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Any Minute: Biden Speaks At Rally In Battleground Wisconsin; Harris Appearing With Biden At More Events In Show Of Unity; Biden Faces Critical Day Of Campaigning, Primetime Interview. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 05, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: It's the top of the hour, and we're watching for President Biden as he faces what's arguably the most consequential day of his long political career. Any minute now, he's set to take the stage in the battleground state of Wisconsin for a campaign rally. This stop coming just hours before his critical primetime interview.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And the stakes really could not be higher. It is Biden's first television interview since last week's debate cast serious doubts about his ability to win reelection and serve another term. And as you know, the fallout triggered calls for him to quit the race. So let's go straight to CNN's Arlette Saenz, live for us in Madison, Wisconsin.

Arlette, what can we expect from the President today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, we expect President Biden to take the stage at any moment here in Madison, Wisconsin, as he is trying to reassure voters that he is up for a second term and also quell some of those concerns from top Democrats and donors in his party about keeping him at the top of the Democratic ticket.

The President has and his team have consistently said the President plans to remain in this race. Earlier today, he told reporters that he does believe he can still beat Donald Trump in November. But there have been these public and private expressions of frustration, as some would like to see the President step aside at this moment in the race.

Now, the President is about to speak here at this event, bringing his message directly to voters. He will also sit down for that high-stakes interview with ABC News, an interview likely to be very different from the ones Biden has faced in the past, where he would prepare by focusing on domestic and foreign policy issues. This interview likely will focus on the viability of his own candidacy.

Now, I spent some time this afternoon talking with voters here in attendance in Madison. And, really, there was a mixed reaction. There were some who are fervent supporters. They want President Biden to remain in this race and see this through. But there are others who do have concern about potentially keeping him at the top of the ticket. And they want to see how he performs today at this event and in an interview. Take a listen to one of those voters.


JEFF MARTINSON, BARABOO VOTER: He hasn't come out since the debate forcefully enough to assert his capabilities the way he needs to, to reassure his supporters. I think he needs to do more and maybe that starts with today. I know he has a national interview later today, so I'll be watching that as well.


SAENZ: Now, there's also a notable comment today from one of the governors who met with Biden at the White House a bit earlier this week. Massachusetts Governor Healey said today that she hopes that President Biden will carefully evaluate whether he remains Democrats' best hope to defeat Donald Trump in November. That is something that many top Democrats have started to express about the President's candidacy. But, so far, he has insisted that he is charging ahead, mapping out campaign travel, mapping out advertising blitzes that his campaign will conduct in the coming weeks as he's trying to take his case directly to the American voters.

BROWN: Really trying to send the message that he's in it. He's not going anywhere. All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

Meantime, Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff appear to be deliberately ignoring most of the calls and the texts coming their way, choosing instead to reiterate her unwavering support for President Biden.

SANCHEZ: Despite that effort, we've seen some notable shifts, some telling shifts, in the vice president's movements. CNN Senior Reporter Isaac Dovere has new reporting out today.

Isaac, what are you hearing about what's happening behind closed doors?

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, look, some of it is what's been happening in front of the doors, where Kamala Harris was at the White House last night for the July 4 celebration. That was not on her schedule originally for this week. It is not something she's done in previous years, but it is part of her effort to be as close to Biden and for Biden to keep her as close as possible at this critical moment for him and perhaps for her.

But the number of Democrats that I've talked to say to me that they are not waiting for Joe Biden to make up his mind, that their minds are made up already and they feel like this week has left them feeling that they need to move on and that they need to move toward Kamala Harris as the new nominee, to the point that the conversations are underway among a number of top Democrats of who would be her running mate. That's how far along we are.

BROWN: All right. SANCHEZ: Isaac Dovere, some fascinating reporting. Thank you so much for that.

It's no coincidence that President Biden is in Wisconsin today. If he hopes to win in November, the path to victory runs through the upper Midwest.


BROWN: Right. States like Wisconsin, Michigan are must-wins for Democrats, and the turmoil now has strategists in those states worried, including Lon Johnson. He is a former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and he is calling on Biden to withdraw. He joins us now.

Thanks for being here.

So you're calling on the President to withdraw his candidacy. Why are you certain he should step aside?

LON JOHNSON, FMR. MI DEMONSTRATE CHAIR, CALLING ON BIDEN TO WITHDRAW: You know, I think what we saw in the debate, it's clear that the President is suffering from cognitive decline. And the actions by him, his family and staff since the debate have only reinforced that belief.

BROWN: Let me just follow up quickly. What do you say then to White House officials and to others who might say, look, this was just a bad night for him. This is not representative of how he is every other day.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, that's - there's a quick way to stop this speculation, and that's to have a live press conference, unscripted, no teleprompters. In the seven days since the debate, nothing has happened, which would change voters' mind here of what they saw. It's reinforcing the speculation that he's not capable of carrying on a campaign that can win the presidency.

SANCHEZ: Lon, you say that what you've seen from the White House and the campaign has done nothing but reinforce the narrative that there's cognitive decline with the President. What is it specifically that you've seen that has reinforced that to you?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, again, going back to the debate, we - you know, he had trouble completing his sentence. His facial expressions indicate a problem. Now, a one-on-one interview or a teleprompter event or private meetings in the White House are not a political campaign. You've got to go out there and campaign, and show the American people in a give-and-take fashion that you're capable of charging forward and leading this nation.

And, you know, I don't - over the last - he - we've now had seven days to do that, and that has not occurred.

BROWN: And so this sit-down he's doing with ABC, that's not enough for you to assuage you - your concerns? JOHNSON: Well, campaigns are give-and-take affairs. A one-on-one interview in a quiet setting with a reporter is not enough to overcome what we witnessed last week.

SANCHEZ: Lon, when it comes to what it takes to overcome that sort of cementing of this narrative around the President that had been around for some time, even going back to last year, remember Democratic strategist David Axelrod last year had said that Biden should re- evaluate moving forward with a re-election bid. I'm wondering if there is anything that Biden can do at this point that would unravel that. Is it a press conference in which he shows that he's answering reporters' questions, he shows a sense of humor, he shows a flair for the moment, would that be enough?

JOHNSON: Yes, a flair for the moment is another way of saying campaign. A town hall unscripted with questions from an audience, a press conference, you know, those type of activities. And we've now had seven days since that last debate and he have - he's not approached any of those kind of efforts. In fact, we're seeing quite the opposite. We're seeing private meetings. We're seeing teleprompter events and that is not going to cut it.

BROWN: And it sounds like to you, that's just adding to your concern that it wasn't just a one-time event. I want to read to you this statement we're just getting in recently from Maura Healey, the governor of Massachusetts. And she says, "The best way forward right now is a decision for the President to make. Over the coming days, I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump. Whatever President Biden decides, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump."

I'm wondering, how do you take that statement? And is that representative of where a lot of the Democratic leaders are right now?

JOHNSON: You know, I can't speak for other Democratic leaders, but look, this has been a terrific president. He had - he stopped and beat Trump in 2020. He went on to pass more legislation since LBJ. There's no doubt about his past as president, but we are facing another threat to our democracy. And the question is, can President Biden take us there. And what I've seen over the last seven days isn't showing that he can.

SANCHEZ: Lon, I'm curious, as you sort of describe the effort from the campaign in the White House as lackluster in response to that disastrous performance. How do you feel about the way that Democrats like Gov. Healy and Gerry Connolly, the - a congressman from Virginia and others, they've sort of given a tacit admission that perhaps the President should reconsider his stance moving forward. Is that enough to persuade him?


JOHNSON: You know, I can't speak for the President, but, you know, having the governors, like this statement that was just made is an important step to take a pause and to ask the hard questions that are - that need to be asked as we go into this fall and this important election. I - and I encourage other Democratic leaders to ask the same questions, did what we see on debate night, was that just a one-off or is this part of a condition? And waiting seven days to answer that, to me, reinforces that this is a larger condition that we need to be concerned with.

BROWN: Just bottom line, though, Lon, do you believe Michigan is unwinnable for Democrats if Biden stays atop the ticket?

JOHNSON: No, I don't believe Michigan is unwinnable, but it's - it will be a greater challenge, not just Michigan, but also in other play states, which, by the way, there are now more play states because of the performance that we saw.

SANCHEZ: Lon Johnson, great to get your perspective. We appreciate you joining us.

BROWN: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, after President Biden speaks in Wisconsin, he plans to sit down with ABC for this crucial interview airing later tonight.

Still to come, CNN's new reporting about how and why the interview's original timing moved. Be sure to stay with us, a lot going on this hour.



BROWN: President Biden's hopes for four more years in the White House depend heavily on this very moment that we're in right now. His campaign event in Wisconsin, followed by his one-on-one interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

SANCHEZ: It'll be the President's first unscripted TV appearance since his disastrous debate performance last week. The interview is set to air in its entirety tonight as a primetime special. Joining us now to discuss is CNN Media Correspondent, Hadas Gold and CNN Senior Political Analyst, Gloria Borger.

First, I want to go to Hadas because this - the airing of this interview actually moved. It was set to be aired on Sunday, and instead it's now airing in its entirety tonight. Why?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I've been speaking to sources at ABC. This originally was slated as your typical big primetime interview with the President. They were going to tape it on Friday. Clips were going to air on World News Tonight at 6.30 PM. And then the full thing was going to air on George Stephanopoulos' Sunday show.

But then people at ABC recognized the national importance of this interview, how much it means for the country and for the voters to see President Biden, as you noted, in an unscripted moment. And so instead of being seen as literally sitting on this full interview for almost two days, ABC also didn't want to be, you know, unfairly accused of trying to sit on anything, hide anything and so when the executives at ABC found a primetime slot, because keep in mind, they had to move things around on all of the ABC affiliates to make this happen. When they could find a 30-minute primetime slot, that's when they decided to move it to tonight.

So there will still be clips first airing at 6.30 PM on World News Tonight. But then we'll see the full thing at 8 PM. Now, we know it's going to be about a 30-minute long primetime special. That's how long has been slotted for all of these affiliates. And importantly, it is going to be aired in its entirety and unedited. So people will get to see the entire interview exactly how it happened.

BROWN: Gloria, I want to bring you in because you've covered Biden for a long time. Where does today rank in terms of how critical it is for his political fate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you'd have to say right up there. I mean, in '87, he pulled out of a presidential race. Remember, there was that plagiarism issue. But he was a young senator, chairman of a committee, had a lot of work to do. This is a whole different moment in his life. This is something where he would have to come to a decision that this is best for his legacy, and it's best for the country, and it is the best way to save democracy.

And, you know, it's very difficult for any politician, particularly a sitting president, to say, I cannot win this race. And I would be disappointing my party, the Democratic Party. You know, presidents are very often surrounded by people who say to them, you're great, you can do it, don't worry about it. Things will be great.

You have to come to a different decision. You have to be able to say to yourself, this isn't working and it's not going to work. And for the good of the country and for my own legacy, I have to be able to step away. And, you know, that is not easy. That is not easy.

BROWN: Yes. It's interesting because we were talking to Evan Osnos ...


BROWN: ... earlier in the show ...


BROWN: ... who, of course, has written books about Biden and studied his life.


BROWN: And he said, you know, he's been pushed out before politically, and he does not want to be pushed out again, right? That's kind of his instinct, is I don't want to be pushed out. But also so much of a campaign is about conviction. I'm staying in it. We're going to fight.

BORGER: Right. BROWN: We're going to win. And, you know, it's so hard to make that turn.

BORGER: Well, I think there's a sense from the sources I've been speaking to that Biden sees an unfairness in all of this because by all accounts, he's been a good president for Democrats and he's achieved a lot. And if it were just his record and he were a 50 or 60 year old man, this wouldn't be occurring, right? But there are different reasons for this.

And I think that's very hard to accept and very difficult. And also, he's got a family, particularly his wife and his son, Hunter, who really want him to stay in the race. And those are very important people to him. I mean, the other important person is his sister, Val, and his best friend, Ted Kaufman from Delaware. And I don't know where they are on this.


BORGER: So, you know, those are the people he'll be listening to in sort of his inner personal circle, as opposed to his inner political circle.


SANCHEZ: Yes. Our reporting indicates that soon after the debate, the family rallied around him and told him to stay in it and to fight. Notably, to your point, Evan, as we were speaking to him, said that Biden felt that he earned another four years based on ...

BORGER: Right.

SANCHEZ: ... his legislative achievements.

Hadas, I want to go back to you because it's not just Biden under the microscope for today's interview. George Stephanopoulos of ABC, he's already being targeted by Republicans.

GOLD: I mean, this might be one of the, if not the biggest interview of George Stephanopoulos' career so far. He's being seen almost as carrying the mantle, maybe in a way, for all of these White House reporters who have been champing at the bit to get to ask President Biden questions. They were asking in the briefing room, why can't President Biden just come out here and ask questions for us. So a lot of eyes will be on George Stephanopoulos, the types of questions he asks.

You know, he doesn't have a ton of time. He has less than 30 minutes to get this interview done. Now, it's kind of ironic because George Stephanopoulos himself is a former White House communications director. He knows what it's like to be on the other side of this in moments of crisis. And in sort of an ironic twist, you know, he's been in a very similar situation on the other side in a major interview, because when he was advising then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, there were accusations that Bill Clinton had had a mistress and they decided to put Bill and Hillary Clinton, sit them down to do a 60-minute interview on the day of the Super Bowl.

And actually, George Stephanopoulos writes in his memoir, "We bet a whole campaign on a single interview." Now, you can imagine that for the Biden campaign, they might be betting their whole campaign on this single interview tonight with, ironically, George Stephanopoulos.

SANCHEZ: We just spoke to Lon Johnson. He's a former Michigan Democratic Party chair who is calling on Biden to be more aggressive in the response to the debate, to do a press conference, a town hall even. Thirty minutes, is that enough time, Gloria ...

BORGER: No, I think so.

SANCHEZ: ... to change the perception?

BORGER: You know, I really don't think so. I think, look, a large number of people are going to watch it. It may change people's minds. It may reassure some people. But I think, you know, one interview just isn't enough. You know, people have to be able to observe the President in different kinds of situations. You're going to see him doing a speech now. I presume he'll be on prompter.

So you really have to have more access to this president, which reporters have not had. And, you know, I remember during the last campaign, the people running the Biden campaign were like, let's put him in all these town halls. He does great in town halls. And so he did a lot of town halls.

We haven't seen that lately. So the question is, what does Joe Biden really like now? And we don't know the answer to that. And I'm not so sure we're going to know the answer to it after the Stephanopoulos interview. I think we'll know more, but I don't think we'll know everything a lot of people want to know.

BROWN: And the reporting out today from Arlette Saenz is that now the campaign's going to put him out more ...


BROWN: More - you know, put him in settings where it's more comfortable, off-the-cuff kind of situation. We'll have to see.


BROWN: You know, we'll have to see.

BORGER: We'll have to see how he does and we'll have to see how the public reacts to it. And, you know, time is an issue here. You can't spend the next three weeks doing it. I think that decisions have to be made sooner than that.

BROWN: Which we just heard from the Democratic congressman, Gerry Connolly.


BROWN: Look ...

BORGER: Right.

BROWN: ... the next few days are critical in all of this.

BORGER: Well, because you're talking about down ballot races and Joe Biden cares a lot about that. He doesn't want to be the person responsible for not being able to take the House back, for example, for the Democrats or losing the Senate again.

BROWN: Right.

BORGER: So, you know, those are arguments that could be made to him.

BROWN: All right. Everyone stay with us. We are still waiting for President Biden to address voters in a crucial swing state of Wisconsin. Part of his bid to reassure voters and his party that he is still up for the job.



SANCHEZ: We have been following what could be the most consequential day of Joe Biden's political life. Today, he is in Madison, Wisconsin, a battleground state set to speak to supporters. And right now, we've been monitoring Gov. Tony Evers and Sabrina Jordan as they prepare to introduce President Biden.

Obviously, this comes at a difficult time for his campaign in which there are many questions, even from Democrats, about whether he should potentially step aside as the top of the ticket.

BROWN: Yes, that's right. And you know, David Chalian, I want to bring you in because we are watching the stage here as we wait for President Biden. And we'll be watching it through a new lens than perhaps we would have before the debate.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, no doubt about that. We'll be watching every bit of his body language, his ability to be energetic and speak with force and intelligibly and all of that. But I also, while I totally agree, this is a day of big tests for Joe Biden, I'm not sure that it is make or break. I am beginning to get the sense in Democratic circles that this cake may be baked to some degree.

I am having a very hard time finding Democrats, plugged in Democrats, portray a truly viable path to recovery for Biden at this point. And, you know, other than perhaps the most inner sanctum, I just - you heard it in your interview with Gerry Connolly, you see it in the Maura Healey statement, the governor of Massachusetts.

This is not a party that is rallying around Joe Biden. This is a party that even as we're awaiting his remarks here in Wisconsin and awaiting this interview is actually holding Joe Biden out there in this sort of state of purgatory. That's not the place that the President and his team want to be in. And so, obviously, the interview is a complete disaster and he has a meltdown, I think you'll see a collapse instantly.


If it's not that, if it's a - sort of an okay performance in the interview, I'm not sure that actually saves Joe Biden at this point, because I think there are big questions among Democratic operatives, elected officials, the donor class ...