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Biden's First Iowa Ad; Upheaval at NRA; Pompeo on ISIS. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 20, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The hijacker said he was a military policeman. All the hostages were freed unharmed, but you can see, one woman fainted as she was actually getting off the bus. The poor thing. We don't know what the hijacker wanted, of course.

Thank you all so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Joe Biden is back on the trail in Iowa today as a new CNN poll shows him widening his national lead in the Democratic race. Electability is Biden's theme in his first campaign TV ad. And Jill Biden has an interesting twist on that argument.

Plus, the scramble to make the next Democratic debate. Julio Castro is in and a few Democrats who are close are racing against the clock trying to qualify.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making today on China, ISIS and North Korea. Plus, offering his take on a "New Yorker" profile that calls him the secretary of Trump.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I work hard. I work hard for the president of the United States who was constitutionally elected. He is my leader.


KING: We begin the hour with Joe Biden and two new wrinkles in the 2020 Democratic race. A just released CNN poll that shows Biden re- establishing a double digit national lead. And a new Biden campaign ad aimed at keeping his challengers at bay.

In the new poll, the former vice president stands at 29 percent among Democrats and Democratic leaning voters nationally. A bump of 7 points from June. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both holding steady at 15 percent and 14 percent. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Kamala Harris tied for fourth place at 5 percent. that is quite a fall in our poll for Senator Harris, who was up at 17 percent back in June.

Biden's strength in the race is his giant advantage when Democrats are asked this question, which candidate is most likely, in your view, to beat President Trump? The campaign's first TV ad in Iowa today focuses squarely on electability. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know in our bones this election is different. The stakes are higher. The threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump.

And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job. He'll restore the soul of the nation, battered by an erratic, vicious, bullying president, strong, steady, stable leadership. Biden, president.


KING: CNN's Arlette Saenz live in Iowa, where Biden has an event this afternoon.

It's a beautiful farm backdrop behind you there.

Arlette, they come out of the box with the first ad, eligibility. What this strategy?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, John, this is them clearly -- the Biden campaign clearly doubling, even tripling down on this argument of electability. This is something that Joe Biden has been talking about from the beginning of his campaign, trying to frame and paint himself as the candidate who could best take on President Trump in a general election.

It started with that digital video that he had rolled out as he had called this campaign a battle for the soul of the country. And you just see this reinforced in this television ad that is hitting airwaves here in Iowa in all -- in most of the major media markets in the state.

But, really, the Biden campaign has been trying to focus on this central argument of electability. You heard his wife, Jill Biden, yesterday in New Hampshire making that pitch to voters.

And our new CNN poll does back up some of that focus on electability. The majority of Democrats in that poll find it important that they select a nominee who can beat President Trump.

So this is something that you've seen Biden try to capitalize on in the early month of his campaign and he is likely to continue to stress that message going forward.

Now, he's about to start a two-day swing here in Iowa. He'll be here in a few hours in Proie for an event later today. But Biden is now not only in person, but also on the airwaves trying to hit that message of electability as he hopes that Democrats will nominate him to take on President Trump in the general election.


KING: Arlette Saenz live from Iowa. Mark me down as jealous. Looks like a beautiful day out there. Keep in touch as the vice president campaigns.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico," Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," and Tamara Keith with NPR.

It is interesting, the debate in the campaign, it's about health care. How pure are you on Medicare for all? Back in 2008, it was anti-war, Barack Obama and the Iraq War.

Primaries are usually about ideology. Joe Biden trying to leapfrog that with this ad and trying to keep that lead that he has and hold everyone off by saying, focus on November. Never mind between now and then.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, what do voters want more than Medicare for all or universal health care or any of these policy issues? They want to get President Trump out of office, at least when it comes to the Democratic voters.

And Biden is really using that to advance his campaign, showing that a number of polls show that in several states that are going to be key in 2020, that he is leading by -- leading Trump or he is at least doing better than the other candidates. And I think that's part of the reason he's been able to remain steady in the polls. Look at all the things that have happened since June. Biden's gaffe, the talk about segregationists and busing, the attacks from Senator Harris during the debate, his lackluster performance in some ways during the second debate, not remembering his website and what not. And he's managed to survive all of that and remain pretty steady in the polls, even increasing his leads in part because people are worried about electability. And right now he's showing that he is the most electability candidate according to the polls.

[12:05:24] LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, I mean, that ad, what struck me about it, the one that he just released in Iowa, is that Obama appeared four times in it, which is a reminder to voters --

KING: Only four?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Only four, yes. I was -- I thought there might be more. And it's, again, all about the electability question which is, look, I've been there before. I was there with Obama, who all of you love. And if you put me there again, I could have this return to a White House similar to Obama's.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's interesting, though, that the electability question does seem to be mostly judged right now on that nostalgia and experience question, which is not really a tangible policy thing at all. So it's just kind of odd that Biden is delivering what is in many ways kind of an eat your vegetables argument to a large part of the Democratic voting base and independents. And if you look down in the guts of that poll that you're referring to, in the recent polling, I mean Biden seems to be polling among the people that you would think he would, Democrats, people who are older, people who do that nostalgia argument appeals to, but not as highly as others among independents or the liberal base or the younger voters.

So there's a question of, you know, how much can he growth -- how much growth can he obtain in the general election coming from this position, especially given that a more eat your vegetables argument maybe doesn't work as well with independents and younger voters as it would with very, very established Democrats who really just are going to vote for anybody but Trump --

KING: When you have the eat your vegetables, as you put it, I want you to listen to Jill Biden's take on this. She -- Joe Biden is in Iowa today. Jill Biden was in New Hampshire. And this is kind of -- to me, a little underwhelming way to say, vote for my husband, even though a lot of you have doubts.


JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: You know, your candidate might be better on, I don't know, health care than Joe is. But you've got to look at who's going to win this election. And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, OK, I sort of personally like so-and-so better, but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.


KING: Now, the campaign says she knew she was in a room with some skeptics and Biden doubters, so she's trying to make the argument, maybe you have to swallow a little bit. But that -- that just does not sound like a strong argument for Joe.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, it -- but in some ways she is making even more explicit what that campaign ad you played a few minutes ago was saying as well, which is, you know, you talk to voters, I talked to voters in New Hampshire just this past weekend, you talk to them in Iowa and they keep saying this thing about, I just want someone who can beat Trump. I want the most electable.

And she is trying to -- Jill Biden, Joe Biden, they're all trying to make the case that, hey, look at those head to heads. Hey, look at this. Joe Biden is the most electable. That's the argument they're making. You know, there are all kinds of questions about whether focusing on electability becomes gendered, whether -- you know, and you have people like Elizabeth Warren constantly having to answer the question, are you electable? Can America elect a woman?

KING: Elizabeth Warren did answer the question. And it's an interesting point because Biden's calling card is, I beat Trump. If you look at the Fox News poll this week, all of the leading Democrats beat President Trump. So the question is, will Biden's edge erode over time if those polls continue? He does tend to beat Trump by more than the other candidates. And he's better known.

Elizabeth Warren is asked this question a lot. As she rises in the poll, largely on policy plans. Again, it's usually policy and ideology to drive a primary. A lot of voters think, oh, is she too liberal to win? Oh, will the Native American thing come back to haunt her. She says no.


ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been to blue states, red states, purple states, red parts of blue states, all because I'm reaching out to run for president of all of America. And I think the core message that we've got a Washington that works great for the wealthy and the well connected, but it's not working for anyone else is something people get whether they're Democrats, Republicans, or independents.


KING: Passion in the argument. The challenge for those not named Joe Biden is to prove that you're as tough against Trump as he is, you've got to beat Biden, right? So you've got to win Iowa. You've got to win New Hampshire. And you've got to show, well, if he's going to beat Trump, why can't he beat us?

BARRON-LOPEZ: And right now Warren and Sanders are battling each other in the polling and it's hard to see how one of them would be able to surpass Biden without the other dropping out. And so Warren, like Julian Castro, like Kamala Harris also are constantly battling the electability question. Warren because she's a woman, Harris and Castro because they're people of color or because of their gender.

[12:10:00] And what's interesting to me about Jill Biden's statement is that she said, you know, you might have preferences based on health care for another candidate, you might like their health care plan more, which is interesting because Biden is running very forcefully on Affordable Care Act and trying to shore that up. And she said, but, still, Biden is the one who can win. And it could become dangerous, as Tamara said, in the future.

KING: And it's interesting, they do the ad in Iowa where Biden, you know, you're the former vice president. You have the stature in the field, if you will, as the elder statesman. If you lose, then your -- the collapse could come, which is why you're in the first state. You're trying to protect -- hold the lead there. It's a very close state.

Remember, this is a national poll, our the CNN poll. The state polls do show a more competitive race in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

But let's just take a look at this -- just the breadth of Joe Biden's support right now among white Democrats, that's Joe Biden with a significant lead. Non-white Democrats, Joe Biden with a giant lead there. College degree, voters with a college degree, Biden on top. Voters with no college degree, a bit of a drop there, not as big of a lead to the other candidates, but still a very impressive lead there. So he's leading the pace there. You cannot move this over here, again, men and women, by gender, Bien's up. Age, this is the one issue for Biden if you look here, younger voters -- younger voters, Sanders, Warren getting a look there. Older voters, very reliability voters, that is a huge Biden advantage here.

The question is, can you hold it? What -- there's a gift when your strength is across the party. The issue is, if you come down, you'll probably go down among everybody.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, and for Biden, he has a name recognition. He has the time with Obama. And a lot of those older voters are sort of having that nostalgia and siding with him because of that.

But if another candidate who maybe is able to get more younger voters or get more people of color to rally around them, then some of the voters who have sided with Biden so far may, you know, look at other candidates in part because, you know, the support for Biden is based on nostalgia, not necessarily on this grand, broad vision for how he's going to take the country forward in the future.

KING: We're going to take a break. We'll come back to 2020 in a minute.

But we want to bring you some news just into CNN. We have multiple people now associated with the National Rifle Association who have resigned their positions amid controversy at the agency.

CNN's Sara Murray tracking this story for us.

Sara, what are we hearing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, all is not well, John, as you know, at the NRA. And now we're learning about another string of departures. Richard Childress, who is a Nascar team owner and was on the NRA board, has stepped down. Now, he still pledged to commit his support to the NRA. He doesn't mention any of the financial struggles. But he is someone who previously has brought up the amount of money the NRA is paying outside attorneys and raised that as a concern, along with Oliver North. And, remember, Oliver North was ousted as a result.

But there are others who are leaving the NRA. Craig Morgan, who is a country music singer, has resigned from the board. Sources are telling me and Michael Warren, my colleague here at CNN. And David Layman (ph), who was the number two to Chris Cox, a lobbyist at the NRA, he is also leaving.

So we have seen this string of departures, this continued sort of tumultuous spree essentially at the NRA as they've been facing a variety of financial challenges and also a lot of scrutiny from Congress, but also from attorneys general here in Washington and in New York, John.

KING: Interesting to watch, especially the timing happening as we head into a campaign season.

Sara Murray, appreciate the new reporting there.

Up next, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, acknowledges things aren't going as well as he'd hoped with China, with North Korea or with ISIS.


[12:17:54] KING: The secretary of state making waves on several front today. Mike Pompeo says the U.S. relationship with China will get even more difficult if Beijing uses force to crack down on demonstrations in Hong Kong. And acknowledges diplomacy with North Korea is not moving forward as much or as fast as he would like. And it's complicated with Secretary Pompeo's answer when asked about a recent Pentagon inspector general report suggesting ISIS is making a comeback. That report says the terror group still has some 15,000 fighters at its disposal in Iraq and Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Earlier this year you said ISIS was done and done.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, what we've -- what we've always said is the caliphate's been gone and that there's always risks that there will be a resurgent, not just from ISIS. There's risks from al Qaeda, other radical Islamic terrorist groups.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it gaining strength, in your opinion?

POMPEO: It's -- it's complicated. There's certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago, but the caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult.


KING: CNN's Kylie Atwood joins our panel.

It's interesting to listen to Secretary Pompeo when he does a round of interviews in the sense it's a candid answer there and it is complicated. It is complicated. But his tone on ISIS, on North Korea, very different from the president, who is -- sees this as black and white. Everything with North Korea is great. ISIS is gone.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. And the important thing to note about this inspector general report coming out from the Pentagon is that it harps on -- it makes obvious what generals from the U.S. have been saying for months here, that ISIS is actually continuing to grow and continuing to build off of what it already had as its foundation in both Iraq and Syria.

Now, even though the caliphate has been destroyed, we know that, President Trump has said that time and time again over the past few months, they are continuing to carry out attacks in the region. And so Secretary Pompeo said that there's less of a capability for them to carry out external attacks now, but we've heard from State Department officials and Pentagon officials that they are continuing to carry out attacks in the region and increase their presence in the region, in places like Northern Africa and Afghanistan.

[12:20:02] KING: We've seen in the past, if people have a different tone than the president, the president tends to get annoyed with them.

We haven't seen that in the case of Mike Pompeo. They seem to have -- they legitimately have a very good relationship. Pompeo has emerged as a trusted adviser.

When he does that, you know, ISIS, yes, it's complicated and in some places they're strong. Or on the issue of North Korea. Yes, it's not moving anywhere near as fast or substantively as we would like. When you listen to the president, he's like, oh, I got a great, beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un. All is great, even though they're lobbying missiles in the neighborhood still.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, we do see Pompeo tend to tie some of that light criticism or light instancing himself with a lot of praise, a lot of effusive support for the president. And he seems to get away with sort of being able to break with the president a little bit on the messaging by talking about how great is president is and saying, you know, he is my leader, I think he said, and --

KING: So he's cracked the code. Is that the issue?

KEITH: Well --

OLORUNNIPA: So far. We'll see how long that lasts.

KEITH: Pompeo is being subtle about this. He is not sort of explicitly contradicting the president. he's not admitting that he's contradicting the president. And that, you know, there's no upside for a member of the cabinet, particularly one that wants to continue to be part of the cabinet or maybe have a political future, there's no upside for them to very openly break with the president, but he is trying to find that way to subtly say, it's complicated.

KING: And one of the issues today in the interview was there's also a "New Yorker" profile out right now that calls him the secretary of Trump. It's a fascinating piece. You want to go through it because Mike Pompeo was a member of the House, then he was Trump's CIA director. Now he's the secretary of state. He's complicated himself and he's working in a very complicated administration, to be polite, to leave it there.

He was asked about it and we can play you some of them. Back in 2016, he was originally a Marco Rubio guy and he said some things about candidate Trump that were, oh, not so nice.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE (MARCH 5, 2016): You know, Donald Trump the other day said that, quote, if he tells a soldier to commit a war crime, the soldier will just go do it. He said, they'll do as I tell them to do. We've spent seven and a half years with an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution. We don't need four more years of that.

Now is the time for this campaign to pivot. It's time to turn down the lights on the circus.


KING: Seems like so long ago. Today he was asked, how do you square that with your current job?


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: You know the comments from back in 2016, it was a tough political campaign. And when I'm on your team --


POMPEO: I am all in, as I was. And when -- when my candidate left, I was all in for President Trump then, as well. And I'm in for America today.


KING: He -- we were talking about, you know, the relationship earlier. He's also one of the few people who have been able to survive being a harsh critic back then and be yet so in the president's favor now.

DEMIRJIAN: And being valued enough to serve in two very high profile positions, first CIA director and now secretary of state. And they put a lot of capital behind that, too.

I mean a really interesting point from that "New Yorker" piece was how what Mike Pompeo has done is a little microcosm of what the entire GOP has done in being very, very openly not in -- on Trump's side and critical of him when he was the candidate and then falling in line once he was the president. And you can see it in one person and you can see it in the way that Pompeo has really kind of mastered the art of how to keep the president happy while you are delivering still the -- you know, the clear criticism and the clear distinction. But in the package of, but the president's so great and he's my leader and everything else and that this is almost a model for what is happening elsewhere in the GOP sometimes less artfully potentially. Pompeo has managed to do it.

KING: The art of the something will be Pompeo's book here.

Quickly, before we go, he has a tough decision to make and some suggest he'll make it by Labor Day. Mitch McConnell and others want him to run for Senate in Kansas.

ATWOOD: Right.

KING: There's a Senate seat there. They very much want him to be the candidate. He's got a pretty good job right now and a job he clearly likes. What's he going to do? ATWOOD: And he's also entering a delicate moment in which he's now defined as the secretary of state and the CIA director for the Trump administration, or he is Pompeo, he is an individual and he is someone who wants to represent the people of Kansas, if he decides to run. And he was asked about that today, you know, if Trump wins in 2020, if he'll stay on as secretary of state, and he said he would love to stay on as long as I can. So as long as Pompeo can, not as long as President Trump wants him there, as long as it's good for him and his own identity to stay in that job.

KING: We shall see I think is the translation of that decision not made or at least not shared yet.

ATWOOD: Right.

KING: We'll wait for it.

And before we go to break, remember, the president promised meaningful background checks. That was back after a pair of mass shootings. Well, he now appears to be backing away and backing away quite significantly from that promise. Multiple Republican sources saying the president listening to voices, like Congressman Mark Meadows and the NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre, now cooling to the idea because of those conversations of pushing tighter background checks. White House sources saying the president could return to the idea when Congress comes back from recess, but wouldn't bet on it.

[12:24:55] We'll be right back.


KING: Today, new economic data points that could complicate the president's 2020 argument. The president this morning on Twitter thanking Vice President Mike Pence for towing the company line, despite some recession worries. Promises made, promises kept. You see there from the vice president, thank you, Mike, from the president, on the economy.

[12:29:53] But White House officials in recent days have kicked around proposing cutting the payroll tax. You don't do that if you aren't at least a little bit concerned about a slowdown. Today, JP Morgan Chase says President Trump's China tariffs will cost $600 per American household on average.