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INSIDE POLITICS

Joe Biden & Bernie Sanders Debate How To Handle Health Care; Joe Biden: Democrats Need To Work With GOP To "Get Things Done"; 2020 Democrats Face Off in 6th Primary Debate; Senate Impeachment Trial Talks At Impasse As Congress Leaves Town; Senate Impeachment Trial In Limbo As Congress Begins Recess. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. The President says he wants his impeachment trial right away, but he will have to wait. Exactly how long is unclear because of a standoff between the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Plus, more than three-quarters of Americans feel confident about the state of the U.S. economy. That's a nearly 20-year high and its good news for any President seeking reelection.

And the leading 2020 Democrats stage their final 2019 debate. One contender who didn't make the cut offers his review photo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen the debate, and if so, what did you think?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't watch the debate. I was actually making calls to Iowa voters last night, and heard a lot of frustration from folks that there was more talk about wine caves than there were about gun violence or reproductive rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin right there with that final Democratic Debate of 2019, a night of crackling and contentious exchanges over healthcare, experience, and yes, wine caves as they relate to the role of money in American politics.

A night with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the middle, because the most familiar faces in this race have been the most resilient in the national polls. A night that closed this year's six-year series and that ends the six-week sprint now to Iowa. Healthcare remains the biggest divide both as a specific issue and as a vehicle for the broader debate over how far left can the Democrats go without handing President Trump a second term?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've handed to the Obamacare plan and the Biden initiative which is a public option Medicare if you want to have Medicare reducing significantly the price of drugs, deductibles, et cetera such a hand down for a second, Bernie, okay?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just waving here, Joe. Saying hello.

BIDEN: I know. It covers everybody it's realistic, and most important it lets you choose what you want.

SANDERS: The average worker in America they have to annually 60,000 a year. That family is now paying $12,000 a year for healthcare, 20 percent of their income, on the Medicare for all. That family will be paying $1200 a year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Both Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg see early state opportunities to shake up the race. Each clearly sees the other as in the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next President of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mayor, your response.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, according to Forbes magazine, I'm literally the only person on this stage who is not a millionaire or a billionaire. Your Presidential campaign right now, as we speak, is funded in part by money you transferred, having raised it at those exact same big ticket fundraisers you now denounce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny was there for the showdown. He joins us now live from Los Angeles. Jeff, what's your biggest takeaway?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, once those fireworks ended between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, we saw something happen at center of the stage. Joe Biden, he emerged as the strongest candidate last night, shows why he is still a resilient frontrunner?

He had a bounce in his step, a smile on that stage. He was more at ease than we've seen him throughout this campaign. I think when you saw him there with Bernie Sanders saying, just a minute, Bernie, it showed, yes, they're friends, but it also showed that his position on Medicare for all in the center of this debate is where a lot of Democrats are at this point. So when you take all of this, a year of campaigning, these six debates away, the party was moving to the left. Now it's much more in the center. That's where the conversation was so Joe Biden a very good night.

Pete Buttigieg held his own throughout the back and forth. This election will likely not be decided on a wine cave, but I think most striking Amy Klobuchar. She had the second most amount of time last night, more time than in any other debate. She challenged the Mayor on his experience.

She was belittling a bit she called him a local official. So we'll see how Iowa voters assess that? But I think that those were the dynamics at play. It was not one of Elizabeth Warren's strongest points of the evening at all, but now, as you said, the six-week sprint begins. Virtually all of the candidates will be heading to Iowa and other states this weekend. I'll be here with Joe Biden. He'll be here in Central Los Angeles shortly talking to reporters.

Certainly he feels good as this year is ending. But, John, the bigger question on the economy last night, as you said. Democrats did not really have an answer for anything bright in the economy, and that is going to be a challenge for them going forward. We should remind everyone, there is another candidate in this race.

[12:05:00]

ZELENY: That's Donald J. Trump, and right now in head-to-head polling, he's competitive, if not winning. John?

KING: Jeff Zeleny live for us in Los Angeles on the day after the big debate. Jeff, I appreciate it. With me here in the studio to share their reporting and their insights Julie Pace with "The Associated Press" Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post" Heather Caygle with "POLITICO" and NPRS Asma Khalid.

It was interesting if you look at the national polls Biden is leading. Not by a lot, but he has been resilient. If you go back a few months everybody thought Biden was going to collapse. Bernie sanders is right there never underestimate the strength. Sanders might have trouble growing, we'll see but he has a solid, solid base.

Where are we? In 45, 46 days, Iowa votes, which could change everything, could upend the national polls once somebody wins somewhere. But it was interesting to watch last night. I was most struck by the idea that Warren and Buttigieg clearly think if a fresh face is going to emerge, not a Biden, not a Sanders it would be one of them and they're in each other's way.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Absolutely. I am so ready for votes. That is what we need in this race. I think we learned a couple things about the field and where the candidates think things are right now. Certainly from both Warren and Klobuchar from different ends of this party, they see Pete Buttigieg as a blockade to their own path, both in the moderate lane and in that fresh lane, as you say. I do think you also saw a real comfort from Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders about their positions. These are two candidates, two politicians who have been around for a really long time. They're not going to change their stripes. They each have a theory of the case. They are waiting to test that theory in front of voters, but I do think both of them looked confident. They are assured about where they are and they think voters are going to follow them.

KING: It's to your Biden point, it's interesting and that this is literally the debate came literally the day after the House votes to impeach. Now on the one hand that has nothing to do with these candidates on the other hand they're going to have to run against an impeachment incumbent who most likely will not be convicted and removed by the Senate.

Hunter Biden and Joe Biden's name come up a lot in the impeachment. He has consistently been viewed by Democratic voters as the strongest candidate against Trump, but you do have to wonder, will it get under his skin? Will it get into voters' minds? He is constantly out there. Joe Biden found a way last night to connect two dots. He brought up the attacks on him and his son in connection with his appeal that, I can actually get things done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never; never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that's the case, we're dead as a country. We need to be able to reach consensus. If anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate, it's me, the way they've attacked me, my son and my family. I have no life but the fact is we have to be able to get things done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He has had mixed - halting is the word that has been used about past performances. From beginning to end last night, it was his most solid, consistent, coherent performance.

ASMA KHALID, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: It was and that particular comment he looked me struck at a point that he has tried to bring up time and again this campaign cycle. To me that was the strongest time he has actually made this case which is you know he has this nostalgia, you could say for bipartisanship.

It's a nostalgia that not all members of the Democratic Party feel that great about. I mean, some of them feel that you cannot work with the current Republican Party. I thought last night he made a stronger case by taking to a personal note of why he believes if you can't have bipartisanship that doesn't board well for the country.

KING: And it is a bit risky to your point at the moment you have this showdown between Pelosi and McConnell over impeachment. When you get to that McConnell held up a Supreme Court vacancy for over a year. So a lot of Democrats - to get to today to the Trump victory so a lot of Democrats would like no but Biden consistently does make the case. The other point it came up, Jeff brought it up I think Julies as well, Amy Klobuchar, she's been struggling, but, for a long period in this race. Struggling but making an enough progress in Iowa that you say, well, wait a minute because Iowa always gives us a surprise, we don't know who is going to be? But Iowa always gives us some sort of surprise. Amy Klobuchar, like Warren, deciding Pete Buttigieg is in the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the last debate, Mayor, you basically mocked the hundred years of experience on the stage. And I have not denigrated your experience as a local official. I have been one. I just think you should respect our experience--

BUTTIGIEG: You actually did denigrate my experience, Senator, and it was before the break and I was going to let it go because we have bigger fish to fry here. But you implied that--

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think we have bigger fish to fry than picking a President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're getting closer. You get closer to the votes and races get more chippy.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: I think for Klobuchar, what we've seen is her get steadily better in these debates as well. And again we have one more between now and when voters in Iowa head for the polls. I think she's back in Iowa today for a four day swing. She's also staking her campaign on Iowa and she is still only around 4 percent. Like you said, there are surprises, but can you get from 4 percent to the winner or second place? I don't know.

[12:10:00]

PACE: She's the second choice for a lot of candidates. When you look at some of the state polling in Iowa, consistently in its - Buttigieg voters, Klobuchar, it was Harris voters Klobuchar sometimes it's Warren, Klobuchar, Biden, Klobuchar.

So she sees this real opportunity if over these next six weeks she can take those second choice numbers for her and turn them into first place numbers. And I do think she has one thing going in her favor. We've seen this cycle after cycle. There is always someone who peaks late and just at the right time.

They hit the moment where most voters, not only in Iowa but around the country, are really starting to tune in, in a more serious way and look at these candidates not just as people on the debate stage or people they see in an ad but people who might go up in a General Election against the incumbent and could become President of the United States.

KING: It is interesting though to the Klobuchar point, I want to hear a little bit more to it because she's trying to make the case Iowa gave us Barack Obama to the left of Hillary Clinton. Iowa gave us John Kerry in 2004. Okay, that was a bit of a surprise. John Kerry came out of nowhere, slowly crept back in, wins Iowa and then goes on to win in New Hampshire and the race is over. So we don't know Iowa sometimes like I said--

KHALID: I want to be the - a lot of Iowa, too, is about organization and grassroots support. You look at candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg they organizationally have just large intense staffs. I mean, you could make the case that Bernie Sanders has that too in some of early voting states Joe Biden. I think it's very difficult just to be so competitive at this point when you don't have that organizational grassroots.

KING: Right. And so she was bragging says she raised some money. I just want you to listen here because just there is a guy named Michael Bloomberg who has spent more than a $100 million whose campaign is predicated on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will leave a muddle and it will show that Joe Biden is weak that's what he is bending on and it will show that neither Buttigieg nor Klobuchar are strong enough to take over the center lane. This is the Bloomberg bet. And a part of Klobuchar's case last night and Mayor Buttigieg as well but this is Klobuchar trying to say, oh, no, I'm ready.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KLOBUCHAR: If the President claims that he is so innocent, then why doesn't he have all the President's men testify? If you want to cross a river over some troubled waters, you build a bridge, you don't blow one up. And I think that we should build on the Affordable Care Act. This primary comes down to some simple questions. Who has the best ideas, the best experience, mostly who can beat Donald Trump and how will she do it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I've said this several times in the past where Cory Booker didn't make the cut for last night's debate. We'll come back to that a little bit later in the program. But Cory Booker has turned in strong performances and the numbers don't move. This is the second or third debate. I think the last night was her best, but two or three debates in a row Klobuchar has come to play the question is she somehow needs to blow up the dynamic.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right and this kind of goes to the point that Julie was making, too. Even though she is much stronger and looking more confident progressively as these debates go, is that enough to really catapult her above others? We were making the point earlier that Biden had a good night too. So that doesn't mean that Klobuchar can kind of win the whole show and steel everybody's thoughts away.

Especially people who kind of putting her in the number 2 spot in terms of where their choices are. So it depends on the ground game as you were saying, it depends on just the ability to translate that into a good night on the debate stage into a good face-to-face interactions and hoping others people have bad nights too so that you can kind of break through when you shine.

KING: Now comes the fun. There is one more debate before the Iowa Caucuses but now comes the fun. 45 days until Iowa votes. Get out and see it on the ground. Up next for us the impeachment impasse starring the two most powerful and two most disciplined leaders in Congress.

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[12:15:00]

KING: Welcome back to the impasse the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to dare the other to blink first. Pelosi's refusal to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate right away is likely the Speaker's final piece of leverage in this impeachment fight.

Pelosi says she wasn't to first be sure that Republican Senate Majority will play fair in a trial. But McConnell says the verdict is not in doubt, and that he has no intention of being an impartial juror. Now the leaders, stuck.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): As of today, however, we remain at an impasse. We have the curious situation where following House Democrats rushed to impeachment following weeks of pronouncements about the urgency of the situation. Urgent situation but prosecutors appear to have developed cold feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now Speaker Pelosi waves off the cold feet charge. She prefers terms like careful and cautious. Meanwhile, the man in the middle of it all, President Trump, not happy he wants a trial ASAP says his friend Senator Lindsey Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I just left President Trump. He's mad as hell that they would do this to him and now deny him his day in court. The reason they're denying him his day in court is because they know their case sucks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Democrats at some point are going to have to understand. I know Speaker Pelosi wants to see what the rules are before she names managers, before she delivers the formal articles of impeachment, but they also have to understand that until they do, that is going to be the Republican talking point that they're afraid their case is weak.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, of course. I mean, it's a piece of leverage that she has but it's not a great piece of leverage because it can be turned around so quickly and say, well if you didn't you know you think that there was impeachment case to make here, I mean if you were confident in your case, you would send it to the Senate and you would just say go ahead.

[12:20:00]

DEMIRJIAN: There are also no prescribed constitutional rules for how they have to do this? And the Democrats definition of a fair trial is very different than the Republican definition of a fair trial especially when it comes to witnesses.

So I don't see how you actually could get to a point where you're going to read some sort of harmonious conclusion between the two sides on this and Pelosi is going to have to decide eventually she's going to say, fine, go ahead and do this, because it's too much blowback to not just go ahead within stand behind the impeachment that you did.

KING: It may look way too political to just hold them.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

KING: Just hold them, it will happen and it will happen in early January somehow. I want you to help me translate this you were part of an interview with the Speaker yesterday as Congress finished its business and getting ready to go. This is from "POLITICO" and the idea is she too afraid to send over the articles--

Tell me if I got that right? Pelosi told "POLITICO" waving her hand dismissively when asked about McConnell's suggestion she was too afraid to send in the articles of impeachment against Trump. Fear is never a word used with me, the Speaker said, you should know right away, I'm never afraid and I'm rarely surprised.

Take us inside the room. You could see her in a press conference yesterday saying everyone has a spring in their feet. She seemed more confident, she is seemed actually much more relaxed than she had over the past several days. Understanding, you're impeaching the President. Does she think she has the upper hand or at least an equal hand here?

CAYGLE: Well, first of all - Pelosi's impression spot on. It was like, yes perfect. I think you could definitely feel that this weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She was much more at ease than I've seen her in a long time. She's very comfortable, she's very confident going into next year.

I mean, she knew when she got the speakership back a year ago that she was going to have to deal with this one way or another. She resisted impeachment but knew this would come to a head somehow. Now she's gotten it over to the Senate with very minor speed bumps along the way, and it's in McConnell's and Schumer's hands at this point.

And I think she started to turn and focus on the 2020 election. She talked about Republican retirements in the House. We heard Meadows yesterday they're kind of nearing 2018 levels, and she said, it means one thing. You're going to lose, and if you win, you're going to serve under a House Minority, under me, under a Democratic President. You may want to spend more time with your family.

KING: Well, that part is interesting because look, she's very disciplined, McConnell is very disciplined. They're choosing their words trying to get either under the other person's skin or into the other party's psyche, if you will, because nobody knows how the impeachment politics is going to play out in 2020? I'm sorry, nobody knows.

Anyone who says they know is wrong. "The Wall Street Journal" Editorial Board siding with McConnell and the President saying this Mr. McConnell may attempt to let Mrs. Pelosi delay naming managers for as long as she wants, figuring she'll look increasingly cynical to the public. Mr. McConnell should put Pelosi on public notice that she has a certain period of time, perhaps until the end of the year, to name House Managers.

If she still refuses, he should declare that the Senate will appoint managers to make the House impeachment case for the Democrats. That seems a bridge too far but there is some - these are two of the strongest willed, proudest, stubborn, disciplined, powerful people in a town in a stair down.

KHALID: I have a question for you on also that covers Congress a lot more. And that is that looking at this from the lens of 2020, there seems to be a really uncomfortable timeline in that Iowa is going to start voting February 3rd. There are leading candidates who are running for the Presidency who need to be at that Senate trial. So the longer these delays, is that not putting them at a strange --?

DEMIRJIAN: Is she unaware of that or does she care at this point?

KHALID: She's certainly aware.

DEMIRJIAN: I think there are two schools of thought about that, right which is that if they go through these two weeks very quickly in January, at least it's behind them and it doesn't like it hand like a cloud over there rest of the election season which is more than just the Iowa Caucuses even though that's very important to do all the ground work before that. Then of course that's - the other side of the coin is that you kind of - it's not a terrible thing for the GOP if this takes a long time to come over because then they get the benefit of that.

PACE: Except for the fact that McConnell is also getting pressure from the White House. This is not just spin and rhetoric. Trump wants this trial and he wants it now because he thinks that this is good for him. He wants to be acquitted, he wants his team to make the case for him, so McConnell is going to have to deal with that for a while.

KING: He will forever be impeached.

PACE: Right.

KING: He will forever be impeached.

PACE: But he wants the--

KING: But he wants the forever be acquitted part next to it as soon as possible. But McConnell is not going to rush too much. DEMIRJIAN: McConnell is not going to let him do the sort of trial that he wants. Actually, McConnell will be faster about it because he doesn't want the whistleblower to come in, he doesn't want Hunter Biden to come in, and the Trump wants to wage that the Bidens are a terrible fight of the 2020 campaign through the Senate McConnell is not inclined to let that happen.

KING: Democrats will only let him - Democrats don't want that, but they'll let him have a piece of it if they'll give them John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, and then you get the drug deal and the quid pro quo, get over it.

DEMIRJIAN: Exactly. And that's probably not something the GOP is going to agree to. Again, you're stuck, and as long as you're stuck - there is one other thing for Pelosi that just seems odd because this whole time she's been saying we need to just get impeachment behind us and move on and talk about the issues that voters care about. The more you sit on this the more it stays here, the more the focus is on impeachment and not on healthcare and not on all the other stuff that they care about.

[12:25:00]

KING: Which tells you she's got something she's trying to figure and once she figures it out, she'll do it in early January. That's what it tells you. That's the end to this. She is just has to figure something out yet.

Up next for us, signs of a strong economy. Good news for a President heading into a reelection year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Some new data on the economy today and some new numbers on the politics of the economy that should bring a big smile to the President's face. The government--

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