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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Source: Biden's Shift To More Aggressive Tone "Intentional;" Sixteen Marines Arrested For Alleged Illegal Activities Including Human Smuggling And Drug-Related Crimes; 2020 Dems Argue Trump's Economy Not Working For Everyone; Worker Fired After Doctored Presidential Seal Appeared Behind Trump At Speech. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's just also interesting coming at a time when I feel like every few days on CNN.com, there's a story about somebody falsely accused and convicted that is leaving prison after 30 years, because DNA evidence clears them.

[16:30:13] I mean, that's one of the reasons why so many people are coming -- moving against the death penalty. Not because they feel bad for these five individuals.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, certainly, opposition to the death penalty, according to Gallup is at an all-time high at 56 percent. And certainly, it's because we want solid DNA evidence if someone committed heinous crimes, because we have so much more knowledge of these wrongful convictions.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But if you read -- if you read the profile of these five individuals and then ask the question, are you for or against death penalty, I guarantee that Gallup number escalate --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but the government isn't supposed to just respond to the basest instincts of human beings.

URBAN: I understand, bloodlust isn't the reason to drive this.

POWERS: Right, we all have those reaction, but the government should be reacting in a higher level.

TAPPER: We're getting a preview of how heated it could get on the debate stage about other issues live on CNN next week. And that's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:29] BIDEN: We're back with our 2020 lead, and brand-new insight into how former Vice President Joe Biden is preparing for next week's high stakes Democratic debates hosted by CNN. A source close to the Biden campaign says today it's no coincidence that the former VP has stepped up attacks on his opponents this week. It's a part of a concerted effort driven by Biden himself to be more aggressive after that blistering first debate.

And as CNN's Arlette Saenz now reports for us, his rival should expect to see even more of it on the debate stage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): With CNN's Democratic primary debates less than a week away, Joe Biden is going after two of his biggest critics. The front-runner Biden taking a more assertive approach in his pushback of Kamala Harris on health care, and Cory Booker over criminal justice.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.

SAENZ: Biden fired back, taking aim at police practices in Newark, New Jersey, while Booker was mayor.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African-American men. If he wants to go back and talk about records, I'm happy to do that. But I'd rather talk about the future.

SAENZ: The former vice president also knocking Harris' stance that she could pay for Medicare for all without raising taxes on the middle class.

BIDEN: I know people who say they are for Medicare for all, that they're not going to tax the middle class because you don't need to do that -- come on. What is this? Is this a fantasy world here?

SAENZ: The more aggressive approach is a change in tune for Biden, who said this before the first presidential debate.

BIDEN: I think it's a gigantic mistake if Democrats, 20 or whatever number we have, go after each other. It's only going to make it easier for this guy to win.

SAENZ: But after the last face-off, Biden decided he needed to fight back. His team insists Biden won't get personal, but will draw contrasts on policy and records.

BIDEN: You can't run for president and beat Donald Trump without leveling with the American people what you're going to do and how you're going to pay for it.

SAENZ: At next week's debate, Biden will find himself flanked by Booker and Harris, who delivered a stringing critique on his opposition to busing last month.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. She was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me. SAENZ: Biden, readying for attacks once again, telling donors last

night I'm not going to be as polite this time, but he also had this to say about his relationship with Harris.

BIDEN: I thought we were friends, and I hope we still will be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, Biden will be meeting with top staff and advisers in the days leading up to the debate even running through some mock debates. And the campaign tells me they are bracing for the other candidates on stage to look for their breakout moments and attack Biden. As one campaign official told me, quote, everyone is looking for their T- shirt moment. And Joe Biden thinks this is bigger than selling T- shirts, that being a reference to an exchange with Kamala Harris. A little bit of a preview of the fireworks to come next week -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. I think the Harris campaign sold a shirt that said "that little girl was me."

Arlette Saenz in the Hoosier State, thank you so much.

Let's chew over all this.

Kirsten, let's start with you. A senior Biden campaign official tells CNN this about Biden's debate strategy, quote: He isn't going to take hits from any of the candidates sitting down. He won't personally attack anyone, but will be very clear about the contrast between he and the others candidates in the race. For example, we saw a preview of this talking about when Cory Booker was mayor of Newark, the police did stop and frisk.

POWERS: Yes.

TAPPER: Fair game?

POWERS: Totally fair game. Yes. I mean, I think he does have to push back against this and Cory Booker will have to answer for that. If you're going to make this one of your core issues, and clearly, you know, Cory Booker and Kirsten -- Kamala Harris are attacking Biden, because he's the front-runner. And that's what you do. You go after the person who's at the front.

I do think that Biden -- the Biden campaign has a good point about the T-shirt moment, because really sudden, like rises that you get out of one moment in a debate are not as meaningful as slow and steady improvements along the way. So I think that we can over-read into Kamala Harris' popularity of thinking, you know, she got this one big bump, but is it going to be sustained over the long haul?

TAPPER: Well, and the other thing is that it can come across as completely convoluted and insincere, if you come to the stage with a line and it falls flat.

[16:40:02] CARPENTER: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

CARPENTER: What Joe Biden needs to do as the front-runner is defend his record and sustain these attacks. When you go into a debate looking for a fight, it never comes off good. He needs to answer the attacks that he is going to get.

And what worked for Kamala Harris so well is that the audience was with her, the moment the race discussion started, she says, oh, excuse me, it's only black women on stage, I have something to say, and then she told that personal story. And so, the audience was with her. They understood where she was coming from.

But to go into a debate as the front-runner and punch down it's never going to look good.

URBAN: The other thing, too, remember the vice president has not engaged in hand-to-hand political combat for a very long time.

TAPPER: Since '72, really.

URBAN: Yes, he was a senator in Delaware, three counties, right? And he was vice president debating Sarah Palin, right? He's not been in the ring.

TAPPER: And Paul Ryan.

URBAN: Paul, OK, again.

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh.

URBAN: Paul Ryan is a great guy, he's not a knife fighter.

TAPPER: He's not a vicious --

URBAN: Paul Ryan is a wonkish policy guy. He's not a guy who's going to get in there and eviscerate you, right?

And so, Joe Biden has to take off his gloves and show he wants to be president. He's got to be able to fight. And Democrats are not -- they're not going to give him any slack.

TAPPER: And the other things is, the Biden campaign -- there's also -- do you remember during the Gore/Bush debates in 2000, there was always an overcorrection by the Gore campaign. He did this, then the next he did that.

SIMMONS: A lot of nights groaning like this.

TAPPER: I wonder if -- right, you remember better than I do. I wonder if there's a risk here for the vice president. His campaign says they have hired a new research team, like he's going to come armed with the statistics that Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and others did, quote/unquote, wrong, as opposed to making the case that Amanda is talking about.

SIMMONS: I'm not sure that Joe Biden has a team problem, right? I think some of the people who've been around him are really very capable and competent staffers. The question I have heard from people who have seen him in public, is he really up for the fight that he's engaged in? Is he listening to his team and then executing on the plans that they're offering?

I think Joe Biden has been around for a long time. Perhaps he knows more than other people in the room or thinks he does. So, that's more of the challenges.

Let's talk about Cory Booker for a second, though, because I think Cory Booker also has a challenge. One of the things you hear the most about him is, is he tough enough? Is this big love movement that he's trying to lead is going to be the kind of thing that will beat Donald Trump?

People want to see him be tough enough. Now, remember, he's from Newark. He fought Sharp James to get that mayor seat. They made movies about the fights he had in Newark.

So, he's got to recapture that same kind of spirit. And Cory Booker lives in a low income community in Newark. He's the only person running for president who lives where people get shot fairly regularly. I think he's got a case to make.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We are now five days away from the CNN Democratic presidential debates. I will be moderating along with Dana Bash and Don Lemon.

You can watch the two night events starting next Tuesday and Wednesday. Each one starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Late breaking today, a mass arrest of U.S. marines taken into custody while they were in formation on a U.S. military base. The shocking charges they're facing, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: A shocking story in our "NATIONAL LEAD." 16 U.S. Marines have been arrested in California accused of illegal activities including human smuggling and various drug-related offenses. CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live from the Pentagon. Barbara, this was a pretty dramatic arrest you say.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, yes. What went down at Camp Pendleton during morning roll call was something very disturbing. Sixteen Marines arrested by NCIS agents at that morning roll call for alleged human smuggling and drug offenses.

16 of the Marines under arrest, another eight Marines pulled aside and undergoing questioning for possible drug offenses at Camp Pendleton. It's raising questions about what they were all doing. This human smuggling, the Marines were said not to be involved in that mission on the southern border with Mexico which is just a couple of hours away.

This was a separate operation, separate potential illegal activity that they were involved in. The question, of course, is how could Marine commanders at Camp Pendleton not know what was going on. It's leading to a lot of questions about the ethics and the responsibilities out there. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you so much. I know you'll bring us updates on that story when you get them. Our "MONEY LEAD" Now President Trump is running for re-election on a roaring stock market and record-level unemployment, but Democrats counter that success does not hit Main Street and they're pushing different plans on how to level the economic playing field, they say, as CNN's Christine Romans reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the economy, stupid. A strong economy is a gift for any sitting president going into an election year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have the hottest economy anywhere on earth. We have the number one economy in the world. We're now the economic envy of the entire world.

ROMANS: It's an advantage for President Trump, the lowest jobless rate in half a century, nearly three percent economic growth last year, the stock market near record highs. But the Democratic candidates for president are asking just who is the Trump economy working for?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has done nothing to help working families in America.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The communities where it's as if this recovery never even happened.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ask these people who work in this restaurant how that economy came up for them.

[16:50:01] ROMANS: The key for Democrats in 2020 framed the Trump economy as great for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

HARRIS: I will repeal that tax bill that benefits the top one percent.

BIDEN: Eliminating Donald Trump's tax cuts for the wealthy.

SEN, BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is Wall Street's turn to help rebuild the American middle class.

ROMANS: Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want more taxes on the ultra-rich.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An ultra- millionaires tax it's two cents on every dollar of the great fortunes above $50 million.

ROMANS: Crackdown on Wall Street.

SANDERS: We are going to break those huge banks up.

ROMANS: And rein in big tech.

WARREN: It is time to break up America's tech giants.

ROMANS: Most of the Democratic candidates want to raise corporate taxes, tax investment, some even favor putting a fee on every Wall Street trade.

HARRIS: And frankly, this economy is not working for working people.

ROMANS: Democrats message that in the Trump economy, income inequality is worsening. Today the top one percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. Democrats propose raising the minimum wage, strengthening worker's rights, and implementing fairer housing policies.

Senator Cory Booker wants to give newborns a bond to close a racial wealth gap. The median white family in America has nearly ten times the wealth of the median black family.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's about time we target the creation of wealth equally for all children in America.

ROMANS: Senator Kamala Harris wants to bring transparency to the gender pay gap.

HARRIS: Paying people for equal work equally.

ROMANS: While Biden, Warren, and Sanders have plans to revitalize rural America.

BIDEN: Rural economies which are integral to the nation's success.

ROMANS: And then there's free college first popularized by Bernie Sanders in 2016, critical that many Americans go into debt to earn a degree.

SANDERS: Frankly that is crazy. We want you to get the best education you can without having to pay off outrageous levels of debt.

ROMANS: This time around all the candidates have some policy for affordable college. Most want free Community College though free college for all and canceling all debt, that's a far-left position not matched by everyone.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I'm not for free college for all.

BUTTIGIEG: I just don't believe it makes sense to ask working-class families to subsidize even the children of billionaires.

ROMANS: Warren has proposed wiping out student loan debt up to $50,000 for some 42 million student debtors. WARREN: Anyone in this country should be able to get an education

without getting crushed by student loan debt.

ROMANS: Bottom line, the Democrats say Trump's economy isn't helping all Americans. The question is can they convince voters the same.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: One of the issue pieces were doing leading up to the debate. Our thanks to Christine Romans for that one. Coming up, a sick burn on a fake presidential seal behind President Trump. Who's paying for that mistake today? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: A cookie little show under in our "NATIONAL LEAD." An audiovisual aide is now out of a job after this speech by the president this past Tuesday. You look at this screen behind the president. That's a doctored presidential seal. It features a two- headed Eagle instead of a one-headed eagle and it's similar to the Russian Federation state seal.

Also instead of holding arrows, one of the birds is clutching golf clubs. The conservative student group called Turning Point USA organized the event. Its representatives are apologizing today saying there was no malicious intent.

A source telling CNN that hours before the president spoke, organizers wanted the seal to replace the group's logo on a state onstage and the worker found the fake in a quick Google search. So a little too quick perhaps. You do these --

URBAN: College kids, crazy college kids.

TAPPER: You do these campaign events --

URBAN: No, so -- we talked about this like. I was just in an event this morning. There's actually an individual whose job physically carries the presidential seal, hangs it on the podium before the resin speaks. When it's over, physically removes it, goes in the motorcade, leaves with the president, right. That's how carefully these things are done so not quite -- not quite what happened here.

SIMMONS: 100 years ago when I did this in the Clinton White House, I did advance, you used to have to send every backdrop to the White House to get approval before it could be behind the president. I can't imagine that process is being adhered to by Trump the White House.

TAPPER: It's a tough gig. And look, every campaign is out there trying to make sure that they don't make mistakes like this.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But it's not a campaign, it's the president.

TAPPER: It's the Turning Points USA. I mean -- POWERS: But no -- but the president is there. And the point is like

when the President is there, it's actually the White House's responsibility to make sure that the president is taken care of. So the person who should be in trouble is somebody in the White House.

TAPPER: Well --

CARPENTER: A lot of politicians make mistakes when they think they're among friends. So clearly some corners got cut here and somebody didn't do their job because they thought it was safe.

TAPPER: Apparently that seal might be the same one from an anti-Trump Web site. And the thing -- instead of saying "E Pluribus Unum," it says in Spanish "45 is a puppet." Meaning the 45th President of the United States if it, in fact, it's the same image.

SIMMONS: It's a good bird.

URBAN: Double impact.

CARPENTER: Maybe the resistance is inside Turning Point USA. You might have a mole there, Charlie.

URBAN: Or whatever hotel it was.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, thank you so much. I appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. See you tomorrow.