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CNN Hosts Second Round Of Democratic Presidential Debate; Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) On Joe Biden, Past And Present; Joe Biden's Primary Goal Is To Take On Trump; CNN Debates: Last Chance For Some Dems To Break Through; Booker, Biden Likely To Spar Over Policing, Criminal Justice. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 31, 2019 - 17:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: 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.

And we know the fireworks have to be coming because everybody wants what Joe Biden has, which is the lead in the polls. Cory Booker has already said he plans to go after Biden on his role in the '94 crime bill.

Is that good for Booker?

Is that good for the party?

We'll see. Harris will look to repeat her break-out moment from the last debate when she attacked Biden on busing. The question is, will she take fire as well? There are seven other candidates. For some of them, this is likely the last chance to get the traction they need to stay in the race.

So let's begin our coverage. We have political experts standing by tonight par excellence.

But first let's go to CNN Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly inside of the debate hall.

How do you see it?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the doors are about to swing open for the audience and the candidates have finished walk-throughs and retiring back for the last-minute session with advisers.

And everybody is aware of the dynamic. If last night was the progressives versus the moderates, tonight is Joe Biden versus everyone else. And sitting to his right and left will be Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, two senators who have made clear they have sharp attacks, they're willing to wield those attacks and they will likely be coming fast and furious tonight.

But Biden and his advisers have made clear after that unsettling debate performance in Miami, he is going to take a different tack and tone tonight, including punching back. And when you talk about punching back, keep a close eye on the issue of health care. It was repeatedly talked about last night, a significant difference of opinion on things. That will carry over to tonight.

Joe Biden's position on health care differs from Kamala Harris', kind of a Medicare for All lite on Harris. And she released the details of the plans this week. Biden with more of a public option. And both sides, both camps have been going back and forth about the details of the plans and who they think has the better issue.

That is something we're going to see play out again tonight and, Chris, you mentioned an important point here, half of the field is into the September debates with the higher thresholds for qualifications. That means five are not and are in danger of missing out and this being the last major moment on stage.

Those individuals, think people like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, this is their last shot to make a moment, to create a moment and to have the attacks of their own. Everybody is searching for that tonight. Plenty of fights at the upper tier but all across the stage as well, something to pay close attention to as the night moves on, guys.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Phil Mattingly. We'll get back to you.

Let's bring in our political correspondents and analysts.

Arlette Saenz, you've been covering Joe Biden on the campaign trial for quite a while.

What should we expect from the Democratic front-runner?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think Joe Biden wants to come out with a forceful and commanding performance reflective of his status of a front-runner. His campaign has spent days preparing with sessions with a smaller group of advisers who could focus and drill in on certain areas.

But you see the former vice president telegraphing that he is taking a more aggressive stance and one thing that his advisers have said is they feel in the last debate and since then there have been mischaracterizations of his record.

And he is going to be ready to push back. That could also include some areas where he wants to highlight other people's records. They say that the only person he's proactively going against or bringing up is President Trump.

But he's going to be ready to defend his own record.

The question is, is he going to be able to deliver on the promises of a more aggressive forceful tactic going forward tonight?

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the campaign has been trying to have it both ways in some respects. Today they say it is not a make-or-break moment for the former vice president.

But for the last week, as Arlette knows, the campaign advisers have been saying the attacks he's going to bring. So if the former vice president does not come on stage and really deliver those attacks and if he has the same performance as Miami, he'll have a very different moment in this race.

He is the leader in the race. But the question is, is he a placeholder or is he a true front-runner?

He can determine that tonight. He can show that he's a front-runner if he comes out and takes command of the stage, which he didn't do in Miami. A friend of his told me that the Miami debate performance was the best thing that could have happened for him because he is focusing on this.

If that is true and he has a strong performance, that will be good for him. But I think it will be a different dynamic. I do not believe that the attacks will be the same. Senator Harris is likely to allow other people to go after Joe Biden, like Bill de Blasio and Michael Bennet and others. And she'll focus on trying to elevate herself.

So totally different dynamic but the burden for him is very high.

BLITZER: Because he's standing on that stage, Kyung, right between Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.


BLITZER: They leveled -- they went after him big time on race-related issues.

Do you think they'll continue to do that?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you listen to Cory Booker, absolutely. And the visuals are going to be right there. What you'll see is Joe Biden, an older white man, sandwiched between two people of color.

If last night was the battle between the moderates and the liberals, tonight is the battle between what is the Democratic Party and the base of the Democratic Party, more diverse, women. We'll see a much more diverse stage. We'll see people of color on the stage.

Half of that field, people of color tonight. And so there is going to be that argument that is Joe Biden able to speak to that?

Kamala Harris has throughout her campaign, since she launched, leaned into women, black women, people of color, her path to the nomination. But Joe Biden still maintains a strong hold on black voters. It is something that he has been able to speak persuasively to.

BLITZER: He certainly, Michael Smerconish, feels so much more comfortable attacking President Trump than the other Democrats.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: For a reason. By the way, I'm surprised President Trump's name was not invoked more last night by the candidates. I think that changes tonight and I think it will be Joe Biden who does it. And what I anticipate he will constantly be on the defensive against these other candidates but that he'll quickly pivot and reference President Trump.


Because he wants to transcend this, he wants to be seen not as the opponent of Cory Booker or Kamala Harris or anybody else on that stage, he wants to reinforce the idea that he's the one. He's the front-runner. He will be the opponent of Donald Trump. That is what has worked well for him thus far.

The reason he's leading in the polls is because of the perception of him as a winner and he wants to perpetuate that.

BLITZER: And not just he's a winner, he was the vice President of the United States for eight years under President Obama.

SMERCONISH: No doubt, I think he'll continue to make that reference. There is a little sensitivity in how to deal with some of these race questions if, in fact, the incoming is coming from two people of color, meaning Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. So I think he needs to be very careful in terms of how he defends his record in that regard.

BLITZER: It is such a sensitive issue going after him and his retaliating because the fear is that it helps Trump.

Zelensky Sure. One person who is watching this among perhaps more than others is the 21st candidate in this race and that is Donald J. Trump. He's running against one of these people and no doubt talking to Republicans today, they were thrilled by a lot of what they saw last evening, about Democrats taking on Democrats.

It will be tenfold tonight, watching all of it play out. But Michael is absolutely right. Joe Biden is making this race about the long view. Look at November 2020 and beyond all this. But for Joe Biden that was maybe a bit of a mistake for a few months because he has to win this and show he's a candidate of the moment.

And, yes, he can talk about Barack Obama, which he will ad nauseam but he also has to show that he is a candidate who has the energy and the ideas here to push through.

But Kyung also makes a very good point, black voters are still with Joe Biden. And attacking Joe Biden is a very sensitive subject. The blowback for Cory Booker could be severe if people view him attacking Joe Biden just to attack him.

BLITZER: Kyung, some of the candidates, for them it is make or break. They need to do something to get on track, like former HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

LAH: Yes. What I am fully expecting from him is to make a persuasive argument because who could speak authentically to the idea of racism when it comes to the Latino vote and immigration? He made that argument persuasively in the first round of debates. But

Beto O'Rourke isn't on the stage.

So how now will he step into the next argument to stand out?

BLITZER: Will that work, the decriminalization of people illegally crossing into the United States?

SMERCONISH: Not in a general election, no. This is the recurring theme of this entire process. That which plays best perhaps in a hall like this tonight is not necessarily that which is going to help elect a candidate in a general election. We've seen that time and again.

And I think that is the underlying conflict. Last night was all about this ideological struggle within the Democratic Party and tonight is about leadership role, who is the front-runner when we leave Detroit?

BLITZER: How tough will the former vice president be on Medicare for All?

SAENZ: I think that is going to be the key policy to see him make a point on. You've seen him sharpen his attacks on Kamala Harris and her positions on health care and his advisers say that health care is the one issue that he is really going to drill into.

He has experience as the former vice president. He was there when the Affordable Care Act became law and went through that entire fight to get it signed into law. And he also talks about health care in a very personal way. Mentioning both the car accident that killed his wife and daughter and injured his sons as well as Beau Biden's battle with cancer.

So this is something he sees a very stark policy contrast between himself and the other candidates but also it is a very personal tone as well.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There is more we're following.

Up next, who among the 10 candidates on stage tonight will stand out --


BLITZER: -- in the debate?

We'll be right back.




CUOMO: So here is the reality of this CNN Democratic debate tonight. Everybody is equal on stage, right?


CUOMO: Except that they're not. Because you have polls and you have a front-runner. And he's got a target on his back and now you have people who are consistently at the top of the polls and they're going to have targets on their back. So let's start at the top.

With Joe Biden the former V.P., what does this mean for him tonight?

What did he learn last night and what should he do and absolutely not do?

That is where the experts come in. Joe Lockhart, Bakari Sellers, Karen Finney, Alexandra Rojas and Mitch Landrieu.

Great to have all of you.

So Mr. Mayor, you saw what happened last night.


CUOMO: He's still smarting from what happened the first time.

LANDRIEU: I hope he healed a little bit already.

CUOMO: So you have to heal but you have to learn.

LANDRIEU: Good question.

CUOMO: So if you're giving him advice about who to be tonight, what is it?

LANDRIEU: Couple things. First of all, always be yourself and be authentic and the public respects that and understands that.

Secondly, it is a great opportunity for him. He took a licking last time. I think he knows that and it's a great opportunity for him to show up and demonstrate what his strengths are, which is stability, experience and an ability to cast from last night a vision that marries together a broader vision with some practicality about actually not just what to do but how to get it done.

And I think if he does those three things, he'll be in better shape and because everybody is coming after him and how he responds to that will tell people a lot about whether or not he has the strength and the capacity and the endurance to be a president.

CUOMO: What do you want to hear, Rojas?

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JUSTICE DEMOCRATS: Well, I think Joe Biden is going to be defending the corporate centrist frame and you won't see a whole lot of progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on stage.

So I think Biden is going to have to make the case as to why he actually has a governing vision. I think what we saw last night that was really contrasted is that you have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are clear on where they stand, who their base is, what it is going to take, which I think is going up against the sort of corporate friendly establishment that exists.

And Joe Biden largely represents a lot of that. So I think if he's going to -- he's got the most to lose tonight out of everyone on stage.

CUOMO: So Karen, something that we've talked about in the last election: connection. You guys are supposed to be very good at connection. I was surprised last night how much energy was spent on the how -- and not that I don't believe in practicality but I don't think it wins an election because I don't think you know if you are going to tax the middle class. I don't think you know the mechanism or the runway of how you're going to get to what you have now to what you're promising to get. But connecting with the people, Williamson kind of stole that last night.


CUOMO: So tonight what does that mean?

FINNEY: Well, I completely agree with you and particularly the point where she talked about, we have -- people have to feel like we have their backs or they're not going to turn out.

I did a focus group with a group of black women who said, look, we want to know whoever the nominee is has our backs because we won't be taken for granted again.

So same thing tonight. Joe Biden, his team has really raised the stakes. They've been saying a lot in the paper how ready he is. It makes me a little nervous for him. But I think he's got a great story to tell right here in Detroit if you want to connect.

This is a town that is coming back. This is a place where the stimulus worked. He was the guy who was leading that charge. So tell that story. Talk about how you have a vision to revitalize this country and bring the country back together.

I hope that Kamala will also do that. She's been doing it more and telling more of her personal story. And for women, there is always the challenge between having to be tough and firm and be clear and be strong and yet be compassionate. So I hope she is able to manage that balance. It will be something I'll be looking for tonight.

CUOMO: Bakari, when you're here, people come up to talk to you about things and they are coming up as locals here, saying it is hard. It's hard. You have to connect with that, too.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is hard out here. And I think it is hard in particular. Andrew Gillum and I went to a Black Voters Matter rally about two miles away at the Wright Museum in the city yesterday. And those are people sometimes we talk around, sometimes we talk above and we don't listen to.

And they were talking about issues that were not just criminal justice reform that people try to pigeonhole black folk in but talking about economic opportunity, educational issues, et cetera.

And one of the differences tonight is I will push back on Alexandra just a little bit, Bernie Sanders in 2016 had the very same problem that Bernie Sanders today has, which is dealing with issues of race. Tonight, however, the diversity on stage is going to make that a robust discussion.

Of course we'll have the health care discussions but you have Julian Castro, you have Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard and then both Cory and Kamala somewhat straddling or shadowing the vice president to the first black President of the United States of America.

And those issues will come out. And you're going to have to speak to voters of color in a way that moves them. I tell everyone that I have endorsed Kamala Harris. I will also say that two people who are very talented at doing that is Duval Patrick and the other is Mayor Landrieu, who did that in New Orleans, who had the ability to move voters of color in ways that some do not.

So I don't care if you're black, white or other, I do expect Senator Harris --


SELLERS: -- to do that tonight and that is an advantage for Joe Biden because he's proved he could do it again.

CUOMO: So for Joe, feel your pain. OK. The idea of health care -- health care is a metaphor issue because after the mortgage it is the biggest big for people. It's a personal security issue and taking care of your families and it is the why, not the how.

I have to believe that the voters across this country are not hung up with the timing of the runway, it is about existential concern and knowing that you get that as a candidate. We have to see that tonight from Biden on down.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we especially have to see it from Biden because it is a -- it is his entry issue tonight, to get to come back at Sanders and Warren and Harris.

The idea of abolishing private insurance is a deeply unpopular position based on the polls. It may be great policy but it's deeply unpopular and whatever your timeframe is, people don't care. No one has given a great explanation about why you want to take that away.

So Biden has to do is talk about why you want to protect that and what it means but then he's got to pivot quickly to -- the enemy is not on the stage here. The enemy is in the White House and it is the Republicans, the Republicans are the ones who want to take away your pre-existing conditions.

They are the ones who want to strip away health care. So I think Biden has to sort of dismiss -- and it was interesting that the unpopular position was defended way more effectively last night by Sanders and Warren than the people who oppose her. They were just ineffective in making their case. I think the burden's

on Biden tonight to make that case but then quickly go to we are not enemies up here. We have different approaches The enemies are sitting in Congress right now and the White House.

CUOMO: All right, so the consensus is that you can't have Hidin' Biden. You got have to have Joltin' Joe. So the front-runner is certainly Joe Biden going into the debate.

What will his strategy be?

You heard the experts. We'll ask somebody who would know one of the former V.P.'s closest friends. Stay with us.





BLITZER: We're back here at the beautiful and historic Fox Theater here in Detroit. People are beginning to come in through the lobby. They'll be going into this beautiful, beautiful theater. We're counting down to tonight's second CNN Democratic presidential debate.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator and Biden supporter, Chris Coons of Delaware.

Thank you for coming in.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Great to be with you.

BLITZER: You're smiling. You spent time with the former vice president today. Is he ready?

Because he did have an uneven performance in Miami at the first debate.

Absolutely. Joe is excited to be in Detroit. This is Motor City ,a city he cares about deeply and he has a strong connection to.

As we were talking about, one of the things Joe did as vice president was fight really hard to save America's automobile industry. The revival, the revitalization here in Detroit is in no small part a result of that and I think he comes to tonight's stage a little wiser after the Miami debate.

Now I think he was surprised --


BLITZER: You say a little wiser, is he ready to respond in kind if some of the other Democratic presidential candidates really level attacks against him? COONS: Absolutely. Joe is not going to let people mischaracterize or twist or misconstrue his record for a T-shirt moment or a brief bump in the polls and if you look at who is on the stage, there are a couple of folks swinging for the fences, trying to make their viral moment.

But Joe is someone who wasn't looking for a debate where Democrats tear each other down. His message, from the time he got into this race, was we need to focus on our common shared goals: replacing Donald Trump as president, protecting and expanding health care and dealing with the opioid crisis, making our society more just and more secure and restoring our place on the world stage.

He can do all of those and he's got very strong plans for accomplishing that.

BLITZER: As you know, he's standing between two of your Democratic colleagues.

COONS: I have four Senate colleagues.

BLITZER: But he's standing between Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. And they made a big issue of going after him on various race related issues.

Do you anticipate that will continue and how will he respond?

COONS: I hope not. I hope we won't see the same sorts of mischaracterization of his record that we've seen in the past. But if that happens, I know he's ready for it.

Look, I think the broader reality here is, instead of spending time on this stage picking through things that might have been said or done by one candidate or another 10 or 20 or even 30 years ago, why aren't we focused on what President Trump said and did yesterday, the ways in which today President Trump is dividing our country along racial lines and is no longer using dog whistles, he is shouting.

His priorities for 2020 are going to be to divide our country.

BLITZER: So you think the former vice president will really be going after President Trump more than the other Democratic candidates tonight?

Will that be a theme of his?

COONS: It should be. And I believe it will be. Wolf, the polls from last week showed that Joe Biden is the Democrat who can beat Donald Trump. He is the only Democratic candidate currently beating Donald Trump in Ohio. And he has by far and away the largest lead against Trump in all of the key states, states we lost last time and the states that are critical early primary states.

BLITZER: Some of the candidates tonight on the stage, it is do or die for them.

COONS: It is.

BLITZER: This may me -- may be the last time on the stage and I've spoken to the campaigns and if they go after the former vice president and some of the issues of civil rights may be an issue and the 1994 crime bill and his support for the war in Iraq in 2003 and his handling of the Clarence Thomas hearing.

[17:30:00] Is he ready to deal with all those criticisms?

COONS: Wolf, he's ready to take a barrage of attacks and criticism. He understands what's at stake in this debate tonight. I've never seen jokes so focused on the challenge that's in front of us.

The damage that Donald Trump will do to our country, to our place in the world, to our culture, to how we see each other, to whether or not our politics are functional if he's got four more years and is unrestrained by any concerns about re-election, I think he is humbled by the opportunity, optimistic about his chances and will come out ready to go tonight.

BLITZER: Is he going to explain why he opposes Medicare for All because several of the Democratic presidential candidates and we heard it last night from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, they support Medicare for All.

COONS: Well, we won back control of the House in 2018 by defending the Affordable Care Act by defending its most important provision which protects 130 million Americans from pre-existing condition discrimination. Joe Biden's plan is to build on that, to build on that solid foundation and to make access to quality affordable healthcare for all Americans a reality at 130th the cost of Medicare for All.

I think you saw a vigorous debate here last night about whether or not it is good policy and good politics to argue that we're going to impose a middle class tax increase and take away private insurance from tens of millions of Americans, I think it isn't.

I think Joe has a solid, positive and progressive plan that would achieve a century old dream in the United States which is securing access to quality healthcare for all Americans.

BLITZER: I know that the former Vice President has invited you and your son to be as personal guests tonight. You'll be sitting down front near the stage. We'll speak afterwards. Thanks very much.

COONS: Thanks Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, very important. Wolf, I'll tell you what, you got us so excited in your conversation that we've been arguing over things at every question and answer that was made with Senator Chris Coons. So thank you for the fuel. Joe Lockhart, Bakari Sellers, Karan Finney, Alexander Rojas and Mitch Landrieu, let's give him a little bit of welcome. What we're talking about here is what Joe Biden is going to be ready for and not and what's coming his way and Bakari and I were talking about the difference between with Bernie Sanders with I wrote the damn bill which he said to Tim Ryan.

You know what the best return of that was Klobuchar. She's like yes, you had your name on a lot of bills, you had one that had it as an option that you don't want to own right now. But what happened in the last debate, Kamala Harris, 100 percent authentic. You know, she lived her life and has a mark on her today in terms of what motivates her existence.

He didn't see that somebody coming at him that way. He has to tonight.

SELLERS: But listen, I - I, this is where I fret because you have to be prepared to defend your record. Joe Biden is best in dealing with the last eight years. That is best but he has a 40 year record that he has to be prepared to deal with. The reason being is because and I know people say, I don't want to talk about 94.

I don't want to talk about 84 and 86 but I'm just saying that actually came from them today and their Press team but my point is that you have to talk about that because there was a generation of black men that were taken off of the street in places like Detroit.

That were taken off of the street because of your mandatory minimums in 84 and 86, because of your 94 crime bill and yes, Kamala Harris is going to have to deal with those issues that she had as district attorney and Attorney General but to say we shouldn't talk about those things, I just think is a false narrative.

FINNEY: But I don't think anyone is saying we shouldn't talk about them. I think what I'm saying certainly is but now what are you going to do.

SELLERS: Oh, I agree with that.

FINNEY: You know, like the night before - trust me, we talked about a lot point to think. I got the scars to prove it. I want to know particularly in this moment you know, Chris, this goes to something we were talking about in the break. We are - I mean, let's just take a step back and remember this moments.

We have this racist misogynist President, he is hurting people there's people there is doing damage a lot of people in this country who are not benefiting from those tax breaks. There are a lot of people this country who can't afford their health care, there are a lot of people in this country can't afford child care, I mean they're struggling and we don't have a President who sees those problems, who's talking about those problems.

And the one thing that Joe Biden, I will say initially did when he entered the race is he offered a little bit of calm. It's so phonetic having Donald Trump President, right? We live by tweets and are we going to go to war with North Korea or we're not? What I want to see tonight on the stage is somebody who I think can

emerge as a Commander-in-Chief who will get it done, who will get on a stage with Donald Trump and I don't think we know yet what beating Donald Trump is actually going to look like. It's not going to be the same as 2016.

LANDRIEU: And is willing to use the power of the presidency to help the people who need to know that they have their backs so Bakari was talking a little bit before about the African-American community. He just doesn't want to be - Criminal justice reform is important to them. Guess what, so is housing, so is healthcare, so is the roads and the streets and the sewer systems that they run on and the one -

CUOMO: And so a practical solutions. They're not - You know their community doesn't necessarily resonate as the most progressive.

LANDRIEU: So it speaks to the issue of Baltimore and Detroit and by the way New Orleans.

[17:35:00] A city that we rebuilt after it was destroyed by Katrina. The only way that we could have rebuilt the city is with the help of a President who cared. President Obama's team was pressing in on the ground making sure that the federal, state and local governments were doing what was necessary to give the people of New Orleans - which by the way is a 65 percent African-American city, the tools that they need.

So I just think the President, the candidates tonight need to speak to how they going to meet people where they live. And I think that that will resonate across race, that it will resonate across class.

CUOMO: Joe and Alexandra, both quickly weigh in. Give me a finesse point on it.

LOCKHART: I think Joe Biden's got to do something he's not good at which is to recognize that not everything he did was right.

But when you have a 40 year career and you are a leader, when you are something - you've been in every fight, you've been in civil rights, you've been in housing, you've done all of these things but you know what part of leadership is making mistakes. And that is an acknowledging that opens him up to talk about the future.

Biden is for whatever reason reluctant to do that. I think if he does that tonight when someone comes after him on 1994 crime bill. He can say, you know we got a lot of things right but we got that wrong but that's part of being a leader and that distinguishes himself from a lot of the other people in the field who are younger and haven't been around as long. I

ROJAS: No, I would agree. I think that up until this point he's been really resistant to you know, acknowledging that he's hurt a lot of people with his policies and as a leader, right? You have - when someone has been in public life for over 40 years, you have to address that record but you also have to chart a vision for the future. And I think what we saw last night on stage with the sort of more centrist moderate wing was a lot of no we can't, right? And so I think that Joe Biden needs to embrace sort of you know the President that he was Vice President of and talk about yes, we can.

And right now he's sort of aligning himself with the more corporate friendly party and then especially in places like Detroit, right? We have to go against bad trade deals. We have to go up against Wall Street and sort of the power structures that have been halting progress in places like here for so long.

So if we want to win in places like the Midwest, I think you do have to go big because that's the only type of solutions that are going to radically lift people up out of the -

CUOMO: And you also have to make sure that as President Obama said you don't turn into a circular firing squad where you kill off all your best people with the street issues and you wind up with your weakest candidate against one of the most fearsome politicians.

ROJAS: I think Joe Biden should take a note of that as well because he's you know, releasing a lot of press right now that's going after fellow Democrats.

CUOMO: Well, that's true because that's all these dynamics.

ROJAS: That's exactly part of the base.

SELLERS: I've run for office, you've run for - And you've worked at the highest level and you had to deal with it in 2016. This is politics and I will also tell you what Barack Obama said -

ROJAS: We're going up against Donald Trump.

SELLERS: Barack Obama also said that the 2008 primary made him a better candidate.

CUOMO: I got to go. I got to go. Coming up, Cory Booker's strategy heading into tonight's debate. It's different than my show. I got to listen when these guys are yelling at me. We'll talk more about that. We have Cory Booker's campaign manager, coming up.


[17:40:00] CUOMO: Senator Cory Booker has to get after it tonight. He has to make a difference that elevates him in a positive way. How? Glad you asked. The campaign manager for Cory Booker is Addisu Demissie and he joins me now.


CUOMO: Good to have you.

DEMISSIE: Good to be here.

CUOMO: Good luck tonight. DEMISSIE: Thank you.

CUOMO: Certainly we need to have the best kind of conversation to figure out how to get this country to a better place. Too much division, too much toxicity. Your guy talks about all the time. So tell me everything. What's the deal tonight?

DEMISSIE: You're going to hear a lot of that. Look, Cory is here to be himself ultimately and let the voters of America know what he's about. Why he's running for President? Why he's the best candidate to beat Donald Trump? And frankly you know, it's not - it's about more than Donald Trump - Cory talks about this a lot.

We're going to have to clean up a lot of mess when he's gone and I think Cory is not only the best candidate to take him on that's he's the best candidate to ultimately fix what's broken and what he's going to leave in his wake.

CUOMO: All right, so let's do a little plus minus on tactics.

DEMISSIE: Sure, let's go.

CUOMO: I get why he wants to talk to the former VP about his past in the crime bill and different policies but every moment that he's going at Biden, while it might benefit him within the field, might because we saw some weird poll rebounds after that the Harris debate you know, with Biden.

It's a moment not talking about the person who he really blames for racial disparity and toxicity right now which is the President of the United States. How do you balance it?

DEMISSIE: Yes, look, first, it's fair to compare records and that's what this campaign is all about. I heard Bakari talking about that before I came on but as much as the Biden campaign might want it - we do not - this debate is not about Joe Biden. It's about the 10 people on the stage and who's going to be the best candidate to represent the Democratic Party and to be the President.

CUOMO: So you mean that Cory Booker, the senator from New Jersey is not going to come at Joe Biden.

DEMISSIE: I think that's not why we're here. Let's put it that way, we'll see what the questions are and he's certainly not afraid to speak truth to power and defend his record and also a draw contrasts where necessary but that's not the purpose.

The purpose - this debate is not about Joe Biden. It's about the American people and what they're looking for in their next President and Cory is definitely not coming to this debate seeking to take on Joe Biden or anybody else. He's seeking to put his message before the American people and let them see the best of who he is.

CUOMO: What's your take on why after the last debate, Harris certainly got a pump. But then it went away. And Biden lost some ground but then he got it back and then some more and I will give the - I will submit this to the argument.

[17:45:00] I do not think Joe Biden has been spending his time since all this debate making moments that have gone viral and have led to his rise. What's going on?

DEMISSIE: It is - it July 31 of 2019.

CUOMO: That is accurate.

DEMISSIE: It's my anniversary too. Happy Anniversary to my wife.

CUOMO: Congratulations.

DEMISSIE: But it is you know we still have 7-8 months until anybody starts voting and the polls are going to go up and down. They're going to go up and down after this debate over the course of the summer, over the course of the fall. What Cory Booker and our campaign is focused on its February, March and beyond of 2020 and how we actually make the case to voters when they cast their ballots that he's going to be the best candidate.

And so the polls are going to do what the polls are going to do, that's not what this campaign - our campaign is focused on. What we're focused on is telling the story of who Cory Booker is and why he wants to be President.

CUOMO: I respect - I respect the analogy but here is your problem. Your problem is, they're not going up and down. You are stuck in a tier. How do you get out of the tier and start resonating in a way where you're part of that main conversation of at least 5-6.

DEMISSIE: I'd say a couple of things. One, if you if you talked to bill Clinton's campaign in July of 20 - of 1991. If you talk to Jimmy Carter's campaign in July of 1975, you'd be asking the same questions. They became President. But we're doing the things you need to do to build on the ground what we say as brick by brick.

What we're trying to do is build an organization particularly in the early four states that is going to ultimately deliver a victory on Caucus Day in Iowa on February 3 on Primary day, in New Hampshire on February 11, that's how you win this. You build an organization and ultimately you organize and get hot at the end.

That's exactly what we're doing. I think that's the right way, it's been proven over the course of many, many presidential campaign cycles that you don't want to peak in the summer of 2019. You want to peak in the winter and spring of the election year.

CUOMO: True, true. You certainly got upside in front of you.

DEMISSIE: Amen to that.

CUOMO: So that's that look, that's the benefit of low polls, right? Is that you've got growth in front of you, if you do the right things. Addisu, pleasure.

DEMISSIE: Chris, good to be here.

CUOMO: Most importantly, congratulations to your wife celebrating anniversary marriage. That deserves a lot more.

DEMISSIE: It does, it does. I took the opportunity. Hope I got some brownie points for it.

CUOMO: It's the smartest thing you said on this stage. Good luck tonight. All the best to you and Senator Booker.

DEMISSIE: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, appreciate it. All right, we're going to take a break. Coming up, progressives versus moderates, do you really get that flavor in the panels that we've had? They are not on the same page, that's okay. What is each looking for tonight and what will bring them together?



[17:50:00] BLITZER: We're live in Detroit with our correspondents and our analysts. Little bit more than two hours away from the start of this important debate tonight. Michael Smerconish, what are you looking for?

SMERCONISH: If you're on that stage, who do you focus your attention on? If you're center stage, I think you go after the front runner Biden. If you're on the fringe, you do that to your parallel because it might be perceived as a long ball and a cheap shot and there will be a tomorrow for those candidates.

BLITZER: What do you think?

LAH: Can Harris play defense as well as she can play offense. We saw her play offense last time. She's got to defend her position on something that is confusing to most of the people at home, Medicare for All, where she stands. Can she do it? Play defense while she looks like -

BLITZER: But Biden is going to go after her.

LAH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: She's going to have to defend herself. What do you think?

SAENZ: I mean for me, it's can Joe Biden deliver? He's been talking about these attacks - sharpening his attacks against Kamala Harris for weeks. His campaign has been saying he's going to be more aggressive in his push back, can he convince voters like he's not going to have another rocky shaky debate performance going forward.

Also Julian Castro. He stood out in that first debate against Beto O'Rourke. Can he potentially create another moment into the mix and have something to watch. BLITZER: Has he been rehearsing a lot? Biden?

SAENZ: Biden has been leading with his advisers. He has had a few mock debates but you have seen Biden over the course of the past two weeks going after Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. You know, last week we were here in Detroit and he use that fantasy world line against Kamala Harris.

So you've seen, he's been working on what he's going to say. We'll see how it turns out.

BLITZER: What are you looking for Jeff?

ZELENY: I think the person sitting on the other side of Joe Biden, Cory Booker, the Senator from New Jersey has been also telegraphing his line of attack with the former Vice President but the dynamic between Cory Booker and Joe Biden, I think will be fascinating and it will go both ways.

The former Vice President's aides at least have been telegraphing that they are going to bring up his record as the mayor of the new work. So I'm not sure that voters are that interested in Cory Booker's old record as Mayor but it will be relevant if he talks about Joe Biden's role in the Crime bill.

But I think Cory Booker overall as had a disappointing several months of this year. Is this a night where he can re-introduced himself and show that he is the man for the moment as well. So that's certainly one thing. Michael Bennett, the Senator from Colorado, could be his last debate.

He has been making also strong arguments against Joe Biden and his long service in Washington so I'll be looking at him on the far end of the stage as well to see what he brings and all these Andrew Yang may have some interesting lines as well.

BLITZER: And Bill de Blasio, Kirsten Gillibrand, the two New Yorkers they may level some punches.

SMERCONISH: When I heard the rules and I don't think it was invoked last night that you - that you overstep your bounds to your peril because it might cost you in time. I immediately thought of the New Yorkers, Gillibrand and de Blasio. We'll see if that rings them in tonight.

One other thing this is an endurance contest. It's not as warm in here tonight as it was last night but holy smokes Wolf, it was a long night. You better pace yourself.

BLITZER: Going to be hot even if it's not really hot, it's going to be hot on that stage. Guys, stick around. The guests are starting to arrive here at this historic theatre.

[17:55:00] The candidates are getting ready for tonight's debate. There's much more ahead with Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett.