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Democrats Counter Third-Party Threat; No Labels Unity Ticket; Debate over Electric Vehicles; Rep. Mike Rounds (R-SD) is Interviewed about Israel. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 21, 2024 - 06:30   ET





ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And they want a change. They don't want to be told by either party that you have to choose between the - the lesser of two evils. I think they want a candidate who is going to bring people together, who's going to inspire people.

I actually -

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Don't they think they're going to elect Donald Trump?

KENNEDY: Well, they may - people may believe that, but, you know, that's up to them. I don't think - I think I should be running for president.


HUNT: RFK Jr. continuing his bid as an independent for president, despite Democratic worries he could spoil President Biden's chances in November, especially after the super PAC backing RFK said they have enough signatures to put him on ballots in the swing states of Georgia Arizona, and Michigan. Kennedy's candidacy, as well as the efforts by third-party groups like No Labels have prompted Democrats to launch a full-scale anti-third party campaign.

Our panel is back to discuss this.

Mark Preston, this - the RFK thing, we saw this picture of all the Kennedys at the White House.


HUNT: Minus RFK. How dangerous - I mean, and it's on the front page of "The New York Times" today, kind of outlining - there's, you know, lawyers inside the White House, outside the White House. There's a new group being built at the DNC to try to fight back against this.

What is the threat to Biden's candidacy from this?

PRESTON: Well, the threat is, is that if you have a Jill Stein, a Cornell West, Robert F. Kennedy we're focusing on, of course, because of his ability or what we've seen so far to reach out to probably, you know, these middle of the road voters.

HUNT: Well, and his last name.

PRESTON: And he's got the last name Kennedy.

HUNT: Yes.

PRESTON: So, I mean, basically, you could see - we could perhaps see what happened back in 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost because Jill Stein was able to take away enough votes in some of the key states that decided the election. Now you've got three people that Joe Biden has to deal with, who all have a segment of the Democratic Party that is attracted to them.

HUNT: Yes.

And, Sarah Longwell, you guys are just announcing, you're launching this campaign to kind of show Americans that there are plenty of people who voted for Trump twice before who will not vote for him now post-January 6th. I want to play a little bit of that, and we'll talk about it on the other side.



DAVE, FORMER TRUMP VOTER FROM PENNSYLVANIA: I will not vote for Donald Trump because of his actions on January 6th and all of the other baggage he carries with him. I am a conservative Republican, but I cannot stand the lie, the cheating, the illegal activities that Trump has perpetuated.


HUNT: So, that's fascinating on its - on its face. And, you know, let's talk about that. But also some of these people are probably feeling a little homeless. They're not used to voting for Democrats. There are potentially this - these third-party candidates on the ballot for them.

How do you view how this all cuts?

SARAH LONGWELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm not sure there's a bigger threat to Joe Biden than these third-party candidates. And the reason is, because these two guys are functionally incumbents, a lot of the persuadable folks this time, or what we call double doubters or double haters or a pox on both their housers, right, they don't like either of these guys.

HUNT: Right. LONGWELL: And so they're very susceptible because they're soft GOP voters. They're right-leaning independents typically. They're not Democrats. and so to get them to vote for Joe Biden, they've - it's really like, it's they're so anti-Trump that they're willing to vote for Joe Biden. But if you give them an outlet to go somewhere else that makes them feel more comfortable, they will take it.

Now, for my types of voters, these sort of, you know, soft GOP voters, the No Labels prospect is a little more threatening than an RFK.


LONGWELL: But the thing is, is you're not really building this time around a pro-Joe Biden coalition. You are building an anti-Trump coalition. That's your biggest, broadest coalition. And anything that splits the anti-Trump coalition is dangerous for Joe Biden.

HUNT: Yes.

So, speaking of No Labels, I - our CNN colleague, longtime political guru, reporter, David Axelrod, interviewed Chris Christie for his podcast.


And ask him directly if Christie was considering No Labels. No Labels has actually - has really been out there hunting for a candidate. Listen to what Christie said, because I would just note, he did not shut the door.



DAVID AXELROD: Is that something that you are considering?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: You know, I think the way I would look at it is, I will do whatever I can to try to make sure that the country doesn't go through what I think will be the misery of a second Trump term.

I wouldn't preclude anything at this point, David. We've got a - the most unsettled political terrain we've ever had.


HUNT: He says, "I wouldn't preclude anything at this point," Ashley. Or, Sarah, you - your face.

LONGWELL: Yes. Please - please answer and then I will rant.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. But then the line before is, but I won't do anything to allow for a second Donald Trump. And I am telling you, the No Labels campaign, and if they announced a ticket, is setting us up for a second Donald Trump term. So, if you really - I understand people might not like Joe Biden, particularly Chris Christie. I commend Chris Christie what he did in the primary to Donald Trump, keeping him - holding him accountable, one of the very few. But if you do not want Donald Trump to be president, you should not run on the No Labels ticket.

LONGWELL: Which is why, right now, Larry Hogan -

ALLISON: That's right.

LONGWELL: Just about -- Joe Manchin, everybody that they've talked to has turned this very generous offer of, hey, would you like to be the third party spoiler in the upcoming race and re-elect Donald Trump, they've all declined it.

And look, it - everybody loves being come to and said, which - we think you'd make a great president, and go around to donors and -

HUNT: They all look in the mirror and they're like, I see a president.

ALLISON: I could be president.

LONGWELL: Yes, you make the TV rounds, you know, and everybody keeps asking you, you going to run, you going to run, you going to run? It's a great way to stay in the mix. But everyone who's looked at knows exactly what they do. They'd re-elect Donald Trump, just like Ashley said, and they eventually decline.

HUNT: All right. It's very, very, very high-stakes.

All right, let's go now to this other big news today.

President Biden's new rules to try to transition the country to electric vehicles. Would you buy one?




HUNT: That was back in 2021 when Ford announced plans to expand the production of that car the president was driving, the Ford F-150 Lightning. Three years later, Ford has basically ditched those plans and is cutting back. The new regulations that were issued yesterday extended the timeline for the transition to electric vehicles with a focus though on phasing out combustion engines in the long run. EV sales hit a sales milestone last year with more than a million sold in the U.S. in 2023. However, it represents just 7.6 percent of total new car sales, far from the EPA's target of 56 percent of vehicles by 2032. Sorry, I lost the year on that.

OK. So, honestly, like, who owns an electric vehicle here? You have one. Do you have one? I've thought about buying one.

Mark, this is - I mean it's - it's kind of - it's all over the paper today. "The Wall Street Journal" is - basically says, you know, "Biden's EV mandate blows its cover." They have really, you know, tough words for it. They say, "make no mistake, this is a coerced phase out of gas-powered cars." There is some resistance in the public to buying these EVs.

PRESTON: Well, yes, I mean there's no question there's resistance because what a lot of folks are going to say is, we're going to take all these efforts to try to reduce pollution here and by 2032 we'll be able to cut in half what the pollution is going to be produced by these cars in just two years from now. So, there'll be able to cut it in half.

However, you know who's not cutting, you know, their pollution problems is China, India, or any of these other countries. So, you know, the United States, I think a lot of these folks, you know, who are against EV cars are saying to themselves, why are we taking the hit? Why are we being the, you know, the experimental ones? Why don't we just go along with what the rest of the world is doing?

HUNT: I mean I - look, I think big picture, obviously, you know, fewer emissions is a goal that everyone has started to share. Climate changes is obviously a massive problem. But the politics of this, Ashley, are - I mean they did have to kind of water down these rules a little bit - it was stronger before - because EV sales really have fallen. And I think, you know, I think for average families, I mean, the main concern is, can I take this car on a road trip with my family, right?


HUNT: The charging infrastructure isn't really quite ready for that. They're also, right now, really expensive -


HUNT: Compared to what is available in - from a combustion engine.

ALLISON: Yes, this isn't just about lowering emissions. Like, I think - you said, everybody wants that. This is about behavior change. When you go to buy a car, you have this experience, what's my gas mileage.


And so it really is leaning into a cultural change.

I think if they are looking to really have some leverage here, I would go to young voters on a political sense and be like, I am the president has done so much for climate change, and this is one of them. And as you're looking to go in and buy and think of there were like tax credits and things like that for young voters who are looking to buy a car, who also want to take care of our climate.

But to your point, you really - it's hard to go across country in an EV because of the charging infrastructure. And if we catch up to it, people will be more - probably more willing to buy it. But you want to be able to go to any gas station and get gas, and you want to be able to go to any gas station and get charged. And until we're there, I think there's still going to be some reticence to EV.

HUNG: Sarah, I mean, I sort of think about this in - like from a cultural perspective in a couple ways. One, sort of the American like rugged individualism, love of the open road. You know, it's like, I have an 1989 Corvette. I don't want to give that thing up. I freaking love it. I love the way - like when I - the stick shift. It's like - it's just awesome, right? It's like, who wants to lose that.

Now that said, you know, I might - I'd drive an EV in my daily life. But, two, there's this perception also that these are cars for elites. Coastal elites specifically.

LONGWELL: Yes, well they're expensive.

HUNT: Right.

LONGWELL: And I think we've done a lot of focus groups actually around the EV question.

HUNT: Oh, interesting.

LONGWELL: And what you hear from voters is they just don't think it's for them. They're like, I'd love an EV, but how will I buy one. And oftentimes too they're in more rural areas where there's zero infrastructure or free (ph). So, it's like, you know, if you live in a major metropolitan area, you see EVs everywhere. You see charging stations. If you live in more rural parts of the country, you don't see any of those things. And so it seems like this isn't for me. Why would I participate in this.

HUNT: Right. No, and - I mean, look, living here in Washington, you know, it's be easy to have one to commute to work every day, right? And you charge it for a little while. But then there's also the financial hurdle of putting a charger at your house. It costs money, et cetera.

All right, I guess we'll see.

Coming up next here, Shohei Ohtanis' interpreter accused of stealing millions from the Dodgers' star to feed his gambling habit.

Plus, Benjamin Netanyahu critical of Chuck Schumer in a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans. We'll ask Senator Mike Rounds about that. He was in the meeting, and he joins us next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

The political stakes for Israel are escalating by the day in Washington as divisions over the war in Gaza become increasingly partisan. House Speaker Mike Johnson says he's now thinking of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Netanyahu has already spoken to Senate Republicans via video link. He called out Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after Schumer recently urged Israelis to vote out Netanyahu, calling him an obstacle to peace. Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota is with me this morning

to talk more about this.

Senator, good morning.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): Good morning.

HUNT: Thank you so much for being here.

What did you hear from Bibi Netanyahu when he addressed your conference yesterday?

ROUNDS: Number one, he thanked us for our strong support. He recognized that America was behind them. They want to move forward. But most certainly his focus was on the fact that they intend to go into Rafah. They intend to finish the war. They're not going to stop until they get done. He wanted to make it clear that it was a necessary part of the project moving forward and they were going to do their best to minimize loss of life, but they were going to finish the job.

And that was really the primary focus that he had was is, we need to finish this, because if we don't, then we are at stake. That this is an existential threat to Israel and they have to recognize that and hope that we understood.

HUNT: How did he characterize what Senator Schumer had to say about elections in Israel?

ROUNDS: He was disappointed. He made that clear. But he also - you know, he understands that support for Israel needs to be bipartisan. And, you know, he was not derogatory, but he simply said, you know, look they - they want America behind them.

Now, he says, we're going to fight are own war. We're going to - it's our guys that are in the field. It's our young men and women that are fighting, but we need your support. And he made it very clear that they wanted American support. And that they were going to continue. That it was not a question of whether or not they might or might not. It was a matter of, they have to finish this. They have to clean out Hamas and then move forward and then demilitarize Gaza, make it safe, and then move forward.

HUNT: Do you think Speaker Johnson inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress would further that goal of bipartisan support for Israel, or would it be divisive?

ROUNDS: I think anything that we can do to show bipartisan support long-term will be healthy. And I think, you know, the fact that Mr. Netanyahu, once again, he came in - we requested that he come in and visit with us. He came in. He said what he had to say. But he recognizes that he wants this to be bipartisan.

You know, he did not appreciate what Senator Schumer said to him. He made that clear. Look, we should not be interfering in their domestic activities. They're a democracy. They have their own customs and so forth. That's not something that we should be involved with.

And he - he made that pretty clear to us. But he still wants to bring this back to bipartisan in nature, bipartisan support. And that he needs the support of America. Israel needs the support. And we need them in the Middle East because if they weren't there, if they weren't our ally there, we would probably have more young men and women in harm's way in the Middle East right now.

HUNT: Senator, let me ask you about another serious national security issue facing the Senate, and that's the potential ban of TikTok or the forced sale, divestment, of TikTok from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. The House voted overwhelmingly to do this.



HUNT: And now your colleague, Senator Thom Tillis, your Republican colleague, has put out audio of a voicemail he says his office received from someone who's opposed to this. I want to show you what - what that was and then we'll talk about it.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you ban TikTok, I will find you and shoot you. That's people's jobs and that's my only entertainment. And, people make money off there too, you know. I'm trying to get rich like that. Anyways, I'll shoot you, and find you, and cut you into pieces. Bye.


HUNT: I mean the laughter there, very disturbing. But does this not illustrate the point that TikTok can and does influence Americans?

ROUNDS: Yes, look, there's two parts to this. The first part, and the most important part is, China is gathering information on American citizens. They know where you live. They know your zip code. They know who you're affiliated with. They know who you talked to. They know how you make your income in some cases. That is data that they can't get through other sources as easily as they can through TikTok. They're learning about us. And they're learning about families through this.

But the other piece of this is, is what you see right here. They can mobilize very, very quickly. And part of that is, is they're trying to influence. And they will influence. In other countries right now, they are, China is influencing in other countries today. We know that they have influenced in terms of elections and so forth.

We don't want that to happen here in the United States. So, it's a secondary issue for us right now as compared to the amount of data that they're gathering. But they're both very important.

So, young men and women share lots of information on TikTok. That is being gathered. We simply want TikTok to divest. We think that it can still exist in the United States, but it's got to be separated from the folks -- excuse me, from the Chinese Communist Party, which has direct access because if they actually have a nexus in China, which they do, then under Chinese law any information that they have, they must make available to the Chinese government.

HUNT: Right. So, do you think Senator Schumer should put the House divestment bill on the Senate floor?

ROUNDS: Yes, look, well, I'm not so sure he should put it on the floor, but he most certainly should get it into a committee where it should be vetted. And then once that is complete, then we should move forward. But we should act on the bill one way or the other, either through the committee process first and then to the floor, or, if we've got time on the floor, go directly to the floor and allow for an amendment process.

HUNT: All right, understanding that the details may be at issue, would you vote generally for this divestment?

ROUNDS: Yes. No question. Look, I'm on the Intel Committee. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. The classified information that we've received so far, I hope that at some point we can release more of it publicly. We've got to be careful how we do that because of the sources that it might very well, you know, put in harm's way.

HUNT: Compromise.


HUNT: Yes.

ROUNDS: But we - we need - we need to take care of this problem sooner rather than later.

HUNT: Speaking of your seat on the Intelligence Committee, there was a classified briefing on TikTok in the Senate yesterday. I completely understand you can't reveal classified information. But what would your advice be to Americans who want to protect themselves with this based on what you have learned and what you know?

ROUNDS: I would not share any more personal information or my connections to my relatives, where I work, who my closest friends are, my connections in the community. I wouldn't share that on TikTok. And the reason is, is because this is what China wants to learn about us.

Look, with the advent of artificial intelligence, AI, China has made it a really good point of learning about their own people. They can trace where their people are at in most cities all the time. They use that now in a policed state to basically track individuals to know who they are, what they're doing, whether or not they're behaving or not.

The same thing, they'd love to learn more about our activities here. They want to know about American culture. They want to know about who our families are connected with. Just the beginnings of it is, is if they can go in and go to a TikTok user and say, we want you to contact your representative in your zip code it is so and so. And then to try to influence that long term, that's the type of manipulation that China would love to have in the United States.

It will be subtle to begin with, but it will become more overt over time.

HUNT: Very briefly, sir, we received text of the appropriations package overnight that's designed to avert a partial shutdown at the end of the week. Just yes or no, are you confident you can avert a shutdown on Friday?

ROUNDS: I'm not. Look -

HUNT: Cheerful.

ROUNDS: Here's - here's - here's the reason why. It takes hours to do it. The House has already committed that they were going to take some time and actually look at the bill itself.


Here we are on Thursday. This expires tomorrow night at midnight. But the Senate may not even get the bill until tomorrow or Saturday. And so there may be a shutdown over the weekend. I don't like that idea. I think - I think this is a terrible way to run a government. This is a terrible thing to do to the country. This was supposed to be done last October. And so here we are. We're still working on last year's appropriation bills while we're trying to start on this year's appropriation bills that are supposed to be done in October.

It's a terrible thing to do. There's no excuse for it. And we continue to put ourselves in this type of program where we're getting it done after the fact. None of us are happy about it, and we hope that this is going to change with the change in the election this year.

HUNT: All right, Senator Rounds, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

ROUNDS: Thank you.

HUNT: I really appreciate your time today.

All right, 55 minutes past the hour. Here's your morning roundup.

Sentencing for the final two Mississippi officers who pleaded guilty to torturing two black men. Yesterday, one of the six convicted officers received the longest sentence so far, 40 years in prison.

Police say Mitch McConnell's late sister-in-law, shipping CEO Angela Chao, was drunk at the time of a fatal accident in February. They say she drove for Tesla into a pond at a ranch near Austin, Texas.

And Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani firing his longtime interpreter, accusing him of stealing millions of dollars to place sports beds. In an interview with ESPN, the now former interpreter says he never bet on MLB games and denied Ohtani had any involvement.

And then there's this, Oprah Winfrey opening up on CNN's "KING CHARLES" about her weight loss struggles, taking weight loss drugs similar to Ozempic, and the criticism she's faced for it.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST AND PRODUCER: The benefit of people finally recognizing that obesity is a disease far outweighed to me any criticism that I would receive for doing it. And also, people no longer blaming themselves for something that you cannot control in your brain.


HUNT: This is so interesting to me. I have to say, Ashley. I mean the criticism she's come under. I - what - what do you make of that? Because, you know, she has publicly, for so many - decades, right, struggled with her weight.


HUNT: And now the game has totally changed.

ALLISON: I appreciate her vulnerability throughout her career on, you know, her struggles with weight loss. And I appreciate, you know, she said she wanted to step down from the Weight Watchers board because she felt like it was a conflict of interests because she is getting some support.

That thing that I liked that - what she said is, she's like, I'm doing it for my health. They're - it - like as someone who has struggled with their weight, gaining 20 pounds, lost 20 pounds here and there, I understand people who want to use these supports. And I think that it's hypocritical - like we - we love in American culture are people who do plastic surgery and it's glorified and, you know, it's almost like the thing to do when you're a celebrity. But if you do something, like get a little support with weight loss, you get demonize. It - she's the - we were just talking about this earlier. Like, she's done so many things in her life. I just don't - let's move on.

LONGWELL: Yes, I think, you know, she's an unbelievable entrepreneurs. She's one of the richest people in the country. She's an amazing journalist. Think we can all be, as a culture, less attached to Oprah Winfrey's weight.

HUNT: Yes.

ALLISON: She looks great though, I'll just say that.

HUNT: She looks amazing.

ALLISON: Amazing.

HUNT: She looks amazing.

What, you're smiling over here.

PRESTON: I've lost 20 pounds, OK. And we're not talking about how I've lost 20 pounds. HUNT: You look great.

PRESTON: I am the same - I ==

HUNT: How have you lost 20 pounds. No.

PRESTON: Yes, yes. Just saying.

HUNT: You don't have to.

PRESTON: No, no, I know. But I do struggle too. You'll - where - where you can go, you know, up and down, you know, pretty quickly. And this is a game changer. It really is a game changer for some folks who are going to be able to shed weight. They're not necessarily going to have to have surgery, or go on diets with - that just aren't going to work.

HUNT: I mean to me it's just - it's just that this conception that if you have gained more weight than what our society deems to be attractive, you are judged for lack of willpower. And people are even continuing to judge people who use these drugs. And like - like Oprah said, you know, she's like, it's - it was not possible in her own head. It's not an issue of willpower. We should not be judging people on that basis.

OK, on that note, I will leave you with this.

We are giving a fond farewell - I'm actually very sad about this -- to Stumpy, the DC cherry blossom tree. Here he is.


HUNT: Fans of the beloved tree, look, it's a stump with cherry blossom at the top, gathering to celebrate his final bloom before it is being removed as they repair the wall around that basin. After the season, the National Park Service is going to take out more than 150 trees to fix the seawall at the tidal basin.


Stumpy, named for its scraggly appearance and resilient spirit despite sinking under water as sea levels rise. Stumpy has generated a cult following. He inspired a mascot for the annual cherry blossom ten-mile and 5K runs.

And some Stumpy stands have been laying gifts at his base. He got roses and, get this, my favorite, a bottle of Maker's Mark. The D.C. Public Library brought a card to say their goodbyes. And in this town, we are always so divided. One fan wrote, Stumpy is finally something D.C. can unite behind. We will miss you very much.

All right, thanks guys, I really appreciate you being here today. Thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. I'm Kasie Hunt.

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