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Former House Speaker Eric Cantor (R) On Biden-McCarthy Meet At White House As Debt Ceiling Deadline Nears; Biden Wants Passengers Compensated For Flight Delays And Cancellations; Southern Border Braces For Migrant Surge As Title $2 Expires In Two Days. Aired 7:30- 8a ET

Aired May 09, 2023 - 07:30   ET





Today, President Biden is hosting top congressional leaders to talk about the debt ceiling. Republicans are demanding spending cuts in exchange for their votes to raise the debt ceiling while Democrats insist on a clean bill with no conditions in order to prevent America from defaulting for the first time ever. The White House making it clear today's meeting is not a negotiation over the debt ceiling and that any discussion connected to the debt limit and the budget is a nonstarter.

So where do we go? Biden has been in a similar situation before when he was vice president during the 2011 debt limit standoff. You see him here in the Oval Office with then-President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, and majority leader Eric Cantor, who was a key negotiator for the Republicans. And just before that meeting here's what Cantor said.


ERIC CANTOR, (R-VA) THEN-HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: There is no question that when we left the Biden discussions there was a blueprint on the table where there could be over $2 trillion in savings. We're going to insist if we're going to vote for the debt ceiling increase to make sure that the cuts we achieve exceed the amount of the debt ceiling increase. Common ground is getting ahold of the spending situation so we can stop borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar we spend.


HARLOW: Any of that sound familiar? Well, guess what? Here to give us insight on what today's meeting at the White House could look like is former House majority leader Eric Cantor. He is currently the vice chairman and managing director at Moelis. Back then he was known as -- we had to show -- we had to show the book cover -- one of the Young Guns of Congress, along with fellow conservatives Paul Ryan and now current Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. I couldn't resist showing it.

You haven't aged. You look the same.


HARLOW: So what do you think? Thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

CANTOR: My pleasure.

HARLOW: What do you think if you were in the Oval Office today because you told The Atlantic President Biden is not the same person as Vice President Biden was?

CANTOR: Well, Poppy, the reality is this meeting that is going to occur today should have happened months ago because where we are now is probably three weeks out from what Janet Yellen had said is X-date and without any prospects for resolution. Now we're all hoping today that something positive comes out.


But what's so different this time is the posture that President Biden is taking versus the posture he took as vice president. Even President Obama, back then, said hey, we need a fiscal deal. Let's sit down and talk. That has been absent from the equation this time around.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Look, I want to be upfront with you. I have a mix of like nostalgia and cold sweats seeing you and Jeb Hensarling, and Peter Roskam at the same type of moment -- the same type of fight back in 2011.

The White House says -- and the president, I think, has alluded to the fact but aides confirmed this -- the experience of 2011 -- the dealmaking and his ability to cut that deal back in 2011 is what has driven this current --


MATTINGLY: -- position, right? They feel like you shouldn't have to go through that process. The economy shouldn't be taken to the brink. Have the fights over spending discussions.

Republicans seem to have learned a different lesson, which is we can get stuff out of this if we use it as leverage.

Which side do you think has the better read on actually happened in 2011?

CANTOR: Well, first of all, I mean, let's -- 2011 did yield savings and over the next successive years there was well over a trillion dollars in savings. And again, what the goal should be right now is to make sure that we do everything we can not to allow spending to grow more than what the economy is growing. I mean, that's, in the end, the common ground. MATTINGLY: But why do you have to use the debt limit as -- I mean, there's going to be spending talks. Maybe they don't find a way to get them done but you can put a cap still on after the debt limit is taken up to (INAUDIBLE).

CANTOR: Well, there's some -- there is -- there is a -- let's just say an inaccurate assumption here that these discussions don't take place every time. The last time, when President Trump was in office he did send secretary -- then Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin up to Capitol Hill to talk to Speaker Pelosi, who was demanding more spending in order to allow her party to come along and support a debt ceiling increase.

So it's not as if in these talks that there isn't negotiations. Of course, there is negotiations. There has always been negotiations. And that's really the inaccuracy that's being tossed around right now.

She said -- if you go back again, she said the same thing and there are successive periods of this discussion. You can go back decades and look at this.

So I just think now is the time for serious discussions about spending. For some reason or another, Washington just does not do that unless their back is against the wall.

HARLOW: And with their back against the wall in 2011, getting so close to the brink cost $1.3 trillion. So you talk about a trillion dollars in savings but just the interest paid on the borrowing went up more than that.

Look, Speaker McCarthy, as you've acknowledged, we all know has a much slimmer majority than John Boehner and you had. Do you think he can even reach the level of budget cuts you guys achieved during the administration given that -- and given the concessions he made to become speaker after 15 votes?

CANTOR: Well, first of all, let's just say the import -- and I think, Poppy, you're right, of what needs to be done. Interest costs in this country have gone up 35 percent last year. They've gone up 35 percent this year. That's a cost to all taxpayers. And that's why the urgency is what it is because if we don't do anything about the debt and deficit you're going to end up in 10 years time spending more on interest costs than you are on the defense of our country. So I just think that's what the assumption everyone needs to operate by.

But to your question about what actually can be accomplished, what's also different this time is President Biden, as well as Kevin McCarthy, have both said we're taking entitlements off the table.


CANTOR: If you can remember last time --

HARLOW: It wasn't off the table.

CANTOR: -- it was not off the table. And we all know that is outsized in terms of driving the deficit in this country, and it's the demographics and the health care entitlements that caused that. So I don't think there is going to be enough room or items on the table that are going to be able to match what the savings were last time. It doesn't mean that you can't make some progress on spending reform.

MATTINGLY: Well, you used to be in Washington and you're now in New York on Wall Street. Your firm obviously very active in the space.

The administration has long counted on outside players helping to ramp up the pressure here. You know the game.


MATTINGLY: You call CEOs and you have them come in. You call trade groups and you have them come in. You have the market react and that starts making, particularly, frontline Republicans jittery. OK, we've got to make a deal. None of that has happened.

On the market side, why has that not happened? Does everybody just assume this is going to get done?

CANTOR: Well -- I mean, there is an element of I think people in the country and here on Wall Street and elsewhere that says we've been here and done this before. It will get resolved.

MATTINGLY: Do you think that's a mistake this time?

CANTOR: So -- well, listen, I think what will move members of Congress is when they start hearing from constituents that matter. And the Obama White House unleashed the same thing on us Republicans back in 2011 and assumed -- well, Republicans -- they'll listen to CEOs -- no.


Republicans, just like Democrats -- they listen to constituents at home. And when business owners at home, when retirees at home, when veterans at home, when people relying on services at home begin to understand hey, I may lose something, they will start to call their representative and that's what will move things.

Again, we should have seen this happen two months ago. There should not have been a position taken we're not going to talk. We have a divided government in Washington. You always have to talk.

HARLOW: Quickly, on the election. You know, your defeat was such a surprise in 2014. It was the beginning of this Republican Party's shift. It became the party of Trump. Is it still the party of Trump? The polling certainly shows it.

CANTOR: Well, I don't think there's any question that Donald Trump is the most influential voice in our party right now. The polls are indicating that he is way ahead in whatever primary race develops and unfolds. So we'll just have to see what happens. No question that he has become a very prominent and the most impactful voice in the party today. HARLOW: Still.

Thank you. We appreciate it, majority leader.

CANTOR: A pleasure.

MATTINGLY: And the reason --

HARLOW: They don't call you that on Wall Street, do they?

CANTOR: It's Eric.

MATTINGLY: Also, Trump -- the reason why entitlements are no longer a front and center Republican issue.

HARLOW: That's a good point.

MATTINGLY: It's been a fascinating shift of events we'll have to watch going forward.

All right. The White House pushing for a new rule that would require airlines to compensate passengers for canceled or delayed flights. How much cash could that actually put back in your pocket?



MATTINGLY: Just weeks before the busy travel season of this summer, President Biden wants to see airlines offer more generous compensation for travelers left stranded by flight cancellations or lengthy delays when it's the airlines' fault. That all comes after widespread disruptions this past winter.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know how frustrated many of you are -- the service you get from your U.S. airlines, especially after you, the American taxpayer, stepped up in 2020 in the last administration in the early days of the pandemic to provide nearly $50 billion in assistance to keep the airline industry and its employees afloat. I get it. That's why our top priority has been to get American air travelers a better deal.


MATTINGLY: CNN's Christine Romans joins us now. All right, Romans, the administration just starting --


MATTINGLY: -- this process. What's actually next?

ROMANS: So it won't be ready by this summer, which is going to be a very busy travel season. We know it will be. But maybe by the end of the year there will be some rules and a public comment period.

The airlines are saying look, we're working hard to control the things that are within our control. "Carriers have taken responsibility for challenges within their control and continue working diligently to improve operational reliability."

A lot of the problems we've seen over the winter, for example, was weather --


ROMANS: -- and that is outside of their control.

But what the White House wants to say is look, America, we feel your pain. You feel nickel and dimed. You feel like every time you turn around there are these costs that are unfair and we're doing what we can about that.

So this goes beyond just refunds for canceled flights. We're talking about meals, hotels, taxis, rebooking fees. The president, yesterday, saying I want to see cash vouchers. I want to see airline miles.

People being paid back for their time. Your time is important. Your time matters. Your time is money. And we want the airlines to recognize that.

Airlines -- I will point out many of them already cover the cost of meals and hotels when it's something within their control -- United, Delta, Spirit. I just recently got a voucher, actually, for a delay for -- to spend the money in the airport. So they are doing this.

They want to keep your business but there are a lot of things outside of their control -- air traffic controllers in short supply. Weather is out of their control.

So I think this is really a White House trying to say on every level that it can to the American people we're trying to lower your costs, and this is just the latest way they're doing that.


MATTINGLY: That's a good message. We'll see how much effect it has in practice.

ROMANS: Well, and it -- and it's then you aren't getting -- the cost isn't passed down in higher fares anyway.

HARLOW: Added into your ticket.

ROMANS: I mean, they will pass costs along when they can.


Christine Romans, thanks so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome. HARLOW: Thank you.

The number-two Republican in the House warning the Homeland Security secretary's job is on the line as he prepares to deal with an expected influx of migrants attempting to cross into the United States after Title 42 expires Thursday. We'll talk about the politics of this border crisis.

MATTINGLY: And Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering a defiant speech to the Russian people on Victory Day as his invasion of Ukraine struggles. What he told his supporters coming up next.



MATTINGLY: Well, it's two days until the expiration of the COVID-era policy known as Title 42 that allows border authorities to quickly expel certain migrants. Local and federal authorities in border cities are already seeing an influx of migrants of as much as 400 percent in some areas.

But is the border crisis turning out to be another political football as the fate of asylum seekers -- real people -- hangs in the balance?

Joining us now to discuss are senior reporter at The Root, Jessica Washington. And, CNN political commentator and former White House communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin. I always forget your last name now.


MATTINGLY: Yes, congratulations very belatedly.

GRIFFIN: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Look, this is obviously a political issue. We're not going to act like this is all about policy here.

Your sense of things when you look at how complex this dynamic is coming up in the next 48 hours, essentially. Are people looking at this from a policy perspective, trying to find answers, or is this just entirely a political football at this point?

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: It really feels like a political football, particularly when you think about Republicans. This is a winning strategy for them, bringing up immigration. Particularly, bringing up the administration -- the Democratic administration's shortfalls. I definitely think we're talking a lot about politics and a little bit about policy.

I think there are kind of these political -- people politicize this issue as opposed to seeing it as people on the border who are trying to seek safety and seek refuge who have put everything on the line. I really think that's getting missed in a lot of this conversation. MATTINGLY: Alyssa, what's been interesting in talking to White House officials over the course of the last couple of years in my normal day job, their biggest concern has always been scenes of chaos, right? Like, they don't see immigration pop in terms of the issues that their voters care about a lot until they see scenes at the border that look catastrophic or chaotic like we saw a couple of times in their first year.

Do you feel like this resonates beyond the Republican primary where it is a huge issue, but into a general election-type atmosphere?

GRIFFIN: I think it does, especially considering the Biden administration has had to engage in lateral flights where they're not just this -- no longer just a border issue. We're having to relocate migrants within the interior of the country. That's something that's affected New York City where we are and other places around the country.

And I'm going to agree with you on this point -- it's a total political football. So in the House, right now, Republicans have put forward the Secure the Border Act. It is like to pass the House or Kevin McCarthy is probably about five votes short but I think will get there. It's not going anywhere in the Senate. This is something that is just a partisan football that for a decade each side has kind of thrown back and forth and refused to try to solve.

And I would remind folks it actually doesn't even take Title 42 to enforce border security. If we enforce laws on the books you actually can deal with border security. But the removing of it and the not enforcing it is what's going to lead to a massive migrant surge.


HARLOW: We've seen, Jessica, some, I guess, not truly bipartisan but independent now, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Thom Tillis coming together with this proposal that seems like it's not going to go anywhere.

Why is that? Why is there such a lack of support for something like that that is not -- and they admit -- a panacea but a beginning?

WASHINGTON: Yes. I think that we have a lot of issues with immigration when we talk politically. I think the issues are split between Democrats and Republicans for sure. Obviously, Sinema is in an interesting --


WASHINGTON: -- place right now. But I think it's also split --

HARLOW: This is not a border state.

WASHINGTON: Yes. I think it's also split between Democrats. I think there's a huge --

HARLOW: Yes. WASHINGTON: -- divide within the party and I think that Democrats haven't picked a coherent message. I think the idea is Democrats want a more humane way to deal with immigrants and to deal with asylum seekers, in particular. But I think the disagreement is what does a humane system look like, and I think that's where things are falling apart.

HARLOW: I think that's a great point. I mean, as you know, Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, has been very critical of the Biden White House saying, essentially, you're not even responding to this very comprehensive plan. He put forward a 13-page proposal and now he's saying, like, you're not listening.

GRIFFIN: Right. And, I mean, keep in mind that eight in 10 coming across the border are not asylum seekers. They're what we consider economic migrants.

I think on the right and the left there is a place that we could agree on prioritizing asylum seekers. People who have legitimate claims that we could rush processing and get into the country.

HARLOW: If they can even get before a judge.

GRIFFIN: If they can even get in front of a judge, which there's massive backlogs.

But when you put all these people kind of into the same boat -- I mean, you look at the scenes in El Paso. I was talking to former Congressman Will Hurd who used to represent --


GRIFFIN: -- that area. He says, I mean, it is inhumane. You have people living in squalor. It's dangerous. It's bad for the migrants who are there.

There is a heartlessness, too, to just letting people into the country without a plan once they're here.

MATTINGLY: Majority leader Steve Scalise told our colleague Mel Zanona that they are very closely watching Alejandro Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security. They have threatened during the campaign and into now that perhaps they would try and impeach him depending on how things went. It seems like they might be heading in that direction.

Why? Do you think that this is a Mayorkas problem -- his fault, his issue -- or do you think that this becomes somebody that they can just hold up and elevate from a political attack perspective?

WASHINGTON: Yes. I think it's a no-win situation for Mayorkas. I think there was no situation in which he could have appeased both Democrats and Republicans simultaneously. So I think in some ways it doesn't matter who was in this position -- it would have been a problem anyway.


GRIFFIN: That sound bite is just going to haunt him of him saying the border is secure in a congressional hearing --

HARLOW: Right.

GRIFFIN: -- several months ago.

HARLOW: Right.

GRIFFIN: I think that's what Republicans keep coming back to. At the end of the day, it is a Biden policy issue that we're dealing with. I don't know that you can just pin it purely --


GRIFFIN: -- on Sec. Mayorkas.

HARLOW: And things you --

MATTINGLY: And that's a terrible job, by the way. The Department of Homeland Secretary is --

GRIFFIN: It's a bad one.

MATTINGLY: To a man of the administration or party that's a tough job.

HARLOW: But I think the point about what -- always what you say matters but especially, in moments like that. And he has refused to say the word "crisis" -- even asked lately about it on "60 MINUTES."

You were the White House communications director. Can you speak to the importance of words and if hearing him say what it is -- what the numbers bear out would be helpful to this debate over what we do about it?

GRIFFIN: No one can honestly deny that there's not a crisis at the border. And I do get frustrated that in the Trump era, the coverage of the border was constant. It was showing what were inhumane conditions at some of the sites. I went to the Donna facility in Texas -- a number of them. It is just as bad if not worse right now.

We are saying that it is more humane to just let migrants come into the country and then live on the margins without proper care here. That is not OK, whether it's dealing with the drug issues, the human trafficking issue, or just simply people who are coming here and not taken care of in this country. It is unequivocally a crisis. It's going to get way worse once Title 42 expires.

MATTINGLY: It's going to be a lot in the next couple of weeks for everybody to grapple with --


MATTINGLY: -- and obviously, no political resolution in sight. HARLOW: For sure.

Thank you very much, Alyssa, Jessica. Good to have you both.

Exclusively on CNN, former President Donald Trump will take questions from our Kaitlan Collins and from New Hampshire Republican primary voters. That is tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here.

MATTINGLY: CNN THIS MORNING -- well, it's going to continue right now.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The Ukrainian nation has become hostage to a coup, which led to a criminal regime led by its Western masters. It has become a pawn to their cruel and selfish plans.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. We're glad you're with us this hour.

Only one tank and zero planes. Russia's annual Victory Day parade was noticeably lacking this morning, but Vladimir Putin remained defiant as his invasion of Ukraine -- invasion of Ukraine struggles.

MATTINGLY: Plus, we'll speak to a survivor of the mass shooting at the Texas outlet mall who tried to save a young girl's life with CPR.

HARLOW: Also happening today, President Biden set to meet with congressional leaders about raising the debt limit, but time is quickly running out and the economy is at stake.

Rick Scott, senator, will join us live. He's one of 43 Republican senators.