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President Biden Delivers Commencement Speech At Morehouse College; This Week: Closing Arguments Possible In Trump's NY Trial; Biden Vs. Trump Polling Remains Steady For Months; Biden, Trump To Face Off In Unprecedented Debate Rematch; Republican Back Strong Senate Candidates With Dems On Defense; Pair Of Bribery Cases Cause Headaches For Democrats. Aired 10:25a-12p ET

Aired May 19, 2024 - 10:25   ET




ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- is coming here to celebrate these young graduates. But the visit has also been dotted with some controversy as well as there have been some students and faculty who have expressed frustration with the fact that the president was invited here as they have criticized his approach to the handling of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

People will be watching very closely to see whether there is any type of protests during the president's remarks. Of course, the president of the university said ahead of time that he does not want to see any major disruptive protests that if that occurs, he would stop the commencement ceremony on the spot. But we will see whether there is any engagement of some type of peaceful protests from the students who are here.

I will note that just before President Biden was set to speak, the valedictorian of the class. DeAngelo Fletcher, addressed the conflict in Gaza and in his remarks, he talked about the need for hostages to be released, but also said that there needs to be an immediate and a permanent ceasefire. So you can see how that issue is in the minds of many students here at Morehouse today. And I think in a short bit we will be hearing for President Biden himself.

MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- courting black voters at this key moment in the campaign season.

SAENZ: I think so and --

RAJU: Arlette, you're still with me. Does the campaign feel like that's made much of a difference here?

SAENZ: Well, one key thing is that the Biden campaign is fully aware that they still have more work to do with black voters. Black voters made up a core part of Biden's coalition back in 2020. But there have been some signs of narrowing of support within that group. If you take a look at a recent "New York Times" poll in a hypothetical head-to- head matchup between Biden and Trump, it had Biden at about 63 percent support from black voters, while Trump had garnered about 23 percent.

So that is a tightening from what we saw back in 2020, but it's clear that the Biden campaign is taking this issue relating to some struggles they're having with the black voters very seriously. Biden has been engaged over the course of this weekend in multiple appeals to try to reach black voters. Just yesterday, he met with people in here, Atlanta, Georgia. A bit later today, he is traveling on to Detroit where he will speak at an NAACP dinner.

But the group of people that he will speak here today is also very important as they are specifically young black men. That is a group that has shown some disaffection when it comes to politics, when it comes to President Biden. And so these are all groups that the president will need to continue to make inroads with as he looks to secure a second term and really the black vote is critical to try to stitch together that diverse coalition that he had back in 2020 including in a battleground state like Georgia.

RAJU: And Arlette, I was speaking to a Georgia Democrat, Hank Johnson, who said that he hoped that Joe Biden would actually announce a policy shift on the Gaza war. Perhaps take a more forceful stand against the Netanyahu government.

Do you believe that -- are you hearing whether there'll be any shift in the White House over this -- from the president over this issue at all?

SAENZ: Well, I think that's something that we'll be watching incredibly closely. I think that, you know, you have heard from the White House saying that they want to have a temporary ceasefire. They want to try to get these hostages out, but they haven't called for a full-on ceasefire with no conditions attached to it. But there has been, the White House has been conducting outreach ahead of this meeting, trying to hear one-on-one concerns from students and faculty here at Morehouse College about their views related to Gaza. And --


RAJU: Arlette, we're going to interrupt you. Arlette, we're going to interrupt you right now. We're going to go to the president here live.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. President Thomas, faculty, staff, alumni, and a special thanks, I'll ask all the folks who helped you get here, your mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, all those who got you here, all the way in the back, please, parents, grandparents, all who helped, stand up, because we owe you a debt of gratitude, to all the families.



BIDEN: And that is not hyperbole.

A lot of you, like my family, had to make significant sacrifices to get your kids to school. It mattered. It's mattered a lot.

And the friends of Morehouse and the Morehouse men of the class of 2024, I have more Morehouse men in the White House telling me what to do than I know what to do.


BIDEN: You all think I'm kidding, don't you?


BIDEN: You know I'm not. And it's the best thing that's happened to me.

Scripture says, the prayers of the righteous man availeth much. In Augusta, Georgia, a righteous man once enslaved set foot for freedom. The story goes, he feared no evil. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death on his way north to free soil in Philadelphia.

A Baptist minister, he walked with faith in his soul, power in the steps of his feet to glory. But after the Union won the war, he knew his prayers availed him freedom that was not his alone. And so this righteous man, Richard Coulter, returned home, his feet weary, his spirit in no ways tired 157 years ago.

You all know the story, but the rest of the world doesn't and should. In the basement of a Baptist church in Augusta, he and two other ministers, William Jefferson White and Edmund Turney, planted the seeds of something revolutionary. And it was at the time, a school, a school that helped formerly enslaved men enter the ministry, where education would be the great equalizer, from slavery to freedom, an institution of higher learning that would become Morehouse College.

I don't know any other college in America that has that tradition and that consequence.

To the class of 2024, you join, as you know, a sacred tradition. Education makes you free. And Morehouse education makes you fearless.


BIDEN: I mean it, visionary, exceptional.

Congratulations. You are Morehouse men. God love you.


BIDEN: And, again, I thank your families and your friends who helped you get here, because they made sacrifices for you as well.

This graduation day is a day for generations, a day of joy, a day earned, not given. We gather on this Sunday morning because, if we were in church, perhaps it would be this reflection. It would be a reflection about resurrection and redemption.

Remember, Jesus was buried on Friday. And it was Sunday, on Sunday, he rose again. But, but we don't talk enough about Saturday, when his disciples felt all hope was lost.

In our lives, in the lives of the nation, we have those Saturdays, to bear witness the day before glory, seeing people's pain and not looking away. But what work is done on Saturday to move pain to purpose? How can faith get a man, get a nation through what was to come?

Here's what my faith has taught me. I was the first Biden ever to graduate from college, taking out loans, my dad and my -- all through school to get me there. My junior year, spring break, I fell in love at first sight, literally, with a woman I adored.

I graduated from law school in her hometown. I got married and took a job at a law firm in my hometown, Wilmington, Delaware. But then everything changed. One of my heroes -- and he was my hero -- a Baptist minister, a Morehouse man, Dr. Martin Luther King, in April of my law school graduation year, he was murdered.

My city of Wilmington, we were, to our great shame, a slave state and we were segregated. Delaware erupted into flames when he was assassinated, literally. We were the only city in America where the National Guard patrolled every street corner for nine full months, with drawn bayonets, the longest stretch of any American city since the Civil War.


Dr. King's legacy had a profound impact on me and my generation, whether you were black or white. I left the fancy law firm I had just joined and decided to become a public defender and then a county councilman working to change our state's politics to embrace the cause of civil rights.

The Democratic Party in Delaware was a Southern Democratic Party at the time. We wanted to change it, to become a Northeastern Democratic Party. Then we were trying to get someone to run for the United States Senate in the year Nixon ran. I was 29 years of age.

I had no notion of running. I love reading about everybody knew I was going to run. I didn't know I was going to run. When a group of senior members of the Democratic Party came to me, they couldn't find anybody to run and said, "You should run."

Nixon won my state by 60 percent of the vote. We won by 3,100 votes. We won by the thinnest of margins. But with a broad coalition, including students from the best HBCU in America, Delaware State University -- you guys are good.


BIDEN: They got me elected.


BIDEN: Oh, you all think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding. But, by Christmas, I was a newly elected senator hiring staff in

Washington, D.C., when I got a call from the first responders, my fire department in my hometown, that forever altered my life. They put a young woman, first responder on the line to say, there was an automobile accident. A tractor trailer hit your wife's car while she was Christmas shopping with three children.

And she -- poor woman just blurted out, said, "Your wife and daughter were killed," my 13-month-old daughter dead. "And your almost 3-year- old and 4-year-old sons are badly injured. We're not sure they're going to make it either."

I rushed from Washington to their bedside. I wanted to pray, but I was so angry. I was angry at God. I was angry at the world. I had the same pain 43 years later when that 4-year-old boy who survived was a grown man and a father himself lying in another hospital bed at Walter Reed Hospital having contracted stage four glioblastoma because he was a year in Iraq as a major, won the Bronze Star, living next to a burn pit. Cancer took his last breath.

In this walk of life, you can understand -- you come to understand that we don't know where or what fate will bring you or when. We also know we don't walk alone. When you have been a beneficiary of the compassion of your family, your friends, even strangers, you know how much the compassion matters.

I have learned there was no easy optimism, but, by faith, by faith, we can find redemption. I was a single father for five years. No man deserves one great love, let alone two. My youngest brother was a hell of an athlete. He did a great thing. He introduced me to a classmate of his, said: "You will love her. She doesn't like politics."


BIDEN: But, all kidding aside, until I met Jill, who healed -- who healed the family in all the broken places.

Our family became my redemption. Many of you have gone through similar or worse and even worse things, but you lean on others. They lean on you. And, together, you keep the faith in a better day tomorrow. But it's not easy.

I know, four years ago, some of your speakers have already mentioned it felt like one of those Saturdays. The pandemic robbed you of so much. Some of you lost loved ones, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, who aren't able to be here to celebrate with you today. You missed your high school graduation. You started college just as George Floyd was murdered and there was a reckoning on race.

And it's natural to wonder if the democracy you hear about actually works for you.


What is democracy if black men are being killed in the street? What is democracy if the trail of broken promises still leave black communities behind? What is democracy if you have to be 10 times better than anyone else to get a fair shot? Most of all, what does it mean, as you have heard before, to be a black man who loves his country, even if it doesn't love him back in equal measure?


BIDEN: When I sit behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, in front of the fireplace across from my desk, I have two busts, one of Dr. King, one of Bobby Kennedy.

I often find myself looking at those busts, making decisions, ask myself, are we living up to what we say we are as a nation, to end racism and poverty, to deliver jobs and justice, to restore our leadership in the world?

I look down and see the rosary on my wrist that was out of my late son he had on him when he died at Walter Reed, and I was with him, and I ask myself, what would he say? I know the answer, because he told me in his last days. My son knew the days were numbered.

The last conversation was: "Dad, I'm not afraid, but I'm worried. I'm worried you're going to give up when I go. You're going to give up."

We have an expression in the Biden family when you want someone to know -- give your word. You say, look at me. He was lying -- to me and he said: "Look at me, dad. Look at me." He said: "Give me your word. Give me your word as my father that you will not quit, that you will stay engaged. Promise me, dad. Stay engaged. Promise me. Promise me."

I wrote a book called "Promise Me, Dad," not for the public at large, although a lot of people ended up buying it. It's for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know who Beau Biden was.

The rosary around my wrist, the bust in my office remind me that faith asks you to hold on to hope, to move heaven and earth to make better days. Well, that's my commitment to you, to show you democracy, democracy, democracy is still the way.

If black men are being killed in the street, we bear witness. For me, that means to call out the poison of white supremacy, to root out systemic racism. I stood up for George Floyd's family to help create a country where you don't need to have that talk with your son or grandson as they get pulled over.

Instead of a trail of broken promises, we're investing more money than ever in black families and black communities. We're connecting black neighborhoods cut off by old highways and decades of disinvestment, when no one cared about the community. We have delivered checks in pockets to reduce child -- black child poverty, the lowest rate in history, removing every lead pipe in America, so every child can drink clean water without fear of brain damage and they can't afford to remove the lead pipes themselves.

We're delivering an affordable high-speed Internet, so no child has to sit in a parent's car and do their homework in a parking lot outside of McDonald's. Instead of forcing you to prove you're 10 times better, we're breaking down doors so you have 100 times more opportunities, good-paying jobs you can raise a family on in your neighborhood...


BIDEN: ... capital to start small business and loans to buy homes, health insurance, prescription drugs, housing that's more affordable and accessible.

I have walked the picket line and defended the rights of workers. I'm relieving the burden of student debt. Many of you have already had the benefit of it, so I -- can chase your dream and grow the economy.


BIDEN: When the Supreme Court told me I couldn't, I found two other ways to do it. And we're able to do it because it grows the economy.

And I -- in addition to the original $7 billion investment in HBCUs, I'm investing 16 billion more dollars...


BIDEN: ... more in our history, because you're vital to our nation.



BIDEN: Most HBCUs don't have the endowments. The jobs of the future require sophisticated laboratories, sophisticated opportunity on campus.

We're opening doors so you can walk into a life of generational wealth to be providers and leaders of your families and communities. Today, record numbers of black Americans have jobs, health insurance, and more than ever.

Democracy is also about hearing and heeding your generation's call to a community free of gun violence and a planet free of climate crisis and showing your power to change the world. But also know, some of you ask, what is democracy?

We can't stop wars that break out and break our hearts. In a democracy, we debate and dissent about America's role in the world. I want to say this very clearly. I support peaceful nonviolent protest. Your voices should be heard. And I promise you, I hear them.

I determined to make my administration look like America. I have more African-Americans in high places, including on the court, than any president in American history, because I need the input.


BIDEN: What's happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking. Hamas is -- this is an attack on Israel, killing innocent lives and holding people hostage. I was there nine days after, said -- pictures of tying a mother and a

daughter with a rope and pouring kerosene on them, burning them and watching as they die.

Innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of all this, men, women, and children killed or displaced and despite -- in desperate need of water, food, and medicine. It's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That's why I have called for an immediate cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire to stop the fighting, bring the hostages home.


BIDEN: And I have been working on a deal as we speak, working around the clock to lead an international effort to get more aid into Gaza, rebuild Gaza.

I'm also working around the clock for more than just one cease-fire. I'm working to bring the region together. I'm working to build a lasting, durable peace, because the question is -- and you see what's going on in Israel today -- what after? What after Hamas? What happens then? What happens in Gaza? What rights do the Palestinian people have?

I'm working to make sure we finally get a two-state solution, the only solution...


BIDEN: ... for two people to live in peace, security and dignity.


BIDEN: This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world, and there's nothing easy about it. I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family, but, most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well.

Leadership is about fighting through the most intractable problems. It's about challenging anger, frustration and heartbreak to find a solution. It's about doing what you believe is right, even when it's hard and lonely.

You're all future leaders, every one of you graduating today, and that's not hyperbole. You're future leaders, all of you. You will face complicated, tough moments. In these moments, you will listen to others, but you will have to decide, guided by knowledge, conviction, principle, and your own moral compass.

The desire to know what freedom is, what it can be, is the heart and soul of why this college was founded in the first place, proving that a free nation is born in the hearts of men, spellbound by freedom. That's the magic of Morehouse. That's the magic of America.

But let's be clear. What happens to you and your family when old ghosts in new garments seize power and extremists come for the freedoms you thought belong to you and everyone? Today, in Georgia, they won't allow water to be available to you while you wait in line to vote in an election.

What in the hell is that all about?


BIDEN: I'm serious. Think about it.

And then the constant attacks on black election workers who count your vote. Insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol with Confederate Flags are called patriots by some. Not in my house.



BIDEN: Black police officers, black veterans protecting the Capitol were called another word, as you will recall.

They also say out loud, these other groups, immigrants poison the blood of our country, like the grand wizard and fascists said in the past.

But you know and I know we all bleed the same color.


BIDEN: In America, we're all created equal.

Extremists close the doors of opportunity, strike down affirmative action, attack the values of diversity, equality, and inclusion. I never thought, when I was graduating in 1968, as your honoree just was, who talked about, I never thought I'd be a president in a time when there's a national effort to ban books, not to write history, but to erase history.

They don't see you in the future of America. But they're wrong. To me, we make history, not erase it. We know black history is American history.


BIDEN: Many of you graduates don't know me, but check my record. You know what I'm saying I mean from my gut.

We know black men are going to help us lead us in the future, black men from this class, in this university.


BIDEN: But, graduates, this is what we're up against, extremist forces aligned against the meaning and message of Morehouse.

And they peddle a fiction, a caricature what being a man is about, tough talk, abusing power, bigotry. Their idea of being a man is toxic. I ran into them all the time when I was younger. I don't want to get started. (LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: But that's not you. It's not us.

You all know and demonstrate what it really means to be a man. Being a man is about strength, of respect and dignity. It's about showing up, because it's too late if you have to ask. It's about giving hate no safe harbor and leaving no one behind and defending freedoms. It's about standing up to the abuse of power, whether physical, economic, or psychological.

It's about knowing faith without works is dead.


BIDEN: Look, you're doing the work.

Today, I look out at all you graduates, and I see the next generation of Morehouse men, who are doctors and researchers curing cancer, artists shaping our culture, fearless journalists and intellectuals challenging convention.

I see preachers and advocates who might even join another Morehouse man in the United States Senate. You can clap for him. He's a good man.


BIDEN: As I said, I'm proud to have the most diverse administration in history to tap into the full talents of our nation.

I'm also proud of putting the first black woman on the United States Supreme Court.


BIDEN: And I have no doubt one day a Morehouse man will be on that court as well.


BIDEN: You know it.

I have been vice president to the first black president and become my close friend. I'm president to the first woman vice president.


BIDEN: That's why I have no idea, no doubt that a Morehouse man will be president one day, just after an AKA from Howard.




BIDEN: Look, let me close with this.

I know I don't look like I have been around very long.


BIDEN: But, in my career, for the first 30 years, I was told, "You're too young, kid."

They used to stop me from getting on the Senate elevator when I first got there, for real. Now I'm too old.

Whether you're younger or old, I know what endures. The strength and wisdom of faith endures. And I hope -- my hope for you is, my challenge to you is that you still keep the faith so long as you can.


That cap on your head proves you have earned your crown. The question is now, 25 years from now, 50 years from now, when you're asked to stand and address the next generation of Morehouse men, what will you say you did with that power you have earned? What will you say you have done for your family, for your community, your country when it mattered most?

I know what we can do. Together, we're capable of building a democracy worthy of our dreams, a future where every, even more of your brothers and sisters can follow their dreams, a boundless future, where your legacies lift us up to sow those who follow, a bigger, brighter future that proves the American dream is big enough for everyone to succeed.

Class of 2024, four years ago, it felt probably like Saturday. Four years later, you made it to Sunday, to commencement, to the beginning. And with faith and determination, you can push the sun above the horizon once more.

You can reveal the light of hope, and that's not -- I'm not kidding -- for yourself and for your nation. The prayers of a righteous man availeth much, a righteous man, a good man, a Morehouse man.


BIDEN: God bless you all. We're expecting a lot from you.

Thank you.


RAJU: All right. That was President Biden speaking at Morehouse College, speaking to graduates there. Of course, a key moment for his campaign as he tries to renew his support with Black voters. The president speaking about his record on race, talking about the challenges confronting Black men in this country, even his own personal journey, how by MLK Jr. influenced him through the course of his life. MLK Jr., of course, a graduate of Morehouse College.

And he also addressed the issue that has been roiling in college campuses across the country. The Israel-Hamas war and talking about how he said that innocent Palestinians have been caught in the middle of it. He's working around the clock for an immediate ceasefire, he said. Then he's trying to push for a two-state solution railed against how innocent Palestinians have been caught in the middle of this conflict.

There were some -- there was no protests that we saw. Maybe some folks turned their backs to the president. We're going to get a report from inside the room in just a matter of moments here. But were going to break this down here first with two Morehouse graduates on the panel, Bakari Sellers, the former Democratic state representative from South Carolina, conservative political strategies CNN's Shermichael Singleton, were both CNN commentators. And of course, CNN's political director, David Chalian.

So, what did you guys think? I mean, this is obviously -- you know, we're coming into middle of a key moment of that campaign. He's trying to court Black voters, young voters. And he tried to confront the issue that's been an elephant in the room, the Israel-Hamas war. Did he strike the right tone?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, first of all, we're going to give David an honorary degree.


RAJU: What about me?

SELLERS: So, you don't -- you don't feel -- slow down, Manu. No, I actually thought the president did extremely well today. And I'm not sure where the bar was set for him in terms of level of expectation. But I believe on all accounts he exceeded it.

Something that stuck out to me today was not just him going through his personal history. He does that a lot, but it's the fact that he went into the history of Morehouse College and tie that into protest and said, look, young man, I understand you have every right to protest.

People have to remember Samuel L. Jackson actually held the board of trustees hostage, so we could change -- have policy changes on campus. Julian Bond went to Morehouse College. I mean, we had a history of protests on this campus in Atlanta, Georgia.

And so, he was speaking to that history of protests and said, look, I understand what you're protesting. You have every right to do. I understand that history.

And then he pivoted and went directly into it. Now, I don't think anybody thought he was going to bring up Gaza, Palestine, Israel today, but he went in and he talked about it from a nuanced fashion which I thought was very appropriate. I think we were having a question about how it how it was received in the audience. I'm not sure, we're not there. But I do believe this speech will be well-received around the country to one group and one group only, that's Black men. He has to talk directly to Black men because that is where he's lagging.

If he's going to get to 90 percent of the African American vote, he's at whatever it is, 70 percent, 75 percent now, he's going to have to tighten up Black men and this speech was a step in the right direction.

RAJU: And just before you weigh in, Shermichael, just about Biden's margins with Black votes back in 2020, he did win by 75 points according to exit polls at the time. Now, according to at least one recent poll, which is consistent with other national polls, 49 points is as margin there. He's tied with Trump among young voters when he was up by 24, won by 24, according to the exit polls in 2020.


Was able in this speech, Shermichael, to -- you know, obviously one speech is not going to make a difference.


RAJU: But it's been this concerted effort by the Biden campaign to court this key demographic is, in your view as (INAUDIBLE).

SINGLETON: Especially lately. I mean, I've even seen some of their campaign ads on social media, targeting young black men in particular. I think the President may have stopped the bleeding. I'm not sure, though, that he reinvigorated black men who are skeptical about another -- potential another four years for President Biden. I think that he should have spoken more directly about some issues that are more consequential to all black men writ large, we're seeing a significant percent of black men that are struggling with mental health issues, we have seen an increase and suicide rates for young black boys. We know for a fact that there is an education crisis with young black men across this country that are not getting college degrees compared to our black women who are killing it by the way.

But I would have wanted to see the President speak directly to what his administration would do to tackle that issue. We still have this you have over criminalization of black men, that is still a problem that this country continues to tackle, the President should have spoken about that issue. I do give credit to the President that he acknowledged the history of the college. And he did weave in and I would argue very well, but in terms of some more concrete things that the average black man is dealing with in their everyday lives. I'm not certain that President Biden really provided a path forward to what he would do if given another opportunity in the White House to address those issues.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think to be -- to be really clear, though, I think one of the things that that he did do was lay out the obstacles in the impediments -- SINGLETON: I -- but I agree.

SELLERS: I agree with your points and your sentiments about the about many of the issues that that black folk, particularly black men in this country dealing with. But he also laid out in just very clear fashion, about the last four years about white supremacy, conservatism and radicalism, which is an impediment to having success on those issues that you name.

RAJU: And bringing up January 6, as well and Confederate flags being in the Capitol.

And if you're just joining us, good morning and welcome "Inside Politics Sunday". I'm Manu Raju. President Biden just delivered a commencement address at Morehouse College. Of course, it's a historically Bad Men's College and the alma mater of MLK Jr.

CNN's Arlette Saenz was at Morehouse College, she was in the audience and joins us live. Arlette, we didn't -- we didn't see this breakout into any loud demonstrations. Have there been another post college commencement around the country? There were some people who turn their backs to the President.

Can you give us a sense being inside the room, the extent to which those peaceful silent protests actually took -- took shape? How many people were there you'd think?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Manu, was it -- it was a very small group that engaged in this sign of peaceful protest something that some students had signaled they might do heading into President Biden's commencement address. I was taking a look, scanning in the crowd of roughly 470 graduates, and I was able to count at least seven students who had turned their back on President Biden as he spoke, they remained seated in their chairs. So, they weren't entirely visible because they were still seated among the graduating class. There was a number -- another member of what appeared to be the faculty standing at the very back of the commencement address, who stood up and turned her back and raised her fist in the air throughout President Biden's speech.

So, it's clear that the -- is still very palpable frustration when it comes to President Biden's handling of the conflict in Gaza. I will say the Morehouse president had warned students ahead of time, saying that he didn't want to see any major disruptions, a public outbursts at this commencement ceremony that if there was shouting and interruptions, he would be ready to stop the ceremony right on the spot. But really what the students engaged in today was in a very peaceful protests. It's unclear whether President Biden was actually able to see this with his own eyes. But he did address the general issue of peaceful protests in this country saying that he respects, that that that is a right that people have and that people should make their voices heard. The President said that he's hearing a lot of that frustration, especially when it pertains to the issue of Gaza.

And in his remarks, he actually went and address Gaza head-ons, talking about the heartbreaking loss of civilian life there, while also talking about the work that his administration has been doing to try to reach a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: There are some Palestinians caught in the middle of all this. Man, women and children killed or displaced despite in desperate need of water, food and medicine. It's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That's why I've called for an immediate ceasefire, an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting. (INAUDIBLE).


SAENZ: So, President Biden really trying to address an issue that is of a concern to many young voters.


I will also note, the valedictorian right before President Biden spoke also addressed the issue of Gaza. He said that he believed it was something that he needed to talk about here at this commencement, specifically calling for a permanent and immediate ceasefire.

So, it's clear that this is an issue that is on top of mind for many voters. But of course, the President his purpose here was to try to celebrate these young men. He talks about how they will be the next black leaders in this country and really trying to celebrate the moment that their day and their families are experiencing today with his graduation.

RAJU: All right, CNN's Arlette Saenz in the room. Thank you for that.

And again, I'm very lucky to have two Morehouse graduates here on the panel to break it down with me, Bakari Sellers, who's a former Democratic state representative for South Carolina, conservative political strategist CNN, Shermichael Singleton, who are both CNN commentators, and CNN political director, David Chalian. Thank you.

For those of us who are with us and those who are just joining us. So, you get a sense of what happened just moments ago.

In the (INAUDIBLE) the subtext is what's happening in the Israel-Gaza war. And just to give remind viewers about why the President addressed this head on it, the polls have not been good for him on this key issue that has just been obviously dominating headlines have been the front of minds of so many voters, particularly younger voters in particular. This is how a Fox News poll says that the President is doing on this issue, 32 percent approved, 64 percent disapprove, then it's the younger voters, of course higher, 69 percent disapprove a little bit better with black voters but still underwater.

David Chalian, do you think, you know, the President has a nuanced message here, and he's becoming more forceful when it comes to Netanyahu government. There has been a bit of a shift about invading Rafah and pulling back on and certain weapons if they do go to full scale invasion, but not going as far as a lot of these voters want. Is that -- is that enough?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I mean, first of all, we should just say the reality here, Joe Biden's not in control of what actually voters want here, which is to bring a permanent ceasefire to this. But that being said, he has been long calling for, as he said again today and immediate ceasefire to try and get some hostages released and see how long that piece could last if it were to take place. He is keenly aware of his team about the political reality of this issue, and that it is one of his lowest performing issues. It's also true that it is not the most important issue for voters very clearly not that even for young voters.

I know you had said you weren't sure if he was going to speak to this issue. I -- there was no world in which I can imagine Joe Biden --


CHALIAN: -- going to a college campus today to give a commencement address, specifically one where there has been some protests around this and not address this issue. I think he had you, but what was so intriguing to me about the entirety of this speech, which I think was a pretty successful speech for Joe Biden, it was much less about the laundry list and the forced feeding of here's what I've done for you.

SELLERS: Correct.

CHALIAN: It was much more about here's a --

RAJU: Did some of that.

CHALIAN: -- he did some of that. Some of that. But I thought the overall tenor of the speech was much more about, here is who I am like, this is my story. When I was a young person and I came up, this is my faith journey, it's sort of in totally enveloped into all of this as well. He even said to this crowd, like you may not know me, you know, it's like, here's the President of United States. I just thought that he approached this speech a little differently, and the inner sectioning of faith as a, I don't know, I thought it was a through line throughout the whole speech. It was not what I think is your typical commencement address, or your typical campaign, your speech of sort of the laundry list of everything I've done.

SELLERS: And I, you know, one of the things that we've been talking about, and he was not able to do this in 2020, because of COVID, et cetera, you know, the basement. I'm not sure you probably said that talking point a couple of times, get them out the base.

CHALIAN: I think he's still saying.

SELLERS: Yes. But the fact is, Joe Biden actually went there. I mean, we've been talking about college campuses being on fire around the country. And where was Joe Biden today, on a college campus. Now, it's not NYU, is not Columbia. But he's on a college campus with a history of protest. And he's speaking directly to a constituency that he needs. And I agree with David on the fact that he went down this path of talking about faith, the most conservative in terms of faith voters in the country are African-American voters. He was able to weave that in. And he talked about policy. But even more importantly, Joe Biden in the campaign like to say this all the time, it drives me nuts, but don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative, right.

And so, when people actually have a sobering reflection of Joe Biden, who I am versus Donald Trump, I think this is the message path that they're going down and we'll see more of this tonight, I believe in Detroit, Michigan.

RAJU: I want you to listen to how a couple of black Democratic members who I spoke to on Friday about what they believe what are these polls? What do they believe the polls are correct, which just to remind viewers is about 49 -- according to one recent poll, 49 percent margin advantage over Donald Trump and why that's a concern? Yes, that's a lot, but it's much less than it was in November of 2020. What do they think? What do you think that's actually real or not?

This is what two members told me on Friday.



REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN): The people are connected to the issue that's happening in Gaza, people are frustrated with the economic opportunities that aren't there. I'm hearing from younger black voters that they want to see a black wealth agenda adopted by the White House. I'm hearing that the outreach isn't there. And some of the surrogates just aren't resonating.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): I suppose do not concern me. Black people always vote their interests. When they hear the issues and what Biden has done. Because anytime we are talking to them, Biden gets the messages out and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are talking, this talk about what we have done collecting together, then they understand what is in their best interest. And they will come out to vote for their best interests.


RAJU: Because everybody says black people always vote their interests and they will come out and vote in their best interest.

So, is he right? Should the Democrats be not concerned about the polls?

SINGLETON: I would absolutely be concerned. I wouldn't be concerned about these voters voted for Trump, though. And I think some people have said that. I'm a conservative. And I'm not honestly convinced of that. But I do think you have a lot of young voters who are entering into the workforce, they're concerned about whether or not they'll be able to take care of themselves, they are concerned about whether or not they will be able to buy their first homes, we still have significant wealth disparities between African-Americans and white Americans. And my presumption would be their leader of the party that most of the people in our community vote for what have an actual strategy that he can articulate for how he's going to continue to accomplish, your push the needle forward on those issues, despite some of the issues that may be ongoing in Congress.

SELLERS: I mean, but you talk about black unemployment, you talk about all the metrics, you talked about investments in HBCUs. I mean, you talk about the successes, the -- the government contracting, that though the Biden administration has done it, you compare it to the gutting of the Civil Rights offices and all the administrative offices up here in D.C. And you begin to see that contrast.

I mean, there is a rich history that we have to focus on. I mean, I think about my dad's on history on a college campus, February 8 of 1968. I think about the fact that we just commemorated 50 plus years from Jackson State University, and then Kent State, going to Morehouse College today, all in all, I think was a good day --


SELLERS: -- to talk about (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: And he's going to the NAACP Dinner tonight.

SINGLETON: After a whole week of events where this has been the main thrust of his public map. And obviously, this is a big issue for the administration and a reelection campaign. And I think they are smart to be laser focused on.


SINGLETON: And I'll give the President credit for that.

SELLERS: And I think the expectation was, he was just going to walk in and say I got a bunch of black friends.


SELLERS: I think the expectation was that's going to get out there and be like, look, I got full black friends and two of them from Delaware, but he actually gave a robust speech. So, kudos to Ducklo and all of the guys in the White House and ladies in the White House who put this together.

RAJU: All right. We'll see how it plays in November whether it starts to change the perception among this key constituency.

All right, coming up. The debate over the debates unprecedented in the modern era. More next.



[11:17:21] SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I think there's two really solid cases. January 6 in Georgia. Everything else doesn't make sense.


RAJU: That was Democratic Senator Joe Manchin weighing in on Trump's numerous criminal cases. This time next week, we could already have a verdict in his criminal trial, with a jury deciding whether to make former President Donald Trump a convicted felon or to acquit him. Closing arguments in the New York hush money cover up trial are expected as soon as Tuesday.

But this weekend, Trump took advantage of his time away from the courtroom to hit the trail. Although he had his legal issues on his mind, in yesterday's NRA convention in Dallas.


DONALD TRUMP (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's probably no judge maybe in history that's been as conflicted as this guy. And he refuses to recuse himself. But I'm able to talk about things, although I do have a gag order.

If I say the truth, so I can't talk about certain things. It says you can't talk about this. You can't talk about that, you can't talk, but those are the best things. When we talk about the things I can talk about. It has to be unconstitutional.


RAJU: And in a speech in Minnesota Friday, he falsely claimed to have won the state in 2020.


TRUMP: I thought we won in 2016, I thought we won -- I know we won in 2020. We got to be, we got to be careful. We got to watch those votes. We don't need the votes, we got to watch the votes. That's the big danger.


RAJU: And Trump did in fact lose Minnesota in 2020 by an even larger margin than he lost in 2016.

So, there is just a lot to unpack this busy morning. Joining me now are Amy Walter from, The Cook Political Report, CNN political director, David Chalian, and The Daily Beast, Joanna Coles.

Good morning to you all.



RAJU: It was been remarkable about this. Trump has had obviously for criminal indictments, we've been through this trial. There have been two wars. It's been such a tumultuous period in American politics. But this race has been so stable. Just look at how the polls have gone really since last August, up until the end of April is pretty much a similar race has been no clear leader all the way around. Yes, Trump has been non narrowly had oftentimes within the margin of error. There's been so much stability in this race.

WALTER: Yes. Well, that's this is our politics now. It's -- it's both incredibly calcified and volatile all at once. Because so many people are locked into opinions about these two men, you're not going to change them no matter what the events are, and volatile because as we've all been talking about, it takes 10,000 votes in one state to shift and suddenly you have a different president or you have a majority of one party flipped for the majority of another in the Congress.


I think you've got a couple of factors here. There are -- first, there are still a lot of people out there who can't believe that this is ultimately going to happen.

RAJU: It is. Yes.

WALTER: And (INAUDIBLE) when you talk to people, they will at -- one of the questions will say, like, really? Is this really happening? Joe Biden is really going to be the nominee, Donald Trump is really going to be the nominee, could something happen before the election, and they would be replaced? So, I do think there's that.

I think we've also been discussing the people who are just checked out of this election, they are exhausted by it. And they are going to check back in after the summer, when it's an appropriate time to check in on politics. And then finally, you've got at least 20 percent, if not more of the electorate that says, I don't like either of these guys. And I don't want to think about it at all.

RAJU: Yes, but they'll (INAUDIBLE) --


RAJU: The first (ph) (INAUDIBLE) --

CHALIAN: The first two points that Amy made though, that is why the Biden campaign wanted an early debate for the first two points, because they want to show the country physically the representation on stage. This is it. This is the choice, it's Biden versus Trump. And the second point about those that are checked out, a jolt into its actually time right now.

So, for those two factors, that's why it was so important to the Biden folks to get a debate early. And so --

COLES: And I think I was just going to add that I think people underestimated the extent to which Donald Trump has been able to use his trial as a campaign stop. And what you saw this week, and I was talking to Jose Pagliery, who's been covering it for The Beast is this sudden realization that it's not that he's stuck there. It's that the Republicans have to go to the trial. So, you suddenly saw J.D. Vance turn up, you saw Mike Johnson, then you saw the MAGA kind of extremists suddenly think, oh, this is the bandwagon we should hop on.

And so, the courtroom itself or the court house has become this new staging ground. And I think people underestimated Trump's feral genius, but turning these moments into a campaign moment.

RAJU: And there has been a bit of a divide among the Republicans about those people who are been rushing up to the New York courthouse to defend the former president. Mitt Romney made some very pointed remarks about this and got some pushback from J.D. Vance.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Really very difficult to watch.

RAJU (on-camera): Why is it difficult to watch?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, there's a level of dignity and decorum that you expected people who are running for the highest station in the land, and -- and going out and prostrating themselves in front of the public to try and apparently, curry favor with the person who's our nominee is a little embarrassing.

SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): Amidst done sort of three sides of every issue in public policy in this country the last 20 years. I just, I think that he should stick to being a legislator and try to do a good job for the people of Utah. When he attacks his colleagues, I think it's kind of productive.


RAJU: He has been on three sides of every issue in public policy in this country for the last 20 years, someone who could be vice presidents of big



RAJU: Not J.D. just for the record.


RAJU: Although that would be news.

WALTER: But look, this is the divide that we've seen in the Republican Party now for the last seven years. This the vestige of the old Republican Party that you've never would have seen a John McCain, a Mitt Romney, a George W. Bush, in that situation that Donald Trump is in. And yet here we are. But the voices, the Mitt Romney voices are fewer and fewer, and a J.D. Vance's are more and more.

RAJU: And of course, he is retiring. Now, of course, we're getting into potential verdict week. They will see what happens, there is no way of knowing if he's going to be convicted or they be acquitted in this hush money criminal trial. And I put that question to Republicans, just what if he is convicted? How will you deal with it? And the answers span the gamut of it.


RAJU (on-camera): A verdict in the Trump trial could come next week? If he's convicted, could you support him still?

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): I'm not. We'll see how the trial comes out. I'm not weighing on that.

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R-MT): I wouldn't be surprised if he is convicted. I mean, that's -- that's probably going to happen. But that's going to get most likely thrown out. I mean, these charges, frankly. I mean, talk about election interference. That's what's going on right now in the New York courtroom.

RAJU (on-camera): Would you rethink your support for him?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): No. All right, we're still dealing with the policy issues here. And today, we're still dealing with what's best for our economy. How do we deal with immigration and all the policy issues still matter on this?

RAJU (on-camera): What about character being convicted felon, et cetera.

LANKFORD: Hundred percent, I mean (INAUDIBLE), I've said often that I want to be able to have people that are role models and leaders and all those things as well. For me, the policy issues are going to matter significantly.


RAJU: Policy over character.

COLES: I think present company accepted that actually Trump is on trial for I know it's financial shenanigans but actually most people in their minds have he was at a golfing weekend, he slept with a porn star and then she left immediately afterwards. Present company accepted. I think that might be a lot of men's fantasies.


And so, I don't think this is playing out with the public in the way that it's playing out again with the media, actually. And you heard the senator, they're talking about character, and they just want to get back to policy. But actually --

RAJU: Yes.

COLES: -- people aren't paying attention to that.

RAJU: Yes. COLES: And this is -- we ran a piece by Nell Scovell, saying why is Trump denying this? This is most -- most men's again, present company accepted fantasy, and it was the most read piece for -- for two days. And if you think 60 percent of the web is spent on porn, actually, there's something going on here that speaks to people. And I know we're not supposed to talk about it. I know we're supposed to talk about policy, but it's -- it's interesting what's going on. Yes.

RAJU: And we'll see this could be the only case that reaches a verdict before November how it impacts the November election. No one knows.

All right, coming up. Biden and Trump are brushing up on the debate skills for round three. Will their first rematch be just as vicious as 2020?


BIDEN: The question is --

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) just as the rational left.

BIDEN: Would you shut up man.

TRUMP: Who is, listen, who is --




RAJU: Now the two campaigns have agreed to the earliest general election debate in modern times, the Biden and Trump teams are plotting their strategy to potentially shake up a race that has been incredibly stable for months. Not only is it historically quite earliest televised debate between an ex-president and a sitting president, both vying for a second term in office. In 2020, these two candidates held just two televised debates, thanks in part to the pandemic. And that was the fewest since 1996. But those debates were certainly memorable and could give us clues to what to expect this time around.


BIDEN: The question is --

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) just as the rational left.

BIDEN: Would you shut up man.

TRUMP: Who is, listen, who is --

BIDEN: It's hard to get any word in with this clown.


TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.

BIDEN: Oh, racist.


BIDEN: You're the worst in America has ever had.

TRUMP: We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does.

BIDEN: Release your tax return or stop talking about corruption.


TRUMP: Who built the cages, Joe. I'm the least racist person in this room. You know Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama, because you did a poor job.


RAJU: All right, so that was the few. I'm not feeling this one could be somewhat similar we'll see. The last time two presidents ran against each other was 1892. And that was former President Grover Cleveland defeated the incumbent president, Benjamin Harrison. I was we were not around for that.


RAJU: Yes, that's right. David, what is your sense that that's going to be a powerful image? Right. I mean, two former, one former, one current president vying for the same office. What do you -- what should we expect in that debate?

CHALIAN: Yes, I mean, first of all, just watching those clips, it reminds me of the unprecedented nature of this because we don't normally have game film of an actual debate between two presidential candidates to revisit, to look at what a next presidential debate between those two may be.

So, this is clearly unique circumstances, hopefully, one of the candidates won't be raging with COVID at the time that as --

RAJU: Yes.

CHALIAN: -- he was there in the debate. But there'll be older, right, so I think one of the first things everyone's going to watch is look back to that film. However, each of them changed since that debate four years ago. But obviously, the country's circumstances are entirely changed, as well. And so how that gets incorporated into the debate? We know both campaigns agreed to debate without an audience in front of them this time. So that's also going to be a different dynamic in the space as well.

But as we were talking about the last segment, you mentioned at the top here, because this race has been so stable, I think these debates are seismic events in this election, potentially, that that can actually be a destabilizing force in the race. WALTER: Yes. And if you think back to that debate that you just showed, that was at a time when the Trump campaign needed to shake things up, right, Biden was ahead. It felt like a race that was sort of stuck with Trump, trying to get back up on top. Now it's the opposite problem. Is Trump is the one who can sort of sit back and not be as aggressive. It's -- it's Biden, now, who needs to be much more aggressive. He's the one who really does need to shake up the race and make it about Donald Trump.

RAJU: Yes. And the hope among Biden is that Trump will say something, get himself in trouble, and may not be the way he was in the past. Or maybe he will be the way he wasn't best debates. And that will be good for them. They believe, politically, just a snippet of what Donald Trump has been like over the years since 2016 up until now, on the debate stage.


MARCO RUBIO, (R) 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald -- Donald, relax.


TRUMP: I'm relaxed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the best in case (ph).

TRUMP: Don't worry about it a little Marco.

JIM WEBB, (R) 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a tough business --

TRUMP: Oh, yes. Oh, I know, you're a tough guy, Jim.

WEBB: It is -- and we need to have a leader that is real tough.

TRUMP: Such a nasty one.


TRUMP: But we have some bad ombres here, and we're going to get them out. Excuse me, my turn.

CLINTON: It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you'd be in jail.


RAJU: I mean, look, one of the things that's different also is that Trump didn't participate in any of those primary debates. Of course, this time. He also has not done many interviews and has gone to friendly audiences and the like. So, is he ready for this moment?

COLES: This is going to be fantastic television. I'm already you know, ordering the popcorn, growing up the sofas where everybody is going to be having screening parties all over America. Of course, the thing I'm interested in is how they managed to convince both CNN and ABC who are hosting the two debates, not to include Robert Kennedy Jr., because he is polling somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. And he's definitely going to be a protector -- given how tight the margins are in this election, he's definitely going to be a potential player.


And to your point, this is exceptional to already. But we have a sense of deja vu because we've already seen these two debating to add a Kennedy to the mix will be even better television.

WALTER: Yes. And we've talked a lot about, you know, Trump in this, but remember, Biden, the -- there is a risk reward here, right? He could come out, have a poor debate. He's already behind that we haven't even had the conventions yet. He goes into convention sort of in a hole. That is a terrible place to be --

RAJU: Yes.

WALTER: -- this far out from an election. If this is going to be the game changer --

RAJU: Yes.

WALTER: -- we're going to shake things up and actually make things worse.

RAJU: It's a huge -- it's a huge risk. And the one of the things, though, is that Trump has been setting the bar -- bar so low for Biden saying that, as he said, listen from Friday, you can't put two sentences together.


TRUMP: Can't talk, he can't walk, can find his way off a stage, can't put two sentences together. I just wanted debate this guy. But you know, and I'm going to, I'm going to demand a drug test too, by the way. I am. No, I really am. I don't want him coming in like the State of the Union. He was high as a kite.


RAJU: Of course, there's no evidence at all to suggest that and that's, that's one of the questions about how he deals with Joe Biden. I asked put that question to one of his top supporters on Capitol Hill about what Donald Trump should deal when it comes time to the debate.


SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): So, advice to the former president would be, be himself but not so much of himself. You know, let -- let Joe Biden talk. The greatest thing you can do in the debate is let Joe Biden talk. He will talk you out of voting for him every time if you're inclined to. RAJU (on-camera): But (INAUDIBLE) that Trump may have a hard time doing that.

CRAMER: So, it won't be easy. It'll require some discipline, but Donald Trump likes to win.


RAJU: It will require some discipline with Donald Trump.

CHALIAN: Not necessarily his strong suit. Yes. But I do think you are right to know what he's saying about the expectation setting. This is exactly what it is advisors felt sort of blew up in their face with the State of the Union address like the -- the -- the bar was set so low for Joe Biden, that like he showed up and had a good speech and became this big moment for him. I do think we may hear Donald Trump alter that language a little bit between now and (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: Yes, we will -- we shall see.

All right, coming up. Holding onto the Senate Majority looks a lot more difficult for Democrats now than it did a week ago. (INAUDIBLE) warning sign for them and President Biden in key battleground states.



RAJU: If Republicans regain Senate in November, last Tuesday's primaries could be a big reason why? In West Virginia, the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Joe Manchin is now likely to be picked up by the new GOP nominee Governor Jim Justice. And in the blue state of Maryland, former Republican Governor Larry Hogan has a chance to flip a crucial seat expanding a map when Democrats are already playing defense across the country. Democrats are endangered in no small part due to the President's standing in several purple states with Democratic held seats, meaning the candidates will have to likely have to outperform the President this fall.

And in two red states, Montana and Ohio, Democrats are trying to hang on to their seats by going after the character of their opponents all while avoid being tied to the top of their tickets. Still the Senate -- Senator Gary Peters, who chairs the Senate Democratic campaign arm told me he is confident that the Democrats will indeed keep the majority.

My panel is back.

So, Amy, you have a -- your Cook Political Report laid out the ratings, the race ratings and how this is looking right now. You know, lean Democrat versus toss up seats and likely Republican seats. It was to pick up opportunities still, for the Democrats hope can pick up are still likely to stay in the Democratic hands. What are the Republican hands? What are the chances that Democrats can hang on to the Senate?

WALTER: This is a very, very difficult thing. First of all, as you pointed out, West Virginia, likely to be picked up by Republicans almost assuredly picked up by a Republican. So, this think about this as a 50-50 Senate going into the election. Democrats can't afford to lose any more seats. They've got seven more vulnerable seats on the table, so they have to win seven of seven, including two in those red states of Ohio and Montana.

RAJU: And Tia, one of the things that's been interesting is that there's been a shift among Larry -- Larry Hogan. He is of course the new Republican nominee in Maryland, has a chance to pick up a seat in a very blue state, his shift on abortion this past week. He told the New York Times that he supports restoring Roe as the law of the land. You know, this comes after you know, when the 2022 he vetoed a bill that would have brought in Maryland's abortion access by allowing more medical professionals to perform abortions.

It speaks to the issue though, right? Democrats are hoping this is particularly if it's their ballot initiatives dealing with abortion in some of these states that can keep them at least close to getting them majority if not in the majority.


TIA MITCHELL, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's so interesting because in Maryland, Larry Hogan is so popular even among Democrats as he's -- he's kind of the only Republican who is feasible on the ballot, a great recruit by Mitch McConnell. But his one weakness was abortion. And of course, it's bigger than just Larry Hogan, the candidate. It's about the Senate Majority. It's about what could be accomplished if Donald Trump becomes president, if he gets Republican majorities in Congress.

And you have to bank on voters trusting that Larry Hogan, even though he says he will caucus with the GOP won't go as far to the right as he may be pulled in the Republican majority. And I think that will be a salient point for Alsobrooks to make, it's like, do you want to trust that? Do you want to leave that up to chance?


CHALIAN: So, think it was really interesting that, you know, Larry Hogan great recruit, as soon as it happened. We all were like, oh, wow, Maryland may actually be in play here. And yet, it likely wasn't to be in play as much with Larry Hogan as nominee if he didn't give that interview to the New York Times. I mean, this was it for him to run, even in this state, he needed to move away from his party's position on this issue substantially, to actually make it competitive.

The other thing about the map that I think is so interesting, Amy was saying, so go into this race, assuming Manchin seat flips right to Justice, and it's 50-50. Well, 50-50 --

WALTER: Right.

CHALIAN: -- I mean, they've lost control already if they lost the presidential (ph).

RAJU: Yes. Yes.

CHALIAN: So, like, that is the kind of deficit Democrats are entering this cycle and why it is so much more likely at this point, at this vantage point, that Republicans getting (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: It's so interesting, because some of this and part of this is nationalizing the race versus running a local race. Republicans want to nationalize this in those red states. That's a question that I put the Montana Senator Joe Manchin about what -- as I -- Jon Tester, not Joe Manchin, Jon Tester about being tied to the top of his ticket.


SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): The President's race is going to be the President's race. My race is going to be my race. I honestly don't think it has any impact.

RAJU (on-camera): Well, you have to align yourself more with Trump than Biden heading into November.

TESTER: I'm not aligning myself with Jon Tester. I've got my own brand.

DAINES: President Trump pulls some of these low propensity voters out to vote, they will vote for President Trump that normally aren't showing up for elections.

Look that then President Biden is the most unpopular, U.S. president in 70 years. Jon Tester can't run away from that. Ask asked if Jeff Sessions wants to see Joe Biden come to Montana, he's going to stay thousands of miles away from Joe Biden.


RAJU: But meantime, Jon Tester is attacking his opponent is (INAUDIBLE).

WALTER: And which he -- which he absolutely needs to be doing. Listen, Jon Tester has outgrown the top of the ticket before in 2012. Obviously, President Obama didn't win that state, but he's got to win it by an even bigger margin this time around. Only one Senate candidate has done it, and that's Susan Collins, and these last two presidential elections.

RAJU: Yes. Just spread ticket voters.


RAJU: Now just like less likely in recent cycles.

All right, coming up. An explosive week in a pair of bribery cases leaves Democrats threading, and dodging.


RAJU (on-camera): Are you supporting Henry Cuellar's reelection bid? (END VIDEO CLIP)



RAJU: Pair of bribery cases are causing continued headaches for Democratic leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill these days as members dodge questions about whether to kick out their colleagues, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar. Menendez had an explosive first few days in court this past week, charged with acting on behalf of Egypt and Qatar. His lawyer casts blame on Menendez's wife, who's also been charged and both and pleaded not guilty. But if Menendez is convicted, Democrats have a decision to make.


RAJU (on-camera): Bob Menendez facing this corruption trial. If he's convicted, should he be expelled from the Senate?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): I haven't thought about that or sent one second on it. But I guess if he's convicted, he should be.

TESTER: We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We'll let the legal system do what it needs to do. If he's found to be guilty, that does change the equation.


RAJU: Others refuse to say.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Look, my view is he should have resigned long ago and I've said that repeatedly.

RAJU (on-camera): But what about expulsion?

WARREN: Right now, I've said he should resign. He does not blow a hand.

RAJU (on-camera): If he's convicted. Should he be expelled from the Senate?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Let's see what happens and he -- everybody deserves a day in court unless what happens.

RAJU (on-camera): (INAUDIBLE) expulsion from the Senate.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): That's an issue that's up to the caucus. We'll see how the trial goes.


RAJU: Over in the House, Henry Cuellar and his wife are charged with accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from entities in Mexico and Azerbaijan. They both pleaded not guilty.

But now three people have pleaded guilty in connection to the case, including Cuellar's former campaign manager. But with a razor thin margin in Cuellar's Texas district and risk of turning red, Democratic leaders are holding their fire, like Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.


RAJU (on-camera): If you have not called him to resign. Do you support his reelection?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D) MINORITY LEADER: I support Henry Cuellar's right to a trial. by jury. He is innocent until proven guilty.

RAJU (on-camera): But would you support him in his bed to run again?

JEFFRIES: I think it'd be irresponsible for me at this moment to wade into the politics and we want to give him the space to work out his legal situation.


RAJU: Now Jeffries later said he was not rescinding his Cuellar endorsement. And some are taking pains to draw distinctions with the case of George Santos, who of course was expelled from the House last year after a damning ethics report but before any conviction.


RAJU (on-camera): Why the difference?


REP. DAN GOLDMAN (D-NY): Because George Santos -- George Santos had admitted to mis -- enough misconduct to show that he should not have been a member of Congress.

RAJU (on-camera): You would lead the charge to oust George Santos but you are not calling for the resignation of Henry Cuellar. What is the discrepancy there?

REP. ROBERT GARCIA (D-CA): Let's be very clear. I think George Santos also admitted to actually a crime. He actually was indicted of a crime. And so that was a trigger for us. But I think what's going on with Henry Cuellar is very serious. I think it's very disturbing. I am very disturbed. I think that Democrats will and should and will react appropriately.


RAJU: I tried to ask Pete Aguilar, the number three Democrat in the House about this as well.


RAJU (on-camera): Are you supporting Henry Cuellar's reelection bid after these three men -- people pleaded guilty in his primary (INAUDIBLE)?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): I talked about this already. I'm sorry.

RAJU (on-camera): But there were three people since then who pleaded guilty.

AGUILAR: I'll talk about it at the press conference next week.


RAJU: And that's it for "Inside Politics Sunday." You can follow me on X, formerly known as Twitter, @mkraju. Follow the show @insidepolitics. And if you ever missed an episode, you can of course catch up wherever you get your podcasts.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests include Senator John Fetterman, Dr. Ben Carson, and Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett.

And before we go, I want to report some very sad news. Our longtime colleague and friend Alice Stewart died suddenly yesterday at the age of 58. She was a longtime Republican strategist working on multiple presidential campaigns and of course, a voice on CNN for many years. She was someone that I knew back in my days as a print reporter. She was always kind to me here at CNN. And of course, she will be greatly, greatly missed.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. And see you next time.