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Biden Lapses are Growing More Common; Mark McKinnon is Interviewed about Biden; White House Fends off Questions on Biden. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 03, 2024 - 06:30   ET





JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been able to do the - with - with the Covid - excuse me, with - dealing with everything we have to do with - look, if - we finally beat Medicare.



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Moments like that from last week, CNN debate showed millions of Americans what close Biden allies have been working to brush aside for months. The president's age and mental fitness does seem to, in fact, be a hindrance in his campaign against Donald Trump. A significant one.

And now new reporting from "The New York Times" indicates these moments are not just one-offs, as so many people are trying to insist, but are, quote, "growing more frequent, more pronounced and more worrisome," generating "concerns among advisers and allies."

Joining me now is one of the reporters on that story, "New York Times" White House correspondent Zolan Kanno-Youngs.

Zolan, good morning to you.


HUNT: This headline is, "Biden's lapses are said to be increasingly common and worrisome. Several current and former officials and others who encountered him behind closed doors noticed he is increasingly appeared confused or listless or would lose the thread of conversations."

This does seem to be part of certainly Democrats I'm talking to are angry that this is not something that people were willing to acknowledge to them until now. What else have you learned and are - what are you reporting here?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Sure. And thanks for having me on.

You know, you opened by describing the debate performance. And I think for many of us who cover the White House and really for Americans and voters across the country, the question became, how much of this is unique, a one-off or has something like this been happening more frequently? And while we don't know if it's to the extent of what we saw on the debate stage, our reporting does show that these sort of lapses, this - these moments where the president can appear listless or confused, that that is happening more frequently according to those that see him behind closed doors, both advisers domestically, but also we wanted to know, for the officials that are working with President Biden, are they noticing this? So, look, he - he is blaming this on the circus, the (ph) travel that he had. We could start there. We could go to the trip in Europe, where we talked to European officials who said that they were - that they were - that they were struck by sort of the decline, particularly physically, by the president.

At one point we also reported that the Italian leader, Giorgia Meloni, as well as other European leaders, when entering a space with the president, would sort of slow down in case he needed time to crowd around him. We talked to a U.S. official, a former U.S. official, who said that the President Biden now, compared to the person that they were working for, that - that they are not sure if - that they would put him in a room with a foreign adversary like Vladimir Putin. We talked to a European official who just said flattening, no, at that point.

And we did see, through talking to officials, that, again, these - these little blips, you know, fumbling over a - a leader's name, or your own cabinet secretary's name, or stumbling over the wording of the correct amount of Ukraine funding, that that is catching people by alarm. We do know that after one of his first trips after traveling across the Atlantic, he came back to Camp David. And based off of our reporting, was - cut his planned debate days by two. So two fewer days. Started working after 11:00 a.m. and - and included a nap as well, indicating that some of that exhaustion was taking effect.

So, you're seeing the president, at this time, blame this, you know, on travel. And, you know, I think the reporting also shows that just throughout the officials that we talked to, sort of two Bidens emerged here. You know, the White House brought out many officials that said that he's still sharp and that in cases of national emergencies, national security emergencies, that he can still talk directly to a leader. We include an example with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But at the same time, this other Biden is also emerging. One that seems to fumble over his words and have more frequent sort of occurrences where he does appear confused. And it's starting to have a ripple effect and catch the attention, not only of European allies, but also Democrats within the United States.

HUNT: Certainly, many of whom read "The New York Times."

Zolan Kanno-Youngs, very grateful to have you on the show this morning. Thank you very much for that.

And, you know, to this question of, you know, whether the president is capable of dealing with these things in the moment right now, something that the right has been focused on, but Tom Friedman today in a column in "The New York Times," and this is significant in no small part, and, Kate, you can kind of lend some texture here, but my understanding is President Biden reads Tom Friedman. They've known each other for many years. Friedman writes this, quote, "at this moment of incredible importance for America and the Democratic Party, I would urge President Biden, his family and his party's leadership to ask the same question, what does your worst enemy, Donald Trump, want you to do now?


Then do the opposite. Trump is salivating at the prospect of Biden staying in the presidential race so he can pummel him from now until Election Day with 50-second television and radio ads, not to mention memes on social media, of Biden's incoherent responses in last week's debate, each ad asking, is this the man you want answering the phone at 3 a.m. if the Russians or the Chinese or the Iranians attack us?"

It is a significant question, Kate.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK. But as an American, do you know who I don't want answering the phone at 3 a.m., or who I don't want in the room with Vladimir Putin making decisions? Donald Trump.

HUNT: But isn't this the issue? The issue is that, can he beat Donald Trump or not?

BEDINGFIELD: Who has said - who has said that Russia should do whatever the hell it wants with our allies. So, let's just - let's just -

HUNT: I take the point, but -

BEDINGFIELD: But I'm just saying, let's - let's have a conversation that's about what's at stake here. And we have somebody running for president who has said Russia can do whatever it wants to our NATO allies if he becomes president. So, that is - that's the question.

HUNT: But isn't the question whether Biden's capable of beating Trump?

BEDINGFIELD: So, that being said, I think this narrative is - this is, no question this is a challenging narrative because this is what this does for the campaign is it requires them and the White House - this requires them to proven a negative, right? It requires them to say, you know, no, behind closed doors, he's strong, he's tough. That's - that's a tough place to be.

I will say, as somebody who worked for Joe Biden for a long time - now granted I haven't been in the White House since March of 2023. So - but -

HUNT: Right.

BEDINGFIELD: In my time working for him, there were - there were criticisms like this. People were questioning his age. Is he sharp in meetings? I mean we saw this - you know, Republicans tried to make this a line of attack during the debt ceiling fight when I was there. And he was sharp. He was on top of things. He was driving decisions. He was driving discussions. He was tough in prep. You know, I mean, I think there are - there is a lot of evidence that he is - has continued to do an effective job as president. I mean I think you see it in the results.

I'm not arguing that this is not a challenging and vulnerable line of attack and something that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden and the Biden White House are going to have to slog through. But I will tell you, as somebody who worked in this White House very closely with Joe Biden, he was on top of it and he's somebody who is always going to make the best decision in the interests of the United States of America. And you cannot say that about Donald Trump.

HUNT: Well, and I think the question is, from March of 2023, which was a year ago, what has happened in the time since.

MATT GORMAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TIM SCOTT PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Look, I - Biden certainly wants to make this about democracy. And as a Republican, I feel pretty confident saying, OK, well, look, if Democrats truly believe that the fate of democracy is hinging on this election, then Democrats need to not just say it but then act. Why is democracy, in your words, hinging on an 81-year-old who works from 10 to 4 and who, if you read that "New York Times" article, it's really troubling because not only - take out the fact that he has to serve till he's - you know, fir the next four years, he's still president for seven months. And the fact, if something happens, he can't get in a room with Vladimir Putin today? That's a troubling thought.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But let me just ask this question, right? So, we basically have written him off. I mean, if you're going to watch TV, we're basically like, when's it going to happen? What are the odds? Like, what day is it going to happen when - that's where all the commentary is going right now.

My question is, why are we here? Joe Biden plays a, you know, the character of, I'm this tough guy from Scranton. By the way, I think he is. Why wasn't he out there? Everyone's saying, oh, he's going to do this interview. And, guess what, next week he's going to do a press conference at NATO. How about he just walks out and says, let's get down to brass tacks. Let's just put this all on the table. Instead of being totally surrounded in, you know, being protected, being coddled.

HUNT: Yes. I mean this is the question.


HUNT: Yes.

PRESTON: And that news - I mean what we haven't talked about was that White House briefing yesterday. That was a disaster. I just watched it. I was like - it was like malaise. It was malaise.

GORMAN: And he was proven to have done it already, because if you remember when the Hur report dropped, they called that press conference within, what, three hours, two hours. Look, and also too, let's remember - let's remember, we act - I'm saying this kind of off - we act as if these interviews and press conference, there's not a massive downside. If he comes out and isn't anywhere sharp as he should be, then those cries are only going to get louder. That - there is also massive downside and some of these things in which were not - also not talking about.


HUNT: Quick last word.

THOMPSON: I mean he - I mean if Joe Biden has one more even close to a senior moment of something in any of these interviews, whether it's with George Stephanopoulos, or when he's in Wisconsin this Friday, I think that - that we've seen - we've talked about the dam breaking. There are cracks right now. It's going to - water is going to rush through.

HUNT: All right, coming up next, former presidential adviser Mark McKinnon is here. We're going to talk to him about his take on the state of Joe Biden's presidency.




ADAM KINZINGER, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: If you'd have told me, 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I'm voting for Joe Biden because I want to beat Donald Trump.


HUNT: Just when it seemed that many former Republicans were ready to embrace Joe Biden in order to prevent a second Trump term, there was the debate. And for many never-Trumpers, the president's worrisome performance throws that all into the question. And now some of those crucial voters telling CNN's Elle Reeve, they feel lost and politically homeless.


ROBIN HAWKLAND, "NEVER TRUMPER": To be talked to from the Democratic Party, kind of like, just get behind the candidate, was very frustrating and - and angering. This is not about to the Democrat or the Republican Party. They've both put up candidates that are not electable for very different reasons.

BECKY HOFER, FORMER REPUBLICAN: If Joe Biden stays on the ticket and Donald Trump is still on the ticket, I'm fast-tracking moving to Costa Rica.


HUNT: Joining being now his Mark McKinnon. He is former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain and the creator of Paramount's "The Circus."

Mark, it's always wonderful to see you.

You predicted that this was going to be - it could be the most consequential debate in American political history. I just want to kind of give you - give you props for that because apparently it's what we're seeing.


I'd like to know where you think, big picture, this sits right now as both a political but also an historic moment for President Biden.

MARK MCKINNON, CREATOR, "THE CIRCUS": Well, it obviously was hugely consequential. I thought it was a high-risk strategy, but one worth taking. But, you know, people tuned in to see if the president looked 80, and he looked 90. Heck, our mutual friend, Paul Begala, and I, the very first candidate we worked for was a guy named Lloyd Doggett 40 years ago. And I will just tell you, that if you asked me, which member of Congress of Democrats might be the first to suggest that Biden shouldn't run, I would have put - I would have put Doggett at the end of that list. I was shocked that Lloyd Doggett came out. He is a dyed-in-the-wool party guy, very thoughtful guy. And for him to come out and say, listen, I live in the district represented by LBJ. I know he had a hard decision to make. So does the president. He's got to do it.

Listen, I - Kate's doing a great job. I'm glad I don't have her job right now of trying to defendant the president, but it's indefensible. The fact is that he was behind going into the debate. He's - he's worse off now. And we know it's not going to get better. Every single moment is going to be scrutinized. And the fact is when you're 81- years-old, you're going to have these moments. We know now from reporting that he's had these moments that we hadn't heard about. So, it's only you're going to get worse.

So, I think it's just very fundamentally obvious that if you care about our democracy and you're worried about Donald Trump winning, we need somebody else running.

HUNT: So, Mark, I want to show you something - a couple things from governors that we have seen over the course of the six days since this all unfolded. Let's start with Gavin Newsom, who is one of the governors invited to the White House today. This was what he had to say in the spin room right after the debate.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): I will never turn my back on President Biden. Never turn my back on President Biden. I don't know a Democrat in my party that would do. And especially after tonight. We have his back. We run not (ph) 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: So, I suppose nothing else to say in that moment except for that.

But then let's look at what Governor Pritzker of Illinois, someone else who's in this contender for president conversation, and Andy Beshear, governor of Kentucky, have said in the last 24, 36, 24 hours, it sounds a lot different.



GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): Joe Biden is going to be our nominee, unless he decides otherwise. And so, I think that there's a healthy conversation that will happen with the president.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Joe Biden is our nominee. And, ultimately, that decision on continuing or not will fall to him and his family.

The governors just want a direct and candid conversation with the president. We want to make sure he's doing OK.


HUNT: We want to make sure he's doing OK.

I mean what do you hear in those comments? What do you expect today?

MCKINNON: Well, I've heard its constantly throughout the last few days. I've done a lot of television on this topic. And I've - and I've been on with a lot of people like Kate and people who've worked for Biden or, you know, are staunch Democrats and defenders of the president. And you could - I - you could feel the ice thaw in real time. I mean it went from no way that - let's - the sort of Newsom, you know, position, to, well, let's just wait and see. Let's see what the polls say. I mean the body language is really changing, obviously, because I think everybody knows what the situation is here. They want a - they want to be - yes, they want to be good soldiers. But at the end of the day, they know that their general's in bad shape and he can't lead the troops.

HUNT: So, where do you think Biden goes from here? I mean they're planning this interview on Friday. A press conference next week.

MCKINNON: Well, listen, I think the smartest thing I've heard from any Democratic is Jamie Raskin, because what - what Democrats have to do is paint a picture of something other than humiliation and defeat for Biden. And Raskin said, listen, we're going to - at this convention, we're going to lionize the guy, we're going to give him a gold watch, we're going to, all hail Joe Biden. The Democrats need to paint a picture of what this is going to look like for Joe Biden. And he can have a substantial role and he can be the hero of the story. You know, he doesn't have to anoint anybody, but he can say, listen, we're Democrats. Go at it. I love you. We've done a great job. I think our administration has done great and we've set it up for you. Go get 'em. So, I think that's the perfect thing.

But, you know, the reality for most Americans is, they understand that in America you can't be 66 and be a park ranger. I wish I could because I want a range hat like that, but I'm too old. So, the facts are clear.

HUNT: I would love to see you here with a ranger hat on.

Mark, you've been in rooms with these guys a lot in your career. What's going to make the difference, if anything, for Joe Biden's personal decision. He's the only one that can make it.

MCKINNON: This is the hardest thing. This is really, really hard, Kasie, because this is what I used to just call going into the propellers with George W. Bush.


And Karen Hughes, you may remember -

HUNT: Yes.

MCKINNON: Who was so tough. I would say, Karen, you go. You go. So, you know, I don't want to be the guy that tells Biden that. I don't want to go into the propellers. Because you know what happens to goes in the propellers, you get chopped up, man. And I - and I - you know, I know that Biden can be pretty fierce himself. So, it's a really unpleasant job for whoever's got to do it.

HUNT: All right, Mark McKinnon, very grateful to have you this morning. Come back soon. Thank you.

MCKINNON: (INAUDIBLE). But the person that's got to do that is Jill, by the way, obviously.

HUNT: Yes, that makes absolute - absolute sense. All right, thank you.

So, I want to - I want to get to this now. Mark Preston alluded to it earlier. The White House fended off tough questions about President Biden's fitness at the briefing yesterday. And it was -- at times it was tough to watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is anyone in the White House hiding information about the president's health or his ability to do the job day to day?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Absolutely not. As it relates to his medical records, we have been transparent. We have released thorough reports from his medical team every year since he's been in office. That is something that we have been pretty consistent about.


HUNT: Have we been transparent though, Alex Thompson? I think a big part of this story is how people feel like the White House hasn't been candid.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. I mean, as someone - you know, we've talked about this before, as someone that's reported on his age for the last three-and-a-half years as a reporter, I feel, especially in retrospect, after watching that debate, I have been met by gaslighting, a lot of deflecting, at times not even telling the truth about the president's schedule.

Now, we've all been talking about this whole thing about the president from ten to four. I mean I reported that a year ago. But no one really paid much attention to it. And the fact is that - and this is also what is added to the turmoil inside this White House because there is incredible frustration, especially among people that really love Joe Biden, that have been with him for a long time, that if people within the inner circle knew that he had some of these moments, that knew that there was even a 5 percent chance that what happened on Thursday night was going to happen, and they let him go out on that stage and humiliate himself in front of the entire world, and they let him do it anyway, there is tremendous anger and sadness among the people that have worked for Joe Biden, believe in his legacy, that they let him go out there and do it anyway.

BEDINGFIELD: But - can I just say, but that point is actually exactly why I believe that Thursday night was an aberration. Now, we'll see - we'll see what happens. But the people - I worked for Joe Biden for a long time. I worked closely with all of the people who are closely around him. They care about him. They love him. They would not have let him go out if they believed that that was what was going to happen.

So, I actually - I take the sort of inverse of the argument you're making to reinforce the idea that, you know, it was a historically bad night. It was an epically bad night. But the people around him would not have put him forward to do that if they felt that that's what was going to happen.

THOMPSON: But do you believe it was really the first time that that had ever happened?

BEDINGFIELD: I do. I genuinely -


BEDINGFIELD: I know, I realized that's, you know, again, I base this on my own experience. Granted I left over a year ago, so I'm not, you know. But, you know, I never saw that version of Joe Biden, and I just don't believe that the people around him who make these - help make these decisions with him would have put him in that situation if they thought there was a chance that was going to happen.

HUNT: Mark Preston.

PRESTON: You know, we've written his obituary in - his political obituary. I mean, again, this is the commentary. Let's talk about how he can survive.

Now, where I'm from, Gorman's from, you don't go to a fistfight without being able to really want to knock the person's head off. Joe Biden did not show up at that debate to try to knock Donald Trump's head off. He went into that debate and talked about policy issues.

This is not 1970. This is not 1980 and 1990. We are in 2024 right now. Donald Trump has redefined how we play politics. And if Joe Biden wants to survive this, Joe Biden's got to go out there and street fight is what he needs to do.

HUNT: Yes. Well, I mean, and isn't that a big part of it, Matt Gorman, though.


HUNT: That, like - I mean they're painted this as an existential moment for the country, and that makes the stakes of Joe Biden having a night like he did that much higher.

GORMAN: Absolutely. And again, when everything is the fate, democracy lies in, you know, this night or this race, then you're right, then there's no room for error.

And, you know, I think - I'll go back to what Kate said earlier in the program, this is not a "West Wing" episode, right? This - this will not go as cleanly as, I think, collectively, we all think it will, right? And so, let's think about this. So, if he has an OK Stephanopoulos interview and an OK press conference, then Trump will announce his VP and does this kind of get washed away a little bit? We'll see. But I think, you know, the transition from Biden to Kamala, if it happens, it's not going to be some seamless thing.

HUNT: Yes. No, it's a very - it's a very, very good point.


And we are, of course, in an incredibly consequential moment that reminds us of history. So, I want to say thank you to the panel. And I just want to leave you with one of the historical moments where we faced - we had a president facing something like this.


HARRY TRUMAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Whoever the Democrats nominate for president this year, he will have this record to run upon. I shall not be a candidate for reelection. I have served my country long, and I think efficiently and honestly. I shall not accept a renomination. I do not feel that it is my duty the spend another four years in the White House.