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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
CNN Haley-DeSantis Debate After Christie Suspends Campaign; Hunter Biden Makes Unexpected Appearance At House Oversight Committee Contempt Hearing; Chris Christie Suspends Campaign; Trump Campaign Claims Christie's Withdrawal Will Only Pull Nikki Haley Further To The Left. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired January 10, 2024 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: So we've got to try to fight in all these different dimensions, but they do have good intelligence. That's part of the picture.
And in that tunnel, at least they were able to extract DNA evidence -- blood, hair -- of the hostages that actually had been held down there. There's a lot of technical equipment used as well.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Wow. Absolutely.
All right, and obviously, Israel, a crucial topic in this debate coming up in the next hour.
Nic Robertson, thank you so much from Tel Aviv.
And finally tonight, of course, don't miss it because the CNN GOP primary debate live from Iowa begins soon. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, head-to-head, this is the final push before the first votes which are in Iowa. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate tonight at nine and I'll be back with Anderson for a special hour of AC 360, starting now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We are now just about an hour away from the final Republican primary debate before the Iowa caucuses next Monday. If you're just joining us, I'm coming to you along with Erin Burnett in New York from the campus of Drake University in Des Moines. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley squaring off tonight. CNN's Dana Bash and Jake Tapper are moderating.
BURNETT: And, you know, adding to the interest, the unexpected, right, and raising the stakes, the former governor and now former candidate who did not qualify for tonight's debate, but is so crucial in this race as it moves forward, Chris Christie.
COOPER: That's right. Governor Christie stepping out of the race just a short time ago.
We're starting off this hour with that headline that he made late today, suspending his campaign. Here are some of what he told supporters this evening in New Hampshire. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I know, I can see it from some of the faces here that I am disappointing some people by doing this, people who believe in our message and believe in what we've been doing. I also know though, it's the right thing for me to do. Because I want to promise you this, I am going to make sure that in no way do I enable Donald Trump ever be president of the United States again, and that's more important than my own personal ambition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Chris Christie suspending his campaign. As for who he may endorse, a source familiar with Chris Christie's thinking says the former New Jersey governor will not endorse any candidate that continues to say they will support Trump if he becomes the nominee.
His remarks this afternoon about his 2024 rivals nodded to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: If Donald Trump becomes the nominee of this party, the moment that it happened was when Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott and Mike Pence, and Doug Burgum and Vivek Ramaswamy stood on that stage in Milwaukee in August, and when we were asked, would you support someone who is a convicted felon to be president of the United States, they raised their hands.
To give Ron credit, he had to look at everybody else first.
CHRISTIE: To see if he wanted to raise his hand, but then he raised his hand. Kind of like cheating off somebody's paper in high school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So from the sound of that it, it sounds like he's not going to be endorsing anybody anytime soon. We shall see about that. I'm here with John King and Abby Phillip in the hall where the debate will take place in just about a little less than an hour from now.
John, were you surprised by the announcement? What do you make of the timing?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I am surprised a little bit by the timing, but I think Governor Christie decided there is this debate tonight, he didn't meet the criteria to be here. He gets the math. He is not going to be the Republican nominee.
And it also is, as he mentioned, it fits his central message. He believes it has to be anybody but Trump, the math wasn't there for him, and you're getting to a point in the race where the other anti- Trump people are saying why stay in? You're making it harder. If you get eight percent here, 10 percent there, five percent there,
they need a consolidation. The only way to beat Trump is for a consolidation. So consistent with his overall message, it is hard. It's hard for any candidate, whether you're at two percent or 40 percent, it's hard to get out.
But look, he can do math, he was not going to win. And then he decided to get out now and put the burden on those two.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
COOPER: I mean, you do have to give him some credit. I mean, that was his message from the beginning, which was I mean, obviously, one's ego would want to stay in a race, I assume, but he did step out.
PHILLIP: And I think the timing to me feels significant. He wanted to do it just before the caucuses, I think has already injected a momentum shift into this race. There is now the possibility that one of these candidates who will be on the stage behind us could draw his supporters, which would totally change the dynamics of the contests that are ahead.
Christie knew that that was a possibility and I think waited until this moment so that it could have maximum impact. It doesn't just get absorbed into the atmosphere of this primary. This is the moment when everything matters, every day matters, and every endorsement matters. He wanted it to have impact and I think it will.
COOPER: I want to play something, the hot mic moment that Christie was recorded shortly before his announcement. Let's listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: ... she's going to get smoked and you and I both know it. She's not up to this. DeSantis called me, petrified that I would...
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: It's unclear, the concept, we don't have the full context of what he was saying, but it is --
PHILLIP: That's very nice of you to say.
COOPER: Well, I am just -- I feel a sense of obligation.
PHILLIP: Because those comments were, I mean, pretty, pretty New Jersey blunt on Chris Christie's part.
Look, I don't -- this is politics, right? These candidates talk smack behind the scenes all the time. They know it. I don't necessarily see those comments precluding anything happening from this point forward. Christie -- COOPER: But he has said in terms of endorsements...
COOPER: ... that he would not endorse a candidate who would support Trump.
PHILLIP: Look, that is a litmus test for Nikki Haley. It is also a litmus test for Ron DeSantis. We -- what is Ron DeSantis' answer to whether he will support Donald Trump or not? He said he would consider pardoning him.
So I think both of these candidates, it puts both of them on the spot. I think Christie, it almost sounds to me, not to psychoanalyze here, but there is a little note of disappointment, I think in Christie's comments there.
He wants Nikki Haley to be more forceful. She has not been up until this point. We'll see what happens going forward.
The question she's been tripped up on in the last few days has been will she consider being Trump's vice president? The fact that she doesn't want to give a straight answer to that, I think has been disturbing, not just to Christie, but to a lot of Republicans.
There's still time for her to get in some place, some clear place. She has to make a choice here. It's either Trump or not, because I think Christie is forcing that issue right now.
COOPER: There's a poll out of New Hampshire that shows if people weren't voting for Christie, what would their second choice be? Nikki Haley seems to benefit in that. They were putting it up on the screen.
KING: That was the first choice, right? Christie was running third at 12 percent. This is the second choice of Christie voters. Look at that, 65 percent of the people who are going to vote for Chris Christie today say they would go to Nikki Haley.
So that gives Nikki Haley right there, an hour from now, a giant opportunity. Obviously, Iowa is first. She is in Des Moines. She's trying to run as strong as she can here. She hopes to win, but Trump is way ahead here and according to all the data.
So the question is, can she somehow come in a decent strong second here, and then use that momentum to catapult to New Hampshire where she is already in second place, and if she could pick up the Christie support, you know, and then get even closer to Trump there, can she beat Trump in New Hampshire?
Look, the biggest question here, we talk about all of these little pieces. The biggest question here is, we may know two weeks from now, whether Donald Trump can be slowed or stopped.
If Donald Trump wins Iowa and win New Hampshire, forget about it. Just forget about it, because then he's on a rocket. He's on a path. So if someone is going to stop him, it has to start here with at least a strong second, and then a stunner in New Hampshire.
Nikki Haley, as we speak tonight has the best opportunity to do that. Does it count DeSantis out? Does it mean he can't find a way? But tonight, she has the best -- the best long shot. They're all long shots. She has the best long shot, can she take advantage?
PHILLIP: In part because of the calendar. After New Hampshire, is her home state. That is a real potential boon for her even though, you know Trump is very popular pretty much all over the map. But when you look at the runway here, she has more runway, and that raises the stakes for DeSantis. It's not over by any stretch of the imagination, but the bar is high.
COOPER: Abby Phillip and John King, thanks very much.
Joining us now with Iowa and New Hampshire competing for headlines tonight, New Hampshire governor and Nikki Haley supporter, Governor Chris Sununu.
Governor, thanks very much for being with us.
Obviously, there's been no love lost between you and Governor Christie in just the last couple of days. What's your reaction to him suspending his campaign?
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Well, look, Chris is a great friend. He really is, and I give him a lot of credit. He ran a hard race. He ran a race that was consistent on message. He worked very hard here in New Hampshire.
So I have no doubt obviously, he's disappointed; a lot of his voters are disappointed. So you have to appreciate kind of that moment now.
At the end of the day, as was just discussed, Nikki Haley is the one with the chance to beat Donald Trump. There is no question about it.
So Trump and DeSantis have set expectations in Iowa. They've said -- they've both said they're going to win Iowa. There is no real expectations around Nikki there, but what she's doing in New Hampshire clearly has momentum.
It isn't just one poll, it is multiple polls. Some now that put her within single digits of the former president. A lot of folks in mainstream media said that could never happen, but it's happened and there's still a lot of time left when she is the only one gaining any ground.
Trump is nervous. He knows that he is vulnerable and as was just brought up, to bring home a big surprise win here in New Hampshire and then you have a month to campaign in her own home state, that spells a lot of opportunity for the Republican Party in this country to start galvanizing together and move forward in a in a positive manner that we didn't think was possible for a long time, but now, it seems like there really is a glide path there.
[20:10:16] COOPER: Do you expect Chris Christie to endorse somebody?
SUNUNU: I don't know. I really don't. I mean, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't expect him to have, you know, shouted out an endorsement tonight. I think just 24 hours ago, he was thinking he was still going to stay in this race. So a lot has gone on between him and his campaign over the last 24 hours.
You've got to understand that those -- it is an emotional time for a candidate. I've been a candidate, it can be very emotional. So you just want kind of things to settle and then he'll figure out what he wants to do. But that's really up to him what he wants to do.
It is Nikki's job to go out and earn the vote and nothing is taken for granted. Nothing is assumed. She is going to be on the ground here in New Hampshire talking to those voters, talking to everyone, doing the retail stops, all that kind of exciting stuff you see in the first in the nation primary.
She has been crushing it and you know, she is surging not because of me, not because of anybody else. Nikki Haley is surging because the process is working. The voters are the ones that say, not the media, not the pundits, not the politicians, only the voters are the ones that decide who is going to be president.
COOPER: We showed that poll that a lot of people who wanted Christie in New Hampshire, their second choice is Nikki Haley. I want to play something that Governor Christie said last night about whether he would ever consider endorsing Ambassador Haley. Let's play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Let's say, I dropped out of the race right now, and I supported Nikki Haley, and then three months from now, four months from now, we get ready to go to the convention. She comes out and is his vice president. What will I look like? What will all the people who supported her at my behest look like when she's up on the stage in Milwaukee with their hands up like this with Donald Trump?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Do you think it would be worth it for Ambassador Halley to rule out ultimately being Donald Trump's running mate? If it meant she got an endorsement before New Hampshire?
SUNUNU: You know, I hear this -- yes, I know, look. I hear this question a lot. I've got to tell you, as someone who has been a candidate multiple times, when you're in the race, you're not thinking of anything else. You're not thinking of what the administration might look like, what other opportunities you have. You're literally thinking about your message, what your next stop is, how you're earning the votes, that is 110 percent, all her -- or her campaign is even remotely thinking about right now.
So I can imagine it hasn't even crossed her mind, nor should it by the way. You know, we can talk about it and the media can talk about it, and those outside the game can speculate. But when you're a candidate, it is really the last thing you're ever thinking about.
She doesn't play for second place. She has a shot to win here and galvanize the entire Republican Party of the entire country together.
When you were this close to doing what no one thought could be done, that is all that's on your mind.
COOPER: What's the important thing for your candidate, for Nikki Haley to do tonight on this debate stage? I mean, should the focus by her be on Ron DeSantis and emphasizing differences with him? Or should it be on the former president?
SUNUNU: What Nikki should do is what she has always been doing through this whole race, be genuine. She just has to be herself. And that's why she when she does her events, she talks a lot about herself.
She doesn't worry about Trump and DeSantis and Chris. She doesn't worry about the other candidates. She talks about her experience, what she brings to the table, her background as the wife of a combat veteran from a military family. Her background as a mom, her background as an incredibly successful governor during incredibly tough times down in South Carolina, turning that entire state around.
Her experience knowing that you've got to be accountable. When you're the president, when you're the governor, you know, you don't blame other people, right? The buck stops here, accountability matters and that kind of transparency, just being yourself and genuine, that builds a lot of trust with folks and when she does that, she knocks it out of the park. So she just keeps doing what she's been doing, she is going to be okay.
COOPER: Governor Sununu, thanks for your time.
Erin, let's get back to you.
BURNETT: All right so, Jamie's hearing Anderson to Governor Sununu, look, Governor Sununu is trying to make his case for his candidate. Nikki Haley glide path, crushing it. Trump is nervous and vulnerable. How much of that reflects the reality?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: David, stop laughing.
I don't think it does reflect it. Look, what Chris Christie did in that hot mic moment was really sum up this race and that is that Donald Trump is far and away the frontrunner.
BURNETT: As you're speaking, I'm just letting everyone know Governor DeSantis is walking into the debate with his family right now. Obviously, the debate right now about 40 minutes away, this crucial moment.
So there he is with his wife and as you can see, at least one of his children walking into the debate stage. Sorry, Jamie, I just wanted to let everyone know this is -- literally arriving as we're speaking to get ready.
GANGEL: The question is, is this just a race for second place? Or is something going to change dramatically in the next couple of months so that someone can really challenge Donald Trump?
Right now, we are not seeing it.
BURNETT: And what is that that would need to change? I mean, and let's just make it even more micro. What can tonight do to make a change, Alyssa? What can tonight do? What can Iowa do? Like what needs to happen for this not to be a race for second?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, it's a tremendous uphill battle, to Jamie's point, but I think DeSantis should make the point.
I've done the full Grassley. I've been to every county in Iowa. I have showed up and tried to earn your vote. Meanwhile, Donald Trump showed up in Washington, DC for his appeals process, for his DOJ case related to January 6th.
Nikki Haley should say I'm working for Iowa, but I'm working for New Hampshire. Iowa, as the adage goes, picks corn; New Hampshire picks presidents. They are showing up and earning votes, but they also need to talk about the fact that sure, right now, he is tied up in his court hearings, just wait until the summer when he is on trial for federal indictments related to the insurrection.
If you want someone who is positioned to beat Joe Biden, make the case now why he is insufficient and unfit to do it.
BURNETT: What does this do that, when Christie gets out what happens tonight to Haley?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You can say that, that message is not going to -- that's going to get your votes in New Hampshire, that's going to get Trump votes in New Hampshire, because people see him as being persecuted in New Hampshire, right?
The New Hampshire base voters, if you Trump's not going to be there because he's being -- you know, he's going to be in trial, you're just going to make the case, that's why Donald Trump has made the calculation to be at his court hearing in DC. He's going to be here tomorrow, you know, he's going to be where he needs to be.
GRIFFIN: But I am not convinced caucus goers in particular, they want you to earn their vote. They take their role very seriously.
URBAN: Well, I don't -- yes, yes.
GRIFFIN: And I do think that not showing up is something that resonates. New Hampshire to a certain degree as well. They love being the first in the nation primary.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Also, I think we're using the word base very vaguely, there's multiple legs of the Republican Party. URBAN: But in Iowa, specifically.
CORNISH: Perhaps, but there's still a diploma divide. There's still a class divide in terms of financials. And when you go to an Iowa event for Donald Trump, and they do still have them, they play an elaborate little video that's like, here's how you caucus, because they are still drawing in people who don't typically go. That's something they're so open to doing and open to fighting for.
JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Audie's point about this is important, because we haven't really talked about money, which is one thing. DeSantis has got to win because he's going to have to go out and raise some money to compete.
And if he doesn't --
BURNETT: He has got to prove to his donors big time.
SIMMONS: He has got to prove to his donors that he can actually come in second and be strong, right? But here's the thing, Nikki Haley has to be careful when she is on the stage because you talked about these really evangelical and more religious voters here. Those are not the voters in New Hampshire.
They are more educated, they're less religious. It's going after a lot of maybe disaffected Democrats or unaffiliated voters. So she can't say anything in this Iowa campaign that going to get screwed up in New Hampshire.
BURNETT: I'm Kristen, this is the thing, so Christie gets out tonight, two hours before the last debate before the first votes, and those first votes are in Iowa.
But now you've got New Hampshire voters tonight. I'm going to bet a lot of them are saying you know what, I'm going to tune in and watch this today. And the ones who are up to look for Haley don't want to hear the message that Haley needs to deliver to an Iowa GOP base, whatever leg of the base you're talking about in Iowa. So what does she do?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think she needs to prioritize New Hampshire. I don't think you can alienate Iowa. I think, if she gets a dreadful, terrible third place, that's not the momentum you want. But I think that New Hampshire, there is no path to the nomination for her that does not run through a victory in New Hampshire, in my view.
And I think in order to make sure that she can have a message that will not alienate voters in Iowa, but really work for New Hampshire, her message has consistently been pick me instead of Donald Trump because chaos follows him.
ANDERSON: DeSantis' message has always been Donald Trump is not conservative enough, you can't trust him. That's just not what the Republican core conservative base really believes. So that's why DeSantis has kind of flailed and failed to catch on.
But this message that Donald Trump, chaos follows him, whether his fault or not, as Haley sort of carefully walks that line. That's how Republicans even once who like Donald Trump, they will quietly say that to each other, chaos just follows him.
So that's why I think it has come down to her as the last woman standing potentially, because the type of criticism she levels at Trump is the closest to what a Trump quasi supporter might say that is the case.
GRIFFIN: By the way, just having the support of Chris Sununu, I think endorsements are not what they used to be. But Chris Sununu has continually outperformed Donald Trump in New Hampshire. It's a purple state. It is a state with a heavy independent and by the way, it's an open primary. Independents can turnout, Democrats can vote.
So I do think that there is a lane here, it is to turn out people who are not the ones who came out for Trump, but who are active in this first in the nation primary.
CORNISH: He is also the right man for the ages. This is no temporary thing.
GRIFFIN: Can I get that?
CORNISH: There is crushing it. There's glide paths, I mean, Sununu comes out and you just like won an arrow --
URBAN: So, I was just going to say, to Kristen's point. Chaos is Trump's brand, right, so he's not running from it. He's embracing it, number one.
Chris Sununu also is playing expectation management. You heard him there, seems downplaying. We're not looking to win in Iowa.
BURNETT: He's right.
URBAN: We don't really care, we're not -- so expectation management, very important, because if she has a poor showing.
URBAN: She's toast. Right? You heard, you know, Chris Christie say that. She is putting all her eggs in one basket, clearly, New Hampshire. It's a big, big win; big, strong second finish. It is not a win to go to South Carolina.
BURNETT: And a quick, quick final point here, Audie, you've got just two people on stage tonight, just two people in all the time. That's a lot of pressure, and it's the first time they've been in that situation.
CORNISH: But well, I mean, they're both governors. So they've definitely had the experience of getting out there, talking for a long time. Haley has always been quite polished, and I think I want to hear them talk about the economy or immigration. I don't think abortion et cetera is the sand trap we think it is because of Donald Trump's own stance.
So the question is, where do they spend their time? What's the thing they think is going to resonate?
SIMMONS: And Erin, I'll challenge you on the first time because Ron DeSantis did debate Gavin Newsom, and that was a big hallmark in this campaign. He debated effectively like an --
BURNETT: It was experience on a one-on-one. Yes.
All right, all, stay with us because we do have to take a break. When we come back, some of the onstage ceremonies leading up to the debate and more on what these two contenders tonight hope and must achieve.
Also some remarkable moments today, Hunter Biden making a surprise appearance at the Capitol and the storm it touched off in to the committee holding contempt proceedings against him.
We'll be joined by one of the lawmakers in the room taking part in that drama.
COOPER: Well, as we get ready for tonight's CNN Republican debate here in Des Moines, Iowa, we are just a minute or two away from the Color Guard entering, then the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem.
Daniel Bowers, a Drake student and football player doing the honors there. Then at the top of the hour, the debate starts on a day with no shortage of political developments.
On Capitol Hill, a lot of drama as Hunter Biden shows up at a hearing on holding him in contempt.
I'm joined right now by Abby Phillip, and we're waiting for the Color Guard to -- they are just about to introduce the Color Guard, so let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
DANIEL BOWERS, DRAKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight. O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming. And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh say, does that star- spangled banner yet wave for the land of the free and the home of the brave.
COOPER: There was Daniel Bowers' acapella rendition of the national anthem. We'll get back to the debate in a moment having brought you that moment of grace and decorum, let's turn to the opposite.
Hunter Biden's surprise appearance at the House Oversight Committee's hearing on contempt proceedings against him.
The committee voted along party lines to hold him in contempt for failing to sit for a closed-door deposition. Not before his arrival set off a storm in part about whether or not something Oversight Chairman James Comer said actually gave Biden the choice of a public hearing, but also for someone about expressing antipathy for the president's son.
Here is a sample.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): The Chairman refused to take yes for an answer from Hunter Biden.
REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I think that that Hunter Biden should be arrested right here right now and go straight to jail.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I think it's clear and obvious for everyone watching this hearing today that Hunter Biden is terrified of strong conservative Republican women, because he can't even face my words as I was about to speak to him.
What a coward.
REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): Don't act like a bunch of nimrods.
MACE: What are you afraid of you have no balls to come up here.
REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D-FL): So I am listening to the gentlelady from South Carolina about the witness being afraid to come in front of the committee. It is interesting, he is here. He doesn't seem to be too afraid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining us now, the man you just saw, Congressman Jared Moskowitz, Democrat of Florida. First of all, what do you make of your Republican colleagues' reaction to Hunter Biden's surprise appearance?
MOSKOWITZ: Well, thank you, Anderson. Thanks for having me. No, they did not expect for that to happen. They're not used to aggressive strategy. And so, look, when Hunter walked in, the chairman's face turned white. They clearly didn't know how to deal with it. They want to throw Hunter in a basement, take his deposition, and the n go out and lie to the American people about what Hunter said and never release the transcript.
But the problem is the chairman himself several times said Hunter can choose whether he wants a public hearing or a deposition. And Hunter said, I'll do a public hearing. And then the chairman was like, oh, whoa, whoa, I forgot that I invited you to do that. And so, look, Hunter has called their bluff. They're backpedaling, trying to figure it out.
But look, this was no different than the impeachment hearing that we saw a couple of weeks ago. This was a total embarrassment. One of my Republican colleagues said this is why we shouldn't pick our chairman based on how much money we raise; we should pick our chairman based on their abilities.
COOPER: Did you know Hunter Biden was going to appear ahead of time? Do you think it was smart of him to do that?
MOSKOWITZ: I didn't know he was going to come. But a couple of weeks ago, remember, we saw that he did that press conference. So after that, I thought, look, it's 50/50 maybe he shows. So I was prepared that he would come, in the event that that would happen. Whether that's smart or not, that's up to his attorney and the American people. I know this is something Republicans are not used to dealing with, Democrats coming with an aggressive strategy. They expect, you know, Dems to just try to come after us and turn our back. But Hunter has been very aggressive about it.
So, look, at the end of the day, I'm sure at some point in time, we'll sit down and we'll get Hunter's testimony. But look, the chairman is eating his words. He invited Hunter to attend a public hearing, and Hunter came to attend a public hearing. But for some reason, my Republican colleagues don't want the American people to hear from Hunter Biden. It's very strange. It's also strange that we have three members of this committee that defied a subpoena, and yet pretended like that never happened and were just baffled by the fact that Hunter Biden came to this hearing.
And so, look, oversight this whole year has been a Broadway show. It's unfortunate because there is a lot of really good oversight we could be doing for the American people. We could be helping kids in this country from gun violence. We can be helping families afford their rent. We could be working on inflation. We could be doing all sorts of things. But this is why this has been one of the most unproductive Congresses in over 30 years.
MOSKOWITZ: This is what they're focused on, and the American people do not care.
COOPER: Do you believe that Hunter Biden will ultimately testify?
MOSKOWITZ: I do. I think we'll eventually get this worked out.
(APPLAUSE) MOSKOWITZ: You know, I'm sure Hunter Biden and those folks will figure it out. There may be lawsuits. We'll have to see how that goes. I mean, it's no different than the last Congress. But Hunter Biden has accepted every term Chairman Comer put in his letter, that he was willing to not claim any defenses, that he was willing to testify, that he was willing to give them unlimited time, that he was willing to let them ask any question.
The only accommodation he asked is that it be done publicly, so the American people can hear that. But transparency bad, oh, bad transparency, says Chairman Comer. And so look, he's got egg on his face. He put his foot in his mouth when he invited Hunter Biden to come to a public hearing. Hunter Biden called his bluff. And again, they're trying to figure it out. I think the American people want the get to the bottom of this, and they want to figure out what's true versus false. And the only way we're going to do that is if people are watching at home.
COOPER: Both the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees have voted to approve the report recommending Contempt of Congress Resolution from Hunter Biden for failure to comply with the subpoena. Do you think that resolution is actually going to pass the full House and ultimately be referred to the Justice Department?
MOSKOWITZ: I don't know, Anderson. I mean, the only thing the House has does this year is removed the speaker and expelled a member. I mean just today, the Republicans killed their own rule to pass a bill. So, they're doing everything they can to get back into the minority as fast as possible. So I don't know. They've got a free vote majority. We'll see if they can pass it. Obviously, there are a lot of moderate members that will have to deal with it back in their districts. So I think that's very unclear at the moment.
COOPER: Congressman Moskowitz, appreciate your time.
MOSKOWITZ: Thank you, Anderson. And thank you for everything you did for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where I graduated from.
COOPER: You take care. Thank you.
We are now less than 30 minutes from our chance (ph) for Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, they are trying to close the gap with the former president in Iowa. Plus, why a Trump's team tonight is saying that Christie dropping out actually hurts Nikki Haley. More on that ahead.
BURNETT: All right. There are about 20 minutes until the final Republican Presidential Primary Debate before the Iowa Caucuses. So the last debate before the first votes. And of course, missing tonight the former president. You're going to have on stage Haley and DeSantis. Trump's team sending an email blast after Chris Christie dropped out of the race tonight, arguing that Christie pulling out is actually bad for Haley. OK. Well, obviously, everyone perceives it to be good for her. So, their argument is that Christie voters are not conservative Republicans. They're mostly crossover votes in New Hampshire's open primary. So, their email reads in part "Christie's withdrawal to attract his voters will only pull Nikki Haley further to the left. Furthermore, Chris Christie has very serious negatives and should be a liability to Nikki Haley."
Back to our panel, well, I will say Alyssa, I guess, by their -- by Trump's argument, I guess it's a good thing that Christie is not going to come out and endorse Nikki Haley, at least not now, if ever.
GRIFFIN: I mean, it's arguably decent spin from the Trump campaign. But they, the Trump campaign, despite what they say, they are fearful of Nikki Haley. MAGA Inc., one of his affiliated group, is spending more than $4.5 million against Haley. They have been much more aggressive in their criticisms and I think they've realized that this does open a window.
She is within striking distance of Donald Trump in New Hampshire. If even the majority of Christie votes go to Nikki Haley, she could potentially beat him there. So I would expect to see the attacks ramping up, and they're going to lean into this. She is a lefty, she is a rhino, she is a globalist -- these kind of buzzwords to the base, but she's got to carve out her niche which is not to that same base.
SIMMONS: If I'm Nikki Haley and they start that business, what I say is, you know what, I can win votes all over the place. I can get independents. I can get Democrats. And if we're going win the White House, we are going to need all of them to show up and vote for me. I'm not turning any votes away. That's the campaign that she would run that maybe would find some Republican voters who want to get past Donald Trump, and move on to the future.
BURNETT: So, and that's a crucial point, OK. Because, obviously, part of the reason she hasn't done that so directly is because she thinks it may alienate some of those core Republican voters. Kristen, would it? Are there some who might say, OK, I don't like this whole independent business, but I do -- I am a little sick of him and I do want a winner?
ANDERSON: Well, remember, there are two ways to think about electability. On the one hand, there is I want to pick somebody who can go get those independents, somebody who can get those more moderate voters. But there is also a large portion of the party that says, you need to be able to turn out your base. You need to be able to understand those core voters that are part of our side because if they stay home, Biden wins.
So electability can be argued both ways. So she has to make the case, not just I'm good for these moderates, I am good for these independents. But I come from South Carolina, I come from place where I know how to talk to conservative Republicans too. I can do all things at once. BURNETT: Right. But what she has been doing though, actually, is not really -- is certainly not going after Trump, and not making that argument. But actually going after DeSantis. In fact, Jamie, just tonight released a digital ad attacking DeSantis. Now, it will be the two of them on the stage. But nonetheless, that is who the fire is pointed at tonight. I want to play a part of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Noticed something different about Ron DeSantis lately? Yeah, we noticed too. Ron DeSantis is lying about Nikki Haley. I wonder why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley's numbers are on the rise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Less than a year ago, DeSantis was leading Donald Trump in polls of Republican voters, but he has been losing ground for months.
NIKKI HALEY, (R) 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If these fellows have to lie to win, they don't deserve to win. So if they're going to lie about me, I'm going tell the truth about them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. So she used a plural at the end, but everything else was about Ron DeSantis.
GANGEL: OK. I just want to tell you that's the nice part of the ad.
GANGEL: It ends with a big bang about his being a loser and a liar. This is -- so I spoke to someone who's close to the Haley campaign. They expect her and want her to take the gloves off tonight and to go after him. And on the other hand, when I speak to people on the DeSantis side, they feel he has to do the same thing, that this is his last chance. So, if that ad is any example of what we're going see tonight, there is going to be fire between the two.
BURNETT: Well, I mean, and Audie, let's just add into this, be honest, you've got fire. You have a man and a woman. I mean, it's going to be fascinating to watch it.
CORNISH: I'm just glad there wasn't like the putting fingers meme in that
CORNISH: Which is really gross.
URBAN: See, Trump's ads are a lot better.
CORNISH: Yeah, they are far worse, grosser things said about Ron.
CORNISH: Hey, never forget that actually. No, I think, remember, there is only two of them on stage now. Nikki Haley is not going to have Vivek Ramaswamy pecking at her shoulder. Chris Christie won't be just like lobbing his bombs in the middle of it. If anything, I think that's interesting about what Chris Christie did today. He put himself on stage so to speak, by making sure he would have -- exert some pressure on them. And then one challenge he said was, if you can't say the former president is unfit, you're unfit yourself. It will be interesting to see how -- and how they parry on that idea, because he has laid it out so plainly.
BURNETT: Right. And if it is a direct question, then what -- then that is a crucial moment for them there.
URBAN: It is going to be a -- it will be interesting to see if somebody poses the question, hint, hint, right? Would you be? Really push Nikki Haley. Would you take the vice presidency? Would you -- you know what, to get some tough answers. But listen, at the end of the day, John King said this earlier. It is a sisyphusian task, right, to win if you are not Donald Trump here, right?
You're pushing a big rock up a hill. The path is very, very narrow for either DeSantis or Nikki Haley. So let's not kid ourselves about she is going to rebound here. This is like the game where you are playing horse in your driveway. Off the backboard, down the downspout, in the hoop, right? That's the only way somebody wins here. There is no clear path. It's no easy shot. It is very, very difficult. Donald Trump still may not be a 800-pound gorilla, but he is a 600-pound gorilla in this race.
GRIFFIN: But the best argument that Nikki Haley has, especially facing off against Ron DeSantis tonight is, I beat Joe Biden head to head by as much as 17 points. Ron DeSantis oftentimes head to head loses to Biden. And Donald Trump maybe on a good day is two or three points ahead. If she can convey I am him without the drama, I can do the policies you like, but I can actually beat Joe Biden, that can break through.
CORNISH: Or even better, is she herself? You know, like everyone competing to be a diminutive Donald Trump seems unappealing I think to a lot of voters. So, what is the future of the party? How do you articulate it? And will we see even a glimmer of it on stage?
URBAN: Authenticity, right, is important.
SIMMONS: If she beats Nikki Haley -- I mean, if Nikki Haley beats Donald Trump in New Hampshire, I hope she is ready, because what he will unleash on her will make all of this seem like kindergarten game.
URBAN: Jamal, you get it.
(LAUGH) BURNETT: But it also is, in a sense, we're having this conversation of, OK, once you get past New Hampshire, and then what? Like if she wins that, then there is something. But I just wonder because if we take a step back, you have this unprecedented situation of a person facing 92 felony counts. We don't know what could happen over the next few months in terms of people's views of him. So this race peters out or ends, and he is number one and there is no number two, what the heck happens?
ANDERSON: There are a million different X factors. But there is also the reality that Donald Trump is for all intents and purposes like an incumbent in this primary. So unlike somebody like Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis, who we all feel very familiar with because we've watched all these debates, there are a lot of voters who are still like, I wonder what Nikki Haley is all about. I wonder what Ron DeSantis is all about.
They know what Donald Trump is all about. And so, for all the existence of the X factors, that's why it is so hard for somebody like Nikki Haley, and why you can't just assume "Oh, maybe magic will happen and Donald Trump will disappear." That's just not going to happen.
URBAN: But I think to, Erin, your point, I think these folks may be playing to be that second person, right.
URBAN: So if something does happen, right, in June or July, that they are poised to move forward and they've made the case already to the American people, and they pick up that -- the flag and they march forward. I think that's what is most likely to happen. Because I don't think any of these people are going to beat him outright. But if something happens, if he falters or is rejected some place along the way, that they're standing there, they've already made the case and the party accepts.
BURNETT: And do you see, Jamie, from talking to the campaigns that they also have that exact possibility in mind? And if so, how do you play that out over the next two months? So sure, we're in this moment, Iowa -- Iowa, New Hampshire. But then you have a long way of just what, you just -- if he wins everything, you let it go? But then, how do you be that number two? I mean, how do you be ready for that potential moment, which could happen?
GANGEL: So, there is no question they all got in because of that.
GANGEL: The question is who is going to stay in.
URBAN: Who's got the money.
GANGEL: What are we going to see after New Hampshire?
BURNETT: Right. GANGEL: Just to be the skunk at the garden party, is that the -- I haven't seen that the Republican base is interested in any of these other candidates. They have not wavered. Whatever Donald Trump is, chaos, noise, 91 indictments, they are behind him.
BURNETT: Right. And then -- but then what happens, Audie, in some moment where something happens? You have a hockey stick moment, a black swan moment.
CORNISH: I hear you just hoping and hoping that someone will step on a rake.
CORNISH: I mean, this is like someone in the mall the other day said to me like, it is not really going to be Biden/Trump, is it?
CORNISH: I'm like I don't know.
CORNISH: I feel you wishing. I feel you wishing. One thing I just want to add as a flourish (ph) and a footnote here is that the Trump campaign folks have really pushed a lot of rule changes on the state level in the states ahead.
BURNETT: Right, right.
CORNISH: So that is why the stakes are so high for these one or two early states. It's not just us drumming it up. It's the fact that they know some of the states ahead, Nevada, Michigan, even California, there have been rules changes that benefit Trump. And he wants it sewn up before then. And that's why these moments are important.
GRIFFIN: And keep in mind what the next few months look like for Donald Trump. We're very likely going to see his former chief of staff testify, and potentially the former vice president testify against him. He is going to be on trial by spring, if not early summer. I do think there is an element of folks waiting in the wings, if the party decides we need to go a different direction because of the chaos that will be surrounding him. I don't see any scenario where that happens.
I think once he gets through Super Tuesday, that means he is getting the nomination and the party is not walking away. But I think that speaks to why they're so fearful of off-putting his base.
GANGEL: His numbers have gone up with each indictment.
BURNETT: Right. And even as he approaches these trials. All right, all, thank you. And please, stay with us. We have ten minutes until the start of this crucial debate. So just how hard will Haley and DeSantis go after the former president tonight, as opposed to each other on that stage? COOPER: Also, I'll be joined by veterans of campaigns and debates, David Axelrod for his take on what we're about to witness right here in Des Moines just moments from now. I'll be right back.
COOPER: We're about six minutes away from tonight's debate. We want to focus on something that Chris Christie said, clearly directed toward the remaining Republican presidential candidates, namely that anyone who is unwilling to say the former president is unfit for office is "unfit themselves to be president." That remark comes exactly one week after Ron DeSantis was asked on the campaign trail in Iowa why he is not tougher on the former president.
In the statement, he said essentially that he had worked hard to point out the differences between him and the former president. Back with us is Abby Phillip and joining us is David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama. Do you think Ron DeSantis has done everything to point out the differences between him and the former president?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, clearly he hasn't. In fact, the Town Hall last week was notable because it was the first time that he actually started drawing distinctions. And the distinctions he was drawing were basically, he promised stuff that he didn't deliver. I deliver stuff. That's the essence of the message. And a little bit of there is baggage that is going to make it harder to win. But there is no judgment
COOPER: And that DeSantis will be there for two terms whereas Trump would only be there for one.
AXELROD: Yeah. But, I've said many times and I've said it to you, it's going for the capillary and not the jugular. I mean, he's -- they're afraid to attack Trump frontally for the reason that you saw tonight demonstrated by Chris Christie's exit from the race. It's not what the Republican market is buying.
PHILLIP: And Christie knows already that these candidates are unwilling to say that Trump is unfit. He pointed out today that on the debate stage, they all raised their hand to say that they would support him even if he were a convicted felon, and he knows that that's where they are now. He is trying to move them somewhere else.
When DeSantis and Haley point out their policy differences with Trump, that is not the question that Chris Christie is asking. He is asking about character and that is what they have been in some ways unwilling to do. But I will say, last Town Hall, DeSantis went closer than he has in the past, saying your kids would be proud to have me as a president.
AXELROD: Yes, that was -- yes. PHILLIP: It was implicit. But like you pointed out, it's the popular, not the jugular.
COOPER: The question is tonight, will anything be different with Christie out of the race? Will they turn toward Trump more in terms of being aggressive?
PHILLIP: Your guess is as good as mine. I mean, I don't know how they see the politics of it. I mean the poll that we were talking about earlier on the show, showing that Christie's supporters right now overwhelmingly would go to Haley as their second choice. Christie's decision making, what he says about these candidates could influence that. And it just is a question of which of these two wants it more
PHILLIP: And which of these two thinks it matters more.
AXELROD: Listen, I think that Haley has some impetus to draw distinctions with Trump because we're about to go into a New Hampshire primary right after Monday, in which she and Trump are going to be the principal contenders. And in that race, there will be a large number of independent voters and perhaps Democrats who have registered. DeSantis to me has a bigger impetus here, which he has to beat Nikki Haley and he put out a challenging video right before the debate. And I expect that he is going to be tough on her, and she will counterpunch.
COOPER: Nikki Haley, though, has not said that she would not be Trump's vice president.
PHILLIP: No. She refuses to say one way or another. And even when you asked Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire earlier in the show about her refusal to do so, even he wouldn't pass judgment on whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing for her to then sign up with Donald Trump after this race was over. She wants to leave her options open. But this is a time for choosing, not just for the voters, but for the candidates too. Where do they stand on these things?
The problem, though, for I think Haley and DeSantis is that there are really crosscurrents here. The Iowa voter and the New Hampshire voter are definitely not the same type of voter. And so, for DeSantis who is struggling mightily in New Hampshire, the stakes are actually in some ways higher for him to make a case that there is longevity that is possible for him in this race after Iowa. Right now, that's a hard case to make. I mean, in our last CNN poll, he was in single digits in New Hampshire.
COOPER: How much does Chris Christie dropping out sort of energize the dynamic here tonight? Because I mean, the decision by -- there was so much talk about whether the former president would take part in debates, would not
COOPER: Should he? Should he not? AXELROD: Right.
COOPER: Clearly, his decision not to take part in debates was a very smart one.
AXELROD: Shrewd. It was a very shrewd decision because he knew that without him there, that the other candidates would go after each other, and that's exactly what happened. And he largely escaped attacks either from the questioners or from the other candidates. And to answer your question, though, about does it energize this event, I think it energizes it in this way. It's now very, very clear, if it wasn't clear before that Nikki Haley is probably the only person left who is going to challenge Trump and has a chance to beat him somewhere early, which is New Hampshire.
And if she does, there is life in this race. And now, there is more life in her candidacy because Chris Christie dropped out. In that sense, I think it does energize. She looks -- and it may energize her supporters here to think, well, maybe there is -- that this is worth doing, going to these caucuses. I still have questions as to whether she is going to be able, with a limited organization, to yank these people out at 3 (ph) below temperatures. But there is a little more impetus than there was two hours ago.
COOPER: Right. It is supposed to be brutally cold on Monday.
COOPER: I mean it's already cold, but (inaudible).
PHILLIP: It's already cold, snow on the ground here in Iowa. And I was just to underscore what David is saying, the psychological impact of any candidate defeating Trump in one of these primaries, I think is actually very important. The narrative has been for good reason that Trump is the dominant player in this race. The other candidates have not been able to get anywhere close. If that changes, I think that by default changes the trajectory of this campaign.
COOPER: We are just minutes -- seconds away. Abby Phillip, thank you. David Axelrod, thank you as well. The two candidates are at backstage. They will be coming out.