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Next Presidential Debate Stage Set; Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE); A.G. Bill Barr To Host Private Party At Trump's D.C. Hotel; GOP Sen. Isakson Announces He's Retiring From Congress; Boris Johnson To Suspend Parliament Amid Brexit Brawl. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 16:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: In our 2020 LEAD, it looks pretty likely that more than half the Democratic field will not qualify for the next debate.

And with that deadline just hours away, a new poll shows Joe Biden with a double-digit lead over his rivals.

CNN's Arlette Saenz reports from the campaign trail in Gaffney, South Carolina.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): The next Democratic primary debate in Houston one step closer to being set, the debate likely a one-night event with 10 candidates.

And for the first time, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are preparing to take the same stage.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm just going to be me, and she will be her, and let people make the judgment. I have great respect for her.

SAENZ: The tougher polling and donor standards leaving out more than half of the Democratic primary field, with Tom Steyer on the verge of missing the cut by one poll.

The candidates off the debate stage remaining undeterred for now.

JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, yes, I'm absolutely staying in the race.

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's missing something by not having my voice. But, again, it is what it is.

SAENZ: With the next debate two weeks away, a new Quinnipiac national poll shows Biden leads his closest rivals by double digits, similar to his advantage in a CNN survey released last week.

Today, Biden taking his pitch to South Carolina, where black voters make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate.

BIDEN: We can't just campaign to beat Donald Trump.

SAENZ: Black Democratic voters are a key component of Biden's support, with 46 percent saying they back the former vice president.

Biden telling a group of black reporters this week: "People know me, or at least they think they know me, after all this time. They have a sense of who my character is, and who I am, warts and all."


SAENZ: Now, Joe Biden told that group of reporters that he would prefer to pick as a running mate either a woman or a person of color, but Biden adding he can't commit to that just yet. He wants to make sure that that choice is authentic and that the person can be on the same page with him -- Dana.

BASH: Arlette, thank you so much.

And back with our panel now.

This new poll today from Quinnipiac University mirrors CNN's poll, and one other, which shows that Joe Biden still has a significant lead. It turns out that the one earlier this week from Monmouth was an outlier because that showed Joe Biden had a significant dip.

I should say the head of that poll even admitted they were an outlier. But, overall, what do we now see about where this race is?

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, my view is that, at this point, voters are still getting to know everybody. You have still got a relatively big field.

These polls are usually relatively small sample sizes, so you're probably going to have large bands of error. Joe Biden's got a lot of things going for him at this stage of the race. The question is, are those things going to be able to sustain him as the progressive base of the party begins to settle in on a candidate, right?

The thing about the Monmouth poll that was interesting is, if you total up the Sanders and Warren share, it, you know, sort of outstrips whatever Biden has in that poll or any other poll for that matter.

So, if I were Biden I would be a little concerned with that, but at this point it's clear there is some durability to his numbers.


I would say, though, that David Yepsen, who is an old columnist -- not old as in old, but...


PSAKI: ... long time -- he said the other day that the most popular voting bloc is undecided in Iowa. And it will be that two weeks before the caucus. And I have spent a number of years in Iowa.

BASH: We should say that you were President Obama's, were then President Obama's Iowa press secretary.

PSAKI: And I worked for John Kerry and had the same job.

And I will tell you, people are still getting to know these candidates. If you look at the polls, the positive number, the favorability numbers are interesting, because a lot of them are not known by a huge percentage of the population, but if they have high favorables among that, that is an interesting sign.

So not a lot has changed in the race. But I'm a believer there is still a long way to go, and there could be a lot of movement that could take place among some of these candidates.

I did think that Elizabeth Warren had a very good sign in there for her in this poll, where her support among demographic groups was similar, was pretty evenly spread. Her support among age groups was similarly spread. So she doesn't have a big weak point on that front. And that's probably a good sign for her team.

BASH: One of the things that many of the undecided voters, in Iowa and elsewhere, say almost across the board on the Democratic side is, they want to beat President Trump. Right?

So we do have some new numbers about what some of these Democratic candidates would look like stacked up. And the ones that you see on the screen, they would all beat President Trump by double digits. Even Buttigieg, according to this poll, would beat President Trump by 9 percentage points.

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: I think it is a little early to know how real and lasting and durable those numbers are.


For example, if you look at Elizabeth Warren, no one has ever gone after her yet. She has pretty much had a free pass in all of these debates. The next debate, are they going to -- yes, is someone going to go after her, start dinging her?


FERRIER: So there is going to be a lot more of the attacks on each other as the field narrows. There's going to be more hits taken, and they're going to see that reflected in the polls.

And also when President Trump, whether you like him or hate him, he is right now -- yes, he is known. Once he is up against someone, there will be someone to attack and go after. Right now, there's 10 on your next debate stage.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Those polls that you mentioned, I think another reason why Trump is freaking out, because, before, it really was just Biden, and so he would go after Biden.

Now it's a whole slew of Democrats. But I think that also shows that I do think the race is fluid. Right now, Biden does have some solid numbers for him. But, look, a day is a lifetime in politics. We know this now better than at any other time.

Anything can happen. So I think that the Biden camp needs to make sure that they are making the case in Iowa, that they are making the case in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.

Those state polls, I think, are going to be the ones that are going to really going to see, show us what the trend lines are, and what people need to be paying attention to.

BASH: And we have to mention that today is decision day for the next debate. And it looks like, when the clock strikes midnight, that 10 Democrats will make the stage. We see them on the screen.

And it will be a stage, not two stages, which means 12 Democrats who are still in likely will not.

PSAKI: And it is an entirely new dynamic. It will be, as Antonia just referenced.

No one has seen Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren on the stage together. And they will at this debate. And they will see how the candidates interact with each other. So that will be compelling and interesting.

Look, this is a field that was bigger than the Democrats have ever had. And we have had an opportunity...

FERRIER: Welcome.

PSAKI: I know. Welcome. You all experienced it last time.



PSAKI: And we have had an opportunity to see a lot of them.

But I think I join a lot of Democrats who feel like it's time to winnow the field, it is good that it is one stage. We need to see these candidates up against each other, and really debating, and not just kind of having a conversation.

CHEN: I think that's right.

And you're going to see real contrast on an issue like health care, where Joe Biden's got an ad out now basically creating the opening for him to attack Warren and Sanders on Medicare for All.

We're actually going to see that debate between front-runners. And for those who didn't make it, I would say this. Look, we're talking about four polls out of 21 at 2 percent or more. Stop complaining. There is a reason why you're not on the debate stage. It's because

people are not going to vote for you. And so this is actually going to be a debate between people who could potentially be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and if I were a Democrat, I would be excited to see that contest.

CARDONA: I think that's right. This isn't only one stage. It is the next stage in the Democratic primary, I believe, because even though all of those people who did not make the stage swear that they're going to be staying in and they're going to try to make a threshold for the upcoming debate, to your point, that's going to be incredibly difficult.

BASH: I see what you did there. That was a nice wordplay, Maria.




BASH: Searching for a win ahead of the 2020 election, President Trump reportedly tells his aides, you can break the law, if you give me my wall.

A key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee responds live next.



BASH: Our politics lead, build the wall, even if it breaks the law.

Two officials telling CNN that President Trump offered to pardon U.S. officials for any potential wrongdoing in order to get his border wall finished by Election Day, a signature promise of his campaign and his presidency.

And according to "Washington Post," which broke the story, Mr. Trump told aides to take the land, if they have to, and disregard environmental regulations.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining me.

First question is, what is your reaction to this reporting that the president offered to pardon officials if they break the law in order to get his wall built?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Dana, this is just another in the daily cavalcade of outrages from this president.

The idea that he is so determined to meet one of his campaign promises to build a wall with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, that, today, two-and-a-half years into his presidency, he is not only diverting money from hurricane relief and from Department of Defense projects, but he is offering to pardon folks in his administration if they break the law by seizing private land, and racing through the contracting process in order to get it done, it's hard to know what to say, other than, it's Wednesday, and our president has done another outrageous thing.

My hope is that the American public is paying attention. And there is a reason why Joe Biden continues to enjoy a double-digit lead over his competitors for the presidential nomination. Americans know that Joe Biden would address these issues.

The ways in which President Trump's antics at the G7, suggesting we should invite Russia back to the table, would be changed fundamentally, and promptly, if Joe Biden were our president.

And the ways in which President Trump's attacks today on Puerto Rico, even as it faces a likely hurricane, would be the exact opposite of how a President Joe Biden would conduct himself in office.

BASH: I think it was pretty obvious there, but we should say you have endorsed Senator Biden. You're a fellow...

COONS: I have endorsed Joe Biden for president, yes.

BASH: A fellow Democrat from Delaware.

I want to ask you about something else that is in the news that we have heard about. And that is Bill Barr, the attorney general, plans to hold a $30,000 Christmas party at the Trump Hotel here in Washington.

[16:45:00] He is paying for it with his own money, says ethics officers signed off. Do you think that's appropriate as a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee?

COONS: Oh it's troubling that our Attorney General doesn't see any problem with spending a significant amount of money on very publicly holding a Christmas party at a hotel that is owned by and has the name of our president on the very front of it.

President Trump has done nothing to significantly distance himself from his ongoing economic interests and the most recent proof of that was yesterday when at the G7 he publicly announced that next year when the United States hosts the G7, he thinks the best place to have it would be at a Trump-owned resort in Florida, the Doral.

So we have a president who doesn't respect the boundaries between the Emoluments Clause of our Constitution, his own personal interests, and the possible conflicts of interest in his public conduct. And now we have an attorney general who I think is blind to the potential appearance of impropriety by his -- having his annual cocktail party, his holiday party -- excuse me -- at the Trump Hotel in Washington.

BASH: Is there anything Congress can do about it or the Senate?

COONS: It's just another disturbing development.

BASH: Is there anything the Judiciary Committee can do about it as a part of its oversight function?

COONS: Well, when we get back into session September 9th, I'm certainly going to be talking with colleagues about whether there's something we could do in the appropriations process or something we could do as members of the Judiciary Committee to suggest that it's inappropriate for the Attorney General to take this step.

BASH: Before I let you go, I want to ask about some breaking news today out of the Senate, and that is Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia announced that he's going to resign from Congress because of failing health. I know, Senator, that you and he worked well together across party lines which people don't see much these days.

COONS: Johnny is one of the kindest, most decent, most capable people I've ever served with. He and his wife Diane are great friends of my wife's and mine and I am frankly heartsick at the idea of Johnny retiring at the end of this year. I can't imagine the Senate without him. He's part of the glue that holds us together.

He is just exactly the sort of person that you would hope serves in the Senate tireless and advocating for his constituents, someone who has legislated across the aisle repeatedly and successfully, someone who's humble and hard-working, capable, and faithful. I will deeply miss him and I look forward to years of friendship in the future and to serving out the rest of this year with him.

I'm the Vice-Chairman of the Ethics Committee. He's the chairman and he has led the Ethics Committee very capably with a balance of a common sense and good character. And in my first term in the Senate, I was the chairman of the Africa Subcommittee and he was my ranking member. We've traveled together, we've legislated together. I will deeply miss Johnny Isakson in the United States Senate.

BASH: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you so much, Senator.

COONS: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And up next, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a rare request of the Queen. We'll explain next.


[16:50:00] BASH: In our "WORLD LEAD," protest in London after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed he's going to suspend parliament in the middle of the Brexit crisis. He's even dragging the Queen into the drama. She essentially had to approve his request to suspend Parliament whether she agreed with it or not.

The move will make it even harder for ant-Brexit British lawmakers to fight against the referendum. Now, President Trump is backing up his friend Johnson today saying he is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for. CNN's Richard Quest joins me now from London. Richard, what does this mean for the future of Brexit?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the No Deal Brexit train is careening down the tracks towards October the 31st. And any effort by MPs in the building behind me to try and stop it suddenly got much harder. There was only a limited number of sitting days between now and then, and there are even fewer.

Now Boris Johnson has suspended Parliament. He's basically gone as close as possible to the nuclear option. People are calling it a constitutional outrage, unconstitutional, undemocratic. Tonight, no- deal Brexit looks a lot closer.

BASH: And Richard, on top of all of this, President Trump is getting involved.

QUEST: Oh yes. His tweet today would be very hard for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, to seek a no-confidence vote against new Prime Minister. Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for and will prove to be a great one. I suppose instead of the chosen one. Love U.K.

Now, think about this. Just think about it. Could you imagine a foreign politician commenting on the internal politics of the United States? He would run a mile. But the U.S. president has no compunction in immersing himself in the British internal politics as he did with Theresa May praising Johnson against May time and again.

So Boris Johnson may not be very happy to have the endorsement tonight of being the great one or a great one. But the reality, Dana, is no- deal Brexit is much closer tonight than it was. The U.K. is in a perilous state in many ways in terms of its relations with Europe. And Boris and Donald Trump may have made things just a little bit worse.

[16:55:04] BASH: All right, Richard Quest thank you for breaking that all down from London. I appreciate it. And any minute the new hurricane Dorian forecast from the National Hurricane Center. We'll bring it to you. Take a break. We'll be back.


BASH: Any minute, we will get an update on hurricane Dorian, currently a category one hurricane, hitting the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. You can follow me on Twitter @DANABASHCNN or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.