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Michigan Holds Primaries; Katie Bernard is Interviewed about Abortion Vote in Kansas; Bonny Lin is Interviewed about Pelosi's Trip to Taiwan; Climate Package Gets Boost from Economists; DHS IG Pushes Back on Criticism. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired August 02, 2022 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Political season. Right now voters in five states are heading to polls in a handful of key primary races. Arizona holding a handful of elections where voters will pick Republican nominees for governor and a key Senate race that could tip the balance of power in Congress.

In Michigan, the public will decide which Republican candidate will square off with Democratic incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the general election. Tudor Dixon, the candidate backed very recently by former President Trump, has just cast her ballot in western Michigan.

CNN's Sara Murray has more on the pushback she's receiving from her competitors.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the waning hours of Michigan's chaotic Republican primary fight --

GARRETT SOLDANO (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Who here can't wait for me to debate Governor Whitmer?

KEVIN RINKE (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We can't elect shiny pennies.

TUDOR DIXON (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We'll fight until the very last moment of Tuesday.

MURRAY: Former President Donald Trump is trying to tip the scales for Tudor Dixon.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: A fantastic, brilliant candidate, Tudor Dixon.

MURRAY: Throwing his support behind the conservative commentator in a bitter fight to take on Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer this fall.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): The last few years have been tough, but we're tougher and getting things done right now.

MURRAY: Dixon widely viewed as the establish pick after winning the backing of Betsy DeVos, Trump's former education secretary who resigned after January 6th. She went from embracing falsehoods about the 2020 election early in the campaign --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe Donald Trump legitimately won the 2020 election in Michigan?


MURRAY: To dodging recent questions about who she believes won Michigan in 2020, a state Joe Biden carried by more than 154,000 votes.

DIXON: I've talked about this at length about the 2020 election. It was unlike any election we had ever seen, obviously, because of the pandemic. But, in Michigan, there were some things that happened in Michigan that didn't happen in other states, which are very concerning.

JOHN YOB, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST: I think she's giving lip service to President Trump and his supporters on those issues, but only when truly pushed.

MURRAY: After a prolonged primary that saw a handful of candidates disqualified from the ballot, and another arrested for his alleged participation in the Capitol riot, Republican political strategist John Yob says Trump's 11th hour endorsement is rankling some of his biggest backers.

YOB: His supporters are a bit dazed and confused as to what to do in the future now that their leader has sided with the establishment.

MURRAY: Republican activists here have rallied behind trump-loving election deniers like Kristina Karamo for secretary of state.


MURRAY: And Reporter: Matthew DePerno for attorney general.

MATTHEW DEPERNO (R), MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL CANDIDATE: And we proved how fraud occurred in this state.

MURRAY: Now Dixon's opponents are slamming her for dancing around 2020.

RINKE: She got an endorsement and within 48 hours, when she was asked on national TV if the election was stolen, she changed her mind.

MURRAY: Kevin Rinke accepts Biden as president, but says there were irregularities in 2020. Garrett Soldano is doubling down on election falsehoods and all things Trump.

SOLDANO: The election, in my humble opinion, as stollen. I'm not even endorsed by President Trump and I still have his back. And even though, sir, you didn't endorse me, you're still my president.

MURRAY: And Ryan Kelley, who pleaded not guilty to charges for his alleged participation in the January 6th riot, is using his arrest as a campaign rallying cry.

RYAN KELLEY (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I got arrested. I got kicked off Airbnb.

MURRAY: As for Dixon, she's shrugging off the deluge of criticism and looking ahead to November.

DIXON: My Democrat opponents actually have a whole thing - a whole list of reasons they hate me because of the election, right? So, I guess it's just a campaign tactic.


MURRAY: Now, Tudor Dixon was just here casting her ballot today with her four daughters by her side. She says she feels confident about today, but, of course, she wants everyone to turn out and vote. She also dodged yet again the question about who she believes won the election in 2020. She said it's not an appropriate question for today.


SCIUTTO: People still can't answer that question almost two years later.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Voters in Kansas will be the first in the nation to cast a ballot on abortion rights today. A ballot measure asked voters there to decide whether they want to remove abortion protection from the state's constitution. If it passes, the state's conservative legislature can push ahead with strict abortion regulations. If it fails, lawmakers would be barred from imposing new restrictions. Abortion in Kansas currently legal up to 22 weeks.

Joining me now is Katie Bernard, a statehouse reporter for the "Kansas City Star."

Katie, thanks for joining me this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, first of all, if this amendment passes, does that open Kansas, does that open the door for Kansas to ban all abortions?

BERNARD: It absolutely does. The individuals campaigning for the amendment have been very coy about whether that is what they plan to pursue, and Republican lawmakers have fallen in with that messaging and have generally avoided questions about whether they want to ban abortion and exactly what that law would look like.

[09:35:04] But what we do know is we have a super majority Republican legislature that has, up until the 2019 Supreme Court ruling, barred them from making more restrictions to abortion, has consistently been on the forefront of abortion restrictions in the United States. And we know that individuals like our senate president have said that they personally would like to see Kansas continue down that path.

SCIUTTO: OK. Typically, referenda like this would be on the ballot in the general election, in the fall, rather than in a primary when turnout is lower. Why is that happening there?

BERNARD: So, when this goes on the ballot is entirely up to the lawmakers who vote to put it on the ballot where it goes. It was likely a strategic choice to place it on the August ballot. When this was voted on last year, the argument was this gets on the ballot sooner. This is an urgent issue that needs to be delt with. But the reality is, in Kansas, Republicans turn out in primaries at far higher rates than Democrats and definitely higher rates than independents. So this makes it a more favorable election for something like this to pass and it all will ultimately come down to turnout.

SCIUTTO: So, how are Democrats responding to that then. They know they've got a turnout problem. Or, I should say, folks who support abortion rights. Are they attempting to boost turnout to match what is expected to be higher Republican turnout in the primary?

BERNARD: Absolutely. The main group campaigning on behalf of this named itself Kansas Constitutional Freedom. It took a really deliberate tactic not just appealing to Democrats, but also moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters. And most of the efforts in the last couple weeks have been around this idea of getting out the vote. Already we're seeing that begin to pay off. Early voting numbers at this point shows a three times higher turnout rate in advance voting than we saw in 2018.

SCIUTTO: Katie Bernard, thanks so much for walking us through it.

BERNARD: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to arrive in Taiwan today. China keeps making warnings. We'll give you their latest warning about the visit coming up.



SCIUTTO: This morning, China is stoking tensions in Asia ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's expected arrival in Taiwan. She would be the highest ranking U.S. official to meet with Taiwanese officials in 25 years.

And the U.S. and China have been exchanging harsh words. China says America will pay the price for undermining China's sovereignty. U.S. officials say China should think very carefully about escalating tensions. Joining me now to discuss is Bonny Lin. She's a senior fellow for

Asian security, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bonny Lin, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, there's a clear imbalance here, right, because China will make claims all over Asia for land claimed by other countries, you look at the South China Sea and elsewhere, and certainly not tolerate any international criticism of those moves. So now you have the House speaker going to Taiwan. There have been multiple congressional delegations there in the past. Is this visit different, in your view, and are China's resulting complaints somehow justified?

LIN: So, from China's perspective, this visit is different for a couple of things. First, as you mentioned, this is the first speaker visit in 25 years. But the difference between Speaker Pelosi's visit is -- from the Chinese perspective is that she is of the same party as President Biden, but when Speaker Gingrich went, he was a Republican and he went under President Clinton. So, from China's perspective, they're putting all of this together and viewing this as much more escalatory.

I would also note that when Speaker Gingrich went to Taiwan, he went first to China, and then he went to Japan and then he went to Taiwan.

SCIUTTO: China is making a lot of threats here. In the last 24 hours they have flown their military jets very close to Taiwan's air space. And they've used a lot of very incendiary rhetoric, but, frankly, not the first time we've heard phrases like, if you play with fire, you will get burned.

Is there something particular about these latest threats that folks at home should take with increased concern?

LIN: Yes. So, one of the difficulties of parsing through Chinese rhetoric is, as you mentioned, it's just more and more strong these days. So, as we look at the Chinese, I would point out two things that we just saw today. One is Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi released an unusually harsh statement on the Chinese foreign ministry website saying that the United States has not kept our promise on Taiwan.

At the same time, we saw Chinese foreign person -- foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin (ph), speak to the press conference also remarking -- criticizing the United States. The last time she spoke to the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs conference was when Russia invaded Ukraine, February 23rd and 24th. And that's not lost on Chinese citizens as they look at this.

But, more importantly, as you mentioned, there's just a range of military activities that we're seeing and we're also seeing, in addition to military activities, that China's Fujian province has canceled flights from a number of airports, create - potentially creating this space for its military aircraft to engage in more operations.


SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this because the U.S. and western concern about Taiwan has grown following Russia's invasion of Ukraine that China might make a similar move on Taiwan. And we've seen a number of steps since then, military aid, other congressional delegations visiting Taiwan to show support.

Does this trip show support that helps avert, to some degree, a Chinese invasion, or do you think it does the opposite here?

LIN: Well, I think one thing is relatively certain is China is not going to invade Taiwan now because of Pelosi's visit. And I think really we have to observe how China is going to act. If they're - that they're likely to escalate significantly, which it does seem to be - we are seeing some signs of that. It will depend on how the United States responds and how Taiwan responds. If we provide a relatively firm response and show support to Taiwan, that could discourage China from larger military operations in the future.

On the other hand, if China responds significantly and we don't provide strong enough support for Taiwan or clear signs to support Taiwan, it could weaken the belief within Taiwan that we are there to support them. And it could spend various different types of messages.

So I would just say, at the end of the day, we need to see how things play out.

SCIUTTO: We will be watching closely. That visit possibly coming up in the next hour.

Bonny Lin, thanks so much for joining me.

LIN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Democrats' big climate and healthcare and tax package gets a boost from more than 150 top economists. Why they say the bill can actually help fight inflation. They crunch the numbers. We'll take a look coming up.



SCIUTTO: First on CNN, a group of leading economists is giving the Democrats' climate and health care package a big boost saying it will actually reduce inflation, lower prices for American consumers. And Inflation Reduction Act, as it is known, negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin includes measures to cut health care costs, also fight climate change, also include some tax code reforms. Democrats trying to push through the package with inflation in this country still at a 40-year high.

CNN's Melanie Zanona live on Capitol Hill.

Melanie, Republicans have called this an inflation boosting package. The economists say otherwise.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right, right. I mean, Jim, right now all eyes are still on Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat from Arizona. She is the remaining question mark in the Democratic whip count. But she is keeping her cards close to the vest. And so, as a result, she's facing immense pressure from all sides. You have Republicans, including John Thune, who said they've been lobbying her to oppose the bill. They've been trying to appeal to her known aversion to tax increases. They've been trying to play up what they say will lead to an increase in taxes and inflation.

But then, on the other side, you have Joe Manchin, also a centrists Democrat, trying to sell Sinema on the other popular provisions that she is a known fan of, like lowering prescription drug prices. But, like I said, she is keeping her cards close to the vest and she is not planning to reveal her position until after the Senate parliamentarian makes its ruling. That ruling will determine whether the package complies with certain budgetary rules that are required in order for Democrats to use this special process where they could only pass it on party line votes. They don't need Republican help.

But that is not unclear -- it's not clear when that is going to come out. That could be awhile. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is promising to push ahead with at least starting the vote process at the end of the week regardless of when that ruling comes out.

So, it just shows how eager and anxious Democrats are to notch this win before they head home for the August recess back to their districts.


SCIUTTO: We'll see.

Melanie Zanona, thanks very much.

Well, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security is defending himself from criticism over the investigation into those missing Secret Service text messages. Key House Democrats have called for the inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, to recuse himself from that probe. A CNN exclusive report showed that investigators knew for more than a year that the texts were missing.

CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild's been covering it and she joins us now.

So, I mean, do they have an answer for why they didn't look into this stuff?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what House Democrats want to know.


WILD: So, outwardly, we don't yet have an answer because, at this point, the on the record statements from the DHS IG are, look, this is an ongoing investigation. We can't talk about it.

However, according to an internal email obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN, Cuffari, is defending himself to his employees, calling this an onslaught of meritless criticism.

House Democrats, though, want to know more. They're asking for communications and transcribed interviews with top officials at that office.

House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson wrote to the inspector general Monday and they are leveling very serious accusations at Cuffari, saying, frankly, they're concerned about a coverup by the IG's office as they investigated the missing Secret Service text messages.

Here's a quote from that letter. The committees have obtained new evidence that your office may have secretly abandoned efforts to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago. These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively perform your duties as inspector general.


One piece of evidence that was first reported on by CNN, and prompted a portion of this letter, was an email from a top DHS IG official saying to a liaison at the Department of Homeland Security that the OIG was no longer seeking text messages. That was in July of 2021. And House Democrats are saying that this was a secret because when Cuffari went to The Hill with his complaints in July of 2022, he did not tell them about that.

Further, the letter accuses that same official who wrote that July 2021 email of changing key language in a memo. According to this letter, he wrote in -- he originally wanted to write a memo that would have said text messages were missing, that agencies weren't giving up crucial information. However, that language was later changed to suggest that agencies within DHS were mostly cooperating. And rather than stone-walling efforts to get crucial information, Jim, the changed language indicated that they were just looking for clarifying information, just a couple of more boxes they wanted to check.

SCIUTTO: They changed the memo.

Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

Still ahead, residents are still trapped in that flooding in eastern Kentucky. The rain is finally relenting. Governor Andy Beshear is warning, though, another threat's on its way. Just a devastated area there. I'm going to speak with him just ahead.