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Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) is Interviewed about Biden's Speech; Biden's State of the Union Address; Pete Buttigieg is Interviewed about Biden's Speech. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 08, 2024 - 06:30   ET



REP. RYAN ZINKE (R-MT): And going into it, I think most Americans wanted to see Joe Biden, see whether he was competent and he - he read - he read the speech. In fairness, he stayed within the margins. He didn't -- he didn't go off very. Neither did President Trump. You know, a State of the Union is criticized on every word you say.

What I was - was interested on is the content in this case. And the content was classic tax and spend. The problem is the corporations. The problem is the rich. And the spending never stopped. When you started calculating, well, we're going to pay for - let's see, we're going to pay for mortgages, we're going to have new programs, we're going to have a climate corps. It went on and on and on, trillions of dollars in spending, that's a problem when we have a $34 trillion debt. I know it was a political speech. It had those - those notes to it.

But overall, you know, I think Biden got through it. But you look at the substance of it was, it was - it was pointed towards a far left agenda. And that he's going to struggle with, I think, in the independents when they unwind exactly what was said.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I will say, I've talked to some Republicans who say that there seemed to be a sense of disappointment from some Republicans on the floor about the level of the president's performance. Would you say that that's true?

ZINKE: Well, you know, I'm one of these Americans that - that I like my president to excel. I like the country being strong. You know, I like a border. So, when the president does well, you know, I think that's in the best interests of the country.

What I -- sometimes I raise my eyebrow about the heckling. I think America just needs to take a deep breath. We can agree to disagree, but let's not be disagreeable. Let's be respectful of others. You know, we complain about people not being respected or respectful for to law enforcement, to institutions, but I think it also starts in the House, and so we have to show leadership.

HUNT: Yes, I was going to say, do you feel like most of your colleagues agree with you? ZINKE: I believe so. You know, I think America believes with me. Look,

you know, we have problems in our country. We do. And the problems are deep and we're not going to solve them on one side of the aisle. We're going to have to work together as Americans.

You know, I'm a former SEAL commander and, you know, I never asked when I was a SEAL commander who was Republican or Democrat. You know, I didn't -- I didn't care then. I don't care now. I do care whether you love the country. And I do care that we have problems or we're going to have to address.

HUNT: Yes.

So, former President Trump has all but sealed up the nominee, the Republican nomination. He, at one point in the campaign, told people who had supported Nikki Haley that they weren't welcome in the party. Do you think that that's productive or do you think he should be reaching out to those voters?

ZINKE: Well, I would say two things there of interest. One, Ron DeSantis was very hard on the president. When he waived the white flag, the president was very congenial, thanked him, was honored to get his endorsement, retired the name, and did the same thing to Mitch McConnell, who has not been -- I would say that the two have been at it for a while. I think there's an opportunity for -- to repair the relationship between Haley and the president. And I'm hoping for us -

HUNT: I mean her voters, though. Like he has said, you know, it her supporters, like, I - we don't want you basically. Does that need to evolve if he is going to win?

ZINKE: Well, tone changes a lot, right? And tone is consolidating. And what's the message on the Republican side. You know, where are we heading in the Biden administration, where are we heading in the Trump administration. And you're right, it is how to get the moderate voters back, engaged in our politics. You know, what's the direction that countries should take?

HUNT: Yes.

I -- one of the biggest policy differences right now it seems between current President Biden and the former president, Donald Trump, as they enter this race is on the question of America's role in the world, and especially the role of NATO. This was right at the top of President Biden's speech last night.

You've worn the uniform. You have served at the very highest levels. Where are you on whether or not our country should continue to be part of that military alliance?

ZINKE: Well, NATO is incredibly important for security of the west and the world. Ukraine, as I've said, that, what are the objectives and what's the plan? Look, I've been a SEAL and I've been on a lot of missions in my life, and I have. I've never been in operation where I didn't have clearly defined objectives and a plan. In Ukraine, we're $130 billion in, another $60 in ask, what's it for, what will it do and where's the end? Is it the Crimean peninsula? Is it the Donbas? Because I assume access to the Black Sea is imperative to both Russia and Ukraine. But next year are we going to be in this same situation? Are we - are we going to continue to go without clearly defined objectives and a plan.

No, I think there's a lot - there's a lot of, I think, unity in the Republican side. What does the money go for? Do we have accountability?


Is it defensive aid? Is it offensive aid? Are we going to give them strike capability, you know, unchecked and a blank check to attack Russia's heart. These are questions I think the commander in chief needs to answer.

HUNT: Former President Trump is meeting today in -- at Mar-a-Lago with the Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. Do you have any concerns about him taking that meeting? Do you think it sends the right signals to America's allies and adversaries?

ZINKE: No, but I think one should be cautious that he does not - he's not president. He's a former president. So, I have no problem with discussions, you know, about what's going on in Hungary, what's going on in Europe, from those that live it every day. But he is - he is not the president. He's a former president. And any official capacity, I think the tone should be reflected.

HUNT: When you say, no, that it might not send the right message, what kind of message do you think it does send, even as the former president?

ZINKE: Well, certainly the president has a say. A former president. He has a lot of influence. His policies are starkly different than President Biden's.

HUNT: But Orban himself. I mean the meeting with Orban, someone who has clearly taken an authoritarian bend.

ZINKE: Yes, I - well, I think - I think it doesn't do any harm. I think it doesn't particularly help one side, the president or the other. But it does show that the president, Trump, does have standing in countries across the world. And people are looking at the election very, very closely. Will it be another Trump administration. The winds are in his favor. And or will we have a continuing of Biden. So, you know, having the meeting itself, I don't see any problem with it. I hope he golfs.

HUNT: Fair enough.

Would you serve in another Trump administration?

ZINKE: Well, if asked, it's hard to say no to the president. But also I think there's three tasks from the Republican side. One is, we have to hold the House. Two, we have to advance in the Senate. And, three, we - we need Donald J. Trump as president. Those three things are tasked. And we'll see as it progresses. We've got to hold the House, which is a challenge. And the House has to do their job.

HUNT: Right. In the meantime, we'll be watching to see if President Trump golfs with Viktor Orban today.

ZINKE: We will see that. You know, I understated he's a very good golf. I don't golf myself. That's why I've never golfed with the president. I don't want to be the one that is in his mind to hack (ph). So.

HUNT: OK. Congressman Zenke, thank you very much for spending some time with us today.

ZINKE: A pleasure.

HUNT: I really appreciate it.

ZINKE: God bless.

HUNT: All right, just ahead, what President Biden had to say about a big issue for voters, reproductive rights.




STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Now coming into tonight's speech, critic said "Biden's State of the Union challenge was to dispel old man vibes."

Really? In Congress?


HUNT: All right. So, did the president do anything last night to dispel those concerns? Our panel is here, Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke. He's still with us. Also, former senior adviser to the Biden 2020 campaign, Alencia Johnson joins our panel. We also have Sarah Longwell and Evan Osnos back with us as well.

So, we spent a lot of time off the top here talking about, I mean, the -- its there are f words. I mean Biden uses the actual f word in private, but, you know, fervent, fiery, feisty, right? I mean that's kind of the top line here.

Evan, what is your sense of what this does for him big picture?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": You know, I think this was sort of proof of concept. The whole thing that's been lurking in the background was, if joe Biden gets out there with energy, with vigor, it -- can he persuade wary Democrats? Can he persuade wary independence? Are their people out there who will say, you know what, OK, I get it, he is an old man. He doesn't deny that fact. What they wanted to see was, does he have the umph to go up against a pretty complicated room. You've got a lot of people there looking to interrupt him, looking to doubt him. And I think the verdict is in this morning. This went well for him.

HUNT: Congressman, Sarah was noting earlier that there seemed to be some Republicans that were disappointed that the performance for the president wasn't a little rougher around the edges. Is that what you're hearing from your colleagues?

ZINKE: Well, you know, I'm an American. I want my president to excel.

HUNT: Fair enough.

ZINKE: So, you know, the bar was set low and a lot of Americans were looking at, is he competent because of the recent gaffes, and he made it over the bar. And then what was interesting is, I also tuned into the content and the content was very focused on the Democratic base. There was a lot of tax in there for corporations to the filthy rich people to, hear comes the spending freeze. And, you know, we're dealing with inflation now.

HUNT: Sure.

ZINKE: I don't think you could do a calculator how much spending he talked about last night. So, it was tax and spend, but it went to the base of the Democratic Party. And I think on that message, that's what they wanted to hear.

HUNT: All right, so, speaking of base the Democratic Party, I want to show a little bit about - of what the president had to say last night about reproductive rights because this is an issue that clearly is going to be at the center, honestly, of all of their campaign efforts in 2024.

Watch the president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of you in this chamber, and my predecessor, are promising to pass a national ban on reproductive freedom. My God, what freedom else would you take away? Look, its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court majority wrote the following, and with all due respect, justices, women are not without electoral -- electoral power -- excuse me, electoral or political power. You're about to realize just how much (INAUDIBLE).


HUNT: So, Alencia Johnson, he's right about that.


HUNT: We've seen the power of women in the recent midterm elections, both on this issue and also in terms of his predecessor, right, former President Donald Trump, and the fact that, you know, increasingly the divisions inside our parties, honestly between women and men, as much as between education levels, et cetera. What did you hear on this particular issue from the president last night? JOHNSON: I mean he fully understands that this is the winning issue

for Democrats. It's winning in red states when it's directly put before voters on ballot initiatives. It's winning in very close races. This is going to be the issue that gets Democrats over the line. And while as scary as it is for women who are seeking health care, right, they are unable to get this health care, it has been the political gift from conservatives to Democrats because it is the one thing that is moving our - not only our base, but independents and also a lot of Republicans think that the conservative justices went entirely too far.


HUNT: Sarah, how do you think this lines up because, I mean, on the flip side -- and actually let me bring in also sort of a strength and weakness debate here, right? So, we've got abortion, where Democrats clearly feel like they're on winning ground. Immigration is an issue, right, where they really struggle. And there was an extended back-and- forth that the president had. We really saw kind of his first high profile attempt to hang the failure of the border bill around Republicans, and Jim -- James Lankford was invoked and seen on screen.

Let's take a look at that exchange.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The result was a bipartisan bill with the toughest set of border security reforms we've ever seen.

Oh, you don't think so? Oh, you don't like that bill, huh? That conservatives got together and said was a good bill? I'll be darned. That's amazing.

That bipartisan bill would hire 1,500 more security agents and officers, 100 more immigration judges to help tackle the backload of 2 million cases, 4,300 more asylum officers and new policies so they can resolve cases in six months instead of six years now. What are you against?


HUNT: Right there, I almost want to just capture that and like show it over and over again.

SARAH LONGWELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND PUBLISHER, "THE BULWARK": Because he said that's true. And this is the thing, Republicans really hung out Lankford to dry. There was a bunch of conservatives who worked on this bill, who tried in good faith to get real border security, to negotiate aid for Ukraine through this. And because Donald Trump told them to bag it, to scuttle it, they didn't want to give them the political win, they let the whole thing go.

And I thought that Biden going on offense about this last night was one of his best moments because they - that is a huge vulnerability. I mean immigration is a real vulnerability for Biden with swing voters. And he has got to be able to tell the story to voters that I tried to do something about this and Republicans would not let me. That is how he defuses that great vulnerability. And I thought he did a good job of that last night.

HUNT: Yes.

Congressman, I mean you're here saying, you know, I hope the president does well. Would you argue that, you know -- I mean, how do you feel about this, the fact that there was a chance here to do something real on the border.

ZINKE: Well, look, let's look at the bill, all right. You allowed 1.8 million illegals in this country before he took action. It codified catch and release. It didn't fix it, you know, asylum. It wasn't an immigration bill. And let's be clear, the president has full authority - the president has full authority to shut down the border now.

HUNT: I mean, with all due respect, it was one of the most conservative immigration bills.

ZINKE: In law, he has full authority. He has chosen not to.

HUNT: He - there are certainly steps that he could take by executive action that he hasn't.

Evan, can you jump in here in terms of how -


HUNT: I mean this was -- there were some serious concessions from Democrats to Republicans in this.

OSNOS: Yes, a clear sign that Democrats made some concessions is that a lot of immigration advocates didn't like the bill.

James Lankford, let's remember, was endorsed by one Donald Trump for re-election and he was described as strong on the border. He was put in to do those negotiations. I think he was in good faith doing that process, thinking he could come up with something that the president could sign. As he described it later, it felt like being driven over by a bus and then having the bus backup over you again.

So, we saw him there today -- or last night saying, that's true. And I think that -- there's a reason why the border patrol union endorsed this bill too. They need these resources. I think a lot of Americans are going to be asking over the next few months, look, there is a bill on the table. Why can't we get this thing done?

HUNT: Yes.

ZINKE: Well, there is a built a table, it's called HR-2. And the way the process is, the House passed it. The Senate is supposed to pick it up and put amendments on it. And that's the way the process works.

HUNT: Sure.

ZINKE: When a Senate concocts their own, again, it codifies catch and release. We all know that's a mistake. You've got to process in third countries. You can't allow 1.5 million people in this country before you take action.

HUNT: The reality is, though, is you are correct about the actual process in the House, but this bill was the most realistic possibility to actually make a law because of the - the way our system is set up.

Jump in.

LONGWELL: Yes. When was the last time you saw the opportunity to pass an immigration reform this substantial?

ZINKE: By substantial you mean codify catch and release?

LONGWELL: You mean taking steps forward. No, I mean taking steps forward on immigration. I mean funding judges.

ZINKE: Well, if - if - if you believe, number one, what you - what you do is you incentivize illegal crossings. There are hundreds of thousands of people that have processed their - their application, that have been vetted, that are waiting to come in this country that would be value-added. We should focus on people that do it by the law and not allow -

LONGWELL: Do you believe there's chaos at the border right now?

ZINKE: There is no border. So, chaos - there is no borders.

LONGWELL: So, this - does this improve it? Would this bill have improved it substantially?

HUNT: It's a good question.

ZINKE: No, I don't believe so. I think it would have codified catch and release. It give legal services to illegal -

LONGWELL: That sounds more like a talking point than an actual, substantive critique of -

ZINKE: Well, I -- I would suggest you read the bill.

HUNT: So -

ZINKE: It's that simple. Read the bill and then come back and tell me how 1.8 million people crossing the border before you take action is a good deal.


HUNT: All right.

ZINKE: That's more than the population of Montana and Wyoming combined.

HUNT: All right.

ZINKE: A very conservative senator thought it was a good deal.

HUNT: Yes, that's what I was just going to say at the end. And let's put a bud (ph) on this conversation. Congressman, I appreciate you being willing to play on this. But, she's right, Senator Lankford, you know, why did he support this if that's all true? He is very conservative.

ZINKE: Well, if you (INAUDIBLE) borders, I would suggest maybe you go to Texas or someone that lives on the border. And I like Senator Lankford. I think he did his best -- the best job he could. Do I think to bill falls short -- fell short? Absolutely. Was the bill going to pass? No. I think we should go back to HR-2 and the Senate should do their amendments on it and do the - we have a process. And then we can get a bill that we can all live with. We all agree the border is a mess.

HUNT: All right. I will -- I have to say, I've covered so many of these back since, you know, 2005. If there was ever a chance, it was going to be now. But here we are.

Congressman Zinke -

ZINKE: I'm an optimist.

HUNT: Thank you very much for your time.

Evan Osnos, Sarah Longwell, I really appreciate it. Alencia Johnson, thank you very much.

Up next, the president's transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, joins us right here live.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Starting this weekend, Biden cabinet members and senior administration officials will fan out across the country to talk about the president's infrastructure investments and domestic agenda. Issues that, of course, were front and center during his State of the Union address last night.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to our bipartisan infrastructure law, 46,000 new projects have been announced all across your communities. And, by the way, I noticed some of you strongly voted against it are there cheering on that money coming in. I don't (ph) like it. I'm with you. I'm with you. If any of you don't want that money in your district, just let me know.


HUNT: And that man that you saw right there joins me now. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, welcome. Thanks so much for being here. PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Morning. Thanks for having

me on.

HUNT: So -- of course. So, Mr. Secretary, your assessment of the president's speech last night. He - it's - it seems to have been even acknowledged by our Republican guests that he met the bar that was set in terms of energy level. What did you feel in the room and how would you characterize it?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, we were over at the White House before heading to the Capitol for the State of the Union, and some of the president's aides who had been involved in drafting this speech were clearly excited about it, felt like it was going to be a great night. And, sure enough, in the chamber, the atmosphere was electric. The president displayed, I think, the kind of strength and clarity and command that is expected from a president, especially at a pivotal time like this.

Obviously, I was especially thrilled to hear him put in perspective the achievements that have taken place on the infrastructure front. But really across the board on issue after issue, he laid out both achievements and an agenda for the future that have strong support from the American people and challenged congressional Republicans to shift course and back him up on those ideas.


HUNT: True.

BUTTIGIEG: Whether it is a tax code that rewards work not wealth, whether it is getting resources to secure the southern border, whether it is protecting the right to choose, it really was a great night for the president.

HUNT: Mr. Secretary, the House speaker, who, of course, we saw react throughout the president's speech behind him, spoke to reporters after the speech, and he characterized it this way.



REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Well, we were - we were disappointed. I mean, look, usually in a State of the Union you have at least segments of it that are bipartisan, that -- where we can unify and agree on things. President Biden gave none of that tonight. It was a completely hyper partisan speech. I don't know how else to describe it. It was a campaign speech, and a pretty vitriolic one at that.


HUNT: What do you say to Republican critics who say it was divisive?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the speaker's comments are literally false because the president talked about a bipartisan infrastructure, a bipartisan border bill, his bipartisan unity agenda on confronting things like fentanyl and cancer. As a matter of fact, pretty much everything, as far as I recalled that the president mentioned, is something probably 60, 70 percent of Americans or more would support.

Now, it's true that he certainly pressed congressional Republicans on, for example, their deeply unpopular proposal to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations. But while that might be an issue that has strong partisan lines in Congress, out in the country, most Americans, Democrats, independents, and Republicans disagree with congressional Republicans' agenda to cut taxes for the wealthy and agree with the president that it is wrong for billionaires and our biggest corporations to be paying a lower tax rate than firefighter and teachers.

HUNT: Mr. Secretary, the other issue that dominated in some ways the evening was, of course, immigration, with it being something that Democrats, and polls tell us, voters trust Republicans and specifically the former president, Trump, over current President Biden, on this issue. Biden himself seemed to take that head-on when he was confronted by Marjorie Taylor Greene along the aisles.

I want to show you that moment and then I'll ask you about it.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lincoln - Lincoln Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. Thats right. But how many thousands of people being killed by illegals. To her parents I say, my heart goes out to you, having lost children myself. I understand.


HUNT: Are you comfortable with the use of the term "illegal" in this context?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, I think the president was responding to what was being hurled at him from the House floor, and responding as he characteristically does with compassion to a tragic case that shouldn't be used as a political football. But I think more broadly what he did when it came to immigration and the border was reminded Congress and Americans that even if there isn't total agreement, even a lot of people who might not agree with our administration's approach, there was bipartisan consensus that most Americans would support and that conservative and Democratic members of Congress supported that is currently being blocked in Congress that would make a difference. Maybe it wouldn't fix everything, but would improve things at the border.

And he laid out that if that got to his desk, he would sign something that includes tough compromises that neither side's based might love, but that would make a concrete difference at the southern border. And I think it's the difference between having a problem that you mentioned or invoke or use and having a problem that you actually seek to solve, which is President Biden's approach to the border issue. HUNT: Can I ask you, as we wrap up here, just to put on your actual

day job hat for a second because we've been showing everyone this morning this very kind of alarming video of this tire falling off a United plane yesterday, landing in a parking lot and crushing some cars. There also has been, you know, an audit of Boeing that has identified, you know, multiple non-compliance issues and gaps. Would you feel safe, should Americans feel safe, boarding Boeing planes right now?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, I board a plane every few days. And I know that I'm safe because of the work that FAA does, the work that flight crews do, and so many others. That is the reason why flying on an airplane in America is the safest form of travel in the world.

But what happened in this footage and several things that have happened with Boeing aircraft are completely unacceptable. And it's why the FAA has had boots on the ground at Boeing facilities, conducted an audit. In a deep dive a few days ago, our FAA administrator, Mike Whitaker, sat down with Boeing's leadership, gave them 90 days to come up with a comprehensive plan that well speak to these issues that we really are concerned about, that we're seeing when it comes to quality control, when it comes to processes.


Boeing needs to demonstrate what they are going to do to fix these issues. And we will not let them increase their production until they satisfactorily do so.