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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Could Biden Announce a Running Mate Day 1? Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 21, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:32:54] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: He hasn't even officially joined the 2020 race, but former Vice President Joe Biden has hunkered down for strategy sessions with his key advisers, wondering if picking a vice presidential candidate early would help meet beat Trump. And speculation is growing it could be Stacey Abrams, the former candidate for Georgia governor after the two met last week.

And speaking of the veep stakes, another 2020 candidate, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper stumbled last night during a CNN town hall after being asked about picking a female running mate.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is following all of the developments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I'm a tactile politician. I always have been. That's what gets me in trouble as well.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He didn't clear the field. So, now, Joe Biden is poised to join it. The question is whether he will do it as a solo act.

For any 2020 candidate, talk of a running mate is highly premature for any candidate, unless it's part of the strategy. CNN has learned that's one thing Biden and his advisers are weighing as they watched the primary take shape.

Inside Team Biden, conversations are under way about whether making a vice presidential selection early would strengthen his chances or highlight potential weaknesses. At Biden's invitation, he met last week with Stacey Abrams, a rising Democratic star who narrowly lost the Georgia governor's race.

STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Good evening, my fellow Americans.

ZELENY: -- but was tapped to deliver the party's response to the State of the Union.

ABRAMS: My reason for running was simple, I love our country and its promise of opportunity for all.

ZELENY: Aides also have discussed other names with the ultimate goal of keeping the race focused on defeating President Trump.

JOE TRIPPI, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR HOWARD DEAN: I actually expect Biden, if he gets in, to pick a vice president early.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really?

TRIPPI: I think that might happen before the convention. But I think, on announcement day, I would be a little surprised.

ZELENY: The question of running mates is coming up a lot these days, including last night at a CNN town hall with former Governor John Hickenlooper.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor, some of your male competitors have vowed to put a woman on the ticket. Yes or no? Would you do the same?

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, again, of course. But how come we're not asking -- not asking more often the women, would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?

[16:35:06] ZELENY: Yet Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked that very question.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want somebody who's going to go out there and fight on behalf of working people. That's what matters most.

ZELENY: Beto O'Rourke wrapping up his visit to all 10 counties in New Hampshire had this to say about Biden.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As far as Joe Biden, I hope he gets into the race. I do. You know why? Because this guy has, in so many ways, defined service to his country?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So the idea of Joe Biden entering the race, there's not much suspense around that, but there is suspense around the idea of when he would. I am told by advisers that now, he is looking at a potential announcement time at the end of April, not the beginning of April. Advisers say they still have not gotten the signal from him yet and they would need three weeks or so to get that going.

So, Brianna, at this point, it would be much more of a surprise if he would not run. They think he will. The question is when and, of course, the strategy hanging over this.

KEILAR: And how involved is he in this Stacey Abrams talk?

ZELENY: It's really interesting, Brianna. We know that his advisers are having this conversation with him. They are having it at his blessing, with his -- as he's listening to it.

But we're told that Stacey Abrams, he enjoyed his conversation with her last week but there's not any decision of having this done on day one. In fact, advisers say he almost certainly will not announce a running mate at the very beginning. One adviser explained it like this. You don't throw a Hail Mary pass at the beginning of a game -- Brianna.

KEILAR: You do not. You do not do that.

All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

You don't throw a Hail Mary pass at the beginning of the game.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Great quote.

KEILAR: Excellent, right? That's exactly what's going on here. What do you think about this reporting of Jeff's?

PSAKI: Look, I'm pretty skeptical that the Stacey Abrams thing is a fully cooked plan. I was around the vice president for about a decade. While I didn't work directly for him he is somebody, to his credit, who loves to talk. He loves to play scenarios out. He loves to -- he has a very close-knit group of aides, who he has a lot of calls and meetings with.

And their support for this notion in the Democratic Party and he's talking to a lot of people. So, the scenario her could have been as simple as, hey, what about Stacey Abrams and he said, that's interesting. And they brought it up and everybody seems like he's close to them.

That's my bet. I do think that he's lining up all the chips here to look like he's running. They do need some time if he decides. I also think -- I wouldn't be shocked if he comes to the brink and decides not to either.

KEILAR: Really?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

KEILAR: Up to 95 percent. The 96 to 100 percent is probably a longer sprint or longer distance than up to 95 percent.

He's got a lot of factors. He knows what it takes. He's got a lot of considerations but we'll see. I certainly hope he jumps in.

KEILAR: And if he does, Jeff is saying he's eyeing an April announcement but that doesn't mean soon April. That could mean the end of April.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It certainly could mean longer off. To be fair, if anybody were to make a mistake and throw a Hail Mary at the beginning of the game, it might be Joe Biden. Oops, let's try this.

But, look, I think -- I basically agree with you. How -- it seems a little bit weak sauce to do this coming out of the gates. How much flash you'll get for this in a news cycle, it's a big news story to add somebody to your ticket. How much will you gain but then lose later on down the road because you've blocked yourself from all these other options.

KEILAR: Because the idea of preserving that energy later.

HAM: Right.

KEILAR: And also not boxing yourself in, Jamal. We heard Joe Trippi, who was in Jeff's story there, he also said, I've been through a vetting process for a VP. That's not possible at this time.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Unless they're vetting for right now, which we don't know. That could be true.

What's interesting and most exciting news here Vice President Biden is taking the challenges of running in this new Democratic Party seriously. There's been a lot of concerns that the team assembled around him has not been as diverse as the modern Democratic Party is. This means they are seriously thinking about how to navigate the African-American, Latino, more female Democratic Party that currently exists than the one that existed when he ran for president the last two times.

So, I'm very encouraged by the fact that they're even thinking about an idea like this.

KEILAR: "The New York Times" is saying Biden is looking at ways to reassure voters about his age. They say his team is considering announcing this running mate, of course, because of that. But how should he compensate for his age? Does he need to compensate for his age?

SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Beto also talked about naming cabinet members early. So what I really see going on is a white guy running in the modern Democratic Party primary has a problem. And so, maybe you do need to put a Hail Mary in your strategy to even run.

They've got to address the fact that the Democratic electorate is going to have a potentially difficult path for a white candidate to get through without addressing that.

[16:40:07] So, why stop at vice president? He should start naming his entire -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for secretary of treasury. Let's just go on down the line, start picking the stars of the Democratic Party, and start associating yourself.

If a Republican did this, we would be accused of tokenism, right? How could you -- it's interesting to me that Stacey Abrams is sort of OK to be used by Vice President Biden to address his whiteness.

SIMMONS: Maybe it's not that the white guys have a problem but that the Democratic party has an advantage that it can tract people from all these different backgrounds and now, the Democratic Party is looking for a way to keep everybody invested to move toward a future where all Americans can participate in American experiment that we're all part of and not the Republican Party that seemed to be dismissing women, dismissing people --

SHIELDS: I'm talking about the primary.

SIMMONS: -- and focusing on a president that's misogynist and racist --

SHIELDS: Of course.

SIMMONS: -- and all those attributes that he seems to revel.

SHIELDS: That's a good way to get into that talking point. But the point -- the fact of the point is, is that Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, the candidates that have an advantage going into Iowa --

SIMMONS: You mean Bernie, Beto?

SHIELDS: They have a disadvantage. And they're addressing their advantages early on. People are starting to question them, how are you going to get elected -- how are you going to win this primary as a white male? That is a problem for them and they're getting defensive and nervous about it early on.

PSAKI: I think you're misreading the Democratic electorate perhaps. Some of them are leading in the polls, including in those states. It's so early it doesn't matter at this point.

SHIELDS: Then why is Biden talking about it then? Why do this if it wasn't a problem?

PSAKI: Because Vice President Biden has been in politics 40 years. He knows he's an older, white man.

SHIELDS: That's what I'm talking about.

PSAKI: And he needs to appeal to a big, broad, diverse Democratic electorate who feels it's important to have a diverse representation. He knows what his weaknesses are. That's what we're seeing here.

SHIELDS: That's exactly what I'm saying. I agree with you.

KEILAR: All right.

PSAKI: Done!

KEILAR: Well, there we go.

Moving on to our tease, some Democratic presidential candidates is proposing a controversial idea to expand the Supreme Court and President Trump is saying no way. Maybe you should have watched his favorite justice's son on his favorite channel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Just moments ago, the man

who sent explosives to more than a dozen politicians and members of the media including CNN Cesar Sayoc who was arrested back in October after targeting a number of people who had criticized the president. He initially entered a plea of not guilty.

Let's go now to CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's joining us live now from outside of the courthouse. so what happened in the courtroom?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Briana. He initially said he was not guilty and then changed his plea after an -- after an agreement with the government pleading guilty to 65 different counts, 65. And the judge actually had to group them together. And they include using weapons of mass destructions, they include interstate transport of explosives, conveying a threat in interstate commerce.

And of course Sayoc has now pled guilty and he even laid it out all in court, sending devices that were made to look like bombs, sending them through to the U.S. mail to 16 people in organizations. Of course, we remember when this happened last fall. He sent them to James Clapper, Barack Obama, to Maxine Waters, and of course CNN as well.

He said in very descriptive terms exactly what those bombs were made of explaining that they were included in an alarm clock, that they had wires attached, that there was firework powder in each of them, and that a big thing that the government made him point out was that he knew that there would be a risk to harming the people in organizations that he sent these bombs to.

So he acknowledged that in court that he knew there was a risk that these bombs could have caused a lot of harm. He is facing up to life in prison as part of his deal with the government and he's going to be sentenced in mid-September. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Brynn Gingras with the latest there. Cesar Sayoc is pleading guilty. Now to our "POLITICS LEAD" and 2020 Democrats now embracing ideas that may have seemed radical or unattainable just a few months ago. Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand telling Politico they would not rule out expanding the Supreme Court if they're elected. And even the son of late Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying that it should be considered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER SCALIA, SON OF LATE JUSTICE SCALIA: The Constitution does not say that there needs to be nine justices and there haven't always been nine justices. So you know, theoretically that -- you know, that that's something that could happen and that's not maybe an argument worth taking seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: What do you make of this Mary Katharine that Justice Scalia's son is supporting this idea of expanding or he's saying this is a possibility, do you put push in that? MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I think that his is more of a cerebral discussion of the idea versus a political pitch. And I think as a political pitch it could be dangerous for Democrats. A, it's be careful what you wish for. Because when you put that out there, other people might go oh geez, maybe we should do that first before you do it. But I don't actually think that will happen.

I think the real danger is that this is outside the mainstream. Like we say recently radical, I think it's still radical to just change the number of people in the Supreme Court because you didn't happen to win recently. And I don't like -- I don't think that the right way to fight a president who undermines institutions and changes norms is to be like let's undermine this institution that everyone still actually has some faith in and change the norms entirely.

[16:50:01] KEILAR: Well, to that point, that's actually a question that I've been thinking about. If you're saying that it seems like the argument is well the other side has been breaking norms with Merrick Garland being the nominee and Republicans refusing to even have a committee vote on that. Well, let's now do something. I mean do you see that point the Mary Katharine has, Jen?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean look, I think there's a very short term view here. There are consequences of elections however they were run. One of them is the Supreme Court. We're seeing that play out. This is no doubt going to be an issue on the 2020 race and in the primary.

But remember, it's not about -- it's about the breakdown of the -- of the people on the court. It's not about the numbers. If you have 15 members and none of them were appointed by Republicans, you have the same problem. So you know, I think you have to be really careful here about what you're wishing for and hoping for because power switches sides in Washington. That's where we are with the nuclear option, and you know we've seeing the consequences of that.

KEILAR: It's getting rid of the filibuster.

PSAKI: Exactly.

KEILAR: All right, Jamal?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's something happening here that's bigger which is there are so many people in America who felt left out of the decision-making. They feel left out of what's happening in Washington, in New York and so Elizabeth Warren talked about this when she was at Morgan State University in the speech she gave.

It's not just about playing the game better, it's about changing the rules of the game, to tilt the rules back in favor of working people. And so I think there are a lot of people who like with the cheating scandal that happened with admissions and colleges, I take a look at that and they say, gosh, like even when I'm doing all the right things, I'm trying to make it work, we still can't get ahead because the rich and the wealthy and the elites and the educated are the ones who are dividing up all the goodies this little goody mob that we have.

KEILAR: And so are you saying that --

SIMMONS: And so I think people -- this is the same thing that Donald Trump tapped into when he was running for president on the right, the Democrats are not tapping into it which is let's not just play the game, let's change the rules.

KEILAR: Do you want -- do you want them tapping into that, "let's change the rules?"

SIMMONS: I think this idea about the Supreme Court may not be the best idea. I do think this idea of like let's go back and look at the rules and figure out whether or not they are tilted in favor of the wealthy against the people who are working and keeping this country function.

HAM: I think your point is well-taken, but when it comes to the main pitches which so far are the Supreme Court and the Electoral College debate everyone's having it sounds suspiciously like let's change the rules because we didn't win --

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REINCE PRIEBUS: Yes, that's how people are going to hear it. So let's lower the voting age to 16, let's get rid of the Electoral College, and let's change the supreme -- number of Supreme Court is basically we don't want to win at the ballot box, we're going to try and change the rules of the game.

SIMMONS: And by the way, the Republicans are the ones who changed the rules about voting all over the country.

KEILAR All right, hang tight with me, you guys. With a single tweet, President Trump taking sides in a presidential election in other country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] KEILAR: We're back now with "WORLD LEAD." And President Trump overturning decades of U.S. international policy handing his greatest international ally, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a major victory just weeks before a crucial election.

The President tweeting this afternoon, after 52 years, it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a move Bibi has been pushing for. But moments ago, President Trump denying that this move was because of Israel's upcoming election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not about Netanyahu's re-election?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't -- I wouldn't even know about that. I wouldn't even know about that. I have no idea. He is doing OK. I don't know if he's doing great right now, but I hear he's doing OK. But I would imagine the other side, whoever is running against him is also in favor of what I just did. Every president has said do that. I'm the one who gets it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN's Oren Liebermann joining me live now from Jerusalem. And Oren, the timing of this announcement, though, is extremely significant.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. Other than Trump talking about the elections right there and effectively denying he had any idea about it, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn't mention the elections and neither did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, Netanyahu had not had a great week in the elections until this point.

He was sliding in the polls and a lot of the headlines, of course, were around the criminal investigations he faces and the corruption charges that he potentially faces in a few months. This changes all of that. And even if it's not ostensively about the elections, it certainly comes across looking like the Trump administration is blatantly campaigning here for Netanyahu especially with Pompeo here on this trip.

Let's not forget, Pompeo was at the Western Wall at the old city of Jerusalem today with Netanyahu. And that's never been done before. Trump visited alone, Vic President Mike Pence visited alone as well. And that's because of the respect for the sensitivity of how touchy the old city is between Israelis and Palestinians. No more.

Pompeo visited with Netanyahu, Trump, in an apparent move to get Netanyahu a boost before the campaigns recognized Israel as part -- recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel. And now, Netanyahu, is about to head to APAC in Washington D.C. where he'll meet Trump which is effectively going to look like a campaign stop.

And Trump will once again be appearing to campaign for Netanyahu instead of trying to stay out of Israel's elections. So that will be another major chance for Netanyahu, essentially, to burnish his credentials and burnish his relationship with President Donald Trump right before these elections, as he faces a difficult re-election term -- difficult re-election campaign, seeking his fifth term.

Brianna, one more thing to point out here, and that's Netanyahu needs some of the smaller parties, some right-wing and center-right parties to win the election. Those parties now seeing this for their own political survival are much more likely to support Netanyahu with this major political victory. And that, Brianna, is thanks to President Donald Trump.

KEILAR: All right, Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, thank you. And you can follow me on Twitter @BRIKEILARCNN or twee the show @THELEADCNN. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper and our coverage on CNN continues right now.