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Interview With Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA); Pressure Growing on President Biden. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 05, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: This could be a make-or-break day for President Biden's campaign. Soon, we're going to see him at a campaign event in a battleground state and in a high-stakes interview in prime time tonight, as pressure mounts for him to prove that not only he can win in November, but also serve out another four years.

Plus: a political earthquake overseas, a Labor landslide in the U.K. What happened and what it means for a key U.S. ally.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And a lethal heat wave firefighters battling triple-digit temperatures on the front lines with millions of Americans on alert for dangerous heat.

We are following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: President Biden is facing a pivotal moment right now,one that could define his campaign and his legacy.

Today, he's on the trail in Wisconsin, where he's set to speak at a rally in roughly an hour or so. Then the president is going to sit down for his first television interview since last week's disastrous debate.

The Biden campaign knows the stakes are high. Voters are going to be watching very closely, scrutinizing every word. And in a preview of what we will likely see later, moments ago, leaving the White House, President Biden stood his ground.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is awaiting the president in Madison, Wisconsin.

Arlette, what did President Biden say before departing?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, President Biden is set to arrive here in Madison, Wisconsin in a few hours as he is facing perhaps the most high-stakes moment in his long political career.

The president has privately acknowledged to allies how critical the coming days will be to the future of his candidacy, as he looks to not only convince voters that he is up for a second term, but also try to tamp down the very serious doubts expressed from some top Democrats and donors about him remaining in the race.

Now, so far, President Biden has resisted any suggestion that he would drop out of this 2024 campaign. And as he was on his way here to Wisconsin, he insisted he still believes he can win in November.


QUESTION: Can you still beat Trump?



SAENZ: So, the president very clearly there said that he still believes that he can beat Donald Trump.

And here in Wisconsin, he will try to convince voters that that is actually the case. He's expected to deliver remarks focusing on democracy, a key part of his campaign, and then he will sit down for that high-stakes interview with ABC News.

This interview certainly will be very different from the ones Biden has experienced in the past that have really focused on domestic policy and foreign policy issues. But this interview will really get at the crux of the viability of Biden's candidacy, with many watching to see the president and how he will perform.

Now, the Biden campaign is also outlining what they say will be a very aggressive schedule in the month of July, the president, first lady, vice president, and second gentleman all set to hit all the battleground states in the coming months.

President Biden, in addition to being here in Wisconsin, he will hit the trail in Pennsylvania on Sunday. He's also planning a push in Nevada to speak at some major conferences to appeal to Latino and black voters. The campaign is also planning a $50 million ad blitz across television and digital to try to get their message across.

Another thing the campaign says the president will be engaging in, or attempting to, is having more-off-the cuff moments. That is somewhere where they believe that he can thrive, but, also, that's something that a lot of top allies have been encouraging Biden to do in the wake of the debate,having more unscripted moments, sitting down for interviews with major news outlets, all as they are trying to have the president show that he is up for a second term.

So there will be many eyes watching the president today, and as he is entering this very critical stretch for the future of his campaign at a time when there have been serious doubts within the Democratic Party about whether he should move forward into that November election.


SANCHEZ: We will see if there are many unscripted moments during that campaign stop in Madison.

Arlette Saenz, please stand by.

Want to bring in CNN's senior reporter Isaac Dovere for us, because, Isaac, amid the debate fallout, there's new speculation among Democrats. There seems to be a game plan forming behind Vice President Kamala Harris, and there's even talk of who her running mate might be.


Look, there are more people than it might appear in public who are ready for Joe Biden to get out of the way, certainly also more people than are saying or hoping that he will stay.

But there is a growing mood among top Democratic leaders that this just hasn't worked over the past week, that they don't have faith in where Joe Biden is going to be able to move people's minds over the next couple of days. They are willing to wait, but they are still, nonetheless, as you say, already so far down the road in thinking about what will happen if Kamala Harris takes over for him, that they have started to think about who her running mate would be.

SANCHEZ: Isaac Dovere, some fascinating reporting. Thank you so much for that -- Pam.

BROWN: Certainly a lot to talk about here.

Let's bring in Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

Welcome to you, Congresswoman.

What do you need to hear and see from President Biden, not only in this upcoming event in Wisconsin, but also this ABC sit-down interview, to be reassured that he is still the best option for your party heading into November?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): Nice being with you, Pam.

First, I think everyone agrees that we can't sugarcoat what took place with the debate. Secondly, I think what we need to see and what I want to see is the real Joe Biden. And he needs to make sure he tells the story. He's been one of the most effective presidents ever.

I think it's important for people to remember, first of all, COVID, how he saved lives and livelihoods through developing a strategy to get us through COVID, secondly, created millions of jobs, thirdly, reduced the cost of prescription drugs.

Yes, the cost of living is still too high, but he's working very hard to bring our economy to the point where the cost of groceries are reduced, the cost of housing, the cost of childcare. So he's got to remind people of what their lives -- how their lives have been made better and what is left to do.

BROWN: But is that enough to overcome some of the concerns that are pretty prevalent now after his debate performance among donors, for example, voters who saw that debate performance and are concerned? Is talking about his record enough to overcome those concerns, when

you look at what's ahead, beating Trump in November and having another four years in the White House?

LEE: I think it's important he put this in context, his candidacy in context, historically, what he has done.

But he has also got to show that he is up for the job. And he is up for the job when you see what he is doing. And the discourse and the chatter and all of the questions that are being asked, that is the strength of our democracy, Pam. So that's fine.

But I think we have to make sure we remember he's a human being, but everyone has him under a microscope. And so he's got to show in no uncertain terms that he is ready to campaign, which he is, and that he can do the job.

Also, it's very important to remind him that he -- remind the public that he beat Donald Trump. He's the only candidate who has beat Donald Trump. Donald Trump wants to lead our democracy into dictatorship. He's a liar. He's a convicted felon. And, in fact, it's very scary to think of what would take place.

I was sitting on the floor of Congress on January 6. This man and his following almost thwarted the peaceful transfer of power. So the president has to remind people of what the risks are.

BROWN: Right. And the stakes are very high as -- for Democrats. As you laid out, that's the argument being made. Look, we got to make sure Trump doesn't regain the White House.

And in light of that, I think that is what is behind a lot of this discussion. Is Biden, President Biden, the best person to beat Trump in November? What are you hearing about -- from your colleagues in the House and about any potential efforts by House Democrats regarding Biden and whether he should step aside?

Are you hearing about any -- anyone else coming out,any letters being circulated? What can you tell us?

LEE: Well, I'm hearing from a lot of members. I'm a member of also the DNC and of our leadership in the House Democratic Caucus.

And people are discussing the options, but also recognizing that he's the only candidate who has beat Donald Trump. The Biden/Harris candidacies, the Biden/Harris administration, they took on Donald Trump, they beat him, and they helped to make life better for everyone. They still have a lot of work to do.


And so people have different points of views. But I, for one, believe that this president will move forward and he will be able to win. But some people don't think he can. But I tell you, I have seen the polls also. And he's the only one, I believe, that really, with the Biden/Harris ticket, can beat Donald Trump. And that's what I'm concerned about, is making sure that we have the

strongest ticket to beat Donald Trump in November, because the threats to our democracy are real, and we cannot have this man go back into the White House.

BROWN: You mentioned the polls, but, actually, the most recent polls, including the CNN one, shows that Kamala Harris would actually fare better against Donald Trump than President Biden.

I want to play with your House colleague from California Representative Jared Huffman said on CNN yesterday.


REP. JARED HUFFMAN (D-CA): 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.


BROWN: What do you say to that? You just said in your last answer, we have been discussing options.

How does Kamala Harris factor into those conversations about options?

LEE: Sure.

And I think Vice President Harris has stated over and over again that she's very unified with President Biden, the Biden/Harris ticket. That's who beat Donald Trump in the last campaign. I know Vice President Kamala Harris very well.

I was the first member of Congress to endorse her when she ran for the presidency. And so, sure, she would make a great president. But Kamala Harris has indicated publicly over and over again that she supports the president and she supports the ticket.

And this is a hypothetical. People are talking about this. They're talking about many different options. But the only proven option we have that has beat Donald Trump and that has delivered for the American people is the Biden/Harris ticket.

BROWN: I'm wondering.

As you say, these conversations are happening. People are talking about different options, kind of what this state of play is behind the scenes. There have been some Democrats from the House who have come out and publicly said Biden should step aside.

But do you also get the sense that there are other Democrats who are kind of holding back for now to see how this interview with Biden plays out, how it goes over the weekend, and then might come out publicly depending on how things go? Help us understand the state of play in that regard.

LEE: Well, we're talking a lot about our ticket in terms of making sure we take back the House and the Senate, first of all, and making sure that all hands on deck in terms of being able to deliver the House of Representatives and the Senate.

And so that's the conversation many of us are having. And we know that we have some seats that really require us showing up. But what we also are talking about is hitting the ground running, making sure we circle the wagons, so that our House Democrats win, our Senate Democrats win, and that President Biden and Kamala Harris win.

And so, basically, we're talking about how to move forward. And people have different points of views, like the public. But we also recognize that it's our job to get our voters to the polls and to make sure they get the correct message and that they understand what the risks are of a Donald Trump presidency, with the MAGA extremist Republicans controlling the House and the Senate.

BROWN: Biden campaign co-chair Congressman James Clyburn told CNN earlier this week that if -- again, big if -- Biden were to step aside, there would be a -- quote -- "mini-primary."

Is that how you would like to see your party move forward, again, if President Biden chose to end his campaign? What do you think?

LEE: Well, again, that's a hypothetical, and I'm not going to discuss the ifs right now, because I am very down to try to make sure that every voter understands that we have to get to the polls in November.

BROWN: But don't you need a plan for that in case...

LEE: And I'm talking to people around the country, to young people, especially to black and brown voters, to make sure that they understand the risk of Donald Trump being elected as president.

So, the ifs and the types of strategies that we move forward with, until the president says something other than he is running, for me personally, I am working to make sure that he has everything he needs from myself to win this election.

BROWN: All right, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you.

BROWN: And while we wait for President Biden to speak, here's a look at what's ahead this hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


The U.K. has a new prime minister. The British government shakeup overnight, what it means to the left -- what its turn to the left, I should say, means for the U.S.

And nightmare on the beach. This is truly my worst nightmare, authorities sounding the alarm over Fourth of July shark attacks -- those details just ahead.


SANCHEZ: We're about an hour away from hearing from the president on a day that could be critical for his campaign.

President Biden is set to speak in Wisconsin next hour ahead of a taped interview airing later tonight in prime time on ABC. The stakes really could not be higher,as calls for Biden to end his reelection bid have been dogging his campaign since last week's debate. The world will closely be watching to see how he handles these next critical moments.


Let's discuss with White House reporter for Politico, Eli Stokols.

Eli, great to see you.

This speech in Milwaukee, this prime-time interview, if they go well, will it be enough to unravel this narrative surrounding the president's age and mental acuity?

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: It's a great question, Boris. That's really the question.

I'm not sure they will be. I think people inside the president's inner circle, they have listened, they have heard that there are things that he needs to do to reassure people, and they are trying to do that, a sit-down interview, travel, more unscripted moments.

But at the same time, there is a palpable sense that none of it is really going to offset what the country saw on the debate stage last week and that the president really took his big liability and made it even bigger, adding to concerns about his age and apparent frailty and really imperiling his reelection.

I mean, his campaign is teetering on a razor's edge right now. And even if he gives a decent interview, shows some pep, some vigor, some commitment, there are already, as Isaac spoke to a little while ago, a lot of talks in Democratic circles about what plan B is going to look like.

There are a lot of members on Capitol Hill, dozens, in fact, who are already privately of the mind that the Democratic Party needs a new presidential nominee. They haven't said that. They have -- most of them have held back those comments publicly.

But that is the conversation behind the scenes. Inside the White House, inside the campaign, there are some aides who, despite putting their head down, trying to do the work, expressing sort of a determination and resolve to go forward, there are a lot of aides who understand that this may not be fixable.

And so, yes, all eyes are going to be on what the president says today in Wisconsin and in this interview, how he looks, how he sounds, but it may not be enough to allay the anxieties that a lot of people have across the party that the president's biggest liability is just not something that can be fixed, and, politically speaking, that it may already be fatal.

SANCHEZ: Given your -- what you're hearing from sources, I'm wondering what it would take for President Biden, what it is that he needs to see that would indicate to him that this effort has not been enough.

Is it polling or fund-raising numbers, or does he need to hear those members of Congress that you described sort of doubting him in private actually coming out in large numbers publicly?

STOKOLS: Well, our reporting, Boris, is that, privately, the president has expressed more personally ambivalence about this than he has publicly, that he has told close confidants that he's not sure he will be able to fix this.

And I think, certainly, this is a president and a longtime politician who is contemplating his bigger legacy here. If he understands, through private conversations or public pressure, that the majority of Democratic lawmakers believe he's a liability at the top of the ticket, that donors are ready to maybe pull the plug, to stop writing the checks, then that may leave him not much choice in terms of stepping aside.

He said in 2020 that he intended to be a bridge candidate.


STOKOLS: There were a lot of aides after the 2022 midterms who looked at that as a referendum on a validation of President Biden's first two years in office.

And they cleared a lot of brush, made sure that he would have an easy path to renomination. And that sort of went along as planned. But as we have gotten into the general election, what the public has seen from the president himself has really given a lot of people pause.

The campaign, the White House, they have been so dismissive of questions and focus on the age question. But that continues to be the big thing that is imperiling his candidacy. They did a lot more damage to themselves with the president's performance last week in the debate.

And I think they all understand that on some level. And so what happens after this little swing of travel over the holiday weekend, when members of Congress come back to town on Monday, that's going to be critical. There are going to be conversations continue to take place over the weekend, but they are gauging support.

They are gauging where the party, where donors are. They're trying to kind of contain the fallout. But that's difficult and may prove too difficult come next week.

SANCHEZ: Yes. We were just showing video a moment ago of the celebration for the

Fourth of July at the White House last night. And Vice President Kamala Harris was there. It had not been planned that she was going to be there until after the debate. She wasn't set to introduce him either at the event at the White House. And then she wound up introducing him.

It seems clear that she's taken on a more prominent role in the last few days, at least when it comes to messaging from the White House and even in that meeting with Democratic governors.


What do you make of the unique position that she's now in?

STOKOLS: It's fascinating to watch. I mean, there are no accidents. She doesn't just show up with the president at the July 4 celebration just because she had some time on her calendar.

So that tells you something about people putting them together, wanting people to see them as unified, as a ticket. She was brought into that meeting with the governors. She spoke at the end. And a lot of the people that we spoke to who had a readout of that meeting said that it was really notable how at the end of that meeting, she was the one who was preaching, let's stay together, let's rally behind President Biden.

Her response after the debate, starting with the interview that she did with your colleague Anderson Cooper just moments after the debate ended, that has bought her a lot of goodwill from Biden's inner circle and from the Bidens themselves.

They have seen her as a staunch ally, a defender of the president. And there may be a situation where, if they feel the pressure mounting and the president is unable to continue his campaign, that may make them feel better about the situation that they are in handing the baton to the vice president, who really up to this point in the administration, yes, she's been the leading voice talking about reproductive rights and some other issues.

But she really has not had a starring role in much of anything these first three-and-a-half years. And it's interesting to see her really quickly moving to the fore, seeing the country more focused on her and her performance than it has been to date.

And, certainly, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where Biden steps aside and the Democratic Party and an administration that has really tried to do a lot to be responsive to the concerns of black voters, black women, in particular, that there would be a situation in which the vice president was somehow passed over, gone around in terms of who is going to be the next standard-bearer for the party.


Eli, I want to share with you and our viewers images from moments ago in Wisconsin, where folks have been lined up waiting for the motorcade route that President Biden will be on. And you see some of the signs out there. One of them says: "I love you, Joe. Bow out."

Another one says: "Keep democracy's flame burning, pass the torch" in red.

Eli, I'm wondering. As you were talking about Vice President Kamala Harris and the way that some Democrats have seemed to have this renewed appreciation for her, in light of the disastrous debate last week, if Democrats have clear logistics of how that supposed passing of the torch would go if President Biden decides to step away from a reelection effort and potentially who a running mate would be for her.

STOKOLS: Yes, I mean, that's the sticky part, is sort of how this all works logistically. All the delegates have been pledged to President Biden at this point, but he has not been formally nominated.

And there are some pretty senior people in the party who are having those conversations and trying to work all of that out. Which way it goes, that sort of remains to be seen. We're not at that point yet. And, obviously, the president at the moment remains a candidate and the party's presumptive nominee for reelection.

So we will see how that goes. But I think the reactions to the debate, right, there have been strong reactions by people across the party. And there's been sort of people -- things people had not been willing to say publicly, now they're saying them.

And I think just supporters, regular folks who might come out to rallies and line the motorcade, right, I think a sign that says, "We love you, Joe, now step aside," right, that kind of captures where a lot of people in the party are, is that they appreciate what Joe Biden has done, how hard he has worked as president.

But they recognize in him physically that it just may not be possible for him to serve another four-year term. And so I think that message, they're hearing that from a lot of different quarters. You're not hearing it, you didn't hear it from the governors who met with him a few days ago. You didn't hear that publicly, still no congressional leaders, maybe a handful of donors here and there and other members of Congress.

But, really, it has been pretty small the number of people who have come out and said that publicly. They are trying to give him some space and some time to work through this out of respect and appreciation for who he is. But that is also buying the party some time to work out these thornier questions about where they may have to go next and how they get there.

SANCHEZ: Eli Stokols, always great to get your perspective. Thanks.

STOKOLS: Thanks, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Coming up: A new report on employment shows the economy is still creating plenty of new jobs month after month. What the latest numbers mean for your wallet and the economy. And the U.K. has a new prime minister today in a landslide for the

left. The British government shakeup overnight and what it means for the U.S.