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Biden Touts African-American Support; Next Presidential Debate Stage Set; Puerto Rico Braces For Hurricane. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 15:00   ET



STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, that's the big part here, is that he could be facing criminal charges because of this, one being filing a false report.

But he also could be facing civil charges because of the fact there was so much money spent on trying to find out where this sniper was that did not exist. And Villanueva put it in hundreds of thousands of dollars that it cost to go and try to find somebody who just wasn't there, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Stephanie Elam, thank you for the update.

Hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The situation in the Caribbean has decidedly changed. Dorian is now a Category 1 hurricane hovering over the Virgin Islands and spinning right toward Puerto Rico. The storm has not only strengthened, but it changed course overnight and is now traveling the same path of 2017's Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico's east side.

Outer bands of rain are already moving in. And forecasters say, by the time it clears Puerto Rico, it could jump to a major hurricane, possibly, they're saying, a Category 3, and spin straight toward the U.S. mainland, specifically to Southeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.


BALDWIN: Let's go straight to Puerto Rico and just see how people are bracing for Dorian's hit.

Omar Jimenez is our CNN national correspondent there in Humacao.

And, Omar, heavy rain, flash flooding. You just heard Tom. We know people are still -- there are still blue tarps on people's roofs as you as you land there in San Juan. So, are people ready?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, at this point, well, the good news, I want to start with that, is that the rain has subsided a little bit, as opposed to what we saw in a little bit more heavier fashion earlier today. But we're not quite out of the woods yet. When you ask the question are they ready, this was really a test and really the first test for this -- for this new governor in how this island would be prepared.

And, of course, you talk about Hurricane Maria, happened less than two years ago. There are still many places that are feeling the effects of the damage and devastation that that brought, whether that is still tarps on roofs, whether that is homes that are still yet to be rebuilt.


And there is great concern about those people, trying to get them to shelters in case of heavy winds or flash flooding. Now, even though Dorian continues to gather strength just off the east coast of where we are here on the island, the rain was going to be the biggest fear in this, the fact that, in some parts of the mountainous regions, they thought the rain could get up to 10 inches, and potentially trigger landslides, and even flow down into some of the towns below.

That remains to be seen. But one of the more long-term fears that Puerto Rican officials have here stems from the fact that we are now in our second hurricane season for this part of the world. And specifically for Puerto Rico and some of the neighboring Virgin Islands, there's infrastructure that has yet to get a permanent fix from the effects of Maria, again, less than two years ago.

And so that fear again gets compounded on when you have a threat like Dorian coming through your doorstep.

BALDWIN: Omar Jimenez, thank you. I'm glad the rain is less for now. Puerto Rico, it feels so vulnerable ahead of this storm.

The president is taking his shots, tweeting today that -- quote -- "We are tracking closely Tropical Storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready and will do a great job. And, when they do, let them know it. Give them a big thank you, not like last time," he says. "That includes from the incompetent mayor of San Juan."

And here's another quote: "Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Congress approved billions of dollars last time, anymore than any place else has ever gotten. And it is sent to crooked politicians, no good."

"And, by the way," he goes on, "I'm the best thing that's ever happened to Puerto Rico."

John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst.

I know. I see you shaking your head. I was just talking to a woman who's headed back down tomorrow to see her family in Puerto Rico. The word she used to me is traumatized. They are traumatized from Maria and fearful of this storm.

And you have the commander in chief, who really should be holding their hands, supporting them, is disparaging, disparaging them.


I mean, look, he can't help himself. That first tweet, he almost got through it sounding presidential. In the last line, he had to kick them when they're down. His impulse is to attack the victim and to politicize national tragedies. He is unable, it appears, to act as comforter in chief.

And then with that egotistical last line, "I'm the greatest thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico," this is a guy who denied the death toll, tried to politicize the death toll. There's still not been an appropriate inquest into how more Americans died during Hurricane Maria than died during 9/11.

This is a national scandal. And in the wake of it, he is behaving badly and blaming the victim again, as they are feeling the brunt as we speak.

BALDWIN: As we add to that -- and, of course, watch what's happening in Puerto Rico really closely, I want to talk about what happened, the reporting out of "The Washington Post" today.


BALDWIN: So, breaking the law to build the border wall, that's what aides are saying the president is willing to do in this new piece out of "The Post" this morning.

It is not just to fulfill a campaign promise, but to get it finished before the 2020 election, folks. Citing "The Post" -- quote -- "The president has told senior aides that a failure to deliver on the signature promise of his 2016 campaign would be a letdown to his supporters and an embarrassing defeat" -- end quote.

So, reportedly, the president is directing aides to fast-track billions of dollars in construction contracts, aggressively seizing private land, and disregard environmental rules.

And, to add on, Trump reportedly offered this -- quote -- "He also told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing, should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly."

So what does this say about this president's priorities, especially when it comes to reelection?

AVLON: This story is huge. This is incredibly significant. It's not about presidential politics. It's not about fulfilling promises. It's not even about using eminent domain, something that conservatives used to really worry about, now grown silent as President Trump does it every day.


AVLON: This is about the president of the United States promising members of his administration that, if they break the law, at his orders, he will pardon.

That is weaponizing presidential pardons in a totally different way, not for past crimes, but for future crimes they may commit at the president's request. That is truly dangerous stuff. And that's where everyone should be focused today.

BALDWIN: So what are aides to do if they're told, hey, it's OK, do what you need to do, I will pardon you?

There was a piece in "The Times" where it talked about the former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who was sort of the adult in the room, would be the one who would say to the aides, hey, if you're asked to do something that's a little shady, don't do it.

He's gone.


BALDWIN: Who's there to say, don't do it?

AVLON: The guardrails are off. There are too many Trump enablers.


Look, everyone in the White House serves at the pleasure of the president, but they also serve with an eye toward something more important, supporting the Constitution, upholding our highest traditions.

They're being asked to break the law. Even if the president's winking and nodding and say, I will pardon you, if you stick with that, you're complicit at the end of the day. And we have had reports that the president's done this kind of thing before. But this is really stark, and against the pressures of a reelection, where he's clearly willing to do almost anything.

The fact that he's dangling pardons for people he's asking to commit possibly illegal acts is huge. Don't take your eye off that ball.

BALDWIN: And stop me if you have heard this before. My executive producer just got in my ear to tell me as you were talking that he just tweeted. Here's a tweet.

So he's calling this a fake story out of "The Post" today. And he says that he was joking.


BALDWIN: No, forgive me. The White House officials -- I mean, the White House official said he was joking in the piece.


The White House officials, when they come forward and say the president was joking, it's because that's all they got. They know something like it was said, and so they're going to say was a joke. BALDWIN: We have heard that before.

AVLON: We have heard that before. That's one of the sort of deflect, distract, dodge, divide tactics.

Now the president's denying it. Unfortunately, the president's got a fundamental credibility gap, because he has a pattern of not telling the truth, and because he's offered things like this in the past. And we have seen this in previous stories.

So the White House is denying. The president is. This has the ring of credibility, given that it's such a priority for the president and his -- as he sees his legacy and his reelection, but don't take your eye off the ball, the seriousness of a president dangling pardons and asking people to commit illegal acts.

BALDWIN: I appreciate you making that point.

And it just brings me to this Frank Bruni op-ed in "The New York Times" this morning.


BALDWIN: He writes this piece. It's called "Donald Trump Has Worn Us All Out."

Let me just quote Frank -- quote -- "I wouldn't be surprised if voters consciously or subconsciously conclude that they just can't continue to live like this and that four more years would be ruinous, if not to the country as a whole, then to our individual psyches. By the time Election Day rolls around, they may crave nothing more electric than stability and serenity."

He ends by saying: "They'd like a new miniseries with a different cast. And Democrats aren't giving them that if they keep -- giving it to them if they keep putting Trump's name above the title. On Saturday and then again on Sunday, I turned the whole damn show off and fled to the park for fresh air. I pray that is some sort of omen."

What do you think of that?

AVLON: Look, I think a return to normalcy probably is what a lot of folks really do want.

I think it partly accounts for Joe Biden's buoyancy in the polls. It's not that he's letting folks on fire. But he reminds them of the fact that government doesn't like to be like this, that America doesn't need to be like this.

And there are some folks who are just sort of giddily attracted to the disrupter in chief, who liked to watch all the entertainment of the president acting like a crazy person. But at the end of the day, this is our republic. This isn't a reality show.

And I do think there's going to be a Democratic argument that says, this isn't us, and we can do better, and we can be saner. And that's not such a crazy argument to make.

BALDWIN: John Avlon, thank you. Thank you very much.

Speaking of politics, the debate stage is set. We will tell you who made the cut and look at the road ahead for those who did not.

Plus, Joe Biden sits down with a group of African-American journalists -- why he says racism in America is -- quote, unquote -- "a white man's problem."

And 11 suspicious deaths at one VA hospital prompts Senator Joe Manchin to get involved there in West Virginia -- details on the potential wrongdoing now being investigated.

Much more to discuss. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: One debate stage, one debate night, and serious signs that the Democratic field maybe winnowing.

The next 2020 debate has essentially been decided. And a new Quinnipiac poll reveals who made the cut for the DNC's polling standards of 2 percent, which means these 10 faces will all share one stage.

This new poll also shows former Vice President Joe Biden maintaining his lead, with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders still trailing him.

CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is live in Las Vegas, where some of these candidates are speaking at this convention.

So, you're talking to some of these candidates. What are they saying about actually making it to this next debate?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amy Klobuchar just wrapped her comments to the press here, speaking after she addressed the AFL-CIO in the state. And she said very simply -- quote -- "I made the playoffs."

That's how she's viewing it, that they are looking now at the top half of the Democratic field. And what she's hoping for, as she told us just now, that you will have -- basically have a bigger audience, that Democratic voters who are really curious about the state of this race right now, that there will be more of them, that she will have her chance to speak to a larger audience.

At least, that's the hope. Cory Booker said, hey, he's happy to see the field whittled down and just to make it a little less complicated for voters.

But, Brooke, when you think about whittling down, and there's still that number of candidates on one stage, they are all still talking about how it is still going to be difficult to get their message across -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: The playoffs, mid-September. We will all be tuned in for one night. Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

And speaking of, just a couple days ago, former second lady Jill Biden made the case for her husband by essentially saying he's the only one who president -- can actually beat President Trump.


But today, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the former vice president seemingly countered that approach.

Here he was:


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact of the matter is, I think we're going to see his -- all his worst instincts come out, both internationally and nationally, if the economy does, in fact, continue to slide.

I think you're going to see more attacks on immigrants, inflame racial division, to tear the nation apart. And we -- so we can't just campaign to beat Donald Trump.


BALDWIN: Can't just campaign to beat Donald Trump. That's new from him.

He's also focusing on why he's the best Democrat for African- Americans. He spoke with a group of black journalists for this intimate, exclusive conversation.

And this is part of what he said -- quote -- "The bad news is that I have a long record. But the good news is that I have a long record. 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."

Astead Herndon is one of those journalists who was in that room. He's a national political reporter for "The New York Times" and a CNN political analyst.

So, Astead, welcome back, sir. How are you?


BALDWIN: I'm well.

I know that Biden didn't attend NABJ, the National Association of Black Journalists. Neither did Kamala Harris earlier this month. They were in Iowa. But on this, this intimate interview, can you just tell me the backstory of how you all came together yesterday? And what was the overall tone of the conversation?

HERNDON: Yes, the campaign reached out to a number of black journalists from different outlets. And we met in Washington yesterday for what was a 90-minute kind of freewheeling conversation with the vice president.

Now, we went around and asked him questions, but this was really the vice president's show. He was taking up the majority of the time being able to answer different questions and kind of stretch a wide range of issues.

Now, as you mentioned, he is painting himself as the candidate who uniquely has that black support. He's looking at the field and seeing that his closest rivals are Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders. And to that extent, he's saying, well, I am the one that has the diverse coalition. I am not a candidate of kind of white educated or progressive voters, but I'm the candidate of kind of a cross-racial working-class coalition.

That's a little bit of a different electability message than we have heard from him recently. And I think, with those comments today, it just shows that he's getting -- more and more sharpening his message as we move forward.

BALDWIN: I want to come back to that point.

But just quickly, you mentioned the campaign reached out to you all. But were there any black journalists from conservative-leaning outlets in the room that you know of?

HERNDON: Not that I know of. I mean, I think that they -- I don't know who the campaign reached out to. It's not for me to kind of say who they invited largely.

BALDWIN: Got you. OK.


HERNDON: And so I can't be sure.


One way he could diversify his ticket is his running mate. Any indication who he maybe is considering?

HERNDON: I think they have taken this step by step.

I think initially Vice President Biden was trying to project that he was kind of above the fray in the Democratic primary, but he has kind of, through the debates and the like, been brought down, and not necessarily in polling, but just engaging with his rivals for a kind of fight for each primary vote. They're trying not to look too far ahead and say, well, I have been

the presumptive nominee, but take this step by step. I mean, he mentioned yesterday in our conversation about the risk in Iowa and, if he doesn't win Iowa, how things can change immediately.

He said how some Democrats maybe have taken votes for granted and he doesn't want to be that. So he's changed up that message initially. The only time he spoke about vice presidential candidates, he said he was open to a woman or a person of color, but like his relationship with President Obama, he wanted someone who trusted him and they could work as a team.


You made a point about how Biden is pursuing and really winning over older black voters, Astead, but there seems to be a generational divide when it comes to young black voters. Does he seem to essentially expect that they will fall in line and support him in the end, the younger folks?

HERNDON: Now, the younger folks, they recognize they have competition on that front. Those trend more progressive, with Senator Sanders and Senator Warren really making inroads among younger voters, including younger voters who are minorities.

The vice president said yesterday, I go to colleges, I get good crowds in colleges. But he made a point that I thought was interesting. He said, when we look at the voter, when we look at the black vote, it's majority folks who are over 50.

He talked about the Urban League, the church crowd, NAACP crowd. He knows who butters his bread. He knows it's going to be older voters. And he kind of, in saying, says, even if Warren and Sanders win those younger voters, I still think I win the black vote overall, and that is the most important thing.

BALDWIN: Did he mention his good friend Barack Obama more than once?

HERNDON: As the vice president often does, he did invoke Barack Obama.

BALDWIN: He did.

HERNDON: He talked specifically about -- he talked specifically about that vetting process and their close relationship.


But he's trying to say that he has a record with black communities that extends past Barack Obama. He talks a lot about Wilmington, Delaware, and his relationships there. I have been there and talked to those communities that really like and support him and how he does well in those towns.

So, of course, because it's Vice President Biden, we got a lot of Obama talk, but he tried to make sure he expanded it out also. BALDWIN: Special you were in the room. Astead Herndon, thank you so much for reporting back. Appreciate you.

HERNDON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Back to breaking news.

Dorian strengthens, now into a hurricane -- the latest on where the storm is heading and how those in the path are getting ready.