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The Lead with Jake Tapper

America's Choice 2024; Time To Pay Up; Gruesome Murder; Former Rep. Santos Plans To Run In NY's 1st Congressional District; Non- Profit Business Helps Improve Livelihoods For Those With Autism And Developmental Disabilities. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 08, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to "The Lead," I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, because America clearly needs more George Santos, or so he thinks, the disgraced expelled congressman is trying to make a comeback. But is it a bluff, is he just trying to get attention, we'll ask one of his former closest aides who will be here this hour. Plus, a Friday feel good from my hometown, Philly. See how the power of popcorn is giving one group a sense of pride and independence.

And leading this hour, President Biden on the road taking his State of the Union Address on tour. First stop, battleground Pennsylvania. And we're standing by for him to speak any moment now after last night's supercharged rather political speech. Let's get right to CNN's MJ Lee, who's in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, 19086 as I recall, where President Biden is about to speak.

And, MJ, President Biden's speech is set to kick off a month long tour, continuing his State of the Union message. What exactly is the White House planning?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jake, we should be seeing President Biden take the stage behind me any minute now here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, to really kick off his post State of the Union tour. And we are about to see just a flurry of travel from the President.

Tomorrow, he head to Atlanta, Georgia. And then next week, we'll see him traveling to New Hampshire on Monday. And then on Wednesday, on Thursday, Wisconsin and Michigan, of course, two of some of the most important battleground states heading into November.

And what the campaign is saying is that, between the President and Vice President Kamala Harris, they plan on the two of them hitting up every battleground state in the coming weeks. Now, of course, all of this is about amplifying the message that we heard from President Biden last night in his State of the Union remarks. And just a few minutes ago, we heard the President telling reporters on the tarmac about the idea of debating his GOP opposition candidate Donald Trump, and also whether he tuned into the Republican rebuttal to his remark last night. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you commit to a debate with former President Trump?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: It depends on his behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you seen Senator Britt's rebuttal, sir?

BIDEN: I just saw a little bit on television.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you think?

BIDEN: I thought she was a very talented woman. I -- I didn't quite understand the connections she was making.


LEE: And we're going to see the campaign bulking up as well. In the month of March, the campaign says that they're going to open some hundred new offices and make some 350 new hires. And that's also an addition to a new ad campaign that they're going to be launching to the tune of some $30 million over some six weeks.

So these ads, as you can imagine, are going to be focused on the President's policies, and also continuing to draw that contrast between himself and Donald Trump. This, of course, coming the day after we heard the President invoking his predecessor, no less than 13 times in a State of the Union Address. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. MJ Lee, thanks so much.

With us now, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks from New York. He's the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, good to see you.

So, President Biden getting a lot of praise from Democrats for his performance, his delivery. What do you say to those who say, you know, it was a very political speech. He invoked his opponent, Donald Trump, 13 times not appropriate for a State of the Union Address.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): I say that they could not refute the facts of what he said, and so they say it's not appropriate. Because what the President did was talk about what he had accomplished in the three years, where we started from. Why, in fact, you know, we had the greatest pandemic that the world had ever seen, that caused the economy to tank, not only in the United States but around the world.

And he talked about how do we get out of that. And that now we have recovered and we are in the -- we have the best economy than almost any economy in the world. So he talked about the fact, maybe talk about what he wanted to do in the future, you know, and what we needed to do.

And he talked about the bills that are on the table that he wanted the Congress to pass, because it will make it better for all Americans. Like the bipartisan border agreement that the Republicans are blocking. Like moving forward with support for the Ukrainians, like making sure that we have humanitarian aid to go into the bills.

So it was about the State of the Union. Where we were, where we moved from, where we are now, and where we're going into future. Not exactly but they could not repeat any of it. So you say, oh, it was political.


TAPPER: Yes. Let me ask you because he just mentioned aid to Ukraine. We've been told that there are still efforts being made in the House of Representatives to get aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan through the House. What can you tell us about that?

MEEKS: But we're working hard. The easiest way to do it is all the speaker has to do is to put the bill on the floor. If you put the bill on the floor and let the Congress do its will, we will get over 300 votes for it, instead of allowing a few of the MAGA Republicans and the speaker who clearly does not want to do anything other than what the former president wants. Hold it up so that -- quickest way to get it done, and we need to do it because time is running out.

TAPPER: Yes, but that's not going to happen.

MEEKS: Just think of it -- just put it on the floor.

TAPPER: He's not going to just put it on the floor. So what are the efforts you guys are making?

MEEKS: I would hope, I would hope because we've got, as Democrats, we had everything all option open. So we're talking to, and I've been talking to some of my Republican counterparts, who many of them when we were in Munich, said to President Zelenskyy, we're going to get this done. So if the option is a motion to discharge or something of that nature, if there's stuff since the Republicans are blocking it from come on the floor, then they should work with us.

So we're having this dialogue and conversation to try to find out is about, you know, what will it take for those folks in the Republican Party that believes it is the right thing to do. What will it take for us to get a bill on the floor so that we can vote for it?

So clearly, we're ready in our side. The problem is them, and we're talking to find out what does it take.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about this moment last night, relevant to your work on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. An invited guest of Congress, I think Congressman Mike Waltz, a guy named Steve Nikoui stood up in the gallery, started yelling at President Biden. Nikoui's son, as you know, he was a US Marine killed during the 2021 Kabul Airport suicide bombing at Abbey Gate. Let's take a watch.


BIDEN: America is safer today than when I took office. A year before I took office, murder rates went up 30 percent. STEVE NIKOUI, SON KILLED IN KABUL AIRPORT SUICIDE BOMBING: Remember

the Abbey Gate.

BIDEN: 30 percent they went up.

NIKOUI: United States Marines. Kareem Mae'Lee Nikoui.

BIDEN: The biggest increase in history.

NIKOUI: United States Marines.

BIDEN: It was then through no --


TAPPER: So it was difficult at the time to hear what he's saying, but just to explain, he was yelling, Abbey Gate and United States Marine. Obviously, a lot of these Gold Star families are upset with the withdrawal, how it happened. They think there was a cover up. They think the administration hasn't been sensitive enough to what happened. What did you make of it all?

MEEKS: Well, number one, you know, my heart goes out to every Gold Star family in the lost that they have. But I will tell you that we have the Oversight Committee responsibility -- oversight responsibility on our committee, at the State Department has been working with us at every stage of the game. And I think that we -- they put out the after action review process of which talked about and when we had individuals as to what took place, and what did not take place, what we needed to do to improve in the future.

But I also think that, you know, because what is happening on our committee, is people are not looking at in order to make the determination is what took place, the cause of the lead up to it. You know, for example, I think that we should look at the entire 20 years, because there's something that connects to it. But especially when they -- the former administration, along with then Secretary of State Pompeo decided that they were going to undercut the Afghan government, and elevate those individuals and cause the government of Afghan to depart. Now we're looking at it.


MEEKS: And we -- and then you have -- the committee has received more than 100 hours of testimony from multiple and current, and former officials. And the State Department has also provided over 11,000 pages of documents to the committee.

TAPPER: Right.

MEEKS: And for its part, I was just telling you and looking at this, the State Department has facilitated the appearance of every requested witness and the Afghanistan investigation.

TAPPER: Right. MEEKS: So we're doing all of those things, but nothing has changed the facts from what the AAR has stated, but it just seems to me as the Republican leadership is doing it every committee, is just trying to do investigations where there's nothing found that contradicts, for example, what the AAR, or the After Action Review has indicated.

TAPPER: Right. But you work pretty well with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. You're the ranking Democrat, the chairman, the Ranking Republican, Michael McCaul, has been threatening to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Now, McCaul says it seems to be walking back. He said Blinken has agreed to start handing over documents. Have you been happy with the cooperation by the State Department? Are they finally doing what needs to be done for the purposes of oversight?

MEEKS: Is that -- finally, they've been doing it? Look, I just said, every -- we've received over 100 hours of testimony --


MEEKS: -- from multiple current and former officials. We the State Department has also provided over 11,000 pages of documents to the committee, and the documents of which my dear friend and chairman of the committee just asked for. I had a chance to, you know, to start to look and to review. And you can tell that what, to me, what is substantiates is that the after action review, which was put in place so that people under being anonymous to give their actual and honest feelings and thoughts where you see some talking about, you know, some of the positive aspects of it.

So I'm talking about the faults of it, and what needs to be done to help in the future. That's those documents, you can see was taken into consideration when the after action and review was put together. So I see there's nothing more or anything that I've seen thus far that is trying to hide anything.

Was it absolutely perfect? Well no. The entire 20 years in Afghanistan was not perfect. But what we were looking at is how do we can make sure what we can learn from it just as we did in 911, so that we can be better prepared in the future, but not trying to just do what we've been doing and other committees where you see for example, Mayorkas, impeach him, try to impeach the President, tried to bring down the State Department. That's just not what we should be doing here.

TAPPER: Yes. Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, good to see you, sir. Thanks for joining us. Really appreciate it.

MEEKS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Up next, the $92 million bond that Donald Trump posted today for one of his legal cases, plus the deadline he faces next week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead, it is time to pay up Donald Trump. Two massive legal judgments are coming due and the former president is taking action today in at least one of them. CNN's Kara Scannell is live in New York.

Kara, let's start with the E. Jean Carroll defamation case. Today, Trump appealed both the judgment while still putting up tens of millions of dollars. Tell us about it.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Trump posted a bond of $91.6 million, that is so he could appeal the E. Jean Carroll defamation judgment of $83.3 million. The difference there is to cover interest. You know, the big question had been would Trump be able to get this bond posted in time. That deadline was right around the corner?

And now we learned that he did, and that the company that underwrote the bond is this large global insurance company, Chubb. It's a well known company not, you know, there were questions of would he have to get money from other folks, or will he be able to get someone to back it up. So now we know that it's Trump.

We also know that Donald Trump signed this bond on Tuesday. This was the same so you can see his signature right there. This was the same time that he was still asking the judge in this case for more time.

So the judge is now asking Carroll's team if they have any objections to this bond, or if they're OK with it as they know it, and to get back to them by Monday morning. If there is a disagreement, he wants all the parties back in court Monday afternoon. Jake?

TAPPER: Right. And on the screen right now, you see Trump's cash crunch deadlines for legal penalties. Monday, 83.3 million for E. Jean Carroll, then March 25th, it's says $454 million for the New York civil fraud trial. So that's coming to due in just a few weeks, Kara.

SCANNELL: Yes. He really only has about two weeks to get that money together. And that is the bigger, I mean, it's such a big amount of money. It is a bigger question of will he be able to get someone to write a bond for it. Because to get a bond he needs to be able to give them assets to secure, whether it's cash, securities, investment bonds or some property. And so, the big question there is how is that sorted out?

Now, Trump had proposed putting up $100 million and then appeal that case. An appellate court judge struck that down but an appellate court panel is hearing this. They will ultimately decide if he's going to get an extension to not have to post this bond while the appeal is playing out. They are expected to make a decision later this month that will coincide with the timing that this is due and also the start of Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York related to those hush money payments. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell in New York, thanks so much. Let's bring in Russ Buettner. He's the Investigative Reporter for the New York Times who's covered Trump's finances extensively. Russ, so the nearly $92 million bond that Trump posted today was underwritten by the insurance company Chubb. In order to get that bond, Trump has to put up assets to show that the insurer that he's good for the money, what might those assets be?

RUSS BUETTNER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, he has a certain amount of cash, Jake. We never really know how much there is. As recently as a year or so ago, he looks like he probably had $300 to $350 million in cash from selling a couple of assets and a refinance, someone else he have an investment he had a piece of.

But one thing we've learned about looking at Donald Trump's businesses is generally they eat cash, so if you had that much then we would expect he didn't now. And then this bond today locks up even more of his money, right? That box is off, some portion of money that he committed to that.


So I think it's likely that that most of the cash that he has, if he has any left, is going to have to go to sort of guaranteeing these two bonds, meaning the needs of whatever insurer might want on the larger bond, and possibly signing over some assets that are already sort of really encumbered by mortgages.

TAPPER: You've written in depth on Trump's cash position in the past that the way he does business tends to burn through cash very quickly. Does he have solid sources of cash these days, ways that money is coming in to his coffers?

BUETTNER: Well, it's a great question. The last time we had a perfect window on his finances was a couple of years ago. And what we saw is that when he was on "The Apprentice," he had an incredible amount of money from being on the show, and also from licensing and endorsement agreements that came along with that. In 2011, for example, he made $51 million just in that year from those things. That's a lot of money.

But the businesses that he ran, his golf courses and his hotels, tend to require him to infuse cash on a regular basis. So as "The Apprentice" money dipped, the licensing might dip down to almost zero by the time he entered the White House, those businesses were starting to eat up more and more of this cash. The attorney general found there was one year where he would have been like literally out of cash except for the beneficial interest rates he got on some of these loans that were subject to this fraud case.

So it does raise all these questions about whether he has access to it. I think one thing is certain, he does not have access to the 500 plus million he would need for the bond in this larger case. He can't just produce that much money and keep operating as a business. And that's what they said in that filing last week where they said we could maybe get a bond for $100 million. And they asked the court to consider that. I think it's really clear that larger judgment is not within his reach.

TAPPER: Yes. And part of that judgment, that New York civil fraud judgment, barred the Trump Organization from doing business in New York, except in order to secure loans to pay the fines and the case. Now the ban is on hold, the ban of doing business in New York, while Trump appeals that judgment. But if that appeal fails, what happens to the Trump Organization?

BUETTNER: Well, I think first he's got to get to the bond. So he can -- have the appeal play its way out and buy some more time. That could be an existential threat to him. But if he has to ultimately just pay this judgment, he would exhaust more than all the cash he has. I think that's very clear, he would have to sell something. They've got a court appointed monitor that's in place there who would oversee what he could sell.

And there's really just a few pieces of his enterprise that are left, that sort of help support the other ones. And if the monitor or the court decided those were the ones that had to go in order to meet the terms of the judgment, that again, would be another existential threat to the Trump Organization is an ongoing concern.

TAPPER: All right. Russ Buettner of the New York Times, always good to have you on. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

BUETTNER: Thank you, Jake..

TAPPER: A man well-known for sharing his story of rehabilitation and second chances after being released from prison last year, is now under arrest. And he's being charged with a grisly murder in New York City. The shocking details next.



TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead, a disturbing murder case out in New York City in a rather drastic turn of events. A former inmate working as a counselor with at risk youth is now facing murder charges He's accused of killing a man and cutting up his body. Sheldon Johnson got out of prison last May after serving 25 years for attempted murder. CNN's Polo Sandoval is following this gruesome story. Polo, what more do we know about these accusations against Johnson?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Jake, Sheldon Johnson Jr. has been really a public voice for rehabilitation after incarceration. But today, as you point out, he now stands accused of shooting and killing a Bronx man who was later found dismembered, and I have to warn you and our viewers to details, according to investigators, they really are disturbing.

According to police, 44-year-old Collin Small's torso and his feet were discovered in his apartment, that's per police report, with sources telling our colleague, Mark Morales, that Small's head with a gunshot wound, and arm and legs were also later discovered in Johnson's freezer. Now according to police, Johnson has seen on surveillance video entering and exiting Small's apartment on Tuesday, which is when investigators believe that the murder took place. And at times, if you look closely, even you can tell that he appears to be wearing disguises. Before Johnson was arrested and charged with murder, manslaughter and concealment of a corpse, he was publicly claiming that he essentially turned his life around after spending nearly half of his life in prison for homicide and robbery. Fact after being released just this past May, he gained a reputation for being an advocate for criminal justice reform. Recently, he even appeared on Joe Rogan's podcast. And on it, he described himself as a former criminal and gang leader, and the product of intergenerational incarceration.

But now he said he was on this so-called journey towards redemption. He earned his GED while in prison. He went through conflict resolution training. I want you to hear more of what Johnson said on that podcast appearance about a so-called path towards rehabilitation. And as you listen, keep in mind, that he's now accused in an absolutely gruesome killing.


SHELDON JOHNSON JR., ACCUSED OF MURDERING COLLIN SMALL: I've been doing bad for so long I'm going to try to do something good. If all else fails, I could always go back to doing bad. But let me try. Let me give it a shot.



SANDOVAL: That appearance only from about a month ago. CNN has reached out to Johnson's legal representatives for comment. We should mention though that while being escorted out of a local precinct by police officers yesterday, Johnson did maintain his innocence. He pleaded not guilty to all of the counts that I mentioned plus some additional ones. He's also expected back in court on Monday, but the police have not really elaborated what they think that the connection might be between Johnson and Small, the victim in this case. Jake?

TAPPER: So obviously, this doesn't change the fact that, you know, rehabilitation is possible, but how are all the people who have been supporting his rehabilitation efforts? How are they reacting to this?

SANDOVAL: Well, CNN had an opportunity to speak to Brian Stanley. He's actually a court advocate that pushes for incarceration alternatives. And he was very clear in saying that it is his hope that people do not lose sight of or at least are able to distinguish between the alleged crimes that took place here and the work that Stanley said that Johnson was trying to do for New York's youth. But again, he now stands accused of some extremely serious and gruesome crimes and is expected back in court in a couple of days, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Polo Sandoval, thanks so much.

Silver shoes and all George Santos made his grand return to Capitol Hill for Biden's State of the Union address. He claims he plans to launch a new reelection campaign. Is he for real? I'm going to ask someone who knows him quite well, next.



TAPPER: Continuing our Politics Lead, shortly after Congress kick former New York Republican Congressman George Santos out. He said quote, to hell with this place. You'll recall of course, Santos racked up 23 federal fraud charges including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and lying to Congress. His trial is expected in September.

Well, last night, just three short months later, the disgraced ex- congressman dressed in a rhinestone encrusted collar and silver shoes, made a surprise appearance on the floor of the House of Representatives at the State of the Union Address. And it was not just to troll the President speech apparently which of course he did. He posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. I just witnessed a weak, frail President deliver spin and lies to the American people from inside the chambers. I have made several personal sacrifices in the name of serving the American people.

Santos also, of course, is now attempting to launch some sort of comeback, saying, quote, I want to announce that I will be returning to the arena of politics and challenging Nick for the battle over New York 1, that's the New York first congressional district. I look forward to debating him on the issues and on his weak record as a Republican, unquote.

Joining us now is the former communications director for George Santos, Neysa Wilmer. Neysa was hired after he was elected. And then he resigned after his first indictment, is that right?


TAPPER: OK. So let's talk about this. You resigned as comms director, after he was arrested and charged for fraud and other crime said you -- saying you were honored to quit. Santos said he wouldn't seek reelection after that damning ethics report. Do you think this is real? Is he really going to run for reelection? Or is he just trying to get attention?

WOOMER: I feel like it's a little bit of both. I feel like it's a little bit of it's like in Veep when she says she's rebranded. So I don't know if he's doing something very similar here. This is a completely different part of Long Island, which was once occupied by Lee Zeldin. So I really don't know if he's able going to -- he's going to be able to do the following things, get the signatures that he will need to be on the ballot, and then also, the primary is in June. So it's a very short amount of time to get signatures, file and get some sort of fundraising dollar.

TAPPER: Yes, it seems improbable that he'll be able to mount any sort of serious challenge to an incumbent Republican Nick LaLota, who is as you know, the first congressional district's incumbent congressman. He's one of the New York Republicans the push to expel Santos. Is this about revenge, then maybe do you think because it doesn't sound like it's a very serious candidacy if it's in June, and he's challenging an incumbent, maybe he just wants to attack LaLota?

WOOMER: I think it's a little bit of both once again. I don't know if this it's a little bit of a revenge -- Taylor Swift's Revenge Tour. Or, but it's also -- I -- for someone who literally had said that he, you know, to hell with this place. So I'm just a little surprised, I thought, you know, doing great with cameo. So it again, I -- but I will say this about Congressman LaLota, I would take this very seriously, because once again, we could see something slip through the cracks.

We'll just like let's think back to 2014 with former Majority Leader Eric Cantor when he lost to Dave Brat out of the blue. So it's just -- it's one of those. Is that a joke? Yes. But also it's an opportunity to just once again prove that you can be George Santos.


WOOMER: Whether it's kicking him out of Congress or out of a primary.

TAPPER: So Republicans obviously lost the special election to fill Santos's seat for the district that Santos had. Democrat Tom Suozzi is now the incumbent congressman. He's now running for reelection for November. In his announcement, Santos said, the fight for our majority is imperative for the survival of the country. So let's listen to some of the responses from New York Republicans and others.


REP. NICK LALOTA (R-NY): He's an embarrassment here in Congress. It's one of the reasons that we led the charge to expel him.

REP. ANTHONY D'ESPOSITO (R-NY): I think George Santos should focus if that's really his name. That's what he should focus. He should focus more on worrying about his personal issues and trying to come back here and make another spectacle out of this, one of this country's oldest institutions.

REP. MIKE BOST (R-IL): It's a free nation, and people can run whenever they want. But I think George is just not honest.

REP. GARRET GRAVES (R-LA): I think his time has come and gone.


TAPPER: What's your personal reaction? Because obviously, you know, you dedicated your life to him. Thankfully, it was only for six months. But you worked hard for him, I'm sure. And I'm sure you had your challenges. What -- do you think some -- is something wrong with him? And if so, what is it?

WOOMER: I think it's, I want to say, yes, a little bit just because it sounds like someone who just -- he went from being a congressman to a celebrity. And I think just the media attention that came around him during his entire time in Congress, it just I think it increased his ego and I -- after listening to members such as Nick LaLota and Anthony D'Esposito, I agree with them. I mean, it's a joke. And one of my biggest questions is, you know, do we need to go back and I think, Congressman Ritchie Torres has already begun filing legislation that would revoke his floor privileges.


TAPPER: Yes. It's for those confused about why he was even allowed on the floor of the House last night. He has lifelong floor privileges, despite being expelled. And as you know, Richie Torres, a different Democratic -- well, a different congressman from New York, he's a Democrat. And this is, according to Punchbowl, quote, is introducing a new rule, the George rule, George stands for getting expelled officially revokes guaranteed entry rule. That's pretty clever actually, that would revoke House Floor privileges for expelled members of the House of Representatives. Do you think that that's a good rule?

WOOMER: I think it is a good rule. I mean, let's just remember too, only -- I think this is -- he's the sixth member of Congress, who has been expelled. So the last --

TAPPER: In the history of -- yes.

WOOMER: In the history. So the last one that was expelled was in 2002. And prior to that, I believe it was back from the Civil War when they were, you know, confessed being loyal traitors to the Confederacy.


WOOMER: So I don't think they've ever -- usually when someone's expelled, I don't think you really want to return to the place where, let's face it, 105 Republican members of, you know, of your colleagues decided for you to be expelled from Congress.

TAPPER: To be honest, they led the charge. The New York Republicans led the charge. Naysa, great to see you. Thank you so much.

WOOMER: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Up next, the great idea that made it all the way to the end zone of my beloved Philadelphia Eagles and is now helping one group of important people have a sense of independence. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Sports Lead, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles are part of a special partnership with a nonprofit business dedicated to improving the livelihoods of people with autism and other developmental disabilities. As CNN's Danny Freeman reports for us, it all started with making popcorn.


DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the story of a kernel of an idea that just popped. FREEMAN: Did you ever expect that you'd be making a whole business making popcorn?

SAM BIER, CO-FOUNDER, POPCORN FOR THE PEOPLE: Oh, no, definitely not. I never thought this dream could come that true.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Thirty-three-year-old Sam Bier was on the autism spectrum. And for years according to his dad, Dr. Steven Bier, Sam had trouble finding a job that fit.

DR. STEVEN BIER, CO-FOUNDER, POPCORN FOR THE PEOPLE: Sam was working a job pushing shopping carts during the summer at a supermarket and he wasn't very happy, he wasn't very fulfilling.

FREEMAN (voice-over): So the Bier family thought, why not create our own business?

STEVEN BIER: Not seasonal. It's not a fad. It's not dangerous to make, no knives. Sam, I like to make popcorn.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Soon after, Popcorn for the People was born. A nonprofit selling the tasty snack, hands made by people with autism and developmental disabilities.

SAM BIER: I think this place can help people give the tools they need to extend to another business, help give the confidence, the optimism, the endurance I think that's what it means.

FREEMAN (voice-over): There's very little data when it comes to employment and the neurodiverse community. But a 2015 report from Drexel University's Autism Institute found that four out of every 10 young adults on the autism spectrum have never had a paying job. That's a much lower rate than young adults with other disabilities. But Popcorn for the People has 39 neurodiverse employees here in their modest New Jersey workplace.

STEVEN BIER: Many people who work here never had a job before.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Pop by pop, business grew, selling popcorn at college football games on the Jersey Turnpike and then word spread south.


FREEMAN (voice-over): Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles has a brother on the autism spectrum. For years the Eagles have made autism research and care a core priority. Last season, they even set up a popcorn for the people stand.


FREEMAN (voice-over): But Eagles Autism Foundation's Ryan Hammond knows good paying jobs are crucial for this community.

HAMMOND: I think people think it's hard, right? Or it's going to cost them money or cost them time or cost them uncomfortable conversations. I think the reality is, is that the nor diverse community has so much to offer.

FREEMAN (voice-over): So when she learned Philly area convenience store, Wawa, had an empty shop they didn't know what to do with.

HAMMOND: Without hesitation I was like, I would open a popcorn factory.

FREEMAN: When did you realize oh, man, this is a great idea.


FREEMAN (voice-over): Dave Simonetti is the senior director of store operations for Wawa. His stores already employ more than 500 neurodiverse people. Simonetti's daughter has down syndrome.

SIMONETTI: Well, my daughter is only 12. But I liked the idea that she's going to have choices when she gets out of school. And she will have things available to her that maybe didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago, because of the work that folks like popcorn are doing.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Less than a year after the Eagles and Wawa came together to hatch this plan, a new Popcorn for the People factory was born. This one on Philadelphia's famous South Street plans to make and sell tens of thousands more bags of popcorn and hire 25 more neurodiverse employees like 23-year-old, Jarred.

FREEMAN: Have you tasted the popcorn?

JARRED SIOMINE, FUTURE POPCORN FOR THE PEOPLE EMPLOYEE: Yes, I ate the caramel. It tastes really good.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Kylie Kelce, known as the First Lady of Philadelphia and is married to retiring Eagle star center Jason Kelce is passionate advocate for the autism community.


KYLIE KELCE, AUTISM COMMUNITY ADVOCATE: To see something like Popcorn for the People whose encouraging those employment opportunities and allowing the autism community to find that independence, to find sort of that pride in their own work and earn their own paycheck, it's such a joy to say.

FREEMAN (voice-over): The hope now is others will take this kernel of an idea and create more popportunities.

STEVEN BIER: It's literally a nonprofit version of the American dream. We wanted to create one job for my son, did that and then another job and another job and another job. It's amazing. What flavor popcorn is Jake Tapper like?

FREEMAN: That's the question. I'll ask him.

STEVEN BIER: I'm thinking we send back --


FREEMAN (voice-over): All right, Jake, so your options are butter, Chicago cheddar, kettle corn, and also French toast. But Dr. Beir and Sam they thought you'd like dark chocolate espresso perhaps at your long State of the Union coverage night. You tell me.

TAPPER: Yes. That sounds great. No, I like that dark chocolate. First of all, I mean, great story, wonderful job. I love everything about that. And I can't believe you got to meet Kylie. Kelce. What a rip off. I want to meet Kylie Kelce. Amazing. All right, you're in my hood, sounds free.

FREEMAN: I'm trying to running the story, yes.

TAPPER: Danny Freeman in Philly, thanks so much, really wonderful project there.

Another worthy note in our Pop Culture Lead, I had the honor to design and draw a new t-shirt for the Dave Matthews Band. It is vintage style. It features the members of the band, the Dave Matthews Band as superheroes. They're the Devengers. You -- all proceeds for the shirt go to help build specially designed mortgage free homes for wounded veterans part of the program I support every year called Homes for our Troops. Look for more info and a link to order the shirt pinned to the top of my X page formerly known as Twitter. You can find me at JakeTapper or go to

President Biden is about to speak now outside Philly, the First Lady is wrapping up her introduction. Let's listen.

JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: And that starts here in this room with all of you. So please help me welcome my husband, the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I should go home now. Hello Delco. I'm Joe Biden and Jill Biden's husband. And thanks to elected officials clear today, including someone I keep telling me I think we're related, your campus -- our families campus from the same county in Ireland Representative Keown. Where is she? There you are. She's done a hell of a job representing this district.

If you're tired, you're probably watched my address last night. I got my usual warm reception from Congress and Marjorie Taylor Greene. In my address, I spoke about how far we've come since we took office. I talked about how much is at stake. Folks, our freedoms really are on the ballot this November. Donald Trump with the MAGA Republicans are trying to take away our freedoms. That's not an exaggeration.

Well, guess what? We will not let him. We will not let him. Last night, the U.S. Capitol, the same building where our freedoms came under assault on July the 6th, that should be January 6th, it talks about another Alabama. Fourteen months ago, she and her husband welcomed a baby girl, thanks to another Alabama, thanks to the miracle of IVF. She scheduled treatments to have a second child. But the Alabama Supreme Court shut down IVF treatments, across the state unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

She was told her dream would have to wait. But her family has gone through should never have happened. And folks, you know why it happened? I'll tell you why. One reason, Donald Trump, he came to office determined to overturn Roe v Wade. In fact, he's bragged about it repeatedly that he's the reason it got overturn. He got his wish. And states are passing bans, criminalizing doctors, forcing raping and incest victims who leave the state to get care.


And now, MAGA Republicans and Donald Trump want to pass a national ban on the right to choose, period. Well, take it seriously folks because that's what they're heading for. Hear me loud and clear, this will not happen on my watch.

The decision to over --

CROWD: Four more years, four more years, four more years, four more years, four more years.

BIDEN: Thank you. The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court majority wrote, women are not without electoral power or political power. Clearly, he's bragging, anyway, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power women in America.

No to you. They found out what reproductive freedom was on the ballot in 2022 and 2023. And they'll find out again in 2024. I mean, this in a bottom my heart when I say I thank Vice President Harris for leading on this issue and so many others. You know, in Pennsylvania, I have a message for you, sent me to Congress so I can support this right. And I promise you, we take back Congress, we will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.

Look, I came to office determined to get us through one of the toughest periods in our nation's history. We have, I inherited an economy that was on the brink, excuse me. Now our economy is the envy of the world, 15 million new jobs in just three years. And that's a record of American history. Unemployment in a 50 year alone, 800,000 new manufacturing jobs and counting.

I said when I started, words are written and we can't be the manufacturing capital of the world again. Wages are up and inflation is coming down. Inflation has dropped from 9 percent to 3 percent. We made so much progress. So now let's talk about the future we can build because we have more to do.

Look, the future where the days of trickle down economics are over. And the wealthy the biggest corporations began to pay their fair share, God love them. For example, Americans paid more as a pharmacist can tell us, a doc can tell us, the prescription drugs than anywhere else in the world. It's wrong. And I've been fighting the pharmaceutical industry since I was in the Senate for over 30 years.

But guess what? We're ending it. In the law I proposed and signed. No one, not one Republican voted for it. But we finally beat Big Pharma. Instead of paying $400 a month for example, on insulin for seniors, they only have to pay 35 bucks. And by the way, it only costs $10 to make. They're still faint. They're still getting a big profit. But look, I'm not stopping there. Let's cap the cost of insulin $35 month for every American who needs it not just seniors.

I finally beat Big Pharma. And now we're giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, just like the VA does for our military. This doesn't just save seniors money, saving taxpayers billions of dollars, cutting the deficit. Now it's time to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for even more drugs.

Now it's going to save the taxpayers another $200 billion, we're already saved $160 billion off your taxes because the Medicare don't have to pay that bill. Folks, starting next year, the bill I got passed, we're capping the total prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 a year even for expensive cancer drugs that cost 10, 12, 14, 15,000 years.


And my goal next year, let's do that for all Americans, all Americans. Let's cap prescription drug cost for $2,000 a year for everyone. And folks, the Affordable Care Act is still a very big deal.