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Moderates Aim at Warren and Sanders; Democrats Spar Over Insurance; Klobuchar Balks at Criticism. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 31, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:21] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Democratic debate night two right here in Detroit. Former Vice President Joe Biden is center stage tonight, looking to reassert himself as frontrunner by rebutting the powerful case made last night by the party's leading liberals.

Plus, the tag-team smack down. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders team up to make the case for big and bold, deciding their rivalry for the progressive mantle can wait for another day.

And Marianne Williamson proves just how different she is. She rolls her eyes at detailed policy lists, talks candidly about race. And while other candidates study the polls --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did this night go the way it hoped -- you had hoped it would?

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know yet. I mean I'll tell you when, you know -- later when I see the memes.


KING: Back to that a bit later.

But we begin with the fight for the heart of the Democratic Party and how last night's feisty debate here in Detroit will spill over into tonight's round two. Joe Biden will be center stage tonight with a ton to prove. One glaring Biden challenge after last night shows he has a plan and a debate style to answer the passion and conviction of the party's two leading liberals. The go big progressive wing of the party is elated today after watching Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders fend off the Biden-like moderates last night.

Warren and Sanders back a Medicare for all plan that eliminates private insurance, a green new deal, free college tuition, health care for the undocumented, decriminalizing border crossing. Too expensive, the moderates argue. Too risky against Trump, they added.


JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises, when we run on things that are workable, not fairy tale economics.

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an example of wish list economics.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But what I don't like about this argument right now, what I don't like about it at all, is that we are more worried about winning an argument than winning an election.


KING: Now, Warren and Sanders may well be in each other's way down the road, but last night they were a center stage tag team, swatting back the moderate attacks, rebutting the fairy tale argument with the idea it is past time for Democrats to dream bigger.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights today, Matt Viser with "The Washington Post," Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times," Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico," Astead Herndon with "The New York Times," and CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Wow, it makes the stakes tonight all the more fascinating after what we saw last night. It gets hard to do left to right when the two left, if you will, candidates were center stage last night and they defended it with a passion and a conviction that is the talk of the Democratic Party today.

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And they were united together. I mean I think there was an expectation heading into this that we would see maybe some differentiation. Bernie Sanders once was atop the polls. He's seen Elizabeth Warren catch him. And they were really aligned, even apologizing and defending one another against the moderates. And the case for the moderates was not as effective as it might be if there was a Joe Biden there or somebody a little bit more forceful, I think. So we'll see that debate play out in the --

KING: Do we know -- do we -- I think that that is the question for tonight, are you right? That's what the moderates hope, that the Democrats who think this is too liberal, it's too expensive, you can't sell it all at once in one -- they're hoping Joe Biden can make that case tonight, that he is stronger and that he has a better answer. That was the question about the moderates last night. Their answer was, you know, oh, it's too big or, oh, Trump will shove this down our throats, not, you're wrong.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And they're not playing on the same playing field. I mean a lot of those one percenters clearly were just trying to get in there. But you said united together. I was thinking last night Hillary Clinton's stronger together. That was her campaign slogan. As Lisa's laughing at me. We spent a lot of time with her.

But the reality here is, they are stronger together --

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Having some flashbacks.

ZELENY: With that argument for now. And it's not surprising at all that they're going to remain in solidarity because it helps both of them. They're both, you know, presenting the same argument. It also helps Joe Biden to have both of those in the race splitting up the vote.

What I think was so fascinating last night was to see Elizabeth Warren making the electability argument in the clearest way that I have heard her make it to this point. Basically, don't be afraid. Let's go big.

So she is running the long game here and she is Bernie 2.0, standing right next to him, looking in a different way. So I think she is the clear, clear winner last night.

KING: Right.

[12:05:06] LERER: But I think we did get a contrast there. And the contrast was really stylistic in a lot of ways.


LERER: You saw how Elizabeth Warren really is a better story teller. She's bringing in people she met. She's bringing in her own personal history in a way that perhaps makes those progressive goals a little more accessible to the average voter. So I think we did see a little bit of a preview.

This clash between them, as Jeff pointed out, will come. It is inevitable if they both stay in the race.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: Right.

LERER: And we got a little bit of a preview of what that could look like. BARRON-LOPEZ: And last night after the debate, Sanders' campaign

manager was in the spin room and we were talking to him and he said, yes, it is going to come. We are going to eventually differentiate ourselves. But we want it to be on a stage where there are very few candidates so that way we have the time to get into that nuance and there aren't any gotcha moments. But he said that, you know, they were very pleased with the outcome of last night and happy that Sanders and Warren were able to go toe to toe with the moderates.

LERER: And I will say, when I talk to him, and I -- I mentioned this idea of a non-aggression pact, he was very quick, Sanders' campaign manager, to say, oh, there's no pact. There's no pact.


LERER: So they're all getting ready for this.

HERNDON: The aggression's coming, right? I mean --

LERER: Yes, the aggression is coming.

HERNDON: I think it fits with their ideology also. Those are two candidates who make the argument that the country's problems did not start and will not end with Donald Trump.

LERER: Right.

HERNDON: And so, for them, it is important to make the kind of overall broader case about the ideals and the ideology, because both of those hypothetical administrations would be trying to galvanize a more movement style politics that's going to need the supporters that may be backing the other candidate right now.

KING: Not always, but most always, a confident candidate is a better candidate. And Senator Warren sat down with us in the postgame last night. She didn't want to leave. She would have stayed till breakfast if we had it brought in. And she was pumped. She was pumped out of this. She thought she was effectively making the case, to your point, those personal stories, to connect it, to get at the electability argument. We shall see as we go forward.

And, again, that puts the pressure on the vice president -- former Vice President Joe Biden tonight to be a stronger moderate, if you will, to make a more passionate case, because the moderates tried last night. Several of them might be gone from the race within days.

One of their big, major points, to Warren and Sanders was, you cannot pass your version of Medicare for all. That would take away employer- provided health care. You would be telling people who like their health care, 180 million people in America, get their health care from their employer, you would be telling them we're pulling that away from you.

Here's the moderates making the case, bad idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not think that's a recipe for success for us. It's bad politics and it's certainly bad politics.

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It used to be just Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace. Now many Democrats do as well.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our plan ensures that everyone is enrolled in Medicare or can keep their employer-sponsored insurance.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It will become Medicare for all without us having to kick everybody off their insurance.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This notion that you're going to take private insurance away from 180 million Americans, you might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump.


KING: Warren and Sanders did not blink. They said, yes, we are willing to take the country through what would be a major disruption again in health care.

Did any of those more centrist candidates get their footing, breakthrough, or is it left to Biden?

ZELENY: It is left to Biden, I think, in a large degree to make that case. And, of course, he is going to wrap himself once again in Barack Obama and say that, you know, some Democrats want to dismantle Obamacare.

But I do think we don't yet know how voters saw this. And the argument that the collective group of the lower tier candidates were making, it does resonate out there. It is in the polling. And, John, as you asked Senator Warren last night, she's a liberal senator from Massachusetts. The state is not -- the country is not Massachusetts.

So we also don't know what this campaign will end on. Campaigns often do not end on the subject in which they began. Look at 2008. It started on the Iraq War, ended on the economy. For now, this is a defining issue in this campaign. But I think that we -- it's just too early to say if voters will swallow this big change or not. But Biden has to make the case for why it's too much.

LERER: It's also way easier to make this argument if you are Senator Sanders or Senator Warren against John Delaney than Joe Biden. It's very -- relatively low political risk to cast John Delaney in the role of Joe Biden, which is -- essentially that happened. I mean the guy barely cracks one percent in a lot of the polls. People don't -- I think this was voters' introduction to John Delaney at this past debate for many. And Joe Biden, he's a former vice president. You know, we'll have to see whether he does better tonight. But, theoretically, he's more experienced with debates. He should be more skilled at them. And there's more -- there can be more political risk. He has a bigger following of going after (ph).

KING: And, remember, the Sanders/Clinton primary in 2016 was about a lot of these same issues, how big do you go, how bold do you go, how left is the party willing to go? It was a difference race because you had two candidates for much of the race. That's why the progressive wing is so elated today to see both Warren and Sanders. Most of them privately will tell you they think Warren is the assigned candidate in the race. Sanders, though, has his crew (ph). He's loyal. He can raise the money. And his campaign sees this as a long, protracted battle for delegates as you go through.

[12:10:05] Let's get back into this a little bit more, a fight between Senator Sanders and Tim Ryan over health care and then Elizabeth Warren on immigration.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For senior citizens, it will finally include dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But you don't know that.

SANDERS: Second of all.

RYAN: You don't know that, Bernie.

SANDERS: Second of all --

JAKE TAPPER, MODERATOR: We'll come to you in a second, congressman.

SANDERS: I do know it. I wrote the damn bill.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Secure the borders. Make sure whatever law we have doesn't allow children to be snatched from their parents and put in cages. How hard can that be? We've got -- I don't know, on the two debate nights, we've got 170 years of Washington experience. Somehow it seems like that should be fairly fixable.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, and one way to fix it is to decriminalize. That's the whole point.


KING: So you have these moderates making the case, either Medicare for all is going to raise middle class taxes or it's going to take away the health insurance people like from their employer. You have Governor Hickenlooper there making the case, you cannot decriminalize border crossings. That sends a signal. There's other ways to keep the government from separating families at the border.

But, again, both with conviction and passion and almost kind of a boom -- a smack back. Warren and Sanders stood there at the center stage and essentially saying, no, this is our party now. That's the case they were trying to make. We're in the middle because this is our party.

VISER: It felt, at times, like a high school basketball team playing an NBA team. You know just the progressives on the center of the stage were emphatic and they were -- they were good debaters and on the sides of the stage, you just had people who were still fighting for oxygen. And so they couldn't make the case quite as forcefully. And, you know, maybe Biden can't either. I mean he's been shaky in his debate performances. But I think somebody with some gravitas coming in and making that argument. And that may come, you know, in the next debate or the debates after to really fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

KING: And I -- we'll get more to tonight and the stakes in -- I just want to get to this in the conversation. I always say, you know, don't believe what you hear in Washington because Washington is not America. So we do our best covering the campaigns and talking to voters.

Our Gary Tuchman was in Iowa last night. He put the question to some undecided voters. Who will impressed you most?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think being more moderate in the state of Iowa will go far. And I think Bullock and Klobuchar and Ryan did a good job of bringing that argument out.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who do you think did the best tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Warren did.

TUCHMAN: Warren.

Who do you think did the best?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say Warren.

TUCHMAN: Who do you think had the best performance?


TUCHMAN: Warren also.

Who do you think had the best performance this evening?


TUCHMAN: Warren.


TUCHMAN: Warren.



TUCHMAN: I keep saying Warren. But you guys keep saying Warren.

And who do you think did the best?



KING: So it's 185 or 186 days till Iowa votes. Senator Warren might wish we had a parliamentary system and she could, you know, call the election.

But, look, she is the ascending candidate -- she has been the tortoise, if you will, and I say that as a compliment. Slow and steady moving up in the race. She's moving up in the state polls, the national polls. She surprised people by how much money she's been able to raise. She was aggressive and assertive last night. You might disagree with her views, but she was a good debater last night on the stage. And the part that you can't see at home is she's building a damn good organization in these early states. If you add all that up, that is a candidate to be reckoned with.

HERNDON: And the articulation from the Warren campaign is that this has been building over time, like that kind of tortoise metaphor. They say that this is what happens because she is out there, consistently, and getting those questions. I think when we think about Warren and Sanders last night, they are so used to being asked, how do you pay for it? They're so used to being able to defend that affirmative vision. But that's comfortable ground for them. That is an argument they won.

I mean Warren's rubbing her hands together when she talks about the wealth tax and how -- and how they're going to be able to pay for the programs. And so that is the difficulty for the moderates because if your argument is going to be, I'm the best suited to beat President Trump, then why isn't that answer Joe Biden, right? He has -- he has that case most clearly.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And I thought some of her answers were very effective when she was being attacked by the moderates, which was that, let's not engage in Republican talking points. I've heard that as well from voters on the trail. They don't want to hear Democrats regurgitate those.

And then also her answer on immigration, she pulled a little bit from Julian Castro there, but it's one that I think can be effective. And it's -- she was saying that this change in decriminalizing border crossings, there are still going to be measures on the books that make it so you can prosecute illegal border crossings. This doesn't open up the borders and what it does is it tackles the piece of that law that allowed the Trump administration to separate families.

ZELENY: Someone else liked her performance, Republicans and President Trump. BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes.

ZELENY: And that's what's the question. She's been pretty unscathed by them for a little while. That is coming for a rising candidate (ph).

KING: Well, she got their attention without a doubt.

Much more to talk about it. As you might get a sense We're a little excited. Debate times are fun.

Ten more candidates take the stage tonight. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here in CNN live in Detroit, in that beautiful Fox Theater behind me. You don't want to miss it.

Up next, more debate highlights, including the argument for generational change in the Democratic Party.

But first, a lighter moment. More lighthearted here in Detroit as Governor Steve Bullock spotted blowing off some post-debate steam.





[12:19:40] KING: Welcome back.

Liberal versus moderate was, by far, last night's biggest debate dividing line. There was also a generational play, though. Thirty- even-year-old Mayor Pete Buttigieg has made that his calling card since day one of his campaign. And last night the former congressman, Beto O'Rourke, took the stage determined to sharpen his, hey, if you're looking for something different, look at me argument.

[12:20:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not going to be able to meet this moment by recycling the same arguments, policies and politicians that have dominated Washington for as long as I have been alive.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a new battleground state, Texas, and it has 38 Electoral College votes. And the way that we put it in play was by going to each of those 254 counties. No matter how red or rural, we did not write you off. We brought everyone in. And now we have a chance to beat Donald Trump with Texas.

JAKE TAPPER, MODERATOR: Thank you, congressman.


KING: Now, both Mayor Buttigieg and Congressman O'Rourke have qualified. They meet the threshold for the September debate, so they will stay with us. But we were led to believe from team O'Rourke that he was coming to the stage last night determined, not to criticize Mayor Buttigieg so much, but as to get back in that lane, to say, wait a minute, if you're looking for something younger, next generation and different, I'm that guy. There was no sparks there.

VISER: It felt like sort of treading water almost. I mean I think he will make it to the next debate, but there was not a breakout performance from him, by any means. And his point -- and Texas is well taken, but Governor Bullock spoke up after that and said but you -- you know, I actually won in a state. You know, Beto O'Rourke did not win in Texas. So I think that he's got some more work to do. And Mayor Pete -- Pete Buttigieg did a better job, I think. He got more lines in and more effective lines in.

BARRON-LOPEZ: One of our --

KING: Here's -- let me -- I'm sorry to interrupt but jump in after this. One of those lines, (INAUDIBLE), I found it interesting. This was a great debate line. I'll give you the but on the other side.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. Look, if -- if it's true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they're going to say we're a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they're going to do? They're going to say we're a bunch of crazy socialists. So let's just stand up for the right policy, go out there and defend it.


KING: It's a great line, but he didn't -- he actually kind of stepped back from what -- while they were having the huge, ideological faith (ph). He made a few points here and there, but it seemed -- he seemed determined to say, you know what, there's a food fight going on here. I'm already qualified for the next round of debates and I'm going to step back a little bit and let this play out.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, and he was, in a way, defending Sanders and Warren there by saying, look, no matter how far left we go, or no matter how middle, Republicans are going to attack us with the same line of socialism.

Also I think that Buttigieg and Beto, the reason that they're having difficulty is they're trying to find a sweet spot in a way that almost Harris is as well, between the Biden poll and the Warren polls of the party. And, you know, Buttigieg and Beto, because they aren't as well- known as Biden, it's going to be difficult for them to stake out those lanes.

ZELENY: I mean the fact of the matter is, though, he said, you know, we shouldn't worry what Republicans say but the Democrats are worried, actually, about this debate. A lot of Democrats voters I talked to in early states, they are concerned about the direction of this conversation. But that's what this campaign is about. We know now that this will play out through the primaries, which may go a very long time. We'll be talking about its delegate fight. So we know that this is a race for the -- the direction of the party.

What I detected there by Mayor Buttigieg, he's being advised by a lot of former Barack Obama advisers. Joel Bennetson (ph), Larry Griawano (ph), John Delsacato (ph), and that very much sounded like he was trying to stay in the conversation but he didn't say what side of this he falls on. He's trying to, you know, remain above the fray. But those academic answers, I think, work up and to a point, but at some point he's going to have to get into it and show that he's not just an elitist type of a textbook candidate.

LERER: I was struck by a similar thing, is that all his answers focused so heavily on messaging. And that could be fine. But if you have the kind of debate that Senator Sanders and Warren want to have about policy, it just doesn't get -- that messaging falls apart pretty quickly and you wonder if voters here want to say, OK, well, where do you come down on this issue?

ZELENY: Right.

LERER: And I found in a lot of his answers it was really hard to tell, honestly. And if we can't tell, and we are people who do this all day, every day, it's hard to imagine that voters who have actual lives and responsibilities that prevent them from being quite as obsessed can tell.

KING: Of the candidates on stage last night, Governor Bullock, former Congressman Delaney, former Governor Hickenlooper, Senator Klobuchar, Congressman Ryan and Marianne Williamson might not be in the next round of debates. We have to see if they're polling and they're -- right now they don't meet the test. They need to either poll better or get more donors to get up to the threshold.

I want you to listen to Senator Klobuchar. She got into this race saying I'm from the Midwest. Essentially trying to be, if Biden doesn't do so well, here I am. I'm a woman in the Democratic Party. I come from the heartland. But on stage last night, she was asked a pretty good question that gave her a chance to draw her contrast with her rivals and she whiffed.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everyone wants to get elected. But my point is this, I think when we have a guy in the White House that has now told over 10,000 lies, that we better be very straightforward with the American people.


KLOBUCHAR: Well, I did. I was mentioning the two of them because I mentioned their bills. You want to have a candidate leading the ticket that's going to be straight with people, look them in the eye and tell them the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [12:25:00] KING: The question before the first answer was, who on the stage is making promises just to get elected, which she has said there are candidates in the race making promises just to get elected. And she wouldn't turn and say, I think it's Jeff Zeleny, I think it's Astead. Why -- you know, and so I went through this with her former governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, who criticized Mitt Romney on a Sunday show and then refused to do it standing this close to him on a debate stage.

Donors especially, but even voters, take cues from that, that if you're not tough enough to do it on a debate stage, why do I trust you to stare down Vladimir Putin?

VISER: When she said there, look the American people in the eye and tell them the truth, then she's on a debate stage and she's not looking Bernie Sanders in the eye and telling him why she disagrees with him. And I think part of that, you know, the same thing with O'Rourke and Buttigieg. There's this version for them to get into it. And to really mix it up personally. And we're seeing it -- such a crowded field, that's what drives it, is fighting and sort of making your case very strongly. And I don't think Klobuchar did that at all last night.

LERER: And the voters will say, you know, we don't want the field to tear each other apart, but they want to show that they can go head-to- head with Trump.

HERNDON: The biggest example here is the vice president, right, has begun his campaign kind of trying to stay above the fray because he has things that the Klobuchars and Delany and Hickenloopers don't, he has that name recognition, the support of African-American voters. If anyone should have been able to do it, it's him. And we've seen in the last couple of weeks, he has had to engage on a personal level with the progressives in the race, specifically Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. If Vice President Biden can't do that, I don't know why these other moderates think that they can.

ZELENY: There's a little bit of Senate collegiality I think also going on there.



ZELENY: She did not want to confront Elizabeth Warren there. She also needs progressive support, but that, I think, is a sign that maybe someone is thinking more about turning back to their day job at some point.

KING: That's your helicopters arriving. It's a little early, though. Tell her (ph) it has to wait. We've got a little bit more show to do here.

Coming up, when we come back, the big question tonight, can Joe Biden avoid a debate tonight like the first round?