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Soon: Critical Meeting Of House Democrats Amid Debate Over Biden's Future; At Least 39 Killed, 190 Injured In Russian Attacks On Ukraine; Jury Selection Begins In Alec Baldwin "Rust" Trial. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 09, 2024 - 07:30   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: In just about two hours, House Majority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will lead a critical meeting with the entire House Democratic Caucus to gauge support for President Biden. So far, Jeffries has been sticking with Biden.

CNN senior reporter Isaac Dovere joins us live now from Washington. You know, Jeffries plays a very big role in leadership. This is an important person who -- could he change things if he -- if he starts to change his mind as to who he's behind?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: He absolutely could. Look, Hakeem Jeffries is a figure that not a lot of people have gotten to know yet on the national stage, but he is beloved by his members -- the Democratic members in the House. They are looking to him to set the tone of where this goes.

Obviously, a lot of divisions about what to do here. Some people saying stick with Biden. Some people saying get rid of him. Some people saying whatever we do let's just move on here.

And they are looking for Jeffries to, from my reporting, either be the barricade against the revolution that is coming against Biden or to be the one to say to Biden essentially, these people who represent Democrats all across the country are saying there is not enough support for you. It's time to move on. And they believe that Jeffries could be that force.

He has been playing it very close to the vest. He caught up with us a little bit yesterday. Let's just take a listen to what he had to say himself.


MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Leader, do you support Joe Biden staying as your Democratic nominee?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Yes. I made clear the day after the debate publicly that I support President Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket. My position has not changed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DOVERE: And that's what he said. But, of course, what he's been saying to his own members is he's not going to stop them from coming out against Biden. He is not going to stop them from saying that they're for Biden.

And if things start to turn in this meeting today -- and I think it's important to point out this is a meeting which is members only. They have said that no cell phones are going to be allowed in there. They're trying to make it so that there are no leaks or at least no leaks while it is happening. That if it gets to a point where the caucus is turning pretty hard against Biden, that may be where things go.

Of course, he will be also thinking about the support from groups like the Congressional Black Caucus, which is very strongly behind Biden at this point.

SIDNER: And we just heard from one of those caucus members who made that very, very clear. But this ought to be a very interesting meeting. It would be nice to be a fly on the wall, wouldn't it, to hear what's going on in that meeting.

DOVERE: Indeed.

SIDNER: I'm sure we'll hear some of it when they all come out.

Isaac Dovere, thank you so much for your reporting. Appreciate it -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Just to be clear, our position is we are against no leaks.

SIDNER: (Laughing).

BERMAN: All right. With us now, CNN senior political commentator Scott Jennings, and Democratic strategist Matt Bennett.


Matt, I just want to start with you because I am sure you have been talking to Democrats in and around Washington lately. Where do you think the momentum is this morning as House Democrats head to this closed-door meeting?


And I think what we saw yesterday with the president's letter to Congress and the very strong support that he got from the -- from the Congressional Black Caucus, as we heard from Congressman Ivey, is pretty clear at this point that there is not the will in Congress to have that hard conversation with the president at this moment. However, what I hear from everyone -- what we're hearing from senators and others is that the president has got to do more. It's been a week and a half since the debate. He's only done one interview with George Stephanopoulos and then a couple with some radio hosts, and very little else that has been off teleprompter. A couple of events with supporters and voters, but not that much.

He's got to go and do town hall meetings. He's got to do the big press conference on Thursday. He's got to do more sit-downs with the press to show that as Nancy Pelosi said, this was an episode and not a condition. And we just don't the answer to that quite yet.

BERMAN: Well, talk to me a little bit more about that -- the show us more caucus, Matt, if you will, because what are they saying? Are they saying they want him out on the stage so they can judge further? So that he can fight his way back? Is he on a sort of a no strikes and you're out policy at this point? One more slip-up and then they would come out definitively?

BENNETT: Well, no. It's not going to be one more slip-up. I think what he has to show is a pattern that he can manage the job of running for president. That is the real question before us right now. Can he prosecute the case against Donald Trump and do what needs to be done to win this incredibly important election? And I think what that will require is him going out and doing unscripted things.

He does a great job when he speaks off the teleprompter. We saw that in the day after the debate. What we don't know yet is whether he can kind of get back on his feet in an unscripted way because the debate showed that was a -- that was a super bad night. But we just don't know if he can kind of recover from that and do what he needs to do in an unscripted way going forward.

BERMAN: Scott Jennings, you know I love having you around, but you don't get a vote here. So I've been struggling to -- what to ask you about this that doesn't illicit just like yeah, keep on doing this. Like, extend this as long as it can.

So let me ask you this. If you are Donald Trump, do you want to face Joe Biden in the general election? Would you rather face him or someone else at this point?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. I mean, he's their -- probably their worst candidate right now. I mean, some of the polling that's out this morning from some Democratic firm out there shows Kamala Harris doing a little bit better against Trump than Joe Biden.

But at the same time, Biden -- I don't think they can run him out of the race. I mean, he's got the delegates. He won the primary.

BERMAN: But that's a -- but that's a different question. And I do --

JENNINGS: So, I mean, there are --

BERMAN: I do think -- I do -- I do think -- that is a different issue. Whether or not they can do it is a different issue.

But if you are a Republican who wants Donald Trump to win -- and this is actually --


BERMAN: -- an important question for Democrats to hear the answer to. If you're a Republican who wants Trump to win, do you think it's easier to beat Biden than beating somebody else?

JENNINGS: Yeah, of course. I mean, look, his approval rating is about 37 percent in aggregate, if you look at the trackers. He is obviously facing internal divisions in his own party right now. His unfitness for office is on full display.

There's an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the big coverup that went on to hide his infirmities from the public. And there are anecdotes in there about him skipping meetings with world leaders because he had to go to bed.

I mean, everybody now knows his record brought him to a point of a 37 percent approval and, at the same time, he has become manifestly unfit for office.

So if I'm Donald Trump, absolutely, I want to run against Joe Biden because the country is obviously already soured on him, and it will be very hard for Biden to rebuild that trust with the American people.

BERMAN: Now, on a purely Republican question here in terms of who Donald Trump picks as a running mate, there's some thinking out there that what's happened on the Democratic side might impact his thinking, right? He may not need as "safe" of a pick that might have been North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum here. And Trump might be willing to pick somebody who appeals more directly to conservatives in the right of party, like J.D. Vance.

What do you think about that?

JENNINGS: I think that Donald Trump needs to pick the person who helps him win against Joe Biden. And I think Donald Trump needs to pick someone who can handle the job of president should something happen to him if he wins the election.

I mean, this is another problem the Democrats have right now is there's not a ton of confidence in Kamala Harris either. I mean, I think that's one of the things going on in the Democratic Party is that Biden has become infirmed but there's not a lot of confidence that she would be much better. Her job approval is about what his is.

So if you're Donald Trump, you need a governing partner. Someone who can do the job should something happen to you. But for the campaign purposes, pick somebody who can help you win. Do not assume this is in the bag. Pick somebody who is going to be the most broadly appealing to the American people and do no harm. That's the number one rule of all this -- do no harm in picking a vice president.


BERMAN: Matt, very quickly to you. Part of what the White House and Biden campaign have been doing is messaging, I think subliminally, to Democrats here, which is that if you're going to want Biden to go it's going to be really hard. We're going to make it really, really hard for you. There will be blood.

What do you think of that?

BENNETT: Well, I think that if he goes it is almost certain that Vice President Harris would get the nomination. There's a lot of kind of Aaron Sorkin fan fiction out there about how we could have some process between now and the convention to open it up, but I think that's basically silly. We have a vice president and she almost certainly would be the nominee.

What I have heard recently though is a lot of support for her. If the president does decide to step aside, I think the party would unify behind her very quickly in ways that might have been surprising several months ago but have changed since.

BERMAN: Matt Bennett, Scott Jennings, thanks to both of you -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly Russian strike on Ukraine's largest children's hospital. They are still said to be sifting through the rubble still this morning. It is a jarring reminder of what is at stake as NATO leaders gather in Washington today. What will they promise Ukraine? We'll find out.

And in a very different twist, America's most important anchorman, Ron Burgundy, turns 20.


Clip from DreamWorks Pictures "Anchorman."




BOLDUAN: This morning, Ukraine is reeling from a brutal Russian aerial assault across multiple cities, including a targeted strike on Ukraine's largest children's hospital in the capital of Kyiv. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy now says 39 people were killed across Ukraine in these attacks and 190 others were wounded.

Just look at these scenes from Kyiv yesterday and look at this. This is a young baby, covered in blood, being rescued after that attack from that hospital.

This hospital has been a -- has been vital in caring for some of the sickest children in Ukraine throughout this war. And you also have this scene outside of the hospital now. Young patients -- just look at them there -- lined up outside in the street desperately still needing care.

Now, Zelenskyy is calling for an emergency NATO session now in the wake of this destruction. NATO leaders are gathering in Washington today to mark the 75th anniversary of the military alliance.

And on that, joining us right now is the spokesman to the White House National Security Council, John Kirby. John, thank you for coming in.

I mean, really horrible scenes at the most important children's hospital --


BOLDUAN: -- in Ukraine. Ukraine said this morning the evidence it has seen it's a long-range cruise missile from Russia that hit. Russia's Defense Ministry, though, said Monday John --

KIRBY: Yeah.

BOLDUAN: -- that the damage at the children's hospital was the result of a stray Ukrainian air defense missile.

Can you respond to that?

KIRBY: No evidence of that whatsoever. This is -- this is, in fact, quite to the contrary, Kate. Just further evidence of Mr. Putin's utter brutality.

It is of -- it is of a piece, sadly, of his playbook, which is to terrorize the Ukrainian people, to cause damage to civilian infrastructure, and to kill them in a wanton and indiscriminate way. That's part of what he's been trying to do for more than the last two years here. So, sadly, this is just consistent with the kind of war that this brutal dictator is waging on the Ukrainian people.

And when we meet this week in Washington, you're going to see the NATO leaders really come around and unify over continued air defense capabilities for Ukraine. We've got to make sure that they have better means and more of it to defend themselves from these kinds of attacks.

BOLDUAN: When you see -- when you see this destruction and knowing that it is "consistent" with his tactics -- with Putin's tactics, it's just terrifying -- a terrifying reality.

The new reporting that I've seen going into the --

KIRBY: Yeah.

BOLDUAN: -- NATO summit is the joint message communique coming from the summit. Will it describe Ukraine's path to joining NATO was "irreversible."

Can you confirm that?

KIRBY: I won't get ahead of the actual communique language. It's still being negotiated and worked on, as you might expect here at the very beginning of the -- of the summit.

But what I can tell you is that NATO is in Ukraine's future and the communique will state that very plainly and very clearly. As President Biden has maintained, NATO is in Ukraine's future. And there's going to be a path -- what we call a bridge to NATO that the allies will talk about this coming week to include the signing of bilaterial security agreements, which has already happened, to make sure that they have long-term defense needs met for whenever and however this war ends.

But there will be no mistaking that Ukraine will one day be a NATO member, there's just going to be -- have to be a path laid out for them to get there.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, and what Zelenskyy is looking for is a date, which we know is likely not in the offing -- a date certain.

When you see the destruction that we were just talking about in Ukraine and at that children's hospital, are there further conversations happening within the administration of removing all restrictions on Ukraine's use of U.S. weapons -- how they use them and where they target them?


KIRBY: Right now, the policy is that they can use U.S. weapons just for targets right across the border. And the only place really in all of Ukraine where this is a problem is largely around Kharkiv. And even now, in just recent days, the Russians have clearly failed in trying to take that city. But that's the policy. That has not changed.

We will continue as we do, Kate, and talk to the Ukrainians every single day about what they need. The kinds of capabilities that they require and whatever support that they need from the United States and from allies to use that -- those kind of capabilities. Those conversations happen every day. But I have no new policy or no new changes to speak to this morning.

BOLDUAN: You know, Biden actually has pointed to this NATO summit as -- where people should be looking to judge his fitness to serve since new questions were raised about his age.

I want to play for you what Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley said on our show yesterday and what he sees.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): Perceptions are absolute ruling in things like this in a campaign. He looks very frail. His voice is very soft. It's not robust. And again, it is not how I perceive that. It's how the American people perceive it. And you can see it influencing the numbers.


BOLDUAN: Do you see that? KIRBY: Look, the president that I see every day, including yesterday, a couple of times in the Oval Office, is robust. He's lucid, he's clear, he's direct, and he's in command of the context and the information. I mean, he was asking me questions yesterday about the events in Europe that I simply didn't have the answers for. He was -- I mean, I had to go back and come back to him with some answers.

I mean, that's the president that I see every day. That's the commander in chief that I've been serving the last 2.5 years.

BOLDUAN: And look, I can appreciate it may be uncomfortable to offer such an assessment on your boss at any point, but especially publicly and on television. But Biden, himself, has said for months and months that age is a legitimate issue.

And something we say last week -- CNN is reporting that Biden told Democratic governors that part of his plan going forward after the debate was to stop scheduling events after 8:00 p.m. so that he could get more sleep.

From a national security perspective, can any president be effective if they have a cutoff time at 8:00 p.m.?

KIRBY: Well, I think the White House denied those claims and that reporting, Kate. But let's that aside for a second.

He's the President of the United States, commander in chief, and that's a 24-hour job, seven days a week. And my -- from my experience here, and I've seen it firsthand on the road and here in Washington, D.C., if the national security team needs to get to the president, they get to the president.

And it doesn't matter what the hour on the clock says, he's always there. He's always available, and they have ready access to him.

And he also knows that the world doesn't take a breather after a certain time of day. That things keep going on just like we saw this weekend in Ukraine. And he's constantly peppering the team with questions, again, around the clock. That's the commander in chief that I've seen.

And more critically, Kate, as the commander in chief, he knows he has to be, and he has been here for the last 3.5 years.

BOLDUAN: John, it's always great to have you on. Thank you so much. A huge week ahead. Thank you -- John.

KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

BERMAN: This morning, an investigation is underway after a United Airlines flight lost a wheel during takeoff from Los Angeles. The pilot of another aircraft said he saw the tire from the Boeing 757 roll across two runways and immediately notified air traffic control. The flight did land safely in Denver.

This fall, most students who attend Johns Hopkins Medical School will not have to pay tuition. That is thanks to a billion-dollar donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He says cost should not be a barrier for those seeking careers as doctors or nurses. Students whose families earn less than $300,000 a year will get free tuition.

And "Anchorman," a famous documentary about the news business, turns 20 today. We are told it will still make you laugh 60 percent of the time, all of the time.


Clip from DreamWorks "Anchorman."


BOLDUAN: It's on you, Sara. It's on you.

SIDNER: Thanks, John. That -- you picked that particular clip just for me and Kate. You will pay for this later.

BOLDUAN: Your hair does smell like cinnamon.

SIDNER: It does, my dear. Stay classy, San Diego.


All right. Former President Trump considers his tax cuts a major accomplishment and is vowing to keep them around if he returns to the White House. How much do those tax cuts actually help the majority of Americans? One group of Americans is the clear winner.

CNN's Matt Egan is with us now. Matt, the question is has this tax cut really impacted sort of the average American making a salary of around $60,000 a year?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Sara, the reality is the more money you make the bigger winner you are from the Trump tax cuts.

The Tax Policy Center just released a new analysis on what the impact of extending this tax cuts would be and they found that almost half the benefits -- 45 percent of the benefits would go to those making $450,000 a year or more. Now, that's not to say that only the rich benefit here.

This analysis found that the vast majority of Americans would get a tax break. But the question is how big of a tax break? And this analysis found that say you're making between $65,000 and $116,000 a year. That's considered middle income. You're going to get about $1,000 tax break.

SIDNER: Right.

EGAN: Now, that's nothing to sneeze at --

SIDNER: No. EGAN: -- but it pales in comparison with what the higher earners would get -- the top one percent. That's people making about a million dollars or more. They get a $70,000 tax break. And those in the top .1 percent would get almost $300,000 tax break.

Now, we still don't know a lot about exactly how President Biden and former President Trump will respond to these expirations of the tax law. But the Tax Policy Center said that one thing is clear. While extending the law as is would benefit most taxpayers, the biggest winners would be those making $450,000 or more.

SIDNER: When the average salary is about $60,000, that doesn't help that many Americans.

EGAN: Absolutely.

SIDNER: But it's still a tax break, not a tax increase, and people do tend to like that.

Matt Egan, thank you so much.

EGAN: Thank you, Sara.

SIDNER: Appreciate it -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, today jury selection begins in the trial of Alec Baldwin. Now, this is now nearly three years after the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film "Rust."

Prosecutors have charged the actor with involuntary manslaughter, saying that he was negligent and reckless in his handling of a gun on set. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and says that he never pulled the trigger of that prop gun.

CNN's Josh Campbell has more from Santa Fe.


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): October, 2021 -- Alec Baldwin was rehearsing on the set of "Rust" in remote New Mexico -- seemingly, just another day in the life of a megastar with four decades in show business.

He's handed a real revolver as a prop and told it's safe. Then an unexpected gunshot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One female shot in the chest.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): Hours later, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was dead, another crew member injured, and the film's production in chaos. Baldwin's involvement in the shooting and alleged safety concerns on set suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

Flash-forward 2 1/2 years later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We find the defendant Hannah Gutierrez guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): The movie's armorer is sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter, and Baldwin, who is an executive producer on the film, is facing the same charge. He's pleaded not guilty and in a 2022 interview with CNN denied any criminal liability.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I never took a gun and pointed at somebody and clicked the thing.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): He blames armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and assistant director David Halls for the live round that was loaded into the gun, while his attorneys argue the shooting was an accident and Baldwin is not criminally liable.

MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Just because it's an accident doesn't mean that it's not criminal.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): The convoluted path to trial has itself all the makings of a Hollywood drama. Months after being charged in 2023, Baldwin's case was suddenly dropped by New Mexico special prosecutors, citing "new facts." But the actor was indicted in January with involuntary manslaughter -- this time by a grand jury.

His attorneys tried and failed at multiple attempts to get the case dismissed, at one point alleging improper destruction of evidence, arguing the gun was virtually destroyed by FBI testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd love to do this one again. I'll do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's do it again.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): The pretrial hearings thus far marked by frequent clashes between attorneys from each side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the prosecutor is listening to testimony that prosecutor knows is false, a prosecutor has an obligation to correct it. So this testimony that he's given --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. What --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop, stop, stop, both of you.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): Prosecutors also intend to highlight what they say is Baldwin's negligence while overseeing a set allegedly plagued by dangerous conduct.

CARMACK-ALTWIES: He didn't do any of the things that he was supposed to do to make sure that he was safe or that anyone around was safe. And then he pointed the gun at Halyna Hutchins, and he pulled the trigger.

CAMPBELL (voiceover): Beyond Baldwin's approaching legal fate --

ELIZABETH WAGMESITER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: The future of "Rust" is in limbo. There is no distribution partner. There is no release date. CAMPBELL (voiceover): And beyond this one movie, a larger question remains. Will the deadly accident on the set of "Rust" lead to new laws regulating safety practices across the film industry?

WAGMEISTER: There's a ton of production in other states -- like Georgia with Atlanta, also New Mexico, and, of course, New York. So it remains to be seen just the reach of this terrible tragedy.