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Capitol Hill Democrats Divided on Biden's Future Ahead of Critical Meetings; Beryl Claims Lives of Eight People in Texas and Louisiana; Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) Interviewed on His Support for President Biden to Continue as Democratic Presidential Nominee. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 09, 2024 - 08:00   ET




ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: There's a ton a 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 and if these laws will go into effect nationwide.


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): And here in court yesterday a significant win for Alec Baldwin. What prosecutors originally wanted to do was charge him not for his role as just the person holding the gun when it went off, but also for his role as a producer on this movie set, saying he was responsible for a culture of unsafe practices on the set. The judge ruling that he will not be focused on as a producer.

Now, what the jurors will have to grapple with here, Kate, is on one hand, it can still be criminal for someone to be engaged in an accident. But on the other hand, is an actor response if someone hands them a gun on a movie set and tells them that it's empty? Is there criminal liability? A jury will decide. Jury selection starts here just a short time from now, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Josh, thank you so much for following it very closely for us. Appreciate it.

A new hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts right now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Biden facing one of the biggest tests of his presidency today, and he won't be in the room. House Democrats meeting next hour on Biden's political future as some of them call for him to withdraw from the race.

And breaking overnight, at least eight people have been killed since hurricane Beryl slammed into the U.S. In Texas, millions are still without power as temperatures are set to soar today, creating dangerously hot conditions there. And brazen Russian strikes across Ukraine, including on Kyiv's largest children's hospital. There's at least 39 people that have been killed or injured, hundreds more. We are live in Kyiv in the aftermath of the brutal assault.

I'm Sara Sidner with Kate Bolduan and Joe John Berman. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

BOLDUAN: The questions Democratic lawmakers have been asking and have been asked for days include, should President Biden stay in the 2024 race? Can he carry the message against Donald Trump effectively now? And is there really a viable alternative? Very soon, maybe some answers. The first of two critical meetings happening today will begin shortly as Biden looks to once and for all put to bed those Democratic doubts.

All House Democrats gathering for the first time since Bidens debate performance. This meeting will put those who have publicly come out to call for Biden to drop out in the same room with the group calling for him to stay in and forge ahead. No cellphones allowed, which means things could get quite real. Shortly after that, Senate Democrats will be meeting for a similar conversation during their weekly lunch.

CNN's Arlette Saenz leads us off from the White House this hour. And Arlette, what is the view from the White House of these congressional meetings today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, President Biden is certainly facing several key tests today, not just up on Capitol Hill, but also with allies as the NATO summit is set to kick off. Now, President Biden has been adamant he is remaining in this race, really engaging in this assurance campaign, even as there have been some serious doubts expressed from some Democrats up on Capitol Hill.

Now, the White House is well aware that a lawmakers will be able to voice their opinions relating to President Bidens future of his candidacy. But they've also pointed to some rallying of support for the president among some Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Now, there will be two key meetings playing out for Democrats today. First, this morning, there will be a meeting of the House Democratic caucus, and then later today in the afternoon, there will be the weekly Senate Democratic luncheon. This will give lawmakers an opportunity to discuss a host of topics, but it's expected that the president's candidacy will be a key feature.

Now so far publicly in the House, six House Democratic lawmakers have called for the president to step aside in this race. We have yet to see anyone publicly say so on the Democratic side in the Senate. But there are several who are voicing their concerns and saying that the president must show voters that he is up for the job.

Now, I want to read you one of those statements from Senator Patty Murray who said, quote, "We need to see a much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the very near future in order for him to convince voters he is up to the job." That is something that Democrats in the Senate and House have both been expressing in recent days. But then there are these pockets of support that had been quite vocal in favor of Biden staying in the race. Last night, the president called into a virtual meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus to make his case. We're told that during that meeting there was really no pushback against the president remaining in this race. Democratic black lawmakers have been among some of the people coming out in the strongest support for President Biden in recent days.


Now, so we'll see how all these meetings play out up on Capitol Hill. But then the president is also facing a key test on the world stage. Today, he will address the NATO summit at a time when there's a lot of concern about the future sure of Ukraine and also the potential prospect of a second Trump presidency. So the president's every move at this summit will be analyzed, not just by people here at home, but also those leaders on the world stage at a time when the White House insists that the president is remaining in this race and the heat he is up for the job.

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thank you so much from the White House for us. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: With us now is Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who will be part of this all Democratic caucus meeting in an hour or so.

Thank you so much for being with us, Congressman. You did an interview with Kansas City's KCUR just a few -- two days ago, about five days ago, I want to read something you said during this interview. You said, quote, and we'll put up on the screen here so people can see it, "I am worried about the president's ability to continue the campaign. However, I'm looking to be reassured this coming week that this performance is a one-off. He had a bad night. But I can honestly take a polygraph test and say I have not come to a final conclusion."

Now, we don't have a polygraph machine here, but have you come to a final conclusion?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO): Well, I've come to the final conclusion that President Biden is not ready to be rolled into an old folks' home, if that's not an insult. But I do think that the president, based on everything I have seen and heard, is the same Joe Biden that I started campaigning for in Iowa with John Kerry three-and-a-half years ago. We went from one end of Iowa to the other and across. We never drew a crowd more than 22 people in Ames, Iowa. And this is before people came on board. And we were able to pull it out.

But here's the thing that I think is important. Democrats will not be able to attract others to the light if we keep hanging out in the darkness of discontentment and doubt. I think the president is trying to do everything he can to give us some confidence that he is in charge of himself. And so I'm not willing to jump to conclusions that are not there.

BERMAN: So five days ago with KCUR you still were not sure whether you wanted him to stay in the race, but today you are? What changed?

CLEAVER: Well, I've had the opportunity to be around the president since then and to be in conversation with the president. I didn't raise any -- I didn't speak last evening at all. But I saw the president just sit there for an hour and he talked about the issues that he's concerned about, affordable housing, which is one of the biggest needs, if not the greatest domestic need we have in the country right now. And I just, I sat there thinking, this man has been the leader making so many things happen that have never happened in my lifetime. Reducing child poverty in half is not something that we just toss out of the window and say good job, bye-bye. I mean, this man has made really big changes, maybe more changes than anybody since maybe Roosevelt and/or Lyndon Johnson. So I am not against him.

And I think it's important for me to say this as well. President Biden has already won the nomination, and I've told people at home this, that the only way Joe Biden comes out of this race is if Joe Biden takes Joe Biden out of the race. He is in charge of the money that has gone into the Biden campaign. And so I think we are jumping a little bit ahead of a horses in talking about whether or not we can cause him to step back. That was nothing he said last evening, not one sentence that made me think that he was either going to back down or that he had lost something. He has not.

BERMAN: How short is the leash, do you think? If he does continue in this race, what could change your mind? What would you need to see that would have you reconsider your support for him?

CLEAVER: Well, the way he's out now is clearly a display, a public display of the fact that he is in charge and that he just simply had a bad night.


It is it is too late for us to win the presidential debate of week- and-a-half ago, but that's OK, because the next three months Biden should come to the conclusion that it's his to win or lose. And if he continues on the way campaigning in the way he is presently, I think they're going to be people coming back aboard who might have fled after the disastrous debate.

BERMAN: You see you are about to go into this Democratic caucus meeting. What do you say to the handful of your colleagues who have said they think that the president should step aside in this race?

CLEAVER: Well, I think it's going to be Democrats want to be that's very candid. It's going to be direct, and in some cases, it may even become contentious. But I think there's not one single member in there who would walk to a microphone and say that the president has lost it because he hasn't.

I'm hoping that this is a good meeting. I think that we know a couple of things. One is that Biden has character. The other guy is one. And we've got to make sure people continue to realize that there is a person that we do need to get out of Washington, and who is 1,000 times more dangerous than Joe Biden. So I think the people in the Democratic caucus are going to be candid. I've been around here almost 20 years, and I've been in meetings where we've been very candid with various people, including the president of the United States, including President Barack Obama. And so I don't expect people to bite their tongue today. They're not going to -- nobody is going back away and be less vocal. It's going to be a good meeting. There's not going to be fisticuffs.

BERMAN: We'll let you get there. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, we appreciate you taking the time to speak to us this morning. Well talk to you again soon. Thank you.


SIDNER: Right now the discussion on President Biden, but the focus might shift next week as Donald Trump gets ready to announce his vice president pick.

Plus, a massive heatwave is blanketing the western U.S., shattering records and creating dangerous, sweltering conditions.

Also, a brazen Russian assault on targets across Ukraine, killing at least 39 people, including bombing a children's hospital.



BOLDUAN: This morning, House Democrats are having a family meeting of sorts. What comes out of that closed-door family meeting could decide the immediate fate of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, President Biden.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, he is leading this gathering and he sure has not said much in the days since the debate, but he did say this yesterday.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Yes, I made clear the day after debate publicly that I support President Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket.

My position has not changed.


BOLDUAN: President Biden for his part says he is not going anywhere despite a growing number of Democrats coming forward publicly to say he should step aside, and he also says that not going anywhere and staying in the race is exactly the message that he is hearing from voters.


shows that the average Democrat out there who voted -- 14 million of them had voted for me -- still want me to be the nominee.


BOLDUAN: CNN's John King joins me now from Washington.

So John, let's start inside this meeting and then let's talk about what Biden was saying right there.

What happens inside the meeting? I think we can a little bit guess knowing how caucus meetings can go, right? Members are going to go in, they're going to make their case. There will be some applauding and there will be some not applauding, but what comes out of that meeting is where it feels like anyone's guess.

How does Hakeem Jeffries manage this?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a fascinating challenge for a man who is relatively new in this job as Democratic leader, right? He took over for Nancy Pelosi when she stepped aside. He is going into his first election cycle.

You just heard Representative Cleaver in the interview with John Berman. There is a great sense of loyalty, a great sense of affinity, a great sense of love and respect for Joe Biden among House -- most House Democrats.

So, Hakeem Jeffries has to play to that, the loyalty in his caucus, especially among the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus.

They say, let's stick with Joe Biden. However, does he want to be Speaker Hakeem Jeffries? Then he has to listen to the 10 or 20 members who say, when I go home, I live in a really tough district, since the debate, if the climate has gotten even tougher, and I think I am going to get blown out.

That's the fear among Democrats that President Biden's standing has slipped to the point that he is not only going to lose the election, that's what they think, but he is going to cost them the House any chance to win back the House and any chance to keep the Senate. That's what they are worried about.

Some of that is personal survival, some of that is political, some of it is Mr. President, listen to us. Do you want your legacy to be Donald trump winning the White House, getting a Republican House, getting a Republican Senate and having an all-Trump Washington?

BOLDUAN: I mean, Biden saying that average voters are still with him. I mean, he says that is what he is hearing from them and all the data suggests. You've spent months and months meeting with voters, including since an after the CNN debate, is that what you're -- is that what you're hearing from voters?

[08:20:09] KING: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that you don't have any people who

plan to vote for Biden who are saying now, I am going to vote for Donald Trump. I watched the debate and I am going to vote for Donald Trump. Democrats aren't saying that.

But a lot of Democrats are nervous, especially one of the things that is interesting in my travels is that my parents died very young. I am saying something personal, but I don't have this experience.

When you talk to people who have aging parents, they see things in the president now, they're saying, whoa, wait, wait, wait a minute -- about what they're seeing.

So, they are concerned about this. They want to see him more. They want to see him prove that it was a bad night, but what a lot of voters say is, there are conversations with their friends and their colleagues. The Independents, the soft Republicans, maybe the Nikki Haley voters that since the debate, those people are saying, I can't vote for that guy.

And so, if you're in a battleground state like Michigan or Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania, Democrats including rank and file average Americans are nervous.

BOLDUAN: In general, are you noticing a shift in the conversation in the real-world since the debate?

KING: Well, in Washington, you could argue that Biden is winning the week in the sense that those who want him to step aside were hoping he would do so by the middle or the end of the week, and the president has made crystal clear he is not going to do that and you can't -- Democratic vote -- he is right, Democratic voters have made him the presumptive nominee. You can't take it away from him. He would have to step aside here.

So, he is kind of winning the week, but it is kind of ugly. He is winning ugly if you will. We are going to see more data in the days ahead. There are a lot of Democrats who are worried, Kate, that the longer this goes on, the messier it will be.

If the president stepped aside, for example, what kind of process do you have? How quickly do you do it? The delegates would have to pick a new nominee. How messy would that be?

So the longer this goes on, the later it goes on the calendar, the election is 17 weeks from today. Seventeen weeks from today, we pick a new president. And the longer it goes on, even Democrats who think maybe it would be best for the president to step aside, start to think, oh boy, this will get messy, this will get ugly. Can we handle it appropriately?

So the clock in some ways is the president's friend, but I would also just be careful. Privately, there are deep concerns among Democrats whether their campaign strategists, whether the candidates themselves, I was just in Wisconsin, Senator Tammy Baldwin has a very strong brand, you know her from your days covering the Hill, she also has a very tough race this time.

She is one of the candidates who, a week ago, 10 days ago thought, I am going to win my race, but it is going to be really close who are now thinking, oh, interesting. I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Political landscape, how quickly it can change. It is great to see you, John. Thank you.

KING: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right, millions of Americans are waking up without power this morning from Hurricane Beryl. Now, they are up against the clock to restore power as extreme heat threatens the recovery effort.

And an actor who played a street fighting newsman in "Anchorman" has now pled guilty to street fighting police officers at the Capitol on January 6th.



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: The devastating impact of Hurricane Beryl, which made landfall in Southern Texas as a Category One storm yesterday, has left at least seven people dead in Texas with another fatality reported in Louisiana.

More than two million people have been left in the dark. Now, a possibility of prolonged power outages lasting days or even weeks in some areas. The situation particularly dangerous given that some cities in Southeast Texas are still under a heat advisory, and they may experience temperatures in the 90s with heat indices potentially soaring up to 105 degrees.

Meteorologist, Derek Van Dam is in Rosenberg, Texas experiencing some of this heat. It looks like it is not raining or windy at that time, but there is plenty of cleanup that needs to happen.

Let me know what you've been seeing.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Sara, really the combination of a hurricane, a power outage, and a heatwave is a nightmare scenario for so many, and this is only going to become more common as humans continue to warm the planet fueling these extreme weather events like Hurricane Beryl.

Well, in come the troops, the cavalry, here they are behind us. We are on one of the dozen or so utility restoration staging areas in the Greater Houston Area and this is a multistate effort.

And of course, the top priority, restore power to the people before the heat sets in, but that's a big task.

Look at the numbers: Harris County, 70 percent -- over 70 percent of Harris County alone without power. I drove through it this morning. It was treacherous.

Downed power lines, downed trees in complete and utter darkness in neighborhoods in Houston.

Overall, in the state of Texas, 2.3 million customers without power. They are going to attempt to restore power to around roughly one million customers by the end of the day tomorrow.

But the heatwave that is setting in is the big concern because now people won't have the opportunity to cool themselves, seek relief from the heat.

Heat indices today and tomorrow, 105 degrees. That's why the National Weather Service has issued this heat advisory that is in place for Houston and the greater surrounding areas.

So this is going to be a concern going forward as the cleanup efforts are widely underway, and as people try to clean up their front yards for instance, they can't come home and seek any kind of relief with air conditioning because they have simply no power. So the race is on -- Sara.

SIDNER: Yes, and we are looking at this picture from Sargent, Texas and Houston where the flooding is just terrible.

Thank you so much. Derek Van Dam there live for us in Rosenberg, Texas. Appreciate it -- John.

BERMAN: So on that heat, more than 50 million people across the United States are under heat alerts this morning. Several people have died in the temperature is not expected to drop in the week ahead.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in the very hot Woodland Hills, California. Good morning, Stephanie.