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INSIDE POLITICS

2020 Democrats Hope For A Post-Debate Bump; Booker's Newark Record Under Fire on 2020 Debate Stage; DOJ IG Referred Comey For Prosecution, Prosecutors Declined; Dems Pile On Biden's Ties to Obama at CNN Debate; Biden Makes Post-Debate Campaign Stop in Detroit. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 1, 2019 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00] LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: -- federal spending can be a big campaign issue but a lot of Republicans said ultimately they wanted to get behind this, they wanted to increase the debt ceiling for two years in order to take that off the table and not slow any economic growth that they've been seeing. But I just talked to Senator Dick Shelby who's the Senate Appropriations chairman, he says now their work begins to try to stave off a government shutdown in September, the end of the month. So they have just a couple of months to work on that.

You can expect that staff over the next couple of weeks during the August recess will be very busy on the Appropriations Committee. Just because they get these top-line numbers doesn't mean the work is completely done.

John?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Lauren Fox live on the Hill. An important vote. Progress, we'll call it progress, we'll take that. Appreciate the live reporting.

When we come back, two rounds of debates over. The third round of debates about a month away. What happens in between?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:35:17] KING: Today is an anxious day for many of the Democratic contenders, even those who believe they turned in strong performances these past two debate nights. Ten or more of the 20 candidates who debated in Detroit might not meet the higher bar for an invitation to round three next month.

Candidates like Andrew Yang, the outside entrepreneur. Now he's close to qualifying. He hopes last night gives him enough of a boost even as he predicts it probably didn't do so much to help or hurt the Democratic top of the pack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, it's interesting to look at this because if you see what happened after the last debate, Joe had a bit of a dip and he just came back. We all know who Joe Biden is, you know. And I'm not sure last night changed anyone's opinion as to who Joe Biden is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A, he's funny, but B, you see the -- all these -- all the -- especially the candidates who aren't sure they're going to make it are everywhere. They look for their moment in the debate, they were very accessible in the spin room, they're on TV last night, they're on TV again today. Because for 10 or more of them, now you have an anxious what week, 10 days waiting to see, number one, you know if the fundraising is coming in. You know pretty quickly because it's all done on the internet now. You know, if that's coming and you need to get 130,000 unique donors.

And then you got to get to two percent in enough polls. It's a tough stretch for those guys.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. Although I think based on that clip if Andrew Yang doesn't make the next debate, he might have a future as a pundit. Those are pretty good points that he made about the -- it gets much as, you know, Biden successfully parried a lot of attacks. He didn't necessarily have one clear message that voters could take away so congratulations, Andrew Yang, on your upcoming TV contract.

But, no, I think obviously from the point of view of the candidates, this is very fraught. They were all trying to make a splash and have that moment that gets -- that lights enough of a fire that they can make it to the next stage. From the point of view of the party, this is also very fraught because for the sort of Democratic establishment or just from the point of view of Democratic voters as a mass, this many candidates is not good the further along you go. And for the party's sake, they really need the field to be winnowed so that the race feels more focused so that voters can focus. There are so many candidates that I think you really saw last night it's just kind of a mess.

And so I think a lot of sort of party officials are concerned that if these candidates don't start dropping out of their own accord, things could get very messy.

ERIN HAINES WHACK, NATIONAL WRITER ON RACE AND ETHNICITY, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think that's absolutely right. I mean, I think -- you know, what I'm hearing talking to voters on the campaign trail is, you know, there's too many people, you know, for me to pay attention right now. I'm going to tune in when there are fewer people for me to choose from, right?

And looking ahead to the next debate, I mean, these two nights you're competing with, you know, the bachelorette finale, you know, in the debate, so -- I mean, you know, voters have choices, you know, about what they're going to tune into. And they're not ready to necessarily tune in to this election yet, which is still, you know, just short of 200 days away.

You know, the primary elections, and you've got football season to contend with, you know, starting in September and moving beyond that. So definitely the fewer folks that are in, that certainly will help voters start to kind of turn to the election. But yes, I think we are definitely going to see, I don't know how much more narrow of a field but given that the bar is higher for them to qualify for these next debates, it will definitely be smaller than what we've seen so far.

KING: And the money will dry up. But one of the candidates who's in a very good mood after the debate last night was Cory Booker. He came in, the campaign staff, promising he's going to white-hot against the vice president. That didn't happen, but there was an exchange that Senator Booker after the debate thought played favorably for him when the vice president raised questions about when Senator Booker was mayor of Newark and the police department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why did you announce in the first day a zero-tolerance policy of stop and frisk and hire Rudy Giuliani's guy in 2007 --

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Vice president, there's a saying in my community you're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don't even know the flavor. The New Jersey head of the ACLU has said that I embraced reforms not just in actions but in deeds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was during the debate. He sat down with us after and all politicians do this, but that presentation there was an over glossy, overoptimistic, over-friendly explanation of his relationship with the ACLU at the time. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In 2010, the ACLU files a 96-page complaint against the Newark Police Department. You've been mayor for four years. Three years later, you're right, they do commend you after an investigation after the Justice Department gets involved, but at the beginning, it was more contentious was it not?

BOOKER: This was a partnership from the beginning. We had a disagreement on tactics and speed, but actually, I'm really proud of the achievements we made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:40:04] KING: He did at the end make this piece but I just want to say this for the record, he says it was a partnership from the beginning. This is what the ACLU said in 2009 when they gave the mayor a D in their report, a grade of D. Mayor Booker and his appointed police director promised the ACLU New Jersey they would reform the city's police practices, however, we have not seen significant improvement. The ACLU New Jersey has been involved in an unprecedented number of lawsuits over police practices in the city.

So a grade of D at the beginning, he's right at the end, they did commend him once they figure it out. But -- and again, he's not unique but trying to say this was always great from the beginning.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's something Joe Biden could have brought up right there in that moment. Let's not talk about the Kool-Aid, let's talk about the ACLU but that simply was not -- I mean, it's one of the drawbacks of telegraphing exactly the attacks you were going to make because Cory Booker was obviously ready for the vice president's attacks because his aides have been talking about it for the last week or so. So I think that in that moment he did seem -- I thought Senator Booker seemed much -- he was pretty sunny side up and that was sort of setting him apart from most of the gloom and doom kind of angry tone we heard.

KING: Another interesting thing at the debate last night, presidents came up, the president is plural. President Trump and there was a big debate among Democrats about President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:00] KING: Some breaking news just in to CNN. Sources telling CNN the Justice Department watchdog, Michael Horowitz, referred the former FBI Director James Comey for prosecution but the Trump Justice Department senior officials at the department declining to prosecute Mr. Comey.

Let's get straight to CNN's Evan Perez. Tell us about this investigation. Wow.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, wow, right? So the inspector general of the Justice Department has been looking into among other things, James Comey's handling of some memos that he wrote, you know, over his interactions with then -- the beginning of President Trump's term. And he wrote multiple of these memos, two of them, in particular, were later determined by the Justice Department, by the FBI, to contain classified information at the lowest level, confidential level. This is the lowest level of classification.

So what we're told is in recent weeks, the inspector general's investigators decided that they would refer this for possible prosecution and Justice Department prosecutors have declined to bring charges against the former FBI Director James Comey, in part because they determined that because the memos in question were not classified at the time, that they later were deemed to be classified and marked classified by the FBI, that they couldn't prove that James Comey intended to violate the laws that govern the handling of classified information. In other words, they can't necessarily bring this to trial because it is a relatively weak case.

I'm told by one person familiar, John, that it wasn't even a close call, that prosecutors up and down the ranks determined that this was not the kind of case that they could bring. But, obviously, this has been a big, big issue for conservatives, for the president, John, and the handling of these memos, in particular, is something that they were hoping would bring some legal consequences for James Comey. That is not the case at this point from the Justice Department.

KING: Fascinating reporting, Evan Perez, appreciate it. Let us know when there's more from the Justice Department.

And for those of you at home, I'd just watch the Twitter thing to see -- we'll see if the president weighs in on this, and I suspect he will. Also has a rally tonight.

Back to the Democratic debates, and if you watched last night, one interesting debate wrinkle was attack on the president's immigration policies. That would be President Obama's immigration policies.

CNN's Don Lemon asked former Vice President Joe Biden about the aggressive deportations during the Obama years. And a member of the Obama cabinet, now running for president saw an opening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN CASTRO (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lesson of the past and one of us hasn't. Let me begin by telling you --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, Senator Cory Booker, also joining in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did you say those deportations were a good idea or did you go to the president and say this is a mistake and we shouldn't do it, which one?

BIDEN: I was vice president, I am not the president. I keep my recommendations to him in private.

BOOKER: Mr. Vice president, you can't have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can't do it when it's convenient and then dodge it when it's not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's a Democratic presidential debate and the last Democratic president an issue on immigration there. He's also an issue constantly although his name doesn't come up or when people say ObamaCare and healthcare as well where at least half of the Democratic field says ditch it, abandon it, essentially replace, repeal and replace, let's have Medicare for All. How is this going over within the Obama camp?

ZELENY: Not well at all. And the reality is, I mean, Barack Obama is the most popular politician, certainly Democratic politician, you know, who exists. So the reality is that Barack Obama, of course, was moving on in '07 past the Clinton administration as well so there is a recognition it is not his party any longer. And I talked to someone this morning who talks to him frequently who said, look, he's fine with new ideas but he does not believe that voters should be misled here through promises and other matters.

KING: I want to read -- sorry to interrupt you. I want to read -- you spoke to Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff.

[12:50:00] This is one of the quotes, everybody has got to be kidding me here. You have a perfect setup. President Trump is suing to undo it, meaning ObamaCare. We won an election on it, meaning the 2018 midterms. I don't get this.

I don't believe there wasn't an F-bomb in there somewhere. But go ahead.

ZELENY: There may have been but (INAUDIBLE), you know, lunchtime here in the East Coast. But look, the reality here is that the Democrats are so -- the ones on the fringes are so eager to get attention and things, you know, they are saying a lot of things. But I think on healthcare specifically, I mean, we are seeing sort of, you know, all these Democrats running away from that. But I think the consequences of this were more time spent on Obama than President Trump. That is the ultimate goal here so that is what frustrates most of the Obama alumni I talked to this morning.

KING: And you talked about Obama alumni, we had this moment last night, Julian Castro was the housing secretary, he was the former San Antonio mayor, he comes to Washington as housing secretary, he joined us after the debate. David Axelrod, the top Obama strategist, then worked in the White House, he's now a CNN contributor, essentially they had a little bit of a family discussion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There were large numbers of deportations under the Obama administration (INAUDIBLE) his policies wrong?

CASTRO: It was the honor of my lifetime to serve President Obama. I consider --

AXELROD: Let's stipulate that.

CASTRO: Yes. One of the greatest presidents. But I will say, I think even a lot of folks in the administration recognized that the administration could have done better when it came to all of these deportations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I should have introduced Michael Shear of the New York Times, he joins our conversation. So he's trying to find the sweet spot there. I love Obama but, it's risky in a Democratic primary.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It is risky in a Democratic primary, and I think, you know, part of the problem here is that you've had two and a half years of Donald Trump trying to unwind the Obama legacy. And I think what the Obama people have been concerned about and Axelrod is one of them, obviously Rahm is another, is that you're going to have seven or eight months of Democrats fighting about the wrong thing essentially. Fighting about the Obama legacy when what they need to be focused on is the Trump legacy.

And, you know, frankly, this wouldn't be happening if Joe Biden wasn't sort of sitting there as the proxy for, as the stand-in for the Obama legacy because then you'd have people talking much more about other people's records and looking at Donald Trump. And so Biden's presence there for people who care about Obama and what he built is a problem.

KING: It is fascinating thought when you talk to younger, even African-American voters who don't really have a memory of Obama. They were maybe in high school. 2016 was their first vote.

They're not as enamored, whether it's criminal justice reform, they want Medicare for All, they want student -- they don't think Obama -- you know, in their mind Obama didn't do enough but it'd be fascinating. We'll see if that one comes up at debate round three. We need to work in a quick break because we're waiting for the former Vice President Joe Biden. He's in an event in Detroit. We're expecting him to come out and talk to reporters. We'll take you there live when it happens.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We'll take you live to Detroit, the former vice president of United States Joe Biden is talking to reporters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you feel last night receiving all of that incoming fire on the debate stage?

BIDEN: Well, I expected it. And, you know, look, I hope we're going to get a chance to talk about the future in these other debates that are coming up. I'm looking forward to them. And I must tell you, I was a little surprised at how much the incoming was about Barack, about the president. I mean, I'm proud of having served with him, I'm proud of the job he did.

[12:55:02] I don't think there's anything he has to apologize for. And I think, you know, it kind of surprised me the degree of the criticism. But look, it's -- as I've told you before and God love you, you've had to cover me a long time now, but this is a marathon. And I feel good. I think we're -- you know, we passed the quarter mark and I'm feeling good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice president, you told us in the earliest days of your campaign that you were not going to speak ill of a fellow Democrat. You were pretty tough on some of your opponents last night. Why the change in strategy?

BIDEN: Because I responded. Look, I hope the next debate we can talk about how we fix -- our answers to fix the things that Trump has broken, not how Barack Obama made all these mistakes. He didn't. He didn't.

And so -- but what I want to make clear is that this going back 10, 20, 30 years is just -- is a game -- that's a game to make sure that we hand the Republicans an election coming up. Look, folks, there's a lot of things everybody has done in their past and votes that no longer have a context today. They're taken out of context. And I just wanted to make the point that some of these assertions being made were absolutely, how can I say it nicely, not true and taken out of context, and if they really meant what they said, they wouldn't have done a lot of things they did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think your party has gone too far to the left? Do you think your party has gone too far to the left?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On immigration, for instance, what are you going to do differently from Obama?

BIDEN: The world has changed since Obama, and here's the deal. I'm -- this is about the future. It's about taking the same kind of integrity and moving beyond it. By the time we ended -- the president's term ended, he was able to begin to focus on ways on not just keeping the car from going over the cliff and us going into depression, he was able to begin to focus, and he focused on immigration. And what he did was serious. He changed the dialogue, he changed the whole question, he changed what was going on.

And the idea that somehow it's comparable to what this guy is doing is absolutely bizarre. Look, this is three years later. The world has changed. President Trump has turned it upside down internationally. He has turned it upside down economically. People are hurting badly. There's no response. We faced a different problem 10 years ago when the economy collapsed because of Republican policies. Now we face a problem that the economy, as well as the soul of this country, is collapsing because of this presidency. So it's a different problem but with the same basic principle.

We have to be honest, straightforward, and authentic about what we're going to do. And I'm looking forward to being able to go into some detail and explain and deal with the differences we have. And they're all good people. But here's my plan for healthcare, what's yours? Let's talk about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But your party has changed as well. Do you think it's moving too far to the left even with immigration where some of your fellow Democratic candidates say that they want to decriminalize those who cross the border illegally?

BIDEN: Well, look, it's not about moving from left to right. I think I represent the party. I think my views were the best (INAUDIBLE) of the Democratic Party are. There's a lot of really, really good people who got elected who are really pushing the envelope. And it's good, it's healthy to do that. But the idea that they represent what the party is today does not comport with who gets elected, does not comport with how we won in last in '18, it does not comport. And so -- but it's a totally legitimate debate to have.

The one thing we have to focus on, and the one thing I agree with Cory on last night, let's focus on what it is we can do together. We are so different. Every one of those people on that stage has a fundamentally different view than Barack -- excuse me, than they talk about Barack but they have a fund fundamentally different view than the present president of the United States is. And let's argue who has the best path forward to lead this country to greatness.

OK.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you supportive of the debate stage shrinking going forward?

BIDEN: Well, I'm supportive of having a debate, not one-minute assertions. Look, it's not anybody's fault the way it's worked. There's 20 candidates and that's a good thing. But the idea that we don't actually have a chance to explain our policies in less than one minute, and if you're not asked a direct question about your policy, you get 30 seconds. And if you're not asked, the 30 seconds you get 15 seconds to intervene, that's not a debate. I understand why it has to be that way, but I'm looking forward to getting to the place where we can actually exchange ideas.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you clarify your position on NAFTA? You said that House Democrats are talking about four concrete changes to Trump's deal.

BIDEN: No, you asked me whether or not Trump plan has offered. That's what I was asked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they make these four changes, will you accept it?

BIDEN: The four changes, as long as I got to make --

[13:00:00]