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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt

Russians Seize Avdiivka in Ukraine As U.S. Aid Falters; Exclusive: Sources Say Russia Is Attempting To Develop Nuclear Space Weapon To Destroy Satellites; Political Divisions Hamper U.S. Strategy On Russia. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired February 19, 2024 - 11:00   ET




KRISTIN FISHER, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE RACE: Vladimir Putin may be the most mentioned leader in Washington this weekend. Russia has overtaken another

Ukrainian city as Joe Biden vows to get Ukraine more ammo. Trump is turning to sneaker sales, as he rails against a judge's ruling, forcing him to pay

more than $350 million in penalties. And Kamala Harris is meeting with governors, Congress people, even celebrities, as she tries to break the

Biden campaign bubble.

Good day, everyone. I'm Kristin Fisher to our viewers watching all over the world. It is 11 a.m. here in Washington, Monday, February 19. Presidents'

Day here in the United States. And there are just five days until the South Carolina Republican primary, only 259 days until Election Day, and this is


So, right now, the United States and its allies are struggling to unite around a strategy to counter Russia as the Kremlin seizes on divisions in

the West. You have Russian troops raising their flags in Avdiivka after Ukrainian troops withdrew and U.S. aid stalls in Congress. This as U.S.

President Joe Biden is vowing to get Kyiv the aid that it needs. The Ukrainian say the invaders are massing troops in other critical locations,

and Russia's military ambitions may not end on this planet. There were warnings last week, Moscow was trying to develop a nuclear space weapon,

and we have exclusive new details on the project. Sources say it is a satellite killer that could cripple commercial and government spacecraft in


Meanwhile, back on Earth, Russian President Vladimir Putin is being blamed for the death of one of his chief opponents, Alexey Navalny. Navalny's

widow, Yulia, is vowing to continue his work after her husband died in one of Russia's penal colonies.

All right. So, we're going to dive in to all of this with today's panel. We have Laura Barron-Lopez, a CNN Political Analyst and White House

Correspondent for PBS NewsHour; Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic Strategist. He was a Senior Strategist for Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential

campaign. Alice Stewart, a CNN Political Commentator. She is a Republican Strategist and former Communications Director for Senator Ted Cruz. And of

course, we have CNN Reporter Katie Bo Lillis who helped break that story about the Russian space nuclear weapon on Friday.

Katie, before we get to that, I want to just go back and talk a little bit about the Republican response to the news that Russian President Vladimir

Putin in some way, form, or fashion, had a hand in the death of his chief opponent Navalny. And I'd like to start by what Liz Cheney, the former

congresswoman, said about really what this means for the Republican Party. Let's play that soundbite, and will get your take on the other side.


LIZ CHENEY, FORMER U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN: When you think about Donald Trump, for example, pledging retribution, what Vladimir Putin did to

Navalny is what retribution looks like in a country where the leader is not subject to the rule of law. We have to take seriously the extent to which

you've now got a Putin wing of the Republican Party. I believe the issue this election cycle is making sure that Putin wing of the Republican Party

does not take over the West Wing of the White House.


FISHER: So, some strong words there, a Putin wing of the Republican Party.

Alice, I'll start with you. Do you think that Cheney is right that there is now a Putin wing of the Republican Party?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, & REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. What I do think is that of all the people that spoke out expressing their words

of sympathy for Navalny and their outrage at Putin, we didn't hear from Donald Trump on the death of Navalny, and that silenced a lot of the other

Republicans. We did hear from some, Senator Tom Cotton talking about Navalny lived as he died, a fierce defender for the Russian people. We

heard bipartisan support blaming this all on Putin. He has blood on his hands. He is a bloodthirsty tyrant. He is a tyrant of pure evil. So, there

is bipartisan consensus on the Hill that this was a pure act of evil. It is all the part of Putin.

But, we're seeing more reserved comments because Donald Trump has spoken out not so fiercely against Vladimir Putin, and his comments recently when

he was speaking about NATO and our NATO allies not paying their fair share to NATO, saying that Russia can do whatever the hell they want, that sends

chills through many people's spine and it sends a message to Vladimir Putin that Donald Trump isn't going to push back on him quite so much.


FISHER: Well, let's actually talk about what the former President Donald Trump has said. I mean, he doesn't specifically come out and talk about

Navalny in terms of his death, or he certainly doesn't condemn it. But, he does, in a way, kind of compare himself to Navalny. And then, he also

posted this on Truth Social, and then we'll get your take on the other side. He says "The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more

aware of what is happening in our Country. It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, Judges,

leading us down a path of destruction." And he goes on a bit from there.

But, Mark, that's what we have so far --


FISHER: -- from Trump. Does that -- do either of those things make sense to you?

LONGABAUGH: Well, what's really interesting to me is as somebody who came up in the age of Ronald Reagan to see the transformation in the Republican

Party from one who was anti-Communist, anti-Soviet Union to the makeup of today's Republican Party, which has become, in some elements, complicit to

Putin, and others just flat out isolationist. And the idea that the United States is not going to provide to the Ukraine what it needs to defend

itself from Russian aggression, it's just shocking to me the transformation of the Republican Party.

FISHER: Well, and that's kind of what President Biden was saying over the weekend. He essentially said that it's absurd that the U.S. would walk away

now right at this critical moment when Ukraine is running out of ammunition.

Laura, you cover the White House. I'm curious what you thought of the President's remarks over the weekend, and if there is anything more he can

say or do to get this funding bill passed, if that's what he thinks is in Ukraine and the U.S.'s best interest.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, & WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "PBS NEWSHOUR": Well, President Biden has done almost everything he can do

to try to get this passed. I mean, he even came to the negotiating table to agree to a border deal with Republicans, and then Republican said, never

mind, that they didn't want to be a part of that anymore. And he did that so that way he could get Ukraine aid passed and Israel aid and Gaza aid.

Republicans backed out of that. So then, he went along with the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's

plan, which was they were going to pass what they could. They did.

But now, House Republicans are saying they don't support that, that they don't want that, that they want to add some border back to it. But, again,

you see this hardline group, Freedom Caucus group, in the House Republican Conference that is essentially saying it's their way or the highway, and a

lot of them don't want to give any aid whatsoever to Ukraine. So, it's going to be really difficult for the administration and for the Republicans

who want to see that aid passed, get it passed at all.

FISHER: Well, and so, to be clear, we don't know for certain that that funding bill being stalled in the House right now is what led to this big

revelation this week about some of the other weapons that Russia might be trying to deploy. But, it's certainly been floated as a theory.

And Katie Bo, I just want to talk to you a bit about this other big news from last week that Russia is developing a space-based nuclear weapon. And

we were able to figure out on Friday exactly what that is. And it is a nuclear EMP, a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. And essentially, what it is,

is a nuclear weapon in space that when detonated would send out highly charged particles, electromagnetic particles, and it would essentially fry

all of the satellites that we depend on here on Earth, those satellites in low Earth orbit that are dependent upon for our communications and making

ATM transfers and things to operate everyday life.

So, Katie Bo, we know what this space weapon is now. But, why now? Aside from Turner making it -- putting it out there in the public space, what is

the intelligence behind it in the sense that, why is the U.S. government worried about it right now?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Well, we should emphasize, Kristin, that this isn't a technology that Russia currently has. Right? Like, this is

something that they want to do. The word that we heard from U.S. officials repeatedly was this is aspirational for Russia. But, the idea, the concept

of a nuclear EMP is, it's not a new idea. Right? It dates back to at least the Cold War. In fact, it's the plot of the first Pierce Brosnan James Bond

movie that I just rewatched this weekend, and I'm not sure it's aged very well.

But, U.S. officials have said publicly that they have been tracking this threat for months, if not for years. And we know, of course, from our

sources that the Pentagon in recent months has been watching just a stream of intelligence reporting related to Russia's efforts to develop their

nuclear-powered anti-satellite technology, which related to technology, much less alarming application. But, President Biden said on Friday that

what has so alarmed the intelligence community in recent weeks was that they realized that Russia had the capability to launch one of these systems

into space, which, of course, is not the same thing as saying they actually have a working EMP.


And as you know, Russia has had a number of high-profile failures in their nuclear development program over the years, including just a few years ago,

they had a number of prominent scientists who were killed in the wake of a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile. So, amongst some of the

sources that I spoke to in the course of reporting this story with you, there was some real skepticism that I heard that --

FISHER: Right.

LILLIS: -- Russia was really going to be able to do this. And then, of course, there is the question of, if they were able to successfully launch,

field a nuclear EMP and it's sort of sitting there like a lurking time bomb in Earth's low orbit, would they actually move to use it? Because, of

course, it is an indiscriminate weapon. It would damage their satellites as well. So, one U.S. official that I spoke to described this as a last ditch


FISHER: Yeah. And I think that's the thing that so many folks who cover the space (inaudible) time were shocked about is just the fact that this would

wipe out everybody's satellites in low Earth orbit, the Chinese, the Indians, the United States, Russia. So, it's hard to fathom that that is

the type of technology that we're talking about here. But, it is. And so, when you kind of zoom out and you look at everything that we've been

talking about, from Navalny's death to this potential nuclear space weapon being deployed by the Russians, add it all up and you're seeing a real

emboldening of Russia, of Putin.

And Alice, I'm curious how you think this plays into the STATE OF THE RACE right now here in the United States.

STEWART: I think there is different buckets here, and excellent reporting by the team here at CNN on all of this. But, there has been so much made of

Congressman Turner and putting this information out there, and speaking with someone on the Hill who knows the TikTok and why he put it out when he

did, he felt as though this was important information that our intelligence community knew about, and it was critical to get it out there, declassify

some of this information so people would understand. As we've said, this is a tremendously serious threat, and action needs to be taken. And we need to

stop talking about pointing fingers at who put out what information, when, and do what the best we can to declassify this information, talk about it,

and do what we can to prevent this from taking shape, and protecting Americans first and foremost.

But, ultimately, as you said at the top of the show, Vladimir Putin is making headlines for all the wrong reasons in this country.

FISHER: Well, and I think there is also a lot of questions right now about Chairman Turner and whether or not he did the right thing by putting this

out there into the public space. Nikki Haley, over the weekend, said she thought it was a good idea.

Mark, do you think it was a smart move by Turner to put this out there?

LONGABAUGH: Well, I don't -- I'm not sure whether it was a good idea or not a good idea. But, one of the things that I would emphasize here is the

stakes in this election. I mean, that's what this nuclear -- this capability, the death of Navalny. You've got Putin who just is a lawless

individual. And the question this fall is going to be, do we want an unstable Donald Trump as chief -- in the presidency, or do we want somebody

who with the experience and stability of Joe Biden? And I think that's what these events really, really put on the table for the electorate this fall.

BARRON-LOPEZ: When you talk to veteran U.S. diplomats, people who are even ambassadors to NATO, they will say that this is serious, that Trump saying

and encouraging Putin and essentially saying, if you were to go beyond Ukraine, go ahead. I'm not going to stop you. They've told me that could

essentially lead to another world war. And that if the U.S. thinks that we won't eventually get dragged into it, then that's probably not a wise

viewpoint. And essentially, that European allies are starting for the first time since World War II having to tell themselves, OK, we need to build up

our defense system in a way that we haven't since the last World War.

And that's something that you heard a lot at the Munich Security Conference and the Biden administration, Vice President Kamala Harris trying to

reassure allies, but, of course, they're certainly frightened that if there is a second Trump term that they will have to be on their own facing


FISHER: Yeah. And when you're looking at what this weapon could potentially be, you're talking about the first violation of the Outer Space Treaty of

1967, something that's never been violated before. So, a ton at stake.

Katie Bo, thank you so much for being on the panel, for all of your reporting. Appreciate it. And we'll have much more with our political panel

coming up in just a second, because Donald Trump, as you know, he is trying to turn a staggering financial penalty into political gain. How he is

responding to in New York judge ordering him to pay nearly $355 million in fines for fraud?




FISHER: From the campaign trail to the courtroom to the campaign trail again, Donald Trump trying to capitalize on that devastating legal ruling

in New York and really turn into his political advantage. At a weekend rally in Michigan, he lashed out at the judge who ordered him and his

companies to pay nearly $355 million in penalties for fraud. The Republican presidential frontrunner called it an election interference ploy. Well,

Trump may be downplaying the fine, but he is looking for new ways to make more money. The former President unveiled his own lines of sneakers,

cologne, and perfume at a convention in Philadelphia.

So, let's bring in Kristen Holmes for more. Kristen, he already had Trump water, Trump wine --


FISHER: -- some steaks. I feel like this was just a natural progression of the Trump brand.

HOLMES: I mean, look, one thing Donald Trump knows how to do is raise money off of his own name, and he has been doing this for decades. And so, this

idea that he is launching something new is not really a surprise. I mean, just a couple of months ago, he launched his NFTs. His entire team was

appalled at the time. Now, they are supportive of it because it made him $4 million in two days. I think the idea that this is going to somehow pay for

his legal fees is laughable, given that he owes more than $400 million in fees. Even if they continue to sell these sneakers at $400 a pair, it's

going to be a long time till he gets to $400 million.

STEWART: Yeah. Anybody that puts their booking photo on a t-shirt and sells that, saying never surrender when you've just surrendered in court, they

will stop at nothing to raise money. But, the reality is, as Kristen said, he has got to raise almost $400 million. That's going to be virtually

impossible when you're doing at one golden shoe and water at a time. But, look, there are people that are more than happy to give him money. Many

people have been giving to his campaign, specifically to help with legal bills up into this point. And now that they see -- what they look in New

York, yes, Donald Trump did wrongdoing, inflating his assets. He should have been punished. But, many of his supporters are looking at this

outrageous fine and saying this is weaponization of the DoJ.


This is weaponization of Democrats and liberal justices who are out to get him because he is the main competitor to Joe Biden. And they're going to

step up to him, not just in the ballot box, but they're going to do so in the pocketbook as well.

FISHER: Yeah. Well -- and it's not just traditional fundraising that we're talking about. Somebody, essentially a fan, somebody completely

unaffiliated with the campaign has started a GoFundMe to try to help the former President with his legal fees. It's at about half a million dollars

right now, as you can see, nowhere close to the $355 million.

But, it does give you a bit of a flavor, Laura, for how this could really be energizing his supporters and his base.

BARRON-LOPEZ: It's certainly energizing for his base. And every time he has been indicted, that has energized his base. But, I will say that the bigger

question is, is it energizing for the broader electorate come the general election? And I don't think that it necessarily is because of the

independents, the disenchanted Republicans that I've spoken to. Yes, President Biden has an enthusiasm problem with his Democratic base and his

coalition. But, there are those swing voters, some that voted Trump in 2016, voted Biden in 2020, and the ones that I've checked in with don't see

anything in Trump world that they can go back to.

And a lot of them cite January 6. They should cite the continued election lies which his campaign is primarily based on, and the conspiracy theories

that Alice was talking about Trump saying that the entire judicial system, whether it's federal, but also local DAs, state DAs. I mean, he posts on

Truth Social constantly that the entire system is rigged against him, which is clearly a conspiracy theory, but it's one that his base very much

believes. But, the general electorate, I'm not so sure that they'll go along with it.

HOLMES: Well, that was so interesting about this weekend. He was giving his traditional lines in Michigan. I mean, Michigan is going to be a

battleground state. We do believe that his lines are working when it comes to Republicans, to his base. But, does that actually play in a general

election? There really is no understanding of what this will look like when you hear some of his advisers saying, oh, it's going to be just as

successful, the general. When you really talk to them about it, I don't think they believe that. I think it's a huge unknown. And they -- they're

in the same boat everyone else is, which is like, how does this actually work, and how does this play out in a general election?

FISHER: Well, since you bring up Trump in Michigan, I actually have a soundbite from him during those remarks in which he is talking about how he

feels like this whole system is rigged against him. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our court system is a mess. What's happening in our country, they have to

straighten it out. All you see is bitterness and revenge and hatred. And these repulsive abuses of power are not just an attack on me. They're

really the attack on you and all Americans. It's a disgusting -- it's a disgusting thing.


FISHER: This is not the first time that we've heard Donald Trump use the argument, this isn't about me. This is about you. Do you think it's any

more effective this time around?

LONGABAUGH: Well, I mean, on some of this legal stuff, I continue to believe that the case that's most important here and will be most important

in January -- in November will be the January 6 case. If that goes to trial and Smith gets a conviction there, I think that is going to be an earth-

shattering moment in this campaign, and that's where we should keep our eye on in terms of these legal cases. But, I got to say, I'm in classic Trump

theater, a pair of gold athletic shoes of which he can't possibly wear that aren't made in America. I mean, you can't make this stuff up.

STEWART: And I think whether this might be an anecdotal case or not. I was in New Hampshire over the weekend. I've been in New Hampshire, one of the

key early states in the American presidential process, before, during, and after the primary. There were some Trump signs throughout the town and the

city. This weekend, there were more Trump signs, larger Trump signs than I've ever seen before. And that tells me that his base, at least in the

Republican side, is larger and stronger than it has ever been. But, to Laura's point, how will that translate as we get to the general election

when there are independent voters and disaffected Republicans? That is the big question mark. But, his base is large and just as strong as it's ever


FISHER: Before we move on, I think we need to double back and talk a little bit more about the gold sneakers because it was such a moment that really

dominated a lot of the headlines this weekend. Let's actually play the soundbite from Donald Trump talking about these sneakers, and get some

reaction on the other side.


TRUMP: This is something I've been talking about for 12 years, 13 years, and I think it's going to be a big success. That's the real deal. That's

the real deal.


FISHER: OK. So, those are the gold sneakers that we've taught luck so much about.


But, I think one of the things that really stood out from this weekend was Michael Cohen's reaction to those sneakers. I mean, he, of course, has been

so critical of Trump, but he even took it a bit more heated than you might even expect to hear from Michael Cohen. Let's listen.


MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: He doesn't care about America. He is out there hacking sneakers. He is out there hacking whatever

he can grifting off the poorest of Americans. Think about who is supporting Donald Trump and the use of his 757 plane? Who is supporting Donald with

all of his legal fees? It's the poorest people in America.


FISHER: So, I know we're talking about how strong Trump's support is, how strong his base is. But, I mean, is there any chance that Michael Cohen is

right that some of the supporters that he was just mentioning there see through this and they're just like, hey, you're just out there hocking


STEWART: Look, Michael Cohen, who we just saw, used to be Trump's fixer, fix everything for Trump, did all of his legal work. He is now the biggest

mixer that you possibly could find in Trump world. And there are many people like him that see Trump for what he is, and taking advantage of the

situation that he is in to raise more money for himself. Look, these golden shoes are classic Trump. That is basically his brand. And there are going

to be a lot of his supporters that will show up at the Republican Convention in the summer. They'll be wearing those golden shoes and they

will have a gold Lemay shirt on because they fully support Trump.

But, there are many people like Cohen and a lot of people that have been in the Trump administration that have had outrageous legal fees. Where is the

money for them? Where are the shoes he is selling to pay legal fees for everyone else?

HOLMES: Well, there is also like some truth to what Michael Cohen is saying here. It's not just about him being a grifter or selling shoes. I mean,

Trump has really astonished people since 2016 by raising the most money from these small dollar donors. And it's actually to the point where there

are various lawsuits about WinRed and him having recurring payments because people couldn't actually afford them month after month after month.

So, there is something to be said about the fact that Donald Trump is not getting the bulk of his money from these big high dollar donors although we

are starting to see it come in. It really is coming from the small dollar donors, the people who don't have the kind of billions and millions of

dollars that Donald Trump himself (inaudible).

FISHER: It is just remarkable to think about how much money he does have to raise both in his personal life and now politically, heading into the

Republican National Convention this summer. Laura.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah. That's right. I mean, his legal fees are exorbitant. And as Kristen was saying, so far, the amount of money that he is raising

isn't matching the fees that he is having to pay. And he may be facing even more fees down the road, I mean, with all of the cases that are expected to

go to trial. And so, I just think that if he is convicted of any of these criminal cases -- in these criminal cases, that that is also going to be a

big potential change in the electorate, in terms of voters' perceptions of him. And Republican strategists have told me that if he is convicted of

even one of those crimes, then they think that it'll not just hurt him and his election chances but it could also potentially hurt Republicans down

the ballot.

FISHER: It's a great point. Laura, thank you. Kristen, thank you so much for being with us.

And coming up, CNN reporting is going to take a closer look at the role of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and the efforts being made to reshape the

Biden tickets. Still ahead, why U.S. voters may be seeing more of her on the campaign trail?




FISHER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE RACE. I'm Kristin Fisher live in Washington.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris could play a more assertive role these coming months, as quiet efforts are being made for her to boost President

Biden's reelection campaign. Some supporters want to see more of her on the trail. One of the biggest topics of conversation in Harris' sessions with

campaign staff is how to energize black voters and how to tighten Biden's economic messaging.


CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, HOST, SIRIUS XM'S "THE BREAKFAST CLUB": There are things that she could say that I feel like, you know, he can't. And I mean,

man, we all remember her in those Senate hearings when she was pressing those people, when she was like, really on, you know, she was prosecuting

these people. I want to see her prosecute the case against Donald Trump in this country. I feel like she could go out there and really let the

American people, you know, know what's going on.


FISHER: All right. So, CNN's Isaac Dovere broke that story, and he joins the panel now. So, Isaac, I'd like to start by just asking you, out of

everything that you learned through talking to those, what, two dozen sources that you spoke with for this story, what surprised you the most?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, look, one of the things that comes up a lot in these conversations is that whenever anybody says

anything negative about Biden or says his numbers are soft, she shuts that conversation down. She said she doesn't want anybody talking about that.

This is very much not her scheming, going around his back, but trying to figure out how to make sure that he wins. She wants him to win. She wants

to be reelected as Vice President. She wants Donald Trump to lose.

But, she is really concerned with what is going on. She keeps saying in these meetings that she doesn't think they're going to lose to Donald

Trump. She thinks they might lose to the couch. And she means by that people who will stay home, not feel engaged, enthused by the campaign that

they're running. And so, she is having these conversations. She is trying to get information on the -- from the ground, from battleground states,

from communities that they need to show up for Joe Biden in order to win. And so far, we'll see where it all goes to. But, so far, the complaints

have been pretty heavy that have been coming into her.

FISHER: Yeah. And so -- I mean, Isaac, I know you say that this is all done sort of with the awareness or the blessing of the White House and the Biden


But, Laura, you cover the Biden White House. I'm curious if -- how they see the Vice President's role here right now, and if they -- if they're -- if

they want this kind of advice and suggestions coming from his number two.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah. I mean, there is no -- everyone knows that it has been a difficult time for Kamala Harris and the vice presidency, that she has

had trouble establishing herself in Biden shadow, because inevitably, you're always in the President's shadow. But, when you hear from other

Democrats, Democratic lawmakers, they really want to see her out there more than they do think that she could have a voice that the President doesn't

necessarily have, especially on issues like abortion.

And so, you do hear from Biden's campaign. You hear from those in the White House, that they do want to see her out there on key issues that she may be

more comfortable talking about that he isn't as comfortable talking about. Abortion is going to be one of those big ones, because even though

President Biden has talked about that more and more, it still is something that he has only in recent years been made -- a key part of his

campaigning. And so, that's one thing we're going to see her go out on.


But, ultimately, yeah. I mean, Democrats are concerned about the dynamic between the two, about her showing that she is someone that voters also can

vote for, because, again, when we're talking about the President's age, people then look to who his Vice President is.

FISHER: Of course.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Voters look to her, especially those swing voters we were just talking about, and they want to see that she is in line with the same

types of policies that the President is.

FISHER: Of course. And so, since we're talking about Biden's age, really the elephant in the room throughout this campaign, you have Ezra Klein in

The New York Times who wrote this op-ed over the weekend that was really circulated quite a bit among Democratic circles. And he is essentially

saying, Look, I like Joe Biden. I think Joe Biden is a good President. He is just a tough candidate because of his age. Here is a direct quote. He

says, "I think Biden, as painful as that is, should find his way to stepping down as a hero."

So, Mark, you run in Democratic circles. If Biden were to do that, step down and become the hero, what next, and what does that mean for somebody

like Kamala Harris?

LONGABAUGH: Well, number one, I don't think it's going to happen. So, let's put that on the table and sort of put that away. Listen, I mean, the issues

that Ezra raises in that column and in his podcast are one that we've known Biden is going to have to deal with throughout the course of the campaign,

and centrally that is the issue of age. And so, that is -- we've talked about that on this panel previously. He is going to have to demonstrate

that he still has the vigor and the ability to serve as President of the United States. I think he has done that over four years. Now, over the

course of the campaign, which is what Ezra was talking about, he has got to demonstrate that in the campaign, and I think that's the challenge.

FISHER: Yeah. And I think Jon Favreau, who, of course, was Obama's speechwriter during his administration, he kind of laid out what some of

the potential options are, and just really laid out the risks here. He said, "The challenge is, we just don't know and will likely never know if

nominating Biden is riskier than letting Democratic activists and insiders pick a lesser-known and potentially weaker general election candidate at

the convention with three months to go."

I mean, Alice, neither of those options are good.

STEWART: No. And we're talking about a staunch Democrat. We're talking about a very liberal reporter, columnist, and we're talking about Isaac

speaking with many of Kamala's supporters, all of whom are not having the conversation about we are in this to win this with Joe Biden. There are

many questions in the room. And look, this is not about the economy, which could get better. This is not about foreign policy, which could get better.

This is about Joe Biden's age and is only getting worse for him, and we're seeing this time and time again. Democrats and liberals who would normally

be supporting him are not supporting him, and they're raising these serious questions.

Look, I do believe that there needs to be pierce in the Biden bubble. It does not need to be Kamala Harris. She is the last person that could come

forward with any meaningful information. She was in charge of the border. She didn't succeed there. She was in charge of election integrity. She

didn't succeed there. I do think she has a strong role, and what Democrats could really campaign on, and that is the abortion issue. She started this

Reproductive Freedom Tour. I think that is a perfect place for her to campaign and push the issue of abortion rights across this country, and

that would be where she is best served between now and November, and not anywhere closer to the Biden bubble that she is.

LONGABAUGH: I agree with that, and I've said that previously. I think her role on abortion and the Roe decision is really key. One thing I also want

to point out, though, about Ezra's column is that he goes through how healthy the Democratic Party is in terms of having a very deep bench and a

lot of talent. He goes off to the tune of about 10, 12 different Democrats who are going to step up in 2028.

DOVERE: But, part of that is also, if Biden were to step aside and there is no reason to believe that that is happening, think about what that means.

It means that 10, 12 people go into a Democratic Convention, fighting for delegates. It is multiple rounds. I'm sure it would make for great

television. And so, we would all embrace it.

But, the truth is, it would be a very messy process, and that's what Jon Favreau's tweet --


DOVERE: -- was getting out there. The other part of it is that what you hear from the Biden campaign a lot is people really still aren't focused on

this campaign. They're not focused on the possibility of Trump coming back. They feel like when they can get to a place where voters are thinking Joe

Biden and Joe Biden's record versus Donald Trump and Donald Trump's record, they believe that eventually gets them to victory.

FISHER: But, how is that possible, though, that -- I mean, we saw what happened in 2016. We saw what happened in 2020. You can say whatever you

want about Donald Trump.


But, it's hard to discount that he can do things that a lot of people in the Democratic Party did not think possible.

DOVERE: Yeah. I mean, I think it's possible because Donald Trump has never won more than about 46 percent of the vote.


DOVERE: He has had worse elections, every election forward from 2016-2018. He lost in 2020. 2022, a lot of candidates around the country were running

as Donald Trump-inspired candidates, they lost. The Democrats had every reason to do very badly in those midterms, and they didn't. A lot of that

is because of Trump's influence. So, that's the kind of thinking that feeds to the Biden campaign feeling like when people focus more on Donald Trump,

when they think about it, not just, OK, he is selling sneakers, or whatever it is, but what it would mean for him to come back, and they feel like they

have a pretty strong way of saying to people, look, he was President. This isn't just talk. This is what he did that then they can get them -- they

can get voters in a large way to think about this differently, and maybe elect Joe Biden again.

STEWART: And they certainly want this to be about Donald Trump and what they perceive as a threat to democracy. They do not want this campaign to

be about the Biden administration and where the economy is. The numbers might look good, but perception of the American people is that they are not

better off economically. They do not want this to be about foreign policy where in -- two or three proxy wars. They do not want this to be about the

crisis at the border, because a lot of this is in part due to Biden's policies. That's what the Biden administration is hoping that they can make

this more about Donald Trump than this administration. They feel that's better for them.

FISHER: And when you look at where Kamala Harris might play into this, you brought up the point that she was originally put in charge as the point

person for the Biden administration's response to the border. She is --

DOVERE: And she was put in as the point person for response to some of the Central American countries.



DOVERE: So, not to the border.

FISHER: OK. To the Central American --

STEWART: The root cause of the crisis at the border.

DOVERE: Sure. But -- I mean, it was a limited job, and maybe that explains why she was given it or why she wasn't able to succeed in that.

FISHER: But, what -- yeah. I mean -- but, what has she done to show for that? And I think there is quite a few things that she has been -- that

have been added to her portfolio that she hasn't done much with.

LONGABAUGH: Well, can I just say just one thing? I mean --

FISHER: I mean, she was the chair of the -- she was the head of the National Space Council, and she hasn't really -- she has had a few

meetings, but that's about it. So, what more aside from the abortion issues, the black voter issues, could she get out there and talk about and


LONGABAUGH: I mean, I think every vice president --


LONGABAUGH: -- faces this challenge. And I think if we go back through history, you're going to critique Al Gore did this, or this one did that.

It's a very tough job, because you really don't have a great deal of authority, if any authority, but you have a very high profile. So, I think

the standards here have been a little bit unfair. And I don't think you can point to a disaster that she is responsible for in her tenure in office.

And I think at the end of the day, she is probably going to end up being a very strong asset for Joe Biden in this reelection campaign.

FISHER: Laura, you agree?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I do, mostly, I think that -- look, I'm curious if any of us at the table could name a single thing that they -- remember that Vice

President Mike Pence really did or that Vice President Joe Biden did, or maybe he actually gaffed and got ahead of President Obama on? So, I think

that the vice presidency has a role where you are in the shadow of the presidency and you always have been. And are there things that some

Democrats wanted to see more from Kamala Harris on? Yes. They feel like she hasn't been totally comfortable in the role. They wish that she would kind

of unleash herself and be more of herself when she is out there campaigning.

But, on abortion, I think we could very well see that. And I think we are going to see her much more this election cycle out there across the country

for the President in a way that maybe we didn't in 2020.

LONGABAUGH: It was a --

FISHER: All right.

LONGABAUGH: -- great story, by the way. But, I think my true sense is that Kamala Harris ought to spend her time campaigning and not strategizing, and

I think your point that the White House and the campaign are probably not loving the story of where she is second guessing or having meetings where

people are second guessing. So, I think Charlamagne tha God said, we need to see the Kamala Harris that we saw in the United States Senate, that

fiery campaigner.

FISHER: All right. I got to leave it there. Isaac Dovere, thank you so much --

DOVERE: Thank you.

FISHER: -- for being here right now and for that great report. Appreciate it.

So, the South Carolina primary just days away. Can former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley get ahead of Donald Trump? Just ahead, we're going to

speak live to the Chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party.




FISHER: Early voting is underway for Republicans in South Carolina ahead of Saturday's primary. Voters have to decide between former South Carolina

Governor Nikki Haley and former President Donald Trump. Despite South Carolina being Haley's home state, the former President leads her by a wide

margin in the polls.

And so, joining us now from South Carolina is Andrew Boucher. He is the Chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party. Andrew, thank you so

much for being with us. And I'd like to start with some of the latest polls which show the former governor of South Carolina, of course, really

trailing the former President. Let's pop this one up. It's from CBS News/YouGov. It has Trump at 65 percent, Haley at 30 percent. Andrew, it's

just hard to fathom that the hometown advantage, the home state advantage wouldn't be benefiting her more in that state right now. But, this is where

we are. Does that jive with what you're hearing right now in your state?

ANDREW BOUCHER, CHAIRMAN, CHARLESTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: I think so. I think it'd be crazy to think that Donald Trump didn't have a lead right

now. But, both campaigns are doing exactly what they should be doing, which is running like they're behind. And they're criss-crossing the state.

They're holding events. They're holding rallies. They're getting -- meeting the voters. They've got volunteers knocking on doors and making phone

calls. And this is the sprint to the finish and both campaigns are fighting hard.

FISHER: Still, with that kind of gap and with Trump the overwhelming frontrunner, there is so much talk about why doesn't Haley drop out? Is she

going to drop out? Why not drop out before she has to deal with the embarrassment of losing in her home state? And she addressed that question

over the weekend. Listen to this.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why would I give up when 59 percent of Americans say Donald Trump is too old and Joe Biden is

too old? Why would I give up when the majority of Americans disapprove of Joe Biden and a majority of Americans disapprove of Donald Trump?


FISHER: Well, and a majority of Americans don't seem to want another rematch between Trump and Biden. And yet, that's exactly the direction that

we seem to be going in. So, I'm curious if you see a sort of disconnect there in South Carolina.


BOUCHER: Not necessarily. Look, at every stage of her political career, Nikki Haley has been underestimated and she wasn't supposed to win the

nomination for governor in 2010, and she did. And so, she is fighting hard. And it's really -- it's a tough ask to ask someone to step aside and get

out of a race that they're fighting hard to win. In the end, the party will come together around the nominee, unify and beat Joe Biden in November.

But, as of right now, we just have a healthy competition. It's going to go on for the next six days. Saturday is going to be a fun day. There is going

to be all sorts of stuff going on here in South Carolina. But, I think Nikki Haley is going to fight till the end, and I think that's her right to

do so.

FISHER: Let's talk about that Saturday factor, the fact that this primary is being held on a weekend. Do you think that's going to help or hurt

turnout, or help or hurt either candidate in particular?

BOUCHER: I don't think it gives an advantage to either candidate. I do think it helps turnout. I do think it allows people to plan out their day,

plan out their weekend, ahead of time. And with early voting, we've had a lot of folks who had been able to vote starting last week and through this

week. That just allows people to make smart decisions about when they're going to vote, plan out their week, plan out their weekend, to make sure

their voice is heard.

FISHER: Finally, I know you don't have a dog in this fight. But, if you were on Haley's campaign and you were advising her about what she could do

to move the needle in these final critical days before the primary, what would you advise her to be doing?

BOUCHER: I think just keep criss-crossing the state, run hard, get in front of as many voters as possible, make your case. If that case doesn't

succeed, that's how it's going to end up. But, she has got to keep on trying. She is working very hard. Their campaign is working very hard. And

the Trump campaign has not just begun to look past South Carolina. The Trump campaign is working hard in the state. And that's great to see. It is

a respect for the state where, look, no Republican has gotten elected President of the United States without first winning the Republican primary

here. That's why we're first in the south. We represent a broad spectrum of the Republican electorate nationwide.

And to have both campaigns fighting to the end is a great -- it's a benefit to the state, and frankly, it honors the voters who have put in so much

time to listen to every single candidate.

FISHER: A critical state, a critical primary now just five days away. Andrew Boucher, thanks for joining us at the start of a busy week for you.

BOUCHER: Thank you, and it will be busy.

FISHER: All right. Thanks.

And it's time for a quick break. But, stay with us. My panel will be back with one more thing.


FISHER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE RACE. My panel joins me. Before we go, of course, I have to ask them one more thing. So, what is one thing on the

campaign trail or in Washington that you are watching in the coming days? And Laura, I'll start with you.

BARRON-LOPEZ: We talked about Ukraine aid and it being stalled in the House earlier. Right now, Congress is in recess. So, even as the Biden

administration is really trying to apply pressure on House Republicans to get that Ukraine aid passed, they're in their districts right now. And

they're hearing from Trump's base, and Trump's base is aligned with him on this, and they don't support more Ukraine aid. So, it's going to be really

hard when they get back.

FISHER: All right. Mark, how about you?

LONGABAUGH: Stan Ruecker (ph) released a memo at the end of last week talking about Democrats' theory of the race, which is when the stark choice

with Trump is actually presented, American voters will come to Biden. But, what he found is, in Philadelphia, among moderate Republicans, that worked.

Among Democratic base voters in Detroit and Las Vegas, not so much. So, I think it's a memo everybody should take a look at.

FISHER: Alice.

STEWART: I'm watching Donald Trump's plan to reshape the RNC in his likeness. He has already telegraphed and encouraged Ronna McDaniel, the

current Chairwoman, to step down potentially after South Carolina. He wants to move loyalists in there, the head of the -- Chairman of the North

Carolina Republican Party, his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, and Chris LaCivita, someone from his campaign.


It's not all his decision. This has to be approved by the full Republican National Committee members. They are concerned that this would be -- many

have said, this would be a slush fund for him to raise money for his legal fees. They're concerned the money would not go where it's supposed to go to

building state parties and congressional candidate. And they're going to -- some of them are really going to push back because they do not see that

being good for the RNC and Republicans across the country. So, it's not going to be as easy as he thinks.

FISHER: All right. Alice, Mark, Laura, thank you all so much for sitting with me, my first time --

STEWART: You did great.

FISHER: -- cursing (ph) this show. So, I've learned a lot about the STATE OF THE RACE.

And thank you all so much for watching. I'm Kristin Fisher. That is the STATE OF THE RACE today, Monday, February 19, which is Presidents' Day.

Stick with CNN. One World is up next.