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CNN Live Event/Special

Soon: Biden & Trump Face Off In Unprecedented CNN Debate; Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) California Discusses About His Take On The Upcoming Presidential Debate Between President Joe Biden And Former President Donald Trump; Melania Trump Not Attending Tonight's Debate. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 27, 2024 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: 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 debate tonight, Jeff, I understand there's a bit of casting call in the works in the very room you're standing in. What's going on?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: Anderson, of course, the debate is the main event, but there is a Republican casting call right here in the spin room. And this is what I mean, former President Donald Trump's campaign has invited about a half dozen Republicans to come here after the debate to make their case and defend his performance. And they are the very Republicans who are on his short list to be his potential running mate. North Dakota governor, Doug Burgum will be on hand, as will Ohio senator, J.D. Vance, Florida senator Marco Rubio as well.

Those three are largely thought to be his leading contenders. Others will be on hand as well. South Carolina senator, Tim Scott will be here. Florida Congressman Byron Donalds has been here all day. I talked to him a short time ago. He told me he would be willing to change his residency from Florida to avoid conflicting with Donald Trump's Florida residency. And, of course, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik also in Atlanta at a watch party.

The reason that these potential running mates are here is because they have been participating really for many weeks in what has largely been a tryout in the very open public. They've been flying around the country with the former president on his plane. They've been attending events, all to sort of see his comfort and a familiarity with him, perhaps more than that to see how they defend his record.

So right here in the spin room could be the final stages of the casting call for his Republican running mate. In just 20 days, that person will give a speech in Milwaukee at the Republican National Convention.

COOPER: All right.

ZELENY: Anderson? COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. Back with the panel, but I want to start with John King, who's moved over to the Magic Wall. John, with about an hour to go until the start of the debate, just level - give us a level set on the current state of the race.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An hour to the debate, Anderson, eighteen and a half weeks till Election Day. This is how the last one ended. An overwhelming, convincing Electoral College win for Joe Biden and a big win in the popular vote by seven million votes. That's how the last one ended. We are in a very different race tonight.

First, let me pull up just where we are from a national polling perspective. Forgive me for turning my back. I just want to stretch this out. These are national polls, right? I'll get the state by state in a minute. But if you look at the national polls, no clear leader we call this because it's 49-47, so that's pretty close. But Donald Trump ahead of Joe Biden, and this has been pretty static and pretty consistent. Trump in recent days has inched it up just a little bit.

So the incumbent president walks on that stage tonight a little bit behind. Close, though, in the national polls. But that's not how elections are won, presidential elections are won. If you do a state by state battleground look right now at the polling, I've been doing a lot of traveling. I can tell you anecdotally, it backs up that polling.

Donald Trump, not huge leads, but he's ahead in Pennsylvania. He's ahead a little bit in Michigan. He's ahead a little bit in Wisconsin. He's ahead here in Georgia. He's ahead a little bit in Arizona. And he's ahead a little bit in Nevada.

Now, again, some of these polls are two points. Some of them are five points. They're all very close, some even within the margin of error. So the statisticians out there are arguing a little bit what I'm saying. But Donald Trump has momentum in the battleground states where it's won. So if that held up, anything close to that held up, that's your 2020 map. It would look more like 2016, where maybe Donald Trump might still lose the popular vote. But those were states, five of those six he won against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Nevada went for Clinton in 2016, but is leaning Trump's way right now. So that is where we are as the candidates get on stage tonight. Nationally, a tight race. In the battlegrounds, though, it has advantaged Trump. And here's the biggest reason right now. It is simply very difficult, many would argue impossible, for an incumbent to win re-election when only 38 percent of the country. That's a lot of Democrats and Independents saying they disapprove of your job as president.

It's 38 percent approval rating for the President right now, Anderson, as he walks onto that debate stage in less than an hour. And he's also in the thirties, mid to high thirties in some of these battleground states. That is an untenable position for an incumbent. I know it seems early, but it's getting late to change that. And he has to change that if he wants to win. COOPER: Yes. John King, thanks very much. Back to the team here in New York. David Axelrod, I mean, you think about the last election, Joe Biden had a convincing win, but in a number of states, I mean, those battleground states, I mean, Wisconsin was like 20,000 votes.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Forty-five thousand votes across three states, Wisconsin, Arizona ...

COOPER: That would - that's sort of the difference between having Trump as the President now or Joe Biden.

AXELROD: Exactly, yes. I mean, the 7 million that Biden won by nationally is - was irrelevant. It's how you, you know, how you get to that 270. Right now, he has a hard task because the places where he has to win are Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan. He's behind in all of them.

The other states are more difficult because they have larger numbers of minority voters who aren't giving him the same numbers that they gave him before. So he, in some ways he has to pull an inside straight in order to get to 270. And that's, you know, that is the thing to keep an eye on.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that's only on the existing map as we knew it in the last election.


Virginia is on the board. Minnesota is on the board. The Republicans think New Mexico is on the board. There is a possibility here that this map of states gets larger and Joe Biden is defending even more territory than we already think. Just look at the regions, the Sun Belt from Nevada all the way over across the southern United States to the eastern seaboard. It looks like it is getting away.

And to your point, he's got one road. And right now, in those northern tier states, Donald Trump has something going on and Pennsylvania, David, is the pivotal one. And if he doesn't win Pennsylvania, he cannot win the presidency.

DAVID URBAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'll just say real quickly, in '16 and '20, the Trump campaign was behind the entire race, okay? We were never ahead in the polls. Not one poll. And so for us to be ahead, for Trump campaign to be ahead at this point ...


URBAN: ... is really, really - should be really scary (INAUDIBLE) ...


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, partly you get the benefit that we've had the stupidest summer of politics ever. We had court TV all summer long, basically making you guys a martyr and we didn't talk about ...

URBAN: Oh, no, you guys made us martyr.

JONES: ... no. Hey, listen, I Donald Trump's behavior ...


JONES: Exactly, maybe avoiding all those crimes might have been helpful.

URBAN: I don't know.

JONES: My point is we had court TV all summer. We didn't talk about anything that actually matters and gave you guys a chance to rally. This might be your high watermark. Wait till we get a chance to talk about real stuff. Like, for instance, this idea about democracy is a big deal. It's not some abstract thing.

You got a 900-page playbook called Project 2025, I hope they ask about, they talk about how he's going to replace half of the civil service with loyalists. He's going to impound money, take money from Congress where it wants to, these guys are - he has a nutty program. He's not been asked one question about who had the dumbest summer in politics. This is a reset button (INAUDIBLE) ...

URBAN: But you're the person that says, correct me, Van, when your check engine light comes on, you don't have a thousand bucks. You don't care about any of that stuff.

JONES: Hey, listen, democracy is important. The economy is important, lots of stuff is important. You guys got a big boost because you had to rally around your guy because you thought he was under trouble. There's no more trials. Now we're going to put Donald Trump on trial for his record.

BEDINGFIELD: But - and of ...

AXELROD: I agree with you that he got - it was incredible, but Donald Trump has gotten a boost out of the indictments. He got, you know, he got help among his base through his conviction. I mean, if I were him, I'd go knock over a gas station. That might (INAUDIBLE) ...

BEDINGFIELD: Well, but the issue he has here, right, is with suburban voters with moderate voters. And the message that he's delivering has consistently been, we'll see what he does tonight, but the message he's delivered has consistently been about himself, about retribution. He's really struggled on this question of abortion. He really has not been able to articulate an argument that lands with suburban voters, with women voters.

So, you know, starting tonight, which I would argue is sort of the starting gun here, as we know, more people are going to tune in tonight.

URBAN: True. True.

BEDINGFIELD: They have tuned into any other moment ... URBAN: Go, go, go, Kate. Preach it.

BEDINGFIELD: ... they have tuned into any other moment in this campaign. And this is an opportunity for Joe Biden to reach those voters who are going to ultimately decide this election.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and that is the theory of the case for the Biden folks is that people are not paying attention yet. But what he needs to be able to do tonight is answer the question on some of these issues that Donald Trump has dominated on border and the economy are the number one and two issues for Americans across the board.

Donald Trump has a message, but Joe Biden needs to be able to say, I made the most conservative compromise on border security in decades, and Donald Trump held it up because he wanted it to be a campaign issue. Can he articulate that? Can he make that something (INAUDIBLE) ...

AXELROD: Well, that - and that fits into the larger theme, which is I'm fighting for you. Donald Trump is always fighting for Donald.

JENNINGS: I think fighting on immigration ...


AXELROD: Yes, I think it's the wrong (INAUDIBLE) ...

JENNINGS: ... if he runs, if, you know, he says, look, I set this barn on fire for three and a half years and ran in here with a water gun.

URBAN: Put it out.

JENNINGS: It's not the correct ground.


AXELROD: He's going to get the question, Scott. The question is how do he handle it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: I agree with Scott to a degree that I'm not sure immigration is the best issue for him broadly with the electorate and even with his base.


PHILLIP: His base is not exactly thrilled with him on that issue. It's tricky with Hispanic voters. But honestly, when it comes to Joe Biden, the moments that I think the Democrats are the happiest with him are, for example, the state of the union when he has a moment and he's going to need a moment tonight. He is going to need a moment that is not about policy necessarily, but about how he handles that stage. And that sounds superficial ...

(CROSSTALK) PHILLIP: It's crucial for solidifying the base, which is before he even gets to the point of peeling away suburban voters from Donald Trump. He has got to get his people in line.

JENNINGS: You know what's great, it's almost July.

BEDINGFIELD: Can I just say quickly on (INAUDIBLE) ...

JENNINGS: It's almost July and you're out here talking about the President, incumbent president needing to solidify his base, that is crazy to me ...

AXELROD: One point, though ...


JENNINGS: ... but you're exactly right.

AXELROD: One point on this ...

PHILLIP: But that is exactly where we are, yes.

AXELROD: ... (INAUDIBLE) though, is you mentioned he has problems with his base on immigration. What was interesting about that Siena poll yesterday was actually Hispanics thought Trump was more - was preferable on immigration.

JENNINGS: On the border.


PHILLIP: Yes. Yes.


AXELROD: So, but this idea that he's going to talk to voters who haven't plugged in yet, some of that may be true. A lot of these disengaged voters aren't going to watch this debate on TV. They're going to watch it through social media. And this thing is going to get sliced and diced ...


AXELROD: ... all night long. So these moments become very, very big.

BEDINGFIELD: And also remember, can I just say quickly ...

PHILLIP: That's right, not just immigration ...

BEDINGFIELD: ... he doesn't ...

PHILLIP: ... on almost every issue, Donald Trump is leading Joe Biden on those issues. So that's not just an immigration issue.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes. BEDINGFIELD: But I also would say, you know, he doesn't have to win the debate on immigration. He doesn't have to win the race on immigration. He has to mitigate some of the damage of immigration.

AXELROD: Yes. He could absolutely ...

BEDINGFIELD: He has to deliver a strong message tonight. He has to have a strong rebuttal.


BEDINGFIELD: But he is not going to win the race on the back of the argument about immigration, so there are many other ...

COOPER: I also just want to point that ...

BEDINGFIELD: ... many other issues that are just as important to the swing voters who are going to decide (INAUDIBLE) ...

COOPER: I just want to point out for our viewers, nobody on this stage has any idea about what the questions are going on to be, including myself.

JENNINGS: Oh, you guys didn't get the (INAUDIBLE), anyway, I guess I have won on you now, Anderson.

GRIFFIN: I just wanted to briefly say, so I rewatched both of the 2020 debates and Joe Biden ran as a centrist. He performed as a centrist Democrat. If he is actually trying to appeal to his base tonight, he's losing the suburbs, he's losing the people he needs to win over in that (INAUDIBLE) ...

PHILLIP: And just to be clear, I'm not saying ...


PHILLIP: ... he needs to pander to his base. All I'm saying is that the base has a lack of enthusiasm problem and they want to see a Joe Biden that they can be excited and happy about voting for. And some of that is on the (INAUDIBLE) ...

COOPER: But I got to (INAUDIBLE) ...

URBAN: (INAUDIBLE) centrist Joe Biden make that - make it happen?

COOPER: Also, the list of things ...


COOPER: ... it's interesting listening to you all, because the list of things that you all are saying Joe Biden needs to do is a very long, like the list of things that the former president needs to do is very small.

JENNINGS: (INAUDIBLE) it's almost like he has to change the whole game. AXELROD: No, but I ...

PHILLIP: He is the incumbent president. And yes, the list of things Joe Biden has to do tonight is long. It's longer because when you are the incumbent, you have more - you're on a more defensive posture than you are. If you're the President who was the President four years ago and people basically forgotten (INAUDIBLE) ...

COOPER: Which was the advantage that Biden had four years ago.


URBAN: (INAUDIBLE) John King, our absent colleague, has the correct analogy. Bending steel ...


URBAN: That's an 80-year-old Joe Biden is going to do.

JONES: (INAUDIBLE) this is, part of what's going on, this is not - it's not a left wing period. It's not a right wing period, it's a turbulent volatile period. And people out there are hurting and uncertain because of the things that we are all concerned about. I think you are right. If we if he tries to hit a laundry list of all these different things, that's not going to be a good debate for Biden.

What Biden's got to do is remind people why we liked him in the first place, that he actually gives a damn, that he's a serious man.


JONES: That he takes these issues seriously, that he's actually trying to help people, not just himself. And if he can pull that off and get a moment, like you said, Abby, then I think we can use this as a reset moment. Right now, you are correct, Scott. This thing is in the toilet and starting to swirl. But that is tonight. That is before the debate. That is before the debate.

URBAN: Joe Biden (INAUDIBLE) everybody to vote for him, because he was a benign Democrat ...

JONES: Still is.

URBAN: ... that just - he convinced somebody, please, I'm going to unite ...

AXELROD: No, no, you watch the debate from two - from four years ago ...

URBAN: No, but at the primary (INAUDIBLE) ...

AXELROD: ... he turned these questions. That's what he has to do tonight. He has to take these questions. It's not that he comes out with a laundry list. The moderators are going to have a list. He has some sense, even though no one knows what the questions are, what they're going to hit on. They're certainly going to hit on immigration. They're certainly going to hit on abortion. They're going to hit on the economy.

COOPER: He's a good (INAUDIBLE) ...

AXELROD: And the question is, how do you take those questions and put Trump on the defense?

JENNINGS: Listen, the moment you all are all talking about that he needs tonight that I also agree that he needs, by the way, this may be the last chance he gets to have it. I'm not convinced they're going to debate again.


JENNINGS: They may never meet each other or see each other ever again. It's late June. I know the election is still far away, but we made - the history of tonight and why you have to watch this tonight is this may be the last ...

AXELROD: The entire 90 minutes?

JENNINGS: ... best chance for Joe Biden to do something dramatic enough to get out of the toilet that you just mentioned.


JENNINGS: Thirty eight percent approval, losing in the swing states. He's got one chance, one chance.

BEDINGFIELD: And it's also maybe the moment that Donald Trump says something that is so off putting and unpalatable to swing voters that he takes ...


BEDINGFIELD: ... his campaign for the rest of the (INAUDIBLE) ...

PHILLIP: I think that's a very real possibility.

JONES: And I'm betting on Joe ...


BEDINGFIELD: Yeah, the stakes are high for both of them.

JONES: I'm betting on Joe.

PHILLIP: That's a very real possibility for Donald Trump. I mean, I - all of this being said, Trump is the wildcard here. He is the one who tends to have a hard time controlling himself. And the number one task for Joe Biden is going to be to, in small ways, not spend all his time to do that, but provoke Trump into being himself on that stage ...


PHILLIP: ... and not being the guy who rehearsed for weeks and weeks.

JONES: Abby, if the real Joe Biden comes through, I think it's going to be great. And if the real Donald Trump comes through, I think it's going to be great for Joe Biden.

BEDINGFIELD: And I think this point is so important that what Trump needs to do is essentially not be himself for 90 minutes and play somebody that he is not for 90 minutes. Do we think he's capable of that? I haven't seen (INAUDIBLE) ...

URBAN: Well, only three minutes at a time. I think.


PHILLIP: Got to kind of break it down into three to five minutes time.


COOPER: With just about 45 (INAUDIBLE) time, the main event, we have new reporting on what the Biden camp hopes to accomplish tonight.

Also, California governor, Gavin Newsom, a Biden surrogate, joins us as our CNN debate night rolls on. We'll be right back.



COOPER: With 40 minutes to go until the first debate between a president and former president, there is new reporting from inside the Biden team. CNN's MJ Lee has that, joins us now.

So I understand President Biden's team believes tonight is a opportunity for his to try to dispel concerns over his age.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. The Biden campaign knows that they have a really stubborn problem to fix, and that is that too many Americans are tuned out of the election. Too many voters, including persuadable voters who could really be key in deciding this election are simply not paying attention to the news.

And they know that that means that a lot of people, the impression that they have of Biden right now, are coming from and being shaped by these five-, 10-, 15-second clips that you see on YouTube or social media, TikTok, and that a lot of the times, these clips can be unflattering, particularly as we've seen the former President Donald Trump, and his allies try to paint the President as feeble and senile.


And they believe that tonight is going to be one of their best opportunities yet to try to shatter some of those impressions. They want to reach voters who wouldn't typically tune in to a full speech or an event featuring the President, and they believe that many Americans are going to want to tune in to most, if not all, of the 90 minutes of the debate tonight. And the hope for the Biden campaign is that at the end of the night, many voters will have seen what aides insist is a vigorous 81-year-old man who is fully capable of carrying out the intense duties that come with the presidency.

And, Anderson, we have been reporting all week on what has been going on at Camp David, on the debate preparations. They have been refining their message, refining their vision, going through the mock debates and really preparing for every version of Donald Trump that could come to the debate stage tonight. But those preparations are all over, and it is now entirely on President Biden and President Biden alone to try to execute on everything that he and his team have been working on over the past week.

COOPER: Yes. MJ Lee, thank you.

Erin, back to you.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right, Anderson. And with me now is the California governor and Biden supporter, Gavin Newsom.

And, Gov. Newsom, I appreciate your time.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Great to be with you.

BURNETT: So you came here to Atlanta to support the President. I want to start just with sort of the protocol here, because there's been this emerging reporting about something that may not seem important but is and it's the handshake. It's when they both walk out and do you shake or do you not shake? And apparently, he's considering not shaking Trump's hand.


BURNETT: Trump's also considering it or is it a mistake if they don't?

NEWSOM: I like people shaking hands. I like civility. We're all, you know, at the end of the day, we all want to be loved. We all need to be loved. We want to be protected, connected, respected. There's humanity here. There's also respect to President of the United States, I think Trump should shake Biden's hand.

BURNETT: And Biden should ...

NEWSOM: I'd like to - but look, if we're getting into this nitty- gritty, we've run out of punditry pre-debate.

BURNETT: Well, I mean, the - but we know the optics matter and part of the reason they matter ...

NEWSOM: Optics.

BURNETT: ... Governor, is because so many people are watching just for ...


BURNETT: ... what MJ Lee's saying. They want to see that the President of the United States is a sound mind, that he isn't feeble.


BURNETT: That he - that, you know ...

NEWSOM: I also want to see someone ...

BURNETT: ... people are watching for that.

NEWSOM: Yes. And look, you want someone who's also confident, walks in. President Biden is confident.


NEWSOM: He's got a record and he's got a vision for the future, so walking in and confidently shaking a hand. I think our kids are watching as well. I'd like to - I prefer a world like that. That's personal. That's not me talking about the kids.

BURNETT: Okay, but you have spent time with him. You and I were just talking. I was with him in Wisconsin ...


BURNETT: ... weeks ago, but you were with him last week in L.A. ...


BURNETT: ... at that rally ...


BURNETT: ... where that video went viral, where President Obama kind of took his arm and took him off the stage. So you were there.

NEWSOM: Yes, it's the weaponization of these clips. It was ridiculous.

BURNETT: That's not what happened?

NEWSOM: I was with him for hours and hours on the photo line with President Obama. He had just flown back from the G7. He had a stopover, barely slept. No one, no one, no one could have kept that schedule. He did a wonderful job in private with all the donors, with surrogates, did an amazing job on stage. As I said, I was four feet away. That was ridiculous. And it goes to the weaponization of the moment and the situational nature of politics at this moment.

But I get it. Those things matter. We've got to confront those. We've got to be aggressive in that response. Tonight's that opportunity.

BURNETT: All right. So immigration most certainly will be a topic tonight.

NEWSOM: Unquestionably.

BURNETT: All right. We've just learned that border crossings are down since (INAUDIBLE) ...

NEWSOM: Forty percent.

BURNETT: Down 40 percent. There's still about 2,000 a day.


BURNETT: Earlier this month, there were eight Tajik nationals, as you know, who were arrested.


BURNETT: They were arrested as they had gotten as far as L.A. ...


BURNETT: ... Philadelphia and New York, and they were arrested because the FBI had concern about an imminent attack in at least one of those cities.

NEWSOM: Right.

BURNETT: How does the President defend that?

NEWSOM: Well, I'm the governor of the larger - largest border state in America, which has the largest land port in the Western Hemisphere. It's not an issue that intellectually I'm curious about. It's one we live every single day. I put the National Guard down at the border. I've been an advocate for the bipartisan border deal that President Biden negotiated that was advanced and included, by the way, interestingly, $650 million dollars to the border wall, 4,300 asylum officers, 1,500 Border Patrol members, as well as 10,000 new detention beds and Trump killed it and his surrogates killed it. Speaker Johnson killed it.

They had the opportunity to address it. So Biden did what he needed to do with the EO and it's already proven to create results. But we need something more than just border reform. We need comprehensive immigration reform.

BURNETT: All right. So but on this front, I mean, I just have these Tajik nationals again.


BURNETT: And the FBI had actually wanted to monitor them and figure out what their networks were. They weren't able to do that because they were so worried that there was an imminent attack. That's at least what they're what they're telling us.

NEWSOM: But it goes to a broader issue of the border. It's been politicized. The day the President got into office, he put out a comprehensive border strategy. The Republicans wanted nothing to do with it.

BURNETT: There have been 7 million illegal border crossings since he took office.

NEWSOM: Exactly right. Exactly right.

BURNETT: Seven million people.

NEWSOM: That's right.

BURNETT: Is that not his failure too?

NEWSOM: I think it's the failure of Congress to work with the President of the United States. The President put out a plan and responsibility executive to put out a plan and they refuse to negotiate. They refuse to take action. And two of the biggest cowards were people like Lindsey Graham, people like Marco Rubio were part of the gang of eight in 2013.


Now the courage of their conviction to work with Democrats to address this issue. The President of the United States was willing to do that. They said no. And he still stuck with it, had a bipartisan deal that he negotiated that addressed a lot of their concerns. He moved farther than most. And Trump refused to do it because he wants it to be an issue tonight. He wants it to be an issue over the next many nights through this campaign for political benefit, period, full stop.

BURNETT: But those 7 million people ...

NEWSOM: That's right.

BURNETT: ... President Biden - I understand what you're saying about the bill and that bill would have done something about it. I hear you. But then the buck stops with him, and he could have done something much sooner, he could have done this EO ...


BURNETT: ... he didn't and people came over. We don't know exactly when those Tajik nationals came over. We don't know who else came over. I mean, do you have a fear about some of those people among those 7 million?

NEWSOM: As you say, I'm a border state governor. I put close to 400 National Guard down at the border to address - counter drug issues, to address the issue of fentanyl and human trafficking and smuggling at the border. I take that very seriously. We've put migrant facilities together. That should be the job of the federal government to support those efforts.


NEWSOM: Republicans in Congress refuse to support those efforts and continue to play politics.

Of course, we're all at the end of the day. Society becomes how we behave, we are behaviors. Democrats, Republicans, members of Congress, past and current. The last comprehensive immigration reform was someone familiar to Californians and that was Ronald Reagan in 1986. I would like the Republican Party be more like Reagan, a little less like Trump.

BURNETT: So obviously you work with Biden. You're supporting him. You're here as a surrogate tonight. You also worked with Trump and you got along with him.


BURNETT: And you have both talked about it. I'll play for everyone.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a good relationship. We're obviously from different sides of the spectrum, but we have a very good relationship.

I used to get along great with him. You know, when I was president. I had along - you know, got along really good with Gavin.

TUCKER CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEW HOST: Wait, you got along with Gavin Newsom?

TRUMP: I did. I really did. He was always very nice to me. Said the greatest things.

NEWSOM: Every single direct request that he was capable of meeting, he has met. I can only speak for myself, but I have to be complimentary. Otherwise I would be simply lying to you.

It was incredible. He would play no politics during COVID with California, played none whatsoever.


NEWSOM: It was anomalous.

BURNETT: So could you work with him again?

NEWSOM: Oh, we'll see. He's calling me Newscum. He's really elevated. I think my seventh grade friend called me Newscum. That's the elevation of the maturity of Donald Trump as he's gotten older. But look, I'll work with anyone that wants to work to advance the cause of this country, my state, and the world we're trying to build. That goes back to the civility of shaking someone's hand. I'm just not that person. Open hand, not closed fist.

We vehemently disagree with one another. I live in the most un-Trump state in America. We were involved in 122 lawsuits against the Trump administration. But when it came to COVID, when it came to wildfires and floods ...

BURNETT: He delivered for you.

NEWSOM: ... and - well, he delivered because we had to go a long way to kiss the proverbial ring. That's the difference between this guy. And that's what you're seeing. It's a bit of a kleptocracy of sorts. That's what he's running right now. Look at the folks that are doing these fundraisers for him, it's all about what they can carve out to get in return for themselves. Trump, yes, is I know it's a talking point for us, all about himself. Everybody knows that, including his supporters. But he's carving out those with means, including making deals for a billion dollars on oil and gas and I'll take care of your regulations in public.

This is corruption of the highest order. And we will always call that out. At the same time, I'll work with anyone that will work with us.

BURNETT: All right. Gov. Newsom, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

NEWSOM: Good to be with you.

BURNETT: And next, we are just now learning more about the whereabouts of the woman who is not in this picture, the former first lady, Melania Trump. Where is she?



COOPER: First Lady Jill Biden is here in Atlanta for tonight's debate. Nothing unusual about that. Spouses traditionally attend big debates. Tonight, that tradition is being broken by the former first lady. CNN's Kristen Holmes is back with new reporting on that. What have you heard, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. When Donald Trump takes the stage today, notably missing nearby to give him support will be former First Lady Melania Trump. Now, there have been a lot of speculation about whether or not she would attend this debate, particularly given just how critical this moment is for the campaign.

The campaign itself was really cagey about answering questions about whether or not she would be here. But as we saw when Donald Trump's plane landed here from Florida, he got out with of the plane with a slew of different advisers, but no Melania Trump.

Now, there's some reasons why this isn't that surprising. Just remember, since he launched his presidential campaign two years ago, she's attended only one actual campaign public event, and that was the launching of his third presidential bid at her Mar-a-Lago.

And while his advisers and aides insist that she is supportive of him, of his political ambitions, that she is just more focused on raising bear, and this of course has raised questions as to why she's not out there on the campaign trail, particularly when you see First Lady Jill Biden, who has become an active surrogate for her husband out there.

Today, she was even talking to donors visiting a campaign headquarters. So very different vibe, if you will, from both of these two women as we head into this campaign season.

COOPER: Kristen Holmes, thanks very much.

I want to go to Michigan to the battleground state where voter reaction to what happens tonight will be critical for both campaigns. Our Laura Coates is with the group of undecided voters who are going to be watching and reacting to the debate. What are you hearing, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: It's so critical right now. I am at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, right outside of Detroit. This is a critical district, a critical county. Remember, Michigan more broadly went to Trump in 2016. It was flipped by Biden in 2020.

But this particular county went overwhelmingly for Trump later on. And so now this is what you're talking about, a group of people here who are undecided. It's pretty evenly split, those who are leading towards Biden, those leading towards Trump, but largely undecided about what they're going to do.

This is the audience that these two candidates want to be speaking to. Those who could be persuaded, those who could -- they could change their minds, it's all right here.


And they're going to have the opportunity to tell you how they're feeling by -- at the end of the debate, we're going to be asking them what they thought throughout the debate. We're going to capture on this device I'm holding in my hand.

Each of them has it in their hands as well. When they have an agreement with something that's being said, they're going to dial it to the right. If they disagree, to the left. It'll be tracked over the course of the debate and we're going to have line graphing to show you, per identification of the party they're leaning towards, how they're actually seeing these issues.

This is so critical. This is so consequential. I've had a chance to talk to a number of them and it runs the gamut what they are concerned about. Anything from immigration to the age of the candidates, for veterans, what's happening in foreign policy, the deficit, Medicaid, Medicare, retirees. It really runs the spectrum.

This is the kind of room that these two candidates want to speak to. Let's see if it resonates.

COOPER: All right, we'll come back to you after the debate, Laura. Thanks so much.

Erin, back to you.

BURNETT: All right, Anderson. And look, it's pretty fascinating when you think about it, but what's that group, you know, finding those undecided voters. There are more of them, maybe, than many people believe. CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: Well, the general term of art at this point, or the general thought is, that it's 6 percent of the voters in six states who are going to decide this election. That 94 percent of voters are -- we -- are already settled --


WALLACE: -- and 44 states are already settled, and that it's only six swing states, three in the north, three in the south, in the southwest and about 6 percent -- and they're called the deciders. I mean, they even got a name at this point.

And interestingly enough, there was a poll in the New York Times that indicated on the issue of democracy at this point, they trust Trump more than Biden. Now, I think democracy means different things to different people.


WALLACE: I think a lot of it is, how's the country running? Right track, wrong track. But it is a very small sliver of people. You know, maybe instead of all these big national debates and all these national ads, maybe we should just get those couple of million people in a room and have them decide it all for us and be done with it.

BURNETT: It is amazing though, Audie, that democracy is something that can also be flipped. That it is equally important to some Trump voters as Biden voters and they see it the opposite way.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Or, I mean, one thing that happened during COVID is because there were changes to some election laws to accommodate the pandemic. People -- there are people who thought that went too far and criticized that as -- in terms of election integrity.

I do want to say this is such a great state to be in because in Michigan you have like these amazing students, right, and university spaces. You also have like a robust labor union kind of community. You have that suburban mom community that everyone's talking about you. It's also has rural elements.

It's really like a great state and a key one in the so called Blue Wall that at one point went to Trump and then Biden got it back. And these are all constituencies that both of these candidates are aiming their messages.

WALLACE: And I just quickly, I got to say, Macomb County, 1980, that's where Ronald Reagan went in a very democratic state, and he went after the Reagan Democrats. These were blue collar, the people on the assembly lines, and they flipped from the Democrats and Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. And that was a real sign that Reagan was going to win the election by alliance law (ph).

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: They're today Trump voters in Michigan, that same group of people. I mean, if you walk -- I mean, I -- in 2016, I went to union halls with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and they seem to love both of those people. And none of them really were cottoning on to Hillary Clinton in either one of those scenarios.

And I think you're absolutely right about how it kind of gives us all of these little microcosms here. And I do wonder, you know, what is -- I think one of the things that is a big question here when you ask voters to rank their priorities, the economy is always at the top.


HUNT: But then you're also seeing all of these people who have continued to vote for Nikki Haley in the Republican primaries, even after she dropped out of the race. And I just keep coming back to wondering whether, is it the economy for those voters? Is that really why they were doing that?

And how are they balancing the displeasure that they clearly -- these people are Republicans, right? They've been -- many of them have been voting Republican their whole life. Switching to vote for a Democrat would be a huge, huge ask. But that said, they're clearly not happy with their now presumptive nominee in Donald Trump. And which one of those things is going to win out, I think, is maybe end up being the story of the election.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Well, and how Donald Trump makes an appeal to those voters, a lot of them Nikki Haley voters, a lot also women voters. That's always been the question of how he appeals to suburban women and what that looks like.

And you hear about the voters and their issues, but also, you know, a lot of this is the visuals and what that looks like. And one thing that was in the report before Laura was speaking with those voters from Kristin Holmes, and that we all noticed as soon as Donald Trump got off of his plane earlier was that he was alone and he had staff with him, but he was not accompanied by the former First Lady Melania Trump.


That's pretty striking. The fact that she is not present at this debate tonight, based on what we've known so far, and we've been texting officials about this, that she's not here. She was at all of the debates before, and yes, there is no audience here, but there is still a lot of Trump allies and surrogates who will be in the room right off of the stage, where each candidate has their respective rooms.

After Access Hollywood and that tape came out and rocked the 2016 campaign, just days later on that Sunday, Melania Trump came with Donald Trump to the debate and walked in wearing all hot pink. And it was kind of this moment where everyone, she was standing by her husband and coming in with him.

And she always chooses moments like this to send a message, whether it's the State of the Union or big moments for him. And it's -- it is kind of interesting that she is not here tonight. We will see Dr. Jill Biden, we do expect on stage at the end of the debate to greet President Biden. BURNETT: What do you think about Melania's lack of presence here?

WALLACE: I don't think it matters much. I mean, in the sense, I think there are certain things that are baked into the price of the stock on the market. I think people understand this to be an odd relationship. You know, we just had Donald Trump on trial and convicted for paying hush money to a porn star at a time when Melania had just had their baby Barron.

BURNETT: Barron.

WALLACE: So I'm not sure that connubial bliss on the debate stage is something that is going to sell very well at this point anyway. I, you know, I just don't think it matters.

BURNETT: You think audience people don't even expect it. It's not as if --

CORNISH: I want to write down the word connubial, that was like --

BURNETT: It was very well used.

CORNISH: I love it.

BURNETT: Talk about vocabulary (INAUDIBLE).

WALLACE: It's a frequent part of my vocabulary.

CORNISH: But I guess that that's the -- that's something that's really on my mind is how much has changed over and over. We keep talking about how much is the same for these candidates, but a lot has happened since they were on stage together, whether it be COVID, the Me Too movement with the incredible burst of labor energy that's happened over the last two years.

Obviously, the war in Gaza and the political energy that's churned up on the progressive side. So there's a lot of -- even though it's the same two guys, we're different. And there's a lot of dynamics that have changed.

COLLINS: Also, January 6th, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have not shared the debate stage. And that's another thing to watch for tonight, is what Donald Trump is prepared to say about that. But also President Biden himself, what he's prepared to say.

CORNISH: How he talked about it. Yes.

COLLINS: This is an issue that President Biden obviously cares about so much. He's delivered speeches on the anniversary of January 6 and come out and talk about that. It won searing message on the anniversary of it. He said that Trump had a knife at democracy's throat.

I mean, it's a speech that we've never seen in presidential history before someone going after their predecessor so directly. And this will be the first time for Joe Biden to confront Donald Trump about it on stage. And that's a moment to certainly watch to see how Donald Trump defends himself on it, but also how President Biden talks about it.

BURNETT: And also, Kasie, I'm sure they both have spent time thinking about if they are presented with a question on pardons.

HUNT: Aha --

BURNETT: On both sides.

HUNT: Yes.

BURNETT: I mean, right? One has to expect if you are Trump, you'll be asked about Hunter Biden. And if you're Biden, you're asked about Trump.

HUNT: Indeed. And it is one of those things that kind of puts on on stark display. I mean, look, I think for the president, the sitting president, this is something that -- I mean, they have been very definitive about saying we're not going to do this. Biden has been definitive, I mean, he was even definitive about a commutation.

I wonder, I mean, I think there are probably a lot of parents out there who look at that and say, if you had the power to do that, how could you not? You know, so I think that the dynamics there are very layered.

You know, I think the Trump question is also one that, you know, pulls, I think, a wider -- pulls the country into focus in that we are -- and I think that big picture, we maybe have not just said this as directly as we should, we are incredibly divided as a country, more than we probably have been in -- I mean, you have to go back to, I think, the 1960s, probably, to find a moment that is as tense as this one.

Even though this race has sort of been at this status quo, the volatility that is underneath the surface is just so intense. And this question of pardons, and what may or may not happen to Donald Trump is a question about --


HUNT: -- the country and our divisions and our potential unity and that is a very, very complicated thing to weigh.

BURNETT: And all that on display tonight.

And just a quick note, we do have some video just in of the presidential motorcade arriving here at CNN headquarters with less than 15 minutes to go until the debate begins. We will all be right back with some final thoughts.


[20:48:46] COOPER: We are just over 10 minutes away from the start of the first presidential debate of 2024, the earliest presidential debate ever. And though the candidates may be the same as four years ago, their roles, incumbent and challenger, are reversed.

Back with the team here. Van, even though, I mean, both these men have debated before, you say we're going to learn something new about them tonight.

JONES: Well, we'll finally understand something. We've kind of been batting back and forth. You know, with Biden, the question is, we're going to learn how much have his debating skills declined. Maybe they haven't declined at all.

We're assuming that they have. So that's going to be important. We're going to learn about that. And with Trump, we're going to learn how much has his maturity as a debater improved. We've seen him do crazy stuff as a debater. We've seen him do somewhat smarter.

But we're not the only people that care about this. I just want to point that out. The whole world is watching tonight. It's not just about America. You got soldiers on the front line in Ukraine who are listening on radios right now trying to figure out, are they going to have a country after this election?

You have people on an island nations with the waters rising wondering if climate policy is going to be thrown in the garbage can in this country. This is a very important moment coming up here. And I think that it's not just these individual points, it's are these, who are these men? Who have they become over the past four years? That's going to be revealed tonight.


PHILLIP: And what are they going to do?


PHILLIP: -- in the White House if they are there for another four years. I mean I think particularly for Trump, there are a lot of unanswered questions about how he might govern a second time around.

What is he going to do on abortion? What is he going to do when it comes to the federal government? What is he going to do on health care on the border? The broad strokes, I think he's operated in the broad strokes at his rallies and in the very friendly interviews that he has done, but this is the moment when we need to get down to brass tacks about what it actually is.

And he cannot just be on all sides of the abortion issue. For example --

COOPER: For example.

PHILLIP: -- the American people are going to need answers. URBAN: Yes, but I don't think this -- I don't think Americans are looking for a policy debate. You're not going to get it with these very brief answers. This is performative. How do they look? Can they articulate an answer quickly and succinctly and wrap it up in the two minutes they have?

That's what people are going to watch. They look like they're on their game. Do they have energy?

PHILLIP: But if --

AXELROD: That is true to a point.

PHILLIP: But if it takes promises on that stage, it's going to matter to people.

AXELROD: That is true to a point, Dave. And certainly for the President, it's very important. But it's not just how he says what he says. It's what he says, and can he -- these issues that you're talking about, can he land punches on Trump and not allow Trump to turn this into a referendum on Biden. And that to me is very key about, you know, how this thing goes.

GRIFFIN: Well, and I'm struck by the historic moment that we're in and the whole world is watching. This is simulcast internationally where you have a man who played a role in inciting an insurrection, denied the election result has now been criminally convicted as the first fell in running for president.

18 weeks from now, we may wake up to being president-elect Donald Trump. That's where we're at. And Joe Biden has made his message. It is about preserving what America is an America democracy. Yet he is underperforming. Tonight is the night he has to show up. The stakes are so high. And if he doesn't, there needs to be a real conversation about what's going to --

URBAN: What does it say about the Biden administration? You'll go through that laundry list of horribles, and yet --


URBAN: -- Donald Trump's ahead.

FARAH GRIFFIN: That's my point.

JENNINGS: I think it's actually a little bit beyond what you said. Yes, those things were true about Donald Trump that you laid out, but also Joe Biden ran on unity, national unity, and he said he ran because of Charlottesville.

And when I think about what you said about our divisions and what kind of a country are we going to have, I think a lot of people are asking themselves tonight, what kind of a country do we have today? You look at the divisions in this country right now. We're having Charlottesville on steroids every day in this country. We've got men and women who are going different directions. We've got college and non-college going different directions. Working class and white collar going different directions. Rural and urban going different directions. The next president may be decided tonight on the CNN stage, and they have a mission to unify this country.

JONES: Well --

JENNINGS: Biden ran on it, and he has not done it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're saying that Donald Trump is going to be the --

AXELROD: It's hard to imagine that if people's concern is divisions in this country, that they're going to say we need Donald Trump back. That's a really --

JENNINGS: Do you think Joe Biden has achieved his mission on this? He said it's what he rein (ph).

AXELROD: Yes, I think that -- for example, he has worked with Republicans in Congress to do some really important thing.

JONES: Infrastructure.

AXELROD: He has tried to represent the whole country. I just -- look, Trump has some strengths going into this debate. I think it'll be really interesting if he argues that I'm the guy who can unify this country.


AXELROD: He's never shown any interest --

URBAN: Only 38 percent of America doesn't believe it, right? I mean, only 38 percent of America think he's doing his job, right? According to the New York Times/Siena poll.

BEDINGFIELD: But also the notion that we would blame Joe Biden for putting forward a message about unity, working across the aisle to get significant bipartisan legislation done, including on infrastructure, including on guns and suggest that the solution here is to abandon the notion of unity.

And to say, no, in fact, we're going to go back to Donald Trump who is all about division, who stokes the worst of, you know, of White supremacy in this country absolutely stood on the debate stage four years ago. Let's see if we see another moment. But that tonight --

JENNINGS: The worst of white supremacy?

BEDINGFIELD: -- stood on the debate stage.

JENNINGS: Have you looked at the newspaper the last week?

BEDINGFIELD: Would not condemn white supremacists. The notion that going back to that is going to further unify the country. That defies reason.

JONES: The lack of division. I want more unity.


JONES: And I think you know that. On the immigration in particular, which is a sore point now, there was a moment to bring people together and it was Trump that stood in the door. But Biden reached out. We gave away everything we wanted on immigration to try to get a deal. And it was Trump that said, I'd rather leave the border on fire than solve the problem.

So I just don't -- I don't think that he's going to be the unifier in chief to point it.

FARAH GRIFFIN: But this underscores why six in 10 Americans didn't want this rematch that we're watching right now. That you may like some of what Joe Biden's accomplished, but you think he lacks the leadership credentials.

You don't have the confidence going forward. And a Donald Trump, I hear every day from people who can't stand his character. They don't think he's a good guy, but they felt like life was better under him.


Both need to show up today and they need to make themselves appear as though they can be the president and they can make things marginally better than people feel they are today.

KING: These are very familiar men -- to the men and women watching around the country, but first impressions matter. Back to Van's point who frames this early on. They're going to argue over 90 minutes about the border, about the cost of living, about the world and Ukraine, about character, about personal, about democracy, about generous. They're going to have all those fights.

But coming out of the box, I think who wins the last 80 minutes will have a lot to say about who wins the first 10 minutes by framing what is this about? Why are we here?

FARAH GRIFFIN (?): This debate and who doesn't.

AXELROD: This is so important because people know what Donald Trump's message is. His message is the world's out of control. Biden's not in command. I'm strong. He's weak. Elect me. That's essentially his message. It hasn't been as clear what the Biden message is. It's coming into focus now.

I'm advocating -- I advocate people -- I'm fighting for people. I'm fighting for your future. He's consumed by his past and fighting for himself for vengeance and retribution. How's that going to help you? But he needs to really, really bring it tonight so that when people leave after those 90 minutes, they say, I get it. I get what the argument is, and I'm moved by that argument. JENNINGS: The comparative that people are making, though, and the nostalgia, as some have called it, for Trump, I think comes down to a simple thing for a lot of voters who aren't political junkies, and that is, I kind of like where the country was before COVID.

If we hadn't had COVID, that would have been fine. It's over now. And I don't like what Biden is doing. I just like to go back to where I was right before COVID happened. I had money in my pocket. I could buy a house. I could buy a car and go into the grocery store did not give me anxiety. And you know who would the president was? It was Donald Trump.

And I think there are a lot of voters who were just thinking, we had a momentary blip in this world, that's over, and we got to get back to where we were when we didn't have daily anxiety.

JONES: Well, I -- if you're talking about -- you're talking about the United States of Amnesia. If you're talking about we didn't have daily anxiety, they're going to talk to it.


BEDINGFIELD: That was the hallmark of the Trump presidency, was chaos.

JONES: But this economic pain, this economic pain that you're talking about is the challenge. It is a challenge. And I do think when people are going into grocery stores, and they're scared to look at the numbers going up --


JONES: -- and have them take stuff out the basket and take it back in front of their children.


JONES: Those things are points of pain. The problem is Donald Trump's proposals would make all that dramatically worse. And, I mean, what you're talking about, a bunch of economists came out and said you would have inflation with a rocket on the back of it if Donald Trump got back in there.

And so that's a tougher argument to make, but the idea that you're going to be able to go back in time and have this kind of imaginary wonderful moment where the country was united and everything was great, that never happened. That's mythology That's the United States of Amnesia and --


PHILLIP: But David, you know what, I think that we can't paint too broad of a brush here. One of the reasons why I think Donald Trump has always struggled with suburban women in particular is because of that anxiety, is because they do not believe that he is a uniter.

They woke up every morning and wanted to turn the TV off in front of their children. He is -- what is he going to do about that tonight? I think is one of the huge questions that face --


PHILLIP: -- that face him. And, yes, broadly, maybe people are not dissatisfied with where the economy is, but for Trump, that trouble group, it's a problem for them. His temperament, it is a problem for them, that he himself is the source of the anxiety, putting aside the --

KING: I want to follow up on that point because it's a really critical point. Yet, yet, some of those same suburban women are unhappy with Biden's leadership. A lot of them are Republicans who voted for Biden in 2020 because of COVID, because of Trump's chaos, because of all that.

It's much harder for a Republican to vote to reelect a Democratic president. So their DNA is Republican and Abby is dead right. They don't want the chaos back, but some of them have become transactional like Trump. He'll close the border. He'll cut my taxes. I'll block all that stuff out.

I think the challenge for the president's -- for both of them really, the country's drifting. People are still dealing with COVID. You might think you're not dealing with COVID. Everybody at this table is dealing with COVID. Those of us with kids understand what it's like to deal with the COVID hangover.

Then the cost of living thing came in. The American people don't feel there's a North Star. Where are we going? There's nobody saying, it's hard, it's tough, we're going to make some mistakes along the way, but that's where we're going. That's just gone in America right now. If one of them can at least give a spark of that, maybe it changes things.

PHILLIP: And this is actually, I think, the other problem for both men. Neither of them are great visionaries about, you know, painting a picture of what is the country supposed to be. And it's hard for them because they both are not the most articulate men in the world.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: I don't know how that's going to play out tonight.

COOPER: We'll see you tonight. I want to thank everybody here on the panel.

The preliminaries are over. The main event is here. We'll be back with complete coverage and analysis later tonight.

And with that, let's turn things over to CNN's Jake Tapper and also CNN's Dana Bash for this first presidential debate of 2024 campaign.