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Team Biden Puts Finishing Touches On Tonight's Address; McConnell Defends His Decision To Endorse Trump; One-On-One With New York Rep. Pat Ryan. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 07, 2024 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, CNN senior reporter Isaac Dovere; White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, Akayla Gardner; and Mychael Schnell, congressional reporter for The Hill. Welcome all.

Isaac, let me start with you because you have a piece that it might tweak some feelings in the White House this morning kind of looking at basically what are the challenges for the president going into tonight. What are some people who want to see him win telling him that he needs to do? Tell us more.

EDWARD-ISAAC DEVORE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well look, the State of the Union is always a little bit of theatrics, or a lot of theatrics. In this case, as you said, it's important. It's the big speech that he has not only going into a reelection year but coming at this moment when people are saying is he up to it. Is he up to the job? Is he up to a second term?

The -- a lot of Democrats that I've been talking to -- leading Democrats over the last couple of weeks have been saying not just with the State of the Union by overall. They want to see more of a fight out of him. They want to see enthusiasm, passion, pride. Those are the words that I hear.

Governor Tim Walz from Minnesota, who is a big fan of the president and very much on board, said people need to hear it from the candidate himself and they need to feel like he's a fighter that -- the question is he tough enough, he's got to answer.

And that's something that comes up when they hear these stories of oh, he's cursing about Donald Trump behind closed doors, or Benjamin Netanyahu, or he says something tough at a fundraiser. It's like let's see some of that because he needs to show it and show he's got the vitality to run and that he has the enthusiasm that he's going to drum up in Democrats across the country.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Akayla, there's some truth to that, right, that -- we've heard the president say all sorts of stuff behind closed doors. You know, call -- you know, use the phrase "crazy SOB." I mean, it's -- there does seem to be a difference between who he is, especially in these fundraisers where he's not on camera.

He's not necessarily on a teleprompter from what we get. I mean, this is the most teleprompter speeches that, like, exist, right --


HUNT: -- the State of the Union. It's incredibly formal. It's incredibly scripted.

What do you expect tonight?

GARDNER: Yeah. I think to Isaac's point, I think a huge thing that voters are going to be watching for is just his performance and his delivery, especially because voters are still concerned about Biden's age. They're going to be watching how he handles hecklers -- interruptions during the speech.

And overall, I hear from voters some of those more candid moments -- they sort of appreciate it. It's those that he has some wit. That he's quick on his feet. And I think that's exactly, to Isaac's point, what Democrats are really hoping to see from him today.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Mychael, to that point -- and you cover Congress every day, running around in the hallways. I mean, I remember my first State of the Union. In the room was a George W. Bush State of the Union. And then when Obama came to office it was an absolute scandal that Joe Wilson leapt up and said "You lie" in the middle of that speech.

And I've got to be honest with you. That seems almost quaint in comparison to what we have seen in the years since. This is one of the rowdiest audiences that any president will have likely faced in the State of the Union.

Biden kind of turned it to his advantage last year. He kind of -- you know, he punched back when he was talking about the State of the Union.

What are you expecting? Like, who -- when you're sitting up there in the gallery watching the crowd, like, who are you going to have eyes on to see hey, are they going to act out schools, basically?

MYCHAEL SCHNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Right. And this is -- to your point, it's because President Biden's going to be addressing some of his fiercest Republican critics. Folks who have tried to thwart his legislative agenda. Folks who have led an impeachment inquiry into him and tried to kick him out of office, and who have dragged his family members in and questioned him about -- questioned them about their personal life.

So I'm going to be keeping an eye on who those fiercest critics are. Some of those hardline conservatives. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, Congressmen Jim Comer and Jim Jordan. They're leading the impeachment inquiry against him. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and other folks who we've seen be very critical of the president.

I'll note Speaker Johnson, yesterday, in a closed-door meeting, urged his members to maintain decorum during tomorrow's speech. It's a nice try, Mr. Speaker. HUNT: (INAUDIBLE).

SCHNELL: You're on the record by urging that decorum.

But I was talking to Congressman Tim Burchett afterwards and I said you think folks are going to heed Johnson's advice? What do you think? And he said, quote, "Does a Baptist church got a bus?" Of course, they're not going to. Of course, they are going to speak out because that's how it's become with these divisive politics.

And again, they are face-to-face with their political opponent, to your guy's point, at a moment where it's a very high-stakes speech. And we're going to see a lot of heckling. Depending on how the president handles it, it could be a great moment for him.

HUNT: Yeah.

I mean, Isaac, what is your sense of like -- I mean, Biden clearly is someone who gets angry, right?


HUNT: Like, he gets very angry. He flashes that anger more in private than in public. Is that something -- I mean, he seemed to be able to channel that --


HUNT: -- well last year in his State of the Union.

What do expect from him this year, especially because -- I mean, as Mychael points out, like, the stuff that Congress is going after this time -- I mean, it's very high --


HUNT: The stakes are very high and it's very personal.

DEVORE: Well, look, last year, there was that moment when he talked about Social Security and Medicare cuts and the Republicans started jeering him or not just one person saying lie -- you lie, but a lot of people calling out liar. He said oh, I enjoy conversion. And that was -- when you talk to White House aides, they say that was not scripted. That was just Biden off the cuff taking advantage of a moment that worked out well for him. They loved it.


Going into this year, some people in the White House have said to me yeah, we've had an eye on some moments that we can try to go them into some traps. So that's part of what the thinking is here.

Look, Joe Biden --

HUNT: Do they give you any sense of what those traps are?

DEVORE: Well, if they gave me the sense of it then I would sit here on TV and tell everybody and then I would look surprised.

HUNT: Right. I'm sorry. Finish your thought.

DEVORE: But what they are looking for is those moments where they can make Joe Biden seem like the reasonable, rational person who is just down the middle -- not screaming and jeering and all those things.

When Marjorie Taylor Greene, last year, stood up in that -- remember that all-white outfit with the fur coat -- screaming "liar."

HUNT: Yes.

DEVORE: That's the kind of contrast that they want. That's the contrast between Joe Biden's brand of politics and the MAGA Republican brand of politics, whether that's Donald Trump or anyone else. Obviously, Donald Trump much more on his mind this year than in years past.

HUNT: Yeah. And I do remember now that you bring that up. I mean, Kevin McCarthy tried to prevent what we saw last time.

SCHNELL: He gave the same message.

HUNT: Right, exactly, and we see how that -- we see that worked out.

All right, let's take a quick pause. I do want to kind of pull our conversation in this direction because just over three years since Donald Trump urged a mob on to attack the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he will support Trump as the Republican nominee.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How do you reconcile your Trump endorsement with the fact that you called him practically and morally responsible for January 6, and the fact that he insulted you and your wife repeatedly?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): On February 25, 2021, shortly after the attack on the Capitol, I was asked a similar question. And I said I would support the nominee for president even if it were the former president. I don't have anything to add to what I just said.


HUNT: All right, the panel is back.

Isaac, I mean, I -- you know, full disclosure. I was at the Capitol complex on January 6 and I remember covering intently what McConnell was doing behind the scenes. I mean, this was a hard break with Donald Trump for him.

There was a time in the -- in the -- during the second impeachment trial where there were a lot of questions about how McConnell was going to vote. Whether or not he was going to pressure other Republicans to vote to convict Trump in that circumstance. He ultimately didn't.

He used his floor speech announcing his resignation to say that I've been accused of being wrong about a lot of things but where -- knowing where my party's politics are is not one of them.

What is your sort of assessment of this situation here where McConnell is endorsing Trump even as he's on the way out the door and in spite of all of that?

DEVORE: Look, what you see from a number of Republican leaders here is very clearly valuing partisan commitment over principle. Things that they have said privately and publicly -- that they have real problems with Donald Trump. And this is not just we have a different view on tax cuts or something.


DEVORE: This is a real fundamental disagreement on how he views the Constitution and what the future of the republic is. It's not even, like, he will win or lose. These are real deep things that they have talked about -- they have talked about, some of them in public and some of them in private. There were the public comments from McConnell.

And then we are being presented with this situation where he has wrapped up the nomination and these leaders say well, he's the Republican nominee so I guess I'm supporting him.

And it's not just McConnell. You had Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, who said many things about how she didn't think Donald Trump would be fit to lead, endorse him yesterday. Glenn Youngkin, the governor of Virginia, will see the -- I assume some of the last remaining holdouts in the next couple of days -- go that direction, too.

It is not a situation where they are saying I have come to this because I have come to agree with him or I believe principally that he's the right person for it. It's he's the Republican nominee and that's the Republican the voters have chosen. And so, that's it.

HUNT: That's that.

Mychael, what are you hearing on the Hill about this?

SCHNELL: I mean, we were talking about McConnell stepping down as leader last weekend, saying that it was shocking because he's a -- he's a -- he's a stalwart of the Senate. But not surprising because the Republican Party has moved away from his institutional conservatism towards more of that MAGA and America First movement.

I think that this is -- this encapsulates that, right? This is the epitome of that. That Mitch McConnell, someone who he -- who blamed Donald Trump for the January 6 attack, someone who has weathered attacks on him and on his wife, the former Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, from Donald Trump. Someone who Mitch McConnell hasn't spoken to since the Capitol riot -- or before the Capitol riot -- around that time.

Mitch McConnell made the political calculation that Donald Trump is going to be the nominee and if we want more conservative judges on the court, if we want more conservative policy to be pushed through, potentially with a Senate majority next year, they have to endorse Donald Trump.

I think that at the end of the day, this just shows the changing center of the Republican Party. And we're not just seeing that with Mitch McConnell but lawmakers across the board. You mentioned some state officials. There are some moderate lawmakers.


Congressman Don Bacon, for example, came out yesterday and said I'm going to endorse Donald Trump.

HUNT: Right.

SCHNELL: Someone who hasn't said the nicest things about him.

But at the end of the day, this is where the Republican Party is going. And if these Republicans want these conservative policy wins and judicial nominations they're making the calculation that Donald Trump has to be their guy.

HUNT: Yeah. And, Akayla, it's not even that it's where the party's going. It's where it's gone.

GARDNER: Exactly. And I think to both of your points, McConnell is a party loyalist. At the end of the day, he's also trying to make his life easier if Donald Trump is elected. They're still going to have to work together in some ways. But they still have huge disagreements when it comes to Ukraine, when it comes to working on a bipartisan basis.

HUNT: Right.

GARDNER: And so he's definitely going to have to struggle with that if he ends up with Donald Trump as a president --

HUNT: Yeah.

GARDNER: -- come November.

HUNT: Well, I mean, McConnell is also peacing out before Trump can take office again if he wins.

DEVORE: Well, he'll be there for a couple of years left in the Senate, just not as leader.

HUNT: That's fair. But he's not going to be in charge.

All right, Isaac Dovere, Akayla Gardner, Mychael Schnell. Thank you guys very much. I really appreciate it. Ahead on CNN THIS MORNING, a juror explains why the movie set armorer was found guilty after Alec Baldwin was handed a gun with live rounds in it.

Plus, Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan, of New York, here to tell us what he wants to see from President Biden tonight during the State of the Union address.



HUNT: A little less gentleman, a little more junkyard dog. Tonight, President Biden will give the State of the Union address and we're learning many Democratic allies want the president to bring a little more fire when he speaks. The speech could potentially go a long way towards easing concerns about Biden's age. Polls show that most voters are concerned he's not up for a second term. Close allies are hoping for more unscripted moments like they saw in last year's speech.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security sunset. I'm not saying it's a majority.


Contact my office. I'll give you a copy.

Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year.

LAWMAKERS: Border! Border!

BIDEN: You got it.

REP. ANDY OGLES (R-TN): It's your fault. '

BIDEN: (Smiling).



Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan of New York. He represents a swing Hudson Valley district. Congressman, thank you very much for being here.

REP. PAT RYAN (D-NY): Thanks for having me.

HUNT: Top lines -- what are you -- are you one of these people that wants to see more fire from President Biden tonight in the State of the Union?

RYAN: I mean, that is the Joe Biden that we know and love and that I've seen a bunch of times -- as many have said, sometimes off-camera he is fiery and -- HUNT: Well, I think this is the thing, right? People are saying we see you in private.

RYAN: Yeah.

HUNT: We know -- I mean, he clearly gets angry. He flashes that. He's -- but we don't see it in public.

RYAN: Yeah.

HUNT: Why not?

RYAN: Well, I think -- I think he takes the job so serious and I think he understands the weight of particularly what's happening in the world right now and what's happening in our country -- the threats to our democracy -- and that he meets with the seriousness that it merits.

But people want to see and should see the fighter in him. I mean, he is a fighter certainly for our country but he's a -- he's a -- he's a people person. I mean, I spent a bunch of time with him in Ireland and the Irish --


RYAN: -- the Irish in him came out in terms of his fire.

And you come at him, you come at his people -- the American people -- he's going to come right back at you. We saw that last year. I've seen it a bunch of times. I think -- I do think we'll see it tonight again and I'm excited for that.

HUNT: Yeah, that's a really -- it's kind of a really interesting way -- scene, I guess, to set him in if you're actually with him in -- with him in Ireland.

You represent, like we said, a very swing district, right? Your -- you barely won your own race. You're running another race.

What do you hear and see on the ground that helps you understand what you think the president should do better? What are voters telling you in your district about why they don't like the president as much as they used to?

RYAN: I hear a lot of great feedback about not only the president personally but, more importantly, what he's delivered on and what he is talking about continuing to deliver on. And it is that fight. I mean, folks right now are --

I just had a town hall last week. So much pressure, particularly economic pressure, economic stress, cost of housing, cost of health care, cost of groceries still. And the real record that the president has had, the Democrats have had on bringing that pressure down and bringing those costs down.

In my district, for example, he came and delivered a $20 billion investment in quantum computing from IBM in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City, that hasn't had anything like that in a really long time. That's -- those are big-deal deliverables that we've already seen from him, and that's what folks want to continue to see.

It's sort of at the end of the day, it's a stark choice coming into 2024. Are you going to fight for us, the American people, or are you going to fight for yourself for your own personal grievances, like we've seen -- sort of, Trump's grievance-based, divisive, and dark politics? And that is not what folks in my district want.

HUNT: Do you want President Biden to come campaign with you in your district? Would you welcome him?

RYAN: Absolutely. I mean, he came -- he came last time in a -- in a tough, tight race. And you're driving through your home -- the streets of your hometown in a motorcade with the President of the United States. You see tens of thousands of people come out waving and greeting him. It has a huge impact. It lifts morale. It gives people hope --

HUNT: Yeah.

RYAN: -- and optimism. And I think we'd love to have that again.

HUNT: Fair enough.

I want to ask you about something we saw from Gov. Kathy Hochul yesterday, which is -- it's the cover here of the New York Post. That there are boots on the ground in the subways because of a rise in violent crime.

Do you think deploying the National Guard to protect people in this instance was the right thing to do?

RYAN: That's a -- honestly, it's a tough -- having served in uniform and --

HUNT: Yeah.

RYAN: -- thought about civil-military relations, I think that was -- that's a pretty strong call.

We certainly need to up the public safety in New York and we've been doing a lot of that. I've been working on a lot of that -- working with our local law enforcement and working with federal authorities.


I think the decision to deploy the Guard is a -- is a strong move and it puts -- frankly, the way I think about it you're putting young soldiers with relatively limited training in really tough spots. I mean, they're not trained really to do law enforcement. So I think there -- you know, I hope they get a lot of training on rules of engagement and they're not put in tough situations. But I would have preferred to see some other public safety assets deployed.

She is also deploying the State Police, which I think makes a lot more sense. And, of course, NYPD. But that was a bit of a surprise.

HUNT: I mean, it seems to make a pretty strong political statement about crime.

Do you -- where do you come down on how big of a problem crime is right now?

RYAN: Well, I hear from a lot of folks concerns about public safety. We have seen some violent crime go up in New York City. In my area, actually, crime is down pretty consistently for the last few years, which is encouraging. We've got to keep doing more work.

So I've been pushing and fighting for more funding, particularly on the fentanyl and opioid epidemic. That's been really the number one public safety concern that I hear in our area. I just with a family over the weekend who lost their son to a fatal overdose from fentanyl. And so, we're pushing more resources there. We're pushing to block China from bringing in all the precursor chemicals.

And, of course, I've been strongly calling consistently for more funding and more border security, which is one of the biggest things I hear in my district.

I do think, though, the militarization of the response like this can be counterproductive actually.

HUNT: Hmm.

RYAN: I think we've got to -- we have to be careful about who we deploy and how we deploy military folks in the U.S., even among the Guard.

HUNT: Yeah, and I appreciate your perspective as someone who has served. Thank you very much.

And you're going to stick around and join the top of our show next hour.

RYAN: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Thank you.

HUNT: So thank you very much, Congressman. I really appreciate your time.

All right, this just in here at CNN. Hamas is leaving Cairo with no breakthrough in negotiations to try to reach a ceasefire as calls for that ceasefire in Gaza are growing around the world. A senior source says the delegation is going to resume negotiations next week. You'll remember that Israel did not send a delegation to participate in this round of talks when Hamas refused to provide a list of hostages that were still alive in Gaza.

All right, time now for sports.

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team wins a thriller against Canada in conditions that many people called unplayable.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

So, San Diego got lots and lots of rain yesterday -- so much so that there were just big puddles standing on the field at Snapdragon Stadium. So that meant the ball certainly didn't move like it's supposed to -- sometimes not rolling at all. And that helped the U.S. score their first goal right here.

Now, they squeegeed the field at halftime to try to help the conditions but the U.S. Women's National Team interim head coach Twila Kilgore said it was tough out there.


TWILA KILGORE, INTERIM COACH, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM: You know, the game is played under all sorts of conditions all over the world. And today, our conditions happened to be a ton of rain and standing water on the field. And you've got to find a way to get it done. And these things -- these things do happen in football. So I would say being able to adjust to any sort of conditions is always a part of it and it takes a certain mentality to do that. And we did that today and we're not going to shy away from celebrating that because it's not easy.


SCHOLES: Yeah. And despite the conditions, this was a really good game. Sophia Smith scoring in the 99th minute to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead. Canada, though, on their very last chance, would get a penalty after U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher just leveled that Canadian player right there. The 127th-minute goal sent this game into penalties, but that's when Naeher would get redemption. She saved three penalties and converted one.

The U.S. wins in penalty kicks 3-1 to move on to the Gold Cup final against Brazil on Sunday.

All right, to the NBA where the Golden State Warriors had the biggest one-game turnaround in NBA history last night. So, Sunday, they lost to the Celtics by 52. Well, last night, they beat the Bucks by 35. That's only an 87-point difference.

Steph Curry made six threes and scored a game-high 29 points. The Bucks scored an NBA season-low nine points in the fourth quarter.

Golden State won that one 125-90.

All right. LeBron James, meanwhile, limping off the court in the final minutes against the Kings last night. Afterwards, LeBron said he's going to be alright. It's just his sore ankle. The 39-year-old scored 31 points and had 13 assists but it was a losing effort. De'Aaron Fox, 44 points, as the Kings won that one 130-120.

Elsewhere, a scary moment on the sidelines during last night's game between the Thunder and the Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City's Bismack Biyombo appears to collapse and fall to the ground during a timeout. After a lengthy delay, the veteran center was able to get up and walk to the locker room. Trail Blazers doctors reportedly cleared Biyombo of any serious medical issue. He's going to go under further evaluations later today.


All right. And finally, things got heated at the end of the Bulls matchup against the Jazz. With less than 10 seconds remaining of a one-point game, Utah's John Collins had some words for Chicago's Torrey Craig and assistant coach Chris Fleming. Things escalated. Lots of pushing and shoving here. Both teams started going at each other. Everyone eventually was separated.

Technical fouls given to Fleming, Craig, and Collins.

Chicago ended up winning that game 119-117.

The rare assistant coach and player pushing each other, Kasie. You don't see that one very often.

HUNT: No. Let's not and say we did, OK?

Andy. Thank you very much --

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: -- for that. I'll see you tomorrow.

Coming up here, Deputy White House press secretary Olivia Dalton joins us live to talk about tonight's State of the Union.

Plus, Alabama's governor signs a law protecting IVF. Why some experts say it doesn't go far enough.