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Tonight: DeSantis Launches White House Bid On Twitter; McCarthy Signals Deal Not Close, Defends Refusal To Offer Concessions; Man Accused Of Ramming U-Haul Near White House Appears In Court. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 14:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is hours from announcing his run for the White House on Twitter. A source says he is going to ditch his hometown rollout plan. We'll tell you how his rivals are reacting and where the GOP candidates stand in a new CNN poll.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, as the special counsel appears to be in the final stretch of his investigation into Donald Trump's handling of classified documents, attorneys for the former president wanted to speak to the nation's top law enforcer, Attorney General Merrick Garland. We have details on that straight ahead.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Still, no detail but negotiations for the White House and the House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, they are back on as the country inches dangerously close to a potential debt default. We are following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SCIUTTO: We are just a few hours away from a new entry into the 2024 presidential race. After a month of speculating and strategizing, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will officially launch his White House run, long anticipated, and he's going to do it on Twitter spurning traditional media for a live conversation with social media firebrand. In fact -- in fact, the owner of Twitter Elon Musk. Of course, the shadow looming over all this is former President Trump.

A new CNN poll out today confirms Trump remains the Republican to beat and by a wide margin with more than 53 percent support among Republicans. The poll also confirms that DeSantis remains Trump's most formidable opponent, though he lags far behind. So, will his Twitter launch help the governor close that gap? Can it?

Let's speak now to CNN's resident Twitter expert Donie O'Sullivan. Donie, as you well know, Twitter represents really a sliver of the U.S. population and at times quite an angry sliver and even extreme in some cases sliver of the population here. What population -- what audience does he reach by announcing in this forum right now?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. I mean, to your point, most Americans are not on Twitter. It's mostly you know journalists, politicians, people who are kind of following politics extremely closely. I mean, political campaigns, going back years now, spend all their money and invest basically all their digital ad dollars in Facebook and Google. And Twitter is not really seen as a place where you can reach voters directly.

But what it does do for DeSantis, though, is -- I mean, it is one way I guess, seen him bypassing the so-called mainstream media. But I think most importantly, probably, you know, Twitter has tried to present itself at the moment as this bastion of free speech. And it's just another way I guess, of DeSantis being able to engage in the culture wars, which we know he's a fan of.

SCIUTTO: Now, if I remember correctly, Elon Musk said by buying Twitter, he wanted to make it a free speech Haven, more balanced. But I do remember him endorsing Republican candidates and voting Republican in the midterm elections, and now here he is taking a part -- taking part, you might say a promotional part in the announcement of a Republican candidate for president. What does Musk gain from this, and what does Musk communicate with this?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. Look, I mean, you know, he -- Musk has certainly been trying to get conservatives, Republicans people on the right kind of back on the platform, in his view, I guess, restoring Twitter's image after the company suspended president -- then President Trump a few years back along with many other influential right-wing figures, so he has been courting people like this. And of course, the fired Fox News anchor, Tucker Carlson is due to launch his show on the platform as well.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly -- we have Errol Louis here as well. Could this be a time for Trump to return to Twitter perhaps to disrupt?

O'SULLIVAN: I mean, I think you know, it's -- it was his old turf, right?


O'SULLIVAN: I mean, he was the most prolific Twitter in the world.


He has had access to his account since last November. He's not tweeted yet but we had some reporting in the past that he may have had some kind of exclusivity deal with Truth Social, his platform. But I mean, it -- I would not -- I don't think it'd be a surprise to any of us if he were to pop up on Twitter tonight and steal some of DeSantis's Thunder.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know you'll be watching. Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much.

Let's speak now to CNN political commentator and Spectrum News political anchor Errol Louis. Errol, is this good politics for DeSantis in the Republican field right now? ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if he was going to stay in the Republican field, he had to do something at this point. As the new CNN poll shows, he's 27 points behind Donald Trump among Republicans. And that's the bad news. Now, the worst news is that he was only 14 points behind a couple of months ago, so the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

And this is an attempt, I think, by Ron DeSantis to try and stop that trend before it turns into an irreversible trend. He's got to try and put together some kind of a plausible path to victory. He apparently is going to try and appeal to social conservatives, which is good for a start.

It's not enough to necessarily overtake Donald Trump. But it seems to be what he's going to try and do. We'll have to watch very carefully -- listen carefully, I should say tonight, and see what he comes up with on Twitter.

SCIUTTO: So, he is trying to out-Trump Trump in terms of conservative positions here, but also making the argument in effect that he's the Trump who gets stuff done, right? You know, just as right-wing, but more effective. Is that --

LOUIS: Yes. He could --

SCIUTTO: I mean the polling doesn't seem to be giving him that credit now. But what is your view?

LOUIS: Though, what the polling doesn't give him that credit, and I think he may be relying on a fundamentally flawed theory. There are a lot of Republicans and we saw Donald Trump eat them all for lunch in 2016, who seemed to be thinking that you can have Trumpism arch- conservative politics without Trump.

Republican voters have made clear over and over and over again, they like him as the head of their party. They like what he personally represents not the policies. Nobody's voting for Donald Trump because of his policies. People have voted for Donald Trump because of who he is and his rambunctious style, and the enemies that he declares and makes war on.

And unless Ron DeSantis is willing to do that and say, I will make liberals just as mad. I will insult all kinds of groups. I will talk bad about immigrants and say outrageous things to delight you and to shock moderates and liberals. Unless he's willing to do that and save -- and show that he can do it every day, I don't think there's any hope of him trying to dislodge Trump as the head of a Trump-oriented Republican Party.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you a question about the Democrats here because of course, we have a sitting Democratic president who's got to run for office, right coming up, and doesn't have any stated opposition. Do you see any possibility of that in the coming months that a -- that a Democrat will stick his head -- his or her head out and say, you know, what, I'm going to challenge for the Democratic nomination? LOUIS: I don't see it unless something catastrophic happens. And like -- you know, getting -- you have -- you have to let your mind wander. Unless there's some plausible reason that Joe Biden cannot make the race as the leader of his party, I don't think there are -- there's anybody who's going to do it. I mean, think about it, the entire architecture of the Democratic Party has already been laid in such a way that there are no televised presidential debates scheduled before the Democratic primaries next year.


LOUIS: That's a pretty strong hint that they're not planning for there to be any whisper or any hint of any opposition. And frankly, nobody has stepped forward to say that it's necessary. So, you know, until and unless Joe Biden somehow proves or suggests that he can't make the race, I don't think we're going to see any serious opposition.

SCIUTTO: Errol Louis, thanks so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: Right now, House Republican negotiators are at the White House for another round of debt limit talks. And this is coming after speaker Kevin McCarthy reiterated today that his conference is standing firm that they will make no concessions to Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and that the White House must agree to significant spending cuts.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Well, it's not my fault that the Democrats today had become so extreme, so far to the socialist wing, that they are now opposed to work requirements, that they are now opposed to saving one dollar less than you spent the year before. That, to me, really seemed that the problem are the Democrats.


KEILAR: All right, let's go to CNN's Manu Raju, who is live for us on Capitol Hill. There's a lot of negotiation going on for someone who plans to make absolutely no concessions. So, take us through what is happening here, Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right now, at this moment, McCarthy's top allies are at the White House meeting with White House officials to try to see if they can move any closer to a deal to avert the nation's first-ever debt default.


And right now, they are not close to a deal because Kevin McCarthy indicated to me and defended his refusal just they're not to give any other concessions, saying that his only concession is to vote to raise the national debt limit. He said that there were two things that he pointed to in that situation, work requirements on social safety net programs, as well as rolling back federal spending. He said those are concessions that he's offered. But those are things that Democrats have actually rejected. And he has called on Democrats to agree to further spending cuts far beyond what the White House wants. So, we'll see if any movement happens there.

But just moments before this meeting at the White House, I caught up with one of the people who will be -- who's in the room right now, Congressman Patrick McHenry, one of Kevin McCarthy's top negotiators. He defended the Republicans' handling of these negotiations and contended that the White House badly miscalculated in their initial refusal to negotiate with Republicans.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): But the predicate to get this out of the House is that we have to cut spending. That's -- that unlocks the rest of the negotiations. The White House team understands that.

I understand that's heartburn for them. Their strategy presumed that we could not raise the debt ceiling. We did. We raised it out of the House. They're stuck in the Senate and can't get anywhere.

RAJU: Why not offer a single policy concession?

MCHENRY: They want to raise taxes at a time where we have revenue at an all-time high, as in real terms in percentage terms since World War Two. They have plenty of revenue.

What we have also is the largest spending in American history and record deficits. So, this is not a revenue problem. This is a spending problem.


RAJU: So, McHenry making clear that what Republicans are insisting on, spending cuts far more than what the White House is willing to accept. But the question is, if the White House moves even more in the Republican direction, how many Democratic votes can they get on an ultimate bill here that needs to pass the Democratic-led Senate will likely need some Democratic votes, maybe some substantial number of Democratic votes in the House and get signed by a Democratic president? All major questions here as the time is moving closer to a debt default, and a deal is no closer within reach, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, they need to get going. They sure do. Manu Raju, live for us on the Hill, thank you. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Let's dig deeper on the ongoing debt ceiling showdown with former labor secretary under President Clinton, Robert Reich. He is the co-founder of Inequality Media, and also the author of the book, The System: Who Rigged It And How We Fix It.

Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for sharing your perspective with us this afternoon. We're now just eight days from falling off the fiscal cliff. And obviously, it takes time to have any agreement get through Congress. So, realistically, for these negotiators, what's the deadline? How much time do they have left? ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, Janet Yellen is setting the deadline, Boris, in terms of the so-called X-date. That is the date by which the United States really runs out of money to pay the nation's bills. She has said that it's going to be at the start of June.

She has not been very specific about it. But I just want to bring viewers' attention to a simple fact, and that is that the X-date doesn't really exist. That is there's nothing in law or the Constitution or any other place where you can find a definition for when the United States runs out of money.

In 1985, Treasury Secretary Jim Baker faced with similar kinds of circumstances where there was no debt ceiling increase. What he did? He raided the Social Security Trust Fund to keep paying the bills. Now, I'm not suggesting that by any means. I just want to make sure that people understand that there is no necessary date by which we run out of money.

SANCHEZ: That's an interesting point. Yellen has said that she does not want to get into a process of prioritizing what bills the Treasury pays, though she admitted today that there are some difficult choices ahead. And on that point on the substance of these negotiations, Robert, what do both sides need to concede on? Where do you see an agreement between Republicans and Democrats?

REICH: Boris, I don't see an agreement. That's one of the big problems here because you've got the right-wing MAGA Republicans who were saying to McCarthy, we're not going to go along with anything that is in any way compromise. We want to really push the Democrats to the wall.

Yet, you will have a lot of Democrats who were saying we don't want to cut spending and we're not going to put more work requirements. And I say more because there are a lot of work requirements on welfare and on benefits right now. And so, how do you get a majority of the House to agree to any kind of a bill?

It's almost impossible to conceive of doing it. Particularly if you have to do it, if you believe that you've got to do it in the next week. I mean, Kevin McCarthy is talking about trying to do it today because that you have the big Memorial Day weekend coming up, and a lot of the House is basically leaving tomorrow.


SANCHEZ: So, Sir, are you saying a default is likely? Do you think the U.S. is going to fall off the fiscal cliff?

REICH: No. I would predict. What's going to happen is that the United States is going to continue to pay its bills, that there's not going to be a default, that the Biden administration is going to continue to threaten that there is going to be a next state that we are very, very close to not being able to afford to pay the bills. But we'll just keep on going as we are. The cannon will be kept down the road for quite some time. And it could even be argued. Now, the Biden administration has not yet argued this. But it could even be argued that the Constitution, and that is the article -- you know, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, section four says that the debt shall be respected.

There is no way that the validity of the public debt is going to be called into question, and could rest on that and say that Joe Biden has a constitutional responsibility, given his oath of office to respect the Constitution and pay the nation's bills and protect the full faith and credit of the Constitution and the United States.

SANCHEZ: That idea has certainly been kicked around by certain scholars. However, our sourcing at the White House indicates that it is not something the Biden administration is eager to do. Robert Reich, we appreciate your perspective. Thanks for joining us.

REICH: Thanks, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Jim?

SCIUTTO: You know, the White House worried about core challenges. Well, the police say -- the man, police say, drove a U-Haul into White House security gates was just back in court when we're live outside the courthouse next.

And this hour, a judge is set to sentence this man pictured putting his feet up on then-Speaker Pelosi's desk during the January six Capitol riot. What he's facing for a number of felony counts.

And later, why the parents of the Idaho student murder suspect have now been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury? We'll have the latest. You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL. And we'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. A man accused of ramming a U-Haul truck into a security barrier just outside the White House, you'll remember the other night, has now appeared in federal court. Investigators say 19-year-old Sai Varshith Kandula made disturbing comments at the time of his arrest, telling them, law enforcement, that he intended to kill the president. Also saying it had admiration for Adolf Hitler.

CNN's Biden Todd joins us now live from outside the federal courthouse in Washington. I understand the judge made a decision. What did he say?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. The initial court appearance just concluded a few moments ago. The judge, Robin Meriweather, has ordered that this defendant remain in custody pending his detention hearing. And that detention hearing is next Tuesday, May 30.

Prosecutors had argued several reasons for why this suspect, Sai Varshith Kandula, 19 years old, should remain behind bars. Among those arguments, they said that he has no local ties to this area of Washington, DC, and also that they say he poses a serious flight risk. Right now, he faces this one federal charge of deprivation of property of the United States in excess of a thousand dollars

Now, that charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison or a $250,000 fine in a conviction or a combination of those two. But again, there could be more charges added to this later. We're told that he appeared in an orange jumpsuit just a few moments ago before the judge, that he spoke in very soft tones that he answered her questions, but that he did not speak at length.

You mentioned the charging documents, some very disturbing things that according to those documents, he said to a secret service agent who interviewed him on Monday evening after he was arrested following that crash into the security barrier at the White House.

Among the things he told the agent was that he supported Nazi ideology, that he supported the Nazi idea of eugenics. He called Adolf Hitler a very strong leader. He said he would kill the president and would harm anyone who got in his way.

But we have to reiterate that he also -- in that truck, there were no weapons found, no explosives, nothing like that. So, he may not have had a very well-thought-out plan, but he did at least menace the White House allegedly on Monday night.

Even with the -- you know the espousal of that Nazi ideology and that Nazi sympathy, we did speak to two of his friends from back in high school in Chesterfield, Missouri who said that he was known as a very quiet guy who never got into any trouble during their school years. He just graduated from high school in January of last year.

What we're told by law enforcement sources is that authorities are considering the idea that mental health might have played a role in this incident. But again, we'll learn more about that possibly next week during his detention hearing. He does have a court-appointed attorney, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I'll tell you. That image of that truck that rammed into the barrier and that Nazi flag laid out on the streets of Washington in 2023, quite disturbing. Brian Todd, at the courthouse. Boris, to you.

SANCHEZ: Donald Trump's attorneys sent a letter to Merrick Garland, the Attorney General, attacking the federal investigation of Trump as outrageous. And in the same paragraph asking for a face-to-face meeting with Garland. The former president posted the letter online.

Here's one part. "We request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss the ongoing injustice that's being perpetrated by your special counsel and his prosecutors." Remember the attorney general appointed special counsel Jack Smith in order to keep DOJ an arm's length away from investigations into the former president. Here's what Garland said in November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: As special counsel, he will exercise independent prosecutorial judgment to decide whether charges should be brought.


SANCHEZ: CNN's Senior Climate and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is with us now. Katelyn, the timing here is interesting. Do we know why Trump's attorneys sent this letter now?


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CLIMATE & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, we don't have an exact reason about why now, why yesterday, this letter was signed and dated. But we do know that there are a lot of signs in this investigation that it's nearing its end.

And when there is a big investigation, especially a white-collar investigation, oftentimes, defense attorneys do want to go to the Justice Department or to go to the prosecutors and make some sort of legal argument or big case. And in this circumstance, it sounds like that what -- that is what they may want to be doing right now.

Because the grand jury has heard from many, many witnesses, they have locked down a lot of evidence, and it does appear that there -- it is at its final stage in this Mar-a-Lago documents investigation, obstruction of justice mishandling, clearly with Donald Trump at the center of the investigation.

But there is a really special circumstance here because we're talking about a special counsel. This isn't any U.S. Attorney conducting an investigation. And Jack Smith as the special counsel here, he has full authority to make the prosecution decisions on his own. He has to tell the attorney general about what he's doing, but he doesn't have to have Garland say yes or no. He can make those choices.

And so, in this circumstance, the way that this is worded, it certainly looks like the attorneys for Donald Trump are trying to get Attorney General Merrick Garland to look into Jack Smith in the only mechanism that they can by saying we have a complaint about him. We want to bring it to you. You're the boss.

There is something where they can do that in the way that Justice Department is set up. But we don't know exactly what they're going to be saying to him, what allegation they might have if they do believe there's some level of misconduct as they indicate they say that President Trump is being unfairly. But it's really a short letter from the -- from the attorneys for Trump here.


POLANTZ: And we have no idea yet how the Justice Department would respond even if there would be a meeting that the attorney general would grant.

SANCHEZ: Yes, you're right. It seems like an attempt to pierce that insulation, that barrier that Garland was trying to install between him and any investigation of Trump. We'll have to keep watching what happens next. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: A year ago today, 19 children and two teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, forever changing the community and the country. We're going to show you how the victims are being honored. Next.