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Historic Rematch: Familiar Rivals Debate New Issues; Trump: "I Assume He's Going To Be A Worthy Debater"; Biden Raises $85M, Trump Brings In $141M In May Fundraising; Reclusive Billionaire Timothy Mellon Gives $50M To Trump Group; Trump Outraises Biden As Billionaire Donors Reshape Money Race; High Court Upholds On Domestic Abusers Owning Guns; Justice Alito Absent For Second Day Without Explanation. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 21, 2024 - 12:00   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, Donald Trump's massive fundraising haul. Could it reshape the final months of the 2024 campaign? And why is Donald Trump singing a new tune about Joe Biden's ability to debate.

Plus, disarm. The Supreme Court keeps in place gun restrictions that stop domestic abusers from owning firearms. But the justices keep the country waiting on the other big cases on the docket. And which Donald Trump do you believe? The former president who talks about buy American, hire American. Now says, foreign students who graduate from college shouldn't be rubber stamp for a green card.

I'm Manu Raju in for Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

More on today's major Supreme Court decision in minutes. But up first, Donald Trump is preparing literally and seriously you might say, Trump is deep in policy sessions and rehearsing answers, including on questions about the January 6 insurrection. After months of question, Joe Biden's mental fitness, he's suddenly talking up Joe Biden's debate game.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will say he beat -- he beat Paul Ryan, which was still years ago, but he beat Paul Ryan pretty badly, and I assume he's going to be somebody that will be a worthy debater. Yeah. I would say -- I think, I don't want to underestimate him.


RAJU: CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more on the historic rematch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER (voice-over): The historic rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is anything but a rerun, a vastly different set of issues are driving this race as the president and former president come face- to-face for the first debate of the 2024 campaign. Four years since they shared a stage --


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're the worst president America has ever had, come on.

TRUMP: In 47 months, I've done more than you've done in 47 years, Joe.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): It feels like an upside-down lifetime ago, back when the coronavirus pandemic was raging.

TRUMP: You have to understand, if you look -- I mean, I have a mask right here. I put a mask on -- you know, when I think I need it.

BIDEN: This is his economy has been -- he shut down.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): In the Biden-Trump sequel, an entirely new fight has been brewing on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: You could end up in World War III with this person. He's the worst president ever.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): And in TV ads.

AD ANNOUNCER (voice-over): This election is between a convicted criminal who's only out for himself and a president who is fighting for your family.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): That offers a window into the new issues and fresh lines of attack. A reminder of just how much the country, the world, and yes, they have changed. From an insurrection and all its fallout to a new fight on abortion rights.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court, overturning Roe versus Wade, to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and a war in the Middle East, to the very stark question of America's role in the world. Yet, the economy, inflation, and immigration are still at the center of it all. Trump's record was at the heart of their last debates, even as he sought to deflect.

TRUMP: If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you've never seen. You're 401(k)s will go to hell and it'll be a very, very sad day for this country.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): While those warnings didn't come to pass, Biden's record is now under the microscope, complicating his effort to make it a referendum on Trump.

BIDEN: The fact is that everything he's saying so far is simply a lie. I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he's a liar. ANNOUNCER (voice-over): And America's oldest presidential candidates are even older. Trump's 78, Biden 81, with age and fitness for office now a central issue in the race.

Public opinion for presidents can be punishing. Biden's favorability has fallen 11-point since 2020, with nearly six in 10 Americans holding an unfavorable view, perceptions of Trump have changed less, with more than half still seeing him in an unfavorable light. Televised debates have long been a storied part of his presidential campaigns, with history making moments for candidates.

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Here you go again.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Yet this showdown is without parallel. The nation's 45th and 46th presidents still seeking to define one another in the earliest general election debate in memory. And all duel being fought on new ground.


RAJU: All right, I want to bring in some very talented reporters to share their insight. CNN's MJ Lee, Politico's Heidi Przybyla, and Marianne Levine of The Washington Post. Nice to see you all. MJ starting with you. You cover the White House. You're there every day. What are you hearing about what's happening with President Biden this weekend at Camp David?


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. You know, it's interesting just the clip that you played of former President Trump talking about how President Biden is going to be a worthy debater. I just think it's such a reminder that the expectations game is really the whole game at this point.

And I do think we've seen the former president and his team really lower the bar for President Biden in a lot of ways. I mean, they've so leaned into this strategy of trying to paint the president, as you know, somebody who couldn't possibly stand on the debate stage for 90 minutes, can't string sentences together. It's just not all totally there.

So, in some ways for President Biden, as he's preparing at Camp David, you could imagine that he gets on stage and does all of those things. He makes it through the 90 minutes. He does have a coherent sentences that he's putting out there. And it's all there. And he clears the lowered bar, I think that the former president has said. And I just don't think it's a coincidence that former president can say that --

RAJU: (inaudible) and it's funny, you mentioned that. In fact, roll the tape about what Donald Trump has said about Joe Biden.


TRUMP: All of these leaders are at the top of their game. Mentally, they're at the top of their game. And they're dealing with somebody that's not at the top of their game -- his game. And honestly, he never was.

He wandered off the G7 in Europe on that stage. He looked like he didn't know where to hell he was, but he didn't know where he was. If we win Wisconsin. Now, you know, Biden -- you know what Biden would say? He'd say, if we win Iowa -- or sir, you're in Wisconsin, oh, oh.


RAJU: So how does Trump erase months of saying the opposite, that he can't string two sentences together? Oh, by the way, he's an amazing debater.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: He doesn't, by the way because they've invested so much like MJ said in this narrative that this is Joe Biden's chance to have a performance perhaps similar to the State of the Union. Look, they've been pounding this narrative for quite some time. And that was one of those moments where people said, wow, he really overperformed expectations, expect potentially a similar scenario here.

However, if he does have even the slightest hesitation, or what they could call senior moment, expect that to be completely blown up and fanned on social media. Because the truth is, a lot of the folks who are undecided, or who may be under motivated voters are not going to necessarily be watching the entire debate.

But they will be getting a lot of information on these mediums where these memes and these even deceptively edited videos have helped fan that narrative. And that's something that I know that the Biden people are very concerned about, which is even if he does great, right. What's going to happen afterwards on the social media platforms? And now the --


RAJU: Exactly. And you know, we use term of the Trump campaign. There's a lot of expectation, or there's hope among Republicans, that he can remain discipline. What are you hearing about how his preparation is going and how he's going to deal with? You know, the Biden isn't trying to get under his skin, I clearly, but by Trump will have to rein it in to some extent. Can Trump rein it in?

MARIANNE LEVINE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, I think that's the open question. I mean, I think his allies and the campaign are prepping him more in these kind of informal policy sessions, with some of his allies, J. D. Vance, Marco Rubio, Eric Schmitt, have all worked with the former president.

I mean, it's interesting because it feels like the Trump campaign is trying to kind of downplay the amount of preparation that they're doing and sort of an expectation setting game themselves. And I think they kind of want to go in with the argument that Trump, you know, is used to these rallies. He's used to combative interviews. And he doesn't need the level of preparation hat Biden need. It seems like they're kind of trying to play it both ways in that sense. RAJU: Go figure. But you know, it's interesting. We'll see if he's ready. He has not done a debate during the primary debates. We'll see how he does next week. This all comes of course, as there has been a massive fundraising haul, really up on both sides. But even more so from Trump and the aftermath of his conviction.

He is now dwarfing Biden. Remember for months, why Trump has been struggling to keep up with Biden's fundraising machine. It's not a little bit of the other way around in May, the fundraising haul 141 million for Trump compared to 85 million for Biden. So, MJ, does the Biden campaign, are they concerned at all about this surge in Trump fundraising?

LEE: I mean, they certainly don't want to be lagging behind Trump ever. I do think that there was a sense of expectation that once the Trump trial was over in New York, that yeah, it was very much possible that momentum would pick up for them in terms of their halls.

But I do think what the Biden team would argue at this point is that, yes, like we are working, you know, as hard as possible to raise as much money as we can. We don't want Trump to catch up. But the one way in which the Trump team cannot catch up is getting time back. Time that was wasted or was diverted to focusing on the president.


The former president being in a courtroom for weeks and weeks when -- at the same time the Biden team was really trying to lay the ground, the foundation for having a traditional campaign in place to really hit the ground running in the general election. I think they would argue that that is something that the Trump team can't compete with.

RAJU: It's interesting because part of this big fundraising haul came from billionaires, in fact, 19 million Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor to helping out Joe Biden's campaign to the Biden Victory Fund. And to Trump the Tim Mellon, who's a reclusive billionaire an heir to a banking fortune, $50 million to a pro-Trump super PAC. This has been a shift. You've seen these billionaires even more so, open up their wallets to Trump race.

PRZYBYLA: It took them a while in 2016. Here they're getting there sooner. And the key moment seems to have been the conviction because we saw a huge influx of both individual donors. And also, some of these billionaires coming off the sideline, also the widow of Sheldon Adelson, as well talking about -- putting a lot of money. And it's -- look, each side has their billionaires.

The question here we need to ask is what are the agendas and interests of those billionaires? A lot of the billionaires supporting Trump are some of these hedge fund magnets, oil and gas magnets. And with Biden, it's Mike Bloomberg, it's Melinda Gates Foundation.

The key is, how are they going to spend that money because to MJs point, Biden has already had months that you cannot replace of creating all of these grassroots offices across the country. When we all know that advertising dollars are worth less and less in this fragmented environment.

So even if the Trump campaign pours a lot of this into advertising, it's hard to say that this gives him a big advantage or even brings them to parity because of all the investment that's been made already by the Biden campaign.

RAJU: How much does the Trump campaign relying on billionaires? I just want you to look at this graphic on your screen. Billionaires backing Trump. This is -- all from 40, someone who has had a $47 billion in net worth as Jeff you asked. All the way down to John Paulson with a paltry $6 billion.

I'm being sarcastic if you couldn't tell, but i.e., significant amounts of money. These are the people backing Donald Trump. So, I mean, he obviously is going to be well funded having this campaign. What are you hearing?

LEVINE: Yeah. I mean, I think it definitely shows the transactional nature in which Trump approaches fundraising. He's made lots of promises to billionaires in these private meetings, saying, for example, that he's going to roll back on Biden's environmental regulations.

And he's -- and I think what we're seeing is a lot of this -- a lot of -- some of these billionaires backed away from Trump, shortly after the 2020 election. And spoke out against his efforts to overturn the election results. But I think we're seeing, obviously a shift here. And that's in large part, I think, because of their own agendas and hopes for the 2025, I've to see that the tax cuts reenacted at the end of 2025.

RAJU: That's what you hear oftentimes, you know, someone's put aside their personal differences. We'll talk about the policy and for some of these billionaires. It has to do with tax cuts. All right. Next, it's a rare thing for the Supreme Court to uphold any restrictions on who can own a gun. But that's exactly what happened this morning.




RAJU: Upheld, today a major Supreme Court decision keeps guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. The case was the United States versus Rahimi and an eight-one ruling. The justices said that, despite its recent decisions striking down gun laws, there are some limits to who can own a firearm.

CNN's Joan Biskupic, and former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe are here now to talk about all of this. Nice to see you. Just a little bit more about that decision. This is what the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts, said in that majority opinion.

Our tradition of firearm regulation allows the government to disarm individuals who present a credible threat to the physical safety of others. These precedents were not meant to suggest a law trapped in amber. The reach of the Second Amendment is not limited only to those arms that were in existence at the founding.

So, Joan, you're in the room. What do you take away? And what are the implications of this rolling?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: OK. First of all, just down the ground, this is an important ruling for people who care about domestic violence. And this is reinforces' the federal government's ability to keep guns away from people who are subjected to domestic violence restraining orders.

But for the larger Second Amendment question that we have here. The chief justice's highlighted in what you just showed that there was a credible threat, that this is a temporary measure against someone who was assessed to be a dangerous in some way or threat or menace.

And the reason he highlighted those two elements is because since 2022, when the justice is expanded Second Amendment gun rights, lower courts have been really torn about what kinds of gun regulations can be upheld. And to finally have a court -- the Supreme Court uphold any regulation is notable.

But the chief really stressed the reason why, because under this 2022 precedent, gun regulations have to have a historical -- be part of historical tradition, precedent, and the chief pointed to laws that were intended at the framing of the Second Amendment back in 1791. There were intended to keep weapons out of the hands of people who could be a menace to society.


But only because of that, I mean this is -- the new rules are awfully restrictive. And the chief was joined -- he had a majority, but he was joined only in his full opinion by Justice Alito. Five other justices split off, Justice Clarence Thomas dissented outright, but the --

RAJU: The lone dissenter, yeah.

BISKUPIC: The lone dissenter here, you know, wanting to strike down this law. But five other justices split off to talk about how they would interpret the tradition in history of gun regulation in America. And I would say the three key ones are Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett, who were originally part of that majority. Two years ago, they had expanded gun rights. And they were talking about just how future regulations should be assessed. So, there's just lots more litigation to come.

RAJU: As a law -- former law enforcement official, what do you see are the implications of this? And could it lead to more restrictive gun regulations?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think that's probably a bridge too far, particularly in front of this court. But it definitely is a -- maybe a softening of the courts holding at Bruen the 2022 case, which -- quite frankly, I think most folks who are concerned about gun safety regulation walked away from Bruen thinking, how on earth does any gun safety restriction pass this very muddled, very historical test that the court has set up?

So, Justice Roberts gives us a vision as to how they think about that today. The problem is, it's a very confusing vision. I think we're -- we took a mess, and we made it a little bit messier. Now, we've backed away from that hard Bruen stance to some extent, but to exactly what extent who knows.

There are a number of other prohibitors in the federal gun law that that will likely come in front of this court in the next few years. If there's anything you could predict, it's maybe those prohibitors that are reliant on a specific condition, like if you're a convicted felon, or if you've renounced your citizenship, those are maybe more likely to pass muster. And ones that apply broadly to an entire population, like the law in Bruen are probably less likely to survive this historical test.

RAJU: OK. We're going to pick up a little bit more in a second. But there was also other news today. Judge Aileen Cannon, Florida courtroom is active. The judge overseeing the classified documents case being brought against Donald Trump is on the bench. Today's business, a Trump effort to get Cannon to declare Jack Smith, the special counsel as invalid.

CNN's Evan Perez joins me now. So, Evan, what happened inside the court today? And does this challenge have any chance of succeeding?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is still remains to be seen at this point, Manu. We've had about a couple of hours of arguments today from the Trump attorneys and from the special counsel, who are defending the appointment of Jack Smith, the Special Counsel, that Donald Trump in his argument -- the argument from his lawyers is that Merrick Garland exceeded his authority when he appointed Jack Smith as a special counsel.

The argument here is that because Smith came from outside of government, he's not someone who was approved by the Senate that his appointment is illegal. And therefore, this indictment should completely be tossed.

Now, one of the arguments that we heard today was from Emil Bove, who is one of the former president's lawyers. And he called Jack Smith, essentially a shadow government, which is something that Judge Aileen Cannon push back on. She said, that was a little ominous in terms of language. But the fact that we're having this hearing in the first place is a bit unusual.

This is an argument that defendants have made in a number of other special counsels. Notably, Hunter Biden made similar arguments, both to judges in California and in Delaware. Those went nowhere, but Judge Cannon wanted to have a hearing. And right now, they're hearing that -- the court is back in session, where she's allowing outside groups -- left-wing and right-wing groups to make arguments on this issue.

These are groups that have nothing to do with this case, but she's allowing them to make those arguments for a couple of hours this afternoon. This is one of three hearings that we have on tap, Manu, for -- after today. On Monday, we're going to have arguments on the special counsels' request for a gag order on the former president.

He's been making very, very incendiary remarks about the raid or the search of Mar-a-Lago back in 2022. And he's also asking for some of the evidence that was seized in the search of Mar-a-Lago for that to be tossed. So, we have a couple more days of hearing after today. Manu?

RAJU: All right, Evan Perez, outside that Florida courthouse. Thanks for that. And back at the table, Joan Biskupic and Andy McCabe. So, Andy, what do you make of the way that Judge Cannon has handled this case?

There's that reporting over the night from the New York Times about judges who have urged to step aside from this case. She said no. Ever since then, she has really agreed to a number of Trump efforts to delay this, including by this -- granting this hearing to invalidate Jack Smith.


MCCABE: Yeah. This hearing -- this motion is a perfect example of the chaos that this judge has allowed this prosecution to fall into. She gives -- not just time and attention to quite frankly, ridiculous outlandish legal arguments. But now we have a multiple day hearing, featuring uninterested parties. People who are not a part of this prosecution are coming in and spending hours arguing.

And let's remember that the underlying motion has almost no chance of surviving scrutiny. Even if she grants the motion here at the trial court level, it will most certainly be appealed by the government, and likely it'll go their way. So, it's hard to explain whether it's simply a matter of a lack of confidence, lack of experience, lack of competence, but the combination likely of all those things has landed this case in a -- it's in reverse. It's not even in first case.

RAJU: Do you think that she's doing Trump's bidding here?

MCCABE: That's really hard to say, Manu. And I know that a lot of people are speculating about that. I still maintain that we don't have any hard evidence of bias. All these other factors that I've mentioned, can just as easily explain the mess that she's made of this case. I'm reluctant to say that she's biased or doing these things intentionally, until we have some sort of hard evidence to point to.

RAJU: I'm going to go quickly back to the Supreme Court because you were in that room today, as they were reading these arguments and there was a notable absence. You know, Alito was not -- Samuel Alito was not there for a second straight day. Any idea why?

BISKUPIC: Yeah. There was an empty chair between the Chief Justice and Elena Kagan, right, where he should have been for the second time. The justices do not have to take the bench when they release opinions, but it's unusual for justice not to be up there. And it's also quite common, though, for the court not to explain why. And we put in questions yesterday with no answer. Questions today, no answer.

There's no sign that he is not able to participate, that he's not somehow --

RAJU: Involved in the --

BISKUPIC: Involved in these deliberations, in fact. But it's just another sign of this court. Nine people appointed for life who kind of foster that mystery around them. And to have, one of the nine gone for two days in a row is notable and its especially notable, no explanation.

RAJU: Secret of institution and government.


RAJU: No question about it. All right, guys, thanks. And immigration shift. Suddenly, Donald Trump says he wants to make it easier for some immigrants to get a green card. But does he really mean it?