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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Rising; California Fires; Biden for President?; California Inferno: Dozens of Homes Burn, Thousands Evacuated. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 3, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Will Hillary Clinton face a challenge from Vice President Biden?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. He's come back from devastating tragedy before, and now buzz is building that Vice President Joe Biden is weighing another presidential run. As Donald Trump cements his place at center stage this Thursday, according to a brand-new poll, is a candid Biden the Democratic answer to a candid Trump?

The national lead. A historic drought turning the state into a tinderbox, deadly wildfires across California exploding in size, and threatening thousands of homes with barely a drop of relief in sight.

Also in national news, the emotion manhunt for a coward. That's what police are calling the man accused of shooting and killing a police officer who was also a Marine and a father during a small-time drug deal, and a $10,000 reward is now being offered for your help in finding him.

Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start today with our politics lead. Republicans have a tick under 25 hours to try to boost their poll numbers in order to secure a top 10 position, which would secure a podium on the first debate stage. But as Republicans try to get into Thursday's showdown, there's another political wrestling match going on right now, this one for the soul of the Democratic Party.

It pits those ready to elect Hillary Clinton against dissenters, who say the country would be better off with Biden values. A slew of reports now say the vice president is grappling with whether he should make a third bid to try to be commander in chief. It's what his late son Beau wanted. But Beau's death understandably has devastated the elder Biden and paused those quiet conversations about taking on Clinton.

Biden's public life has been marked by personal tragedies. In 1972, he took his Senate oath at the hospital bedside of his two sons after a drunk driver claimed the lives of his first wife and 13-month-old daughter. That strength is something that President Obama spoke to when he eulogized the vice president's son Beau's after Beau's's death at the end of may.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're strong enough, it can also make you ask God for broader shoulders, shoulders broad enough to bear not only your own burdens, but the burdens of other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So now after Beau's death, just how broad are Joe Biden's shoulders?

Let's get right to our CNN senior correspondent, Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, my understanding about Beau's death is that it kind of cuts both ways for the vice president. On the one hand, Beau the biggest booster of his father ever, wanted his dad to run for president. On the other hand, Beau leaves behind a widow, two young children and Vice President Biden feels responsible to take care of them.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no question, that's a very painful and real predicament that vice president finds himself in.

But he's in Delaware this week helping his granddaughter celebrate the first birthday without her father, so family ties run very deep with him. But several of his friends and advisers are still urging him to run for president. One of the those friends told me he has not made up his mind yet, anyone believes he has is wrong, and he's definitely still thinking about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi. I'm Joe Biden. I'm looking for a job.

ZELENY (voice-over): Looking for a job, but the question for Joe Biden is, which one? He's long eyed the presidency, and he is still considering joining the 2016 race.

The summertime speculation has suddenly hit full boil over whether he will challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

One factor weighing heavy, his son Beau Biden urged his father to run before dying of brain cancer in May. And now one of Beau Biden's close advisers is joining a grassroots movement called Draft Biden. Questions about Clinton's candidacy hang over the Biden boomlet. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed only 37 percent viewed Clinton as honest and trustworthy, while 57 percent did not.

For Biden, it was the reverse; 58 percent found him honest and trustworthy; 34 percent did not.

New Hampshire Mary Carey Foley is all but begging Biden to run. MARY CAREY FOLEY, BIDEN FRIEND: Hillary Clinton does have a problem

with trust in this country right now. And I do believe that when and if he decides to run, Joe will add a new dimension to this race.

ZELENY: Biden has run for president twice before. He's never ruled out a third time. If he did, the gaffes from more than four decades in politics would follow him into the race. He told CNN's Gloria Borger last year he would make his own decision.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Would you run if she runs?

BIDEN: Absolutely. That's not the reason not to run or to run. The question is, am I convinced I am best positioned of anyone else to lead the country?

[16:05:08]

ZELENY: But Clinton has a big head start. She is airing her first TV commercials tomorrow.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that when families are strong, America is strong. It's your time.

ZELENY: Her campaign says they are not consumed by the Biden buzz.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: However hard it is to secure the Democratic nomination is however hard it is. And we have no illusions. We never thought that this was going to be easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: While the Clinton campaign didn't think it would be easy, they also didn't think there would so many Democrats openly asking whether the party needs a plan B at this point.

But it's still very much an open question whether Biden will step into that role. But he will wait until September or at least a little bit longer to make his decision -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff, thank you so much.

Right now, 14 of the Republican contenders jostling for debate spots are in New Hampshire. And that's where we find our own Athena Jones.

Athena Jones, new poll out today from Monmouth University shows Donald Trump leaving his rivals in the dust, but these numbers may be more important to Republicans such as Chris Christie, Rick Perry and John Kasich. Explain why.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake.

That's right. Those three candidates are all polling at around the same level in this poll and in other recent polls in the low single digits. Only two of those three are actually going to make it onto the stage, the debate stage on Thursday night. Donald Trump is leading the pack. He is one of only a few candidates who will not be here at tonight's forum, but you can bet his number one finish in several recent polls is going to loom large over tonight's event.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): With the first Republican primarily just days away.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't build. I build. I have created tremendous jobs. I built a great company.

JONES: Front-runner Donald Trump made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows this weekend to try to lower expectation for his performance.

TRUMP: I'm not a debater. I have never debated.

JONES: He's leading the GOP pack in recent polls. In the Monmouth University poll out today, he's at 26 percent, more than double the support of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't back off of anything.

JONES: And Trump's favorability numbers are on the rise, with 52 percent of Republicans now saying they view him favorably. That's up from 40 percent three weeks ago. But when it comes to battling the rest of the field on the debate stage, the usually supremely confident real estate mogul told CBS:

TRUMP: I'm not a debater. I don't stand up and debate like these politicians.

JONES: Trump's poll position means he's assured a spot at center stage Thursday night when the top 10 candidates face off in Cleveland.

In fact, the top eight spots appear set, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Texas Governor Rick Perry vying for the final two spots, based on CNN's poll of polls.

FOX will decide who is in, based on an average of poll standings as of tomorrow afternoon. Christie's says he's feeling good about his chances.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will be very happy on Tuesday, when the 10 names come out and I'm in there.

JONES: Trump has been blasted for his harsh tone and bombastic rhetoric, but he says he won't be the one on the attack at the debate.

TRUMP: I don't think I'm going to be throwing punches. I'm not looking to attack. They attack me first and I hit them back.

JONES: But the billionaire businessman wasn't pulling his punches on Twitter this weekend when he had this to say about several of his rivals attending a forum hosted by wealthy donors Charles and David Koch. "I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money, et cetera, from the Koch brothers. Puppets?"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, tonight's forum isn't a debate, but it is a chance for the candidates to practice talking about their policy positions in a concise way.

Trump has said he doesn't feel you can "artificially prepare" for a debate, so it doesn't sound like he's doing a lot of rehearsing. As for the other candidates and how they will deal with this challenge, well, Ted Cruz joked about it saying over the weekend: "I have a lot of skills. Predicting Donald Trump isn't one of them" -- Jake.

TAPPER: It's not one of mine either. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Let's talk about everything 2016 with CNN political analyst and former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton Patti Solis Doyle, and former Republican Congressman from Virginia and National Republican Party Campaign Chair Tom Davis.

And, Congressman Davis, we should disclose you also sit on the board of a super PAC who supports Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Patti, let me start with you. You ran Hillary Clinton's campaign last time around. If you were still there today, how much would you be worrying about Vice President Biden? How big of a threat do you think he actually poses?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I worked for Hillary Clinton and I also worked for Joe Biden for a short time during the '08 campaign, when he was Obama's running mate.

Look, he's a formidable candidate. He is a sitting vice president, which is a huge bonus. He is the last man in the room with President Obama when the tough decisions are being made. He has incredible relationships in Congress on both sides of the aisle.

[16:10:03]

And in this particular climate, in this 2016, where Donald Trump is a front-runner, Mr. Tell It Like It Is, you know, his tendency for gaffes, what was once a negative, could be a positive.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Congressman Davis, who would you rather -- you obviously want the Republican to win, I'm guessing. Who would you rather the Democratic nominee be, Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden? Who would be easier to beat?

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I think Hillary Clinton. TAPPER: Would be easier to beat?

DAVIS: Yes. I think you tie them both -- at the end of the day, I think you tie them both to the president.

It will be on his third term, but she's got some vulnerability she's shown in the early outings just with these e-mails and everything else. Biden has stayed away from the fray at this point, is a more sympathetic figure. I think time will bear that out. She is a woman, so you're making history with that, and that's one asset that she has that Joe Biden obviously doesn't.

But Obama has put together a very strong coalition through two presidential elections. Biden holds that together, I think, as continuity in a way that -- a turnout model that probably Hillary has a harder time doing.

TAPPER: OK.

Let me ask you another question about the Republican debate. This top 10 thing, making the cut and being on the stage, do you think that not making the top 10 cut is actually a bigger deal than just not making a debate; it's maybe kind of an official statement that you're not serious enough?

DAVIS: Well, look, this is a marathon. You want to be there now, because I think it hurts with donors, it hurts your credibility when you go out and face time with everything else. It doesn't end it. You could not be on this and win the nomination because this is a marathon. This has a long way to go.

But there's other debates between now and Iowa, and New Hampshire, but you want to be there right now just for fund-raising and all the other things we talked about.

TAPPER: Patti, take a look at Hillary Clinton introducing some new TV ads that are going to start airing tomorrow. Take a look at one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I think about all the Dorothys all over America who fight for their families, who never give up. That's why I'm doing this. That's why I have always done this, for all the Dorothys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Dorothy, the name of her late mother.

There's this conundrum. Hillary Clinton leads in the polls, but there's this really big issue among independent voters and general election voters in battleground states about how honest and trustworthy she is. It seems to be something that the campaign isn't really addressing. They are more focused on she's a fighter, she will fight for you. Is that a good strategy? Is that the only strategy they have? SOLIS DOYLE: I think these ads are really smart.

I wish we had done it in '08, put out some biographical ads in the summer of '07, because it's a way for her to lay out her own narrative, rather than being defined by the Republicans. I think it's also smart, because it's August. Ads are cheap. She's going to be down for a couple weeks on vacation, and this is a way for her to have a real steady presence in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In terms of her numbers, I think there's no way that she could have kept the numbers she had when she was secretary of state when she started running. She's been running for three months. I think everyone knew her numbers were going to come down.

TAPPER: Immigration reform a big issue on the campaign trail. Donald Trump has put it there. Sanctuary cities has been a big issue on discussion -- in discussion. Take a listen to something that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said this morning about sanctuary cities where immigration laws, federal immigration laws are not necessarily honored.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Should a mayor of a sanctuary city who ignores federal law be arrested?

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely. I would hold them as an accomplice, make them criminally culpable. I would also make them civilly liable so that families, victims' families could sue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We only have 30 seconds. Your reaction to that?

DAVIS: I think that's a little over the top at this point. If you want to withhold federal funds, withhold federal funds, but when you start talking about criminal liability for political action, I think it goes over the top.

(CROSSTALK)

SOLIS DOYLE: Over the top.

TAPPER: Patti Solis Doyle, Congressman Tom Davis, thank you both. Glad you're here.

Parts of California engulfed by out-of-control wildfires, and it's only expected to get worse. Nearly 10,000 firefighters on the ground battling massive flames and gusty winds under hot, dry conditions. Now thousands of residents are being told to leave their homes -- that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:22] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Topping our national lead today: California under a state of emergency as numerous fires continue to ravage that bone-dry state. Thousands of people have been told to evacuate their homes. Thousands of firefighters are working to contain the biggest of California's inferno.

The Rocky Fire, which is about 100 miles north of San Francisco, which is now consuming 60,000 acres, the fire started late last week and picked up in frequency and intensity due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Let's get right to Stephanie Elam. She is in Colusa County, right in the area of the Rock Fire.

Stephanie, what's the extent of the damage you're seeing?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The damage is extensive at this point, Jake. Besides those 60,000 acres, we know some 50 structures were damaged or demolished, and half of those being homes just about. And when you look at the evacuation area and you see how many people affected, some 12,000 or so, you see this is no small undertaking.

So, what they're doing is fighting this fire in many ways, with water by getting in there on the ground and also by fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (voice-over): At least 21 major fires raging in California, fueled by lightning, gusty winds and low humidity. More than 9,000 firefighters on the ground and in the air, coordinating all available resources to battle the flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The term that I'm using is historic. And the reason I say that is there are firefighters that have 20, 25, 30 years on the job that have never seen fire behavior like we have seen in the last couple days.

ELAM: The largest blaze, the Rocky Fire, it has torched some 60,000 acres in three counties just north of Wine Country.

[16:20:07:] Only 12 percent contained, California fire officials say at least 6,000 structures are threatened. Crews on the scene scrambling to build control lines and maintain the perimeter. In some cases, this means setting fire to remove fuel for the inferno.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night, we burned out much of the grass that, by the time the actual fired burned there, we have a much larger area to really make a stand.

ELAM: But the conditions are daunting. A severe four-year-long drought in 100-degree heat are a deadly combination. A U.S. Forest Service firefighters from South Dakota was killed while working a fire in Modoc County.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and evacuations have been ordered for more than 12,000 Californians.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: Take a look at this scene right her behind me, Jake. This has been a fire that has been set by firefighters. What they're doing here is trying to churn up and burn up some of that fuel that comes in the shape of dry, dry brush, because of the long drought we've had here in California.

So they're setting this so if the winds change and the fire may start coming this direction, there won't be any more fuel for that fire to burn. And that's what they want, because that helps them to contain the fire, get their arms around those fire and bring it down as they move inward, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Stephanie Elam in northern California, thank you and stay safe.

Let's turn now to the chief of public information for CAL FIRE, the state's fire department. He was just speaking to Stephanie Elam, Daniel Berlant. He's joining me now by phone from Sacramento, California.

Thanks so much for joining me, Mr. Berlant.

Are firefighters making any headway in getting these fires under control?

DANIEL BERLANT, CHIEF OF PUBLIC INFORMATION, CAL FIRE (via telephone): Absolutely. We are making progress. Now with 20 major fires burning right now in California, we are making progress on several fronts. In fact, several of those fires are nearing containment or almost completely contained, but it's the Rocky Fire that continues to really be a fast-moving fire that definitely continue to challenge us today.

TAPPER: How big a role is the drought playing in this?

BERLANT: The drought is playing a huge role. With four years of dry conditions, our vegetation, the trees, the brush, are tinder dry. What we are seeing in all these fires, especially the Rocky Fire is explosive growth.

Over the weekend, 20,000 acres burned in just about a five-hour period. That's an unprecedented historical rate of spread, and again we attribute a lot of it to the fact that conditions are so tinder dry, that it doesn't take much for the fire like this to burn so actively.

TAPPER: What do you think the extent of the damage is going to be? Well, as of now, what's the extent of the damage?

BERLANT: Well, we've already seen two dozen homes destroyed by the fire. Now, our firefighters have worked tirelessly to protect thousands of others that are in the path of this fire. With 60,000 acres already burned, this fire is now creating its own weather pattern. That makes it challenging for us. So, it doesn't matter which way the wind is blowing. This fire is going to burn in the direction it wants to go in, and that really means to erratic fire behavior for us, and it just means that we've got to continue to do a lot of work ahead.

And we've got over 3,000 firefighters taking a stand to protect those homes and slow down this fire. But these dry conditions unfortunately are not going to get any better. We have several more months of fire season ahead until hopefully we get a little bit of rain.

TAPPER: Sometimes in these fires, evacuation orders are not heeded. Are residents in this case listening to the evacuation orders?

BERLANT: We are definitely seeing the cooperation from the community. Thousands of people, in fact, well over 13,000 people across the region this fire is burning in have evacuated or are under an evacuation advisory. We are constantly reminding people, that when we ask you to leave, we need you to leave not just for your safety, but our safety as well, allowing us to get our or crews and equipment to get in there to battle the fire, because unfortunately when people choose to stay behind, they wait for the last minute, the fire comes.

Now, we've got to take firefighters off the line, stop protecting the homes, and get in there and save people. So, we are seeing cooperation in this fire, and we hope to continue to see cooperation in the fires to come.

TAPPER: All right. Daniel Berlant from CAL FIRE, thanks. And best of luck to you and the brave fighters.

Coming up, concerns about crimes surging in some American cities. In Memphis, a desperate search for an accused cop killer, new information about the crime, this officer may have interrupted.

And in Baltimore, unprecedented violence and unusual measures the feds are now working local cases on the streets.

Those stories next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:29:17] RADIO: 4-8-70, 4-8-70, (INAUDIBLE), Summer Lane, 487 Summer Lane. He's shot. He's shot.

DISPATCH: Officer is shot?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. That is part of the radio traffic from this past Saturday night made after a Memphis Police Officer Sean Bolton was murdered. Officer Bolton, a marine who fought in Iraq, was approaching an illegally parked car, and he allegedly interrupted a drug deal.

A drug deal, a manhunt is now on for 29-year-old Tremaine Wilbourn, the suspect in the shooting, who today was named to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's ten most wanted list.

Nick Valencia has been following the story. He joins me now.

Nick, I understand that the U.S. marshals have joined the search?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Due simply to the heinous nature of this act, murdering a police officer, the U.S. Marshal Service now part of this aggressive manhunt in Memphis to the look for the man that you're looking at right there on your TV screen, 29 year old Tremaine Wilbourn, wanted for first degree murder, a $10,000 reward being offered for information leading to his arrest.