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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Demo9crats Set to Debate; Interview With Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA). Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: See, they see you, you're here, and 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 this state of play? He will probably be mentioned a few times.

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): I think he will be mentioned.

Any time you're in the top spot, those who want to be in the tough spot need to knock you down, so that they can grow. So that -- we anticipate that.

But I think what the V.P. will be doing is listening attentively to their plans. So, for example, Medicare for all, no one has described to the American people how you pay for the entire Medicare for all.

CUOMO: You don't really think it's going to be plan vs. plan, though, in this election?

RICHMOND: Well...

CUOMO: Hasn't the president made it clear what this is going to be about, Cedric?

RICHMOND: Well, but in a Democratic primary, I do think a lot of...

CUOMO: Got to go plan for plan.

RICHMOND: ... of it is plan vs. plan.

CUOMO: Mike Tyson said, everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face.

Now, the question is, once you have been punched in the face, and Joe Biden was punched in the face in the first primary, what new plan do you have? Was prep different this time around?

RICHMOND: Well, I think that he will not be as hesitant to point out his positions, clarify people when they mischaracterize his position, and then punch back and let them know the flaws in their positions. And I think that he's going to be very forceful with it. And, look,

Senator Harris caught -- I believe, caught him off-guard, because the sentence started with, "Mr. V.P., I know you're not a racist."

And that's the part that...

CUOMO: But.

RICHMOND: But.

CUOMO: And it's the but that kills you.

RICHMOND: The but.

And then I think he was thrown off-guard. And then there's sensitivities of, how do you punch back against a woman and all of those things in politics? And I think that he's comfortable with looking at the policy differences and talking about them.

So I think you have seen in the last couple of weeks that he will point out that her Medicare plan is fictitious and the one she came out with yesterday, nobody understands. And you will see him fight back against Senator Booker, who I believe will be the most aggressive, because he has the most to lose.

He has to get to the next debate stage. And I think that he's going to look for that moment.

CUOMO: What do you think about the Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke? You could make the argument Buttigieg has the lane Beto O'Rourke wanted? The question is, do you think you will see some crossfire there that doesn't involve the V.P.?

RICHMOND: Well, I think you will.

And I think Beto -- and I know Beto from Congress -- I think Beto has to show people who he is and remind people who he is. He just ran an outstanding race in Texas for the United States Senate. And I think that when he got into the presidential race, he thought that he could do the same thing, for example, drive the minivan, do those things.

The reason why you don't drive the minivan is so that you can be studying up on policy and making calls and doing all those things. So I think he had some growing pains.

So that's going to be a very interesting exchange between those two, because they are in the exact same lane. Both can't survive. One has to go away for the other one, I think, to thrive.

CUOMO: You think that's true with Bernie and Warren, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?

RICHMOND: No, I think they both will have staying power purely by the amount of money that they raise. And I think that that gives them the staying power to stay for a long time. The question becomes, when will they try to differentiate themselves

from each other? And so we're very clear who we are. And we're not running from the fact that we don't profess to be ultra-progressive, that we're willing to work across the aisle to get things done, even though we get attacked about it, and the fact that we're -- we're focused on Donald Trump.

I mean, he is unfit to serve the American people. And I think there was an article that came out today in Politico that said Donald Trump benefits from Democrats sparring. So we really ought to keep the focus on where it should be.

CUOMO: True. Joe Biden benefits from this president when he is at his worst.

It's interesting. You got a pop in the polls here that I would argue -- please feel free to disagree. I don't think it's about Joe Biden making moments out on the hustings. It's that when the president was at his full-throated worst about divisions in this country, Democrats in polls said, we need to beat this president, Joe Biden's our best chance.

And you saw him elevate past where he was before the last debate.

RICHMOND: Well, that's the polling in the Democratic primary.

CUOMO: Right.

RICHMOND: And, Chris, I think you're right.

But I think also what people looked at was the fact the polling came out that shows Biden beating Trump right handedly, especially in battleground states, popular vote, and in early primary states.

CUOMO: Right.

RICHMOND: So I think the fact that he's winning Michigan, that he is -- he was up four in Texas, he was up in North Carolina, I think when people see that, they say, you know what, we're playing in the Super Bowl. We need to put our best player on the field.

And so that's why I think you see people coming back to him. He's consistent. He's steady. People know he's authentic. People know he says what he means, means what he says, even when it's not popular, even when we wish he wouldn't say it. But he's always going to let where you know he is.

And I think the American people appreciate that, and the fact that the polling shows him as the only candidate beating Donald Trump outside the margin of error.

CUOMO: Right. There, you're right. There's several within the margin of error. It's tight because he is unpopular outside his base. We will see how it goes tonight.

Congressman from Louisiana Cedric Richmond, always a pleasure. Thank you, sir. And good luck with your candidate.

RICHMOND: Well, thank you for having me. And thank you for having some New Orleans heat up here.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: It is a little hot, right?

[16:35:02]

All right, Wolf, to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much.

We're back with our political correspondents and our analysts.

M.J., how's this all-important health care debate going to play out on the stage behind us tonight?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you look at the lineup tonight, and we have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren center stage, and these are two candidates who believe in Medicare for all.

The eight others who are on stage, for whatever reason, and to differing degrees, do not believe that this is the path, right, whether it's because they think it goes too far, it is not realistic.

And I think that this is the battle that we are going to see continue to play out. It has become such a litmus test for all of the Democrats. And I think a lot of ways, the battle that we're going to see tonight is going to be between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and everybody else, right?

And this is sort of the issue that I think really embodies the two choices that Democratic voters are facing in this election. Do we want a candidate and do we want to take the risk on a candidate who is talking about big structural change, or do we want somebody who's talking about improving upon the system that we have now?

BLITZER: That debate is going to be significant.

What about climate change? That's going -- the Democrats say, if you look at all the polls, that's one of the top issues on their minds as well.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It certainly is.

And if you look at it from 50,000 feet, all the Democrats believe that climate change is real and that it should be addressed, but the devil is in the details about how you actually get there.

And it gets very, very complicated. So there's this big fight now about the Green New Deal that's being pushed by the younger environmentalists who really want to see this put into action. You go to the more establishment environmentalists, and while they won't necessarily talk about this out loud, necessarily, their concern is, is that the Green New Deal is really like a jobs program. It's a social justice bill. It's not necessarily an environmental bill.

And you talk to the more establishment folks, and they will say, listen, that's going to go nowhere, because we're not going to get that through Congress. Right? It is going to be too complicated.

And then to add to that you have lawmakers like Tim Ryan, who's going to be on stage, Steve Bullock, who's going to be on stage, and they're going to say things like, listen, we got to get back to Middle America. We get people back to jobs. If you go out there and say, we're going to shut down factories and build electric cars, and we will have no fossil fuels by 2040, 2050 is not realistic.

That's where the divide is.

BLITZER: What about free college education? We got free high school education, elementary school education. Now several of the candidates want free college education.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly a popular plan that they have put out there, but particularly here in the Industrial Midwest, you talk to so many voters like the ones that Mark was talking about, who keep saying, Democrats, how are we going to pay for all of this? And look at these potholes in my street.

Listening to the candidates in the last debate, when they all raised their hand and said that they would support health care for undocumented immigrants, there are a lot of voters in the party that don't agree with those very far left ideas.

And I think we will really see that push-pull on the stage tonight. And it's a night where the moderates really can shine and talk about how they would connect with the Reagan Democrats in places like this.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think this is increasingly boiling down to two big issues for the whole campaign.

And one of them is whether we're going to have open borders or closed borders. And the Democrats who argue we should basically have open borders, and then provide benefits, federal benefits to people who come in, that is an argument that the moderates will try to obliterate, because I think it's a loser right out the door.

But the other issue is taxes. Do you put on taxes on climate? And there's a lot of opposition to that. And do you put on taxes for medical -- for Medicare for all? Both -- higher taxes are also, I think, real poison for the Democrats if they're not careful.

And I think it's pretty simple where this comes out. And do you have a candidate who stands for what's more appealing to the country or what is more appealing to the progressive ideologues?

BLITZER: Because these are all critically important issues.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And there are significant differences in the candidates' positions on all of them.

The first round of debates produced breakout moments for several of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Up next, who could be the standout stars this time around?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:28]

CUOMO: All right, we're back with our political experts counting down to the first night of the CNN Democratic presidential debates.

No need to manufacture enthusiasm for this, because you will never see these two slates of candidates together again. Why? Because you got to start making moves. Yes, there's time, but there's not enough time for this size field to stay this way.

So, in a matter of just hours, 10 candidates tonight, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are going to take their positions on the stage inside Detroit's historic Fox Theatre.

And I'm going to tell you, I get caught on the words because I was thinking of the right adjective. This theater is so gorgeous, that picture. They have done a beautiful job with the set. I was in there. Can't do the room justice.

The lighting, where you see that as dark in the foreground in front of CNN, all of the detail on this place that was built in the 1920s right before the Great Depression, holy cow, it's gorgeous. I will just let you know that. It's going to be a beautiful night for that reason alone.

So I got Santorum, Psaki, Gillum, and Begala.

We're going to get into this tonight.

I have to be right, Jen. It can't be like this. It can't be like this again. These two slates...

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If it is, that's a freakish mathematical thing.

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FORMER FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, it would be, yes.

CUOMO: Right.

But I'm saying, also, you won't have this many.

PSAKI: No. CUOMO: Like, the next set, you won't have it.

PSAKI: You won't.

I think the prediction, I would say, is between eight and 12 will probably qualify for the September debates, because...

CUOMO: Basically, 2 percent in four separate polls, and 130,000 donors.

PSAKI: Right. Exactly, which is not that hard of a criteria.

If you are not hitting 2 percent by September -- I know there's historical precedents and all of that -- you may need to rethink whether you should be running for president.

[16:45:00] There will still be a number of candidates in it who will be competing, a number of people who are on the stage tonight.

There are some candidates who are competing tonight or who are on the stage tonight and tomorrow night who are really going to have to figure out how they get on the stage in September. And this may be the last time we see them. So that's when we'll see some punches come out, some you know, contrasts with other candidates, and those are some of the candidates we should watch.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Senator jump in as always when you want to, but these guys had points that I haven't been able to touch on. I want your take on both. So Andrew said something to me before we came on tonight that is really interesting. He's like don't be so fast to write people off if you don't know where they're emphasizing their energy on the ground. And we were talking about Senator Klobuchar.

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FORMER GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: That's right.

CUOMO: And make the point to the audience because it was smart. I had forgotten your point.

GILLUM: I mean, the point that I had observed in Florida was that there are only about three campaigns that right now have infrastructure on the ground there. Most of them are fundraising infrastructures but is building networks.

Now, that's in a state that is pretty late in the process if you will. Most of this field by you know, my guest, January -- the end of January, February, it'll be pretty clear who's kind of leading out there.

CUOMO: But then somebody can pop up in one of these first big states, let alone Florida.

GILLUM: For sure.

CUOMO: And now they're back in the conversation. So Paul, when does your party grasp that this is not about policy, that the best hint you got from the president was when he said I'll give you my health care plan after the 2020 election? This is identity, this is who we are, what we accept, what we reject. This is a culture battle played out on the national stage. You guys are not in that mode.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And I think -- look, I like -- politics ought to be about ideas. I like that these Democrats are putting out detailed plans, but you're right. That's not how the Democrats are going to make the decision.

They're going to say who can beat Trump? Who can deliver me from Donald Trump? And that's what worried me about Miami. The mistake of Miami --

CUOMO: The mistake in Miami.

BEGALA: The mistake in Miami.

CUOMO: Oh, that's good. That's good.

BEGALA: A whole lot of my Democrat took positions tactically to get through debate or maybe they believe it, that could kill them in November of 2020 against Donald Trump. Don't say anything in the primary that you can't defend in the general election.

Now, why are they doing this? OK, a brilliant -- I've been thinking about this. I thought it was Twitter because I'm in the media now, right? It is partially but not really. The biggest thing that I didn't know about is this emphasis on small donors which I thought was a very good thing, break the stranglehold of big donors, got to raise money from small donors, it's great until I talked to some people in the state level particularly the political director for the governor's pack in Virginia. He's the smartest guy I've ever met politics, my son, John.

Here's what John Begala says. Dad, if you're trying to raise money from small donors, you got to be crazy. You've got to be the most -- he didn't put it that way. He's smarter than I am. He's a William and Mary guy like Jen.

PSAKI: Perfect. Very smart.

CUOMO: Well done, well played. Well played.

BEGALA: Small donors are the most ideological and they're lovely people and I love them. But when you're competing with 20 people for that same small ideological group, you're going to say things to get those small donations to get on the stage, that could really hurt you in 2020.

GILLUM: I would take -- I take exception. So Barack Obama didn't necessarily get out there in the primary and throw out radical crazy ideas as a way of building a base. What he did is he gave us idealism, he set out a vision, and frankly, in some key places, he was a whiteboard under which we were able to project our highest hopes and ambitions onto.

PSAKI: But I think if you look at what he did and if you look at what Kamala Harris did on the first debate, they also introduced who they were. They brought their personal story into it. They let the public, people who are watching know who they are, why they would be fighting. That's what some of these candidates need to do.

CUOMO: Rick is loving everything you guys are saying but for all the wrong reason.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's just not -- it's not this race. Politics has changed. Donald Trump has changed the political world. And so you can go back and say well, Obama could do this -- Obama -- there are a lot of people look like Barack Obama in this field. There wasn't a lot of people look like Barack Obama you know, 12 years ago.

GILLUM: But it was a crowded stage, right.

SANTORUM: Not anywhere like this. And so my only point here is that you've got an opportunity here with these people who are in the -- in the low rungs to survive. I disagree. I think there's somebody out there talking about your grassroots thing, that if they have a good grassroots plan, they can keep their heads in.

We keep forgetting, we are still very, very early in this process. And even if they get bumped off the stage the next time around, if they -- if they're the candidate that has the grassroots --

CUOMO: They can come back.

SANTORUM: They can come back. And that's a comeback story that's worth something.

GILLUM: I totally agree.

CUOMO: The road is a series of steps. Tonight is a huge one. Thank you very much for helping set the table. Coming up next, what to be watching for? When you're watching tonight, you know, it's a little bit of like well, who and for what, and what is the right angle, and when? We're going to lay out some parameters for you, all right, maybe some dip and chip recommendations as well next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back inside the beautiful Fox Theater here in Detroit. Mark Preston our Senior Political Analyst, you spent some quality time with what, nine of the ten candidates earlier in the day when they were doing their walkthroughs.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I did. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to spend some time with Governor Bullock so I had to come up here and join you on the show. But I got to tell you, there's a sense of calmness I think from all the candidates.

You know, people think there's going to be a big fight night tonight. And I do think there's going to be a big fight night but it's going to be a policy. And just talking to these candidates, I don't see any apprehension or anything. I think they want to come out and talk about their policy issues.

BLITZER: Do you see a lot of confidence or -- because some of these candidates, this might be the last time we see them on the debate stage.

PRESTON: Certainly some of them are a little bit more confident than others, but to that point, some of them have to make a mark tonight. They have to do something to move the needle in order to stay in this race. 20 candidate, 20-plus candidates in the race right now, Wolf. There's very little time obviously for them to start making up ground. Tonight would be the night for them to start doing it.

[16:55:11] BLITZER: We'll see if any of them can do that. That's very significant. Mark, stand by. We've got a lot more news. Coming up, how much should the Democratic candidates talk about policy tonight and how much do they focus in on President Trump?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)