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Biden & Trump to Face Off on CNN Debate on Thursday; Biden Pardons Military Veterans Convicted Under Military Law Banning Gay Sex; George Latimer Defeats House Squad Member Jamaal Bowman in New York Primary; Lauren Boebert Wins Primary After District Switch; Trump-backed Senate Candidate Loses Bid for Romney Seat; Speaker Johnson to File Amicus Brief in Support of Steve Bannon's Appeal to Pause His Prison Sentence. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 26, 2024 - 12:30   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF 'INSIDE POLITICS': Less than 36 hours from history, President Biden, Donald Trump gearing up to take the stage at the CNN debate tomorrow night. We heard yesterday on the show from a Biden campaign co-chair. And today, we have a staunch Trump supporter, Republican Congressmen Mike Waltz of Florida. Congressman, thanks for joining me.

REP. MICHAEL WALTZ, (R-FL): Yeah. Good to be with you, Manu.

RAJU: So, our team here at CNN is reporting about Donald Trump's preparations heading into it, I just want to read you a portion of what they're reporting. Says Donald Trump's team is now trying to steer the former president's focus to kitchen table issues, instead of the grievances that have occupied his mind for the past four years. You know Trump very well. Is he capable? And are you concerned that he may not stick to those issues?

WALTZ: No. I think you absolutely will. I mean, I think President Biden is trying to shift offense, only got so much of a record to talk about when it comes to Bidenomics. And for Biden, he's going to want to talk personality and I think President Trump's going to talk policy because the contrast is just so clear, these things aren't theoretical. Look at what --

RAJU: You think that he is going to stick to Bidenomics (ph)?


WALTZ: I do. I mean, look at what lives were -- look at what Americans' lives were like when you had every demographic with record- low unemployment just four years ago, women, minorities, Hispanics. Look at immigration, look at the world. Look at the Middle East, for example, just by point of contrast, ISIS was defeated, Iran was broke, and you had the Abraham Accords breaking out, peace breaking out compared to the Middle East on fire today. So, he can literally walk around the world. China policy from where you had tariffs and real trade deals to now you have spy balloons flying over the country. So those are -- those are hard points, hard contrast. I think national security is going to feature.

RAJU: Sure.

WALTZ: And I certainly expect him to contrast the border. And again, policy, Remain in Mexico, USMCA, Mexican National Guard on their southern border. I hope he challenges President Biden to say the names Laken Riley, the Maryland mother of five that was just raped and killed, the 12 and 13-year-olds that were just assaulted in New York and Houston.

RAJU: One thing -- but one thing I did not hear from you saying is anything about the 2020 election. I mean, former President Trump has been talking about his false claims that the election was stolen for years. Do you want him to steer clear of talking about the 2020 election?

WALTZ: I think he is going to-- I mean, he is -- with President Trump, what you see is what you get.

RAJU: But what did he -

WALTZ: He talks about it in the rallies. He talks about it in press conferences.


RAJU: You think he'll be good - you think he'll be good (ph) -

WALTZ: I think he'll be perfectly fine talking about what he saw or the irregularities or what he saw, the --

RAJU: You'd be OK with that? You'd be OK if he starts talking about the election was stolen.

WALTZ: I'm OK what he talks about in the debate, what he talks about out in -- out in -- talking to everyday Americans. I mean, that is -- that is president Trump, what he believes. But I think at the end of the day, he is going to focus on what matters to everyday Americans. And that is the economy, crime, border, and a -- such a sense of insecurity with the world on fire.

RAJU: But we also know from our teams reporting is that they are expecting some questions about January 6th and everything that happened on January 6. Do you think that Trump should bear some responsibility for what happened that day?

WALTZ: Well, look, I think it was -- it was a protest that turned into a riot. But I do expect President Trump to talk about the abuse of the justice system and many of these people that have been sitting in jail still waiting to be charged, a lot of the really excessive sentences that have gone in. I have --

RAJU: Do want -- you think --you think (inaudible).


WALTZ: Look, I'll talk about it here. I expect him to talk about it. I have 72-year-old grandmothers who never went anywhere near the capital but were almost bankrupted in legal fees because of constant harassment by the FBI. I mean, I think those are real issues that need to come out.

RAJU: You think that he should talk about pardoning all these prisoners?

WALTZ: Well, look, I think at the end of the day, he is going to talk about what my constituents, what the American people are talking to him about. And those are those core issues of economy, crime, border and global security because he is not hearing -- I mean, when he is talking to Americans, when I'm talking to Americans, we are not hearing Jan 6, we are not hearing --

RAJU: It will probably come up.

WALTZ: -- 2020.

RAJU: Sure.

WALTZ: We would expect CNN to bring it up.

RAJU: Well, I don't know what --


RAJU: I don't know what is going to be asked. I have no idea and I'm sure Biden will bring it up. It's been a core of his campaign, but I did not hear you say anything about -- should (inaudible) responsibility.

WALTZ: And I don't think you're here -- and I don't think you are going to hear --

RAJU: But do you think he should accept some responsibility for Jan 6?

WALTZ: Oh, I don't think he was responsible for Jan 6.

RAJU: Some responsibility.

WALTZ: I don't think -- and I don't think he is going -- he is going to point out, which is factually correct, that he said go down to the capital and peacefully protest.

RAJU: But he also said (inaudible).

WALTZ: That's fine.

RAJU: He also called them to come here.

[12:35:00] WALTZ: Look, I mean, I fully expect CNN to do what you are doing now and Biden to do what you are doing now, is really dwell on the issue and try to nail him down on it. But at the end of the day, that is not what Americans are going to vote on and he is going to talk about policies that worked for him, and Bidenomics and Biden's foreign policy that is not working for them now. That's what he is going to focus on.

RAJU: I want to ask you about some of the claims that Trump has been making in the last several days, including Trump allies, saying that Biden is going to come out jacked up. They say that he is full of -- going to be full of drugs. Some of them saying -- what evidence is there to support that claim?

WALTZ: Well, look, I can just tell you our experiences, my experience going over the White House. I went over for a Medal of Honor ceremony, had been over for other events. And I mean, anyone who has had a grandparent or someone going through dementia, anyone who has had someone aging, you clearly see the signs.

RAJU: But there is no --

WALTZ: The Biden that I saw come in the State of the Union, I don't know what he drank, what he took, or maybe it was just natural adrenaline, but he was literally screaming to the back of the room. I wanted to remind him he had a microphone. He blew through the traditional introduction. He -- I mean there was -- there was a very different Biden.

RAJU: But there is no evidence to suggest that he (inaudible).


WALTZ: (Inaudible) I haven't sat in the White House medical office.

RAJU: But I guess, is it responsible for the former president to say he is going to be full of drugs and his allies to say that when there is no evidence? You know there is no evidence, it is just maybe the way he is behaving.

WALTZ: Yeah. Sure. I think they are responding, they are talking about how he is behaving and clearly, a different Biden than we've seen in everyday press conferences --

RAJU: But even though there is no evidence?

WALTZ: -- where he is mumbling -- literally mumbling through prepared tele-prompted speeches and then there he is just -- albeit (ph), he was literally coming out of his skin. I was just a few feet from him.

RAJU: I do want to ask you about there was some news today about President Biden pardoning U.S. veterans who were convicted under military law for having gay sex. As he calls it, he is righting an historic wrong. So, you are a decorated combat veteran.

WALTZ: Yeah. RAJU: You were the first green brigade to be elected to Congress. You also one of 39 House Republicans that voted codify same-sex marriage in 2022. So, do you think that President Biden got it right here?

WALTZ: I am glad Congress reversed the law in 2011. I am glad they reversed the Clinton-era 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy. At the end of the day and I have been very clear on this, we need the best and brightest in our military, the best pilots, the best soldiers. And it is about standards and nothing else, not black, white, or brown, not gay, straight, not man or woman. We just simply need the best; we have to keep the military meritocracy. And in righting those wrong policies, I think this was a natural next step.

RAJU: So you think that the president did the right thing?

WALTZ: Yeah.

RAJU: This pardon.

WALTZ: Look, I mean, I don't think this law should have been in place in the first place. I don't think 'Don't ask, don't tell' under Clinton should have been in the first place. It is about having the best America can provide to defend this great nation.

RAJU: All right. OK. Some bipartisanship ahead of what will be a very partisan debate.


WALTZ: Right.

RAJU: Congressman Waltz, thank you so much for coming and sharing your views, appreciate it.

WALTZ: Good to see you. Sure.

RAJU: All right. Next, the Squad gets squashed. A member of the House progressives, click (ph) loses the primary, and the first Squad member to lose.



RAJU: In New York, a member of the far-left Squad was trounced last night in a Democratic primary. The first member of the Squad to lose his seat. Congressmen Jamaal Bowman ousted by the more moderate George Latimer in what was the most expensive House primary ever in U.S. history. The race dominated by outside spending, but from pro-Israel groups targeting Bowman after his rhetoric on the war in Gaza.


REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN, (D-NY): We will continue to fight for a free Palestine and God help us. God help us build a better world where everyone understands we will be setting free Palestine in this dark (inaudible).



RAJU: Now, Latimer who has urged to run by pro-Israel groups, stressed the importance of inclusion in his victory speech last night.


GEORGE LATIMER, (D) NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: You are included no matter what your demographic is, doesn't matter your age, color of your skin, your religion, sexual identity, whether you're a right- hander or a left-hander, whether you're a Met fan or a Yankee fan.


RAJU: And in Colorado, Lauren Boebert, the hard-right congresswoman backed by Trump won a crowded primary after she switched to a much more conservative district to avoid a tough general election. Our excellent reporters are back, so Isaac, you've been a New York scribe for a big chunk of your career. What is your takeaway from Bowman's loss? Because yes, he was targeted by AIPAC -- Super PAC tied to AIPAC, but they attacked him not over what he said, the error --the attacks across the air (ph) were about other issues, not about Israel, even though that prompted their involvement with (inaudible).

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: About breaking with President Biden over infrastructure and other things.

RAJU: Not being progressive enough.

DOVERE: Yeah. Look, I think this is a real case where it was a very expensive House primary, record setting. A lot of that was this money that came from the AIPAC aligned Super PAC. But to say that this was a race that was decided by AIPAC or Israel is just wrong. It is wrong -- it missed -- you and I did a story about the race a couple of weeks ago. I had to search for people, go to Bowman's campaign to ask them for any elected official in the district that had endorsed him.


He had problems in the district. He had problems from pulling that fire alarm last fall. J Street, which is a left-leaning group, the alternative to AIPAC, pulled its endorsement from him in January, before any money had been spent by AIPAC or their Super PAC. This is a loss that was certainly accelerated by AIPAC and what happened there, but it was a 17-point loss.

RAJU: Yeah, he had trounced.

DOVERE: 17-point loss. And I do think there is something really notable about making this all about AIPAC, moneyed Jewish interests that was the only thing that went wrong here. It is just not true.

RAJU: Yeah, I mean look, obviously, (inaudible) $15 million dropped out your head by any group is not going to be helpful when you are a candidate.


RAJU: But, they really didn't run any ads about Israel that we can -- it was all about all these other issues.

CALDWELL: Yeah. So, to get to Isaac's point, Bowman was a flawed candidate.

RAJU: Yeah.

CALDWELL: That is part of the reason --

RAJU: And they -- just -- that's your screen, we have the photo of that incident where Jamaal Bowman was pulling that fire alarm. That explains him being a flawed candidate, as you say.


CALDWELL: Right. And that is one of the things. Also something that is not really spoken, but people will say on background, his Democratic colleagues, is that he was not a team player. He was not an effective member of Congress in many ways. And so, he didn't really have the institutional support. You say you didn't have it in his district, he really didn't have it on Capitol Hill. That is something that really frustrated progressives including justice Democrats who have complained that leadership did not do enough, even though they endorsed him, did not do enough to support Bowman, to help him to win.

But AIPAC decided to get in this race and spend money, yes, because of his position on Israel, but also because they saw that he was a weak candidate who could be beaten.

RAJU: Yeah.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Given the -- I guess, a question for me when you look at a sort of a 10,000-foot view of this, given that you have a combination of a flawed candidate as well as the money that was spent in this race, it is sort of what this means moving forward for sort of the progressive left and whether or not this is a pendulum shift back to the center. It wasn't too long ago that a Jamaal Bowman win shortly after a win by AOC, people were talking about sort of the pendulum swinging to the progressive flank when it came to the Democratic Party.

In this era, since Biden has gotten elected, there have been questions about that shift moving back to the center. But again, when you're -- when you're talking about the flaws of this candidate, it is a little hard to pinpoint whether or not there is something broader happening there.

RAJU: Yeah.


RAJU: And I want you to (inaudible) some other news from last week -- last night, some of Donald Trump's candidates actually did not do so well in Republican primaries. That is moving up in the trend. Trump tends to pick the candidate either early or late, that will eventually win. This time last night, there were three candidates who lost last night, even though they had the former president's backing and in Utah in particular, that is to replace Mitt Romney in the Senate. John Curtis, the winner in that, the Congressman there, more moderate than the Trump-aligned wing of the party. What do you take away from that?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: First (ph) a couple of things. First of all, this is exactly what Donald Trump does not want to happen. We know that and we have been covering this closely for months now, that Donald Trump unlike in past elections and other cycles where he really was way more generous with his endorsements, he is endorsing far fewer people this year because he doesn't want what happened with those candidates in those races last night to happen on a wider scale.

RAJU: Yeah.

TREENE: And he still has PTSD I think from 2022 when many of his people -- sure, they went on to win the primary, only to fail when it counted on Election Day.

RAJU: Yeah.

TREENE: But as it was happening, I think it is tough. I think I've heard a lot of different people trying to argue, like, is this something to be watching ahead for November? It is so hard to look at these more local races, some of these primary races and say that that's some sort of trend that we can predict.

RAJU: Yeah.

TREENE: Oh, that is going to tell us something about the general. We really just don't know, but I do know, at least from my conversations with Trump's campaign about this, they do not want any more of these races not going their way because it isn't ever a good luck for a candidate who was running for president.

RAJU: Yeah.

TREENE: He was a past president, to put their finger on the scale and not have their person not (ph) victorious.

RAJU: And Utah is a finicky state.

TREENE: Right.

RAJU: (Inaudible) yes, a very conservative state, a Republican state, but it's been a little more complicated for Trump, not necessarily MAGA conservatives, but maybe of someone more around the Mitt Romney- type wing, than a Mike Lee-type wing of the Senate GOP. Maybe that's something the Republican leaders are happy about, maybe Donald Trump not so happy about.

All right, lot to assess in the days ahead. Still lead for us, the speaker of the House throwing his support behind Steve Bannon's last- ditch effort to stay out of prison.



RAJU: House Republicans are doing their best to keep Trump-ally Steve Bannon out of prison. Bannon wants the supreme court to pause his prison sentence while he appeals his contempt of Congress conviction for refusing to testify before the January 6 Committee before the House. Speaker Mike Johnson says, the House will file an amicus brief in support of Bannon's appeal, saying the work of the January 6 Committee was "tainted."


REP. MIKE JOHNSON, (R) SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We've been investigating the Committee itself. We disagree with how Speaker Pelosi put all that to getting (ph) violated House rules. And so, we will be expressing that to the court and I think it will help Steve Bannon in his appeal.



RAJU: Of course, the Committee was not unilaterally established by then Speaker Pelosi. It was approved by a vote of the full House. It is unclear what effect, if any, the brief will have on the supreme court's handling of the case. And Bannon, of course, is set to report to prison on July 1 to begin that four-month sentence.

Thanks for joining "Inside Politics." "CNN News Central" starts after this quick break.