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Trump's Aides Privately Balk at Attacks on Cummings as Strategy; President Trump Steps Up Attacks on Congressman Cummings; CNN Democratic Debates Kick Off Tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow live in Detroit. It is a beautiful Tuesday morning and a big night here tonight.

The first of two critical debates now just hours away. Take a look at this. Here's a live look inside of the CNN debate hall where Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and other contenders will be face-to-face tonight. They will battle it out, those two, over their progressive credentials or will they set their sights on the frontrunner, Joe Biden who will take the stage on Wednesday.

Biden, who according to a new Quinnipiac poll, is stretching out his lead. He won't be on the stage tonight. He has a highly anticipated rematch, if you will, with Senator Kamala Harris, Jim, and that is tomorrow night.

SCIUTTO: Look at how those numbers have changed just since the last debate.

HARLOW: I know.

SCIUTTO: The stakes tonight could not be higher for some of the candidates who are struggling to gain traction among a very crowded field. They need a break out moment if they can manage it or risk being left out of the next round of debates as the threshold to qualify increases significantly.

Joining us now is CNN's Phil Mattingly.

So, Phil, as we're looking forward to tonight, each candidate has a different goal but also probably a different standard for success. What should we expect? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question

about it. Look, each candidate and campaign is keenly aware of what happened after the last debate when there was a noticeable bump in numbers for specific candidates, notably Senator Kamala Harris.

But first I want to kind of set the stage of what you're going to see tonight. As you can see the 10 candidates tonight will be lined up behind me. And the rules are a little bit different in this debate than they were in the last debate. The debate will last about two hours. Each candidate unlike the last debate will have an opening and closing statement. When the candidates are asked questions by our moderators they will have 60 seconds to respond. They will also be allowed a 30-second rebuttal or response to another candidate's point that's put out there.

One thing they will not be doing tonight, there will be no show of hands questions as we've seen in the past which has made some candidates uncomfortable and some candidates feel like they've got into some specifically difficult positions. But that doesn't mean there won't be sharp contrast tonight on stage. And basically when you look at the two people in the middle that's where everybody is pretty much focused on, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, because they align themselves in terms of the voter's pool but they're often going for, in terms of their progressive positions.

But don't ignore the people to the right and left of them. One, Beto O'Rourke obviously had a moment early in the campaign trying to relaunch to some degree his campaign now, can show a serious contrast between those two progressives in the middle. And also Pete Buttigieg who's raised a ton of money, has had a few of his own moments in the campaign, looking for a breakout moment as well.

And also, Jim, real quick, as Poppy noted, there are a couple of people on the outside of the stage that could be their do or die moment. They need to perform, they need to get a bounce, they need -- see something happen tonight or else they might not make it to the next debate, guys.


HARLOW: All right, Phil Mattingly, it looks great. It's the perfect day for this in Detroit. We're looking forward to it. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about this with David Gergen, former presidential adviser to just four presidents, Nixon. Fort, Reagan and Nixon. He knows about this stuff. Karen Finney, CNN political commentator and Cleve Wootson, national political report for the "Washington Post."

Good morning one and all. What a perfect day in Detroit for this, right? All right, all right, so, Gergen. If you were -- if you were prepping the candidates tonight and you were working with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, whose campaigns say, by the way, they're not going to fight, they're friends, you know, the media has it wrong here, how would you be preparing them?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'd be preparing them to look friendly but to be able to have a --

HARLOW: Really?


HARLOW: Sort of the like Obama to Hillary, she's likable moment in 2008?

GERGEN: Absolutely. And I think also for a woman, you know, we have a lot of double standards for women candidates.

HARLOW: We do?

GERGEN: Yes. You have noticed, I'm sure.

HARLOW: Shocking.

GERGEN: No, if you haven't noticed. The -- but I think right now the big question for Elizabeth Warren is, can she break away from Bernie Sanders?


GERGEN: She could potentially turn this into a two-person race against Biden.


GERGEN: That's a big opening for her.

HARLOW: Can I read you guys this? This is from President Obama's former chief of staff, the former Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel. He writes a memo to 2020 Democrats. This is on Medium, quote, "There's a reason that Trump gleefully tweeted the end of the race during the first debate. Too often you succumb to chasing plaudits on Twitter but you close the door on swing voters in Wisconsin, Michigan," where we are, "Pensylvania and Ohio. If you win the nomination in a way that forecloses a path to victory in a general election we will lose and your name will go down in infamy."

He's not known to mince his words here.


HARLOW: But, I mean, remember on the last debate, Karen, when we saw them all on the stage when they raise their hand to say, you know, free health care for undocumented migrants.

FINNEY: Right. Right.

HARLOW: That doesn't play with swing voters.

FINNEY: Well, it doesn't if you don't have an opportunity to then explain what you mean or in the care of Kamala Harris, you explain but then keep reexplaining. So good for her for getting her plan out. It certainly means that it will be I suspect a topic of conversation because Bernie Sanders wants to draw a contrast with her on that.


FINNEY: He's already been very critical. And actually to the point that David was just making, you know, it gives him the opportunity to attack her without looking like a bully because they're not on the same stage together.

[09:05:08] HARLOW: Oh, that's interesting.

FINNEY: Which is sort of interesting.

HARLOW: That's very interesting.

FINNEY: But at the same time, look, I think the candidates are also going to have to, Rahm was saying, figure out how much of your time are you going to spend putting forward what you believe is your positive vision? I've heard from the Buttigieg folks that that's what he wants to talk about, the future, but how much then you also want to try to jab either at Biden or frankly at Trump.


FINNEY: And make it clear that you're the person who can take on Trump.

HARLOW: It's just a different race than it was when it was, you know, Hillary Clinton and even before when it was Obama, Clinton in the primary, because it just wasn't so negative what the president has set out in terms of the attacks you know will be coming in the general.

Cleve, to you, looking at a new Quinnipiac poll, it just came out yesterday, Biden got a big bump up 12 points. Senator Kamala Harris is suffering. She's down eight points from where she was after that bump after the last debate. How do you explain that?

CLEVE WOOTSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, I think for almost every candidate except for maybe an Elizabeth Warren, you've seen kind of an up and down and up and down, and the question is whether or not Kamala Harris has kind of adequately seized on that moment that she had in the debate. And I think as you're looking forward to this debate you're seeing whether or not, not just what she says on the stage but how she does in the days after that, the hours after that, the moments after that.

HARLOW: Like you think she should have been on TV more, doing more interviews. Bernie Sanders is on every other minute.

WOOTSON: Yes, well, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to advise Kamala Harris from here. But I think a lot of people have said look, what are you -- not just what are you going to say but how are you going to capitalize on that.

HARLOW: So Biden's campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, took on Harris' Medicare for All plan. Let me read part of it. "This new have-it-every-which-way approach," that's what they're calling it. GERGEN: Right.

HARLOW: And then they went on to say, 'To their credit the Sanders campaign has been honest that the only way to enact Medicare for All without substantially raising taxes on the middle class would require unicorns and magic wands," backhanded compliment there I suppose. But --

GERGEN: Yes. I think Joe Biden has an interesting decision to make about how much he's going to attack Kamala Harris. I think he wants to disagree with her on the substance but not attack her personally because she may turn up to the best candidate he can find to be on the ticket if he's the nominee. You know, a lot of people talk about her as being the obvious second choice. So I think he -- he doesn't want to look like he can't get along with her.

HARLOW: Disagree without being disagreeable.

GERGEN: Exactly.

HARLOW: You make a really interesting point harkening back to Reagan and Mondale, and that you say that you think Biden can bounce back physically.


HARLOW: From the last debate. What do you --

GERGEN: He has to do that. I think this is a big test for Biden. If he -- you know, he seems slow on the uptake, waiting for -- sorting out the questions. He just seemed to -- I won't call it a Mueller moment but there were similarities between the Biden debate and the Mueller.

HARLOW: Yikes.

GERGEN: And we went through this with Reagan in 1994. In that case he was hesitant, he seemed to be lost a couple of times. He was overstuffed with facts. And what they did carefully in the Reagan campaign was prepare him for the next time out.


GERGEN: When he went up against Mondale and he used humor to deflate the whole question. And Mondale, as soon as he heard Reagan using that humor, realized the race was over.

HARLOW: Right. I think that's such an interesting point, Karen, being overstuffed with facts. Right?

FINNEY: Yes. Sure.

HARLOW: I think women do it a lot, I do it a lot.


HARLOW: Truly.

GERGEN: That's the standard.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. And Elizabeth Warren with all of her plans, so how could she be most effective on the stage tonight?

FINNEY: You know, I think she has to keep doing what she's been doing. And she's sort of in this do no harm, right? Because she has been steadily moving up in the polls. Her fundraising is going quite well, and she this sort of I --

HARLOW: Her supporters back there.

FINNEY: There you go, right? We call that visibility, by the way.


FINNEY: But, you know, her -- people like that she's got plans and she is actually helping to drive this sort of policy agenda and the conversation in a lot of these, and you've seen a lot of these guys try to get their plans, I mean, it was smart. I think of Joe Biden to put out a criminal justice reform plan prior to the debate because they're trying to maybe stuff those facts but be able to come in and have that conversation.

HARLOW: Yes. You know, we're sitting in Detroit which is such a wonderful city. I've had the pleasure of reporting here over the last decade, seen the resilience of this city, the comeback of Detroit, and I'm interested in how candidates answer a question on the stage tonight.

Cleve, if it comes to them, the Michigan economy is good under President Trump. Unemployment has fallen to, you know, nearly 4 percent. GDP, economic growth here, way up. I will note in Detroit the African-American unemployment rate is over 17 percent. It's more than double that of the white unemployment rate. That's a big problem. But how do they answer that question? Democrats --

WOOTSON: Sure. Sure.

HARLOW: Michigan economy is good under Trump.

WOOTSON: Sure. One of the -- and a lot of the candidates have been work-shopping this on the campaign trail. Right? They'll say the economy is doing well, the stock market is doing well but how are you doing personally?

[09:10:03] How is your income? What's going on in your household? That's one thing. And I think that a lot of other candidates have also talked about sort of disparities within disparities. You know, they'll say, well, the economy in general is doing well but what about for African-Americans in particular? What about for minorities in general?

HARLOW: Right. FINNEY: But it's interesting, here in Michigan, right, if you talk to

folks, they will say that it was the Recovery Act under President Obama and who led that effort? Joe Biden. So if I'm Joe Biden, I would be trying to tell that story.

HARLOW: That's -- OK.

FINNEY: That hey, when I was vice president we put together a plan and look at how great Detroit as an example is doing now. Not -- and again acknowledging not perfect for everybody, we still have more work to do.

HARLOW: Sure. Sure.

FINNEY: But this is the kind of thing that we can get done.

HARLOW: What do you think, David?

GERGEN: The economy is slowing some. And that's important.

HARLOW: And Brookings points out manufacturing in Michigan is pretty flat actually.

GERGEN: Right. Right. And so we've downgraded the growth number for last year from 3 percent to 2.5 percent.


GERGEN: The number for the second quarter was 2.1 percent.

HARLOW: That's true.

GERGEN: So it's not stalling out but it's becoming less impressive as a talking point about how effective President Trump has been. A lot of Trump supporters say well, that, you know, I don't find his behavior very admirable, I don't like that at all, but he's delivering here on the economy, delivering over there.


GERGEN: And -- but the tariffs and other things may be robbing him of some of the force of that argument.

HARLOW: I have 30 seconds left. The African-American vote, brand new polling out from Quinnipiac. Biden at 53 percent.


HARLOW: Of African-American Democrats and Democratically-leaning voters. Closest trailing him is Sanders at 8 percent.

GERGEN: And with the --


GERGEN: Where's Kamala Harris? HARLOW: Kamala Harris is at 7 percent.

GERGEN: That's surprising, isn't it?

FINNEY: Well --

HARLOW: What is it?

FINNEY: I think it's name recognition. And if there's something about -- you know, again this whole election is going to be heart versus head. Right? We want to win. Joe Biden is a known entity whether -- you know, he may have had some stumbles.


FINNEY: But there's still this feeling that people believe that he could beat Trump. People feel like, you know, do you go with the guy that you know and that you think can beat Trump or do you take a risk?

HARLOW: All right. Thank you one and all. It will be a late night for all of us for sure.

GERGEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: David Gergen, Cleve Wootson and Karen Finney, thank you very much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: We're following this breaking news this hour. Police on the scene. You see those pictures there of a shooting at a Wal-Mart in South Haven, Mississippi. That's about 15 minutes south of Memphis, Tennessee. According to CNN affiliate WMC there are at least three victims, no immediate word on the conditions of the victims or on the shooter, the motive.

We will stay on top of this developing situation and bring you news as we have it. Such a familiar scene there once again, Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely tragic. It's just developing as Jim said. We'll bring you more still to come here from Detroit. Will the president be watching the debate tonight? What is his strategy for 2020? Are you already seeing it emerge?

I'll talk to one of the members of the president's re-election campaign next.

SCIUTTO: And new details from another shooting, the tragic shooting at a California food festival. What we are learning about the victims. Those are their pictures there. Such young people. As well as the man who perpetrated this horrible crime and his motive.

Plus, it is one of the largest data breaches in history. A hacker gaining access to over 100 million Capital One credit card accounts and applications. Happens so often. How does this affect you?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Any minute now, the president will be leaving the White House for Virginia, and as he continues his very public feud with Congressman Elijah Cummings. Administration officials tell CNN that those attacks are not as popular within the White House as his earlier attacks on the squad.

And this morning, we're learning those tweets do not appear to be part of a larger strategy. CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood is live in Williamsburg, Virginia. So, Sarah, no strategy here? I mean, it did seem that the president has calculated that attacking the squad, attacking Cummings are politically beneficial to him. But you're saying inside the White House, there's some opposition?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Jim. Sources tell CNN that inside the White House, aides are drawing a distinction between the president's attacks on those four Democratic house freshmen known as The Squad, and the president's latest diatribes against Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Now, aides, several of them expressed some discomfort with the president's attacks on Cummings in a staff meeting at the White House on Monday. Part of the reason why they're worried is that Congressman Cummings; a 13-term Democrat is actually pretty well liked among Democrats.

Among Republicans, he's not considered a particularly far-left politician and therefore he's harder for President Trump to portray as radical and extreme, which is one of the reasons why he was going after The Squad. Why some in the White House believes that his attacks on The Squad could be politically beneficial to him because it helped him define the entire Democratic Party as radical, that's a big part as we know Jim of his 2020 campaign strategy.

The President Trump was adamant internally that he thinks his inner city messaging is working. The White House has pointed to Cummings' performance at a border security hearing a couple of weeks ago, it's the reason why Trump is mad. Sources tell our colleagues Kevin Liptak, that part of the reason Trump is actually made is because -- as chairman of the Oversight Committee, Cummings has overseen subpoenas for the communications of his son-in-law Jared Kushner scrutiny of Ivanka Trump.

So, Jim, there are no signs that President Trump is backing down from this divisive rhetoric, even as members of the Virginia black legislative caucus are boycotting this event here in Williamsburg because of his divisive rhetoric on race, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sarah Westwood, yes, often there's a political or personal, rather, motivation as well for some of these attacks. Poppy, I suppose, we'll see if the president doubles down, triples down as he leaves the White House --

[09:20:00] HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Shortly. HARLOW: Who knows? We'll see, we'll hear from him, let's talk about

it, now with someone close to the president who advises him, Marc Lotter; Director of Strategic Communications for the president's 2020 campaigns. So nice to have you in person.


HARLOW: Thanks for making the trip. So, you just heard Sarah Westwood's reporting and our reporting is that there have been senior aides in the White House who are warning the president going after Elijah Cummings like this, not a good strategy or on impulse. Do you agree with them?

LOTTER: Well, I see what the president is doing is highlighting some of the failures that Democrat leadership has provided in some of these urban --

HARLOW: It's just they were personal, you know they were personal attacks --

LOTTER: Well, I think that he's --

HARLOW: And they really hurt people like my colleague Victor Blackwell from Baltimore.

LOTTER: And I think what he's -- what he's calling out is the failure of the leadership in many cases, Democrats in urban areas to deliver on these promises. It's much like in 2016 when he asked African- American voters what do you have to lose? When you look at the possibilities, when you talk about the leadership that he's provided, lowest unemployment for African-Americans in history, rising wages, jobs coming back and then contrasting that with the failed leadership that in many cases --


LOTTER: Has led to these impoverished conditions.

HARLOW: It sounds like you don't think it's a bad idea, and that it will continue as a strategy into 2022, the highlight that -- take Detroit, we're sitting in Detroit, it is a great iconic American city that has seen quite a rebound and revival, but black unemployment here is still above 17 percent, more than double that of whites. So, you may have a national unemployment rate for African-Americans that is lower, but in Detroit, it's a problem.

LOTTER: And we do have more work to do, and that's one of the reasons why in the tax cuts and Jobs Act, the president created opportunity zones which encourages people to invest in impoverished and distressed communities. It can help Baltimore, it can help Detroit. And so, as we continue to make those investments -- and as employers with record- low unemployment across the board, as they struggle to find people to fill their jobs, wages are going to go up and more opportunities is going to happen for everyone. HARLOW: Can I just -- well, we're going to move on after this, but

let me just ask you this. If the president is so worried as he clearly is about Baltimore, why doesn't he go there and tour the neighborhoods and spend time? I know Ivanka Trump has done that. Are we going to see him do that or will he just continue to criticize it and the congressman on Twitter?

LOTTER: Well, I can't get ahead of the White House in terms of announcing what the president's travel schedule would be --

HARLOW: Should he go? Should he go?

LOTTER: You know, I think it's something that he'll definitely continue to highlight. It's opportunity for him to go there. But as we saw just yesterday with one of our colleagues from the Housing and Urban Development Agency, they're talking about the amount of money that's going into Baltimore, more money now under President --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOTTER: Trump to help with housing, to help with redevelopment. Then under the previous administration, we need to see that continue.

HARLOW: OK, let's talk about tonight. What's the strategy for responding to the debate tonight?

LOTTER: I think right now if it's going to be anything like what we saw in Miami. We're going to watch -- we're going to sit there and watch the Democrats talk about their policy proposals and the more they do, the more they're going to alienate themselves from so many moderate, independent and Americans as they talk about free healthcare for illegal immigrants as they talk about taking away people's private health insurance, eliminating Medicare advantage for 20 million American seniors.

When those kinds of policies are on the debate stage, President Trump wins.

HARLOW: When you look at a state like Michigan, the president won it, yes, but he won it by like this much, .3 percent in 20 -- in the last election in 2016. That when you look at some of the head-to-head matches from a really reputable polling agency here in Michigan epic MRA, they have a number of the Democratic contenders in a face-to-face against the president ahead of him. Namely Joe Biden 52 percent to the president 41 percent here. How do you explain that?

LOTTER: Well, I think any kind of head-to-head match-up right at this point is rather meaningless because they're just getting started campaigning against each other, let alone campaigning against President Trump. So, once we get through that, and I know it's great to do who is up, who is down? But it's a lot like taking a poll of vegetarians about their favorite cut of steak --

HARLOW: Come on --

LOTTER: It's not that meaningful right now -- HARLOW: This is the most reputable polling agency in Michigan. You

don't believe the numbers at all?

LOTTER: But we're a year and a half out and --

HARLOW: Do you pay attention to them?

LOTTER: In the campaign --

HARLOW: I asked because, look, the economy here is good under the president. Unemployment is way down, economic growth in Michigan is up some 8 percent when you look under his presidency. So, you give -- you don't -- those numbers don't give you pause at all?

LOTTER: Not really because we're so far-out. I mean, this election is going to be a choice, and we don't even know who the choice is going to be opposite of President Trump. So, that campaign is still a year way from getting started. Right now, all we have are hypothetical match-ups.

HARLOW: OK, it'll be an exciting night for everyone. Marc Lotter, thank you for being here --

LOTTER: Good to see you --

HARLOW: I appreciate it very much. All right, we are learning more this morning about the three young victims killed in that shooting at that food festival in Northern California. Children -- we'll talk about that. We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. A key two-day meeting of the Federal Reserve starts today.

Investors will be watching to see if the Central Bank gives any clues over a possible rate cut. We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: We have an update now on breaking news out of northern Mississippi. Sheriff's deputy in DeSoto County, Mississippi, say at least two people are now dead. This in an early morning shooting at a Wal-Mart. Our Nick Valencia joins us now with breaking developments. Also reports of a police officer down. Is that right?