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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Presidential Candidate John Hickenlooper; Democrats Set to Debate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:27]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello from inside the historic Fox Theatre here in Detroit. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Just hours from now, the first of two CNN Democratic debates will get under way. Ten candidates will take the stage tonight. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the highest polling progressives, they will be right at the center of it all.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I'm Chris Cuomo and the whole team for this special edit of THE LEAD.

Jake Tapper, of course, preparing to moderate tonight's debate, alongside Dana Bash and D. Lemon.

Wolf, so many candidates on stage, pressure has to be on, because, let's be honest, if you don't break through tonight, if you don't get into that main dialogue, you may not get another chance.

So as we have seen in past debates, if you want to make a name or a move, often, it is going to be an attack. What will that be? We will know in just a couple of hours.

So, for right now, let's start to get into our coverage of what is going on. The clock is ticking.

Let's get right to CNN's Jeff Zeleny inside the debate hall.

So, Jeff, for the leaders and laggards alike, tonight very big.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, no question about it.

I mean, this is a -- the last debate for some of these candidates. We don't know which candidates those will be. But all eyes will be on the center of the stage, as you said, where Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are going to be.

And they will be flanked by other candidates who have moderate positions. That is going to be the heart of this debate, the ideological divide inside this Democratic Party, which, of course, feeds into the ultimate question. What should Democrats do? Who should they nominate to defeat President Trump? Should it be a moderate candidate to win over some of those Trump

voters? Or should it be someone from the left who excites the liberal base?

We have one of those candidates who's going to be making his first appearance here, Montana Governor Steve Bullock. He is on stage right now sort of seeing how it goes. He is the candidate who has joined the race most recently.

He was not on stage in Miami at the debate last month. He will be here tonight. And he will be drawing contrasts with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He, of course, is the governor of Montana, a red state.

He will argue, I am told, that it is dangerous, in his view, to pull the party too far to the left through Medicare for all, through the Green New Deal. So that is going to be on display.

There's also going to be something else, Pete Buttigieg, age 37, standing next to Bernie Sanders, age 77. That is a big age divide as well. So think ideology, think age, and this, of course, the first night of two nights, but, tonight, so important about the direction the Democratic Party -- up to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

It's going to be a very important night. And as we watch what's going on, on the stage behind us, I want to bring in our political experts to get some insight.

Mark Preston, let's talk a little bit about Steve Bullock right now. He's down there. He's the last of the 10 candidates going through this walk-through, showing him what's there. They're giving him some of the ground rules.

Tell us what he's hearing right now.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, a couple things.

As we talked about, this could be the end of the road for many candidates. Steve Bullock just got in to the race. I mean, not only is this going to be his first debate, but he really didn't get in until the end of May anyway or the middle of May. He was focused on his legislature.

I would expect to hear a lot from him talking about how he can win Middle America, how he can win states where Donald Trump won. You look at Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, Ohio, these are all states that, had Democrats won, Wolf, Hillary Clinton would have been president. And that's going to be Steve Bullock...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Look at his own state.

And as we're showing our viewers these live pictures of Steve Bullock, you see Sam Feist, our Washington bureau chief, going through some of the rules for tonight.

We want to make sure all of them feel comfortable. The other nine have already done this. He was elected governor of Montana in 2016. He won as a Democrat, even though Donald Trump carried Montana.

PRESTON: Yes, which certainly says something about his electability.

And that's the argument we expect for him to make tonight, his ability to win not only Democratic voters, but to win over those Republican voters. And as much as we do talk about how the Republican Party has really coalesced behind Donald Trump, and it's about 80, 85 percent support, the bottom line is, there are still a segment of Republicans who don't want to vote for Donald Trump.

And Steve Bullock is probably going to make that argument that he can win them over.

BLITZER: Let's go through, M.J., some of the drama that we anticipate tonight.

Right in the center of the stage will be Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. We got some poll numbers showing where they stand right now.

Joe Biden, who's going to be on the stage tomorrow night, he won't be there tonight, but presumably is hovering over this debate tonight as well.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And I think what is so fascinating about this Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren potential battle is that there may not be much of a battle. Every conversation that reporters have had with the two candidates, they have really tried to telegraph, we have no intention of fighting on purpose. We see eye to eye on a lot of issues. We are good friends.

[16:05:17]

But I do think, Wolf, there is a political risk for each of the two candidates in linking arms a little bit too much, right.

For Bernie Sanders, the issue is that he doesn't want to look like he's being replaced by Elizabeth Warren. In politics, obviously, novelty counts for so much. And no matter what Bernie Sanders does in this campaign, he's always going to be the candidate who tried once and lost in 2016.

And then I think for Elizabeth Warren, she doesn't want to look too much like she is piggybacking off of Bernie Sanders. Obviously, she has many plans that are original and that are her own, but on an issue like health care, for example, Medicare for all, she doesn't have her own health care plan.

And when I asked her about this yesterday, why haven't we heard from you on this issue in particular, she said it's because she's with Bernie. She doesn't want to say line too often, I would imagine, tonight.

BLITZER: They're old-time friends, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. That's going to be hovering over this debate tonight as well.

Presumably, they will want to remain friends after tonight.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Presumably.

But, Wolf, I think both of them realize, as long as they are number two and number three behind Biden, they can't beat Biden. One of them has to drop out for the other one to pick up enough votes to beat Biden.

So they each have an incentive to become more aggressive, more contrasting. But there's no question that the way they behave with each other will be very different from what we saw from Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, in the first debate.

The Biden people felt that was an ambush and it was personally insulting. In this case, you have got these people who are friends. They will do it much more subtly, more gently, but they have got to begin separating out for their own preservation.

BLITZER: Maeve Reston, if we look at the stage tonight, right in the center will be Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, as we pointed out, Bernie Sanders, 77 years old, Elizabeth Warren, 70 years old.

But to Bernie Sanders -- right next to Bernie Sanders will be Pete Buttigieg, who's, what, 37 years old. And Beto O'Rourke, who's in his 40s, he's right there as well.

So that age contrast could be an issue tonight.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: For sure.

And there are so many voters out there who you talk to you, particularly in the older generation, who really like Pete Buttigieg, and there's a whole cadre of seniors that would love to see him in the White House because he does sort of offer that freshness, that newness that so many voters are looking for.

And that's Sanders' biggest problem right now, and why he needs such a jolt of electricity tonight. I mean, we are seeing Elizabeth Warren just keep inching up steadily in the polls. And when you go out there into these states, particularly in the Industrial Midwest, and talk to voters, they feel like Bernie had his shot and that Elizabeth Warren is the one who's really putting in the work right now.

So I'm really fascinated to see how he tries to change that chemistry, that equation.

BLITZER: Yes, Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, one of the candidates, he's still up in the stage going through some of the procedures for tonight, trying to feel a little bit comfortable with that podium. Up next, I will speak with one of the other candidates who will be on the stage tonight, the former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. What does he need to do tonight to keep this campaign going and ensure he makes it into the next round of debates?

Also, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on center stage tonight, the Democratic Party's tilt to the left will certainly be on full display. Are Democrats too far out of the political mainstream?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:35]

BLITZER: We're counting down to tonight's Democratic presidential debate, the first of two high-stakes showdowns right here on CNN.

Joining us now, someone who will be on that debate stage behind us tonight, Democratic presidential candidate former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

Governor, thanks so much for coming in.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course.

BLITZER: All right, so in the polls right now -- and you have seen all the polls -- the Quinnipiac University poll that just came out, you're not even at 1 percent.

What do you need to do tonight to get ahead?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I was at 2 percent last week, just so we're clear. Let's get -- the statistics are often...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, either 1 percent or 2 percent, but there's still others who are way ahead of you.

HICKENLOOPER: Absolutely.

And I have argued from the beginning that I'm the one person who's done what everyone else has talked about.

I think, tonight, I have got to open up more who I am and let my experience as a small business owner and an entrepreneur, as a mayor for eight years, as a governor for eight years, let that -- those stories come out.

BLITZER: You tweeted this yesterday: "Elizabeth Warren has some big ideas that have an even bigger cost. We proved in Colorado that you don't need big expensive government programs to achieve progressive goals. Let's talk about it tomorrow night."

So are you planning to go after Elizabeth Warren, given some of the positions she has staked out? HICKENLOOPER: I'm not going to go after her. But I do think that

this -- this notion that we can have these massive government expansions is a surefire way to hand the election to Donald Trump, to reelect who I would argue is one of the worst presidents we have ever had.

BLITZER: Because we remember, a few weeks ago, you were booed at a California...

(LAUGHTER)

HICKENLOOPER: I know.

BLITZER: ... when you declared -- quote -- "Socialism is not the answer."

Does that influence your approach tonight? Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, she says she's a capitalist, but he says he's a democratic socialist. Will that be an issue for you tonight?

HICKENLOOPER: Listen, I have been a small business person my whole life. Even when I went -- became a mayor and a governor, I functioned like a small business -- small business person solving problems.

Their large, expansive government solutions are not what I think America is ready for or wants.

BLITZER: If one of them, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, were to get the Democratic nomination, would you be behind them?

HICKENLOOPER: Oh, sure.

I mean, look...

BLITZER: But you don't think they could beat Donald Trump?

HICKENLOOPER: I think they would have a much harder time beating Donald Trump in states like Michigan, where we are.

This is a state that is -- cares about jobs. And they're not for giant government programs. They are a much more conservative state than what we see in California and New York.

BLITZER: Let's talk about one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issues, for the candidates tonight, health care.

You say it should -- it should be a right, not a privilege. It should be a right, not a privilege. But you envision a role for -- certainly a role, important role, for private health insurance.

[16:15:03] So how do you plan on reducing costs in all of that?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, the key to reducing costs is transparency in hospitals. That's a good place to start. And changing how we regulate insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Why are we paying 30 times more in the United States for insulin than

they pay -- than they pay just across the river in Canada? That the crazy.

BLITZER: So from your perspective, what happens to your private health insurance?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, private health insurance is going to have to compete with a public option. So, they are going to have some pressure on them to deliver better service and have happier customers.

BLITZER: So, when we'll hear Bernie Sanders support Medicare for All. When he does that, what will be your reaction?

HICKENLOOPER: My reaction as it has been, this is America. We believe in choices. And he's asking 180 million Americans to give up their private insurance and a lot of them don't want to.

BLITZER: What about the other moderate candidates on the stage. Not all are as progressive as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. What is going to be your message to them? Because they're, like you, they're competing and a lot of them really want to survive?

HICKENLOOPER: No, of course. And we all are. And that's why -- I mean, this is so exciting. These debates are great political theater.

You know, I'd match my record with anybody. I was a entrepreneur and small business owner for 15 years and I know what it is like to make a payroll, to create something from scratch, to work 80 hours a week so that something doesn't fail. I think that's important experience.

I was out of work for two years and then I opened the largest brew pub in the country. You know, I've had a wide ranger of experience, I would argue, than any of the other moderate candidates.

BLITZER: So, tell us what factors you will be weighing after tonight in terms of whether or not you decide to stay in the race, if you make the qualifications to go to the third round of debates in September.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, you know, to be honest, I haven't really given any consideration to getting out of the race. I mean, I treat every day, every interview, this interview, as make or break. And I'm trying to be focused on being honest and direct to the American people and say, you know, here's what I believe. Here is what I think is good for America.

I think we can beat climate change, right? I really believe that. We have the tools now. These new innovations, I think we could get our arms around health care and control the inflation. But we've got to do it by bringing people together, and I look at pretty much every one else who's running, I don't think they've done that.

BLITZER: Every one -- all of the Democratic candidates?

HICKENLOOOPER: All Democrats -- well, certainly not the president. The president has made his whole political career by dividing people. BLITZER: If you don't make it as the Democratic presidential nominee,

are you open, because you were a popular governor in your home state of Colorado, are you open to running for Senate? I've asked you this question before.

HICKENLOOPER: I know. You're relentless.

BLITZER: Well, just looking ahead.

HICKENLOOPER: I am 100 percent focused on being president. The moment I start entertaining questions about my business or running for Senate, whatever, I lose focus, and my staff loses focus.

BLITZER: You are not ruling it out.

HICKENLOOPER: I want to be 100 percent focused on being everything I can in this campaign and really trying to open myself up to the American people and say, here's what I think America could be.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But what is the single best piece of advice you got going into tonight.

HICKENLOOPER: Somebody told me -- what do they say, you don't win a stink fest if you're with a bunch of skunks. But they're not skunks. We have a great group of people that are -- you know, it's actually honor to be up on the stage. It really is.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks. It's historic, too. Thanks so much, Governor, for joining us. Good luck tonight.

HICKENLOOPER: All right. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

HICKENLOOPER: Chris, back to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, Wolf. Great interview. It is good to get a sense of somebody who makes a move tonight or really probably gone.

All right. So let's bring in our panel here and let's tart looking at what is going to happen tonight through the lens of, is the party moving too far to the left, all right?

So let's set up some sound. The candidates who are on tonight, here is the most aggressive, progressive rhetoric.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABELTH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got to change the system and that's what Medicare for All is all about.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But we are saying today is public colleges and universities should be tuition-free and debt-free for all Americans. MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been really

interested in this potential model. We have 15 justices but five are chosen by Democrats and five by Republicans, the other five --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you could see expanding the Supreme Court?

BUTTIGIEG: If it is in a way that will de-politicize it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right. So let's discuss what that means for the party. You got Paul Begala, you got Rick Santorum, Jen Psaki, Andrew Gillum.

Great to have you all here.

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks for having us.

CUOMO: First, Hickenlooper, you made interesting points. I said it's going to be a hard night for him. Rick Santorum says maybe not. One of these guys needs to stick around. Why the confidence?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think one of these, quote, moderate candidates has to stick around for when Joe Biden crashes and burns, because Joe Biden, in my opinion, is not going to be the nominee and someone is going to pick that up. That means someone has to survive the process or the Democrats are not going to be without an alternative to the pretty hard left that you just have been hearing about and that's a disaster for the Democrats.

[16:20:04] So I don't know who it's going to be. We'll find out tonight. I think Hickenlooper's approach, which is I'm not going to push this, I'm going to -- mistake. You've got -- this is your chance. You don't qualify for the next debate.

And let me assure you, if you're not on that debate stage, your chance of becoming president became infinitesimally small. You've got to do something to make your make, to distinguish yourself. One of you, Bullock, Hickenlooper, somebody like that has to make a move tonight.

CUOMO: What's the frame for you, Andrew.

GILLUM: I tend to agree, you take it, with Senator Santorum here --

SANTORUM: Sow the love, man --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: This is the parody --

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Embrace it. Embrace it.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLUM: On this point, which is, there has to be a breakout moment, I believe, for potentially another moderate candidate and tonight, they get a good foil. I have got great respect for everyone on the stage, but from the standpoint of Warren and Sanders being on the same stage tonight with a couple of candidates that are trying to weave this sort of progressive yet more moderate stream, they've got to pop out and unfortunately, it is uncomfortable to try to figure out those moments where you kind of strike blood, but if you don't, you may be out of the game tonight.

CUOMO: So Bernie Sanders is sitting next to Elizabeth Warren. I'll play Bernie Sanders and you play Elizabeth Warren.

GILLUM: Oh, this is good TV.

CUOMO: You are making points about policies that sound a hell of a lot like mine. You'll beat me on the slogan of I've got a plan for that, when I'm the plan guy. How long could I look at you and nod and call you my friend.

PSAKI: Not long if you want to compete in this week a couple of weeks and months from now. You know, I think they've clearly indicated, both campaigns have, that they're going to play nice and they're going to kumbaya. They're running for office against each other. They're competing.

CUOMO: Warren likes that plan. Warren likes the let's be nice because she's benefiting.

PSAKI: Exactly. Warren is benefiting from this. But Warren has not built her rise on moments. She didn't have -- she had a good debate. She didn't have one breakout moment. She's built it steadily, so it is far better for her if they play kumbaya and play nice.

CUOMO: True.

PSAKI: I would expect --

CUOMO: Just so they know, obviously, we have supporters behind us. Every time it is positive, they're saying my name. Every time it is -- it is angry they say something about Rick Santorum.

PSAKI: All of that.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

PSAKI: You know, if I were advising Bernie Sanders, I'm not a candidate for that probably, but I would say the place to differentiate yourself is on Medicare for all. He's the only Medicare for all purist that is legitimate argument to make. That is not wise in a general election but he -- but Elizabeth Warren has co-sponsored a lot of other bills and tried to give herself an escape hatch on this. That's probably smarter for a general election but Bernie Sanders can differentiate himself on that front.

GILLUM: And if you're Warren, you may want to strike a blow on guns, protecting gun manufactures against lawsuits, you know, if she wants to take Bernie in.

PSAKI: See, I will be surprised if she strikes a blow because she -- GILLUM: I don't think she does. But if she were going in for --

CUOMO: For someone.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: Yes.

CUOMO: So, Paul, what do you think is the dimension?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this will come up, the terrible shooting in Mississippi and the shooting yesterday in California.

Hillary had great success against Bernie Sanders. Maybe the reason she beat him because in the past, he had voted with the NRA. He voted against the Brady Bill. He had voted against the waiting period. He has, (INAUDIBLE) most Democrat, had a bad record.

Now, he said he's changed. I believe he has. And so has Joe Biden, and he got smacked for stuff he did 30, 40 years ago.

I think if there is tension between Bernie and Elizabeth, the opening is not -- I think moderate versus liberal is fine. I think it's experience. That is to say, a governor, Rick made this point a moment. Jay Inslee isn't on the stage tonight, but Steve Bullock is, John Hickenlooper is.

Rather than just saying I'm moderate, I want a governor in the top tier. Governor makes better presidential candidates and in American history, people we make as president are vice president and governors and civil war generals.

CUOMO: Most often.

BEGALA: Most often. So you guys talk, I get things done.

CUOMO: So, here is the smart guy, wild card angle that could be played by a man or a woman, which is I'm not going to talk about you, I'm going to talk to you and talk about Detroit and talk about Flint. We'll see.

All right. Let's take a break on that. Thank you very much for that good first course of this.

Next, how much of the Democratic Party is moving away from former Vice President Joe Biden and the political mainstream. I know we don't see it in the polls. But it's early. Is there a path to victory in that? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:06] CUOMO: Everybody's loud here in Detroit until we come back on air. Now, they are quiet. It is nice they're being polite to do the show, but you're seeing the anticipation build here. This is part of the primary process. Here in Detroit, we have the Democratic presidential candidates having completed their walkthroughs for tonight's first debate on CNN. We like to take you behind the curtain.

So, while we're doing the coverage with Wolf Blitzer here this afternoon, we'll be showing you what's going on in the inside whenever there is anything interesting to see.

So, here is the state of play. The top polling progressives are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And I say progressives, not just Democrats. They're going to be center stage just a few hours from now.

The front-runner as a Democrat who is not seen as a progressive, he's seen as a moderate, is, of course, former V.P. Joe Biden. He'll be on the stage tomorrow.

Joining me now, Biden campaign co-chair, Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana.

Pleasure as always.

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): Thanks, Chris, for having me.

CUOMO: See, they see you. You're here, now, they start talking because these are your people. These are the Biden people.

So, tonight, what work is there to be done as the V.P. watches the state.

[16:30:00]