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Joe Biden's Campaign Trail Gaffes Worry Some as Democrats Hit Iowa; Scaramucci: I No Long Support Trump's Reelection Bid; Democratic Candidate Andrew Yang Gets Emotional Responding to Question on Gun Control; Officials Issue Conflicting Statements About Fatal Russian Explosion. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Here's the thing. Biden was not vice president any longer when the Parkland tragedy happened in 2018. And this isn't the first and it likely won't be the last gaffe either from Joe Biden.

But when do those gaffes and misstatements become an actual problem with voters, especially when running against a president like Donald Trump?

Joining me now, CNN political director, David Chalian, CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and CNN's M.J. Lee.

Thank you guys for being here. It's really great to have you here.

David, a line from Biden, maybe during his book tour, late last year, Biden said himself, I am a gaffe machine, but, my god, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can't tell the truth.

You spent the weekend in Iowa. What are you hearing from Iowa voters? These moments stand out, but what do they mean for voters?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They do stand out and they do present a challenge for the Biden campaign. It's not very often that a frontrunner's campaign needs to, twice in four days, issue statements of correction, clarification, and saying that the candidate got something wrong.


CHALIAN: So there's something to note there.

But in talking to some voters out in Iowa, it did not seem that there was as much of a concern among voters as there is in the political class among Democrats in Iowa, concerned that -- wondering if this is the horse that can go the distance in a full endurance test.

There's, as you're reading in the papers, some voters are quoted as saying they might have come concerns but that was not palpable. That was not palpable among the voters I spoke to.

They were less concerned about the gaffes and more enamored by Biden's ability to beat Donald Trump. That's their belief that he may be in the best position to do so.

BOLDUAN: What do the other candidates do? Everyone is looking for a moment to differentiate, obviously, a moment to make gains on the frontrunner and elsewhere.

Kamala Harris, in an interview with Kim Lah in the last hour, she wasn't going there. She said, you should speak to Biden's campaign about it.


BOLDUAN: What do you think?

BASH: Well, this is one issue where she's not going there. She certainly is very eager to go there on other issues where she feels like it is fair game. This is a touchy one and a difficult one so it's understandable.

What we're seeing, and you saw firsthand in Iowa over the weekend and late last week, is the slow and steady. Build the team, build as much grassroots support as you can because that does still matter in a place like Iowa, and hope that when the time comes five months from now for people to actually go to the caucuses.

And if, if Joe Biden isn't as clear a frontrunner, as he is now in the polls, be ready and be ready to be the person who everybody turns to and says, oh.

It's not like it hasn't happened before, on both sides of the aisle. I don't know, Barack Obama. And then, of course, on the Republican side, you've had people like Rick Santorum and others.

So Iowa has a history of turning to somebody else when they suddenly panic with the person who is supposed to be the frontrunner.

BOLDUAN: And one person that could be -- Dana's description would be fitting -- is Elizabeth Warren. She's the one -- looking at the recent polling, she's made gains while Biden is still maintaining the top slot.

What does it look like on the ground in the conversations you're having about how Warren is doing?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I think, if I'm the Warren campaign, I'm feeling good about the momentum and energy I'm seeing on the ground, reflected, I think, in part, in the recent polling.

The fact that, over the weekend, she had -- was drawing really big crowds and getting an enthusiastic reception. And she's got her stump speech down at this point. And her campaign aides would say this is what happens when you've been on the trail a lot for the last seven months.

To David's points about the idea of being able to beat Donald Trump, that is the thing that clouds over everything, right? And I think, for a campaign like the Warren campaign, that is making

really big bets in the state of Iowa, for them, this is clearly the beginning of a potential path to victory. Right? If you win the first caucus state, then you get to sort of say to everyone, I am a person who can win and I can go the long distance.


CHALIAN: And I want to underscore this point because I think it's so critical. We talk all the time about electability. We see in the polls that --



CHALIAN: So I spent a lot of my four days asking voters, when they said that to me, how do you judge it.


CHALIAN: What metrics are you using to determine how do you figure out who can be the one to beat Donald Trump? Not very good answers back. They're like, that's a really tough question.


CHALIAN: But one thing we all know, and to M.J.'s point, is winning does that.

So this is why Iowa is always important. Kate, you know this.


CHALIAN: It's first, it's important. I think it has --



CHALIAN: I think it has an even greater importance this cycle because of the electability issue. Especially for Joe Biden. If somebody defeats him, whether it's Warren or somebody else, in Iowa, they pierce the entire rational of his candidacy. And that becomes a real mortal threat to him.

BOLDUAN: Maybe why we're seeing Kamala Harris really putting more investment on the ground. She sees that as well.

[11:35:00] To make a really crazy turn to someone else who is making waves in the campaign, Dana.


BOLDUAN: You know me and transitions.


Anthony Scaramucci speaking out, former Trump friend, adviser, communications director, for one and a half minutes. Now saying he's no longer going to support the president's reelection campaign.

Let me play for our viewers first what he told John Berman this morning.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think you have to consider a change at the top of the ticket when someone is acting like this.

The racially charged comments, the divisive tweeting, the nonsense coming from the president is not helping the country.


BOLDUAN: What is the significant, non-significance of this?

BASH: Of course, it's significant, because, even among people who will privately tell us all that they think that the things that the president is tweeting or saying is ridiculous, is not only bad for him but bad for the country, they rarely say it publicly.


BASH: He is. And he is putting his relationship with him -- with the president on the line. I mean, it's over, at least for now. You never know what's going to happen. So that is why it's significant.

Why we have to take it at its face is because Scaramucci doesn't have - he doesn't represent constituents. He's not an elected official who has to answer to people who really like Donald Trump, who are living in their districts or their states.

Which is what you see with so many members of Congress who are quiet about the president, and in some cases very supportive of the president in public and, in private saying, I don't know, I don't understand this guy. That is the major difference.

He is somebody who has a career right now. And it's probably not the worst thing in the world for him, Scaramucci, to be calling out what he considers racism. Not a bad thing no matter what party he is.

So I think that is an important thing we have to keep in mind, is that he only has to answer to the people maybe in his family, to his conscience, and the career that he has now, as opposed to elected Republican officials who have a different calculus. Because almost every single one of them who has spoken out has had to retire or lost the primary.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. This is fun. Appreciate it. Anthony Scaramucci. Still ahead, it's something that rarely happens on the campaign trail,

a candidate moved to tears by a question from a voter. That is what happened when Andrew Yang took the stage in Iowa at a town hall. The mother's story that hit so close to home for Andrew Yang. She is joining me, next.


[11:42:16] BOLDUAN: It is something that you rarely see on the campaign trail, a candidate moved to tears by a question from a voter. This is what happened this weekend. That is what happened this weekend in Iowa when Democratic candidate, Andrew Yang, was speaking at a gun safety town all in Des Moines.

A woman stood up to tell her story and ask a question and this is what happened.


STEPHANIE PIZZOFERRATO, MOTHER KILLED BY STRAY BULLET: My beautiful 4-year-old daughter was struck by a stray bullet May 2011. My son, my daughter's twin brother, witnessed what happened that day. She died two days later.

Firearms are the second-leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the U.S., but 4.6 million American children live in homes with at least one gun that is loaded and unlocked. And hundreds of them gain access to a gun and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else every year.

As president, how would you address unintentional shootings by children?

ANDREW YANG, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for that. Can I give you a hug? Would that be appropriate?


YANG: I have a 6- and 3-year-old boy and I was imagining -- I was imagining it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it.

I'm so sorry.


YANG: The biggest downside of running for president for me has been I don't get to see my family very much. I get pictures and I FaceTime and I see pictures of my boys. And that scene that you described, I'm sorry. It's very, very affecting.


BOLDUAN: It is for everyone.

With me right now is the woman, the mother, who was right there, who stood up and spoke to Andrew Yang, Stephanie Pizzoferrato. Thank you so much for being here, Stephanie.

PIZZOFERRATO: Thank you so much for having me here.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is unbelievably heartbreaking. Your strength is unbelievable being able to endure.

What did you think when you saw Andrew Yang react that way of what happened?

[11:45:07] PIZZOFERRATO: Well, in that moment, I appreciated that he was vulnerable and allowed himself -- as most parents don't want to think about their children dying, and he allowed himself to imagine stepping into my shoes for just that small moment.

And, you know, I think that's a natural reaction to being empathetic, to feeling somebody else's pain.

So I very much appreciated that he took that moment and shared that with everybody, because it's important that people understand that this is the reality that we live with as survivors every single day. That's our reality. And we need to start acknowledging that reality.

BOLDUAN: What did you take away from that -- what really became kind of a conversation with him? Obviously, you wanted to tell your story, but what you heard from him, what did you think of his answer?

PIZZOFERRATO: Well, every single candidate that came in -- that was one of the things that I stepped away with that particular day, is that every single candidate that came, the 16 candidates and the six candidates that sent videos, all had bold plans for gun sense.

And that's the most important thing I can say about that day, is that every single candidate stood up there and shared their bold plan, and for that I'm proud of every single candidate that did that.

They all stood there and listened to the survivors. I'm not the only survivor that stood there that day sharing their pain and their reality of this. And they stood there and they listened to every single one of our questions.

And we appreciate that opportunity to share what it is we cope with every single day. This is my reality here. This is my daughter, Dayla. This is what I sleep with beside my bed every single night. I don't get to tuck in my daughter. I don't get to send her to school today on the first day of school.

It's important that people understand and know that this is real. It's not a fantasy.

BOLDUAN: That is impactful, to say the least. I think that no matter the policy talk, we cannot let it overshadow your story is what you're saying.

PIZZOFERRATO: Yes. BOLDUAN: What do you want people to know about your story, about your daughter, Dayla, about her twin brother?

PIZZOFERRATO: I want them to know that this is preventable. We can easily put in place gun-sense legislation. It starts with background checks, red flag laws.

People can get involved in this. You don't have to sit there. Thoughts and prayers are nice, prayers are wonderful, and we appreciate those prayers. But if you're tired of prayers and you want to show action, you can text rally to 64433 and this weekend we will rally.

We want those Senators to get back to work and we need them to pass these laws. We need to start saving lives.

There are eight children a day that die because of gun violence. That's 100 people a day in this country. That's unacceptable. We can do better. We must do better.

And we can't just keep talking about it. We need to start doing something about it.

BOLDUAN: Stephanie, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for sharing your story. I really appreciate it.


[11:49:27] BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: There are some very serious questions right now about what exactly happened in an explosion you're seeing here. An explosion that killed five employees of Russia's nuclear agency. The total casualty count, though, remains unclear at the moment.

Federal and local officials there have also been issuing some conflicting statements since the blast last week, leaving U.S. officials racing to get a better handle and a better understanding of the mysterious explosion.

Joining me right now with more, CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you hearing?


A mysterious explosion, indeed, in northern Russia in the Arctic region last week. U.S. officials so far are not saying anything publicly about it.

We talked to Norwegian nuclear authorities a short time ago. They told us that the Russians did tell them this explosion did have a small release of radiation they believed. But even those reports are very conflicting out of Russia. Apparently, upwards of five Russian workers died at the site.

It is believed but not confirmed to be a site that deals in Russia's advanced nuclear missile program. So that is the big worry here.

What kind of radiation was released, what failed here, and what kind of missile program are the Russians working on?

The "New York Times" is reporting that it is a nuclear-tipped cruise missile that Vladimir Putin announced some months ago as one of his advanced weapons programs. That program is a very deep concern to the U.S. because if it ever worked, it would be a serious advanced capability in the future that could target the United States at great distances.

So a lot of concern, but still a very big mystery -- Kate?

[11:55:11] BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Barbara, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up, still ahead, Attorney General Bill Barr calling the circumstances around Jeffrey Epstein's death, his apparent suicide, calling them appalling. New details on the major breaks in protocol fueling the investigation now.