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Biden Sits Down with CNN; Aftershocks Rock Southern California; Second CBP-Linked FaceBook Group; U.S. Coal Billionaire Killed in Crash. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 5, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:32] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's exclusive interview with former Vice President Joe Biden hitting a lot of headlines. And let's get right to it.

I'm joined by Ron Brownstein, senior editor for "The Atlantic," and Amber Phillips, a political reporter for "The Washington Post" "The Fix."

Ron and Amber, good to have both of you on this holiday weekend.

Ron, if I could start with you.

Biden makes the case repeatedly in the interview with Chris that -- that most Democrats are more to the center, center left as he described it, and not as far out to the left as say a Warren or a Sanders on issues like taxes or even decriminalizing illegal crossing of the border, which Biden opposes.


SCIUTTO: He's right. The polling shows that.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, look, half of the Democrats who voted in the 2016 primaries, according to our CNN accumulative analysis of all the exit polls that year, identified at moderate or conservative. Sixty percent of them were over 45. That is Joe Biden's constituency. I thought in this interview he had a much more clear-eyed view of who he was actually appealing to than he did in the debate where he kind of stumbled a little bit at times trying to mute, I thought, his disagreements with the left. But hear he was very clear. He does not want to eliminate private health insurance, he does not want to decriminalize border crossing, he does not want free college, which is something that even Bernie Sanders on focus groups have raised questions about in Iowa back in 2016. He aimed this interview in a much more direct way, at the voters that are most likely to make him -- that would make him the nominee if he's successful than he did his performance at the debate.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and on issues, Amber, like taxes, for instance, instead of floating a figure, about 70 percent top tax rate. He talked about raising it to 39.5 percent. Sort of -- sort of small bore -- kind of boring old, you know, D.C. policy there. Is that a general election strategy that works --


SCIUTTO: Or is it a primary election strategy?

PHILLIPS: To be determined, right? Biden got into this race trying to run as if he were already the nominee.


PHILLIPS: He hasn't been at a bunch of these cattle calls. He doesn't really do a ton of interviews, this being the exception, which is why we're overanalyzing it, right? I think Joe Biden, to the extent he can, doesn't want to get brought down in the primary because we saw during the debate how he got hit by it. He wasn't necessarily ready for it.

So, yes, his policies are designed to talk to a general election voter. That's his main pitch to primary voters right now. In fact his, I can beat Trump, here's how I'm going to do it, don't worry about all this stuff I'm debating with Kamala Harris or these other guys trying to hit me. That's not the point. Let's focus on Trump. I don't know if that's going to work because like there's a massive field right now and polls show he's leading consistently but Democratic primary voters still aren't sure who they'd pick.

[09:35:15] SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, that, Ron Brownstein, I mean that's sort of like that's the story and he's sticking to it, that I'm going to play this game where I'm going to stay above the fray, but -- but didn't the debate show that that's just not possible. I mean Kamala Harris certainly was winning to get the knives out, in effect, for him here.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes, the fray is going to come to you whether you want to -- whether you want to go to it, especially when you've got 20 candidates.

But I think that there is something that emerged in that there was a dynamic that emerged from the debate that I think is going to be increasingly important heading into the next debate, the CNN debate, at the end of this month. You know, only a minority of the candidates raised their hands in the debate and said they want to completely eliminate private health insurance as part of their Medicare for all position. But three of the four candidates in the top tier, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren did raise their hand. They -- they -- they -- you know, they are sponsoring the Sanders bill that would completely eliminate private health insurance. Joe Biden is the sole candidate in the top tier who want to preserve private health insurance, which is something that he underscored more forcefully today, likely -- is likely to underscore more forcefully going into the debate.

And in the CNN poll last week, only 20 percent of the country overall and even only 30 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaders said they wanted a health insurance policy, a national health insurance policy that eliminated -- completely eliminated private health insurance. I think that's a contrast that he's likely to draw more forcefully going ahead. Being centrist doesn't only mean being on the defensive. There are areas where it can allow you to take the offense in public opinion, even within the Democratic coalition.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, specific -- he mentioned specifically union members who fought a long time to get that -- that kind of health care. They certainly don't want to give it up. And he's well-connected with union voters.

OK, on the economy, particularly on a day when you have such strong economic growth figure, job growth figures, Biden, you know, is making his case here as middle class Joe, reminding people why he is, saying that the Trump economy has not done well enough for the middle class. Now there is some evidence of that. There's a study out that 40 percent of Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck. That said, 3.7 percent unemployment, right? A lot of people noticing that their 401(k) is probably doing pretty well. Is this a winning argument for Joe Biden?

PHILLIPS: It's going to be tough going forward because it depends on what happens in the future. If he's the nominee, we don't know what the economy is going to be, so Biden is making this central pitch to voters that, hey, I am going to create a better economy than Donald Trump has. That's a risky point because, as you said, I mean job numbers keep -- they're very strong right now. And we continue to see that.

I do think Biden has a case to make when he says, look, this upward curve of the economy began under Obama administration and I was there. To the extents that presidents and candidates try to take credit for the economy, which is a whole other debate whether they even have a right to say that, Biden has a strong argument.

SCIUTTO: I was there when we recovered from it.

Although the more years behind you, that is harder for that to kind of resonate --


SCIUTTO: Resonate with voters.

Amber, Ron, good to have you on. I know we're going to keep up the conversation.

BROWNSTEIN: Take care.

SCIUTTO: We've got a few months to go before I think the presidential election, so we'll probably talk about this again.


SCIUTTO: Strong aftershocks rocking southern California this morning, hours after a massive earthquake there. Could the big one be next?


[09:42:55] SCIUTTO: A 5.4 aftershock rocked southern California just this morning, just one of more than 170 aftershocks to rattle the area since yesterday's more massive earthquake, the largest to hit the region in nearly 20 years. The quake struck just about 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Look at this. This is right in the middle of it, shaking homes and businesses in Las Vegas, (INAUDIBLE) County. Imagine being there as it happened. Aftershocks are expected to continue for weeks to come.

Nick Watt jones me now from Ridgecrest, California, the epicenter of Thursday's earthquake.

Nick, you still feeling those aftershocks there?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, we are, Jim. I mean you mentioned that 5.4 aftershock. That was about two and a half hours ago. And we did feel that. I mean that was strong enough to knock our signal off the satellite. Since then, my latest check, we've had 24 more aftershocks since then.

And, listen, seismologists told us yesterday after that swarm of earthquakes and that 6.4, they said there will be many aftershocks. They predicted 80 percent likelihood of a 5.0 or more and that has arrived already.

They're still assessing the damage here. It is not too bad. A few cracks in roads. A few cracks in walls. Some minor injuries. Some power lines down. A couple of fires. But not the big one by any stretch that everybody here in California is fearing.

So those aftershocks, Jim, they will continue. And, you know, a little bit of panic as well. This is about 20 million people they say felt this shaking from Vegas all the way down to the coast. And in Los Angeles, you know, the LAPD had to even put out a warning telling people, unless you are injured, do not call us.

And everyone was a little bit upset that their early warning app on their phone didn't trigger. It didn't trigger because by the time this earthquake was felt in L.A., it was only a 4.5, and the threshold for that early warning app was 5.0. They have already dropped that down to try and assuage people's fears.

[09:45:05] So, we are going to see more aftershocks. Hopefully that 5.4 that we had this morning will be the greatest, but we don't know.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. I guess luckily it was so deep, right, because that led to less impact up on -- up on the surface.

WATT: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Nick Watt, good to have you there. Don't shake too much. Stay safe. Border agents facing growing scrutiny as a second secret FaceBook page has surfaced. The posts are just racist, extremely sexist. We're going to be live at the border with details next.


[09:50:00] SCIUTTO: This next story, first on CNN.

New outrage as CNN learns about a second secret FaceBook group linked to Border Patrol agents. Posts from the group containing vulgar, racist, sexually explicit content.

Our Nick Valencia is in El Paso with more.

Nick, this is your reporting here. CBP officials, of course, already investigating a first group. What are they saying now about this one?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, they say as a result of our reporting, they're now investigating this FaceBook group. This was made aware to us by reliable sources from within Border Patrol. My reporting, along with my colleague Geneva Sands (ph). These Border Patrol source telling us that they're just tired of living in this culture, that there's no room for this type of racism and sexism. And as you mentioned, it shows an apparent nexus to Customs and Border Protection.

This group is just as vile and vulgar as the one that we reported on earlier this week. It's called Real CBP Nation. It has about 1,000 members and the memes are just awful. In one meme they make fun of family separations. Another popular target in their memes is Democratic freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And as a result of our reporting, as I mentioned, Jim, CBP now looking into this page.


SCIUTTO: Well, you'd expect that.

I understand CBS has also obtained e-mails that show border agents trying to humiliate a Honduran migrant in their custody. What are you learning?

VALENCIA: Just another disgusting allegation. This is according to a Customs and Border Protection agent who says that this incident happened in March here in El Paso. And what they say they witnessed was a border patrol agent who made a Honduran migrant man hold a sign that said (SPEAKING IN SPANISH), which translates directly to, "I like men." And this border patrol agent intentionally forced this Honduran migrant to be paraded throughout the processing center in an effort to humiliate him, an effort to embarrass him.

And according to a witness, there was two senior border patrol agents there that did nothing to stop it and step in. We were flagged to a series of e-mails that showed that this incident was raised to supervisors, and according to the witness nothing was done. We did reach out again to Customs and Border Protection to get their

comments on these allegations. They didn't respond to them directly. Simply saying that they're now passing it over to the Office of Professional Responsibility.


SCIUTTO: You're doing great reporting there. Nick Valencia, thanks very much. It's a story we're going to stay on top of.

VALENCIA: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: A billionaire businessman and his daughter are among the victims of a deadly helicopter crash near the Bahamas. We have new details on exactly what happened. That's coming up.

And former Vice President Joe Biden in a CNN exclusive interview. What he thinks about the ongoing feud with Senator Kamala Harris over school busing.


[09:57:17] SCIUTTO: This morning, new details in the deadly helicopter crash that killed a West Virginia billionaire and his daughter. The crash happened yesterday afternoon, soon after the helicopter took off from Grand Cay in the Bahamas. Cline, who made his fortune with coal, is now being remembered for his philanthropic work.

Polo Sandoval has the latest developments.

Polo, are we learning anything about what caused this crash?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, much of what we're learning, Jim, is coming from those closest to Chris Cline, and that even includes the West Virginia governor, Jim Justice, who said that he lost a close friend. So as we wait to hear more from authorities, of course, much of what we're hearing are from his family and from his friends.

Here's what we do know about the investigation and what police in the Bahamas are confirming, that this helicopter took off, as you say, from Grand Cay, just north of the Bahamas, early Thursday morning. However, it was reported missing when it failed to land at Ft. Lauderdale. That is when residents and police eventually located the wreckage just off the coast of Grand Cay in about 16 feet of water. We're told they recovered the bodies of four females and three males.

A little bit about what we know about Mr. Cline. He basically grew up in a coal company. His grandfather mined coal. His grandfather before him. He eventually started working in the mines in the 1980s at about 22 years old. And about a decade later then he founded the Cline Group and then eventually Foresight Energy.

Known in West Virginia as a selfless and generous man. Very well known for his philanthropic actions that gave to not only his community but really throughout the state of West Virginia. So, this morning, really the entire state of West Virginia is mourning the loss of Mr. Chris Cline.

And, again, much of what we know right now is coming from those closest to him. So we don't know yet a whole lot about the other victims of this helicopter crash. But we do hope in the coming hours police in the Bahamas could potentially release more so we can share their stories as well.

SCIUTTO: That's right, seven people on this helicopter. And do we know the purpose of the trip? What was he and his family doing down in the Bahamas?

SANDOVAL: That's a good question. And we still don't know. Again, police haven't elaborated on that. However, when you look at a post that was posted by Evan Jenkins (ph), he's a judge who sits on the West Virginia Court of Appeals, he did post his condolences and said that he was heartbroken to learned about the deaths of his friend Chris Cline, of his daughter and friends, as well as the pilots. So, of course, that does speak to the possibility that this was likely a personal trip, a family trip, that ended in tragedy, Jim. But until we hear from authorities, we won't know for sure.

SCIUTTO: It's hard to hear and very sorry for the family.


SCIUTTO: Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

Well, a good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off today.

And welcome to a special edition of NEWSROOM this holiday week.

Any moment President Trump is expected to leave the White House for his Bedminster Golf Club. We're watching to see if he speaks with reporters, as he often does.

[10:00:06] But, first, we begin with a CNN exclusive, former Vice President Joe Biden.