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Biden And Sanders Lead 2020 Democratic; Field; Trump Hints He Might Skip 2020 Debates; Comey Admits To Real Sloppiness In FBI's FISA Process; Polls Show At Least 4 in 10 Registered Voters Support Trump Being Impeached, Removed From Office. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Impeachment in recent weeks, anyway, has overshadowed the Democratic race for President, but Iowa votes in just seven weeks. In the last debate of 2019 is scheduled for Thursday night.

There's some new pulling to frame the states for that showdown and so props here to any Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report for this end of the year summary. So, we end the year, she writes, as it began. The two best-known Dem candidates, Bernie and Biden, after enduring stumbles, questions about their relevancy and even a heart attack are leading the polls for the nomination.

That's a great take. Now let's take a look at the numbers. It is correct. If you look, this is NPR/PBS Marist Poll. The Democratic PAC, you have a top tier in this new national poll. Top tier, let's get that turn on. Top tier here of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, 24 percent, 22 percent, that's essentially a statistical tie. Elizabeth Warren next at 17, Pete Buttigieg at 13, Andrew Yang rounding up the top five at 5 percent there, Biden and Bernie Sanders on top.

Let's break it down by gender. Interesting breakdown here among men, Bernie Sanders has a clear lead, former Vice President Senator Warren, Mayor Buttigieg. Among women, tend to be the majority of the voters and Democratic Prime is tend to be women. The former Vice-President in the big lead, 10 points of the Bernie Sander's whose tied to Elizabeth Warren. And then you see, near Mayor Buttigieg.

Well the top issues for Democrats as we get closer to the voting and a big debate Thursday night, this is interesting. Health care and climate change, runaway leaders. Education economy, immigration, gun policy down on the list. So the candidates, they see polls too. They talk to voters to town hall. They understand health care, climate change, first and second on the minds of the voters. That's what ends up on the TV ads.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the moment he took office, Donald Trump has tried to destroy Obamacare. No one is more determined to protect it than Joe Biden. ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our climate is in crisis. I'm Andrew Yang. The timed act was decades ago. As President, I won't be.


KING: It is interesting. I am really interested in what happens Thursday night in this debate. There's a labor dispute. They still need to resolve. We expect that will happen in time for the debate to happen, otherwise the candidates that they want to cross the ticket line. But the race, it's been a national race for most of the year. It's been overshadowed by impeachment. The impeachment vote is likely to be Wednesday. Then you have the candidates meeting on stage on Thursday. What do we expect?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's going to be fascinating because this is a much smaller debate than we've seen in the past. It's seven candidates and seven candidates who are in the polls and in this thing. I think overall, yes, the national leaders are the same as they were in the beginning of the year. But the race is really muddled because it's not primaries, as we all know, are not a national refer referendum.


LERER: And when you go state by state in those four early states, there are different candidates, you know. Pete Buttigieg is really strong in Iowa. Warren could potentially win New Hampshire. Joe Biden could get South Carolina. We get Bernie Sanders in Nevada. So you could have a scenario where your four winners of the four early states. And then queue Mike Bloomberg for Super Tuesday.

And then, I don't know. It's good. It's -- who knows what happens, but it's really interesting story. So I think it remains pretty muddled.

KING: That's you, you say queue Michael Bloomberg, so be prepared to queue Michael Bloomberg. Because to that point, you can look that he spent more than $100 million. And he's at 4 percent or 5 percent of the national polls. So you could look at that and say, that's all you got for $100 million or you could look at that and say, well, OK, he just started campaigning.


He just started spending that money and he is moving up. He's counting on what you just laid out. Mix winners, different winners in some of the early contest and nobody looking very strong, so he can race his hand and say, look at me.


MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't know what taking votes away form anybody. All I know is this is I think it's three weeks today ago that we started the campaign. And I think we've done very well since then. I haven't talked to anybody that said I took my vote away from somebody else and gave it to you. When I talk to people, they keep saying to me, you did a good job in New York. We want you to do the same thing.


KING: So his take is it will be modeled in early contest, it's only 4 percent, 4.something percent of the delegates in those first four. I'll be waiting on Super Tuesday when things get crowded. The flip side of that though is, he is only at 5 percent. He won't be on the debate stage Thursday night and maybe somebody gets momentum in those early contests and that $100 million down to you know what.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not only that, but there are lot of Democrats who were still angry that he jumped in at the last minute trying to sort of--

KING: Yes.

BADE: --as they say, by his way into this race. I mean if he was thinking that there's not going to be a consensus candidate and that, you know, everybody is going to win different states. And then we'll come to this sort of moment where they have to choose the consensus candidate, I mean some people would say that's the reality of Dem picking him. It's pretty is flip.

KING: Right, again, there is a flip side to every argument though. If you do get a muddled message out of the first four candidates and Democrats I think and oh my god, do we have anybody who can beat Trump? They might start to forgive him. If they think, here's the guy who can spend this all money and have a chance to be Trump forgiveness might come pretty quickly by Democrats. We will see.

Here's what works in Bloomberg's favor. Again, we'll see what happens when they start going state-by-state. Normally, somebody starts winning. Have you made up your mind? This is from the NPR/PBS Marist Poll, 24 percent, so a quarter of Democrats say, yes, I made up my mind, 76 percent say, I'm not sure yet for any candidate. For any candidate, that purple 76 is the, I'm hanging in.

LERER: And that's part of why this race is so muddled. But I think a race where Democratic primary votes are focused on one factor, which is electability. You cannot understate how much things could shake up once people start showing that they are, you know, electable by actually winning some things.


LERER: Right. And so, I think that is a major -- could potentially be a major problem with Michael Bloomberg's argument.

KING: Yes.

LERER: And once candidates start winning, all these things could be scrambled. But I think, you know, if you're in that top tier candidates, you have to win an early states . KING: It's a long time to wait, another former New York City mayor who's in the news nowadays for different reasons, once waited in Florida --


KING: -- thinking the race was going to come to him, never happened, never happened. So now he travels to Ukraine. I just want to take a look. If you look at the polling, you see the different strategies, different basis between Biden and Sanders who are at the top of the race right now. This is interesting. Biden tends to do very well among White women who put no college degree among moderates in the south where you have a lot of African-American voters and voters older than 45.

Senator Sanders runs stronger among White men with no college degrees, progressives in the north east and with younger voters. That doesn't mean that those voters wouldn't come together to support the ultimate nominee. But as we go to the prime race, it is interesting to see the unique coalitions that each of these candidates had.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it also like, it also raises the question of whether supporters from the other candidates if Joe Biden gets the nomination whether or not they throw their support beyond him ultimately as the nominee or whether it fractures the party in some way. We saw that in 2016 with Bernie Sanders supporters. After Hillary Clinton won the nomination, a lot of them just weren't ready to support her. And so, it's a question that we have to ask just around, too.

KING: Debate Thursday night, we hope to settle that labor dispute back to the race. Coming up, debate of a different sort, President Trump suggests he might play hookey during next year's general elections debates.



KING: Topping our political radar today, Congressman Jeff Van Drew needs a staff. At least six aides to the Congressman have resigned after learning he plans to switch parties. Sources are telling CNN the New Jersey Democrat who opposes impeachment plans on now defecting to the Republican Party. That would allow him to avoid a Democratic primary for his seat next year. His legislative director, communications director and his scheduler among those quitting according to a joint resignation letter obtained by CNN.

President Trump toying with the idea of skipping next year's election debates, traditionally hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates. President Trump tweeting in part this morning, "I look very much forward to debating whoever the lucky person is who stumbles across the finish line."

President goes on to say the Commission in his view is, "stacked with Trump haters and never Trumpers." He goes on to say, "As president, the debates are up to me and I will make a decision at an appropriate time."

And the former FBI Director James Comey now conceding there was "real sloppiness" in the bureau's effort to obtain FISA warrants against the 2016 Trump campaign adviser. Last year, Comey had insisted FBI investigators acted responsibly when they applied for surveillance warrants against Carter Page. But the Justice Department Inspector General found 17 significant errors and omissions by the FBI team. Here's what Comey told Fox.



CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Significant errors in the FISA process and you say that it was handled in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: Yes, he's right, I was wrong. I was overconfident in the procedures that the FBI and Justice had built over 20 years. I thought they were robust enough. It's incredibly hard to get a FISA. I was over confident in those.


KING: Bit of a miracle, but the President is still tweeting he wants Jim Comey to go to jail.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Real sloppiness is also a pretty generous account of what exactly it was that the inspector general found. I think both things can be true here, that the President was wrong, his most sensational claims that Obama had wired tapped Trump Tower, the FBI was not out to get him like he said and portrayed for several years. But also that there were serious mistakes in a very secretive surveillance program that the American people should know more about, and we essentially got this look and it was not a flattering look in any sense of the way.

And I think that Comey could have been more critical of that and more forthcoming about which is the FBI director now, Christopher Wray, very much was in his interview after the inspector general's report came out. And I think that that is the problem here. You can say that mistakes were made and you don't have to agree with the President that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. I think both things can be true at once.

KINGS: Both things can be true and it will be interesting in this part as an environment, a, can Chris Wray, and then b, can Congress on a bipartisan basis short up the process?


KINGS: Make better rules, make stronger rules, make more oversight even though it has to be secret. Find a way within that secret process to have better oversight.

Do we really think the President would skip debates next November, as he's threatening or suggesting, or do we just think this is just, a, he likes to vent because he doesn't like any establishment group like the Presidential Debates Commission which is stacked with good people? And b, maybe he's not going to do three, but he'll just do one or whatever?

SALAMA: I mean we've been on this right before the President --

KING: Yes.

SALAMA: -- loves to kind of threaten that he doesn't need them and that it's an irrelevant process. And so, we'll see what happens especially depending on who the nominee is. I reckon that if Joe Biden wins the nomination, he's not going to resist being able to go and confront Biden face to face. But we'll see. He's said it before. And at this point if he's in a secure enough position in the polls maybe he does back out.

BADE: Yes, I mean, he risks critics calling him a chicken if he decides not to. I mean, it's going to -- Democrats will paint this as him being too afraid to stand up to whoever the nominee is, so he puts himself at risk if he does this.

LERER: But it certainly lays the groundwork for him not to do three. He only wants to participate in one or two or whatever, this makes it sort of laying that out early --

KING: We have --

COLLINS: We should note that his campaign held a briefing last week, and when they asked him about this senior official, briefing reporters would not say -- would not commit that he was going to go. But of course, anyone who knows the President knows it's going to be really hard for him to see this debate, because you know they'll make a lot out of it if he doesn't show up. That would be very difficult for him to stomach, I think.

KING: We're at the beginning of a process. That's what all the process.

Up next, the House do the vote Wednesday on impeachment. Guess where the President will be, at a rally.



KING: President Trump planning his calendar very carefully. He will rally in the critical battleground state of Michigan, Wednesday. That, of course, the same day the Full House is likely to vote to impeach him. The political climate around impeachment has solidified around party lines and not only in Washington.

New polling from Fox News and NPR-PBS News hour, you look right there show at least 4 out of 10 registered voters support the president being impeached and removed from office. But, when you break it down by party, over 80 percent of Democrats would like the President removed from office. About the same percentage of Republicans opposed removing the president from office.

And this is part, I guess, of the tests as we watch the House vote this week, and then we go on to a Senate trial, do the numbers move? Or if we assume the House is going to impeach, the Senate will not convict and remove, the issue is then handed over to the voters that it just stays in that partisan line, are we looking for some movement on the margins? I guess that would be independents?

LERER: Yes. I think that's why everybody is watching those independent numbers. I'm a little skeptical. I have to say that they will move. I mean, if you take a look at President Trump's approval rating which is a slightly different metric, I guess, last week or so it was 43 percent, want to guess what it was in January 2017, 43 percent.

So I think, you know, ideas about the president are pretty baked into the electorate at this point. The question is, you know, how impeachment kind of reflects back on and how the processes reflects back on Democrats and on these sort of moderate profession, I mean, swing state Republicans.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and that's the thing. Also the support may not be increasing but it's also not going down for impeachment. And that is something that is concerning to people inside the White House and the President's campaign. They see that despite the fact they've been messaging this as a sham and a witch-hunt, it's not going down.

I think the other thing from the Fox poll that was really interesting and that could be something that matters, maybe not now but in November is it says, 53 percent of the voters believe that the President abused the power of his office, 48 percent think he obstructed Congress and 45 percent say he committed bribery.

Those are not good numbers to have when you're going into the election, and it's going to be seen as a referendum on your conduct, to what people think of you. If that many people think that you did commit these things, maybe they don't think you should be impeached. But that's not exactly going to bode well potentially when it actually comes to the election.

BADE: I find it interesting that the White House is worried that these numbers supporting impeachment haven't gone down drastically. Because, you know, I'm hearing from moderate Democrats who are saying, you know, this is supposed to be high mark for us.


I mean, we just had all these hearings with more than a dozen current former Trump administration officials testifying, damaging information about the President. And those numbers haven't moved. And in fact, some of then have started to decline just very slightly. They think once this goes over to the Senate where Republicans control things, you know, those numbers aren't going to go down further. And so, that is a concern of the mods at the same time.

KING: I think that part is TBD.

BADE: TBD, of course.

KING: TBD, of course, having lived through this in the Clinton days, I would just caution anybody out there, we have what we have today. We always say, it's polarized, I think it starts to paralyze. The polling numbers are kind of paralyzed along party lines but we shall see.

Thanks for joining us in "Inside Politics." Come back this time tomorrow, very busy week ahead. Dana Bash in for Brianna Keilar. She starts after a quick break. Have a good afternoon.