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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Urges Democrats to Hold Off Criticism of Biden Until We See How This Week Goes; Trump Builds Suspense Around V.P. Pick Days Before RNC; Secretary Blinken Says, F-16 Jet Fighters are Heading to Ukraine. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 10, 2024 - 10:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. You're live in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

We begin with one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party stopping short of a full-throated endorsement of President Biden. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is asking her colleagues to give President Biden until the end of the week before issuing any more calls to remove him from the top of the ticket. Pelosi warned this morning that time is running out for the president to leave the race if that's what he decides to do. Comments appear to underline the importance of the president's upcoming news conference at the NATO summit that's set to take place tomorrow.

Pelosi was asked earlier this morning whether she wants the president to be the Democratic nominee and here's her response.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have your support to be the head of the Democratic Senate?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): As long as the president has -- it's up to the president to decide if he is going to run. We're all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has said he has made the decision. He has said firmly this week, he is going to run. Do you want him to run?

PELOSI: I want him to do whatever he decides to do. Let's just hold off. Whatever you're thinking, either tell somebody privately, but you don't have to put that out on the table until we see how we go this week.


ACOSTA: For now, the President's grip on his party seems to be holding, while some of the party are grumbling privately, most Democrats in Washington are publicly falling in line.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): As I've said before, I'm with Joe.

I'm with Joe.

I'm with Joe.


ACOSTA: Meanwhile, former president Donald Trump hopped back on the campaign trail after laying low following the CNN debate. Trump is returning to his pattern of making bizarre comments at his rallies, now alleging a Biden cognitive cover-up.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the biggest cover up in political history. As you know, they are all co-conspirators in the sinister plot to defraud the American public about the cognitive abilities of the man in the Oval Office.


ACOSTA: In the meantime, one Senate Democrat is coming out saying he doesn't think the President can beat Trump.

CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz joins us now. Arlette, just how crucial is the president's performance this week? He has that big news conference tomorrow, of course.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He does, Jim. And President Biden's team is well aware that every word and movement from the president at the NATO summit will be closely watched this week, not just by world leaders, but also by voters and concerned Democrats here at home. For the time being, President Biden and his team are simply charging ahead with this campaign, essentially telling those doubters in the Democratic Party that it is time to move on.

Aides believe that the debate over the debate and President Biden standing in the race has been settled, as the president himself has repeatedly said that he plans to remain at the top of the Democratic ticket heading into November's but debate.

But still, even as President Biden has sought to rally some support around him with a couple of key meetings and phone calls with the Congressional Black Caucus and progressives, like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there are still some in the Democratic Party who harbor deep reservations about Biden remaining at the top of the ticket. So far, you have had seven House Democratic lawmakers publicly calling for the president to step aside, many more expressing concerns privately as well. And then over in the Senate, at least three Democratic senators in a meeting yesterday, saying that they're concerned Biden won't win in November. Senator Michael Bennet was among those, and he spoke to that issue last night here on CNN. Take a listen.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): This race is on a trajectory that is very worrisome.

Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide and take with him the Senate and the House.


SAENZ: Now, one thing that President Biden's allies and Democrats who have concerns have said in recent days is that the president needs to do more to show voters he is up for a second term.


The president today has a jam packed schedule in just about an hour. He will be stopping by the AFL-CIO to meet with key union leaders from across the country. Of course, the Biden campaign continues to believe that union support would be critical for Biden's re-election in November, and then the president will turn his attention to the NATO summit, welcoming leaders for a family photo, participating in a working session.

And tonight here at the White House, they'll host world leaders for a dinner. The president also will meet one-on-one with the new British prime minister. And, of course, there will be a lot of attention paid to the president's solo news conference tomorrow at a time when many allies have said he needs to do more news conferences, more interviews, more town halls, taking unscripted questions as a way to show voters he is up for a second term.

ACOSTA: All right. Arlette Saenz over at the White House for us, thanks very much.

We're just days away from the Republican National Convention and Donald Trump is still without a running mate. He held a rally in Florida last night with potential V.P. pick Senator Marco Rubio.

Let's bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny to talk about that. Jeff, what do you think? I mean, how much longer are we going to be waiting here? The convention is coming soon.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is coming soon. But, look, I mean, former President Trump is clearly watching what is playing out on the other side of the ticket here. He said so as much earlier this week that he's waiting to see what President Biden does. Should he stay in the race? Should someone else sort of step forward? So, that's part of it.

But he's also long said that he wanted to wait until the convention. I mean, if he had his choice, I think he would literally have the vice presidential running mate just appear on stage or drop from the ceiling or something like the balloons. But he said his advisers have said that's not quite practical in terms of logistics.

So, look, I think that we're in the window here, probably beginning. I'm told on Friday into the Monday range. He has a rally scheduled for Pennsylvania on Saturday. That certainly could be a place. But there's also thinking why not wait until the convention on Monday? It would add some more excitement and drama.

But, clearly, the people who do not know are the potential running mates. Marco Rubio, first and foremost, was at the rally last night, but I'm told talking to his advisers this morning, he feels fairly good about it, but has no idea what Trump's going to do.

ACOSTA: And Nikki Haley is urging her delegates to vote for Trump. I guess this was not too surprising. I mean, she's said a lot of stuff about Donald Trump in the past, but, you know, if it's his party and she wants to be part of the party, she's going to have to do something like this.

ZELENY: Sure, I mean, it's not surprising at all, just another example that this convention is Donald Trump's -- it's his third convention, but, really, the first convention that he truly, truly owns. In 2016 going into the convention, there was some concern. Marco Rubio was there. Ted Cruz was there. There were quiet conversations. Can he still be stopped? This is Donald Trump's Republican Party. He enters Milwaukee with that.

So, Nikki Haley released her 97 delegates yesterday saying that they should vote for Donald Trump. She's also not going to the convention. She said she wasn't invited, doesn't have a speaking role. Of course, Governor DeSantis also doesn't have a speaking role. So, again, this is Donald Trump's convention. He won the nomination fair and square, fully outright here, so not surprising that Nikki Haley would bow out and, you know, not appear in Milwaukee. DeSantis will be in Milwaukee, but definitely on the sideline.

ACOSTA: It's very interesting. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with former deputy communications director for the 2016 Trump campaign, Bryan Lanza, and former White House director of message planning, Meghan Hayes. Meghan is also a consultant to the DNC conventions coming up in August. A little time for the party to sort things out, which is, I guess, where I'm going with this because Nancy Pelosi is calling on President Biden to decide whether or not he'll stay in the race. The president has already said he's staying in the race. What's going on here?

MEGHAN HAYS, DNC CONVENTION CONSULTANT: I think that people are waiting to see about the press conference tomorrow. I think that that's the last sort of big test that everyone has been asking for for the last, you know, two weeks or so since the debate happened. And I think that that's going to be a determined determining factor of whether the House Democrats and senators, you know, stay quiet and sort of keep the, the party together. So, I think that a lot rests tomorrow on that press conference.

ACOSTA: And, Brian, I mean, we've seen Trump laying low for the last several days. He got back out on the campaign trail. How much is Donald Trump enjoying sort of being -- I mean, usually, he wants to be in the headlines, in the lead story every day, not so much lately.

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP 2016 CAMPAIGN: We've never been used to this position since Donald Trump has jumped in the race where somebody else is sort of garnering the signature question or the signature debate of what's happening, and that's Joe Biden's neurological fitness. And so, yes, he's staying on the sidelines. He's watching it. He's enjoying it. We're enjoying it. It's not sustainable at some point. The Democrats are going to decide what to do. It's my view it's going to be Joe Biden because he can't drop out of the race for president and remain president. So, it's just it's too much of a humiliating thing for that next step to happen. So, they're stuck with them to November.

Now, the question becomes, you know, do people, are they able to pivot away from Joe Biden's cognitive fitness to other things about the campaign. I don't think it's possible.


I mean, voters want to know if this guy has the mental aptitude to be there. They have concerns. And tomorrow's press conference is going to play a small role in that, but we're all going to be watching every time he does something.

It reminds me of 2016 when Donald Trump had a rally, had CNN tuned in to see what crazy thing he was going to say next. We're all now going to be tuning in to everything Joe Biden does to show what cognitive decline fitness is he going to display. That's not a race you want to have.

ACOSTA: Meghan, what do you think of that, and also what Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado is saying? He thinks Trump could win in a landslide.

HAYS: Yes. I mean, I think that the Democrats, that the president said he is staying in, and after Thursday, or after tomorrow's press conference, if that remains the truth, then the Democrats are going to have to pivot away, and they're going to have to even take on Donald Trump. That is the fight here that we need to be moving towards in November. So, the Republicans should focus -- can focus what they want to focus on, and that's going to be Joe Biden. But the Democrats need to focus on the contrast of fighting back to Donald Trump.

And I do think that everyone is going to be watching him. I mean, you saw it yesterday when he gave his remarks, and from a teleprompter. People are like, oh, he spoke from a teleprompter. It's like, well, this is a, a speech on the world -- yes, it's like this is a speech -- it's a speech on the world stage. This is not abnormal. You know, Obama and Trump both gave speeches at NATO on teleprompters.

So, it is going to be an uphill battle for him every single day. But if the president chooses to stay and Democrats need to coalesce together and we need to focus our energy on Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: And, Bryan, I mean, one of the things that Trump had benefited from is just having the focus, the camera off of him for a little while, but he got back out on the campaign trail, held a rally, and he's doubling down on this praise for January 6th defendants. I mean, he was doing a lot of other things yesterday, but let's listen to this.


TRUMP: We are a nation that allows radical left terrorists to violently attack our cities, leaving behind massive destruction and death, and nothing happens to the criminals who do these terrible things. There is no punishment. But when people who love our country protest on January 6th in Washington, they become hostages, unfairly imprisoned for long periods of time. But, fortunately, the Supreme Court has just ruled, and they should be out soon.


ACOSTA: Now, we should add we did not hear the add that weird, dramatic music that was playing there. I just want to make sure our viewers understand that. But speaking of weird and so on, I mean, do you wish that Trump would stop talking about this? I mean, this is the issue with Trump, is that as soon as he starts talking again, he's going to say things, like praising January 6th rioters as hostages and so on, when that's just absolute lunacy.

LANZA: Look, I think what, what everybody would want President Trump to talk about is going to be inflation, immigration and the wars that we have abroad. Anything that's independent of that is a distraction of what we think is the winning formula for us in November. So, yes, whether he's talking about January 6th, whether we're having COVID conversations, even whether we're having this weird conversation about Project 25, who nobody knows about, that is a distraction from the issues that are going to result in a President Trump victory.

Immigration, inflation, and the wars abroad are what voters care about, is what he should be addressing. That's not the time I would have liked to utilize on the campaign.

ACOSTA: Yes, but, I mean, that's Trump. He wants to do that.

LANZA: It's baked in. Voters hear the --

ACOSTA: And Project 2025, there's a lot of Trump people who worked on it.

LANZA: Listen, I worked on the Donald Trump transition in 2016. I was the senior adviser there, I was communications director, and I saw the Heritage Foundation memos, never read them. That's what's going to happen again. Nobody's going to read them except the media or maybe the Joe Biden campaign to say, hey, these guys matters.

As somebody who's in the inside, who hears these great things about the Heritage Foundation, I saw the memos, I never read it, and it'll never be read again.

ACOSTA: And, Meghan, I mean, one of the other things that we heard yesterday was Trump again, comparing undocumented immigrants to the serial killer, Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. Let's listen to that.


TRUMP: Did you ever hear of Hannibal Lecter? He was a lovely man. He would love to have you for dinner. He will take you. You had many people for dinner. Well, we have a lot of people coming in. They always say, oh, that's terrible that Trump would say, he is rambling about Hannibal Lecter. No, I'm not rambling. That's what -- we are allowing people from insane asylums and mental institutions into our country by the tens of thousands.


ACOSTA: Yes, I mean, I've listened to this Hannibal Lecter bit a bunch of times. I still don't fully understand what he's saying there. He's praising Hannibal Lecter, but also saying people like Hannibal Lecter are coming across the border. I mean, isn't this what you want -- isn't this what the Biden people want to see more of Donald Trump out on the campaign trail saying things like that?

HAYS: Absolutely. It just reminds people how chaotic that his presidency was. It reminds people how crazy the things that he says that comes out of his mouth, that it's not baked in policy. He's not focusing on policy. So, the more Donald Trump is out there, the better it is for the Biden campaign, the better it is for Joe Biden. So, if he wants to continue to talk about Hannibal Lecter, I mean, feel free.

ACOSTA: Bryan, Hannibal Lecter, do we know what's going on there?

LANZA: I think what he wants to say is that some of these people that are coming across --

ACOSTA: Great movie.

HAYS: Yes.

LANZA: Yes. The second one wasn't as good. But I would say this, is what he's trying to say is that people that are coming across the border who are committing crimes against our citizens are animals. And it's language they used in 2016, it's language they used in this entire administration. People have heard it, and people now are looking at some of these things that are taking place and these victims, these criminals, and they're animals that are doing these things to our country, to our citizens.


And, by the way --

ACOSTA: A lot of migrants come into this country and contribute to the American experience. This country was built on immigrants.

LANZA: Contributed to the technology, we've had great advances. But the bottom line is whether it's a small percentage.

ACOSTA: Also, if you shut down the border and you don't have any immigration, as you know, Bryan, I mean, you talk to lots of businesses around this country, you know, prices will go up.

LANZA: The Trump's saying shut down legal immigration. He's not saying shut down legal immigration. There is a process. There's a distinction that people want to sort of bake over and try to conflate. There is something between an illegal alien and a legal citizen and somebody who comes in here legally. And when there's a crime committed by an illegal alien, everybody says, well, it's a low crime. It's that with standards. That crime shouldn't exist in the stats. Had we honored our basic laws, there would be no illegal immigration crime. And there is. And every crime that's committed by illegal is a tragedy because it shouldn't have happened. And the only reason it happens because our laws are being violated and not being enforced. And that is a responsibility of government that they're failing to doing.

ACOSTA: All right.

HAYS: I don't think we should be referring to people regardless if they're here legally or not as animals. I just think that's not appropriate language and I think that we should be more respectful of human beings.

ACOSTA: All right. Thanks a lot, Meghan. Bryan, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Still to come this morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy making an impassioned plea in Washington as world leaders gather for the NATO summit.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We must be strong and uncompromising all together, uncompromising in defending democracy, uncompromising against Putin and his cautery (ph), uncompromising to every possible terror.


ACOSTA: The U.S. ambassador to NATO joins me live next. Stay with us.



ACOSTA: It's day two of the NATO summit. Last hour, Secretary of State Tony Blinken gave a surprise update on the war in Ukraine at this very moment. Additional aircraft are being sent from allies in Europe.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm also pleased to announce that, as we speak, the transfer of F 16 jets is underway, coming from Denmark, coming from the Netherlands. And those jets will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against the Russian aggression.


ACOSTA: That update coming as President Biden pulls double duty at the summit, pledging to protect the 75-year-old alliance while assuring world leaders that he still will be able to be effective in the Oval Office next year and beyond.

Last night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made it clear the entire world is awaiting the American election.


ZELENSKYY: Now everyone is waiting for November. Americans are waiting for November, in Europe, Middle East, in the Pacific. The whole world is looking to autumn, looking to November. And truly speaking, Putin awaits November, too.


ACOSTA: Let's discuss more now with the United States ambassador to NATO, Julie Smith. Ambassador Smith, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

I want to ask you, a top of mind for many NATO allies, as you probably expect, is President Biden and his ability to win, his fitness to lead at this point. How important is the president's performance this week, and how much of it is on -- is that on the minds of NATO leaders?

JULIE SMITH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, this is going to be an amazing week for the NATO alliance and for the president. You know, he insisted on hosting this summit here in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the alliance's 75th anniversary. He gave a very powerful speech last night to an audience of over 500 people. He made the case about how U.S. leadership has ensured that this alliance is bigger, it's more united and more determined to support Ukraine as it defends its territory against Russian aggression.

So, I know the president is looking forward to jumping in today. Allies appreciate his leadership. They responded positively to his resounding speech last night and call for even greater unity across the alliance. And we can't wait to jump in in just a few hours.

ACOSTA: And, Ambassador Smith, I mean, obviously many of these NATO allies remember who was in office before President Biden and former President Trump's shadow, I suppose, might be looming over the summit to some extent. Just yesterday, he said he did not know what NATO was until he was in the White House. Let's listen to that.


TRUMP: I didn't even know what the hell NATO was too much before, but it didn't take me long to figure it out, like about two minutes.

Sir, may I ask you a question? If we don't pay our bills, will you protect us from Russia? I said, you mean you're delinquent? They said, yes, we're delinquent. Let's say we're delinquent. Would you protect us? I said, no, I will not protect you from Russia. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Madam Ambassador, what's your reaction to that?

SMITH: Well, first of all, President Biden has known throughout his entire career what NATO is about. He fundamentally understands that this alliance serves U.S. interest, that it brings the peace and the stability that allows the U.S. economy and the economies of our allies to thrive. So, no one had to explain NATO to Joe Biden. It's something that he has committed himself to from the early days of his career. Often I say when I go into brief the president on NATO, he ends up briefing me. So, I can't wait to see him hosting this summit.

And as for the comments that you just played, look, anybody who invites any sort of attack on NATO territory, I mean, those types of comments are irrational, they're dangerous, and, frankly, irresponsible. So this president knows that we have to turn the alliance's focus right now to Russia, and what Russia is doing in Ukraine, push back, and stand united with our allies so that Putin understands that the NATO alliance isn't going anywhere, and that we will stay united in supporting Ukraine in this very dangerous moment.

ACOSTA: And what can you tell us about the work that is being done to admit Ukraine into NATO?

SMITH: Well, this is a big week for Ukraine because what they will be receiving is a very robust package of new initiatives. NATO, for the first time in its history, is actually establishing a command that is focused on moving Ukraine closer to NATO membership. You also saw the announcement just minutes ago by Secretary Blinken that the F-16s that are being provided by both sides Denmark and the Netherlands are now on their way and those jets are going to be operational this summer.

In addition to that, allies are coming together and making new commitments on air defense, new Patriots and other systems that will allow the Ukrainians to protect their territory against these indiscriminate attacks on civilians, such as the hit on the children's hospital that we saw just a few days ago.

So, we are building a bridge to NATO membership for Ukraine, and we are doing that not in words, but actually in actions. And so this is a big two days for President Zelenskyy and his team. Ukraine joined us at the big celebration last night at Mellon Auditorium, and we look forward to having them here in the Washington Convention Center.

ACOSTA: And, Madam Ambassador, I did want to ask you this. A Moscow court has ordered the arrest of the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, accusing her of participating in a, quote, extremist organization. What's the administration's response to that?

SMITH: I'm sorry, on what specifically? I had trouble hearing.

ACOSTA: Apparently, Russia is seeking the arrest of the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. I'm just curious if you have a response to that. SMITH: Yes. Well, look, this is a classic playbook on the part of the Russians. What we've seen President Putin do at home is frequently go after his opponents. We've seen all sorts of opposition leaders throughout many years being locked up and put away. This is classic Putin. This is something that NATO allies call out and condemn frequently. We continue to monitor the situation of any political prisoners that exist across Russia and make sure that they understand that this is unacceptable and not in adherence with any of the values that we hold dear across the NATO alliance.

ACOSTA: All right. Ambassador Smith, thank you very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

All right, coming up -- Thank you. Coming up, more than a million and a half customers are still without power in Texas. Could Beryl be a warning of what's to come for the rest of the hurricane season? That's coming up.

And we're minutes away from opening statements in the trial against Alec Baldwin over the deadly shooting on the Rust movie set. We'll bring that to you live in just a few moments.