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CNN Live Event/Special

Soon: Biden & Trump Face Off In Unprecedented CNN Debate. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 27, 2024 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And good evening from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, where just two hours from now, history will be made.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Joe Biden and Donald Trump squaring off on the stage. We are showing you and the earliest ever presidential debate, the first ever between the president and ex-president, the first in which one of the candidates is also convicted felon awaiting three other criminal trials.

BURNETT: And so much sets this debate apart from others, including rules tailored just for this occasion and agreed to by both candidates. But there are so many unknowns about what will happen tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: Can President Biden overcome the difficulties that so many incumbent presidents have faced in their first debates? Can Donald Trump do what his advisers have been urging him to do and stick to what they see as winning issues, or will he repeat the nastiness of his first debate with Biden in 2020?

BURNETT: Well, one thing is clear, Anderson, is it were going to be getting answers to that, and very soon. What's also clear is just how high the stakes are tonight, how much it matters for the candidates themselves, for their chances and for many millions of voters to get a better sense of what the choice is really are in November in this election and for what the United States of America will look like a year from now.

It is a crucial night and I want to get straight to it with our MJ Lee who was new reporting on how the Biden campaign is gearing up for tonight.

So, MJ, what are you learning?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it is not lost on the Biden campaign. What a unique opportunity they have tonight for President Biden to make a lasting impression up to American voters and to cast himself as the better alternative to Donald Trump. Last week of preparations at Camp David were obviously really all about the 90 minutes that he is going to be spending on the debate stage. But we are learning tonight of another way in which the Biden campaign is trying to capitalize on the fact that many Americans will be tuning in. They are going to be airing three ads around the debate tonight that

were specifically chosen to really try to drive the way three of the core arguments that they believe are going to be really politically salient heading into November. The first ad is on reproductive rights, featuring a Texas woman who said that she was denied medical attention after she suffered a miscarriage. And you'll remember that she's specifically blames Donald Trump for what she went through.

The second ad features a Michigan sheriff who denounces President Trump's handling and actions around January 6, and then the final ad will be hitting Trump's out record and his character. And this is the ad where they described Donald Trump as a convicted criminal who is only out for himself.

Erin, this is just yet another example of the fact the Biden team believes that their path to the presidency is all about presenting a binary choice they want to reach voters who have not been tuned in much so far this election cycle and who do not believe that November is going to be about Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. And I should also note, Biden advisers, we have when speaking to do believe that this is a potentially going to be the most are prepared a Donald Trump has ever been heading into a debate, and that he could potentially be more disciplined and more on message than we have ever seen him.

BURNETT: And everybody, we watching for that.

MJ, thank you.

COOPER: Let's go to CNN's Kristen Holmes, who's got new reporting from inside the Trump camp.

I understand you've got some new details on whether Trump team has been focused on leading up to the debate.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, particularly, Anderson in the last 24 hours, they are looking at performance, the art of the performance, as well as visual. Remember out as hard Donald Trump is a performer and he and many and his team believed that that's just as important as the substance of the debate.

His team on the ground here in Atlanta has spent the last 24 for hours really honing in on every single detail. I'm talking about the minutia, the steps it takes to get from behind the curtain to the podium, how far the podiums are part, even the height and where they are angled.

One of the things that they were talking about was how the audio sounded from each podium to make sure that it was clear enough from the former presidents podium.


Donald Trump himself believes that these visuals, like how he performs up on that stage, is going to impact how people view this. And so his team has really put in the effort to make sure that it is to his liking and keep Donald Trump himself is scheduled to do that candidate walked through at any time? You will see the layout.

But one of the things to remind you, he often talks both privately and publicly about how he looks on stage, how he sounds on stage, what the crowd looked like, looking at him. This is something he cares deeply about and that's obvious as he steps on the stage. Obviously this again, goes to all of the preparation that they have been doing on policy. They have been having normal conversations.

But right now, that team here, they were looking at the visuals and optics ahead of the debate.

COOPER: Kristen Holmes, thanks so much.


BURNETT: All right, Anderson.

And I'm here with Audie Cornish, Chris Wallace, Kaitlan Collins, and Kasie Hunt, all of us here through the night.

So Chris, we're now in minus two hours before they walk out. They're going to walk out actually a little bit before 9:00. What -- what do they do here in these final moments? They are both here. They have both arrived. We know that we saw Trump get in later, obviously, around 5:30 local time, get off the plane.

What do they do in these final moments?

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: Well, if they're smart, they're basically left alone to think about it. You know, I suppose some of the candidates' advisors might sit there and give them pepper drills, but at this point, you just want to collect yourself, figure out what are the main points, remind yourself, what are the main points that you want to make, the holes you don't want to fall into.

I can tell you one thing that the Trump campaign has been talking about and thinking about is how he walk -- when he walks out onto the stage, should he shake hands with Joe Biden or not? This is a real issue because one of the things I want to project, his strength versus weakness, and they think physically, Donald Trump looks stronger and walks better than Joe Biden with his somewhat halting gait.


WALLACE: So I don't know what he's going to do. I don't know what the big decision will be and it may well be the Trump decides on the fly as he walks out.

But one of the thoughts is to shake hands and try to project strength versus --

BURNETT: You bring up the handshake, Audie, this is actually very central. The gait is crucial because everyone's going to see that and so much of this is optics, but the handshake, we know the Biden team has been thinking about that, too, whether he even wants to shake Trump's hand. So is this something that literally in that moment could be decided?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you should think about all of this as a big reset, right? Like Jay-Z says, is like let me re- introduce. Everybody, wake up.


CORNISH: This campaign is happening. This election is happening. These are the people in front of you. And if you haven't been tuning in, this is your chance.

Similarly for the candidates, the last time they did all this was during COVID. The handshake --

BURNETT: That's why there wasn't a handshake.

CORNISH: Yeah. Like so this is literally a reset moment. How do we do this? How should it look? And what's the most effective way to deliver this information to voters, and how they spent their day today, Kaitlan.

We know Trump posted on social media Joe Biden's a threat to democracy, a threat to the survival and existence of our country itself, all caps, sort of what you would expect. But that was what we heard.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: Yeah, Donald Trump has always been a big fan of the I'm rubber, you're glue kind of retort, anytime someone labels a critic -- lobs a criticism at him, he often returns it to them. But I think when you look at them on stage tonight, what's different than four years ago is that Joe Biden obviously has a presidential record. He had never been president before. He was only able to scrutinize and attack Donald Trump's record as president.

That will obviously be different tonight. For Donald Trump, though, he has a criminal record for the -- I mean, he's never been on the debate stage since he was a convicted felon, since he had multiple, dozens of indictment and counts and charges against him.

So there is just a completely different dynamic, even though we've all seen this movie before. We've all seen the two of these guys on stage before. They are the most recognized political figures, everyone knows their backgrounds and their records, but we've never seen them on stage with these dynamics before.

So that's the thing to look for tonight is what's different now than it was four years ago --

BURNETT: And they are also trying to flip the script though, Kasie, Trump trying to take the democracy point, but they are -- there seems like an attempt to that. I mean, we'll see that's what he tries tonight.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: There's absolutely -- I mean, that's a tried and true Trump tactic to duck something that's a weak point for him and claim, oh, actually, the other guy is doing that.

But when I think about what's really different between the last time we saw this happen when Chris was in charge. And now is --

WALLACE: I may have been a lot of things, I was not in charge.

BURNETT: Very humble.

HUNT: I know -- I mean, I've spent a lot of time actually watching that debate recently, but the level of personal animosity between these two men is just at a much higher level than it even was then. I mean, let's be real. Joe Biden, I don't think it's ever really liked Donald Trump. We know how Donald Trump has felt about Joe Biden over the years.


But now, you have a sitting president who sees across the stage from him a former president who tried to steal an election from him, right? And one of the main things I think were going to be looking for tonight is how Donald Trump handles January 6 in front of a crowd of millions that may be turning in, tuning into this election for the first time. They may not have seen his campaign rallies where he starts off with a solute to what he calls the January 6 hostages.

So I do think that there are many, many layers tonight that to your point, these are different people at different points in their careers, but there are also different impersonal ways as well.

BURNETT: So how they spent the day, Audie? I went through Trump's social media posts. Joe Biden actually posted a video on his social media sort of highlighting certain points about Trump. I want to just play.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Threat to democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot in good conscience endorse Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't take an oath to a king or queen, or a tyrant or a dictator. We don't take an oath to a wannabe dictator.


BURNETT: Those are the voices of former aides of Trump.

CORNISH: And only a few, only a few.

BURNETT: And obviously, there's many more.


You could choose from, but that's another thing ill be looking at tonight. How are these things framed differently? It's one thing for the president to bring up January 6. It's another thing for Joe Biden to talk about political violence and to use a word like that.

There's going to be different ways that they talk about familiar issues that will give us a hint about what the next couple of months will be like in terms of their messaging.

WALLACE: You know, I -- the flip side of that is how Donald Trump handles it. And I can tell you the plan that doesn't mean that the plan has got to laugh, but very much not to get stuck into re- litigating 2020, not to get stuck into talking a lot about January. And if he does talk about pardoning, he's going to qualify it and say the pardoning the non-violent offenders, but certainly not pardoning the violent offenders on that day.

But they very much want to pivot off that and say hey, in effect, enough about 2020, even though he's done nothing but talk about it for four years, enough about 2020. Let's talk about the future. Let's talk about American peoples problems. We'll see whether or not he aged able to stick to that plan. But that's -- that's what the idea is going in.

COLLINS: I also think that first debate in that performance was seared in to his mind because Donald Trump walked off that debate with you and he thought that he had crushed it. He thought he had done such a great job. And as it is often the case with Donald Trump, his perch perception is shaped by the coverage and what he sees after and what he hears from his advisers after.

And obviously he interrupted President Biden a lot during that debate. And he's even admitted it. He did it this week in an interview with "The Washington Examiner" that he interrupted too much during that debate.

And so Donald Trump, you know, takes advice from a lot of other people. He doesn't always listen to it or actually observe it. I do think he remembers and as we have been playing at length this week, the clips from that debate, he's reminded of how often he interrupted and what that looked like.

We'll see if he maintains it passed the first 20 minutes or the entire debate.

HUNT: Well, I also wonder how much the reality of the rules and the way that this is being set up is going to affect how Donald Trump is able to do that. I mean, I think that the perception has kind of shifted over the course the last couple of days too. I certainly have talked to a number of people who have suggested that perhaps it will help Donald Trump, that in the event that he does have trouble biting his tongue, which we know that he sometimes does, that he will be -- he will not be heard by a television audience because I think one of the things with this, this debate is going to be very unusual, of course, because there's not going to be an audience in the room. There's going to be basically just the moderators, these people, the people that have to do the technical work to get it on the air.

That's different from -- from previous years. So it's just going to be the two of them centered like this, experiencing it in the room though, is not the same way that Americans experience that on television. And it can be a mistake when you're in the room to take what you feel like happens there and extrapolate because you can miss things across from the television.

BURNETT: Well, the read of the room and you having sat there at that debate. It's a different feeling there versus what you when you watched it later?

WALLACE: No, I knew it was a disaster. But I will say, I actually think those question to the audience is overstated. It is very intense in that little circle in my debate. They were ten feet apart in this debate, there eight feet apart. I mean, they could just really were very, very close to each other.

CORNISH: I disagree. Trump has said that the audience matters. There's a little bit of living the applause and you got to be able to play to someone.

WALLACE: We were -- but they didn't play does someone and they were very much under orders, not to the audience, to applaud. I'm telling you that having been on that stage age they -- it's the two candidates and the moderator. And that's really it.

I do not think that lack of an audience is going to be a --

BURNETT: Well, we were -- we are all going to see that shortly and all of you, of course, are going to be here. We're here together, and I hope all of you will be sticking around and more and more joining as the hours go.

Just ahead, we will be joined by Trump surrogate, and New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.


That and a closer look at what the former president and President Biden will see an experience in that room at their podiums, which will not be like anything, any candidate and see before.



COOPER: Looking there at the CNN debate stage, where it all gets underway about an hour and 40 minutes from now, or want to take a look right now at how that stage and the rules surrounding it, how --what happens on it, or unique.

CNN's Kate Bolduan joins us with that.

So, Kate, explain like, first of all, where you are and explain the setup.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I am exactly where everyone wants to be in the absolute middle of the action, where it's all going to be having. Let's talk about the setup of the stage and studio first, Anderson, which is obviously important. The candidates will be at the lectern. These lecterns, as you can see, this is actually the lecterns where Donald Trump will be standing. They are eight feet apart.

Said another way, not far apart at all. In previous debates, the lecterns have been about 12-ish feet apart.


For a woman who's 5'4", that's three or four steps apart. So there's a physical proximity dynamic that will be at play tonight.

Donald Trump will be screen left. Joe Biden will be screen right when they are here, they are allowed to take notes. Ronnie, lets show them notepads, empty note pads and pens right here with the candidates are not allowed to do, are to bring prepared notes on to the stage with them.

What you'll see, what they will be looking at right here. We see our awesome crew getting ready to go. What they will be looking at is not a studio audience only our moderators, Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, they will be the only people that they well see in this set, in this studio for the entirety of it.

The only breaks in the action, Anderson, during the 90 minute debate are going to be two commercial breaks. And during that time, importantly, the candidates will not be allowed any contact with campaign staff.

COOPER: And walk through how the core of the debate is structured?

BOLDUAN: The structure of the debate is everything. When you get to the core of it, which is questions, answers, and the actual debate. This is how it goes.

The moderators, Dana and Jake, they ask a question to the designated candidate when they ask the question that candidate gets two minutes to answer. Other candidate then gets one minute to respond and candidate one, we will call them, then gets one minute for a rebuttal to that response.

During that time when the candidate is speaking that the designated candidate's microphone will be on the candidate who is not designated to be speaking. Their microphone will be off. And this is when the timing clock really come in to play.

The designated candidate when they are speaking, when they get down to 15 seconds, you'll see, these are, their timing lights there on every camera around the studio, when the light turns yellow, that indicates to the candidate speaking, they have 15 seconds left, when they hit five seconds it starts flashing red.

And then when they are out of time, it's a solid red and that is when the mics switch, if you will. Mics go on and vice versa. Mic goes on, mic goes off.

This is all designed to maximize the allotted time in this debate, to maximize the amount that the viewers, the voters, everyone that is at home gets to hear from the candidates and learn more about their divergent positions and how to leave the country, Anderson.

COOPER: And I just want to point out both candidates and campaigns have agreed to these rules.

With me here, CNN political commentators of all political stripes, Scott Jennings, Kate Bedingfield, David Urban, Van Jones, Alyssa Farah Griffin and David Axelrod, also "NEWSNIGHT" anchor Abby Phillip, and CNN chief national correspondent John King.

John, let me start off with you. What is -- I mean, let's just talk about the state of the race between these two candidates with this debate.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDNT: Look, it's a very close race when you look at the national polls, but a less close race if you go to the battleground states where Donald Trump has a clear advantage, its not a huge advantage, but it's a clear advantage.

COOPER: And this is all about the battleground states.

KING: It is. That's -- you've got to get to 270 electoral votes, right? And so Donald Trump has a clear advantage right now. It's not very big. It's not overwhelming.

But the question becomes, and this is my question -- the political pros could help me more than this -- traditional rules, this race, given the structure, structure of the race, president with a 38 percent approval rating, two thirds of the country thinking were on the wrong track, he's the incumbent president, the economic anxiety in the country despite, I know the Biden people, anyone watching saying, wait, numbers are great. People don't feel it.

This is at a point where traditionally, you would say an incumbent president is either at or past the tipping point. It's like bending still with your bare hands now, to get that approval rating above 40, close to 42, that's how an incumbent can win.

If you look at the structure of this race historically, Joe Biden's in deep trouble in terms of how much he has to change in the 18-1/2 weeks he has left to do it, but here's the history of the moment. Normally with an incumbent presidents, I want four more years. And the other person says, we need change, we need new.

It's Donald Trump. It's Donald Trump. We've never been here, 134 years since the guy who lost the presidency runs against the guy who took the job from him, right? We didn't have TV age, we didn't have the social media age.

So, normally, it's four more years versus change. Tonight is four more years versus the last four years. And I don't know the psychology of that. I think anyone who pretends they understand how the American people are going to process that is making it up.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The answer your question is, we also have an erase with two candidates who are as unpopular as these candidates are. Donald Trump comes in with his own substantial baggage and therefore this race continues to be close.

But you know, Yogi Berra once said about the shadows in Yankee Stadium. He said it gets late, early here, and it is early in a way, but it's also late for the president. This race has been basically very stable for quite awhile.

This is his opportunity to dispel some of the concerns about his age, but also to take the attack to Trump.


And it's -- before the biggest audience that he'll probably have in his campaign.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: As far the voters are concerned, it's almost as if Joe Biden is actually running against Joe Biden. He wants to make it Joe Biden against Donald Trump, but he's really running against himself in a lot of ways.

The voters who voted for him, the latest "New York Times" poll, 72 percent say they're sold to vote for him again, that's not a good number for an incumbent.

This election, I mean, maybe no election ever in America again, is about persuasion except in the sense that Joe Biden has to persuade his own people to leave their homes and come out and vote for him because that is his biggest problem right now.


ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm just fascinated to see which Donald Trump shows up tonight. I've prepped him for a press conferences, for town halls, and he is somebody who is capable of getting through 90 minutes, sticking to the issues he's strong on border security, the economy, job growth, onshoring jobs.

And then there's a world in which he's easily triggered. If Joe Biden hits him with certain attacks, if Jake Tapper asks a question he doesn't like or frames at a certain way. He's a showman who feeds off of the vibe around him. And if he feels like he's being isolated or he's being targeted, he can unleash.

And we all remember that first debate last time I think was instrumental in him slowly declining in Joe Biden surpassing him. So we'll see who shows up.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, from my point of view, the one thing we haven't pointed out, we've also never had a president who is an insurrectionist, never had a president who refuses to accept the basic rules of democracy, never had a president who has been charged and convicted with this mini crimes or any crimes.

So he's going to be up there for himself. He's going to be up there defending himself. Joe Biden is not.

And this week, I have gotten more and more proud of Joe Biden. They're going to be grandmas out there who can afford to pay for their insulin because the Joe Biden, there are women out their worried they're not going to be able to take care of their bodies, they get pregnant, Joe Biden's fight for those folks. And so, Joe Biden has a purpose up there and then which one is going -- I think you're going to see Joe Biden that is deeply committed to the American people.

You've got to see what you love about Joe Biden tonight and watch a hate about Donald Trump.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I would say just quickly on that, just quickly on that. I would say, don't underestimate how much Joe Biden loves this kind of moment. This is not a night that Joe Biden is rolling into afraid or insecure or without a sense of what he wants to say.

COOPER: You're saying this is somebody who used to work for.

BEDINGFIELD: Yeah, as somebody who worked for Joe Biden for eight years, prepped him for debates in the primaries in 2019, prepped him to debate Donald Trump in 2020. This is something that he loves to do.

He has a very -- Kasie was referencing earlier the animosity between these two men. He is -- he's not a fan of Donald Trump to put it lightly. And I think that that kind of personal intensity is going to help motivate him tonight, and his task absolutely is to move the conversation to Donald Trump.

And I think he's going to come out tonight with an energy.


URBAN: I'm just going to say, it's my turn, Scott.


URBAN: We're now talking about bending steel here tonight, right? Joe Biden has to bend steel. The one thing, if you look at poll after poll after poll, it's immutable that the steel that he cannot bend is his age.

Joe Biden is too old to be president. That's the thing that is fighting against him here. He's got to get up there and proved to everybody that he's not too old, that he's not -- that he's up for the fight.

And Alyssa's point about Donald Trump being on message for 90 minutes, it's not a doctoral dissertation. This is -- this is going to be two- minute answers, two-minute answers, two-minute answers. So he could stay focused on message for two minutes for 15 two-minute sections, I think again.

BEDINGFIELD: OK, but I hate to break to you, Donald Trump is 78.

So, if Joe Biden is too old to be president --

URBAN: But you know what? Americans aren't concerned about it. It's doesn't -- at least that's what the polling says. The polling says they're not concerned about it.

He's vigorous, he shows up as vigorous every poll. Americans aren't concerned.

JONES: Scott?

COOPER: Scott?

URBAN: Your turn, Scott.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think we cannot understate the importance of this moment for one person, and that's Joe Biden. His campaign is teetering on the brink of going away right now. The polling is bad. The image is bad.

You said they're both unpopular. Look at the Gallup poll this week. Donald Trump's popularity is back to where it was back in April of 2020. He's getting more popular. Biden is getting less popular.

Democrats are nervous. They know he is losing. The reason we're having this debate is because the Biden campaign knows it must change the trajectory. Anything short of a game-changing moment for Biden tonight is a loss for him and a win for Donald Trump.

All Trump has to do is show up for 90 minutes and look like a plausible president of the United States, and that is a win.

COOPER: Van, you don't think that's the case.

JONES: Well, you guys love changing the metrics here.

First of all, Donald Trump is going to be in trouble. This is not set up for him. There's going to be no audience. Nobody is there to laugh at his jokes, on his whole insult comic thing is not done to work. It's going to be weird for him.

Number two, he's not going to be able to run over people at this time. He's got to be muted. Donald Trump with a socket in his mouth, he's never been there before.

And also, he's got us up their pretend he's presidential while he's getting jabbed and jabbed and poked.


So I think what you're going to see is a Donald Trump -- you guys think all he has to do with go out there and he has to show people he's not a madman.

AXELROD: Well --


BEDINGFIELD: He has just -- he has just as much to lose here as Joe Biden.

JONES: Yes, I'm sorry.

BEDINGFIELD: I'm talking about -- I agree with you. You're talking about a race that separated by a couple of points in the six battleground states that are going to be decisive. So the idea that somehow Joe Biden's campaign is teetering on --

JENNINGS: Why are we having the debate in June? Why are we having the debate --

BEDINGFIELD: I don't disagree -- I don't disagree. Excuse me, I don't disagree that the Biden campaign needs to change the dynamic, and I think its smart for them to do this debate early. They want to force the choice. I don't disagree with that.

I do disagree with the notion that somehow Biden's campaign is teetering on the edge and Donald Trump has nothing to lose tonight. That's ludicrous.

AXELROD: Let me just disagree with everybody.

JONES: You're allowed. You are left.

URBAN: That's why you're on that side.

JONES: That's why you're on that side.

AXELROD: This is indisputably a big night. It's a big night for both of them, but it's a particularly big night for the president and it's an opportunity for him to go out and dispel some of the concerns about them, but also to deliver the case against Trump and what he needs to do in each and every case is go back and create that comparative, create that contrast, and go after Trump -- yes, on the -- on the issues of insurrection and his conviction and all that.

But more -- more than that, the issues that touch the lives of the American people. So I think it's a great opportunity for them and we should remember that four years ago, people were asking this same question about Biden.

JENNINGS: But he wasn't behind. He wasn't behind.

AXELROD: No, no, no, just second. Calm down.


AXELROD: But he came out and he -- from yesterday, its easier to be the challenger in the insurgent. The problem here is that for Trump is that he is a -- he's an insurgent and a challenger with a record that is a very heavy load.

URBAN: But don't you think that the record that Trump -- he's going to come out and say, please compare my record to Joe Biden.


AXELROD: I know what he's going to say, Dave. But he's not going to say that without rebuttal. This notion that he's just going to come out and he's going to perform and recite is two-minute answers, there's going to be a live ammo coming --

URBAN: One minute.


PHILLIP: There has been I think, just a bizarre fiction about what Donald Trump has been up to over the last few months. Every Republican close to Trump keeps saying he is so disciplined. Have you actually listened to his rallies? I listened to them.


PHILLIP: OK? Watched them, listened them, and this is a problem for Trump, okay? He might be muted, in terms of the back-and-forth, but he also has to actually deliver something that is more than just his grievances and he has not actually done that.

Maybe he's been training and that's what we will see tonight. But the biggest problem for Donald Trump is that when he is left to his own devices, it reminds people of somebody who really only has one thing on his mind, which is Donald Trump, and how he's been wronged, and how he's been, you know, maligned, and all of that.

And that is not conducive to an economic.

PHILLIP: And I said, it's not a conducive to a message about crime or immigration. All those other things, we will see. But, but the Trump when he's on his own, that is usually the problem.

URBAN: I don't know if Saturday night in Philadelphia is pretty on message. It's pretty good.

KING: Donald Trump lost in 2020 because the suburbs, the American suburbs are his kryptonite. The American suburbs turned on him and the American suburbs do not want to hear him say he won the 2020 election, and they do not want to hear him say, defend January 6, and say he will part in the January 6.

So that's Joe Biden's opportunity there, if you can get Donald Trump to talk about that. And Donald Trump doesn't change his answers because you mentioned Philadelphia Saturday. Those are his answers. They start with a tribute to the January 6 and he said he won the election in 2020 and they did not, those people were trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

The problem for Biden is math is a little different. If Biden can get it back to a fight for the suburbs, then we have an election. Biden has a problem in that his younger voters -- he can't solve Gaza tonight. That's a huge open sore with younger voters.

And one more quick point, Blacks and Latinos, especially Black and Latino men, the president's math has -- he has to fill in the foundation of his own base first and then it get back into a fight with Donald Trump for the suburbs, if he can get into that fight, he has a chance.


KING: It's a lot steel.


KING: But it's Donald Trump, not a new Republican challenger.

JONES: Well, I do think he has an opportunity to remind people -- with Donald Trump when it comes to Black voters. You got a lot of insults. You don't have a lot of investments -- people don't know. I think Biden should hit very hard on the fact that his Justice 40, which is a big part of the spin doubt (ph), was targeted towards Black community. That's why you've got the lowest Black unemployment that you've ever had.

Also, you had a Black vice president, Black Supreme Court justice, one out of five people who are serving that administration are African- American, he has made investments in the Black community while Trump it has been insulting the Black community.

GRIFFIN: But I do think if I may, I think that to underscore just the historic nature of this moment since 2020, you've had 88 felony counts, 34 actual criminal convictions. You've had Roe overturned, you had January 6.


This is a fundamentally different moment in history that Donald Trump is facing. Yet, he's beating Joe Biden. I think Joe Biden tonight has to crystallize and convey the message of why Donald Trump is unfit. And if he can't, I don't know that there's --

JENNINGS: If he -- Alyssa, if he does not come out tonight and deliver a game game-changing moment, that everybody on this place is going to be -- except for Urban and me -- in a mad panic in the morning, in a mad panic.


AXELROD: But to Van's point, Van, you admire the president's record. I actually admire the president's record. But if he spends the whole night extolling his own record and it doesn't take the case to Trump, he will lose this debate and he may lose this election.

JONES: Fair enough.



PHILLIP: Biden's base is his problem right now and that problem is --

COOPER: I got to get to Erin.

PHILLIP: -- so multifaceted.

COOPER: Erin, let's go back to you.


BURNETT: I feel bad -- I feel bad breaking in, Anderson.

All right. But joining us now, New York Republican congresswoman and Trump supporter, Elise Stefanik.

And, Congresswoman, I very much appreciate your time.

I know that you and president Trump speak frequently. So what does he told you about tonight's debate?

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): Well, first of all, I think the American people are going to see a stark contrast. This is just a reminder of Joe Biden's failed presidency, whether it's the wide open border crisis, whether it's the weak national security and the chaos around the world, or whether its Bidenflation and American families are getting crushed by the rising cost of goods.

Compare that with President Trump's record and his presidency where you saw an economic boom, you saw wages increasing, you saw peace through strength around the world. You saw energy independence.

So this will be a clear contact trust on policies. And I'm proud to be in Atlanta, Georgia, as one of the top surrogates for President Trump.

BURNETT: And I know you are here in Atlanta, but when you talk about that stark contrast that you say, we're going to see. I mean, we know advisers to the former president have said he needs to focus on the things you're talking about, Congresswoman -- the economy, crime, inflation.

Instead of airing his grievances, he's been told to avoid a repeat of the first 2020 debate. We've heard that from many. We've heard that he himself has been clear. He wants to avoid that. One adviser told "Rolling Stone" today in fairly colorful language, don't be a raging, ill use the word jerk.

Congresswoman, I'm curious as to whether you think he can make this stark contrast as clearly as you hope he will over a 90-minute period.

STEFANIK: Well, absolutely he can, and President Trump is speaking directly to the American people. He does so every day, his message is resonating. That's why you're seeing historic support in swing states and why you're seeing Joe Biden at a catastrophically low approval rating across the country, and his campaign continues to be feeble and feckless in these swing states.

President Trump is winning independents, even in my home state of New York, Erin, in the latest poll, President Trump is only behind by six points. This is in a traditionally blue state like New York that Joe Biden won by over 20 points. So to show that significant swing, President Trump's message is

resonating, and that's what you're going to see tonight. And this will be yet another reminder, no matter what Biden says, people are feeling Bidenflation. They're reading in the news, or they know communities that have been impacted by the Biden border crisis. They're seeing the chaos around the world. See our most precious is ally Israel under attack.

So I think we'll hear a lot about that tonight's debate -- go ahead.

BURNETT: I know when you talk about New York, of course, six points, you're right for New York. That's close. Of course, when you look at it nationally, that is an electoral chasm.

So we'll see what happens in New York and people in the suburbs are going to be watching closely tonight.

STEFANIK: And, Erin, look, that means -- remember, New York is moving in our direction. We flipped up those five seats in New York.

Look at Michigan, look at Minnesota, look at Georgia, look at these states where he's polling better and better, stronger than any of the Republican nominee, stronger than 2016, stronger than 2020.

Joe Biden is polling the weakest of any Democratic nominee in the past decade, probably further back than that. And that's because Joe Biden's presidency has been a failure.

He is a weak president. The world knows that. The American people know that.

Compare that with the strength --

BURNETT: I want to -- OK.

STEFANIK: -- and a strong economy, the peace through strength under President Trump's presidency.

BURNETT: So let me ask you, because of the comments that you're making and obviously your point of view on the former president now.

You're former colleague, someone who considered you a friend back when you're in Congress together, Adam Kinzinger, he endorsed Biden yesterday, and he told me that he hasn't changed. It is the Republican Party that has changed, Congresswoman. In fact, he said, because it is not swearing allegiance to any kind of principles or policy anymore, it's all about swearing allegiance to one man who did his best to overthrow a legitimate election and convinced a third of the American people that the election was stolen.

So, Congresswoman, what do you say to Adam Kinzinger, your former colleague, and your former friend?

STEFANIK: Our responsibility is to stand up for the American people and try to make lives better for the American people. Joe Biden has destroyed economic opportunity. He has destroyed families budget. President Trump is working every day to share his vision on behalf of the American people.

That is my responsibility and that's what I do every day in Congress.


And those people support President Trump. They see the success of his first term, and they see the failure of Joe Biden's term and will be his only term as president.

So that's what will be the clear contrast today. And that's what you're seeing in the polls. And I know CNN is frustrated to see Joe Biden's polls continuing to slide lower and lower.

But the American people are smart. They feel the inflation crisis from Joe Biden. They are reading the news about the border crisis. They know it's a humanitarian crisis. They see the chaos around the world and they know it because of Joe Biden's failures.

BURNETT: On the issue though, of President Trump, obviously, your views have changed and that is a fact, Congresswoman, from many things you said, many areas of policy on which you have vehemently disagreed with the former president. Here are a few things that you have said in the past that stood out to me.


STEFANIK: I think he has been insulting to women.

I disagree with Mr. Trump's rhetoric towards women. I disagree with his belief that we should have a religious test for immigrants to this country.

I don't think that's who we are. That's not according to our constitutional principles.


BURNETT: So, Congresswoman, I'm just trying to give you a chance to that. We can all understand better. I mean, at one point you said in 2015, there's no place for what Trump said about Muslims in this country.

Why has your view on Trump changed?

STEFANIK: Well, I've seen the positive success and the reality, Erin, is, is I was the only elected Republican woman from the Northeast who voted for President Trump. I was smeared by Democrats for doing so. And I've been proud to be one of his top allies.

I hosted him in my district, in my second term in office, he signed the national defense bill. I'm proud to be the first member to endorse his reelection. We saw the success and the most successful president in my lifetime in terms of growing the economy, promoting American manufacturing, rebuilding the nation's military.

For me to be able to host him in my district with 10th Mountain Division Soldiers as he reinvested in our nations military, as he signed into law the largest pay raise for our troops, many of the provisions that I worked on, on the House Armed Services Committee, that's tremendous success. And now, we're seeing the failure of Joe Biden.

So I'm proud to be a top surrogate. And you know what? More and more people who maybe were hesitant ten years ago about President Trump, they are now supporting him today. We welcome them.

That's why you're seeing historic support among Hispanics and African Americans. He's going to win this election.

BURNETT: All right.

STEFANIK: We're going to see a stark contrast tonight.

BURNETT: And we will see what we will see tonight. I know we will all be watching.

And, Congressman Stefanik, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

And next, a reminder of just how chaotic the first Biden-Trump debate four years ago was that we have all been referring to and a question, will tonight's new rules be enough to prevent that from happening again?



BURNETT: Our Chris Wallace tonight has already graciously acknowledged the challenge he faced as a debate moderator. He continues to do it again and again, even went on for years ago. Of course, that was the debate.

Here is what some of it looked like it.


TRUMP: You would have been much later, Joe, much later.

WALLACE: Mr. President.

TRUMP: We're talking about two million people.

BIDEN: You're not going to be able to shut him up.

WALLACE: Mr. President, as the moderator.

WALLACE: You have spent the last week-

TRUMP: Because they want to give good healthcare.

WALLACE: If I may ask my question, sir.

WALLACE: Mr. President, I'm the moderator of this debate and I would like you to let me ask my question and then you can answer.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Listen, who is on your list, Joe? Who's on your list?

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I think we've ended this-

BIDEN: This is so un-Presidential.

TRUMP: He's going to --


BURNETT: Chris was flying free of a net. This time there are new rules aimed at preventing that kind of thing in the yelling over and people telling each other to shut up.

So our panel is back. Chris is back.

Also joining us, Biden biographer Evan Osnos into this conversation.

Chris, though, first chance to respond -- what's it like in that moment? Because as you said, you knew and you've done this so many times, you've been doing this for 45 years. And then in that moment something happened that was unexpected.

WALLACE: Well, the interesting thing is that oftentimes, a debate becomes simultaneous news conferences, particularly if you've got strict rules, quite frankly, like we've got tonight, two-minute answers one-minute rebuttal, one one-minute rebuttal.

One of the things I'm concerned about is that they won't engage with each other.

So my initial reaction was, there are engaging. I didn't realize it was going to be engaging like Pearl Harbor or something. There was going to be a full-on onslaught.


WALLACE: We ended up having some four unfortunate production assistant at Fox where I was working at the time, count up, there were 145 interruptions by Donald Trump, 90 minutes, either of the candidate, Vice President Biden, at the time, were me, the answer was, I couldn't stop. At one point, the director says in my year for the Commission on Presidential Debates, get Trump to stop interrupting and I'm thinking --

BURNETT: Well, if I could --

WALLACE: I literally thought if there was a button that I can push in a trap door and Trump would go down. That's the only way I could do it. He was hell-bent that that was how he was going to -- I think he believed I'm going to go in there. I'm going to bulldoze Biden. I'm going to intimidate him, and that's how I'm going to win the debate.

And there was never a plan B, he couldn't stop. He couldn't stop himself and he couldn't come up with another alternative, which I think what Biden is to let him talk, let them get in trouble, and then counterpunch. And that's one of the things that I know that the Trump camp is really talking about tonight, that is one of them said to me, it's not the punch that hurts. It's the counterpunch that hurts.

COLLINS: Well, and Biden in that debate, it was like he was back on Capitol Hill as judiciary chairman because he would say reclaiming my time, can I get those 30 seconds back, treating it as if he's got those two minutes to answer and he wants to make the most of those two minutes.

So it also repeatedly cut into his answering. Donald Trump would give his two-minute answer and then Joe Biden would not have the ability to respond without Donald Trump cutting in, whether was the green new deal or what have you. And so that's something else to watch for tonight.

Yes. The Trump campaign is advising him, let him speak, let him have that moment to have a moment that could potentially cement and voters mind a question about his age or his ability to do and serve four more years in office.


But the reverse is also true that Biden has points and lines that he does also want to get out that he couldn't really get out in that first lets debate the last time. So those are the two things to also keep an eye on.

HUNT: Let's also not forget that Trump wasn't just doing this all by himself, right? I mean, Biden has shown a willingness to engage and be aggressive in moments like this. He just did it in State of the Union when there were protesters on the floor of the House of Representatives and you saw him do it in the debate with Chris Wallace.

I mean, you don't -- we wouldn't have come away with that thinking that Trump it was a train wreck for Trump. If Biden hadn't also been there and demonstrated that he wasn't being run over by the guy, but instead presenting a potentially more presidential cons.

BURNETT: So, Evan, you know, when we're talking -- Kasie talking here about Biden, what worked for him in that moment. We could argue that moment where he's like, will you shut up, man, was a moment that made it for him. But he doesn't get a moment like that this time. How does he see it?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, in a lot of ways, debating with Trump is like what boxers say about fighting a south paw. He's an awkward fighter. He does things that are strange. It's very hard to know how to respond to it.

But if you go back and you study the way that Joe Biden does debates, if you go back 40 years, which of course is what I do. If you go back to 1972, he adapts his technique to the person he is debating. So in that first important big debate, he was debating a much older senator, people who he was a guy was much loved, Caleb Boggs in Delaware, and he said, I'm not going to be too aggressive because as he said, it'll feel to people like beating up on everybody's favorite uncle.

But in 2012, a completely different moment when he was vice president and he's debating Paul Ryan. Remember, Obama had had a bad first debate and the campaign said you need to go out there and be confident, have some aggression and there he was kind of smiling widely, drove some people a little crazy to see how confident he was. But that's what they needed. And in fact, for the second Obama debate, they told him to take a note from Biden and below little bit more aggressive.

So what you're going to see tonight, I think is an effort to try to say, let me get under Trump's skin because when I do that, he behaves badly.

BURNETT: And, Audie, we're also this is all happening at an earlier point than ever.

CORNISH: It is. That's really important to think about. And I think one of the things I'm so excited about tonight is we're going to get this kind of uninterrupted view of two people who are trying not to look either infirm or unstable.

And if you listen to the past --

BURNETT: I love that bar, infirm or unstable.

CORNISH: But if you look, listen to the other panel describing like one campaign is teetering, what campaign is this, people here such radically different explanations of how these campaigns are doing. But tonight, you're not going to get any of that. It's not editing something of someone falling down stairs or gaffe or whatever. It's just one long conversation between the two of them in space.

And the silence will be deafening when and where there is silence. So I'm really excited to be part of this moment that we are all collectively finally getting to share the facts without having it biased by -- you know, how it's being portrayed or cut up, or served up to you by the algorithm.

COLLINS: Well, and Evan makes an important point about the preparation and the advice and how that makes a difference because Obama was rusty when he got out there, we were just talking to Jon Favreau this week about how they were kind of cringing watching him say that he agreed with Romney on Social Security and they were screaming, no, that's not the answer that you're supposed to give, and then how different that was in the second debate, it shows that preparation really does matter.

Obviously, Obama is a great speaker. He knows his policy. Biden has been preparing so intensively, he just left Camp David for the first time in like a week and he would -- CORNISH: He has some preparation matters more than the fact that he

has debated Trump before.

COLLINS: I think they both matter, but for Biden him personally preparation means so much. The reason his State of Union addresses have been so vigorous and powerful is because he rehearses them 1 million times. If you talk to people inside the White House, he just has a comfort level after he's rehearsed it so many times --


CONRISH: They're rehearsed the ones remember, right?


CORNISH: And that's the time when he's interacting and playing off of the hecklers, so to speak.

BURNETT: So, Evan, Evan, how much time I mean, how all in as he been, when you look at these six to eight days of Kaitlan just referenced that he's been at Camp David literally doing pretty much nothing other than debate prep?

OSNOS: Yeah, this is sort of vintage Joe Biden. I mean, if you talk to people who work with him over the years, he will be preparing for even a small speech and look some of this has to do with the stutter. He would go back, he would put the breadth marks and the tick marks for where he was going to take a breath in his speech.

Tonight, of course, there's no speech to be referring to, but the same habits really hold and its worth going back if you look at the history as we've all talked about, incumbent presidents tend to do badly in first debates, the exception to that was Bill Clinton because he locked himself up in Chautauqua in Upstate New York for a week, did mock debates over and over again.


And that's where they've been -- that's really the history they're drawing from to prepare for this one.

BURNETT: All alright. All stay with us. The final hour before the debate is beginning in just a few moments and John King will be with us once again this time at the magic wall. He'll have the latest on Biden and Trump's polling going into tonight's debate.

Plus, more on the states that are so crucial to both candidates.


COOPER: And welcome to DEBATE NIGHT IN AMERICA. It is 8:00 p.m. here in Atlanta.

Tonight, CNN presidential debate now just one hour away. Two candidates sharing a stage only with each other, not a live audience. One of many factors making tonight, unlike most other presidential debates, and some which make what its about to happen here historic.

A president debating a former president for the first time ever, two candidates trying to grow their support and a chance tonight to reach tens of millions of people.

We've got late reporting from inside the Biden camp on the message they hope the president will deliver.

First, CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in the debate spin room where things are already gearing up.

So beyond the debates, Jeff, I understand there's a bit of casting call in the works --