Return to Transcripts main page


Hours Away From The Second CNN Democratic Presidential Debates; Interview With Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI); Biden And Harris Set For Rematch Hours From Now. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 31, 2019 - 16:30   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The infrastructure was in a state of disrepair, where it was inevitable?

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Exactly, infrastructure failure.

But, also, the kind of austerity that was imposed on that city is still in place, the fact that the city doesn't have adequate resources to have a police department that's any bigger than half that it was a few years ago, a fire department the same.

The parks are not properly maintained and mowed. The schools, many of them, in very bad shape. And so the water crisis in some ways ripped the cover off what was happening in that community. And that aspect of it's not over with.

But, honestly, neither is the effect of the crisis itself.

CUOMO: Now, these are your constituents. And you're right. There are Flints all over this country.

People can laugh, but Marianne Williamson was the only one who connected with the compassion that is necessary to see how, systemically, these things fit together.

But even on the water crisis, I mean, I was just looking online to see what are the anecdotes. Somebody put online, my pipes have been fixed in my house, and I can't cook with this water. It doesn't look right, doesn't taste right. I'm still using bottled water.

What percentage of people there do you think are still not able to have that basic necessity?

KILDEE: I don't think people even who have water that might be safe trust it yet.

I mean, this is like one of the biggest casualties of all of this in Flint, is that, yes, there is still problems with the water. The pipes have not all been replaced.

CUOMO: Well, they were told that it was good before.

KILDEE: That's the issue.

CUOMO: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.


KILDEE: They we're told by the government, which is an entity that they don't distinguish between Lansing and Washington, Democrats and Republicans, this administration or that.

The government said, your water is safe. The government told them, just relax. Literally, that was the point that was made, relax.

CUOMO: Right.

KILDEE: When that government knew that the water had high levels of lead, had Legionella in it. Twelve people died as a result of that. We don't know the full effect of the lead crisis on the development of young kids or the health of older people.

They we're told it was OK, when the government knew it wasn't OK.

CUOMO: Buttigieg was talking about South Bend, and how they have a lead problem with paint, and that the money they get is only enough to deal with a fraction of the problem.

And, look, we know the intractability of the problems. You, your family, you have been dealing with this for generations.

KILDEE: Right.

CUOMO: The issue is, who's going to connect with it? I'm fine with you guys battling it out in your party about health care and the different hows. I think it's a little impractical.

I think we don't know right now whether you can tax the middle class or not once you get in power. We don't know what the mechanism is going to be. We don't know what the trajectory or the runway will be to change the system from what it is to right now.

KILDEE: Right. Right.

CUOMO: And you can't know because of the political realities that are yet to be ascertained by when you're in office, but you can connect with those people and say, I haven't forgotten.

KILDEE: For sure, yes.

CUOMO: I know that it sucks on different levels, and we're going to figure out ways to help you.

I didn't hear that last night.

KILDEE: I was looking for it last night.

And, look, a lot of these folks are my friends. So it's hard to say this, but they have not touched this question the way they should. If they have a conversation, as they did about economic injustice, about inequality in our economy, you will see it in Flint.

If you want to have a conversation about racial disparity, come to Flint. If they want to have a conversation, for God's sake, about the failure of infrastructure, there was hardly a mention of what is really a big issue in this country, not just in terms of the injustice that it delivers to a place like Flint, Michigan, but the fact that it holds back our competitiveness.

Why aren't we having this conversation?

CUOMO: It's not as sexy as health care right now, although whoever thought health care would be second.


CUOMO: But here's what I promised you. I'm not going to let it go. I had you on today. We're supposed to be talking about what's going to happen in the debate. This is what should happen in the debate.

KILDEE: It should.

CUOMO: And, Congressman, you should choose your constituents 10 times out of 10 out of your friends in Congress, because, as we all know, that's fleeting.

KILDEE: A 100 percent.

CUOMO: And these are the people who put you where you are. And I know you're trying to do the job and I wanted to get the message out. So thank you for doing it.

KILDEE: Thanks for doing it, Chris.

CUOMO: Congressman Kildee, let me know how we can be helpful going forward. I won't let you down again.

KILDEE: Thank you. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right?

All right, Wolf, to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, good conversation, very important Congress. Thanks very much, Chris.

We're back with our political correspondents and our analysts.

And, Maeve, we're going to be hearing, presumably, a lot of discussion tonight on health care. Kamala Harris, the senator, she's rolled out her own plan to eliminate private health insurance effectively after 10 years.

Is she really ready tonight, you think, to explain in detail what she has in mind?


But that is going to be a huge challenge for her going forward, just the questions that you were talking to Lily about, the fact that this would be phased out over 10 years, these private plans that people like.

Here in Michigan in particular, in the Industrial Midwest, there are so many union members who have worked for those benefits who aren't ready to give up their private insurance. Can they actually effectively make the case tonight that that's a system that people should transition to?

And there's so many people out there also that worry that if you move everyone in the country onto Medicare, that the quality of their own care will be diminished. So on this issue, I actually think that the former vice president has an easier path, because that's the argument that he's mad.


BLITZER: Because they disagree on this issue.

RESTON: They disagree on this issue.

And he's trying to channel those voters when he talks about it.

BLITZER: Mark, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state is going to talk about climate change. That's his big issue tonight.

Is there going to be a serious debate, though, among these candidates on that issue?


We don't necessarily know what's going to be discussed tonight. But what we do know is that his whole candidacy has been absolutely focused just on climate change. That's been good for the issue. I don't think that's been necessarily good for the governor.

I had him on my radio show a few weeks ago. And I talked to him about his policies and beyond climate change. And I was surprised about how liberal he was. I didn't realize that the governor was really, really to the left.

That never was able to be shown because he only talked about climate change. But, look, just yesterday, there was, what, 1,000 protesters up front largely asking for climate change to be addressed. This is a huge issue in the Democratic Party, if not just the world.

BLITZER: You think, David, the debate tonight will be on policy- driven issues or will there be some politics in store?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There are always politics in store.

(LAUGHTER) GERGEN: I think the big difference tonight with last night, last night, the moderates were on the attack. They found their voice for the first time, and they were attacking Sanders and Warren.

Tonight, it's going to flip and the progressives are going to be more on the attack and going after Biden, going up to the moderate positions. And he's got to be not only able to return fire on their plans, but he's going to have to have something to say about his own plans.

It's been vague in some areas. Most people only have the vaguest idea of what he really wants to do as president. I think he has to start clarifying that tonight, as well as have a smoother performance.

BLITZER: I assume the candidates, M.J., are really going to also go after President Trump.


I mean, the reality is that this is a Democratic primary. So they have to battle it out right now on issues like health care, on issues like the economy. As we saw last night, I expect there's going to be a very robust discussion on the issues.

But you cannot emphasize enough how important it is for these candidates to start going after President Trump as well, at least to start making their general election argument, right?

The thing that I hear probably the most -- and, Maeve, I don't know if this is the same for you -- when I'm out there talking to voters is that, yes, there are so many issues that they care about a lot. But the one thing that they're most worried about right now is, are we going to nominate a Democratic candidate who can take on President Trump?

Health care is important, obviously. Economic issues are important, but is the person that we nominate going to be able to take on President Trump?

BLITZER: I assume you're hearing the same thing.

RESTON: The top issue every time, we want a fighter, we want somebody who's practiced in those arts, someone who can deal with President Trump potentially stalking them on the stage, like he did Hillary Clinton.

LEE: It's all fresh in our minds still.

RESTON: Yes, and also somebody that can speak to those voters that he won.

And that's what I will really be listening for tonight is whether or not they can speak to the middle of the country and those people who felt so disaffected in the last election, particularly when they're feeling like the economy's pretty good right now. BLITZER: Of the 10 tonight, the 10 last night, 20 candidates so far,

Mark, only seven have qualified for the next debate, which is going to be in September in Houston.

Who else do you think will eventually qualify, in addition to the seven who have already made it?

PRESTON: I think Julian Castro clearly has the momentum and the ability to do so.

I also think that Andrew Yang is on the verge. Now, he said he had qualified. Doesn't seem that he has. There was a little confusion over what poll he could use to qualify for that debate. Won't get into the weeds on that.

But what's interesting about the Andrew Yang situation is that, last night, we saw Marianne Williamson give a performance on the stage. And people are gushing over it because it was different, it was new.

You know who is not gushing over it? Democrats are not gushing over it, certainly, establishment Democrats, because they want this primary field shrunken down. And when you see a performance like that, where she's getting all this name recognition, Andrew Yang actually has a built-in political base that he could build upon tonight.


LEE: And we talk so much about these breakout moments.

I just have to say, I mean, that is just half the battle, right? You can have a breakout moment. But does that actually translate into political momentum in the months to come?


BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to follow -- follow up on.

So what can the candidates taking the stage later tonight learn from their colleagues who sparred last night?

We will be right back.



CUOMO: All right, we're here with our political commentators outside Detroit's historic Fox Theatre.

It really is the most beautiful venue I have ever seen for one of these debates.

But this is a big night. It's about substance, not the style. And what will happen at CNN's Democratic presidential debate tonight will be a function of what we saw last night. So let's bring in former Senator Rick Santorum, Jen Psaki, former

Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Paul Begala.

Now, you got to learn to learn in this business. You got a beautiful opportunity if you're on night two last night. You saw how the moderators enforced the rule, which is early and often, what resonated, what didn't.

Biggest lesson, Begala?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The biggest lesson is early and often, that the storyline gets set early.

A lot of people said John Delaney got too much time. He was actually seventh of the 10 candidates, but he got it early, and he took his shots. Now, whether it worked or not, but he got in there early on health care, challenged Elizabeth Warren.

You will see everybody who's not named Joe Biden trying to do that in the first 10 minutes tonight, going after Joe.

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Use your time wisely. I mean, there's not a lot of time.

And we saw that catch a couple of people up. There were folks who were talking last night that didn't have things to say. And my guess is, is, if you get that few couple of moments, make it count. Say something that will be memorable, that people will walk away saying, OK, I got that, and not just zingers.

People -- we're -- we're smart people. We can pick up on complex thoughts.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's a lesson from last night and also from the first debate which is that Democrats are looking for somebody who's going to move their heart, right, not just their head. It's the people who are connecting or the people who are speaking to people's emotions, their fears, their concerns, their hopes, their dreams.

Marianne Williamson as we all know was the most searched person last night. I don't think she's going to be the nominee but she brought something compelling. I think Kamala Harris benefited not just from attacking Joe Biden which was interesting but because she connected it to her bio and her story and pulled people's heartstrings, and I think that's a good lesson for a lot of these candidates, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, other people who want to have a moment.

CHRIS CUOMO: All due deference, Rick, also remind people you're the only one here who's done this 30 times by president debates.


CUOMO: So give it to us, connection. SANTORUM: I mean, Jen, I mean, I would -- the only thing I would add

to that is -- I would say everything you said is correct. It has to connect personally. It has to be authentic. It can't -- I mean, last night, I thought Buttigieg did a great job in some of the language he used and -- but it just seemed a little hollow to me.

Whereas Williamson, it seemed really sincere. It came from the heart as opposed to sort of a structured attempt to connect, so authenticity.

CUOMO: Let's play it. Here's Marianne now -- just so you understand, Marianne Williamson is a very polished communicator. I've said it many times, I'll say it again, I like her books, her work on A Course in Miracles, her understanding between head and heart, her understanding of why people can use pain as an empowerment, the Healing of the Soul of America, another one of her four bestsellers, it all speaks that.

It doesn't mean I think she should be president, but the voice is inviting of a connection that we saw in very short supply. Here's a taste.


MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've heard some people here tonight. I almost wonder why you Democrats, you seem to think there's something wrong about using -- about using the instruments of government to help people. That is what government should do.


CUOMO: Now, that was just one taste. In truth, what really distinguished her last night was when she talked about Flint. Everybody talks about Flint it's like check in a box, mentioned that they were screwed in Flint, but she said you have to -- it's systemic, it's not one thing, it's everything, and they know it, and they feel you've forgotten them.

And if they don't think that you have their back, why would they be there for you and they won't vote first. She was spot on. So what do you need to see tonight?

GILLUM: Well, the value of what she did, one she bought a local Michigan issue -- we're based here. This is a pivotal state for Democrats --

CUOMO: Which is a metaphor all across the country. There are Flints all across the country.

GILLUM: And that's the point I was going to make which is while we may be here in Flint today, and it's similar to what Mayor Pete Buttigieg experienced even in South Bend, the reason why that captured the imagination of so many of us is because in our news feeds, in our Facebook, in our Twitter, these stories reciprocate -- we see them all over the country. And so it wasn't just South Bend, its Tallahassee, Florida, and it's Miami-Dade, and it's -- you name it, and that's why I took such resonance. And it's the same is true for Flint. There are water crises all over the country, communities that have dilapidated infrastructure that are deserving of investment.

But because we are here in Michigan it's no accident the state matters. We got to talk about the issues that matter to the --

CUOMO: The how matters but it's all about the why. I got to go to break. We set it up -- and Rick, I want people to remember that you know, not just a former senator, 30 times you've been up there and you're a hell of a debater.

All right, so we're going to use that help and that acumen to give you three things to watch for during tonight's CNN Democratic presidential debate. Why only three? Because numbers sell. Next.


[16:50:00] BLITZER: We're back inside the Fox Theater here in Detroit. Our Political Director David Chalian is here with us. So David, what are the three top things you're looking for tonight?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first and foremost, I think every Democrat watching tonight is looking for Biden's do-over, right. What -- eyes are going to be on performance. This will be a substantive debate, no doubt, but style is going to count here.

Because of his lackluster performance in Miami, I think that is first and foremost. He's got to show Democrats he's got the fortitude, the wherewithal to take this fight to Donald Trump. That's one thing I'm looking for.

The next thing I'm looking for is the politics of race and how that is handled in this debate. You know Joe Biden is standing right between Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, two of his most strident opponents especially in the area of race and racial politics.

And so how he takes that incoming that he's fully expecting and how he pushes back on that, I am very curious to see how he handles that and how Booker and Harris decide to make their attacks there.

And then finally, I'm also looking to see Kamala Harris on health care. Because as you know, for the first seven months of her presidential campaign, Wolf, she has been anything but crystal clear on sort of what her position was which is why she rolled out a health care plan in advance of this debate.

It gives her like a sturdier floor to stand on this issue, one of the number one issue for voters, and make her case. Her plan is a step away from Medicare for All where she's been. She claims it's still a Medicare for All plan, but it needs to step away from the Sanders plan and I'm curious to see how she explains that tonight on the debate.

BLITZER: I'm curious to see how Biden goes after her on that health care issue.

CHALIAN: Especially on how to pay for it because she refuses, she says, to raise middle-class taxes unlike Bernie Sanders who says he will to pay for this to bring everyone's health care costs down.

BLITZER: She's been saying, it's Bernie Sanders light. He's been going through a spokesperson.

CHALIAN: Yes, exactly. All right, standby, we got a lot more to discuss. Coming up as we count down to the debate tonight, I'll speak with one of Joe Biden's biggest supporters and closest friends Senator Chris Coons. That's just a head.


[16:55:00] BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Live tonight from the historic Fox Theater here in Detroit where we're just hours away from the second of our two CNN Democratic Presidential Debates.

Tonight, ten more candidates take the stage including the front-runner Joe Biden who will be flanked by two of his sharpest critics among the 2020 field, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

CUOMO: And I'm Chris Cuomo here with the captain, Wolf Blitzer, outside the Fox Theater where the excitement for tonight's showdown may be even bigger than last night.