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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Tomorrow: Hearing Could Determine Classified Docs Trial Date; Sen. Martin Heinrich, (D-NM), Is Interviewed About Funding Bill, Ukraine Aid, Senate Republican Leader; House Passes Short-Term Funding Bill To Avert Partial Shutdown; Romney: If U.S. Doesn't Pass Aid For Ukraine, Trust In America & Ukrainian Lives Will Be Lost; Gaza Health Ministry: 112 Dead, 760 Hurt After IDF Fired On Those In Food Line, IDF Says Incident Is Under Review; Pennsylvania Seniors Sound Off On Biden's & Trump's Ages; Biden, Trump In Texas As Immigration Dominates 2024 Race. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 29, 2024 - 17:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: Presidential rematch this November. What did you hear in President Biden's remarks? Anything to fact check there?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Honestly, no. I mean, especially when I fact check President Trump and President Biden is speaking next, you know, I want to do a fact check on the current president as well. But what he did, Kaitlan, was stick narrowly to the text of that bipartisan border deal that Trump opposes. He argued that it should be passed and he criticized its critics. So not only was there a juxtaposition in style with former President Trump, you know, speaking off the cuff, President Biden sticking to his script.

But in terms of the level of factual accuracy, I mean, it was scripted in an accurate way the speech we heard from the president. The former president said what he wanted to and much of it was not true. So, I don't have any fact checks of President Biden here, but I think that's for an obvious reason.

COLLINS: Remarkable. Daniel Dale, glad to have you on standby. Thank you for that.

And as we start the top of the new hour here on THE LEAD, you just saw President Biden and Donald Trump wrapping up those competing very different appearances on the southern border. How their messaging on immigration is playing 1,700 miles away in Washington.

And speaking of Congress, is the job of another House speaker potentially on the line? Today, Mike Johnson helped get a new short term spending bill passed. But that's really his problem. His conservative right wing flank wants a long term solution.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Last I checked, the Republicans actually have a majority in the House of Representatives. But you wouldn't know it if you looked at our checkbook because we are all too willing to continue the policy choices of Joe Biden and the spending levels of Nancy Pelosi.


COLLINS: Also leading this hour, Donald Trump's immunity argument is the center of yet another case, but this time the most high profile one, first in the federal election subversion case where his actions around trying to overturn the election are under scrutiny. Now, we may see the same argument used in the classified documents case down in Florida, but in this case, Trump was out of the White House, no longer president of the United States, when he had that classified material that he refused to return to the federal government. CNN's Paula Reid is tracking that story for us in Stewart, Florida.

Paula, obviously, tomorrow is going to be a big day in federal court. I think it's important because we talked so much about all of the different Trump cases that obviously we're covering very closely. We haven't talked about the classified documents case in a moment. What is this hearing on tomorrow? And what does it have to do around a potential trial date for the classified documents case?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, when it comes to the Trump trials, as you know, timing is everything, as his lawyers continue to try to push these cases back until after the November presidential contest, because if he's reelected, he could probably pretty easily make these all go away. Now, he is currently scheduled to be tried on charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents in late May, May 20. But it was widely expected that the judge, Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, that she likely pushed that back. And tomorrow, she has asked the parties to come to court ready to discuss scheduling. Trump lawyers have been pushing for additional time for discovery and some other matters.

So we're going to be watching very closely tomorrow at court all day to see does she push this back. If she does, how far does she also leave the door open, as she's done in the past, to maybe pushing it back again? Because at this point, Kaitlan, it's unclear if Trump will face either one of his federal criminal trials because, of course, yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to keep his January 6 election subversion case on hold while they contemplate and hear oral arguments in two months on the issue of immunity.

Now, in addition to scheduling tomorrow, they're also going to handle some other matters, like, for example, what they can put on a jury questionnaire. The Justice Department wants to be able to ask prospective jurors if they believe the 2020 election was stolen. As Trump lawyers, they want to be able to ask if people voted and what their party affiliation is. So a lot to sort out there potentially.

And then the Justice Department also bringing up another really serious issue, which is intimidation and harassment of witnesses and people involved in this case. Of course, that's something we've seen across so many of the Trump cases, threats against witnesses, judges, prosecutors. So we'll see how the judge addresses that tomorrow. But the big issue, the thing we'll be going to watch all day and be reporting live is on timing, because, again, timing is right now the biggest issue when it comes to Trump's criminal cases.

COLLINS: And, Paula, this is so remarkable because what we heard from our sources yesterday after we found out that, yes, the Supreme Court is going to take up that immunity argument by Trump, that they've got two months from now to -- before they even hear those arguments, is if we do get this trial, the classified documents one, even scheduled this summer, that then if in June we get the Supreme Court ruling and then it restarts that case in Washington, the one on the attempts to overturn the election, it may be conflicting and running into the classified documents case.


REID: Yes, Kaitlan, I hope your producers have our calendar graphic handy because you need it in order to look at the full situation here. In just a few weeks, of course, Trump will face his first criminal trial in Manhattan. That is the hush money case brought by the Manhattan district attorney. And that case is expected to go until mid-May. And then it's anyone's guess how this plays out over the next few months.

And there are questions about how much time Judge Tanya Chutkan, we believe it should give them a few months before she'd have to schedule that January 6 case. Where is the Mar-a-Lago documents case? A lot of open questions about exactly what's going to happen in the calendar in the next seven months. But again, there's less and less space the longer it takes to resolve these larger issues like immunity.

COLLINS: At least it's warmer in Florida than it is in Washington. Paula Reid, thank you for that. We'll be sure to watch this closely tomorrow.

REID: It is.

COLLINS: For more on what we may see, I want to bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig and CNN Political Commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin, who is also the communications director inside the Trump White House.

Elie, as far as it comes to the classified documents case, I think it's good to have a refresher because we haven't been talking about it as frequently. But what are you going to be watching for? Because this judge specifically we know is operating very differently than the judge in Washington has been.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF N.Y.: Yes. So, I'm looking for the moving chess pieces here because I think a strategy, and we've had reporting to this effect that Donald Trump's team is going to use here is to try to move the Mar-a-Lago trial so that it blocks any possibility of the Washington, D.C. trial making it onto the calendar before the election.

Here's what I mean. The current date for the Mar-a-Lago trial is late May, May 20. If they can get that pushback to, let's say, July, now, you're looking at the Florida, the Mar-a-Lago case blocking July, August, September, that just leaves nowhere for Jack Smith's other case, the D.C. case, to go. So I'm going to be looking to see how the parties are trying to manipulate, push, pull that trial date.

COLLINS: But do they not fear the classified documents case? I mean, if they're happy to have that one go first --


COLLINS: -- does that mean they feel like that one is more winnable for them?

HONIG: If that's the strategy, then yes, that's what it tells you. And I'm trying to think about this. If I was Donald Trump's defense lawyer, hypothetically, the way I would look at it his -- the stronger evidence --

COLLINS: Thanks for clarifying that.

HONIG: Yes, we're being hypothetical here. The stronger evidence against my hypothetical client is in the Florida case, the documents case. It's easier for a jury to understand. He had classified documents. He shouldn't have had them.

He didn't give them back. He obstructed justice. It's a neater fit with the law. The D.C. case, the January 6 case is more complicated and a little bit of a messier fit. But your jury pool, if you're Donald Trump's team, is so much better in Florida.

I mean, Donald Trump won Florida. Even if you're drawing a jury only from the southern counties, he got 40 percent, 45 percent. You're going to have a way better jury pull. And let me tell you something, if I had a choice between good facts or a good jury, I practice in front of enough juries, give me the jury every time.

COLLINS: I want to get back to the immunity thing in a moment. But on this jury thing, we heard today that Jack Smith wants to have a questionnaire for those potential jurors in Florida, whether or not they believe the election was stolen, that he wants to be able to -- because obviously, as they're navigating that, I mean, he clearly thinks that it could be a jury that's influenced to Donald Trump.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and we know. If we look at, just at the national stats, a significant portion of the GOP, as much as 67 percent, believe that the election was stolen. So, broaden that out more widely, it makes sense. I mean, you want a jury pool that's operating on a baseline level of facts. And of course, I think you would be prejudiced if you're on a jury pool and you're ruling on this if you think that, in fact, the election was stolen.

It makes sense. Donald Trump is most fearful for January 6 because he thinks it can move the quickest. He thinks there is that small possibility there could be a conviction before Election Day. And that is the one that I think resonates with voters the most, that it could actually sway Republicans from voting from. COLLINS: Elie, as we've been reeling from what we learned yesterday from the Supreme Court, something that Peter Baker, who is the chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times," posted today, stood out to me. He said the days between the district court ruling for Nixon and the Supreme, Nixon against Nixon, and when the Supreme Court arguments actually happened, 49 days. The days between the district court ruling against Trump and the Supreme Court arguments hearing appeal, 143 days. A lot of people are looking at the timing here.

HONIG: Yes. So I think there's a couple -- I think it's a very good point by Peter Baker. I think the response would be, we are still on a relatively fast track here when it comes to the immunity case. Joan Biskupic, our expert, wrote that this morning for CNN. And normally a Supreme Court case would take even more time.

There are differences between the Watergate scenario and this scenario. The Watergate scenario, the time pressure there was Richard Nixon had already won his second term. He wasn't up for an election. There was no looming election. The concern was we have a criminal investigation of the guy in the White House.

Here, the concern is really more political. The concern is, well, we have a looming election and how might this trial impact the election? And I think there's an argument that it is appropriate for prosecutors and courts to consider the former situation. But once you get into the game of judges and prosecutors thinking about, well, there's an election day and how should we play this? You're starting to turn those jobs that we don't want to be political into things that are political.

COLLINS: I mean, Trump has a very varied take on the Supreme Court, Alyssa. Obviously, he put three justices on there, but he's gone from saying, you know, I remember when he once tweeted when they ruled against him, I don't think they like me very much. But I mean, clearly right now, even if maybe it's unwittingly or not on purpose, they are helping in his strategy to delay his trials, at least for the moment.


GRIFFIN: Yes, he does kind of have a split opinion. We remember Alina Habba, one of his attorneys, basically saying, we hope Kavanaugh does the right thing on the 14th amendment. I don't think that Kavanaugh is going to side that way on the 14th amendment.

I think he's got this small shred of hope that perhaps some who put him there might side with him. But what I've heard from the Trump folks is they very much know they're going to lose on immunity, but they're still counting this as a victory because it gives them more time. And it just gives them a bit more time that could potentially be pushed past the election. And one of the latest stats is 52 percent of Republicans would consider not supporting him if there is a conviction by Election Day. So this is -- I mean, to Donald Trump, this is kind of the whole game as far as winning the presidency.

HONIG: We've got to start -- with those polls, we have to start asking which conviction, because I think we'd see different results for the hush money case versus the January 6 case.

GRIFFIN: Well, and that's a very important point.

COLLINS: Which is the only case --

GRIFFIN: I don't know --

COLLINS: -- going forward starting next month.

HONIG: As of now. Yes.

GRIFFIN: There are very few living, breathing Republicans who care about the hush money case. That is something that's seen as it's in the rear view window. It dates back to 2016. They don't even know necessarily the campaign finance implications of it. January 6 does resonate with voters.

COLLINS: We'll have to see. And obviously, we don't even know when this trial could happen. Maybe it could happen before the election. Alyssa, Elie, great to have you both.

And in Washington, it appears that Congress may have just averted a government shutdown. At least it's not going to shut down tomorrow. But the process to do so could put this man's job in jeopardy, House Speaker Mike Johnson. We'll check in on Capitol Hill right after this.



COLLINS: In our politics lead, partial government shutdown has been averted for now. Emphasis on for now, because hours ago, the House just did what it does best and what they have been doing, kicking the can down the road, passing a short term spending bill. All but two Democrats supported it, 97 Republicans voted against it. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, obviously now this bill is going to the Senate. We're waiting to see what happens there. But let's talk about the dynamics among House Republicans, because we've seen Speaker Johnson say before they're never passing a short term spending bill again, and here they are passing a short term spending bill. What's his justification?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, actually, in fact, twice now since he made that declaration last -- in December, they've had to pass a short term spending bill. And look, he has said behind the scenes, he told his members that he essentially left in this position because they can't pass bills along party lines anymore, because the party has been so badly divided over even passing what's known in Capitol Hill is a rule, a parliamentary vote that they need to do to actually move forward on the legislative process on the floor. They can't do that anymore because they are so divided. So as a result, he's got to work with Democrats to try to pass the bill by a two thirds majority. And because he's got to work with Democrats, he's got to compromise and not go nearly as far as Republicans want. But I talked to a lot of Republicans, particularly on the far right, some of those who pushed out Kevin McCarthy after he had to cut a short term spending deal to keep the government open. And they made clear they're not happy.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): It's just more the same. And people got to grow accustomed to, you know, Washington doing what Washington does.

REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): In this game, you got to stack up your fights. You got to stack up your strategies. And I just don't think that's what we accomplished here.

RAJU: This spending deal that's coming together, the speaker cutting pretty much a similar deal with a short term deal that Kevin McCarthy would have cut here.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Well, he inherited a lot of Kevin McCarthy's bad deals, number one, so don't fault him for that. But number two, I'm going to say the same thing I've always said, Republicans and Democrats alike are spending too damn much, period.

RAJU: Policy wise, what did you get out of throwing out McCarthy?

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): We have continued with the CRs, the same policies that I voted against on September 30, the last act of the previous speaker. That's true.


RAJU: And those last two comments came from two of the eight Republicans who voted out Kevin McCarthy, Bob Good and Nancy Mace, making very clear that not a whole lot has changed policy wise. Now, neither of them are willing to say that they would actually move to oust Mike Johnson at this moment. As Johnson has said, it's time to close the chapter on last year's spending bills focused on next year's spending bills because this short term bill that is about to pass the Senate tonight would give them just a handful of more days to actually pass last year's spending bills to keep the government open up until October. But at this moment, those members are saying that they're not going to push him out.

The question, though, Kaitlan, is will the calculus change if he does something else to anger them, such as moving on Ukraine aid, something the speaker has not committed to do but is facing pressure to act on immediately? Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Manu Raju, thank you for that.

And also on Capitol Hill, Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator, great to have you here. Is the Senate going to pass this short term spending bill this evening?

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-NM): We should pass that later this evening. And then we're simultaneously working to tidy up all of those individual appropriations bills that Manu talked about.

COLLINS: The other thing that we heard when it comes to action in the Senate is from President Biden. Just a few moments ago, he was in Brownsville, Texas, talking about the southern border, the crisis happening there. He called on the Senate actually to reconsider that bipartisan bill that had been negotiated, which was not just about foreign aid, but also on the southern border as well. Is that something that you would support?

HEINRICH: I would wholeheartedly support that. You I've been sort of left at the altar three different times now on border security and immigration work in the Senate. In 2013, we actually passed a big bill that had 68 votes, only to see Republicans in the House refuse to put it on the floor, even though it had the votes to pass. We're now facing a similar dynamic where Donald Trump would rather have an issue than solve a problem. And that's what scared many of my Republican colleagues away from the negotiating table.


But we have a very good product that would really address the fundamental problems we have in the asylum law that are leading to the challenges that we're facing across the border.

COLLINS: Now, it would tighten a lot of those asylum laws. And President Biden saying there would even give him the ready to shut down the border if the crossings hit a certain point.

The other thing that bill had in it was aid for Ukraine. And I was just in Kyiv speaking with President Zelenskyy about how dire they need that aid.


COLLINS: He said that, yes, they will suffer setbacks on the battlefield, that it will increase Russia's chances of winning this war if they don't get more aid. And last night were talking to your colleague on the Republican side of the aisle, Senator Mitt Romney, about what happens if Ukraine doesn't get that aid. I want you to listen to what he told me.


COLLINS: I was just in Ukraine sitting down with President Zelenskyy, they are deeply worried that your colleagues in the House, Republicans in the House, aren't going to send them any more aid, that they are going to stand in the way. I mean, what responsibility do you believe Republicans will bear for setbacks on the battlefield for Ukraine if they don't pass any more aid?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Well, if we don't pass aid for Ukraine, then I think Ukraine has a very difficult time preserving their geographic integrity and life. You're going to have a lot of people who lose their life as Russia runs across Ukraine. And that will make it very clear to people around the world that you really can't trust America's word. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Do you agree with that? That it'll tell people in other countries that they can't trust the United States?

HEINRICH: I wholeheartedly agree with everything Mitt Romney said there. This will embolden Putin. It will embolden other adversaries around the world.

And we have a very simple choice. We can support our allies in Ukraine, or you will see Russia continue to move. And after Ukraine, we're talking about countries that are in NATO, countries like Poland. We have a treaty responsibility to not just support those countries with arms and financial support, but with our actual soldiers. So, I can't stress just how incredibly important it is for the House to take up this Ukrainian aid package.

COLLINS: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced yesterday that he's stepping down from republican leadership. Obviously, I know that you are a Democrat, but he is someone who has pushed for aid to Ukraine. He's been a voice against what part of his party, certainly the MAGA side of his party, has wanted on Ukraine aid, which is no more funding and no more aid to them.

The fact that he's stepping down and we're seeing comments like from the House Freedom Caucus, obviously over in the House, calling him the co majority leader, Mitch McConnell, implying that he's more in line with Democrats than Republicans, and said no need to wait till November to replace him, that they should immediately elect a Republican minority leader. Obviously, Mitch McConnell is a lifelong Republican and has helped stack the Supreme Court with three Trump justices. But we'll get to that later. But I wonder what you think the next Republican leader in the Senate will look like. And if you have any concerns about that.

HEINRICH: I think it's a very open question. And depending on who becomes the next minority leader for the Republicans, will determine the tenor of the Senate. And we've already seen these extreme MAGA elements in the House and how they have made it impossible for a Republican speaker to pass even the most basic procedural moves forward, like a rule which is necessary to pass a law. You could see that sort of thing seep into the Senate. And that would be -- I just think it would bode very poorly for governance and for being able to do the basic minimums of governance.

COLLINS: So you think it will -- it could fundamentally change kind of how the institution itself works?

HEINRICH: It certainly could. And I think there will be a debate within the Republican caucus about whether they want a leader who can navigate, who can compromise, or whether they want a leader who just wants to make a point continuously.

COLLINS: Senator, thank you so much for joining us today.

HEINRICH: Thanks for having me. COLLINS: And speaking of the Senate, in just a few hours, I'm going to speak with Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont. His thoughts on what's happening in Gaza and more. That will air tonight on The Source at 09:00 eastern here on CNN. Be sure to tune in.

In the meantime, coming up here on THE LEAD, speaking of Gaza, there are moments of panic that happened today. As you can see here in this footage released by the Israel Defense Forces, crowds rushing an aid envoy as they are desperate for food. Now more than 100 people are believed to be dead. What the Israeli military is saying about it right after a quick break.



COLLINS: In our world lead today, a humanitarian aid site where people were waiting in line for food has now become a grave site in Gaza. The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza says that more than 110 people have been killed, at least 760 injured, after Israeli forces opened fire, causing aid trucks to run people over. The IDF giving a starkly different account, saying that their troops opened fire, but that most were killed or injured from a stampede several hundred yards away. That contradicts what one eyewitness told CNN about how all this chaos unfolded. I should note, CNN cannot independently confirm the figures.

For more of what we do know, CNN's Jeremy Diamond has this report on the deadly incident that has many, questioning what this impact -- what impact this could have on a potential ceasefire.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Around 4:00 in the morning, thousands of Palestinians are already camped out by the coastal road in western Gaza City. Humanitarian aid trucks are reportedly en route, a rarity in northern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands are now on the brink of famine.

As the convoy passes an Israeli military checkpoint and enters Gaza city, hundreds desperate for food swarm the trucks, as seen in this drone video released by the Israeli military. Many climb onto the trucks, grabbing what they can, when suddenly the Israeli military opens fire, killing and wounding about 20 people in the crowd, according to local journalist Hadar al Zanun (ph), who was on the scene.

Pandemonium ensues. As people run away, eyewitnesses say the truck drivers speed off, killing dozens more people. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says at least 104 people were killed altogether and more than 700 injured.

CNN is unable to independently confirm those numbers. The Israeli military acknowledges its troops shot people near the convoy, but says the gunfire was unrelated and came after people were already killed in a stampede. LT. COL. PETER LERNER, IDF SPOKESPERSON: In a second event, in a short distance away, we also had a group of people that approached the military forces in a war zone. The forces opened fire in the air to distance them, warning fire in order to get people out of harm's way. Unfortunately, they proceeded to advance and indeed they're a perceived threat, and the forces opened fire. Of course, I will say we're continuing to investigate, continuing to inquire in our after actions activities.

DIAMOND (voice-over): That account contradicted by eyewitnesses who say Israeli gunfire triggered the mass panic.

NEMA ABU SULTAN, EYEWITNESS (through translator): Our children die of hunger. They went to get a bag of flour in order to feed their children. Some were run over, others were shot. So they send us the aid so that the Israelis can keep shooting at our children. This is wrong. This is not right. This is not right.

DIAMOND (voice-over): The latest victims killed on a day when the death toll in Gaza surpassed 30,000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a majority of whom are women and children. More may soon die of starvation as the World Food Program warns that more than half a million Gazans are on the brink of famine.

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI, UNRWA COMMISSIONER GENERAL: We are talking about a man made famine because we have a kind of a total blockage for the people who are living in the north. There is not even enough of animal food, animal fodder for people to eat or to do bread with animal fodder.

DIAMOND (voice-over): That desperation brought Tamar Ata al Shimbari (ph) to that coastal road early Thursday morning.

He went to get a bit of bread, a bag of flour for his family displaced at the schools in Jabalia camp.

Now he lies dead, killed while trying to survive.


DIAMOND (on camera): And Kaitlan, the critical backdrop to all of this are those ongoing negotiations to try and obtain a temporary ceasefire in Gaza. This incident, of course, highlights the need for that ceasefire to get more aid into Gaza, but it could also impact those negotiations. Today, President Biden saying that he is certain that it will impact those talks. And a senior Hamas member this evening offering a warning, saying that they will not allow these negotiations to become a cover for what they call the continued crimes against our people. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv, thank you for that report.

And just into THE LEAD, the air national guardsman who was accused of posting classified documents online, now expected to plead guilty, according to what a source tells CNN. You'll remember 21-year-old Jack Tashara. He was charged with six counts of willful retention and transmission of classified information. Prosecutors say that he posted classified documents on social media, including eavesdropping on key allies and adversaries and information about the state of the war in Ukraine. Tashara has been in federal custody since last April and is facing decades in prison if he's convicted.


Also tonight, how we are following how age is more of a state of mind than really a number, but also a critical question in this year's election. John King's latest edition of All Over the Map, that is next.


COLLINS: In our Politics Lead, CNN's John King is back with another of his fascinating conversations with voters all over the map. This time he has been in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania asking about voters concerns with an issue that neither Republicans nor Democrats can ignore this election cycle. And when that comes up and just about every discussion about not just Joe Biden also Donald Trump, age.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lafayette College is in Easton, a deep blue piece of a purple county.


KING (voice-over): Larry Malinconico is 71, teaches geology, an independent but he almost always votes for the Democrat, a Biden fan.

MALINCONICO: I don't think he's gotten appropriate credit for the things he has done.

KING (voice-over): But conversations with friends and students have Malinconico wishing the president settled for just one term.

MALINCONICO: I think there are people who will not vote for him or sit it out because they perceive his age as a potential problem.

KING (voice-over): And forgiving when the President says he recently spoke to a foreign leader who died years ago.

MALINCONICO: He has a history of gaffes but I also think that as we age that we do tend to mix things up a little bit.


KING (voice-over): Mickey Brown is West Point Class of 1966.

MICKEY BROWN, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: We try to stay as active as possible.

KING (voice-over): He plays tennis, pickleball and senior softball to stay sharp. His wife, though, has dementia, and lives in a care home nearby. BROWN: I believe in Jesus and God. I think it keeps me strong. And I'll be fine.

KING (voice-over): Brown is a conservative and a two-time Trump voter. He insists though this view of President Biden is born of experience, not politics.

BROWN: Caring for my wife, I see certain things and the way his mannerisms that make me wonder if he is really in fact, the president.

KING: Trump several years younger than Biden, but people have raised the same question. You raise some concerns that you've seen Biden that you say, well, I've lived that. Do you see any of that in Trump?

BROWN: Well, I was just 80 on January 31st. At times, I forget something and comes back. But I'm fit. I'm confident in myself. I just think the difference between the two are not me to be more concerned about Mr. Biden going forward than Mr. Trump.

PAT LEVIN, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Shoulders opening, chest opening.

KING (voice-over): Pat Levin is 94. Yes, 94 and Net Pilates.

LEVIN: It's important for to keep me vertical. At my age, I need all the help I can get.

KING (voice-over): Age she says is not the dominant issue among most of her friends.

LEVIN: They're terrified about what might happen if Joe Biden doesn't want --

KING: Terrified what?

LEVIN: What will happen to this democracy.


COLLINS: We hear, you know, political pundits talking all the time about Biden's age, Trump's age, it's fascinating to hear from voters themselves, who are of similar ages, if not older.

KING: Listen, they know what it's like to mix up names, to forget things, to have memories. They know what it's like to not be able to move as quickly as before. So it's interesting to get their perspective on watching the president. But to be clear, it also breaks down along partisan lines, just like any voters, if people are Republicans, they said -- to tend to say Biden's too old and Trump's fine. The Democrats like to say Biden is OK. And I don't like Donald Trump.

The interesting part with several of the Democrats, even Biden fans do say in conversations with some of their friends who are, you know, in their 60s, in their 70s, in their 80s. Some of their friends are worried about it. They do say that. So that's worth watching. And this is just -- it's a critical place in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And it's a critical constituency.

Hillary Clinton lost some voters over 65 by 10 points to Donald Trump in 2016. She lost Northampton County, she lost Pennsylvania and she lost the presidency. Joe Biden also lost senior citizens those over 65, but only by seven points in Pennsylvania. Close races are one on the margins, right? So you don't necessarily have to win a voting bloc, but sometimes if you can lose it by a smaller margin, as Joe Biden did in 2020, won Northampton County, won Pennsylvania and he's the President. So they're worth watching through November.

COLLINS: Absolutely. It's great to hear you talk to them, John. I know you'll have much more of that tonight on AC 360 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here. You'll have more of those conversations on what the voters themselves think.


Also here on THE LEAD, Donald Trump does not have every elected Republican in Congress by his side in a critical election year. The two reasons that one key Republican senator told me that he is unwilling to vote for the president, of the former president of his party come November.


COLLINS: In our other Politics Lead, President Biden and former President Trump and they're dueling trips to the border are underway at the moment, as President Biden is now trying to take advantage of what happened on the hill where House Republicans sunk that bipartisan agreement in the Senate that would impart address what's happening on the border. Meanwhile, former President Trump there stoking fears about migrants while blaming the president for what's happening in illegal border crossings.

Joining me now is Republican strategist Lee Carter and former Democratic Congressman Max Rose. So let's talk about what we saw on the border today, because obviously, it's this kind of splitscreen political moment. I think what it clearly is, is a recognition from both of them that this is going to be a huge issue.

But when you hear Trump's remarks today, going after this, but he's also going, you know, saying things that he has about the border of war, that aren't true talking about, you know, other governments that are always unnamed dumping their jails and mental institutions, sending those people across the border. The border is a legitimate issue. So why does he have to also make up lies that go in his speech to kind of inflame the issue?

LEE CARTER, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: I mean, maybe he doesn't think he's lying. Maybe you think he's just talking big, I don't know. He's -- he has this way of rhetoric, I don't want to justify it, I'm not saying that he's not, he talks big. He talks a big game. And he's talking to what people are really afraid of right now? He pumps them up. And it just makes them more and more afraid, and more and more excited about his candidacy. And it just -- COLLINS: But even though half of some of what he says is not true. I mean, you could just talk about the numbers themselves and say, you know, this is an issue, this is an issue. And those were all being true and legitimate things. But instead, he also adds in, you know, that they're speaking languages that we've never heard of which I'm not even sure what really means.

CARTER: I'm not sure but at the end of the day, I think most people just hear bits of it. They look at him, and they say 92 percent of Republicans look at him and think he's going to do a better job on the border than Joe Biden is. They think he's the one that came up with a solution that Joe Biden has sort of thrown away and they believe what he's putting out there.

And independents, a lot of them are buying what he's selling too. A lot of people in the independent side, 74 percent disapprove of Joe Biden's handling of the border. And they also think that Donald Trump would handle it better. But when you do see these kinds of speeches today that you saw today, you can't help but wonder, is it going to work is going to last because we've been hearing about Donald Trump for the last two and a half years not directly from him. Now we're hearing directly from him, and it's kind of a reminder of a little bit, it's a lot to handle.

COLLINS: Well on that issue. I mean, this is something you know, in the Gallup poll that was just done when they asked Americans, what is your number one issue right now? Twenty-eight percent, which was the most in the poll said that immigration is their number one concern. Obviously the economy is also on their inflation. You can see how it ranks but immigration is number one I mean the White House clearly recognizes that President Biden is at the border for the first time in 13 months. What do you make of what you heard from President Biden today?


MAX ROSE (D-NY), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, look, of course, everyone's recognizing it. And I think that that's why the President is there. And I think that's, of course, why Donald Trump is there and talking about it so frequently, but it's fascinating to see the juxtaposition of both of their speeches, literally, at the same time, Donald Trump is talking in that same language, the language that you referenced, it's laced with xenophobia, and is completely absent of any solutions, certainly any that would be moral and retain the solidarity of this nation. That is part of the reason why we're the best country in the world.

Meanwhile, what Biden is doing is going back to his core competency, his core strength, which is as a leader of bipartisan solutions. Now, I would never say particularly in the presence of a great pollster that polls don't matter. But what I would say is that polls in February and March are certainly not going to be representative of where that data will be during an election time, right, in the weeks and days, up to an election. And this will have a significant impact on where people shift in their sentiment. COLLINS: You mentioned independently. And I think there is a moment where you hear from some Republicans even who liked Donald Trump's policies, I mean, he is pledging to carry out the biggest deportation in U.S. history. He claims, even though he deported fewer people than President Obama did when he was actually in the White House. But he has all of these pretty extreme immigration policies that he is pledging to put in place that some Republicans would probably like to see.

But when you talk to some of them, including Mitt Romney, obviously no fan of Donald Trump's, we spoke last night. He said that he agrees with Trump on some of his policies, but he won't be voting for him in November and this is why.


COLLINS: Would you vote for Donald Trump over Joe Biden?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): No, no, no, absolutely not. I mean, for me there are two factors are deciding who I want to have as the leader of my country. And the person who is the example of the president for my kids and my grandkids. One is their position and policies. And on foreign policy, I'm not aligned with Donald Trump, at least as I understand his policy. And domestic policy, yeah, I aligned with many of his domestic policies.

But there's another dimension besides policy, and that's character. And I think what America is, as a nation, what has allowed us to be the most powerful nation on Earth, and the leader of the Earth is the character of the people who have been our leaders, past presidents, but also mothers, fathers, church leaders, university presidents, and so forth. Having a president who is so defaulted of character would have an enormous impact on the character of America. And for me, that's the primary consideration.


COLLINS: So defaulted of character that it would have an enormous impact on the character of America.

CARTER: And there's about 30 percent of Republicans who agree with him on that, you see that most of them are voting for Nikki Haley right now, some might say that it's about 40 percent of Republicans that agree with him. There's a lot of people say, you know, I mean, DeSantis tried to tap in his whole idea that'll be Trump without the chaos. A lot of people agree with him.

And I think there's going to -- there's a big problem that he's going to have in the general election. You look at the Republican primary, very different situation, and when you look at what's going to happen in November. But the bottom line is there's so many issues that Trump wins on, and so many issues that Biden wins on. And Biden isn't very, very popular, even with his own base. He doesn't have strong support. People vote for support for or support for him about 30 percent of them are enthusiastic supporters, whereas 82 percent of Trump supporters are super enthusiastic about supporting him and feel like he cares about people like them.

And it's a very different, you know, it's a very different dynamic. But I think what Mitt Romney has said is exactly how about a third of Republicans feel.

COLLINS: I mean, it's remarkable to hear a Republican senator, someone who was once the Republican nominee for president say that about now the front runner of the Republican Party that arguably the leader of the Republican Party, if that is something that President Biden struggles to compete with the voters who may prefer Trump on the issues and be willing to overlook that. I mean, what does that say about how Democrats have handled Trump?

ROSE: Well, first of all, over the course of the coming months, you're going to see the Biden campaign very rightfully so, remind the American people of what exactly the Trump presidency was like. Mind you people and you said this earlier --

COLLINS: I mean, Mitt Romney might have just cut them an ad.

ROSE: Right. I mean, people have forgotten about the chaos. They've forgotten about the divisiveness, the vitriol and the incompetency. And so that's why a lot of this data won't really play out. Now, no one should ever underestimate Donald Trump's political strengths, particularly as it pertains to turning out his base and turning out voters in rural America who are not regular voters. That's why Trump will often beat a pole, right, because you're breaking down the normal projected electorate.

But with that being said, though, voters for Biden are really, really motivated by two things. One, a resolute Leave in Biden's accomplishments, Biden's agenda and also an absolute hatred for Donald Trump, so you're going to see extraordinarily motivated voters on both sides. This will of course be a close election, but there's real weaknesses to the data right now. And, you know, only time will tell.


COLLINS: Time will indeed tell maybe in about eight months from now. Max Rose, Lee Carter, thank you both for being here.

And of course also today, just days after record warm weather passed across the United States. There's now a major snowstorm that is moving in we're back with a report right after a quick break.


COLLINS: In our National Lead, there's an extremely dangerous winter storm that is expected to hit California this weekend. Snowfall rates are predicted to reach three to five inches an hour, yes, an hour. That means that anywhere from 6 to 10 feet of snow could bury parts of the Sierra in just two to three days with wind gusts as much as 100 miles per hour on the highest peaks, lower elevations including cities like Reno, Nevada, could see several inches of snow with wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.


One bright note here, as in many of these areas have been struck by drought in recent years, so the snow melt could help some much -- could provide some much needed help for the region. Thank you all so much for joining us. I'll see you tonight back here on the source at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Of course, if you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to it wherever you get your podcasts. For now, our coverage continues here on CNN.