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President Joe Biden To Arrive In Wisconsin For Campaign Rally; Dr. Sanjay Gupta: President Joe Biden Should Undergo Cognitive Testing And Share Results; Some Republicans Believe The Path Back To The White House Would Be Easier With Joe Biden At The Top Of The Ticket. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 05, 2024 - 14:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: A make or break moment for the Biden presidency. This hour, President Biden holds a rally in Wisconsin before sitting down for a one on one interview tonight. The stakes are high, and there is no room for error.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And meanwhile, Donald Trump basking in the chaos here, his campaign says it has opposition research ready for any scenario, but there seems to be a new target they're zeroing in on.

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

SANCHEZ: We begin this hour with breaking news. Any moment now, President Biden is set to arrive in the battleground state of Wisconsin for a campaign rally.

Then, just a few hours later, we'll hear from the president and his first television interview since last week's disastrous debate performance. It's a critical moment for the president as he faces growing calls to quit the race after his poor debate performance led to serious questions about his ability to lead for another four years.

Let's go now live to Madison, Wisconsin with CNN's Arlette Saenz. Now, Arlette, this obviously could be a make or break moment for the White House. How high are the stakes right now?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, this could be one of the most critical periods of President Biden's entire political career as he is facing some calls within his own party about him potentially stepping aside in this 2024 race.

The president has acknowledged privately to allies that this is a critical period of time these coming days, as he is looking to convince American voters that he is up for a second term, but also really try to tamp down those serious doubts that have emerged from top Democrats and donors about him remaining at the top of the Democratic ticket. The president will be arriving shortly here in Madison, Wisconsin, a key battleground state. And as he made his way over here, he again insisted that he believes

that he can beat Donald Trump in November. The president has said there are no plans for him to step aside in this race, even as there are some calls within his party to do so.

Now, the president will be speaking here at an event in Madison, and will also be sitting down for a high stakes interview with ABC News. This interview is likely to be very different from interviews Biden has faced in the past as the key focus of this will likely be his viability of a candidate.

And since we spoke last hour, I took some time taking the temperature of voters who are here for this event, and really it has been a mixed response. There are some voters who said that they are seen by the president, they want him to see out this race, but there are others who have concerns following that debate performance and what it could mean for the Democratic ticket in November.

I want to play you a bit of sound from one of the voters I spoke to in just the last hour.


SHANA VERSTEGEN, MASDISON VOTER: My thought process after the debate, it was -- it was hard to watch just as everybody -- as everybody went through and I think I made a lot of the same excuses everybody else did. He's had a busy schedule, there's a lot on his mind.

But my immediate response is, he's done such a good job. But we also need a Democrat in power for the next -- the next four years. And if the American people are feeling nervous, then that makes me a little bit nervous too.


SAENZ: So, some of the voters I talked to said that they want to see how the president performs at this event, and also that interview a little bit later today, as so much of his political future is currently on the line following that debate, and as some in his party have expressed skepticism about him remaining in the 2024 race.

SANCHEZ: And Arlette, as part of the fallout over the debate, the campaign team has vowed to have a more aggressive campaign schedule and to prepare for more off the cuff moments between the president and supporters and voters. What can you tell us about this new strategy?

SAENZ: Yes, the Biden campaign is really laying out how they see the month of July playing out. They have said that the president, first lady, Vice President Harris and second gentleman will hit all of the battleground states through the month of July. That starts with Biden being here in Wisconsin.


He's also set to travel to Pennsylvania on Sunday, and then a bit later in the month, as the Republican National Convention plays out, he will be traveling to Nevada to try to speak directly to Black and Latino communities.

The campaign is also outlining a $50 million advertising blitz on television and digital to try to get their message across to voters. They've also said that they are hoping the president will engage in more off the cuff moments, pointing to that stop that he made at an Atlanta Waffle House after the debate, as an example of the types of things the president can do going forward.

Now, the president has heard a lot of incoming from his Democratic allies who believe that he does need to have these more impromptu, unscripted moments, sit down for serious interviews in order to show the American people that he is up for the job.

The campaign is hoping the president could really start to do that and take his message to the voters over the course of July.

SANCHEZ: Arlette Saenz from Madison, Wisconsin, we're still awaiting the president's arrival. We know you'll keep us on top of the latest details. Arlette, thanks so much. Pam?

BROWN: New today, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent and practicing neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta, writing about what he calls "concerning behavior" from President Joe Biden at last week's presidential debate, and he is now urging the president to undergo cognitive testing and to share those results with the American people.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. Sanjay, what was your reaction to the debate and what has transpired over the last week?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it was -- it was concerning. I mean, there were some things, some signs that you'd see, I think, for anybody, that were concerning.

But certainly, as someone who specializes in brain medicine, it was a -- there was a little bit more than that as well. I think many of these things weren't necessarily new, Pamela, but I think it was that they were so pronounced and so sustained throughout that debate that really made it of higher concern.

I will say that the real question is, are these sort of intermittent episodes, or are those signs reflective of something that is a deeper, more concerning condition? We don't know. And that's why the testing, I think, is so critically important.

Not to mention that if you get the testing, there are things that can be done about it as well. Earlier testing means earlier potential treatment if it's necessary, some of the things in particular that we noticed, and by the way, many doctors from around frankly, the world. I was out of -- out of the country last week, many doctors around the world were calling me, telling me their observations as well. People who specialize in neurology or neurosurgery, even halting speech, sort of losing your train of thought, confusion, leading to rambling at times.

And also, sort of what we call in the neuro world, masked faces. Really expressionless, he seem to lose facial animation. Those are some of the things.

In and of themselves, again, they may mean nothing. In aggregate, they might mean something. The only way to really know would be to do that testing.

If you're my patient, Pam, if you were my father, I would urge that testing, again, with the idea that there is something that can be done about it. It's not testing just for testing sake, but then to actually take action, depending on what the testing shows.

BROWN: And the White House, for its part, just clarified that a meeting the president had with his doctor after the debate, saying, you know, he had this meeting as a check in, this is sort of how the White House is describing it. The press secretary saying, "The president did have a short verbal check in in the recent days about his cold. It wasn't a medical exam or physical, it was a conversation, and his doctor didn't think an examination was necessary."

So, that would mean the president's last full medical exam was about four months ago. What did -- first of all, what did you think, though about what we heard from the press secretary and the fact that his four months has gone by since his last full exam?

GUPTA: Well, there was a couple things that we learned. First of all, Dr. O'Connor, I believe, is the same doctor that you're referring to here, apparently thought there was no cause for concern after watching the debate. But then there was this check in because of the cold, like symptoms, not a physical exam. I don't think that it necessarily means much.

A true physical, a true evaluation, that would mean something. But I think you're right. It was really four months ago where there was a more complete evaluation, and it sounded extensive. 20 plus medical specialists, including a neurologist saw President Biden at that point, there was no mention of a cognitive exam. And when the White House was asked about that, they said the doctors didn't think there was a need for one, that he does his job and that's enough of a cognitive exam.

What they did say were things that they had sort of ruled out of concern. There was no concern for stroke. There was no concern for multiple sclerosis, for example, or Parkinson's disease, which is notable because Parkinson's disease is the most common cause of Parkinsonism, but it's not the only cause, and some of those other causes were not really addressed in that medical report.


It was a six page summary, Pam, and you and I have been doing this job for a long time. That's typically what you get from presidents and from candidates. The only person that's ever given me their complete medical records over 23 years, I've been doing this with Senator McCain, who at that time, was the oldest candidate for president. But most simply, don't share these records.

BROWN: So, when you talk about a cognitive exam, can you just walk us through what exactly that means?

GUPTA: Yes, it's pretty extensive. You know, we heard about the exam, sort of the screening test, if you will, that President Trump had, former President Trump, he had this test called the MoCA, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. I think we may have an image of it, but basically it's everything from drawing a three dimensional cube, drawing a clock hand, identifying animals, remembering words, it takes place over 10 or 15 minutes or so. It's pretty quick, but it's just a screening test and a pretty blunt one.

The more detailed cognitive testing, which, by the way, I went through when I was making this recent documentary, just to sort of demonstrate what it involves. It's all sorts of things. It's your blood work, but it's also things like your bone density, your genetic risk factors. Is there's smell tests, and there's lots of cognitive tests.

How many words can you recite, starting with the letter T in the next 60 seconds, go. How many animals can you name in the next 60 seconds, go. You know, things like that. Really trying to get a sense of someone's processing speed, their judgment and also their memory.

So, it's pretty involved to really do this. You spend time with the family, because family members are often the first to notice if there's anything that seems a little off, and you do a very detailed physical exam.

So, there's a lot that goes into really assessing somebody for cognition, but also for potential movement disorders, Parkinson -- Parkinsonism, as I was mentioning earlier.

BROWN: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Great to see you. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Let's discuss with Congressman Gerry Connolly, he's a Democrat representing Virginia. Congressman, welcome. Thanks so much for sharing part of your Friday afternoon with us.

Do you think that President Biden still gives your party the best shot to win in November?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I don't think we know that yet. I think the -- I think everybody is waiting for the dust to settle from the aftermath of the debate, and I think this next week is going to be critical.

Tonight, he has the interview with George Stephanopoulos. Over the weekend, he's got some travel to the Midwest where he's going to be unscripted and at public rallies. Next week, we have the 75th anniversary of NATO and world leaders are going to be coming to Washington for a major summit, which will be hosted by President Biden. He's also scheduled a press conference during that summit.

So, I think the next week is going to be very telling as to how we deal with and how we categorize what happened to that debate, bad night, really bad night, but not characteristic of this president or his behavior, nor does it necessarily define how he goes about his job and will go about his job or not.

So, I think -- I don't think we have the whole month of July. I think this next week is going to be very consequential in hopefully putting to rest or not the questions that have arisen since the debate.

SANCHEZ: What specifically, Congressman, do you think he needs to show your colleagues and voters who are calling for him to pass the baton?

CONNOLLY: I think he has to show mental acuity, mental alertness, humor, spontaneity, the fact that he can speak extemporaneously without, you know, a teleprompter or a cue cards, the fact that he can interact with the public in various settings, in a -- in a, you know, an expressive way that puts to rest the doubts that have been raised.

If he can't do that, then I think we are looking at some very hard judgments and hard choices we're going to have to face as a party.

What we can't do is risk losing the White House to Donald Trump. He is a direct threat to our constitutional democracy. He gets no scrutiny during this period of examination of Joe Biden, scrutiny he richly deserves.

His rants are demented and manic and very troublesome in terms of what he has planned for the future should he get back into the Oval Office. And we need to be spending time focusing on that. Right now, we're not.


SANCHEZ: When you say we spend a lot of time focusing on that. Do you mean Democrats? Do you mean the media? Just to be clear.

CONNOLLY: I mean both. Very little attention has been paid to what Donald Trump has been saying and doing. Very little attention got paid to his performance in the debate, and Democrats are spending all of their time talking about what happened in that debate with respect to our nominee -- prospective nominee, and not talking about Donald Trump.

So, we've got to change this conversation. But part of changing that conversation is a comprehensive assessment of where we are with our prospective nominee, and if we can resolve those doubts, great, let's move on and win the election.

SANCHEZ: I do want to ask you, Congressman about those hard choices that you alluded to a moment ago. But first, we did just hear from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is world renowned, a neurosurgeon, someone who is well respected. He, among others, believe the president should undergo extensive testing and then share the results in a transparent fashion.

How much do you think that could help the president regain some of the confidence of your colleagues?

CONNOLLY: That's really a decision for the president to make. I'm not a neurologist. I'm not equipped to make those kinds of judgments. I understand Dr. Gupta observing the debate and talking with colleagues, raised issues that seemed to fit the behavior that they witnessed.

But, you know, at the end of the day, President Biden has to make this decision. He's got 3,900 delegates pledged to him. We've got a convention in late August, and these decisions are going to have to be made quickly and resolved quickly so we can move on with winning this election.

SANCHEZ: Congressman, I'm wondering, given that you called on the White House earlier this week to have a "family therapy session," whether you'd heard from White House or campaign officials, or even directly from the president himself.

CONNOLLY: No, I have not.

SANCHEZ: I see. Is that something that you would want for there to be more sort of coordination among members of your party in terms of messaging? How do you feel about how the campaign has responded to this crisis?

CONNOLLY: I think that, you know, the White House staff get protective of the principle that is natural and very human, and I respect that. This isn't about reaching out to me. This is about respecting the role of Congress and trying to quell action on doubts members have by resolving those doubts.

We've already seen a drip, drip of support in the House. And what I have warned about is that if you don't deal with that by reaching out to rank and file members of the House, Democratic members of the House, you risk people feeling they're on their own to make this decision, and you're going to have 213 silos making decisions based on their perceptions of which may or may not be accurate.

So, at the end of the day, it really behooves the White House to make a more aggressive outreach with respect to members of Congress and other stakeholders, understanding that the risk is you're going to hear things you don't want to hear. But that family dialog is a lot better than circling the wagons and circulating campaign talking points that aren't really going to resolve this issue the way we want to.

SANCHEZ: Quickly, Congressman, if President Biden decides to relinquish the nomination, would you support Vice President Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket in November?

CONNOLLY: I think, first of all, I really prefer not to contemplate that scenario. But were that to happen, obviously, Kamala Harris for the Democratic Party would be next in line, and would be given a great deal of deference, including by me, as we would consider those options.

Time is going to be a factor. Kamala Harris has been Joe Biden's partner for the last four years as vice president. She's done a great job. I think she's kind of come into her own in the last year or so in a very productive way. I think she's got a lot of goodwill reserved for her among rank and file Democrats, including at the convention in August, and should be a great candidate in the eventuality we need to find another candidate.


I'm not giving up in Joe Biden, I think he has earned enormous respect for an extraordinary four years as president, and frankly, helped save this country from what we were going through, both in the pandemic and in the Trump madness. And now we have to make sure that we don't return to that.

SANCHEZ: Congressman Gerry Connolly, we appreciate the time and candor. Thanks so much, sir.

CONNOLLY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course. We have live pictures now of Air Force One arriving in Madison, Wisconsin. President Biden set to speak at a rally in this battleground state as he tries to reassure voters that he can handle another four years in office. This as we get new reporting on the Trump campaign and whether it wants to see Biden stay in the race, we'll be right back.



BROWN: We are waiting to hear from President Joe Biden. He just landed in Wisconsin where he is set to speak at a campaign rally. Wisconsin is one of a handful of must win states for both candidates and one of the states where forecasters say Biden has work to do to win over skeptical voters. This is a hugely consequential day for President Biden. We're going to take the president live as soon as he speaks.

While President Biden hits the trail, Donald Trump is keeping a relatively low profile with no campaign events today. But behind the scenes, we're told his campaign has been making calls, digging for clues, hoping to figure out the next steps should Biden ultimately decide to step aside.

CNN's Steve Contorno has all of these new details. So, Steve, what is the Trump campaign hoping will happen? Is Biden staying on the top of the ticket better or worse for them?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Certainly, there are people around the former president who believe that the path to election is much easier if Joe Biden remains on the ticket, especially after last Thursday night's debate performance.

However, they are starting to take steps to prepare for the unknowns. And you know, one of the things that we know that they are doing is reviewing the Republican National Committee's books that it keeps on all the potential contenders that are being floated out there. A couple names that were tossed out to us were Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and California Governor Gavin Newsom. The RNC keep sort of a rolling background books on all these individuals that they think could be potentially in the mix down the line. Well, if it becomes -- if it becomes in place sooner or later, the

Trump campaign is trying to get up to speed on those individuals.

And look, Trump himself has been predicting this situation might happen for more than a year, and now that is finally here. His campaign is just as unsure as the rest of us is where this is headed, but we have seen this sort of change in strategy in recent days. You saw MAGA Inc., a trope of pro-Trump super PAC start to target Kamala Harris, the vice president, in some of its recent messaging.

And we've been told behind the scenes, they are talking through what might happen if it is Harris. And one of the things that we have heard is they will try to pin President Biden's mental acuity questions on her, and sort of make her answer the question every turn. What did you know about his mental health, mental acuity issues, his physical stamina? And why did you keep this from the American people?

BROWN: And it's also notable, Steve, that today Trump has posted on Truth Social that he knows, "Nothing about Project 2025."

Now, for those of us that don't know, that's the effort by a far-right group to overhaul aspects of the federal government and replace civil servants with Trump loyalists should Trump win in November.

So, Steve, why is Trump coming out now to create distance from this plan?

CONTORNO: Yes, this is a plan put out there by the Heritage Foundation. And the Heritage Foundation leader Kevin Roberts, over the last week, gave an interview where he said that that currently the country is, "In the process of the Second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be." And certainly, that quote has gotten a lot of attention.

But Trump has also been trying to distance himself and his campaign for months from Project 2025 because of some of the controversial policies and proposals they have put out there for a Trump second term.

Some of it's quite aligned with Trump, including their positions on cracking down on immigration, as well as purging the federal bureaucracies of non-Trump loyalists. But they've also taken some outlier stances, like banning pornography and making it harder to get certain abortion medications and certain birth control medications and such, and those are some of the issues that are starting to get into the Biden campaign has tried to make into an issue.

At the same time, Trump is very close to many of the people who are behind Project 2025 which is certainly complicating his efforts to distancing him from this organization.

BROWN: All right. Thank you so much. Steve Contorno, we appreciate it. While we wait for President Biden to speak, we want to bring in journalist and Biden biographer Evan Osnos.

SANCHEZ: In his 2020 book, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, Evan actually asked Biden what he'd say to voters who think he's too old to be president, Biden's response was, "Look at me. Decide."

Evan, that's exactly what voters in Wisconsin and across the country are going to do today. Does the president see this as a make or break moment?

EVAN OSNOS, JOE BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Yes, I think there's no question that he does. I mean, he has had a theory of the case for a long time that people would watch him as he often says, watch me and judge for yourself.