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President Trump Steps Up Attacks on Baltimore and Rep. Cummings; Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are Interviewed About President Trump's Attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings, Baltimore. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 29, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:03] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening from Detroit.

In addition to hosting the CNN Democratic debates, Detroit like Baltimore is part of the United States, both are very important American cities, which may be news to President Trump who continues his attack on Baltimore and the African American congressman who represents a big part of it, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings.

And as he did with four non-white congresswomen just two weeks ago and many other non-white elected officials and civic leaders, athletes and ordinary citizens before that, he is once again trafficking a racist stereotypes in giving voice to some of the most shameful and destructive prejudices in our society.

Tomorrow night here in Detroit, the first ten of 20 Democratic candidates will take the debate stage. All of whom say they want to restore civility to Washington.

So, we begin tonight with the question that follows from all of this aberrant presidential behavior. Is this only the beginning? It is disturbing enough if this was just Donald Trump revealing prejudice and animus he's apparently long harbored.

But if this is as it appears to be, a calculated strategy of division and racial identity politics, and where does it go from here? How far does the president of the United States try to make this next election about the other? Making it in a sense us versus them in his mind?

And as you ponder that, listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.


O'DONNELL: It is easy to say that when you're reading at least part of it off a teleprompter, but that sentiment is not what the president reveals in tweets or in his ad libs in large auditoriums. Just ask Elijah Cummings or his constituents, the people of Maryland's seventh congressional district.

Saturday, apparently outraged at Chairman Cummings' questioning of a cabinet member and inspired by something he saw on Fox, he tweeted and I'm quoting now, why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings district when it's considered the most run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States? No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately.

He continued: As proven last week during a congressional tour, the border is clean, efficient and well-run, just very crowded. Cummings district is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous and filthy place.

Now, in point of fact, the congressman commutes from his district and says he goes home daily. His district is home to about 700,000 people, about 700,000 more than the president says would want to live there. It's racially diverse, majority African-American home to the John Hopkins University Medical Center. It is according to "The Baltimore Sun", one of the wealthiest majority black districts in the country, and it does have pockets of poverty, some of it extreme poverty and crime. And Baltimore certainly does have long-standing problems.

But if you listen to the president, Maryland Seven is barely fit for human habitation. And coming on the heels of the president's attacks on four women of color just two weeks ago, the whole ugly speck of race is again at the center of the president's remarks about Baltimore, but perhaps trying to preempt the racial backlash against him, President Trump tweeted this. Quote: If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership.

Yes, that is a tweet best read by gaslight and in it, Elijah Cummings, the African American chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is portrayed by the president as the real racist here. And what about the president you may ask? Listen.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president is attacking Mr. Cummings for saying things that are not true about the border. I think it's right for the president to raise the issue of -- look, I was in Congress for six years. If I had poverty in my district like they have in Baltimore, if I had crime in my district like they have in Chicago, if I had homelessness in my district like they have in San Francisco, and I spent all of my time in Washington, D.C. chasing down this Mueller investigation, this bizarre impeachment crusade, I'd get fired and I think that the president is right to raise that. It has absolutely zero to do with race.


COOPER: That's Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff.

Funny thing that's almost the exact same thing another top advisor said last Sunday defending the president's attacks on those four other non-white Congress members.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER FOR POLICY: I think the term racist, Chris, has become a label that is too often deployed by the left Democrats in this country simply to try to silence and punish and suppress people they disagree with speech that they don't want to hear.


COOPER: Well, that explains it.

[20:05:00] Elijah Cummings is just trying to silence the president by being on the receiving end of a racist verbal assault. It seems for those other four non-white Congress women.

And Congressman John Lewis who as you may know was beaten nearly to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in civil rights movement, he -- he was the real racial aggressor. When the president told him that he, too, should go back and fix what he called his crime infested district. He seems to reserve the word infested for non-whites and he seems to have forgotten this.


TRUMP: The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.


COOPER: Again, reading from a teleprompter is easy but truly working to help people live in unity and solidarity, that is something this president hasn't even tried.

I want to get more reaction right now on this from two senators. This is Senator Cardin and Senator Van Hollen.

Senator Van Hollen, when you heard the president's remarks, initially, what did you think? Did it seem like part of a larger strategy to you?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, it sounded, unfortunately, as part of a pattern of the president's racist attacks that we've seen over weeks and months and years now. It may well be part of a larger political strategy. I think it's a strategy that will fail. I think the country is much stronger than that and we've seen people all over Maryland and all over the country rallying in support of Baltimore.

COOPER: Senator Cardin, I know you spoke with Congressman Cumming. I'm wondering he is -- what he is thinking about at this stage?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, I think Congressman Cummings is very proud of Baltimore and the people of Baltimore. This is a great city with great people, great neighborhoods, great institutions such as John Hopkins, and the University of Maryland. It is an incredible community and to hear the president of the United States talk that way about our city, it hurts. It hurts a great deal.

But Congressman Cummings knows that he's done a great job representing the people of Baltimore in the Congress of the United States, and he understands that the president's agenda isn't really about Congressman Cummings or Baltimore. It's about his attempt to distract the American people from the proper oversight of the Congress of the United States.

COOPER: That's what you think this? You think this is an effort to district?

CARDIN: I think it's an effort to distract. I also think as Senator Van Hollen said, it's a pattern which the president appeals to the worst of America and to racism in an effort to try to bolster his base. It's unacceptable from anyone but particularly the president of the United States.

COOPER: Senator Van Hollen, the language the president uses, you know, the infestation language, is language he's used before has been pointed out and there is -- I mean, I know you've said it is racist. In your mind, what makes what the president said racist?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Anderson, the words he uses with respect to African-American elected officials, the places they live, sometimes the countries their ancestors come from is especially degrading. I mean, this talk of infestation always trying to associate these places with high crime, it's very clear that the president's instincts are to degrade these individuals especially and the places you came from.

Now, it may be part of a sick political strategy to increase intensity of his base. I don't think it works but regardless, we have to call this out every time we see it. We can talk about the other important kitchen table issues that people are thinking about every day, but we cannot allow that kind of language to become normalized from the president of the United States.

COOPER: Senator Cardin, it is interesting because the president, as you know, has spent, you know, more than a week or so going after four freshman members of Congress, telling them, you know, to essentially go back to where they came from. We heard the chant that went out and one of his claims is that these Congress people hate America.

Listening to the president of the United States who has the largest soapbox in the world, attack an American, a great American city, it's surprising to me that nobody is making the argument to him that he is denigrating America or criticizing America, not just to Americans but to the world.

[20:10:09] CARDIN: Well, the president of the United States has a responsibility to all the people in this country to bring us together and you're right. What he said about Baltimore is totally unacceptable from anyone but the president of the United States, that's outrageous. That's not what the president of the United States should be about in bringing us together.

Despite the fact he was wrong but the language he's using is just inexcusable for the president of the United States and I was pleased to see the reaction. We've seen people from all over America come to the defense of Elijah Cummings in Baltimore and that's great.

COOPER: Senator Van Hollen, I understand one thing that hasn't really gotten a lot of attention is the Kushner Company actually owns the family run company owns I think some 9,000 apartments or properties in Baltimore and that there have been code violations in those. Is that something you looked into?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right, Anderson. A little while back, Senators Cardin, myself, Elijah Cummings and others wrote to the Kushner Companies about these alleged flagrant violations of housing codes. You've got the Kushner Companies profiting over housing that is run down, that's not properly taken care of and we wrote to them and we heard nothing in response.

So whether it's Trump or the Kushner Companies, the reality is, you know, the president may pretend today that he wants to help Baltimore but he's been obviously trying to drag it down and Kushner refused to respond to our letter.

COOPER: Senator Van Hollen, Senator Cardin, appreciate your time. Thank you.

CARDIN: Thank you, Anderson.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to have much more ahead, much more ahead from us tonight, including our own political team next talking about what the president is up to and how it might play on the debate stage here starting tomorrow night, two nights of debate ahead.

Also tonight, to Senator Van Hollen's point, we'll take a closer look at those Kushner properties in Baltimore and talk to the people who live there, and find out what is going on.

Plus, the departure of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats who is seen by pretty much all sides is a straight talker and his replacement with a loyalist to President Trump and a Russia probe critic, is it a sign as some believe the president is trying to co-opt the country's eyes and ears? Details ahead.


[20:16:57] COOPER: We're talking tonight here in Detroit about a president who has just been admonished by the House for his racist tweets about four none white members of Congress, now attacking a fifth member of Congress. That's in addition to Maxine Waters and John Lewis and several more over the years. And, of course, the Reverend Al Sharpton today.

Quote: I've known for Al for 25 years, went to fights with him and Don King. Always got along well. He loved Trump. He would ask for favors often. Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score just doing his thing and must have intimidated Comcast, NBC, hates whites and cops.

Now, anyone who's grown up in New York know that Reverend Sharpton has really been a controversial and polarizing figure over the years. That said, the language in that tweet goes way out of its way to be inflammatory, obviously, which the president may consider a feature, not a bug.

I want to talk about it now, former senior adviser to President Obama, now a CNN senior political commentator and "AXE FILES" host, David Axelrod is here. CNN's senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN political director, David Chalian, and Van Jones, former Obama special advisor, now a CNN commentator and host of CNN's "VAN JONES SHOW". Also, former senator and Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum. He like David Axelrod is a CNN senior political commentator.

Van, there is a pattern here from this president. I mean, there is -- you can argue people will argue about how to define the words but this is part of a pattern.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it is. And here is the thing. Trump attacks everybody. He's mean. He's rude. You say OK, why are you guys upset?

He attacks people of color in a particular way. You know, if it's a place of color, it's an S-hole nation. It's a black city, it's a crime infested city. If it's a leader of color, go back where you came from.

So, it's not -- listen, he's rude, he's mean but there is a particular kind of pattern here and I think that's why people are so upset. Part of the danger we're in now is you can't let this stuff go and can't spend too much time talking about it because I think he likes being seen as this racial provocateurs standing up to all these people. And so, it's a loss-loss situation for the country to have a president like this.

COOPER: Senator Santorum --

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't see it that way. I agree with Van that the president is crude and rude and combative with anybody who attacks him and he fights back and he fights back dirty and he fights back mean, and I think that goes for everybody. I don't think he pulls punches on anybody no matter what the color of their skin is.

JONES: But this particular motif, this theme that he keeps coming back to.


JONES: He would never say about Appalachia. These people are disgusting and they're crime infested. In other words --

SANTORUM: Because representatives of Appalachia aren't attacking him on a regular basis. I mean, that's --

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't remember when you were running against him, telling you, you should go back to Italy.

SANTORUM: Well, it happened to my dad but you're right. Look, I'm not condoning any of the language.

[20:20:00] So let's just be very clear about that.

But to say that somehow there is a difference between how Donald Trump attacks certain people and other people, the reality is what Donald Trump I think is trying to do, because I've talked to a lot of people around the Trump campaign, they really believe -- this is going to come as a shock to all of you, they believe they have an opportunity to make great gains in the black and brown community.

They believe they have a great message and one of their messages is the people who are representing you now are not doing -- doing a bad job, and you need to -- you need to get rid of these people and you need to try something different, and that may be part of the strategy.

COOPER: But how can telling four women of color to go back to where they came from not be seen in racial terms? To van's point, he's at a -- you know, at a rally in Alabama, he's not saying two people in the crowd many of whom probably live in less than ideal circumstances or in tough circumstances or have, you know, in communities affected by opioid abuse, he's not calling those drug infested stuff. I mean, he's calling all them patriots. Those are patriots because they are showing up to his rally.

SANTORUM: Well, they are showing up to his rally. That's the difference.

JONES: Let me just one thing. It is remarkable that he does have a case he can make. If Trump wants to make a case, he can talk about the fact he did criminal justice reform and have the unemployment stuff, opportunity zones that --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's not the case he's making.

JONES: He's not making that case.

And that -- and to me, in some ways, Democrats might want to be glad he's stepping on this badly.

SANTORUM: He's making the case against the leaders of those --

JONES: No, people --


AXELROD: Here is the bottom line. Here is the bottom line. This is exhausting and people will get tired of it every single day kind of dividing the country for --


AXELROD: I say -- what I think -- that's the gamble. They may not.

SANTORUM: They may not.

AXELROD: It may be that people walk into the polling place just enough who like things that he's done but say, you know what? I don't think we can do this for four more years.

SANTORUM: That is my greatest fear. This president I believe given this economy and all the other things he's done should be winning and shouldn't even be a close race so that's my biggest fear.

COOPER: Nia, why isn't he running on those things?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Because he's running on the things that Van is talking about. He's running on racial grievance politics and identity politics and we've seen this.

I mean, you know, A for effort, Rick Santorum, he's really trying to appeal to African Americans. I don't think you appeal to African- Americans by calling Africa, you know, African countries S-hole countries, by calling these neighborhoods where African-Americans live and like Elijah Cummings assure their problems in these neighborhoods, but instead of saying, listen, Baltimore is actually beset by some of the same problems you see in Pittsburgh, for instance, which is the downturn in manufacturing for instance, that's not how he's phrasing it, because he's going for another thing, this sort of emotional play for folks who feel left behind by a lot of the demographic changes in just the divisions, the sort of urban world divide, the racial divide. So that's what he's doing.

COOPER: David Chalian, how does this play out on the debate stage? Because I mean, to Van's point, there is a danger for Democrats in focusing on every tweet the president is sending and not focusing on --

CHALIAN: Let him dictate the entire conversation. There is a danger in that no doubt.

But what happens here, and this is why I think you'll probably see some of this on the debate stage is that, and David called it a gamble, the politics of this is that yes, he made very much motivate his base. Perhaps he'll pull people over who didn't show up to vote for him four years ago, but he also riles up the opposition. This unifies Democrats tremendously so.

We saw how Nancy Pelosi was in this battle with these congresswomen and then all of a sudden that went away. Her party was totally unified. And these Democrats on the debate stage, this is not an issue they will debate between themselves. They will take this to Donald Trump.

Joe Biden launched his entire candidacy, the rational is restoring the soul of the country. He used Charlottesville as the example. Donald Trump does this, he plays directly into Joe Biden.

AXELROD: But I think it's also -- whether it's right or wrong, he likes to put chum in the water.


AXELROD: I think the decision to move forward on restoring the death penalty at the federal level was an attempt to force this into the debate. Much as in the last debate, he probably saw that and said they went too far left. He'd like --

CHALIAN: He tweeted about that real time.

SANTORUM: Don't discount the people who live in these communities who hear Donald Trump saying really nasty things about him said he's right. You know what, he hasn't done anything to help. And you say, well, that isn't going to happen because you guys are out here are calling him a race.

But the reality is, some people who are sitting there hearing this and saying, you know what, he's absolutely right and that happened in 2016.

[20:25:05] People -- he was out there saying nasty things about a lot of people and about a lot of things going on in this country and some people said, you know what? He's right.


COOPER: Van, and we have to go.

JONES: Let me say there is this thing called Blexit, blacks exiting the Republican Party and this idea that Democrats have let us down and Democrat, whatever. This is the worst possible way to execute that strategy. What you're trying to do is turn away black voters? You don't say you know human --


SANTORUM: I agree. Mr. President, listen to Van Jones on this.

COOPER: We're going to take a break and come back. Rick Santorum, thank you. Everyone else, stay with us.

Coming up, President Trump announcing his choice for the new director of national intelligence. He's someone not well-known by some of the senators who will have to confirm him and who has little intelligence in intelligence gathering. We'll take a look who he is, ahead.


COOPER: Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe who staunchly defended President Trump during last week's Mueller hearings is the president's choice to replace Dan Coats, who's the outgoing director of national intelligence.

[20:30:00] And a several Republican senators have said either they didn't know Ratcliffe all that well or decline to comment at all, instead praising Coats for his work during the first two and a half years of the Trump administration. The President went public with the job change in a tweet on Sunday.

I want to get some perspective now from retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters who is a strategic analyst and also author of the book, "Darkness at Charlottesville." Colonel Peters, thanks so much for being with us.

As someone who's worked in the intelligence world for more than two decades, I'm wondering what your reaction is to this nomination, certainly loyalty to the President appears to be one of the most, if not the post qualification, important qualification.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), STRATEGIC ANALYST, AUTHOR: Well, the fundamental problem seems to be we have a President who refuses to accept empirical reality, whether it's presented to him before his eyes or through an intelligence briefing. And we have a President who in the intelligence briefings he does get and I can tell you that our intelligence personnel have had to reduce extremely complex issues to one page of bullet points and the President's mind still wonders off that one page.

So you've got a guy who is not interested in intelligence. He just somehow believes that he can make it up as he goes. And, yes, he wants to seek friends (ph). He wants yes men. He doesn't want to be challenged and he has found, it appears to me, the perfect sick of it, someone who is utterly unqualified, utterly, profoundly unqualified to be the director of national intelligence.

And, Anderson, I heard somebody on CNN earlier actually saying, well, you know, you can learn on the job. No, you can't. It's like learning to be a brain surgeon on the job, except that intelligence work is much, much tougher. It takes -- you can learn on the job if you got 20 years or 30 years.

But you've got to understand everything from human, from the agents throughout there risking their lives up to the satellites, the technology, the analysis. You have to have a deep background in world affairs, profound. You can't just Wikipedia. You know, we got Wikipedia for the problems.

And so, again, this candidate, the wonderfully named Congressman Ratcliffe, that's a screen writer's dream. He just -- he shouldn't be anywhere near the office of the director of national intelligence.

Think of the people we've had on those years, Jim Clapper, people like that who knew what they're doing and gave their life to intelligence and you're going to put a monkey in there.

COOPER: You've been critical of previous presidents and their decisions based on intelligence that they've received. But in this President you say this is approaching a very dangerous bottom. Can you explain that?

Because there are some people who say, well, you know, this is a guy who may be able to have the President's ear because clearly the President believes he's very loyal. His performance during the Mueller hearing, he didn't event ask Mueller really a question, he just, you know, gave a speech for several minutes, which was clearly something that earned him the favor of President Trump.

PETERS: You know, he hit a key point here that he has the President's ear, and that the director of national intelligence, it's not an empty job. That man is the -- or a woman, I should -- they'd be a woman, that person is the gatekeeper who decides what intelligence goes to the President.

Incredibly, incredibly dangerous if the man who decides what intelligence goes to the President is afraid of angering the President. DNI has to have courage, and what we saw in the hearings with Mueller, someone who solely interested in advancing himself.

And, yes, I have been critical previous presidents but there's a difference. Previous presidents, Clinton, Bush, the younger Bush, Obama, repeatedly ignored intelligence and often for political purposes, but they never rejected reality.

And, you know, and to be fair, yes, Obama had his love affair with Vladimir Putin and we remember him making fun of Mitt Romney for saying the Russians were enemies. But nonetheless, at some level all previous presidents have accepted that while they might not like the intelligence, they might not want to act on it, they haven't shown disrespect to the community.

They haven't attacked the intelligence community as virtual traders and President Trump seems to equate anyone who disagrees with him as being betraying the United States. He's -- this man is at the very least a sociopath and extremely dangerous, extremely dangerous with his affection for outright villains, for dictators, for murderers. How could one be more worried?

COOPER: Ralph Peters, always good to have you on. I also misspoke when I introduced you, it's "Darkness at Chancellorsville." Clearly, I should not be DNI.

[20:35:06] PETER: There was darkness at Charlottesville.

COOPER: Well, there certainly was. But the book is "Chancellorsville" and I apologize for misreading it. Clearly I should not be DNI with my lack of knowledge for that. Colonel Peters, good to have you.

Up next, a preview of tomorrow nights Democratic debate right here in Detroit. Our team is back to discuss the possible attack lines coming from the presidential candidates, plus a new poll that may make you reassess who is in command of the race.


COOPER: Less than 24 hours until the second round of Democratic presidential primary debate begins right here in Detroit. The theater right behind me is just incredibly pretty, incredibly -- it's a great room.

In the lead up, a new poll that shows Joe Biden back on top, erasing Kamala Harris' gains from the first debate. These are national numbers. Biden is at 34 percent, up 12 points from the last Quinnipiac poll. Senator Elizabeth Warren statistically unchanged at 15 percent, Harris at 12 percent, down eight points, Senator Bernie Sanders is the only other candidate in double digits at 11 percent right now.

Back with our political team. Joining us as well is CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, former Democratic governor of Michigan and CNN Senior Political Commentator Jennifer Granholm, and CNN Political Commentator and former senior staffer of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, Jess McIntosh.

[20:40:06] What do you make -- I mean, again, these are national numbers and of course, what matters initially are the early states, the early voting, but what do you see in these numbers?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: All of that, but you see from the numbers about a third of Democrats say he's their top choice. But if you look at other numbers included in this poll, more than 50 percent of Democrats say that he is the most electable Democratic candidate. And what do they want to do more than anything else? They want to beat Donald Trump. So that really pushes his numbers up.

Also, he's had a lot of polls recently showing him at the top of the pact and, you know, the old saying nothing succeeds like success. If they continue to see that he's a leader, they will believe he's a leader and these polls also show him beating Donald Trump by double digits.

Again, that plays into the whole electability argument so they're looking at Joe Biden and saying, well, even if I don't love him, I think maybe he's the person who could best beat Donald Trump. Look at all these numbers and what they're telling us. Now it's early as you point out.

COOPER: But certainly for Biden, I mean, Governor, the pressure is on for a good debate performance.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For a good debate performance on Wednesday night, for sure. One of the things that I thought was super interesting about his poll is that 57 percent of independents say they would never vote for Donald Trump.

That should be like a red flashing light for him that the strategy that he's deploying right now is not really a great general election strategy if you want to get some of those independents, particularly independent women back.

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My big takeaway is the trend line. We're still so early. It's hard to look at anyone and say, yes, this is it. This is where the electorate is right now. But Elizabeth Warren seems to be solidifying second. That's -- she's been in that position since that first debate.

And while we've seen Kamala go up and down, we've seen Biden go down and up, Elizabeth seems to be pretty calmly gaining momentum. And if she turns out another debate performance like she did last time this week, we might see that continue. We could even see paths cross.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm sorry. I think what Gloria says is very true. Democrats want to beat Trump. It's always been true that core to Joe Biden's appeal is that he was viewed as the Trump slayer and that he was the least risky choice.

What happened in the last debate was he looked a little riskier. And in the last month, he's been more energetic, more focused and the question is can he carry that forward into this debate and reassure people.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what's really going on is you have a lot of African-Americans who are parked there for Biden and they are waiting.


JONES: 53 percent, yes. And the 25 percent of this part is African- American and a lot of them, their votes are parked with Biden. He was Obama's guy in their look and they said, can Kamala do this? Is Elizabeth Warren the real deal? They're waiting.

I don't think -- I think his support is there. I don't think it's stable. And if tomorrow night he goes out there and slips on another banana peel, I think you're going to see his numbers come down much more permanently.

CHALIAN: I think that's true. But what is amazing to me is that Kamala Harris' success from that last debate was not ever lasting.


CHALIAN: And that there was this return to the comfort zone, to Joe Biden as the safe choice. So while we have seen him poll after poll, voters do want to hear more about Kamala Harris. They do want to hear more about Elizabeth Warren.

They're shopping, yes, but they're not going to shop in the way where they park themselves elsewhere. They're coming back to the safe zone because they want nothing more.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And the safe zone also seems to be the top five candidates, right? They're not really going outside, you know, to the bottom sort of 15 folks. Those folks are having a really, really hard time breaking into the top five.

Buttigieg is at 6 percent. If only all of that money would buy him some better poll numbers, haven't seen that at all. Sanders also slipping. That's another trend line that we see. He's losing altitude. It looks like Warren has been able to leap over him. So, we'll see. We'll see what that means for tomorrow with folks attacking on stage.

GRANHOLM: Just really quickly, Gloria. One of the things I'm going to be super interested in is on the policy side. We're in Michigan. This issue of trade was such a huge deal in that election in 2016.

COOPER: Good point.

GRANHOLM: Trump won it because of that. So, and Elizabeth Warren just came out with a trade plan today. I want to -- this is going to be the issue for the industrial Midwest, is the lose of these good paying manufacturing jobs and what is the plan of these people to be able to bring it back because Trump's plan, he hasn't executed on it and that to me is going to be the key issue.

BORGER: And one more thing about Biden to me. Looking at all these poll numbers, how people are coming back to him, it's like they want to believe in Santa Claus, right? And they say, oh my god, Biden could be Santa Claus for us. He could bring us the presents. He could bring us the election. But, they are not quite sure he is Santa Claus.


BORGER: And so they keep coming back and that's why as you-all were saying, this debate is so important and maybe he will do something on trade.

[20:45:02] But I think the thing they're going to look at is how he punches back whether -- and he's going to get attacked by everybody.

COOPER: Right. And you got to remember, he's going to be in between Kamala Harris and Senator Cory Booker, both who are looking to make their mark.

HENDERSON: And he's going to have to be sharp and focused too, right? It was one thing to see him not be able to sustain the attack against Kamala Harris. But he also just wasn't focused. He seemed out of step lost at time. So he's going to have to be sharp --

COOPER: Also, David Chalian, how many -- I mean, there's 20 candidates on these stages for next two nights. How many of them are going to disappear?

CHALIAN: Oh, I would say half the field. In terms of getting to the September debate special (ph), remember, the DNC has doubled the polling and fundraising limits. If 10, maybe 11 people make it to the September debate stage, I'm not saying that the other nine will actually quit their campaigns, but their campaigns for all intensive purposes will be over because they won't be participating this high profile event.

AXELROD: This is the hunger game. It's like killer details.

GRANHOLM: It's totally is, yes. And everyone who's got a small number is going to try to make their mark. So Kirsten Gillibrand, she's going to go hard I would imagine on women's issues. I would think that de Blasio, he's already telegraph that he's going to go hard on trade. You're going to see Tulsi Gabbard going hard on the Iraq vote against Joe Biden. I mean, at the point -- at some point, everybody is going to be try to punch.

COOPER: I mean, there's always so much time they have to go hard with that.


COOPER: And then there's the person who is always butting in.

GRANHOLM: And then they've got to present their own.

MCINTOSH: Especially since some of these tier two candidates, drawing contrast in not their natural strength. On the first night, we got Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke, those are the two that they've made it to September. Amy hasn't yet, but she probably will. She's on track too. Neither one of them is particularly great at throwing a punch, especially against somebody who work -- you know, is part of the same --

AXELROD: I'll tell you who I think --


AXELROD: I'll tell you who's going to take a punch. The first debates are going to take a punch. I think you're going to see a lot of moderate candidates try and push back on the tone of the first debate and that's going to be another theme of what we see.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody. Again, two nights of presidential debates begin tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll also be hosting special coverage before each debate starting at 6:00 p.m. and then also after the debates, as well.

Coming up, the very latest on another mass shooting. A gunman fires into a crowd at a festival in Northern California. Two children and an adult are killed. We'll have details ahead.


[20:51:29] COOPER: Police say two children, a 6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl along with a man in his 20s are dead following yet another mass shooting, this one at an annual garlic festival in the Northern California town of Gilroy. Shooter using assault type rifle which he purchased lawfully in Nevada earlier this month. According to police, at least 12 others were hurt in the attack. The police chief said it ended within a minute when three officers fatally shot the shooter. Chris Cuomo is joining me now. Obviously we're here in Detroit to cover this. I mean, again, another mass shooting. It's just -- it's incredible how people just move on.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Its part of the same conversation they'll be having here. There has to be an ability to connect the me to the we in this election at some point. And what you see in Gilroy is that, you know, the President said the right things. It's horrible that we lost, stolen from the families, this man was a wicked murderer, but he didn't mention his motivations. Why not?

He talks about what motivates him and he exaggerates situations all the time, but he consistently underplays this. Why? Because somebody has told him or he told himself politically it's not good for him to do it and that's something that has to come up. I'll be taking it on in the closing tonight.

COOPER: Are you focusing on debate stuff?

CUOMO: Yes. I mean, because this is really big. I mean, you know, the idea of having this panel broken down, it will be great. I'll be on with Anderson from 10:00 to 2:00 in the morning, whatever you want me to do.

COOPER: 2:30 a.m.

CUOMO: I'll get you coffee, sandwiches, just let me know. Just make the orders early. That time of night I need some time to prepare. But, I want to see which of these men or women can connect to a message that shows that things can be better. Because plan versus plan, yes, it's a good thing to do.

And we see in the Quinnipiac poll that Elizabeth Warren is being distinguished for having the best plans. But, it's got to be more than that. It's not a written test, you know, and they're not hiring an accountant. They're someone that capture imagination, to give them a reason to believe in a better tomorrow.

COOPER: Because one of them is going to go up against somebody who not necessarily runs a plan-based campaign.

CUOMO: That's exactly right. He is the most fearsome politician that I've seen in my lifetime. His ability to use us, to use advantage, to be a demagogue.


CUOMO: He has gifts in that way. So we'll see who can step up. I've got Buttigieg on the show tonight.

COOPER: Oh, cool. I look forward to that. All right, Chris, thanks very much.

If the President really is concerned about "rat-infested housing in Baltimore," he might want to talk to his son-in-law. We'll explain why after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:57:37] COOPER: At the top of the program, you heard my discussions with Senators Cardin and Van Hollen about the President's racist tweets concerning Congressman Elijah Cummings and his "rodent- infested Baltimore district."

The irony is that it's actually the President's own son-in-law and the family company that Jared Kushner once ran who are responsible for housing in the area that's been cited for among other things rodent violations, really some housing in that area. Senator Van Hollen called it "profiting over housing that is run down that's not properly taken care of." Randi Kaye tonight has more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maggots, mice and mold, that is what tenants in the Baltimore area say they have experienced in properties owned by Kushner companies, as in Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law.

JOHN OLSZEWSKI, BALTIMORE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: It's particularly ironic that the President's making these comments when we know here in Baltimore County in 2017 that his son-in-law directly contributed to some of the neglect that the President reportedly is so concerned about today.

KAYE: In fact, back in 2017, Baltimore County found more than 200 code violations by Kushner companies at its various properties, everything from lack of plumbing to rodent infestation.

(on camera) At this property called Essex Park, one tenant told "The New York Times" and "ProPublica" back in 2017 that her apartment was infested with mice. She said it was so bad, there were mouse droppings everywhere, mice in the laundry hamper and mice in her daughter's bed.

(voice-over) The county threatened to fine Kushner companies unless it made the necessary repairs, which Kushner companies did in all but nine properties.

VANESSA JOHNSON, TENANT: The place started to go down.

KAYE: Vanessa Johnson lived in the Cove Village apartments from 2001 until last year.

JOHNSON: I experienced rats. The rats were in my ceilings. You could hear them walking.

KAYE (on camera): And so what was it like to hear rats at night?

JOHNSON: Oh, my god, it was crazy. I could hear them gnawing. But you can't see them, but I could hear it. And it just made me crazy.

KAYE (voice-over): In a statement to CNN, Kushner companies said it invests substantial amounts in the properties and is proud to own thousands of apartments in the Baltimore area, calling it a high quality residential experience for their tenants.

Meanwhile, now a class-action lawsuit is moving forward on behalf of 30,000 tenants. One tenant even claiming paying their rent in full did not prevent them from receiving illegal and predatory notices seeking payment of additional, often illegal, fees under threat of eviction.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Baltimore, Maryland.


COOPER: The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?