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CNN Poll Shows Biden Approval Rating Drops to 39 Percent; Mar- a-Lago Worker Strikes Deal in DOJ's Classified Documents Case; GOP Sources Say, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Considering Moving Ukraine Aid and Disaster Relief Separately, Setting Up Battle with White House. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 07, 2023 - 10:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The new CNN poll, also known as the new big warning for President Biden, his support among Democrats dropping, and more.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A Mar-a-Lago employee strikes a deal with the special counsel. How much could he hurt Donald Trump's case?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Sick and stuck 3,000 feet below the Earth's surface. It's an all-out race to rescue an American trap in a cave in Turkey.

I'm Sara Sidner alongside Kate Bolduan and John Berman. This is CNN News Central.

BOLDUAN: This morning, an approval rating stuck in the mud, growing concerns about age and stamina, his own party's still looking for someone else. Some of the takeaways from this new snapshot of the current race for the White House, a new CNN poll spelling trouble for President Biden.

His approval rating by the numbers at 39 percent, nearly 70 percent of Democrats say that they want someone else running for president in 2024. The poll also shows voters have widespread concerns about his handling of the economy.

Let's dig into this. CNN's Harry Enten is standing by at his favorite spot. Thank you so much for being here, Harry. Okay. So, we have his approval rating. Talk to me about how he matches up in a head-to-head.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I mean, the numbers are on your screen right now. Within the margin of error, no clear leader. Donald Trump, 47 percent, Joe Biden, 46 percent. They're basically in a statistical tie.

But what I will note was there was not a single poll conducted by CNN during the entire 2020 cycle in which Donald Trump got a higher share of the vote than Joe Biden did. So, this is a vastly different picture from what we saw four years ago. BOLDUAN: That is some very interesting context in all of this. What it means, we will see.

What do we -- talk to me about how voters are feeling about these two options.

ENTEN: Yes. So, I mean, part of what's going on here is that there are a ton of voters who don't like either candidate or potential candidate nominee for president. Look at this, look at this, Kate, favorable view of Biden, 36 percent among registered voters, Trump, 35 percent, neither, 29 percent. That 29 percent of the electorate is going to be key, sort of the double hater, something that we saw back in the 2016 campaign.

BOLDUAN: What do you do with the double hater? Well, you can't vote for no one, but you can't elect no one.

ENTEN: You can't elect no one. And this gets at it. Okay, the choice for president among those who like neither Biden nor Trump, Trump is slightly ahead but within the margin of error here, 42 percent to 36 percent.

The key block I'm going to be watching in here is this 21 percent who say they would vote for somebody else or wouldn't vote at all. How those 21 percent of the electorate goes, and let's say, the next 14 months, could be the key to determining who in fact ends up in the White House.

But right now, Trump holds a slight edge within the margin of error amongst this group, and that is why he is slightly ahead, though, well within the margin of error in the horse race.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. So, it's one thing to have an opinion, but it's another thing to actually have an opinion and go out and vote.


BOLDUAN: In terms of motivated or the most motivated voters so far, who are they leaning towards?

ENTEN: Yes, this is another potentially good sign for Donald Trump. So, take a look here. Biden versus Trump, this is the margin. Among those extremely motivated to vote, Trump is up by 6 percentage point. Among all other voters, Biden's up by 6 percentage points.

But these are the voters who are probably most likely to come out and vote. So, I think there's a real question for Joe Biden. Can he motivate those who may not like either candidate or maybe lukewarm on him come out and vote? Because if he can, now it would be favorable for him. But at this particular point, there's just a lot of good signs for Donald Trump in this poll given all the stuff that's been going on for him and many not so great signs for Joe Biden.

BOLDUAN: But this also speaks to what we've heard from Joe Biden over and over again, don't compare him to the Almighty, compare him to the alternative. And you can see them leaning even more into that to try to boost voter enthusiasm.

ENTEN: That's exactly right. But at this particular point, the alternative is someone a lot of voters are going, eh, might not be such a bad thing after all.


BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens.

ENTEN: We'll see what happens, 14 months to go.

BOLDUAN: Exactly, a snapshot in time.

ENTEN: A snapshot in time, exactly.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Harry.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: It was a really interesting way actually to slice those numbers. I hadn't seen those yet.

BOLDUAN: I agree.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, in the face of these new poll numbers, the president leaves on a major trip overseas later today.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House. I can't imagine this is the type of thing you want to see as you're walking out the door, Arlette.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not, John. And, really, the Biden campaign so far has officially not been weighing in on this individual poll but they are amplifying these Democratic voices who are saying that people need to take this poll with a grain of salt.

And a Biden aide that I spoke with just a little bit earlier this morning told me that what they're trying to focus on at this moment are those general election and also the battleground state polls. This aide argued that the campaign hasn't exactly played out just yet, that there is still a billion dollars in advertising that they are planning in the months ahead. So, it will take some time to move some of these numbers.

But there are some troubling figures in there for President Biden, on one issue, the economy. The White House's really and the campaign have really been making this push to try to promote Bidenomics, trying to show American voters that their policies are working for them. But this polling found that 58 percent of Americans think that Biden's policies have worsened the economic conditions in this country.

Now, the White House says that this will take time for Americans to feel the impact of the president's efforts, of the president's policies and that they will have to continue, they acknowledge, to communicate that, to try to move the needle there.

Another issue that has been of concern, according to this poll, is the president's age. That is a question that has persistently lingered throughout this campaign. And you see the concerns that voters have there about the president's age, about his health and his stamina going forward.

Of course, the White House says, look at him, look at his accomplishments, look at his travels, his foreign work as proof that the President is up for the job. But it is a question that will continue to face this White House and the campaign.

If you just take a look at Vice President Kamala Harris, as she was traveling in Indonesia over the past few days, she's had a pair of interviews where she's had to address the president's age. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're 58 now. If you win a second term, as you and the president are running to do, he would be 86 at the end of it. The Wall Street Journal had a poll showing two thirds of Democrats say Joe Biden is too old to run again. Are you prepared to be commander- in-chief?

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I am, if necessary, but Joe Biden is going to be fine.


SAENZ: So, there's still a lot of work the Biden campaign and the White House has to do to try to move some of these voters' perceptions. A former communications adviser or director for both the Biden campaign and the White House, Kate Beddingfield, earlier today said that it's up to the campaign to try to make that contrast, make this into an election about a choice between what President Biden has accomplished and is providing and the vision offered by former President Donald Trump.

BERMAN: All right. Arlette Saenz at the White House, Arlette, thank you very much. Again, we will see the president leave a few hours from now. Thank you. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. With me now, CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Happy to see you this morning.

All right, we're going through these polls and they tell some really interesting story, one that certainly has the Biden administration concerned. Let's talk, though, about -- you are always out and about with voters. Let's talk about this choice for president. If it is a GOP candidate, take a look at this, because this isn't what we've been seeing throughout the last couple of months. Nikki Haley would be the candidate that was most preferred if it was a GOP candidate that was running for president against President Biden.

That's fascinating by two points. And we get that's in the margin of error. But what has changed and does this really reflect what people are thinking out there on the trail?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, these numbers are very interesting. I mean, first and foremost, there are alarm bells going off at the White House, without a doubt. But it's also no surprise. Look, we live in a divided country. This is going to be a close election, as all of them are.

But the Nikki Haley numbers most specifically. In fact, she has been talking about this. She's been using this at town halls. I was at one of those earlier this week in New Hampshire with her and she's been making the argument to voters that she is the candidate that the White House and President Biden are sort of the most fearful of.

I mean, the challenge for her, of course, is getting through her Republican primary. That is a high hurdle, without a doubt. But one of the reasons behind these numbers is college educated women and college educated voters are finding more to like with her than some of the other Republican candidates.

But, look, the challenges for the president, the challenges for the White House among the economy, of course, his approval, his age, it's enthusiasm.


That is one number inside this poll that actually has Democrats and the White House concerned because Democratic voters and Democratic- leaning Independent voters are not as enthusiastic about Joe Biden as Republicans are for Donald Trump.

And that opens the door to the potential of a third party challenge. That is one of the biggest worries for this White House, not necessarily Donald Trump yet at this point. That campaign will play out. But if there is a third party challenge, that could spell trouble for President Biden and they know it.

SIDNER: Because one of the polls says nearly 70 percent of Democrats say they want someone else running for president in 2024. This is Democrats, not Republicans.

I do want to go to the next poll that talks about who should be the Democratic nominee, and there it is. I mean, that's a very, very stark number. However, the other choice -- you don't know what the other choice would be. They can't name the other choice at this point in time. What does this tell you?

ZELENY: Look, I think that's the best thing that President Biden has going for him, that he does not have a competitive campaign primary on the Democratic side. If he did, that would certainly be a worrying sign for them.

And, look, yes, there are a lot of people who theoretically might like someone else, but, remarkably, no one has stepped up. He had a big field of rivals back in 2020. We remember all of them. There has been not a peep out of any of them in the Senate, from Senator Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to Amy Klobuchar to Cory Booker to Kirsten Gillibrand, on and on.

So, look, he is likely to be the Democratic nominee. He is going to be the Democratic nominee unless something remarkable vote should happen.

We will see if this poll sort of shakes anything loose. We will see if someone rises forward and says, look, the party needs to go in a different direction. But until now, this is the best thing that the president has going for him. He has the support of his former rivals. And, yes, theoretically, they like -- the Democratic voters, like the idea of someone else, but they can't put their finger on who that would be. So, of course, that is a big challenge here.

We're in September. I mean, the reality is to get on ballots and things. So, those deadlines start actually next month.

So, the bottom line to all this is I think it's a reality check that, yes, this is going to be a close election regardless of who the Republican nominee is, if it's Trump or someone else, Sara.

SIDNER: And it's going to be exhausting, I have a feeling, at least for you, Jeff Zeleny.

ZELENY: Take a deep breath.

SIDNER: Settle down. All right, thank you so much, Jeff. Kate?

BOLDUAN: To Donald Trump and his legal troubles right now, specifically the criminal charges that he faces related to his mishandling of classified documents.

For the first time in this case, we are learning of a cooperation deal between the special counsel and a Mar-a-Lago employee. That employee is a Mar-a-Lago I.T. worker who is referred to as Trump employee number 4 in the superseding indictments. He is now set to testify in this case, and in exchange will not be prosecuted.

Joining me now is former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers for more on this. So, you say that this is big news coming out, news of this cooperation agreement, and that this man is an ideal witness, this I.T. worker at Mar-a-Lago. Why?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because Mr. Taveras was in Trump's employee, right? He was loyal to Trump. He's just an I.T. guy. He's not a political figure. He doesn't have any skin in the game in that sense. And he worked for Trump and was loyal to him and actually lied to officials about what had happened initially.

Then when they came to him and said, we think you lied, we have proof, we may charge you, he gets a new lawyer, he turns things around and testifies. That kind of witness has a lot of credibility because they don't seem to have an axe to grind, right? They're just telling the truth, stories like that.

BOLDUAN: And at one point -- another wrinkle in this is, at one point, Taveras had the same attorney that one of the defendants has, Walt Nauta. This attorney now still represents Walt Nauta, not this I.T. worker, Taveras. And the attorney is asking the judge, in light of this cooperation agreement, to block Taveras' testimony in any eventual trial.

When I read that, I was confused. Why would that be? What's the argument for that?

RODGERS: Yes. Well, that's not going to happen. But the argument is he can't cross-examine Taveras because he used to be Taveras' lawyer. So, he knows things about Taveras, right, through the attorney-client privilege, that someone cross examining Taveras shouldn't know, right? He has inside knowledge, in a way.

So, Woodward cannot cross examine Taveras, but someone else can, right? He can bring a colleague. He will be instructed not to tell the person who will cross-examine Taveras anything that he knows through the attorney-client privilege. But that's really the thing there. And also, Taveras is almost certainly going to testify about pressure that Woodward put on him to lie in the first proceeding.

If that's what happened, he'll be instructed in turn not to name the lawyer. It will be like my prior lawyer, or they'll somehow sanitize it for the jury. But those are the conflicts that come up when you have a lawyer potentially cross-examining his former client.

BOLDUAN: That is interesting. So, let me transition over to the Georgia case.


This is the criminal case against Donald Trump and 18 others, charges related to trying to overturn the 2020 election in that state. Prosecutors -- the big first kind of televised hearing happened yesterday. And prosecutors told the judge that they estimate in terms of the going forward trial, it would take approximately four months to present its case, calling roughly 150 witnesses. But that estimate also not including the time that they need to pick a jury.

The judge said, and seemed very skeptical of that. What do you think of it?

RODGERS: Yes, I'm skeptical too. I wouldn't have said four months is outrageous for a RICO trial, but if they really intend on 150 witnesses, that takes a lot of time.

I mean, you have to think about if they're only talking about the first two defendants going to trial, it's not so bad. When you think about a bigger trial with all these different lawyers lining up to cross-examine each witness, 150 witnesses says to me that it's going to be more than four months.

BOLDUAN: So, something I noticed is during these arguments yesterday, and this had to do with two of the defendants trying to separate their cases from each other, during the arguments, the D.A.'s team argued that Cheseboro and Powell, these are the people who are charged, they were part of the same overarching racketeering conspiracy. They were intrinsically linked. The way that they said it is the conspiracy evolved. One thing didn't work, so we move on to the next thing. That thing didn't work, so we move on to the next thing. They're saying that they're all linked together so they can't be separated.

If that logic holds, if one of these cases, as Mark Meadows is definitely trying to do, gets moved to federal court, does that mean all of them then have to get moved to federal court?

RODGERS: So, this is one of the things we don't quite know yet. If Mark Meadows succeeds in getting his case to stay in federal court, all of the other defendants, or at least some subset of them, may also try to move to federal court because the removal provision says that if you were a federal official or you were acting directly under the direction of a federal official, you might be able to remove to federal court.

It's not that they couldn't be tried separately. You can try an individual for a racketeering offense. You could try them 19 separate cases, and you would just have a lot of repetition. But the D.A. doesn't want that, right? They want to conserve their resources and try this in as few cases as possible.

So, we're just going to have to see. We need to wait first for Judge Jones' ruling on Mark Meadows' removal. We'll see if he succeeds in that what the other defendants try to do. The real problem here, Kate, is this is all going to take some time to sort out even what they all want to do and then get those judgments. Meanwhile, clock is ticking and Fani Willis wants to move ahead. So, something has got to give.

Yes, I mean, it's a domino effect, but which direction and how fast or slow that domino effect occurs, we'll see. Thanks. Great to see you, Jennifer.

RODGERS: Thanks.


SIDNER: All right. Still to come this hour, two manhunts in two different states. There's a search for an escaped homicide suspect in our nation's capital and the ongoing manhunt for a convicted killer in Pennsylvania.

Also, a federal judge says those floating barriers the Texas governor put in the Rio Grande have to go. But the governor says he's ready to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

And as the threat of a government shutdown looms, some senators planning to move forward with funding bills. But the new roadblock involving Ukraine and disaster relief that could get in their way, all of that coming up.


[10:20:00] BERMAN: New this morning, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is now considering removing aid to Ukraine from a short-term funding bill. And this could increase the chances of a government shutdown by the end of the month.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland. Senator, great to see you.

This is a complicated, many-layered process, as you know. You're in on appropriations. But put simply, there is bipartisan agreement in the Senate on these spending bills. The holdup might be Republicans in the House. And now added to that is this issue of funding for Ukraine that could lead to a shutdown. Your reaction to that.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, John, you've got it exactly right. Here in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are united in wanting to avoid an unnecessary and shameful government shutdown that would just hurt the country. We're united in supporting disaster relief for the parts of the country that got really hard hit recently. And we're united in supporting assistance for Ukraine, the people of Ukraine in their fight against Putin's aggression.

But the story in the House is different. You've got a group of far right Republicans who have actually been calling upon -- calling for a government shutdown if they don't get their way, including a couple of members who said that if McCarthy does not move forward to impeach President Biden, they would not keep the government open, crazy stuff like that.

But you've also got this faction in the House that's opposed to continuing to help the people of Ukraine. I hope they will change their mind. I know we have a bipartisan majority in both the Senate and the House in favor of continuing to help the people of Ukraine. So, I hope Speaker McCarthy will let that come to a vote.

BERMAN: Senator, I want to ask you about the new CNN poll out this morning. And voters, including Democrats, say they are concerned about President Biden's age. In fact, 49 percent say it is their biggest concern about Biden as a presidential candidate. Why do you think they feel that way?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, John, look, I haven't seen the details of this poll, but I think that at the end of the day, Americans are going to look at performance in office. And President Biden has had one of the most productive three, four years in office than any presidents in recent history, including an amazing set of legislative accomplishments the Inflation Reduction Act, the modernization bill with respect to our infrastructure, helping veterans, gun safety legislation.


So, I do think when push comes to shove, American voters are going to say, we're going to go with the guy with a good record rather than the guy who's working every day to undermine our democracy. BERMAN: Look, I don't have this graphic ready to show you, but in this very same poll, voters say they think that President Biden's positions have made the economy worse. So, does that run counter the point you're just making, that they like what he's done?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think what you've seen is with the passage of these bills, the economy is clearly turning around now, but people are still facing the lingering impact of rising prices and inflation. But we also know that, recently, inflation is coming down dramatically. We're at about 3 percent and actually going down compared to where it was.

So, I do think, John, that as the months progress and unemployment remains low, jobs continue to be generated, wages are going up, and they're going up in real terms, not just nominal terms. In other words, people are getting more in their pay check than they were before in terms of spending capacity.

So, I do think as time goes on, the people across this country again will want to stick with something that will be working and increasingly working to their advantage, rather than doing a U-turn and going back to the four years of chaos in the Trump administration.

BERMAN: I want to go back to the age issue here, because, again, we dug a little deeper in this poll, and we asked voters who were concerned about President Biden's age, why they were concerned. They say it might negatively affect his ability to serve another term, his mental and physical competence, understanding of the next generation's concerns.

People are clearly seeing age as an issue here. Are you saying it's no issue at all?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I don't think it should be an issue, age itself. I think what should be an issue is results and performance. And when it comes to results and performance, President Biden has a spectacular record.

And as we speak, he's heading off to the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, India. President Xi of China is not showing up. Putin from Russia is not showing up. President Biden is showing up and representing the United States and pushing for stronger democracy, not just home here at home but also around the world.

So, again, I always think voters, at the end of the day, will measure people by performance. And if that's the measure, President Biden is doing it really.

BERMAN: Inside this poll, one of the things that voters say is one of the things that will drive them to vote is to vote against Donald Trump. Interestingly, President Biden doesn't talk much about the criminal indictments surrounding Trump right now, given that there is a large percentage of the voter group who will vote against Trump for that. Do you think that the President should lean into that more?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, John, what the President does talk about is the importance of protecting our democracy. And I think the American people remember the terrible attack on our democracy in our Capitol here, January 6th, a few years ago.

But President Biden has also done something very different than Donald Trump, which is he's made clear that the Justice Department, his Justice Department, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, is independent. And I think that is why President Biden has not wanted to get into the details of the cases against Donald Trump. He wants to let them proceed independently and leave no question about the fact that the Justice Department is independent.

That does not mean he will not continue to focus on the threats to our democracy, as he did in the midterms in 2022, and the American people responded to that by making sure that Democrats kept the Senate and reducing to historically low margins Democratic losses in the House.

BERMAN: Senator Chris Van Holland from Maryland, great to see you. Thank you so much for coming on.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you. Thanks, John.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, 3,000 feet down in a cave, sick and now stuck. The rescue operation underway and how long they now estimate it could take to get one man out.


We'll be back.