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CNN International: Tonight: Biden & Trump Square Off In Historic CNN Debate; Supreme Court Allows Emergency Abortions In Idaho; Still Waiting On Rulings For Trump's Immunity Claim, January 6, Chevron. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired June 27, 2024 - 15:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Welcome to STATE OF THE RACE on CNN. I'm Jim Sciutto. It is game day.

In CNN headquarters in Atlanta, you were looking at live pictures of where just a few hours, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will meet for the first 2024 presidential debate.

It is historic, the earliest in modern election history, the only faceoff between two candidates who have each taken the oath of office prior, both say the stakes are high.

And look at this, it is as close race as ever. CNN's poll of polls shows Biden and Trump in a statistical dead heat. Millions of voters will tune in and there was no question that tonight could fundamentally alter the course of this race.

So which voters are we watching tonight and where could this debate matters?

CNN senior data reporter Henry Enten takes it all down for us.


SCIUTTO: Harry --


SCIUTTO: -- so more than 70 million Americans, they tune in for the first Trump Biden debate four years ago. Who are the voters you're watching most closely to see how they might react tonight?

ENTEN: Yeah, we'll take it in two ways. We will take it nationally and then well go down at the state level.

So we'll start nationally. And what you need to know about this race, when you include the third party options, there are a ton of folks at this particular time who say that they are in fact either undecided or say that they're going third party. We're talking nearly 20 percent of the electorate at this particular point. Look at this 19 percent heading into this first debate. That is far higher than the historical average when it's just 11 percent. So there are far more voters who are up for grabs at this particular

point then in the average cycle, and not just in the average cycle, Jim, I'm saying that this is the highest share going into the first debate on record. Now, part of that is because we have such an early debates, so its not surprising that there are so many folks who are undecided, but nonetheless, it is notable that there are a lot of folks who need convincing on either Joe Biden or Donald Trump at this time.

Now, we look did it nationally. What about the swing states? Because that's ultimately where this election is going to be decided, right? So what are the three swing states that were watching?

How about the Great Lakes battleground states? Why are we watching these three states in your screen? We're watching them because if Joe Biden wins all of them, he's likely to be the next president. If Donald Trump can win just one of them, he's likely to be the next president.

Look how tight these polls are at this point. Pennsylvania, which has the widest margin, is just Trump plus two. That's within any margin of error. That is what we would call no clear leader. Michigan, tied, Wisconsin, tied.

So when we look at these polls, we realize how important tonight's debate is because the racist so close that even if it just moves it just a smidgen, a smidgen, that could be enough in these important battleground states in the Great Lakes that it can change the entire dynamic of the race. And one in which I think a lot of people so far have felt that Joe Biden is probably behind Donald Trump. It could very well be after tonight's debate performance if Joe Biden does well, he could be ahead of Donald Trump.

Of course, if he doesn't do well --


ENTEN: -- and Donald Trump's does well, well, then I think there might be plenty more calls for Joe Biden to get out of the race. Of course, that's probably not kind of happen, but those calls may come nonetheless.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, that big number is undecided, that's notable. That shows that folks watching tonight, you know, they could decide after tonight, we'll see.

So tell us what to the polls, tell us about what specific particular weaknesses each candidate is facing heading into tonight?

ENTEN: Yeah, what can they do? What can they do to improve their standing? What do they need to fix in the voters minds? Well, it's different for Joe Biden than it is for Donald Trump.

For Joe Biden, it's pretty simple. It's the age factor. Voters have consistently said in the polls that they see him as to a -- look at that -- 68 percent of likely voters and recent "New York Times"/Siena College poll that came out yesterday said that Joe Biden was too old. That has been consistent throughout this campaign.

If he can come out tonight, be energetic, remind folks, hey, I can go another four years, that could go a long way in helping his candidacy.

For Donald Trump, despite the fact that he's only slightly younger than Joe Biden, age hasn't really been an issue, but temperament has been the major issue for him, a majority of voters say that he does not have the right temperament to be president, 54 percent in that poll.


It's going to be very interesting to see. Do we get the Donald Trump from four years ago is interrupting constantly, or dare I say a more presidential Donald Trump?

Of course, I'm not sure that adjective has truly ever been used to describe the former president, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Fair point. Harry Enten, thanks so much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now, two men who know the debate arena well, Lanhee Chen, a veteran of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and Chuck Rocha, who advised both the Bernie Sanders White House bids.

Gentlemen, good to have you both on. I particularly like the hat you're wearing tonight, Chuck.

Chuck -- so, Chuck, I'll begin so with you. You worked on and were here for the March 2020 Biden-Sanders debate. That was in a CNN studio with no live audience. Different kind of environment, right? And then when you have a live audience present.

How do you prepare for that kind of audience? And I wonder what advice you would give to both candidates going in?

CHUCK ROCHA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You have to trust the plan. There's a reason why you do prep and also you can see that there's a difference in the way that these two candidates do prep. There's also difference in the ways that different candidate you deal with, deal with prep. Like Bernie did not like a lot of prep. Bernie has so much -- so many things in his head and he has to memorize that he don't have to write down a lot of things.

But you have to be prepared to not have to feed off the audience. Just like Donald Trump, Bernie feed off of audiences. He loved the back- and-forth with audiences, and he would say the same things, expecting certain things back. So there's a way that you have to mentally know that you have to stick to the plan of what you're going to say before you ever walk in that room about whatever that issue said that you're asked about, and when you talk about somebody like President Biden, he's probably working on one liners that he hopes you in the press and everybody else picks up that he says to Donald Trump about each one of these things that he wants to hit own tonight. But Donald Trump is the one who will be the most affected by not

having an audience there. Joe Biden is used to giving speeches on the Senate floor where there's nobody except a bunch of other old senators, but Donald Trump is definitely used to feeding off of a crowd.

SCIUTTO: Lanhee, I wonder if you agree with that, that missing that crowd will be a bigger disadvantage for Trump who thrives in the rally environment, than for a Joe Biden?

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY POLICY DIRECTOR: Well, look, I think there's no question that former president Trump likes to feed off the energy of the crowds. He speaks to and that's certainly a strong suit for him.

I think the challenge for Joe Biden going into this is as an incumbent president, you've seen this over and over again. You mentioned was, I was deeply both and preparing Mitt Romney in 2012, when he had that first debate against Barack Obama, Barack Obama came out in that first debate in 2012, flat, even though he was well-prepared, it's very difficult for an incumbent president to be put into this situation where they're being questioned and poked and prodded in this way -- yes. I mean, they get it from the media. Yes. Of course, they get it on the campaign trail every day.

But it's a little bit different in a debate setting. And so, it can be a challenge in this first debate for an incumbent president, you know, who's used to the trappings of the office, used to having a lot of people say yes. It's very, very difficult to then put them from that situation into the debates situation.

So we'll see how Joe Biden responds and reacts. He's obviously a seasoned pro. He's done lots of debates so well have to see, but I have no doubt that for the Biden team, they are aware of this first debate letdown dynamic, and have prepared him and warned him going into tonight's debate.

SCIUTTO: It's a live picture of Air Force One arriving in Atlanta, carrying President Biden in advance of the debate tonight.

So let's talk about perceived weaknesses for both candidates heading into this debate.

Chuck, if I could begin with you, clearly the weakness four Biden is age. You saw the poll we showed just prior, 69 percent of voters think Biden is too old, smaller percentage, 39 percent say the same about Trump, despite the closest to their age those are the facts as you see them.

So, Chuck, how does Biden approach that issue tonight?

ROCHA: Through memorization, like he got to memorize and he'\s been working, that's why he's been at Camp David all week. I keep going back to that. Like you -- it's just like when you practice football, if you practice a golf swing or if you practice fishing, whatever your thing is, if you practice it, you get better at it. And that's why he's taken the whole week. He's not taking it for granted.

And I think that its a really important point that were making here about it is harder when you are the incumbent, but making sure that you've memorized this too, because the thing that is the worst is because of his age and because of the perception of his age and all of the things that go with that, you don't want to not remember something that's very easily remembered.


ROCHA: Remember the time that the former Texas governor couldn't remember the three departments that he wanted to get rid of, and that was the headline, you don't want that to be the headline the next day.

SCIUTTO: I was just thinking about right now and I mean, a lot of folks thought that that killed his campaign at the time.

Okay. Lanhee, Trump's weakness and again, we saw that the data as Harry Enten was presenting it is temperament, how does Trump approach that?


And can he in your view -- we know that Trump tends to be Trump, right, in public forums like this. Can he correct that?

CHEN: Yeah. It is a little bit of a catch-22, right? On the one hand, what makes Trump effective is the energy is the freneticness and he could try and almost give him a sedative, or behave as though he's had a sedative. That maybe not -- not the way to convey the authentic Trump, right?

Look, my counsel would be and I haven't been involved in his prep at all, but my counsel would be go to the issues. This is where in the polling, you've got strength. This is where when you ask the public, listen, who's going to do a better job of managing cost of living issues, the economy, certainly immigration.

To the degree that Trump can stick to talking about what its plans are for those things, I think he'll be on good ground and that naturally, I think will address some of the temperament issues and some of the temperament concerns that we've seen because I think what he's talking about issues, talking about plans, he's not getting into personal grievance. He's not getting into the things that, frankly, I think would raise those temperament concerns.

SCIUTTO: I will say I've heard that advice literally you for years regarding Trump and I've often I think a lot of seen him not heed that advice.

Again, live pictures from Atlanta here, Air Force One, arriving there and advance of the debate. Shortly, we'll see the president come down those stairs as were still a few hours away from the debate. There are 2, 3-minute commercial breaks tonight. Both of the candidates expected to launch ads during those times.

Here is one of Trump's targeting Biden and his age. Have a listen.


AD NARRATOR: When you think about the Joe Biden you saw on the debate. Ask yourself a question: Do you think the guy who was defeated by the stairs, got taken down by his bike, lost a fight with his jacket and regularly gets lost, makes it four more years in the White House? And you know who's waiting behind him, right?


SCIUTTO: Wow, that's -- it's a rough one, Lanhee Chen. Is that -- is that a good, strong, meaningful, effective message for the former president?

CHEN: I mean, I think -- I think it's the message that they believe is the strongest. I didn't see the visuals. I can only imagine what the visuals looked like.

And it's interesting going to this issue of the Kamala Harris potential presidency, that is an interesting angle, that while it's been talked about and conservative media, it's been talked about behind the scenes, you know, really kind of breaking it open and saying, look, this is the issue. That'll be interesting. They shouldn't see how that plays because that is certainly the elephant in the room in my mind, that hasn't gotten a lot of discussion. That ad will clearly jump start that conversation.

SCIUTTO: Hey, listen, it's a -- it's a legitimate one to ask the question, who the vice president is? As you, as folks have that concern about his age, again zeroing in there on the stairs of Air Force One as we wait for President Biden.

As we do, Chuck Rocha, we don't know what ad Biden is going to run. It is our understanding of the topic will be abortion, highlighting Trump's position on abortion, abortion, of course, his appointing of the two Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, is that the right message for Biden in an ad, but I'm certain as well during the debate for the president to be highlighting.

ROCHA: Yes, yes, and yes. The reason why that first ad you showed is ineffective -- look, I'm one of those weirdoes on TV who still running campaigns actively every day. So I get to see polls and do focus groups. And what that means is I'll promise you people will that add moves them, the old man fallen down the stairs, all that stuff, those folks have already made up their mind. I see it in focus groups after focus group.

The folks that are in the middle who are truly undecided want to hear about the issues that are going to make them different. They're willing, some of them, to hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump if he can tell them what he's going to do to make their life better, and he has an opportunity to do that.

Joe Biden is going to remind them what he has done to make their life better. And I think a lot of that has to do with the ad that he's going to run to show that there's something that because of Donald Trump, you have lost, mainly women. You've lost this right to control your own body and I promise you, that's the thing that's moving people because as see that in poll after poll, and we just had an election about it, a year-and-a-half ago so were Democrats over-performed Republicans because of this issue.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. I mean, if temperament is the criticism that voters say in the polls about Trump is that ad, does it have the kind of attitude they're looking for? I suppose well see again, live pictures from Atlanta and there is precedent Biden emerging from air force one down the steps there, as he prepares, picked up by the White House limo there, "The Beast" as its known to be taken just a few hours to the site of the CNN presidential debate, which, of course, it will be live as you can see there at 9:00 p.m. tonight.


Lanhee Chen, Chuck Rocha, it's good to have both you here today. We welcome you back afterwards. We'll get your thoughts on whether he hit all the marks you said, whether both of them hit all the marks you say Biden Trump need to hit. Thanks so much for joining.

CHEN: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And it is tonight, CNN presidential debate moderated by my colleagues Dana Bash and Jake Tapper. Joe Biden versus Trump head-to- head, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, right here on CNN.

After the break, we're going to check in --


SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

You are looking at live pictures from Atlanta on the tarmac there where Air Force One has just landed just a few moments ago, President Biden there greeted, about to hop in the limousine there, head into town, and just a few hours, he's going to walk on stage for that debate with Trump.

Trump for his part is expected to arrive in Georgia in about two hours. So how are both candidates spending these final hours before they step on stage?

CNN's Kristen Holmes and MJ Lee are here to take us behind the scenes.

MJ, if we could begin with you, how is the Biden campaign feeling after spending what -- what's been a week several days of intensive debate prep, at Camp David?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jim. Today has felt a little bit like the calm before the storm, you know, when we saw President Biden getting on and off Air Force One, that was the first hi that we were seeing him in public in about a week, as you say it said because he has been hunkered down at Camp David this entire time for debate preparations. And, you know, over the last week we really been reporting out the

details of what exactly has been going on at Camp David, you know, including every detail about who has been playing, who at their mock debates, issues that they have really been preparing for, how the Biden team has been watching the Trump team and everything that they have been saying and public.

And we have really tried to capture what the Biden team believes are the stakes heading into tonight.


And it's clear that their team's ethos has really been leave nothing to chance. You know, they have prepared for every issue that could potentially come up on the debate stage tonight, both here at home and issues that are more foreign policy and issues related to events going on abroad, but also the Biden team has clearly been trying to anticipate every version of Donald Trump that could also has also show up tonight.

That includes a Donald Trump that is more unhinged, like he was at that first debate back in 2020 between the two presidents, but also just the possibility that the former president could be a lot more disciplined, a lot more on message, and a version of the Donald Trump that could be throwing personal attacks and insults the president's way, but also those that are directed at members of the president's family as well.

And I think what it all comes down to is that the Biden team believes the tonight is their best opportunity, their best chance to speak to as many voters this is possible and make the case that what the Biden team believes is that there is a binary choice heading into November, and that they believe that he is the only acceptable choice of those two choices.

SCIUTTO: Kristen, we did see Trump posting on Truth Social that Biden is a threat to democracy. I just wonder, how does his team hope to make that argument tonight given Trump's well-documented attempts to overturn the last election?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, he starts to make that argument all the time. That's what he is saying when he says that Biden-controlled justice system is after him. These are obviously the claims of his victimhood that we have heard not really just since he faced all these legal troubles, but really for the last decade. That's how Donald Trump operates, that he's the victim of multiple scenarios and that's how he ended up in this position.

So when it comes to how he's going to say that Biden is the actual threat to democracy. That is what he's going to focus on as his legal issues and saying it stemmed from President Joe Biden, which obviously there's absolutely really no evidence of. And, of course, the case in New York was brought by the state of New York, not by Joe Biden's Justice Department or the Justice Department.

When we talk about what they are going to talk about, that's not a reaction just to him trying to make this case. It's a reaction to the fact that part of his preparation is watching very closely what is coming out of Camp David. And some of the reporting that we have seen is that Joe Biden plans to focus on democracy, plans to focus on January 6, and Donald Trump's role in January, and also his rhetoric since January 6. So, that is a very clear reaction to that.

One thing Donald Trump spent the day doing is watching the lead up to the debate. The coverage on various networks, seeing what people are saying is coming out of Camp David, Donald Trump is a reactive person. And one of the things I do want to know your, we have said over and over again, the Donald Trump's team does use the word preparation with them, that they don't have these traditional mock debates, that does not mean that Donald Trump has not had extensive preparation.

They know how critical this moment is, and I am told some sources close to Donald Trump that he is aware of how critical this is. Now, whether or not he can do, which is to stay on message, to not only dive in to these personal attacks, to focus on things like the economy and inflation, integration as well as crime, things that he polls higher than Joe Biden on to look at recent numbers, we don't know what version of Donald Trump is actually going to show up on the stage.

And these various conversations with senior advisers, they will acknowledge that as well. The hope is though, particularly given the fact that Donald Trump is going to have the last word determined by a coin flip, is that no matter what happens today, he could end on a solid message of focusing on those core issues.

They don't really want, and this is Donald Trump as well, to talk about democracy, they don't want to talk about things like abortion, but they know that these are inevitable questions, and that is one of the things they had been preparing for, not just how to answer it, but also had a pivot back to those four issues like inflation question that they believe helped Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: Kristen Holmes, MJ Lee, thanks for the views inside the campaign.

Back here in Washington, 24 hours after a draft of the ruling was inadvertently posted to its website, the U.S. Supreme Court formally dismissed an appeal over Idaho's strict abortion ban. Up next, what that means for the law now and those seeking abortions in the state.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Abortion certainly a crucial issue in this election will certainly be a topic of discussion in tonight's debate. Earlier today, the Supreme Court officially ruled on Idaho's restrictive abortion law after a draft of that highly anticipated case was inadvertently posted online by the court itself yesterday. The 6-3 decision allows emergency abortions in Idaho for now to be clear, as the case continues in lower courts. The court also so rejected a controversial multibillion-dollar settlement agreement involving Purdue Pharma.

With six more cases yet to be released, the court will not finish before the end of June, as is usual. Opinions now, the court announced, could also be released on Monday.

CNN's justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now.

So, Jessica, anti-abortion groups are calling this ruling a procedural hiccup. Those in favor of abortion rights are not calling this a win. I mean, effective -- is it accurate to call this kicking the can down the road to some degree?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is -- it absolutely is, Jim, because what this really does is this puts a pause on that Idaho law that's been in place only for the past few months. But it doesn't settle the question of which one prevails. The Idaho law or similar laws like it, or this federal law that says two doctors and emergency rooms, you have to administer all necessary care when a woman is at risk for serious injury, even if that includes abortion.

So it doesn't tell the country which laws prevail. You know, these near-total abortion bans, or this federal law mandating care, even including abortions. Instead what it does is it says, okay, Idaho, we're going to pause your law for now while the litigation over this issue continues. But the truth is, Jim, there are at least half a dozen to a dozen other states in the country that have these near- total abortion bans that aren't going to be impacted by the Supreme Court ruling. And they -- you know, they have the near-total abortion bans where doctors have to continue working in this state of confusion and concern that they could be prosecuted or fined if they perform abortions in certain circumstances.


So there's still a lot of uncertainty out there. And yes, like you said, the Supreme Court in this case just seemed to kick the can down the road. They'll likely have to deal with this overriding issue at some point in the future.

SCIUTTO: And such a great point about the uncertainty because that's led many doctors, providers to just stay away from it, right? Because they're like if there's question here, I'm not going to get involved.

All right. So, to be fair, there are lots of big decision still got to come, whether that's tomorrow, on Monday, just give you tick through them?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. You know, there are six opinions left, seven if you count one of them is two because its two cases involving social media.

So it's a big social media case. There's also, you know, the biggest case that we've been waiting on since it was heard in the end of April, this case over immunity, whether Donald Trump and former presidents have immunity from criminal prosecution. This being the big one because the Supreme Court has never ruled on this issue before, and it will also directly impact how and whether Donald Trump actually goes to trial here in Washington, D.C. on those charges related to January 6.

We also have a big one for law nerds, Jim, that deals with the Chevron doctrine, you know, whether or not courts have to defer to agency rule-making when Congress isn't explicit. You know, the Supreme Court has chipped away at agency power throughout the recent years. So, we'll see if they completely overturn that doctrine, which would be a huge blow to agency power.

So those are probably the two big ones were waiting for. And then one other involving January 6, defendants in a certain law that they were used to, that prosecutors choose to convict them under to see if that law can hold. If it doesn't, it might overturn the sentences -- sentences of about 50 or so who have been convicted and maybe implicate even the president's charges to a certain extent.

So, a lot still -- still to come.

SCIUTTO: To say the least. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

All right. So to help us break this down for more, Michele Goodwin joins us now, professor of constitutional law and global health policy at Georgetown University.

Michele, good to have you. We need you, a lot to work through here.

First on this Idaho decision, Ketanji Brown Jackson, she actually sided with majority but wrote a separate opinion objecting to the court failing to make a decision on the case. She wrote, quote, there was simply no good reason not to resolve this conflict now.

So if it's correct to frame this, as Jessica did, what holds the Idaho law or federal law if that question is unresolved, when are we going to find out the answer to that question?

MICHELE GOODWIN, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW & GLOBAL HEALTH POLICY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, centuries ago, it was made very clear that federal law always trump's, states law, which is why this case is so alarming to some people. That is to say that although this case is about abortion rights, it fundamentally implicates American democracy and how we understand federalism and how we understand federal law is always preempting states law.

What's clear in this decision is that this court has not dismantled EMTALA, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. It does not cabin the law or constrain it and said, well, it applies to everybody else, but not pregnant people.

It is true that the court has adjudicated this on a technical count, much like it did in the mifepristone abortion case from just a week or two ago. But fundamentally, what this means is that pregnant patients in crisis in Idaho should go to emergency rooms, should be able to receive a dignified health care that is medically informed, including if that means an abortion in order to stop what could be emergency hemorrhaging with a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.

SCIUTTO: It's such a great point about state versus federal law because that's also coming to play on it on immigration measures as we've seen.

The court also -- it hasn't gone -- hasn't made the Chevron decision yet that Jessica was just describing, but you did have cases today affecting the EPA and the SEC. Can you tell us the importance -- the impact of those cases, those decisions?

GOODWIN: Well, what's really concerning before this court overall, as she was mentioning, is the status of agency authority before this court. It's been a matter that has been throughout this particular term, the Chevron doctrine, this idea that agencies are in the best position to be able to determine because of the expertise within agencies exactly how to regulate matters that are essential to our lives, whether it happens to be air quality, water quality, or matter for such as that.

Oftentimes there are corporations that are in conflict with agencies when agencies are leaning and using their authority to protect the health and safety of individuals against toxic pollutants, et cetera. There has been a concern that this is a Supreme Court that has been cutting back on agency, the authority, and that we would see some pretty big strikes this year.


That's still potentially in place and we certainly did see that contestation back to abortion in the mifepristone case with the Food and Drug Administration.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. There was concern that they would have basically nixed the FDA's ability there.

Listen, we're still waiting on the really big ones as it relate to this election. The biggest one being immunity, right? A question that a lot of folks thought -- well, firstly, could have decided a long time ago, months ago, they haven't.

GOODWIN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Do you have any sense --

GOODWIN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: It's a tough question. Do you have any sense of how the court is going to land -- the court's going to land on this? What's your best guess?

GOODWIN: Well, during oral arguments, what we did here is considerable sympathy. It seems in some ways towards what the arguments that were made by the Trump defense team. But it's worth noting that this is a case that's already been so deeply vetted at the district court level with a Judge Chutkan, and then with a three panel hearing before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

And what was a very -- what would seem to be a very well-reasoned, well-rounded argument being made by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that no, no president is above the law and not immune from criminal punishments when the former president has broken the law.

Trump's argument is that past presidents, current presidents, future presidents will always deserve what absolute immunity, meaning can do almost anything including as his lawyers argued, have someone from a Navy SEAL take out someone that they don't like.

Still, we're waiting for that decision from the court and it's a mystery. It's a mystery what's going to happen.

SCIUTTO: I mean, listen --

GOODWIN: No tea leaves to read you.

SCIUTTO: It's amazing, as outrageous as that argument was, the SEAL team argument, immediately dismissed by the court of appeals quite quickly. It's been weeks the courts been taken about this. We'll see -- we'll see where it lands.

Michele Goodwin, thanks so much.

GOODWIN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, what undecided voters say are the most important issues for them heading into tonight's debate?



SCIUTTO: Tonight is one of the best chances for both President Biden, former President Trump, to speak directly to voters who were on the fence about who they'll vote for in November.

CNN's John King has spent the last few months speaking with voters all over the map about what exactly they want to hear.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ray Flores owns a handful of restaurants in battleground Arizona and is unimpressed with both men who will share the debate stage.

RAY FLORES, ARIZONA VOTER: At this juncture, they both had for years. And I'm just eight years more frustrated than I was before.

I wish we had a candidate that had more of a middle of life and middle of the road perspective. And I'm very uncomfortable right now with either choice.

KING: We hear that a lot. Our all over the map project is that 60 voters and counting across ten states, yes, President Biden has his share of true believers.


KING: Do you like him? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. I think he's done a great job.

KING: So does Donald Trump.

CHRIS MUDD, IOWA VOTER: I liked what happened in our economy for four years when Donald Trump was president. I liked the America first mindset.

KING: But many voters dislike or have doubts about both, which makes this debate a critical campaign crossroads.

KIM CAVALIERE, GEORGIA VOTER: I just don't feel comfortable with Biden's age and I don't feel comfortable with Trump's mouth.

KING: For the incumbent, the cost of living is a giant challenge.

Are your day-to-day costs the same now as the year-ago?

FLORES: Oh, no, they're higher.

KING: Rising rents came up a lot in Milwaukee and in Las Vegas, and in other places, Biden must dominate, like Atlanta.

CAREY FULKS, GEORGIA VOTER: Everything here in Georgia is so expensive. I can only afford so much with whatever job I find.

KING: Even strong Biden's supporters complain of supermarkets sticker shock.

WALTER ROBINSON, JR., MICHIGAN VOTER: It's just me and my wife and his $200 every time I go to the grocery store.

KING: The president's age is already part of the campaign debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No matter how many Taylor Swift references you make, you will never understand us.

KING: A bigger Biden problem with younger voters is anger at his handling of the Hamas-Israel conflict.

IBRAHIM GHAZAL, MICHIGAN VOTER: I don't think anybody wants -- nobody wants to vote for Biden. If Biden wants to get certain votes, he needs to change course.

KING: Trump, though, also has a long list of weaknesses that could be debate flashpoints.

Joan London just left the Republican Party and registered as an independent.

JOAN LONDON, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I had more, more of a positive vision just a different emphasis, and I'm and -- what I'm saying in the national party just didn't reflect my values, the way it had.

KING: Linda Rooney hasn't ruled out voting for Trump, but January 6 is an obstacle. LINDA ROONEY, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I remember watching it on TV and I

couldn't believe that it was happening and I was angry that he didn't -- that Trump didn't say something, that Trump didn't stop it.

KING: And yet you still might vote for him?

ROONEY: I might. Yeah.

KING: Matt Vrahiotes is a Georgia Christian conservative pondering a third party vote because of doubts about Trump's character.

MATT VRAHIOTES, GEORGIA VOTER: Honestly, I wish that there was another candidate that would have come through the primaries instead of being just Donald Trump.

KING: Yes. Many minds are already made up. But for those with doubts about both Biden and Trump, this is a giant test.


SCIUTTO: Big test for both of them. After the break, we'll take you to the debate stage and show you exactly how for the first time the candidates mics will be muted, when it's not their turn to speak.



SCIUTTO: The court -- these are just live -- pictures just moments ago, I should say, of President Biden on his way in from the airport, making an unscheduled stop to shake hands and say hello to some supporters on the streets of Atlanta. You hear "four more years" chant there, from President Biden.

He arrived in the Atlanta earlier this hour. Air Force One landing, now on his way downtown for the debate, which, of course, will begin as you can see on our clock, just over five hours from now, only here on CNN.

While the choreography and rules of every presidential debate are important this time, included is something that's never been done before to presidential debate. The candidates mics will mute when it's not their turn to speak.

Both campaigns have agreed to all the rules of this debate.

CNN's Phil Mattingly and Victor Blackwell have a walkthrough for you on how this all will work -- will work exactly on the stage tonight.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to the set of the CNN presidential debate.

We want to give our viewers a sense of the rules of the debate so that when they watch it, they can understand how President Biden and President Trump will be engaging with each other.

Just after 9:00 p.m. Eastern, President Biden will enter from the right side of your screen. President Trump will enter from the left side of your screen.

The podiums are eight feet apart. Directly across from them -- the moderators, CNN's Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

Now, a reminder that this is a television studio. There's no audience. Candidates will have two minutes to answer questions and one minute for responses and rebuttals.

At the moderator's discretion, there may be an additional minute for follow-ups, clarifications, or responses.

So how does a candidate know how much time is left to speak? Attached to the cameras in the studio and in the candidate's field of view or the timing lights.

When the light show yellow, there are 15 seconds left and candidates answer or response. When the lights flash red, there are five seconds left, and when the display is solid red the time is up. At that point, the candidate's microphone will be turned off and the other candidate will have their microphone turned on.

My colleague, Victor Blackwell, has more on that.


If we go behind the podiums, you can see two green lights. When they're on, they signal to the candidate his microphone is on. When the green lights are off, they signal to the candidate, his microphone is off.

Now, I want to give you a sense of what it will look like for viewers at home if a candidate whose microphone is off interrupts a candidate whose microphone is on. So I'm standing at one podium and I'll ask Phil to come in and take the other podium.

And so let's say I'm answering a question. My light is green and I'm speaking. Phil's microphone is off and his green lights are not illuminated. He's going to interrupt me as I'm speaking. And this is what it will sound like.

My volume remains constant while Phil's interruption can be difficult to understand.

MATTINGLY: Let's try the opposite. My microphone is now on. Victor's microphone is off and he's going to interrupt me. My volume remains constant while Victor's interruption can be difficult to understand.

We should note, by agreeing to participate in this debate, both campaigns and candidates have also agreed to abide by these rules.

The CNN presidential debate airs live at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.


Thanks so much for victor and fill to walk us through all that now for a final thought, and tonight's pivotal presidential debate, a man whose mic we will never mute, Larry Sabato. He's the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, editor of "Returned to Normalcy: The 2020 Election that, quote, that Almost Broke America".

Larry, good to have you back.


SCIUTTO: So there's a lot of framing of tonight's debate that it's pivotal for both candidates, right? That's so many will be watching, the race is so tight numerically in the polls that this could be win or lose. And I wonder if you agree with that framing?


SABATO: I basically agree with it. I actually think there's more pressure on President Biden simply because there are so many things floating out there, many of them having been floated by the Trump campaign that are false, such as using drugs or having dementia, all of which is false to the extent we know, and I think we know.

So I think the pressure is on him, but also since they are not true, he has a good chance to clear some of that up for the many minds that will tune in. The greatest number, Jim, I've seen is that 74 percent of Americans say they're going to tune in.

Now, we know people always say they're going to do virtuous things. But if anything close to that number actually happens it will be one of if not the most watched presidential debate in our history, beginning in 1960.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, that's a huge number.

Okay, let's look at other numbers. CNN's latest poll of polls, which includes the five most recent national polls, it shows no clear race leader. Trump at 49, Biden at 47. That's tight.

I wonder if you based on your analysis of the numbers see this as a toss up at this moment.

SABATO: Yes, I do. I see it as a tossup even though if the election were held today under current conditions, if I had to pick, I probably pick Trump because of the advantage of the Electoral College, which tends to favor Republicans, and certainly favors him. But look, you know, every day, Jim, I get so many communications from people saying, oh my God, I just saw this poll. Oh, my goodness, this poll, and they're tearing themselves apart.

And I tell them all, you will be so much happier and no worse off if you ignore the polls until after the Democratic convention. That's when they actually matter. SCIUTTO: Okay. By the way, we were just showing live picture there again of President Biden making an unscheduled stop on his way downtown Atlanta.

So again, I know you just said don't pay attention to every poll every day. But you have things like Nate Silver's model yesterday that puts Trump at a 65.7 percent chance of winning. And then you have this, that stood out to my team and I, and that is that Biden has never had a numerical advantage in CNN's poll of polls. All margins that weren't zero have been appointed to in Trump's favor.

Again, that's small but Biden's never led. And I just wondered, doe that -- do you look at that even with the proviso that you got to wait until the conventions that at this point, he's at least behind or should -- or do you dismiss that as well?

SABATO: No, I don't dismiss it. I think that as I said, probably that is the case. And if the election were held now, probably Trump would win because of the Electoral College advantage. But think about it, Jim, even before the Republican Convention, you have Trump's sentencing.

And who knows whether there will be any other legal actions between now and November, followed by the Republican conventions and the Democratic convention, the selection of Trump's VP and loads of things we can't imagine, here at home, in the Middle East, elsewhere.

So we always project to today into tomorrow, and it's really inaccurate to do so. We have to restrain ourselves and that's what I'm arguing for -- restraint.

SCIUTTO: Fair point. You -- God knows, you know better than virtually anyone.

I will ask though on the point of legal developments because we have had a number of weeks of data and a number of polls since Trump was found guilty of those felony counts in New York, does the data show you that that move the needle in either direction?

SABATO: I think it has deepened some doubts about Trump. They were already deep in some ways, but generally not among the slice, that tiny slice of people that might switch up. What it really tells me is that people did not think the offenses being tried in the Manhattan courtroom where all that serious, certainly compared to the other indictments that Trump has had. That's what I'm looking for.

You know, everyone says there can't be anything before November. No, that actually isn't true. So let's keep an open mind about that.

SCIUTTO: Fair point. Of course, we have a decision from the Supreme Court that very much might affect that particularly on the January 6 cases.

All right. Now another question which doesn't relate to the horse race between the candidates, but the broader direction of the electorate. And I wonder if you saw a signal here from New York Representative Jamaal Bowman. Bowman losing his Democratic primary in Westchester County to a more moderate Democrat, George Latimer. It's a defeat for those House squad progressive lawmakers, most expensive House primary as well, we should note.

But is that a signal to you for Democrats more broadly, right, Democratic voters want more for centrist candidates, or is this an isolated event?


SABATO: Well, it's 1/435th of the country, so I don't know beyond that.

But I do think in general, while the center isn't holding the way it used to in American politics, most Americans are either center left or center right. You don't really have a large percentage way over on the right or way over on the left. And Joe Biden was known for this kind of centrist politics.

One thing I have noted in surveys well beyond this election season, is that people thought that Joe Biden was going to govern more as a centrist. They perhaps have seen him as governor getting more from the left, to the degree that he can move back to not just the center, but the center left, I think he'll be better off.

SCIUTTO: Larry Sabato, always good to have your wisdom. Thanks so much.

SABATO: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And thanks so much to all of you for joining me today for STATE OF THE RACE. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.