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Biden Says He Will Decide His 2020 Plans Soon; Warren Tests Out Populist 2020 Message in Iowa; McAuliffe: I Hope Biden Runs, The More The Merrier; Bolton: U.S. Not Leaving Syria Immediately; Cortez Rips Trump's "Dog Whistle" Language; Key Dates Loom as Shutdown Enters Third Week. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 7, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A lot of different -- the party is not where it was when he last left it.

But what I am told by talking to a variety of advisers is he wants to run but has not decided yet. It's a family decision and there are many reasons to not to run. His legacy is one concern others but he's facing a ton of pressure from donors and activists to make a decision by the end of January.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: In part because they're getting calls from everybody else, right? People who are loyal to Biden or people who might at least out of respect stay back away a little bit. But, here's the question and you can answer today but today's answer might not last tomorrow or from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina and beyond.

What is going to matter most to Democratic voters? Is it beating Trump? And you think former vice president, kid from Scranton, can do the blue collar stuff. Or is it -- look at the House of Representatives. More women in the party, more progressives in the party. Biden is generationally and ideologically out of step. Which is it?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And also -- I mean, Democrats really have not really cracked the code on how to beat President Trump -- how to be effectively attack him and that's part of what this primary is going to test. We're going to see a lot of different ways that these Democrats are going to go after the president. But I think Jeff of course makes an excellent pint which is that this is not Joe Biden's Democratic Party. This is not really Barack Obama's Democratic Party.

This is a party that has changed and has moved pretty significantly to the left during the Trump era. And that means a lot of things that Joe Biden has a very long record, and some of those things like the crime bill which was a problem for Hillary, like his bankruptcy bill, like the Anita Hill hearings may not wear so well in today's Democratic Party, and that certainly something he needs to be thinking very seriously about.

KING: And as he nears his decision -- this won't impact it, he's going to decide, a, is the family with me, is my heart in it, if I really think I can beat Trump? But, you saw Elizabeth Warren out this weekend, smart to get early out of the gates after a lot of criticism of her DNA test and other things. But listen to her in Iowa essentially saying it should be me.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is about my mom and dad. This is about where I grew up. This is about every experience I've had and every time I've been told, you can't get a consumer agency. A woman can't beat a popular Republican senator, you can't get the CEO of Wells Fargo fired.


KING: Welcome to campaigning. If you lose your voice pretty quickly, you'll go through cycles of that as it goes. But fairly or unfairly, help me with the right word for it. She said it right there, women can't beat a popular Republican senator. She did that in Massachusetts.

There are a lot of Democrats including women, asking the question, is it safe? Of course, women are coming up in her party. Of course -- can a woman beat Trump?

LERER: Well, there's also -- I mean, we spoke to three dozen Democrats over the weekend about this very question. And there are people in the party who say it's too risky to nominate a woman, and that's rooted in, you know, the 2016 election, and that's rooted in a wider spread recognition that it is harder for a woman to win. But there is a flip side so that argument which is that woman won the party back -- the women's position on the ticket and women's work won the party back the House in the midterm, so.

The other thing is --

KING: And math, 52 to 53, a growing percentage of the American electorate. Sorry.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: The other thing we see with Warren's visit to Iowa which was got very good reviews, she got big crowds, there was a lot of enthusiasm. She hadn't actually been there since 2014. Is that Biden, if he comes in fifth is not going to take the traditional vice president slot and come into this as the, you know, the established frontrunner, I think in a way that you would have in past cycles. He's going to have to work. He 's not -- he is -- there are, I mean, dozens of candidates, and there are candidates with organizations already in Iowa and New Hampshire, the early states. He is going to have to compete.

And there's other candidates carving out on the same issues that he is talking about. The Midwestern appeal that he has, it's not just him.

KING: The former Virginia governor party chairman, a Clinton loyalist Terry McAuliffe just said on CNN in last hour, the more the merrier. That even if he runs, he would love Joe Biden to be in the field. Is that an honest answer or a political answer? Especially -- forgive me, I don't want to overdo the identity politics part of it, but if you're a white guy in the Democratic field, Joe Biden is a bigger obstacle to you than anybody else, right?


TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Well, that is true. And I think we're going to have a large field whichever way you cut it. There are going to be a ton of Democrats jumping into the race and Biden may be one of those names that end up being in there. But I think as he's sort of hemming and hawing and trying to decide, he has to be able to make a case for himself, the way Elizabeth Warren made a case for herself away from this other Democrats who are making sort of biographical case for themselves about why they should want to be the next president. And Joe Biden has ran multiple times, who had eight years in the White House, who has a long political history, he's going to have to be able to make that strong case to Democrats that he is the person who can be the right candidate for the Trump era not for the 1980s or the 1990s or the 2000s.

[12:35:11] ZELENY: And starting as a frontrunner is a dangerous place to start because there's always the candidate who wins the early primary in 2019. It's difficult. So that's why I think Governor McAuliffe does not mind if Vice President Joe Biden gets in. He can't do anything about it first and foremost. But, it's not a bad place to start, sort of lower expectations. Mr. Biden starts with high expectations and, you know.

KING: To that point, ask Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, they can tell you about that.

Up next for us, the national security adviser walks back what the president said about U.S. troops leaving Syria immediately. How the president responds, in a moment.


[12:40:13] KING: Topping our political radar today, oral arguments at the Supreme Court taking place without the Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We're told she's still recovering from surgery she underwent last month to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung. The 85-year-old survived two previous bouts with cancer but never forced in those cases to miss oral arguments. Justice Ginsburg can still vote though on the case of being reviewed by the court by reading the transcripts.

The world's fifth largest economy officially under new management today. Gavin Newsom about to be sworn in as the 48th governor of California. He replaces fellow Democrat Jerry Brown who in all served the record four terms. Governor Brown was known for holding the line on spending and his advice to Newsom just made some hefty promises to progressives, quote, don't screw it up.

President Trump apparently trying to get on the same page now with his national security adviser who says the U.S. troop pull out from Syria will happen more gradually than the president first suggested. During a stop in Jerusalem, John Bolton said, yes, the withdrawal hinges on certain conditions, including assurances from Turkey that the Kurds won't be attacked.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: To do so from Northeast Syria in a way that make sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again, and to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured. And to take care of those who have fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups.


KING: In a tweet this morning, the president trying to suggest that's where he's been all along, saying the conditions Bolton laid out are no different from his original statement and that leaving Syria will be, quote, at the proper pace.

However, that's not what the president said originally. This is one of the issues we've seen since day one of the Trump administration where he declares things on Twitter and in other statements where he said rapidly, quickly, and then his aides have to scramble in this case on a major global security question and tell allies, pay no attention to what the president says, pay attention to what we do.

Happened on day one, still happens now. Why?

LUCEY: I mean, this is a feature of Trump's governing, which is that when he gets frustrated with something or he feels like something isn't moving as quickly as he would like, or maybe he wants to turn attention another direction, he's going to tweet out a policy whether or not everyone else has read in on it. And --

KING: And then he says we're fabricating it. That it's never -- there's nothing to see here except you can read what he said.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. This is a president who wants to portray his administration as a well-oiled machine. Everything is working just as it's supposed to but the evidence is very much in contrast to that. I mean, we hear multiple different messages from different parts of the administration. We hear the national security adviser trying to clean up the mess that the president made through his, you know, his tweets and his statements that seem very brash and then led to the resignation of the defense secretary. I mean, this is a chaotic situation where the administration is sort of firing and then aiming afterwards.

And it's becoming much more of a problem among Republicans in the Congress who are not happy to see all of this chaos coming out of the Trump administration and not having as much of an organized process as you would normally expect out of the White House. So, this could be a problem in 2019 for the president if he continues along this path.

KING: You mentioned Republicans in Congress, the Israeli prime minister and his team are feeling a lot better today than they were feeling, say 72 hours ago.

We'll keep an eye on that one.

Coming up for us, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets the "60 Minutes" treatment.


[12:47:57] KING: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making clear she wants to keep her national platform even though she's now a very junior member of Congress. The New York Democrat was the focus of the "60 Minutes" segment last night. And in addition to some challenges to her own party, she says President Trump parrots, quote, a historic dog whistle of white supremacy.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: The president certainly didn't invent racism but he certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe President Trump is a racist?

CORTEZ: Yes. No question.


KING: The White House responding by saying the president has repeatedly condemned racism and bigotry. White House also is saying the congresswoman's comments reflect what the White House calls, quote, her sheer ignorance on the matter.

There is a dispute with the president who has used language like that in the past. The record is pretty clear. And then there's the moment in the sense that most freshman members of Congress, even if they become stars during the campaign because of the big upset, she upset a leading member of the Democratic leadership, they tend to disappear once they get here and they earn their time, if you will. What's up with her?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's the moment in this moment of time, right? In the sense that not unlike maybe the president with Twitter or the Obama administration continually trying to go around reporters through YouTube stars. But, she has figured out a way to get her message out beyond the political press, beyond the Capitol Hill press corps directly to people. And so she's become a star on the campaign but as somebody that she can carry it over when she actually gets here.

Is she going to have power on committees where she is the 34th ranked person on the Energy and Commerce Committee? No, not necessarily. But what that power gives her I think more broadly is what's more interesting. And that is when she has policy ideas, and she's laid out several. A new green deal, she's talked about the 70 percent marginal tax rate for the highest earners. That the party has to pay attention and the party has to listen.

And while she agreed with the characterization of radical, if that's what you want to give her, radical ideas from star members of a party have moved into the mainstream over time.

[12:50:01] We've seen it happen in the past couple of decades multiple times. And so I'm far more interested whatever she has to say on "60 Minutes" is if she's able to push her policy ideas which have a basis in research in economics, to some degree that might be disagreeable to a lot of people, if she's able to get the party behind those or at least start of moving them more into the mainstream.

KING: And to your point, build the wall. Donald Trump, that's now part of the Republican ideology, orthodoxy, whatever you want to say -- at least his part on the Republican Party, which is the dominant one. It wasn't there before Newt Gingrich became of the speaker of the House as a backbencher, throwing harpoons, often at his own leadership. Not just at the other party, often his own leadership.

Listen here because she got four Pinocchios in the Washington Post because she has, as a newcomer, sometimes got her numbers wrong. Gotten the math wrong. And her point is, I don't -- that's not the point, it's the bigger question.


COOPER: One of the criticisms of you is that your math is fuzzy. The Washington Post recently awarded you four Pinocchios --

CORTEZ: Oh my goodness.

COOPER: -- for misstating some statistics about Pentagon spending.

CORTEZ: If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they're missing the forest for the trees. I think that there's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.


KING: It's interesting to watch, because you watch as politicians grow and you watch them as they go through mistakes. She made a mistake, she could have said, yes, I screwed that up. Instead, she says, look, don't focus on the numbers, focus on the moral imperative which is an interesting argument.

LERER: I think she understands two things about the era that we're living in. One as Phil pointed out is that we are in a time of -- for better or worse, of show horses, not workhorses. And she understands how to capitalize on that energy from the grassroots. I think she also understands that people want a sense of authenticity. So if that means standing by your original statement and saying, well, that's not the point, that makes people feel seems authentic. Or really the comment about racism. I mean, what you typically hear from Democratic politicians about -- when asked that question is, well, I don't know what's in Donald Trump's heart, right? That just doesn't pass the smell test in a lot of ways, so her coming out and just saying, look, I think he's racist. I think does give a sense of authenticity that people from what we know about Donald Trump when people seem to be really craving in their politicians, even if some of the math is in fact, wrong.

KING: It's interesting --

LUCEY: I think she also knows the position she's taking and the statements she's making and the social media she's doing is hugely popular with a section of the party. I mean, if she was old enough, we'd be talking about her going to Iowa for 2020.

LERER: Right.

LUCEY: And I'm sure we'll be talking about if she'll go out and doing things for other candidates. So, she knows it's playing.

KING: And I think she also knows -- I mentioned this before the show when we wwere chatting, that Nancy Pelosi was a younger woman in the House Democratic caucus at one point who was told no, or be patient, or wait your turn for a long time. So she -- I don't know where the sweet spot is before she gets to the point where Nancy Pelosi is saying enough. But I think that's what she's trying to figure out. It's one of the fascinating things to watch as we go through.

Up next for us, why the government shutdown could get more painful, much more painful, for Americans in the week ahead.


[12:57:38] KING: Welcome back.

This week marks some critical dates in the government shutdown. We broke that news at the top of the hour. President Trump will visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday. Federal government workers will miss their first paycheck on Friday. The next day, the shutdown would become the longest on record. And next week, more Americans would start to feel the real impacts.

And that's the question you'll hear in Washington is this just about the president's position versus the Democrat's position? Or, as Americans who live paycheck to paycheck or, you know, this gets really hard as they begin to miss their paychecks as other government programs maybe have an impact to the politicians. Is that where they take their cue from or they take their cue from their polling and what they think about 2020?

MATTINGLY: I think they take their cue from their respective conferences and caucuses, right? If Mitch McConnell is behind closed doors at a Tuesday policy lunch and he finds out that a majority of his conference says it's time to end this right now, he need to figure something out. Mitch McConnell is going to reflect the views of his conference. And the same with Nancy Pelosi, it's the same with Chuck Schumer.

And so I think that's where when you have people miss --

KING: But who are the key members? I don't mean to interrupt but who are the key members here. Susan Collins is up in 2020, Thom Tillis --

MATTINGLY: Yes, to some degree --

KING: -- very different member up in 2020.

MATTINGLY: To some degree, yes, but also no because they don't reflect the broader conference right now. I think the interesting element (ph), everybody kind of settled in on Cory Gardner and Susan Collins last week when they said, look, we don't want to be part of this. But they missed the fact that neither of them want to be part of this before they started. And both of them are from a purple states and people say, well, there's a lot more Senate Republicans that are up in 2020. They're basically flipping the map of 2018.

Most of those Senate Republicans are from Trump-won states, very red states and are very comfortable being behind the president right now. So I don't think those are the drivers. I think when you have maybe somebody like Thom Tillis, when you have people of that ilk, who have perhaps worked on immigration as she's before and say, look, we got to figure something out. But I think what we are talking about earlier is an interesting one too, both sides are going to have to at some point blink here. And basis are important, and Democrats are going to have to find some reason to come across the table too.

KING: And so, who can tell the president, you need to blink and take less. Who can tell Nancy Pelosi, first month as speaker, first couple weeks as speaker, you need to blink and give the president something. Two billion, three billion, I don't know what the number is. Who can tell -- who --

OLORUNNIPA: I don't think they're very many people who can. I think the president's base and the people he listen to, to sort of start this whole shutdown, the talk radio hosts, those types of people could potentially get through to him. But they don't have any incentive to make this fight end. I think the president wants to keep this going and unless we start seeing people impacted on the much broader basis, sick-outs, then we'll see the president actually --


KING: They thrive on to fight.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you back here this time tomorrow.