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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Democrats Reckoning With Stages Of Grief As Biden Panic Intensifies; Six States Move Toward Trump In Post-Debate Electoral Ratings; Did Biden's Inner Circle Keep Concerns Under Wraps; Nikki Haley Says It Is Time For Republican Unity; Trump Says He Knows Nothing About Project 2025. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 09, 2024 - 22:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Democrats are living through the stages of grief. That's tonight on NewsNight.

Good evening, I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

Tonight, coping with loss. Democrats, they're reckoning with all five stages of grief, all at once, after Joe Biden's debate performance triggered panic. Tonight, Biden delivered a standard but important speech, especially given the context. The subtext of it, that the rumors of his political death and his mental decline are greatly exaggerated.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Let's remember, the fact that NATO remains the bulwark of global security did not happen by accident. It wasn't inevitable. Again and again at critical moments, we chose unity over disunion, progress over retreat, freedom over tyranny, hope over fear. Again and again, we stood behind our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous transatlantic community.


PHILLIP: The president wants and needs to convince voters that they can just watch him, like he's always pleaded with them to do, and he'll extinguish those existential feelings of dread about his ability to fight and win against Donald Trump. But Democrats, well, the party is supposed to unify behind him, and yet, they are glum. They're basically holding a wake over on Capitol Hill. Funeral vibes was how the mood was described at an all-hands meeting about the president and his campaign's future. That's according to some of the Democrats who attended.

So, given the funeral, we're going to walk through the full range of emotions the Democrats seem to be experiencing right now in public. There is plenty of denial that what the American voters saw elected Democrats didn't see, or that it was simply just one bad night.


REPORTER: Is he one bad performance away?

REP. MAXWELL FROST (D-FL): He has many good performances from winning.

REP. LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER (D-DE): Tell Joe we've got his back. What we are hearing is different than what we hear as the narrative.


PHILLIP: In other corners, there is anger.

REPORTER: Are you all on the same page?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): No. What do you mean you're not on the same page? We're not even in the same book.


PHILLIP: Some are in the bargaining stage asking themselves, what if? What if it was Kamala Harris instead? After all, she does poll better against Donald Trump in some polls. Or what if Democrats had known sooner?

Now, there are Democrats who sound downright depressed, resigned, that any notion of replacing Biden is gone with the wind, along with hopes of a November triumph.


REP. MARC VEASEY (D-TX): My concerns are the concerns that everybody has out in the American public and out in the democratic universe out there, is that the president won't be able to rebound from those -- from what happened at the debate.

I just don't think that dog is going to hunt.


PHILLIP: And finally, there is acceptance. Democrats have seemingly come to terms that the fact that Biden may very well be their guy, even if it risks their election chances up and down the ballot.


REPORTER: Are you confident that President Biden has what it takes to win in November and serve the next four years?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): As I've said before, I'm with Joe.

REPORTER: Is there the ability to throw out the virtual nomination?

SCHUMER: As I've said before, I'm with Joe.

REPORTER: Do you agree with her sentiment?

SCHUMER: As I've said before, I'm with Joe.


PHILLIP: But there is news tonight that will certainly intensify that panic. CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the magic wall for us. Phil, the new Electoral College ratings, what are they after this debate?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: You know, Abby, as Democrats have tried to figure out what to do in the wake of what White House officials would acknowledge was a horrendous debate performance by President Biden, they have consistently pointed to the need to see data. Well, we're starting to get data, and that data is having an effect, certainly on how Democrats feel about things, even if they haven't moved to try and replace their current candidate. But it's also affecting how race ratings look at this point.

What we mean by that is what we saw this evening from Cook Political Report.


It is a well respected entity that rates elections, rates states, has a sense of where things are heading as they forecast. What you're looking at right now is the map in the wake of six race ratings changes. Five states, one congressional district, all worth electoral votes, and all, most importantly, adding up to this.

Based on their race ratings, if they stood by how they've shifted them, Donald Trump would already be over 270 electoral votes. How is that actually possible? Well, take a look at what they changed. Nevada, the state Joe Biden won in 2020m they're saying that is now leaning Republican. What about the state of Arizona? Joe Biden flipped that state in 2020. Now, toss up to leaning Republican. The state of Georgia, another Biden flip in 2020, toss up to lean Republican. What about some Democratic strongholds, like the state of New Hampshire? It's leaning Democrat. It used to be safe Democrat. Or how about in the Midwest, Minnesota, right next to critical Wisconsin and Michigan, Minnesota was a safe Democratic state. Now it is leaning Democrat, moving towards Trump. And over here in Nebraska's first congressional district, where they allocate an electoral vote, that from safe Democrat to now leaning Democrat.

What this means for the Biden campaign is look, polls are a snapshot in time. It is clear that Democrats knew there was going to be issues on the polling in the wake of the debate. How big those issues would be, that's an open question. One thing is clear, though, when you look at what the Cook Political Report has come up with in their race ratings, the shifts and the changes they've made, as well as some of the poll numbers we've seen coming out of states over the course of the last several days, Donald Trump, at least at this point, has a much clearer path to the presidency than the current incumbent.

Now, there's still time, 119 days, I believe, but for Democrats, who've been waiting for data, saying they needed to see data before making decisions, at this point, it seems like Biden is going to be sticking around as the candidate. He's made clear he's not going anywhere. But the data, well, it's certainly not going to assuage Democratic fears, that's for sure, Abby. PHILLIP: It doesn't seem like it. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Also tonight, there is some new reporting that some Democrats feel so boxed in that they are hoping for another major Biden misstep that would force him out.

I'm joined now by New York Times Congressional Correspondent Annie Karni, who's been reporting on all of this. Annie, what are they saying about what they're looking for in the coming days?

ANNIE KARNI, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They have said that they want to see Biden do you unscripted events. They want to see him do town hall. They want to see him do a press conference. They want him to show them and voters that he has the stamina and the mental acuity to defeat Donald Trump. They haven't seen any of that. But, nonetheless, they're falling in line behind him.

What we're seeing on Capitol Hill actually looks a lot like what we saw during the Trump years, where Republicans would privately criticize him and mock him and publicly pledge their fealty to him. No one is -- very few Democrats are publicly calling on Biden to move to step aside while privately they're fretting about what they can do. And some of them think like it will take another big event to convince him himself or to give them the courage to say this really can't go on. They're thinking maybe it will take a huge stumble at the press conference on Thursday to prove -- to get them to say something, to get him to admit this can't go on on his own.

But right now they're stuck in a bind where they are privately terrified and publicly doing nothing to change course.

PHILLIP: And we've seen even some of the president's critics actually changing their view publicly because of this kind of resignation. I mean, you're also reporting that some of these vulnerable Democrats, especially the ones in competitive districts, they are particularly worried about their chances in November. So, what are they doing about it?

KARNI: For now, very little. Again, these vulnerable House Democrats, from my reporting, really feel like they'll have a better chance of keeping, of winning back the majority with Harris at the top of the ticket. They have expressed that vociferously to Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader, and they feel heard by him. They feel like leadership is really listening to them. And they think that Jeffries, who has really been in listening mode for the past two days, he has said very little on these internal party meetings that they're having. They think he's still figuring out what to do.

Publicly, he's towing the party line that he's with Biden and that hasn't changed, but privately, some of them are not speaking out yet because they think that there's maybe a chance that Jeffries is still planning some sort of move. They feel hurt.

But right now, the top line from Congress is, 48 hours after they demanded to see more from the president, they have seen nothing and they are more and more changing their positions from criticism to saying we're riding with Biden.


PHILLIP: Interesting reporting there. Annie Karni, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

KARNI: Thank you.

PHILLIP: I want to bring in now Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. Congresswoman, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

You know, the Democrats held a meeting today, we talked about it earlier in the program, but a lot of them felt dejected or they said that they felt dejected after leaving the meeting, partly because they were convinced that nothing was going to change, Biden was not going to leave the race. Do you think that this is all dead, that it's over, the push to get Biden out?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): Well, I think we have to be careful when we talk about how many and what does a lot of them mean. We have 213 members, Democrats. And so if you talk to three or four of them, that's not a lot of them.

And so I do believe that we have a team and that we're not really at a position in a time, and of the opinion, really, collectively, that we can get a new candidate, someone else, someone new coming in. Biden- Harris is a team. She supports him, he supports her. Many of us support Biden. I'm a strong supporter of Biden. I was at the Essence Festival this weekend, where I spoke to several thousand people, all supporters of Biden.

I think we have to be a little bit cautious about coming to conclusions right now. I think that when we talk about Biden and, you know, is he too old, is he competent, what have you, we better compare him with Trump. And when you take a look at Trump, and you add up his negatives from the time he talked about grabbing women by their private parts to the lies that he had told, the lies about abortion, on and on and on, in the final analysis, people will compare.

PHILLIP: Well, let me, let me ask you this, because, I mean, there's whatever people are saying privately and publicly on Capitol Hill, and then there's also what's happening in the polling that we just heard a report from Phil Mattingly that six Democratic seats are in jeopardy, that there are states that previously were leaning more toward the Democrats that are now leaning more toward the Republicans as of right now after this debate. Does that concern you?

WATERS: Well, no, because those seats that were basically not confirmed in terms of the number of votes that they thought they could get, they're working hard. We're working hard. Everybody's raising money. Everything is being done for the frontliners, we call them. They were frontliners before the speech, and they're frontliners, perhaps, after the speech. And we have to continue to do the work.

PHILLIP: Congresswoman, I'm talking about battleground states that are necessary to win the presidency for electoral votes. I mean, each one of those states -- I mean, the last election was on such a small margin, but each one of those states could really matter. If so many of them are leaning now toward Trump, shouldn't that be a cause for panic for Democrats?

WATERS: Well, I'm not sure of the polling at all. We know that the polling is not absolute. And those battleground seats that were battleground seats before the speech, before the debate, still battleground seats that we've got to work hard to get. And so I am not at all convinced. I'm not convinced that somehow we have this big, big issue.

I know the people who are in those seats are working hard. They were working hard before the debate. They're going to work hard now. And, you know, the polls can say what they want, but they're not absolute. They're leading. They're certainly not absolute.

PHILLIP: Polls are certainly not absolute. I think we'll agree with that. I do want to play for you, Congresswoman, what Senator Michael Bennet said on CNN just in the last hour. Listen.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election, and maybe win it by a landslide, and take with him the Senate and the house. I think that we could lose the whole thing.


PHILLIP: What's your response to that?

WATERS: My response is I'm more optimistic than he is about our ability to win. He doesn't frighten me, doesn't scare me, can't predict any more than I can predict. I predict we're going to win, that Biden is the honorable, respected man and that Trump is a liar, he is not trusted. Our allies are baffled by the way that he's treated them.


You can go on and on about a man who told us to drink disinfectant when COVID was killing people. And so I think in a final analysis, people will understand that our democracy is at stake and that any so- called wannabe, even if it has been president, that does not respect the Constitution and have some of his supporters saying, some of his supporters saying that we should throw away the Constitution. When they think about and they understand that the democracy is at stake, I think that the polling is not telling the story.

PHILLIP: It's such an -- I mean, I hear what you're saying and I hear it from Democrats all the time. But, actually, Congressman or Senator Bennet said made this point in the last hour as well. He said, voters, they've seen President Biden. They've lived through his presidency. They've also seen former President Trump. They've lived through his presidency. They've heard these arguments about democracy, about the fate of the election, and yet Trump is not only winning, but winning increasingly by a larger margin.

So, what is the plan among Democrats to change that trajectory? It sounds like you're talking about saying and doing all the same things, but do you believe that something needs to change?

WATERS: I think we need to keep working and work harder. I do think there's one thing that we need to do, and that is tell the story of the successes of this president, tell how he has done very, very significant things, whether we're talking about what he has done.

PHILLIP: So, Congresswoman, you think that this is just about whether or not people are hearing about the good things that President Biden has done? You don't think that that's been communicated so far in this campaign?

WATERS: No, it has not been well done.

PHILLIP: Why not?

WATERS: We have not told the story as well as it should be told. And I am telling you that we've got to do a better job of that. We mix that with the terrible character of Trump, and the fact that the democracy is at stake, and that this president has not only been successful, the unemployment rates are good, whether or not the infrastructure bill is causing small businesses and contractors and developers to earn more money, or whether or not the HBCUs are appreciative, but they have received all of this money from Biden, on and on and on.

We can talk about the successes that we haven't well done. We haven't done that very well. We can do a lot better.

PHILLIP: All right. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, thank you very much for your time tonight.

WATERS: Thank you. Yes, I'm troubled here.

PHILLIP: Thank you, Congresswoman.

WATERS: Thank you. All right.

PHILLIP: And up next for us, George Stephanopoulos, the anchor who interviewed Biden on Friday, says he doesn't think that Biden can serve four more years. We'll discuss that.

Plus, there's new reporting on who knew what and when, and that part of the story in the West Wing as Republicans point to a conspiracy.

This is NewsNight.



PHILLIP: A new report in The Wall Street Journal outlines the lengths that Biden's inner circle worked to keep signs of aging under wraps. According to the report, senior White House advisers for more than a year have aggressively stage-managed President Biden's schedule, his movements and personal interactions as they sought to minimize signs of how age has taken a toll on the oldest president in U.S. history.

Joining me now is one of the authors of that report in the Journal, Emily Glazer, also with us special correspondent for the Vanity Fair, Brian Stelter, and Chris Whipple, he's the author of The Fight of His Life, Inside Joe Biden's White House.

Emily, you and your team spoke with more than two dozen current and former White House staffers. How did they try to manage President Biden and what we now know are signs that he's aged, especially in the last three years of his presidency?

EMILY GLAZER, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, Abby for any president since Reagan up to this term in their presidency, Biden has had the fewest news conferences and interviews. He has had the smallest number of meetings with lawmakers since his prior years before, and that's according to visitor logs. And we've talked to a number of lawmakers and major donors that feel like even though there are some good days where Biden is sharp and detail-oriented, there are more and more bad days where he's forgetful, he doesn't really have his words speak very well, and they feel like there are even more of those bad days and they're getting worse.

PHILLIP: I mean, Chris, you've also reported extensively on this president and the White House. You've interacted with him for this book. Okay. What were those interactions like?

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR: Well, the thing to understand here is that the DNA of this White House is controlling the narrative. And I can tell you, having written a book about it, that this White House is the most battened down, buttoned up, scripted White House in modern history.

So, while I was able to interview in real time, almost all of Joe Biden's inner circle, when it came to Biden himself, the deal was written answers to written questions. I'd never heard of that before.

PHILLIP: Was that a red flag for you?

WHIPPLE: Well, look, you know, you can, you can look at it two ways. I mean, this is obviously a White House with either with something to hide or just obsessed with controlling the narrative.


I will tell you that one of the president's closest friends thinks that Joe Biden should go up to Walter Reed, have a complete neurological exam, release the results, and let the chips fall. Now, I don't think that friend has said this out loud to Joe Biden, because that's a hard thing, even for a close friend, to tell him. But I don't think he's going there without a major push.

PHILLIP: Chris, I have to just -- it's a little bit surprising, I mean, a little stunning that someone -- and you're writing a biography of the president, and he wouldn't talk to you over the phone, on Zoom, anything like that. I mean, was part of the reporting that you did for the book, did it delve into this question of whether or not he had the stamina to be president?

WHIPPLE: Well, yes.

PHILLIP: And when you got to that point, did you feel like, well, how am I supposed to gauge that?

WHIPPLE: Well, by all accounts, the people I spoke to, including his closest friends, his inner circle, they all said that Biden was fine cognitively. He obviously walked like a zombie because he has arthritis and all the rest of it, but, no, I didn't get any indication that he was cognitively impaired and everybody insisted otherwise.

PHILLIP: I mean, Brian, you may have heard the interview I just did with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and she very notably said, I don't believe the polls, I don't believe these numbers, the Cook Political Report showing a movement toward Trump in six battleground states. I mean, this is, in a way, reminiscent of, frankly, the Trump era, in which they often said, don't believe the polls, don't believe what you're seeing, don't believe what you're hearing. I mean, is this risk risking going in that direction?

BRIAN STELTER, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: I think we are there. I think we're down that direction and we're there now. They're saying, don't believe your lying eyes. Forget what you saw at the debate two weeks ago. And yet, you know, President Biden has been relatively invisible. Yes, he's giving speeches here and there. He's holding the summit. He's having a press conference on Thursday, but those are just table stakes. Those are just the basis of doing the job. We shouldn't treat this press conference like it's anything more than a normal part of doing the job, although, as you point out, Emily, he's avoided doing so.

I think you're absolutely right to point at the comparisons here between Biden and Trump and the Biden-Trump years and the Trump years. We called it out in the Trump years. We've got to call it out now in the Biden years when it seems there's a cover-up, when it seems that they are not able to take in feedback or criticism or dissent, because that's what's going on right now, a lot of people trying to call out what's going on and help draw attention to it.

PHILLIP: So, Brian, I'm going to stay with you for just a second because this just happened tonight. George Stephanopoulos, the ABC anchor who just interviewed President Biden last Friday in a really high-stakes interview, he was stopped by, it seems, TMZ and asked, you've talked to him more than anybody else. Should Biden step down? And then he said, I don't think he can serve four more years. That's pretty stunning.

STELTER: It is. Now, of course, George has come out and said, I shouldn't have said that. And ABC says, that's not the opinion of the network, just his opinion. But his opinion matters because he's the outsider that spent one of the -- he's one of the outsiders, one of the few outsiders to have spent time with the president recently.

I think, you know, Abby, there's a lot of people who feel they've been conned, people who feel they've been fooled by this White House. And, you know, you wonder about some journalists who feel that way as well.

PHILLIP: Well, Emily, I mean, The Wall Street Journal reported and got a lot of heat for this report earlier about just asking the question, how is Biden behind closed doors? When you went back to some of those people, did they express a change of viewpoint now that this is out in the open?

GLAZER: So, it's interesting because a lot of people still won't put their names to these messages. I have talked to a number of major donors who will say that they're not donating anymore, they won't bundle anymore, they're very concerned, but they don't want to put their names attached to it because they don't want to risk an ambassadorship or hosting a fundraiser in the future.

Lawmakers have now come out a little more publicly. We've seen some names out there saying, look, Biden, you know, he's not fit for another term. We're seeing more of those, but we haven't had a lot of people come back to say you were right publicly. There have been a lot that have told us that privately.

STELTER: Like you just described selfishness, greed, egomania, all these traits that we talked about in the Trump years, we're seeing them now in the Biden years in a dramatic fashion. And I think whenever you hear a Democrat on television now saying he's okay, he's going to be the nominee, he's our guy, Americans perceive a cover-up. It's as simple as that.

WHIPPLE: Can I just say, I think that's really overwrought. I mean, I think this is much more a concern of the chattering classes than the voters in the swing states. I mean, the reality is, polls at this stage of the race, I'm writing a book on presidential campaigns right now, I can tell you the polls at this stage are not very reliable, and, moreover, the polls that are out there show that the bottom has not fallen out. In fact, the real time focus groups during the debate showed that every time Trump opened his mouth, his numbers went down.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I don't think anyone suggested that Trump --

WHIPPLE: And Biden stood, particularly. They're pretty stable.

PHILLIP: first of all, did not do well in that debate, either.



PHILLIP: He did lie a lot. However, it is also a fact, and Senator Bennett pointed this out in the last hour as well, that it's been 20 years since a Democratic nominee has been down in the polls, period, to a Republican at this stage in a campaign. Four years ago, Joe Biden was leading Donald Trump by a lot.




PHILLIP: And it narrowed. It got closer, but he was leading. So, I wonder, if you're Biden, do any of those facts pierce his internal mythology that he is always underestimated? Will there be anything that could change that view?

WHIPPLE: Well, yes. I mean, I think, but frankly, I think we are going to have Joe Biden as a nominee, barring some catastrophic repeat of what happened in the debate. And what it would really require would be some kind of intervention led by his family, Jill Biden, Hunter Biden, his sister Val.

You'd probably have to add to that delegation his good friend Ted Kaufman and Mike Donilon, his closest advisor. Plus, I would say you would need Chris Coons and Jim Clyburn. Now, there's no evidence that any of them are moving away from Joe Biden, quite the contrary. They're all, at this point, behind him as the nominee.

GLAZER: Chris, you know, if I may, I would say a lot of people are publicly behind him as the nominee. But there is a lot that people are saying behind the scenes. What the public is also seeing, just last week, there were pre-approved questions for radio hosts that were doing interviews so that Biden could pick up the momentum and come back. And soon after that became public, then we heard in our reporting that the campaign decided not to do that anymore.

When Biden stumbled at an event, the White House was completely freaked out. They changed what shoes he was wearing. They changed the stairs. There is so much stage managing going on here. And I think what our reporting shows and what we're just trying to get out is the truth. Because oftentimes the people who are answering those polls are not seeing the full picture.

WHIPPLE: Well, a lot of this stage managing goes back to Reagan when they used to literally fire up the engines on Marine One before he walked out so that he couldn't hear Sam Donaldson's questions. So, I'm just saying this kind of stage management goes way back.

PHILLIP: It continues to this day at the White House. I can attest to that. Everyone, thank you very much for being here. And up next for us, Donald Trump holds his first public event since the debate and a Veep contender joins him on stage. A Trump rally-- a Trump ally joins me next on where the race stands today. Plus, I'll fact check Trump's claims about the controversial Project 2025.



PHILLIP: Tonight, in his first rally since the debate, Donald Trump is seizing on the turmoil inside the Democratic Party.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND CURRENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): Let's do another debate this week so that sleepy Joe Biden can prove to everyone all over the world that he has what it takes to be president. But this time it will be man to man, no moderators, no holds barred. Just name the place anytime, anywhere. I'm also officially challenging crooked Joe to an 18-hole golf match right here.


PHILLIP: The rally comes less than a week before the Republican National Convention, and we still do not know who Trump plans to name as his vice president. Marco Rubio, though, the man that Trump once branded as Little Marco, is on the shortlist. And tonight, he actually appeared on that last stop before the Trump RNC convention.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): These guys on T.V. saying if Trump becomes the president, he's going to become a dictator, and he's going to go after his opponents. This is from the people who are going after their opponents and putting their political opponents in jail every single day.

These are the people that have used our courts to try to silence Donald Trump, bankrupt Donald Trump, jail Donald Trump, keep him off the ballot, but it won't work. And that's why he's going to win, because people see it for what it is.


PHILLIP: Joining me now is former Republican congressman from New York, Lee Zeldin. So Lee, Marco Rubio, he's there on that stage. You've also got a whole bunch of other contenders, Doug Burgum, J.D. Vance, Tim Scott, Elise Stefanik. Who should Trump pick?

LEE ZELDIN (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, NEW YORK: Whoever President Trump wants to pick of that shortlist, you know, he has the most important qualifications.

PHILLIP: You've got to make-- clear his name.

ZELDIN: You know, listen, there is no public pick of mine. It's not my pick. It's his. He has great options. They come with strengths. And the fact is, whoever President Trump picks of that shortlist, these are all people who would be talented.

PHILLIP: So, he's suggested that he's waiting to see what happens with President Biden. Should his pick be affected by what happens with the Democrats?

ZELDIN: Well, I think, you know, as far as the timeline, the convention's coming up here in just a few days. So, I think that as far as President Biden goes, it looks obvious to me, at least at this point, that President Biden's going to be the nominee. Maybe something changes. We'll see. But I think that as far as this pick for vice president, it's something that's going to have to get announced here within the next week. PHILLIP: So, some people in Trump's orbit are playing favorites with

these folks, including the former president's son, Don, Jr. I want to play what he said about one of the contenders, J.D. Vance.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: And again, I have a good relationship with Marco. But there is some truth about, like, you know, having someone that's a little bit more establishment in there. It's like -- like the Senate rhinos, like, wouldn't they love that?


By the time my father's hand moves off the Bible in the swearing in process on what's the date? Is it January 20th? 12 P.M. January 20th. The second it goes off, it would be like impeachment. There is something about having someone from outside of the establishment to sort of further protect you from that establishment.


PHILLIP: Do you buy that argument?

ZELDIN: Well, first off, I think that Donald Trump, Jr. genuinely very strongly supports J.D. Vance. I think as far as all the candidates go, J.D. Vance has been the most aligned with President Trump's style.

PHILLIP: Recently, because a couple of years ago, he was not.

ZELDIN: But then he changed. And over the course of the last few years, he's been very outspoken. And I think something else that has been interesting to watch, you know, I've seen him come on air and he'll be on with Kaitlan Collins and you know, Kaitlan's asking a tough question and J.D.'s pushing back and Kaitlan then is pushing back and J.D.'s responding.

And there's that good back and forth where, you know, he's trying to get to the substance of being able to answer a question from his own perspective with his own words. But he's holding his own. And I think that being a messenger of your agenda as you are going through these final few months of the campaign, being a good spokesperson for what you're trying to accomplish as you're reaching out to independents and Democrats is important.

PHILLIP: So, one of the things that the "New York Post", which is kind of, you know, right-leaning editorial board, they came out pretty hard against J.D. Vance. They reminded folks that in 2016, he called himself a "Never-Trump guy". He blasted Trump as "-- an idiot, noxious and reprehensible. His tune changed not long before he started running for office. Where might he morph next?" they asked. I can't help but note that this is a paper that I think most people believe Donald Trump might be looking at. Do you think that those past statements might come back to haunt him?

ZELDIN: Well, I think that, first off, as far as, you know, the "New York Post" and every other outlet or any individual, every American, everyone has -- is entitled to their own opinion and that's great. As far as J.D. Vance goes, I think that, you know, I'm looking at someone who's a former Marine, he's Ivy League educated, he's, as we were just talking about, a good spokesperson for the message.

So, I think that while with any person you can ever name, they'll come with strengths and weaknesses, I think J.D. Vance is somebody who comes with a lot of strengths. And by the way, the other names that we're talking about, you know, I know all of them and they are, there's a lot of talented options for President Trump to pick from.

Let me ask you about next week's RNC. We're learning that Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have not been asked to speak at the RNC. Is that a mistake?

ZELDIN: There's two people who need to speak next week, President Trump and whoever his pick is for vice president. There are a hundred other options to choose from. It's way above my pay grade in deciding who's to speak. Quite frankly, you should also be pulling from people who are outside of politics. There might be people speaking who have experience in business or maybe from the military or law enforcement.

Phillip: Wouldn't it be such a show of unity in the party if they were to bring in two people who ran hard against Donald Trump, put him on the stage? I mean, what are they afraid of?

ZELDIN: I think today has been a day actually within the Republican Party where it's moved further towards unity. Nikki Haley sent a message to her delegates encouraging them to vote for Donald Trump. She put out a message saying that this is a time for Republican unity. And while this is going on today, at the same time, within the Democratic Party, they're trying to figure out whether or not they should keep Joe Biden, the sitting president, the leader of their party, as their nominee.

PHILLIP: It seems to signal that this is really not water under the bridge for Donald Trump and his allies. They're holding grudges.

ZELDIN: I mean, that's not something that I take of it. I don't know what the nature is of any conversation that might be had between both of them. I heard that President Trump had a great meeting with Governor DeSantis recently down in South Florida. What they discussed behind closed doors, I don't know.

PHILLIP: Like recently, recently?

ZELDIN: Well, it was reported. It was, I guess, a few weeks ago. And we'll see in the months that are ahead. It's important every single day that you continue to build a coalition. And that's why I thought, you know, when President Trump went to the South Bronx or Detroit or Philly over the course of the last few weeks, whether it's a Chick- fil-A that he went to visit down in Atlanta or wherever the stops are that are ahead, getting out and connecting with longtime disenfranchised Democratic voters who are willing to try something different, even if they don't vote for President Trump in 2016 or 2020. PHILLIP: Well, we'll see how those stops at Chick-fil-A and whatnot

actually work out for him. Lee Zeldin, thank you very much for being here. And coming up, the so-called bloodless revolution that a second Trump presidency would execute, even though Trump claims ignorance about it. The lengthy fact check, ahead.




KEVIN ROBERTS, PRESIDENT, "THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION": We are in the process of the second American revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.


PHILLIP: The conservative in charge of Project 2025 calls their efforts to start a bloodless revolution. The project, of course, is the 922-page wish list of actions to fundamentally change the American government, society and life.

This right here is it, the printout of that plan. The vessel, though, that they plan to use to accomplish it is Donald Trump, who now says that he knows nothing about this project, nor does he have any idea who's behind it. Well, that's B.S., no matter which way you shovel it.


And here is the evidence. First, the who. The group behind this project is the Heritage Foundation. It is a group that Trump is not only familiar with, but relies on them for policy advice and guidance. Just ask him.


TRUMP: For nearly 50 years, this legendary institution, which is what it is, has been at the forefront of the conservative movement, helping lead the fight to defend our cherished American history, culture and traditions. Our country is going to hell. The critical job of institutions such as Heritage is to lay the groundwork, and Heritage does such an incredible job at that, encourage new thinking, embrace new directions and keep Heritage at the vanguard of the conservative movement.

I think tremendous things are going to be coming out of Heritage. Each of you here tonight, I ask you to think big, dream bigger, aim higher, get ready to work. I know how wealthy the people in this room are, so start shelling out to Heritage.


PHILLIP: So, just how influential was Heritage in the Trump administration? Well, just listen to Trump's own former vice president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Heritage Foundation has been fighting side by side with this president and this administration since day one. And we have a stronger America as a result. From right in the transition, we went to work availing ourselves of the resources available from the Heritage Foundation. We laid out plans for this administration. We drew on the scholarship and the resources of this historic think tank.


PHILLIP: Now, the man in charge of the Heritage Foundation is also someone that Trump is quite familiar with.


TRUMP: I want to thank Kevin. He's going to be so incredible. Heritage Foundation president, somebody else doing an unbelievable job. He's bringing it back to levels it's never seen. Dr. Kevin Roberts.


PHILLIP: And here's how the Heritage Foundation's president described the project, as he literally shared the same stage as Donald Trump.


KEVIN ROBERTS, PRESIDENT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Our Project 2025 has developed a comprehensive policy agenda, but even more importantly, recruiting people, 20,000 people to go into the next administration, hopefully to help take back this country for you and for your audiences. We want no credit. We want the American people, if President Trump is elected again, President Trump and his administration to take credit for that.


PHILLIP: The man overseeing the project itself signals that he will be there to implement it inside of a future Trump West Wing.


PAUL DANS, DIRECTOR, PROJECT 2025: My name's Paul Dans, and it's my privilege to be with you tonight. I'm from the Heritage Foundation. My former boss, President Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States. I'm going to take this opportunity to say, hey, Kevin, it's been great working with you, but I kind of want to go back to work for my old boss. So, I'm going to give you an official 10-month notice today, but praise the Lord.


PHILLIP: Another person involved is one of Trump's closest aides, and he's even clearer about the project's purpose.


JOHN MCENTEE, SENIOR ADVISER, PROJECT 2025: I work for the Heritage Foundation on their Project 2025, which is in charge of staffing the next administration should Trump win.


PHILLIP: And he's hardly the only loyalist who's involved in this project. So, are more than 30 former administration and campaign officials, including Stephen Miller, Ken Cuccinelli, Stephen Moore, Peter Navarro, and Ben Carson, all who Trump would have a hard time convincing us he doesn't actually know.


TRUMP: A great patriot, a great negotiator for our country. He did a tremendous job. Steve Moore is so fantastic, and Steve, I want to thank you very much, because you've been there right from the beginning. Wanted to put him on the Fed. A man who is tough and smart and loves our country, he's a real, real guy. He's a real patriot. Stephen Miller, my friend. Stephen Miller. Former Secretary Ben Carson did a fantastic job. Everybody loves him. I love him.


PHILLIP: Now, as for Trump's other claim that he doesn't know anything about the project, let's just deconstruct that sentence on its surface. Quote, "I know nothing about Project 2025." But then he goes on to say he disagrees with some of the things that they're saying. He knows nothing about it, but disagrees with it.

First, the Heritage says the foundation briefed all of the Republican candidates on the project, including Trump himself. In fact, the Heritage president reportedly installed Trump's advisers on purpose, knowing that Trump prioritizes personal loyalty over policy.


And when Trump says that some of the ideas are ridiculous and abysmal, while some of that is perhaps believable, given his waffling on issues like abortion, much of the project lines up completely with Trump's own promises.

Now, this is hardly an exhaustive list, but they include killing the Department of Education, crushing the independence of the FBI and the DOJ, the mass firings of civil servants and mass deportations. And so, while Trump may not be the architect of this blueprint, his loyalists are their developers. He is certainly the mogul. And remember, he always notes that he only hires the best people. We'll be back in a moment.



PHILLIP: And tomorrow, right here on "NewsNight", Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer will join me. The rising Democrat-- Democratic star will talk about the divide over President Biden, Donald Trump, and her brand new book about the state of American politics. That's tomorrow night, 10 P.M. Eastern Time, right here only on CNN. And thank you very, much for watching "NewsNight". "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.