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House Democrats Leaders Say Biden Should Drop From The Race; France's Left Alliance Wins Election; Tropical Storm Beryl Heads For Texas Coast; Trump Distancing From Project 2025; China Plans Blockade Of Taiwan With Drones. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 07, 2024 - 17:00   ET




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FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: And don't miss Discovery's "Shark Week" hosted by John Cena. Summer's biggest holiday starts tonight on Discovery and streams on Max. Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Fredericka Whitfield. The "CNN Newsroom" continues with Pamela Brown right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: You're in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Pamela Brown in Washington, and we begin with breaking news tonight. The number of Democratic lawmakers calling for President Biden to step away from his campaign is growing yet again.

Tonight, while President Biden was campaigning in Pennsylvania, House Democratic leadership held a meeting to discuss Joe Biden's future as a candidate. Now, this meeting was with ranking members. We have new details breaking this hour on who was on the call, who is now calling for President Biden to step aside. I want to go straight to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez live right outside the White House.

And Priscilla, we are both talking to our Democratic sources on the Hill, and we're hearing that there are more members calling for Biden to step aside. And notably, some of them are ranking members. Tell us the latest.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, let me put it to you quite simply, Pamela. One of the sources that I spoke to said there were more people on this phone call explicitly saying that President Joe Biden should step aside as the candidate than those who spoke in favor of him staying. That really captures where the Democratic Party is at right now. And it goes to show that those nerves that have been racked over the

last week since that CNN presidential debate have not yet been calmed. All of this as President Biden hits the campaign trail. In fact, just moments before we started learning about the details of this phone call, President Biden said a resounding yes when asked by the press if the Democratic Party is standing behind him. But this phone call tells us that may not entirely be the case.

Now, to give you a little bit of background as to what exactly this was, this was a call that was hosted by House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries to give an opportunity for the ranking members to express their grievances, take the temperature of where they were at before everybody returns back to Congress this week.

And over the course of that call is where some of these explicit statements were made about whether the president should remain as the Democratic candidate this year. Now, some of the names that have come up are reporting, for example, as opposed to President Biden being the nominee or, for example, Representatives Adam Smith, Jim Hines, Susan Wild. We're also told Democratic Representatives Maxine Waters and Bobby Scott spoke in support of Biden.

So you can see that there were fractures over the course of this call. But one senior Democratic aide telling our colleague, Jeff Zeleny, that it was, quote, "pretty brutal." Now, there haven't been any decisions yet as to whether there will be a letter or a meeting with the president about this matter. But what it does tell us is that some of the leaders that are within the House of Representatives are very much questioning whether President Biden is a risk worth taking going into November, whether he should be the candidate.

And in calls that I have had, one of the questions that comes up is, shouldn't this be resolved before August? They don't want to be in a position where August comes around, President Biden becomes the nominee, and then they don't have a choice going into November. So clearly, despite the president going to Wisconsin, despite his ABC interview, and despite him hitting battleground Pennsylvania today, everyone still has a lot of questions as to whether the president should remain as the Democratic candidate.

And on that front, we're also learning that over the course of this call, there was support for the Vice President Kamala Harris to be the candidate if we get to that point.

BROWN: I was speaking to one of my sources, a senior Democratic House member just before the show, and this person said, look, you're going to see the damn break on Tuesday when Hakeem Jeffries meets with the caucus because the sense is that what you just saw on this call is going to be on a wider scale during this meeting with more, if not the majority, of those in the room with Hakeem Jeffries will say Biden needs to step down versus those who disagree with that, and that it will ultimately be up to Hakeem Jeffries on how to handle this and deal with this with a president who is clearly still very much in denial about where his party is, given what he said today, Priscilla.

ALVAREZ: Yeah, the place that we've been in over the course of more than a week now since the debate is a lot of private concerns and text messages and calls we hear about from these Democrats and allies about whether or not the president is up to the task of taking against former President Donald Trump come November.


But what we're seeing now is that a lot of that opposition is becoming public. We're seeing statements in this phone call, for example, we have the names that I just mentioned about people who explicitly said that the president should step aside as the candidate. And what one source told me is that more House Democrats are expected to say this week publicly that President Biden should not be their nominee this election year.

And so the difference that we will see this week, perhaps from last week, is that those private concerns are becoming public. And then the question is, how does the campaign swat that away? And how does the president respond? Because up until this point, he has been defiant. In fact, during the ABC interview, George Stephanopoulos asked him, would you step aside if those in the leadership told you that they would lose the House and Senate? The president said that's not going to happen.

But what we're learning from our sources is that is very well a concern that they harbor. And so how that is sort of dealt with and grappled with over the course of this next week is going to be critical because, again, they will be here in Washington and a lot of that private murmuring is going to become very public.

BROWN: And it's interesting, given that context of what President Biden was asked about, what will you do if Democratic leaders come to you and say you need to step aside? Hakeem Jeffries, for his part, is not showing his cards right now in terms of where he stands. What more can you tell us about that?

ALVAREZ: Yeah, he's really sort of been a sounding board in this moment, hearing what the concerns are. Of course, this was a call that was scheduled to do exactly that versus showing exactly where he is at. Now, the president did speak with him last week, along with other party leaders. So we don't quite know where he and others stand. But I do think it is notable that while these grievances are being aired, he is not reassuring them, as far as we're told, that the president is going to remain the nominee.

A lot of that has really been on the president to say himself. And the campaign in the interim, even including today, is signaling more campaign travel. So they are certainly not giving any indications of the president stepping down. Instead, they, for example, announced today that the president is going to Las Vegas later this month to also talk to two conferences targeting black and Latino voters.

Then on Friday, he's going to go to Michigan, that's his fourth battleground state since the debate. So what we have is two storylines playing out at the same time. Democrats who are telling their leadership, we don't know if this is a safe bet to make, and House leadership, in the meantime, just taking those concerns in, while the president and his campaign are signaling, we're in this to win it, and we are going to keep hitting the campaign trail to show you the president is the best candidate.

And amid all of this, Pamela, I think we should also note the NATO summit is happening here this week in Washington. And so not only is the president wrestling with his own party over his candidacy, but he's also going to be talking to foreign leaders. And whether or not concerns come up there is another question entirely. Up until this point, the president has used his foreign policy chops as one of the main reasons that he should be taking a second term.

And so there are a lot of events that are still going to unfold this week from all different corners that I think are going to be quite critical in the trajectory of the race.

BROWN: All right, Priscilla, stand by. I also want to bring in CNN correspondent Hadas Gold and Josh Dawsey, political investigations and enterprise reporting at the "Washington Post." I want to get your reaction to this breaking news, Josh. I want to start with you with what we're learning, because we're now finding out that on this call with Hakeem Jeffries, you had Reps Mark Takano, Adam Smith, Jim Himes, Joe Morrell, Susan Wild, saying that they believe Biden should step aside.

That's just who we know of now from our reporting. Again, there's more to learn, but apparently, according to our reporting, there were more that were saying that Biden should step aside than stay at the top of the ticket. What picture is emerging to you through this reporting?

JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, frankly, Pam, there's a palpable and growing frustration among House Democrats, and I think some in the Senate as well, at how President Biden's team has handled this. They obviously did not think the performance at the beginning was good, and there were some concerns after that.

But what has happened really over the last week and a half is it's metastasized. I think if you talk to most members, talk to most Democratic strategists, the way they have not forcefully put him out there for five or six days at the beginning, the talking points that they sent that they did not view as sufficient, sort of the lack of confidence they have in how this is being handled, it seems to be bringing more and more people to the forefront.

I talked to a lot of Democrats, and so did my colleagues last week in our reporting, and there were some who were saying, you know, we should give him a little bit more of a chance, let's do some more events.


We don't want to be, you know, the first ones on the bandwagon, so to speak, to call for him to go. But I think as the days go on, it seems to me from the reporting and what you're just saying now live on air, it's getting worse and not better politically for President Biden. BROWN: And one of the senior House Democrats I spoke to just before

coming on air, you know, this person acknowledged, look, this number can grow, right, and it is growing as we're reporting. But the view is it's not going to move the needle for President Biden unless you really have someone like a Nancy Pelosi or a Hakeem Jeffries or a Clyburn come to him and say, it's time to step aside.

The view is that, you know, the numbers don't matter as much as the who, right? But at the same time, Josh, some of these are ranking members that are now telling him to step aside and or viewing their opinion that he should step aside. And what I'm hearing is that Tuesday is really going to be a pivotal day when Hakeem Jeffries meets with his caucus. What are you hearing on that front?

DAWSEY: Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, they're back this week and they'll be confronted, almost every member of Congress will be confronted by a very feisty and hungry Capitol Hill press corps who will want to know exactly what they think about President Biden going forward. I think this week will be sort of pivotal in seeing the numbers and how many we get.

But, you know, you saw in the interview that he did with George Stephanopoulos over the weekend on Friday night, I guess, President Biden made clear that he did not care who called for him to step aside. He said the only person who could do it was, you know, the Lord Almighty.

Now, we all know, Pam, that in politics, everyone says they're not going to do a thing that they don't want to do until they have to do it, right? And they say until the bitter end that they're not going to. So I guess we don't really know what he's going to do, but I think right now it's going to take a whole lot of people to move him out of this race.

BROWN: And actually, just looking at a quote from your excellent reporting with your colleagues in the "Washington Post," one Biden aide said that he's focused on recovering, but I personally think he's still in the denial stage of grief. And this attitude of denial is something David Axelrod, former senior advisor to Obama, echoed when I interviewed him this morning. Take a listen to what he said.


DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENNIOR OBAMA ADVISER: He seemed to deny where he is in the race. And he seems not to grasp what is the big concern that people have. He hasn't come to grips with it. He's not winning this race. He's more likely, if you just look at the data and talk to people around the country, political people around the country, it's more likely that he'll lose by a landslide than win narrowly.


BROWN: So to say that Biden is not only going to lose the race, but lose it by a landslide, Hadas, that is a pretty extreme statement.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty extreme statement, but I think one of the ways that the White House could potentially try to push back on what we've seen in the media, all this kind of frenetic coverage about what could happen to the Biden candidacy, is just by putting the candidate out there. We've seen him obviously do this ABC News interview. It lasted 22 minutes. He still has not done some sort of big press conference.

You would think that one of the first things you might do after that sort of disastrous debate is put him in front of the reporters and say, listen, you know, that was a bad night, but look what he can do. He can stand in front of the White House Press Corps and take any and all of their questions at any time.

We heard our own White House correspondent MJ Lee asking the press secretary, why aren't -- we've got a briefing room ready to go here? Why aren't you bringing him out and having him talk to us? We have not seen them do this. And actually, President Biden has done the fewest press conferences in the last seven presidents, according to the data when you look at it.

And now this was happening even before the debate. But this is only being amplified by keeping the press at an arm's length away. I've been speaking to White House reporters now since that debate. There is a huge frustration from them. You know, they're getting battered down by people saying, why are you reporting so much? You're over reporting on Biden's age. You're over reporting this. Look at what the other guy is doing. Look at President Trump.

Well, they're saying, well, the White House is keeping him at an arm's length. Put him in front of us. Let him answer the questions. We are going to see him later this week at the NATO summit answering the press's questions. There's a huge frustration in the White House and the National Press Corps.

BROWN: Yeah, and it's interesting because Senator Murphy, of course, a Biden ally, echoed what you're saying, Hadas, in an interview this morning with my colleague, Dana Bash, saying, look, Biden needs to be out there more. He needs to be interfacing with the public more. We need to see more examples of why he is still fit for office. Here's what he said.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I'm not advising this campaign, but if I were, I would probably suggest that the president get out there and do a town hall, that he do a press conference, that he shows the country that he is still the old Joe Biden, one of the best retail politicians this country has ever seen. The president says he can do that.


I trust that he can. And I think this week is going to be really critical for him to answer those remaining questions. And let's just be honest. I think there are still questions out there in the minds of many voters. (END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: And some of the frustration from Biden supporters, Priscilla, is that those questions were able to kind of swirl and pick up momentum and steam over several days when the feeling was the White House wasn't doing enough to put Biden out there. Now you have supporters recommending for him to be more aggressive in getting out there. But the question is, Priscilla, will that turn the tide for the president at a time when more and more House Democrats, as we're reporting, are telling him to step aside?

ALVAREZ: So I think we have to look at the timeline here. After the debate, that was one of the immediate asks by allies, whether the president needed to get out there more and have unscripted and candid moments on the campaign trail. I've gone to a lot of these rallies, and oftentimes the president is working off of a teleprompter. So his allies were essentially saying, we want to see you have those unscripted moments with people so that they can see what one called the old President Joe Biden. I think Senator Chris Murphy said that.

And so now we're at a point, it's been over a week, and he hit the trail going to Wisconsin again on Friday and going to Pennsylvania today. And we started to see some of that. I think it was quite notable as I was watching him go through all of these stops, he was trying to kind of go off the cuff a little bit more in the way that he talked at these campaign events.

And in fact, in one campaign event earlier today in Pennsylvania, one of the supporters said, quote, "we want to see the Dark Brandon come back." That's according -- that's that meme that she was referencing. He said, quote, "Dark Brandon is coming back." So you can get a sense there that they are taking in this advice and trying to put him out in those moments to have those candid moments.

Notably too, the July campaign memo that they released that included his, quote, "aggressive travel schedule for the rest of the month," also made mention of off the cuff moments, which was like we hear you to allies. But again, we're more than a week out. We're going into the second week since that debate, and we're still hearing a lot of concerns from Democrats. So I think it's perhaps too early to say among voters whether this makes a difference.

As we have talked about multiple times, voters are not often watching every campaign stop that he makes. They were watching the debate. And so whether it really quells concerns, I think, is still remains an open question. And whether this shift in strategy that we saw play out over the last three days can be maintained. But as at this point, they're clearly trying. I think it's whether or not it makes a difference.

BROWN: Right. Let's talk about the voters because they're really at the heart of this, right? It all matters. It's all about the voters. It's all about whether the voters are going to put Joe Biden back in the White House for a second term and beat Trump to the Dems. That's what this game is all about.

So I want to play some sound from these grassroots voters who are still enthusiastically supporting Biden and want him to stay atop the ticket. Here's what some of them said.


APRIL BASH, GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.: Obviously, I'm not at the decision-making table to do that. But I think that, especially based on the last debate and just a lot of other things, that it may be time to pass the torch.

MICHELLE BUXTO, CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE RESIDENT: It just seems like they're just not giving him a chance. And I just think that they need to. We're here all working together. And I think it's almost seems personal.

NYREE CLAYTON, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY RESIDENT: I love that she is a sister. I love that she promotes what it is to be a black woman in the United States.

MAURICE LUCAS, LOS ANGELES: It might be a little bit controversial, but I'm all for it. You know, I think she's prepared. She's been in the role, has the experience. And I think it would probably make a lot of people happy to see a different take on the ticket.


BROWN: So, of course, the last couple were talking about Kamala Harris and whether she would be a good fit for atop the ticket. This was at an event where Kamala Harris was speaking yesterday. But, Josh, I'm just wondering, you know, you look at the polls and then you hear from these grassroots voters, how do you square the two? What we're hearing on the ground? What we're hearing from those enthusiastic Joe Biden supporters at his rallies versus what we're seeing in the polls?

DAWSEY: Yeah, the problem the Democratic Party has right now is that even before the debate, Joe Biden was, you know, neck and neck in some polls, but former President Trump was leading in a lot of the polls and he was not in an extraordinarily strong position. Now you're seeing further erosion of that.

If you move him off the ticket, you probably will have a lot of his voters, as some of the audio showed there, that would be disappointed. It could depress Trump (ph). I mean, we don't know that, but it could. If you tried to have an open primary and you did not make Vice President Kamala Harris a nominee, that could alienate a lot of people. You could have a solution here, I guess, for them that would work out and would be a more formidable candidate over Joe Biden.

But either way you have it here, it's a tricky conundrum for the Democratic Party. And I think for Biden, he has a lot of voters like you played there and a lot of ones that we've talked to who still are with him.


But whether that's enough to beat Trump, I don't know. And that's what the Democratic Party sort of has to grapple with, right? If his numbers were already low, if some of the poll numbers are going down now and they don't think he can win, do you pull the ripcord here and risk alienating some of those people who maybe want Biden to stay as a nominee?

BROWN: What do you think, Priscilla? Is Kamala Harris getting a dry run right now?

ALVAREZ: So, I have been talking to multiple sources about the vice president and what she thinks in this moment. What I hear the most is that the mandate among her staff is to stay the course and to sort of dispel any replacement theories. And what she has said on the trail when she says that she stands behind the president and to defend his and defending his record and not just his debate performance is reflective of where she is.

But I also think it's significant that on July 4th, the president was joined by the Vice President on the balcony to observe the fireworks. And they embraced and they held hands up in the air. And that is something that we have not seen since the president took office. He's always joined by his family, but he hasn't been joined by the vice president and the second gentleman who are often partaking in other July 4th engagements.

So it was clearly them trying to show a unified front. And that is what I hear from sources, is that she is standing behind the president. But I will also note that since January, when the president -- when the vice president, I should say, really hit the campaign trail, she took -- she did that Reproductive Freedoms Tour and then has since done more on economic opportunity, among other issues.

That was when the Vice President that her allies knew the best really came through. The prosecutor, as they say, where she was forceful on the campaign trail and more people got to know her. Whereas over the last three years, it was -- what we often heard is where's the vice president and what is she doing?

So over the last several months, she certainly has been on the trail a lot multiple times a week, and it has allowed perhaps a reintroduction to voters. But that was all for the Biden-Harris ticket. It wasn't because she herself was trying to replace the president. And what we have heard from sources, what I have heard is that she is still very much unified with him.

BROWN: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, Hadas Gold and Josh Dawsey, thanks to you all for covering this breaking news coming in on this Sunday night. And we're going to stay on the top of this breaking news.

Also tonight, a shocking upset in French elections as left-wing parties beat back a challenge from the far-right, keeping control of parliament. What's next for America's ally? And the outer bands of Tropical Storm Beryl are starting to lash out

at the Texas coast as cities brace for the storm's landfall. You're in the "CNN Newsroom." We'll be right back.



BROWN: We are following breaking news out of France where celebrations are underway on the streets of Paris following a stunning victory for an alliance of left-wing parties in the second round of the parliamentary elections. These projections signal a defeat for Marine Le Pen's anti-immigrant party, which hoped to gain control of parliament.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins us live from central Paris. Melissa, a shocking result today. What's the mood like where you are?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well, celebratory just behind me there, Pam, at the Place de la Republique, the riot police are out in full force. But beyond them, on that central Paris square, are many thousands of people who've come to celebrate what was a remarkable political alliance that was cobbled together in order to stop the far-right from being able to achieve that aim that you just mentioned of trying to become the biggest party in France's parliament.

This is a coalition of left-wing parties, some of them far left, some of them more moderate, that came together after the far-right's huge victory in the European elections that then led to the dissolution of parliament and the calling of these snap parliamentary elections in order to ensure that Marine Le Pen's far-right didn't achieve their goal.

And yet, Pam, what we saw in the first round of voting was the far- right National Front -- National Rally, I'm sorry, come first, the left-wing alliance second, and Emmanuel Macron's centrist, a distant third. What we've seen over the course of the last week and this extraordinary result that they're celebrating behind me here tonight is essentially strategic voting on the part of those who support the left and those who support Macron's centrists in order to defeat the party.

Still, I think it's important to note, as did the National Rally tonight at what should have been its celebration party turned into something much more somber, but they still noted, Jordan Bardella, the president of the party who had hoped to become prime minister, still noted that this election, Pam, marked their biggest electoral success so far. They have doubled the number of seats that they have in France's parliament, and that for them is a huge victory still.

BROWN: All right, Melissa Bell, thank you so much. Now, let's talk more with Piotr Smolar, the Washington correspondent for the French news outlet Le Monde. He is also the author of "A Family's Quest From the Minsk Ghetto to Netanyahu's Israel." Peter, what is your reaction to these shocking results?

PIOTR SMOLAR, LE MONDE WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Pam, I'm turning 50 this year, and I must tell you, this is the craziest and most unexpected elections we've had in my lifetime, maybe in France. This is a complete earthquake. The whole campaign for the last three weeks basically revolved around the threat of the far-right government for the first time since the Second World War. And the threat was spoiled in a way that no one, no expert and no

opinion polls predicted. And so this election was not really about political platforms, but more about fundamental values.


Millions of French citizens basically chose their country, their vision for the country over partisan affiliation and the Republic over a sort of phobic (ph) party who basically uses scapegoats within the French society.

So basically two things happened. First, a huge turnout, over 67 percent today. And the second, as your reporter rightfully mentioned, is a very solid Republican front that was put in place between the first and the second round. What does it mean, a Republican front? It means that in around 200 districts, one of the three candidates who qualified for the second round basically withdrew his candidacy in order to beat the far right. So that's really amazing.

And it means that many people from the right, for example, voted for a candidate from the left and also the opposite. So the celebration of the left bloc is obviously understandable. This is a delightful surprise for them to be in the lead. But this bloc of leftist parties is not very coherent, and it does not have an absolute majority.

So, in the U.S., the magic number is 270, obviously, 270 electoral votes. In France, you have to get 289 MPs, 289 seats in the National Assembly in order to have a comfortable and stable majority. No one has that majority today.

BROWN: So then what's next? And what does this mean for President Emmanuel Macron?

SMOLAR: Well, that's a good question. I mean, the reality right now tonight is that we have entered totally uncharted territory. We just don't know what is going to happen and that doesn't happen very often on an election night in France. So, basically, there are two scenarios. The first one is chaos and stalemate. That would mean that no coalition appears, there's no real majority to govern, and, basically, there's a hung parliament for the next year before Emmanuel Macron might eventually dissolve the National Assembly again.

The second scenario would be a sort of miracle by French norms, and that would be a rainbow coalition that would stretch from the left and the greens to the center-right. But there are many buts in this hypothesis, because that project would break the left bloc that just won today, and leaving La France Insoumise, that's the controversial party of Jean-Luc Melenchon on the side.

There are other problems, too, that the left parties might ask, for example, Emmanuel Macron, in order to form that rainbow coalition, to abandon two of his key reforms, which is the pension reform and also the law on immigration. And I'm not sure Emmanuel Macron is ready to go that way.

BROWN: Yeah, we will see how this all shakes out. Piotr Smolar, thank you so much.

Well, the evacuation orders are piling up along the Texas coast, as officials there beg people to heed their warnings about Tropical Storm Beryl before its expected arrival as a hurricane tomorrow.



BROWN: Well, happening now, Tropical Storm Beryl is closing in on Texas, expected to strengthen into a hurricane before it makes landfall on Monday morning. Authorities are urging people on the storm's path to immediately evacuate or prepare for the worst. CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is along the Texas coast for us. What are you seeing there, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Pam, we've just gotten the latest information from the National Hurricane Center, 5:00 p.m. Eastern update. And they are indicating that this is still a tropical storm. This is good news because Tropical Storm Beryl is running out of time to strengthen, but there are signs that it is doing so.

In fact, latest information from the NHC indicates that storm surge here, where I'm standing and along the central Texas coastline, already one foot above normal high tide values for this moment in time. Tropical storm force winds extend 115 miles out from the center of Tropical Storm Beryl. That means tropical storm force winds will reach this location in Port Lavaca within the next coming hours.

We've had these intermittent outer rain bands from Beryl already inundating us with water. Now, there are a few positives going forward. This will be a fast-moving storm. It is also a storm that is going to coincide with low tide, so that could minimize the storm surge potential. But of course, there will be wind impacts. So let's get right to the forecast and talk about what's coming at us.

We have a storm system with 65 mile per hour winds, but it's got a defined center of circulation, and that means that it's tapping into these warm Gulf of Mexico waters. They are three degrees Fahrenheit above where they should be this time of year, so that's like jet fuel for rapidly intensifying or strengthening hurricanes. Now, the forecast track from the National Hurricane Center still has this Category 1 intensity, but it does state that it could reach Category 2 intensity before landfall, even though it's not explicitly shown on the graphics.

Now, in terms of storm surge, they have just updated the values right where I'm standing, northward towards Galveston Bay, four to upwards of seven feet of potential storm surge inundation. That means above normally dry land, so that's also a consideration. Of course, there's the flash flooding potential as well, but this, Pam, will not be another Hurricane Harvey because it's a fast-mover.

Remember, Harvey sat around eastern Texas for four days after landfall. This, by day three, will be up towards the U.S. and Canada border. That's the difference. Back to you. BROWN: All right, so that's better that it's moving more quickly. Derek Van Dam, thank you.


Ahead, how former President Trump and some of his VP hopefuls are still working to distance themselves from Project 2025, a conservative think tank's policy blueprint. You're in the "CNN Newsroom."


BROWN: Well, Donald Trump claims he has nothing to do with Project 2025. That's a proposed overhaul of the federal government drafted by a conservative group of former administration officials and longtime allies.


KEVIN ROBERTS, PRESIDENT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We are in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.


BROWN: Project 2025 lays out a right-wing wish list of policy changes that it wants during a second Trump term, such as expanding presidential powers and cracking down on abortion rights. Joining us now is former advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, Olivia Troye.


Hi, Olivia. So what do you think about Trump distancing himself from Project 2025, given the fact that former officials that were in his administration are part of this? Do you believe him?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Hi, Pam. Well, no. I mean, look, this is preposterous. If you look at the collaborators and the authors of this plan, a lot of these people came from directly people that served in Trump's cabinet during his administration. There are people that I worked with, I sat in policy meetings with.

They were -- a lot of these people were senior administration officials, whether it be Johnny McEntee, who was in charge of staffing for presidential personnel, or whether it be Stephen Miller, who's behind the scenes pulling the strings on this as well. But you've got Ben Carson listed in here. You have the former deputy secretary of DHS, the acting secretary, Ken Cuccinelli in here, writing about immigration and DHS.

I mean, so -- and then Ben Carson, come on. He's been out there on the campaign trail with the president. So I think this is just ludicrous. But I think what this is telling us is that Donald Trump knows that what is written in this plan is so extreme that it is damaging to his possibility of getting elected, and that's what he's concerned about. BROWN: So Project 2025, for those who don't know, is over 900 pages

long, but it does give very specific instructions on how to replace federal jobs with political appointees, dismantle the Department of Education and other federal agencies, expand executive power, and ban the abortion pill, mifepristone, nationwide. Is this, you know, a winning strategy for conservatives?

TROYE: No, I don't think so. I mean, look, I am a conservative-leaning individual. I'm a lifelong Republican. But when I think of the traditional tenets of the GOP, I think of fiscal conservatism. I think of individual liberties. And quite honestly, if you go through and really read through this plan, this is complete overreach by the federal government on our individual liberties.

And I just want to be clear to women and men who support women and our individual right to health care, I know that we all have differing views on it. I certainly lean conservative on it. But there's language in here that says, you know, liberal states have become sanctuaries for abortion tourism. That is how this document is written.

And so when you think about policy meetings in the Trump administration, should that happen again? Should he come back to office? I want people to view the type of language that's going to be said in these meetings, because to me, tourism doesn't enter my mind when I think about women who are having trouble giving childbirth, who are actually leaving states right now to be able to access health care. I don't think about that as tourism.

And this is the type of rhetoric that is in this document. But I think people need to be paying attention, because they're not messing around when it comes to this. And we should believe them. And so to that president of the Heritage Foundation, which, by the way, is a think tank that I used to go to, especially as a college student and in my summer internships, and as someone who worked at the RNC.

I used to go there and take some of their courses and attend some of their summits. When he says that it's, you know, if the left stays silent, it's not just the left that has a problem with this, Pamela. It's people, moderate conservatives like myself, who take a look at some of the extreme language in here, when it either health care again, or whether it comes to immigration, whether they're talking about law enforcement and how they're going to use federal law enforcement in local states and local cities and states with no oversight, because there's limited oversight when they do that.

They've learned all the lessons during the first Trump term. And that is what is frightening here. And so I think we need to be paying attention to this. And no amount of distancing by Donald Trump should be believed because the authors and the collaborators are all part of this operation that's been behind him from even the first terms of this administration. So how can they deny that? I sat in these policy- making meetings with these people. I know what they're capable of.

BROWN: That is why we value -- that is why we value your insights and your perspective on this really important topic. Olivia Troye, thank you so much for your time. Well, still ahead, back to our breaking news. Several top House Democrats call on Biden to step aside from his campaign during a leadership call tonight. We have new details on this breaking news just coming in to CNN. We'll be back.



BROWN: Well, tonight, China is gaming out how to blockade Taiwan with just drones. And it's likely not a coincidence as the U.S. is developing its own plan to send thousands of drones to the Taiwan Strait to fend off a possible attack by China. But is China's military even capable of what it claims? CNN's Will Ripley reports.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): China's People's Liberation Army under strongman leader Xi Jinping projects power, pouring billions into rapid-fire military modernization, some say the world's biggest buildup in a century. The dramatic downfall of two former defense ministers purged from China's Communist Party for alleged corruption, along with about a dozen other high-ranking officials, has some wondering just how battle-ready the PLA really is.

Li Shangfu and Wei Fenghe, also stripped of their rank as senior generals, "seriously polluted the political and industrial atmosphere in the field of military equipment," Chinese state media says, calling their actions "extremely serious." Both handpicked by Xi himself.

ANDREW YANG, FORMER TAIWAN DEFENSE MINISTER: The armed forces, the PLA has to be very loyal to the Communist Party.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Loyalty and corruption widespread in the Chinese military says Taiwan's former defense minister, Andrew Yang.

YANG: I would say it's really built into the Communist Party system. Therefore, he has to introduce very heavy punishments.

RIPLEY (voice-over): The latest bombshells exposing the limits of Xi's anti-corruption campaign, both disgraced defense ministers linked to China's elite rocket force.

PETER LAYTON, VISITING FELLOW, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY ASIA INSTITUTE: This will not be helping them from a war-fighting viewpoint.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Longtime Asia analyst Peter Layton says, systemic corruption challenges China's ambition to grow into a world-class military power in a matter of years.

LAYTON: He's constantly pushing it to get better and better, as you say, to be able to fight wars and to win wars. RIPLEY (voice-over): From the South China Sea to democratic Taiwan, to

Cuba, where CSIS says China may be expanding spy bases less than 100 miles from the Florida coast. China calling that pure fantasy, saying the bases never existed. The U.S. and the world watching closely.

(On camera): Watching not just China's military moves, but also the fallout from this latest scandal. Li and Wei, like most dismissed over the last year, have been tied to the rocket force or military equipment. And earlier this year, the vice chair of China's Central Military Commission said that they would be cracking down on what he called fake combat capabilities, leading some analysts to raise the question, is China signaling they may not be ready for war? Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


BROWN: And we're still following this huge breaking news coming in, as the number of democratic lawmakers calling for President Biden to drop his campaign has now grown to at least 11 as he fights to remain the nominee amid this growing pressure. Huge development coming in to the "CNN Newsroom" on this Sunday. You're in the "CNN Newsroom."