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Inside Politics

Biden's First Year May Be Judged On "Getting Back To Normal"; Critics Blame GOP, Deregulation For Texas Power Crisis; Progressives Push Biden On $15 Minimum Wage; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Republicans Debate Trump's Role In The Future Of The Party; Meet The Civil Rights Hero You've Never Heard Of. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 21, 2021 - 08:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): A tragic milestone in the COVID pandemic, on the cusp of half a million dead Americans.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're still in the teeth of a pandemic. I believe we will be approaching normalcy by the end of this year, but I can't make that commitment to you.

PHILLIP: Plus, one month into the Biden era, progressives demand action on the minimum wage and student loan debt.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): How soon can we do this? Send a note to President Biden because the answer is we can do it right now.

PHILLIP: We will get reaction from Congressman Ro Khanna.

And an emergency in Texas, a historic winter storm leaves millions without heat or water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been here for about 30 years and I ain't never seen nothing like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're just trying to scavenge around to see who has food.



PHILLIP (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for spending part of your weekend with us.

Three hundred and fifty-eight days ago, the United States reported its very first confirmed COVID-19 death, but by tomorrow, it will likely report another number, 500,000. Half a million dead, that is one in 660 Americans, it's more than any American war except for the civil war and modelers expect to exceed that milestone by the summer. The good news, and there is good news, is that the number of daily new

cases has plunged over the last six weeks. Still high, but at the lowest level since October and 13 percent of the country has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

President Biden has been in office now for just about a month, but voters will judge his first year based on how quickly he contained this virus. Biden has promised to always level with the American people and on Friday he told the country that vaccinations will not be enough to end this crisis quickly.


BIDEN: While we wait for everyone to get vaccinated, we still need you to wash your hands, stay socially distanced and mask up to help save lives. I can't give you a date when this crisis will end, but I can tell you we're doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later.


PHILLIP: And joining us now with their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Laura Barron-Lopez at "Politico."

Jeff, we are about to hit this 500,000 milestone. And the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did say they are trying to mark this moment. It is coming at a time we are making some progress. If you look at the pace of vaccinations, we are doing more than 1.5 million, 1.6 million vaccinations a week. That's -- a day. And that's a little bit of a dip because of the storms this week.

But voters are looking to see how the Biden administration is handling all of this. I know that you were on the road this week and you talked to some voters who are giving him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. Take a listen.


CAROLINE QUINLAN, WISCONSIN VOTER: Right now to get the virus under control, get the economy back on track so people can go back to work, back to the office, back to school. If -- if he can do that, you know, he will get things back to where they were before, before this pandemic, and if he does that I will be very happy.


PHILLIP: So Caroline Quinlan has pretty high expectations but the Biden administration seems to be taking a strategy of underpromising and overdelivering, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Abby, they do without a doubt. And I should point out that Caroline Quinlan is a Trump voter. She voted for President Trump but she's giving President Biden some time on this and she wants him to be successful like many of the voters I spoke to this week in both Michigan and in Wisconsin. But, look, the Biden administration and the president himself I was in

Michigan on Friday when he was visiting the Pfizer factory, he is down playing the expectations of when this is going to be over, a stark contrast from the last president, of course, who tried to rush this through and then diminished the severity of the crisis.

So there's no doubt that President Biden when he said he hopes by the holidays next year, by Christmas next year, things will look different, that caused some concern, I think, because people were hoping for things to be better in the summer and the White House does hope that, but they know that there are a variety of unknowns.

So, one thing that I think first and foremost the president is doing differently a focusing on this. Every day, it is front and center in his administration, it's the priority of his administration.


And this week coming up is a critical week. Not only to get more vaccinations out because of the dip as you said because of the storm, they are opening up new facilities in Florida, in Pennsylvania, other states, but also trying to get that bill through Congress, that $1.9 trillion bill. That will set the tone for this administration.

There have been some hiccups along the way, no question, but they are focusing on it and, you know, at least for right now the country is behind him and that's what the White House is concerned about.

PHILLIP: And that $1.9 trillion bill, they're saying is going to be key to another big priority, you heard that voter Caroline Quinlan mention it, schools, Laura. They have been struggling over this issue.

Just take a listen to the evolution -- this is over a 24-hour period this week -- from Biden administration officials.


BIDEN: I think that we should be vaccinating teachers, we should move them up in the hierarchy as well.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Twenty-two states, I believe, have prioritized teachers in terms of vaccinations.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: But if they're not vaccinated, is it safe for them?

HARRIS: Well, I think that we have to decide if we can put in place safe measures.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Does the president feel that teachers have to be vaccinated in order for schools to open safely, yes or no?

SYMONE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER TO VP HARRIS: The president believes that teachers should be prioritized for vaccination.

REPORTER: Does the president believe that teachers need to be vaccinated before they go back to school?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. It's not a requirement to reopen schools, but they believe that teachers should be prioritized.


PHILLIP: So they landed eventually where the science seems to be on this issue, but, Laura, on this issue of schools, on the issue of the pace of vaccinations which may be a little bit out of their control, the Biden administration -- really the stakes are high over the next couple of months for them to get these things right so people can actually feel the effects of a new administration coming in.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Abby. And as you displayed, there have been a lot of different comments coming from the White House when it comes to schools.

Now, as you've said, a lot of this is also at the, you know, whim of governors, local entities and so the administration, also in contrast with the prior Trump administration, has been trying to work well, not just with Democratic governors, but also with Republican governors, and they haven't been applying too much aggressive pressure in ordering them to reopen schools, they've been trying to work with them in more of a collaborative way and more of a partnership.

But, again, governors have been saying to the Biden administration that this isn't easy in terms of the vaccine distribution and that sometimes they aren't having as many vaccine doses a week as they'd like, but they're going through them faster than they expected.

And so there is a lot of push and pull whether it comes to the vaccine distribution, a prioritization of teachers because, again, if a state decides that they aren't going to prioritize those teachers, then the president's recommendation pretty much goes unheard. As well as whether or not they're going to be reopening schools at one day a week or five days a week as you've heard different goalposts from the administration over the last few weeks.

PHILLIP: Jeff, one of the things that we're looking at is where the Democratic votes will end up being on this stimulus bill, but we may have gotten a hint about what's going on based on another issue, which is the nomination of Neera Tanden to be the head of the office of management and budget. Senator Joe Manchin who is a critical Democratic vote says he's going to vote against Neera Tanden citing her overly partisan statements.

What does this signal about where we're heading in terms of how he might vote on the stimulus bill? Is this a sign that he's signaling to the Biden administration take me seriously because I'm not a sure thing for you guys?

ZELENY: Well, it certainly is and it certainly highlights the fact that the majorities of the Democratic Party has really in both the House and the Senate very, very fragile, just so slim and Senator Manchin did come out on Friday and said, look, I'm not going to support the nominee for OMB. So, now, that is hanging in the balance. And there is a lot of thinking as I've been talking to officials over the weekend that she could be the one who falls from this unless a Republican senator happens to come to her aid and vote for her.

And that is an unlikely scenario. It's certainly possible, but likely, you know, a Republican was more likely to vote for her if she was already going to be confirmed. So we will see. But Senator Manchin is a critical vote in all of this and the minimum wage being at the heart of this COVID relief bill raising it to $15 an hour is something that Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said, look, it's a nonstarter.

So that is going to be the fight this week when the house is likely to have passed this bill sending it over to the senate. There simply is not the support for that in the senate. All eyes are going to be on Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate parliamentarian who will decide if this is even a germane discussion, if it is even be part of this bill.

But n question at all, Senator Manchin's surprise decision to say, look, I'm not supporting your nominee for OMB to lead the Budget Office was a clear sign to the White House that this is going to be much more difficult than they think. They simply cannot get a rubber stamp out of this Senate.

PHILLIP: Right. And, Laura, you actually have some interesting reporting about what's going on with Senator Sinema in her state and the pressure from the liberal base and the Democratic Party.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, I have a little bit of news on that front, Abby. So, Move On, which is a progressive advocacy group, national group and PAC, they are launching new digital and newspaper ads in the Arizona daily paper there and so they're targeting Sinema specifically, putting pressure on her about that $15 minimum wage that Jeff just mentioned, that provision. They're asking in those ads will Sinema stand with the public in passing that COVID package with the $15 minimum wage in it or is she going to stand in the way of that package.

As Jeff mentioned she and Manchin are the two big Democratic senators that are saying that they don't support that proposal and Move On is one of the many progressive groups that has been really applying pressure to a lot of the Democrats saying that they consider this one of the first big tests for the Biden administration and for Democrats in terms of getting that $15 minimum wage in the bill.

But, again, there's a lot of opposition from two Democrats as well as Republicans. If the parliamentarian does rule in its favor it still is a big question whether or not it will make it into the final package or if it will have to be tweaked, either lowering it or a longer phase in to win over Manchin and Sinema.

PHILLIP: This is going to be this week, I think, the major conflict to look for as we see what the fate of this $1.9 trillion bill will ultimately be.

Laura Barron-Lopez and Jeff Zeleny, both of you, thank you for joining us this morning.

ZELENY: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: And coming up next, days without heat or clean water in Texas. Will the state's GOP leadership pay a price?



PHILLIP: Millions of Texans are still struggling to recover after a historic winter storm knocked the state's power grid offline. In the nation's second most populous state, this week brought dire conditions, reminiscent of developing countries, 3 million households and businesses lost power, that meant no heat for days. Seven million, a quarter of the state's population, were told to boil water before they drank it.

In Houston, residents were forced to wait in line at a local park to fill up coolers at an open spigot. In San Antonio, an apartment building burned to the ground after fire hydrants ran dry and firefighters had to truck in water from a nearby stream.

Fortunately, no one died in that blaze, but the winter storms and their aftermath killed at least 70 people in the region, millions in Texas still don't have clean water and President Biden did sign a disaster declaration for the state yesterday, freeing up resources and funding and after falsely blaming clean energy sources for the failure, the state's Republican leaders are now acknowledging that the power companies were unprepared for the storm.

Now, Democrats are accusing the state's Republican leadership of total negligence.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: The decision to deregulate our electricity grid in the first place and not to require additional capacity in emergencies like these nor to connect to the rest of the national grid so that we can draw down power when we need it, these are all decisions made by Greg Abbott, Rick Perry, their predecessors and other statewide elected Republicans.


PHILLIP: Joining us now to discuss some of this disastrous political fallout are Democratic strategist Paul Begala and former Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock.

Barbara, Paul, thank you both for being here.

So, both of you actually have connections back to the state of Texas, I know you have family members and friends who are feeling this pain pretty acutely, but, you know, on the politics of it, Paul, Texas is a Republican state, it's got Republican leaders up and down -- you know, up and down the ballot. How bad is this for the Republican leadership of that state?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is what comes of one party Republican rule. Democrats haven't won a single election in Texas statewide since 1994, 26 years. And here's what happens -- in 1999, the Republicans who ran the state signed a law deregulating the electric utility companies, taking away many of their regulations. So there was no government regulation requiring those power generator plants to winterize their plants.

Other states, Oklahoma, New Mexico, states connected to the grid, they had to winterize their electric production. So, Texas didn't. And ten years ago, we had a killer freeze like this and everybody said, okay, the utility companies have to winterize their plants. And no law, no government regulation.

So when Republicans talk about, oh, I don't like government regulation, how do you like electricity? How do you like lights? How do you like heat? How do you like water?

They've turned my beloved state into a third world country. And, you know, it's the voters of Texas who are going to have to decide if they want to live that way.

PHILLIP: Well, that's a good question for Barbara who is a Republican. You know, deregulation is part of the orthodoxy.

But I want to read this part from the "Texas Tribune" in a column this morning where they said who wants to go to a failed state? Sure, there is no income tax but we're rationing gas, turning off electricity for millions of households, and burning water so it doesn't poison us. The light regulation here has been a key part of the business pitch.


But the dark side was showing this week in the failures of our basic infrastructure.

I mean, Barbara, this really does seem to be a hit for the kind of low touch, low regulation Philosophy of the Republican Party. Can it survive what Texas just experienced this past week?

FORMER REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R-VA): Well, I think clearly you're going to have, you know, a lot of congressional hearings, you know, already Governor Abbott has called for hearings in Texas and I think you're going to have significant reforms.

And when you are a one-party state, whether it's New York and Governor Cuomo owning the problems that he has now with COVID or, you know, Governor Newsom in California also have been their own power problems, you own it. So, you know, that is, you know, the political problem. But more importantly, you know, you have to as a leader, and I think Governor Abbott is doing this now after a rocky start, is you have to get everyone together and you have to solve these problems immediately to make sure people have clean water and have their power on, which it's largely on now. But you are going to have to accelerate the whole situation of looking

at why this problem is here. These are long-term problems and warnings that go unheeded, whether it's 9/11 or pandemics or, you know, white supremacy problems that we're seeing. When you ignore these long-term warnings, whether you are in a one-party state or not, it's going to come back and that's when you need people to come together, and I'm pleased that President Biden is working and helping the state and Governor Abbott is working closely with them.

And I think right now you need to get the politics out of this as much as possible and find out what you need to do to make this never happen again. As you mentioned, I have family there, I have a sister-in-law who is a city council person in Houston, Sally Alcorn, who has been working 24/7, didn't go Cancun, you know. She has been working around the clock.

And that's what you do when you are in a crisis. You know, not put the political blame on anybody.

PHILLIP: Speaking of going to Cancun, obviously, this week Ted Cruz made himself a headline remarkably given everything that's going on in Texas, and -- well, let's just -- let's just play what was going on with Ted Cruz this week.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): After a couple of days, after the girls being really cold, it being in the teens and the 20s outside, our girls asked, said, look, school has been canceled for the week, can we take a trip and go somewhere warm?

I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane.

You can work remotely, that was my intention, but even so I needed to be here.

It was obviously a mistake, in hindsight I wouldn't have done it. I was trying to be a dad.


PHILLIP: You know what they say, if you are explaining you're probably not winning, I guess, but he seemed to try to make it right this weekend handing out some water, sending out this tweet showing him actually helping his constituents which he earlier in the week claimed he could do from Cancun.

Paul, what is the political -- I mean, the political fallout here? We should note on the other side of this, there is Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez who actually also was in Texas and raised $4 million for relief efforts there. It seems like a major, major political fallout for Ted Cruz.

BEGALA: Ii think it is. You know, President Bush's approval ratings never ever recovered from Katrina, you know? This is what we pay our politicians for. To do a good job when there's an emergency.

We don't want government running our lives, I think Republicans make that point effectively. But we do want government to step in and save our lives when it's at risk. For a politician to leave like that, and then to throw his kids under the bus, it's really reprehensible.

That is not going to fly. He's got four years, that's a very long time, I mean, think back how far ago that last impeachment trial was. Oh, it was just a week. So that's been a lifetime. And so, Cruz has lots and lots of time but this I think will stick. I think this is going to be part of his legacy for the rest of his career.

PHILLIP: Barbara, do you agree?

COMSTOCK: Oh definitely. You know, after, you know, being a leader of the insurrection, you would think he couldn't get more unpopular, but this is certainly egregious. I mean, it is -- it's not just politics 101 to be there 24/7 in a crisis, it's using your megaphone. I mean, you know, one of the things when you are a public official is you can call those power company people, you can use your megaphone to organize people and to help your neighbors. It's the one time where you really can move and make a difference in accelerating improvements and just helping your neighbor.


The fact that it didn't occur to him is, again, you know, just inexplicable. I mean, I worked through -- Paul will remember we had the derecho in 2012. You know, all I did was stay on the phone, with the power companies, you know, watching the neighborhoods, when was the power on, who can I call, what can you do, checking in with the most vulnerable populations, seniors.

I mean, all these obvious things that he didn't do and jetted off to Cancun. It is inexplicable, and even fellow insurrectionist, Texan Louie Gohmert wouldn't defend it.

So, yeah, I think it will stick and rightfully so.

PHILLIP: It's called constituents. It's not --


COMSTOCK: One of the few times Paul --


PHILLIP: Paul, real quick before we go.

BEGALA: Ted Cruz is certain not likely, certain to come to congress, to his colleagues, and ask for a federal bailout for Texas. Now, this is a public policy disaster not a national disaster. This isn't just a flood or hurricane or tornado.

And so, he is going to have to be the point person or one of them in baling out Texas for Texas's own public policy choices some of which he has celebrated. This is going to be a very heavy lift for Ted and I don't think he's the most popular guy among his colleagues in the Senate.

PAUL: Thanks Paul, and thanks, Barbara, I appreciate you both being with us. We're out of time but thanks for the discussion. Thanks for being with us.

And up next, leading progressive Congressman Ro Khanna makes his case for why the minimum wage hike is needed in this relief bill.



PHILLIP: This week the House is poised to vote on President Joe Biden's top priority of his first 100 days, a $1.9 trillion relief bill. And now progressives worry that the procedural hiccups and objections from some moderates could kill a proposed minimum wage increase.

A week ago the president told some governors and mayors in private that the wage hike is likely not happening in this bill and at a CNN town hall Biden poured cold water on progressives' other top policy goal.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need at least a $50,000 minimum. What will you do to make that happen?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not make that happen. I am prepared to write off a $10,000 debt, but not $50,000.


PHILLIP: And joining me now on all of this is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. Congressman Khanna thank you for being with us this morning.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Abby, great to be on.

PHILLIP: So, you know, Congressman I know that you feel very strongly like many progressives about the minimum wage issue. Right now at the same time businesses both large and small are struggling in this pandemic economy, more than nine million jobs have been lost in the last year and they still aren't back.

And the problem is particularly acute in industries like retail and food service, which are more likely to pay minimum wage. I think the question that a lot of Republicans are posing and perhaps some moderate Democrats is timing. Is now the right time to increase it to $15?

And I should say the bill has stages, of course, but immediately it would go up about 30 percent right now. Is now the right time to do that? KHANNA: Abby, it's absolutely the right time to give working Americans

a raise.

Let's look at the facts, Amazon raised their wage to $15 nationally, not regionally. They have more jobs today. It didn't hurt job creation or business.

Target followed, they also did it nationally, more jobs. I would encourage people to read Arin Dube's (ph) work. He's done a survey of minimum wage raises not just here but in Britain. He concludes that if you raise the wage to 80 percent of the median wage which in our case would be $15 there is a negligible effect on employment.

Actually you can create jobs by paying people more so they are spending it more. So we need to be guided by the economics of the facts here.

PHILLIP: Well, of course, large businesses like Amazon and McDonald's, for example, can and perhaps should pay more, but I'm wondering what is your plan for smaller businesses? How does this in your view affect mom and pop businesses who are just struggling to keep their doors open, keep workers on the payroll right now?

KHANNA: Well, they shouldn't be doing it by paying people low wages. We don't want low-wage businesses. I think most successful small businesses can pay a fair wage.

If you look at the minimum wage it increased with worker productivity until 1968 and that relationship was severed. If workers were actually getting paid for the value they were creating it would be up to $23.

I love small businesses. I'm all for it. But I don't want small businesses that are underpaying employees. It's fair for people to be making what they're producing and I think $15 is very reasonable in this country.

PHILLIP: You're also pushing on another issue for the Biden administration to forgive up to $50,000 in student loans. It's important to note that the Biden plan forgives about $10,000 in student loans. That would clear debt for about 15 million borrowers and more than half of those who default actually owe less than $10,000.

These are people who maybe they went to one semester of college, didn't finish their degree and are struggling to pay it back. Meanwhile, the highest earners owe more than a third of all student debt.

What do you -- what do you say to those who point out that $50,000, as ambitious as it is and as helpful as it would be for some people, wouldn't help maybe the most people and may help even the people who don't actually need it the most?

KHANNA: Well, first of all, I'd say let's at least do the $10,000 right away. So I encourage President Biden to at least sign the executive order to have that done. Second, the debt relief of $50,000 is targeted. It wouldn't go to people like me or to President Biden's daughter. It goes to working and middle-class Americans.


KHANNA: And I think that having a young person of many black and brown communities that are disproportionately affected or rural communities, graduate with $30,000 -- $40,000 of debt, sometimes not even get a college degree, is cruel. It prevents them from starting a family. It prevents them from getting a house.

We can afford this. I just closed a bill that would raise $1.2 trillion over the next ten years just by enforcing the tax on the wealthiest Americans, not asking to raise their taxes, just enforcing that they actually pay the tax. Let's use that money so we're not burning the next generation.

PHILLIP: In general, you know, progressives, I think, are facing a critical moment right now. Last fall when we were in the midst of another negotiation of a COVID relief you called it a moral obligation to act so that people could get immediate relief right now during this crisis.

Do you think that you and your colleagues are facing a similar moment? Should progressives be prepared to come on board even if they don't get some of these big agenda items that you all are pushing for as important as you might think, for example, the $15 student loan bill might be? Are you willing to compromise on that in order to get money in people's pockets now?

KHANNA: Yes, Abby. I will vote for the final package but my question is why isn't this question asked of the moderates? Why don't they have to compromise sometimes? I mean I have voted for every single Cares package to date in the Congress.

And there are many times there were provisions I didn't like. I didn't like the fact that it gave billions of dollars to Mnuchin or more money to the Fed to give to financial institutions, but I still voted for it because of the urgency of getting money to people.

Now, my question is why not have the same question for the moderates? Maybe they disagree with the minimum wage but the overwhelming Americans agree with it. So they can vote for the final package even if they disagree with some of those provisions.

PHILLIP: I suspect we will be asking those questions of the moderates, too.

You know, on a different topic we were just talking about Texas a few minutes ago. You are the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment. And you have said that you're planning to hold some hearings about what happened down in that state with the electrical grid failures.

What are your initial concerns about how this was handled? And who are you planning to call to Washington to testify?

KHANNA: We will be holding hearings. We need to hear from the ERCOT CEO. As Paul Begala said, this was an anticipatable problem. Ten years ago they had the same issue.

Why did they not weatherize their equipment? Why did they not take appropriate regulatory action? Texas has had an attitude of we don't need to invest in the weatherization, we're just going to allow deregulation. Why were those decisions made?

And then most problematic, why are people on television telling lies to the American people about blaming renewable energies? Where did these conspiracy theories come from? We will get to the bottom of this.

PHILLIP: And lastly quickly before you go there has been a spate of attacks, some of them in your state of California on Asian-Americans in the last year, thousands of them recorded by some advocacy groups. What do you think needs to be done about that?

KHANNA: I appreciate your raising that, Abby. It doesn't get enough attention. There has been increasing xenophobia and hate against Asian-Americans, some of it was the tone of the last administration.

But one thing we have to be careful about, and I'm all for tough, fair policies with China, but we cannot be inflaming those tensions in ways that are going to create a new Cold War and form (ph) anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. So we all need to be responsible in our rhetoric.

PHILLIP: And these attacks are so tragic and horrifying and hopefully all of them will be fully investigated.

Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS this morning.

KHANNA: Thank you for having me, Abby.

PHILLIP: And coming up next, as ex-president Donald Trump plots his payback, top Republicans are urging him to help the party win in 2022.



PHILLIP: A month after leaving office it seems like the former president is planning to ramp up his political profile. A source tells CNN that Donald Trump will make his first post-presidency speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference next Sunday.

This comes on top of meetings with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Senator Lindsey Graham and his former campaign manager Brad Parscale at his Mar-A-Lago resort.

And news alert for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Politico reports that Trump will soon begin vetting candidates at Mar-A-Lago who are eager to fulfill his promise to exact vengeance upon Republicans who have scorned him and to ensure every open GOP seat in the 2022 midterms has a MAGA-approved contender vying for it.

Joining me now to share his later reporting and insights, Jonathan Martin from "The New York Times". So J Mart, former president Trump is really trying to set up this return to power. You can see them rolling out these announcements of people who are dropping by to pay their respects to him at Mar-A-Lago. We'll see a lot of more that coming in this next week because CPAC is being held in the state of Florida.


PHILLIP: And then last night, here is Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, about his political future.


LARA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He has told us to stay tuned, that this is not over for him. And he has indicated that he probably would be interested in running again in 2024.

Look, he is the head of the Republican Party. He is really the person that everyone will continue to turn to in order to help them get across the line, whether we are talking about 2022 or beyond, I think.


PHILLIP: J Mart -- do you hear me?

MARTIN: I hear you, Abby. There you are.

PHILLIP: Yes. So J Mart, do you buy just all the hype that Trump is coming roaring back?

MARTIN: Well, I think there's two things going on.

First, you know, before he was in politics, President Trump was as much of a showman as he was a businessman. And any good hype artist knows that you never tamp down the story or the story line that's going to sell tickets.

And so why would he ever say he's not going to run when he can keep this going. And he may run, but there's no upside at all in saying now or next month or next year that he's not going to run in '24 to keep the show alive.

And secondly, Abby, I think the January 6th event and his culpability there I think had an impact here as well because there were real questions in the aftermath of the riots in the Capitol as to what his role in the party was going to be.


MARTIN: I think he and his inner circle feel doubly compelled to make the case that, yes, he is still the leader, yes, you still must come to Mar-A-Lago and kiss the ring because of just it's how urgent they feel that they have to make their case given what happened on the 6th and given the doubts afterwards about his stewardship of the party going forward.

PHILLIP: Right. And there is that debate playing out between people like Lindsey Graham who say Trump is here to stay and surprisingly --

MARTIN: Right.

PHILLIP: -- someone like Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas who disagrees. Listen.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): President Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party. We don't have a snowball's chance in hell of taking back the majority without Donald Trump. If you don't get that you're just not looking.

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): I couldn't disagree more with what Senator Lindsey Graham has said. Certainly he has a huge following in our party, but he cannot define us for the future.


PHILLIP: Can Trump actually help Republicans win? Let's take a state like North Carolina where his daughter-in-law may run, where he won by a point and a half. Can he actually do that?

MARTIN: Well look, this is the challenge they have, Abby. His power is entirely in the party's primary and he has less clout, obviously, in general elections.

You hear those two former colleagues, Lindsey and Asa who both served together in the 90s, they impeached a former president back then -- old school.

But, you know, it's -- this is the challenge they have is that everybody in a primary wants to get his blessing to get through the primary because he does have that following with intense hard core activists in the party. But the gap is only getting wider between the GOP primary base and the general electorate.

PHILLIP: That's right.

MARTIN: And I think that's the issue that the party has going forward is how do you win general elections when your primary voters have an appetite that's totally different than the broader electorate.

And that's going to be harder, I think, to gloss over here going into next year.

PHILLIP: Before we go, J Mart --

MARTIN: Yes. PHILLIP: -- you have some really great reporting this morning about President Biden trying to dig into what actually was President Trump's legacy which is the courts. What are they doing in the White House to prepare for a potential Supreme Court pick?

MARTIN: Well, there's not been much chatter about this in public because of the virus obviously but there is wide speculation that Stephen Breyer who is 82 will step down at some point, perhaps as soon as this summer at the end of the session.

I think the death of Justice Ginsburg last fall and what happened with the lightning quick appointment of Justice Barrett I think has really weighed on Democrats. They have a one-seat majority in the Senate that couldn't be more precarious.

So there's already behind the scenes efforts to start shaping Biden's pick who will probably be Breyer's replacement.

Who is that going to be? Well, it's going to be a black woman, we know that, because Biden pledged just that on the campaign trail in 2020.

Beyond that is where the real debate is going to be. A faction of Democrats led by Jim Clyburn in South Carolina is making the case that it's time for Biden to look to a broader pool of candidates beyond the usual Ivy League-educated prestige federal clerkship trained judges who in the past in both parties have become the kind of obvious picks for the court.

Clyburn's case is it's time to broaden the pool of applicants to include people with a diversity of experience, state schools, worked in politics, some kind of richer life experience beyond just the law.


MARTIN: And I think you're sort of seeing that debate slowly coming and I think in the summer you can see it playing out fully in public.

PHILLIP: That's fascinating reporting. Jonathan Martin with "The New York Times" thank you for being with us this morning.

MARTIN: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: And coming up next, we're keeping the spotlight on black women and we are going to shine a light on one of them who had a profound impact on the civil rights movement. And you may not often see her in the history books.



PHILLIP: Kamala Harris etched her name into the history books this year when she became the first woman, the first black American and the first South Asian-American to ascend to the vice presidency.

But her rise to the nation's second highest office was paved by many who came before her and fought hard to get a seat at the table.

So this Sunday during black history month, we bring you the story of one woman who helped change the civil rights history.


CLAUDETTE COLVIN, PIONEER OF 1950S CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT: The idea was that white people sit in front and you sit behind them. But I was (INAUDIBLE)

PHILLIP: This black history month, we remember icons like Rosa Parks.

COLVIN: History had me glued to the seat.

PHILLIP: But this is not Rosa Parks.

COLVIN: My name is Claudette Colvin. I was arrested in 1955 March 2nd for refusing to give my seat to a white lady. Most people think that because Rosa Parks sit down on the seat and because she refused to get up, that that ended segregation.

PHILLIP: What actually ended segregation, bus segregation, at least, started nine months before Rosa Parks' well-known protest when a 15- year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman. Parks was partly inspired by Colvin herself.

BEVERLY GUY SHEFTALL, WOMEN'S RESEARCH AND RESOURCE CENTER: I would be prepared to argue that without Claudette Colvin it is quite possible that we would not be talking about the Montgomery bus boycott or even the civil rights movement that we come to know.

COLVIN: A lot of white people had altercation with the bus drivers, but they got off the bus. In my case, I just sat and I was defiant.

PHILLIP: Were you afraid?

COLVIN: Was I afraid? No, I was a teenager. I didn't somehow (ph) realize this. Fear didn't hit my mind until I was locked in the jail.

PHILLIP: A year after Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, she and three other women became plaintiffs in a case challenging segregation on buses in Montgomery that ended up at the Supreme Court.

SHEFTALL: The Browder v Gayle decision was the court case that made it illegal to have bus segregation in Alabama and all over the south.

PHILLIP: Now 81, Colvin's story is still largely untold. Unlike Rosa Parks, she doesn't have a museum in Montgomery and even at the National Museum of African-American History in Washington, her presence is reduced to a single label in the section on Rosa Parks.


PHILLIP: So why do you think that your story has been excluded from the jigsaw puzzle of history? COLVIN: They want to use the one that was the -- the image that Rosa

Park would be more acceptable to the white community than a dark complexioned teenager.

ROSA PARKS, ACTIVIST: We want to achieve equal rights.

SHEFTALL: Rosa Parks is the ideal candidate for the Montgomery bus boycott. She's respected in the community. She's married. She's somewhat soft spoken. Claudette on the other hand was fiery.

COLVIN: People said I was crazy.


COLVIN: Because I was a 15-year-old and was defiant. And was (INAUDIBLE).

SHEFTALL: Even in the retelling of Rosa Parks' narrative, we did not capture really who Rosa Pars is. First of all, she's not old. She's an activist. She works for the NAACP and no one mentioned that she was a member of the Women's Political Council or that she had befriended and mentored Claudette Colvin.

PHILLIP: Some historians say about the civil rights movement that a lot of women were not given their due.

COLVIN: Sure. Sure, a lot of women you don't hear their name mentioned.

PHILLIP: Do you think you were one of them?

COLVIN: Yes. I'm one of them. I am one of them, but I'm glad that I'm here to see the change.


PHILLIP: And for more stories like these from our "History Refocused" series, you can go to

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time. And for our weekday show as well at noon Eastern time.

And coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER AND DANA BASH". And Dana's guests this morning include Dr. Anthony Fauci and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great day.