Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Unconventional Democratic National Convention Kicks Off Monday; Interview with Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) About His Endorsement of Joe Biden; Will Biden-Harris Ticket Energize African- American Voter Turnout?; House Likely to Return from Recess to Address Postal Service Funding Bill; Joe Biden's Journey to the Nomination. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 16, 2020 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: May all of them rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Welcome to a special edition of 360. Tonight we're looking ahead to the most unconventional Democratic National Convention ever. No convention hall, for starters. The proceedings are being held by and large like a giant town hall with a kind of video walls and remote studios you might find right here. But before main sets as well in Los Angeles, New York, also Milwaukee, where the convention was originally supposed to be held, and Wilmington, Delaware, where Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris will give their acceptance speeches.

Yet for all the novelty of the presentation, the purpose of it remains the same. And the stakes this time around could not be any higher. Right now more than 170,000 American lives have been lost to the pandemic. Millions are out of work. The president who's openly talked about delaying the election, repeatedly suggested it may be rigged and was impeached for seeking foreign help to win, is now also accused of crippling the Postal Service, or at least attempting to, at a time when it may not be safe to vote in person.

Late today House Speaker Pelosi said she'll be calling on members to return early to address that issue. All of it factors into the conversation tonight. So there's new CNN polling that shows a tightening four-point race in voter enthusiasm at a 17-year high. It also shows a statistical tie in 15 battleground states and the president with a 42 percent job approval rating which is a slight uptick from June and about on par with his performance for the year.

So, with all that, there's Kamala Harris' groundbreaking role as the first African-American and Asian-American woman to share the ticket. We'll talk about that. 2000 nominee, former vice president Al Gore joins us tonight, as does Congressman James Clyburn, without whom Vice President Biden might not be the party's nominee.

But first, quick read on the Democrat strategy going in. Jeff Zeleny joins us to start that off.

So what is the Democrats' plan to try to get the most out of this convention they can and get some momentum?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, good evening. Talking to a variety of Democratic strategists, there are two main objectives, one is to continue trying to make this a referendum on the president, on the sitting president, through coronavirus as you said, through his mismanagement of other issues. So that is a central theme. As well as introducing Joe Biden to American voters.

Yes, Joe Biden has been around for a long time. Yes, it was 33 years ago that he first ran for president in the 1988 cycle but there are a lot of things that people don't know about Joe Biden. So by the end of this week, we will know a lot more about Joe Biden as well as Kamala Harris. But we are going to see a variety of live feeds and interviews from average people across the country being filtered in.

So there is not going to be the music, there's not going to be the confetti or balloons, but it is going to match the moment, in the words of one Democratic official. These are serious times, serious issues, serious challenges. So this is going to be a much more serious convention in that regard.

COOPER: I know Michelle Obama is speaking tomorrow. Obviously speeches by Vice President Biden and Senator Harris are the main events. Beyond that, Michelle Obama, there's President Obama. Secretary Clinton will also be speaking this week. All of whom have very personal histories both with President Trump.

What's expected from them? And do we know -- I mean, what is this going to actually look like, like, when it starts, what are we going to see?

ZELENY: I'm told it's going to look more like, you know, just one of these many shows that we've seen during the coronavirus. Like the NFL draft, for example, or these graduation specials. This is going to be very much a live broadcast but it's going to be with feeds coming from every different place. It's going to have a real time reaction from actual voters.

So tomorrow evening Michelle Obama, as you said, is going to speak. Also Bernie Sanders. Don't forget what Democrats also are trying to do here is unify this party. And the president, of course, helps them doing that. But I am told that the president is not going to be front and center in most of these speeches. This is going to be a time to urge Democrats to come and vote. But there are going to be some surprises as well in some of these speeches.

But we're going to hear from a couple of former presidents, Secretary Clinton, of course, who ran as well, but it is the big speeches on Wednesday evening with Senator Harris and Joe Biden's speech on Thursday which is really going to be the big moment. They are, of course, trying to win over some of these swing voters. Some of these people who haven't necessarily decided.

You saw our polling right there. This is going to be a difficult election. Democrats realize that. So it's also designed I'm told to sort of refocus the mind here and show that, you know, the election day is some 78 days away but it's actually coming much, much sooner because of early voting and other matters. So it's also designed to help organize voters because that of course is the whole key here -- Anderson.

COOPER: So just -- I mean, I don't know if you know the details on this, but I'm just -- I don't quite understand what it's going to -- I still don't understand what it's going to look like. Say it starts at 8:00 p.m.

ZELENY: Right.

COOPER: I mean, is there somebody emceeing it?

ZELENY: Right.

COOPER: Like what's the first thing people see? Do we know?

ZELENY: Yes. Someone is going to be essentially gaveling this in.

[20:05:04]

This was all supposed to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so we're going to see a lot of that. But then after that, it's just going to be a series of live speeches. And there are going to be entertainers and hosts, I'm told, who are going to bridge this all together. So there will be music and songs. But there are going to be emcees who are kind of making this flow. But there also are going to be real-life stories. We're going to looking into people's living rooms, looking into classrooms, other matters. So this is going to be something they're trying to bring to life actual people.

The question of course is, are as many people going to tune in and watch? A lot of people are homebound so perhaps they will -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. And it's going it be fascinating.

Jeff Zeleny, appreciate it.

ZELENY: Sure.

COOPER: Throughout the night tonight, we'll be joined by CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN senior political commentator and former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, also fellow CNN political commentator and Obama alum Van Jones.

So, David, I mean, what do you think we should expect from Democrats just in terms of throughout this week getting their party excited, trying to get, you know, momentum?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, I actually think this could be a very good week. It's an important week. You don't, in a campaign, Anderson, get many opportunities to get millions of Americans together to watch what you're doing. Conventions are important even when they're unconventional like this one. And I'm of the mind that, yes, you sacrifice some of the excitement and energy that comes from having crowds, but there is more control and creative opportunities when you're actually producing television shows, which is what they're doing.

They're going to have celebrity hosts every night, I understand, to kind of weave through all of this. A lot of testimonials. A lot of videos. Some entertainers. The speeches will be shorter. It will be faster paced. My guess is it will be better viewing than the kind of anachronistic kind of convention that we're used to.

COOPER: Gloria, in terms of speeches, I mean, a lot of notables this week. Do you have a sense of who's -- you know, I mean, there's a lot of people that I -- you know, Michelle Obama is going to be interesting obviously tomorrow night. There's certainly going to be a lot of people. What do you -- what are you looking forward to just in terms of the politics of this and sort of the production of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here's the interesting thing to follow on what David is saying. Say you have Bernie Sanders speak, if this were a normal convention, Sanders' supporters might be demonstrating on the floor as they did when Hillary Clinton was nominated and you would see a party that did not look unified. But since there isn't that kind of a convention, you're going to have someone like Bernie Sanders deliver his speech and he will be talking not only to his supporters, to the entire Democratic Party, and the country, and you won't see any kind of ruckus on the floor.

So from the producers' point of view of this convention, it makes it a little easier for them to get their message across because it will not be diluted by anything else that's going on. And think that's the way they're trying to produce it all.

COOPER: I mean, you know, Van, just from a TV production standpoint, as somebody who is interested in TV production, I think it's fascinating to just kind of -- I mean, I wish there were, you know, we were all in the rooms where they're actually kind of pitching, have been pitching their ideas and planning this out, because I still don't quite understand what it's going to look like.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I don't either. It's going to be fascinating. And the thing is, right now people are freaked out. Just regular people, they're freaked out. They're worried about can they send their kids to school or not? Either way seems like it's bad. People are worried about the post office. You're seeing, you know, the mailboxes being taken away. Can we vote? What's going on?

And so you have an audience of people looking for something. They're looking for something. And so can you deliver what they're looking for? The question is, is help on the way? Is there a way out? Can we get out of this mess? If that is the entire rationale of this big TV production, it's going to be a great production. If it winds up being well, we've got to appease this group and that group and the other group, and this person needs a chance to talk -- if it becomes TV by committee, this is going to be terrible.

So nobody knows how this thing is going to work out. But I'm going to tell you, there is a chance right now to deliver to a whole -- to millions and millions of Americans the idea that we can get out of this mess with this party.

COOPER: Well, Van, I mean, the historic nature of this, Senator Harris being the first black woman on a major party's presidential ticket, she won't have an arena full of delegates to share her story with but it could be, you know, for many people really their first introduction to Kamala Harris.

JONES: Listen, the whole story right now to me is the rise of Kamala Harris. You know, a star is born. Hope is reborn. And when the chips are down, you've seen Kamala Harris do stuff on a microphone that very few politicians have done. When she had that big, big rally in Oakland when she first started, she blew people's brains with that thing.

[20:10:03]

And then her most recent talk where she was talking about Joe Biden's son, you know, she can be streaky, sometimes she can miss it, but I guarantee you if she turns in the kind of performance that she does at her best, she's going to have a whole country falling in love with her this week.

COOPER: David, you know, to Van's point, there is an intimacy that I was struck by with her delivery at the event with Joe Biden earlier in the week and this is a format which actually intimacy is possible because it's not in front of thousands of people. It's --

AXELROD: Yes.

COOPER: You know, it's sitting as close as I am right now to this camera.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes. They are fireside chats in many ways. And I really think that is advantageous. You know, it's interesting when you prep someone to speak at a convention, the first thing you tell them is, remember, you're not talking to the people in the hall. You're talking to the 18 million or 20 million, or whatever number of million people who are watching at home and so you don't want to scream, you don't want to bellow because you're talking to them, and the microphone will do the work.

And now that's going to be obvious to everybody who gives these speeches. Again, all the speeches are going to be shorter than we're accustomed to as well, which I think will be -- will be positive.

But I just want to make a couple of points. One is, for Joe Biden, this convention is really important because though he's had 50 years in politics, he's not really all that well known. People know he was Barack Obama's vice president. They don't know about what he did while he was vice president, which was pretty substantive. They don't know -- they know that he lost his son because we lived that with him when he was vice president.

They don't know about the rest of his life. The earlier tragedy. His Senate career and the things he did there. This is an opportunity to flesh that out. I remember in 1992 Bill Clinton went into the Democratic convention and people felt that he was a kind of entitled Yale kid and they did a movie called, "The Man From Hope." And it changed perceptions of Bill Clinton. That's the opportunity you have with a convention like this.

The second thing is the economy. The second thing is the economy. The one place where Donald Trump still retains an advantage over Joe Biden in polling is on managing the economy. And it is really important for Biden to -- for this convention to challenge what Trump's record was and to lift up Joe Biden's economic vision for the country, to Van's point, about there is a better day ahead. And I think if they do those two things, they'll come out ahead from this convention.

COOPER: Gloria, how about you?

BORGER: I just want to add to that. I would add a third thing, which is in making the contrast with Donald Trump, and you can do it implicitly, is to talk about one characteristic of Joe Biden that stands out when you talk to people who have known him over the years as I've done, and that is this notion of empathy. This is somebody who understands your problems, understands people like you, can reach out to people like you.

If Donald Trump has an Achilles' heel, that's it, people do not think he understands their problems. And is -- you know, that is kind of Biden's superpower if you will, when I've interviewed a lot of people about him. And I think if they can talk about that, and you saw Kamala Harris doing a little of it, and you will see speaker after speaker talking about their personal experiences with Biden when they were grieving, when they were ill, when they needed to talk to somebody.

And I'm sure you're going to hear a lot about that at the convention and that contrast with Donald Trump, particularly during COVID, is going to be very, very important.

COOPER: Yes. Yes.

Coming up, we're going to talk to Congressman James Clyburn. Pretty fair to say that if it wasn't for Congressman Clyburn, his endorsement and efforts in South Carolina, Joe Biden very well may not have been the Democratic nominee.

We'll talk to Congressman Clyburn ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:18:16]

COOPER: Three days ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary, a must-win for Joe Biden's then-struggling campaign, my next guest announced his endorsement for Joe Biden. James Clyburn is a longtime congressman from South Carolina and the current House majority whip. And the weight of his support on February 26th not only helped Biden cement a huge victory in South Carolina, gave the momentum he needed to rally Democrats, win the nomination, it's often said that no other person other than the candidate himself is more responsible for Joe Biden' victory. Clyburn is a longtime confidant of Biden. He'll be speaking tomorrow

night at the convention. On the day of his endorsement Clyburn said of Biden, quote, "We know Joe, but more importantly Joe," excuse me, "he knows us." Speaking of Biden.

Congressman James Clyburn joins us now.

Congressman, thank you very much for being with us. As you look ahead to this convention, which is certainly unconventional, and reflect on how things have unfolded, did you ever anticipate how much your endorsement of Vice President Biden before the primary would reshape the trajectory of this race?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me, Anderson. You know, going into that endorsement, I always knew I was going to vote for Joe, but really not until I had that encounter at the St. John's Baptist Church in Richmond, South Carolina, that I realized that people were waiting to hear from me. You know, a lot of people have talked about it.

A lot of media have written about that encounter. But it's impossible to capture the expression on their face and the way he said to me, I needed to hear that. And this community needed to hear from you. I realized then that the reservoir of goodwill for Joe Biden was there, and people were having a lot of problems with the reporting.

[20:20:13]

Whether or not Joe and the Democrats were taking people for granted, whether or not he had this kind of compassion, sensitivity, that voters wanted to see in the Democratic nominee. And so I felt from that conversation that maybe I could make the endorsement in such a way that would have the kind of impact that it did have.

COOPER: Yes.

CLYBURN: So in preparation for it -- I'm sorry.

COOPER: No, no, I'm sorry. I was saying yes.

CLYBURN: In preparation, I met with him on Sunday evening and then on that Monday I called my longtime friend, Antoine Seawright. And I said to Antoine, this is what I want to do, this is when I want to do it, I want you to help me put together the radio ads that I need to follow up my endorsement bid, the robocalls. And we wanted to do this not just in South Carolina but up in North Carolina, down in Texas, in Mississippi and Alabama.

So we laid that plan out. So this was not any fly-by-night kind of thing. We spent all day Monday putting those together and then, of course, on Tuesday, night of the debate, I sat there on pins and needles hoping that nothing would get blown and so on Wednesday morning when I made the endorsement, we followed it up immediately with radio ads, getting that word out.

COOPER: Yes. CLYBURN: And after the primary election that Saturday the 29th, I went

straight to North Carolina the next morning. Went to Goldsboro, went to Fayetteville. And I could tell it was working and working perfectly. So I called Antoine, I said blanket the Super Tuesday states, I think we got the surge we were hoping to get.

COOPER: Yes. You certainly did. You see Kamala Harris now having to deal with the same birther lies that President Obama had to deal with. President Trump now says he isn't going to pursue that, just that lie, but he hasn't acknowledged that there isn't anything actually to pursue there. It's not surprising, I guess, but what does it tell you about how the next several months are going to go?

CLYBURN: It's going to be a tough several months. There's no question about that. We Democrats expect that we'll have more falsehoods spread around than ever in the history of politics in this country. You know, I know way back in the day, I've studied history pretty fairly, when people would get on the stump, did not have the kind of communication we've got today, but they would just say things. Knowing full well it's not true.

And, of course, we got away from that, but it's back now. And it's come back with a vengeance. And we have a president who seems not to have a very good relationship with the truth. Doesn't care to have a relationship with the truth. And so I believe that we are going to be up against the spreading of these falsehoods and we are going to have to be prepared to contend with that and I think we will.

COOPER: Congressman Clyburn, finally just what are you telling voters who are concerned about voter suppression, who are concerned about, you know, whatever's going on with the Postal Service? What are you encouraging people to do?

CLYBURN: I'm encouraging people to declare October election month. I have been saying for a long time now that we need to dedicate this election year to John Lewis who gave his life trying to get the right to vote. We have renamed our HR forward legislation voting rights to renew the Voting Rights Act in his honor. And we need to make this campaign a dedication to the life and legacy of John Lewis.

I'm asking churches, sororities, temples, mosques, fraternities, masonic orders, to go out and start after Labor Day adopting precincts and make sure that we start on October 5th getting people to vote absentee, in-person, as many as we possibly can. So election day is going to be November 3rd, but October needs to be election month. We can demonstrate to this president that he will not suppress this vote.

[20:25:05]

We know. I always say, Victor Hugo. This is an idea. Kamala Harris is an idea whose time has come and we know that we're not going to let anybody stamp that into the ground.

COOPER: Congressman James Clyburn, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll be watching tomorrow night.

According to that new poll from CNN, 56 percent of registered voters believe Joe Biden would better handle racial inequality. President Trump gets 39 percent.

I want to bring in Andrew Yang, former Democratic presidential candidate and CNN political commentator, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN political reporter, and back in, Van Jones, former special adviser to President Obama and CNN political commentator.

Nia, how much do you think voices like Congressman Clyburn, highest ranking African-American legislator on Capitol Hill, will help African-American votes in the fall the way he did in the primaries?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it will certainly help. You think about somebody like Jim Clyburn, he's going to be helpful in states in the south. You saw that, obviously, in South Carolina. Democrats likely not going to win many states in the south. They obviously want to play in a place like Georgia, in Florida, but I think they're going to need voices like Michelle Obama, voices like Barack Obama.

You saw them out there on the stump very often for Hillary Rodham Clinton but the Obamas haven't really been able to transfer the attachment that many African-American voters feel to them. They haven't been able to transfer that to other candidates. I think that's where somebody like Kamala Harris comes in as well. She has a line into all sorts of organizations. She went to an HBCU. There are 107 HBCUs all across the country. Some in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

She's a member of the Divine Nine, aka, sorority, as well as the links. I think, you know, some of the energy and the networking and the urging folks to get off the couch, I think that's where some of that energy is going to come from. If you think about what happened in 2016, 1.5 million African-American voters stayed home from those that showed up in 2012. So that's where I think the potential and the focus has to be for this campaign.

JONES: Yes.

HENDERSON: We see Biden doing fairly well in these early polls among white voters. He's at sort of Bill Clinton numbers getting well over 40 percent. I expect that to tighten so he's going to have to make up some of that decline in the white vote with African-American voters.

COOPER: Van, I mean, do you think there'll be a lot of those voters who stayed home -- stayed home last time, will come out to vote this time?

JONES: I think there's a real chance of it. I mean, first of all, it was, you know, to hear Clyburn, that was probably the most consequential endorsement in a generation. I mean, maybe Ted Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama, but, I mean, other than that, Clyburn giving his stamp to Biden so then you suddenly have the black community standing up as one saying this is our guy, Biden is our guy, and that creates this entire thing where you get Biden as a pick of black voters and then you get Kamala Harris with the black women in our party leading for that.

So I think you do now have the opportunity to energize the black vote. I think it's going to take more than just having a rising star like Kamala Harris. I agree with Nia 100 percent. It's going to take a full-court press. It's going to take both Obamas, both Clintons, anybody else with their last name and their mama, but there is a chance now to get that excitement.

COOPER: Andrew, how do you sense the excitement out there?

ANDREW YANG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I spoke to a couple of Asian- American groups and organizations over the last couple of days, Anderson, and they are thrilled that Kamala Harris is the vice presidential nominee because many Asian-American communities are incredibly eager to have someone of Asian-American descent in that high-end office. And so she's generating excitement in all sorts of communities that I've seen.

I spoke to several different groups and they were prouder than I've ever seen an Asian-American political organization in my time.

COOPER: Nia, I mean, do you think the -- you know, the rhetoric that we have -- you know, that we've heard coming out of the White House and certainly the rhetoric even, you know, in the last week about birtherism and stuff, I mean, does that -- you know, there's efforts to destroy trust and institutions. You know, there's also the argument that perhaps it has the opposite reaction among some people that there's, you know, anger that your vote is being suppressed or that people are trying to, you know, fool around with the Postal Service.

Do you think there kind of is a reaction out there waiting to voice itself?

HENDERSON: Sure. I mean, some of the folks I talked to for --

(CROSSTALK)

[20:30:03]

COOPER: Sorry, sorry, that was for Nia. Go ahead.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes, I do think --

YANG: Sorry about that.

HENDERSON: -- that there's sort of a reaction to what we see coming from Donald Trump. Some of the, you know, toying with birtherism. Kind of rallying around Kamala Harris in defending her. And then this stuff that's going on with the post office. People saying essentially, well, listen, if he's going to toy around with the post office in the way that's pretty clear at this point, they're going to show up on election day or show up early to vote. So in some ways I do think you see that energy but I do think,

obviously, Donald Trump, you see this in some of the polls, Republicans eventually will come home. Right? Some of the kind of noise we saw earlier with the Republicans being a little skeptical of this president, you know, a slight, you know, 4 percent or 5 percent, 10 percent or so thinking that they would vote for Joe Biden.

We see in the polls they're tightening. And that's only going to happen more and more as you get to election day.

COOPER: Yes.

HENDERSON: Donald Trump keying in with his base and them coming home to his party.

COOPER: Andrew, I mean, do you believe these polls, Andrew, at all? I mean, I don't know why anyone would have a lot of confidence in them, what people tell pollsters, you know, is often different on what they do, and certainly we have seen that with Donald Trump.

YANG: All of the quantitative evidence out there, all of the polls paint a pretty consistent picture that Trump is losing many of the key support bases that he relied upon. And you can kind of see it in his floundering around, the birtherism message. He's just looking -- he's grasping at straws at this point because the terrain is shifting against him in the swing states that he needs to win.

The real question here at this point is around the integrity of the election. Whether we're going to have results November 3rd, whether people trust that the vote has been counted in a way that's timely and accurate. But I believe if votes are counted, Trump's going to be on his way out and really, to me, the question is the margin of victory for Joe and Kamala, whether it's a landslide or a narrow win, but they're on track to win and Trump is on track to be a one-term president.

COOPER: Van, are you that confident?

JONES: No. I'm scared.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: I'm not confident.

YANG: I understand, Van. It's scary, but the math is looking good.

JONES: I will leave the math to you, brother. I'm going to tell you, I am terrified because usually Democrats have good numbers in the summertime and we started seeing how great everything's going to be and then after Labor Day they start whooping up on us. I remembered '88, Dukakis was doing so well. He stopped campaigning. And so I'm scared.

COOPER: All right.

YANG: Van, here's a number for you that I think might make you feel better, 72 percent of Americans think this is the worst time they've ever experienced. That's a terrible climate for an incumbent. It's one reason why I think Trump is on track to lose.

COOPER: Well, it depends on turnout and where, and as we all know.

Andrew Yang, thank you. Nia-Malika Henderson, Van Jones, as well, thank you very much.

Coming next, to Andrew and Nia's point, removing mailboxes, dismantling sorting machines as demand surge for mail-in ballots. Is interfering with the Postal Service part of the president's re- election plan? New reporting on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:37:38]

COOPER: As we reported at the top of the hour the House is likely to return later this week to deal with something unprecedented during an election, when a pandemic makes it unsafe for many to vote in person. Namely literal dismantlement of a chunk in the Postal Service, the reduction in capacity for handling mail-in ballots, mailboxes being removed and mail sorting machines taken offline or even taken apart across the country.

The president has made denouncing mail-in voting a refrain of his repeatedly, all but raising the key question which CNN's Jake Tapper today asked the president's chief of staff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I can tell you, I can give you --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Will you guarantee that President Trump will do everything he can --

MEADOWS: No.

TAPPER: -- to help people vote?

MEADOWS: I'll give you that guarantee -- I'll give you that guarantee right now. The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way. Whether it's the post office or anything else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Chief of Staff Meadows went on to say, quote, "There's no sorting machines that are going offline between now and the election." Keeping them honest, though, the internal Postal Service documents obtained by CNN suggest that some or even most of the damage may have already been done.

CNN's John Harwood at the White House now with the latest. So what do the documents say? JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the documents

said that the Postal Service had a plan to take 500 of these sorting machines out of commission and that 475 of them were due to be taken out of line by the end of July which indicates the horse may already be out of the barn. And of course, there are other policy changes ongoing. The Postal Service says they're not going to remove any more letter boxes but they still have in place a ban on overtime. The kind of things that can facilitate mail delivery when these service are overloaded.

COOPER: So what is the reasoning behind taking mail sorting offline and removing mailboxes? Just cost savings?

HARWOOD: There's long-standing funding problems with the Postal Service, Anderson, so some of these it's hard to distinguish between operational changes that would be made to save money to begin with versus what's happening in the election, but the problem as you noted at the outset is that the pandemic has dramatically increased the demand for postal services around the election because of mail-in balloting which people want to take advantage of in order to keep from getting sick by voting in person.

And the administration clearly does not want that to happen. The president's been trying to undercut the integrity of mail-in voting even though there's no evidence that it has integrity problems.

[20:40:03]

COOPER: John Harwood, appreciate it, thank you.

Let's get perspective on how this might affect the race on the eve of the Democratic convention. Joining me now, CNN senior political commentator Jennifer Granholm, former Democratic governor of the swing state of Michigan. Also CNN political commentator and former assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings.

Good to see you both.

Governor Granholm, House Democrats want to hear from the leadership of the Postal Service. One Congressman Ro Khanna of California says it's worse than Russian interference. What is your take?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, for sure. I mean, Donald Trump's appointee has been caught red handed doing Donald Trump's bidding which is, of course, removing these post boxes and mail sorters from areas that disproportionately affect Democratic voters. He admitted it out loud that if he defunds the post office people won't be able to vote by mail.

What's really behind this as you know, Anderson, is that Donald Trump knows that he's losing and he's going to pull out every dirty trick in the book to suppress Democratic votes to manipulate the outcome of the election. This Postal Service story is just another example of that sickening strategy, but I can tell you this, you're talking about the convention tonight. Democrats can and will rightfully message it this way. They will say, American seniors, Donald Trump is holding up your

prescription drug medications, your Social Security checks, to help himself get re-elected. He doesn't care about you.

COOPER: So you don't believe it's cost cutting?

GRANHOLM: Well, I mean, sorters are mechanical devices to help things move more efficiently. You're removing them. It doesn't make sense. So just fund the post office so these questions go away. That is what needs to happen. I think politically, the sabotaging of the U.S. Postal Service is Trumpian in its stupidity.

COOPER: Let me ask Scott. Mark Meadows says the president -- well, actually, let me ask you, do you believe that there's something going on in the Postal Service with -- you know, nefarious by the administration?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. No, I don't. I think this is a crazy conspiracy theory -- look, there's a lot of things to be outraged about in this world. This is not one of them. I mean, look, first of all, we have to address the Social Security issue. 99- plus percent of people on Social Security get their checks via direct deposit. I know that because I have the internet. Barack Obama went to direct deposit back in 2010. So that's a lie.

I know the talking points have gone out. That's a lie. This idea that removing mailboxes is somehow a new thing, well, I have the internet. September 19th, 2016, 12,000 mailboxes removed in the last five years. Well, gosh, gee-whiz, who was the president when that happened? And finally, finally, 2012, Obama renews call to end Saturday mail delivery which, by the way, would proportionately hurt rural areas the most and by the way, who was against Obama? Rural areas.

There was no conspiracy theory meltdown about any of this. And there should not be today. There is a fight between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans want to reform the post office. Democrats want to bail it out. This thing has had financial problems for years. This is not a real thing. Period.

COOPER: Governor?

GRANHOLM: Hey, if it were such a conspiracy, I mean, it is Donald Trump's own words. He admitted it out loud that if he doesn't fund the Postal Service, people won't be able to do what he doesn't want them to do, which is to vote by mail. It's his own words. And by the way, I just, as a setter, it's Pew polling shows that the United States Postal Service is the most favorably ranked government agency of all with 91 percent of Democrats and 91 percent of Republicans giving it positive ratings. You mess with the Postal Service at your peril.

COOPER: Scott?

JENNINGS: Look, I love the post office, too. My favorite part of the day is asking my wife, did we get any mail today? I use the mail. We use the mail. Nobody has a war on the mail. The post office has funding for 2021. There is a huge fiscal issue with the post office. Previous administrations have wrestled with this as well, trying to do cost cutting and reforms to get this thing under control.

The Trump administration, the Treasury Department, has offered the postal service a $10 billion loan. Trump, himself, has signed off on a coronavirus relief bill that had billions of dollars in extra funding for the post office, which, by the way, already has enough money to operate through 2021.

COOPER: But this president --

JENNINGS: This is not a real thing.

COOPER: Scott --

JENNINGS: There are disputes between the parties about mail-in voting. Republicans don't traditionally like it. Democrats do. But that is -- has nothing to do with this post office issue in my opinion.

COOPER: But, Scott, I mean, now -- I mean, first of all, how do you explain what the president -- to Governor Granholm's point, what the president said out loud in that interview with Bartiromo about not funding the post office, not going to have mail-in voting, and also his constant refrain that mail-in voting is rife with foreign interference and fraud, people's dogs, you know, voting in mass numbers, which is just not the case?

[20:45:07]

I talked to the secretary of State in Washington, a Republican, you know, they've had out of millions of ballots, you know, mail-in voting, they've had I think, like 100 instances of potential fraud that are being adjudicated.

JENNINGS: Look, Republican -- I don't speak for the president. Here's what I think he believes and what I know most Republicans believe. That universal mail-in balloting where you send ballots out, even if people don't request them, does present the opportunity for fraud. Republicans I know don't have a problem at all with requesting absentee ballots, using the mail if you're worried about catching coronavirus by going to vote. Republicans don't have a problem with that. It's the universal sending out of ballots that has Republican alarm bells going off.

COOPER: But the states do that and they don't have widespread voter fraud. You're talking about a hypothetical potential for fraud that doesn't seem to exist in states that actually do it.

JENNINGS: And you're talking about a hypothetical conspiracy theory where one man can shut down a U.S. election by messing with the Postal Service.

COOPER: I'm not arguing a conspiracy theory about the Postal Service. I'm not dealing --

JENNINGS: I think everybody --

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: I'm not -- no, no, all I care -- I'm not a proponent of any conspiracy theory about the Postal Service. I'm just asking it seems like just factually there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in states that have universal mail-in balloting.

JENNINGS: And I'm glad there isn't, but I'm just telling you what Republicans believe, which is that there is the -- there is the possibility that voter fraud could exist if you send out thousands of ballots and B, it could, as it happened in New York, cause a prolonged election where we don't have all the ballots counted and where there's a protracted fight over the winner.

I mean, CNN's own poll has it at a tie tonight. We're going to have a close election, I think, and so there is also Republican concern about not knowing who won.

COOPER: Except in Florida, apparently that voting, mail-in voting and absentee balloting in Florida.

GRANHOLM: Right.

COOPER: According to the president, that's OK.

JENNINGS: Absentee ballots, perfectly fine.

COOPER: He said mail-in voting in Florida as well.

GRANHOLM: Yes.

COOPER: Governor Granholm, Scott Jennings, thank you, appreciate it.

Up next, as Joe Biden gets ready for the biggest week of his political career, we'll look at how he got to this point. His journey to the Democratic president nomination began decades ago. What you may not know about him, when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:50:20]

COOPER: It's obviously important week for the Democrats and for candidate Biden. On Thursday night he's expected to officially accept the Democratic nomination. A pivotal moment for him after he faced such a rocky primary race. What you may have forgotten is that he's made several comebacks in his lifetime, not just in politics but also in his personal life.

Here again is CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Joe Biden has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: All of those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign. ZELENY: It's a public life spanning nearly five decades. A life of

triumph laced with tragedy, both of which he shares in equal measure in his final quest to win the White House. That journey culminating this week as he accepts the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. was elected to the Senate from Delaware at age 29. A long shot bid few thought he could win. It was 1972, on his way to a career in politics, but soon shattered by heartbreak.

BIDEN: Christmas shopping, and broadsided in one instant. Killed two of them.

ZELENY: His wife Nelia and 13-month-old daughter Naomi died. His sons Hunter and Beau injured. He took his oath of office in son's hospital room.

BIDEN: I faced like many of you defining moment, walk away from public life or stay. I chose to stay.

ZELENY: He later married a teacher, Jill Jacobs, and had another daughter.

BIDEN: No man deserves one great love, let alone two.

ZELENY: Early on in the Senate, his ambition burned bright long before anyone outside Delaware had any idea knew who he was. A point made clear at the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

BIDEN: I said my name is Biden, Senator Biden. He said who in the hell is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden.

ZELENY: Seven years later, he sought national office for the first time. A fresh face in crowded field.

BIDEN: Fire away.

ZELENY: He dropped out of the race before the voting began after revelations of plagiarizing lines of a speech from British Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

BIDEN: I made some mistakes, and I'm a big boy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

ZELENY: That searing loss shaped Biden as he settled in to the Senate. But he soon suffered a traumatic scare with a brain aneurysm in 1988. He recovered and continued climbing the ladder of seniority. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he presided over the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas that riveted the nation in 1991.

BIDEN: From the beginning and at this moment until the end the presumption is with you. ZELENY: His treatment of one-time Thomas aide Anita Hill who had

accused Thomas of sexual harassment stirred controversy and is still seen by some as a stain on 36-year Senate career. It was only last year before this presidential run he called to offer his regrets.

Hindsight has led to other apologies, like the 1994 Crime Bill signed by President Clinton and supported by many black mayors and members of Congress. It contained the Violence Against Women Act but also tough laws that led to sentencing disparities for drug offenses.

BIDEN: I know we haven't always gotten things right. But I've always tried.

ZELENY: In 2002, he voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, a decision he later called a mistake. That vote ultimately became a dividing line for Democrats in 2008 when Biden made his second bid for the White House. In that race, Biden's long experience was seen as a liability, with voters demanding change. He ended his campaign after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses.

BIDEN: Let me make something clear to you, I ain't going away. I ain't going away.

ZELENY: Once again he returned to the Senate but Barack Obama had other plans. Biden's experience was just what the freshman Illinois senator needed in a running mate.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Joe Biden won't just make a good vice president, he will make a great vice president.

ZELENY: A new partnership was born, one that made Biden a number two but afforded him his first real platform away from Capitol Hill.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?

ZELENY: As vice president, he traveled the world, visiting nearly 60 countries. He also played a key role in rebuilding the economy and reshaping the nation's health care system.

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.

ZELENY: He prided himself on offering the president unvarnished opinions. Whether warning against authorizing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden --

[20:55:06]

BIDEN: My suggestion is don't go. We have to do two more things to see if he's there.

ZELENY: Or leading the way arguing for same-sex marriage.

BIDEN: Men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual, men marrying -- are entitled to the same exact rights. ZELENY: As he considered another presidential bid of his own in 2016,

tragedy struck again. His son, Beau Biden, now the attorney general of Delaware, died of brain cancer and devastated the family once more.

BIDEN: Beau is our inspiration. Unfortunately I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination.

ZELENY: So he hit the campaign trail, hoping to pass the torch to the next Democratic vice president. At a stop before the election, Biden warned of a Trump presidency.

BIDEN: For Donald Trump to be elected president, he's already in the area of foreign policy making America weaker. I just can't fathom what he'd do.

ZELENY: It was President Trump after seeing him in office that Biden said compelled him to run again.

BIDEN: We are in a battle for the soul of the nation. This is not who we are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That was Jeff Zeleny reporting.

Coming up in our second hour of this special convention edition of 360, somebody who knows a thing or two about running for the highest office in the land and contested results, former Vice President Al Gore joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)