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Election Showdown Set In Battleground Georgia; Presidential Candidates Spar On Immigration Ahead Of Debate; Inside The CNN Debate Night Spin Room. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 27, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING; 5:30 a.m. on debate day in America. Here is a live look at Atlanta, the host city for tonight's CNN debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to have you with us.

We are just hours away from the CNN presidential debate right here in Atlanta. And this is a city and a state that could be critical to determining who wins in November.

Back in 2020, you'll remember the state flipped blue, giving Joe Biden his narrowest victory in any state in the race, and this led to that now-infamous phone call from then-President Trump to Georgia election officials. He was trying to find enough votes to win.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


HUNT: Donald Trump did not win the state. He lost by less than a point. The fallout led to criminal charges against the former president in Fulton County in Atlanta.

And there was a break among some Republican leaders here in Georgia and one of those leaders joins us now, the former lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan. Thank you so much for being here, sir. Always good to have you here.

You, of course, were at the center of what we saw happen in 2020. Where do we stand in this state right now heading into this consequential night tonight?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER GEORGIA LT. GOVERNOR, BIDEN SUPPORTER: Well, I think the election is close. I think it's close today and it's going to be close on Election Day. And I think the big question for us here in Georgia is where do those

70-plus, almost 80,000 Nikki Haley voters show up on Election Day. Do they stay on the couch, do they show up and vote for Joe Biden, or do they just hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump? We'll have to see where that plays out.

But certainly, there is -- there is an angst amongst Georgians here because we have -- Donald Trump has absolutely shafted us so many different ways. I mean, going back to COVID, he second-guessed everything that Gov. Kemp and I did. Obviously, the fake elector scheme, the 2020 election debacle. The lies and conspiracy theories.

And so, I think there's a jaded feeling amongst a lot of Republicans. His support is a mile wide and an inch deep amongst Republicans in Georgia.

HUNT: So you have said you will vote for Joe Biden. And you stood next to Adam Kinzinger as he said something similar yesterday. Let's watch that.


ADAM KINZINGER, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: If you'd have told me, the Adam Kinzinger of three years ago, that you're going to be endorsing a Democrat for president in three years, I probably wouldn't have believed you. I would have been like what? This has got to be a different Adam Kinzinger. It can't be me. But I've got to tell you the stakes of this moment are way too high.


HUNT: So, of course, the question is how many people can you both bring with you, and what kind of difference does that make? Because there do seem to be a lot of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who maybe they're voting for Nikki Haley, as you say. They don't want to vote for Donald Trump, but they just can't -- they just can't break that habit. They can't vote for a Democrat.

DUNCAN: Yeah. I think between now and November we've got to go out there and make sure that folks recognize it's OK to vote for Joe Biden. It doesn't mean you're becoming a Democrat. It doesn't mean you don't believe in all of the conservative principles that you've kind of cut your teeth on. It just means that you're making a great decision as an American. You're putting somebody back in the office that is -- maybe doesn't agree on policies but it's a decent person that's going to keep the trains on time and not do what Donald Trump has done and will do to this country.

And for me, I talk a lot about a GOP 2.0. This is about vision casting to these millions of Republicans that this is the best way for us to take our medicine and accelerate this move towards a better direction for the party. And to me, I think there's millions of Americans -- or millions of Republicans that are looking for an excuse to not vote for Donald Trump, and we hope to get their attention.

HUNT: So last night -- you've worked very closely with Gov. Brian Kemp here in Georgia. And he really showed and highlighted the distinction between Donald Trump and his Republican Party and the Republican Party that has included, perhaps you could argue, a wider swath of people in that he won when Donald Trump lost here in Georgia.


And he was on CNN last night talking about what he decided to do in Georgia's primary. And I know it's interesting to you and some of our other guests here. Let's watch that.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP, (R) GEORGIA: In the Georgia primary, I didn't vote for anybody. I voted, but I didn't vote for anybody.


KEMP: I mean, the race was already over when the primary got here.

COLLINS: But you didn't vote for Donald Trump?

KEMP: I didn't vote for anybody.

COLLINS: Why not?

KEMP: Because the race was over with.


HUNT: Does that surprise you?

DUNCAN: No, it doesn't. First of all --

HUNT: Does it surprise you that he said it out loud?

DUNCAN: Well, Brian Kemp has earned the right to do whatever he wants when he walks in that ballot box. He's been a great governor. He's certainly led this state through a bunch of difficult times and he's used conservative principles to do it.

But I think it speaks to the broader sense of Republicans -- that they just had this angst amongst them. We know in our gut that Donald Trump is not the right person.

And I can only imagine what would have -- what would have been different if governors and senators in the Republican Party would have stepped up a year ago this time, or two years ago this time, and said you know what -- we know the right thing to do. We're going to publicly support somebody maybe in the short term hurts our political career, but long term helps our country.

To me, I think that's going to be the Monday morning quarterbacking after the election -- whether Joe Biden wins and we realize we could have put anybody else that had an R next to their name and a heartbeat and could have beat him, or we got Donald Trump and we get to watch the train wreck and circus happen four more years. HUNT: Bakari Sellers, I mean, these dynamics -- do you think

ultimately this is going to cut in Joe Biden's favor in a way that's enough to get him over the finish line? I mean, what -- and what do you make of Kemp admitting, like, hey, I -- nope, didn't do that?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE, ATTORNEY: First of all, that was just utterly weird that just the juxtaposition of being the sitting governor of a state and not voting for anybody but going to the polls. I don't really know what all of that means.

I think Democrats are very pleased and excited with the fortitude of Geoff Duncan and Adam Kinzinger -- that's first. Them putting the country over party is an important principle in our democracy -- in the fabric of our democracy.

I think even more so, Democrats are more concerned about turning out because I think this is a turnout race and not necessarily a persuasion race. They're more interested in turning out the base, like here -- Black voters here in Fulton County, Dekalb County, et cetera, than some of the voters -- Republican voters will get around the edges.

And I'm interested to hear from both Geoff and Adam because I do think that there are 80,000, as you said, Republican voters who voted for Nikki Haley. But what does that look like if he puts Doug Burgum on the ticket? What does it look like if he puts Nikki Haley on the ticket, which he probably will not do? But what does that look like if he puts Sarah Huckabee Sanders or somebody that's kind of off the beaten path?

Are Republican voters then who are putting country over party -- are they then contorting them self to say well, I'm not voting for Donald Trump; I'm voting for X?

HUNT: Yeah, or Marco Rubio.

DUNCAN: Yeah. I think whoever Donald Trump picks as his vice- presidential pick is going to be the least important person ever in the history of vice-presidential picks, right? I mean, just -- he just overshadows. He doesn't want anybody to take the spotlight from him.

And, oh, by the way, could you imagine being his vice president, actually? Like, having to wake up every morning and get his memo of things he wants you to do and say throughout the course of the day. I think it has very little to do.

Look, this show amongst Republicans is all about one person, and it's about Donald Trump. And I think that's where we stand today. It's this election -- it's going to be about people that are just like me and Adam where we are going to have to wake up and either decide to sit on the couch and sit it out or try to save America.

HUNT: All right, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Very grateful to have you this morning.

DUNCAN: Glad to be here.

HUNT: Thank you.

All right, let's turn now to this.


TRUMP: Their children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's not -- coyotes didn't bring them over. Their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents.


HUNT: Immigration. It was a major factor the last time Joe Biden and Donald Trump faced off on a debate stage in 2020, and it's certain to be a flashpoint once again tonight in Atlanta. Voters rank it as one of the most important issues of the election cycle.

President Biden recently took two sweeping executive actions regarding immigration, asylum and amnesty. But the former president taking, of course, a different approach. And we've reported he's looking at mass deportation if he returns to the White House.


BIDEN: The patience and goodwill of the American people is being tested by the fears at the border. They don't understand a lot of it. These are the fears my predecessor is trying to play on when he says immigrants, in his words, are -- poison the blood of the country.

TRUMP: He's going to formally grant a mass amnesty to millions of illegal aliens that came into our country. The deluge of illegals will be given immediate green cards and put on the fast track to rapid citizenship.


HUNT: All right, our panel is back.

And Alex, we've been reporting that the Biden White House wants to go on -- the Biden campaign, I should say, wants to go on offense on the immigration issue.


Is that a -- like, how do they thread that needle because this is an issue where voters really do not trust the President of the United States?

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah, and you saw exactly that -- you know, that threading just in the last month because they did one executive order that was about cracking down on the border, and they did another executive order about trying to grant citizenship for people that have been here for a decade-plus.

And then the thing that was overhanging all of that is well, if these executive orders were so important why didn't they do them four years ago or two years ago? Why do it just four months before the election?

HUNT: Well, and they got in office and reversed some of the Trump policies that they may have seemed interested in trying to put back again.

THOMPSON: Yeah, sort of, in the thrall of victory. My reporting shows at the time, they were so eager to sort of draw that clear moral contrast with Donald Trump. Joe Biden felt -- I can tell you, he felt just like morally offended by some of the immigration policies that he implemented. And they really -- even before DHS Sec. Mayorkas was in -- was confirmed -- they started withdrawing a lot of those policies. And as a result, you now have not just the humanitarian crisis on the border but a political crisis for the president, too.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Harry, how do you look at this when you think about this issue and how it's going to cut in the election?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: You know, earlier on I said that Democrats are praying that this election is about abortion. They are also praying that it is not about immigration. It is one of President Biden's worst issues. It's one of Donald Trump's best issues going back since he began his run for the presidency the first time around in 2015.

And more than that, unlike in these other elections, immigration is at or near the top of the list of issues that voters find most important. And that, I think, is the overall problem for Joe Biden heading in here. If you look at the issue -- list of issues that are most important you have the economy, you have immigration, you have --

HUNT: You have that one --

ENTEN: -- democracy.

HUNT: Yeah.

ENTEN: The fact is immigration and the economy are good -- are good issues for Donald Trump. And then you have to go down to abortion there at eight percent. But that's half the level of immigration, and that's the real issue here.

HUNT: Yeah.

ENTEN: The issues on which people are deciding their votes on are much more favorable to the former president than the current one.

HUNT: So, Shermichael, we have seen since this executive order went into effect, a 40 percent drop in apprehensions at the border, down to 2,400 encounters per day. This is the number of people that the Border Patrol is running into, basically. It suggests that there has been a marked shift in the number of people trying to come in since.


HUNT: How strong of a point is that for President Biden? How do Republicans --

SINGLETON: I mean --

HUNT: -- try to argue that's a bad thing?

SINGLETON: I mean, Kasie, I think President Biden has to figure out a way to effectively communicate that to the American people. I think Republicans and Donald Trump have been great at reminding people that under the Biden administration, 2.3 million people have come into the country illegally, according to DHS. That's a fact that cannot be debated.

I think when you look at some of the cases of young women being murdered or sexually assaulted, or law enforcement being assaulted by illegal immigrant, a lot of people see this on their local news and are thinking what is going on at the border? The president isn't doing anything about this.

And interestingly enough -- and this has been surprising to me to watch this year -- you've even seen inner cities that have protested migrants coming into their area and saying wait a minute here -- we already have our own issues. What is going on with this issue? And I think that's a problem for President Biden.

HUNT: I mean, Bakari, I think you could argue that some of the tactics that border state governors have used to bring this crisis more front and center to voters in different states has been politically effective for their --

SELLERS: Yeah, it's --

HUNT: -- states (PH).

SELLERS: It's been one of the more disgusting, brilliant political ploys we've seen in recent history. It's one of the atwateresque type of political ploys.

I mean, even in Shermichael's elocution right there, you hear the fear that Republicans perpetuate when they're talking about immigration. I mean, that is their talking point. That is their theme. And it appears to be working decently -- I mean, per Harry's numbers and people talking about the issue of immigration.

They don't talk about it from a perspective of policy though. They only talk about it from the fact that migrants are poisoning the blood of this country or they're highlighting crimes committed by illegal immigrants. And so, they are perpetuating this fear.

And when you look at -- I had to pull up what sanctuary cities are. You know, there are sanctuary cities in Kansas, but Gov. Abbott is not dropping off any migrant buses in Kansas, right? He's taking them to Chicago. He's taking them to Baltimore. He's taking them to these cities that are these big cities and utilizing them as a -- HUNT: New York City.

SELLERS: New York City. Utilizing them to galvanize fear amongst individuals and drive a wedge between brown voters.

SINGLETON: Well, I wouldn't say that is fear, Bakari. I think it's attempting to get voters in other states, mostly blue states, to recognize what red states in the south have been dealing with for years now.

THOMPSON: Well, Bakari, to your point, there are two -- there are two reasons why this is turning out voters. One is because they feel that there are resources going to some of these people that --

HUNT: Some of it's the economy.

THOMPSON: Well, yeah.

HUNT: Yeah.

THOMPSON: And then there's all -- and then there are also some people that really, I think are motivated by some of the race-based rhetoric that you -- that you are talking about.

And the thing is some of these appeals by Trump -- when you have these angry rallies where you're having people shout "Send them back! Send them back!" is that going to turn off enough Independents, enough people in the suburbs that maybe don't like or approve of Joe Biden's job but are a little bit worried about (INAUDIBLE)?


SELLERS: I agree with you. But, I mean, I just want people to understand that when -- that the talking points that Republicans are use -- are using are rooted in fear, right? It is a fear that a lot of white Americans have of being replaced. And that is what you are seeing. And when you have that fear of being replaced and when you have that fear of what is eventually happening, which is the browning of this country, you begin to see that become a political issue.

The problem I have is that it's absent policy death. And if Donald Trump gets on stage tonight and just invokes fear, that may or may not work. If he couples that with policy and some things he wants to do going forward, that might be a successful blow (PH).

HUNT: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the challenge for Democrats is that people -- a lot of people think about Donald Trump, they think about build the wall. And they think well, OK, that makes sense to me as a policy. And we're in a different place now than we were even 4-8 years ago.

SELLERS: But only build it if Mexico is going to pay for it.

HUNT: There -- that's the rub, OK. Yeah, that's --

ENTEN: I wonder why? HUNT: All right, Alex, Bakari, Shermichael, thank you guys so much for being up early with us this morning. Harry Enten is going to stick around and give us some of his magic numbers.

All right. Coming up next, we're going to take you behind the scenes of tonight's spin room. Plus, breaking down how tonight's debate could help or hurt each candidate going forward.



HUNT: Welcome back.

While President Biden and former President Trump spar inside the debate hall, hundreds of journalists from around the world will gather inside CNN's debate spin room. That's where Biden and Trump allies will work the room and try to claim that their candidate won the night. It's always quite a scene.

CNN's Alayna Treene bringing us inside the spin room this morning -- still pretty empty at this writing. But let me tell you, it's always a crush later on in the evening.

Alayna, walk us around. Tell us what we're going to see and who is going to be there.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Right. So we are in the Hank McCamish Pavilion. It's nicknamed "The Thrillerdome." It's home to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Obviously, today and tonight, we will be trading the sports teams for politicos. But look, as you said, Kasie, it's pretty empty right now. But tonight we're actually going to have close to 1,000 journalists from more than 170 countries in this room. And, of course, surrogates from both the Trump campaigns and the Biden campaigns.

Now, if you see this area right here behind me, that's where a lot of the exact spinning will be happening. And you're totally right, Kasie. You're going to see surrogates from both sides claiming that their candidate won regardless of what happens on the debate stage.

And so, tonight, it's really going to be probably standing room only. It's going to be packed. It's going to be very chaotic with everyone trying to get in their talking points for how they think the debate went for their particular candidate.

Now, just to take a step back and give you an inside look into how the Trump campaign is viewing this debate today. They really are going into this trying to manage expectations, but also manage expectations for the former president.

You and I have been talking, Kasie, for days now about them trying to raise the bar for Joe Biden and trying to get Americans to raise their expectations for his performance. But I'm also told that they're trying to get Donald Trump to walk into

today with a different mindset as well. Now, they really want him to move away from personal attacks. We saw him kind of level some of those personal attacks on Joe Biden back in 2020 when they were on the debate stage then. They do not want Donald Trump to do that today. They want him to be focused heavily on his messaging.

And what I found interesting from my conversations with Trump's advisers is that they're also have a different outlook on the actual debate rules. Initially, they did not really like the idea that there was going to be the microphones being cut off at certain points. That there would be no audience. In recent conversations they actually are arguing that they think that will help Trump, especially to help him stay on message and focus on the key themes they think will be best for him tonight -- Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah, it's really interesting you say that, Alayna, because I have to say I have been watching these clips of the debates in 2020. I have had that exact thought if this is not allowed.

TREENE: Right.

HUNT: I mean, that's what it was at the time, if you'll remember, that had people feeling as though Donald Trump had really lost that first debate with Joe Biden. It's going to be a very different dynamic tonight.

Alayna Treene for us this morning. Thank you so much for being there for us.

And tonight, as we noted, the spin room is going to be a who's who of politics -- everyone from campaign staffers to political commentators making the case for their candidate's debate performance. There's no current clear leader in the polls, so everyone on all sides hoping that this debate is going to change things in their favor.

Joining me now is CNN senior data reporter, Harry Enten. Harry, this has been an incredibly close -- almost feeling static race. We've seen some slow movement in the wake of Donald Trump's conviction, but this is really the first big moment of the 2024 campaign.

What difference could it make?

ENTEN: I mean, it could make an absolutely huge difference, right? We know throughout the years that first debates can change things. You think about 1980, right? You go into that debate -- Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, dead heat. Reagan wins that debate and all of a sudden jumps up high in the polls.

You think about 2020, right? Joe Biden winning that first debate. He was up but then extended his lead. And I think a lot of folks would argue that first debate performance -- if Donald Trump actually puts in a good performance, he might actually win that potential campaign.

And in this particular year we're dealing with the closest race heading into a first debate on record in which there are doubts about both candidates, and can those candidates actually go out there and ameliorate some of those doubts in the voters' minds? We're just going to have to wait and see.


HUNT: Harry, what is your sense -- we talked -- we touched on this at the top of the show, but as others have kind of joined us as we head closer to six in the morning. What is your sense of how many Americans have really been totally tuned out of this presidential race and really are going to find their way to tuning into tonight maybe for the first time?

ENTEN: Yeah. A lot of people have been tuned out because they don't like either one of the candidates, right? There are a lot of people who are sick of this rerun.

Look, you can look at the different polling data and you can find different percentage of how many folks are likely to watch. A Quinnipiac University poll that came out yesterday suggested north of 70 percent of Americans were likely to watch that particular debate. And even if they don't watch, right, they may pick up stories from the spin room afterwards.

That's why the spin room is almost as important as how many people actually watch because a lot of people are going to be getting these numbers of getting these videos from their phones afterwards. And this is a vastly different dynamic than we were dealing with 10, 15, perhaps even four years ago where people were stuck in their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HUNT: Yeah, I think we all watched a lot of -- I certainly watched a lot more television in 2020. So did my child. But you know what?

ENTEN: I did as well. And now -- but now we get to spend time together in person, which makes it --

HUNT: Way better.

ENTEN: -- a much better and a more pleasant experience.

HUNT: Way better.

Harry Enten, so grateful to have you this morning. Thank you --

ENTEN: Thank you.

HUNT: -- so much.

It's debate day in America. How the candidates are preparing in the final hours before they take the stage. We're going to talk to Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond and Republican congressman and Trump ally, Byron Donalds. That's all coming up.