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Late Surge By Kathy Barnette Shaking Up Race For GOP Senate Nomination In Pennsylvania; Mike Pence Backs GA Gov. Brian Kemp Against Trump-Backed Challenger David Perdue; McConnell Sees Abortion As "A Wash" In The Midterms; Cedric Richmond, Senior Advisor To President Biden, Discusses Biden Admin's Plans To Reduce Crime With COVID Relief Money & Baby Formula Shortage. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The race for the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania is taking a big turn with less than a week to go before the primary election.

Kathy Barnette is not only surging in the polls but she's now virtually tied with her opponents, David McCormick and Trump-endorsed TV star, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Now that Barnette is the top contender, she's facing more scrutiny.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has details.



JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For months, Kathy Barnette campaigned across Pennsylvania, drawing attention yet remaining largely an afterthought in the Republican Senate race.

From the outside, the race played out as a vicious two-man brawl --

DAVID MCCORMICK, (R) PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Mehmet has flipflopped on every major issue.

DR. MEHMET OZ, (R), PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Dishonest Dave is at it again.

ZELENY: -- fueled by big money and big names of TV celebrity, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and David McCormick, former head of the world's largest hedge fund.

But less than a week before the primary election, Barnette's late surge is sending shockwaves across the GOP. And provoked this dire warning from former President Donald Trump who has endorsed Oz: "Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the general election against the radical left."

Tonight, she gently disagreed.

BARNETTE: I look forward to working with the president. So thank you so much.

ZELENY (on camera): I know you're on the rise, would you agree?

BARNETTE: I would agree.

ZELENY (voice-over): In one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, which Democrats believe offers the best chance to pick up a seat to help hold their majority, a messy family feud deep inside the MAGA movement is spilling out for all to see.

BARNETTE: MAGA does not belong to President Trump. MAGA, although he coined the word, MAGA is actually -- it belongs to the people. Our values never, never shifted to President Trump's value.

ZELENY: A compelling personal story sparked interest in her candidacy.

BARNETTE: I am a little black girl from a pig farm in southern Alabama, who grew up in a home with no running water, no insulation, an outhouse in the back and a well on the side --

ZELENY: And her campaign roared to life as she pushed utterly false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.


ZELENY: She's linked her candidacy to Doug Mastriano, the frontrunner in the GOP governor's race here.

Suddenly, the polls show a three-way contest entering the final stretch. Rival Republicans are in a mad scramble to scrutinize Barnette's

background in hopes of slowing her surprising rise.

OZ: She is a mystery person. We don't know much about it. We have to be able to learn and she's not willing to share.


ZELENY: An outside group backing Oz also weighed in.

ANNOUNCER: Meet crazy Kathy Barnette, Pennsylvania's wackiest Senate candidate

ZELENY: A CNN review found Barnette has a history of making anti- Muslim and anti-gay statements.

BARNETTE: All the eyes are against -- ZELENY: In many tweets, she also spread the false conspiracy theory,

former President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

It's an open question whether the torrent of criticism will animate or turn off the vibrant grassroots supporters in the party's base.

The conservative Club for Growth has her back, booking $2 million in ads to promote her candidacy.


ZELENY (on camera): What drew you to her candidacy?

DAILE: She's an authentic person.

ZELENY: Asked about Trump's endorsement of Oz and his blistering words for Barnette, Kristen Daile had this to say.

DAILE: President Trump gets to be wrong. He has this one wrong.


CAMEROTA: OK, our thanks to Jeff Zeleny there.

Let's look at Georgia. So in the Georgia governor's race, former Vice President Mike Pence is picking sides against Donald Trump.

Pence will hold a rally with current governor, Brian Kemp, who is fighting off a Republican primary challenge from the Trump-backed candidate, David Perdue.

BLACKWELL: Trump urged the former Senator to get into the race, still angry over Kemp certified Georgia's 2020 election results. Despite the facts from Trump and Perdue, Kemp is still ahead in the polls.

With us now, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics, and S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator.

Welcome to you both.

S.E., let me start with you.

Former vice president might just be getting on a train at the station ahead when you look at fundraising and polling. But what does this mean now that you've got the former president on the opposite side of this race?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it checks a few boxes for Mike Pence. I think, one, he's trying to reestablish himself by backing the establishment candidate, to remind people, remember when I was just the run-of-the-mill establishment Republican before I sort of attached myself to Trump.

Two, I think he's trying to get back on the right side of history by aligning with Kemp, who certified the 2020 election for Biden as opposed to someone who is still lying about it. It's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube for that one. But I

think that's part of his calculus.

And then finally, I think Pence is chasing what would be an incredible headline. And that would be Pence-backed Kemp beats Trump-backed Perdue. I mean, if you were looking to have influence in the Republican Party going forward, it doesn't get better than that headline.

CAMEROTA: A.B., if you were a betting woman, we might just very well see that headline, right? I mean, that's the way the wind is blowing at the moment?

A.B. STODDARD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. That's why it's sort of interesting that Mike Pence is getting in while the getting is good with ten days left, when it's very clear that the incumbent governor is likely to be re-elected and beat Perdue quite handily and avoid a runoff and meet the 50 percent threshold.

It's not like Mike Pence took a gamble and got in early to face off against Donald Trump while he was endorsing Perdue to defeat Kemp.

What's interesting in this race, Alisyn, is that both of the Trump endorsees down ballot of Trump after Perdue, Herschel Walker for the Senate race and Jody Hice for secretary of state, both of those candidates are enjoying Trump's endorsement.

But they don't want to back David Perdue and are keeping quiet because they've known all along it's likely Kemp will prevail.

Pence is trying to do two things. He thinks he can be a fusion candidate and attract normal Republicans who don't like Trump because he saved the republic on January 6th, and still try to cling to some part of Trump's base by continuously saying how proud he is of their accomplishments.

We'll see where that takes him. I don't know if he can actually pull this off.

BLACKWELL: S.E., let's turn to the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary and Kathy Barnette.

As Jeff mentioned in the piece, CNN's "KFILE" uncovered some anti-gay and anti-Muslim comments she's made in the past.

Let's play what was discovered and then talk.


BARNETTE: President Barack Hussein Obama has such a difficult time using the word "Islamic terrorist" in the same sentence and yet he wants us to feel comfortable.

Two men sleeping together, two men holding hands, two men caressing, that is not normal.

We have the right to discriminate against world views because all views are not morally equal. All views are not equal.


BARNETTE: So we have the right to reject it. And let me just say offhand, I reject how Muslims see the world.



BLACKWELL: So on those comments, as reprehensible as they might be, the country just elected a former president who, on tape, bragged about sexual assault. Are they disqualifying in a race?

CUPP: You would think, and certainly in a general, I think Democrats are salivating at the idea of Kathy Barnette getting the Republican nomination because she is so extreme.

She is not extreme, however, inside of Trump's Republican Party. She is not an outlier. There's Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, tons of folks in Congress and running for Congress who sound a lot like her.

What I think is kind of comical and almost absurd is the idea that Trump and other right-wing outlets, Sean Hannity even, are trying to point her out as being too extreme.

I mean, FOX News invented Birtherism. Alisyn, we were there at the same time. We saw them do it.

So to pretend like she is somehow not a creation of Trumpism, MAGA, FOX News, is just -- I mean, it's absurd.

CAMEROTA: It's a great point. S.E.

But also I just think that to have her spell out as explicitly as she did, A.B., that Muslims and gay men are not morally equal to her. I'm not even reading between the lines. That's what she was saying. That was 2015.

So now, A.B., do you think that these will come back to haunt her?

STODDARD: Alisyn, I was stunned to see the former President Trump try to get out and say the things she said are too -- are going to make her impossible in a general election and she'll be beaten by the radical Democrats.

I don't find myself agreeing so much with Donald Trump, except for our fondness or Elton John songs.

But he is right, it's probably a mistake to nominate someone who has said those things in a swing state. So it will be interesting to see.

He's sort of hedging his bets, saying if she reveals her basic bio information, which she is hiding even from conservative media, that if she can be vetted, he will back her and give her his full support. Maybe he's looking at the possibility that she wins outright.

But I think everyone from MAGA world to Mitch McConnell's establishment, what's left of it in the Republican Party, knows that the things she said are going to be really haunting for the Republican ticket if she's in the general election.

BLACKWELL: S.E., Mitch McConnell is weighing in on what he believes could be the impact if this draft opinion holds on overturning Roe v. Wade. He says that the impact on the midterms will essentially be a wash for the congressional races.

Let's put it up. I think we actually have it. We have the quote we can read.

"I think it will be certainly heavily debated in state legislative and governors races because the court will have, in effect, returned the issue to the political process. My guess is the impact on federal races, I think it's probably going to be a wash."

Do you agree with that?

CUPP: No. I think that's wishful thinking. I think that is Mitch McConnell wanting that to be the case.

Mitch McConnell, Republicans know that overturning Roe will be hugely unpopular, even among some Republicans. And they are trying to mitigate and minimize the impact of that. And also distance themselves from it.

So I think Mitch McConnell knows that this issue cuts across every demographic, socioeconomic, racial demographics. So many people are impacted by not only Roe, by what else would be next.

He knows this is bad and so I think that's the messaging you're hearing to sort of minimize it away.

BLACKWELL: S.E. Cupp, A.B. Stoddard, thank you.

CUPPS: Thanks.


BLACKWELL: All right, we just heard moments ago from a key Democratic lawmaker on the baby formula shortage. Now let's see what more the White House is going to do about it. A senior adviser to President Biden joins us in a moment.


BLACKWELL: Happening right now, President Biden is meeting with local law enforcement officials and community leaders at the White House. He's hearing from them on how they're using billions of dollars allocated from the American Rescue Plan to reduce crime, hire more police officers and boost public safety.

At the top of the hour, the president is expected to make remarks and urge states and cities and communities to spend more COVID relief money on public safety.

A number of major cities have reported surges in crime since the start of the pandemic. And we are about to enter the summer months when crime typically rises.

Cedric Richmond is a senior adviser to President Biden.

Welcome back, sir.

Let's start here with why this is the recommendation from the president because there's this warning from the White House that if there's not more money coming in to focus on COVID, that there could be a dramatic surge in the fall and winter.

CEDRIC RICHMOND, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, it's been a priority for this president. If you look at the American Rescue Plan, we passed last year to deal with COVID, there was a significant amount of money, almost historic amount of money, to go to local cities and municipalities.


And one of the things we urged them to do is to use that money to beef up law enforcement, to do community violence intervention, to think out the box in terms of after school programs, summer job programs, that we could fight crime in a comprehensive manner.

Today, the president is going to lay out what some cities are doing where it's working. And he's encouraging people to do with the $10 million that's out there to make communities safer.

BLACKWELL: There's billions more going to these cities and states throughout the year, and it's flex money. The White House can't tell them what to do with it. This is only encouraging the cities and states to do it.

But if the White House is asking Congress for billions more on COVID, you have COVID money that's approved, why not urge the cities and states to focus on COVID mitigation with that money?

RICHMOND: Well, part of the American Rescue Plan, we knew we wanted to make communities safer. And every community should be a safe community where kids can play outside and families can feel safe getting gas and doing those things.

And so it's not one or the other. And so we want to make sure that our communities are investing that money in comprehensive ways to keep communities safe.

And on the COVID hand, we have been focused on COVID since day one in terms of making sure we have the vaccines, making sure we stay a world leader, making sure we get shots in arms, we get tests out, PPE, all of those things, and we can do both.

But I think that what we're ask for in terms of COVID funding is so we can continue to do all of those things so that we didn't have to shut down COVID when there was a spike.

We have 99 percent of our schools open now as opposed to almost half of them closed when we took office.

And we think we have to continue to invest, especially as more shots will come online in terms of the people who can get them and we're talking about young kids.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about the baby formula shortage across the country. Today, the FDA announced that it will be a streamline of the process to import formula.

Today, the HHS launched this new Web site to help parents. The chair of House Appropriations said the FDA dragged its feet after the recall.

Why didn't this happen months ago as parents were starting to talk about shortage of baby formula?

RICHMOND: Well, I can just tell you firsthand that the FDA and the Department of Agriculture have been working with these companies for months to increase the supply.

It may not have been public, but it's been a diligent effort to try to get them to increase supply both by the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.

We saw the president call manufacturers and retailers to personally urge them to ramp up supply. We've expanded the types of formulas that families can buy. We're going to cut the red tape so we can import more.

We're going to do everything we can because we understand the vulnerability there and the anxiety that it creates in families when you can't get your hands on baby formula.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You said that the administration is doing everything it can. Ron Klain, chief of staff, told Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger that the White House is strongly considering using the Defense Production Act to address this.

Beyond just all options are on the table, what are the criteria? What gets it from a strong consideration to an execution that we're going to do this to help these families?

RICHMOND: If the president determines that's what we need to do to ramp up production and that's the only way we can ramp up production and make sure that it's available and make sure that it's affordable, that's his consideration.

The other thing we're doing is asking state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to make sure we don't have unfair market practices going on like people hoarding so they can raise prices.

When we say everything's on the table, we mean it. And Defense Production Act BLACKWELL: But, Cedric -- but, Cedric --

RICHMOND: -- is just one manner in doing that.

BLACKWELL: I get that. And it's not something that is executed lightly. You don't invoke that lightly. We saw it during COVID. We have seen it at other times.

But how dire does it have to become for the administration, for the president to say now we will -- we will invoke this. You said that if he thinks that's the way to go -- we've got a guest coming up in a few minutes who has enough food to get through tomorrow.

What more does this president need to see?

RICHMOND: Well, Victor, what I don't want to do is make this assumption that if he invokes the Defense Production Act, there will be more formula tomorrow.


RICHMOND: And we should not say that because I think that that would imply that there's some switch we can pull. And so the Defense Production Act will ramp up over time.


And what we're doing right now is putting that pressure on CEOs immediately so they can start ramping up today and tomorrow. And if that doesn't work, then you look at the long-term implementation of the Defense Production Act.

But when you see the president on the phone with those manufacturers of baby formula, that's him saying we want more product, and we want more right now.


RICHMOND: And so I think part of the rationale and the process of going into the Defense Production Act is, if you think the Defense Production Act can get it out there quicker and in more supply, then you do that.

But I think that's part of the consideration that goes on before you do it.

BLACKWELL: Yes, certainly. Again, the White House chief of staff said it's something being considered. You say it's an option on the table. We'll see if the president uses that option.

Cedric Richmond, always good to have you, sir. Thank you.

RICHMOND: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Well, negotiations are continuing over the fate of the Ukrainian soldiers trapped inside that steel plant in Mariupol. We have a live report.