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Jocelyn Benson, (D) Michigan Secretary of State, Discusses Trump Questioning Mail-In Ballot Integrity, Postal Service Ability to Handle Mail-In Ballots; Former DNI Dan Coats Says Question Integrity of Election System Is Dangerous, Calls on Congress to Create Election Watchdog Group; Biden Launches New Ads in Battleground States, Pushes Advantage on Coronavirus; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Draws Line on Coronavirus Stimulus Package Negotiations. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 11:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Repeating a lie doesn't make it true, but the president keeps trying because he wants to raise doubts about election integrity.

The president tweeting today, quote, "Because of the new and unprecedented massive amount of unsolicited ballots, which will be sent to voters or wherever this year, the November 3rd election result may never be accurately determined, which is what some want. Another election disaster yesterday. Stop ballot madness."

That from the president of the United States.

And this, "The big unsolicited ballot states should give it up now before it's too late and ask people to go to the polling booths and like always before vote. Otherwise mayhem. Solicited ballots are OK."

Joining me now, someone who has to deal with this confusion on the state level, the Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson.

She and other secretaries of state are meeting with the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, about questions about mail-in ballot.

Secretary of State Benson, it's great to see you.

I've asked you before, but I'm going to ask you to fact-check the president there.

Is there some scam under way among the states and all these mail-in ballots, unsolicited ballot? Will we never know the results of this election?

JOCELYN BENSON, (D) MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: No. In fact, John, good to see you as well.

In fact, we can say with certainty that the results of our elections will be an accurate reflection of will of the people this year. And what we do know, also, unfortunately, with certainty is that there will be escalating efforts from multiple angles to try to sow seeds of doubts among all of our voters about the very truth and reality of the accuracy of results.

And we're prepared to counter that again with truth and trusted are information, which is what we, as election officials, do every day.

KING: Part of your challenge is going to be, if states are close -- and Michigan likely would be close -- reminding people we can't certify the results, we won't be sure of the winner for several days because we're going to count the mail-in ballots that we have until we're done.

The other challenging is to make sure that, up until Election Day, this runs efficiently, which is the point of the meeting today with the postmaster general, Mr. DeJoy.

There's a mailer that the U.S. Postal Service sent out that says here's the postal service to remind people it's important. Make a plan, vote ahead. And you see it right there.

Look at it, at first glance, that's nice. They are trying to get people to think about this.

But a number of secretaries of states and attorneys general have been concerned about this because of the bullet points under "Dear, Postal Customer." Worried they might cause confusion because different states might do this different ways.

BENSON: That's exactly right. Every state runs its own elections and has its own set of rules.

And to do one blanket mailer without even consulting with any secretaries of state about the content of that mailer was really a missed opportunity where they could have really helped us educate our voters.

Instead, they have created a little bit more confusion in many states and certainly didn't help advance the ball, which is what we need to do right now in creating clarity for voters about the rules and options to vote in their particular state.

KING: Senator Peters, a Democratic Senator from your state, has been pushing this issue and asking for accountability from the postal service.

And he says all 67 postal districts across the country have seen a decline in on-time delivery of first-class mail. In August, first- class mail fell by 9.1 percent. In mid-August, 85 million more late deliveries occurred than should have.


The postmaster general told Congress, a couple weeks back, look, we are making changes, we'll going to have hiccups, and we'll get this right.

What's the number-one question with him in the context of elections and mail-in voting and timely delivery of ballots for people and the return of ballots to you?

BENSON: We need the postal service at the highest level to commit to work with election officials to make sure the goals are met.

We're six and a half weeks out of an historic, momentous presidential election and we can't afford more missteps like this one. We need to be working together.

We've had success on the local level in Michigan, collaborating with the postal leaders in our state to redesign our envelopes and move things efficiently through the system.

But we need folks working at the national level as well in collaboration with us to ensure any additional work or efforts they do around the issue of voting by mail and allowing the ballots to go efficiently through the system is done in coordination and conjunction with us, who are the experts on elections in those particular states.

KING: Jocelyn Benson is the secretary of state in the very important battleground state of Michigan.

We will keep in touch as we go through this, six and a half weeks, perhaps half a week after that as well.

Secretary Benson, appreciate it very much.

The nation's former top intelligence official sees things very differently from his one-time boss. Former DNI Dan Coats says it's dangerous to question the integrity of the election system, something that President Trump does every day.

Coats was frustrated as DNI because the president didn't want to hear about Russian election interference.

In an op-ed today, Coats calling on Congress -- he once served there as a Senator -- to create a new election watchdog group, saying:

"We must firmly unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted and that it will matter, and that the people's will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted."

"I propose that Congress creates a new mechanism to accomplish this purpose. It should create a supremely high-level, bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election."

We'll see if Republicans on the Hill have anything positive to say about that idea.

Up next for us, Joe Biden hoping to win over battleground state voters in Pennsylvania tonight with a town hall right here on CNN.



KING: Joe Biden takes his turn with Pennsylvania voters tonight right here on CNN. The Democratic nominee is participating in a town hall in Scranton, the town wherein he was born.

President Trump had a rocky time, you might remember, in an ABC town hall in Pennsylvania other night.

Tonight's event comes as Biden looks to press his advantage in key battleground states, an effort that includes this new ad focusing on the coronavirus and a convert.


AD NARRATOR: I voted for Trump in '16. And I'll be the first to tell you I made a mistake.

The pandemic, it's been tough on everybody. You know, President Trump, he's not responsible for this virus. Nobody was going to be able to stop that.

But he was totally negligent on how he informed the people. I mean, the guy -- the guy gets the blame for what's happening.


KING: Joining us now to discuss, Laura Barron-Lopez, national political reporter for "Politico."

And, Laura, it is a great opportunity for the former vice president, essentially a book end.

President Trump went the other night in Pennsylvania. Joe Biden gets to go tonight. President Trump had a problem answering questions about the coronavirus, answering questions about pre-existing conditions and health care.

The Biden campaign, this is part of seeing more of Biden, a challenge for him tonight.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So Biden's role today is to reach those Pennsylvania voters in the key swing state.

As you mentioned, John, and they have been utilizing -- they have been contrasting Biden and Trump by talking a lot about coronavirus, which we expect tonight. Part of that is that new ad.

But what Biden has also started to do, when he talks about coronavirus and talks about the way Trump is handling coronavirus, is making a referendum on Trump's dishonesty, on what we know Trump has done in terms of downplaying the virus.

But then with the most recent revelations from Woodward's book saying he had always intended to do that, even though he knew the virus was dangerous from the beginning and more dangerous than news.

And I expect that's something that Biden will hit on a lot.

KING: At this moment, six and a half weeks to Election Day, some people starting to vote. No question, tight battleground states. But also a clear advantage Biden, if you look at the national poll.

And let's go through some of the state polls.

North Carolina, this is very tight, but Biden on top, 49/46, in a state president has to win, Wisconsin, a 10-point lead.

Biden, in our current electoral map, if he wins Wisconsin and loses nothing else on the electoral map, he's president.

Minnesota, a big Biden lead there.

Florida, close race. Florida is always close. Biden on top, which means the president has to spend money and fight for it.

Arizona, a state that President Trump won, Biden has a slight advantage.

The map looks good for the Democrats right now right now.

And, yet you do get -- and this is inevitable -- jitters, including one of the subtopics you've focused a lot of time on, a lot of people worried in Florida, and elsewhere, that Biden needs to do a better job with Latinos.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. So even though Biden is ahead in a lot of these battleground states, there appears to be some softness among that support, particularly among Latino men.


And also the same thing carries over to black voters, where there's black younger men who aren't exactly sold on Biden just yet.

And so that presents a problem for the vice president, especially as Trump is -- the former vice president, especially as Trump is trying to eat into those margins.

And, again, if the race contracts and even though Biden looks very ahead right now, if it contracts in these key states with the remaining days left, then those margins are going to matter. Biden's campaign has said that they consider Latinos also a big opening for them in a state like Pennsylvania.

Harris is there today as well. And Senator Harris is going to be having an event with local Latino leaders so they are trying to boost support there among the growing Latino population as well to make up for those margins in a tight race.

KING: Some of it is being visible. And we see both Biden and Harris being more visible. Not as active as the president and vice president yet. But we'll see how it plays out in the final six weeks.

Laura Barron-Lopez, appreciate the reporting and insights as always.

Again, come join us tonight. Joe Biden, a special CNN presidential town hall, live from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Anderson Cooper moderates tonight, only here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't want to miss that.

Up next, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi draws a line on coronavirus stimulus talks.

First though, a nonprofit called Young, Black and Lit is providing free blocks with black characters to help develop young African- American readers.

Here's this week's "IMPACT YOUR WORLD."


KIENCE BOSEMAN, CO-FOUNDER, YOUNG, BLACK AND LIT: When a child sees themselves reflected in the books that they read and the books are a mirror to them, they feel valued.

It wasn't something I really thought about until my niece came around, and it really kind of saddened me that there were bookstores that she would walk into and not be able to feel seen.

Young, Black and Lit is a nonprofit organization base in the Chicagoland area. Our mission is to provide children's books to youth featuring black characters at no cost to the youth or their families.

DERRICK RAMSEY, CO-FOUNDER, YOUNG, BLACK AND LIT: Since 2018, we've provided over 5,000 books to community centers, organizations, schools and directly to students' homes.

KAREEM WILSON, AMIR'S FATHER: It was just always a challenge finding the ones for his age. They introduced the program to the school. He was pretty excited about it. Show them your favorite.

AMIR WILSON, RECEIVES BOOKS FROM YOUNG, BLACK AND LIT: Other people say they can't do stuff, and then they prove them wrong.

BOSEMAN: We try not to focus just on historical figures. I know we value their importance, but we also focus on some of the simple everyday life activity that you can go through. But we have blitz around getting a haircut.

AMIR WILSON: And that's the best Spider-Man ever. His suit is better than all the other suits and he has powers.

K. WILSON: He thinks -- you think he's the best Spider-Man, yes?



KING: That's remarkable work. To learn more about it, go to



KING: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, just a show time ago, drawing a new line on how far she is willing to compromise to get a coronavirus stimulus deal package.

And Phil Mattingly joins us on Capitol Hill.

Is she moving?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. But to underscore the reality of this moment, over the course of the last several days, there's signs, John, that, as a veteran watcher of this institution and myself, who's been up here for a long time, you would think would be a signal that things are starting to kick into gear on the next round of stimulus.

The reality is they are not.

Right now, Democrats and Republicans and the administration roughly separated by $1 trillion, with Democrats sticking firm to the idea they don't want on the top line to go anywhere below $2.2 trillion.

And that was something I was told this morning that the speaker made clear to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in a private phone call last night.

So I asked her if that was the case today. This is what she had to say.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We have come down. You know, I know some of you say why can't you compromise? We have compromised. We came down a trillion dollars. We asked them to go up a trillion dollars but they went down.

Why can't we spend what it takes to shore up the middle class in our country? When we go into negotiation, it is about the allocation of the resources. But it's hard to see how we can go any lower when you have a greater need.


MATTINGLY: There's a lot of talk about the top line, trillion dollars, Democrats $2.2 trillion. Used to be at $3.4 trillion.

This is the best way to summarize what's going on. There's a fundamental and extraordinarily consequential difference in what either side believes is the scale of the problem to address.

Democrats believe they need to go very, very big. Starting at $3.4 trillion, it would be the biggest stimulus package in history for this country. And $2.2 trillion would tie the largest stimulus package in history.

And Republicans want a more targeted approach. They agree on a top line on a lot of the specific issues that any plan would actually cover.

But as long as they're so far apart on the top-line numbers, they can't get into the weeds to figure out the allocations for specific issues, whether to give stimulus checks, more money for small business, testing and tracing, for education.


All of these enormously important issues at this moment in time. As the Fed chair says, this will keep going, right now, no solution here on Capitol Hill.

KING: I thought the Fed chair's nudge might cause some movement but I'm unnecessarily optimistic there I guess, unwisely optimistic.

Phil Mattingly, live on Capitol Hill, appreciate the latest. Keep us up to date on that.

Up next for us, Sally is a hurricane no more but still causing big problems across the south.