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Biden Jones 2020 Race; Obama Not Endorsing Yet; Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 25, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump lashes out at his former White House counsel, disputing a key finding of the Mueller report, but Don McGahn is hardly the only top Trump aide who under oath detailed presidential efforts to stymie the special counsel investigation.

Plus, evangelical pastor Franklin Graham labels Mayor Pete Buttigieg a sinner because he is gay and married. Some conservatives see hypocrisy in Graham's attacking a Democrat while turning a blind eye to President Trump's behavior.

And Joe Biden is in. The former vice president joins the Democratic race for president with a video that aims big and directly at the incumbent Biden calls a threat to American values. One issue on day one, dealing with Barack Obama's decision to stay out of the crowded primary race.


QUESTION: If you are the best choice for the Democrats in 2020, why didn't President Obama endorse you?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I asked President Obama not to endorse and he doesn't want to -- this -- we should -- whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits. So (INAUDIBLE) --

QUESTION: So how do you --

BIDEN: Welcome to Delaware.


KING: And we begin the hour right there. Joe Biden is running for president. The former vice president made it official this morning and made an interesting choice in doing so. His announcement video makes no mention of jobs or health care or middle class stress or eight years at Barack Obama's side. All will be big Biden themes. But he decided to begin with a broader values question and a direct assault on President Trump.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen. The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is at stake.


KING: President Trump took quick notice, tweeting, welcome to the race, sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. The president going on to say, but if you make it, I will see you at the starting gate.

Biden's immediate worry is his 19 Democratic primary rivals and years of doubt about his own presidential prospects. This is his third try. Efforts in 1988 and 2008 fell flat. And the candidate knows he needs to show flash out of the gate this time.

Two sources telling CNN, Biden rallied his allies in a conference call just yesterday asking for help so he can deliver a strong showing from day one. The former vice president telling supporters he knows that he, quote, would be judged by his early fundraising performance.

CNN's Arlette Saenz joins us now from Wilmington, Delaware, on the trail on this day one.

Arlette, what's the mood? What's next for the vice president?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, John, we saw Joe Biden at the train station that bears his name here in Wilmington, answering those questions about not only President Obama's endorsement, but I asked him, the fact that he took on Donald Trump, President Trump, directly in that video, that message relating to the clashes in Charlottesville, I asked Biden that in order to get to President Trump in the general election, he still has to make it through that crowded and diverse Democratic primary field. And I asked him, why are you the best choice for Democrats? He simply said, that's for Democratic voters to decide.

So we're going to hear from Biden over the coming weeks about that message that he's going to try to sell to Democratic and also general election voters. You heard in that video that he was trying to make this campaign, base it around that idea that this is a battle for the soul of the country and that the nation's values are at stake. The campaign also says that that's just one of three pillars that he's going to wrap around his campaign. He's also going to talk about rebuilding the middle class, as well as uniting America.

And, John, one thing that I want to point out is, as you noted, this has long been in the making. Joe Biden's been hearing that he should be president or run for president since his early 30s. And I was actually here in Wilmington back in 2012 on Election Day as he was investigate for himself and President Obama, and I was here when he was asked whether that would be the final time that he's voting for himself. He said, no. So maybe he thought that that was going to be back in 2016. But, ultimately, now we're in 2019 and he's making that run in 2020.

KING: It's a big day one for Joe Biden.

Arlette, appreciate the live reporting from Wilmington. Keep in touch throughout the day.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's Manu Raju, Matt Viser with "The Washington Post," and "Time's" Molly Ball.

[12:05:04] We've all been waiting for this. Will -- let me ask the question, was that the right answer when Arlette asked him, why you among the -- he said, that's up for the Democrats to decide. It's a gracious answer. You're not picking on any of your rivals. But right out of the box, should Joe Biden be saying more?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean he didn't want to answer the question. Perhaps he was late for his train. Perhaps he'll have to answer that more.

What was striking about the video, I thought, was that he tried to make the case, very directly, that he would take on the president directly, because we've seen all these Democratic presidential candidates, a lot of them, sidestep the -- going after the president, talking about the issues, talking about Democratic values, not necessarily taking aim at the president. And Biden is trying to tell the voters that he is the person who can take the fight to the president. And that's what a lot of voters want to see. So, will that work? That's still a big question.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": And there are two reasons why Biden is doing that. One, through our reporting, talking to people around him, he really does see this as a consequential moment for the country. He does think that Trump is a threat to democracy. He worries about what happens to the country if there are eight years of Trump as opposed to just four year.

But I also think tactically it's a way for him to try to get past some of these real debates over the direction of the Democratic Party. He wants to be able to say to voters, look, this isn't an election about whether we should do Medicare for all or save Obamacare or whether we should change -- change -- or address climate change through the green new deal or take another approach. He's trying to make this about a bigger, more fundamental question.

BIDEN: And let's get a little bit more of the video here. It should make -- to raise to that question -- again, it's interesting. He's always says, you know, I'm the scrappy kid from Scranton. I'm about the middle class. I'm blue collar Joe. He decided to leave all that for another day. And the video goes directly at President Trump, as Julie just noted, recalls the tragic events, the horrible events in Charlottesville a couple of years ago. You have the white nationalists, the neo-Nazi protests, Joe Biden going after what the president said at the time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Very fine people on both sides? Those words, the president of the United States, assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.


KING: It's an interesting choice, he -- to go big, if that's the right word.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Well, yes, I mean I think -- I think Julie's exactly right. And I think the other thing is, you know, we talk so much about the name ID that Joe Biden has. But the other thing that he gets from having been vice president for eight years is a certain amount of stature. And I think that that really also enables him to make this argument. And that is something that a lot of Democratic primary voters are looking for is, can I imagine this person going toe to toe with President Trump? Does this person -- is this person big enough, right, to be president? And so I think by turning this -- turning this argument towards the general election, he's being sincere, but he also is playing more to a hunger for leadership than a hunger for any particular policy agenda.

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think also that they -- they have this multi-day and multi-week rollout where I think Monday in particular is a big day for him in a union hall where he's going to start to outline the middle class Joe sort of argument that frankly they could have gone to today, and, you know, there was some, I think, debate about going there with the campaign. And I think we'll hear a lot more from him about appealing to the white middle class voters that Democrats lost to Donald Trump in 2016, and that will be another debate within the party over whether that's the right course. Should the party focus on winning those people back, or has the party shifted so dramatically that the base of the party is not a Obama/Biden party any longer.

KING: Right. And the benefit that you mentioned, the benefit of having the gravitas, having the reputation is, is, we'll see if they vote for him in the primaries. But Democrats love him. A lot of Democrats treasure him. Democrats know him.

The curse of that is, will he be given the grace of some of the younger candidates, when a younger, first time presidential candidate maybe has a gaffe in a town hall or gives an inarticulate answer, we say, OK, let's watch and see if they do it again, let's watch and see if they grow. Will Joe Biden get that grace when, nationally, again, it's months before anybody votes, but nationally, Joe Biden at 27 percent in the Monmouth poll out this week. Bernie Sanders, a guy who's been around the track as well, 20 percent. Then Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke rounding out. That's a national poll. We don't pick presidents or nominees by national polls. But if you look at New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders, who won New Hampshire in 2016 on top in New Hampshire, followed by Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg with a big jump for him, Warren, Harris, Booker.

It's different for him, though, right, in the since that, if he starts to go down, even a few points, it will be a bigger deal than a Warren or a Harris or a Buttigieg going up or down a little bit.

PACE: The target is on his back for sure, which is actually a unique position for Biden. Every other time he's run, he's been an underdog.

We've been in a phase of this Democratic primary that has been pretty friendly. These candidates have not really taken shots at each other. They've avoided direct confrontation. I do think that Biden's entry in the race, in this front-runner position, will start to change that. There are going to be candidates who are going to have to take aim at him if for no other reason than they need to actually get themselves out there a little bit more. They need to get some name recognition and they need to start chipping away at that lead. They have a while to do that but I do think we're going to start to see a shift in the rhetoric (INAUDIBLE).

[12:10:25] RAJU: And his -- and his 36 years in the Senate provides ample ammunition for any of these Democratic candidates. There are votes after votes that he'll have to defend that occurred in the '90s, financial issues. Elizabeth Warren has made reference to some of his votes without naming him by name. I'm sure he will start to be called out by name. Of course, things that are very prominent in his past, like his role in the Anita Hill hearings, his role in the crime bill in the Clinton era, those, of course, will come up, but also lesser known things. And he's going to have to continually defend that, which is probably one reason why he tried to make the argument today a broader argument about going after Trump rather than about specific policy ideas.

KING: And the president took notice and conservatives took notice. There's generally criticism of all the Democrats when they get in, but Biden got a little bit more, if you will, because of that stature and the gravitas.

Just some headlines in "The Daily Caller," Joe Biden starts presidential campaign by praising ANTIFA. Not exactly, but that's how they want to call it. "Breitbart," Joe Biden kicks off 2020 campaign by spreading Charlottesville fine people hoax. It wasn't a hoax of what the president said. Go back and look at the president's words. "Washington Free Beacon," Biden announces third presidential campaign. That, in its own way, is a little bit of shade.

But this is interesting from the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, because I think this is part -- Biden's going to have his first big rally in Pittsburgh. He's from the other side of the state, Scranton. He says he's the blue collar guy who understands why a Pennsylvania, a Michigan and a Wisconsin flipped. Ronna McDaniel tweeting, Joe Biden literally can't hide from the economic successes of Donald Trump's administration. Biden chose Pennsylvania to launch his campaign, a state where the unemployment rate just dropped to the lowest level ever record.

That's, number one, her trying to lay down a marker for Biden. It's also her laying down, and the president re-tweeted this, she's one of the people around the president trying to get him to focus on the good story the president could be telling as opposed to lashing out angrily at people.

But Pennsylvania -- first, I mean, we'll get through the primaries. It's one of the defining tests this year.

VISER: And Democrats fared well in the midterms. I mean I think Democrats see a sea change happening in states like Pennsylvania that Joe Biden feels best able to capture. But you're right that the president goes at, you know, sleepy Joe Biden. You know, he's already trying to come up with a nickname for him. Kind of highlighting maybe his age, even though the president is of a similar generation.

But they -- I think Pennsylvania is going to be a key component of Joe Biden's campaign. You see that in his initial day.

But another distinction, I think, with the other Democrats is the way that Joe Biden is raising money. One of his first events tonight is at David Cohen's house, executive at Comcast, to raise high dollar donations, a recognition that he can't compete with other candidates in the online fundraising. But also for Biden an upside is that a lot of that high-dollar money is still available because a lot of the candidates aren't doing that.

KING: And that likely will become one of the places the other candidates poke at him a little bit. We'll see as that one goes forward. It's just day one. We're going to come back to this story.

Up next, it's been a reality, the new candidate tries to explain why the guy he worked for, that would be the president of the United States, not in his corner on day one.

We'll be right back.


[12:17:32] KING: Joe Biden will campaign as an Obama/Biden Democrat, but he will not campaign with the endorsement of his former boss. The former president's plan is to stay neutral in the Democratic primary.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is here to take us inside the former president's thinking.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's no question that four years ago, let's start there, Joe Biden was really thinking about running for president. At the time, Barack Obama and some of his advisers essentially helped guide him towards a different decision. Of course, it was in the wake of the death of his son, Beau Biden, and Barack Obama had given his -- signaling his support to Hillary Clinton.

Well, this time around, Barack Obama did not try to stop or talk Joe Biden out of running at all. I'm told, in fact, they had very few conversations about this, but the conversations they did have, Barack Obama was acting more as a close friend, a listener, a sounding board, asking how it would impact the Biden family. But, again, they did not talk about specifics of the rollout.

But one thing Barack Obama did, he also has never talked ill of Joe Biden's presidential ambitions. And one friend, John, told me this, it was pretty instructive. Let's look. He said, he would never tell Joe not to run. Does he think Biden will win the primary? He doesn't know the answer any more than the rest us do. So that is something there a close friend of President Obama has told me sort of explaining the dynamic here, that the former president is going to stay on the sidelines and watch this play out.

He does not think an endorsement would be helpful, would work, even if he gave one. But he's watching this play out. He thinks very highly of Joe Biden. Hopes it ends well for him. But don't expect him to put his hands on the scale at all this year.

The question, though, if that primary stretches out next year, if Joe Biden is still in the race, does he try to impact it at that point, John?

KING: It is an interesting question. Save that one, Jeff. Put that one in the file. We'll come back to it.

ZELENY: Indeed.

KING: Appreciate it.

Jeff Zeleny with that reporting.

Joining me now is David Axelrod, who was a top adviser in the Obama White House after serving as the chief strategists, of course, for the 2008 Obama/Biden campaign. He's now the host right here of CNN's "The Axe File."

Let me, David, pick up first with the point Jeff just made, President Obama's not sure it would be helpful if he endorsed. Come on, it would help, right, if he did?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it may -- it might help, but I also think that he is very sensitive about not dictating to Democratic voters. He believes that there -- it is healthy to have a Democratic primary process and that the candidate, whoever the candidate will be, if it's Joe Biden or someone else, will emerge stronger for having gone through that process and it isn't for him to try and short circuit that process or influence it at this point.

[12:20:14] I suspect if the thing becomes very acrimonious, vituperative, if he thinks that what's happening is going to destroy the chances of the nominee to become president, that he will then speak out, but I don't expect him to be an early entrant into this -- into this campaign.

KING: All right. From your experience with President Obama, and even before that, you have experience with Joe Biden. It's his third time, as you know. I just want to go through a few things here.

There's no question -- there's no question, as we look at Joe Biden as he's in this race right now, universal name recognition, that helps a candidate. Strong polling, I'm going to give him a yes for now. If you disagree. He's ahead in the national polls. He's ahead in Iowa last time I looked. He's second in New Hampshire. Maybe that's strong. Maybe it should be a little bit better.

But here are the question marks, and they've always been the question marks for Joe Biden, can he put together a strong organization? Can he build a ground game? Will he have a clear message and will he have the money?

With your insights into -- unique insights into that man, walk through some of those challenges.

AXELROD: Well, I think the organizational challenges are real. As you point out, he's never gotten out of Iowa before when he was running for president. And part of it is that he has a very close-knit group of advisers who tend to reflect him, and it's a very bad thing when you're running a national campaign to be so reliant on yourself and a group that reflects your -- your strategic and tactical thinking. So he's going to have to broaden out that group.

Fundraising is going to be a challenge because he doesn't have -- or at least could be a challenge because he doesn't have that social media base that has become so fundamental to raise money. Bernie Sanders, 10 million on the first day. Beto O'Rourke, 6 million on the first day. You can see, he's set up a series of traditional fundraisers early here so that he can show some fundraising strength.

So, you know, and then there are the -- his own issues. I mean you get the good with the bad, and the bad with the good. Joe Biden is utterly authentic, speaks his mind. Oftentimes that can go sideways on him and create stories that he doesn't intend to create. So I thought the video they put out today was really, really strong and a good message, trying to bypass the primary and give people a preview of what they believe is his strength, that he would be a great candidate against Trump. But he's still going to have to go through all of the tests that candidates have to go through, and he's going to have to show more discipline than he's shown in the past.

KING: I -- you understand the discipline question as well as anyone.

I want to just show you Joe Biden's Instagram page right now. Barack Obama stays on the shrines, at least for now. Joe Biden was his vice president. If you look at these images on there, you have some Barack Obama in there a couple of times.

So, President Obama stays on the sidelines, but Joe Biden -- how should Joe Biden take advantage of the fact that he, for eight years, served at the side of a president who is still incredibly popular with Democrats and especially popular with a critical African-American base of the party?

AXELROD: Yes, well, I think that last point is the most important. You know, a quarter of the primary vote are African-Americans, and they're aggregated in some key states, South Carolina being the first. The relationship with Obama has given Biden a special status.

And I should say parenthetically, he deserves to claim some credit for the Obama legacy. He was a strong partner in the president. They are close friends. So he's not stepping out of bounds by claiming that. But it is an important way to reach African-American voters who are going to be very important in this race. No one has ever won the nomination without doing well with African-American voters. It's why Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders. It was helpful to Obama himself, obviously, in 2008. So this is going to be a big calling card for him.

KING: So if you're the media adviser in the room, and we talked about this in the first segment, Joe Biden's about to get out there. Let's say he's about to do one of these big town halls we've been having and he's going to probably get an Anita Hill question, he's probably going to get, why were you against forced busing in the '70s question? He's going to get some other question that where he was in a place 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 30 years ago where the Democratic Party not is today. How do you handle the evolution? What would your advice to the candidate be?

AXELROD: My advice would be to get to where we are today very, very quickly. As long as he's living in the past, it's going to be problematical for him. So he needs to articulate where he would lead the country in the future and the values that he believes in and not get into sort of an apology tour for every vote he's ever cast. And that's going to be difficult. Look, his experience is a strength. It gives people some confidence that he can restore some ballast to Washington.

[12:25:02] But, on the other hand, 45 years of comments and votes are a burden he's going to have to carry into this. And if he gets caught in a perpetual cycle of explaining and apologizing, that's going to be a problem for him going on -- going forward.

KING: David Axelrod, appreciate the insights here today.

AXELROD: Thanks, John. Good to see you.

KING: Come back here during the -- 20 candidates. You sure you don't want to get back into the game?

AXELROD: I'm happy to be here with you.

KING: That was a good, honest laugh. I like that. I like that.

Appreciate it, David.

Let's go back in the room.

You hear -- you know, there aren't that many people who have run successful presidential campaigns. So when you get -- especially, you know, you remember, Barack Obama was supposed to be beaten by Hillary Clinton first. So you win a successful primary. You win at the presidency. The insights there. A pretty honest assessment of Joe Biden. And I thought -- I appreciate this.

Now you see, that's the former vice president there. Like many of us, he's hungry. Unlike many of us, he has a chance to pick up some food. That's in Wilmington, Delaware. And we're told he's going to his favorite pizza place to get a little pizza. If we see him comes back into the picture, we will, of course, take you there live.

The idea that when you're asked about the past, to try to get as quickly as you can into the present.

Is Joe Biden nimble enough? One of the tests of a presidential candidate, especially in a live setting like a town hall or a debate, is being nimble.

BALL: This is -- this, right now, is the really crucial period for Joe Biden. I think more than any of the other candidates, he needs to come out strong out of the gate because there have been so many people whispering, including the other candidates, that his best day is going to be the day that he announces. And it's all going to be a downhill slide from there as more and more voters hear things that disenchant them or convince them that he's not the person that he thought that they were.

And so he's got to show energy because the president is calling him sleepy Joe, because he's older and has to prove that he's still got what it takes to be out there on the trail, because he is -- starts out as the frontrunner and has to keep that momentum and because he's got to build grassroots enthusiasm. This guy who's doing the high- dollar fundraising that the other candidates aren't.

KING: Let's -- let's -- let's listen as he goes in here.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's real early. I tell you what, the issue is going to be who -- not only who can win this, but who's the best person to lead the country. And that's what it's going to be all about. And it's going to be from the voters to decide that.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, there was some suspense in your decision, obviously. It took a couple of months maybe to get there. Is this about your view that the other not -- the other 20 or so Democrats in the race don't have what it takes to beat Donald Trump?

BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no, no. It's about -- it's about what I told you I think a long time ago that this is a long, long campaign. They were starting campaign back in January, and February, kind of early in my view. And, look, we were putting together a, I think, a pretty good staff and capability and websites.

Hey, man, how you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. How are you doing, pal?

BIDEN: How you doing, man?

And I'm going to go get some pizza. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we'll see you inside, sir.

BIDEN: How are you?


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Arlette Saenz, how are you doing?

Are you exciting about your brother's run?

OWENS: Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes. As -- what did you say, as a what?

SAENZ: Excuse me.

OWENS: I'm sorry, what did you say, am I -- am I excited?

SAENZ: Are you excited about your brother's run?

OWENS: Oh, yes, God, yes.

SAENZ: And you've been -- you've been running a lot of his campaigns from the very beginning.

OWENS: I ran every -- every one of his campaigns. And this time I am not going to be in the office and run it and worry about everything else. I'm going to be out with him and be in the public, which is what I like to do.

SAENZ: And so do you think that he's going to fair bet this time around than the past two campaigns?

OWENS: Well, then that would -- that would -- yes, of course he is. Of course he is. He's going to -- yes, he is -- he is going to do that for sure. But that's not the direct parallel is because not -- not because I'm not in -- being his campaign manager (INAUDIBLE). Yes, I was teasing you about when you said that.

Hello, Jack.


SAENZ: So we're going head inside, guys.

KING: OK, so that's the wonders of live television there. We have two cameras there and two microphones. You were listening to the vice president's sister talking to our Arlette Saenz. She has been very active in all of his past campaigns. They were talking on the outside as you watch the vice president. This is Gianni's (ph) Pizza in Wilmington, Delaware.

Joe Biden walk around Wilmington is like Bill Clinton walking around Little Rock. He tends to know just about everybody because of his familiarity. He served there so long. But he's shaking some hands here (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guys, do you want to go behind the camera?

KING: And we're watching him at home in Wilmington. What's that? Let's listen for a second.


BIDEN: Joe 2020.

Well, it's not going to stop me from coming, guys, you know what I mean? I'm going to -- you guys want to do a picture?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is John Meeks (ph).

BIDEN: How you doing, John.

KING: Joe 2020 in Mozzarella cheese on the top of that pizza if my eyesight is working today. And I think he said it's not going to stop him from cutting it up and eating it.

This is -- we're watching this and some viewers might be saying, why are you staying with these pictures? This is Wilmington, Delaware, where Joe Biden is very popular. This is about to be his test when he's in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and Waterloo and Manchester and Nashua and so on. It's that, you know, that, a, the stamina, does he have the stamina and the rigors of the campaign and, b, when you're in these settings when you're asked anything by voters, can he stick to the disciplined script, which has been an issue for him in the past.

[12:29:56] RAJU: Well, the voters like -- I mean one of the things that Biden supporters will say is that his authenticity, his charm worked to his advantage. This type of environment right now where he's going around shaking hands, showing people his personality.