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Debate Fallout: Dems Concerned About Biden's Performance; Biden On Debate: "I Think We Did Well"; Biden-Trump Debate Stage Takes Several Ugly Turns. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2024 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: The first presidential debate of 2024 is in the books and at this writing, it's likely to be remembered as the defining moment of the race.

Good morning, everyone. CNN THIS MORNING is live in Atlanta. It is 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to have you with us.

The stakes last night were extraordinarily high, and in the eyes of many Democrats, their candidate failed to meet the moment. He failed to prove that he has the ability to lead for four more years they say because of moments like this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Making sure that we're able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I've been able to do with the -- with COVID -- excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do with -- look, if -- we finally beat Medicare.


HUNT: The president's performance marred by a frequently inaudible voice and several instances where he struggled -- seems to struggle to complete a thought or make his case.


BIDEN: There are 40 percent fewer people coming across the border illegally, it's better when he left office, and I'm going to continue to move until we get the total ban on the -- total initiative relative to what we're going to do with more Border Patrol and more asylum officers.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really don't know what he said at the end of the sentence. I don't think he knows what he said either.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: Even as Donald Trump spoke, Biden's stare projected an image that his team had hoped to avoid.

And as millions of Americans watched, viewers noticed in a CNN instant poll following the debate, two thirds of viewer said that Trump won.

And now, the previously unspeakable is being said out loud. Democrats were wondering, should Joe Biden be replaced as their presidential nominee?

One Democratic source telling me overnight, quote: If I were Newsom, Gavin, or Whitmer, Gretchen, I'd be making calls tonight.

The California governor says that no phone calls are necessary, claiming he's got no interest in challenging the president.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: I would never turn my back on President Biden, never turn my back on President Biden. I don't know a Democrat on my party that would do so, especially after tonight. We have his back, we run that the 90-yard dash. We are all in. We're going to double down in the next few months. We're going to win this election.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten and Alex Thompson. He is national political reporter for "Axios".

Good morning to you both. Thank you much -- very much for being here after this late night.

Alex Thompson, I know you are incredibly wired in with the Biden team. We saw those surrogates. It took them a minute to get out there onto the floor last night, but when they did, they came out trying to project this message of strength. Is it going to work?

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "AXIOS": Well, listen, I've covered the Biden White House now for three-and-a-half years. And as someone that's reported on his age quite a few times, I can tell you that the White House is response every single time has come up for three-and-a-half years has been to deflect to gaslight, to not tell the truth, not just to reporters, not just other Democrats, but even at times to themselves about the president's limitations at his age.

There's a reason why he has not done as many interviews or press conferences as any president in decades, there's a reason he does not do events almost ever before 10:00 a.m. and is rarely on camera after 6:00 p.m. And the reason is because he has limitations. He is 81 years old.

But the problem was they were not forthright with other Democrats. They weren't at times forthright with themselves. And that is why Democrats are in full freak out mode because what they saw is finally what they have been obscuring. HUNT: Alex, how much of this is relatively recent? Because it does

seem like there has been -- the level of angst and hand-wringing behind the scenes has started to bubble up really aggressively in the last couple of months --


HUNT: -- in particular. Is there something that happened? Was there a turning point?

THOMPSON: I mean, it's father time. I think the thing is you have to remember, take us back to 2022, and it was supposed to be a red wave. There wasn't. And sort of the exuberance of victory, or at least not doing as proceed victory, not doing his bad they hoped, there was -- there was a sense that, hey, we can do this.


And thing is that when Joe Biden -- you look at Joe Biden even like late 2022, the fact is that he has -- you know, his public performance has slipped considerably over the last year, and that's why you saw basically a lot of Democrats get angsty.

Now, Joe Biden was able to put off some that angst in the State of the Union Address, but he was on a teleprompter. It was 90 minutes. And this is what happened.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I will say even compared to the State of the Union, you're right. He was on a teleprompter, but everything about the way he presented on camera, even when he wasn't talking, was different in the State of the Union.

Harry Enten, the White House has said -- I want to play a little bit more of some of what we heard from the president over the course of this debate. That's one of the things that kept coming up in the texts that I was -- in emails I was exchanging with Democrats as this was all unfolding and that was the president's voice, the persistent cough.

Now, the White House said get in the middle of the debate, well, the president had a cold, let's just play a little bit of that.



BIDEN: Hello.

Mr. Trump left me --

Jobs, we brought on position where economy in the world.

And, you know -- the ability to -- for the -- us to be able to negotiate drug prices with big pharma companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: I mean, it's tough. It was very tough for the Democrats. I talked to you last night to watch what --

ENTEN: As a nonpartisan analyst, it was tough to watch. It was like watching a great ball player in decline. I went back and watched his debate performances during the 2008 Democratic primary season, or in the vice presidential debate in 2008. And the marked difference between the man that I saw back in 2008 and the one that I saw on that stage last night, it was almost as if I was looking at two completely different human beings.

HUNT: It is very striking. You are absolutely right when you go back and look at some of those previous debate performances.

Alex, one thing I keep coming back to here because as we enter this morning where clearly we are now going to have a conversation about whether Democrats are going to push to remove President Biden from their presidential ticket ahead of the convention. It would basically take him deciding to drop out for that to happen, and part of why the pressure is so intense is because of the essential way that Democrats view this election, right? He's not running against Nikki Haley or Marco Rubio, or a generic Republican. He is running against Donald Trump, who clearly interfered with a peaceful transfer of power and he did it in no small part because -- President Biden is in this race in no small part because he beat Donald Trump before and seems to think he's the only one that could beat him again.

In December, he acknowledged this fact. He said, I'm not sure I would be running if Donald Trump wasn't running. He said this at a fundraiser. He was asked about those comments when he returned to the White House. Let's just watch that.


REPORTER: Would you be running for president if Trump wasn't running?

BIDEN: I expect so, but look he is running, I have to run.

REPORTER: Would you drop out if Trump drops out?

BIDEN: No. Not now.


HUNT: I mean, that is so incredibly telling as we head into this moment where clearly there are going to be Democrats putting pressure on Joe Biden and Jill Biden just to get him to do something different here.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I have to run. That was the key part of that that statement. He feels this obligation. He really does feel this great loathing for the moral character of Donald Trump. He does see himself as this bulwark of democracy.

But if you're a Democrat and you believe that the republic will fall if Donald Trump is elected and you are wondering tonight is if Joe Biden is the most electable candidate.

Now the problem is there in the worst of both worlds here. Let's actually just say that, let's say tomorrow or today, Joe Biden drops out of the race, you -- the Democratic Convention does not happen until mid to late August. That means that whoever they pick an early voting starts mid September. So whoever they pick, they are going to have four weeks to stand up an entire campaign to actually get the money, and then the party could very well pull itself apart for over Palestine, over lots of other issues at the convention as they both sort of like jockey pile over. And so it can actually even be a worse outcome.

HUNT: Yeah.

ENTEN: There are no good answers. There are no good answers. We're in an unprecedented moment, something I feel like that in some way might be written up by Aaron Sorkin at some point in time. And I just -- I don't know.

But what I do know is this Joe Biden was trailing going into last night, he lost the debate last night, I went back. I looked at incumbents who lost the first debate, who are also trailing going into the first debate, you know how many of them one in the modern era? Zero, zero, zero.

I go and I say, look, I've been through a lot of things in politics. We're still a lot of time until November, but Democrats are panicking and you know what? They should be panicking.

HUNT: Yeah. If the West Wing was Aaron Sorkin's dream, I guess, maybe we're watching --

ENTEN: This is his nightmare.


HUNT: All right. Gentlemen, stick with us. Thank you very much.

Well, coming up next here, President Biden is going to try to take his campaign to voters today after that dismal debate performance.


This as Republicans are around, around their guy praising his performance.

And then we'll dig into this moment from last night.


TRUMP: I didn't have sex with a porn star.


HUNT: I guess we should have expected to hear that on the debate stage. Our coverage of CNN's presidential debate continues after a quick break.



CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), FORMER MISSOURI SENATOR: Joe Biden had one thing he had to do tonight and he didn't do it. Does that mean that Joe Biden is not a candidate?


I don't know that. I do think people feel like that we are confronting a crisis.


HUNT: Confronting a crisis. That was former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill talking about last night's debate.

President Biden seemed though afterwards to brush off concerns about his performance.



REPORTER: Mr. President, how do you think you performed tonight?

BIDEN: I think we did well.

REPORTER: Do you have any concerns about your performance?

BIDEN: No, it's hard to -- hard to debate a liar.


HUNT: It's hard to debate a liar.


I mean, argue on Twitter last night, there was this whole thing. Oh, Trump was a liar. Why wasn't he getting fact check them real time?

That was Joe Biden's job. He is supposed to be fact checking Donald Trump in real time. If there's such an egregious lie.

When you were arguing about procedure, you are losing. You are losing.

And last night, it was very clear to me that the rules that were set up, which were supposedly going to be so beneficial to Donald Trump actually helped Donald Trump. They hurt Joe Biden. He seemed --

HUNT: You mean they were supposed to be beneficial to Joe Biden.

ENTEN: Correct, correct.

HUNT: Which I think what you meant to say?

ENTEN: Correct.

HUNT: Yeah.

ENTEN: Correct. Sorry, 5:05.

HUNT: That's okay. We're early.

ENTEN: We're early.

They were supposed to be beneficial to Joe Biden. In fact, they were beneficial to Donald Trump. He, all of a sudden -- look, we've been through now, what three general election debates in 2016, two in 2020. This is the first time that Donald Trump scored a clear victory.

THOMPSON: Well, and to add to that really quick, you know, let's remember, this debate was Joe Biden's idea. This -- it was his campaign's idea.

Now some advisers weren't sure if this was a wise plan. I can tell you back in the spring, but Joe Biden wanted to debate Donald Trump. Joe Biden believed mano-a-mano, face-to-face I can take this guy on.

He then went on Howard Stern he and he was asked, are you going to debate? He said, yes, we're going to debate.

Two or three weeks later, they set this up. They set this up in June. They basically said all the rules and they set the date and this -- and it backfired.

HUNT: Yeah, never underestimate that the candidate are in this, I mean, in this case, the president, but also the candidate, what they want goes. I mean, these organizations, these campaigns are reflections of the people at the top.

Very briefly, Alex, I want to play this moment Kamala Harris did an interview right here on CNN with Anderson Cooper and the immediate aftermath. And you could kind of see that she was taken aback a little bit by some of the questions from Anderson which were entirely fair.

But here was how she described. She called it a slow start, but a strong finish. Let's just watch it.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. There was a slow start, but it was a strong finish. People can debate on style points, but ultimately, this election and who is the president of the United States has to be about substance and the contrast is clear.


HUNT: Now. Of course, why is what she does so interesting? Because she is the vice president of the United States and then a conversation about replacing the top of the ticket, she's inevitably in it. THOMPSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, she would be the front runner

automatically despite some Democratic concerns. And that's why --

HUNT: Many Democratic concerns, I would -- I would -- I would argue, at least according to my reporting, right?

THOMPSON: Mine, too. But the thing is that she's going to have Joe Biden. You're not going to see any cleavage because her path to the nomination lies through Joe Biden. If that is going to happen, and if Joe Biden loses her path to the 2028 nomination also probably lies through Joe Biden.

She is not going to show any cleavage, but she's a little bit I think she was a little bit shaken there because she's been out there very publicly saying Joe Biden has been in control. He is coordinating all these meetings. He is completely fine, especially right after the Robert Hur report, which raised serious his concerns about Joe Biden's age, over that interview with Robert Hur last fall, she was out there saying, he is great. Key is fine. She was actually a huge validator.

HUNT: Really interesting.

All right, coming up next here, the candidates, of course, were pressed on the issues were going to talk about Donald Trumps promise on abortion and from policy to personal attacks. There was some nastiness on stage last night.


BIDEN: The only person on this stage who's a convicted felon is the man I'm looking at right now.

TRUMP: When he talks about a convicted felon, his son is a convicted felon at a very high level.




HUNT: Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING.

The debate stage in Atlanta getting ugly a couple of times last night with the candidates using at times deeply personal insults.

Here was President Biden invoking Donald Trump's numerous legal problems.


BIDEN: How many dollars do you owe in civil penalties, for molesting a woman in public, for doing a whole range of things, of having sex with a porn star on the night -- while your wife was pregnant? I mean, what -- what are you talking about? You have the morals of an alley cat. TAPPER: You have a minute, sir.

TRUMP: I didn't have sex with a porn star.


HUNT: I didn't have sex with a porn star -- put that down in history with next to that Bill Clinton line from 1998.

The panel's back, but Republican Shermichael Singleton joins us now to talk about a little bit of what we heard here.

Shermichael, that was one of the few moments I think it kind of punched through in terms of highlighting many challenges, Donald Trump has. They are obviously otherwise not terribly front-and-center considering the president's performance.

But let's talk a little bit about what Donald Trump did last night --


HUNT: -- and whether the president did succeed -- I mean, in breaking through at all.

He did -- many of the Democrats I talked to said his second-half the debate was, you know, he regained some ground, was a little bit stronger and that's what that -- when that moment -- that's what moment --

SINGLETON: It was a little better, Kasie, all things considered, but I have to be honest with you, I was a bit surprised by how Trump responded to that.


I -- I was when I saw that I said, oh, God, you know, here we go. He's going to go off the rails here. He's going to start attacking Hunter Biden. This is going to get really crazy and he simply said, "I did not". And then they moved on.

And that shows some level of contrition. Again, I think Trump wanted to be very careful in a very strategic way. He understood and recognized that there were a lot of people watching this debate. And then they were going to look at Joe Biden, and they're going to look at Donald Trump, and those who are worried about Joe Biden's performance because of his age, were going to look at Trump as an alternative, but wanting to avoid the chaos.

And I think for the most part, I think the former president met that standard.

HUNT: So one of the where -- one of the places where you kind of actually did see Joe Biden react was after his son, Hunter was attacked by former President Trump.

Let's -- let's play a little bit of what Trump had to say about Hunter.


HUNT: His son is a convicted felon at a very high level. His son is convicted, going to be convicted probably numerous other times. He should have been convicted before, but his Justice Department let the statute of limitations lapse.


HUNT: So, Shermichael, that, of course, is Donald Trump trying to make the comparison between himself and the son of someone else running for president.

SINGLETON: You know, I text with a friend who is a progressive who works on social justice issues and he texted me and he said, I would wish and prefer that President Biden not attack Trump on being a convicted felon because there's a lot of us in the progressive space that work on people who have felonies getting second opportunities, get a chance to be a part of society again, and this is someone who vehemently despises Trump.

And so, I think the president has to be a little careful with the convicted felon attack on Trump because there are a lot of people who are convicted felons, and those people should be able to be a part of society again.

HUNT: Right.

Alex, quick words you on this Hunter question because we did see, we didn't play it, but we saw a little bit more animation from President Biden on that.

THOMPSON: Yeah, there's nothing that will animate or make the president more emotional than talking about his family. In particular, Hunter, I mean, you also have to think about the proximity of this. Hunter Biden was just -- just went through a trial where he was found guilty of three gun felonies.

Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison. He probably won't get that, be probably -- he then faces another trial starting in September in Los Angeles for tax felonies, which now he'll be -- now he'll be a convicted felon and that could actually make his penalty worse.

So there's nothing that animates him more than the talks about the family and I'm sure Donald Trump knew that, and when he was trying to get in his head.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next here on CNN THIS MORNING --


TRUMP: Well, I didn't say that to anybody. I said peacefully and patriotically.

(EN VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: Not quite true that. We're going to tell you exactly what Trump said to his supporters on January 6, 2021.

Plus, I'll talk to Georgia's former lieutenant governor. Geoff Duncan is Republican who has warned about the dangers of a second Trump presidency.