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Democratic Candidates Hitting Trail Today After Heated CNN Debates; Democrats Pile On Biden's Record, Ties To Obama At CNN Debate; Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D) Michigan Endorses Harris; Top Navy SEAL Says, We Have A Problem, Following Several Incidents Of Alleged Misbehavior By SEALS. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 1, 2019 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


This morning, 2020 democratic candidates wasting no time to get back on the campaign trail hours after debate night number two brought drama in Detroit. Frontrunners Joe Biden and Kamala Harris not motoring out of the motor city just yet.

HARLOW: Former Vice President kicking off his event next hour this after the, quote, kid, as he called, Kamala Harris, did not go easy on him, like he'd asked her to, at the beginning of the debate, but he did fire back at Harris' plan on healthcare.

Arlette Saenz is outside of the Biden event this morning. The gloves were off last night. So what is the Biden's strategy this morning?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Poppy and Jim, certainly, last night, it was basically a Joe Biden pile on from all of these candidates. He was facing attacks from every direction on issues like immigration, criminal justice and climate change. But Biden was also able to dish it right back, and in one of those areas was on healthcare.

When you saw this matchup between Biden and Kamala Harris over each of their healthcare plans, this is a fight that the two had been bracing for for weeks. And Biden was trying to call out some elements of Kamala Harris' new Medicare for all plan.

There were he sees some inconsistencies. One of those being he believes it will raise taxes on the middle class. That's something that Kamala Harris pushed back on. And then take a listen to another exchange between two of them last night.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Any time someone tells you you're going to get something good in ten years, you should wonder why it takes ten years. If you notice, there's no talk about the fact that the plan in ten years will cost $3 trillion and you will lose your employer-based insurance. And, in fact, you know, this is the single most important issue facing the public.

And to be very blunt and to be very straightforward, you can't beat President Trump with double talk on this plan.


SAENZ: Now, Kamala Harris also pushed back on Biden pointing out that his plan would leave out about 10 million Americans from health insurance. But going forward for Biden, he still needs to prove to democrats that he is the solid frontrunner. There's a long time, a lot of debates between now and these Iowa caucuses and primaries just a few months away.

SCIUTTO: One of those democratic contenders who took a shot at Biden last night, Cory Booker, you know, all looking for something that they hoped would be a viral exchange, his on the issue of criminal justice reform.

SAENZ: Yes. Cory Booker really had a solid night. He threw some punches but really avoided getting hit too much. And he still was able to hold on to that happy warrior which is all part of his argument. And Booker and Biden had really been fighting over the past week on issues of criminal justice, including the former Vice President's support for the 1994 crime bill. And take a listen to their exchange where Booker went after him last night.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): We have a system right now that's broken. And if you want to compare records, and, frankly, I'm shocked that you do, I am happy to do that.

BIDEN: There was nothing done for the entire eight years he was mayor. There was nothing done to deal with the police department that was --

BOOKER: Mr. Vice President, there's a saying in my community, you're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don't even know the flavor. You need to come to the City of Newark and see the reforms that we put in place.


SAENZ: Now, Booker also had a pretty effective line against Biden, telling him that he can't use the mantel of the Obama administration only when it's convenient for him. But now, going forward, we're going to see if Booker can kind of capitalize off of this moment last night as he heads closer to that next debate.

Most candidates on this stage over the past two nights are not going to be in that next round of debates. Later today, we're going to be seeing Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Joe Biden all here in Detroit as they continue to make their case to voters after last night's debate. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Arlette Saenz on the trail, thanks very much.

Let's dive deeper now into the debate. We're joined CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis, Washington Post Congressional Reporter Karoun Demirjian and National Political Correspondent for The New York Times, Alex Burns.

Errol, if I can begin with you, the headline from the first round of debates, right, was Biden not ready, right, not ready for the attacks, Kamala Harris the biggest winner from the attacks on Biden. Biden more prepared this time, enough to maintain his position as the solid frontrunner?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say more attacks from more candidates but he was better able to sort of parry them. And, frankly, a lot of them had telegraphed what they were going to do. He knew what Cory Booker was going to come after him on. He knew what de Blasio, the Mayor of New York, was going to come after him at some point. He knew what Gillibrand was going to say.

And so he had a lot of set pieces in a way that kind of worked against him because you'd think he would be able to be fully, fully prepared. But he just kind of, you know, pushed back, established that he's somebody who's got a lot of experience, that he knows how to debate and that he's got answers for most of the questions, especially on healthcare that his challengers were throwing at him.


HARLOW: Let's listen to Kirsten Gillibrand who attacked him on his 1981 vote on paid parental leave but then took on the issue of race in an interesting way. And I wonder if you guys think it was effective? Here she was last night talking about white privilege.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): I can talk to those white women in the suburbs that voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege is. That when their son is walking down a street with a bag of M&M's wearing a hoodie, his whiteness is what protects him from not being shot.


HARLOW: Karoun, was it effective? Was it enough to give her the boost she desperately needs?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was an effective line. The problem, in general, last night is that there were no real break out moments or knockout punches that really set things apart the way that you saw when Kamala Harris was talking about busing the last time with Joe Biden. So the question for Gillibrand has to be -- it was her overall presentation something that just said, yes, that's the person that's showing in the debate. And I don't think that was actually the case watching the entire field last night. But in that moment, yes, she made a point that, you know, that got the audience's reaction because it was a salient point. It does go to the issue with democrats and how are they going to communicate to both their own people, their own very diverse coalition of democrats and these voters that they think they can lean back from Trump but they have to get the right message who are more predominantly white voters that voted for Trump in the last election. And so if she thinks she can bridge that divide. She's speaking to a fundamental problem of the democrats but it doesn't necessarily seem like that moment raised her above the others in last night's debate.

SCIUTTO: Alex, so, certainly Joe Biden had the crosshairs on him from the other candidates but so did Kamala Harris, right? I mean, her bump after the last debate kind of put her in the firing line as well. And I want to play Tulsi Gabbard going after her with some effect. Have a listen. I want to get your reaction.


REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI): She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana. She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the State of California.


SCIUTTO: Democrats have seen Harris' record as a prosecutor, as potentially fertile ground there. And Harris interestingly faded from the stage a bit after that moment. A damaging blow?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so, Jim. And I think sort of more fundamentally where the Harris campaign is concerned.

Last night was a real reality check on the hope that I think a lot of her supporters had after the first round of debates that she was on a rapid upward ascent that would designate her within a matter of weeks as the mainstream non-populist alternative to Joe Biden. That didn't happen. Part of that was the attack from Tulsi Gabbard. It was Joe Biden showing that he could, you know, really mix it up with her in a way he didn't the first time.

A part of it was the emergence of Cory Booker as another really strong critic of Joe Biden on some of the exact same matters of race and judgment and national identity and criminal justice.

So I think the good news for Kamala Harris is that every indication is that there are many, many democrats out there who really want to believe in her as a standard bearer in this race.

I think something of a splash of cold water last night was, you know, she's not the only alternative to Joe Biden. And for people who were tuning in for the first night, I don't know that she would have come across necessarily as the strongest alternative to Joe Biden. HARLOW: Here is the thing. People need clarity. And I think she has had a few different positions on healthcare and she's had different positions when she was a prosecutor in California, when she was a lead prosecutor, a personal view on the death penalty and then what she did in different circumstances. And it hasn't been consistent, and I'm not saying that's okay or it's not. But people, I think, are asking for clarity from her.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's because Biden's record is seen as a vulnerability, right, because she could call out --

HARLOW: But he has been all over the place too.

SCIUTTO: He has. And she has a similar kind of record to at.

HARLOW: That's a great point.

Okay. Guys, Obama, President Obama was not on the stage but he might as well have been last night. And the democrats, some of them went after him. I think it's only Julian Castro who really defended him and also Biden, of course. But listen to Cory Booker this morning on CNN sort of explaining why he thinks that's okay and not damaging to the party.


BOOKER: If he was running for president for a third term, I wouldn't be running. The reality is we have a situation right now where we have a president that is doing things in this country that are perverting our very values and ideals. And talking about what our plans would be, different than the previous president, different than the current president is not a bad thing.



HARLOW: Errol, is it not a bad thing for the party?

LOUIS: He is right in a sense that elections are always about the future. And so, you know, one of the weaker points, I think, or one of the more problematic points that Joe Biden keeps bringing up he wants to recover, he wants to take us back to who we are, that's sort of thing. You get some of that from Cory Booker.

But the reality is if you wanted to do a rerun of the Obama presidency, if you wanted to say, I'm going restore the Obama presidency and you're not Barack Obama, you're going to have a very, very hard time.

Voters are -- you know, look, it's an entirely different era, different questions that are confronting us, different issues, even in the course of the Obama presidency. Think about same-sex marriage, where it was at the start of the administration and where he was and where he ended up. The mainstream of the country kind of moved along. And that's going to be true on a number of different issues including healthcare reform.

So Booker is right in a sense that they have to sort of indicate where they want to go. Fortunately, for all of them, Obama is going to make it easy for them because he has shown no indication of trying to put a thumb on the scale for any of these candidates. They're going to have to run without him.

SCIUTTO: So far.

Well, Karoun, so Obama's name (ph) of policies were mentioned a lot, not in the finest light by the democrats. And Trump less so than you might expect, right? And is that unusual? Is that damaging at this stage? Of course, primaries are always -- you know, you're fighting amongst yourself to be the party's nominee. But is it unusual that Trump didn't take more fire from the candidates on the stage?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I think that it's interesting that you saw, I mean, a departure really from the night before, where you had democrats not really landing as many punches on each other and trying to make this more about us versus the President. And you've hit -- whether it's a good time or bad, we have hit that point in the campaign where the candidates are turning at each other to try stay on that stage for the next debate, so they can compete for this nomination. And that means that you're going to hear them talking about each other, which we did last night more than the President.

And also, I mean, as Errol was saying, they are in a new environment. They have to look towards actually fighting this president in the general election, President Trump and not President Obama. And the truth is that some of the issues right now that are out there, you know, that -- Obama was not a perfection era. There're places that you can say there could have been improvements on the immigration policy. The party has moved to a very different place than it was when on Obama's -- based on Obama's policies as president.

Foreign policy, which wasn't discussed much, there's room to have an open conversation there. And Obama did not get the perfect healthcare plan through because of the political realities. And that's dominating that can you do this or are there realities that will limit you debate within the Democratic Party right now as to how far can they go towards universal single payer system.

HARLOW: Alex, just on that final thought because Karoun brings up a good point, the President couldn't get a public option through President Obama because the political will wasn't there to get it done. It sounds from Joe Biden like he's saying this is a given. If I'm president, I'll have a public option and it's just going to happen.

But even his sort of more, quote, unquote, he says it's a more realistic approach than Medicare for all, it's not a given either.

BURNS: It certainly isn't. And I think, Poppy, that really hits the nail on the head of one of the biggest challenges for, really, all the moderate candidates in this race that, you know, there's a great deal of skepticism from voters, not just liberal democrats, democrats across the board, independent voters that Washington can do anything at all.

And so it's a question of whether Joe Biden talking about realism or Kamala Harris talking about pragmatism sounds clear-eyed and responsible and mature, or whether it leaves voters kind of cold and leaves them feeling like, look, all of this stuff is probably fanciful anyway so let's talk about big aspirational goals that define the values of the party.

I don't we have any clue at this stage in the race which one of those approaches, which one of those tones resonates with voters better.

SCIUTTO: Donald Trump won an election with a lot of aspirational positions, I might even say, fanciful, some of them. So, right, it was (ph) this around.

HARLOW: Good point. All right, Errol Louis, Karoun Demirjian, Alex Burns, thank you guys so very much.

Still to come, we'll speak with the former Obama campaign manager. What did he think about all of those attacks against the former President last night?

SCIUTTO: Also ahead, what did voters in the key swing State of Michigan think of the debate and the candidates? I'm going to speak to a congresswoman from that state. She knows what voters are thinking there. Lots to discuss, stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Two nights of debate in Detroit, and just like the city's great icon, Joe Louis, there were some punches. Democratic division on full display. So which candidate came out on top?

With me now, Democratic Congressman Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, who serves on the Appropriations and Oversight Committee. She also represents Detroit. Congresswoman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE (D-MI): Thank you so much for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So it's a big field. We have a lot of people on the stage. Are you ready to endorse any of the candidates?

LAWRENCE: You know, I watched the debate last night and I have a criteria. I'm looking for someone who has a command of the issues, someone who has the tenacity and the strength and courage to fight Donald Trump. And I'm also looking for someone who has compassion for this country. And I feel very strongly about endorsing Senator Harris.


This is a time in our country where we must move forward. We are going to have to have the fight for the soul of our country. And I feel Senator Harris has that tenacity, the courage and the compassion to be able to win this race.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's news there here on this program, Congresswoman Lawrence endorsing Senator Kamala Harris.


SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Because, so far, polling among likely democratic voters shows that they that believe that the former Vice President, Joe Biden, has the best chance to beat Donald Trump. And they will often list that as their number one concern really in this election above other issues is winning back the White House, defeating President Trump. Why do you think that is? They see Biden as opposed to Harris as most likely to win.

LAWRENCE: This is a democracy and we all choose the people that we feel are the best for that seat. As we know, Vice President Biden has had a tremendous career. He has shown leadership in so many ways. But for this time, and for this race, I feel that Senator Harris has the ability, the tenacity, the strength and the compassion, the vision to be able to move this country forward, and win the race, which very important to me.

SCIUTTO: As you know, very important to voters as well, really, issue of healthcare and Biden and Harris had something of a tense exchange last night. Biden making the point that Medicare for all does, in effect, have a tax and that there will be a deduction from people's salary. That's the deductible, as he was phrasing it there.

I watched Senator Harris on our own channel this morning explain her answer on the issue of employer-based plans that remain very popular among many democratic voters and I was confused. Can you explain clearly what the Senator's position is on healthcare reform?

LAWRENCE: Her position is that we must have choice. It's been clear. She's talked to the citizens of this great country and they are clear. They want a choice to have a private plan or to participate in a Medicare for all plan.

She also found that they want to be able to have lower costs when it comes to X-rays, prescription drugs and those things and her plan includes that. And the other thing fundamentally everyone feels that the choice of healthcare or healthcare is a human right. She has presented a plan.

And so it is one that we're moving forward with. I'm excited about it because it does have that element of choice, which is important to me. Unlike some of the other plans, it does not give choice. It puts everyone on that same plan.

SCIUTTO: It doesn't really have the choice that many Americans want, which is to keep their employer-based plan. I hear her argument. She talks about portability, so it's not tied to employer. But, frankly, you know people get comfortable with their healthcare, and if they like it as tens of millions of Americans do, their employer-based plan and then they're told, well, that's going to change, they're not going like that. How does Senator Harris win over voters on that question? LAWRENCE: She's been very clear that there is going to be a phasing program, this will not be done overnight and there will be choice. I am repeating, there will be choice in the Senator's plan.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Final question if I can. I don't have to tell you how the Michigan economy has thrived under President Trump, Michigan, of course, went Trump's way by a relatively small number of votes in 2016. But the economy has been strong since then. I wonder how you explain to voters, how a democratic candidate explains to voters in Michigan that 2020 is the time to change?

LAWRENCE: Let's be very clear. Detroit, the city I represent, is the second highest in poverty in this country. So when you talk about the employment rate, the people who are working poor in Michigan and in the Detroit area is a living reality that people may have a job but they are still classified as living in poverty.

We are seeing plants close. We also have seen some plants open. So we are living in this volatile environment right now of losing a job, hoping to get a job in the new factory, understanding that the workforce is changing. There's a skilled workforce that is happening with jobs. And we see people coming into Detroit and into Michigan not necessarily employing those who live here.

We still have challenges. I am grateful I have a stock portfolio. I will tell you my stock portfolio is doing well.


But when I look at the people that I represent all and people all over this country, be clear, everyone, in this country, it must be included in this economic resurgence and that is not a reality and that's where Trump is not hitting a home run.

SCIUTTO: I hear you. Right, only about half of Americans are invested in the stock market. Congresswoman Lawrence, we appreciate you joining the broadcast this morning.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. CNN has obtained a blistering letter written by the Commander of all U.S. Navy SEALS. In it, he writes quote, we have a problem.

HARLOW: Wow. And this comes in the wake of several high-profile incidents of alleged misbehavior by Navy SEALS. He has given his commanders until next Friday to tell him how they will ensure that troops are engaging in ethical and professional behavior. Let's go to the Pentagon. Our Barbara Starr joins us now.

I mean, to see something like this really says a lot. It's a severe concern. What more are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is from Rear Admiral Collin Green. He is the head of all Navy SEALS, some of, of course, the most elite troops in the U.S. military. The letter begins, what really got my attention, bold-face type, we have a problem. You don't see admirals write that every day. And then he goes on to say -- listen to what he says to the troops, and I quote, I don't know yet if we have a culture problem. I do know we have a good order and discipline problem that must be addressed immediately.

What Admiral Green is so concerned about right now is there had been a number of very high-profile cases of Navy SEAL misbehavior, just two of them. One SEAL Team sent home from Iraq over allegations of sexual assault and drinking alcohol in the field, which is illegal, of course, another team facing punishment for using cocaine. There have been a number of incidents.

What Admiral Green is telling his commanders is by next Friday, he wants their details on what problems they see and what solutions they are ready to offer. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. Barbara Starr, thank you very much for that reporting. Keep us posted.

Now back, to politics and the debate. He was not on stage last night but President Obama's policies certainly came under frequent attack from his fellow democrats. Is that a good strategy for the party? Obama's former campaign manager will be with us next.