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New Book: Top General Feared Trump Would Attempt Coup; White House Says Social Media Platforms Aren't Doing Enough To Curb Spread Of Vaccine Disinformation; Pivotal Week Ahead For Biden's Multi- Trillion Dollar Agenda; Anti-Government Protests In Cuba Are Largest In Decades; Top Democrats Introduce Bill To Legalize Marijuana. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired July 18, 2021 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): Trump's final days. New revelations about the chaos and confusion and worries about an attempted coup.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We had a crazy, delusional authoritarian, dangerous president of the United States.
PHILLIP: Plus, can Democrats unite around Biden's plan to reshape the American economy.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to get this done.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We are getting this done.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Yet another budget-busting socialist package twice as big as the last one.
PHILLIP: And pot politics. Top Democrats want to legalize marijuana but the president isn't on board yet.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): This bill is urgent. This bill is long past due. Lives are being destroyed every single day.
PHILLIP: INSIDE POLITICS, stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
PHILLIP (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS Sunday. I'm Abby Phillip.
It was even worse than we thought. That is the takeaway from the first big books about the final year of the Trump presidency, written by some of the top journalists in the country. The scariest part so far, General Mark Milley, the president's top
military adviser, worried that the outgoing president would stage a coup to stay in power. That's according to "The Washington Post" reporters Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker who write, Milley described to aides that he kept having this stomach churning feeling that some of the worrisome stages of the 20th century fascism in Germany were playing out in 21st century America. They may try, but they're not going to f-ing succeed, he said.
President Trump denied it, more or less, saying: I never threatened or spoke about to anyone a coup. And if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.
Even after these revelations and many others like it, though, most Republicans here in Washington remain silent.
Joining me now with their reporting and their insight, Toluse Olorunnipa of "The Washington Post", "Politico's" Rachael Bade, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast", and NPR's Tamara Keith.
So, this is really obviously extraordinary. But, of course, after four years of the Trump presidency, I think a lot of people can become numb to what we are hearing about in all of these accounts. The consistency of it, though, is really astounding. It is shocking to me, I think as we sit here, Jackie, that there is, it seems, no outrage among a lot of Republicans here in Washington about what is being said about the former president who they also say, by the way, is the leader of their political party.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he's the leader of their political party, they are linked to him both from an ideological standpoint at this point and from a fund-raising standpoint. Let's just get down to the politics of this. You couldn't get closer to that day than January 6th than Kevin McCarthy who was on the phone with the president asking him to call off his supporters.
And yet who was at Bedminster just this week meeting with the president again? And so, he has very much tied his potential speakership to the former president. So there is no getting away from it, and I think this is one of the reasons that we didn't have a commission, an independent commission to investigate what happened on January 6 because Republicans just want to put this behind them and keep plowing forward.
PHILLIP: It could be easy for a lot of people to think that this is just Milley being dramatic and that this was all about rhetoric and comparing it to Nazi Germany. But there was a worry according to Susan Glasser writing in "The New Yorker" about what Trump would do as it relates to Iran. She writes, it was not public at the time, but Milley believed that the nation had come close, very close to conflict with the Islamic republic. Milley feared it was Trump's Reichstag moment that he would manufacture a crisis to swoop in and rescue the nation from it.
Tamara, how close did we get? TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I don't think we know
how close we got. We know that Mark Milley, that General Milley was worried about it. And we know that he wants everyone to know that he was worried about it because it is showing up in these books and it is showing up in these accounts. And we also know that there was a letter from or an open letter from former secretaries of defense right before January 6th making it clear that they had concerns.
And when that letter first came out, it was like, whoa, do they know something we don't know? It turns out they probably did know something we didn't know.
KUCINICH: We should mention a lot of people that Cooperate with these books, they get their side of the story out, and this is what we're seeing.
KEITH: There is a lot of legacy preservation in this book, or attempted --
PHILLIP: Speaking of which, a lot of people -- I don't know that some people are necessarily trying to launder their reputation, but there are people who are being described in the book who, behind the scenes, know that what is going on is insane. And publicly were saying other things. One of those people was the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
According to Michael Bender, he writes in his book that Pompeo said this. The crazies have taken over. He warned a colleague, he conveyed the concern to others that Mr. Trump might be more willing to engage in an international conflict to strengthen his political argument for remaining in office.
A couple of days after this election was called for Joe Biden, here is also Mike Pompeo publicly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: At what point does a delay hamper a smooth transition or pose a risk to national security?
MIKE POMPEO, THEN-SECRETARY OF STATE: There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: What are the consequence for these folks?
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Clearly, he was trying to convince himself it seems more like than other people.
But, no, I mean, when I'm reading these excerpts, my number one take away was where were these people right after January 6? I mean, clearly, there was a second impeachment. There was a moment there the party almost froze for like a week, maybe even less while people were generally -- Republicans were generally trying to figure out, what do we do, do we turn our back on him, do we stick with him, how bad is this?
There were a lot of people who could have come forward and potentially changed, you now, the projection of the Republican Party in that moment. And, you know, people like Pompeo, people like Milley. You have to ask, why didn't Democrats subpoena some of these people? It could have made a difference.
PHILLIP: That is a good question.
BADE: I guess we'll never know. Clearly the revelations are just now starting to come out about January 6 and before, the aftermath, we're going to learn a lot more. But what would have happened if it all came crashing down in those weeks after, we'll never know.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And you think about a lot of people preserving their legacy. A lot of people are trying to preserve their political futures by not crossing Donald Trump by saying he should have been impeached, speaking on the record what was happening behind the scenes.
A lot of them are happy to talk to book authors but they don't want to talk in public and say that crazies have taken over, that what former President Trump was doing was crazy. He was essentially trying to rally up his supporters and trying to get them to take over the government.
So there aren't too many people who are willing to say that on the record, and that's, in part, because they want to preserve their political future.
KUCINICH: Pompeo is in Iowa.
PHILLIP: He was talking to book authors, former President Trump. He cooperated with so many of these books. And you have to wonder, what is he thinking?
KEITH: I know what he's thinking -- well, I think I know what he's thinking. He has thrived on attention his entire life, his entire political career.
And if they're talking about him, if we are on a Sunday morning talking about Donald Trump, then he feels like he is winning. No matter what you're saying. It's the oxygen that attention provides.
PHILLIP: You know, we always have to -- I think a lot of people in this day and age, they're saying why do we keep talking about Trump? Why do we keep -- well, because people thought that he was going to have a coup. I think that's an important thing to debrief.
And I think it also has present day implications, because as you pointed out, McCarthy went to Bedminster. He says that this was a meeting about 2022. He says it was all about the Republicans' electoral future. But it seems highly unlikely that it was not also about the big lie, that Trump still wants to push. BADE: I mean, Republican leaders privately are absolute dreading any
time Trump has a rally right now. They do not want him to talk about this. This is the last thing the Republican Party wants to focus -- this is why they're not out there criticizing him now. Even though a lot of them are seeing the excerpts, oh, my gosh, it's as bad as it was.
They want to focus on Biden. They want to flip the house. They think they have a good shot, they do have a good shot in 2022, and this is just a hindrance.
But just to go back to something you said at the top of the show. This whole idea of the public becoming numb, we have seen this for years now. And when it came to the Mueller, there are all these little stories that sort of made the public numb and then the Mueller report came out. Oh, it's old news, same thing with impeachment, little nuggets coming out.
Do you claim allegations of him trying to force a foreign power to interfere in the election? Then it comes out. John Bolton says it's real. People say it's not a thing. Same thing with January 6, there are real nuggets, we get pieces of it. People say, oh, just reporting.
And then we get the full truth and everybody -- not everybody, but a lot of the nation is numb, and so are a lot of these Republicans.
PHILLIP: One of the big Trump strategies often is putting the crazy out there and if it's just said out loud and people are just talking about it, we get numb to the fact that it's really crazy. This is what happened after the first impeachment, but it doesn't make it -- it doesn't change the fact that these are deviations from the norms of this country.
I mean, it's really extraordinary where we are, but it does make you wonder, Trump is likely to run in 2024 with all of this baggage and Republicans are 100 percent on board the train.
KUCINICH: They're still doing audits. There are people out there that haven't acknowledged that the 2020 election is over. So it's absolutely still present day and he's absolutely someone we have to talk about because he is very much running the show of one of the major parties of this country.
Well, we'll have more coming up.
The president of the United States versus Facebook. Why Joe Biden says that the company is to blame for vaccine denialism.
PHILLIP: President Biden says Facebook has blood on its hands.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: They're killing people. I mean, they're really -- look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated and that -- and they're killing people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: The White House says social media platforms aren't doing enough to curb the spread of vaccine disinformation. But Facebook is striking back and hard.
At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies. The fact is the vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the U.S. has increased.
CNN political commentator Alice Stewart is joining the conversation.
This is to me extraordinary for a number of reasons, but let's start with the first, Tamara. The White House is frustrated. It's reflected in what you heard the president say. They're killing people. He literally said they're killing people. What is going on behind the scenes that has gotten us to this point?
KEITH: Yeah, and he essentially is putting a finer point on what the administration has come to believe, which is this idea that they have landed on, that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. That is the new phrase that they are pushing out into the universe.
Part of that is to try to persuade people to get vaccinated, but part of it, whether they want to admit it or not, is a bit of distancing.
KEITH: Is to say we've been trying to get people vaccinated. The White House says vaccines are available.
What they haven't been able to do is breakthrough with a lot of people who are getting information on social media. You know, I've spoken to medical directors in rural counties in Mississippi and Missouri and they are just at wit's end. They're frustrated. They can't get their staff even to get vaccinated. And the reasons they hear are things that people read on Facebook. And they keep mentioning --
PHILLIP: Well, Facebook points out, to your point, that the White House missed its own July 4th deadline to get to 70 percent, okay. That is true. They may be looking for a scapegoat, that is true.
But I do wonder about the tone of this back and forth. On Facebook's part in part because I recall for four years they wanted nothing to do with pushing back on President Trump. They were being accused by conservatives every day of all kinds of things.
It's amazing to me that the statements that they put out on Friday and last night again about all of this. It seems like a complete change of tone.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The rhetoric has certainly heightened to a great degree. Look, I think we can all agree we should all strive to put out factual information on social media, and all social media platforms should strive for that as well.
But we also have to realize they're the de facto public square. They are people talking to people, their friends, people that are like mind and had they're going to put out information that they truly believe in. And to be honest, a lot of people don't trust the government. And I think the question is and the fear is when we have the federal government taking attempts and taking steps to try and censor what is being out there, free speech and out there in the public square.
PHILLIP: I think the question, though, is what happens when it is clearly not true, when they're just lies?
STEWART: Well, that certainly needs to be corrected because we're seeing a lot of people, as you say, vaccinate hesitant for many reasons. They don't trust the government. We see African-Americans who are concerned about the Tuskegee experiment. We see Catholics who are concerned about infertility.
There is a lot of misinformation out there. And I think people would be better served listening to real news accounts, the CDC, and our public health officials and staying away from these websites and social media sites that do spread misinformation.
PHILLIP: One element of this, of course, is the social media companies. The other element is the political dynamic of this in which it does seem that a lot of Republicans are taking advantage of vaccine denialism, and certain media companies, namely Fox News, spreading it on their platform.
Just take a list tone some of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI: It's astounding the Democrats would try and mandate this. It's being done to college students. It's being done at the workplace.
ALEX BERENSON, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: These vaccines, unfortunately, appear to be declining in effect very quickly.
LARA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER IN LAW: Remember, it was 14 days to slow the spread. That's how this started. Now here we are mandating apparently that people get a vaccine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: By the way, her father-in-law was once credited for developing these vaccines.
And yet, why is it this has become some kind of litmus, political litmus test?
BADE: It's clear that some Republicans sort of see this as -- they can weaponize this issue to their own advantage. They're trying to say that, you know, Biden and the Democrats are going to force you to get a vaccine. They're trying to scare people in the base that already have their own hesitancy when it comes to the vaccines.
I mean, that's unfortunate. It's not everybody. People like Mitch McConnell clearly and openly talked about getting vaccinated and how important it is.
The thing that perhaps President Biden can do differently is -- he's got this big bully pulpit. Where are the events with Republican leaders where they're literally standing next to somebody who gets a vaccine in their arm?
I mean, it's sort of like the chicken and the egg thing, right? Like, you said, that people are afraid of the vaccine and they're listening to these conspiracy theories. Could leaders be doing more? Republican leaders specifically, to talk to people in the Republican base who have these sort of concerns and try to say, no, that's wrong, these are the facts, and do more to work together and show an example.
KUCINICH: I think one of the things that the White House has said they are doing is one of the reasons they have this program. It became like Antifa knocking on your door to get a vaccine.
KUCINICH: Yeah, exactly. But no, what they actually were doing, they were trying to get leaders from communities, churches, doctors who people knew to talk about the vaccine, to talk about the importance of getting it. That's one of the ways that they've tried to reach people who aren't reachable by politicians who don't listen to the media.
They were trying to get trusted people involved. That is one of the ways they are trying to combat this. I just wanted to say when it comes to Facebook taking the White House out of this, they know this is an issue. They've known this was going to be an issue.
In October of last year, they took -- they made ads. You weren't allowed to run any ads that had to do with being anti-vaccine. A lot of medical professionals saw this was going to happen with the COVID vaccine and it is a question, what else could be done to stop this on social media.
STEWART: And it's not I don't think as much what this administration can say, what but what they can do. I think they've led by example. They -- throughout the campaign, they social distanced, they wore masks. They used caution with the events they had.
It has paid off. We haven't seen a large number of people in the administration with COVID. I think that's important.
But they also realize they might not be the best messengers for this. That's why they're getting -- they had Olivia out there this week. PHILLIP: Okay, when does President Trump, who wants to be credited for
Operation Warp Speed, wants to be credited for whatever, when does he step in and play a role in this?
STEWART: I don't expect that he will, and I don't expect him to be the best person to do that. I think it should be people that are closer to people that need these vaccines on the state level, their community leaders, their health leaders.
I talked to Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott yesterday in a ruby red state. He is a Democratic mayor in a ruby red state that has a terrible vaccine rate. He is out there educating people and encouraging people and using local officials to try and encourage people.
And churches and people on the local level that people trust and that people will have confidence in. That's where the message needs to come from.
PHILLIP: In Tennessee this week, we saw where this could all head. It's not just COVID-19. They paused communication to parents and children about other vaccines as well. Several of you here are parents. That's really terrifying on some level.
KUCINICH: I can't understand it.
KEITH: But, you know, just like the door knocking that Jackie was talking about, that then became this scary thing, they're coming to get you, a very simple explanation of, yes, vaccines are available for children 12 and up becomes a very scary thing in the wrong hands. And then that starts affecting policy.
And the CDC and others have been very concerned that children are already missing their regular vaccinations. Their schedules are off because of COVID and doctor's offices being closed and parents are afraid. It feeds into the anti-vax establishment machine that already existed before.
PHILLIP: I think it's a really scary time frankly for all of us, because we've eradicated these viruses. It's not a permanent situation if people stop getting their vaccines.
But coming up, it's do or die for President Biden's massive plan to reshape the U.S. economy.
PHILLIP: The week ahead could be a pivotal one for President Biden's ambitious agenda to overhaul the nation's infrastructure and social safety net. After months of debate and negotiations, Democrats now believe there is a path to get almost everything that they want. A bipartisan plan on physical infrastructure and a Democrats-only bill that includes top liberal priorities like universal pre-K, Medicare expansion, climate change provisions, paid for all with taxes on businesses and the wealthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We are, in fact, looking at the most consequential piece of legislation for working families since the Great Depression.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): This bill is absolutely a progressive victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: But the trick for Democrats will, of course, be whether they can hold on to support --
PHILLIP: The week ahead could be a pivotal one for President Biden's ambitious agenda to overhaul the nation's infrastructure and social safety net.
After months of debate and negotiations, Democrats now believe there is a path to get almost everything that they want. A bipartisan plan on physical infrastructure and a Democrats-only bill that includes top liberal priorities like universal pre-k, Medicare expansion, climate change provisions paid for all with taxes on businesses and the wealthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): We are, in fact, looking at the most consequential piece of legislation for working families since the Great Depression.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): This bill is absolutely a progressive victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: But the trick for Democrats will, of course, be whether they could hold on to support from their liberal wing without losing support from moderates who are still worried about the price tag. Plus, they have to keep at least ten Republicans on board for the bipartisan roads and bridges part of the plan as well.
So Rachael, it feels like we are in a completely different place maybe than we were a few months ago. There's a lot of optimism among Democrats. But should they be optimistic about where we are. Can they really make this balancing act work.
BADE: Yes. I mean I think for Democrats they realize that now is the time they could potentially lose the house in 2022. And there is a lot of optimism that they could do this. I mean failure for the Democratic Party right now is really not an option. And I think that is going to drive an already is driving a lot of compromise you're seeing on both the Bernie Sanders wing of the party but also the Joe Manchin moderates who are worried about this price tag.
They've got a lot of ups and downs to go. There's going to be haggling about where does that money go in this Democratic. You know, how much goes for, you know, people who are staying home taking care of a loved one, or you know, how much goes for education.
But you know, again with this onus, this pressure about we have to do this I think is really going to drive people.
I think the big story this week is going to be on the bipartisan infrastructure side specifically because there are a lot of Republicans who are unhappy that Schumer has set up a vote, the first vote for this on Wednesday.
They don't even legislative text yet. They're waiting for a CBO report to actually score this bill. They're still concerned about payfors and you're already hearing, you know, some of those moderate -- yes, moderate Republicans who agreed to this framework sort of saying I'm not sure anymore.
So I think that is going to be the big question of the week. Can they do that? Can they land it? And, you know, it is TBD at this point.
PHILLIP: I've described this before as whack-a-mole because that is what it is. It's like you get an inch on one part of it and then on the other part you take two steps backwards.
So I mean how is the White House looking at this and are they fine with what Schumer has set up? As Rachael said, this vote that seems pretty aggressive in terms of a timeline on Wednesday?
KEITH: They seem to be at least publicly willing to say Congress will manage this the way they want. The leaders over there can do whatever they want to do.
They're obviously in very close contact with Chuck Schumer. And Chuck Schumer would not surprise them. That is just not the way this relationship would work. But I've actually described it as you're on a tight wire spinning plates because there are so many different elements here. And at any moment, one of those plates could fall, you know.
You could lose some of the Republicans on the bipartisan bill. You could lose Joe Manchin or Chris Coons or somebody. Like it is this really perilous effort to do very complicated legislating and they do feel like they have a deadline.
One, because they're headed into 2022 and pretty soon, the moderate Democrats in the House are going to start getting very tense.
But also President Biden seems to be bound and determined to have his entire presidency accomplished in the first year. PHILLIP: I do want to talk about Bernie Sanders for a second here --
because this is really extraordinary. The headline in Politico is "Strange but true: Bernie takes a very pragmatic turn." And Senator Tim Kaine says we wouldn't be here without him putting out that $6 trillion price tag that everyone was like oh, no way. But they were like, ok, actually we're totally fine with like $3.5 trillion.
KUCINICH: -- you could land among the stars or whatever. I don't know have any experience play whack-a-mole.
But let's not forget who Bernie Sanders is. He's been around for a really long time. He's been in the body for a really long time. He was in the House for a really long time. He knows how to strike a deal. He has always been to the left of everyone else.
He -- look at even on this voting bill that is not going to go anywhere in the Senate. He says that he was ok with Manchin's compromise or he was -- some gradation (ph) of ok.
So he's someone who knows that -- he said as much -- he knows how far to the left he is and that the rest of the party isn't with him. And so he's going to get as far as he can with what he can and, you know, end up with some wins therein.
PHILLIP: A quick note though on a different topic. This week DACA was invalidated by a federal court. Democrats want to put immigration in this reconciliation bill. What are the chances of that?
BADE: Pretty slim. I mean, clearly the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that increasing the minimum wage federally was out. Basically any provision in reconciliation has to significantly affect the federal budget and she gets to determine what that is.
But for Democrats, again, it comes back to the idea of why not try. I mean the base wants this. There is concern about what happens to a lot of these, you know, dreamers.
BADE: And so, you know, why not try -- tell the base you tried to put it in. Let her be the bad guy, the senate parliamentarian and then you can say ok, we'll try to do something on the back end of the --
PHILLIP: For a woman.
OLORUNNIPA: And there is a lot in this reconciliation bill, as you mentioned. There is a lot of Democratic wish list items in this bill.
The child tax credit extension, we've already to see people getting $250 every month for their children, extending that and making it permanent would be a huge win for progressives. And there is a lot for progressives to be happy with. And Bernie Sanders was talking about some of these things years ago and they were sort of seen as pie in the sky ideas. And now they're actually becoming laws. So progressives have a lot to be thankful for.
PHILLIP: It does make you wonder, ok so how do Republicans run against like handing people checks -- that's terrible. But this is how apparently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JONI ERNST (R-IA): Eight, in the past year, the price of bacon is up about 8 percent. In the past year, the price of clothes is up about 5 percent.
No matter how you spin it, we simply cannot afford any more Biden- nomics. I think the American people will agree, all of these prices need to come on down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BADE: She loves a slogan.
KEITH: She did run on "making them squeal". But that bacon thing is on brand.
PHILLIP: The bacon thing is very on brand. But I mean the inflation issue is not something that the White House is completely ignoring. They're saying it is temporary. But this is what Republicans are planning to run on in 2022.
KEITH: Absolutely. And they are -- the White House is concerned, you know, they watching and hoping that this is temporary and that this inflation isn't real but just is a reaction to the pandemic slowdown and now things returning to normal.
But you hear Republicans coalescing behind worries about inflation. You also heard Joe Manchin mention inflation as a concern for him when that $3.5 trillion framework was laid out.
BADE: And they're also going to have to raise the debt ceiling in the next couple of months which is going to complicate everything. But just to sort of sum it all up, I mean speaking of Republicans.
If you look at where they were four years ago under Trump, you know, there were Republicans saying they would not vote for this and that Obamacare repeal bill. They were a total mess in terms of like threatening their leadership, going around their leadership, wanting this provision and that provision.
It's just a different feel with this Democratic-controlled Congress. And so because of that optimism it feels like they're going to find a way, it is just a question of what is in it and how do they get there. PHILLIP: Yes. Well, a lot to look forward to over the next year
because I think the politics of this totally, totally unsettled right now.
But coming up for us next, a once-in-a-generation set of protests in Cuba. What does the Biden administration do to respond?
PHILLIP: Widespread protests continue across Cuba over rising COVID cases and deaths, and long-standing poverty and repression on the island.
It has also exposed a divide within the Democratic party about how to respond to them. President Biden used his strongest language to date to denounce the Cuban regime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Communism is a failed system -- universally failed system. Cuba is a, unfortunately, a failed state in repressing their citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: So, this is all happening in a political context, of course, in which Democrats are looking at what happened in 2020, where Joe Biden's margin over Donald Trump with Latinos was 7 percent, that is compared to 27 percent for Hillary Clinton just four years earlier.
So is this a golden opportunity for Democrats to get the policy right and the politics right on the issue?
OLORUNNIPA: It could be. But we were just talking about how progressives are really happy about all of the things in the infrastructure bill. They are really being led in many ways by the progressive wing of their party and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party does not want to go hard against Cuba, against some of the things that the Castro regime may have been a part of.
In part because there are some Democrats, there are some progressives who agree with some of those things. They agree with universal health care. They agree with some of the programs that were in place and a more socialist kind of society.
And Joe Biden is trying to push against that. He's essentially trying to say, you know, we do not want our party to head in that direction because he saw what happened in south Florida in 2020 where, you know, he did very much worse than Hillary Clinton and Democrats really lost a lot of ground in part because Republicans were pushing this message that all Democrats support socialism and they support the kinds of policies that will make the United States a third world country.
Some of that was hyperbole but it resonated with a lot of the voters there and Democrats are trying to figure out how to --
PHILLIP: In south Florida -- and where, in South Florida where just like in Cuba there have been protests in the streets this week in support of those protests.
And one of the dynamics to your point about Democrats is the progressive members like AOC, versus members like former congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell who lost her seat --
PHILLIP: -- to a Cuban American over this issue. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OCASIO-CORTEZ: We also condemn the Biden administration's decision to continue to contribute to the suffering of working people across Cuba.
DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL, FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSWOMAN: The only government to blame here, the only culprit of is what is happening in Cuba, is the Cuban government which has been a dictatorship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KUCINICH: For those of you who write books, I think this is going to be a chapter and the one about the Biden presidency and about him trying to get the message out when he this very vocal progressive wing that is saying something that's counter that could be politically damaging to what the Biden administration and the Democratic Party is trying to do.
KUCINICH: And I think all they have to do -- all they can do is listen, right. Because they're not going to -- no one is going to go quiet on the progressive wing, and just try to get their message out there louder.
Because that is -- that is going to be used, what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- you can see that being an ad.
KUCINICH: It's going to be used in the next -- in the 2022 election.
PHILLIP: Go ahead.
BADE: No, I was just going to say there have been some Democrats who tried to tackle that head on. I mean right after the midterm elections where Democrats lost way more seats and they were predicting -- almost lost the House -- there were this, you know, these tense conference calls where they tried to say to their progressive colleagues stop using the word "socialism".
And I mean this a broader issue than Cuba specifically but clearly, you know, that Democratic socialism is still being embraced and some in the left --
KUCINICH: And just (INAUDIBLE) for something else that they were going to be upset about.
PHILLIP: Meanwhile the Biden administration, their policy here has been kind of to not do anything at all.
KEITH: They have not yet put their stamp on Cuba policy. It doesn't seem like addressing Cuba policy or modifying the sanctions that President Trump had put in place or modifying the relationship, it really doesn't seem like that was part of the first 250 days agenda but once again this is another one of these foreign policy challenges that has shown up that wasn't part of the plan that the administration is now being forced to deal with, to think about.
And they're kind of being dragged into it. It doesn't seem like they are eager to put this at the top of pile.
PHILLIP: And maybe they're right because Americans are concerned about what's going on domestically. They're not as concerned about these foreign policy issues.
And Republicans they want to make this an issue but it remains to be seen whether it will be something to moves votes outside of south Florida, of course.
Coming up next, top Democrats are being blunt. It is time to legalize marijuana.
PHILLIP: It was a big moment on Capitol Hill this week. The top Senate Democrat announced that it is time to legalize marijuana.
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SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The waste of human resources because of the historic overcriminalization has been one of the great historical wrongs for the last decades. I will use my clout as majority leader to make this a priority in the senate.
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PHILLIP: And a majority of Americans appear to agree that pot should be legalized, decriminalized or available for medicinal use. And that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 95 percent of Democrats. And yet among those who do oppose full legalization is President Joe Biden. So as we sit here, I mean this is something that the public has kind of moved on from. But Joe Biden, a creature of Washington for over 30 years, is not sold.
I mean, Tamara, is he a little bit behind the times on this? And do you expect any changes in his position over the course of next few months?
KEITH: Yes. He is certainly a creature of a different era. He was the author of the Crime Bill in the 1990s. But this is an issue, much like gay marriage, where the American public has just moved very quickly, faster than politicians.
And you know, the White House keeps getting asked about this. And they keep just sort of saying, well, the position hasn't changed. He could be a man on an island.
KUCINICH: Yes, because unlike gay marriage, he hasn't been out front on this at all.
KUCINICH: And he's actually being led by the Senate. And the pressure is on because this patchwork of laws from state to state it's becoming really difficult --
PHILLIP: To that point, I mean if you look at the map of the United States, it is a sea in this map of green and yellow -- these are states where it's decriminalized or legalized and that includes a lot of the south. Lot of really red parts of the country.
BADE: Yes. I mean all politics is local here. If you think about Chuck Schumer is up for re-election this year. He's thinking about his left flank. He could see a potential primary.
And so this is an easy win for him. Just put a bill out there, say he's going to work really hard. You know, it's probably not going to go anywhere.
While this is very popular in the United States, the reality is that he doesn't have 50 Senate Democrats who support this.
And so a bill is not moving. There's certainly not the ten Republicans to surmount the filibuster. But again, he's up for reelection. It's an easy talking point.
PHILLIP: A big part of this though is the racial justice agenda for the Democratic Party in general. And we have known for a long time that marijuana is one of those places where you see the racial discrepancies playing out.
Black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate. Black people are criminalized for it at many more times the rate. And then beyond that, as we're talking about decriminalization, it's also about where legalization is happening and it becomes a cash cow and a profit opportunity for black businesses that don't have equal access to that either.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes. If you're Biden he likes like to talk about decriminalization of other things. He likes to talk about the racial justice part of his agenda but does not want to talk about it when it comes to marijuana.
In part, because he's part of an older Washington. He does not believe necessarily that marijuana should be used recreationally. But there is this racial justice part that he does not want to actually focus on and talk about in part because it's a difficult message.
People talk about the crime bill and all the people who have been locked up for marijuana and some of that is linked to Biden and the bill that he pushed, back in the 90s.
And so it's a difficult place for him to be in. And he has progressive on his left flank trying to push him to try to get him into the 21st century but doesn't appear that he's ready to change just yet.
PHILLIP: But it is -- I mean it is a little look surprising that there are not probably more Republicans. I mean Matt Gaetz, I believe, is a supporter of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. It seems like at this point, there should be a little bit of Republicans on the side of this as well, right?
KEITH: And there is except -- widespread support for legalization of some kind. But then when you talk about taxing it, when you talk about it as a cash prop for states and potentially even the federal government, then all of a sudden, the partisan lines draw.
PHILLIP: The politics change dramatically when we talk about people's pocketbooks.
But that's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time. And also the weekday show as well at noon Eastern time.
Coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guests this morning include the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Republican Senator Rob Portman.
And don't forget, of course, to tune in this Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time for a special "CNN TOWN HALL" with President Joe Biden.
Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.