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Trump Back on Campaign Trail; NATO Summit; Biden Tries to Unite Party Behind Him. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 09, 2024 - 11:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We begin this hour with deep divisions and doubts in the Democratic Party, House Democrats meeting this morning behind closed doors amid the ongoing questions about President Biden's ability to defeat Donald Trump.

But President Biden now appears to be gaining at least some momentum, rallying allies to unequivocally back his candidacy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden all the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is our best hope to not -- make sure Donald Trump get -- do not get into the White House.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): Joe Biden is the nominee.


BLITZER: Still, many Democratic lawmakers are openly questioning the president's ability to win over voters in the wake of his poor debate showing right here on CNN, saying he must do more right now to prove he's up to the task.

Six are publicly calling for new leadership at the top of the ticket. And, for now, they are not -- repeat -- not backing down.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): The fighting spirit and pride and courage that served the country so well four years ago, helped Joe Biden win, will bring the ticket down this time. He just has to step down, because he can't win. And my colleagues need to recognize that. A dismissive letter is not going to change any minds.


BLITZER: We're following all of these dramatic developments right here on CNN. Our chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us from

Capitol Hill, and Arlette Saenz is over at the White House for us.

Manu, let me go to you first. What did you hear from lawmakers about this closed-door meeting today?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, talking to a number of members, it is clear that their views are divided over about having Joe Biden at the top of their ticket.

They -- at this closed-door session, it was sort of an open mic. They allowed members to go up and express their concerns, express their support, and that's what they heard for more than an hour or so. That meeting is now concluded.

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, who told me last night that he does support Joe Biden as the nominee, did not tip his hand one way or the other about how he views things. In fact, the Democratic leaders were in -- quote -- "listening mode," I'm told, from a number of members.

But a lot of members that I talked to here also, Wolf, would not say if they support keeping Joe Biden at the top of their ticket. That includes Hillary Scholten of Michigan and as well as Lucy McBath of Georgia, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.

I asked each of them just moments ago, do you support keeping Joe Biden as a nominee? They declined to comment.

Now, there are those who do support Joe Biden fervently, particularly among the Congressional Black Caucus. That is the largest group within the larger Democratic Caucus in the House, and they are a very vocal group as well. I caught up with a couple of them in the aftermath of the meeting.


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): I am going to work as hard as I can for him. I'm going to go to several states. I believe that he deserves our support. That's all I can speak about is me.

RAJU: Do you think he can actually win?

WATERS: Biden is going to win. The team Biden/Harris is going to win, win, win.

REP. JASMINE CROCKETT (D-TX): Biden has won before when people thought that he couldn't win. If you will remember, he wasn't the guy that was running ahead of everyone. He can do this if we focus on the real threat, Project 2025, Donald Trump and MAGA America.


RAJU: But there's just some concern, Wolf, within the ranks about whether he can in fact win. In fact, one congressman I just caught up with, Ritchie Torres of New

York. I asked him about Joe Biden being at the top of the ticket. He said, look, he's the party's nominee and he's not going anywhere. So I am viewing this pragmatically.

Others say that he needs to do much more. Pramila Jayapal, who's the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, came out of that meeting. She told me that Joe Biden needs to show that he can handle different situations and effectively campaign and win back the presidency, trying to demonstrate that in the days ahead. The jury is still out in her mind.


So, a lot of questions among many members, a lot of different viewpoints, but still significant -- some support for the president, which is something that he wants to hear from some of the more influential members, including the Democratic leader -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important developments.

Manu, stand by.

I want to go to Arlette over at the White House for us.

I understand, Arlette, the White House is trying to clarify the recent White House visits by a Parkinson's disease specialist, a doctor. What can you tell us about this?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House has faced many questions relating to the president's age and health in recent days.

And another issue that came up over the past 48 hours were these visits by a neurologist to the White House that was revealed in White House visitors logs. Now, yesterday this provided for some contentious moments at the White House press briefing, as the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, would not detail exactly why this neurologist was here or confirmed that the neurologist was here.

But according to the visitors log, this neurologist, Dr. Kevin Cannard, visited the White House at least eight times in the last year, one of those being a meeting with the president's physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor.

Now, Dr. Kevin O'Connor released a rare letter last night trying to explain Dr. Cannard's visits. He noted that Cannard was the neurologist who took part in President Biden's physical exam this year and in the years prior, but stressed that President Biden has not seen any other neurologist at this time.

And then he added that the neurologist would come to the White House for these neurology clinics for the active-duty military members who are serving in and around these -- the White House. So that is a bit of the explanation that the White House has offered in the last 24 hours. But it also comes at a time where top aides continue to defend

President Biden's ability to serve. Take a listen to John Kirby this morning.


JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: 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 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 have seen.

And more critically, Kate, as the commander in chief, he knows he has to be.


SAENZ: Now, the White House is also -- and campaign are also closely watching these meetings playing out on Capitol Hill, fully aware that they understand that Democrats will be here in Washington for the first time discussing the president's candidacy.

Of course, the White House insists and President Biden himself insists that he is staying in this race, making calls himself personally to lawmakers, including the Congressional Black Caucus. Something that the team is also trying to do is highlight the support that they do have in this moment from lawmakers at a time when others have expressed serious doubt about him remaining in the race.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz over at the White House, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, we will get back to both of you. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, President Biden is also very, very busy today hosting NATO leaders here in Washington. They're here for a summit to mark 75 years of the military alliance. But much of their attention will be on President Biden, scrutinizing his performance in the global spotlight.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will also attend this NATO summit. The summit could prove to be a major turning point for his country as its war with Russia drags on. There are talks behind the scenes right now to label Ukraine's path to eventual NATO members -- and I'm quoting now -- as "irreversible."

Here with me now is CNN's chief national security correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

How important, Alex, is this summit for both of these presidents, Biden and Zelenskyy? ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this

was already a critical summit for both men, it's historic 75th anniversary.

As you noted, we're going to hear President Biden speaking tonight, welcoming those fellow leaders at the Mellon Auditorium, which is the place where the NATO charter was signed in 1949. But what we have seen from President Biden at the CNN debate, the discussion that we have heard in this country since that debate in the past week-and-a-half really is going to overshadow this summit.

Every one of President Biden's moves, everything he says is going to be analyzed not just by people all across our country, but by these leaders who are in town as well. A lot of NATO leaders and many of the diplomats I have spoken with who are participating in this series of meetings, they're just as shaken as Democrats, because this was already a summit that was designed to shore up the unity in the NATO alliance because of fears of what may happen in the U.S. election.


And so now those concerns are going to be overshadowing this. These foreign diplomats, they don't want to wade in on U.S. diplomatic -- U.S. political issues, but this is certainly something they're going to face in terms of barrages of questions.

At the same time, Wolf, what I have been told by a number of diplomats is that they believe that the summit will go ahead as planned in terms of the objectives that they hope to achieve, continuing the support for Ukraine, having the discussions about China and cyber that they intend to, despite all this discussion about Biden that is going on around.

So they do expect Biden to say and do the right things, but there is -- there are obvious concerns when it comes to President Biden.

BLITZER: Are you giving any indications, Alex, what we can expect to hear from President Zelenskyy when he delivers a major speech here in Washington later today?

MARQUARDT: Also critical for him, of course, because this is such an important moment in this war, President Zelenskyy speaking at 7:30 this evening at the Ronald Reagan Institute.

I was told earlier today by a Ukrainian official that we will probably hear -- that the speech is being a little bit changed because of what we saw in Ukraine yesterday, the spate of attacks by Russia, these missile attacks all across the country.

The driving focus in that speech is going to be continued aid for Ukraine. You saw what Russia did to us yesterday. We need your support. We need not just offensive weaponry, but defensive weaponry, those air defense systems for the country.

And then he's going to talk about Ukraine's role within NATO. We do expect the NATO alliance to issue a declaration saying that Ukraine is on an irreversible path to NATO membership. But that will fall short of what Zelenskyy wants, which ideally in his mind would be NATO membership right now, and, if not that, then a timetable.

He will not get those things. And, last year, we heard an outburst from President Zelenskyy at the Vilnius NATO summit. He's expected to be a little bit calmer, if you will. But,certainly, he will be making the case for Ukraine's membership in the NATO alliance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's got to be unanimous. All of the NATO allies have to agree on a new member coming into NATO.

MARQUARDT: And now 32. We have two new members, Sweden and Finland.

BLITZER: Right. And Hungary apparently is opposed to NATO membership, so we will see how that unfolds.

All right, Alex, thanks very, very much.

Alex Marquardt reporting.

President Zelenskyy's visit to Washington comes on the heels of widespread Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities that are ongoing right now, the death toll from these most recent strikes now at 39, with more than 360 people injured, with some very disturbing new images. We will show them to you.

One of the buildings hit was a children's hospital in the capital, Kyiv. And new this morning, we obtained this very grim new picture of an injured child smeared with blood.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Fred, how crucial is President Zelenskyy's presence in Washington right now in the fight against Russia in Ukraine?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's become all the more crucial because all the things that you were just talking about, because of those events that unfolded here yesterday morning.

I'm actually right at the impact site where that missile struck that children's hospital and also where that image came from of that child that was blood-smeared. There were also some other pretty horrifying images that we saw from right here.

And if you look behind me -- I'm going to get out of your way real quick, Wolf -- you can see that this children's hospital, which is the largest children's hospital in all of Ukraine, one of the buildings was absolutely annihilated by that missile.

You can see there's a lot of debris laying around here. A lot of the floors have actually just flat-packed down. They're actually laying right here beside me. It's a little difficult to see right now because the sun is going down. But you can see that this building here was just completely taken out by that missile. I was able to speak, Wolf, to one of the doctors who was on hand when

all this happened. And she said -- she was in an adjacent building. She said she came out here and her biggest fear was that she had colleagues in there and patients who were in there and not knowing whether or not they had managed to evacuate.

There were two people killed at this site here, dozens of people injured, of course, a lot of them children, but 29 people killed here in Kyiv. And that makes one of the things that Alex was just talking about that's been so important for the Ukrainians and that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of course, has been talking about so much as well all the more important, and that is air defense weapons for Ukraine.

They say they need a lot more of them, especially the U.S.-made Patriot systems, to stop what you're seeing behind me happening again, Wolf.

BLITZER: Right in the capital of the country.

Fred Pleitgen, stay safe over there, as I say to you every single day. Thank you very much.

I want to bring in retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt right now. He was also assistant secretary of state for political military affairs under President George W. Bush.

General, thanks so much for joining us.

What can you tell us, first of all? What can President Zelenskyy realistically, keyword realistically, expect to get out of this visit to Washington during this NATO summit this week?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: Well, Wolf, if I think what he needs more than anything else is a determination and a conviction the part of the NATO countries that they will continue to support him, whether it's at the $5 billion, the $50 billion, the $500 million level.


Those kind of issues and the types of equipment are far less important than the West sending a solid message of willingness to continue the fight. That's what he wants to take away, even more so than a declaration of NATO membership.

BLITZER: Does moving closer to full Ukrainian membership in NATO work as a deterrent, General, to Putin, a deterrent to Putin and Russia, for that matter, or increase potentially the risk of war with Europe and the West?

KIMMITT: That's the million-dollar question. People have made the argument that NATO expansion up to the doorsteps of Russia has caused this problem.

Others would say countries can join if and at the time that they want. My personal view is that would just continue to make Russia continue to make this fight for years and years, because nobody does expect that Ukraine would join NATO in the middle of this fight. If that were to be the case, we'd be pulled into it automatically.

BLITZER: Russia's widespread strikes this weekend killed dozens of Ukrainians and hit...


BLITZER: ... as we saw in Fred Pleitgen's report, a children's hospital in the capital of Kyiv right before this summit occurred.

What message do you think Russia is sending and what is their immediate goal here?

KIMMITT: I think their message is quite clear. NATO, you can meet all you want, you can celebrate 75 years, but I'm going to still continue this fight, regardless of what you say and what you do at that summit.

Again, this is a battle of wills between Putin and the West, and, at this point, Putin is simply seeing who's going to last longer.

BLITZER: General Mark Kimmitt, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

And still ahead this hour, I will speak to a Democratic congressman who was inside a caucus-wide closed-door meeting to discuss President Biden's campaign. I will ask him about those critical discussions in that meeting.

And Donald Trump is back out there on the campaign trail today in Miami. And the Florida Senator Marco Rubio is by his side. Many are wondering if the man Trump once called lil' Marco could play a big role on the Republican ticket.

Stay with us. You're live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.



BLITZER: Just a few hours from now, the doors will open in Doral, Florida,that's right near Miami, as Donald Trump gets back into campaign mode after lying relatively low since the CNN debate.

The Republican National Convention is less than a week away in Milwaukee and the pressure is clearly building right now for Trump to reveal his running mate.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us live from the Sunshine State right now.

Kristen, I take it you're near the Doral Hotel in Miami. What do we expect tonight?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we had originally expected this to potentially be the vice presidential announcement, but it does seem as though everything is taking a back seat, as we had previously reported, Donald Trump and his team waiting to see how this played out with Joe Biden, currently watching the media cycle around the current president.

Now, one of the things that we had pointed at too was the fact that Donald Trump himself seemed to be waiting for results before he actually came up with who his vice presidential candidate might be, something he said as much of last night in an interview. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't made final decision, but I have some ideas as to where we're going, and a little bit we wanted to see what they're doing, to be honest, because it might make a difference. I don't know. I'm not sure that it would.

But there are those that say Trump's waiting until he finds out what's going to happen with crooked Joe Biden. And we will see what happens with Biden.


HOLMES: Now part of that waiting is also about the media cycle. They -- they're waiting to see how this plays out in terms of Joe Biden, but they're also seeing that he is currently really the center of attention, as this has been really a spiral for the Democratic Party.

So Donald Trump does not want his announcement to get overshadowed in any way by what is going on. But they have given themselves a timeline of next Monday, one source saying it could actually come as late of next Monday, when the convention starts, right before the ticket is actually nominated.

But, right now, anyone close to him says it's really anyone's guess as to, one, who the actual vice presidential pick is and, two, when that announcement is coming. I will note Senator Marco Rubio, as we have reported who is on the short list, will be there tonight. Some of the other candidates are not expected to be there.

So they say not to read it too much into it but, of course, we can't help it. It's the veepstakes. That's what part of this is.

BLITZER: And he's going to be heading over to Pennsylvania this weekend for another rally, is that right, Kristen?

And I take it that another one of the potential V.P. front-runners, J.D. Vance, might he be there as well, even though he doesn't represent Pennsylvania, he represents Ohio?

HOLMES: Well, Pennsylvania is certainly J.D. Vance's territory, while, yes, he is in Ohio, covers that kind of area of Butler, Pennsylvania, as well.

We aren't sure if he's going to be in attendance yet at that rally. We, of course, have asked. We are trying to read any sort of tea leaves right now. Just to go over what we have talked about, the top three contenders that are still being batted around -- or at least that's what senior advisers are telling us -- are North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Senators J.D. Vance and Senator Marco Rubio.


So that is all, again, reading tea leaves. We have asked who's going to be there on Saturday. We know that most of these candidates, these potential vice presidential picks, are going to be at the convention next week. How this plays out beforehand though, that's really the big question.

BLITZER: We will see who the former president picks as his running mate.

Kristen Holmes on the scene for us in Miami, appreciate it very much.

Let's discuss all of this and more with former RNC communications director Doug Heye and CNN senior political commentator Scott Jennings.

Scott, at tonight's rally, do you expect former President Trump to sit back and let Democrats tear into Joe Biden or revert into his usual self?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's going to do what he does. I mean, do I expect him to totally lay back? Of course not. I mean, it's Donald Trump. I mean, he's got lots of things to say about Joe Biden and he's going to do that.

I mean, he's got a lot of material to work with right now and a lot of it's going to flow right out of the newspapers that we all read every single day. That's sort of the beauty of being Donald Trump at the moment. You don't have to make anything up and you don't have to conjure anything here. You can just pick up the paper and read certain paragraphs out of it and it sounds pretty bad.

So if I were him, that's what I'd do and he will draw the line and I'm sure the crowd there in Florida is going to eat it up.

BLITZER: What do you think, Doug Heye? What do we expect?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think, to Scott's point, this is what Donald Trump likes to do. It's been interesting because Donald Trump can be a very disciplined messenger when he chooses to be.

So his silence over the past week or so or sort of silence is notable. I'd actually advise them not to do this event tonight. Let the story again be on the chaos that we're seeing, the Democrats in disarray, as Mitch McConnell's office likes to talk about, with the House conference meeting today, because what we're seeing is people saying, well, Joe Biden's our nominee and I support him.

What they're not saying is Joe Biden is 100 percent, he's throwing his fastball as good as he's ever done, and Joe Biden is clearly going to win in November. They're nervous. If I'm the Trump team, as they have been doing, I think successfully for a while, let Joe Biden be that center of conversation, as he's trying to do a four corners offense and slow this process down and wait the clock out.

BLITZER: But Trump really loves publicity, as you know.

HEYE: Yes, he does.

BLITZER: He even called into the Sean Hannity TV show on FOX last night.

HEYE: Well, call-ins, whether it's Trump yesterday or Biden yesterday, we're sort of bookended by phone calls, they aren't -- they don't have that same impact as a live TV rally. Trump knows that, but he's going to have a full week of pro-Trump media at the convention next week.

It's a dichotomy that I think they want to create, but the longer that this is about Joe Biden and his frailties and his mental and physical state, I think the better it is for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: You know Scott, Trump said last night that he expects Vice President Kamala Harris to replace Biden if he steps down. Who would Trump rather go toe to toe with? Would it be the president or the vice president?

JENNINGS: I think they want Biden. I mean, he's wounded right now. He's got an approval rating in the mid-30s. His unfitness is being called into question by every major media outlet in the English- speaking world at the moment.

So I think they want to run against Joe Biden. I'm not sure Harris would be that much better, but she would be somewhat better, I think, and given that it takes the age issue off the table and it might be a fresh face, could be energizing for some of the party's voters.

But, no, I think Trump thinks they have got Joe Biden right where they want him, which is in a very wounded state, but not so wounded that Democrats are going to go through with the idea of throwing him overboard. I don't agree with -- by the way, leave it to a North Carolina guy to bring up the four corners offense the way Doug just did.


JENNINGS: I don't quite agree that they got to -- they can run that for the rest of the campaign. They will have to prosecute a case about where he wants to take the country.

But I do largely agree with Doug that just letting the Democrats continue to stew here is the best course for Trump, at least in the next few days.

BLITZER: What do you think, Doug?

HEYE: Yes, that's clearly where they are at this point. And Biden is in such a difficult position, and I think, as Scott says, he's really wounded, but not to the point where it's mortal at this point.

And part of that is, as we have seen in politics, politicians don't want to be the first person to do something. So that's why we haven't seen, despite their concerns, a serious, senior member of House or Senate Democratic leadership step up and say the things that people out of government are saying or what Democrats are saying privately.

We heard so often in the Trump years, and I certainly said it here with you, that what Republicans say about Trump in private is not what they say in public. That is 100 percent true about Joe Biden right now.

BLITZER: The RNC, Doug, just released their new party platform. It will be formally released at the convention, as you know. And it scaled back language on abortion rights for women and gay marriage.

Do you expect that to quell some voters' fears of Trump's stance on these sensitive issues?

HEYE: It's Donald Trump trying to have nuance, which is something that we don't see him do very often.

And I can tell you, having worked at the RNC forming platform committees -- I worked for Richard Burr, who was a platform committee co-chair with Kevin McCarthy. This is an important document for the committee, but, ultimately, it's not something that voters pay attention on.

Even though delegates will vote on it, they don't really focus on it.