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Biden's Emotional Ad; Biden Still Ahead in Polls; Trump on Sidelines of Climate Session; Hurricane Watch for Puerto Rico. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 27, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But it's a massive effort. Eighty-five percent up on last year. A huge drop for Brazil. Maybe that international help. They're not seeming to accept it that readily yet until this interpersonal spat is sorted out, Victor.


And thank you for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Phil Mattingly starts right now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly. John King is off today.

Joe Biden puts out a very personal 2020 campaign ad invoking two tragic events to explain why he is running on health care.

Plus, President Trump back in Washington after that G-7 Summit, a trip he's calling, quote, a great success. Iran and China, well, they may quibble with that.

And if you want to know just how slow it is on Capitol Hill right now during the recess, well, take it away, C-SPAN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A live picture from the floor of the U.S. Senate, where senators are expected to gavel in for a brief pro forma session.

The floor of the U.S. Senate fairly empty, which was expected to begin at 10:00 this morning. We're now at 10:12.

We are still standing by and we are now waiting about 21 minutes.

We are hearing that it -- it could be a while before this pro forma session will take place.


MATTINGLY: For the record, C-SPAN is a national treasure and I believe the pro forma session that has not started yet but is supposed to start at 9:30 will be addressed shortly. But with actual really important news, we begin today with a potentially big 2020 shakeup, or at least an issues-related shift and a possible pivot on strategy. Today, Joe Biden releasing an emotional ad on health care, recalling his family's own experience navigating tragedies, while also hitting back at President Trump, as well as some of his 2020 opponents on policy.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact of the matter is, health care is personal to me. Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president try to tear down and others propose to replace it and start over, that's personal to me too.


MATTINGLY: That ad running in Iowa aptly titled "Personal" comes as a new poll could be a warning sign to the Biden camp. I stress could be. Monday's Monmouth University national poll showing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren surging. The progressive senators now tied in ahead right around the same place as Joe Biden atop the Democratic field.

Now that's a whopping 13-point drop for Biden since June. But, to be sure, this is the first poll of this cycle that puts the former vice president's solo frontrunner status in any question at all. And today his campaign is pushing back hard, citing, among other things, the small sample size and the large margin of error in the poll.

But, as this summer comes to a close, and we inch closer to the next round of fall Democratic debates, the question becomes whether or not this decline is an outlier or an early sign of what may be to come. We're going to try and answer all those questions.

Here with us to share their reporting and their insights, NPR's Asma Khalid, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Julie Davis from "The New York Times."

And, Jeff, I want to start with you in particular on the ad. We saw the vice president also tweeting out, quote, this ad wasn't easy for me. Health care is personal to me, deeply personal.

This was a deeply personal ad, which I think I saw some of your notes earlier, is a shift for him to some degree. Walk me through that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It is. I mean this is something that Joe Biden has talked about a lot on the campaign trail, why it's personal to him. He has told this story really for a long time. The story now is sadder than the last time he was running for president because of what happened to Beau Biden four years ago.

So four years ago I remember when I was watching this ad this morning how he was objecting to the idea of using this -- similar images in a draft Biden ad. It was very raw. It was right after Beau's death. A lot of time has passed since then, of course, and President Trump is in the White House. So the Biden campaign is trying to do a couple of things here. One,

they are trying to, again, shake the consciousness of the Democratic Party here and say, look, this is what this race is about. It's not about small, you know, fights or infighting on certain things, it's about the bigger picture here of defeating the president. Well, he was up on the air with an electability ad the first time around. This is about health care because the -- it's really an issue that is framing this whole debate.

And you talked about Elizabeth Warren rising, Bernie Sanders rising. Health care is one of the reasons they're rising. So what Joe Biden is trying to do is not allow any time to pass here over these summer months by not allowing any of his supporters to think, you know what, Elizabeth Warren might be right on this. Trying to shake, you know, people into remembering that he believes he's the strongest person to after (ph) him. But once you play this play, you can't do it again in October or November or December.

So I was a little bit struck by the fact that it was being used in August, that he's trying to hold on to his lead as best he can.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Asma, you've obviously paid very close attention to the race. And this is something that I kind of wanted to explore of, they've now been up with two buys, and they're not massive buys, but they're two buys. Most everybody else isn't up with anything right now.

In terms of, what's the strategy here? Is it to snuff any competitors out, is it trying to maintain a lead, or is it, this is the message they think can win?

ASMA KHALID, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I mean I think, to Jeff's point, the polling shows as well, there is this moment of volatility right now in the campaign. I don't know that I would necessarily see that one poll suggesting that Joe Biden is having a dramatic dip. But what it does show us is that there's volatility and that Democrats have not yet made up their minds.

And I do think that that is something I continuously hear from voters out on the campaign trail, whether it's in Iowa or New Hampshire in particular, there is a sense from voters that they -- that they do want some change. And whether that is sort of big structural change that Elizabeth Warren talks about, or some of the more incremental changes that Joe Biden refers to around health care, I don't know that voters clearly have a sense of that.

[12:05:36] And we see this I think here as sort of big policy differentiations between the two, but you talk to voters and I can't tell you the amount of times I meet people who say, oh, yes, I like Elizabeth Warren, but, you know, my second choice is Joe Biden. You hear that. It doesn't always sort of jive with I think what we traditionally think when we look at the two candidates' policies.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's actually a really good point. I think we all assume who's in whose lane and who's taking from whose pools of voters and then you actually look at the polling and kind of break it down and it's not necessarily exactly what we think. Or -- I was in Iowa last week and heard the similar thing of people being paired together. You're like, well, wait, that's a moderate and a liberal. What are we talking about?


MATTINGLY: It turns out the voters have their own opinions and their own voice here. I do want to get to the pollings. I know this became a big thing yesterday, and -- which naturally means I go to Harry Enten, our expert on all things surveys and polling, and he points out that you need to take things in aggregate, right? It could be an outlier. And if you look at the polls over the course of this month, (INAUDIBLE) poll separate now, you have Monmouth, you have CNN's poll, you have Fox News, you have Quinnipiac. Biden right around, average of polls, 28 percent, Warren, 19 percent, Sanders, 14 percent.

But there is a question. Elizabeth Warren is clearly moving. I don't think anybody can deny that. You've been on the ground. I've been on the ground. We've seen the operations they have on the ground.

What's the level of concern related to one poll or any polls that we've seen as we move into the fall?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think there's got to be concern about the trend more than just this one poll --


BENDER: If you're -- if you're Joe Biden. There has -- but the fact is, as you point out, Joe Biden has been ahead of -- in most of these polls for most of the time and at some point that's going to be the thing. You know, at some point we're not going to -- we're going to stop talking about who might catch Biden. And if he stays ahead of these polls, it's going to be Joe, just like it was in 2016.

But the trend here, and I think it -- you can go back to our poll at "The Wall Street Journal" back in June that just showed what a path Warren has ahead of her. Whether she can take advantage of it is another question. But she's the second choice, getting into these kind of like -- these equations that we like to do here in Washington, of every major candidate. And Sanders, the second choice of none. Even Warren's own supporters, their second choice was Harris, not Sanders. So it -- that would suggest a much tougher path for Sanders to jump ahead of Biden than Warren. But we'll see what Warren does.

And I will say, on this ad, as the -- it seems like a very compelling ad. And how many times have we sat around this table over the last six to 12 months and talked about compelling moments for Joe Biden on the trail? I don't think hardly any. So, you know, a little bit of momentum for Joe today.

MATTINGLY: It's an interesting point because I feel like we've spent multiple weeks being like, well, did he mess up a phrase on the trail or is he gaffing because he's Joe Biden? And this kind of puts the foot on the throat of that to some degree and saying, no, no, no, this is what it's all about. This is who I am.

Julie, I do want to play some sound from the vice president earlier when it gets to the idea of electability, which Jeff was talking about the first ad, and like this is the crux of the argument. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The last thing, as Barack said, we need to have it be -- have a circular firing squad. I'm not following anyone else's rules, I'm following my rules. I'm the guy everybody's talking about.

QUESTION: Who we are as a country --

QUESTION: What do you make of the polls --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Where you've been dropping since that debate performance and what do you say to those people --

BIDEN: I'm still way ahead.

QUESTION: But what do you say to those people who think --

BIDEN: It's all right (ph).


MATTINGLY: I'm still way ahead. I'm the guy head-to-head with President Trump. Whether those polls matter or not at this stage, who's up by 10 or 11 points. If that leaves or dissipates to some degree, what happens?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, I think the interesting thing to me is that this -- as Jeff pointed out, this is the type of ad you normally see like in the closing weeks, maybe months or six weeks of a campaign. The electability argument is also something that you typically hear come much later in the process than it has for Joe Biden. This is clearly his central argument and he's been very forward leaning with that.

I think his strategy here is to sort of try to stay for the -- to the extent that he can, as strong as he has been in the field, while Sanders and Warren really due duke it out. And what's been consistent in those polls, even the ones that are -- that have Biden now falling out of first place, is that Sanders and Warren are really second and third, or third and second, and really vying for that, you know, block of the progressive vote.

And so if Joe Biden can sort of keep making that argument that you heard him make there, I'm still ahead, I'm still the one to beat, while the two of them duke it out, if that lasts long enough, that, at some point, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I think he really wants to keep this narrative going that he's the frontrunner and the person to --

ZELENY: And we're finally going to find out this week, though, once the debate criteria is clear, if Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are going to share the same debate stage. There's been remarkably little cross talk between them but they do have a history on bankruptcy and other things. So once that moment -- and Elizabeth Warren has largely been unscathed in terms of questions about her policies and plans on the debate stage. So I cannot wait to find out that lineup for the September debates. We'll finding out Thursday morning.

[12:10:21] BENDER: I miss that first tier and second tier debate from 2016 that the Republicans did.

ZELENY: Right. I know.

MATTINGLY: You really wanting to relieve the primary of 2016? That was interesting.

Asma, real quick, before we go, the idea that this is just a three- person race right now. You've been on the ground. You've heard from voters talking about who they're thinking. Do you think that's the case or is there a possibility before --

KHALID: Gosh, I'm so hesitant to completely rule out some of the candidates who I think are actually building really strong grassroots organizations. I would say even someone like Cory Booker. When you actually look on the ground at what he's doing in both Iowa and New Hampshire, it's substantial.

But that being said, I don't think that we should discount in poll after poll that Elizabeth Warren, who also is building a tremendous organization, and not just in the early states. I mean she has volunteer training sessions out in places like Texas and Tennessee. And that's why we see at her rallies, when she has a rally, say in Seattle, 15,000 people her campaign says showed up. That is tremendous momentum and momentum I don't think that we're seeing from that many other candidates.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about it. Ground operations matter. We'll see who builds what and how that works in the months ahead.

All right, before we go, a flashback to Joe Biden's big moment on this day in summer 2008.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (August 27, 2008): Since I've never been called a man of few words, let me say this simply as I can. Yes. Yes, I accept your nomination to run and serve with Barack Obama, the next president of the United States of America.



[12:16:21] MATTINGLY: Fresh rejection today to overtures for a possible meeting with Iran. Hassan Rouhani says he won't meet with his American counterpart, President Trump, until all sanctions against Iran go away. This development likely stalls any near-term progress on a new nuclear deal. But the back away from outright threats is a positive to European allies and pretty much anyone worried about escalation. Another positive, President Trump's tone, at least the change in tone, on China. He went from calling China's president an enemy before the summit to calling him a great and brilliant leader at the summit's close. But the American president rarely set the tone in France at the G-7, and sometimes, either through choice or by not, he was leading from behind.

A case study, the G-7 leaders struck a pact to fight fires raging in the Amazon at a session that did not actually include President Trump. The president, for his part, told reporters he was headed to the meeting after the session had already occurred. The White House then explained the reason he missed it was because his scheduled meeting with Germany and India ran long, which is interesting because if you look at this video and picture right here, it turns out the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, were actually at the session. Right.

All right, CNN's Abby Phillip joins our conversation right now.

And, look, the G-7 was interesting. There's no question about it. But I want to at least start on the top.

What's your sense right now from the White House on their kind of broad takeaways? The president says unity, seems happy about it, is tweeting about it this morning. Other leaders, I think, had maybe a different perception. What's your sense of what the White House actually thinks?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there were no huge blowups. I mean I think a low point for the president and some of these summits was that, you know, iconic photo of all of the world leaders leaning over him, trying to get him to sign a communique. There was none of that, although the tensions were there, they were real, they were under the surface. But, at the very least, President Trump putting a positive spin on it was a victory for them. President Macron really went out of his way to try to paper over some of these differences in public, and that goes a long way with President Trump.

That being said, as you listed, I mean you listed a few of the many things that President Trump did or said in, you know, 48 hours basically at the G-7 that were either blatantly untrue or that were, you know, complete fabrications or what have you. And I think a lot of White House aides look at that and they just say that's President Trump, that's just another day in this White House. And I think -- but in the context of the president being on the world stage, it's a little bit alarming because he really did veer from end to end on various topics, whether it was trade with China or Russia or Iran.

And the picture that you take away, if you're European leaders or if you're the other world leaders at the G-7, is, where does the United States stand on any of these issues? I think it's clear there is a power vacuum here where the U.S. used to be and now it's being filled by other people, namely France and to a lesser extent Germany.

DAVIS: Well, and I thought it was so striking in that concluding news conference when he was asked what his agenda -- what the United States agenda would be for when the United States hosts the G-7 the next time around and he didn't articulate anything. I mean he basically just didn't answer the question. He doesn't have an agenda. And I think it was very apparent to anyone who was watching the G-7 this time around that he did not come in with an agenda. He didn't come in with anything he wanted to accomplish.

And it is striking just to think about the fact that the -- the very notion that he did not blow up this meeting is seen as somehow, like, OK, well, that was not as bad as it has been, because that was really the expectation that has now been sort of the expectation that's been baked in is that President Trump is going to arrive at these gatherings and really kind of break a lot of china.

And the fact that, you know, Macron worked hard to sort of pre-bake the result that they weren't even going to try for a communique, they weren't even going to try for consensus on a lot of these issues because they knew that it was a lost cause to try to persuade President Trump to join that really did shape what went on there.

[12:20:23] MATTINGLY: Yes, look, world leaders have clearly adjusted their posture on how they deal with the president. They've learned some lessons. They try to figure things out.

And, look, to be fair, if you look at some of the international headlines, I'm going to go ahead and translate them because apparently I'm fluent in French and German. "The Courrier Picard," a truce at the summit. A German newspaper, summit ends in rare unity. Crisis management with kisses. I promise you those are the actual -- the accurate translations, which I think was the message the president tried to say, at the very end of the press conference, he said unity was the world. Everything else kind of saying otherwise.

But Iran was, I think, the most interesting thing. You mentioned Emmanuel Macron essentially kind of -- almost jamming the U.S., not by just bringing the foreign minister in from Iran, but also trying to almost jam the president at the press conference to set up a meeting. And yet you listened to Hassan Rouhani last night and this is what he had to say.


HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Lift the sanctions. All the sanctions against the Iranian nation, which are illegal, cruel and wrong. Should be lifted. If you lift all these sanctions, and if you bow your head in respect to the nation of Iran, well, then the situation would be different.


MATTINGLY: So I think the interesting thing yesterday in watching it was, hey, maybe this is the breakthrough. Maybe this is a little unorthodox, but maybe this is what happens. The president saying they're -- he's willing to meet. Rouhani saying they're not going to meet until sanctions are lifted. I don't think I'm going out on a limb here and saying sanctions aren't going to be lifted any time soon.

So are we just back where we started despite what Macron tried yesterday.

KHALID: I mean that's what it sounds like. But to me also it was so striking that the president said, yes, you know, he seemed open to meeting, as if that was just sort of a normal gesture. And I mean let's remind folks, the United States and Iran have not had formal relationships since 1979. I mean no president, not even President Obama, in the midst of negotiating the original Iranian nuclear deal, shook hands. You know, met with President Rouhani.

So this idea that, you know, President Trump just sort of off the cuff seemed open to the idea speaks to sort of how volatile and unpredictable this is, which is why you have, you know, someone like Hassan Rouhani sort of setting the agenda on his own terms because he doesn't get the sense that President Trump sort of has an agenda for what he would do in terms of meeting with him.

MATTINGLY: Which also keeps the idea out there of who knows? Who knows?


PHILLIP: Yes, I mean he did the same thing with North Korea. And I think a lot of people said exactly the same thing. To give, you know, Kim Jong-un a meeting would be basically, you know, giving -- giving away the store before you even get any concessions out of North Korea. So it wouldn't be a surprise to me if President Trump did decide to -- you know, that -- that it was worth it to do that. But, obviously, Iran is -- they have a completely different calculation. They know that taking off sanctions is a completely non-starter. So they're basically shutting this conversation down, as they have been, frankly, for several weeks and months now.

MATTINGLY: Bender, we've got about 10 seconds, 20 seconds.


MATTINGLY: What happens with China?

BENDER: Well, that -- I mean --

DAVIS: Yes or no.


BENDER: Yes, exactly. In the context of the G-7, I thought it was interesting Macron saying basically, my words not his, that any deal at this point is a good deal. Trump clearly wants to get something done. Whether that happens or not, you know, it -- certainly in the next 14 months, the next 12 to 14 months before the election is going to be a lot more ups and downs that Trump, as -- as he said yesterday, you know, wants to encourage. This is his way to negotiate. And, you know, if we -- it's going to -- if it's going to rattle markets and worry people about a recession, sorry.

MATTINGLY: Yes, talking about jamming somebody, forcing Bender to explain the unexplainable in ten seconds. Sorry about that.

All right, we want to shift away from politics, at least momentarily, for an update on Tropical Storm Dorian. It's churning in the Caribbean and making its way towards Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria two years ago.

Meteorologist Jennifer Gray joins us now from the CNN Weather Center.

And, Jennifer, I guess just to get to the point, what's the latest right now?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the latest is that the storm has winds of 50 miles per hour and it's moving to the west northwest at 13 miles per hour. It's got gusts of 65 and there is still room for a little bit of strengthening before it makes -- has its interaction with Puerto Rico, could possibly have 70-mile-an-hour winds by then.

Wednesday night is when we're looking at it to make its closest brush with Puerto Rico, if not making landfall there. And so we're going to continue to watch it, of course.

Here is another look at it as it continues its track to the west- northwest. And it's going to continue on this path.

Now, the interesting thing will be what happens when it makes its interaction with Hispaniola, Dominican Republic and Haiti. Some very some high mountains right there and so it could tear the storm apart a little bit. And so depending on the -- how strong it is on the north side of that will determine a lot before making landfall with the U.S.

[12:25:02] It's going to enter some very warm water in the Caribbean near the Bahamas, and it will have a little bit of time to strengthen. So we'll be watching it very closely once it gets on the north side of that.

Now, all the models pretty much agreeing for the most part where it's going to go. It's still very far out, though, so there is still some wiggle room. But like I mentioned, those sea surface temperatures are very, very warm here, in the mid-80s or so, and so that just fuels these storms.

So if it is a little shredded up by Hispaniola, it will have time to sort of regenerate, get a little bit more energy, get better organized, and so that's why there are a lot of question marks about the southeast United States. We all need to be on the lookout, especially people that have interests in Florida, because it could get better organized, could strengthen a little bit before making landfall there of course.

As far as the rainfall goes, we're looking at two to four inches of rain in Puerto Rico. We could see some flooding, some mudslides there. And then here are all your watches and warnings. We have hurricane watches for Puerto Rico. We also have those tropical storm watches in place as well.

So, still a lot of questions, Phil, but definitely Puerto Rico needs to be on the lookout. Conditions will continue to deteriorate throughout the day tomorrow before making that possible landfall tomorrow evening.

HARLOW: Yes, a lot of questions. Jennifer, I know you'll keep a very close eye on it. Thank you very much.

And up next here, a judge in Oklahoma holds a drug company accountable for the opioid crisis. We'll revisit what's being done in Washington to tackle that epidemic.