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INSIDE POLITICS

Biden Leaders Democratic Field; September Democratic Debate Stage Likely Set; Steyer Spends Big Money; Dorian Forecast to Hit U.S.; Dorian Closes in on Puerto Rico. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:14] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Fred.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

Puerto Rico's fragile recovery after Hurricane Maria will likely be tested by a new storm. Dorian is now projected to become a major hurricane before taking aim at the U.S. East Coast.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis is now giving his version of events for the first time since his tumultuous departure from the Trump administration.

And, is the stage set? New 2020 polls out this morning suggest half the candidates won't qualify for the next presidential debate. Montana Governor Steve Bullock is one of them and he says he's not sweating it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've seen that these debates, people go up, people go down, but we still have a long way to go along the way. So certainly any opportunity to actually be speaking to voters or getting our message out we'll sure take a look at.

I do think this early on it's missing something by not having my voice. But, you know, again it is what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: We begin this hour with clarity from two new polls about what the next Democratic debate will likely look like. We say debate singular because unless another poll drops before midnight that the DNC uses for candidates to qualify, it will be a one-night only stage, set with ten podiums. And you see the names there on your screen.

Now, Tom Steyer, as of this moment, will miss the cut. He needs one more poll at 2 percent to qualify. So will Tulsi Gabbard. She needs to register 2 percent in two more polls.

The DNC's criteria have now effectively cut the field in half from 20 at CNN's debate last month to 10 next month at the debate. Now, today's polling also brings good news for the man who will be in

the center, and that is Joe Biden. The former vice president has a significant lead where he's been in most -- almost every national poll since the campaigns launched. The big question, as more voters start to tune in, as summer ends, will Biden stay there?

Let's get straight to CNN's Arlette Saenz, who is in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where Biden is set to speak this hour.

Arlette, what are you hearing from the Biden camp about the latest polling and how comfortable he is being in that center stage?

ARLETTE SAENZ CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Dana, Joe Biden's going to appear here shortly, holding a town hall in South Carolina, as he continues to ride high in these polls. We're seeing Biden as this new Quinnipiac poll holding on to his double-digit lead over his closest rivals, Biden coming in at 32 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 19 percent, Bernie Sanders at 15 percent. This mirrors pretty similar to a CNN poll that was released last week, but it also comes after a poll from Monmouth University earlier in the week show that there was no clear leader in the race between Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

But today Monmouth's polling director did call that poll an outlier, which is something the Biden campaign has been very quick to point out. The Biden campaign -- the campaign manager has also pointed out that Biden is leading among most demographics in this new Quinnipiac poll, which includes among black voters, Biden coming in at 46 percent among support from black Democratic voters.

But one big takeaway, as you mentioned, from this poll, is that it appears we are only going to have one night in the next Democratic primary debate with only ten candidates. And, Dana, for the first time we're going to be likely seeing Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren face off. That's likely a contest that many Democrats are eager to see how it's going to play out in Houston in just a few weeks.

Dana.

BASH: That is such a good point, important point. It is a dynamic we have not seen face-to-face.

Arlette, thank you so much for that reporting.

Here with us at the table to share their reporting and their insights is Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," Molly Ball with "Time," Catherine Lucey of "The Wall Street Journal" and NPR's Franco Ordonez.

Thanks, all -- one and all for coming.

So we just saw on the screen, and we heard from Arlette, all the people who are going to be at the debate. And let's look at the people who likely -- we have to wait till midnight to know for sure, but likely miss the cut. You can see on the screen there, everyone from Tom Steyer to Joe Sestak. But, more importantly, people who are sitting senators, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and others. So what -- you heard Steve Bullock, who is also on this list, sitting governor of Montana, say, oh, it's no big deal. Are they just saying that because they have to say that or do we think that it is possible for any of these ten to climb back if they're not on a major debate stage?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what's important to remember, too, is that, obviously, being on the debate stage gives the candidates a lot of visibility. We've seen how these very dramatic moments in the first two debates had changed a little bit in the trajectory of the race. I'm thinking about the -- back to the Kamala/Biden moment in the first debate, particularly as a point where Senator Harris shined and really gained some traction for her race.

[12:05:21] But a key thing to remember is that there is a debate after the September debate. It comes in October. And what's important to remember is that the criteria actually doesn't change the qualification window for the September -- for the October debate is actually longer and the donor threshold's the same and whatnot. So for the candidates who are really on that bubble of qualifying, so people who have perhaps met the donor threshold but haven't qualified for the polling threshold, so people like Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson, they do have some time to try to make that ground. The October debate could actually be bigger than the September debate.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": But being off the debate stage certainly doesn't help if you are on the bottom end of this tier and with fundraising, with getting the support that you need to keep going.

I think another thing to think about, when you talk to voters -- and I'm sure you've heard this from people -- Democratic primary voters really want to see this winnowing at this point.

BASH: Yes.

LUCEY: I was out over the summer talking to people. A lot of people I heard from were saying, I can't even really tune in until this field narrows. So I think there is going to be sort of a push from actual -- the actual voters to sort of see this become a more manageable group.

BASH: Well, let's talk -- take a look at the people who are going to be on the debate stage and the leaders right now in this race. What we have done is we have averaged the last four polls that we have seen, that CNN considers legitimate polls. And that average, Biden is 28 percent, so well ahead, Warren, 18, Sanders, 15, Harris -- Kamala Harris, 7 and Pete Buttigieg, 4.

Now, I just want to note that included in that average is Monmouth, which had a big dip earlier this week for Joe Biden. This morning, the Monmouth polling director said that his own poll is an outlier. But, still, it -- so that -- so that just gives you that context.

But all in all, if you look at the average, Joe Biden is still -- even including that is still far ahead of the others. MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's still the frontrunner,

absolutely. But I think it's significant that he does not have this sewn up, that he still is getting a lot of Democrats who say they're open to other candidates. You still see a vast majority of Democratic primary voters saying that they're still making up their minds.

He -- what he hasn't done is locked down those people who may be telling pollsters, yes, if the primary was today, that's who I'd pick, but they haven't committed so firmly to him that they're not still shopping around, playing the field. There's this funny dynamic where, like Catherine said, Democrats do really want this field to get smaller. They don't want to be the ones to do it. You still hear so many people on the campaign trail saying, I wish they'd just figure out who the -- who the five are and then I'll start watching.

BASH: Yes, well, that's going to happen. It's called voting.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: And Biden has also held on. I mean he's suffered some gaffes in the earlier debates and there has been questions and criticism about whether he could sustain. He has been able to do that, at least so far. It is still very early. But he has been able to sustain.

And while Elizabeth Warren is kind of moving up, obviously, and doing better, he has still been able to successfully make a case that he is the one who could put up an electability fight and being someone who can really challenge President Trump.

BASH: Well, and let -- let's dig deeper into the kinds of Democratic voter that are out there and what they're looking for because I think it's very noteworthy.

First, we look at the liberal -- the most liberal voters. That's how they describe themselves. Warren is well ahead, 34 percent, Sanders, who was kind of the original, the godfather of this -- of this segment of the population back in 2016, is trailing her, 2 percent%, Biden at 15. And then the younger voters, Sanders, who had a lot of people feeling the Bern of 2016. He still does have the young people, 31 percent, Warren, 25, Biden, 10 percent. And then the older votes, may or may not be a surprise that the oldest -- one of the oldest candidates, because Bernie is the oldest, Bernie Sanders is the oldest, Biden is right behind him, he's 48 percent of 65 plus-year-old voters, Warren, 20, Sanders 4. They vote. They tend to vote more than others. They're more reliable voters.

But it's interesting how they're all spread out. And I should also add that Biden, because he is the leader overall, he obviously leads in almost every demographic except for young voters and very liberal voters.

LUCEY: Yes, and I think what you're hearing from a lot of voters, but particularly the older voters, is this question of electability. And that's the argument that the Biden campaign is making so aggressively is, they seen him as the most -- strongest candidate to take on President Trump, the most electable. They're really pushing that argument. And I think that with older voters, voters who are consistent at the polls, that that is something that really motivates them.

KIM: What I find so interesting, too, is the fact that Elizabeth Warren is leading among the very liberal voters, because you would naturally think perhaps Bernie Sanders --

BASH: Exactly.

[12:10:00] KIM: Would still have that as a lock. So what that tells me, at least for -- at least for that poll, is that Warren is seen as a little bit more electable in a general than Bernie Sanders. And I think with Sanders, it would be much easier -- I mean not that Republicans wouldn't do this anyway, but for Bernie Sanders it would be a lot easier for Republicans to tag him with the socialist label, because that is something that he embraces. And I think most other candidates, while, you know, pushing progressive ideas and progressive policy platforms are cognizant of that and willing -- and are careful and cognizant of how that would play in a general election.

BASH: Before we leave this segment, we just want to point out Tom Steyer and talk about his effort -- desperate effort to spend his money -- he's got a lot of it -- to make this debate stage. And it looks like, unless something changes before the clock strikes midnight, he will fail in that attempt.

Look how much he spent. $10.3 million on television ads, $5.5 million on FaceBook and Google ads. And that money is spent -- been spent effectively, not just to get support, but to get people specifically to get him on that debate stage.

BALL: I think it is also interesting what Steyer's message was. Anyone who's been watching CNN has seen the ads. They've been pretty much wall to wall. And his case was that he could make an economic argument against Trump because he's a businessman and investor. That wasn't something that resonated enough with Democratic primary voters to move them off of the other candidates they were considering, to move their support to him. And that was obviously -- it must have been a poll- tested message. He's got a robust political organization that tests all this stuff. But it seemed to -- seems to have fallen flat, or at least the -- with this, a lot of Democrats consider this sort of an embarrassment of riches, all the well-qualified candidates that are available to them, they don't feel like they need yet another person --

BASH: An embarrassment of riches. Pun intended?

LUCEY: But he, to Seung Min's point, he is someone who could make the next --

BASH: He could.

LUCEY: Potentially could make the next one.

BASH: He could.

OK, everybody stand by because, up next we're going to talk about Tropical Storm Dorian, which is now forecast to become a major hurricane. We're going to look at the latest projection.

And if you have a question on today's political stories for anyone here at the table, including Seung Min, who's smiling, use the #insidepolitics. Ask your question. We may be able to answer your question at the end of the show.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:51] BASH: Right now, what could become hurricane Dorian is approaching the eastern side of Puerto Rico. It's now projected to become a category three hurricane before forecast models show it hitting the east coast of the U.S. on Monday. That's a lot of time for this storm to develop.

I want to get straight to CNN's meteorologist Chad Myers.

And, Chad, what are the projections telling us at this hour?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's a lot of time for it to change its mind, like it's done all along.

Dana, the models are telling us that this is going to run north of the Turks and Caicos, through the Bahamas, and make a run at the southeast mainland USA, either from Florida to Georgia or to South Carolina as a category three, 150-mile-per-hour storm.

But last night the models were telling us that it was going to be on this big red line here. Now, as I'll zoom in, it's not on the red line. It's not even close to the red line.

Look what this model decided to do, this computer decided to do. Because this is where we should have been. And if you wiggle the storm like that, that's an unpredictable, absolutely unpredictable path.

But where does it go from here? In the short term we know it's going over the USVI, over Charlotte Amalie, over St. Thomas, to just to the east of Puerto Rico proper. They will get rain and they will get wind of 50 or 60 miles per hour. But the USVI will get a lot worse than that.

And then it gets into the Bahamas and becomes a category three hurricane at 115 miles per hour, possibly making landfall anywhere from south Florida to, for that matter, Charleston. Or some of the models even turning it to the right and missing the U.S. mainland all together and turning it out to the ocean. Now, wouldn't that be a great thing?

The reason why we don't know is because that's still five days away. We know what it's doing now. The steering currents five days from now will actually be moving through California today. So, all of that's going to have to work its way all the way across the USA in order to get to the storm, in order to push it away. And that's the unpredictability of it being so far down the road. Obviously, we'll be here. We'll watch it for you. BASH: Yes, we sure will. That's a really important way to put it, how

far away the steering currents are, all the way in California. There is so much time and so much unpredictability.

Thank you for that, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BASH: And Puerto Rico is very much on the president's mind this morning. He is tweeting, in part, 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.

He continued with another tweet, a jab at the San Juan mayor earlier, and then he went on later to tweet, quote, Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. I'm the best thing that's ever happened to Puerto Rico.

Mari Rosas is one of 3 million people, a reminder, 3 million Americans living in Puerto Rico, and she joins us now from San Juan.

Mari, the president trashing Puerto Rico as it braces for another storm. It speaks for itself. Because you are on the ground, I want to focus on what is happening there.

You weathered Hurricane Maria and the devastation it left two years ago. Dorian is approaching. You heard how unpredictable it is. But how are you, and your friends and your family preparing right now?

[12:20:04] MARI ROSAS, SURVIVED HURRICANE MARIA, RIDING OUT TROPICAL STORM DORIAN: Thank you, Dana, for having us here and for letting us kind of express and focus in on what's happening here.

Right now, I'm in San Juan, and the sun is still out. There's no wind. We -- but the city's kind of a ghost town right now because everyone is really taking this seriously.

Two years ago, we had a devastating storm, a hurricane with thousands of deaths as a consequence that the president still refuses to acknowledge. And, I mean, his tweets are really an insulting kind of thing for us because corruption, I know that it's happened and people know what was happening, especially in the summer. But, you know, we took matters into our own hands and we took rid of -- got rid of this governor by protesting peacefully.

What we haven't seen really is the aid and the efforts that he says that have been arriving in Puerto Rico for the last two years, because only a very small fraction of that has actually showed up. So, I mean, Viequez and Culebra were two of the islands that were hit the most during Maria and they're getting -- being hit again. And I don't think they're ready.

BASH: Well, that was going to be my next question for you, which is, do you feel that you are getting what you need? I know it's early and it is several days out, but given the experience that you've had, do you see a difference? ROSAS: I mean our infrastructure is definitely not as good as before

the hurricane -- two years ago, Maria, so it's very fragile. A lot can happen. I think flood is going to be our biggest problem, especially on the east coast. And right now with small rains, the whole island kind of floods pretty -- pretty -- you know, not in a good way.

And we're still having a lot of repercussions from the hurricane two years ago.

BASH: Yes.

ROSAS: Light posts still don't work. Traffic lights still don't work. Schools, hospitals in smaller municipalities are still not up and running. So I don't know -- I -- it's a smaller storm, thank God, for us right now, but I have no idea what -- you know, what's going to bring.

BASH: Well, you were on this program two years ago as Maria was hitting, and you shot some video from where you live or from where you work or both. I can show our viewers some of that now, how ominous and how scary that was. Obviously, we know how devastating it was back then.

You just mentioned how fragile the infrastructure is still at this point. The fact that you're saying traffic lights are still not working, schools are not completely rebuilt. How on earth can you guys deal with another potential storm, even if it is on the small side compared to Maria?

ROSAS: I mean, I think the people of Puerto Rico have shown that resiliency is our middle name, our first name and last name. We'll definitely get back up.

Small businesses are definitely going to help each other. We -- I definitely -- I have a co-working space and we were one of the first to open last year, two days only after the hurricane. And we became more of a community center more than a work space. So our space is open again still today and we plan to open tomorrow as long as we can. And I know that all we're going to do is help each other, whether the aid arrives or not.

BASH: Mari, thank you so much for joining us again. We will stay in touch with you. And let's hope that because it is so far out that -- one of the models that Chad was showing us, that it just goes into the ocean is how it happens. Thank you.

ROSAS: Thanks.

BASH: And up next, President Trump says the economy is doing just fine, but as he gears up for re-election, a new poll shows a major danger sign for him and how voters view him and the economy in general. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:43] BASH: Some major warning signs for President Trump in a new poll from Quinnipiac University out this morning. As he ramps up his re-election bid, the new survey shows him under water on key issues. The clear majority of voters disapprove of his handling on foreign policy and even the president's central issues, trade and immigration.

But here is the biggest red flag for Trump. That is his standing on the economy. More people say they disapprove of the job the president is doing on the economy than those who say they approve. And for the first time, this is really key here. For the first time in Quinnipiac's polling since Trump took office, more voters think the economy is getting worse, not better. Again, this is a big, big red flag, a warning sign, pick your term to use, talking about the president and what he has hoped would be his calling card going into his re-election bid.

First of all, what are your thoughts on these economic numbers?

[12:29:42] BALL: Well, first of all, it's bad political news for the president, obviously, particularly if the economy does get worse. And beyond the political consequences for President Trump, that is the threat. When confidence in the economy starts to wane, that can snowball and turn into the economy actually getting worse because consumer sentiment goes south, because businesses become jittery, because investors become jittery. So there is the possibility that this is also an indicator that the