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Interview With Harris Campaign Communications Director Lily Adams; Biden, Harris Prepare for Second Debate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 31, 2019 - 16:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello from Detroit and the beautiful and historic Fox Theatre. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Just hours from now, CNN's Democratic presidential debate gets under way. Ten candidates will line up. And, tonight, front runner Joe Biden will be center stage, flanked by Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

There is every indication this second CNN debate will be just as dramatic at last night's showdown.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: A hundred percent Wolf.

I'm Chris Cuomo. It's great to be with the captain.

Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD.

Of course, anchor Jake Tapper getting ready to moderate yet another debate alongside tonight alongside Dana Bash and Don Lemon.

Now, the benefit of tonight is, they got to go to school on what happened with the rules and the interplay and what worked and didn't work last night. So let's see. You got to look at it through a little bit of a different lens.

And one of the questions is, will we see the more liberal candidates tonight going after Biden? Remember that axiom. You want poise from the front-runners, and we have to see who makes noise on the fringes.

And for Biden, it's, is he going to be hiding Biden, or is he going to come out and fight? We will see.

Let's get our coverage started. Let's go straight inside.

We got CNN's Kyung Lah in the hall, which is a gorgeous venue. The candidates have been getting a look at the stage, getting a feel.

Kyung, what do you think we should expect tonight?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can preview that in just a second.

I just want to point out that the former vice president is still here in the Fox Theatre. He is a second-to-last candidate who's getting his walk-through here.

And just moments ago, I want you to look at this tape. He entered the stage for his walk-through to check out his podium, but immediately he was a little different than all the other candidates. This was a very relaxed former vice president. He was smiling. He was waving at people. He was pausing to shake hands with the production team, looking very, very relaxed as he is entering the second debate.

This belies how very seriously his team is taking this evening. In a pre-date -- pre-debate briefing, senior Biden campaign officials have told reporters that they will be expecting a clash on health care. They previewed that to reporters.

Now, without naming Kamala Harris, we heard from the Biden team that he will argue that they need to be straightforward about the costs, straightforward about how you're going to pay for it. It's something that the former vice president feels strongly about, his record, that the vice president's team, the former vice president's team says that he is prepared to defend his record.

The first time around, he learned that there are no rules of engagement. We also heard that the former vice president watched last night's debate in Detroit.

I did speak with Kamala Harris' team. They say she also watched the debate in Detroit. So we are anticipating that the big matchup, that is a rematch, and, Wolf, it should be very interesting to see how much of this actually unfolds, those feelings from the first time around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kyung, thanks very much.

Let's get some more insight right now. Our political experts are with us.

And, Mark Preston, what we just heard from Kyung, does it look like a winning strategy tonight for the former vice president?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, I just spent some time with the vice president as he came in and talked to him about tonight. He does seem very relaxed.

He's -- gosh, I don't want to age myself here, but I started covering him 20 years ago in Congress. Maeve and I started covering him 20 years ago in Congress, although she was very young at that time.



BLITZER: I have been covering him for 30 years.

PRESTON: Hey, always one-upping.

(LAUGHTER) PRESTON: No, but I got to tell you, he -- I think they're prepared to come in and face an attack from both sides, not only from his left, but from his right.

He's going to have Kamala Harris on one side, Cory Booker on the other. And that's without even talking about the other seven that will go out to the side.

BLITZER: Because that's an important point. He's going to be flanked by Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, M.J.

How does that -- given the confrontation of the past, how does that play out tonight?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, for every candidate that's on stage tonight, Joe Biden is the target.

And for somebody like Cory Booker, he has telecast in many ways that he wants to go after Joe Biden, that he is gearing up for a fight on issues like the crime bill, on issues related to race.

I think this is going to be a really fascinating balancing act, though, for Booker, because he has launched his campaign based on this idea that politics can be optimistic, that it can be unifying.

So how does he sort of maintain that M.O., while still showing that fighter side of him, right? And then, for Kamala Harris she had such a strong first debate. And I think the problem with that -- and it's a good problem to have -- is that the expectations just got a little bit higher for her, right?

And we know that there are probably going to be clashes between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on the issue of health care. She just put out her new health care plan. And the Biden team has not been shy about going after her leading up to this debate.


And I think the one dynamic that we're ready for is that Joe Biden probably will be a little bit more ready this time around.

BLITZER: Yes, that could be a lively discussion, don't you think?


I mean, and it is true that the expectations are so high for Kamala Harris, because this is what she does best. I mean, we have seen her in the hearing room with Brett Kavanaugh, with Barr, with so many of the Trump nominees that went through there.

And she shows -- she's trying to show over and over again that she's a fighter, that she would be tough enough against Donald Trump. And, in truth, the women do have a higher bar, because when you go out on the trail and talk to voters, a lot of them are a little bit unsure if they want to see a woman go up again against Donald Trump. And I think that the debate stage is the best place for Elizabeth

Warren and Kamala Harris to show that toughness and the readiness for the fight.

BLITZER: Clearly, David, Biden would much rather have his focus tonight being going after the president, President Trump, as opposed to these other nine candidates.


And I'm sure -- I'm positive we will hear a lot of from him on that subject. The good news from the Biden people is, he's relaxed. One of the experiences you have in this debating stuff is, some people clam up the day before, the night before. They go in lockjawed and they really stumble around.

Tonight, it's really vital for Biden. The most important thing is to show that his age is not an issue, that he has -- his vital signs are all strong. He knows how to respond. If he loses on that front, the rest of it doesn't matter.

But if he wins on that front, then you can get to the policies.


BLITZER: And, Maeve, unlike last night, it's a pretty diverse group of candidates tonight.

RESTON: Yes. Yes.

It is a very diverse group of candidates. And I think that that will really be on display. Last night, it was about ideology. I think, tonight, it'll be much more a debate about vision, although there will be these clashes over health care.

And I really do think, for Joe Biden, to David's point, but, you know, in that first debate, so many voters had high expectations for him, and they were really disappointed. They say it in different ways to you, but they say that he sounded too soft-spoken, they weren't sure if he was ready to take the fight to Trump, and he's really going to have to prove that tonight.

And it seems like the last couple of weeks have been practice for that, really sharpening those attacks on Harris and volleys back at the other candidates. And I think we will see a very lively Joe Biden tonight.

GERGEN: Let me just say -- you said women have a higher bar. And I absolutely agree with that.

But one thing women have going for them is they have more moral authority than men.

RESTON: Interesting.

GERGEN: And I think that Kamala Harris brings that into the debate. RESTON: Yes, for sure.

BLITZER: A lot of the Democrats, though, are fearful that if it gets too lively, that plays into President Trump's hands.

PRESTON: Well, look, after these debates, we're going to look at who are the winners and who are the losers, right?

The short-term winner is going to be Donald Trump, only because you will have seen the Democrats fighting. The long-term winner, though, is going to be the Democratic Party, because they need to have this fight now, right?

They need to figure out what their vision of the party is, who's going to be their standard-bearer, and what direction they're going to go in.

And just talking about Kamala Harris, also saw her this afternoon in a little bit of time, cool as a cucumber, like, really cool as a cucumber, as was Biden.

And I got to tell you, of all the candidates that I have seen here, those two seem very, very relaxed.

RESTON: And Kamala's way of preparing for these things, I was talking to her team about it this week. She starts with the big briefing books.

She works her way all the way down to an outline, so that she knows exactly what arguments she wants to make. And then she really asks her team to press her in every fashion, so that she's ready for whatever argument her opponents will make, so that she's ready with a comeback.

And she's very cool in these settings. I mean, in some ways, it's as high-stakes as it was in the courtroom earlier in her career.

LEE: In terms of just how lively this has to be tonight, I mean, for any of the candidates who are standing on the flanks of the stage, not center stage, they really, really have to bring it, because this could be their last debate.

The September debate is going to be that much more difficult to actually qualify. And this is really their moment to show that they have some legs and their political campaigns can continue.

BLITZER: Bill de Blasio, Kirsten Gillibrand, a bunch of others.

Coming up: Tonight is a rematch between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris now. Biden the says he's ready. I will speak with the communications director for the Harris campaign.

Also, should the candidates attack one another, or should they go after President Trump tonight?

We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: We're counting down to tonight's Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN.

Senator Michael Bennet, by the way, is touring the stage right now. There, you can see on the stage. We will see Michael Bennet shortly.

Tonight's debate will feature a rematch between Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, who took the front-runner by surprise with a rather sharp attack last month.

Joining us now, Lily Adams, the communications director for the Harris campaign.

Lily, thanks very much for coming.


BLITZER: Pretty nice place we got over here.

ADAMS: I know. It's beautiful. It's beautiful.

BLITZER: Very impressive.

All right, so we saw what happened in the first debate.

ADAMS: Right.

BLITZER: This is round two right now.

The vice president is saying he's -- quote -- "not going to be as polite this time."

What do you expect? What should we expect in round two?

ADAMS: Well, I will say that Kamala Harris, I think, answered reporter questions today and said that her mother raised her to be very polite. So I expect that she will be very polite.

But I think she views this as an opportunity really to talk, Wolf, to the American people, who are out there looking at, who do they want to take on Donald Trump? Who is going to be the toughest person to put on that stage with Donald Trump, who is a truly existential threat to all the values that we really do share?

BLITZER: Is she going to continue to go after him, the former vice president, on various civil rights issues?

ADAMS: That's certainly not her goal. Her goal is to talk about her vision for the future.

I think that, obviously, I don't know why that this -- that discussion on busing was a surprise for the vice president. He certainly wrote about the topic in his book.

But that's -- that's up to his team to decide how to prepare him. But I do think what she's going to raise really are those 3:00 a.m. issues that are keeping people up at night. And that's really what she's been talking to people out on the trail about.

[16:15:06] BLITZER: By the way, Senator Bennet, Michael Bennet of Colorado, he's touring the stage. He's last of the ten candidates to get a feeling for the lectern, to get the feeling for microphone.


BLITZER: The stage up there.

We earlier in the day saw your senator, Senator Kamala Harris --


BLITZER: -- up there.

Did she like what she saw?

ADAMS: I think so. It's a beautiful historic theater. She's thrilled to be here in Detroit, obviously an iconic American city. But, you know, this obviously every stage is different. So, it's good to get a feel for it yourself.

BLITZER: Let's get to the sensitive issues that will certainly come up tonight. She put out her detailed health care plan.


BLITZER: The Biden team is accusing Senator Harris of, quote, a long and confusing pattern of equivocating about her stance on health care.

Is Senator Harris ready to stand by her new health care plan tonight?

ADAMS: Absolutely. And she's done exactly what I think voters would expect someone running for president to do. She's talked to people. She's heard their concerns and she's talked to experts.

You know, Kathleen Sebelius, who ran Obamacare for the Obama administration, who I think probably the vice president has great faith in, said that her plan is the best way to get to universal health care. So, we feel strong about the program that she has laid out.

BLITZER: I read her plan and it's got a lot of detail in there.


BLITZER: But one thing I'm confused on and you could clarify and it is a ten-year transition to Medicare for all.

ADAMS: That's right.

BLITZER: During the first ten years, there will still be private health insurance, is that right?

ADAMS: Yes. And there's an immediate -- well, two things, Wolf. One, there's an immediate Medicare buy-in, which is the same as Bernie's plan but -- and it will start the same just as her plan, but she will take ten years to get to full Medicare for all system.

BLITZER: So what happens after ten years? If you like private health insurance, will you still be able to private health insurance or do you have to have Medicare?

ADAMS: Yes. There will be private Medicare plans, just like there are today in Medicare and public Medicare plans.

BLITZER: But what about private health insurance with other private companies? Will they still be allowed to operate?

ADAMS: Yes, operating in the Medicare system. Just like they do today --

BLITZER: What if they don't want to operate in the Medicare system after ten years, would that be illegal?

ADAMS: No, you wouldn't want them to operate like they do today, Wolf. They're raising deductibles on people. They're causing insane out of pocket costs. They're causing huge co-pays.

BLITZER: But there are plenty of people who like their private health insurance.

ADAMS: Health insurance companies could get certified if they play by the rules. But the problem is that, right now, we're playing by their rules. That's the problem that in health care today would be preserved, unless we bring insurance companies into the system to have to get certified with a Medicare private plan, again, just like it happens today in Medicare which people like.

BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders said after four years, private health insurance and a four-year transition. What you're saying, it will be a ten-year transition?

ADAMS: Yes, and there is two good reasons for it. One, health care is incredibly personal and people I think were uncomfortable with that quick transition. Also for union members, they want time to go to the negotiating table and be able to say, no, I know my health care is taken care of so I want to negotiate harder for wages.

BLITZER: I'm sure the subject is going to come up later tonight.

Lily Adams, thanks very much for coming in.

ADAMS: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: Good luck to your candidate.

ADAMS: I appreciate it.

BLITZER: I appreciate it very much.

Thanks very much. Chris, let's go over to you.

CUOMO: Important ground to cover, Wolf. It was good to hear that interview.

Let's now get a take from our political experts. What a panel we have for you. Former Senator Rick Santorum, Jen Psaki, Mayor Andrew Gillum and Paul Begala.

So help me. As always, feel free to attack the premise.

But, Paul, when I listen to this, why do the Democrats, we saw it last night, keep taking the debate of being obsessed with how. You don't know how you're going to get it done. You don't know if you're going to tax the middle class.

Harris has been all over the place on it because that's the pragmatism you usually apply, they've just been clumsy about it. But the idea of we have the plan now. You think you win this election on the basis of a plan?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, if you did, then Hillary did win, but she would have been allowed to serve. I'm for specificity but, you're right, people want to know the direction. JFK did not stand in Houston, Texas, and say, we'll have a Saturn three stage, Saturn V rocket and tracking stations in New Zealand, and he just said, we're going to the moon.


BEGALA: And all of the Democrats agree on that. And maybe that's why they're doing this, because they have to find these Jesuitical distinctions that they draw amongst their competitors because there's 20 of them in the race.

CUOMO: But juxtapose with whoever wins, you will not hear this president talk about his health care plan at all during the election. I don't mean it as a criticism.

BEGALA: No, talk about broad strokes.

CUOMO: He's going to say what they did stunk, what I'll do is better, and they are stopping me from doing it right now because they are a bunch of crazy socialists. It's pretty much the beginning and the end, no?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The president is going to talk about how they want to take your health care plan away, 180 million people, most of whom are the base Democratic voters, union members. They're going to take their health care plan away. He'll repeat that.

And, by the way, you're going to get the same plan as that guy who illegally crossed the border yesterday and you think that plan who crossed the border is the best health care plan you could get? No one who has health care right now through their employer is going to believe that. No one.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's my bet. A year from now, I'm happy to make this bet with you right here.


PSAKI: A year from now, the argument from whomever is the Democratic nominee is going to be that Donald Trump will take your health care away and make it so your pre-existing conditions will not be covered, and there will maybe be a Supreme Court case.

[16:20:08] This is all -- it is good to have a 45-minute debate about health care but ultimately the Democrats all believe costs should be lowered and access should be increased.

And to your point, I think all of the details will be worked out. It will be in the platform but beyond that, it's going to be whoever is elected.

SANTORUM: Jen, they want run away from the specificity that, I mean, they're dying on the mountain right now.


CUOMO: You shouldn't get the specificity. That's my point. And I know people will say, we need plans, we need specifics. No, I say.

Journalists like it because it gives you proxy for inquisitiveness and pushing, but the reality is, the political reality, Elizabeth Warren once last night and I thought she did well and her hands up. People coming at her, she was blocking blows, she was hitting them back, that's good. You have to show that kind of assertiveness in this context.

However, once last night, Andrew, she said, wait a minute, we're not the party who's taking away health care. That is what the Republicans -- once she said it. She defended it 50 different ways.

GILLUM: Yes. But -- so first of all, we should acknowledge that in this primary, there are not a large number of distinctions between these candidates. They are sort of moving around the edges.

CUOMO: They all have different titles. And Medicare for most and when you want it.

GILLUM: If you want it, I like that one. That is a good suggestion last night. I kept thinking if I want what? What is this?

But, anyway, the point is that there is not huge gulfs between where we are across a number of issues and so, I think there are certain candidates who really do need to drive this wedge around how it is that it is going to be done. But I agree with Jen. I mean, the truth is that as well as the senator, Republicans want to take away your health care. Countless numbers of votes --

CUOMO: I mean, that's the argument.

GILLUM: In Congress, to strip away Obamacare, period.

BEGALA: Tonight, this is the most important thing to me. Tonight, I want these Democrats to point out to the country the fact that our president has proposed colossal cuts, hundreds and hundreds of billion dollars cut from Medicare and from Medicaid.

GILLUM: That's right.

BEGALA: And he's in court as we speak at the Fifth Circuit asking them to throw out the entire Affordable Care Act, especially your protections for pre-existing conditions.

CUOMO: Now here is --

BEGALA: Every one of them should mention tonight.

SANTORUM: The problem with that is, it doesn't differentiate you from the other candidates.

BEGALA: That's the problem with it.


GILLUM: So one group wants people to have access --

CUOMO: No, he's saying on the stage --

GILLUM: On the stage.

CUOMO: The way you do it is if you are the person that takes case to the president, and instead of trying to make a marginal increase from the man or woman next to you, maybe you distinguish that way.

PSAKI: That's an opportunity for Joe Biden I think tonight. You know, he should be proud and stand up and say I worked on Obamacare and we should build on that and go farther. We need to make it more accessible.

SANTORUM: Which brings me to the point, and --

CUOMO: Hurry up because they're yelling at me.

SANTORUM: It brings me to the point that last night, Barack Obama's name was not mentioned by one candidate.

GILLUM: You wait until tonight.

SANTORUM: Not one candidate --

PSAKI: You'll hear it tonight.

GILLUM: I promise.

SANTORUM: Bullock mentioned his homeland security chief, but no one talked about Obamacare. No one talked about Obama. I mean, he's still a very popular man.

CUOMO: You'll hear it tonight.


CUOMO: Now, let me go to a break, but let me go to a break on an important thought. Last night, Flint, Michigan, came up, but I would argue it got lip service. Is there the reality that our government is still failing and that the rest of us just stopped caring?

Next I'm going to be joined by the congressman who represents Flint. You need to hear the real deal of the level of suck that is being ignored by the rest of us, next.


[16:28:22] CUOMO: You know, in real time, we're seeing such an important demonstration of what the difference is between politics and government. The CNN Democratic debate is taking place in Michigan. You know that, right? This is a state Donald Trump carried in 2016 in large part because he was able to identify with the disaffection and the outrage.

But that doesn't mean that he addressed the problems that he identified with. For instance, the candidates last night, you heard them talk about Flint. You heard them talk about the water crisis. But you got this sense that it was past tense, right?

The closing of a GM plant here, union health care benefits and the tensions. They want to talk about plans to fix, but are they owning the reality?

Here is my argument against.

Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan, thank you.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: So the congressman and I see each other last night. We talked about the realities of how bad it is still in Flint. And he says, you know, you weren't going to the campaigns and getting them to try to acknowledge it, it wasn't dealt with honestly.

It hasn't been dealt with honestly by the government and I have to apologize to you as a member of the media, that we haven't continued to shine a light on it as well. We got compassion fatigue.

What is the reality right this minute for people living in Flint, Michigan?

KILDEE: Well, I think the big mistake is to think that the Flint water crisis was really fundamentally about water. Water was the symptom of a really big problem. We have a lot of places, a lot of communities in this country that are continually left behind.

We heard the president go after the people of Baltimore. Baltimore is another case study here.

The people of Flint experienced a water crisis because they were allowed to get to the place where their one mistake and one miscalculation away from being in that sort of crisis.

CUOMO: So the infrastructure was in a state of disrepair where it was inevitable.

KILDEE: Exactly. Infrastructure failure, but also the kind of austerity that was imposed on that city --