Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Interview With Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA); Biden Campaign in Crisis. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 04, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A campaign in crisis on this Fourth of July holiday, President Biden keenly aware that he may only have hours to save his campaign. Can a prime-time interview convince voters that he's up for the job?

And an alarming new report about Boeing, as a former inspector says scrap parts ended up on assembly lines, parts that were considered unsuitable to fly routinely used on the planes the company was building every day.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And a searing heat wave hitting the United States. Parts of California could soon see some temperatures that are hotter than anything ever recorded on the planet.

We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here at the CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: Happy Fourth of July, and thank you for joining us.

We do begin with a president on the ropes and running out of time. The next two days could be the most critical to his reelection campaign. Today, we're hearing new interviews one week after the debate debacle that set off alarm bells within his own party.

Tomorrow, President Biden caps off a day on the trail with the airing of a high-profile prime time sit-down with ABC News.

We have CNN's Arlette Saenz joining buts now.

Arlette, what are you hearing from the White House?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it's been one week since President Biden's debate against Donald Trump, and he is still working to try to assuage the concerns within his party about the future of his candidacy and his ability to serve in his second term.

Now, at least two House Democrat lawmakers have called for President Biden to step aside, and we're told that in a private phone call last night with top leadership in the House, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, some top Democrats said they also believe it's time for the president to step aside, while others expressed worry of what kind of frenzy it might cause if Biden were to leave the race and leave a vacuum at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Now, President Biden hosted governors here at the White House yesterday to try to hear some of their concerns around this debate. And so far, he's really insisted that he is remaining in this race, sending an e-mail to supporters and also telling his campaign staff that he will be in this race until the end.

And, this morning, two interviews the president conducted yesterday with black radio show hosts aired, and he tried to explain a part of his performance on the debate, insisting that voters should judge him not on that debate, but on his time in office. Take a listen.


ANDREA LAWFUL-SANDERS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Is there any reason for the American people to be concerned?




BIDEN: I had a bad debate. But 90 minutes on stage is -- does not erase what I have done for three-and-a-half years. Proud of the record. And we just got to keep moving.


SAENZ: Now, the president has privately acknowledged to at least one key ally that he realizes the coming days will be critical to his campaign.

You mentioned he will sit for an interview with ABC News. Many of his allies have encouraged him to do those types of interviews, to hold press conferences, have more impromptu sessions to show that he is a steady hand and ready to serve a second term.

He will also hit the campaign trail in Wisconsin tomorrow and Philadelphia on Sunday, try and go directly to those voters in key battleground states.

So, the president is here at the White House today. They will be hosting some Fourth of July festivities for military families on the South Lawn. He's spending the day in part with his family, who I'm told remains all in on him staying in this race.

Of course, Vice President Kamala Harris is also set to join those Fourth of July celebrations on the South Lawn of the White House at a time when, of course, Biden has made protecting and preserving democracy a key feature of his campaign, perhaps even more important on this Fourth of July holiday.

KEILAR: Yes, and, Arlette, we're learning as well that President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. What more can you tell us about the call? SAENZ: Yes, President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu just a short time ago to discuss the developments relating to a possible cease-fire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas.

I'm told Vice President Kamala Harris also joined that call, and we also spotted CIA Director Bill Burns departing the White House shortly after we learned that call had ended. Now, it comes as there have been some potential glimmers of hope that these talks between Israel and Hamas might get back on track.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed his team to work towards direct negotiations through their mediators with Hamas. Hamas had provided some type of response in recent days to some of the framework and language that had been presented to them.


But it also comes at a time when President Biden, of course, has for a while been pushing the Israelis to try to get to some type of deal with Hamas, to try to secure the release of hostages and eventually, at first, have a temporary cease-fire, but hopefully an end to the war.

But it comes, of course, as President Biden's fighting for his own political survival at home, and at a time when many Democrats within his own party, especially young voters, have expressed frustration with the president's handling of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

So we will see what further developments might come from this negotiation, as some Israeli officials are expressing some cautious optimism going forward.

KEILAR: All right, Arlette Saenz live course for the White House, thank you.

Let's turn now to CNN's Alayna Treene.

And, Alayna, a newly released video revealing exactly what former President Trump thinks of President Biden's debate performance. Share this with us.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's been interesting, Brianna, because, surprisingly, Donald Trump has actually tried to keep himself out of the spotlight this week.

That's a very rare move for the former president. But, really, Republicans and Trump himself are relishing the Democratic hand- wringing that's going on following Joe Biden's poor performance last week. And they want to let that continue to be the story.

However, there was a video that was recently leaked of Donald Trump on his golf course this week heavily criticizing both Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Take a listen to what Donald Trump said.




TRUMP: He's a bad guy. He just quit, you know? He's quitting the race.


TRUMP: Yes. I got him out of the race. And that means we have Kamala. I think she's going to be better. She's so bad.


TRUMP: She's so pathetic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just can't imagine.

TRUMP: But can you imagine that guy with -- dealing with Putin and the president of China, who's a fierce person? He's a fierce man, a very tough guy.


TREENE: Now, Brianna, clearly very candid words from Donald Trump there.

It's unclear if he knew that he was being filmed in that moment, but I will say that he did himself share the video to his TRUTH Social page. And, look, even though they're trying to stay out of the public eye this week, let the story be about Democrats, we have obviously seen both the Trump campaign, as well as his leading super PACs lobbing intense criticism after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

And I can tell you from my reporting that, even though you just heard him there saying that perhaps Kamala Harris would be a better opponent, that she'd be easier to beat because she's terrible, I know from my conversations with Trump's campaign, they're not exactly sure what this could mean for them if Joe Biden were to step aside.

They're not sure if that would actually benefit them, particularly given they have spent so much time, including creating this massive data operation, the infrastructure around his general campaign, focused on Joe Biden. There's a lot of uncertainty about what the future could mean, of course, not just for Democrats, but also for Republicans and Trump's own campaign.

KEILAR: Yes, very interesting insights.

Alayna Treene live for us on this, thank you so much -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Aside from the voting public, the president desperately needs to win support from his fellow elected Democrats. Tomorrow's interview and a live event in Wisconsin could help, or hurt, depending on how things go.

Right now, only two Democratic congressmen have called for him to step aside.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty here in the studio with us.

And, Sunlen, what are you hearing from Democrats who've spoken to President Biden?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, some, Boris, are expressing their concern directly to the president.

There was a meeting at the White House last night with about 20 Democratic governors, some who were in person, some virtually. And we heard from some of those governors saying that they spoke up in that meeting and took their concerns directly to the president.

Maine Governor Janet Mills, she told CNN that she told the president that some of the -- she's hearing from some of the voters in her state, some anxiety about, in her words, his difficult-to-watch debate performance and anxiety whether he could win or not.

And in that meeting, we're told, according to sources, that Biden pushed back and reiterated his determination here to defeat Trump. And there was a small group of Democratic governors who came to the stakeout position at the White House driveway afterwards.

And they really echoed the same line and showed a support -- a vote of confidence for the president.


GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): I'm here to tell you today, President Joe Biden is in it to win it. And all of us said we pledged our support to him because the stakes could not be higher.

GOV. TIM WALZ (D-MN): None of us are denying Thursday night was a bad performance. It was a bad -- it was a bad hit, if you will, on that. But it doesn't impact what I believe he's delivering.

GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): And the president is going to -- the president is our nominee. The president is our party leader. And the president has told us, and he was very clear back there, that he is in this to win this.



SERFATY: And on Capitol Hill, we are certainly hearing publicly and privately a lot more concerns.

Boris, as you mentioned, two sitting members of Congress Democrats have called for Biden to step aside, and they did convene this conference call last night with top Democratic leaders and some of the top members of the House. And many members told Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the House, look, he has to step aside. We want him to go.

Now, we're told, according to sources, that Jeffries did not reveal how he's thinking. He, of course, has so much sway in what happens here. They are all seem to be giving it a beat, see how Friday's interview goes, see how that lands. And then they will be all back in Washington Monday of next week.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and, at least for now, publicly trying to present a united front.

Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much for the reporting.

Let's discuss now with Democratic Congressman Jared Huffman of California.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us this afternoon and happy Fourth of July.

You said soon after the debate that Democrats have to be laser-focused on winning and not hand-wringing or sentimentality. Do you believe that President Biden still gives your party the best shot to win in November?

REP. JARED HUFFMAN (D-CA): I don't know, Boris.

But here's what I do know. The guy you showed a few minutes ago, Donald Trump, is a fundamental threat to democracy, to our fundamental rights and to the free world. Joe Biden is not.

But I do know that we're also not on a winning trajectory. And I think we have got to be honest about that. So we need a reset. We need a course-correction. We have got to acknowledge that this was not just one bad night. This is a pretty pervasive and widespread perception that's been dragging President Biden down in the polls for many months.

So we have got to figure this out. I think we have a couple of weeks to do it, but we have got to do it.

SANCHEZ: So, Congressman, what does that course correction that you're describing look like?

HUFFMAN: Well, it's a great question. And that's what many of us are struggling with.

But I think we have to remember that this is a winnable campaign. Two weeks from today, the Republican Party is going to nominate a convicted felon, an adjudicated sex predator, a guy that wants to be a dictator, a guy who's deeply unpopular.

I think, certainly, right after they finish that spectacle, we need to have our ticket finalized, so we can go out and win this election. SANCHEZ: When it comes to your description -- quote -- "many of us

struggling," it seems like, behind closed doors, as we have heard in CNN's reporting, there is anxiety, and there is, as some have described it, panic.

But, publicly, as we just heard in Sunlen's reporting, it seems that Democrats want to present the idea that this was just one bad incident. Do you think that, as a party, there's not yet been an acknowledgement, as you made a moment ago, that this wasn't an episode, that this is a string of lapses that has been reported on for months now?

HUFFMAN: I think there are different perspectives on that, Boris, to be perfectly honest.

Some people want to write this off as one bad night. They want to insult the critics, call them bed-wetters, et cetera. I don't think that's helpful. I think we have got to take a very sober look at the reality of the race as it currently stands.

And it wasn't just one bad night. It was a bad night that may have locked in a really unfortunate narrative about President Biden's age and fitness, and that narrative could be very hard to undo. So we have just got to be honest about that. We're four months before the election, and the guy who's threatening our democracy, our fundamental rights, and the free world right now is winning.

We have got to fix that.

SANCHEZ: It may be hard to undo that narrative, but do you see a way for President Biden, perhaps through these interviews or standing in front of a crowd of reporters without a teleprompter answering questions, do you see a way for him to regain the confidence of your party and its voters?

HUFFMAN: Well, Boris, there's not a lot of time, and that narrative is pretty established now. It wasn't just one debate. And so it's going to be very difficult for this president to undo it.

And I will say this. My colleague Jim Clyburn said something very important. If President Biden decides that, in the interests of defeating Donald Trump and saving this democracy and the free world from everything he represents, that he is ready to pass the torch, it needs to be, and I think should be, Vice President Harris at the top of the ticket.

And I can imagine any number of really compelling people that could round out a winning ticket with Vice President Harris, a ticket that would bring all kinds of enthusiasm and excitement to this race and put us in a position to win it.


SANCHEZ: That is significant that you would support the vice president stepping in for President Biden should he decide to step aside. He obviously hasn't done that. And we have reporting from inside his

camp that his family is encouraging him to stay in the race. Some of his most trusted allies are doing the same.

What would be your message to those folks that have the president's ear about perhaps persuading him in a direction that, as you see it, would be better for the party and for the country?

HUFFMAN: Yes, none of us want to be in a position of appearing to try to pressure Joe Biden or push him out. We love this guy. This guy is a hero, in my eyes and in pretty much all of my colleagues, for saving us from Donald Trump in 2020, for being a great, transformative president that delivered amazing results.

I think my message for anyone right now who's struggling with this is to just step back and make a fully informed decision. This should not be about sentimentality. It should not be about perceptions of loyalty or whatever to one person. It's so much bigger than that.

The stakes of this are everything, when we think about our democracy, our fundamental rights and the free world. So we have got to detach ourselves for a minute and really take a sober look at where the race currently stands and what's the best way to win it.

SANCHEZ: How much time do you think President Biden has before ultimately making a decision?

HUFFMAN: Sooner is better, obviously.

Now, I will say this. We probably don't talk enough about timing. The Republicans in a few days are going to begin their convention. I talked about the spectacle of literally nominating a convicted felon. We probably don't want to finalize our ticket, if that's where we are, and give them a week of prime time to beat the heck out of it.

I think it would be far better to make our decision right after their spectacle and then come together and go win this election.

SANCHEZ: Congressman, if President Biden stays in the race, and if Republicans take back the White House, take back the Senate and keep the House, what do you think Joe Biden's legacy will look like?

HUFFMAN: I don't want to speculate about that, because I think we still have time to put this thing on a winning course.

There's every reason to believe that we can beat Donald Trump, if we make a smart course correction right now. But I think Joe Biden has an amazing legacy. He saved us from Trump in 2020. He delivered the goods as a transformative president. If he decides that now is the time to pass the torch, in the interest of everything that he's done and everything we care about, I will consider him a hero once again.

SANCHEZ: It seems like you're being very careful with your words, Congressman. Respectfully, you're talking about a course correction and doing the smart thing.

Just explicitly, in your mind, does that mean that President Biden steps aside as the nominee of the party?

HUFFMAN: I'm not ready to make that definitive statement, Boris, and nor do I think that right now is the time to do it.

There could be a developing consensus along those lines, but, at the end of the day, the decision is President Biden's. And all we can do is try to constructively share our thoughts and do what we can to put us on a path to win, because that's what matters.

SANCHEZ: Congressman Jared Huffman, we appreciate you sharing your perspective with us. I hope you get to enjoy a happy Fourth with some barbecues, some hot dogs, and burgers maybe.

HUFFMAN: You too, Boris. Thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Thanks.

Ahead: the president going prime time. What's at stake for Biden as he sits down for tomorrow's high-profile interview?

And a 30-year veteran of Boeing alleges scrap parts ended up on assembly lines. We have more from this stunning whistle-blower interview.

Plus, triple-digit temperatures scoring parts of the nation on this holiday, another death reported just moments ago from heat. We will break down the forecast and who is bearing the brunt of this heat wave when we come back.



KEILAR: President Biden is taking an increasingly defiant stance, insisting he will not step out of the presidential race.

He's set to hit the campaign trail tomorrow and he will sit for his first TV interview since his shaky debate performance. The interview is with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos and it airs tomorrow night in its entirety as a prime-time special.

But is this interview going to do what it needs to do? Is this a make- or-break moment for the president? You bet it is.

So, joining us to discuss, we have Sara Fischer, CNN media analyst and senior media reporter for Axios. We also have Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.

Sara, I wonder what you think about the timeline here, because we have seen President Biden. He did these local interviews for black radio stations. They aired today, but that's a full week after this debate. And then this prime-time interview that he will be doing will have occurred more than a week after the debate.


FISCHER: Well, he needed to figure out what his plan was going to be and his strategy was going to be. I think that's why you saw this time lapse.

But also, remember, this interview was supposed to air on Sunday. And I have reached out to the White House to ask, whose idea was it to push it up further? They have not responded. So I assume the White House was the ones that wanted to bring this interview from airing Sunday to bring it to be airing on Friday.

It gives him a little bit more time then to figure out if he could do further big interviews. But I think you bring up a good point. Notice that he seeded the big ABC interview with a few smaller interviews, right, trying to get his feet on the ground, trying to get used to what he's going to be asked. The other thing is, radio is very different from television. And so he wanted to make sure that he can get prepared for the big TV interview.


The big question, Brianna, comes, after the ABC interview, is he going to do more on television? I think people saw something that they can't unsee with that debate. So he needs to prove that wasn't a one-off instance by showing them multiple unscripted TV interviews or multiple unscripted moments before we get into the summer.

KEILAR: We're hearing that from his allies. They want reps and they want to see them in pretty quick succession.

Jeffrey, I wonder what you make of the response time here and how this compares to other administrations when it comes to dealing with a crisis situation.

JEFFREY ENGEL, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY DIRECTOR, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY: Well, unfortunately for the president, the real problem is that he doesn't have those reps, as you just said. He doesn't have the number of times that people can look at back at his performance and say, yes, that was a trustworthy performance.

I mean, the performance that we saw last week will definitely go down in the annals of presidential history as the worst debate performance in American history. And he needs to get out there again, because the truth of the matter is, he can continue to lose support every time that he has a bad performance.

But even gaining support is difficult because he might only be able to win back a little bit of the trust that he had through a great performance. So, in essence, he's on a high wire at this point, and he has no margin for error.

KEILAR: Have you seen a single interview make an impact? Have you seen a single interview be a game-changer?

ENGEL: Historically, I can think of two, actually. The first is 1979, when Ted Kennedy decided to run an insurgent

campaign against the incumbent Jimmy Carter, a Democrat in his own party. And Kennedy was asked by an interviewer in a one-on-one, just like President Biden's going to have, why do you want to be president? And Kennedy spent about two minutes not answering the question.

You would think that's the softball of all softball questions, and the fact that he wasn't able to articulate why he wanted to be president really demonstrated that he only wanted to be president for the sake of being president. It hurt his campaign. Now, he did continue on, but, of course, he didn't win the nomination.

The second is, back in 1960, it's actually an interview with President Dwight Eisenhower during one of his press conferences. He, of course, was one of the first -- actually, the first president to do televised press conferences. He was asked about the Republican nominee, his vice president, Richard Nixon, can you tell us a moment when Nixon really gave advice that changed your mind? I mean, Nixon's saying that he's a foreign policy expert.

And Eisenhower, who, frankly, had no love for Nixon, said, well, if you give me a week, maybe I can get back to you on something, basically undermining the entire point of the Nixon campaign that Nixon was experienced.

So those are two instances where individual moments and interviews, or at least reporters' questions, really did shape the entire campaign.

KEILAR: Yes. He needs one that doesn't shape it in a negative way. He wants to -- this to be a balloon.

So I wonder, Sara, what you are watching for when you see this interview tomorrow night.

FISCHER: He was ill-prepared in the last debate, Brianna, because he was so focused on policy and on substance. What we need from him in this interview is going to be energy and rigor.

We need to see that he is awake, that he has the stamina to pull off a long interview. So he doesn't need to focus on nailing every single little detail and number. Forget about that. Just show the American people that you have the energy to do the job. And, by the way, if you look at his campaign ads coming out of this, they have shifted a little bit.

He was so focused on President Trump as a liar, and he doesn't tell the truth, and I do. Now he's starting to focus on, OK, I get it. I might have age on me, but I have wisdom and I have knowledge.

He's starting to think a little bit more about addressing the age question specifically. That's what he needs to do in this interview. Don't worry about substance. Worry about your energy.

KEILAR: He did that a little bit coming out of the reveal of Robert Hur's report, where he said he wasn't going to bring charges because he would appear to be this sort of -- pardon me -- I'm not quoting it correctly, but you know the quote .It was like a well-meaning elderly man who was forgetful.

And he did bring energy out of that, but he also made mistakes in his comments that had people questioning his ability, Biden's ability to be coherent.

So, even if he brings energy, how important is that and for him to avoid those mistakes?

FISCHER: Very important.

And there's a few things that he can do tactically to avoid those problems. One, forget about hard numbers. Biden, he's traditionally had a stutter problem, gets caught up sometimes when he's trying to recall the exact figure. Don't worry about that. Think about broad topics, broad points, and drive them home with as much rigor and vigor as you can.

If he tries to get into the nitty-gritty, that's where he tends to get really tripped up, and that's where people start to question his ability to recall facts, his ability to recall concepts, when, in reality, sometimes, it's just him not figuring out small details in real time.

KEILAR: If he doesn't do well, Jeffrey, our reporting indicates that he has confided in someone close to him that the conditions where he would consider stepping aside are if he's tanking in the polls, with donors, if he's performing poorly in interviews.