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Biden Campaign Aide Denies Biden Is Considering Withdrawing; Biden Ally: "He's Not Oblivious," He Knows Coming Days Are Crucial; Now: Biden, Harris Having Lunch Meeting At White House; Ohio Dem: VP Harris Would Do Better With Midwestern Voters; VP Harris: "I Am Proud To Be Joe Biden's Running Mate". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 03, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Dana Bash. And we start with significant news that gets into the president's mindset right now. For the first time, we're learning that the president has privately acknowledged that dropping out of the race is not out of the question. And that the next few days will be critical in determining whether there is a path forward for him.

MJ Lee is who brought us this reporting, and she's now joining us from the White House. MJ, tell us exactly what you're hearing.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Dana. What we have learned is that President Biden has privately acknowledged that the next structure days are going to be critical to whether he can save his reelection campaign that he understands what would prompt him to accept, quote, it's just not working.

That is, according to an ally of the presidents who spoke with the president directly. Yesterday, this person saying, he sees the moment with his clear eye. And then importantly, the president knows that there is a potential series of events that could unfold in the coming days and weeks, that would make him acknowledge that this simply can't be fixed.

And this person said, what that looks like is the polls are plummeting. The fundraising is drying up and the interviews are going badly. He's not oblivious. This person said. They also described the president in this conversation as having been chastened, blaming himself, not his staff, or his terrible debate performance last week.

And that this person -- the president said to this person, quote, I have done way too much foreign policy. He said, the trips that he made to France and Italy right before the debate had been a terrible idea that jetlag and the exhaustion that was prompted by those trips was not a good idea heading into this very important debate.

And what is clear? If it wasn't clear already, based on this reporting, Dana, is that every single thing now that the president says, the president does in any of his public appearances in the coming days, whether it is at ABC News interview, whether it is that press conference that he is set to have with reporters next week, or the meetings that he is going to have, the conversations with elected officials, including a group of Democratic governors here at the White House leader today.

All of that is going to be so important for him to seize, and to show that he can turn his campaign around. And I think implied in all of this, Dana, of course, is that there is a potential scenario where the president says, I actually can't fix my campaign.

BASH: MJ, thank you so much for that excellent reporting. And I just want to also talk about what the president's deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said. He was on CNN in the last hour. Here's what he -- his response was, I should say, to this new reporting.


QUENTIN FULKS, BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: There are a number of rumors floating out there. The president is in this race to win it. He is the Democratic nominee. And from our perspective, we're going to continue to do everything we can to make sure that we're building a campaign apparatus to reach voters. The president in his own words acknowledged a poor debate performance.

But at the same time, I think what we're sensing from people is a sense of urgency and fear from Donald Trump. And I think that the conversations that the president has been having with Democrats across the country is wanting to reassure them, that he is in this race, that he knows -- that he needs to reassure the American people and that our campaign is going to continue to build and scale to win in November.


BASH: Let's talk about all of this with my terrific group of reporters, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, The Boston Globe Jackie Kucinich, and The New York Times Zolan Kanno-Youngs. Thank you all for being here. I know you all have notebooks and notes files in your -- in your phones full of conversations that you've all been having, as have I with sources.

Jeff, I want to start with you. And just put into context what MJ is reporting. And that context is that the debate was Thursday. Friday, the scramble started for the Biden campaign in the White House to try to tamp down the concern among donors, among allies. What didn't happen between them, and as far as we know, pretty much till yesterday. Was the president himself getting on the phone?

Yeah, he talked to donors when he was at these fundraisers over the weekend last weekend. But that's not the same as the reach out. And throughout -- through that move and that change, we have learned that despite the allies on TV over the weekend, it doesn't seem fully out of the question that the president -- if he believes it is best to beat Donald Trump with somebody else on the ticket, he's open to it.

[12:05:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that is what is such a remarkable difference from just a couple days ago and you laid it out there very well. This is the president, former vice president, former senator who loved the telephone. He worked the telephone in so many ways through legislation, talking to foreign leaders. Now as he knows the power of the telephone, calling out on Friday, on Saturday. He did not talk to Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic Leader, or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer until late yesterday, we're told.

And his aide said, well, he was busy on the road. He was in their states. He was in New York. This was not a President Biden, who was robustly trying to keep criticism at bay, working the phones all weekend, trying to sort of get things on track. This was a president we are told who was very insulated by his family and just a handful -- fewer than a handful of advisors.

And he was not hearing necessarily the real anger and anxiety from Democrats out in the country, which is why we saw some of that play out on television. We heard at the very beginning on Sunday, give him a little bit of time, we're giving him a bit of space.

When it didn't happen when he wasn't sort of reaching out, some of his allies sent messages through the television, like Nancy Pelosi, for example. She said, is this -- you know, is this an episode or condition? Wow, what a sentence is that. For someone who deeply respects and likes him.

So, now where we are today? We are at the point where a decision over the possibility of stepping out is not out of the question. I'm told to distill a data driven decision. He is waiting for more data from swing states to show A, are more states now in play. Is Minnesota in play? Is Virginia in plays? New Mexico in play? Is the Democratic ticket imperiled if he stays in the race or not? But boy, at 12:30 today, that lunch with the Vice President Kamala Harris, and him just steps up the Oval. What a consequential meeting that is.

BASH: What are you hearing about?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And not just the lunch with the vice president, but also the meeting with state governors. You know, what will the president hear from some of the state governors that also are so pivotal to this decision making too.

I mean, right now, I've -- I think you're right in terms of data and sort of what polling says, you know, that forthcoming polling, specifically on battleground states will be pivotal here. I've been talking to major prominent democratic donors that have been saying, that are expressing anxiety. That are calling one another after the debate and after some statements recently by Democrats.

And are concerned about the way forward throughout this campaign and are saying that, you know, what may determine. How much they ratchet up their pressure on the White House for a change could be what polling says, and if it indicates a major drop, particularly in battleground states.

The big question after the debate, of course, was this a one off? Or have there been more frequent sort of lapses by President Biden in the weeks leading up to the debate. And our reporting has shown that that there have been more frequent lapses.

BASH: I want you to hold on that because let me read part of your reporting that you're referring to. He increasingly appeared confused or listless or would lose the thread of conversations. People in the room with him more recently said that the lapses seemed to be growing more frequent, more pronounced and more worrisome. The uncomfortable occurrences were not predictable, but seemed more likely when he was in a large crowd or tired after a particularly bruising schedule.

KANNO-YOUNGS: That's right. That's right. And look, we don't know our reporting doesn't seek to sort of diagnose -- put a diagnosis on these events. We don't know if it was to the extent of what we saw during the 90 minutes through the debate. But talking to advisers, current and former of the president as well as foreign leaders as well, and European officials, people have noticed a decline thus far in the weeks leading up to this moment.

When we say lapses, we mean that could be stumbling over words and remarks. Getting wrong sort of the description of a certain batch of Ukraine aid, stumbling over the name of your own cabinet secretary. It's interesting that the president recently also blamed sort of that circus of travel that he had leading up to the debate.

Because we talked to officials that, you know, said that privately European officials that were talking to him were making remarks about noticing his decline, even crowding around him when he would come into a room. Is he trailed off as well?

BASH: Wow.

KANNO-YOUNGS: We talked to as well officials who said -- who said, look, if I was still working for President Biden and the U.S. government, they weren't sure if they would put him in a meeting with a foreign adversary. So, you're seeing these -- this debate and the concerns over it have ripple effects, not just in the country but globally.


BASH: And Jackie, as I bring you in, I just want to also mention that Dan Pfeiffer, who is one of the hosts of Pod Save America who the Biden campaign, not so subtly, one after. When they were pushing back against bed-wetters over the weekend, he had a piece out this morning where he talked -- I'm paraphrasing here about this part, he talked about the fact that clearly, the president has been insulated and that even Democrats have not been able to see a lot of what has been going on.

And this is more of what he said. This tempo of carefully curated mostly scripted appearances is par for the course for Biden's operation. But in the current context, it raises real questions about whether the president could prosecute an effective campaign against Trump. If Biden's advisers don't trust him to do a press conference, is a really our best bet against Trump?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Even when -- even in 2020, Biden -- the race was about Trump. It wasn't about Biden. It was the Democrat that most Democrats thought could beat Trump. That was his -- one of his biggest selling points as someone who would tell the truth as someone who would bring order.

Now that you have potentially a lot of things that have been hidden from the public. Anything, just speaking more broadly, anything that reemphasizes a weakness in a campaign is hurtful to that campaign. We've seen it across the board on a bunch of different issues over the years, but this one in particular, the Biden campaign never really figured out. Aside from telling people it's not a problem, how to deal with the fact that he's old. And how to explain the fact that -- like that he is -- you know, explain away some of the stumbles, et cetera.

And now, we're seeing that kind of push back on that and refuse to acknowledge it at their own peril. Biden himself said, watch me. When he was asked -- I can't remember which interview about --

BASH: Any of them --

KUCINICH: Multiple times.


KUCINICH: People did.

BASH: Yeah.

KUCINICH: And now that's a problem.

BASH: Jeff, you mentioned what we have seen on television, talking to the president, the campaign through the television. Again, just to go back to part of my original point, when we started this segment is on State of the Union on Sunday, two of his most prominent allies, Nancy Pelosi and Jim Clyburn left no wiggle room. They were very much -- we're behind him. He is our guy. We're good.

I even asked at the time. Whether or not he would be OK with -- Clyburn would be OK with Kamala Harris, if Biden were to drop out. And he said, I'm for the Biden, Harris ticket, you know, no daylight. That changed. And people like that don't do things by accident, which is the point that you were making. Let's just listen to some of what top Democratic lawmakers and elected officials have been saying.


REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): The process is already in place to make it a minute primary. And I would support that. Absolutely.

SEN. PETER WELCH (D-VT): From that debate, America can't unsee what it saw.

GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): Joe Biden is going to be our nominee. Unless he decides otherwise.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Joe Biden is our nominee. And ultimately, that decision on continuing or not, will fall to him and his family.

REP. MARIE GLUESENKAMP PEREZ (D-WA): We all saw what we saw. You can't undo that. And you know, the truth, I think is that Biden is going to lose to Trump.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think it's a legitimate question to say, is this an episode or is this a condition?


BASH: And just to put a fine point at that last. I specifically asked whether or not both believe -- I asked both of them. But I certainly asked one of either Pelosi or Clyburn, whether or not we should see medical records. And the answer was, we should see both of their medical records. Very different answer just there from Pelosi.

ZELENY: Just 48 hours later, but boy, what a 48-hours it's been. Because they know exactly how things work in the way to get to the president perhaps or to send a message as to say the truth out loud. So, it seems to me that's what the Speaker Pelosi certainly was doing. Her aides came back and said, of course, she looks forward to being at the Biden inauguration in 2025. So clearly trying to clean that up a little bit.

But I've been told or not cleaned it up but tried to say that she's still with him. But I've been told that everyone who makes a comment on television, starting with Jamie Raskin several days ago, hears from the Biden campaign. Well, now that the dam is broken.

I mean, Lloyd Doggett, those words from a member of Congress, who has served 30 years is clearly not afraid of this campaign team and staff. And he spoke, you know, pretty eloquently about how he sees this.


BASH: Lloyd Doggett who is a congressman from Texas was very clear in his statement about the fact that he represents what was LBJ's district, LBJ in 68, many months before we are in the cycle, but he decided he was not going to run. And then there was a big fight. Richard Nixon became president.

And I will just say before we go to break that Lloyd Doggett, after he made an initial statement, went on CNN this morning. And said that after he came out and questioned whether Joe Biden should be on the ticket said that he heard from another -- a number of his colleagues who said that they might say the same thing. So, we'll see if that happens.

Great reporting. Great conversation. Don't go anywhere because we have a lot more to discuss. And that is if, if, if if. And it is still unclear whether or not the president will decide not to run. Would the vice president get the top slot? We're going to take a closer look and get some new reporting about that question, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)




KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Look, Joe Biden is our nominee. We beat Trump once and we're going to beat him again. Period.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you ready to leave the country necessary?

HARRIS: I am proud to be Joe Biden's running mate. Thank you.


BASH: That was Vice President Harris, and her brief interview with CBS News yesterday. And as we speak, she and President Biden are getting ready to have lunch at the White House and might be doing it as we speak. Right now, my panel is back.

Jeff Zeleny, a lot of people are asking me as they are you, as we are two sources. Not only about, you know, the what if about who, but the what if about why. Meaning? What I mean by that is the notion of Kamala Harris being at the top of the ticket if Joe Biden decides to drop out, isn't just because she's currently the vice president. It's also because of the way the campaign works mechanically. Can you explain that?

ZELENY: Exactly. I mean, it's not the Joe Biden campaign. It's the Biden, Harris campaign. She has raised a lot of this money. She is on the FEC documents. Her name is on every sign and on the office door, quite frankly. So, this is something that should it come to this. Should the president decided to make a decision to step aside.

Most Democrats believed that he would hand things over to her or the keys over to her. And there was a campaign in waiting and apparatus in waiting. And indeed, the campaign war chests are waiting.

Now some of the money has been raised through the DNC. That would remain available to whoever else, if there would be a contest here. But look, time is of the essence. From Friday, it's four months till the election day. But that's not the timeframe here to get access to state ballots, it is much, much, much sooner. And the Democratic convention is only a month and a half away.

So, we're talking just a period of a few weeks here for not only her, but also should this happen. Who would her running mate be? So, there's some thinking I'm told inside the Democratic Party, where the open contest, if you will, would be for that position.

Look to Democratic governors throughout the Midwest, of course, walls in Minnesota, the shear in Kentucky, Pritzker in Illinois, Shapiro in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, I don't know that you'd want to mess --

BASH: We're going to be at the White House today.

ZELENY: They are. I don't know if you'd want to mess with the Senate in terms of just the fragile makeup of the Senate. However, so could that be a vehicle to have some open dialogue here, but it's not an open contest? Is somebody say, she is literally a candidate for office. And, you know, that would be throwing things into even bigger chaos. Most Democrats I've talked to believe, should she be treated as one among equals with any other candidate.

BASH: So, OK. So, you know, perhaps this is unfair to ask you two or all three of you. But does that suggest that there's no way it would be a completely open process, meaning when there'd be delegates or voters who said, I cast my ballot in primary X, Y or Z for Joe Biden at the top of the ticket and that's not what's happening. There would be no mechanism for a real fight or a vote to make that clear.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I don't think you can say anything's absolute right now, particularly in these times that we're in. We have to remember that for much of the Biden presidency, and the Kamala Harris vice presidency as well, particularly the first two years. I was hearing from some top Democrats expressing doubt about Vice President Harris.

You know, especially early in the presidency, wondering if particularly her portfolio, some -- you know, interviews that went wrong, meant that she might be a political liability on the ticket earlier. Since then, many of those Democrats that would often speak privately about that have come around and say, particularly since the roe decision that she's really emerged as actually a forceful -- to have a forceful role in this campaign.

But yeah, I don't think anything is absolute here. And particularly when you talk about the many different Democrats that have aspiration for a higher office, you know, it's -- I think it's understandable to think that there could be those that are trying to sort of inch their way into that space and have a chance at that.


But I do think the other thing to factor into follow up on Jeff, is just the potential backlash that might come from also skipping over Kamala Harris in a way and going towards somebody else. You're essentially -- and I heard this lot, this weekend while reporting on a story about Kamala Harris sort of building a case for herself in the wake of the debate. You'd also be skipping over the first black woman to serve as vice president.

And remember, when President Biden came in saying that he was a bridge, the inherent belief was that that there was also sort of a pathway for Kamala Harris. And to immediately skip over her, I think there's also Democrats and voters that would also have some pushback against that.

KUCINICH: Good. No, I totally agree. I've heard that in reporting as well, that -- you know, to cast her aside in this current -- in the makeup of the Democratic Party to right now would be counter to a lot of messages we've heard. But you know, right now, unity is not really their strong support in the Democratic Party. And so, I would -- I totally agree. I would be hesitant to try to predict what's going to happen because we're kind of at a place where that's hard to do.

BASH: Let me play a little bit of what Tim Ryan who was Congressman from Ohio, said this morning about Kamala Harris.


TIM RYAN (D) FORMER OHIO CONGRESSMAN: I just think Kamala Harris would thrive in a debate with Donald Trump and prosecute the issue around choice. She would be, I think, very well received in the industrial Midwest with working class voters.


BASH: OK. So, there's a vote of confidence. Let's look at what the numbers show, just CNN's poll that came out just yesterday. If you just look at the head-to-head matchup between Donald Trump and Kamala Harris, no clear winner. Then let's look inside those numbers.

When you look at Biden versus Harris, on how each of them fares with key voting blocks. When it comes to independence, women and people of color, she does better. Looks still margin of error-ish, but she does better.

ZELENY: For sure. I mean, is it a risk if this were to go this direction? Of course, it's a risk because you're up ending the campaign. Is it a bigger risk than staying the status quo? Many Democrats have been speaking do think, perhaps not. And that is also something that would not have been said just a few months ago.

So one, a couple of things. The vice president has grown into the job. She doesn't always get as much media attention, but Zolan is right. After the roe decision, you could see her kind of come into her own issues very comfortable with the subject matter. And as a prosecutor, she's been prosecuting the case against Trump and on the campaign trail for a long time.

One thing -- one sort of unusual part about this week, the silence you hear from the Trump side and the Republican side is really uncanny. I mean, be careful what you wish for in terms of that. But look, we do not know again, if it would be a smooth process.

Lloyd Doggett was on our air this morning, telling John Berman that he believes it should be an open process. He said he respects the vice president, but it should not be hers. But boy, taking something away from the vice president of the United States to black women are the lifeblood of the Democratic Party. I can't imagine it.

BASH: And I just want to say we are having this conversation. This is Inside Politics because these are the conversations being had everywhere around Washington and political offices around the country.

But I just want to emphasize this is reporting from Priscilla Alvarez, what they are saying in the Kamala Harris camp. Sources close to the vice president have repeatedly maintained that she's fiercely loyal to Biden, arguing that her public statements since last week's CNN-hosted presidential debate reflect where she is.

Coming up. New and intense fighting within the Republican Party over what their platform should say about abortion. A key player in that feud is my next guest. Don't go anywhere.