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CNN Democratic Debates Kick Off Tonight At 8pm ET; 51 Percent Of Democrats Say That They Regard Joe Biden As The Strongest Challenger For President Trump; Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Says Michiganders Look For Character And Be A Person Of Integrity. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN special live coverage, just in front of that Fox Theater. It is game day. We are just six hours away. The city's crown jewel, the Fox Theater will fill its stage with 10 Democratic Presidential candidates for night one of two high stakes CNN debates.

It has been a little more than a month since these Democrats first faced off but a lot has happened. So significant healthcare plans have been announced, racist rhetoric from the President of the United States, testimony from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, discussions that could make or break who challenges President Trump in 2020.

These candidates are converging in Detroit fresh off some new poll numbers. Let me show these for you. Joe Biden is holding on to his front-runner status with a double-digit lead over his 2020 rivals. He and, you see there, Senator Elizabeth Warren is surging in this latest poll, while support for senator Kamala Harris and Senator Bernie Sanders has slipped.

Now this could also be a pivotal night for lower polling candidates, i.e. Beto O'Rourke, who CNN caught prepping for his debate performance this way, check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: How are you feeling about the debate?

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm feeling good.

QUESTION: Feeling good? What are you doing to prepare?

O'ROURKE: Running.

QUESTION: That's it?

O'ROURKE: Well, running and thinking through what I want to say tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Other candidates starting to arrive here at the Historic Fox Theater , taking individual walkthroughs at stage, getting the lay of the land, getting a first look at what to expect. And we have CNN's Ana Cabrera inside and, Ana, do you see anyone right now?

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, yes, we have Congressman Tim Ryan here, he just arrived. He's a Congressman from Ohio, been in Congress since 2003. You can see him just taking his place behind the podium, getting acquainted with the space, and with the final logistics of tonight's debate ahead of the big event.

He follows Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who also been through already along with Marianne Williamson. A lot of eyes though will be on at center stage -- Warren and Sanders, the two fiery progressives, two good friends. Will they find a way tonight to differentiate themselves from each other? On the campaign trail, they really avoided that they have -- let me just tell you about my plan, instead of pointing out their differences with each other. That strategy so far seems to be working for Elizabeth Warren who has seen a steady rise in the polls, little less so for Bernie Sanders.

Both of them, of course follow Joe Biden in the polls. So will either of them have an opportunity tonight to break out? Also onstage on debate night one will be Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke both young, both more moderate. A lot of analysts say those two may be pulling support from each other.

Pete Buttigieg edge has proven to be a fantastic fundraiser, but he has seen a little bit of a dip in the polls recently. He has struggled with African Americans. Now, he says don't expect any canned lines from him. His campaign tells us, as with everything he will be prepared.

Beto O'Rourke, he really needs a boost. His poll numbers have been going down. His fundraising has been going down. We're told ahead of this debate, he went back in Washington's last debate and he's making some adjustments. Expect him to be less robotic, more confident. In a lot of ways his campaign says, he feels a little bit liberated. There isn't the pressure to be a big gun anymore. He's more of an underdog and they hope that loosens him up. He's actually going to be doing his walkthrough next.

And again, as these walkthroughs continue, they're getting those final details about what they can expect tonight. They're reviewing the debate rules and format. Here's just a reminder for you at home as well as far as that goes. Opening and closing statements tonight, remember, there were no opening statements last time around. So that's something that's new.

Each candidate is going to have 60 seconds to respond to questions from moderators, they'll have 30 seconds for rebuttals or responses to each other. They'll also have red and different light colors so that they'll know exactly where they are when it comes to the time that they have to spend. There will be no show of hands questions. There will be no down-the-line one-word answers.

And by the way, those who keep interrupting, they're going to have their time reduced when they speak a little bit later. For those who are watching at home, you'll always be able to look at the bottom of the screen to know which questions they are responding to directly. Brooke, we are now less than six hours from Showtime back to you.

BALDWIN: Those are the rules of the road. It is live television. We cannot wait. Thank you for showing us Congressman Ryan and we'll keep our eyes peeled for other candidates rolling through there, the Fox Theater. Ana, thank you so much.

Ten candidates, so much at stake here. CNN political director David Chalian is here to tell us what he's going to be watching for so closely this evening. So welcome to the David Chalian, Super Bowl part one.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Although you sound pretty excited, too, I have to say.

BALDWIN: I am super stoked for this for this event tonight. So, I think one of the, like quintessential questions, this is like the down the road will be, you know, what fires at the Democratic electorate more and who do they think could beat Trump? Is it more of a progressive or is it pragmatic moderate?

CHALIAN: And that ideological divide on the stage tonight.

BALDWIN: Yes.

[14:05:04] CHALIAN: I think that's going to be the big storyline to watch for tonight. And you know, there's been this conversation, some of the more establishment centrist Democrats were expressing concern after the first debates in Miami that the worry that the party may be moving to far left.

Now, center stage tonight, we have those progressives, Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, who say, "No, no, no this is how you create a movement. This is how you get new people into the process. You broaden your attempt by proposing policies that really enliven the Democratic base."

So, there is a divide there. But I do think what you'll see from the moderates against those progressives is this notion of, if you move too far left, do you make it harder for the Democrats to oust Trump in the general election?

BALDWIN: But what about those two at center stage tonight, when you're looking, you know, at Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they like each other.

CHALIAN: Yes.

BALDWIN: So but they each want to be President. Do they -- are they nice or do they have sharp elbows?

CHALIAN: I will be surprised if --

BALDWIN: Support one another?

CHALIAN: No. I would be surprised in the Sanders versus Warren matchup if we see a ton of sharp elbows.

BALDWIN: Okay.

CHALIAN: I do think what you -- the mission for them of course, as you know, they are friendly. They also agree on a lot of the issues, Brooke, and so I think the mission for them is, how did they make an electability argument that they are the one that can best take it to Donald Trump?

Now, that won't be necessarily, you know, I'm Elizabeth Warren. It's not you, Bernie. You can't do it.

BALDWIN: Right.

CHALIAN: I don't think it will be that, but I do think it is incumbent upon them. They are at center stage, they are the leaders of this field tonight on the debate stage. How do they make the case to Democratic voters that even if their policies may be more progressive, and to the left, that they actually are the ones that can take the banner of the Democratic Party oust Donald Trump from the Oval Office?

Because as you know, that is mission critical for Democratic voters.

BALDWIN: Right. Standing next to them, you have people to Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke. Who -- is this a reboot or than a no- boot?

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, I really do want to see -- I'm watching Congressman O'Rourke, because you remember, he had all of that buzz from Texas senate race back last year, and then in anticipation of him getting in to the race and his launch this year. But it really has been a story of decline since then in the polls and fundraising.

And he has tried to reboot, as you noted, a couple times. This is -- I'm looking to see, does he see his path back to being a serious contender as going through Mayor Buttigieg who I think did steal some of the O'Rourke thunder as the new generation alternative to some of the names that have been around for a while.

BALDWIN: What do you mean go through him -- take him on?

CHALIAN: Yes. Does he have to find a way to sort of peel whatever support Buttigieg does have peel some of that away? Is that his path to getting back into contention? I'm curious to see if he thinks that's the case. He tends to not want to go directly at people, you know --

BALDWIN: Being more polite.

CHALIAN: When he tried it with Ted Cruz in the Senate race, he kind of backed off at -- he wants to do the bigger inspirational thing. But he's in a position. He has to prove his worth in this race. And so I do want to see how he takes on Mayor Buttigieg tonight.

BALDWIN: And then, the rest ... CHALIAN: Yes.

BALDWIN: ... the lower tier candidates, the more moderates.

CHALIAN: Yes, they are -- I call a lot of them the "one percenters." I mean, there are five people on the stage polling really below the other five, and that bottom half -- it is a do or die night for them.

As you know, the DNC has doubled the threshold ...

BALDWIN: From September.

CHALIAN: ... both for polling and for fund raising to get onto the September and October debate stages. And Brooke, I would say if you are, you know, Tim Ryan, who we just saw up there.

BALDWIN: Who is on the stage, right there.

CHALIAN: This is -- of Steve Bullock, the Governor of Montana who was brand new to the stage and going to introduce himself to voters. This is a moment where you have to have a really dynamic winning moment, a night, a real breakthrough kind of moment ...

BALDWIN: Or else this is ...

CHALIAN: ... or otherwise --

BALDWIN: ... you're out.

CHALIAN: Yes. You're not going to be able to have the argument to make as to why you should maintain the campaign, both to donors and voters.

BALDWIN: Got it.

CHALIAN: Yes.

BALDWIN: David Chalian, thank very much.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you. And you think you know all about the people taking the stage here tonight. Do you know who plays the "did you redo?" Or who officiated over one of Elizabeth Taylor's weddings? Coming up next, a couple of things that might surprise you about some of these candidates. They are on your screen.

And, no more Mr. Nice Guy for Senator Cory Booker with attacks on Joe Biden getting increasingly personal. We will talk live to his campaign manager about the plan to take on the former Vice President.

And in just moments, Beto O'Rourke and Amy Klobuchar will arrive there at the Fox Theater for their own walkthroughs at the CNN debate site here in Detroit. Stay right here. You're watching CNN. I am Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:14:23] BALDWIN: All right, we're back here live in Detroit. And this is always the fun part. I know the action starts at eight o'clock tonight inside the Historic Fox Theater just across the street from me but check this out.

You have former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke getting the lay of the land where he'll stand positioning. He knows he knows the rules of the road, right? That's been explained to him. He's been prepping. You know, this really could be make or break for him as we were just talking to David Chalian, our political director.

He will be standing outside of this, the two in the center, Warren and Sanders then will be flanked by O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, so this is just a fun moment to be able to see him on that stage ahead of our big CNN debate night number one.

So, with me now, Mitch Landrieu. He led New Orleans from 2010 to 2018 and served as the Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Louisiana.

[14:05:09] BALDWIN: And he also wrote the book, "In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History." So Mr. Mayor, a pleasure bringing the little south to Michigan.

MITCH LANDRIEU (D), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Nice to see you. Thank you, how about it. Who that?

BALDWIN: Who that? So, do you have pangs of -- man, I wish I was on that stage?

LANDRIEU: No I don't.

BALDWIN: Regrets?

LANDRIEU: You know, I feel for him. I've been through -- you know, I ran nine campaigns and I've been probably through 40 or 50 debates. So I know what they're feeling today, and it's a little anxious and nervous for him.

BALDWIN: Who do you think is best for this country when it comes to -- there's this debate now progressive, or more pragmatic moderate candidate? Who would excite the electorate? "Woo, there goes." Who would excite the electorate more? Who do you think has a better chance of beating Trump?

LANDRIEU: Well, those may be two separate issues, right? The most important thing is to find somebody who is going to be President Trump, that at the end of the day, that should be everybody's focus.

Anytime that somebody is running for office, we have 20 or 21 candidates running -- they're going to be bumping up against each other. This is much more of a roller derby than it is a horse race. And somebody will come out of the pack and start to excite the base.

The challenge is how you do that, but at the same time, position yourself to win the general election. And these debates help you -- BALDWIN: Who excites you more between that camp of progressive versus

moderate?

LANDRIEU: Well, you know, first of all -- I like Joe Biden. I think his level of stability, and his experience excites people. You have other candidates out there that are really kind of blowing it off the charts in terms of ideas and plans -- Elizabeth Warren steps out.

But listen, there are a whole bunch of really good candidates that are in this race. And in these debates, they will show themselves over time. Now they don't have a whole lot of time, because when you get into the third debate, the field will start to thin, just a little bit. So we'll see how it works out. We'll see how they do tonight.

BALDWIN: One new way of thinking, this is what CNN host Michael Smerconish was saying earlier today, watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: There is a cross tab in those numbers that's not on the screen. But 51 percent of Democrats say that they regard Joe Biden as the strongest challenger for President Trump. And that's why I go back to that thought process that I have, that the President's behavior has been really all over the map.

Biden hasn't done anything to distinguish himself that's not a wrap on him. It just hasn't been a monumental series of events. And yet, his numbers go up. I think it's because Democrats say, "We really need to defeat him. Who among us can do it? It's Joe Biden."

So somehow tonight, and tomorrow night, these other candidates have got to convince that they to have that stature to take on the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Do you think Joe Biden has the best shot of beating Trump?

LANDRIEU: Yes, at this moment he does.

BALDWIN: Why?

LANDRIEU: I don't think there's any question about it. I think the American people are looking for stability. I think they're looking for experience. And I don't think they're looking for a revolution. However, all of the pundits tend to be wrong all the time. That's why you have elections. So you have to listen to what the voters say. And they have to show up.

Vice President Biden didn't have a great night. You know, the first debate, I think people are expecting him to show up tonight. They are going to have -- because you have different candidates on different nights, you'll have different people bumping up against each other and then pushing.

You can see from the last debate, notwithstanding the difficult performance that he had his numbers went up. And so, the thing I keep, you know, I want to tell the candidates is listen to the voters. I mean, we have opinions about who did well who didn't, but evidently, from the last debate, it didn't hurt him very much, although everybody pretty much panned his performance.

So I think you have to wait. But the shortest distance between two points is somebody in my opinion that eventually is going to bring stability and then can unite not just the Democratic Party, but the entire country.

BALDWIN: Right. What about on the issue of race, right? This is something we've been talking about for months and months, and especially in the last couple of days because of the President, because of what he said about the City of Baltimore and Chairman Elijah Cummings. He's still standing by those attacks. He's still standing by his attacks on the squad, right, that the women of color, the freshman Congresswoman.

And so, this is what "Washington Post" opinion writer Greg Sargent actually told, this is the question he posted in and what your thoughts your answer. He wrote, "Why does Trump need to do this to win reelection, given his own constant suggestion that America is winning everywhere and the Trump economy is the greatest in U.S. history?" What is the answer to that?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, race is this nation's most significant Achilles' heel. Slavery was our original sin and we have never really adequately dealt with the issue of race in America. It's not true that we've gotten through it or over it. We haven't actually done that. We've never in the history of America had a President that's given voice to the worst instincts that some people in America feel.

In the south, which is where both you and I are from ...

BALDWIN: Right.

LANDRIEU: ... you know the incredible damage that this can have. Now, normally, it's been relegated to people like George Wallace, but the President today looks like George Wallace just in a nicer tie. And I don't think the language that he used is right. I think it is unconscionable whether he is doing it intentionally or whether he is not doing it intentionally. It is not good to have a President speaking this way.

Because when a person speaks about other people based on the color of their skin and not on the behavior, that is racist language, and if you continue to use it intentionally, it means that you are a racist. And I just can't imagine, no matter how good the economy is, that the American citizens are going to put up with this for a long period of time.

[14:20:06] BALDWIN: But there are -- I've seen voter panels where some say, you know, you wince at what this President says or does, but hey, I've got a job. My family has got a job.

LANDRIEU: I think that's right. But I think we have to continue to make the case that the one thing that is sacrosanct in the United States of America is that we all come to the table of democracy as equals. And when anybody treats anybody else, a different way based on race, creed, or color or assumes a position of superiority because of your race that is called white supremacy.

And the one thing that we should not abide by in this country is that language are acting on that language. And it should be called out on every step. The President should be ashamed of himself. He is completely wrong. And by the way, besides it being racist, he's just factually wrong about a couple of different things, which is this ...

BALDWIN: A couple?

LANDRIEU: ... he's the most important -- he's the most powerful person in the world right now. The only way that you can rebuild a great American City, which is what I was able to do with a whole bunch of other people in New Orleans after Katrina was having the help of the Federal Government through the President -- President Obama, having the Governor working with us, have the mayor all working together to rebuild areas.

And oh, by the way, there are a whole lot of Congressman other than Elijah Cummings that are white and southern that represent districts with high levels of poverty, so attach race to it, and to rip us apart is a whole lot different from the President saying, you know what, we have a lot of problems in this country, both in urban and rural America and I'm going to do some things to actually change that and work with people rather than try to tear them down.

And I just think, what he's doing and how he's doing it is terrible. Not only for where we are today but for the future of this country. And that's why I think he needs to be turned out of office and I'm pretty sure the people of America are going to do it.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, welcome to CNN family, Sir.

LANDRIEU: Thank you, great to be here.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Just a short drive away from us here in Detroit, Flint, Michigan, did you know people are still coping with the water crisis, lining up for miles just to get bottled water, still. We will talk to Michigan Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin about what she hopes to hear from candidates when it comes to suffering in her own state.

And, a CNN exclusive, two TSA officers have been placed on leave after a racist incident at Miami International Airport. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:26:39] BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We are live here in Detroit. It is debate day. And right now, my next guest is part of the Democratic women wave that swept the victory and the 2018 midterm. She is Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin. She flipped Michigan's 8th District, a district that was considered safe ground for Republicans until she came along.

And just this just this morning, she co-introduced the Fire Act, a bill to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections. So Congresswoman Slotkin, good to see you again.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): You, too.

BALDWIN: Okay, let's first just talk about you. And thanks for having us in Michigan, by the way.

SLOTKIN: Welcome.

BALDWIN: Nice digs.

SLOTKIN: Beautiful.

BALDWIN: It's good to be in Detroit.

SLOTKIN: We are a great state, the best.

BALDWIN: So you flipped -- you did what many thought was unthinkable, beating out long-term incumbent Republican to win your district and get a seat in Congress, and you ran on more of a centrist message. And I'm wondering, because one of the great debates is who will be best to take on Donald Trump? Is it someone who is more progressive or more centrist more moderate? Based on your own experience, what do you think?

SLOTKIN: Yes. I mean, I think Michigan is a perfect laboratory for this. And I think what wins here are people who appeal to a broad base of constituents -- who are welcoming and bringing people in instead of having litmus tests for, you know, whatever issue.

BALDWIN: Yes.

SLOTKIN: So in my experience, you have to be a pragmatist. Michiganders are very pragmatic. You have to have character and be a person of integrity. And you have to focus on economic issues, right?

It's not pie in the sky. It's how do you put more money in people's wallets? How do you take care of their kids?

BALDWIN: Hasn't that been a winning strategy for this current President? And what about not just Michigan but nationwide?

SLOTKIN: Yes. I mean, listen, the economy is strong, but the question is, who is it strong for? And, I think there are a ton of people in my district who would say, you know, "Yes, I'm working but the job has no benefits, no opportunities, no upward mobility."

They are doing in some cases worse than their parents, right, and there's nothing more painful than not being able to provide for your kids, what your parents provided for you.

So to me, it's the income and inequality -- it is still a huge issue. People don't want a handout, they just want a level playing field. And that's what they're searching for in a candidate.

BALDWIN: How about your mom? We have talked about this, I mean, I know healthcare is near and dear for you. You lost your mom to ovarian cancer and that was one of the reasons, I believe, that you wanted to run

SLOTKIN: Yes.

BALDWIN: And so, one of the huge issues, obviously, is Medicare-for- All. How do you feel about this notion of Medicare-for-All? What about a public option? And do you think that in order to pay for it, you have to tax the middle class?

SLOTKIN: Yes. So for me, I did get in this race, ultimately, because of healthcare and the threat to people with pre-existing conditions, which my mom had. I am, you know, a big believer that everyone deserves healthcare that they can access.

How we do that is literally our generation's problem to solve. I am a believer in a buy-in to Medicare. I think that anyone at any age should be able to buy-in. But I think that's how we educate people and show people that we can actually have a government option that makes sense.

I don't support Medicare-for-All right now, because I have a ton of people in my district who will say, you know, "I can't even see the government's succeeding at little things, so I'm not sure ... "

BALDWIN: "Why should I believe?"

SLOTKIN: " ... I want to give them responsibility for everything." So, you have got to give people exposure and a buy-in to Medicare. So that, you know, if you want to leave your job and become an entrepreneur, you can do that you have an option.

BALDWIN: Any of these candidates' plans in particular that you really like?

SLOTKIN: You know, I've seen some interesting things. I think that there is a misperception that everyone wants wholesale restructuring of our of our culture, of our society, and I just don't that that's the case at least for my voters. People want the middle class to have a chance at prosperity and dignity.

BALDWIN: Yes.

SLOTKIN: That is what we want.

[14:30:10]