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Gov. Greg Abbott's Stance on IVF; Republicans Grapple with IVF Ruling; Thune Endorses Trump; Biggest Problem for Democrats; Biden Communication to Voters. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 06:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a live look at Capitol Hill this morning. Good morning. Thanks for waking up with us. I'm Kasie Hunt, here in Washington.

Republicans are still grappling with the fallout from Alabama's Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are people, leading multiple fertility clinics to stop offering IVF treatments in Alabama.

Donald Trump, over the weekend, trying to give Republicans some cover on the issue.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious little beautiful baby. I support it.


HUNT: But that does not mean that Republicans aren't struggling to talk about it.

Here was Texas Governor Greg Abbott with our Dana Bash yesterday.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Are you saying that families in Texas who are using IVF, have extra embryo that are frozen, do not need to worry?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Well, so you raise fact questions that are complex, that I simply don't know the answer to. Let me give you a couple of examples, and that is, I have no idea mathematically the number of frozen embryos. Is it - is it one, ten, 100, 1,000? Things like that matter.

These are very complex issues where I'm not sure everybody has really thought about what all the potential problems are. And as -- as a result, no one really knows what the potential answers are.


HUNT: OK. Let's bring in CNN anchor and chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana -


HUNT: Thank you so much for coming in this morning.

BASH: Congratulations.

HUNT: Thank you. We're thrilled to - we're thrilled to have you.

BASH: Great to be here.

HUNT: And, you know, I watched this interview with great interest yesterday. He seemed a little surprised by a question that I feel like was a question that was clearly on the minds of so many voters that was going to be asked. What did you hear in that answer from Governor Abbott? Because while, yes, there are certainly complexities to how we talk about this issue, being able to say in a straightforward way IVF should be available, clearly what Republican, you know, leaders think they need to be saying to win elections. What were your takeaways from what he said?

BASH: It's what they need to be saying to win elections nationally, maybe not so much in Texas. I mean one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to Governor Abbott about it, not - it's just because it is a national discussion, but because of the Texas abortion laws. And they're very strict. And that has become a national issue. We've seen a couple of very high-profile -- more than a couple of very high- profile challenges to the abortion laws in Texas. And so, you know, the likely expected question out of that, given the discussion about IVF, is, well, what about the embryos and what do you consider the embryos?

And I think that there is some grace for - for people who are now thinking about these frozen embryos and trying to figure out kind of what to do about it. I mean you and I have talked about this. We've been hearing about it on the air. But when it comes to policy -

HUNT: Right.

BASH: It -- it is, I guess, a little bit surprising that he didn't come in and that there - there isn't more of a discussion beforehand about what to do, but it does -- it does show how incredibly complicated this is, not just, Kasie, as a policy issue, as a human issue, as a family issue, but as a political issue.

HUNT: Yes, I mean, you can - you could almost see him - you know, I think the thing for - you know, I don't think I've ever said this in public, but, you know, I had a personal experience with IVF. I have frozen embryos. And when he starts to talk about numbers, like, oh, it matters if there are thousands of -- for every family, for every mother and father for whom - that they're in that situation, the number -- the ones that they have, I mean, sure, every -- we - we know better than anyone that a frozen embryo is not a baby, but also it represents -- I mean there's real grief when you lose them. What do you think elected leaders need to do in terms of thinking about how they talk about this issue in that human way that you say?

BASH: Yes. First of, all, yes, I - it's - it's amazing that you talk about it because a lot of people -- I also -

HUNT: Haven't been willing to until now.

BASH: Yes. And I also went through IVF. I wasn't one of the lucky ones after years that actually had an extra embryo.


And I do think about, well, what if I did. I mean I had one that survived, and that's my son. And what if I did. And it is - and it is really, really hard. And it's complicated.

You know, I was reading, and I'm going to - and I'm embarrassed because I can't remember the name of the - of the author of this essay in "The Washington Post." But the way that she framed it was that an embryo is hope.

HUNT: Yes.

BASH: Is, embryo is the hope of a child. And it is not an actual child yet. And I think that that was really smart and particularly for parents.

HUNT: Yes.

BASH: Never mind the policy and the politics, but just for parents, the way that they look at it.

But this -- the one thing that Abbott said, Kasie, was that we haven't really thought about it. It's new. Obviously, IVF is not new. It's been around for decades and decades and decades. Like almost half a century.

What is new is that it wasn't an issue before Roe was overturned.

HUNT: Right.

BASH: And it wasn't something that they could think about, or that they had to think about before Roe was overturned. And I've seen some people say, well, you know, Roe and IVF, they're not related. They absolutely are related for this issue.

HUNT: Right.

BASH: Because Alabama wouldn't have been able to do what they did, I don't believe, without it going to the supreme court, without Roe being overturned.

HUNT: Right. Exactly.

All right, Dana's going to stay with us.

And we are also joined now by this wonderful panel. Audie Cornish is CNN anchor and host of "THE ASSIGNMENT WITH AUDIE CORNISH." We have Republican strategist, former communications adviser for Senator Tim Scott's presidential campaign, Matt Gorman. And CNN political commentator, former White House senior policy adviser, Ashley Allison.

Thank you all for being with us this morning.

Audie, let me just bring you into this conversation.

There's the --

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND HOST, "THE ASSIGNMENT WITH AUDIE CORNISH": I love that you asked that question, by the way, of him. I think that was -

BASH: Which one?

CORNISH: Just the - like, where are you going with this, right?

BASH: Yes. Right. Because every state is going to have to deal with this question now.

CORNISH: Where they're going, we think probably is fetal personhood, which is fundamentally this concept that you can be held liable for crimes committed against a child, and that definition is changing as were seeing in real time.

The minute that Republicans caught the car with the dog - caught - the dog caught the car, you were going to have to get into the world of enforcement. And enforcement is where the people are really seeing what it means to live in a world in which these laws have changed women have seen it in this first year. Now, IVF clinics, et cetera, the doctors who administer that.

And IVF isn't really covered by insurance the way many people would like. A lot of the people who get it do have the means to get it, which means you're antagonizing a world of voters who are many women, many wealthy, many vote. And it's going to be a very different dynamic for, I think, a party that's actively trying to maintain or grab control of like a suburban woman voter.

HUNT: Yes, well, I mean, that's the Republican's struggle (ph). And I think we should underscore, right, the reason these clinics are shutting down IVF in the wake of this ruling is because they are afraid of two things. One being criminally prosecuted, right, to your point. And, two, facing massive punitive financial damages, which I would argue, you know, it's -- there should be circumstances where people can be - can hold these clinics accountable for doing something like, in this case, the couple - the couple's embryos were destroyed.

BASH: Yes.

HUNT: But, of course, when the answer is, well, its wrongful death, that's a much different situation than just providing damages.

Matt, let me bring you into this conversation. The NRSC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is trying to advise Republicans on how to talk about this. And they've got a couple of bullet points that I think we can put up on the screen there.

One, they say that candidates should express support for IVF. Two, they should oppose restrictions on IVF. And, three, they should campaign on increasing access to IVF.

And, again, this all only exists because Roe versus Wade was overturned.

What did you make - what was your assessment of how Abbott answered that question, and what do you think Republicans need to be doing?

MATT GORMAN, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS ADVISOR TO SEN. TIM SCOTT'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: A couple things on that. Number one, when I saw that memo sitting from -- at - at a party committee like that, I recognize how big of a deal issuing that memo is, and doing it openly. We would do those on occasion, not very often, and they would often be not released to the press. We wouldn't want that out there. But I think doing it publicly, quickly and very simply, there wasn't a lot of complexity, contrast with the Abbott answer, in exactly what was in that memo. I think that's talked about how much Republicans, as a party, are spooked when it comes to having to talk about kind of the complexities of this.

And I think when you -- when you talk with the Abbott clip, the short answer is the right answer and it's the easiest stance. The more you try to get in ins and outs, you are just talking yourself into a wall here and you're not I helping yourself. And so I think that's why contrast the Abbott answer with what the NRSC did, it's night and day.

HUNT: Yes.

Ashley, how do you weigh in on this? I mean this, obviously, is a big part. It's one portion of this massive debate about abortion that Democrats are going to be focusing on for the next nine months.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, when Roe fell, and even before Roe fell, we were nervous.


You know, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, that -- that was real -- the reality that that seat was going to go to a conservative justice and most likely the fall of Roe would come was a precursor that happened, you know, a year-and-a-half before it actually happened. And then when Roe fell, reproductive justice and reproductive freedom, rights advocates said that this is just the beginning. It will be a slippery, slippery slope to go into all forms of fertility and reproductive freedom.

And so now we see, to Dana's point, they caught the car. So, go ahead and ride in it. And go to the destination that you want and let voters be very clear on what your destination is because you can put a memo out, but how will you actually govern? It's one thing to say something to get elected, but is that how you actually feel about the issue? And when you -- or if you get elected and you get the House and you get the Senate and you get the White House, what -- where does IVF stand then?

BASH: And, again, it is -- forgetting me, Kasie -

HUNT: No, no, please.

BASH: But it is a - it is a state issue now. That's what Roe did. And that's why the Governor Abbotts of the world and all other governors are having to answer this question because they are the people who aren't just going to say what's on the NRSC memo or the RGA memo, but actually make it the law of the land for the people in their states.

HUNT: Yes, for sure.

So, speaking of abortion, one of the top messengers for Democrats on this is Governor Gretchen Whitmer. And you also talked to her yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION." I actually - I want to kind of pull in a different topic here because we're a day out from the Michigan primary. The Republican side, you know, Donald Trump's on a glide path there. It's also kind of a mess internally in Michigan.

I want to set that aside for a second because what's going on with Democrats is really interesting there because Rashida Tlaib, you know, Palestinian American, has come out and said that people should vote uncommitted in the primary. And you asked Governor Whitmer over the weekend about that. Let's watch that.


GOV. Gretchen WHITMER (D-MI): I'm not sure what were going to see on Tuesday to tell you the truth. I know that we've got this - this primary, and we will see differences of opinion. I just want to make the case though that it's important not to lose sight of the fact that any vote that's not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term.


HUNT: What - what did you make of that answer? I mean it's a - it's a big test day for her too.

BASH: It is. That - the - she was honest. They don't know. They don't know how big the uncommitted vote will be, which means they don't know how big the protest vote against the incumbent Democratic president by members of his own party will be. And they're nervous about it. She said that on camera, on the record. I've heard even more concerns privately from Democrats in Michigan.

And, of course, it is a - it's a short-term thing. They're trying to get President Biden's attention. But it is a long-term thing because he needs to win re-election in Michigan to win the White House back.

CORNISH: I think he does. It's hard to tell if it's going to be a short-term thing. I think one thing I want to acknowledge is that Rashida Tlaib actually had pretty outstanding fundraising numbers the last quarter. Ashley could probably talk about that as well. So, even though everyone thought, oh, everyone in the squad is going to be punished because of their position on Israel and a ceasefire, they actually do have support from some voters. And those are the same voters who are going to say, look to the Middle East.

Look, I actually think what's going on in the Middle East is so dire, right, they're using the term "genocide Joe," that this election doesn't matter to me because I feel I have a higher value at work. That is something Democrats have not figured out how to address, right, because that's not a political thing. That's really kind of a fundamental values thing. And they have to find that language to talk to those voters. And I hear someone who says, don't know, don't have it, let's see.

HUNT: Ashley, you were invoked (ph).

ALLISON: So, I think that the most important thing a voter can do is vote how they believe and to vote their values. And I think people get to do that in -- on Tuesday.

I actually don't know what is going to happen. I remember talking to voters in Dearborn in 2020 around the election, around tough issues, and folks wanting to have a commitment that this community would not be left behind in this Biden administration. That's the personal component of just looking at it and being able to go into a voting booth and vote where your - where your heart is and how you feel like your community is being impacted.

On a political side, you know, if you're running a campaign, it is really hard to get a voter to do one thing in February and then change their thinking in nine months to do something in November. And so it is a risk. I know they are saying this is a primary approach, but changing a voters' behavior from, I'm not with this guy at all, to, I'm going to vote with him, is really, really hard. And that is why Democrats are nervous about what could happen on Tuesday.

GORMAN: Remember, they're still voting in a Democratic primary. It's not like they're personally sitting home.


I think it's one thing to pound your fist in late February when it's Trump and Biden in late October, early November, and it's a clear choice. I -- even I have a hard time saying these guys are going to stay home personally.

CORNISH: Also the context matters, right? We don't know what will be going on in Gaza at that time. I think that is a huge question mark that would affect this question.

HUNT: Right, which is why, of course, we've seen this reporting that Biden has been basically telling Netanyahu, I don't have -- I don't have the stomach for a year of this war.

All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you.

HUNT: I really appreciate you being here for that.

BASH: Thank you. It's great to be.

HUNT: Hopefully we'll see you other Mondays after all of your great interviews on "STATE OF THE UNION."

Audie, Matt and Allison - Ashley Allison are staying with us.

Ahead here, making his case for a second term. How President Biden should be talking to voters.

Plus, "Ask Axe Anything." David Axelrod joins us with our brand new feature, up next.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, Tim, honey, don't let him turn you into somebody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys, I am a U.S. senator, and I will never ever compromise my integrity for Donald Trump. But I might if he made me vice president. Hey.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And live from New York, it's Saturday night.


HUNT: All right, in the 36 hours since "SNL" ran that cold open, another Republican senator who has previously said that Trump is a loser for the party has fallen in line. Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who supported Senator Tim Scott in the race for president, endorsed Trump yesterday. Our panel is back and we're joined now by the one and only David Axelrod, who has graciously agreed to let us "Ask Axe Anything," within reason, of course. There's a little asterisk there.

Axe, thank you so much for being here.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, you're the only person I'd get up this early for, Kasie. So, happy to be with you.

HUNT: It means the world. We're thrilled to have you.

Let me just start with this Thune endorsement because, of the things that Thune has been saying about what Trump would mean for the party, he has been saying that with Trump Republicans lose elections. He previously said his "message is going to have to appeal to independent voters and moderate Republicans."

What do you see in Thune's decision here? I think I should also add, he does potentially want to be the next Republican leader in the Senate.

AXELROD: Yes. Right. He's the third of the three leading candidates for that role to fall to Trump.

Listen, he's just repeating the Nikki Haley message. And we can see how successful that has been. You know, it only goes so far. So, I think Thune is just bowing to the -- to the inevitable. He knows Trump's going to be the nominee. He knows if he wants to be the leader in the Senate that he's going to have to co-exist with Trump and the Trump supporters in the Senate, unless Trump falls away after this next election. So, I - I'm sure he didn't do it with great enthusiasm, but he had to do it, and he did it, which tells you where we are in this election.

HUNT: Yes, it sure does.

All right, Axe, so I want to turn to our - the panel has submitted their "Ask Axe Anything" queries, and we'll stick with the Republican Party at the outset here.

Matt Gorman wants to know, "if you're advising Nikki Haley right now, what are you telling her?"

AXELROD: I'm telling her, boss, we've got a week left in this campaign. We've gone 0-5. We've - we've fought valiantly. We're the last person standing. We've - but we've gone 0-5 and we could go 15 - 0-15 next week. Donald Trump will be the nominee of the Republican Party by the middle of March, and you have to figure out what -- how you want to spend this last week. And a lot of it has to do with what your future objectives are. Do you want to be the candidate in 2028? If so, do you want to lean in or lean back a little here and try and mollify these Trump forces. Maybe the best strategy is just to continue with the Cassandra (ph) strategy and say, he's not going to win and we need a winning candidate, but do it in a more muted way. Or if that's not your objective, maybe you do want to lean in and instead of just telling Trump -- telling people why Trump can't win, you tell them why he shouldn't win, which is something that she has avoided thus far.

HUNT: Yes.

AXELROD: So, we'll see what -- which way she goes.

HUNT: So, Matt, what do you think she wants in your party?

GORMAN: I think that's a good question. I mean I think it's a little bit intoxicating, right? To - it's a very human thing to suddenly stop this thing (ph) that's consumed you for the better part of, what, two years. I think it's very hard to suddenly put that car that was in drive and suddenly shift it into park. I - I - I am unsure as well. But, you're right, she's not helping herself the longer she goes now.

HUNT: Yes.

All right, Axe, let's turn to your party, because obviously Joe Biden has challenges.

And Audie Cornish wants to know, "the diploma divide, or the gender gap, which of those trends is the bigger problem for Democrats?"

AXELROD: So, here I'm going to display the professional skills that I learned over a lifetime in politics and choose both, because I think both are key to this election. Education is the greatest predictor in -- these days of a person's vote. And Democrats have done better and better with voters with a college degree. But they can't surrender voters who don't have a college degree. Joe Biden did five points better than Hillary Clinton among white, non-college voters. And that was the margin of difference in this last election.

By the same token, he all -- Democrats have been winning, particularly since the Roe verdict, on the strength of the women's vote.


And this IVF thing is going to just a turbo charge that. I think it's going to continue to be an election. And they need this gender gaps. So, I expect he's going to have an economic lane that speaks to those non-college voters, both white and non-white, and he's going to push hard on the -- on the issue of abortion rights.

HUNT: Yes.

Well, Audie, you know, you and I were talking about this over the weekend too. What is your sense, particularly -- when the point Axe sort of made on voters of color, of - of what the issue is for Democrats here. I mean we're talking a lot about what Trump said about black voters. His appeal to black men, et cetera.

CORNISH: Yes, I mean, it's one of those things where, when you put it in a Venn diagram, there is a sliver, and we -- you can say those are men of color with no college degrees, where you can have both parties saying, look, maybe -- maybe we have a chance here, or, oh, my goodness, we have to do more work here. And that's something we focus on a lot in the media. And sometimes I just want to broaden it out to say, actually, there's a broader trend line going on, especially with young men. And over time, especially, I think Democrats -- David can jump in -- are going to have to keep an eye on if they are losing ground with male voters on very fundamental issues.

AXELROD: Yes. No, I agree with that. And I - and I think this issue - you know, I don't dismiss this issue. Ashley and I, I think, were in a discussion on this the other day. I don't dismiss the issue of young black men.

HUNT: Yes.

AXELROD: And I think that's something that the Biden campaign and Democrats need to keep an eye on because I don't think it's just a, you know, statistical blip. This has been a trend line. And that's why I think, you know, there is a -- there -- there - there is an economic track that has to be pursued here as well.

HUNT: Yes.

All right, our last -- last but certainly not least, Ashley wants to know, "what do you think the best way is for Joe Biden," the candidate, the president, "to communicate with voters" himself.

AXELROD: So, Ashley, I need to -- you to clarify. Are you talking message-wise or method-wise?

ALLISON: Method.

AXELROD: Method, with a "d."

So, look, I think that Joe -- I did a podcast that's up right now with Bill Bradley and he told a great story about Joe Biden confronting one of the Russian leaders back in the early '80s and slamming his hand down on the table and saying, come on, Lexi (ph), I don't know what I can say on this show, but he said, come on Alexei (ph), don't shit a shitter.

HUNT: It is morning TV.

AXELROD: Don't shit a shitter. And, you know, that is actually Biden. I mean Biden has -- is chippy. And I think, you know, we hear that he's saying these things in fundraisers. Why isn't he saying it in public? I think what Biden needs to do is really confront Trump in a very, kind of, colloquial way and - and in ways that will go viral. So, short kind of phrases like, you know, acting like a jackass doesn't make you strong. You know things like that, that are very much Biden-esque I think well get -


AXELROD: Will get play in social media. And I would encourage - so, in that sense, I would encourage Biden to be Biden. And I think that it also shows more strength and being more in the moment.

HUNT: Yes.

AXELROD: Now, you know, it could get out of control, so you'd worry about that if you were an aide, but I think, you know, that -- that would be important.

HUNT: Ashley, very briefly, has he been doing that? We've heard more curse words, I would say, from Biden.

ALLISON: Yes, it's spicy for 6:00 a.m., but - no, I think that's the right move is to get him out on OTRs (ph) in the field, having conversations with people, saying, you know, with a voter to -- some of the lines that -- that Axe just said. My mom is watching so I'm not going to say it right now.

HUNT: Yes, that's fair.

ALLISON: But, you know, yes, it's -- but having those conversations, allowing him to have conversation and then his campaign get those conversations out on social media.

HUNT: All right, David Audie, Matt, Ashley, thank you all so much for your time today.

AXELROD: Great to be with you.

HUNT: Great to have you, Axe.

All right, before we go, I'll leave you with this. It was a wildest dream come true for a young Taylor Swift fan. Nine-year-old Scarlett Oliver is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer. She was given 12 to 18 months to live according to her step-mom, who posted on social media that Scarlet's dream was to meet Taylor Swift and also received the coveted 22 hat, which Taylor gives away at each of her shows.


And this Friday in Sydney, here's what happened.