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Democratic Presidential Candidates Face Off Next Week In CNN Debates; The Strategy Behind President Trump's Racist Attacks; Massive Protests Call For Puerto Rico Governor To Resign. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 22, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:29] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's back-to-back Democratic debates will take place in Detroit next week. Front-runner Joe Biden, who struggled on questions of race during the last debate, will be among a racially diverse group of candidates on the second night.

Joining us now is Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "SMERCONISH." Good morning.


GREGORY: So, let's talk right -- look, my big question about Biden, is going to be better in this debate on any question? Is he going to show up differently no matter who is on the stage with him?

SMERCONISH: He needs a sharper night although, David, I don't think that this night was as poor as the consensus has not sort of taken hold. It wasn't a great night for him. I don't think it was as disastrous but, you know, perception becomes reality.

I've gone back and rewatched that debate and I noted in the exchange with Sen. Harris that his first instinct was to make reference to the fact that he left a great law firm gig and became a public defender. He seemed like he had in mind drawing a sharper distinction with her record as a prosecutor and then he didn't go there. And then, he did fumble and said, "I'm out of time. I'm sorry."

He's got to be a lot sharper in how he responds to her.

And something else that is on my mind. Sixteen of those candidates, between the two nights, they need a Kamala Harris-like moment. So will they seize the opportunity to go after Joe Biden, assuming they're on the stage with him or in night one, might one of the lesser-polling candidates turn their sights on Elizabeth Warren and/or Bernie Sanders? That's what I want to see.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So you think that there's going to -- they need a breakout moment.

You know, one of the things that's interesting, just optically in terms of perception, the second night is much more diverse. I mean, the second night is diverse as opposed to the first night. That's just how the groupings broke out.

So the second night, Kamala Harris will be on stage, as will Julian Castro, as will Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, and that's the night that Joe Biden is on. And so, you know, who knows how that plays?

Do you think that that is a disadvantage to him?

SMERCONISH: Two words -- crime bill. If there's one thing I'm certain of, I believe that the crime bill from, what, '94 is going to become an issue because a number of the candidates that you've just identified Alisyn have made that a priority of theirs.

So, yes, regardless of how the CNN questioning goes, I think that the responses are going to target where it's all headed in a different direction on night two than night one.

[07:35:03] On night one, if I can just offer this, my perception is that as between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, she's the more ascendant. So, I'm keenly interested to see how does Bernie Sanders handle Elizabeth Warren? Does he attempt to draw lines of distinction between the two of them?

GREGORY: I'm with you on this, Smerc. I think that's there's almost too much attention to Biden right now, not that somebody won't -- because what Kamala Harris did was so unusual. To distinguish yourself in such a big group as a clear winner of a debate the way that she did, I think is extraordinary.

But there are other opportunities, whether it's getting in that progressive lane in kind of the front of the line against Warren or Bernie Sanders.

And if you're Pete Buttigieg, who got, I think, pretty good marks after the first debate, you've got to find a way to break through, as well. That's the observation.

The question piece, though, going back to Biden is I actually, Smerc, felt that he wasn't good enough -- to your point -- defending the 90s, he also wasn't good enough defending the Obama administration with regard to, say, immigration. He just didn't seem facile enough and that's what I thought was his real downfall.

SMERCONISH: Yes. I think that the format -- that rapid-fire format of needing to respond in 60 seconds and then you get --


SMERCONISH: -- 30 other seconds -- and by the way, it's the only way. I mean, it's the worst system but it's the only system, given how many are on that stage.


SMERCONISH: I have to believe, David, that he's been going through a murder board-like rehearsal -- at least I hope so for his benefit -- and getting down the response time in a far shorter time period because he's used to being out there now on the campaign trail and having an unlimited clock. And then you suddenly get on that stage and you've got to bring the goods in a hurry. It's almost like being on a show like this, right?

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes. You know the demands of having to respond in lightning-quick fashion.

All right, so let's talk about "The New York Times" upshot, which talks about President Trump's chances of winning reelection. What do you see?

SMERCONISH: I thought it was a remarkable analysis from Nate Cohn and the folks who comprised the upshot team pointing out that the possibility exists for Donald Trump because he has an Electoral College advantage, not a popular vote advantage.

But the possibility exists for him to lose the popular vote by even a wider margin in 2020 than he lost in 2016, and still, to win the Electoral College. And the focus being, still, on those high school- educated, Rust Belt states that you were just talking about a moment ago.

And it's kind of an explanation for all of the conversation recently -- the tweets, the racial injection, the trade talk. There could actually be -- I'm not defending it -- please don't misunderstand -- a political method to his madness.

GREGORY: Well, and not only that but also you look at some of these states called the Sunshine States -- Sun Belt States where Democrats have an increasing advantage. The question is, is it enough to overwhelm some of his advantages there?

CAMEROTA: You mean, a demographic advantage that they have -- right.

GREGORY: Yes, a demographic advantage -- yes.

CAMEROTA: But I think it is interesting because all the polls that show some of his Democratic contenders beating him -- those are polls of human beings. And as has been pointed out in 2016, you don't poll the Electoral College -- states, territory doesn't vote. And so, you can have a different outcome in what people expect.

Michael Smerconish, thank you very, very much.


CAMEROTA: So, an incredible and frightening catch off the coast of Cape Cod. We'll show you what this young boy ended up reeling in.


[07:42:50] CAMEROTA: The brutal heat wave that gripped the East Coast this weekend has smashed records but this week, we're told, looks a little better.

Let's check in with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. How's it looking?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A lot better, actually. The cold front goes by.

Big storms today, though, for almost everyone up and down I-95. So you could have wind damage, trees down, and maybe more power lines that came down.

Right now, it still only feels like 82 in New York City, but yesterday, up to around 107. And there were 60,000 households without power. That's a couple hundred-thousand people not only without air conditioning, without a fan yesterday across parts of New York State and New York City.

So here goes the weather for today. Rain showers in St. Louis -- some flooding there. But the big story is how big these storms will be somewhere around the 7:00 hour.

If you're flying today through New York City, expect delays throughout the afternoon. Get on an earlier flight out of there because by 7:00 things are going to be very, very slow -- probably hours delay by the time we talk.

And take a look at what that cold front is going to do. Severe weather -- wind damage should be the major threat. We'll keep watching that as the day goes on -- David.

GREGORY: Chad, thank you so much.

MYERS: You bet.

GREGORY: Forty-five people hospitalized in Hong Kong after a mob of men attacked commuters at a suburban train station. Officials have not identified the attackers yet. One man is in critical condition.

The attacks came hours after mass protests in the Yuen Long area. Police using tear gas and rubber bullets on several thousand people protesting a controversial extradition bill and Beijing's grip on the city.

CAMEROTA: British Airways suspending flights to Cairo for seven days over unspecified security concerns. This comes just after the British government warned of a, quote, "heightened risk of terrorism against aviation."

Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, suspended its Cairo flights on Saturday, but they resumed Sunday.

No U.S. airlines fly to Egypt's capital.

GREGORY: And you don't have to be Chris Cuomo to love fishing, but it does help. But for one family fishing off Cape Cod this weekend, they got quite a surprise when one of the boys reeled in his catch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep on reeling, Brody (ph). It's a good one. Oh, no!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got that on video.


[07:45:00] GREGORY: And, yes -- yes, that was a great white shark leaping out of the water and snatching the fish off the line. That was a --

CAMEROTA: Oh, don't -- I don't think she should do that.

GREGORY: Yes, that must have happened later. That was --

CAMEROTA: Yes, I don't think she should reach over like that.

GREGORY: You know, it's fascinating to watch unless you're involved. I mean, it's -- no, I mean, it's -- that's really scary.

But there's been so many of these. We know, around Cape Cod and the islands, how many great whites there have been --


GREGORY: -- with more and more frequency, so it's not at all unusual. But that's a scary moment -- you're right -- and especially so close.

CAMEROTA: Well, there's a lot around Nantucket right now.


CAMEROTA: Has that prevented you from going in the water?

GREGORY: No, it has not -- it has not.

CAMEROTA: Oh, great.

GREGORY: But seriously, there are areas where you want to avoid fishing where -- avoid fishing -- not only fishing but avoid swimming in areas that are popular for fishing are still -- you know, when there are seals and there's --


GREGORY: -- a lot of fish.

CAMEROTA: There's sharks that live in the ocean, OK? That's what I learn every summer.

GREGORY: But we're seeing them in recent years increasingly around Cape Code, so certainly, a scary moment there.


Meanwhile, there is a pattern emerging of the people President Trump likes to attack and those he leaves alone. Here is one hint. The ones he leaves alone tend to be male and white.

John Avlon has our reality check. John, what is this about?


So look, if anyone's shocked at the president's attacks on the four freshmen congresswomen of color, they haven't been paying attention. This wasn't a mistake or a misstatement, it's a reflection of Trump's longtime impulses and it's core to his 2020 playbook.

In October, CNN analyzed his Twitter feed and found that Trump used the bully pulpit to attack 106 individuals -- 82 men and 24 women -- in his first 20 months in office. But the topline stats don't reflect the frequency of his attacks.

For example, Trump's had a hard time quitting Hillary Clinton, re- upping the phrase "Crooked Hillary" more than 60 times in his Twitter feed in the first 20 months of his presidency and repeatedly since.

But lately, he's been trying to expand his self-selected face of the Democratic Party and he's had a strange habit of focusing on non-white women. Witness his repeated attacks on longtime Congresswoman Maxine Waters.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maxine, she's a real beauty -- a seriously low-I.Q. person.


AVLON: Now he's singling out the so-called "Squad" of four freshmen congresswomen to make them the face of the Democratic Party.

Now, Trump is following Fox News' lead, which has been building up Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, even trying to frame the last election at times as a choice between Trump and socialism with AOC as the avatar.

The RNC was calling her a "mini Maduro" last August, even before she officially won her seat.

And it's perhaps no coincidence that Tucker Carlson railed against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as someone hates this country days before Trump's use of more terms.

Of course, all of this follows on a long line of Trump's targeting of race and politics, often under the guise of piercing political correctness, from cheerleading the birther conspiracy theory to Charlottesville to reportedly calling predominantly black nations "s- hole countries" while lamenting the lack of Norwegian immigration.

We could go on and on. His immigration rifts from day one of his 2016 campaign calling undocumented and Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, and his call to ban Muslim immigration also reflect those instincts. But, Trump has reason to believe that demonizing the opposition works.

Exit polls show that he won over voters who became convinced that both candidates in 2016 were equally dishonest, unqualified, and without the right temperament.

So, we looked at 2020. That negative partisanship is again front and center with the strategy of trying to paint Democrats as radicals, socialists, or all out to destroy America. Every policy to the left -- lurched to the left during the debates will be used to offer evidence for this narrative despite the fact that only 17 percent of Democratic primary voters call themselves very liberal.

Make no mistake, this isn't about policy or ideology. This is a scorched-earth strategy designed to distract from Trump's own consistently dismal poll numbers as the first president to never be above 50 percent in the Gallup poll.

But well over 50 percent is the number of Americans who think Trump has made race relations worse in America, according to a recent Pew poll. And about two-thirds believe that since his election it's more common to hear folks express racist views.

Trump's reelection strategy is not to make his base bigger, but to make his base harder -- more willing to defend or to refuse to condemn whatever he says. And doing that requires a bogeyman or bogeywomen in this case, making them the face of a future that many of Donald Trump's supporters fear.

And that's your reality check.

GREGORY: John, thank you very much.

Meantime, thousands are gathering on the streets of San Juan today demanding that Puerto Rico's governor resign. Our next guest was targeted by the embattled governor and his aides in the leaked messages. We -- we'll talk to her, coming up next.


[07:53:43] GREGORY: As we've been saying this morning, thousands are gathering on the streets of San Juan this morning as pressure grows on Puerto Rico's governor to resign. Governor Ricardo Rossello says that will not see reelection when his term is up, but he won't step down.

The protests come after 900 pages of profanity-laced, homophobic, and misogynistic messages between the governor and his top aides were leaked.

Our next guest was the subject of some of these messages. Joining us now is Melissa Mark-Viverito, interim president of the Latino Victory Project and former New York City council speaker.

Good morning. How are you?


GREGORY: What are you expecting behind you today as these protests ramp up? What do you think the message is going to be? What do you think the impact is going to be?

MARK-VIVERITO: You know, this is an incredible moment in Puerto Rican history. This is unprecedented.

We had 500,000 people last week. Expecting that and possibly more to rally today with a united message. Regardless of party, regardless of your agenda, everybody is united to say that the governor must resign. In the best interest of Puerto Rico, this governor must resign.

The fact that he has not yet done so is really troubling. Obviously, it shows his immaturity, it shows his lack of leadership, it shows his lack of moral character. So in the best interest of Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rossello must resign, and that is what the message is today.

[07:55:09] This is, again, unprecedented. I tell people that 500,000 will be like a million and a half people marching in the streets of New York demanding that their mayor resign. This is historic and people have to understand the magnitude of what we are living right now on this land.

GREGORY: Let's talk about some of the context here because he was -- specifically, the governor was targeting you as criticizing you in some of these texts. He was responding to a tweet in which you had criticized the Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez for his support of statehood for Puerto Rico.

And the governor wrote in part, quote, "Our people should come out and defend Tom and beat up that whore," referring to you.

How do you still process that and respond to it, and try to use it as a way to make your larger points about his leadership?

MARK-VIVERITO: Well look, you know what? I don't -- this is not about me. Obviously, this is an attack on all women and this is an attack -- and basically, an attack on the people of Puerto Rico in general.

I know what the chats reveal. It was basically the breaking point.

There has been -- obviously, historically, there has been corruption in different administrations, but what the chat revealed was many things. One, it was about the sexism, misogyny, homophobia.

Two, it was about the use of government money and resources to enrich your friends. Use of power of the government to go against your opponents. This is really -- everything was exposed in that chat and I think people have just had enough.

This is very similar to what we're fighting against with the Trump administration -- similar, similar. Use divisive rhetoric that is dividing the nation. Using government resources to go against the press and to go against your opponents.

That is also what is being revealed in these chats. But that's what we're living in on stateside, and now, the conversation of impeachment, right?

The governor is refusing to resign and now he is going to force the Legislature to have to take this up. People are tired -- are sick and tired.

This is historic. It's a new day for Puerto Rico. They're reclaiming their government. They are saying we've had enough and it has to -- we have to turn the page and start something new, so the conversation is all about that, right.

And this fiscal control --


MARK-VIVERITO: -- board that has been imposed that is on elected members that are implementing austerity measures. Any conversation of trying to empower further that unelected board is not acceptable.

The message here is also about getting rid of --


MARK-VIVERITO: -- (INAUDIBLE) control, which is that fiscal oversight board.

And so, there's a lot going on but people are just sick and tired, and that is what --


MARK-VIVERITO: -- is culminating in these days here.

GREGORY: You mention the difficulty with the Trump administration that Puerto Rico has had and the government has had.

The president, of course, has not wasted an opportunity to try to exploit this and he tweeted this. "A lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico. The governor is under siege, the mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person."

He goes on and on and he talks about how Congress gave, foolishly, $92 billion for hurricane relief. Much of it "was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again." That is not accurate -- that part of how much had been squandered.


GREGORY: But the reality is -- the reality is that the FBI has arrested two former officials in the government for illegally funneling $15.5 million in federal funding to favor businesses.

So, some of the criticism by President Trump is going to stick at a really inopportune time --


GREGORY: -- when, as you say, you've had these battles.

MARK-VIVERITO: No, it's -- let's be clear. This -- Trump is a liar, Trump is a racist, and he's a master deflector. So let us not allow him to try to dominate and control this conversation.

We do not condone, right -- myself, the people in the diaspora, the leadership, the people that are moving this agenda -- we do not condone any type of corruption -- of course, not. But let us not deflect. We have to be united now in the diaspora and the leadership of the diaspora is telling Congress do not allow, right, this conversation to now turn about how we take money away.

How do we make it more difficult for an island in need who is recovering, who is facing a fiscal crisis where people need assistance? Let's not think about how we're going to make it more difficult.

Why don't we talk about how do we utilize the grassroots infrastructure that exists here to get that money more directly to the people and not funnel it through a government that obviously has demonstrated that it is corrupt and not able to administer it?

So, we call -- Latino Victory, powerful Puerto Rico coalition that we're a part of and that we help -- we are convening a forum here in Puerto Rico in November to ask the presidential candidates to come to the island -- now more important than ever -- so that they show their commitment to Puerto Rico --


MARK-VIVERITO: -- and that they put forth a platform.

So this is really an important time and we need all the solidarity and the support that we can gather --


MARK-VIVERITO: -- and that's our work and the work that we have ahead of us.

GREGORY: Thank you so much. We'll be watching developments --


GREGORY: -- here throughout the day. Melissa Mark-Viverito, thank you very much.

And we want to thank our international viewers for tuning to us this morning. "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER" is coming up next.

For our U.S. viewers, a crucial week for Democrats during special counsel.