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McConnell Defends Republican Voting Laws, Blasts Biden; Consumer Prices Jump. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The former Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, lying in the Rotunda. You see the pictures right there, as lawmakers across the aisle and across generations, staff members on Capitol Hill as well, say goodbye.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer honoring Reid in the building where he devoted his life's work, honoring him one last time. The pair remember Reid as a friend and as a once-in-a-generation politician.

Thanks for your time on INSIDE POLITICS today.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you so much for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And it is a busy day here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Is it inevitable? Will you get COVID? Dr. Anthony Fauci now warns the highly contagious Omicron variant will -- quote -- "find just about everybody." Dr. Peter Hotez is here to weigh in.

And more twists and turns in the COVID debacle of tennis superstar Novak Djokovic, false information and a flurry of embarrassing details. Will Australia yank his visa and deport him?

Plus, a stunning setback to a member of the British royal family. A federal judge here in New York giving the go-ahead to a lawsuit against Prince Andrew. An American woman says he sexually abused her when she was 17 as part of the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking ring.

So much to talk about, but let's begin this hour with your money and the inflation that is chipping away at it.

A key report out this morning shows consumer prices have jumped 7 percent over the past year alone. That is the steepest year-to-year climb since 1982. Month to month, prices climbed a half-percentage point November to December.

CNN business reporter Matt Egan joins us now.

Matt, what does this mean then for the average American? Where are people feeling it the most?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Well, Ana, it's really across the board. The cost of living is going up, in some cases dramatically, consumer prices jumping by 7 percent in December from a year ago. It's been 39 years since the government has reported a figure like that.

And some of these price spikes are truly historic. Full-service meals, fast food, men's apparel, new cars and trucks, all of them seeing record price spikes. And as anyone who's been to the gas station or the grocery store knows, food and energy has been a sore spot, overall food prices up by more than 6 percent. That's the most since 2008. Chicken prices up more than 10 percent from a year ago, and that is the most since 2004.

Fish and seafood climbing at the fastest pace in 10 years. Gas prices up nearly 50 percent from a year ago. Now, we need to remember that so much of this is COVID-related. The health crisis caused so much chaos.

CABRERA: Matt, forgive me for interrupting you. We're going to go live to Capitol right now and Senate leader -- this is the GOP leader, of course, Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): ... not as adversaries, but as neighbors.

Yesterday, he called millions of Americans his domestic enemies. Twelve months ago, the president called on Americans to join forces, stop the shouting, lower the temperature. But, yesterday, he shouted that, if you disagree with him, you're George Wallace.

George Wallace? If you don't pass the laws he wants, you're Bull Connor. And if you oppose giving Democrats untrammeled one-party control of the country, well, you're Jefferson Davis.

Twelve months ago, this president said disagreement must not lead to disunion. Ah, but, yesterday, he invoked the bloody disunion of the Civil War, the Civil War, to demonize Americans who disagree with him. He compared -- listen to this -- a bipartisan majority of senators to traitors.

How profoundly, profoundly unpresidential.

Look, I have known and liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday. American voters did not give President Biden a mandate for very much. He got a tied Senate, negative coattails in the House, the narrowest majorities in over a century.

The president did not get a mandate to transform America or reshape society.


But he did arguably get a mandate to do one central thing that he campaigned on. Here's what that was, bridge a divided country, lower the temperature, dial down the perpetual era of crisis in our politics.

That is the one central promise that Joe Biden made. It is the one job citizens actually hired him to do. It is the one project that would have actually been consistent, consistent with the Congress the voters elected.

Ah, but President Biden has chosen to fail his own test. The president's rant, rant yesterday was incoherent, incorrect, and beneath his office.

He used the phrase Jim Crow 2.0 to demagogue a law that makes the franchise more accessible than in his own state of Delaware. He blasted Georgia's procedures regarding local elections officials, while pushing national legislation with almost identical language on that issue.

The president implied things like wildly popular voting I.D. laws to be -- quote -- listen to this -- "totalitarian"? Totalitarian? Ironically, on the same day that Washington, D.C.'s Democratic mayor told citizens to bring both a photo I.D. and a vaccine card any time they leave the house.

The president repeatedly invoked the January 6 riot, while himself using irresponsible, delegitimizing rhetoric that undermines our democracy.

The sitting president of the United States compared American states to totalitarian states. He said our country will be an autocracy if he does not get his way, if he does not get his way.

So, the world saw our commander in chief propagandize against his own country, his own country, to a degree that would have made Pravda blush. There was no consistent standard behind anything the president said. He trampled through some of the most sensitive and sacred parts of our nation's past.

He invoked times when activists bled and when soldiers died, all to demagogue voting laws that are more expansive than what Democrats have on the books in his own home state. Georgia has more days of early voting than Delaware or New York. Georgia has no-excuse absentee voting, which Delaware and New York do not have.

If Georgia or Texas present Jim Crow emergencies, then so to a whole lot of Democratic-run states. The Senate Democratic leader is going on cable TV and saying Georgia is greatly restricting or eliminating early voting. That's a lie, provably false. Georgia has more early voting than New York.

The Democratic leader has tried to fearmonger about one rural Georgia county that condensed multiple voting locations into one, one rural Georgia county. Well, the county is overwhelmingly red. They were clearly not involved in trying to suppress Democratic votes, 70 percent Republican in that one county in 2020. So take a step back for a minute. President Biden's story is that

democracy is on death's door. But he spent nine months chasing a reckless taxing-and-spending spree before addressing it. It must not be that much of an emergency.


Citizens are meant to believe a return of Jim Crow is on the table. But this was only President Biden's sixth priority after he was blocked from spending $5 trillion on windmills and welfare.

Democrats' own behavior refutes their false hysteria. Twelve months ago, the president said that politics need not be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. That was just 12 months ago. But, yesterday, he poured a giant can of gasoline on the fire. Twelve months ago, the president said every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war.

But, yesterday, he said anyone who opposes smashing the Senate, smashing the Senate, and letting Democrats rewrite election law is a domestic enemy and -- listen to this -- a traitor like Jefferson Davis.

One week ago, President Biden gave a January 6 lecture about not stoking political violence, one week ago. Yesterday, with the world's largest megaphone, he invoked the literal Civil War and said we're on the doorstep of autocracy, talked about domestic enemies?

Rhetoric unbecoming of a president of the United States. In less than a year, restoring the soul of America has become this: Agree with me, or you're a bigot. Agree with me, or you're a bigot. From lowering the temperature to invoking totalitarian states and the Civil War.

So, this inflammatory rhetoric was not an attempt to persuade skeptical Democrat or Republican senators. This whole display, this whole display, in fact, you could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than a president abandoning rational persuasion for pure demagoguery.

You could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than what we have just seen, a president abandoning rational persuasion for pure, pure demagoguery. A president shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants is proving exactly why the framers built the Senate to check his power.

This whole display is the best possible argument for preserving, preserving the Senate rules that extend deliberation, force bipartisan compromise, and let cooler heads prevail.

Nothing proves it better than this episode. It offers a perfect case study in why Senator Biden was right about the filibuster and President Biden is wrong.

One respected scholar explained it this way. The smallest majority we have ever seen in our politics is trying to change the rules for how people get elected in every single state. That's just about the best argument for the filibuster you could possibly imagine.

So, Mr. President, the citizens of the greatest country in the world deserve for their elected officials to treat them like grownups. The adults of America deserve to hear from the adults in Washington, D.C.

So, I will close with some basic truths. Obviously, our country is more divided than it should be, no doubt. In recent years, I have vocally criticized people across the political spectrum who have sought to legitimize elections when they win and delegitimize democracy when they're polling badly or when they lose.


I criticized top Democrats' hysteria after 2016, when their rhetoric had 66 percent of Democrats across America falsely convinced that Russia had hacked our voting machines and changed the tallies; 66 percent of Democrats thought that after 2016.

I criticized Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats who spent the run-up to 2020 hyping conspiracy theories and suggesting the election would presumptively be illegitimate if their side lost.

In December 2020 and January of last year, our side of the aisle defended our constitutional process, despite political pressure. And we had, of course, a literal mob.

But now it is President Biden and Leader Schumer and other Washington Democrats who don't like their poll numbers, so they're reversing their tune yet again. The people who spent November 2020 through January '21 preaching sermons about the strength and the sanctity of our democracy are now undertaking to delegitimize the next election in case they lose it.

We have a sitting president, a sitting president, invoking the Civil War, shouting about totalitarianism, and labeling millions of Americans his domestic enemies? We have a Senate Democratic leader who now frequently calls American elections -- quote -- "a rigged game"?

Look, this will not be repaired with more lies, more outrage, and more rule-breaking. Unfortunately, President Biden has rejected the better angels of our nature. So, it is the Senate's responsibility to protect the country.

This institution was constructed as a firewall against exactly, exactly the kind of rage and false hysteria we saw on full display yesterday. It falls to the Senate to put America on a better track. It falls to us.

So, this institution cannot give in to dishonorable tactics. We cannot surrender to this recklessness. We have to stand up, stand strong, protect the Senate, and defend the country.

CABRERA: And that was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, delivering a really slamming type of critique on the president's address yesterday to the nation on voting rights and the legislation the president is wanting to be passed by the Senate and Congress, already passed the House, but the Senate right now has it in its hands.

And I want to bring in CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, we heard some really strong words there, Mitch McConnell calling the president's speech yesterday unpresidential. He called it a rant. He said, I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday.

The gloves are off.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it's beyond the gloves being off.

I think we could safely say, and I think Manu might agree, that Mitch McConnell has gone nuclear on this issue of the filibuster, and personally took offense at the president's speech yesterday, which he called incoherent, incorrect, and beneath his office.

And this gives you a clear indication that McConnell and Republicans are going to fight tooth and nail on voting rights, that they want nothing to do with a carve-out of anything on the filibuster. And he effectively called these tactics dishonorable.

I might point out this is coming from a leader who did not give Merrick Garland a hearing when he was nominated for the Supreme Court, but that another day.


So, you can say that the Senate is at war right now. And Mitch McConnell has decided that he has got to be the one to lead that war against any change in the filibuster and decided that he is going to take on his old friend Joe Biden personally.

CABRERA: Manu, why did Mitch McConnell feel he needed to give this speech today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really aimed at two senators, the Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, because he has all Republican senators in line, opposed to any changes to the Senate's filibuster rules.

And remember just the process for how this would happen. If they were to change the filibuster, you can do it through regular order. That would require 67 senators to actually change the Senate rules, 50 Democratic senators, 17 Republican senators. That is not going to happen, which is why the Democrats are now trying to convince Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to use a rarely invoked procedure known on Capitol Hill as the nuclear option to change the rules along straight party lines.

But that means any 50 Democrats, Kamala Harris breaking the tie, in order to do that, but Sinema and Manchin have just been opposed to this for months. They have made clear their concerns about changing the rules of the Senate could impact the institution in the long term, give a future Republican majority the opportunity to run roughshod over the minority, and they are pushing back against their caucus.

Now, behind the scenes, Manchin and Sinema have engaged in talks for months, including last night Sinema held a meeting. This morning, Manchin met with Senate Democratic leaders, but nothing has changed, I'm told from multiple Democratic sources.

The meetings, I'm told, have been intense, but they have gone around and around on the idea of eliminating the over -- the supermajority threshold that requires 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. They said they will not agree to that even to advance voting legislation, which Joe Biden wants to approve two separate bills, one, the so-called Freedom to Vote Act, which would impose an array of changes on voting laws around the country, and also the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that would overturn the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that gutted a key aspect of that 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Now, they can't get 60 votes to pass either of those bills. But they can only pass it at the moment if they convince Manchin and Sinema to change the rules so they can advance it along straight party lines. But Manchin and Sinema are just not there.

And Joe Biden is coming up to Capitol Hill tomorrow to personally lobby senators, Democratic senators in a closed-door meeting, but nothing will change. And what you heard from Mitch McConnell there, Republicans are fiercely opposed to any change the rules, fiercely opposed to the policy here.


RAJU: So getting any resolution is highly, highly unlikely. It just shows you the stakes when you listen to the Republican leaders' remarks right there.

CABRERA: Yes, but, obviously, obviously, Gloria, the fact that Mitch McConnell feels like he has to come out and speak as strongly as he did today must suggest that he feels threatened in some way, that perhaps Manchin or Sinema are going to change their minds.

BORGER: Well, I think he felt insulted personally by the president's remarks yesterday, as did many Republicans.

And I think that he felt the need to come out and say, look -- he talked about Delaware. He talked about the president saying that disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war, but here we are. And he said -- yesterday, he said, anyone who opposes smashing the Senate and letting Democrats rewrite election law is a domestic enemy and a traitor like Jefferson Davis.

And so obviously, he said, look this language was too strong, and I'm going to point it out, because, as Manu says, he can get political advantage out of this. He can say to Manchin and Sinema and also to other Democrats who have said, I'm not so sure I'm in favor of a carve-out for voting rights of the filibuster, like Kelly, for example, of Arizona, maybe Jon Tester of Montana.

So I think he was talking to those Democrats, as Manu points out, but also to a larger audience, which is to say, just because I oppose this doesn't mean that we oppose voting rights in its totality.

And he wanted to take that on.

CABRERA: But why then not work with Democrats to craft some legislation that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on, Manu? What is it that the GOP is so against in the legislation that has been proposed, including a potential option that Manchin helped to create with the thought that it would attract bipartisan support?

RAJU: Well, they contend that this is a -- quote -- "federal takeover," in their words.


They say that states need to be the ones in charge of the electoral process. So they argue that it's more of a fundamental philosophical disagreement about how elections are to be run.

One of the things that is in one of -- the Freedom to Vote Act was to change how House districts are drawn, to pose to rewrite what they consider the partisan gerrymandering process that skews these House lines in certain ways to help one party over the other. Republicans are opposed to having any sort of federal standard on that.

So that's one big aspect here. There is some discussion about some modest changes to electoral laws, namely, how to change the Electoral Count Act that exactly deals with the certification of electoral votes on January 6 that we saw happened last January 6, when former President Trump urged Mike Pence to throw out those electoral votes.

There's some discussion about tightening those standards, so that can't happen in the future. But that falls far short about what Democrats actually want here. And one other point, Ana, I'd say here is that what's interesting is the comments that have not come from Sinema or Manchin about Joe Biden's speech.

Sinema has not commented about Joe Biden speech. I asked her office about it. She doesn't talk to reporters in the hallways, but I asked her office. They said that she has no comment on it. She still supports maintain the 60-vote threshold on the filibuster.

Joe Manchin, I have asked repeatedly today about the president's speech, whether it's changed his mind, his views on it. Only thing he would say is good speech, good speech, good speech, did not want to engage one way or the other.

But what's here is, in private discussions, nothing has changed here. Just the political rhetoric may have gotten more intense. But the actual outcome of legislation certainly has not changed.

CABRERA: And we know from the president's speech yesterday, from what we have heard from other Democrats, they really see this as a fight for American democracy itself, especially after what we have seen in the past year or so, 19 states passing 34 laws at the state level that increased voter restrictions, essentially, and many more that are up for debate in state legislatures this year. Thank you so much, Manu Raju and Gloria Borger. A lot could happen in

the next few days. We will be watching and updating our viewers.

Much more news just ahead in the NEWSROOM, including a stunning new twist in the Novak Djokovic drama. The world's top tennis player now admits he did not stay away from others after learning he was infected with COVID. Will he be allowed to stay in Australia now?

Plus, a judge delivering a huge blow to Prince Andrew, ruling that the sex abuse lawsuit against him can go forward.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay right there.