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Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Abortion Ruling; Western Ohio Devastated by Tornadoes; More than 500 Tornadoes in Past 30 Days; Trump Fixates on Biden. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The Supreme Court sidesteps two cases that would put abortion and transgender rights on its 2020 election year docket, but conservative Justice Clarence Thomas writes the high court can't wait too long before addressing the scope of Roe v. Wade.

Plus, the president due back in Washington soon from a quick weekend hop to Japan. A very different time zone but a very consistent Twitter focus, Joe Biden.

And Montana Governor Steve Bullock is a late entry into the 2020 Democratic field, looking to sell his red state credentials in Iowa counties that flipped from blue to back President Trump.


GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I look at the county that you're in, and I'll be darned, it voted Obama, it voted Obama and then it voted Trump. We've got to not say, what's wrong with those folks that voted for Trump. We've got to say, why aren't we getting them to vote for us? If we don't win back some of the places that we lost, if we don't give people a reason to vote for us, not just against him, he could win again.


KING: Back to politics in a little bit, our 2020 politics.

But we begin, you might say this is a related case, two moves by the Supreme Court today that suggest the justices are warry of wading too deep into the culture wars as the country plunges into a presidential election. The justices today let stand a lower court ruling that blocks an Indiana law that tried to restrict abortion rights. The Indiana provision that now remains blocked would have allowed the state to prohibit abortions motivated by race, sex or disability.

The high court also let stand a lower court ruling on transgender rights. In that case from Pennsylvania, the justices decided they would not hear a challenge to a school policy that allows transgender students to use the bathroom associated with their gender identity.

Both abortion rights and LGBTQ rights already flash points in the early 2020 campaigning as Democrats make their case against President Trump. The broader issue of Supreme Court picks also a big campaign issue already. The court's reluctance to get into the middle of these debates in the middle of a campaign reflects the caution of the chief justice, John Roberts.

But today's Indiana ruling included this message from conservative Justice Clarence Thomas. Quote, although the court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever, Justice Thomas wrote. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this court is duty bound to address its scope.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's court analyst Joan Biskupic, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

Now, the court trying to be careful here, but Justice Thomas essentially firing a rocket saying -- and he's well aware, these state challenges are coming up through the system that, go ahead, push it off today, but we're going to have to deal with this.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's right. That was his message distinctly and wanted to warn everyone that of course the right to abortion isn't mentioned in the Constitution as far as he's concerned, even though the Supreme Court in 1973 said indeed the right is there.

But, at the same time, John, Ruth Bader Ginsburg also wrote separately to fire her own warning shot, to say, even though the Supreme Court rejected the law you mentioned about, you know, deciding on abortion, race, sex, disability, it did allow part of that law to take effect involving fetal remains. And Justice Ginsburg writing only for herself -- and, you know, we're all reading the signs here of who's with whom. Justice Ginsburg writing only for herself said, this actually does invoke the right to abortion and sort of fired a kind of subtle warning shot. Only Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor separated themselves with the liberals to say, you need to take a hard -- you can't do what you did today in terms of letting this -- this one provision, John, that they did let take effect having to do with burial of fetal remains.

So I think it's -- they're -- we're seeing this majority inch a little closer to more restrictions on abortions. But to your point on the Clarence Thomas statement, he was by himself. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, our two newest justices, who have sided with Clarence Thomas on other things, did not go as far as Clarence Thomas was going.

KING: Did not go as far as Clarence Thomas. So you have abortion rights. You have transgender rights. They have come up on the campaign trail as well, which gives you the Supreme Court's caution as sort of telling and interesting. Let's just listen to a flavor of some of the Democrats. They've been

watching, whether it's Missouri, Alabama, the Indiana law that was in the pipeline, other states moving to restrict abortion rights. Democrats saying we need to change presidents.

[12:05:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We understand that women have a constitutional right to control their own bodies.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president, I will make sure that every nominee, every federal bench, including the Supreme Court, understands and believes that the 1973 decision Roe versus Wade is the settled law of the land.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These judges have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. And Roe v. Wade is constitutional.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is about basic human and civil rights that women, as settled law, have a constitutional right to decide.


KING: We don't know. There could be other court cases as they come up before the election, obviously. We don't know what the courts are going to say on this. But already, already we've seen this shift with the state laws making their way through to hear Beto O'Rourke and Kirsten Gillibrand was first. It used to be, I won't have litmus tests. Of course I support abortion rights but I would never bring that up with a Supreme Court nominee. Now you have several of these Democratic candidates saying, yes, I will ask a judge, if I appoint you to the bench, will you uphold Roe v. Wade?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's been really fascinating to watch this kind of stampede of Democratic candidates embrace the litmus test because it was -- I think President Trump kind of rewrote the playbook on that when he -- during his presidential bid said he would nominate justices that are pro-life. And also he did something pretty unusual -- very unusual by releasing a list of at least a dozen candidates that he would nominate for the Supreme Court, which arguably helped him earn the support of conservative voters who are kind of warry about him since he had proclaimed way back in the day that he was pro-choice.

But you're completely right, I mean Kirsten Gillibrand has been the most explicit on this front by saying she would nominate justices that support Roe. But Bernie Sanders has been out there saying this, Eric Swalwell, Beto O'Rourke, you just saw, and I would expect more -- more Democratic candidates who haven't said anything to say that as well.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": And part of the concern for some of these Democrats is that they're tired of what has become sort of the game on Capitol Hill around this question about Roe, which is about precedence. So you will have justices like now Justice Kavanaugh, who goes up to Capitol Hill during his confirmation process, meets with swing voters on Supreme Court confirmation fight, like a Susan Collins, and says he would uphold precedent. Well, Democrats are now arguing, that's not good enough. You have to say it explicitly. We don't want to talk about that -- this broad question of precedent because there are potentially a lot of loopholes there.

KING: And am I right, it's the same idea on this transgender decision, what the -- the Pennsylvania policy they let stay in place was essentially what the Obama administration recommended, you know, leave this up -- school districts should say, if you want, we recommend what you do is say, if you're a transgender, you use the bathroom of the gender identity you now have. The Trump administration tried to reverse that and the court's saying, this is what their policy is in Pennsylvania. That's fine by us.

BISKUPIC: Yes, without comment, they just let that stand, which was a signal that maybe other -- other jurisdictions will continue to do that irrespective of the reversal on the part of the Trump administration.

KING: And, again, this issue has come up. There was a Trump administration reversed some Obamacare policies the other day that the transgender community says that allows discrimination against this. There were some housing policies for homeless that the transgender, LGBTQ community says, well, wait a minute, that invites discrimination. Here's what some of the candidates have been saying about this.

This is Cory Booker tweeting on Friday, everyone deserves access to quality affordable health care. To the trans community, know that I and many others will fight alongside you.

Kamala Harris, very similar, almost one-third of transgender Americans already lack regular access to health care. The decision would make things worse. We will fight this.

Pete Buttigieg tweeting on Saturday, we should be ending discrimination in health care, not encouraging it. The rollback would be an assault on transgender Americans and their ability to receive health care. We must fight to ensure equal access to health care.

So some of these will be court challenges as well.

But in terms of these cultural issues, abortion, transgender rights, gay rights, how are they playing in campaigns? Does one side -- do both sides just see this as motivate the base? Does any side have an obvious advantage?

OLIVIER KNOX, SIRIUS XM: I think these are both pretty much base motivators for these voters. But after a midterm election in which suburban women played such an outsized role in helping Democrats recapture the House, you'd have to wonder whether this is also going to have an impact with those kind of -- with sort of swing voters, women voters, in those suburbs. I don't pretend to know exactly how much of a factor, but I would imagine it would be a factor. KING: What are we looking for from the court docket perspective? These

new state restrictions, and will that -- none of them can make it before 2020, right?

BISKUPIC: Not -- not on the merits.

KING: Right.

BISKUPIC: They won't come up there on the merits, but they might come up there on -- you know, an injunction. Can something take effect or not take effect. But there are many other restrictions on abortion access that are in the pipeline. To go to your point about Clarence Thomas, he's right, there's no avoiding this. There will be versions of it by 2020. No matter what, it's going to be front and center at the Supreme Court.

KING: But Thomas' position is critical clear. We knew that before today.


KING: Just reading it just reinforced it.


KING: He wants this. He wants it. The question is, can he and other conservatives who want to reconsider or at least maybe restrict the scope, maybe they don't -- know they don't have the votes so completely reverse Roe, but if they want to restrict the scope of abortion rights, essentially we always say, oh, the courts above politics. BS, right?

BISKUPIC: No, and there may --

KING: They're trying to figure out -- how do you -- how do you get enough votes on the court to get a case before you?

BISKUPIC: That's right. And I think what we saw today in the two parts of the Indiana law that they acted on, you could see a little bit of deal-making. I know that's a harsh word to sometimes use on the justices. But that's what this is all about. Who's going to align with whom and on what parts of the law. So it's not just , we're with Roe or we're against Roe. There's a lot in the middle and it's a lot that will play out in the campaign too.

[12:10:06] KING: And if you look at the polling, this gets to your point about, who are you trying to motivate or -- presidential politics, this could go from state to state, be -- help one party in one state, help maybe another party in another state. Among all adults, 67 percent of Americans say keep Roe v. Wade, 28 percent say overturn it.

Among Republicans, 45 percent say keep it, 48 percent, overturn it. So you look at those numbers and you think, well, wait a minute, this is not a no-brainer for the Republicans. However, the president's trying to drive out base voters and he's already lost some of those more moderate, suburban voters.

PACE: Exactly, it's not about -- it's not about the split on the issue, it's about who will use this issue to come out and vote. And certainly anti-abortion supporters are going to be more likely to want to come out.

But what Democrats -- what Democrats feel this time around, and what they would argue, is that the energy among women, among liberals to try to uphold Roe will be perhaps even bigger when the balance of the court looks like it does right now.

KING: It's going to be fascinating to watch as it plays out.

Joan, appreciate you joining us to help us understand the court, which, of course, no politics at the court, never. It never happened. It never happened.

Up next for us, moving to a sad story, homes and lived ripped apart in Ohio. More tornadoes in the forecast.


[12:15:45] KING: Severe weather showing no signs of retreat. Part of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, along with parts of the northeast on tornado alert in the hours away. Overnight, Dayton, Ohio, and the city of Celina, that's 60 miles to the north, were the latest targets of tornadoes, splintering homes and taking lives across the Midwest for days on end now, leaving miles of devastation in their path.

Survivors telling horror stories of walls and roofs being ripped away as they huddled inside their homes. All of this happening, these survivors say, within minutes, sometimes second.

CNN's Ryan Young is in Celina looking at the devastation this morning.

Ryan, every time I've seen you on the air, I see those pictures. It's just -- oh.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's been really difficult, especially when you find out the news that someone lost their life in this. People who said they had minutes to react when they heard the sirens nearby.

But take a look at this RV for one. This was actually pushed across the street into the neighbor's yard. They were able to pull it back.

But, John, we continue to see scenes like this. As we walk back this direction with my photographer, Jake, you can see the damage that's been here. Look at the back of that home there. There is nothing really left there. The roof from that home was blown all the way down. People are already starting to put the pieces back together, but you have to understand, they are shaking.

In this home right here, a firefighter lived here. He was on call last night trying to help out fellow citizen. On the inside, his family, his wife and his kids and their dog. They were able to make it through despite the fact that the kitchen (ph) collapsed. And you can see, this house is basically bracing itself up.

Listen to the fear in this one woman's voice as she talked about this storm.


RENE MONIZ, CELINA, OHIO, RESIDENT: My daughter was pretty scared. She was crying. And it's like, what do you do, you know? It -- I can't -- I came out last night, and, I mean, I -- the first things I thought of was war zone, because it just looked like somebody just took a bomb and --


YOUNG: As you can see from above, we'll show you this drone video that we shot earlier, that's how we really figured out how massive this was. We saw more than a mile and a half of damage at some point. We started talking to some of the firefighters here. They were actually going house to house to make sure everyone was OK.

Coming back down now to the ground, you can see that area over there just tossed over. We talked to one man who was like, not only did the firefighters help rescue his pets, he learned about a neighbor across the street who was trapped in their basement after this storm. So you compound all the facts that the people felt this storm in their bodies because the pressure was so strong, then it hit so quickly. You can understand why people are fearful. But, as you can tell, they're already starting to clean up as it is. But, again, they're worried about tonight. Overcast skies as we speak.


KING: Ryan Young live for us on the ground in Celina.

Ryan, appreciating the reporting as you watch this devastation. It is incredibly sad.

And it's not just Ohio and it's not just the past few days. This onslaught has been relentless. More than 500 tornado reports in the past 30 days. More than 500 in the past 30 days.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is in the Weather Center to help us understand the magnitude of this outbreak.

Chad, how rare is this?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not unprecedented, John, but only four other times in recorded history, and that's only really been back since the '30s and '40s have we seen this type of outbreak, 500 in 30 days. In fact, April 30th was a big outbreak day. So we have to add that into May almost, 2003, '04 and '08 and '11, all with reported tornadoes like we've had this month.

Now, 268 should be our number for this time of the year, for this month. We've already had 442. Now, that could be more than one person reporting the same tornado. So this number could actually go down. You know, like four miles north of Boston and six miles south of Plymouth, if you're looking at it from different directions, it could be the same storm, they just have to narrow that down when they go out and do their surveys.

But, yesterday, 52 tornadoes, we believe, touched down at some point. There is a chance of severe weather all the way to New Jersey today. Some of these storms across parts of Pennsylvania could rotate today, so Avoka (ph), all the way up toward Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, the Delaware Water Gap, you could get some storms even into New Jersey and New York City later tonight.

Now, not probably the severity that we're going to see out west from Omaha to St. Joe to St. Mary's, all the way back down even to Kansas City, Topeka, and Oklahoma City. The tornadoes, if there are any out here, would certainly be larger, EF-2 and 3 possibilities out here.

[12:20:08] But I has been one day after another. It finally stops on Friday. We've had a trough in the west, which means very cold air out there. Warm air on this side, on the eastern half of the Mississippi, and that has caused all of this weather, 500 tornadoes. I don't think I can even stress how many that feels like to the weather office here and to the people that are on the ground that are now just saying uncle, please, let this stop, we're tired of it. We're tired of hearing the sirens. We're tired of watches and warnings and having to watch all the time.


KING: I hope you're right, it's about to end soon.


KING: Chad Myers, important perspective. Really appreciate it.

MYERS: You're welcome.

KING: Up next for us here, the president, before heading home, a new attack on Twitter. A familiar target, Joe Biden.


[12:25:35] KING: President Trump on Air Force One en route to Washington this hour where his attention actually never left. The president constantly undercut the pomp of his visit to Japan with politics and his -- clearly his biggest 2020 concern. That would be the former vice president of the United States, joe Biden. This morning, before leaving Tokyo, the president his send on this Twitter attack, assailing Biden's role in authoring the 1994 Crime Bill. Quote, has sleepy Joe apologized? No, the president tweeted, before adding this, anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected. African-Americans will not be able to vote for you. That's the president's take.

Also while overseas, the president sided with Kim Jong-un's assessment of Biden. The North Korean government saying that Biden is low IQ and not -- and in tweeting that, the president nauseated some in his own party back here in the states.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins our conversation.

The president marches to his own beat. But, a, and it was remarkable, and many say way beyond the pale, to associate yourself with a dictator who murders his own people and starves his own people attacking Joe Biden, whether you like or don't like Joe Biden, while you're overseas, standing in Japan, which is nervous about North Korea right now.

But -- and -- plus, it's just the constant focus on Joe Biden. Why?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It's in the president's head. And this explains now -- we're seeing it play out in real-time -- what a strategist of his told me I would say maybe two months or so ago. He said the plan is to cause chaos. So he is obviously focused on Joe Biden.

But that one specific comment there on Twitter clearly trying to remind African-Americans and some people who have concern about the crime bill that he voted for it. So, in some respects, he's doing the work that some Democratic presidential candidates have been unwilling to do, but he is trying to, you know, soften him up a bit, bruise him up a bit, but there's no question that President Trump, so focused and fixated on Joe Biden. Why? Pennsylvania. It the boils down to that. He thinks that he can win Pennsylvania and that could block the president from re-election.

KING: And this has been -- this has been an issue for Joe Biden on the campaign trail. He knows --

ZELENY: Right.

KING: That not only President Trump, now more forcefully, but some of the other Democratic candidates who said, you know, that crime bill was a mistake, it incarcerated too many people, encouraged -- it had federal mandatory minimums and it encouraged state mandatory minimums. This is Joe Biden -- and this would flunk a fact check, but Joe Biden trying to explain it away early this month in New Hampshire.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, let's get something straight, 92 out of every 100 prisoners in -- behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison. This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.

We don't need any more mandatory sentences period. I said it at the time on the floor of the United States Senate. And so, folks, there are mistakes that were made. The biggest mistake in that bill was my view was making crack cocaine and powder cocaine a different sentence. They neither -- they should not be mandatory sentences.


KING: Now, the crime bill did encourage mass incarceration, both in federal policy and in the impact it had on state policy there. But this is one of the things that the vice president -- the former vice president, especially as we get into debate season, is trying to find the right way to say, yes, it was wrong, but don't blame me forever.

PACE: I had a strategist whose close with both Obama and Biden say to me that one of the challenges for the former vice president is that he feels the need to explain a lot of these decisions.

KING: Right.

PACE: He's -- so far he has proven unable to take a question on something in his past, whether it's the crime bill, the Anita Hill hearings, or many other things, and try to pivot. He wants to go back. He believes that he was right in the moment in a lot of these decisions and what has happened is just simply that the country and the party have moved, and so he's going to go back and try to re- litigate those decisions. And one of his challenges, though, will be that the party wants to move forward, and they just want to know where he is now.

Trump though, I think is smart in picking up on some of these things.

ZELENY: Right.

PACE: He sees the weaknesses and he is not afraid, while the Democrats are still trying to play nice, to jump right in for Biden.

KIM: What's so interesting too about the fixation on the '94 Crime Bill is that the president actually does have his own accomplish to point to that is legitimate. He looked at the first step act that was signed into law back in December and it was widely bipartisan. One of the lead authors of that bill was actually Cory Booker. So it does create these kind of strange bedfellows in the presidential politics right now. It will be really interesting to watch in the coming weeks.

[12:29:56] KING: But he also has his own history. I want to show you a full page ad. This was taken out by businessman Donald Trump in "The New York Post" -- "The New York Daily News," excuse me, in 1989 talking about bring back the death penalty, bring back our police. There are roving bands of wild criminals