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Biden At Center Stage for Second Night of Dem Debates; Poll: Majority of Democrats Say Build on Obamacare; CNN Debates Last Chance for Some Dems to Break Through; Yang Needs One More Poll to Qualify for Next Debate; Williamson Was Google's Most-Searched Candidate During Debate. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 31, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:45] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Joe Biden is literally the man in the middle tonight, looking to convince Democrats his way is better than the liberal approach that took center stage last night. Senator Sanders and Warren won't be there tonight but Biden will have them in mind when he makes his healthcare argument, that the party and the country are better off building on ObamaCare instead of ditching it for a disrupted debate over Medicare for All. Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris will flank the vice president. They also backed versions of Medicare for All.

Also on stage tonight, Senators Michael Bennet and Kirsten Gillibrand, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, businessman Andrew Yang, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Governor Jay Inslee, and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Many of them fighting for survival in this race, Biden is fighting to quiet the jitters. His poll numbers have rebounded but he cannot afford a repeat of his first debate performance.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've also argued very strongly that we, in fact, deal with the notion of denying people access to the ballot box. I agree that everybody, once they're inside -- my time is up. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, vice president.


KING: Less than impressive. He knows that. He knows that. They know that. They also watched last night, and they understand the challenge for him, which is?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The question is I think can he pedal fast enough to sort of keep up with that fray? That will be a different dynamic but he will be flanked by Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. So the question is can he bring it?

He starts with a pretty low bar, even a, you know, a reasonable performance tonight is likely to be better than Miami. But a friend of his told me after the first debate that was the best thing that could have happened for him so they didn't sort of focused the seriousness of this moment on him. Now we'll see if he can bring it.

I spent a lot of time on the campaign trail with him, watching him. He is quick to answer questions. I don't think his, you know, his age is necessarily an issue, but it's a different time that he's operating in here. So we'll see if he brings it tonight or not.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I saw some talking points that have been circulated to Biden supporters and one of the points that's made is he's more than a slogan on a t-shirt. So they're already trying to sort of pre-game -- in the pre-game spin and probably the post-game spin and all the spin, they're already trying to cast the former vice president, you know, as the people going after him as just looking for their viral moment where he's building something enduring.

KING: And in the first debate, Harris made an issue of racial issues, forced busing, criminal justice reform. Cory Booker has signaled I saw that it worked, I want some of that. So they're going to be on both sides of the former vice president tonight. We'll see if those (INAUDIBLE).

He wants to make this more about healthcare. And Harris has just come out and answered a question that she's had a hard time answering. She has her version now of Medicare for All in which she would allow some private insurance to stay in these Medicare advantage plans, but like Sanders and Warren, would take away, eliminate employer-provided health insurance.

Now, here is what Biden hopes to do, and the Kaiser Family Foundation has a poll out this week about this. Replace the Affordable Care Act, 39 percent, build on the Affordable Care Act, 55 percent. Those are among Democratic voters.

So Biden wants to make the case, Tim Ryan tried this a little bit last night that not only do I think this is wrong but our voters don't want this. Why are we going to ram this down their throats? Can he make it in a passionate way?

And I think he has Kamala Harris in a protagonist on that argument that I think he's going to try and make as forcefully as he can, you know.

[12:35:07] MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And I think they recognized that the fallout from the last debate in raising questions about, you know, how aggressive he can be and, you know, how up for prime time he really is on a debate stage.

You raised Tim Pawlenty earlier, and one question for tonight is Cory Booker. Cory Booker has forecasted this line of attack on Joe Biden and his crime record and can he deliver that? Can he live up to that? And Cory Booker is often, you know, sort of rosy Kumbaya as a candidate. So, on a stage, looking at Joe Biden, can he deliver that kind of attack like Kamala Harris did in the last debate?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And I think that a big topic tonight that we saw a little bit of last night but not that much is that, this is the most diverse stage in presidential history. Not only is it Booker and Harris but it's Castro the only Latino, and Asian and a Pacific islander in Gabbard. And they are surrounding Biden, and one of the big topics right now amongst the Democrat -- within the Democrat debate is how they talk about racial identity. How they're going to confront Trump and his racist attacks on lawmakers of color. And I think that either in Booker's attacks on Biden or Castro going after Biden's past on immigration and deportations under the Obama administration, that could be a bigger topic tonight.

LERER: Castro, too, has put criminal justice central to his campaign. Gillibrand is already -- not very unsubtly forecasting that she could go after him on some issues surrounding, you know, maternal health and gender things like that.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What makes Joe Biden different than the moderates that we saw the night before is that support from minority voters, right? And so he is coming into this with a bevy of goodwill that I'm sure he is going to lean on. We know how he invokes Barack Obama's name at almost every turn. He will try to do that.

I think a big question for me is, will this -- will tonight be focused on the past of re-litigating previous record, or will it be about like an affirmative vision looking forward? I think Harris and Booker certainly have forecast it, trying to re-litigate Biden's record of the past. He wants to shift that debate to looking forward because he thinks he has the pe -- he has the pulse of the debate.

KING: And he was not mentioned by name last night. That's what was fascinating. He is the leading candidate. I'm not sure we can call him the frontrunner anymore, and he did stabilized after coming down after the first debate. He's the leading candidate. We'll see if he can make himself, reassure himself, re-affirm.

He was not mentioned by name but listen here to Warren and Buttigieg and are they talking Biden?


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not going to solve the urgent problems that we face with small ideas and spinelessness. We're going to solve them by being the Democratic Party of big, structural change.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care how old you are, I care about your vision. We can have great presidents at any age. What I will say is we need the kind of vision that's going to win. We cannot have a vision that amounts to back to normal. The only reason we've got this president is that normal didn't work.


KING: Biden gets night two, he gets center stage. He gets a chance to rebut that. They won't be there. Will he? ZELENY: I think he'll do it. I mean, again, it depends if he brings his A-game or not, and does it by showing not simply talking about it. I asked Senator Warren after if she was talking about Joe Biden. Oh, no, we're not -- I'm not going to put down any Democrat. Of course, she was.

The question is some voters, though, you know, they know Joe Biden better and they feel comfortable with him.

KING: Comfortable is the question -- the comfortable word comes up a lot, the question is, can he make them lock-in, not just be comfortable but actually be for it.

Hang on this point, we'll come back in a minute.

Up next, the fight for survival in the Democratic race continues right behind us in the Fox Theater tonight. Who's likely to get a breakthrough and who just might have to go home?


[12:43:17] KING: Round two debate tonight, another fight for survival for a number of the Democratic candidates. Seven of the 10 who will be on stage tonight have not qualified yet for the next debate. That means Senators Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, for HUD Secretary Julian Castro, businessman Andrew Yang, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Governor Jay Inslee, and Mayor Bill de Blasio all need a boost in fundraising or polling from their performance tonight. Andrew Yang is the closest, he needs just one more poll at two percent or higher.

Let's quickly just go through some of these candidates. In a crowded field, it is hard. And some of these candidates (INAUDIBLE) if you look at and you said these are credible presidential candidates. It will be interesting to hear their voices but they haven't been able to break through. On one end will be Senator Bennet for example.

VISER: I'm interested in how Senator Bennet does. In that first debate, he really went after Joe Biden and his willingness to deal with Mitch McConnell. He brought up some of the fiscal cliff deals that Joe Biden was responsible for cutting. Joe Biden has talked about wanting the focus to be on his eight years as vice president, and Michael Bennet is fine with that. So I think tonight he has a chance to re-litigate some of that in a pretty impassioned way that he can do.

KING: Senator Gillibrand got into the race thinking her prominence in the Me Too debate would help her Democratic primaries dominated by women. She's had a struggle though.

LERER: And she struggled with how much she wants to sort of run as this feminist warrior candidate. She's sort of gone a little bit back and forth on it. But, you know, Iowa over the past weekend, she was really telegraphing that she would go there. She was saying things like some of the candidates don't believe women should work outside the home. I'm not telling who, you know. So I'm interested to see if she brings those kinds of attacks, who they're aimed at. I suspect Biden will come under fire, and whether they get any traction for her.

KING: She said that in the active voice, as in still today.

[12:45:02] It will be interesting to see if she's willing to name names.

Julian Castro got a pretty good bounce out of the first debate. Got a good buzz out of the first debate. The question is will he get a bounce in the polls that sustains him?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. And his campaign thinks that he's on good track to make the third debate. But, again, I think that he is going to try to zone in on Biden, even potentially Harris or Booker because I think Castro sees himself as having a bit more of -- less of history or record on criminal justice reform that they can attack him back on. And so I think that he will go after them and try to make a moment for himself. The question is whether or not he has the time to.

KING: Mayor de Blasio trying to break through. He says I'm the candidate for the working man. Again, he's had a struggle.

HERNDON: He has but one thing he does benefit from is the willingness to get in the mix. And so, even though he's on the far end of that stage like we saw in the first debate, he will have the kind of moxie to jump in the front. We know that's not a problem for him. And I expect him to target Vice President Biden because he believes he has that kind of progressive mantle that he thinks the vice president lacks.

KING: But Yang is close. He's been an interesting candidate. Gabbard, trying to be the anti-war but different Democrat, hasn't found traction.

ZELENY: Hasn't found traction. She'll try to focus on foreign policy. Andrew Yang has a following out there. We see them follow him. But I think one person we're not talking about, Eric Swalwell, of course, has already left us. And he tried to go after Joe Biden at the first debate and fell flat.

So I think that is a warning sign to the Kirsten Gillibrands of the world. Congressman Swalwell wants to keep his day job, and it's a big balance for her and Senator Bennet. How much do they want to go after someone who could be the nominee versus, you know, sort of keeping things somewhat civil? Because voters do not want you to see you go after the frontrunner just to try and build yourself up.

KING: You are trying to win in the present but you too sometimes think about your future as well.

When we come back, Marianne Williamson has a breakthrough night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:51:34] KING: Marianne Williamson is surprising the professional politicians. She rolls her eyes at their detailed policy list. She won big applause last night for her take on race and reparations.


MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Emotional turbulence that only reparations will fix.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. Senator Sanders?


KING: Google says she was the most-searched of the 10 candidates during the debate in 49 of the 50 states, all but Montana, where the governor who was on stage, Steve Bullock was tops. The self-help author and the spiritual adviser, well, she's different.


WILLIAMSON: But for politicians, including my fellow candidates, who themselves have taken tens of thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same corporate donors, to think that they now have the moral authority to say we're going to take them on, I don't think the Democratic Party should be surprised that so many Americans believe yada, yada, yada.

I live in Grosse Pointe. What happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark, psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I'm afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.


KING: So, she's interesting, she's different, she's compelling. For those who think she's just along for the ride, she was on with us in the post-game last night, she came over to me after and she said, speaking of another candidate, what he doesn't understand is there are more yoga girls than coal miners. So she's doing some voter math. We'll see if she's right and if yoga girls replace soccer moms.

LERER: Look, she's someone who I think breaks through in part because she does speak so differently in a way that is can veer into the perhaps little bit kooky but you can understand, you know, it's very -- she can be very plain-spoken in her way. She -- might favorite fact about her is that she did Elizabeth Taylor's seventh wedding at Neverland, and if that is not someone who understands something about America I'm not sure who is. And I am being serious about that, you know.

HERNDON: I mean, I think when you look at her answer on race reparations specifically, that kind of freedom that she enjoys as a candidate who does not have to go through the typical political calculus, the somersaults that candidates usually do about race, for her to be clear-eyed is something that I think actually resonates and that's why you see the applause. You'll hear her say kind of really clearly about what she thinks Donald Trump has inspired and why that, not the kind of policy questions that dominated last night's debate, is the kitchen table issue of the moment.

And there's actually a big wing of Democrats who believe that's a true argument that Democrats should be making.

KING: And to your point, you know, look, she may be at one percent or two percent in the polls, whatever she takes is coming from somebody else that may keep them from getting into the next debate. And number two, when she talks different at an issue that's important, that resonates, she forces the other candidates to be a little different. So do not discount the power of different.

One last point, everyone said Donald Trump talk in a way that he could never succeed. I'm not saying Marianne Williamson is going to take off and win the nomination but people are looking for different, they don't trust the politicians.

ZELENY: No question and I bet she'll get more phone calls from some advisers. People sort of advising her on how to do this. That was one difference with Donald Trump. He had some political pros around him and he thought about running several times before.

She's a breath of fresh air in many respects but the reality here is she was a celebrity coming into this. She'll be a celebrity leaving this race and that's probably why she's here.

VISER: And nobody used their time better last night than she did. She didn't have a huge amount of it, but every time she spoke, she said something memorable. And you can't say that for many of those candidates.

[12:55:01] BARRON-LOPEZ: That means that I think she may need to talk to some of her campaign staffers because some of them were going around the spin room last night saying that the main goal for her is to communicate a message of peace and of love and not necessarily win the White House.

KING: Well, she did in the post-game. She was pushed on the question, maybe this isn't going to work out with you being the nominee. And she said she's an Elizabeth/Bernie person if she had to choose in the end but she said first, she said give me a chance. I'm going to fight on. I'm enjoying this.

She was surprised -- she came and she said I don't think I did that well but then the reaction has been pretty good. So, we'll see. Sometimes different sells. We'll see how it goes going forward.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Don't go anywhere for tonight, a big debate here. And right now, Brianna Keilar, she starts after this quick break. Have a great afternoon.