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CNN Gears Up for the Night's Presidential Debate. 6-6:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 06:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right? They're dropping the gloves in hockey town. Right?

CAMEROTA: You could do this all morning.

BERMAN: They're going for the W and the D. All right, the stage is set. It's all happening right behind us for the CNN Democratic Presidential Debates. You can hear the excitement all around us. These debates, obviously, come at a pivotal time in the campaign. They truly could reshape the race.

The first of the two debates just hours away, 10 candidates will share that beautiful stage you're looking at right there each night. Tonight, the spotlight will be on the two leading progressives in the race, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They have mostly avoided direct confrontations thus far. Will that continue?

CAMEROTA: There seems to be a matchup happening right behind us between very ardent Biden supporters and Warren supporters that have gotten here extra early for this wrap-off from some time.

But meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, who skewered Biden on issues of race and bussing in the first debate, they'll be on the second debate tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, a new national poll shows Biden bouncing back to where he was before the very first debate. Biden leads his nearest competitor, Elizabeth Warren, by nearly 20 points. So, while Biden has surged support for Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders has slipped a bit, but of course, tonight can completely shuffle the deck.

So, let's begin our coverage with CNN's Athena Jones. She is live on the stage inside the debate hall. Is that even allowed? Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's allowed for me. Good morning Alisyn. This is, as you said, the big night. The second major opportunity for these candidates to make their case to voters on a national stage and who's going to be on this beautiful stage tonight? We already mentioned the progressives, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who will be at center stage. Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg will be flanking them.

Also on stage tonight, Amy Klobuchar, Marianne Williamson, John Delaney, John Hickenloooper, Tim Ryan and Montana Governor Steve Bullock who will be making his first appearance in a debate.

But, of course, we're going to be keeping a close eye on the matchup between Warren and Sanders. They have signaled that they're not likely to go after each other in an aggressive fashion, they are friends, after all, but they're also vying for some of the same supporters. And so, we know the moderators are going to be looking to draw out of the contrast between those two candidates.

We also -- they also have to contend with the other moderates on the stage who are going to be seeking to make their own case, say why their vision is more pragmatic and less costly than some of the policy plans being put out by Sanders and Warren.

Among those matchups, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke will be interesting to watch, because they too are kind of vying for the same lane. Of course, there's an important thing to remind everyone about here, and that is that for many of these candidates, this is going to be their last chance to make their case.

The stakes are very, very high for those candidates, because the qualifications for the September debates get much tougher. And so, tonight is the big night we'll see who else is able to make a memorable moment on the stage so that they can get a boost in the polls and in fundraising to make sure they get -- have another chance in September. John?

CAMEROTA: Athena, I'll take it. Thank you so much for giving us a preview of how it's all going to go down tonight. Joining us now to discuss is CNN Political Commentator Joe Lockhart, CNN Political Contributor Hilary Rosen, CNN Political Analyst John Avlon and CNN Political Commentator Karen Finney.

Karen, I'll start with you, because you've been here before.


CAMEROTA: You have experience prepping Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for debates, so tell us what you are -- will be watching tonight.

FINNEY: So, I will be watching a couple of things. Number one, are we going to have a fight about capitalism versus socialism, because as we know, Warren has been very ardent that she is a capitalist, right, and Bernie is very comfortable defending socialism. So, let's have that conversation, it can be a polite conversation, but particularly, given how important the economy is, let's talk about that.

And then it looks like the matchup between O'Rourke and Buttigieg I think will be really interesting, because remember, they're kind of competing for the same lane, right, of the younger Joe Biden for the future and Buttigieg's people have said he's going to talk about the future and how he's part of this younger generation, so let's see how that stacks up.

The other thing I'll tell you that it's going to be really interesting, gender dynamics are such that men can't attack women in the same way, like you wouldn't see a man attacking the way Senator Harris was able to go after Joe Biden.

However, the dynamics of two nights means that Sanders can't -- and he already has come out pretty hard against Harris' healthcare plan. He can go pretty hard at it tonight without looking like a bully because she's not on the stage.


BERMAN: John, I'm interested in the fact that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will be center stage. Obviously, they have to be concerned about each other in this race, but I'm not sure they're going to be talking about each other. They might be talking more about Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, they are squarely facing off in each other's lane. Elizabeth Warren has been steadily moving forward based on real policy plans that seem to be resonating with the pace, particularly I think better educated voters. She's coming -- her gains are coming out of Bernie Sanders base.


So, that is an existential threat for Bernie Sanders. So, expect those folks to clash, even if they try to do it politely, because they are directly competing for the same base of voters on the far left.

CAMEROTA: Joe, what will you be watching for?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think given the fact that Kamala Harris has dropped back down, the obvious thing is Sanders and Warren. But I think we're going to see three or four other candidates, particularly the governors, trying to provide this counterweight. I think Hickenlooper, yesterday, signaled that he's going to go after Sanders and Warren for sort of like, we can't afford this, this is all crazy.

And Governor Bullock, this is his first time, so I think he has a chance. No one did it very well in the first debate, so I'll be watching to see if he can do the, hey, this is all crazy, there's a general election for all of us to win here and Warren and Sanders, very nice things, but you're not going to get elected on this stuff.

BERMAN: Two things I want to do here, number one, to explain to our viewers that behind us we have actual demonstrators or supporters of the candidates out here, at 7:00 am here. Hello guys. I see some Elizabeth Warren supporters, there were some Joe Biden supporters.

CAMEROTA: There were some Joe -- oh, they're right there. John we ...


BERMAN: Look, they know we're here, it's important to have the signs. Hilary, I want to put the poll numbers up from the latest Quinnipiac poll and talk about the movement we've seen from the day after the previous debate. You can see now, and this is P104, Biden is at 34 percent, Warren 15,

Harris at 12, but look at the movement from earlier in July, where Biden's up 12, so he bounced back and then Harris bounced down. Although I guess you don't bounce down necessarily. So, when they walk out on that stage over the next two days behind us, are they going to be thinking about that?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, clearly they're going to be thinking about it, because Elizabeth Warren has to go after Joe Biden, right? She -- she -- there's not much upside for her in going after Bernie Sanders, she's already taking Sander's voters away.

So, the more charisma, energy and intensity she can show, that provides that contrast against Joe Biden, I think that that what happens. Joe Biden's probably lucky that she's not on stage with him the next night.

BERMAN: Can you do that contrast when you're not on stage?

ROSEN: You can do it and I think that that's a safer place for her to go. There's nobody else on that stage, in my view, that's she's really interested in taking it on -- taking on.

The other piece of this is, there are bunch of candidates there who will not be in the next debate and that's the fight for, as Joe says, do people have a home base they can go to, so that when they're in August, the dog days of August, the worst time to campaign, but the time they cannot afford to let up, are -- is Amy Klobuchar, is Beto O'Rourke and particular those two, are they going to have a message that they can take into these next tough six weeks of campaigning that before Labor Day?

BERMAN: In Detroit terms, in M and M terms, they've got one shot, one opportunity.


BERMAN: Right? I would say.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, how late were you up last night?

ROSEN: You've been practicing that.


CAMEROTA: That's very impressive.

BERMAN: Mom's spaghetti.

ROSEN: But it's true.

AVLON: But it is a fight for survival. Half these folks are not going to be coming back in September, so this is something where each of the candidates know, especially if they're in that bottom 14 frankly, they're going to be struggling to stay relevant and that's why, I think, you've got to look to see what lanes survive. Are there any governors? Are there any senators?

Steve Bullock's first, I want to highlight what Joe Lockhart said, because it's his first debate, he's the only new guy on the stage, but here's somebody who won in a red state that Donald Trump -- in re- election in the state, Donald Trump won by 20 points. The Democratic Party is not listening to him; they're missing something really important.

ROSEN: And his goal is not necessarily to attack anyone. His goal is to make sure you remember his name at the end of the night.

AVLON: Exactly.

LOCKHART: And there's no -- I mean, for Bullock or for Hickenlooper or for Klobuchar, there's not getting to the left of centers on Warren. So, there is only thing to do, it's who can most effectively say, yes, there's a lot of energy. We need your voters, but you guys can't get elected. You can't do -- we can't do this, you can't pay for all of this, it's not a sensible solution. So, it's going to be a battle for who strikes the right tone to criticize Sanders, Warren.

FINNEY: But part of what you do in prep, right, is you will certainly have certain things in your pocket that you want to try out, like we saw, frankly, Harris did last time, if the right moment comes.

But you've also, as the time is ticking down, you've got to be figuring out, how much of my time am I going to use talking about my positive, proactive, making the case for why I'm the person for this moment, versus, do I want to go after Donald Trump and show why I can take him on, versus, additionally trying to share that contrast between the other people.

So, it's like -- they're having to operate on multiple levels very quickly, knowing they have very little time. Particularly, if you're in that lower tier, you know you're probably not going to get too many -- very many minutes to actually make your case.


CAMEROTA: I also think that tonight we get to see the divide, in terms of the direction of the party to play out. Because, I just interviewed a group of Michigan voters, and you'll see that coming up in the next hour or so, and basically what they are wrestling with, what Democrats are wrestling with is progressive versus pragmatic.

And so, pragmatic is personified by Steve Bullock and progressive is personified by Elizabeth Warren. And on the panel itself you can hear who they think will turn voters out and energize the base, and they feel very differently about which direction the parties should go.

AVLON: Sure. And look, Bernie Sanders, remember, won the primary last time around. Donald Trump wins the general, 11,000 votes here in Michigan, classic swing state. Is it an issue of vote (ph) going out the base? Partially.

But, it's also winning those swing voters, those 206 pivot counties that Obama-Biden won twice, Trump won once, you can't win the election without turning those folks back around to the Democratic Party.

LOCKHART: And I think the one thing that Trump continually injecting himself into the campaign does, is bolster the pragmatic side. Because, every time he creates one of these controversies, I think Democrats as a whole go to, it's not necessarily ...

AVLON: Rosen throwing shade at ...

LOCKHART: No, it's not necessarily about whether we're going to have free college, it's how are we going to get rid of this guy.

BERMAN: Hilary?

ROSEN: Well, I think people are united on getting rid of Trump, but I do think that the more he talks about race, the more that progressive Democrats want this to be ideology and that I do think that's a challenge for some candidates. But, the other piece that -- is that, candidates are looking now at what do they have to accomplish to get us past the next threshold.

And so you look at somebody like Pete Buttigieg, who actually sort of number five in this tier, he doesn't have to attack anyone. He's got the money to go on for the next five, six months, right? What he has to do is make people believe in him, and I think that that's the challenge that these guys have.

And I think at this stage, it's too easy for pundits to talk about this as progressives versus pragmatics. I think that what people want is someone who can beat Donald Trump, and that's not necessarily ideological, that might just be emotional and personality.

BERMAN: All right guys, stand by, because much of what we're going to talk about in the next segment has to do with this.

CAMEROTA: Two big nights, 10 candidates each night. The second round of Democratic debates begins tonight at 8:00 pm Eastern live from Detroit, only on CNN.

BERMAN: We have new reporting from overnight, that the president's own aides are uncomfortable with his attacks on the city of Baltimore and it's African-American Congress and we have the inside scoop for you next.



BERMAN: We have live pictures for you from inside the debate hall where tonight, in just a few hours, 10 Democrats will face off in the first of two nights of the CNN Democratic Presidential Debates. It is a huge night.

The candidates will be talking about their own plans. They'll be talking about each other. And no doubt, they'll also be talking about the president, the current president, Donald Trump. And there's new reporting this morning from inside the White House

that there might be concern over the president's attacks on the city of Baltimore and its African-American Congressman Elijah Cummings.

This reporting comes from Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker of the "New York Times." Let me read this to you. Several White House officials expressed agreement during a senior staff meeting on Monday morning that the president's attacks were a bad move, according to people informed about the discussion.

Later on in the quote, it says, any political benefit he might derive by revving up his conservative, largely white based, could be offset by alienating more moderate voters in the suburbs of states like Wisconsin and Michigan, that he needs to win a second term.

Our friends here back with us, Hilary Rosen, let me start with you. This is coming from aides inside the White House, perhaps trying to the president to stop doing what he's doing. What do you make?

ROSEN: I think many of who've sat advising politicians think that the idea that actually any aide, anywhere, could sit there and disagree that this was a bad move. This is just crazy to me. Because, I -- this country is looking for a president who actually leads, unites, engages people on the right thing. It is never good for staff or the leader to act this way.

And the idea that White House aides are scrambling to try and interpret what is so obviously a horrible thing that the president did, just makes me kind of crazy. I think it's beyond belief, that they're even now interpreting it and leaking it to "New York Times" reporters. Well, some of us though it was bad, others thought it was OK.

AVLON: Yes, the subtext is, we have our own careers to think about. We'd rather not go down as having worked for a blatantly racist president. It's bad for business down the line.

CAMEROTA: But, it doesn't change anything.

AVLON: But it does change a couple things. Look, the calculus for the election is obviously right. Whatever benefit you get from playing the racist card from inside the White House, which is an insane statement, is offset. And there's new evidence of that in the new Quinnipiac poll. One of the things that's buried in there that is the key number to look at, 61 percent of women and 57 percent of independent voters say they will definitely not vote for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: No matter what?


AVLON: No matter what. You can't over-state the importance of that number.

CAMEROTA: All women? All women or independent women?

AVLON: No, that's all women.

CAMEROTA: Sixty-one percent of all women.

AVLON: Sixty-one percent of all women and 57 percent of independent voters say they will definitely not vote for Donald Trump.

FINNEY: And that's actually important, because ...

ROSEN: Even the ones who approve of him on the economy.

FINNEY: That's right.

AVLON: There's some overlap there, yes.

FINNEY: And that's important, because that is part of the movement we saw in 2018, right? And part of the question coming out of 2018 was, will these women continue to move away from the president, because they were part of -- they were an important part of his win in 2016, or will they finally say, you know what, after a few years of this guy we see he's not what we want.

There's also another poll I want to mention though, the Pew poll did a poll in June that showed something like 59 percent of Republicans, obviously 92 percent of Democrats feel embarrassed, confused, shamed of things that the president says. And that's even before he went after the squad. So, people are already feeling like, can we take four more years of this? Is this really what we want our president to be focused on?

CAMEROTA: Joe, it's been interesting to watch the personal on all of this, particularly with the president going after Elijah Cummings. And Elijah Cummings has friends in Congress, he's been there a long time, and it was surprising to many people, during the Michael Cohen hearing, when Elijah Cummings went to bat for Mark Meadows.

When Rashida Tlaib suggested that Mark Meadows had done something racist, a racist act I think. Elijah Cummings didn't have to go out on a limb, but he did, and he called Mark Meadows, at that time, one of his best friends. And that really stuck with people and they were both -- both men were emotional, almost teary, when they -- when Elijah Cummings stuck up for him.

So yesterday Mark Meadows has an opportunity to return the favor to Elijah Cummings and to stick up for the man who he's his dear friend, he would have us believe. And he said this statement, via Rick Santorum on our air. And I'll just read it. Here's what Mark Meadows said, no one works harder for his district than Elijah. He's passionate about the people he represents, and no, Elijah is not a racist.

I am friends with both men, President Trump and Chairman Cummings and I know them both well and neither is a racist. And he offered to go to Baltimore with President Trump to see what they could do to remediate some of the problems they have there. And, you know, that's just a different tone than what Elijah Cummings took. LOCKHART: Well, I think it speaks volumes about a couple things. One, the difference between Democrats and Republican right now. One, about the president's judgment. He just doesn't understand what well- loved and iconic figures people like Elijah Cummings and John Lewis are, and their history. He'll take on anyone, anytime.

And it says -- it speaks volumes about the Republican Party. It's a pretty simple equation. These guys are afraid of the president and what they're afraid of more than anything is his Twitter account.

They are afraid that he will go after them, I mean, I think -- Lindsey Graham apparently was telling people in South Carolina that he had to go so far right because one tweet from the president could sink him. Former Member -- Congressman Sandford got sunk by a tweet.

So the -- the moral backbone that many Republicans used to have, Donald Trump has broken and you -- yesterday, I mean, that was the single most dramatic moment in the Cohen hearing when Elijah Cummings had a chance to let Meadows just hang out there and he saved him. And he certainly validated him.

And when Meadows had the chance, when all of these other Republicans have a chance to sort of push back on the president, they take the Mitt Romney approach, which is, what desk can I hide under.

AVLON: He took a half step towards it. The problem was ...

CAMEROTA: Two days later.

AVLON: ... two days later. The problem is he had to assert something that no one was seriously questioning, which is whether Elijah Cummings is racist.

BERMAN: Well, the president said it. The president said it.

AVLON: Yes, but it's absurd.


AVLON: It doesn't mean anything. Those are nonsense words.

CAMEROTA: And also, I mean, just what about a full-throated, heartfelt defensive.

FINNEY: He's my friend, I've worked with him, I've known him, I know his heart. How about that? I mean, you know, here's the other thing I would just pick up on what Joe was saying, I get that we don't -- I don't' want to have a long conversation about ideology and racism. And as a black person I will say that, right. I want us to talk about the economy and our vision and how we're going not win.

At the same time, it's so important in these moments that we call it out. I'm particularly proud of the way that folks on this network have done that, because it feels like Donald Trump -- it's not just that he'll take on anybody, he goes out of his way, it's he can't imagine that a black person could actually be a revered, renowned figure that could be beloved by black people, and white people, and brown people. And that's painful. It is -- I mean it is truly painful to then have to separate yourself out from that and say, OK, I still have to focus on the day-to-day.

BERMAN: Hilary, you were saying something interesting, which is, that there's a discussion about whether or not Democrats who will be on this debate stage behind us, tonight, should focus on things like this or focus on quote, unquote, the issues?


And you were saying that there are a lot of Democrats who feel that this is the issue.

ROSEN: There are a lot of Democrats who feel that way, that essentially we are fighting for the soul of the country and the way they frame that is significantly around some of these -- this racial divide that Donald Trump is fomenting.

And I think it's actually two things, and I don't want Democrats to make the mistake of feeling like we have to choose. We can be leaders in uniting people and leading on race and reconciliation. We can be civil and engaging and recognize discrimination, while we are focusing on making sure that all citizens have health care and education and access to good jobs.

And so, it -- what I worry about is that Donald Trump wants us to choose and I think that that's, for me, a mistake and a trap that we cannot fall into.

AVLON: ... traps too. Pull the curtain back for a second. The reason the rpesdient was primed to go after Elijah Cummings wasn't just a Fox News segment. It wasn't just race, it's the work of the Oversight Committee.

ROSEN: That's exactly right. Yes.

AVLON: That just -- that days before had subpoenas, private e-mails and tweets from -- and chats between Ivanka and Jared. So, this personal because of the work of the Oversight and it's an example of how you can't keep your eye off the ball. There's the politics and then there's government.

LOCKHART: And when the Democrats do engage directly with Trump, it's not going to be just about race. I think just to look for a big issue in this general election is going to be about corruption. And it's the same. It's the lack of moral character of this president that allows him to use race to his benefit, but also benefit himself from the government.

And I think these Democrats would be very smart to couple those things over the next two nights.

ROSEN: Good point.

CAMEROTA: All right guys, thank you very much for all of the analysis, things are getting very exciting here this morning.

BERMAN: Smell the excitement.

CAMEROTA: OK, meanwhile this story, which is important to so many people. This is a hack that affects one in three Americans. What you need to know about the Capital One security breech, next.