Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Trump And Biden Face Test From Primary Voters In Michigan; Biden Meets With Congressional Leaders As Government Shutdown Looms; Key Witness Testifies In Hearing On Booting Trump Prosecutor; Voting Underway In Michigan, Key Battleground Primary; Biden Camp Braces For Level Of "Uncommitted" Vote In Michigan Primary. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 27, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, and on the TikTok @jaketapper. You can follow the show on X @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of the lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts.

I will be back in just two hours for a special coverage of the Michigan presidential primary, Democratic and Republican. Until then, the news continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, critical primary races in the swing state of Michigan. Our Republicans vote could reveal more about Donald Trump's chances in November. And Democrats voting uncommitted could send a powerful message to President Biden.

Also tonight, shutdown showdown. With a deadline approaching, President Biden meets with congressional leaders for talks on funding the government, tightening the border and helping Ukraine.

Plus, a key witness testifies in the defense effort to remove the D.A. and lead prosecutor in the case against Donald Trump in Georgia. This testimony when asked when the pair's romantic relationship began and what the judge will make of it.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

First up tonight, the voting in Michigan where polls start closing in just two hours, a big test for both former President Donald Trump and President Biden in this key swing state. For Trump, will it be like in South Carolina where some Nikki Haley Republicans said they would not vote for Trump in November?

And for Biden, will tonight's uncommitted vote, as it's called, especially from Michigan's large Arab American community, mean similar general election trouble for him?

Let's go to CNN's Dianne Gallagher, who's been visiting polling stations across the state of Michigan all day. And right now she's in Ann Arbor for us. Dianne, what's it been like today and what are you seeing? What are you hearing? DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we have seen light but steady turnout at this particular precinct I'm at in Ann Arbor. We've seen there's two different precincts here at this polling place. We've seen about 375 voters today.

But this area had the highest number of early in-person voters as well. It's the first time that Michigan has done that. We had more than a million early in absentee votes in the state. The secretary of state says they're not sure what election day voting turnout is going to look like because of those early voting opportunities.

Now, look, there is a lot on the ballot here. They can choose whichever one they want, Republican or Democrat.

Actually, I have a voter with me right now, Joanne. And, Joanne, you chose a Democratic ballot. Tell me how did you vote?


GALLAGHER: Why did you vote uncommitted?

PAWLICK: I'm a Biden supporter, have been since he's been in office, but I voted uncommitted because I want him to do something and not only him, he's taking the heat on this, all of the Republicans who are voting to keep on sending money to Netanyahu to fund that horrible war.

GALLAGHER: So, you voted because of his policy on the war in Gaza?


GALLAGHER: Joanne, thank you so much. I appreciate it, Joanne, for talking with us.

What she's talking about is sort of this push for voters in Michigan to vote uncommitted. It's been led by members of the Arab-American community, which is very large here in mission. But there's also a coalition that has formed around this with young voters and progressive voters. They've been up here in the Ann Arbor area as well working with students at the University of Michigan trying to get them to vote early uncommitted as a protest vote to send that message to President Biden. They say that they are Democrats, but they cannot support him unless they say he calls for a permanent and immediate ceasefire.

Now, look, they say that their goal is about ten thousand votes uncommitted, Wolf. Everyone who votes uncommitted is not doing so for that purpose during this election. People vote uncommitted in Michigan all of the time for various reasons We talked to some today who this was not their reason. But it will be interesting to see how President Biden fares versus this uncommitted vote and whether or not he may have a problem in Michigan in the long-term

BLITZER: A very sensitive issue, indeed. Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much for your reporting. Joining us now, Alencia Johnson, who was a senior adviser to the 2020 Biden campaign, CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger, also Pollster and Communications Strategist Frank Luntz is with us, and in Detroit, CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, let me start with you. You're there on the scene. Michigan, of course, is a must win for both Democrats and Republicans in the general election. What can tonight's results tell us about the fight that will be ahead leading up to November?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's absolutely an essential stop on a winning road to the White House. Those 15 electoral votes here in Michigan will be absolutely essential. And the results tonight are going to offer a few data points about the strength and the potential vulnerabilities of both likely nominees.


President Biden, for his part, that uncommitted vote and the campaign that Dianne was just talking about there with the voter in Ann Arbor, the question there is how strong is that uncommitted vote? Are people coming out in droves to send a message to the White House? It's a protest vote. Or are some voters simply not turning out today at all?

Talking to Democratic officials all day long here, they say that that uncommitted vote is one challenge for the president, but perhaps a bigger challenge is encouraging his voters who supported him in 2020 to come out again in November. They have much work to do on that front.

As for former President Donald Trump, his outcome (ph) is also significant. How much does Nikki Haley get? Is there a sense for someone different than the former president or are Republicans here ready to get on with this? Of course, he won Michigan in 2016 by about 10,000 votes. He lost Michigan in 2020 by about 150,000 votes. So, that's where we begin this rematch campaign if it indeed becomes that.

So, we're going to learn a lot of strengths and vulnerabilities, but the White House certainly is watching that uncommitted vote tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very closely, indeed. All right, we're going to get back to you, Jeff. Thank you very much.

Alencia, let's talk about that uncommitted vote, as it's called. How concerned should the Biden campaign be about that vote? Because a lot of those uncommitted voters who declare uncommitted, they're voting because they oppose this policy towards the Israel-Hamas War.

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Yes, I think the Biden campaign and the White House should be very concerned about this vote because this is the first time it's being put directly in front of voters and then making a statement, right? Folks have been talking about how this decision around continuing to support Netanyahu and the Israeli government has been a top priority, but this is going to be the data point.

I do think that the campaign and the White House are paying attention. They have sent campaign officials as well as policy officials to meet with the Arab and Muslim community, but it's beyond just the Arab and Muslim community. A lot of young voters, a lot of progressive voters, a lot of black voters, this is their issue.

So, while the president and Democrats are doing really well on abortion, which will be a deciding issue this cycle, this is also going to be a deciding issue for a key part of the Democratic base that Biden can no longer ignore.

BLITZER: Gloria, how do you see it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I see it the same way, except you don't know what's going to happen with the war in Gaza, right? I mean, this is all happening as the president announced the other day that there might be a ceasefire temporary, ceasefire as early as this weekend. So, you have to pay attention to it as clear they're working on it.

I think they have to pay attention to African-American voters. I think they have to pay attention to young progressive voters and, of course, labor, which is huge in that state.

And I think they feel pretty comfortable about labor. The president got the endorsement of the UAW. That doesn't mean you have the rank and file supporting you. But I think that's always a concern to get the support of labor.

BLITZER: Yes, it's important, indeed, very important, especially in Michigan.

Frank, what trends are you going to be looking for as we see what happens in these primaries tonight?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: I agree with Gloria about labor, but the point that she raised that the rank and file may not be on board, Donald Trump has the chance of getting a majority of labor voters. That's never happened in the Republican Party.

When you talk about African-Americans, young African-American men are looking at Donald Trump. They've never considered voting Republican before. Now, on the other hand, I want to see what happens with suburban women, particularly upper middle class, who don't like Donald Trump, are willing to vote for Joe Biden and don't find Joe Biden's age to be a turnoff.

So, Wolf, we've got all these crosscurrents happening. Michigan is the state because it could decide the election. And these voting groups are simply not behaving as they have been over the last 20 years.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Jeff, how closely -- you're there in Michigan. How closely is the White House going to be watching what happens in Michigan tonight? ZELENY: Wolf, incredibly closely. They have been watching Michigan really for the last several months as these protests have really risen. And they are watching particularly, of course, the areas of Dearborn here in Wayne County, just outside of Detroit.

But also more than that, one adviser I spoke with earlier today said, yes, they know that some of the uncommitted support will come in Dearborn, but what about other communities? How much is this spilling over, if you will, into that other coalition?

The central question of how Joe Biden won Michigan was building that coalition, was keeping that coalition of young voters, black voters, Latino voters, labor, as we've been talking about, together. There's no doubt that the coalition is fraying to some degree, but they are eager to get on with this and make this a challenge with the former president, to make this a referendum on him.

We'll see what that happens, Wolf. But the White House is watching this very carefully.


Of course, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a top ally and co-chair of the Biden election campaign. She's been campaigning hard here for Joe Biden, but these results tonight certainly will be instructive, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very instructive, indeed. Alencia, as you know, in recent days and weeks, President Biden has been more directly going after Trump in all of his public statements. So, do you think that will be enough to contrast himself with his predecessor to win, assuming they're both going to be the competition in November?

JOHNSON: Look, that was the campaign in 2020, but voters now want to know what exactly they're voting for. Young people want to be empowered. Black people want to be empowered. They want to know what is the agenda for the next four years. How was he going to continue to try to solve for the erosion of abortion rights, voting rights, the economy, and so forth?

But here's the other thing President Biden has on his side. They actually have a great record, but this White House and the campaign has to get out there and tell the American people exactly what they've done for them and show them this is what we've gotten so far. And if I get four more years plus Congress, and I know it's an uphill battle with the Senate, we could do even more.

BORGER: Well, they have a great surrogate with the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who has been on the case of abortion rights. Now with the Alabama decision on IVF, that's something else to talk about, and she has been out there talking about abortion and pushing the White House to talk about abortion more because that's one way you can get younger voters to move over to your side.

I mean, they're going to have to make some choices about what's really important to them, and we've seen all over the country that this is one issue -- BLITZER: Abortion rights.

BORGER: -- abortion rights, that does not fail for the Democrats, and that's something I think they also ought to be looking at and doing more of.

BLITZER: And these key battleground states, like Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, for that matter, suburban women are going to be critically important.

BORGER: Right. And if he wants to get a margin close to what he had last time, which is 150,000, you know, that's going to be tough.

BLITZER: Yes, that's going to be very tough. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, there's more breaking news we're following right now, the latest on the wildfires in Texas, where the governor just issued disaster declarations for 60, 60 counties in the state.

And with Congress facing a Friday deadline to fund the government or face a government shutdown, what top lawmakers accomplished today in talks with the president over at the White House and what roadblocks remain to reaching a deal.

Also tonight, the hearing over kicking Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Prosecutor Nathan Wade off the Trump regal case in Georgia, did testimony from a key witness today undermine their claim that their romance only started after she hired him?



BLITZER: More breaking news tonight. This is what it looks like, look at this, in Hutchinson County, Texas, just northeast of Amarillo. Moments ago, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, issued fire disaster declarations, not for one, not for two, but for 60, 60 counties across the state.

For more on what's driving this, let's go to CNN's Chad Myers. He's in the CNN Weather Center for us. Chad, I understand a motel owner in Canadian, Texas, told CNN it looks like Armageddon where she is. What is going on in the Texas Pan Am?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: 250,000 acres of land in that fire that did hit Canadian Texas burned in 28 hours. That is the size of two football fields per second, Wolf. That is 30 percent of Long Island and it didn't start until 2:00 yesterday, critical fire weather, very dry air, very dry land and winds to 65 miles per hour.

Now, there are winds to the east of there to 50 miles per hour. We're just not talking about wildfires that are already going. Red flag warnings means you can't burn anything outside. You shouldn't do anything outside that could create a spark. Now, this is about to end for some people. A cold front is rushing down from the north. And for firefighters this is a dangerous game because the wind has been out of the west all day. Now, the wind is out of the north. The firefighters, the personnel, they have to stay out of the way of that wind shift, even though it's helpful likely that that cooler air will make a dent in the flammability of the land. It is the dangerous part of that wind shift.

Something else going on Chicago, right here, a tornado watch for you. This is the warm side of the storm. We don't get many tornado watches in Chicago in February. I guarantee it. And the storms are firing right now. They could go all night long all the way down to the Ohio River and possibly even through Chicago land itself. We'll be here watching. Wolf?

BLITZER: Chad, we're going to be watching all of these developments together with you. Thank you very, very much.

From the weather to right here in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., where, with just three days, three days until Friday's government shutdown, President Biden hosted congressional leaders for what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called a productive and intense meeting in the Oval Office, though, not enough yet for a deal to emerge.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us from Capitol Hill. She's got the latest. Where do negotiations, Melanie, stand after this important meeting over at the White House? And is there a sense of what House Republicans are asking for?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, all four Congressional leaders walked away from that White House meeting saying they do not want a government shutdown, which, of course, is always a positive sign. And since then we've heard from other key lawmakers who are expressing optimism that they are going to be able to reach an agreement on four different spending bills to fund the government ahead of that first key deadline on Friday.

Just take a listen to GOP leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Under no circumstances does anybody want to shut the government down, so I think we can stop that drama right here before it emerges.


We're simply not going to do that.

So, we're going to come close, I hope, to having an orderly appropriations process, obviously not by the time we should have done it, but better than we've done some years by getting this four through and then doing the balance of them as a mini bus a little bit later.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZANONA: Now, that does not mean it is a done deal. We are at the stage in the negotiations where it could all come together very quickly or it can all easily fall apart.

At issue is that Speaker Mike Johnson has been under immense pressure from his right flank to fight for a number of conservative policy wins. And we're told that some of the last-minute hang-ups have revolved around funding for WIC, which is the Women, Infants, and Children Program, as well as some provisions related to the national background check system for gun purchases.

So, at this point, the ball is really seen in the speaker's court as you have Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell and Hakeem Jeffries all urging him to drop his demand for policy issues and try to come up with as clean as legislation as possible.

BLITZER: Stakes are enormous. Billions of Americans could suffer if there is a government shutdown. We'll watch all of this closely.

Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's get the latest on Ukraine right now, Ukraine funding specifically, and what's going on. This is a matter of life or death for so many Ukrainians.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the scene for us tonight in Ukraine, not far from the frontlines. Nick, how closely are Ukrainian authorities and even Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines where you are following these negotiations that are ongoing here in Washington?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean it's kind of remarkable really, isn't it, because there are so Many more Ukrainian soldiers or civilians here growing in their grasp of politics up on the Hill that you might normally expect people stuck in a war to actually have.

Now, I should point out you know there are bigger concerns. Frankly, most frontline soldiers we see face every single day in terms of tackling a lot of the time, Russia trying to push forward at many points along the frontline, but they desperately urgently need these tens of billions of dollars to the point where, frankly, some people you meet specifically lay out pieces of equipment they urgently need and make appeals directly to the U.S. to try and provide that.

We heard more bad news today again for Ukraine, linked, I think it's fair to say, to the shortages of personnel and ammunition they're facing. We know that two Saturdays ago, Wolf, we've talked about this before that Ukraine had to pull out of a key town in Avdiivka. Well, yesterday, they announced that Lastochkyne, a village about three miles to its northwest, they pulled out of that. And today, they announced that two other villages near that as well, they had to pull back from to.

Ukraine officials, some have said that this is part of the withdrawal they always planned. But at the same time, there are fears, I think, on both sides of frontline there that we might be seeing some Russian momentum indeed. So, real concerns here that's we see a change in Washington as soon as possible. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick, as you know, a key NATO ally, President Macron of France, recently refused to rule out sending ground troops into Ukraine. Today, the United States and other NATO allies have firmly ruled out that possibility. How have the Ukrainians responded?

WALSH: Yes. I mean, they've not directly addressed this. One presidential adviser suggested that any expansion in assistance is a direct signal to Moscow of the ricks that it faces. But look, look I don't think Emmanuel Macron was necessarily suggesting that France is about to commit ground troop to this particular war.

That seems quite far off and indeed his comments that they can't rule out were a response to a question, but it did immediately lead to the U.K., Poland, Italy, Germany, multiple different NATO and European countries state that were not willing to do that.

What's this done? Well, it's essentially made Europe think what are we actually willing do here? What are our red lines in terms of how far we're willing go? Because we've had a lot of rhetoric from European leaders about how they will not let Russia win here, yet they are going to have to probably step into the void left by an absence of U.S. funding, and Macron's comments essentially causing those European capitals to start thinking how far they may have to go. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the frontlines in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, in this war. As I say to you every day, stay safe over there, Nick. Thank you very much.

Coming up, a key witness in the Fani Willis misconduct hearing frustrates attorneys for the former president and others today. Stay with us.



BLITZER: A star witness in the Fannie Willis misconduct hearing in Georgia returned to the stand this afternoon. However, Terrence Bradley spent much of the day not recalling what he knew about the relationship between D.A. Willis and Prosecutor Nathan Wade, his former law partner.

Nick Valencia was inside the hearing. He's joining us now. Nick, can you just walk us through the main parts of this hearing, what it was about, and why it's so important to the case against the former president, talking about Trump, in Georgia.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey there, Wolf. This could be hugely consequential to the case against the former president and his remaining allies because if the judge sees evidence that the full county D.A. financially benefited from this relationship she had with early prosecutor or if she had potentially lied on the stand, if the judge sees evidence of that, that's grounds for disqualification. And if she is removed from this case, that would effectively derail the case against the former president. So, today, we had Terrence Bradley back on the stand. He's the former law partner and divorce attorney for Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor.

And defense attorneys had built him as their star witness, someone that could prove that Willis and Wade lied about when their relationship began.


But as you're about to hear, he wasn't the easiest to get information out of.


TERRENCE BRADLEY, NATHAN WADE'S FORMER LAW PARTNER AND DIVORCE ATTORNEY: I do not recall any dates of when the relationship started. I'm telling you, I did not recall any specific date.

At this time, I don't recall.

At this time, I am telling you that I do not have the date.

But I do not recall. I do not recall that, no, ma'am.

I do not recall how it came up.


VALENCIA: It's interesting, because Scott McAfee took a lot of notes during the hearing especially when Bradley said he could not or did not recall. Wolf?

BLITZER: Did Terrence Bradley, Nick, ever come close to confirming any of the defense attorneys' questions about a timeline for the relationship between Fani Willis and Wade?

VALENCIA: Not even close, Wolf. In fact, it appeared as though he was being deliberately evasive and elusive of the questions he was being asked. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you recall me asking you do you think it started before she hired him, and you said, absolutely? Do you recall that?

BRADLEY: I see that in the text messages.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you also recall me asking you how they would react if they would attack me? And you said, no, they will deny it.

BRADLEY: That's written in there, yes.


VALENCIA: The disqualification hearing will resume on Friday. But we should not expect a resolution for weeks. The judge is not expected to make a ruling from the bench. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Nick Valencia reporting for us, Nick, thank you very much.

I'm joined now by two criminal defense attorneys, CNN analysts, both Joey Jackson and Karen Friedman Agnifilo, who's also a former Manhattan chief assistant district attorney.

Joey, first of all, listening to Bradley, do you think his testimony was credible?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, I don't think it was credible, Wolf. Good evening to you. The reality, though, is credible or not credible. I just have -- look, I know we're a reality T.V.-obsessed world. I know that this is riveting and, quite frankly, entertaining. But from a legal perspective, I do think that Fani Willis gave them an issue with respect to having this relationship, Wolf, and with regard to when it was and when it may have occurred. But I'm looking for the legal connection between the financial relationship that may or may not have been a benefit to Fani Willis.

If this witness would have testified, and, certainly, we heard the clips, he doesn't know, he doesn't recall, and it was really strained credulity, as we say, I think he was incredible. But the reality is, is what is the connection? Does he have information with respect to a quid pro quo that would have permitted the hiring of him so she could financially benefit? How specifically does he have knowledge as to a financial benefit? What does he know as it relates to monies that Fani Willis might have gained as a result of the relationship? None of that was there. It was about when they were together, when they were not, what did you tell me, how much gossip is it.

And so the reality is no on credibility, but I'm looking to the issue of qualification or disqualification and how this impairs the relationship against the president. It's a distraction, a deflection. Talk to me about the process. Talk to me about the indictment. Talk to me about the lack of fairness in that process, not whether someone was with someone on any particular date. And so that's what I was looking for, and I was disappointed not to hear.

BLITZER: Let me get Karen's thoughts. Karen, did this testimony today, do you think that it moved the needle at all given how little Bradley has allegedly been able to remember?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, I agree with what Joey is saying. It's very strange to me why none of the testimony, either on the first day of the hearing or this day, today, of the hearing, focused on a financial conflict of interest and things like how did you decide to hire him, what was the process, was he vetted, who discussed the amount of money you were going to pay him when he submitted his hourly invoices, was somebody looking at those invoices and was there quality controls in place.

Whatever it was, there could have been a whole line of questioning that established a potential financial conflict of interest regardless of when a relationship started between Fannie Willis and Nathan Wade. That is sort of beside the point.

And so the question really is going to be exactly the way Joey described it, which is can they establish that there is a disqualifying financial conflict of interest? And I don't think that has been done on either day. Today was just another trying to pin down whether this lawyer was hearing gossip or making his own suppositions about when the relationship started.

But he says he had no personal knowledge himself of when the relationship began or even what a definition of a relationship is. Are they talking about feelings? Are they talking about physicality? I mean, it's just unclear and this entire hearing really didn't move that needle very much. But if Fani Willis or Nathan Wade lied to the court, that could be disqualifying in and of itself.


BLITZER: Joey, do you think the burden has been met to disqualify the D.A., Fani Willis, in this case based on today?

JACKSON: I mean, I just don't see it. Again, I mean, this has to be mortifying. It has to be embarrassing to the prosecutor. Certainly, it's entertaining for everyone but Nathan Wade and Fani Willis. Certainly, I don't think that his former law partner, Mr. Bradley, would have wanted to be on the witness stand. He was a very reluctant witness, certainly things that he should have recalled or probably did recall. He indicated he didn't. You could call into question the nature of when they met.

Was it a romantic relationship? As Karen suggests, that's even blurry based upon the fact that, okay, were they together? What does that mean? Were they together? Are you defining it as intimacy? I mean, we're going down rabbit holes. Wolf, we're in rabbit tunnels at this point. What I'm looking for is the nexus and connection between the financial benefit, if any, that the D.A. would have incurred or inured to her as a result of this relationship. And if it's absent, that's problematic to me.

BLITZER: Karen, big picture, what does this mean for Donald Trump right now all that we've heard so far?

AGNIFILO: Well, big picture, if Fani Willis is disqualified from this case, it'll mean that the entire office is disqualified from this case because she's the boss, right? She's the elected district attorney. So, this could mean a significant blow to this case if Fani Willis and her office is removed because they'll have to find a whole new prosecutor who will have to learn the evidence and make a determination whether or not they are going to proceed in the way that it is currently the current posture.

So, the stakes here couldn't be higher. It could be the difference between a prosecution and not a prosecution. And so I don't think I agree. I don't think they met the burden of disqualification, but let's see if there's any dishonesty here.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens in the coming days. To both of you guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next tonight a rare live report from Iran where voters go to the polls on Friday for the first election since protesters took to the streets and the government cracked down on them back in 2022.



BLITZER: Now, a very rare live report from Iran where preparations are underway for a nationwide vote on Friday. Iranians will pick a new parliament and a new assembly of experts, as it's called, which selects the country's supreme leader.

The vote is important because it comes during soaring Mideast tensions right now and an economic crisis in the country. This will also be the first ballots cast since Mahsa Jina Amini's death in police custody back in 2022, sparking nationwide protests, calling for major political change.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Tehran right now. Fred, you're there. It's not often we get a live report from Tehran. What are you seeing and how are tensions between the U.S. and Iran right now playing into all of this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, first of all, you're absolutely right, it's been two and a half years since we've actually been on the ground here in Iran. And I think, first of all, it is absolutely correct to say that the current tensions between the United States and Iran and the greater Middle Eastern region are having a massive effect on the election campaign here in Iran. And I would say it certainly has emboldened the hardliners and further marginalized the moderate forces here on the ground.

One of the things that we have to keep in mind though as far as the parliamentary election is concerned but also the election for the assembly of experts that is so important because it does pick the next supreme leader is that, right now, some of the moderate candidates have indeed been disqualified from running for either of those bodies. One of the more prominent ones is, of course, the former president of this country Hassan Rouhani, who, so far, is not allowed to run again for the assembly of experts and he's still trying to appeal that.

But at the same time on the ground, you do see the hardliners, the conservatives really emboldened a great deal especially since you've had that renewed confrontation between Iran and the United States in the Middle Eastern region. I was actually at a rally today of conservative forces and there was one gentleman who had both his sons dressed up in military fatigues and says me and my children, we are fighters for this country, as he put it, Wolf.

BLITZER: As I mentioned Fred, this is the first election held in Iran since the death of Mahsa Jina Amini back in 2022 after she was detained by police for violating hijab laws. Has that changed the dynamics? PLEITGEN: I think it certainly has changed the dynamics to a degree. One of the things, of course, that we did just mention is that right now the conservatives really have a pretty good grip on power and certainly are bringing out people as far as this vote seems to be concerned as well. At the same time, you do have a sort of sense of disillusion, it seems as though, especially amongst some of the younger people here in this country.

And one of the things that's really been sticking out to us, we were going around Tehran today, is how many people were willingly coming to us and saying, look, they don't necessarily intend to vote in the upcoming election because they feel sort of disenfranchised right now by the ruling political elite.

It's certainly something that I would say the folks who are in power here in this country are trying to work against. In fact, you do see it almost every corner here in Tehran, certainly in other cities as well, posters urging people to come out and vote.

Whether or not a lot of people are going to come and do that, that's something that we'll see on Friday. The government is trying, but you do see that there's still some discontent on the ground here as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will stay in close touch with you. Fred Pleitgen, reporting live from Tehran, in Iran, stay in touch, we'll stay in touch for sure.

Coming up, we'll have a live report from Israel with President Biden now suggesting the possibility of a temporary ceasefire in Gaza by next Monday.

Stay with us, we'll be right back.



BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news from Michigan right now. And just about two or three hours depending on the time zone in Michigan, the polls will be closed in the state's primaries.

Earlier, you heard a Democratic voter there tell our Dianne Gallagher that she voted uncommitted. She said it was because of President Biden's policy of supporting Israel in the war against Hamas.

President Biden expressed optimism Monday that a temporary ceasefire in Gaza may be close at hand, however, an Israeli official today tell CNN, they were quote surprised by the presidents remarks.

The comments occurred late Monday after the president taped and appearance with late night comedian Seth Meyers. Listen

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My national security adviser tells me that we're close. We're close. Not done yet. My hope is by next Monday, we'll have a ceasefire.


BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond is joining us live from Tel Aviv right now.

Jeremy, is it clear why President Biden said he is hoping for a ceasefire by Monday just in a few days. What are the key players saying? What are you hearing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's not clear exactly what's driving the president's optimism, but what is clear is that it's not shared by the key players in this deal.

An Israeli official telling us earlier today that the Israeli government was, quote, surprised by President Biden's rosy prognostics of the negotiations, saying that they didn't know what his assessment was based on.


And on the other side, Hamas officials have also been pouring cold water over talks of progress in these negotiations and also saying that they have seen no indications that a deal could be brokered by Monday.

The Qataris meanwhile, key mediators in these negotiations, they are offering some optimism saying that things are trending positively. But beyond that, not going as far as the president, saying that they are still working to secure an agreement.

BLITZER: What's the latest? What are you hearing, Jeremy, about the framework for a possible deal?

DIAMOND: Well, Wolf, the broad outlines of this latest framework would look at a six-week pause in the fighting. Some 40 hostages to be released by Hamas. And, of course, coming with that would be the entry of much needed relief aid into the Gaza Strip.

We know that there has been some progress in these talks over the last week or so, things are moving in the right direction. We have indications that Hamas has backed off of some of their key sticking points here, reducing the number of Palestinian prisoners they would need to see exchanged for these Israeli hostages. And also backing off of their demand that Israeli forces fully withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

But it is also clear, Wolf, that there are still very much obstacles including the movement of Israeli troops during this ceasefire, the number and the types of Palestinian prisoners. So, a lot still remains to be done. A lot of gaps still need to be closed.

And it's very clear that the clock is ticking. We have less than two weeks to go until the holiday of Ramadan. And by that point, either we will see a deal fall into place, or perhaps alternatively, a major Israeli military offensive into the city of Rafah, where there are 1.5 million Palestinians currently living -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stakes are enormous right now. All right, thanks very much, Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv.

I'm joined now by California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. He recently met with Arab American leaders and members of the Muslim community in Michigan. That's the site of the primary there today.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

It seems that President Biden was talking about a temporary pause in the fight against part of a hostage deal. What do you make of the timing of the president's remarks? And his specific use of the word ceasefire right before the Michigan primary?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, it shows that the president is listening to the broader Democratic coalition. Many voters, Arab American, Muslim American voters of color, the AME Black Church, young progressives won a permanent ceasefire and release of all the hostages and they want aid resumed into Gaza. And I'm hopeful that the president is moving to call for that.

BLITZER: We mentioned congressman that you recently spent some time in Michigan meeting with Arab American and Muslim American community members. So some of whom plan to vote uncommitted, as you know, in the primary today, to send a message about President Biden's handling of Israel's war in Gaza. They're not happy with U.S. support for Israel.

What did they tell you and what are the challenges that the Biden campaign is facing in Michigan tonight?

KHANNA: Well, a human level they shared stories of loss. Someone talked about two of his grandmothers who had been killed. So I want to talk about a family they knew three generations killed -- a grandmother, mother, and kids because they all lived in the same home. They were not interested in talking about politics. They were interested in sharing the huge grief.

And I think that the war has to come to an end with the release of the hostages. Then there has to be a period of healing before we can make progress on the politics. One idea that came up is, can we get our military to airlift food and nutrition and medicine into Gaza? I'm going to be asking that of Secretary Austin and suggesting that as a step to save lives.

BLITZER: So what other changes do you think President Biden could potentially make now to earn back some of that support?

KHANNA: Well, I think he's got to get aid flowing back into Gaza, even if that's our own military, he needs to make sure that he's calling clearly for a permanent ceasefire and release of all hostages and making it clear to Netanyahu that we will not continue to ship these weapons to him bypassing Congress if he is not willing to stop attacking Rafah, which the president has warned. And if he is not willing to do what the president and our secretary of defense are telling him to do in terms of the negotiation.

The United States president needs to be calling the shots. And given that we are providing so much of the military, not Bibi Netanyahu.

BLITZER: I understand, Congressman, you've spoken to President Biden about potentially losing some progressive support in Michigan. What was your warning? And is the president based on what you heard concerned?

KHANNA: The president gets it. I mean, I said to the president that, you know, I'm all in for him. I've been campaigning. If I were in Michigan, I would vote for the president. I think it would be much better in bringing Middle East peace than Donald Trump.


But that the reality is that young voters are upset. Muslim and Arab- American voters are upset. Voters of color are upset. This is a moral issue, and the problem is not just a math issue, it's not 1 percent or 2 percent. When you have young people passionately opposed on TikTok, on social media, making calls. That's a big challenge.

We have to understand the modern Democratic coalition that we need to win and we still need to win the trust back of a lot of these folks.

BLITZER: Lots going on. Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you so much for joining us.

KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the Odysseus lander beams home photos now from its historic landing on the moon.


BLITZER: New images tonight from the Odysseus lander's historic journey to the moon with likely just hours to go before it's expected to stop working.

Intuitive Machines, the private company which developed the spacecraft, shared these new close-up photos from its epic descent to the south pole region of the moon last Thursday.

Here's another post on X, the image captured about 35 seconds after pitching over on its side during the approach to the lunar surface. Not the kind of touched down anyone was hoping for, but still, the first American moon landing in more than 50 years.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'll be back tomorrow on "CNN NEWSROOM", 11:00 a.m. Eastern, and, of course, back in THE SITUATION ROOM 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.