and whether or not that support will waver remains to be seen.

[17:05:00]

COLLINS (voice-over): As Trump bobs and weaves between controversies, two of his top advisers are noticeably missing in action. Following a weekend vacation in Wyoming, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have remained under the radar this week, staying publicly silent as the president digs in on his accusation that Jewish voters who support Democrats are being disloyal to Israel.

TRUMP: If you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people.

COLLINS (voice-over): From skiing in Aspen as the administration's attempt to repeal Obamacare collapsed, to vacationing in Florida during the Christmas government shutdown, their absence in times of trouble has become a pattern of the Trump presidency.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Now Brianna, the White House is not commenting on whether or not Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner have discussed those comments about loyalty with the president.

We should note that in the past Ivanka Trump hasn't commented on her private conversations with her father. But at times when they've disagreed, there have been these selective leaks about what her advice to him has been. One incident that comes to mind is the family separation policy. But so far this has not been one of those instances -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thank you so much.

The G7 summit begins this weekend with President Trump suggesting that Russia should be reinstated and the French president conceding that there's likely to be discord. Let's turn now to CNN National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood.

So given what has happened preceding this G7, how awkward might this be?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: President Trump is going into this already having aggravated his allies, repeating time and time again this week that he would like to see Russia back in the G7.

That's something most of the allies say they wouldn't like to see until there is some demonstrable change from Russia.

But the other thing to consider here is President Macron has decided there's going to be no joint communique coming out of this G7. That's the first time since this leaders' meeting started happening almost 50 years ago that they won't sign off on something together.

Macron said he was doing that because it was a pointless exercise. That's all because President Trump last year wouldn't sign off on the joint communique. He stunned his allies by not signing it. There was more focus on him not signing it than there was on what was actually accomplished.

So Macron is trying to avoid that. But there's constantly been tensions with Trump and his meetings with world leaders. We remember that picture of him sitting with his hands crossed and German chancellor Angela Merkel pointing at him from across the table.

There has been tension and President Macron is doing everything he can to try to keep Trump out of the spotlight this year.

KEILAR: What's going on right now with separately Denmark after the president snubbed the leader and called her comments "nasty?"

Is he working to smooth things over?

ATWOOD: There has been a lot of on effort on behalf of Secretary Pompeo and the U.S. ambassador in Denmark to try and smooth things over here. First we saw excitement from the U.S. ambassador to Denmark. She tweeted out a picture just hours around the time that President Trump was cancelling the visit, saying they were excited, there was a photo that had Trump billboards on a big building in Denmark that she tweeted out.

Obviously things have changed since then. She's had to sit down with the foreign minister of Denmark and try to smooth things over. Secretary of state Pompeo has made calls to his counterpart. He said in that phone call, he reiterated that the U.S. Is very thankful to have the Danes as an ally.

But I also want to point out that he said they discussed strengthening cooperation with the kingdom of Denmark, including Greenland in the Arctic. Nothing in that readout about buying Greenland.

KEILAR: Indeed, there isn't. I almost laugh but it was a real proposal.

Kylie, thank you so much for that.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Thanks for joining us.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: I want to begin with -- let's talk about guns. The president reversing himself yet again on background checks for purchases of guns. President Obama was not able to pass any legislation on guns, even when he had the chance to do it, you could argue, with full control of Congress, including a filibuster for a Senate majority, it was obviously a tougher political landscape after Sandy Hook. But there was certainly a big push for it.

If a Democrat is able to beat President Trump in part because of his inaction on guns, do they absolutely have to make good on their promises to do something, even in the face of political odds?

SWALWELL: Yes, absolutely, and too many families are counting on the next president to do something. Parents are sending their kids back to school this month and the anxiety continues to build. Most families feel safest during the summer now --

[17:10:00]

SWALWELL: -- considering how vulnerable we are to school shootings these days. And the NRA and the president's policies continue to arm school shooters. So what we can do is to put our foot on the gas and not to relent.

Because we have the NRA on the ropes. We beat 18 NRA-endorsed members to Congress this last midterm election, passed background checks in the first 100 as you say. And I think the crossroads is going to be do we want to just ban future sales of assault weapons and future production of high-capacity magazines?

Or do we want to ban them altogether now?

I think the momentum is with us that we can do what will make us safest and ban them now and take them completely out of our communities.

KEILAR: Even in 2013 after the Sandy Hook massacre, where you had first graders killed, so many of them, there were four Democrats who voted against a bipartisan bill to expand background checks, the very thing that is being discussed now.

How are things different now in 2019 than they were in 2013?

SWALWELL: Before, I think there was a fear of the NRA. And today you should fear the moms. I had a town hall last night in San Ramon, California, my district. And the moms show up now. And you see the T-shirts Moms Demand Action. They show up with other groups as well.

But they're a force. More money was spent in the last election by gun safety groups who realize that's the only way to compete with the NRA for sensible gun laws. So they'll continue to hold Republicans and Democrats accountable.

KEILAR: Let's talk about the economy because we are seeing some warning signs flashing.

Is there anything that the president can do to avert a recession, keeping in mind that the federal budget deficit is expected to hit $1 trillion next year?

SWALWELL: First, if he sent 10 fewer tweets a day and invested that time in working with Mitch McConnell and Speaker Pelosi on an infrastructure bill, that would certainly help the economy, connect the disconnect.

But he walked away from the last opportunity to do that. Second, to stop being so childish with China and to end this trade policy issue that he has and work with other victims of China's practices and band together and take them on in a class action, if you will.

And third, I'm going to give him credit. Yesterday he took an important step on student loan debt. He prioritized disabled veterans and wiped out their debt, put them first for that. He's recognized that this is an issue.

He should work with Congress to bring the interest rate down to zero, allow more money to go into more pockets at the end of every month so that this largest generation that is saddled with a lifetime of debt can buy homes, be entrepreneurs and start families.

KEILAR: If a recession hits, should Congress spend even more money to stimulate the economy, when we're seeing deficits rising?

SWALWELL: Well, we should repeal the tax cuts that went where 83 percent of the benefits went to 10 percent of Americans, particularly companies who did not invest those tax cuts in increases in wages. I think what can you do is reward companies that want to have profit sharing and give them a lower tax rate if they're going to share the profits with the workforce.

But if it's just going to be more giveaways to the wealthiest while two-thirds of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings account and only 50 percent are invested in the stock market, that won't help the people feeling the biggest pain from this economy.

KEILAR: Knowing that those tax reforms under President Trump -- or the tax plan that Congress passed -- knowing that there's no chance of repealing that for 2021 at the earliest, because Republicans are currently in control of the Senate, what can be done?

Because right now you have a third of economists saying a recession is coming next year, another third saying 2021, so you have two-thirds of economists being surveyed who are saying it's going to come in the next two years, meaning something would need to be done before then.

SWALWELL: That's right. And we're not helpless. We don't have to just sit back and be so alarmed and do nothing. There's an opportunity to invest in infrastructure, in rural broadband, connect disconnected communities, modern schools in every school district.

But also, Brianna, there's a real opportunity I think in health care. You know, that is the biggest cause of debt for most families in America, other than their home loan, their health care costs. So to work constructively to bring down health care costs, again so Americans have more purchasing power.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about the G7. The president is heading to France here after several days of stirring up controversy on the international stage before he even arrives.

What impact will that have on the president's ability to work with global leaders during what are really high-stakes meetings?

SWALWELL: We need friends in the world, Brianna. Today, if there was to be an attack on America or one of America's interests, I'm not sure we would have the --

[17:15:00]

SWALWELL: -- same friends across the world lining up to go to conflict or to help defend the United States.

The Danish, for example, they went with us into the last two conflicts. Whether you agreed with those conflicts or not, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they served side by side with American soldiers. We continue to alienate our friends.

Also, as you look at the programs in Europe, where they take care of their people through health care, education, access to skills, they don't spend as much on defense.

I think it's an opportunity for us to realize we can have strength through partnerships in the world, spend less on defense at home. But if he's going to alienate us, we'll have to spend more on our own national defense and that's at the cost of education and health care.

KEILAR: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for joining us.

SWALWELL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Up next, as the economy begins to signal trouble ahead, President Trump says things are going really well. But is his erratic behavior a sign that he's worried?

And is the notorious drug lord El Chapo still carrying out a reign of terror from inside a U.S. supermax prison?

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[17:20:00]

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KEILAR: Tonight after a week of confusing and contradictory tweetstorms and rants about everything from the economy to guns to Greenland, President Trump is preparing to head overseas to meet with leaders of the world's economic powers.

Let's talk to our experts to see what they're expecting here. First off, let's talk a bit about the economy, Abby, and where the president is on that. We're seeing some alarming numbers. Manufacturing is slowing down, the jobs numbers for last year were revised downward.

The bond market is again having this inversion. What you really need to know about that is it's a predictor of a recession.

Is the president rattled?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's been concerned for some time about whether the economy will stay strong, particularly as it relates to his political prospects for 2020. That's one of the reasons he's been lashing out at the Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, saying he thinks that the Fed is jeopardizing the economy by not juicing it, by lowering interest rates the way he would want it.

But these economic indicators seem to be catching up with all the chaos that's been happening over the last several months. First of all, the trade war, the tax cuts which were clearly not as stimulative as Republicans claim that they were.

And now President Trump is facing a real predicament.

Does he do something to step in and potentially rattle markets even more by doing that?

Or does he continue to say everything is going great and see what happens down the road? KEILAR: Is there a strategy besides that?

Right now, it's nothing to see here.

But is there going to be more than truly --

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Right now the strategy is rage tweeting the Federal Reserve, which is not really a strategy and the president beyond has just been floating ideas essentially.

Should he try to get another tax cut approved in Congress?

Can he potentially work to weaken the U.S. currency?

But the problem is the president doesn't recognize that you can basically draw a direct line between his trade policy, his trade war, and the uncertainty in the business community and a lot of the angst that's driving this fear of a recession.

So the president, it's unlikely the president would admit that his trade policy is not working and, in fact, has been detrimental in ways. That's one of the steps he could take to actually help but he wouldn't ever admit he was wrong.

KEILAR: Speaking of the rage tweeting --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Is that a new phrase?

KEILAR: I like it.

CILLIZZA: It's got an "Incredible Hulk" vibe to it.

KEILAR: I really dig it. OK.

Are people around the president, people close to him, are they worried that it's the economy that's fueling what is erratic behavior even by -- ?

BORGER: There's a "Times" piece by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman which says effectively that, that there is a sense inside the White House that he's so concerned about what Abby's talking about, which is that the economy, which has always been his strong suit, could go south that he's complaining about everything else and that he's, you know, that this has put him in a rage.

And you can understand that. I think that this is a president who has always believed that his calling card was, I'm the negotiator, I'm the business man, I'm the successful businessman. I'm the person who can dig us out of any hole we were in -- and by the way, every hole we were in was of course created by Barack Obama, that aside.

And then if he loses that and people begin to feel the pinch in their pocketbooks and the farmers say, you know what?

The trade war is really hurting us even though you're supplementing us to the tune of $14 billion. That this will hurt him in his reelection and, of course, that would drive him crazy.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: The problem, just to add to Gloria's point, the problem you have when you rather jokingly, half jokingly or not really jokingly refer to yourself as the chosen one in this context --

[17:25:00]

CILLIZZA: -- to take on China and the trade war is you do what Donald Trump has done his whole life in politics. You put yourself in a situation where you're the only one that can fix these things. Well, if they go wrong, it's also hard to blame Jay Powell at the Fed or the world markets or China.

He has put himself in a place where he is uniquely suited, he understands the markets and the corporate world in a way that no one else does. He gave them the corporate tax cut. He knows how to juice the economy and look at the results.

Well, if the look at the results piece fades, you can kiss his reelection goodbye. I don't think it's fading yet. But that's the one thing people always fall back on. Yes, yes, yes, but the economy is good.

Well, if the economy starts being less good, that argument loses all its steam.

KEILAR: The question will be when it crosses a certain threshold.

CILLIZZA: And when people perceive it to be --

BORGER: And who do you blame?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Powell or the Democrats?

CILLIZZA: I still think he has set it up so the blame falls on him but who knows.

PHILLIP: The president also suffers from some of the stories he's been telling himself about the economy that just aren't true. He's been claiming this is the greatest economy in the history of the country, when, in reality, the jobs that he's created in his time in office do not exceed what President Obama created in the same period of time.

The GDP numbers are a bit better but they're more or less in line with what GDP has been in recent years. So his expectations for the economy are so high, now that they're coming back down to Earth, he's having trouble dealing with that. I think his aides are having trouble explaining to him why this isn't a rosier picture as he goes into his 2020 reelection than he would have expected a few minutes ago.

KEILAR: You cover him day in and day out. Would you say he's in denial a bit?

PHILLIP: I think he probably is. He's still says every day, this is the greatest economy in the history of the United States of America. That has never been true, really. So I think he's trying to create a positive picture.

But we also see him doing this a lot when behind the scenes he's a lot more worried and a lot more concerned. Back to the point about his erratic behavior, the context around this is that back when the Russia investigation was the big thing on his mind, we used to see these periods where the president seemed to be lashing out at everyone.

Russia is on the back burner and the economy is on the front burner. And that's really taken precedence in his mind.

KEILAR: All right, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about because the president is heading to the G7. Of course, when you're going to a party, you definitely try to create trouble with all the people at the party, right?

Actually, no, you don't. So we're going to discuss what to expect with the G7 summit ahead.

[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: And we are back now with our political experts. And there is a big test on foreign relations for President Trump this weekend. He's going to the G7.

And he, Abby, is headed there after insulting Denmark by pulling out of a state visit. Keeping in mind, I mean, Denmark is a key intel and military ally of the U.S. What is the mood going into this forum right now?

PHILLIP: Honestly, it's always dread with President Trump. I mean, virtually, every --

KEILAR: Who is dreading it, the other countries?

PHILLIP: The other countries. I mean, every -- virtually every G7 --

BORGER: And the White House staff, maybe.

PHILLIP: Yes, and the White House staff. Virtually every G7 that President Trump has attended has been preceded by this kind of -- this sense of impending drama.

Now, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, is trying to get ahead of that by saying, you know, we're not even going to have a communique. We're not going to even try to sign something that President Trump will then have to pull out of. And that's one way to resolve these tensions.

But also note, Brianna, the President's been rage tweeting at Germany for several days now. He has been accusing them of trying to gain an upper hand in their economy by having very low or negative interest rates. So he is going into this already kind of worked up with individual members about different things, and it's really not a very good sign for sort of peace.

KEILAR: What, Gloria, should he be going into this with?

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: A better attitude.

KEILAR: Besides that, yes.

BORGER: A better attitude, and -- you know, I mean, if you go in there like a bull in a china shop and you -- and you say, OK, well, I'm elbowing you about because I don't like what you're doing in Germany. Denmark, you wouldn't -- you know, you wouldn't give me the real estate I wanted, so something is rotten in Denmark.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: Love it.

BORGER: But you -- so it -- but presidents normally, normally, go to these summits with achievements that they believe they -- that -- it can be done in advance.

They work it out. They try and cut some deals. They try and see where their agreements are. Their staffs work together. They get there and papers get signed and things work out.

I think in this sense, this president -- and I think, you know, he -- it's purposeful. This is -- this is not Donald Trump doing it without a purpose in mind. He is out to prove people have been taking advantage of us, and we have let them do it.

KEILAR: Who --

BORGER: Barack Obama -- here we are with Barack Obama again.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BORGER: And we have let them do it for years and years, and I'm going to be different.

[17:34:59] KEILAR: But what are -- but what are the deliverables to bring home if he's going in like that?

CILLIZZA: Well, he just -- of course --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: What is it?

CILLIZZA: There's not -- I don't think that there's necessarily -- I don't believe he thinks that there should be deliverables coming out of something like this. I think, for him, it's largely optics, which is, again, as Gloria mentioned, it's kind of like, oh, you want us to all get along and sign something at the end?

That's what -- remember the line, I was elected to be the leader of the United States, not be popular in the salons of Paris, when he pulled out of the Paris climate accords. I mean, that's who he is.

Remember, it's not just, as Abby said, about Germany and their interest rates. It's not just about Denmark and she said the worst word that you can't say on television -- absurd -- about me, right? It's not -- it's also, he threatened yesterday -- before he took off to go to Kentucky, he said we've got a lot of ISIS fighters in our prisons.

KEILAR: Oh! Yes.

CILLIZZA: We'll -- we might have to release them back into France and Germany. So, I mean, it's not just like he is --

KEILAR: Which is illegal, but incendiary.

CILLIZZA: Right, right.

KEILAR: And that's the -- that's --

CILLIZZA: It's just meant to provoke.

KEILAR: That's right, exactly. I was --

BUCK: And these reporters, they eat this up, by the way. This is the point, I think, you're making, Chris, is that, politically, President Trump sees an incentive to act this way on the international stage.

He doesn't care about the reception he is getting from these foreign leaders or what this does to the United States' relationship abroad. He is doing this for his base. They love this.

PHILLIP: But he's also doing it because this is not a setting that he is comfortable in. I traveled with him to the G20. He's a lot more comfortable. It's a bigger group of world leaders, some of whom he feels more connected to, whether it's Putin or Xi Jinping or others. It's a larger group that -- where he can go to his corners, where he is received better.

But when he is with some of these European leaders in particular, which he has some serious problems with, whether it's the Paris climate accord or trade or just a general sense that he is under siege --

CILLIZZA: NATO.

BORGER: Yes.

PHILLIP: -- NATO -- he's less comfortable. It's one of the main reasons why at the G7, in particular, he always seems to have some issues going into this. And it's not always strategic with President Trump. Sometimes he just really doesn't want to go, doesn't want to deal with it. KEILAR: If -- it reads like self-sabotage going in.

BUCK: Absolutely. I mean, if he -- well, it depends on what your motivations are and what your goals are. If your goals are to further the United States' relationships and partnerships with these countries, strengthen our alliances, work for the mutual benefit of our countries, then, yes, it does seem like self-sabotage. But if your motivations are President Trump's motivations, which are generally to blow everything up, then mission accomplished.

KEILAR: Rebecca Buck, Abby Phillip, Gloria Borger, and Chris Cillizza, thank you so much, all of you.

CILLIZZA: Sure.

BUCK: Sure.

KEILAR: Coming up, they started the month as Democratic presidential candidates. As of today, they are now running for other jobs. Stand by for the latest on the 2020 race.

[17:37:51] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're following another shake-up in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. As of today, two ex-presidential candidates are running for other jobs. There are also signs that President Trump could get some competition in the Republican primaries.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is keeping track of the changes and all of these potential changes as well. Tell us about them.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, let's be clear, there are still a lot of Democrats --

KEILAR: Oh, yes.

NOBLES: -- that are running for president right now. But they are two fewer and that's because two of the candidates decided the best way to help their country was to focus on their home states.

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NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, the crowded Democratic field narrowing.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: It's become clear that I'm not going to be carrying the ball. I'm not going to be the President.

NOBLES (voice-over): Washington Governor Jay Inslee will now, instead, seek a third term after struggling to gain traction in the massive field. He isn't the only one turning his attention home.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot.

NOBLES (voice-over): Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who dropped out last week, announced plans today to run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner.

The Democratic field could shrink even further as at least a dozen candidates have yet to qualify for the third primary debate next month.

While the Democratic field may downsize, there are signs the Republican field may grow. President Trump already facing a primary challenge from former Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld, but two former GOP members of Congress are also eyeing a run -- South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh of Illinois, who signaled his plans this morning on CNN's "NEW DAY."

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN OF ILLINOIS: I'm strongly, strongly considering it. That's -- again, I'm not trying to be cute or coy. I've told you before, if somebody is going to get in there and go after him, John, it's got to be done soon.

NOBLES (voice-over): It would be an uphill climb for Walsh or any other Republican with the President holding an 84 percent approval rating among Republicans in the latest CNN poll.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need bold and aggressive action.

NOBLES (voice-over): Also, tonight, a major policy proposal on the Democratic side. Bernie Sanders unveiling a comprehensive plan to combat the climate crisis. It calls for 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030, eliminating fossil fuel use by 2050, with the goal of creating 20 million new jobs. But it won't be cheap. A price tag of more than $16 trillion, a cost Sanders vowed would pay for itself over time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And we talked about how difficult it's going to be for these Republican candidates to challenge President Trump in the primary. Well, Brianna, one of them is not making it easy on himself. Mark Sanford today tweeting that he is heading to Iowa, and look what he wrote. He said that he can't wait to see voters in the Buckeye state. Of course, that's Ohio. Iowa --

[17:45:09] KEILAR: That's not the Buckeye state, Mark Sanford.

NOBLES: Yes, it's the Hawkeye state.

KEILAR: Oh, that's --

NOBLES: So he got the eye right, but the front part of it was wrong.

KEILAR: That's the worst.

NOBLES: Yes, and they -- and they are pretty proprietary about whether or not they're Hawkeyes or Buckeyes in Iowa.

KEILAR: And he may know, but he just throws it out there and -- oh.

NOBLES: That's why it's always good to have somebody checking your tweets.

KEILAR: Yes, definitely. Run those by a friend who is informed.

NOBLES: Yes.

KEILAR: Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.

NOBLES: You're welcome.

KEILAR: Coming up, even though he is in a U.S. prison, is one of the world's most notorious drug lords still issuing orders? Possibly orders to kill?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:20] KEILAR: The notorious drug lord El Chapo may be locked up in the toughest prison, but his cartel's reign of terror may be continuing behind bars.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this. What have you been learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, tonight, we've learned that the tentacles of power of the convicted drug kingpin, who has a horrifying record of violence just on his own, could still be targeting potential witnesses even with El Chapo being held in a supermax prison.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He is locked behind bars at America's most secure prison, convicted on multiple counts of drug trafficking. But tonight, CNN has learned the world's most dangerous drug lord may still be lording over his empire.

Court documents say a trusted lieutenant of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman offered $25,000 to take out a hit on another former lieutenant while they were both in jail. The target, a former associate of El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel. The documents say the order was to, quote, split his head.

MALCOLM BEITH, AUTHOR, "THE LAST NARCO: INSIDE THE HUNT FOR EL CHAPO, THE WORLD'S MOST WANTED DRUG LORD": I think it speaks volumes about how they can still use people in their network, whoever that might be, to send messages to rivals. I think it's not since the mafia, the real mob, years that we've heard of this kind of stuff going on.

TODD (voice-over): Court documents don't say the name of the target, but Damaso Lopez Serrano recently testified in court that he had learned that gang members had been offered $25,000 to beat him while he was held at a heavy security facility in Chicago.

The hit was never carried out, and Lopez Serrano, according to law enforcement forces, was quickly moved to another facility for his safety. Lopez Serrano has been a key witness against members of the Sinaloa Cartel even though he was once among their top lieutenants and, analysts say, a godson of El Chapo's.

BEITH: I think Lopez Serrano is a very big threat to the cartel knowing as much as he does about the sons of Chapo Guzman, knowing as much as he does about Chapo himself. Now, remember, Chapo's been sentenced but that doesn't mean that Lopez Serrano doesn't know tons about Chapo's circle.

TODD (voice-over): Lawyers for the 62-year-old El Chapo say he is jailed at America's only supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Experts say, likely, in a seven by 12-foot cell at least 23 hours a day. Former DEA agents tell us it's important that El Chapo be kept there, so he can't continue to run the cartel's operations.

MICHAEL BRAUN, FORMER CHIEF OF OPERATIONS, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: Let's understand something. The hallmarks are -- of organized crime are -- corruption, first. If they can't do that, they'll turn to intimidation. If intimidation doesn't work, then they'll inflict brute violence, right?

And we've taken all of those things away from him, OK? He -- you know, right now, he can't manage the Sinaloa Cartel. And guess what, that's the position that he needs to stay in.

TODD (voice-over): At his trial, a former associate of El Chapo's testified that his former beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, played a key role in one of the kingpin's legendary prison escapes although she was never charged. Could El Chapo and his associates get help in running the cartel and order running hits from Coronel?

BEITH: She has never shown any willingness to get involved in the -- the ordering, the facilitating of violence. That is an old-fashioned cartel rule. The women do not generally get involved in that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: As for the target of the alleged prison hit attempt, Damaso Lopez Serrano, analysts say it is very likely that he'll be called to testify at the trials of other alleged drug traffickers. So prison officials could be under more pressure than they've ever been under to keep him safe while he's incarcerated, Brianna.

KEILAR: And this former cartel associate who was targeted, he has his own track record of extreme violence, right?

TODD: Brianna, he is no choir boy. Damaso Lopez Serrano has reportedly admitted having a hand in more than a dozen murders and close to two dozen kidnappings. He is said to have been very close to El Chapo's sons who are now believed to be running the Sinaloa Cartel. He was close to those sons until they all turned on each other.

KEILAR: All right, Brian Todd, thank you so much for that report.

Coming up, the hunt is on for a sniper who ambushed a sheriff's deputy in southern California. What is behind this attack?

And the CEO of overstock.com resigns after revealing a sexual relationship with accused Russian agent Maria Butina.

[17:54:39] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Happening now, denying a downturn. As reliable warning sign of recession flashes again, President Trump keeps insisting the economy is doing really well. But is he exposing his private fears through erratic rants and policy reversals?

Over-shock. The plot thickens in the case of accused Russian agent Maria Butina as she remains behind bars. The CEO of overstock.com just resigned after revealing that they had a sexual relationship.

[18:00:00] Search for a sniper. The manhunt continues this hour after an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy was shot by someone in an apartment building across the street.