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The Situation Room

The Stage Is Set, Inside CNN Debate Hall On Eve Of Trump-Biden Faceoff; One Day To CNN Debate, Biden To Portray Trump As Dangerous; Bloomberg Reports, Supreme Briefly Posts Abortion Ruling On Website; One Day To Go: Biden-Trump Debate In Battleground Georgia; DOJ Asks U.S. Supreme Court Not To Delay Steve Bannon's Sentence. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 26, 2024 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we're taking you inside the CNN debate hall where presidential history will unfold a little over 24 hours from now. Stand by for new details on the candidates' debate prep. President Biden planning to portray Donald Trump as dangerous, as Trump allies are urging the former president to focus on issues, not his grievances.


CNN's political team is breaking it all down this hour.

Plus, breaking news out of the United States Supreme Court, a draft ruling on abortion is briefly posted, apparently revealing that the justices are poised to allow emergency abortions in Idaho.

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

A live view from CNN Studios in Atlanta, where anticipation is building for a presidential debate unlike any other, any other, featuring two candidates who have served in the Oval Office now in a neck and neck race to hold the keys to the White House for the next four years.

Right now, we want to take you inside the debate hall where the extraordinary event will play out tomorrow night. CNN's John Berman is on the scene for us inside there. John, set the stage for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, this is the world's first live look at this stage, where the historic debate will take place tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern Time. That's only 26 hours and 59 minutes away at this point. Let me show you around just a little bit. This is the lectern where President Biden will be standing, on the right side of your screen. Over here is where former President Trump will be standing. These two lecterns just eight feet apart. That's pretty close, closer than it was four years ago.

To give you a sense of what the candidates will see, over here is where our moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will be sitting. This is where they will ask the questions from. As for what the candidates can have on stage with them, they'll both have water. There's a step right there. The candidates won't be walking up that.

They can have water with them and they can also have paper and a pen. The paper, though, is blank what they get here. They're not allowed to bring notes on stage, so it can't look like this. It will look like this when they're here and they can take notes as the debate goes on. They have to stand up for the entire debate.

There will be two commercial breaks during the debate, but during those commercial breaks, the campaign staffs cannot speak to the candidates themselves. I suppose the candidates can speak to one another. That might be a little awkward.

All right, this is how the debate itself will work. The moderators who are over there will ask a question. Candidate A gets two minutes to respond. Candidate B gets a one minute rebuttal. And then candidate A gets a one minute response to that. At any point, the moderators can ask a one minute follow-up, a point of clarification. And it will repeat like that over the course of the entire debate.

Now, you see these microphones here. A lot has been made of these microphones. The microphones, they will be on when it's the candidate's turn to speak. When it's not the candidate's turn to speak, the microphones will be off.

How will they know? I'm going to take a long walk over here. The candidates will see, all over the studio, lights, lights on top of the cameras, lights on the walls, right here. When that's yellow, they have 15 seconds left. When it blinks red, they have five seconds left. When it's totally red, their microphone turns off. And just for point of reference, yes, the candidates will still be able to hear each other when the microphones are off, but you won't really be able to hear it. It will be muffled.

Finally, the one thing you have to keep in mind, there's no audience in here. It's the candidates. It's the moderators. It's our crew, by the way, who are still working and are staring at me right now because they have to get back to work because there is still so much to do to get ready for this historic debate. But we will be ready, Wolf, and it will be historic.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. John Berman, excellent explanation. Thank you very much.

Let's get the latest on the candidates, debate preparations and strategies right now. CNN's Kristen Holmes is covering the Trump campaign for us. Kristen, I know you have some new reporting about Trump's advisers really focusing in on the debate format that John Berman just went through.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's right. So, we had heard from senior advisers for weeks since the debate was announced, basically complaining about the format and two things in particular. One, the muting of the mics, and, two, John was talking about this lack of audience.

Now, we'll start with the audience. Their complaint was that Donald Trump feeds off of the audience, that it gives him energy. Well, now we've seen a real shift in that visualization or that idea around how Donald Trump will react to not having an audience. Actually, I've heard from a number of Trump allies who think this could be a positive. We have all seen those Trump rallies when he goes completely off script, he starts feeding into the crowd.


He's talking about things like sharks and electrocution in the water.

That is not the Donald Trump that they want to show up on Thursday. They want him to be focused and on message. They want him to be particularly honing in on three things, the things that they believe that he pulls better than Biden on, which is the economy, inflation, as well as crime and immigration.

Now, the other part of this in terms of format is the muting of the mics. At first, they were saying that Donald Trump, part of his strategy, as we've seen in past debates, was to continually, and I will use this word, not the campaign, badger the person that he was debating against, obviously something we saw back in 2020.

Now, there is a lot of conversation among Trump's advisers and allies that this could be helpful to Donald Trump to not have those optics. And Donald Trump himself seems to be doing some reflecting on his past performances, which might play a role on Thursday. He said in a very candid interview that he actually thought he was too aggressive with Biden in 2020 in the first debate. So, that likely play into how he is planning to behave on Thursday.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting for us, Kristen, thanks very much.

I want to turn to CNN's M.J. Lee right now. She's covering President Biden for us. M.J., what are you hearing from inside the Biden camp about what we can expect from the president tomorrow night?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, in these final hours, it really is all about fine-tuning for President Biden. He is trying to fine tune his message, his attack lines and also polish up his performance for tomorrow night. The Biden team has also, interestingly, been closely monitoring everything that former President Trump and his allies have been saying about their own preparations, really downplaying how much time they have been spending, dismissing the idea that the former president has been doing any formal prep sessions.

And one senior adviser that I talked to earlier today basically dismissed that idea, that they think that actually the Trump team has been doing more debate prep than they have been letting on, and that they expect that come tomorrow night, the Donald Trump that we see on that debate stage could end up being the most prepared that Donald Trump has ever been heading into a debate and certainly more disciplined and more on message as well.

Now, Biden and his advisers have been using the last week at Camp David to really prepare for a range of issues that could potentially come up and the three domestic issues that they really would like to home in on are the economy and reproductive rights and the issue of democracy. But having said that, Wolf, one area that is going to be really interesting to watch is going to be foreign policy because even though that is not domestic, they actually think that this is one place where they can draw the sharpest contrast between the two presidents they want to paint Donald Trump as being reckless and dangerous and basically unpresidential.

But with some of these policy issues, one challenge for the Biden team is that the former president has been sort of all over the place at times on some of these policy positions, making it difficult for the Biden team to actually know where he stands on certain issues. And that, of course, is part of the reason why they have gone through such lengths to be prepared for any scenario and any answer that Donald Trump might give.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee reporting for us, M.J., thank you very much.

Our political experts are here to discuss every angle of tomorrow's important debate as well as the apparently mistaken reveal of a key U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion. Everyone stand by. We're going to squeeze in a quick break first.



BLITZER: We're back here at CNN Studios in Atlanta, counting down to a landmark event in presidential campaign history, the Biden-Trump debate on CNN tomorrow night.

Our political experts are here to discuss it, and, David Chalian, let me start with you. Our new CNN poll of polls. Has Trump at 49 percent, Biden at 47 percent, it was 48, but now 47 because The New York Times poll was just added.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, New York Times poll which shows Trump with a slight edge there as well nationally, their first poll since the May 30th conviction of the former president shows Republicans largely still rallied around the former president, and President Biden still having work to do with people who say they voted for him four years ago but disapprove of the job he's doing right now.

Listen, this is a 49-47 of the average of the five most recent polls tells us exactly what we've known, I don't know, maybe for a year about this race. It's really close. It's going to be decided in six battleground states and moments like -- the moment that these candidates are going to have tomorrow night are few and far between. They're only scheduled two of these debates. It's a huge opportunity for American voters to tune in. And what has been such a stable race throughout, Wolf, tomorrow has the potential to have an event that can shake up that stability, perhaps.

BLITZER: So, Nia-Malika Henderson, what do you think of this format that they've all agreed on right now? How is that going to impact this? NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, I think if you're Donald Trump, it's going to take away the sort of circus-like atmosphere that we saw in previous debates, the interrupting, the sort of yelling, the surfing off of the crowd energy. And I think in some ways it imposes a sort of seriousness to Donald Trump that he wouldn't get otherwise, if it was a sort of crowd-like atmosphere. And so, in that way, I think that advantages him, right?

I think the disadvantage for somebody like Donald Trump is you have to be serious. You have to fill up the time with coherent arguments, coherent talking points. So, we'll see if he's able to do that. You know, it's a two-minute -- you know, he has time to respond, but he's got to talk policy and he doesn't often like to do that.

Listen, I think Biden is an experienced debater. If you look at sort of the field of Democratic candidates and Democratic presidential candidates, he wasn't always the strongest but he's got a record to sell. He's got to figure out if he wants to -- how much he wants to sell that record, how much he wants to criticize Donald Trump's record and sort of posture and anti-democratic ways.


And I think the bar for Biden is very high. He has got the most to gain and lose in this. He's got to find some moment that's going to transform this race because it has been remarkably stable and an advantage to Trump over this last year.

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Kate Bedingfield, you helped work on Biden's debate preparation, what, back in 2019 and 2020 when you worked at the White House. Take us behind the scenes. How's all the debate preparation going on over at Camp David right now?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, Joe Biden's debate prep is very methodical. He spends a lot of time going through the issues before you get to the mock debates that, you know, they're doing over these last couple days, which is where you're really standing behind a podium, having somebody play your opponent, going through the full format.

He spends a lot of time with his team going through the issues, working through answers, giving his feedback, redirecting, there's a lot of back and forth that, you know, means he's spending a lot of time thinking about the substance, but also means he's spending a lot of time absorbing kind of where he wants to be and how to make those arguments so that he's ready to do it on the stage. It's less about, you know, memorizing details and more about, you know, absorbing the arguments, thinking about how he wants to make them.

And then you get to the mock debates, and I can tell you from having prepped him to debate in 2019 in the primary against Democrats, prepping to debate. Donald Trump is a very different beast. And so in these final mock debates that they're doing, where they're going through the full debate and sort of letting the format run, letting Biden test what it's like to be across from Trump for 90 minutes, you know, in some ways, they're really trying to prepare him for the unimaginable. They're trying to prepare him for very personal attacks, for attacks on his family, potentially, you know, for some of the worst of Donald Trump.

And so, you know, there's a very, I want to say, almost freewheeling atmosphere around it. There's no holds barred. You know, the person playing Trump doesn't feel like I can't really say that awful thing that Donald Trump might actually say to Joe Biden. You know, there's a lot of work to prepare for that, because it's a very unique and challenging situation.

BLITZER: Keyword, unique.

BEDINGFIELD: Yes, exactly, exactly.

BLITZER: Shermichael Singleton is with us as well. Trump advisers certainly want them to focus in during the course of the debate on some key policy issues. But I want you and our viewers to listen to what he told, what Trump told some black business leaders today. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's just a terrible thing. It's weaponization and it comes out of the White House. Even when it's city and state comes out of the White House in order to attack a political opponent.

But since that happened, the black support, I think my representatives will tell you this, the black support has gone through the roof. I guess they equated to problems that they've had. But since this has happened, like the mugshot, the mugshot is the best set.


BLITZER: Shermichael, what's your reaction to that?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think the former president needs to change his argument. I think the reason that you're seeing some slight movement among black men has less to do with the mugshot and the criminal trials of the former president, Wolf, and more about the economic conditions that many black men are currently experiencing.

We know Americans writ large are facing rising prices. Many American writ large are facing -- having a job, but not quite having the income that meets or supersedes inflation. And so if I'm advising Donald Trump tomorrow, and the topic comes up about African-Americans, specifically men, I'm going to prepare some type of a policy position that speaks directly to what black men across this country are facing.

We're in Georgia, a state that the former president lost by a little more than 11,000 votes. President Biden is an unpopular incumbent right now. We've seen new polls come out from Marquette, Quinnipiac, and a sliver of others that showcase the former president has an advantage in every key battleground state, including Wisconsin. If he can win back the six states he lost in 2020, that's a path to the White House. But in order to do that, in order to reach out to voters, Wolf, that he needs, that are somewhat interested, particularly men of color, and some of what Donald Trump stands for economically, they want someone who's tougher, who's stronger, he needs to speak directly to the plight of those individuals and not characterizations of what he believes that they're experiencing and have gone through, because I don't think that's an effective message at all.

BLITZER: You want to react to that, Kate?

BEDINGFIELD: Look, I think I, I obviously agree that for where the battleground is going to be fought here is largely on the economy. And I think that's true for black voters. I think that's true for suburban voters, women voters. I mean, that is going to be a huge piece of the argument.

I would disagree that Donald Trump has a good story to tell on this. I think Biden will have a lot of ammo that he can use in this debate to hearken back to some of the worst pieces of Trump's economic policy from four years ago that you know benefited the wealthiest.

That's a really powerful argument that we see that people feel like, you know, Donald Trump cares about his rich friends, he cares about big corporations, doesn't care about me. So, I think Biden will have an opportunity to really try to undermine if Donald Trump goes in the direction that you're suggesting here. I think he'll have a lot of space to undermine that. But I do agree broadly that this battleground is going to be fought on this question of --


SINGLETON: I think -- just really quickly here, Wolf. I think it will be hard, Kate, for President Biden to make that argument. He's had four years. Younger voters, Latino voters, black voters, even moderate-leaning Republicans are not happy with the economic conditions under the Biden administration. And people do remember, at least the first two years of the Trump administration, the economy was strong.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, except that, except that wages have gone up under Joe Biden. Jobs have been created. Black unemployment is at its lowest under Joe Biden. Biden has a very good story to tell.

SINGLETON: I have a job with crappy wages. I go to the grocery store. Prices are still high. Gas is still rising. Electricity is high. Come on, Kate.

BEDINGFIELD: There are plenty of voters who feel good about the jobs they have. I think Joe Biden will have a good argument to make there, and importantly, a really strong contrast with Donald Trump, which is where he needs to be.

BLITZER: I want to bring David Chalian back into this conversation. As we all know, Biden has been attacking Trump for years and years, raising all sorts of questions about him. Why does he think that will work again now when the American public already has a pretty good sense of what Trump is all about and what Biden is all about?

CHALIAN: Well, one of the things that I think we do see in a lot of public opinion right now is that it's unclear how much of a sense of how the public felt during the time of the Trump presidency that they are bringing with them into this moment in time. You know, hindsight is benefiting -- having the distance from that and hindsight is benefiting Donald Trump here. People have a rosier memory now of the Trump administration than voters said they felt that way at the time.

And to Kate's point, I think one of the missions for Joe Biden is to see if he can remind the American people what it was like to live every day in the Trump administration. From his perspective, he thinks that contrast is going to serve him well with the critical voters they need to reach.

And I just want to make this point. As we all watch this debate, and I know there will be lots of like flashy headlines of news and policy substance and performance critiques and the like, but, really, you have to watch it through the lens of these undecided persuadable voters in six battleground states. And how they are going to perceive these two men tomorrow is critical to the outcome of this race.

HENDERSON: Yes. And the work Biden needs to do in stitching together his coalition, the coalition that won in 2020. And those are the voters that you're talking about who still favor Joe Biden, Latino voters, young voters, black voters, but not in the numbers right now that he needs. So, he's got to bring those folks back to the party and then also reach across the aisle and get some of those (INAUDIBLE).

CHALIAN: On stage next to Donald Trump will help do that, exactly.

BLITZER: He wants to bring those voters who may be on the fence right now back in a show up and --

CHALIAN: That's why I think they were eager to do this debate now and to try to wake up --

BEDINGFIELD: Yes. The stronger and the sooner they can draw the contrast, the better for them, no question.

BLITZER: It's happening tomorrow night. All right, guys, thank you very much. We'll have much more to discuss that's coming up.

Also coming up, the U. S. Supreme Court now responding after accidentally posting a document online giving clues in a blockbuster case. We'll have a live report on how the justices appear set to rule on the legality of abortions during a medical emergency.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The United States Supreme Court appears poised to side with the Biden administration and allow emergency abortions in the state of Idaho. That according to Bloomberg, which reviewed a document apparently posted to the court's website by mistake and later removed.

CNN's Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now. Paula, how exactly did this document become public and what does it indicate about how the justices are leaning right now?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the court acknowledges that this document was briefly, inadvertently posted on the court's website, but it denies that it is an official opinion and says that the official opinion will come in due course. But this document shows a 6-2 opinion siding with the Biden administration and allowing abortions to be performed in the state of Idaho when necessary to stabilize a person in an emergency room setting and not waiting until that individual's life is at risk, which is what Idaho law would have required.

Now, it's still, though, leaves a lot of unanswered questions, because this only applies to the state of Idaho and leaves unanswered what happens in other states where there are conflicts between state and federal law when it comes to abortion? In fact, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, she called this, quote, not a victory because doctors will still be in the dark about exactly what the law requires of them.

Now, three justices dissenting, Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, focusing their dissent on the life of the unborn child.

Now, this is the second major leak out of the Supreme Court of an abortion related decision. Of course, the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, that was leaked to a news outlet a few years ago. But this release is interesting because not only did it come from the court but it also comes just one day before the CNN debate, arguably the most significant moment in the presidential race up until now.

BLITZER: And, Paula, we're still waiting for some other big decisions from the Supreme Court in the coming days.

REID: Yes, they have a bit of a backlog, Wolf. We still have roughly ten outstanding decisions. We expect that they will release more opinions tomorrow. Friday could go into next week. Now, we're still waiting for the official opinion on this abortion decision, but we're also waiting for that big case related to immunity for former President Trump, which not only impacts him but also answers questions potentially about any criminal immunity that any former president would have.

There's a big January 6th case related to rioters who've been charged with obstruction. And then there is really a massive case that not too many folks are talking about.


It has to do with the power of federal agencies.

So, these are just a few of the big cases that they have outstanding. And they may have to go into next week to really release all of these to the public.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. Paula Reud, thank you very much.

I want to bring back our political experts right now. And, Nia-Malika, let me start with you. What could be the political fallout from this leaked opinion, if in fact it is an official opinion that emerges?

HENDERSON: Yes. Well, listen, I think it highlights the draconian laws that exist in some of the states around reproductive freedom. And these are laws that Donald Trump supports. I mean, is it a real victory that now women in Idaho, according to this decision, who were in a life-threatening condition might be able to get abortion care? I mean, that's the sort of.

So, listen, this is a good territory, abortion and abortion rights and reproductive freedom, for Joe Biden and Donald Trump does not have a good answer on it. His answer is basically states should be able to do whatever they want. They can disregard women's right to choose in whatever way and in whatever extreme way they want to.

And so he hasn't really been pressed on that. This is, I think, going to be a big topic tomorrow. And I think it's a strong suit for Biden. And, again, this decision, these are draconian laws and Donald Trump is apparently just fine with them.

BLITZER: Yes. This decision, Kate, as you know, would allow an abortion if the health of the mother was at stake, not just the life of the mother. How do you think President Biden will handle this issue of abortion tomorrow night on the debate stage?

BEDINGFIELD: Yes. Well, I mean, I think he'll say we shouldn't be here. And the reason we're here is because of Donald Trump and the fact that Donald Trump put three justices on the Supreme Court who overturned Roe and bragged about it. And so now we're in a situation in this country where people are being denied access to medical care that they need to, you know, preserve their own life and health there. We're in a situation where IVF is now under -- their potential limitations on IVF, on contraception.

I think he will continue to make the argument that Donald Trump is he is essentially taking away your freedoms. He is taking away your right to make a choice. He is inserting the government into a decision that should be between women and their doctors. And so this will be -- I certainly agree with Nia, this will be a very -- this should be a central focus of what Biden is pushing on tomorrow night.

We know that it is an issue that motivates not just Democrats, but independents, many moderate Republicans, you know, as he's really working to build enthusiasm to turn out his own base, but also to reclaim some of these moderate voters who helped him win in 2020. This is an issue that does that because it illustrates just how far out of the mainstream Donald Trump is. So, it lets him really make an argument about extremism that lands.

And the last thing I'll say is, you know, it is also a way to really argue that who is president matters, that this is a decision that has an impact in your life. It's not abstract. It feels immediate. And so that sense of immediacy, I think, he can use to his benefit, too.

BLITZER: You know, Shermichael, it's clear, all of us know that Trump over the years has been all over the map on this sensitive issue of abortion rights for women, reproductive rights. How should he navigate this if it comes up during the debate?

SINGLETON: So, the former president often says, this is something that should be returned back to the states. And I think he's moving in the right direction, but I think he needs to go a step further, back to the states in terms of a referendum. Allow the voters in every single state to vote on this issue. Because what we've found over the past two years, when given that option, voters, Democrats, even Republicans, are saying we want to protect reproductive rights.

This is not a winning issue for Republicans, Wolf. We have two years worth of electoral data to showcase that. As a strategist, I'm looking at a very close election. I do not want to be debating this issue with Democrats because we just don't win. And so the best thing is to say we're conservatives. We believe in small government. Allow the voters in the states to have whatever decision that they want on this issue. And whatever that decision is, we, as a party, should respect it.

BEDINGFIELD: I think the --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

BEDINGFIELD: No, I was just going to say quickly, I think the problem for Trump on that argument is that you have states like Arizona, for example, where, you know, a law from 1868 went on the books. They've since, thanks to the Democratic governor, adjusted it. But, you know, saying we're going to leave it open to the states means that some of these most, you know, draconian restrictions have been put in place. So, that doesn't feel to people like a hands-off small government argument.

CHALIAN: That's why Vice President Harris likes to label each one of these state bans or state actions as the Trump abortion ban to try to frame it and tie it to the former president. Obviously this has been -- to your point about the last couple of years of electoral data, this has been -- since the overturning of Roe, I mean, this should shock no one, right, if you overturned 50 years of precedent, it's going to be a pretty massive political issue. And time and again, we've seen that Democrats are advantaged over Republicans on this issue.

So, I would imagine if this does come up in the debate tomorrow night, this is going to be a place that Joe Biden, maybe more so than any other issue that'll come up on the stage tomorrow night, where he's going to want to stake a claim and probably own it because it's probably his clearest advantage, issue-wise, according to all the polling that's out there right now.


BLITZER: Nia-Malika, go ahead. HENDERSON: Yes. No, I think that's right, and push Donald Trump, because the real goal of Republicans is a national abortion ban. And that is what Donald Trump would likely want to see. He would, I think, cede power to these activists in the Republican Party who have pushed to overturn Roe v. Wade and finally got what they want, so make him own it. But I think also the idea of freedom, right? You have to paint the Republicans as extremists on basic human rights, on basic rights that women have enjoyed for many, many decades in this country. And that's the pivot I think he has to make. It can't just be abortion. It has to be this signals that the Republican Party is extreme in terms of freedoms and in terms of the way average Americans want to live their lives.

SINGLETON: But, Wolf, if I can quote you on this issue, it's a very small percent of the Republican Party that would like to have a national ban. Most Republicans do not agree with that. And if you've seen from Ohio, a plethora of other states where actual voters, not state legislatures controlled by Republicans, but the actual voters, it's not just Democrats that are voting to protect this. It's also a ton of Republicans understand this is government overreach.

I do believe the former president has room on this issue to grow. Those evangelicals are not going to all of a sudden vote for Biden to stay home. They're going to still turn out for Donald Trump. So, there's room to be nimble on this topic.

BLITZER: But Trump himself has acknowledged this is not a winning issue for Republicans.

SINGLETON: He has because he understands reality that we have seen. We barely won the House. There's a good chance we may lose the House in November of this year. And, again, I think Democrats have been masterful at really targeting suburban women in particular on this issue. They were once a reliable voting bloc for Republicans. We've since ceded that ground to Democrats because of reproductive rights. We need to win those voters back.

BLITZER: Good discussion, guys. Thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, I'll speak to Maggie Haberman, who has been covering former President Donald Trump for years, and what she expects from tomorrow's historic debate. That's coming up next.



BLITZER: President Biden and former President Trump will step on the CNN's debate stage tomorrow night here in Atlanta, both hoping to pick up votes as their battle for the White House remains razor close.

CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman is joining us right now. Maggie, what does a win look like for Trump and for Biden in tomorrow night's CNN debate?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a great question, Wolf. And these are -- they might both win, they might also both have bad moments. In Trump's case, he needs, as he has acknowledged publicly, to interrupt President Biden less than he did in their first debate in 2020. He needs to be able to articulate some kind of a vision for the future that isn't talking extensively about what he calls lawfare or the indictments against him or the legal cases against him. Because the more he talks about that, it just moves it to the front and center issue set and reminds voters of concerns that they have about him.

President Biden has to show that he can stand there for an extended period of time. He has to essentially reprise his State of the Union speech. He has to quell what is a pretty widespread questions and concerns among not just, you know, independent voters but Democratic strategists about his age and about his ability to handle the rigor of a campaign. And he also has to lay out what he wants to do over the next four years and what he would do with another term. It's much easier to be the insurgent than the person in power.

BLITZER: You've done an amazing job covering Trump for The New York Times all these years. We've seen Trump and his allies in recent days already trying to pre-spin the debate. What does that suggest to you?

HABERMAN: Well, this is always what they do. I mean, there's been a bunch of things. They've been pre-spinning the debate and how Biden will do. Trump has both set expectations low and then tried to say actually he's a worthy debater, and his associates have been pushing him to say something like that for a while. Now they've moved on to baseless allegations about drugs that Biden is on. So, this is what Trump does with everything that is an open question for him as he tries to frame it so that no matter what happens, if he doesn't do well, it's because the system was set up in some way against him.

It tells me that Trump knows that this debate needs to go well for him and needs to go badly for President Biden.

BLITZER: CNN has learned, Maggie, that the Biden team suspects that Trump may have done more preparation than ever before going into this debate. What is your sense of how much Trump is preparing?

HABERMAN: Trump has definitely been preparing for this debate. Although for the most part, he's been preparing in ways that are different than President Biden has. President Biden has holed up at Camp David with a number of advisers. Trump has largely, although I think not exclusively, done policy time where they have gone over aspects of his record and things that he wants to focus on, and then areas of, of contrast with President Biden.

You know, I think that the Biden team wants to raise expectations for Trump by pointing out how much prep he has done. And I think that's what that suspicion of theirs is about. But I do think it is true that he has taken this seriously and has been trying to prep for it.

BLITZER: Trump is now acknowledging publicly that he was, quote, very aggressive in that first 2020 presidential debate. How do you suspect Trump is likely going to behave towards Biden this time around?

HABERMAN: The problem with predicting how Trump is going to behave in any given moment is that he will, among other things, do the opposite, just so that he could say that people were wrong. Sometimes he just acts in the moment, and it's -- he is unable to contain himself. it's clear that both he and his associates would like him to behave differently than he did that first debate in 2020.


Whether he is able to do that remains to be seen. The thing, Wolf, that I think that can't be overstated is both he and President Biden really, really dislike each other and that creates something of a combustible combination or set of circumstances once they're on stage together.

BLITZER: Is there any expectation, Maggie, that Trump will use this debate and the huge audience, it will draw to make a major announcement to shake up the race, if you will?

HABERMAN: Well, there's certainly a possibility that he will do something like that, although I think the person who needs to, at the moment shakeup his set of circumstances is President Biden, not Donald Trump. There is certainly a possibility that he could announce his running mate at the debate. That I don't think is necessarily the likeliest scenario, but its certainly possible. Anything is possible with him.

But I think it's more likely than not that he sees how he does in the debate and then goes from there.

BLITZER: A new poll just out from your newspaper, "The New York Times" and Siena College shows that 20 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of independents are more likely to vote for Trump because of his criminal conviction in New York.

What do you make of that?

HABERMAN: I think that the responses from voters about a conviction and how it will impact their vote and four-and-a-half months have been very, very hard to actually pin down. There's definitely been a lot of, a lot of evidenced in past polling that in some places, it hurts Trump. I think there are people who may be responsive to his message about a weaponized justice system. Again, he repeatedly claims without evidence that this has all been puppeteered by President Biden.

But I just don't think any of this is determinative of what it looks like in the fall.

BLITZER: Maggie Haberman, as usual, thank you very, very much.

Coming up more news from here in Georgia, Joe Biden and Donald Trump have both won the state and it's crucial to both their campaigns this election as well. We're talking with voters here about what's expected to be another very close contest.


[18:51:30] BLITZER: We're back live here in Atlanta on this, the eve of CNN's landmark debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. The debate is in Georgia for good reason as this battleground state could prove decisive in November.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mariama Davis is busy in her Atlanta boutique, hopeful for the summer ahead.


ZELENY: When you ask her that age-old question in politics --

Are things better for you than they were four years ago?

Her deliberate answer is telling.

DAVIS: I mean, with the loan forgiveness and that definitely better. But things aren't, you know, might be just a little slight increase, but they feel pretty much the same.

ZELENY: It's not worse?

DAVIS: It's not worse. It's not worse.

ZELENY: While it's hardly the slogan President Biden is running on, it taps into a sentiment often expressed by supporters like Davis.

She manages The Beehive, a small business like so many on an economic roller coaster.

DAVIS: If people have a choice to buy eggs or food and gifts, we still expect them to buy food for their families but like I said, our doors are still open. So we're grateful for that.

ZELENY: She's also grateful the president is seeking a second term, and as high hopes for his chances in Georgia where Biden defeated Donald Trump by 11,779 votes out of 5 million cast, the closest margin of any battleground.

KELVIN KING, GEORGIA REPUBLICAN VOTER: A good candidate on either side maybe able to sway voters in Georgia.

ZELENY: Kelvin King, a conservative Republican leader, backed Trump in 2016 and 2020.

KING: Thank you for fighting for all Americans.

ZELENY: While he believes Biden is vulnerable on inflation, immigration and more, he said a Trump victory here is hardly guaranteed. KING: We have new Republicans who are excited about President Trump.

We have some Republicans that are not.

ZELENY: It's one of the biggest questions of the race. Can Trump capitalize on Biden's challenges?

The former president's campaign has started opening offices across the state, like this one in Marietta. But Trump has yet to bury the hatchet with the popular Republican Governor Brian Kemp.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me tell you, this guy's a disaster.

ZELENY: Who refused to give in to Trump's demands to overturn the election, which made Georgia and early epicenter of criminal charges against him.

KING: Re-litigating is not going to drive people to the polls, at least not the folks in the middle, the folks that we need. By focusing on today and tomorrow is really where we need to be.

ZELENY: Georgia is among the battlegrounds Trump is trying to win back, along with Arizona, while also picking up Nevada, which he lost twice. Biden could lose all three and still win reelection if he holds the blue wall of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and a single electoral vote in Nebraska.

To keep all pathways open, Democrats are making big investments in Georgia, with a dozen offices.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will gather, we will organize, we will build community, we will build coalitions.

ZELENY: That frame coalition is a pressing challenge facing the Biden campaign.

When we met Kerry Singleton last year, he was disappointed Biden hadn't achieved all of his promises.

KERRY SINGLETON, GEORGIA DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Just as we hold Trump accountable, you know, we have to hold Biden accountable.

ZELENY: After hearing the president deliver a commencement address at Morehouse College last month and focusing on his November choice, he sees it differently.

SINGLETON: My disagreements previously do not matter as much as the two people that we have as choices here. And to me, present -- former President Donald Trump just isn't an option whatsoever.


ZELENY: Back at The Beehive, Davis is optimistic for the fall and for her status quo sounds just fine.

DAVIS: You know what you're getting with Joe Biden. He doesn't pull any punches. He's a straight shooter and I'm happy to see more of the same.


ZELENY (on camera): So, can the Trump campaign seize on these headwinds facing President Biden? Wolf, that is a central question these Georgia voters and so many others were watching the debate very closely.

BLITZER: We certainly will.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. Excellent report.

And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. Justice Department is urging the Supreme Court to rejected effort from Trump ally Steve Bannon to avoid his four-month prison sentence. It's now been nearly two years since Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress. If the high court rejects his appeal, Bannon must turn himself in by July 1st to start that sentence.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for joining us.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.