Return to Transcripts main page


2020 Dems Strategize How to Break Through During 1st Debate; Early Frontrunner Biden Takes Center Stage At Tonight's Debate; Buttigieg: Dems Can't Win With A "Return to the 1990s"; A China-U.S. Trade Truce Is Possible; Senate, House In A Stand-Off Over Border Funding Bill. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 27, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:00] SYMONE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: And Vice President Biden doesn't necessarily need a breakout moment. He doesn't need a viral moment. He doesn't need to take shots and frankly, that's not the kind of campaign we're running.

So you're -- a lot of people might take shots at him tonight. Senator Sanders maybe one of them. But what he will be focused on is being laser-focus on speaking directly to the American people, looking into -- where he stands.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the debate site in Miami right now. Jeff, Vice President Biden, Senator Sanders, the two leaders -- stage tonight.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, there's no question. Also, center stage is the generational and ideological divide that we are witnessing in real time inside this Democratic Party. The last time Joe Biden was on a debate stage, of course, he was the running mate, he was the vice president in the 2012 campaign, and boy, what a difference in this Democratic Party. We can hear, you know, just in terms of policy.

And one of the biggest reasons for that is Senator Sanders himself. So, of course, he is going to keep trying to draw that difference with the former vice president. But John, I just talked to an adviser to a Joe Biden who sums up the strategy like this. Says this.

"There's no need to try and draw contrasts with Senator Sanders. The contrast couldn't be more obvious or stark."

So, there's no question that Joe Biden is going to try and present himself as the most electable candidate. That's what he has been trying to do. They're actually more concerned, or slightly worried about some of the other people on the stage who are firing, you know, grenades potentially or looking for attention. (INAUDIBLE) Kristen Gillibrand who is, you know, certainly looking for a breakout moment. But, the Biden campaign is looking at this as an opportunity for him to directly say why he is the most electable. But Bernie Sanders also has a moment here and he is trying to draw a contrast. But John, just looking at the differences on stage will be the biggest contrast of all.


KING: Jeff Zeleny live from Miami, appreciate the reporting from the scene. Enjoy it tonight.

And we bring it back into the room. You're the frontrunner which makes you the focus. Is he a target? We'll see how aggressive it gets.

My question is more if you think about last night, is Joe Biden going to say Elizabeth Warren was wrong, Senator Sanders you're wrong, we cannot abolish private health insurance? Is he going to draw that line and have that fight now? The moderators will try to lead him into it. The question is what does he do when given the opportunity?

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, he has just not engaged with anybody. I mean, his entire strategy so far since he got into this race has been to avoid any candidate forums where he's on the stage with anybody else. So that, you know, makes me --

KING: That phase is over.

LINSKEY: Yes, that phase is over. But you wonder if he's going to -- like just Symone Sanders, his spokeswoman's point, is he going to try to pretend that that phase can continue and last? Because that's what he's been doing and it's just been this idea that he's floating above.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. That is not a sustainable strategy for him. And I think if he tries to do that tonight then that becomes a line of attack for the other candidates on the stage. But I think Biden's goal tonight has to be to do something like what Elizabeth Warren did last night where although she was the frontrunner on the stage it wasn't Elizabeth Warren who really took the fall. His goal has to be to do no harm because he has a lot to lose and very little to gain.

KING: And if you're a Democrat inclined to support Biden right now, a lot of that is because you like him, his history and all that, but you think he can beat Trump. He's on a debate stage tonight. If he doesn't look strong on a debate stage tonight you're -- that's immediately going to process into your can he beat Trump.

Big test for Senator Sanders. He watched Senator Warren last night essentially say, I want to take that lane, I believe I'm a better candidate in that lane. Senator Sanders tweeting today, "Candidates are talking about raising taxes on the one percent of corporations, raising the minimum wage, tuition-free college, making healthcare right. Our movement led the way, we can't stop now." Tried to raise money off that but he's also essentially trying to make the point tonight, look, glad to have you in the parade but I'm the leader, right?


VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, Bernie Sanders, the other issue with him is that in 2016 he really was able to put himself out there as the anti-establishment candidate and this kind of newcomer to presidential politics, national politics. And differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton for example. But now he's become a bit more establishment and he's sort of been absorbed by the Democratic establishment as a whole. And so the way that he will still try to kind of distinguish himself from the establishment while also kind of being more in line with what voters are looking for a sort of in the middle is going to be the interesting pattern.

KING: Go ahead.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh I was just going to say it, and with Sanders tonight though whereas Warren didn't see a ton of pushback on her own proposals in terms of talking about Medicare for All. I mean, he's on stage with not only Biden, he's got Hickenlooper up there, he's got Michael Bennet. Both of these Democrats have said Medicare for All is not the answer.

Hickenlooper was even booed for saying, you know, socialism is wrong. And so, you know, it's not just going to be him versus Biden. He's going to potentially have to fight back to other matters.

KING: It's a great point. And we show you the line-up here, if you put it, yes, we know he wants to protect his frontrunner status. He thinks that Bernie Sanders and the party's going too liberal. He thinks the same thing.

The question is does the vice president let them carry -- hope that they carry that attack and he can stay back and just nod a couple of times? Or does he have to -- I assume, look, the moderators know what they're doing, they're going to try to get him involved in it.

I want to focus here, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the early surprise of the Democratic race.

[12:35:01] He sort of got in a new and different lane before Beto O'Rourke even got in the race. He's had some issues back home. He's the South Bend mayor, they had a police-involved shooting involving an African-American. He's been off the trail. Can he tonight get back to this?


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- going to work. What's not going to play where I come from in the industrial Midwest is having our own version of turn back the clock, right? The Republicans want to turn back the clock to the 50s. And sometimes I'm afraid Democrats sound like we're offering a return to the 1990s or the 2000s. And that's doesn't work --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're talking Joe Biden.

BUTTIGIEG: I'm talking broadly because there's that temptation.


KING: He's going to be next to Joe Biden tonight. He was asked in that interview are you talking Joe Biden, he says I'm talking broadly.


KING: Again, if you want to convince voters, you're new, you're different, you're next generation, and you're tough enough to beat Trump, the frontrunner's right there next to you.

LINSKEY: That's right. He is right there next to him. But he is -- he was -- he's so weak at this point. He was -- I mean, he was attacked even though he wasn't on stage last night with some references to his troubles back home.

I mean, he is running on this idea that he has done a good job in South Bend and that's the kind of job he's going to do in the United States as president. And I think that case does get legitimately harder when you are facing a lawsuit from the family of the victim when a police officer shot and killed that black man, so.

KING: I just want to show one quick graphic before we go to break in the sense that it's a Democratic contest right now, it's a fascinating contest. Ideological tug of war in the party, generational tug of war in the party. It matters who you nominate in presidential politics.

This is from NBC/Wall Street Journal polling. Look at the top four lines and look to the left there. Ninety-six percent of Americans think they can rate Joe Biden. Ninety-nine percent think they can vote -- rate President Trump. Eighty-three percent Elizabeth Warren, 95 percent Bernie Sanders.

You see them there. You know, there -- are they comfortable with these people? But look at the reservations. Fifty-six percent of voters have reservations or concerns about Joe Biden. Sixty-two percent about the incumbent Donald Trump. Half the voters already reservations about Elizabeth Warren. Sixty-three percent Bernie Sanders.

This is -- it matters who you nominate.

SALAMA: For Biden, that's going to be one of his demons tonight too. If any of his competitors decide to seize on the fact that there's been some wavering and flip-flopping on certain positions in recent weeks, then that could really hurt him especially when they're all laying out their positions for the voters in front of them. So, we'll see how that goes.

KING: Tune in.

Up next, President Trump gearing up for a big meeting on trade with the Chinese president.


[12:41:55] KING: Topping our political radar today, President Trump is in Osaka, Japan at the G20 summit. Among the big meetings, one with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. U.S. officials telling CNN there's a little indication in recent weeks China is willing to bend on American trade demands. Big reforms the United States wants, but maybe a truce still possible.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now live from Osaka. Kaitlan, set the table.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the president has got a lot of important meetings while he's here in Japan but one of the ones that most people are going to be paying attention to is when he comes face to face with the Chinese president and this looming trade deal that has been halted and hanging over essentially this summit for several weeks now.

Now, if you were to ask U.S. officials two months ago what this was going to look like, they would have said that they probably would have had a trade agreement by now. But of course, as we reported, those trade talks broke down when the Chinese delegation was in Washington back in May. And now they're just hoping to get a truce while they're here.

Now, you may be asking what does that truce look like? And based on what our sources are telling us they're saying that they hope that the president would essentially come to this agreement where he would agree to delay adding more tariffs to those Chinese imports while the Chinese officials agree to a more robust timeline to get these trade talks back on track. Now, they've fallen apart and the U.S. says that's because the Chinese officials went back on and there's still some opposition internally to reforming the Chinese market which is what the U.S. is demanding. And while they're saying that they do not want to meet these U.S. demands.

That's going to be the big question when President Trump and President Xi get in a room together. But John, one thing to keep an eye on is the president brought his chief China critic to Osaka here with him. That's Peter Navarro, and he was not scheduled to be on this trip we're told just several weeks ago and now he was a last-minute addition. So that's something to keep an eye on when you're watching the president come face to face with President Xi.

KING: Some big questions. We'll keep watching. Kaitlan Collins live in Osaka, appreciate that.

Up next for us, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi making one more appeal, this one direct to the White House, trying to get her way to get some changes to new spending to deal with the border crisis.


[12:48:37] KING: Welcome back. The House and the Senate in a tug of war today over how to reconcile two different border spending bills. We're seeing the odds favor the Senate. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing pressure to pass the Senate's bill after the Senate bill passed by -- look at this, it doesn't happen in Washington that very often, 84-8 on a big bipartisan basis. The Republican leader Mitch McConnell refusing to cede much ground today. He says talks are fine but why don't you just pass my bill?


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We're standing at the five-yard line. And yet apparently some in the House want to dig back into that abolish ICE playbook and throw a far-left partisan wrench into the whole thing. I'm glad the speaker and the administration are discussing some of these outstanding issues. But if House Democrats send the Senate back some partisan effort to disrupt our bipartisan progress, we will simply move to table it.


KING: He's actually not that glad. He was not happy the House speaker spoke directly to the president yesterday trying to extend the negotiations. The president is overseas now. Speaker Pelosi says she's going to try to talk to the vice president today to see if he would agree to some of the Democratic changes. What's going to happen here?

BADE: Look, I think Pelosi is in a really tough spot. I mean, this passed with a lot of Democratic votes in the Senate and that puts pressure on her to say this bill is not as bad as some of the progressives are making it out to be. There's also something happening right now in the House and that is a bunch of moderate Democrats and front line Democrats in Trump districts are pressing her privately and threatening to take down a rule to re-pass this bill unless puts the Senate bill on the floor.

[12:50:10] So she is dealing with her own internal mutiny as she's trying to demand that the White House and Republicans continue negotiating. I mean, it's a tough position for her, and this is exactly what happened to John Boehner when Democrats controlled the Senate years ago and Obama was in the White House.

KING: And she says she wants to talk to the vice president. She did talk to the president. She thought after that she'd sort of done an end-around on McConnell. She had the president willing to discuss changes. But then he tweeted after that, "Republican Senate just passed bipartisan humanitarian assistance for our southern border 84- 8." The president goes on to ask for other things he wants. That would be separate legislation. So that seems to be the president saying never mind, pass the Senate bill.

LINSKEY: Yes. I mean -- but to Rachael's point, I mean, this is something Nancy Pelosi has been very good at doing in the past. I mean, she's managed to claw a victory out of the jaws of defeat in the past. And I don't know if we've seen her against a wall like this before, though.

BADE: Yes. No, we definitely haven't. And I think that, you know, she's getting pressure from progressives who want her to make a stand here. But the reality is that there's already a bipartisan agreement in the Senate and that really hurts her.

SALAMA: This is also a really emotional issue at hand. So the president as one that will not back down when things get like this, so you have an image of a dead father and child in the water and he tends to react very strongly to things like that. But I can't help but feel there's a little bit of a lord of the flies situation going on. President Trump is now in Japan and he can't sort of be here physically to put pressure on Congress and so you have them sort of sorting it out amongst themselves and it's starting to drag. And that's why you have Nancy Pelosi now trying to find alternate avenues going to the vice president and others trying to find a solution.

KING: Two pretty strong wills, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader. We will see as this play out.

When we come back, a little more from last night's debate including some of the lesser-known candidates trying to make a mark.


[12:56:29] KING: You could see last night a crowded debate stage brings some unexpected rivalries. Case in point, this flare-up between the Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan and Tulsi Gabbard. The Hawaii Congresswoman asked about America's continued presence in Afghanistan, Ryan stressed strategic patience. Tulsi Gabbard said no. She's an Iraq war veteran, she said she disagrees.


REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a soldier, I will tell you that answer is unacceptable.

We cannot keep U.S. troops be deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we're going to somehow squash this Taliban --

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't say squash them. When we weren't in there they started flying planes into our buildings. So I'm just saying right now --

GABBARD: The Taliban didn't attack us on 9/11, Al Qaeda did. Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11. That's why I and so many other people joined the military, to go after Al Qaeda, not the Taliban.


KING: One of the more feisty exchanges. My question is to what end.

LINSKEY: Exactly right. I mean --

KING: But you never know. LINSKEY: You never know. And you did see with some of the Google analytics afterward there was an increase in searches for Tulsi Gabbard not for Tim Ryan. These are two people that most people don't realize are running for president and they're fighting over something that's not one of the main issues. And you do wonder what was the strategy.

KING: Anti-war sentiment, though, we have learned does run deep especially in some of these early Democratic states.

JOHNSON: Yes. I mean, it really struck me that Tim Ryan was to the right of Donald Trump in his arguments. And so it made me wonder, you know, does his sentiment really have a place in the major parties today? Unless I think there's another terrorist attack in which case I think that sentiment tends to come roaring back.

KING: And Congressman Ryan trying mostly to stake out, I'm from a blue-collar town where people work with their hands and the Democratic Party has lost touch with the working class. But he did respond to Congresswoman Gabbard today.


RYAN: She was trying to score points. I think whoever got that question on Afghanistan she was going to try to go after and quite frankly -- I mean, she doesn't have very good judgment on a lot of these issues. She was actually meeting with Assad, you know, not long after he was gassing children in Syria. So I don't think her judgment is up to speed on some of these issues.


SALAMA: So it's interesting that he didn't actually bring up the Assad issue on the stage during the debate. And that was probably one of his shortfalls. But also the problem with these debates is that often you're trying -- it's a performance to be the more forceful and seem like the more knowledgeable.

Well, the actual debate of being in Afghanistan kind of fell through the cracks of why we think we should be in Afghanistan is the -- does the Taliban represent a more global threat to our national security and not just who done it on 9/11. And so that was the problem.

KING: And he mentioned the Google searches. Tulsi Gabbard had a lot of searches west of the Mississippi. It's interesting. We'll see what it means.

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times smartly points out there were a lot of Cory Booker searches in the south and in Michigan making the case that maybe some African-American voters were seeing him for the first time. This is part of Senator Booker.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope I'm the only one on this panel here that had seven people shot in their neighborhood just last week. This is an urgency, and for those that have not been directly affected, they're tired of living in a country where their kids go to school to learn about reading, writing, and arithmetic and how to deal with an active shooter in their school. This is something that I'm tired of and I'm tired of hearing people all they have to offer is thoughts and prayers.


KING: Very interesting moment there for him.

LINSKEY: He had a great debate I think. He kind of abandoned his sort of love and hope message that has been mostly what he's used during the first part of the campaign. And was very forceful at that.

KING: We'll see. Curtain raiser last night. Opens the door. More people paying attention.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Come back tomorrow for debate number two. Brianna Keilar starts.