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Focus Will Be On Warren & Sanders In Tonight's Debate; Virginia's Black Legislative Caucus Boycotts Trump's Presence At Commemorative Event Over Racist Remarks; Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor Regrets His 2016 Vote For Trump; McConnell & Trump Respond To Dana Milbank's' "Russian Asset" Charge. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: He'll be there in the center of the stage among 10 candidates who are debating tonight.

Wolf, it is interesting to picture Senator Sanders and Senator Warren in the center of the stage and, as you said, maybe taking some of this ideological incoming from people who don't agree with them on either side of the center of the stage.

But when it comes to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, even though ideologically they describe themselves differently, as you said, how different are their policy positions?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There are some differences. There are some significant differences.

When she calls herself a capitalist, she's a capitalist, but she wants to really go way beyond current policy and heavily regulate capitalism. Deal with the banks, for example, the big banks, the investment firms, the credit card companies. She really wants some major, major changes in regulation.

And Bernie Sanders has a different concept as a Democratic Socialist. You know, he wants the government involved in handling so many of these kinds of issues.

By the way, as we look at those pictures, you can see they're standing there at the podium. They have done these debates before, clearly, including the first presidential debate.

But their staffs and themselves want to make sure they feel comfortable, they understand what's in store for them tonight, where the moderators will be sitting, the questions that will be coming forward, who's going to be on the left, who's going to be on the right as far as the 10 candidates are concerned. That's what's being explained to them.

You see our Washington bureau chief explaining some of the details and some of the rules specifically about later tonight as well.

KEILAR: And, Wolf, as someone -- you've been on a debate stage so many times moderating, speak to this, how important it is that they have this walk-through. Things sound different. Things look different. There's so many lights on these candidates. And they're there to really provide a message and try to win over people and they want to make sure that they're not worried about these other issues.

BLITZER: Right. It's very, very important, because each debate stage, whether there are two candidates left or 10 candidates, the debate stages in the different cities, they have usually different. You've got to really feel comfortable.

It's one less thing they have to worry about if they have been there, they have walked around the stage, they're being told how they'll be introduced and what order they'll be introduced. They'll walk out there and have a little opening statement. They'll have closing statements at the ending of the debate.

So it's something they go through with the candidates to make sure the candidates inspected what's in store for them during the course of the debate, which all of our viewers by now know starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight and tomorrow night.

KEILAR: And what is so different being on the stage for a candidate versus, say, giving an interview? They're used to giving interviews on television, but this is such a different atmosphere that they're in.

BLITZER: Right, because there are specific rules, how long they can answer a question, if they're attacked by another candidate how many seconds they'll have to rebut and then they'll try to interfere. The moderators usually, and I can speak with some authority on this, they'll try their best to make sure that the interference isn't too much.

But there will be -- there will be some of that. And I'm sure we'll be seeing some of that going on.

I don't think there will necessarily be a lot of interference between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but some of the other candidates who are fighting for their political lives as far as being Democratic presidential candidates are concerned, I suspect they're going to be coming out very, very tough. They're going to be swinging. And they're going to be going after, at least tonight, I suspect, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

KEILAR: I definitely agree.

Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much, in Detroit there for us.

You can catch Wolf's special coverage, which is going to be starting at 4:00 p.m. today.

We do have more arrivals. Any moment there, at the debate stage, inside the debate hall in New York, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Plus, black lawmakers in Virginia are boycotting the president's event today. Hear why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:38:39] KEILAR: It is debate day in America, and here at CNN, and you are watching Senator Bernie Sanders on stage inside of the debate hall in Detroit. He's doing his walk-through.

We've been watching the candidates, all of the candidates do this, filing into the debate hall one by one, as they have their own moment there to take the stage, to get an explainer of really the movements of what will happen tonight, where they will be introduced, for instance. They'll see where the moderators are. They'll get a sense of all of the lighting and the sound there in the room.

And we see Senator Bernie Sanders now behind the podium in the center of the stage, which is where he will be tonight next to Elizabeth Warren. We're going to keep monitoring what is going on live there at the debate hall in Detroit. But this is Senator Sanders' walk-through right now.

We're awaiting others, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

Another story that we're covering here, a group of black state legislators in Virginia boycotting President Trump's event today in Jamestown because of the president's persistent racist attacks on minority lawmakers.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus says that Trump's presence there tarnishes today's commemorations, which are being held to honor the 400th anniversary of representative government there, the birth of American democracy.

When asked about the boycotts earlier at the White House, Trump said this.


[13:40:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am the least racist person there's anywhere in the world. They're fighting against their people, because the African-American people have been calling the White House. They have never been so happy as what a president has done. They're so happy that I pointed out the corrupt politics of Baltimore. It's filthy dirty. It's so horrible. And they are happy as hell.

So you may have a couple of politicians boycott, but it's all a fix, it's all a fix. The fact is African-American people love the job I'm doing because I'm working for them. I'm not working for the politicians.


KEILAR: Delegate Lamont Bagby is joining us now. He's the head of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus.

Delegate, tell us why you decided to boycott this event.

LAMONG BAGBY, CHAIR, VIRGINIA'S LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS: Well, it was a unanimous decision by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus not to attend the event after we got word that the invitation went out to the president.

KEILAR: And what was the reasoning?

BAGBY: And we decided -- we decided to do that by what you just laid out, the hateful rhetoric that continues to come out of the president's mouth and what you just played, just continues to show us that he is tone deaf and he is not listening to the people. Put politics and politicians aside, these are people that are crying out saying listen to us.

What we had -- what we ran into with the commemoration was a challenge where the individuals that were planning the commemoration weren't listening to the African-Americans, the blacks that served on their planning foundation.

And so those individuals like Dolores McQuinn and Mayor Stoney and individuals like the first African-American president of the -- excuse me, first African-American governor in the United States, Doug Wilder, all were trying to tell them ways that they could incorporate our history. And it's not just African-American black history, it's all of Virginians and all of American history into this commemoration. And they just were all not listening.

KEILAR: So you feel like they weren't representing these key black voices. Do you think the president should have been in attendance at all at this event?

BAGBY: When I first heard that he received an invitation, I thought it was a bad joke. I couldn't believe, such a historic event, they would invite a person that continues to say to this day, to this very day, to tell individuals to go back.

KEILAR: And I wonder, because he said that Trump says -- or Trump says this is ,what we just heard him say, that African-Americans have never been so happy. We know polling doesn't show that, though. How are your African-American constituents responding? What are you hearing about these racist attacks that we've been hearing from the president?

BAGBY: Well, I think it was a demand not by the electeds, but it was a demand by the community to say, you all cannot participate in that. You cannot participate in that. And so what we did was we pulled together some alternative activities for individuals to attend and one was at the slave trail.

We also laid a wreath at the general assembly where the blacks that served before Reconstruction. And we also visited -- excuse me, determined at the Virginia Museum.

KEILAR: Delegate Lamont Bagby, thank you so much for joining us.

BAGBY: Thank you so much.

[13:44:09] KEILAR: This was the story of the 2016 election in Michigan, districts flipping from Obama to Trump. I'm going to talk with a mayor from one of the districts who says he regrets his vote.


KEILAR: As candidates converge on Detroit for the CNN debates, local leaders wanted to flag an important campaign stop, Macomb County. During the 2016 election, dozens of long-held Democratic precincts were flipped there. It could be the place where one of the magic questions is answered, will voters give the president a pass for his racist rhetoric if his economic policies continue to promote growth?

Michael Taylor may be able to provide some insight for us. He is the mayor of Sterling Heights, Michigan, which is in Macomb County.

Mayor, you voted for President Obama twice. Then you voted for President Trump in 2016 instead of Hillary Clinton. You now say you regret voting for Trump. Why is that?

MICHAEL TAYLOR (R), MAYOR OF STERLING HEIGHTS, MICHIGAN: Well, thank you, Brianna. I will correct you. I did not vote for Obama twice, but I can vote that I did vote for him once. But I voted for Trump and, you know, I'm having a bit of buyer's remorse. I think --


[13:50:10] KEILAR: My apologies for that. My apologies for that mistake.

Tell us about your buyer's remorse.

TAYLOR: When I talk to voters in Macomb County and in Sterling Heights, they're tuned in to what's going on with the economy and their 401K than what's going on with his Twitter feed.

For me, there was a breaking point at some point with the president. While I appreciate that we peace and prosperity and that we have jobs and a lot of economic growth, I wish he would tone down the rhetoric, I really do.

KEILAR: You said economic issues are what matter to your constituents.

TAYLOR: Right.

KEILAR: What are they telling you in terms of how they are feeling economically.

TAYLOR: They're happy. I have to be honest. The people in Sterling Heights, they see their wages going up, the property values going up. We live in a safe city. We live in a clean city. We live with people who have jobs, a low unemployment rate.

To the people in Sterling Heights, which is a predictive city for the national elections in the state, that's going to be the number-one concern, is this an economy that's working for me right now. If it is, no matter what he says and does on his Twitter feed, the voters are going to take a hard look at retaining him so they can continue and we can continue this economic success that's going on in the country.

KEILAR: Mayor Michael Taylor, thank you so much for joining us.

TAYLOR: My pleasure. Thank you.

KEILAR: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended himself in the Senate against a "Washington Post" column by Dana Milbank, which said, "McConnell's actions in blocking bills to enhance election security have made him an asset for the Russians. McConnell responded by calling the column, "modern McCarthyism, and said objections to the bills were, quote, "routine."

And just a short time ago President Trump was asked about this and here's what he said.


TRUMP: I think the "Washington Post" is a Russian asset by comparison. Mitch McConnell loves our country. He's done a great job.

Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump. And I know nothing.

I think it's a disgrace. If they actually said that -- I didn't read it. If they actually said that, that Mitch McConnell is an asset of Russia, they ought to be ashamed of themselves and they ought to apologize.


KEILAR: Dana Milbank is joining me now. He is the column's author.

Are you ashamed of yourself? Are you going to apologize? And what did you think of the president's response?

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: The president said he hadn't read the piece. Perhaps he would have a different view if he had. I suspect he wouldn't. It's typical of Donald Trump's responses. No puppet, no puppet. You're the puppet. So whatever the allegation is, just spit it back. But by his own admission, he hadn't read the piece.

KEILAR: He said McConnell knows less about Russia and Russian influence than he does. He said he knows nothing. That is odd that he says that, they know nothing. McConnell knows nothing, considering his own intel agencies have concluded that there in unanimous fashion that there was sweeping and systemic interference in the election by Russians.

MILBANK: The Senate Intelligence Committee came out last week with this extensive report, three months after Mitch McConnell pronounced that case closed. Unfortunately, others in the Senate said, no, it's not. They want to make sure they get to the bottom of this and turn over every rock. I think the president was trying to say Mitch McConnell hasn't done anything wrong. No one was particularly suggesting otherwise. I don't think he meant to suggest he doesn't know anything about Russia.

KEILAR: Why do you think there's been a backlash from McConnell and the president on this?

MILBANK: Well, I think when -- look, whenever somebody said they're doing something that's unpatriotic, it's sort of -- it's difficult to have a debate. And I've written that under these circumstances.

Of course, the president, on a daily basis is saying the press is unpatriotic. Democrats are unpatriotic. He just, within the last hour, retweeted something saying the Democrats are the true enemy of the American people.

So it is interesting that McConnell has seen a little bit of that saying a particular action was unpatriotic, not even he himself is unpatriotic, and he's reacting very angrily. I think he gets a sense of how Donald Trump has changed our politics and made it impossible to have a reasonable debate.

KEILAR: Do you think more people now have read this column because of the reaction you got?

MILBANK: Judging from the comments, I suspect that it did have the purpose of -- the effect of bringing more people to read it in the first place.

KEILAR: Dana Milbank, thank you so much.

MILBANK: Thanks, Brianna.

[13:54:59] A CNN exclusive, two TSA agents placed on leave after co- workers find an offensive racist display right in the middle of a TSA workstation.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are so excited to be here in Detroit. Good to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN's special live coverage inside the Fox Theater.

[14:00:03] It is game day. We're six hours away. The city's crown jewel, the FOX theater, will fill its stage with 10 presidential candidates for night one of two nights.