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NBC Poll: Younger Voters Becoming Less Supportive of Biden; President Biden's Age Criticized By GOP Presidential Contenders; "Father Time Is Undefeated": DeSantis Criticizes Trump For His Age; With Age As A Campaign Issue, Biden Turns 81 Today; 6-Week Abortion Ban Would Be Signed If Haley Is Governor Of South Carolina; Federal Court Rules Against Toll Used To Enforce Voting Rights Act; Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Dies At 96; Interview With President Carter Biographer Kai Bird. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 20, 2023 - 15:30   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: This has Republicans fighting to make a dent in the former president's lead too, listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The presidency is not a job for somebody that's pushing 80 years old. I just think that that's something that has been shown with Joe Biden. Father time is undefeated. Donald Trump is not exempt from any of that.

NIKKI HALEY (R), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not so much about Donald Trump. And yes, his personality is not my personality. And yes, he says things he shouldn't say. We look so distracted right now. And when America's distracted, the world is less safe.


SANCHEZ: With us now is CNN Senior Political Analyst and Senior Editor for "The Atlantic", Ron Brownstein. Also with us, CNN Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean.

Jessica, first to you, fewer than 60 days to go before the Iowa caucuses. How are candidates making their last, sort of, minute, last 60 day-ish pitch to voters?


SANCHEZ: Yes yes.

DEAN: I'm so happy that we're not among the 61 percent that can -- don't want to talk about this. And yes, I'm happy to be here with my friends to discuss this. So, we -- OK, just to set the stage, the Iowa caucuses are January 15th, so we are getting ever closer. And I just want to remind people that no one's voted just yet We have a lot of this polling. The Former President, Donald Trump, continues in that polling in those early states to have this very stronghold.

However, on the ground, it is interesting when you start to look at how these different candidates are approaching this kind of beginning of the final stretch, let's call it. And one really good, example of this, Ron DeSantis was in Iowa over the weekend. He did 12 stops. Donald Trump was there for one stop. Casey DeSantis is going back for four or five, six stops on Tuesday. We are just seeing somebody like Ron DeSantis, where it really is an all in Iowa mission and strategy.

They are just spending so much time on the ground there. Nikki Haley, that's another one. That they are really doing this retail politicking that these early states have come to expect. Especially in places like Iowa or New Hampshire. The question remains though, can you unstick some of those Donald Trump voters? And that is, kind of, the X factor but it is certainly a very distinct difference in the key and how the frontrunner is campaigning, Donald Trump, and how all the others Continue to campaign.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Ron Brownstein, talk to that point, if you will, we are now in this final- ish stretch before the Iowa caucus. We have just had the third Republican presidential debate. The candidates who trail President Trump in Republican polls don't appear to be making much of a dent, though Nikki Haley, I think many would argue, has a bit more wind at her back.

We have this data point of a Des Moines Register poll finding that 43 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers are picking Trump as their first choice. His closest rivals receiving just 16 percent. So, what do you make of the state of the Republican race and how these candidates are going about campaigning?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, right. Well, first of all, it's not clear that anyone in the end is going to be able to give Trump a serious challenge for the nomination, given the breadth and depth of his lead. But I think it is clear that the only way that is going to happen, the only way there will be a serious challenge is if the field sorts out in a way that it did not 2016.

In 2016 when he won the nomination the first time, we never got to a point where there was a binary one on one choice between Trump and a single alternative. And if there is going to be a serious threat to him, Alex, I think we are going to have to get to that point now.

So, the question is who can do that? For most of this year, the assumption among Republicans was that if anyone can get down to a one on one with Trump, it was most likely to be DeSantis. But his support has narrowed since he announced his candidacy. And in particular, by choosing to run a Trump almost entirely from the right, he's left a lot of room in the more centrist lanes of the party among the voters who are the most intrinsically, a resistance of Trump. And Haley has filled that vacuum especially in New Hampshire.

So, DeSantis has the challenge. Where even if he runs well in Iowa, can he do any better in the next states on the calendar than the last three Iowa winners? Mike Huckabee in '08, Rick Santorum in '12, Ted Cruz in '16, who all won Iowa by consolidating evangelicals, but then immediately kind of ran into a snowbank in New Hampshire where there are many fewer of those voters. None of them got more than 12 percent in New Hampshire. Right now, DeSantis is on that same kind of road to nowhere. And Haley looks like she is better positioned in New Hampshire and in her home state of South Carolina to get this down to a one-on-one race if anyone can.

SANCHEZ: And Ron, sticking with you, it strikes me that we heard DeSantis and Haley there making the age argument about Donald Trump, and that there needs to be a changing of the guard in the Republican Party and across the country because there's sort of also between the lines attacking President Biden, who we should note is turning 81 today. It appears that those arguments have worked against Biden in polling. Could they work against Trump?


BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I -- you know, look, I -- to me, the most interesting thing about that is just how reluctant they are to, kind of, make a frontal policy argument against Trump. I mean, DeSantis is running against Trump, but almost entirely from the right. You don't really hear -- I mean, Haley makes some criticism of his comments. But, you know, many of the biggest vulnerabilities Trump would have as a general election nominee simply have not come up in a Republican primary, which is one of the reasons why this early polling may not fully reflect his eventual vulnerabilities if he does win the nomination.

You know, they are looking for ways to encourage voters who like Trump, who liked his performance as president, but who may be willing to consider alternative to move on from beyond -- move on beyond him without having to admit they were wrong to support him in the first place. It's what the Republican poll -- pollster would heirs (ph) calls the maybe-Trump voters.

My guess, Boris, is that that is not going to be enough in the end. That even if Haley or DeSantis gets down to a one-on-one race with Trump, they're going to have to make a more frontal direct argument about why he should not be the Republican nominee than they've been willing to do so far.

MARQUARDT: And Jess, we only have a couple moments left, but when it comes to Nikki Haley, a lot of people in the last debate saw a -- what they would call a more reasonable stance on abortion. But then on Friday, she said that she would sign a six-week abortion ban into law if she were the South Carolina governor. So, how do you think that impacted her?

DEAN: Well, interest -- remember, you have to win a primary first to get to the general, right? And to win a Republican primary, obviously the Republican Party continues to circle around the six-week abortion ban. It's what Ron DeSantis signed into law into Florida, Kim Reynolds in Iowa signed it into law there.

To your point about more of a moderate view or consensus view on that. This election is likely to come down to a handful of swing states, where independent voters are going to play a very key role. And independent voters have told us time and time again on this issue of abortion that they are not comfortable with this six-week ban. So, that is kind of the line she has to straddle. You have to get out of primary, and in order to do that you have to win. But then you need to make yourself sellable and palatable to those independent voters as well.

MARQUARDT: All right. Jessica Dean, Ron Brownstein, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

And coming up, a potential showdown in the Supreme Court over one of the country's landmark civil rights laws. A federal court just ruled against a key tool used to enforce the Voting Rights Act. We'll have all the details just ahead. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: There is potentially another major test coming up for the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court -- a court issued a ruling today to strike down a key tool that is being used to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

SANCHEZ: CNN's Joan Biskupic is here now with the details. So, Joan, what happened? Where does the case go from here?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Sure. U.S. Appellate Court in the Midwestern part of the country, the 8th Circuit, today dramatically undercut the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It brushed aside decades of precedent, and essentially set up a new confrontation at the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on race. And a key question was, who can bring cases to vindicate that? Is it just the U.S. attorney general, or can private parties like the NAACP and the ACLU who, for decades and decades, have been bringing cases? And this appellate court said, no. There is no private right of action to represent Hispanic, black, and other minority voters who feel like their voting power has been deluded with the way registered lines have been drawn. This case comes from Arkansas.

Huge issue because as the lone dissenter in the two to one panel from the 8th Circuit said is that over the past 40 years, some 102, 106 -- 82 successful challenges have been brought under this section of the law, Section 2, and only 15 of them have been brought by the attorney general. They are brought by groups like the NAACP. So, this is so important.

And here's another key thing, the court, the two-justice majority, it was written by a Trump appointee by the name of David Strauss who is a former law clerk to Clarence Thomas, was one of Donald Trump's first appointees to the 8th Circuit. He cites his former boss, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch, another Trump appointee on the Supreme Court, who have been pushing for re-examination of whether private parties can use Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to vindicate core voting rights that were first established in the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court majority has not asked for reconsideration of this, but two key justices have been pushing it. Saying it's an open question. And because this new ruling today breaks ground, this is -- we now have splits in lower courts. As I said, lower courts and the Supreme Court have allowed these challenges for decades. So, this sets up a major showdown at the Supreme Court as we're just going into a big presidential election year.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and a very busy session for the Supreme Court as well.

BISKUPIC: That's right.

SANCHEZ: Joan Biskupic, thank you so much for the update.

MARQUARDT: Thank you.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.


SANCHEZ: Still to come, remembering Rosalynn Carter. We're going to take a look at the long life and rich legacy of the former first lady after a quick break.


SANCHEZ: Compassionate, a great humanitarian, and a woman of dignity and strength. Those are just some of the ways that Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter is being honored and remembered today. She died yesterday at the age of 96, with her husband, Former President Jimmy Carter, by her side.

MARQUARDT: They had just celebrated their 77th anniversary back in July.


Her husband has paid tribute to Rosalynn Carter with this statement, "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."

We're joined now by President Carter's biographer, Kai Bird, who is also the author of the book "Outlier, The Unfinished President -- Presidency", excuse me, "of Jimmy Carter." Kai, thank you so much for joining us. President Carter calling Rosalynn his equal partner. Tell us what you saw in that dynamic.

KAI BIRD, PRESIDENT CARTER BIOGRAPHER: Well, this was an incredible marriage, 77 years. They were extremely close. I -- I'd like to quote the -- one of Carter's White House aide, Stu Eizenstat, who once said, "The Carters don't have friends. They have each other." It was that kind of a marriage. She was very close to Jimmy and she was his closest political advisor.

SANCHEZ: And to that point, Kai, she had an influence in the White House. She worked out of the East Wing, hired a chief of staff, and she sat in on cabinet meetings. Something that at the time, was largely unprecedented. What do you think it was about her that led to that larger role in the White House?

BIRD: Well, she insisted on being involved and she wanted to be knowledgeable. So, Carter said to her, why don't you just come to the cabinet meetings and then you'll learn what the political issues. And, you know, she had a tougher political eye than Jimmy Carter did. You know, President Carter, sort of, had a disdain for the wheeling and dealing of congressional politics and dealing with the Capitol Hill. But, Rosie, as he called her, you know, she had a -- an astute political eye and she loved it.

She loved knowing about it and she tried to encourage her husband to be more political. But she was also tough, you know, morally speaking. And she was, you know, she had her issues like public mental health programs. But, you know, she was a southern white woman who was quite pretty, but a steel magnolia as they say in the South. And she was very tough on race.

I'm struck, in particular, by the fact that when she became first lady of Georgia in 1970, one of her first acts was to go and visit the women's prison in Georgia, and she was appalled by the conditions. But this led in, eventually, to her hiring a convicted murderess, Mary Prince, to become their nanny for young Amy.

And Mary Prince, spent -- has spent the rest of her life sort of virtually as part of the Carter household. And she actually lived in the White House while still serving out her prison sentence. And the Carters just believed in her innocence, the innocence of this young black woman, and they took her in and made her part of the family. This is, you know, an extraordinary piece of evidence about how principled Rosalynn Carter could be.

MARQUARDT: And Kai, what about their post White House life? Of course, they were only in the White House for one term. We've seen countless pictures of the two of them working on houses for Habitat for Humanity. But what do you think, sort of, defined their -- the post- White House era for Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter?

BIRD: Yes, they work for Habitat for Humanity. Every year they would devote one week to building houses for the poor. But, you know, they spent the rest of their time at the Carter Center and turned Jimmy Carter's post presidency into a very special thing. They have a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. They went around the world inspecting elections. It's election monitors trying to advance the cause of democracy globally. They spent years in funding projects in Africa and Latin America to wipe out Guinea worm disease.

Yes, and as I said, she made -- her special issue was mental public health. And she made that her personal cause, and she continued to work on it in Jimmy Carter's post presidency through the Carter Center.


MARQUARDT: All right. Well, Kai Bird, thank you so much for your thoughts and your remembrances of Rosalynn Carter on this very sad day. We appreciate it.

BIRD: Thank you for having me.

MARQUARDT: And we'll be right back.


SANCHEZ: Before we go, we want to introduce you to the newest member of the CNN family. This is Fitzwilliam Matthew Conlon, also known as Fitzy. This little bundle of joy belongs to our correspondent, Natasha Chen and senior producer, Kevin Conlon.

MARQUARDT: Natasha and Kevin's love story is actually -- they actually have CNN to thank for it. They met while working together in Atlanta where Kevin was Natasha's producer.