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Interview with Cornell University Professor for China and Asia Pacific Studies and Former U.S. State Department Official Jessica Chen Weiss; Interview with Former U.S. House Representative Francis Rooney (R- FL); Israeli police storm Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque. Aired 1:00-2p ET
Aired April 05, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, meets with U.S. House speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. We have the latest from Taipei. And I'm joined by
author and China expert Jessica Chen Weiss.
Then, the dust is far from settling after the historic arraignment of Donald Trump. What we can expect next. Former Republican Congressman
Francis Rooney on how it all plays out politically as Trump is now a defendant in a criminal case and a presidential candidate. I'll dig in with
CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein
Plus, unrest in Israel. Police storm Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque with extreme forces, fireworks are launched at them. We have a special report.
Welcome to the program. I'm Sara Sidner in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at this hour. There are the pictures there from just a few moments
ago. It's taking place in McCarthy's home state of California and comes on the tail end, a size trip to New York and Central America. There are fears
of Chinese retribution for these meetings.
Beijing had threatened to "resolutely" fight back if it went ahead and it did. Meantime, French president, Emmanuel Macron, and European Commission
Chief Ursula von der Leyen are visiting Beijing at this hour. Both leaders will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday.
The visit comes as Europe tries to re-engage with China and pressure Asia's greatest power to help end Russia's war in Ukraine.
Let us get the latest now with Senior International Correspondent -- hello there, Will Ripley, who joins us now from Taipei.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Sara Sidner.
SIDNER: How are you doing? Can you give us some sense of what you're hearing from, your vantage point?
RIPLEY: Well, people here in Taiwan are certainly bracing themselves because remember when Nancy Pelosi visited last August, China encircled
this island with unprecedented military drills, they fired missiles over Taiwan, obviously attempting to intimidate Taiwan and also send a message
to the United States that these high level meetings are something that China will not tolerate, this red line that they keep, you know, saying
that, you know, they might be forced into a conflict or a confrontation with the United States.
So, now, here we are less than a year later and Tsai Ing-wen is in the United States on a visit that is being described as unofficial, a personal
kind of transit, but yet, you look at the pictures there of Tsai Ing-wen. The U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, third in line to the U.S.
presidency, sitting down and Tsai Ing-wen is undoubtedly talking about Taiwan, talking about the importance of protecting Taiwan from its
semiconductor industry to its democracy, this young, vibrant democracy, that's it's just 110 miles from the Chinese mainland and is under constant
military intimidation, diplomatic attempts to isolate Taiwan. They only have 13 formal diplomatic allies left.
And, so this is a really a major, in a sense, a political victory for Tsai Ing-wen because her party, the DPP, has been trying to elevate Taiwan's
stature on the global stage to get face to face with the leaders of key democracies around the world to show the legitimacy of Taiwan's elected
government and to further cast doubt on, you know, the communist party's longstanding claim of sovereignty over this island that they have never
once controlled in more than 70 years since the end of China's civil war, Sara.
SIDNER: And, Will, it should be noticed that these two nations only have unofficial ties. They're -- they don't -- the United States hasn't
officially recognized Taiwan, but you're seeing such a friendly gathering there. I'm curious what you're seeing in terms of the response from China.
RIPLEY: Yes. It's a friendly gathering because, frankly, right now, there's very few issues in the United States, as you know, that can unite
Republicans and Democrats, but Taiwan is one of them. A steady stream of U.S. lawmakers ever since Nancy Pelosi's visit and even before have been
coming here to Taipei, have been expressing their support for the democracy here. And each time that that happens, China gets more angry and they are
now this status quo that everybody's been talking about, which is essentially the two sides agreed to disagree, but things remain peaceful.
Trade, you know, moves, you know easily and smoothly. That's slowly changing. The Chinese navy in the months since Nancy Pelosi's visit has
essentially erased this median line, the line right in the middle of the Taiwan Strait that's been in place since 1954 unofficially, but it was
respected and recognized by both sides. Now, the Chinese navy and military is regularly sending ships and warplanes across that line.
So, of course, the concern here in Taiwan, in addition to the fact that contact with the United States military has been cut off, of course, the
U.S. and China have their own long list of problems, including the spy balloon, which, incidentally, lots of spy balloons over Taiwan as well. The
concern is that this is all leading up to something, something where there could be a miscalculation that could lead to a really potentially very
serious and dangerous situation in this part of the world.
SIDNER: And look, there is a business aspect to this as well. Taiwan being the maker of the vast majority of semiconductors, which goes in everything,
all the electronic that we use on a daily basis, including our phones. The response from China in this particular setting could be concerning to the
United States as well. But it's not just about politics, it's also right about business?
RIPLEY: Well, yes, because this is, you know, lost in kind of all of the geopolitical, you know, drama is the fact that China is the largest trading
partner for the United States, for Taiwan. I mean, the economies are truly interlinked, and that is another reason why it would be hugely problematic
and catastrophic from a from a business point of view for there to be some sort of a cross straight conflict.
But keep in mind that Xi Jinping has made clear all along, you know, business is one thing, but ideology is another. That's why he's, you know,
continuing to show support for Vladimir Putin, another strongman that as long as China helps Russia remain stable, it can be a counterbalance to the
United States. And, of course, Xi also counting on Russia's support if and when he decides to make a move on Taiwan. But the business community
certainly is concerned -- you see the United States trying to move more semiconductor production stateside to try to protect the supply chain so
that if there is some sort of a confrontation over Taiwan it will not result in, you know, potentially years long backlogs for people's laptops
and smartphones, not to mention the automotive industry and all the others that rely on these highly advanced microchips that are made here in Taiwan,
more than half of the world's supply.
SIDNER: Will Ripley, thank you for all of that live there from Taipei.
Let's get more on this with Jessica Chen Weiss, professor for China and Asia Pacific Studies at Cornell University. She's previously served as a
senior adviser in the State Department. Welcome to the program.
JESSICA CHEN WEISS, PROFESSOR FOR CHINA AND ASIA PACIFIC STUDIES, CORNELL UNIVERSITY AND FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for having
SIDNER: You hear -- heard Will just talking there about the U.S. and Taiwan only having unofficial ties, as you well know. But in the last few
years, it seems that that's starting to change, maybe not on paper, but in the relationship. It seems that the United States is moving away from this
original policy towards China and Taiwan. Let's take a listen to what China's foreign ministry spokesperson said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAO NING, CHINA FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): China firmly opposes the U.S.'s arraignment for Taiwan's transit trip to the U.S.
and any meeting between her and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the said highest ranking official of the U.S. government because it's seriously
contravenes the One China principle and provisions in the Three China U.S. Joints Communiques and it gravely undermines China's sovereignty and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: All right. So, you heard that. Can you explain the United States' position, which is one of "strategic ambiguity" and how it might be
WEISS: The United States has, since it normalized relations with China, late 1970s, committed to providing Taiwan with defensive articles necessary
to defend the island from Chinese intimidation and coercion and has insisted the United States also seek to maintain the capacity to resist any
resort to coercion.
However, increasingly, particularly with the growing campaign by the Mainland against Taiwan under the current leadership, the United States has
felt it necessary to increasingly stand up to Chinese pressure and has increasingly taken measures to signal a growing commitment to the island.
The problem here is that increased efforts to suggest, particularly symbolically, the United States will stand with Taiwan increasingly is
eroding that very foundation of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is rested upon two components. One, not only deterring
Mainland China from using force but also deterring unilateral steps by either side, including political actions on Taiwan that suggests the island
is moving toward a state of permanent separation or even a de jure legal independence.
And it's these growing actions and statements by the United States side with Taiwan that while they are, I think, well intentioned as a response to
Chinese pressure, nonetheless are contributing to this action reaction cycle that we continue to see playing out today.
SIDNER: Yes. It was -- President Nixon was in office and Chairman Mao was in office when this agreement on the One China policy was put together,
where the United States agreed to that. I do want to ask you about what we're hearing now over the last decade or so Xi has revamped the economy
diplomacy, the military and put a lot of pressure on Taiwan, and some are concerned that Beijing is actually preparing to invade, especially in light
of what happened in Ukraine, where Russia invaded Ukraine.
A couple of weeks ago you wrote an op-ed for Foreign Affairs, and it was entitled "Don't Panic About Taiwan: Alarm Over a Chinese Invasion Could
Become a self-Fulfilling Prophecy." What do you mean by that? We know what self-fulfilling prophecies are, but are there truly fears that the invasion
could be pushed forward by all of this sort of language that's being put out by other nations?
WEISS: Absolutely. You know, one of the questions here is whether or not U.S. efforts to signal support for Taiwan and particularly to cry too close
what perhaps U.S. military planners feel as a window of vulnerability could actually precipitate the very sort of do or die scenario that we fear. And
in the absence -- until U.S. military planners feel that they are ready, you know, to fight and win, you know, there's a concern, at least that I
have that we are substituting words in lieu of those capabilities.
And that I think really could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back where, you know, Xi Jinping has told the Chinese military to
be able to be ready to fight such a war, suggesting that he still has doubts about the ability of the People's Liberation Army and navy to
prevail. That doesn't mean that once he has the capabilities, he will order that invasion. I think that that would be a catastrophic gamble. It's not
going to be an easy victory, regardless, and I think that the lessons that Russia has learned in Ukraine illustrate that very effectively for him and
And so, military force, I think, will remain an option of last resort. To date, the Chinese leadership has continued to emphasize that peaceful --
what they call peaceful reunification remains their first choice, but they could if pushed, as they have stated, to use decisive -- what they call
decisive measures to combat what they see as moves toward Taiwan's permanent separation or independence, and it's that concern that I am
really worried about it, particularly as Taiwan enters an election season and the United States as well.
We are already seeing rhetoric from both -- particularly on the American side. Members of Congress, already calling for the United States to
recognize Taiwan as an independent state. We have calls for unconditional commitment to defend Taiwan, which could issue that kind of blank check to
Taiwan as well as provoked the very attack or further military pressure that the United States seeks to deter.
SIDNER: Jessica, I do want to go forward with this idea that there are so many voices that are talking about Taiwan and protecting Taiwan, including
President Biden, who said that if Taiwan was attacked that he would put troops forward to defend Taiwan.
You now have this visit that we're seeing with the speaker of the house in the United States with the president of Taiwan, and you've got those
rhetoric that is -- you're hearing from Congress, as you mentioned. How concerned are you that this really will potentially perpetuate the
possibility of violence, maybe not an invasion, but something?
WEISS: I'm very concerned, and I think the risk is growing. And this is not just my, you know, consideration, but one that I think is growing
amongst experts, former intelligence officials that the risk of some kind of militarized crisis is brewing. Of course, I think it's important to note
that this is avoidable. This is not a foregone conclusion and that the more we talk about it as something that is going to happen, the question is
when, the more, you know, we set in motion the kinds of maneuvers that might make it more likely.
Ultimately, we need to lower the temperature, tone down the rhetoric and do the things quietly that, of course, do, I think, bolster the island's
resilience, not only to military but also economic coercion. The United States should continue to diversify and make more resilient its defense
posture in the region. But these kinds of high-profile gestures and statements of support do very little to meaningfully make Taiwan more
secure, even, you know, polling on the island suggests that, you know, Taiwanese see visits like Speaker Pelosi's to the island as having left the
island less secure, not more secure.
And ultimately, we need to find ways, the United States, with China to reach some kind of modus vivendi because the more that we try to out
compete one another, the more pressure there will be, I think, on Taiwan. And the more efforts to stabilize the situation will not be seen as
particularly credible by either side and, you know, no one, you know, would have more to lose, I think, than Taiwan and, you know, its vibrant
democracy there in the context of a conflict.
SIDNER: Jessica, earlier, you brought up the war in Ukraine, and no one can cannot look at that and look at the relationship between China and
Taiwan and what has been said. You know, Xi has been attempting to really play peacemaker between, you know, Moscow and Ukraine. He's cozied up
really with Moscow. He's cozied up with Putin. And there are fears that he is going to further side with Putin by taking some actions like giving
Russia lethal weapons to use in this war.
You said he's watching this very closely. Now, this war, a lot of people thought, would be over in the first few days, that the capital would fall.
That is absolutely not what happened. It is still dragging on. You know, people are dying. There are -- on both sides of this, civilians and Russian
soldiers. Does this give Xi pause or does it give him leverage because the rest of the world knows that they might need China to help try and end this
war with Russia and Ukraine?
WEISS: I think China is in a very difficult position on Ukraine. As you've said, you know, China sees Russia as a crucial partner in what Xi Jinping
expects as an increasingly confrontational relationship with the United States. And should there be some kind of showdown over Taiwan? I think Xi
Jinping wants to know that Russia will be on side.
However, you know, China is also facing, you know, strong domestic economic headwinds and is concerned about the growing Transatlantic cooperation
between Europe and United States on efforts to slow down or are in a sort of put obstacles to China's sort of high-tech advancement. And so, I think
here, you know, China is trying to, you know, thread the needle here between providing, you know, Putin enough diplomatic cover and support in
areas that are not subject to sanctions.
But also, you know, to continue to court Europe as a counterweight potentially or at least to increase the distance between Europe and the
United States. You know, ultimately, I think we will have to see, you know, what ultimately lessons Xi Jinping and the PLA draw. I think at the moment,
I think it's certainly underscores that this kind of an invasion, let alone one across the Taiwan Strait, an amphibious assault would be very, very
difficult and one likely that the PLA is not yet quite prepared for.
And so, I'm hoping that this helps, you know, buy us all some desperately needed time. All sides, I think have an interest in kicking the can down
the road. And --
SIDNER: We may have lost you. Jessica Chen Weiss, you have brought some invaluable insights to this and we really appreciate you coming on the
WEISS: Well, thanks so much for having me.
SIDNER: Coming up after the break, what's next for Donald Trump and the Republican Party? We speak to a former Republican congressman about the
impact of Trump's indictment on the 2024 presidential election.
SIDNER: Welcome back. Now, to a story the whole world is watching, the historic criminal case against Former U.S. President Donald Trump. The 45th
U.S. president faces 34 felony charges, all stemming from a hush money payments Trump allegedly made to adult film star Stormy Daniels through his
then attorney Michael Cohen. Trump has pled not guilty to all charges, and his lawyers say they plan to "fight it hard."
With Trump a favorite to get the Republican nomination for president in 2024 so far, just what does this do to the U.S. political landscape?
Joining me with insights on this is Francis Rooney, a former Republican congressman from Florida.
You have said you won't support Trump's second bid for the Republican nomination, but what about the rest of the Republican Party and Republican
FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL), FORMER U.S. HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I think you've seen a bit of a hardening up of support for Trump over all this, and
I think that's exactly what the Democrats want. I think they want to have Trump get the nomination and run against him.
SIDNER: You know what, that is a really interesting strategy. Do you think, in this case, that this indictment actually helps Trump? We know
that we have heard a heck of a lot from his team that they've raised a bunch of money over this for sure.
ROONEY: Yes. I think it will harden up his hardcore support. It won't get him anybody he doesn't have anyway. And that's the problem that Trump has.
He can't win. He can't win against a reasonable Democrat other than Hillary Clinton type because he can't carry people that are not kind of out there
on that hardcore right-wing trench. And the Democrats know that that.
SIDNER: You know, when you think about it, when the general election is very different, you know, from the Republican primary or the Democratic
primary, and so, you're looking past the primaries to the general election and saying, in your opinion, that's not something that Donald Trump can
I want to talk a little bit about this case and what it's doing to an already polarized nation. Our latest CNN poll says the majority of
Americans, about 60 percent, approve of the indictment against him. But, and here's the rub, about 75 percent of those polled, this goes across, you
know, political spectrum, believe that the move to charge him was political. What does that tell you about this particular case and how
Americans are feeling?
ROONEY: You know, I think it tells us that we have a continuing virtually bipartisan degradation of U.S. institutions. Our fundamental principles are
under attack on all sides here by things like 1-6, by things like this indictment, by things like what's going on in schools, and we need to
return to some kind of balance in this country where we pay attention to what's been important from our founding.
SIDNER: I find this very interesting because while that was overall people thought it was political, you've got what you just talked about, I mean,
this polarization is so easy to see. It is so stark. There was -- the latest poll, an Ipsos poll, ABC/Ipsos said 90 percent of Republican leaning
voters do not believe that Donald Trump should have been indicted.
I do want to talk about this. We heard from the D.A. in this case, Alvin Bragg, he spoke yesterday, and brought up a lot of what the case is about.
Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: 34 false statements made to cover up other crimes. These are felony crimes in New York State. No matter
who you are, we cannot and will not normalizes serious criminal conduct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: So, even among people who back Donald Trump, and those who don't, there really aren't that many people that do not think Trump may be guilty
of what he was accused of doing. But does his guilt or innocent seem relevant at this part when it comes to the political implications?
ROONEY: Maybe not because the Republicans are going to double down, or at least his supporters in the Republican Party are going to double down
behind him, and they'll be infuriated about this with some good reason. I mean, I think the case is ridiculous. But on the other hand, the Democrats
are going wait back, sit back and wait for him to get the nomination and then, just tear him up.
SIDNER: I'm curious about this, because guess who we have not heard a lot from when it comes to this case, Democrats. Normally, people would be
putting this out in ads, right? Do you think that that is a strategy on the part of Democrats?
ROONEY: Yes, I do. I mean, I can't prove it or anything, but I think having a stalking horse like this Alvin guy works pretty well for their
agenda. And he's come up with a case that, best I can read, is pretty weak. I mean, misleading business records? I mean, I wonder how many states
that's even a crime outside of New York?
SIDNER: I do want to say for the D.A. and, you know, we know that this kind of charge has actually been regularly put forward to court in New
York. This is not something that is completely out of nowhere, that doesn't happen to anyone else. But this case, though, a lot of people are talking
about because all of these details were out years ago in the lead up to the 2020 election and afterwards. So, there are a lot of questions surrounding
how strong the case might be in this particular scenario.
I want to push forward here that, you know, obviously, Republicans, at this point in time, are ready to take on Donald Trump in 2024 and push him
forward, but there are a lot of other people that are starting to announce, you have Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson, there are a lot of others who we
expect to announce, including Ron DeSantis of the state where you're in.
What do you think their choices chances might be?
ROONEY: Well, I think Ron DeSantis is going to have a credible chance. He's a strong guy. He's very articulate. He's carved out of position, which
is in sync with the hardcore Republican base. And I think that he will be a strong contender. I also think if it should come to pass that Glenn
Youngkin could be a strong contender.
The guy has a lot of balance in his life. He's had a great career. He's done a great job in Virginia. He's shown he can carry Democrats, which
you've got to do to win in the general. I'm kind of excited about Ron and Governor Youngkin.
SIDNER: OK. The person you did not mention who has already jumped in is Arkansas -- former Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson. I do want to listen
to what he said to ABC when he announced his running.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let's look at the three different investigations. One is the hush
money out of New York. Secondly, it is the request and pressure for votes out of Georgia. And the third one, of course, is the mishandling of
classified documents in Mar-a-Lago. Those are three very serious investigations.
You might say one of them doesn't showcase anything, but when you look at all three of them combined, it should give Americans pause.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Those are real potential cases. They are far more serious than many people's eyes. Could any of these cases, if he is indicted, move the
needle against Donald Trump?
ROONEY: Well, now, I think you're really onto something, OK. I don't know. This case here seems to be the weakest of all the potential cases that are
out there. I mean, what happened on January 6th and its surroundings, what happened in Georgia and what happened in Arizona seemed to me to be a lot
more substantive abuses of power than what he did with the, you know, stripper, if you will.
SIDNER: All right. Before we go, since you are from Florida, as am I. I have been there in Naples. I used to work down the street in Fort Myers. I
want to ask you a question about the DeSantis. He has become very popular. At one point, I think it was quipped that he was more popular than Donald
Trump. That has certainly changed in the polling. Do you think he is going to announce and what his chances might be, especially if these other
charges come down the pipe?
ROONEY: Yes. I think he'll have a good chance. I mean, like you say, especially if these more substantive charges come down. I mean, you know,
there's a lot of bad stuff out there with Trump calling the Raffensperger in Georgia and trying to beat on the people in Arizona to manipulate the
election. That's totally un-American.
You know, I did some work years ago when Banzer was being overthrown in Bolivia and trying to keep Ortega out of the Nicaraguan government, and
were behaving like them because of all these shenanigans that have taken place. And they can't help him. They have to hurt him.
SIDNER: I have to ask you, is that what -- because you're really strong on this. Is that what made you say, I cannot support Donald Trump to be the
next president in 2024?
ROONEY: Well, there have been -- there's a lot of things. I mean, the first thing that really got my go was the way he dealt with Zelenskyy,
which was totally unfair. And a lot of confused metaphors there. And at the end of the day, I didn't vote for impeachment because a few White House
counsels convinced me it wasn't that bad. But it was bad.
And the president United States should exercise restraint and exercise leadership, not get down in the dirt with some Ukraine president who, at
that time, was considered one of the more corrupt ones that was out there.
SIDNER: Thank you so much for sort of talking us through that, telling your true heartfelt opinion on the scene of politics here in the United
States. And I do want to send you a bit of love because I know there has been such a tragedy there in Fort Myers, on the West Coast of Florida
because of the hurricane that hit and I know that people are still reeling from that, and you guys are trying to rebuild. I appreciate your time.
ROONEY: Thank you for having me. So many people are suffering so very much in Lee County and Collier County. Yes.
SIDNER: I know. That is true. I know some of the folks there myself. Appreciate you coming on the program.
Still to come, why Democrats are staying silent on Trump's arrest. Plus, a U.S. State Supreme Court race that could change the 2024 election. We'll be
right back with more.
SIDNER: Welcome back. I'm Sara Sidner in for Christiane Amanpour. Continuing our conversation now on the political impact of Donald Trump's
historic indictment. We are going to be joined now by CNN's senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. Thank you so much for coming on the
program run, Ron. It's always great to see you.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Hey, Sara.
SIDNER: All right. Let's start by talking about the dilemma that is facing the Democratic Party over Donald Trump's indictment. This may give you some
insight. We asked a number of Democrats to come on the show who have before, and strangely, they were not available. Then, there's this quote
from Axios by an anonymous House Democrat today, who says, I think we all have to be very careful. There is a high risk of Donald Trump becoming a
victim in all this. We don't need to put kerosene on a fire.
It seems to me that Democrats have been quite quiet on something they could have gone on full attack.
SIDNER: A former president indicted on criminal charges. We've never seen this before. And yet, this seems to be a strategy. Do you think it is? And
do you think it'll work?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, I think there are three reasons for it, and actually, I do think it is pretty logical for them to stay out of the way
on this. The first is that Donald Trump wants to portray all of these legal challenges he's facing as fundamentally political rather than legal or
criminal in nature, and there's really no reason for Democrats to give him any oxygen in that effort by weighing in on the accusations.
Second, I think that, you know, as we heard from your previous guests, the Republican, by and large, in the political world, there is a sense that
this is the least consequential of the cases facing -- and investigations facing Donald Trump. You know, whether, how strong the case is or not is a
point of dispute among many of our colleagues or our legal analyst at CNN. But whatever the strength of the case, the underlying allegations are not
nearly as serious as those that are under being investigated now in Georgia for trying to overturn the election and by the Federal Special Counsel over
the mishandling of classified documents and his role in trying to prevent the certification of a Biden's victory.
And the third reason, I think, for Democrats to stay out of the way of this, is Biden's brand is order and normalcy. In many ways they view -- you
know, I've written about their reluctance to engage even in culture war fights with Republicans, they believe that his majority is kind of a
coalition of Americans who are exhausted by all the turmoil of the Trump years, and that the best thing that Biden can do here is to be, in many
ways, as non-threatening and you know, soft edged as possible because the contrast is so implicit between that and what you will get.
You're right. I mean, the images of the last few days for voters who don't like Trump are a reminder of what you will get if you return him to the
SIDNER: Well, here's someone who doesn't seem to have many soft edges at all, at least not with her public rhetoric. We're talking about Marjorie
Taylor Greene. She compared Donald Trump with Nelson Mandela and Jesus.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Other than that --
SIDNER: Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): President Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was
arrested, served time in prison. Jesus. Jesus was arrested and murdered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: All right. This is the kind of thing that the base eats up and it infuriates or makes people who are not among his big supporters roll their
eyes. But is there a point here being made to try and have the messaging make Donald Trump the victim in all this?
BROWNSTEIN: Look, Marjorie Taylor Greene encapsulates the conundrum facing the Republican Party, what Francis Rooney also discussed. There is no
question that's what -- that what is happening is solidifying Trump in his quest to win the Republican nomination. But simultaneously, the -- it looks
very clearly as though it is weakening him as a potential general election nominee if he does, in fact, claim the prize next spring.
For the Republicans who are dubious of Trump, they are in the worst of all worlds at this moment because the pressure in the party to rally around him
is overwhelming. And to condemn all of this and, you know, between Trump's own messaging and the echoing and amplification he gets from the
conservative media ecosystem, the pressure on Republicans to say, you know, none of this is legit is tremendous.
But if you look again at what happened last night in Wisconsin, you know, a state that Republicans almost certainly have to win to recapture the White
House in 2024, again, you see just how toxic that the GOP brand in the Trump era has become in many of these swing suburbs that had been trending
toward them, in many ways, in the Midwest through the early part of the 2010, but very clearly are moving away from them since.
So, they are between a rock and a hard place, but someone in the Republican field, sooner or later, is going to have to make an explicit argument that
maybe not this indictment, but future indictments, weaken him as a general election candidate because if they don't it's hard to see how they get past
this circling the wagons effect and dislodge him from his position as the leader in the field.
SIDNER: For political scientist, it boggles the mind that you would back someone who you don't know can -- or don't believe can win the general
SIDNER: Is the reason why the Republican Party backing him because of fear? They've seen how he comes for you. He can have an effect on your
ability to fundraise. He can have an effect on whether or not potentially you have a challenger. What is what is the reasoning behind this?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, we have seen this movie, Sara, so many times before, Charlottesville, other racist comments as president, January 6th,
the Ukraine call, all the efforts to overturn the election. Republican elected officials have trapped themselves in a kind of circular logic.
Their argument always is, what you said, that the base is so fervent in its support for Donald Trump that it's political suicide to criticize him in
any way or to make any arguments that this behavior is either inappropriate, or even if you don't want to do that, that this behavior
could lead to electoral defeat for the party, which, in fact, it has in '18 and '20, and in some ways in '22.
The problem with that argument is that one of the reasons why the base is so adamant and unified in support of Trump is because they are not hearing
any contrary argument from voices they trust. I mean, the refusal of Republican elected officials to make a case that either this behavior is
inappropriate or just politically untenable allows the media ecosystem that supports Trump to basically nail down this Republican consensus, and then,
the elected officials use that consensus as their justification for remaining silent.
They have laced the straitjacket that they are now wearing, where privately, many Republicans, even publicly, many Republicans after 2022
said they do not believe he can win, and here they are five months later with Trump reestablished as the commanding frontrunner in the field.
SIDNER: It really truly is fascinating, and I'm sure it will be studied for years to come. But let's talk a little bit about the polling that's
come out. I mentioned earlier, on this indictment, because I find this also very interesting. The headline is that majority of Americans, the majority
of Americans, approve of the indictment against the Former President Trump.
But what it also says is that most Americans, about 76 percent, even more than those who approve of the indictment believe that politics did play at
least some role in the decision to indict him. That is really fascinating to me because they seem to kind of contradict themselves.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don't find them as contradictory in this sense. If you ask Americans why House Republicans were investigated -- who wanted to
investigate the Manhattan D.A., whether it was a legitimate desire to understand the indictment or whether they were being political, you'd
probably get 76 or 80 percent saying they were political.
Americans are pretty cynical about the motive -- motivations of elected officials, and I think that almost anything you asked about why they are
doing it, you would get a substantial share of voters saying that it is a political. So, you know, I think they just view that as kind of going with
the territory and it does take some of the edge off.
You know, we have watched over the course of my political lifetime, politicians across through all sorts of barriers that seem to be career
ending earlier, you know, everything from, you know, adultery to smoking pot when they were young and maybe, you know, we are now crossing another
barrier or even an indictment is not career ending, but I think there are reasons for Republicans to be concerned that -- not only this indictment
but the more consequential ones that maybe coming reinforce all the doubts about Trump, among the swing voters he needs to add in order to win.
Don't forget, he didn't win in 2020. He didn't have quite enough support in those five critical states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and
Georgia, to get over the top. He needs to grow his vote. And while -- whether or not Americans think -- you know, whatever they think about the
relative merits of these accusations, the idea that he could be facing for criminal indictments and that would be a boost in expanding his general
election support seems to me as one, you know, Republican strategist said to me last week, wishful thinking.
You know, it's hard to imagine. How many voters are there out there who said, I have not been for Donald Trump in the past, but now, that he's been
indicted for paying hush money to a porn star or for mishandling classified documents, yes, he's my guy. Maybe there are some. It's hard to imagine
there are many.
SIDNER: Yes. They might feel sorry for him, they have feelings about it, but it doesn't necessarily mean he's going to bring them on board, and he
needs to if he were to win the general. All right. Let's switch to, believe it or not, there are other big political stories that are going on here in
the United States.
One of them in Wisconsin, liberals are now posed -- poised to effectively control the Supreme Court there in that state, and potentially on the
ballot, was this ban on abortion. What does this mean going forward? Because Wisconsin, as you well know, is a really important state when it
comes to the general election.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I was out there most of last week reporting on this election. And I think this is usually consequential because, in many ways,
it was a laboratory test case of the impact of abortion rights, on the one side for Democrats, and Republicans responded by stressing their most
powerful wedge issue, which is crime. And it was really no contest in the end.
In a state that Biden won by 20,000 votes in 2020 after Trump won it by 20,000 votes in 2016, the Democrat won by 11 points, which is pretty
remarkable in Wisconsin, a 200,000-vote margin and it continues what we saw in the 2022 elections in the governor's races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and
Wisconsin, all won by Democrats, all won with a very similar coalition, in which Democrats dominated the bigger places, particularly those white-
collar suburbs, where the predominant sentiment is that abortion should remain legal.
And I think if you look at it in the context of where these states have been moving since Trump won them in 2016, I think it very clearly suggests
that any Republican who is running in 2024 on a platform that has the risk of banning abortion in those states through some kind of national ban is
going to be facing a headwind.
I mean, Ron DeSantis is steaming towards signing a six-week ban on abortion. If you look at the results in Wisconsin yesterday, not only the
huge margins in Dane County and Madison, but the reduced Republican advantage in the suburbs in Milwaukee that had been a stronghold for them,
you would have to say, that is a very dangerous political direction to be taking if you hope to win back any of those three states, and Republicans
can't win the presidency without taking at least one back out of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
SIDNER: Yes, I think the majority of Americans that have been pulled about Roe v. Wade would have liked to have kept Roe v. Wade the way it was and
not have it overturned. That's been something --
BROWNSTEIN: 60 percent and counting.
SIDNER: 60 percent. I know. you know, those numbers, Ron. I do want to ask you about something that, you know, it can be a bit wonky, but look,
redrawing legislative and congressional maps --
SIDNER: -- that gives you a heck of a lot of power. Is that the same with the Supreme Court? They can have some sway over this, correct.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. So, you know, what happened in Wisconsin is that in the Tea Party election of 2010, Republicans won, unified control of the state
legislature and the governorship under Scott Walker. And even though this has been a 50/50 state, as I said, decided by 20,000 votes at the
presidential level, both in '16 and '20, they drew lines that guarantee them enormous supermajorities in the State Senate and State House.
Democrats really had no prospect of breaking through that. I mean, it was kind of a self-reinforcing a mechanism that guaranteed Republican control
of the state legislature, whatever was going on, overall, in the state. Now, it is highly likely that this Democratic majority will strike down
those maps and force the drawing of new maps.
That doesn't guarantee the Democrats are going to win a majority in the legislature. They still have a problem where too many of their voters are
concentrated in natural areas and Republicans are stronger in the rural and small towns, but it will at least give them a shot.
Now, you know, it is possible that this Republican legislature may try to impeach one of the Democratic Supreme Court members before it comes to
that. So, we are by no means done with the kind of low-grade political civil war that has been rumbling through Wisconsin for the last 12 years or
But on its face, this does create the opportunity for Democrats to recapture at least one, maybe both chambers at some point, as opposed to
this self-reinforcing gerrymander that really had been almost kind of a permanent extension of control for Republicans, even though democrats have
won the governorship the last two times, and, of course, Biden won it in 2020.
SIDNER: I could talk to you for hours. Ron Brownstein, thank you so much. Ron Brownstein there for us.
BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Sara.
SIDNER: When we come back, Israeli police storm one of Islam's holiest sites. The violence, heightening tensions, the latest from Israel.
SIDNER: Welcome back. Now, to some extraordinary and, frankly, terrifying scenes in Jerusalem, where Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque, one
of Islam's holiest site in a predawn raid. It's also a place Jews call the Temple Mount, one of their holiest sites.
The Israeli police arrested more than 350 people. But take a look at these videos here. What you're seeing is Israeli police video showing officers
entering the mosque with riot shields up, facing off against crowds that they refer to as rioters who were wielding fireworks. You do see in some of
these videos, police beating some of those who are inside the mosque and around the mosque. Police say they were trying to break up a large group
barricading themselves inside.
Eyewitnesses have told CNN that Israeli forces smashed doors and windows and they fired stun grenades and rubber bullets. Jerusalem Correspondent
Hadas Gold has the latest on the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Israeli police stormed the al- Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem early Wednesday, where Palestinians worship during the holy month of Ramadan.
Video put out by the Israeli police shows officers entering the mosque by force as fireworks are launched at them. Videos on social media appeared to
show officers striking people with batons. Eyewitnesses telling CNN, police also fired stun grenades and rubber bullets.
The police said in a statement that they went in because hundreds of what they called rioters and mosque desecrators barricaded themselves inside in
a violent manner and "threw fireworks, hurled stones and cause damage."
The authorities arrested more than 300 people during the incident. The Palestinian Red Crescent saying at least two dozen Palestinians were
injured. Israeli police say two of their officers were also wounded.
GOLD (on camera): The holy sites behind me are known as the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest sites in Islam. You can
actually hear the call to prayer going on right now, but it's also known as Temple Mount to Jews, and it's the holiest site in Judaism.
Now, there is a status quo that governs these holy sites, and the Israeli police entering the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is this building right here with
the black roof behind me, that is considered a violation of the status quo, and then, not only them entering but them entering in the way they did,
firing stun grenades and rubber ball, well, that brought it to a whole other level.
GOLD (voiceover): Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have denounced Israel for what happened. The Jordanian foreign minister saying, the world must
clearly condemn the attack.
Shortly after the raid, rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, the militant group, Hamas, saying Israel's actions in Jerusalem wouldn't go
unanswered. The Israeli military said it had struck Hamas weapons sites in Gaza in response.
Hadas Gold, CNN, Jerusalem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: And finally, a fond farewell. After stepping down in January, Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed parliament for
the final time on Wednesday. Her speech reflected on the challenges from five years in office, numerous anecdotes and even her IVF struggles. She
ended it with this message meant to inspire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACINDA ARDERN, FORMER NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: Now, I cannot determine what will define my time in this place. But I do hope I've demonstrated
something else entirely, that you can be anxious, sensitive kind and wear your heart on your sleeve. You can be a mother or not. You can be an ex-
Mormon or not, you can be a nerd, a crier, a hugger. You can be all of these things. And not only can you be here, you can lead just like me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: And you hear the applause there. She will now serve as special envoy for the Christchurch Call, that is a global initiative she co-founded
to combat online extremism.
That is it for us for now. You could always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from