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Biden Meeting Privately With Pope Francis As He Wraps Up G7 Summit In Italy; Trump To GOP Lawmakers: Milwaukee Is A "Horrible City"; North Carolina Swing Voters Say Abortion Is Important To Vote; Senate Dems: Thomas Took More Private Plane Trips On GOP Donor's Dime. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 14, 2024 - 12:30   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: This hour, a flourish for a global trip that doubles as a big test of Joe Biden's leadership. The American president getting an audience with the Pope. For a Catholic, that is a tremendous honor. For Biden, it caps a trip that included a critical decision on Ukraine. The U.S. and others now plan to loan Ukraine $50 billion paid for by frozen Moscow assets.

My panel is back. This is obviously a very busy trip. He went through in the G7 and when he came back from France with a brief trip back into the United States, including meeting his son Hunter Biden when he was here. But back to Italy, you talked to the Biden campaign, the White House, how do they see what he has done overseas and how it translates back home?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, look, the G7 is on the calendar that this is when it comes, so that's what it was going to come. It's not a discontrol. Foreign policy never a big issue for voters politically. This time around, people are thinking obviously a little bit about Ukraine, whether it's the fight for democracy or it's people who are saying, why are we sending so much money overseas to Ukraine and Israel?

I think importantly, it's not always just Republicans. You hear that from -- I've heard it from black voters, people who are watching what's going on there, and some of the pushback on that. So, this is tricky, but it is Biden standing among world leaders saying we have to stand up for democracy. By the way, two of the leaders that he's standing with, Macron and Sunak, may not be in their jobs for very long themselves.

And so, there's a lot of countervailing things going on. And Trump yesterday in D.C. saying that his view of what's going on is that the world is laughing at us.

RAJU: Yes. And Trump also trashed Ukraine aid --

DOVERE: Right.

RAJU: -- for House Republicans, even though Mike Johnson got behind it.

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: And even though Trump has been on every side of that issue already. But --

RAJU: Yes.

PONNURU: -- yes.

RAJU: The point that they were trying to make, the Biden campaign, is that they're trying to show that he is, as they say, they believe he's an effective leader, right? They've been trying to say age doesn't really matter, as we talked about in the last segment, about age and the president's -- how voters view that because of they believe he is, in their view, achieving results.

This is what Jill Biden, the first lady, said in Green Bay yesterday.


JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: This election is most certainly not about age. Joe and that other guy are essentially the same age. Let's not be fooled. Joe isn't one of the most effective presidents of our lives, in spite of his age, but because of it.


RAJU: I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more of that. Not being, you know, not in spite of his age, but because of it.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they have to find some way to talk about it and turn it into a positive. And, you know, I think you're right, I think that's -- this is going to be the drumbeat because being defensive about the fact that, you know, he's 81 years old, isn't really getting them anywhere.

And also, you know, seeing him, things like what's -- what happened in Italy, seeing him be presidential, putting that out there, that's -- that is likely a lot more effective than being constantly, you know --

RAJU: Yes. And you hear from a Democrats all saying --


RAJU: -- get him out there, let him do stuff and they'll show, you know, voters that he's, you know, he can do the job. And then Republicans say, yes, let him do stuff. They believe that.

KUCINICH: Yes. Right.

RAJU: Help their case as well.

KUCINICH: Right. RAJU: But speaking of Wisconsin, a great state with a great university in Madison, there was a -- I must say, there was obviously some controversy yesterday about Trump's comments behind closed doors about a city close to Madison, Milwaukee, the city where there will be the Republican convention, Trump calling it horrible in a closed door meeting.

Now there's been a lot of explanations out of it about what he was referring to. Was it a crime race? Was about his claims about the election and the like. But the Biden campaign jumping all over this, the president putting out as -- a tweet saying, I happen to love Milwaukee, they're selling t shirts about this as well, and others are suggesting that, you know, they believe that perhaps in a closely contested state, maybe this could drive up turnout.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: You know, Manu, I was in Milwaukee last weekend talking to voters, and I'm happy to report it is not a horrible city. It is a lovely city. But listen, the former president often, in a very racialized way, loves to go after American cities. It's his favorite punching bag.

I think sometimes it's a stand in for a lot of other criticisms that he's making in a maybe not so veiled way. And, you know, some of his supporters relish this.


I think that the voters that he's looking for in Wisconsin may not necessarily be in Milwaukee. So that is perhaps why he felt comfortable saying that. I did actually, though, speak to a young black man in Milwaukee. He told me that he's a Trump supporter. He voted for Trump in 2020. He plans to do so again much to the chagrin of his family, who was very critical of that choice.

RAJU: Go ahead.

DOVERE: I'll tell you the thing that struck me about it was, he said, he said Milwaukee's a horrible city. It's been multiple members of Congress said it was reported. The number of people who then said he didn't say it --


DOVERE: -- including the speaker of the House --

RAJU: Yes.

DOVERE: -- that is sort of stunning.

RAJU: Selective hearing.

DOVERE: Right. Who are -- the speaker of the House said on Fox News last night, Mike Johnson, he said, I was sitting right next to him, I didn't hear it. Well, I mean, he's -- this is -- was he not listening at that point, or is he trying to give a version of reality which is not the reality that we all live in. RAJU: Yes.

DOVERE: And it's not just Mike Johnson, Cory Mills, Congressman from Florida --

RAJU: This is really the story that Trump --

PONNURU: Yes, he says something, and then --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm like, welcome to your next four years.

PONNURU: One group of people say he never said it --


PONNURU: Another group said he said it and it's perfect and that's exactly right. You know, I do think that some of those Republicans are maybe being a little overly defensive since Trump's natural constituency in Wisconsin are people who don't really think all that highly of Milwaukee.

RAJU: Yes.

PONNURU: Typical city sort of countryside exurban --

RAJU: Yes.

PONNURU: -- divide that you have in a lot of states.

RAJU: Yes. And look, just to look at just to that point, this is the map of the 2020 election result in Wisconsin to Ramesh's point. Yes, Western Wisconsin, very rural part of the state, northern part of Wisconsin, very rural as well that is Trump country.

But there are the Milwaukee suburbs and, you know, people -- and the suburbs vote on this issue. We'll see. I mean, obviously the Biden campaign hopes so.

DOVERE: Yes, and they hope that they'll sell some merchandise in between now and then. We'll -- I mean, we'll see. But this is about the suburban voters. And sometimes the suburban voters are connected to the city and feel very proud of it. And sometimes they are living in the suburbs because they don't want to do it in the city.

RAJU: Exactly. Exactly. So we'll see.

Again, just a reminder, Biden won Wisconsin 49.4 percent, Trump's 48.8. So a very, very close contested race state. It always is. It will be again.

All right, coming up, voters tell us how they really feel about the big issues that will decide who wins in November and how they think about Joe Biden running for four more years.











RAJU: Donald Trump has spent much of the past couple weeks talking about seeking retribution against his enemies if he's back in the Oval Office.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a terrible precedent for our country. Does that mean the next president does it to them? That's really the question. And it's very possible that it's going to have to happen to them.

Based on what they've done, I would have every right to go after them.

Revenge does take time, I will say that.


TRUMP: And sometimes revenge can be justified.


RAJU: So just how troubling is rhetoric like this to voters? We have new insight from a focus group this week with North Carolina voters who chose Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. It was conducted by our friend Rich Tao (ph) of Engagious in this group, focus group. All 12 said they're concerned with that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think using phrases like revenge in politics is the direction we should be going. And, you know, it seems every day we get closer and closer to idiocracy being a premonition rather than a joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just a general disregard for law and order. It just gives very hate to pull out the big guns, but Hitler esque vibes as far as separation and punishment of different groups of people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because Trump is like a spoiled kid. So when he doesn't get his way, I mean, he wreaks havoc. Look at what he did the last time he didn't win the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Him acting the way he is, the way he speaks. We're not the only country on this planet. Everyone else is listening. And I'm just -- he's treating it like another episode of The Apprentice. And this is our future.


RAJU: That's kind of interesting. 12 out of 12 voters, all of them say they're concerned about the retribution rhetoric.

PONNURU: Yes, and I think that that is why Trump has sometimes tried to kind of Back away from that and say, well, when I say I want revenge, what I mean is I'm -- the revenge is going to be governing successfully --

RAJU: Right.

PONNURU: -- which is not especially --

RAJU: On day one, right, that kind of thing, right?

PONNURU: Right. But I do think it's not just that people find it alarming, but also what's in it for normal swing voters, you know, who aren't deeply invested in Donald Trump's personal grievances.

RAJU: Yes, and that's why the Biden campaign is always jumping on the idea of retribution.

MCKEND: They are --

RAJU: Because they clearly see voters concerned.

MCKEND: They are, and voters are concerned. You know, what I heard from the focus group members is what I'm hearing on the ground. When I was in Wisconsin, I spoke to a former Trump supporter, a farmer who told me that he felt like Trump now sounds like a broken record and that he's sick of hearing about these grievances and that's why he's attracted to Kennedy's campaign.

So I think that it is a real vulnerability with some voters. They're kind of tired of this.

RAJU: Yes. And obviously, abortion is going to be a huge issue in this campaign and it has since the aftermath of Dobbs, but just how important is that to this group of swing voters? Just listen.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been through that experience myself and very much an advocate for women. And I think that once they take that away, they're coming for a whole other set of rights for women next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said earlier that in a five-way race, you would not vote for Biden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And by not voting for me, you're basically making it easier for Trump to take away women's rights. Does that argument wash with you at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it doesn't.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you do to get us to this point of having to make abortion such a big issue? There were things that -- you've been in government for how many years and nothing has been done up until now?


RAJU: So that's also interesting because they say that 12 out of 12 say abortion will drive a considerable part of who they vote for, but several of them say they still won't vote for Biden even though they believe it's an important issue. Therein lies the challenge about using rallying exclusively or mainly an abortion as a message because it may not turn out the votes the way you expect.

KUCINICH: Right. And it is one of those issues. It's a very, very broad issue. And sometimes I think some of these polls, as we've seen, you know, it's not top of mind for a lot of voters, but then when it comes down to it, when they're sitting down to vote, and we've -- we saw this in 2020, it actually did move a lot of votes. But it is really interesting, and this is why talking to voters are so important.

They don't think, I mean, and, you know, they don't fit in neat boxes. There's a lot of nuance to how they're making their decisions. And I think it's really important to hear that and you take that in and understand it.

RAJU: And will they make the decision to vote for the Republican nominee or the Democratic nominee or will they decide to vote for a third party candidate? This is how they responded to that question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would you take Kennedy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lesser of the three evils.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't want Trump and I wouldn't want Biden either, so -- and not voting is not an option for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, at this point, it would be for his last name and for his -- the history of his family. Cornel West, I've done some research on and he's a little too radical for me. Jill Stein, don't know much about, but with the last name Kennedy and the history in this country, I would put my vote there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DOVERE: Well, that's why the Kennedy family has been so out there trying to say, please don't vote for our cousin, brother, uncle, whatever it may be. Vote for Joe Biden. But this is a problem for both Biden and Trump, is trying to figure out where the third party candidacies will sap from.

You see that the Trump campaign is very sensitive about it. Trump taking a lot of swings at Kennedy including on being of -- where he think -- where Trump says he should be on vaccines now, even though Trump has previously said similar things about vaccines. But the Biden campaign and the DNC hugely concerned about Kennedy too.

RAJU: Yes. But, you know, the -- but Biden though is not going after Kennedy the way Trump does. Trump does goes, you know, they rely on the campaign, the Biden does. They run on the DNC, but the president himself stays away from directly going after RFK unlike Trump, who is not afraid to go after him and call him a leftwing --

PONNURU: Biden doesn't want (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: Yes, yes.

KUCINICH: He's very cognizant of elevating him if he starts talking about him, it's going to bring him up to Biden's level and they don't want to do that which is why they're relying on all these external groups to, you know, put up billboards to go after him kind of on Biden's behalf, not with coordination.

DOVERE: I think it's beyond just the political strategizing with Biden. Remember, he has a bust of Robert F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on his desk. He feels a connection to that family. Teddy Kennedy was one of his best friends and mentors in the Senate. He does not want to go after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. personally.

It's just not who he is as a guy. And then there's also the political considerations here.

MCKEND: He doesn't have to. Their infrastructure is in place in the left to go after him in a really robust way. We see all the way that they're challenging their ballot access across the country, so it will kind of be a waste of President Biden's time and energy to have to put a face to that because he really doesn't have to. On the Republican side, they're way less organized in combating third party efforts.

PONNURU: Yes, I think that's exactly right. But I also think that if we get to September and Kennedy seems to be taking votes from Biden, Biden will find a way to overcome his scruples about this.

RAJU: You know, this was conducted in North Carolina. In this group, three of 12 voters who voted for Biden said they regret voting for Biden in 2020. Remember, these are voters who voted for Trump in 2016, Biden in '20. Three of 12 regretted voting for Biden in 2020. North Carolina, is it really on the map? Do we expect Biden's campaign to invest heavily there? This has been a complicated state for Democrats. [12:50:05]

DOVERE: I mean, it is the Lucy in the football of states for the Democrats. But there are a lot of reasons why both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign feels like it is going to be very competitive this year. Things that are going on with demographics changes --

RAJU: The governor's race there.

DOVERE: The governor's race, the attorney general's race, by the way, too. Abortion, which there's now a 12-week ban there in North Carolina. Those are all making the state very competitive in all the internal polls. Some of the internal polls showing that it's more competitive than Georgia.

RAJU: We shall see.

All right. Coming up for us, more missing receipts. A top Senate Democrat asked the Supreme Court justice to explain more evidence of high flying gifts.



RAJU: The benefactor and the beneficiary, a top Senate Democrat shows Harlan Crow really likes to shower his favorite Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with gifts, according to information obtained by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Democrat Dick Durbin. Thomas traveled a lot on the GOP megadonor's private jet.

He took trips in 2017, 2019, and 2021. All were previously undisclosed. He omitted these trips from financial disclosure forms that justices release each year. And those omissions will no doubt add fuel to Democrats already burning hot anger at the court.

Thanks for joining Inside Politics. I'll be on Inside Politics Sunday. That's of course at 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday morning. And be sure to watch Jake Tapper on State of the Union this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Senator Tom Cotton is on the show along with Senator Chris Murphy.

CNN News Central starts after a quick break.