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Testing Biden's Strength; Gabbard Rips on Harris in Debate; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) is Interviewed About Democratic Debate; Senate Passes Budget Deal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 1, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:19] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Joe Biden shows some fight but also some rust in a feisty Democratic debate among presidential contenders. The former vice president this hour at a morning-after event in Detroit.

Elizabeth Warren gets the nod most often when you ask Democrats, who was the strongest debater over the past two nights. Those high marks coming even from a lot of party moderates who worry the Massachusetts senator is too liberal to win it all.

Half the Democratic field, though, has a much more immediate concern. Those struggling to qualify for the next debates hope voters and donors like what they saw.


REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And as president I'll bring this unifying spirit of love for country and the soldiers' value of service above self to the White House.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't need a liberal or progressive with big ideas or we don't need a moderate who can win back Trump/Obama voters. You need someone who can do both. And that's who I am.

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines playing roles in this reality TV show. It's one reason why we elected a reality TV star as our president.


KING: And we begin with the fallout of last night's Democratic street brawl. Ten contenders on stage in Detroit. The most heat directed at center stage and the former vice president, Joe Biden.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your plan, by contrast, leaves out almost 10 million Americans. So I think that you should really think about what you're saying.

JULIAN CASTRO, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot of what the vice president helped author in '94 was a mistake, and he has flip-flopped on these things, and that's clear.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I -- I heard the vice president say that. If you've got a Ph.D, you can come right into this country. Well, that's playing into what the Republicans want, to pit some immigrants against other immigrants. Some are from (EXPLETIVE DELETED)-hole countries and some are from worthy countries.

GILLIBRAND: But, Mr. Vice President, you didn't answer my question, what did you mean when you said, when a woman works outside the home, it's resulting in, quote, the deterioration of family?


KING: You might remember Kamala Harris got a bump out of the first debate. Her reward was that she too was a frequent target in round two. Her health care plan, one point of contention.


JAKE TAPPER, MODERATOR: Senator Bennet had suggested that you support banning employer-based health insurance. Is that true?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, with all due respect to my friend, Michael Bennet, my plan does not offer anything that is illegal. What it does is it separates the employer from health care, meaning that where you work will not be -- where -- the kind of health care you get will not be a function of where you work.


KING: The contenders now wait to see how Democratic voters process this second round of debates. Half of the field -- half of the field, maybe even a little bit more, at risk of being shut out of round three next month if their standing doesn't improve.

Vice President Biden among the candidates holding day-after event in the Detroit area. You see him there just moments ago trying to build support in that area before heading back out on the train. That's -- on the campaign trail. That's a local restaurant. One Coney Island we call that.

With me in studio to share their reporting -- and now hungry -- and their insights, Molly Ball with "Time," Errin Haines Whack with "The Associated Press," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

If we're going to take pictures of candidates in restaurants, it should be a rule they have to bring us a little food as we go.

Let's start. We just saw the former vice president. He's mingling. He doesn't have to worry about making the next rounding of debates. But what -- what is the biggest takeaway from last night? My incoming, the e-mails, the text was, he showed fight but he also was uneven. He needed to have a decent performance and he did that. But he was by no means wow. Is that fair?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's fair. I mean and I've been getting some of the same texts and e-mails. There was a lot of nervousness, particularly from the sort of establishment supporters of Joe Biden after the first debate. The donors the, you know, current and former office holders, those types of people were really worried with how unsteady he looked. And the fact that he was able to parry a lot of the criticism, the fact that he himself came armed with so much oppo research on pretty much all the other candidates.

Now, you can say this is clearly -- this clearly marked the end of the Rose Garden strategy, right? He's no longer above the fray. He's right down in there. But I think there was real peril for Joe Biden if he had another performance as weak as the first one. That downward trajectory really could have accelerated and he did seem to stop the bleeding I think last night.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think he closed the month of July much stronger than he opened it, obviously. Molly's absolutely right, the advisers I was talking to and the friends of Joe Biden literally were on the edge of their seats and wondering how he was going to perform. That was a question hanging over the entire debate in Detroit. Really all the Democrats you were talking to, is he going to bring it or not?

[12:05:03] And, yes, he did. I mean he was experiencing saying -- incoming really from every possible direction, almost nine different ways, if you will, and he withstood that. Did he look like the strongest frontrunner in the world? No, he didn't. And I'll use your language, John, that you often say, he's the leader in the field. He's not a strong frontrunner.

But I think one thing also is clear, when you look around, Kamala Harris is also -- she's already sort of seen her Miami boomlet, if you will, come back to earth. And last night she did not improve that. So I think the Democrats I'm talking to and just seeing this, we'll have to see how voters look at things.

One thing I'm looking at, how do voters look at what Cory Booker did? He had a very strong performance no doubt but he went directly after the former vice president. A lot of Biden supporters like him and don't like it when you're attacking him.

KING: That's the question, even if Joe Biden's support (INAUDIBLE) might have a love, he has a lot of like in the party.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: And people -- a lot of voters say they're comfortable with him. That can be both a blessing and a curse. Comfortable doesn't mean I'm locked in with him.

So we will -- that's the most interesting to me. We're going to have our conversation. You have smart reporters at the table talking to (INAUDIBLE) Democrats. Things that matter most. What do we see in three days, five days, eight days from Democratic polling when the candidates are back out on the road in their crowds and what people in those crowds say.

But let's take a -- his -- some of the examples last night were, yes, the vice president showed up and fought. Yes, the vice president turned to Kamala Harris and carried -- challenged her health care plan. Yes, he picked an interesting immigration fight with Julian Castro and a fight with Cory Booker that some people think he might have been able to skip that one. But a little bit more from Joe Biden.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They can buy the gold plan and they're not going to have to pay -- anyway.

But I'm happy to discuss it more in detail if the senator would want to. And so I -- you know, I looked at -- anyway.

I was asked to manage an $87 billion plan to be spent in a total of 18 months that revived this state.

If you agree with me, go to Joe 30330 and help me in this fight.


KING: It was supposed to be a text at the end. And as someone who's on live television every day, you know, we have to be careful about criticizing people who step on their tongue or whose tongue gets out ahead of their brain. It happens. Human beings are human beings. But he didn't get the line right at the ending, which is supposed to help him build his list. So the campaign staff is frustrated. That one's not, you know, a make or break moment in a campaign.

Earlier, though, he was talking about the stimulus plan. He called it $87 billion. It was $800 billion. It was his first big assignment in the Obama administration. And, again, you make mistakes on live television. But with the test, knowing that he had a bad live first debate, did he meet the bar of being engaged in the second debate?

ERRIN HAINES WHACK, NATIONAL WRITER ON RACE AND ETHNICITY, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, I think that he did meet the bar of being engaged. I think there was a question, you know, both to Molly and Jeff's point about what Vice President Biden was going to do in terms of challenging. You know, I think he kind of telegraphed ahead of the debate that he was going to be calling other people's records into question, that his record was not going to be the only record challenged on the stage last night. And I think that that turned out to be true.

And in terms of the gaffes, I mean we talk about Joe Biden being gaffe prone, to some voters that is just kind of endearing and part of his charm and part of what makes him human, right? I mean we had his exclamation of malarkey last night, which certainly got a lot of -- got a lot of headlines. Also, you know, his hot mic moment at the beginning of the debate -- of the debate where he asked Kamala Harris, you know, to take it easy on me, kid. And, you know, Cory Booker has already, you know, advertising off of his mistakenly referring to him as the future president.

You know, so I think that not only did he engage but he also kind of reminded folks, you know, of the kind of Joe Biden charm that endears him to a lot of voters.

KING: And --


KING: Go ahead.

KIM: But that charm sometimes has the inadvertent effect of reminding a lot of voters out there of kind of the -- one of the big issues about Biden, and this is his age. Obviously a lot of the other candidates have talked about, you know, time for a new face, a new generation, and all these little slip-ups. And they are little.

I mean granted these are people we're talking for two hours on live TV, but, you know, like the -- you know, go easy on me, kid, which clearly, on the one hand it was Biden being Biden, but it does -- it was a very dismissive tone towards one of the frontrunners in the race and botching the stimulus numbers, you know, botching the text message notice in the race, it just -- it has all these little reminders of his -- just how long he's been out there.

KING: And sharing the center with former Vice President Biden was Senator Harris who had -- did a very good job prosecuting, if you will, Joe Biden in the first debate. So the challenge for her was, can you build on it? She got a bounce, then it dipped down a little bit. These campaigns are event driven, especially when you're so far away from people voting. Once people start voting, the votes drive the campaign.

BALL: Right.

KING: But now they're event driven, so she bumps up, then there's a couple weeks between the debates, she comes down. She has a big chance last night. She knew she was going to mix it up with Joe Biden. I'm not sure she expected this.


REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She blocked evidence -- she blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.

[12:10:02] SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done. And I am proud of that work.


KING: She didn't specifically address the question. She almost -- she turned her back on Tulsi Gabbard. And later, in an interview with us after, she's like, she's at like 1 or 2 percent, almost dismissive of her.

But Senator Harris, again, knowing this was an opportunity for her after a strong round one, didn't seem to bring the same level of detail, the same level of passion, the same level of courtroom lawyer. Fair?

BALL: Yes, and I think the stakes were even higher for her than they were for Joe Biden because what she got with that first debate was a second look from a lot of voters, but it was a sort of, to use another criminal justice metaphor, sort of probation, right? They wanted to see her keep up that pace. They wanted to see her do it again with just as much strength.

And she wasn't as consistent and she withstood a lot more attacks, not always successfully. And I think that that attack from Tulsi Gabbard is going to leave a mark because although we've been talking for a while about how her record as a prosecutor might hurt her, it was the way that she distilled it in a way that I think was very easy for people to understand that has the potential to create some doubt in people's mind.

WHACK: And to your point, John, I think that we did see, you know, Harris' attack on Biden over busing last month, I mean that did not really put a dent in Joe Biden's numbers specifically with black voters who, you know, all of these candidates are trying to erode his support among black voters who are, obviously, the most loyal and consistent base of the Democratic Party. So it will be interesting to see what the poll numbers say about Harris and how she -- how successful they think she was or wasn't in fending off the attacks that she got last night.

But I think that really what we saw was that she is kind of -- she was trying to make herself look more presidential last night and it will be, you know, up to voters to decide whether or not they think that she did that. But also she was trying to position herself as one of the frontrunners. Obviously she's, you know, sharing that kind of one and two slot last night with the frontrunner and is trying to really become I guess frontrunner adjacent, if you will, last night. And so we'll see if that bears out in the polls.

KING: We watch the numbers. You learn from the candidates and they learn from the debates. You have a good debate, you have a bad debate, you go up and down in the cycle.

Let's just sum up the two nights together. Anybody getting anything other than Elizabeth Warren as the winner when you add up the two nights?

ZELENY: I think Elizabeth Warren and President Trump. I mean the reality here is what we saw last night was pretty extraordinary. We've seen a lot of competitive primary debates. We often forget about them. We all watched a lot of them over the years, particularly Clinton and Obama.

But the venom last night for a party that wants to defeat President Trump and using that audience to prosecute its case, a lot of things are going to be remaining with whoever the nominee is. Think how many TV ads have been made over the last 48 hours or so after this debate about their Medicare plans, et cetera.

So, Elizabeth Warren, the strongest on the field, I think, no question. We'll have to see when they're standing sort of side by side.

And, of course, Medicare for all, Kamala Harris was able to get by just, I think, you know, on the margins on that. But that is the defining issue here. So once we have Sanders, Warren, Harris, Biden together, it's a whole new show.

KING: All right, we'll continue our conversation about last night, about the last two nights. And up next, we bring in a very interested voice, the Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. She says she knows what Democrats need to win back Michigan in 2020. She'll be with us after a break.

First, though, we check back in with our undecided Michigan Democratic voters. We spoke to them before the debate. Here's a little input from them on what they thought.


ERIN KEITH, MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Wayne County has three separate jails. I would love to be wrong on this point, but I don't think a single candidate went to any of the three jails to engage people who are actually victims of our current cash bail system.

I was glad that the debate was in Detroit. I was glad that we, as a city, were able to host so many people, bringing the candidates back to let them know that Detroit is alive and well. But I really would have liked them to have talked about more specific issues to Detroiters.



[12:18:38] KING: Let's get some insights now from a woman who literally works right in the middle of the Democratic Party's ideological and generational debates and who has very strong feelings about what it will take to put her state back in the blue column come 2020.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell joins us live from Detroit.

All right, two nights of debates. I know you were watching closely.

Your line coming in was, you wanted to see these candidates prove, because of Trump's victory in your state in 2016, that they had it on jobs, that they had it on trade, that they could not only win Wayne County in Detroit and the African-American vote, but win Macomb County.

Anybody do it?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Nope. I'm going to tell you, one of the things that I'm most disappointed in was they were in Detroit, they had the opportunity to talk about urban issues and they were in the heartland, which is where the road to the White House goes through 2020, and they didn't talk about any of those issues that I just talked to you about. They were very busy taking shots at each other.

Even when they had the health care discussion, they didn't talk about it in ways that working men and women understand or that they care about or even show an understanding of those that have health care insurance right now, their fear they're going to lose it any day.

I -- we've got to -- we've got to learn how, as Democrats, to show people we care about them, that we're going to fight for them and talk about issues that just matter every single night when somebody goes home after a long day of work.

KING: You understand how it works, there are 20 of them, a few others who didn't make the debate stage, and they want to be the one. And to be the one, this is what they've decided. This is what they -- let me come back to the health care issue.

[12:20:06] You're chair, I believe, of the Medicare for all caucus in the House?


KING: We had a lot of back and forth on Medicare for all and the different variations of Medicare for all and the public option.

I want you to listen here to Congressman Tim Ryan, who might not be in the race very long. He's struggling at the end. But he made a point about the union workers in his district back home in Ohio, this would apply in your area as well, saying, why are we telling -- if you're for the pure Medicare for all, you wipe out employer-based health insurance. His point was, why are we taking away something our voters want. Let's listen.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These union members are losing their jobs, their wages have been stagnant, the world is crumbling around them. The only thing they have is possibly really good health care. And the Democratic message is going to be, we're going to go in and the only thing you have left, we're going to take it and we're going to do better. I do not think that's a recipe for success for us. It's bad policy and it's certainly bad politics.


KING: Is he right or wrong?

DINGELL: So, Tim's my friend and I think he's someone that gets these issues, but I'm going to say several things. And, you know, it's easier for me. I've been in the auto industry for three decades and I'm in a union hall every weekend.

But, first of all, the UAW has supported the bill that I've introduced on Medicare for all in the House. People don't realize that if you are already working for one of the OEMs, which would be GM, Ford and Chrysler, in simpler terms, if you're a salaried employee, you thought -- and you worked hard, you'd play by the rules, you'd have health care for your life. You don't. Salaried employees lose it. At 65 you're on Medicare and anything supplemental you've got to pay more for.

We're going into very important union negotiations. So many of these UAW workers are paying more and their co-pays on their medicines have just gone sky high. And they also know that they're competing in a global marketplace where every other industrialized nation in the world takes care of all of its citizens. And American companies are paying for that health care and no other company -- no other country that they're competing with is. It's complicated. But you can make it simpler, and that's what our autoworkers know. They're scared. They've lost a lot. The supplier companies have lost their health care already after 2008.

So -- and --

KING: OK, you say that -- let me jump in. Let me jump in because you say they're scared. This has been part of the debate.

Former Vice President Biden says let's fix Obamacare, let's not have this huge disruption to Medicare for all. He thinks some of the other things, whether it's Senator Sanders or Senator Warren, he thinks they're too far. He thinks some of them are too far policy wise. He thinks others are too far if you're trying to sell them and bring Michigan back to blue, bring Wisconsin back to blue, bring Pennsylvania back to blue.

Elizabeth Warren, you're a reporter as well as a congresswoman. I know that you do. I've known you a long time. You're talking to your colleagues all the time. You know what the buzz is among Democrats today, that Warren was the best debater. And a lot of centrist Democrats are worried that if that path continues, she wins and those centrists -- she says they're wrong -- thinks she can't win.

Listen to her on the debate stage making her case, go big.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, 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. I don't get it.


KING: When you watch her debate, the passion she brings and the conviction she brings, does she convince you she can win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and flip the map?

DINGELL: I haven't seen anybody that's convinced me yet and I'm not endorsing anybody.

But I agree with her statement, we've got to be hopeful. We're not going to win this election by being negative.

I support Medicare for all because it's aspirational. My father-in-law introduced the first universal health care bill in the early '40s. It took 20 years to get Medicare. If you don't have a vision, but in the meantime I don't disagree that we need to improve on the Affordable Care Act because there are a whole lot of people who are paying more in both premiums and deductibles, can't afford their medicine and they're scared because of pre-existing conditions. You know, we can meld that stage. We've got to have the long-term vision and what do we do right now to help people. And we can't even get to the table to try to take care of those that are paying more in premiums and have higher deductibles. There is a problem.

KING: Debbie Dingell, appreciate it, live from Detroit, the day after the debate. We'll check in with you as this goes on to see if anybody comes any closer to meeting your test as we go on.

Before we go break, somebody right there from Detroit as well, we checked in with another Michigan voter, Jay Anderson. Here's what he thought of the debates.


JAY ANDERSON, MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Day one, Elizabeth Warren, O'Rourke and Bernie Sanders. Day two, Cory Booker was strong. Castro, Biden, Harris, and Yang did his thing. He kept to the keep it simple message.



[12:29:29] KING: The Senate, just moments ago, passing a new budget and debt ceiling deal despite some Republican senators raising concerns over increasing that debt ceiling.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins is now from Capitol Hill.

The Senate just wrapped up the voting. Take us inside.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, you know, Republican leadership was trying to whip this bill pretty hard. They wanted to get a majority of their conference. And they are moving ahead here into the summer recess with a pretty impressive vote.

Of course, the president's tweet just a few minutes before the vote didn't hurt anything. In fact, it gives Republicans a little bit of cover when they're going back home to these conservative states where driving up federal spending can be a big campaign issue.

[12:30:04] But a lot of Republicans said ultimately they wanted to get behind this, they wanted to increase the debt ceiling for two years