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Trump Throws Debate into Chaos with Insults and Interruptions; Trump Refuses to Condemn White Supremacists; Trump and Biden Clash at First Presidential Debate; Major Airlines on Edge of Furloughing Tens of Thousands of Employees; Futures Flat After First Presidential Debate. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 30, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We are glad you're with us this morning.

What you saw last night on the debate stage was a disgrace. It was a disservice to the American people who deserve to know what their next president stands for and what he would do for them. It was a debate that marred by chaos, insults, interruptions, and it came on a critical night for a nation in crisis at critical time for leadership in this country.

SCIUTTO: We need to step back for a moment and take stock of comments made and not made by the sitting president of the United States to tens of millions of Americans last night. Note this. The president refused to condemn in simple terms white supremacists, despite clear and repeated opportunities to do. In fact, he told one far-right extremist group to, quote, "stand by," and today that group, the so- called Proud Boys, is celebrating and spreading that message from the president.

HARLOW: The president did attack once again without bases the integrity of the election even as voters are already casting their votes and refused, refused once again to pledge to accept the results. Something Joe Biden did explicitly, win or lose.

There is a lot from last night that we need to go through. We'll do it. Let's begin with our Jessica Dean in Cleveland.

Jessica, good morning. We were talking to you 24 hours ago. And I don't think anyone -- I certainly didn't anticipate a debate like this.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know that anybody did, Poppy. Everybody knew it would be unpredictable, it would be different than what we had seen before, but what we saw last night was really remarkable, and you touched on a couple of things that are very important key takeaways. The first being that President Trump refused to condemn white supremacy.

He had the opportunity right there on that debate stage in front of his opponent, in front of millions of American citizens and voters, and he simply did not do it. I want to play that moment for you right now.


CHRIS WALLACE, DEBATE MODERATOR: Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups --


WALLACE: -- and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha and as we've seen in Portland.

TRUMP: Sure, I'm willing to do that.

WALLACE: Are you prepared to specifically --


WALLACE: Well, go ahead, sir.

TRUMP: But I would say -- I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.

WALLACE: So what are you -- what are you saying?

TRUMP: I'm willing to do anything. I want to see peace.

WALLACE: Well, then do it, sir.

BIDEN: Say it. Do it. Say it.

TRUMP: You want to call them -- what do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name. Go ahead. Who would you like me to condemn?

WALLACE: White supremacists and white --

BIDEN: Proud Boys.


WALLACE: White supremacists and right wing or left wing.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem --

BIDEN: His own -- his own FBI --


DEAN: And you heard them talk about Proud Boys, that group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as a hate group. As Jim mentioned, they were celebrating last night when they heard what the president said.

Something else that you all touched on, another key takeaway, was that he would not accept the integrity of the election. Again, we talk about this a lot, Poppy and Jim, but it is important to note and step back and realize how far outside the norms this is for a sitting president of the United States.


DEAN: And just quickly we're here in Cleveland by the Amtrak train station. We're going to keep following Joe Biden today as he launches on a train tour across eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. But again that debate last night, guys, as you said, remarkable.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Dean, thank you.

And a fact check of the president there. In fact the FBI's data, and this has been said in sworn testimony by the FBI director, shows that the threat from white supremacist groups in this country outpaces that of any other group of domestic terrorists. Those are the facts from the FBI.

The ramifications of the president's refusal to condemn white supremacy are being felt. Let's go to CNN's Sara Sidner in Los Angeles.

And Sara, again, a lot of things were said last night and a lot of things were said by this president. We have to underline this one, because it is notable but also not the first time the president has done this. It's not so much a dog whistle as a bullhorn, is it not?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely the best way to put it, Jim. The president not only failed to condemn white supremacist, but in some ways he egged them on and egged on militia groups and far-right groups when asked to condemn the violence that they may bring to the streets. He did not do that.


And let's not forget what you just mentioned, just five or six days ago you have the acting Department of Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, saying about white supremacists that they've become the most persistent and lethal threat to the United States internally. So when consider that the president of the United States is unable to even simply condemn white supremacists it is again remarkable. It is not new but it is remarkable the way it was said.

Now let's get to the group that was mentioned during this debate, the Proud Boys. Now the Proud Boys have said and repeatedly distanced themselves from being white supremacists. They say they are not white supremacists, but the SPLC has deemed them a hate group but their former founder, Gavin McInnes, has sued them, saying that they are not a hate group either. But they certainly have been involved in what one judge called political violence. And you will see that play out over and over again in Portland, for

example, where I was able to interview Enrique Tario, who is Cuban American who is one of the leaders now of the Proud Boys. But they're very clear they have many different members from many different racial ethnicities and that is true. If you look at the group of people that shows up each time. But they are involved in political fights as one judge called it and political violence.

Two of the members of the Proud Boys were convicted in New York, in Manhattan, after a brawl where they -- you can see video of them pummeling anti-fascists in Manhattan. This is video that was put out by police. Now two of those members were convicted for attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot. And you see the fighting going on there where they just start just beating, you know, people in the streets there.

Now what the president said about the Proud Boys was an absolute gift to them. A gift. And if you look at social media, you can see this was a rallying cry for the Proud Boys. Look at just moments after the president said what he said to the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by, their chat room explodes.

They are cheering themselves on. They are cheering the president on and one of them said, look, Proud Boys, stand by and stand back, but someone has to do something about Antifa. F it. Let's go back to Portland. Yes, sir, Proud Boys are standing by.

So clearly this has landed as a rallying cry to this group that a judge has called basically a political fight club. That is dangerous. Whether or not they are white supremacists, that is potentially dangerous and the fact that he was unable to condemn white supremacists, that is an approval to many white supremacists. When they see that they're like, he endorses us. That's how they see it.

HARLOW: He could do it now. He could do it in five minutes. He could do it in an hour. He could do it tonight. The floor is his. He could use his Twitter platform.


HARLOW: To condemn them.

SIDNER: But he can't take it back. He can't take back what he did on that debate stage.

HARLOW: You're so right, Sara. No, you're right, and all that has followed, and, you know, Jim and I, you know, our whole team thought of you immediately this morning. And we're just so glad that you've been doing this reporting for so long and gave us that important context. Thank you, Sara.


HARLOW: OK. Astead Herndon is with us, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times." Jackie Kucinich, our political analyst and Washington bureau chief for the "Daily Beast" also joins us.

Good morning to you both. Astead, let me begin with you, the Proud Boys, we just heard it all from Sara. What do you think it means for America, what has transpired since the president said that?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that is going to be the moment that sticks with us from this debate. The refusal to condemn white supremacy is one thing, a remarkable thing, but it is the consistent through line that we have seen the president that I think is what voters know and what America is coming to know. This is not just a moment or a blip in the radar for someone who has been a public figure for years.

This comes in a long line of him using kind of anti-black, anti-brown, racist sentiment to his advantage, and stoking a kind of fear on racial issues throughout this country. This is someone who not only has tried to use that for a political advantage but has not taken the time to personally come and reckon with what is clearly a huge dividing line in this country. And that shows a level of either ignorance or contempt for the issue.

So we do not know kind of if this is political strategy, if this is a personal feeling, but the impact is clear. When you say stand up and stand by about a group like the Proud Boys what that will mean is that people of color throughout this country feel threatened, feel terrorized, and coming from the president through ignorance or whether that is done intentionally or politically. That is not something we know, but we know the impact is great.


HARLOW: Can I just ask you, Astead, personally? And it's fine if you don't want to go there, but I just -- I can't put myself in your shoes. So as a black man, what did it feel like to hear that and see that?

HERNDON: Yes. I think that for a lot of black journalists there is a kind of dual identity. You have your role, you have what you're there to do in terms of seeing, understanding the political impact, but you also have who you are, and how you exist in this country as a person.

And I think that that is what those things we can't separate. To hear the president not take that moment to condemn white supremacy it means on a personal level that your day-to-day life is upended.

It means on a personal level that you know you are not living in a place where the state, the federal government, the leader of that government is -- of your country is taking the time and care to stand up for those who are opposed morally to your -- morbidly to your identity and your stake in this place.

You know, it is our country, too, as black folks. And for the president to not recognize that white supremacists do not see that and do not affirm our place here is something that will resonate, not only with black people but you would hope with nonblack and brown folks also. SCIUTTO: Listen, it's George Wallace like rhetoric in the year 2020.

It's remarkable and its deliberate.

Jackie, there are words, they have impact. There are also actions that the president is calling for and did again last night which is for his supporters to, quote-unquote, "watch the polls." We've seen that already as early voting starts. It's not watching, it's intimidation. You've seen it there.

Tell us why the president is doing this and what impact we might be prepared for on election day as we get closer to election day?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we've already seen it. There were most famously at this point in northern Virginia, you saw Trump supporters standing outside of the Fairfax County polling center kind of heckling people who were in line to early vote. When the president encourages this sort of behavior, people go and do it. And it's not, you know, show up to the polls, make sure you get your vote counted.

It's more ominous than that because he follows it up by alleging there's all this rampant voter fraud. I think he said last night that ballots were being thrown in the river or something. Just all of these outrageous claims that are solely to stoke fear and to sow doubt into the election system. Both on election day and after. And we heard him say that again and again and again. And it doesn't matter that it is minuscule. It doesn't matter that he is not telling the truth.

His supporters are going to hear him and we could see -- we could see some problems on election night. We of course hope that doesn't happen. But -- and not only on election night, as people line up to early vote. And this could end up disproportionately affecting brown and black people because -- because of, you know, who his supporters have targeted in the past.

HARLOW: Listen also to this exchange on race and racial bias and sensitivity last night.


WALLACE: This month, your administration directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege or critical race theory. Why did you decide to do that, to end racial sensitivity training?

TRUMP: I ended it because it's racist. I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane. That it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military, in our schools. All over the place.

If you were a certain person, you had no status in life. It was sort of a reversal. And if you look at the people -- we were paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly very sick ideas, and really they were teaching people to hate our country.


WALLACE: Astead, explain why that mattered so much, that exchange.

HERNDON: Yes. I mean, this is a president clearly equating something that is kind of politically neutral as racial sensitivity training to anti-whiteness it would seem. That he talks about a reversal of roles there. I mean, that is a kind of language which seems to imply to look at racial bias and to be racially sensitive as somehow opposed to white folks, but also he says to our country. Again, that is creating a sense of -- that is drawing a direct line from a white identity to a kind of ownership of America.

And that is not something that, one, is factual, and two, is kind of politically neutral. This is a kind of a point that he is making that goes above and beyond what we've seen from folks past.


I mean, the idea that racial sensitivity is outside of American values and not within them, not to the core of who we are, not part of our multicultural strength coming from the president is a striking and kind of eye-popping declaration he's making on the national stage. But again, it's within a clear, a through line throughout the words he had said in the past.

SCIUTTO: We have to remember these words are deliberate, and they had meaning for these groups, and they're not chosen by accident. Listen to the words, stand by, heritage, one that comes up frequently. They had meaning. It's not an accident. Astead, Jackie, thanks to both of you.

Still to come this hour, the president is very personal. A style you have for sure become used to. Joe Biden responds to direct attacks on his son.

HARLOW: Also this morning, stimulus talks are under way and major airlines are on edge with tens of thousands of their teams, their employees on the verge of being furloughed. The CEO of American Airlines is ahead, you'll want to see that.




CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: You go first --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.


SCIUTTO: It's an invitation to intimidate. The fact is there are poll watchers chosen in districts to do their job. There has never been a need for supporters to go in there and watch very carefully. It's an ominous warning that could have real ramifications on election day.

HARLOW: David Gergen is with us, our senior political analyst, former adviser to four presidents, Democrats and Republicans, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.


David, having served in all of those administrations, I wonder if you agree with Tom Friedman who writes this morning, quote, "I cannot say it any more clearly. Our democracy is in terrible danger, more danger than it has been since the civil war." He goes on to write, "when extremists go all the way and moderates just go away, the system can break and it will break." Is he right?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Tom Friedman is absolutely right, and I will tell you that there are many other people of Tom Friedman's intellectual stature who agree with him. This -- we are -- you know what?

Put it this way, the fear one walks away from last night's debacle is that on election day, we're going to have troops on the streets allegedly there to protect the system, but really there to intimidate voters and have them stay home. And in similar ways, we're going to have people from the right wing coming out there and heckling people who are standing in line, trying to drive them away. And it's going to make -- it could make a mess of election day and delegitimize it, just as the president has been arguing. But coming to the -- left.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, tell us how these two things are connected. The call out to supporters to quote-unquote, "watch the polls" along with again the president's deliberate attack on the legitimacy of the election last night, citing a whole host of things that frankly weren't true about fraud with mail-in ballots when we've heard, for instance, from the director of the FBI that there's no evidence of widespread fraud.

Tell us about how those two things are connected. The attack, the public attack on the legitimacy with the poll watchers, with frankly lawsuits, right, that are trying to keep ballots from being counted.

GERGEN: Well, I think it's the same thing we saw last night in the debate as the president likes to create chaos. Because he can -- he won't want in a chaotic situation, he can navigate in a way to try to achieve some of his goals without really being clearly seen in the dust, in the dust-up. And I think he's going to try to do that on election day unless we're awfully lucky.

But I think we can -- all of us came away last night aghast and agog at what we saw. And it suggested to us that there's no question that he is going to do whatever it takes to cling to power, and that may well be, you know, trying to do everything disruptive that he can between now and election day, calling out attention to all of -- you know, there are inevitably with millions of ballots are going to be --

SCIUTTO: Yes -- GERGEN: A few that are going to be tampered with or whatever. But the

vast majority -- the vast majority, you know, this is a fair system and the right thing to do during a pandemic. So, I think it's -- if you didn't have a sense of the president's irresponsibility before the debate, you got a load of it last night.

There's some of the thing -- I talk about this. I think we are very lucky that the commission put Chris Wallace in charge to moderate the first debate. I say that because he comes out of "Fox News". If it had been someone who would have been -- say from "MSNBC", there would have been an uproar from the right --


GERGEN: That, that was very intentional, they tried to bring down Donald Trump. They sent one of their people out there to do that, one of their millions. When it comes at the hands of "Fox", you know, very well-respected columnist and professional for "Fox". Chris Wallace robs them -- robs a right of being able to say this is a left-wing set-up.

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: They're still saying it though, David, sadly, the president tweeted out this morning he was unfair to him --


GERGEN: Yes, but he has no credibility.


GERGEN: Yes, has no credibility, he's one of your own.


HARLOW: David, what was the president's message last night? Like what was he even saying?

GERGEN: All right, well, the only thing --


It's -- what we know from the past is that if you don't prepare, you're asking for trouble. If you don't go in with a narrative, with a central message, you really -- you'll be at sea, you'll be lost.


People can't follow, and particularly given Trump's, you know, bullying tactics and all the other things that were so alarming, there was no central message that came out of that debate last night on his part. Biden, I thought -- you know, Biden had lukewarm reviews.

I thought he was better, that he actually had a message. He did turn away to the camera and looked at the camera and talked directly to the country three or four times, which I thought was effective. He was -- I thought he got off to a slow start, but about midway when I wondered if he was getting tired, he actually got better, and he began a string of answers that were much more solid.

HARLOW: David Gergen, we're so glad to have -- yes --


HARLOW: Go ahead.

GERGEN: Let me tell you one thing. What Biden -- what Biden also did, he robbed Trump of the notion that he can't handle it. That he doesn't have the acuity, he doesn't have the energy to go through 90 minutes.

HARLOW: David Gergen, as we said, we're so glad to have you, given all of your experience in administrations --


HARLOW: Before. Thanks a lot. So the president also once again criticized Joe Biden for wearing a mask in public as Biden zeroes in on the president's response to the pandemic. We'll get reaction from a medical expert ahead.

SCIUTTO: And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures flat this morning after that chaotic first debate raised more uncertainty around the election, the president did. There's also questions about a deal being reached on a stimulus plan. We're going to be speaking to the CEO of American Airlines about all of this coming up.