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Inside Politics

McCarthy Boycotts Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Blocks Two Picks; Biden: "Venom" Starting To "Leak Out" Of Washington"; New COVID Cases In U.S. Averaging More Than 51,000 A Day; Are Republicans Shifting Their Tone On COVID Vaccinations?; What Role Will Biden Play In The Midterms?; Hunter Biden To Meet With Potential Buyers At Art Shows. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired July 25, 2021 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): COVID summer surge fueled by the delta variant.

GOV. KAY IVEY (R), ALABAMA: It's time to stop blaming the unvaccinated. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.

PHILLIP: Plus, a Capitol Hill storm is brewing. The breakdown over the January 6th Commission picks.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is deadly serious. It's an assault on the Capitol.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It's an egregious abuse of power. Pelosi has broken this institution.

PHILLIP: And a mid-term message preview. President Biden on the campaign trail in Virginia.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry, and I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.


PHILLIP: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


PHILLIP (on camera): Good morning and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip.

President Joe Biden campaigned on uniting the country, but two issues are still dividing America -- the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 election and its aftermath. The special House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on

January 6th will hold its first hearing this Tuesday. But that is not without drama. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already pulled his picks from the panel after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his selections -- his close ally Jim Jordan and also Jim Banks.


PELOSI: With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with concern that the American people want to know the truth and in light of statements and actions taken by them, I could not appoint them.

MCCARTHY: Pelosi has created a sham process. No committee in Congress will work if one person is taking all who can serve.


PHILLIP: Still, at least one Republican will serve on the committee, Congresswoman Liz Cheney. The speaker picked her and may also appoint a second anti-Trump Republican, Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

Joining me now with their reporting and their insights, Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times", NPR's Asma Khalid, CNN's Melanie Zanona, and Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post".

So, for Kevin McCarthy, he has decided this is not something that he is going to participate in all together. What's the politics here? What's the play? And will this potentially backfire?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the whole process that Kevin McCarthy is trying to do right now is in the eyes of the public trying to delegitimize this process, which is why he is calling the process sham, putting all the blame on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but the thing to remember is for all of what Kevin McCarthy is saying in terms of criticizing Speaker Pelosi's decision to pull these two Republicans off the panel, he had an opportunity.


KIM: The Republican Party had an opportunity to make this a very even process in terms of a split commission, split down the middle party by party in terms of a limited scope and a limited timetable. You know, Republicans, particularly Republicans in the Senate, rejected that process. So, Republicans should have known some sort of investigative panel was coming, but yet they decided to go down this path and try to delegitimize it all together.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, they had a chance, like you said, to make this pretty much even-steven, getting everything that they wanted and they rejected it.

Meanwhile, Pelosi is trying to bring some bipartisanship into the committee regardless. But this is coming days before the first hearing in which we're going to hear from some Capitol police officers who are part of the January 6th commission but also from some metropolitan police officers who are part of that commission. What can we expect on Tuesday?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: I asked Liz Cheney, what are you trying to get out of this hearing? And they said, obviously, we want to hear from these brave officers, this first-hand experience, probably very powerful testimony. They are also planning on playing video footage to go alongside it, some of the body-worn cam footage.

But, also, Cheney made the point, they want to put facts on the table and they want to counter the whitewash that's going on within the Republican Party. So, they will eventually get to investigating why this happened, but right now, they are trying to establish what happened and it's very important for the historical record.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But this is going to be not -- if they are looking to counter what is happening in the Republican Party, it's hard to see that this ends up being the process that does such -- you know, is able to do that.

I spend a lot of time interviewing Republican voters, I was listening to focus groups of Republican voters last week and the week before. And what you hear from these Republican voters is a sense that this attack wasn't really all that bad.


That it was just a protest, like this revisionist history has really seeped and infiltrated the party.

PHILLIP: We have some of the -- some of the --

LERER: Yeah.

PHILLIP: -- some of those quotes from this focus group that you are part of. I mean, one voter says it was a hundred percent orchestrated by Antifa and the left. Another says, I think it goes to George Soros and all the people in the government that are bought and paid for by the deep state. A third voter says it wasn't an insurrection. Washington, D.C. on January 6th was a protest.

I mean, how -- how do you even begin to address that?

LERER: Well, certainly, that comes from a lot of what they're hearing on conservative media or not hearing like we know conservative media covers this incident less than, you know, is happening here on CNN or other cable news or news outlets. Some is coming from what they are hearing from most Republican leaders with Representative Cheney being the exception.

But I think it is really hard to counter that and I think if what the country needs one could argue is a thorough investigation both of the security failures and of the role the former president, other politicians played in this event, it's hard to see how any outcome that comes out of this committee is broadly accepted by the American public, certainly by one-half of it.

ZANONA: That is why Speaker Pelosi not only added Cheney. She's also considering adding Adam Kinzinger another Republican also reported this week that they are potentially adding a Republican adviser to work behind the scenes. So, while Democrats do feel comfortable with the decision to veto Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, they also want to shore up the credibility as much as possible.

ASMA KHALID, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I guess my question is like who is that credibility for at this point? Because to Lisa's point there is a chunk of the Republican Party that we all witnessed I would say what happened and so there is footage of exactly what happened and people are still seeing different realities even based on the fact that we all have video footage more or less or have seen it of what transpired.

PHILLIP: To that point, not that we want to dwell on this, but last night the former president was in Arizona, and he basically told, you know, that crowd that there is no moving on from the election conspiracies and the January 6th conspiracies frankly.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: They say, well, sir, we have to get on to the future. Let me tell you, you're not going to have a future. First of all, our nation is being destroyed but you're not going to have a future in '22 or '24 if you don't find out how they cheated.


PHILLIP: That sound you hear is Republicans being like, great. Like this again? I mean, haven't we been down this road?

KIM: It is also the last thing that Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy want, because right now, especially in the House, they're in a very good position to win back the majority and a lot of -- all of their messaging is focusing on the Biden agenda and why in their view the Biden agenda it is not beneficial for the American public.

PHILLIP: And that's kind of one of the rationales for trying to torpedo this January 6th commission so that they can pivot to something else, but no.

KIM: Right. Because this January 6th commission is going to keep that and President Trump in the headlines, but then President Trump, himself, is trying to relitigate the -- constantly relitigate the 2020 results which is what Republican leaders do not want.

LERER: But there is also a thing where Republican leaders and people in the party with the exception of Cheney don't stand up and put down these conspiracy theories in a forceful way because they're worried that the former president has more control over their voters than they do. So, it allows them to flourish and take hold.

When you look at the polling on views of the Republican Party on January 6th, people have become more skeptical of it, right?

PHILLIP: Of course. LERER: So there was an opportunity there for the party to sort of push

out a different message but that would involve standing up and really saying no to conservative media, to some fringe elements in the party. Instead we're seeing again and again they let the fringe elements take over.

PHILLIP: And saying no to even some of these Republican establishment groups. Interestingly, I mean, you mentioned Liz Cheney, she's one of the people willing to stand up. She sharply criticized McCarthy this week.

And the tension is building. The Club for Growth put out this ad this week about Cheney.


AD NARRATOR: She sided with Nancy Pelosi and attacked President Trump when he was in office. She supported impeachment. And she continues to attack President Trump today. Hillary Clinton? No. Liz Cheney.


PHILLIP: Yes, you can believe your eyes, they are really comparing Hillary Clinton and Liz Cheney. How bad is it for her right now?

ZANONA: Look, I did some reporting on this last week. There was discussion whether Republicans in the House are going to punish her in some way like kicking her off armed services or expelling her from the GOP conference entirely.

There is not a lot of appetite to do that. Republicans feel her political future is probably doomed anyway, they don't feel like they need to necessarily take another whack at her. But at the same time, you are seeing efforts to try to chip away at her credibility in any way possible because they know she is so instrumental to Pelosi's strategy here with the select committee of adding her and making this a bipartisan, credible investigation.


PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, lots of questions about her political future but no matter what she is not backing down from this fight with Kevin McCarthy at all. We'll have more coming up.

Next for us though, President Biden insists he can get bipartisan things done. This week, though, may be his last chance to prove it.


PHILLIP: Six months into his presidency, Joe Biden says he is still convinced he is a uniquely capable of bringing Washington together.


BIDEN: A lot of my Republican friends say, Joe, I know you're right, but if I do this, I'll get primaried. But I think that's all beginning to move. I don't mean overnight. Don't get me wrong. I'm not playing out some panacea here. I think you're beginning to see some of the -- and both -- and Democrats as well -- sort of the venom sort of leak out of a lot of it.



PHILLIP: Let's be honest. So far, there is not a lot of evidence that he's right. I mean, look no further than the breakdown of the January 6th committee and on his trillion dollars infrastructure plan bipartisan negotiations seem to be teetering on the edge. Senate negotiators say they are almost there and the next few days will be their final shot.

So, I mean, this is their last chance potentially, Melanie, for them to get this done. What are the prospects as we sit here on a Sunday morning?

ZANONA: I feel like we say this every week but this is a make or break moment for the infrastructure bill, right? So, look, they have been working through the weekend. They're trying to nail down these final details. I mean, there's still a lot of challenges and road bumps that could bump up.

And all of this is also creating the bipartisan bill is holding up the bigger budget reconciliation bill because once they pass that, they're locked into that price tag. So, if the bipartisan deal falls apart, they're going to want to stick some of that into the larger partisan bill. So, everything is in limbo right now, but seriously, this week is going to be a make or break moment.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, there is not a whole lot of room for error here. I mean, they've got potentially 11 senators who are willing to be onboard with this but any one of them could decide to back off.

And Dan Balz from "The Washington Post" writes in his column even if this works, right, he says: Success on the package would not foreshadow a shift back to an earlier era, one in which Biden is familiar and wishes to try to recreate but would simply be one moment of cross-party good will and a temporary truce in a raging war, I mean, the temporary truce that involves millions or billions of dollars that go to people's districts so it makes a lot of sense Republicans might want to sign on for that.

But is Biden still a little bit kind of Pollyannaish about the future of bipartisanship in Washington?

KHALID: We heard him right there. Is this sort of eternal optimism that he has? And, look, I think that that is why when you talk to administration officials and hear from the White House, there is such a conviction that this bipartisan deal does need to occur. And I would say that is not so much about the specifics. I know people will ask, you know, what are red lines for this White House? I don't know that there really are red lines. I think the red line for them is that some bipartisan deal makes it

through, because the specifics frankly, you know, say transit doesn't make it. That'll go in the separate partisan deal.

Anything that doesn't make it in this bipartisan deal they can throw into the reconciliation bill. But he wants to prove to the American public that, look. I promised you that folks in a 21st century Washington, Democrats and Republicans, can get something done and here is evidence that this is possible.

LERER: And if it doesn't happen on infrastructure, it's really hard to see it happens on anything else, right, if you look at priorities like immigration or police reform, those things are far behind infrastructure in terms of any kind of compromise and infrastructure is something where the parties have been talking that they could get a deal for literally years.

So this is his best shot to achieve something that really was a major focus of his campaign that he could sort of bring back this sense of bipartisanship comity of the Senate that he came of age in and that he spent the vast, what, three, four decades of his life, the vast majority of his political career.

PHILLIP: Meanwhile, on the reconciliation package, this is $3.5 trillion of just all Democratic priorities. As Asma said, there is this interplay between the two bills and some Democrats are getting frustrated that the bipartisan bill is holding up their other priorities.

Chris Murphy telling "Politico" there should be a limit on how far you are willing to bend over backwards given that the American people did choose to put a Democrat in charge of the White House and Congress and Jerry Connelly also says they're eating up time they being Republicans and having been burned back in 2009 and 2010 by Republicans in the Senate on the Affordable Care Act, we are understandably wary.

So, a little bit of, you know, wearing thin of the Democratic unanimity on the other side of this.

KIM: Right, right, and the lessons of the early years of the Obama administration are so instructive for this White House and for Democrats who were there back then which is why they don't want to give Republican negotiators all too long.

But the people in the group -- and not just Republican negotiators in the group, but Democrats in that group as well -- are saying publicly and telling Chuck Schumer and other leaders that, look, we are very close. This -- we are almost there. This is going to be a major accomplishment for this Democratic Congress and for President Joe Biden.

At the same time, though, certainly a lot of impatience bubbling up with this $3.5 trillion package led by Bernie Sanders and is going to just encompass all of the party's priorities. And we're talking about expanded Medicare coverage, including dental and vision coverage. We're talking about potentially immigration. There are so many things. And we also have such a short amount of time. Chuck Schumer wants to

get not only the bipartisan package passed in the Senate but also this $3.5 trillion blueprint before the August recess begins.


That's in the next two weeks. Probably not going to happen, but we'll see.

PHILLIP: And then there is also the issue of the debt ceiling.


ZANONA: And government funding.

PHILLIP: And government funding, but Republicans are basically saying, we are going to draw a bright line on the debt ceiling. And unlike the last four years, they are going to go ahead and try to make this a political issue.

Here is Chuck Schumer's response to that.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: The leader's statements on debt ceiling are shameless, cynical, and totally political. This debt is Trump debt. It's COVID debt. Leader McConnell should not be playing political games with the full faith and credit of the United States. Americans pay their debts.


PHILLIP: How much of a potential bomb does this throw into all of these well-laid plans for the next few months?

ZANONA: Right. Well, Republicans have rediscovered their love for fiscal conservatism now that Joe Biden is back in the White House it seems. But no, this is a challenge for Democratic leaders because they are trying to juggle the infrastructure bills. There's going to be the debt ceiling, the must pass government funding bills, and it's all potentially going to be coming together at the same time.

So, this is a potential bomb for them. It is unclear whether they are going to include the debt ceiling in a reconciliation package. There was some discussion of that.

PHILLIP: Taking it off the table --

ZANONA: Right.

PHILLIP: -- for McConnell to use it as a political --

ZANONA: Right. And Mitch McConnell has said, if you're going to pass -- we're not putting up the votes so you might as well put it in the reconciliation bill. But, you know, there's also a timing question because they don't know whether they're going to be able to pass that reconciliation bill in time for when the extraordinary measures would run out.

PHILLIP: Okay. Enjoy the rest of your summer.


ZANONA: Or lack thereof.

PHILLIP: Coming up for us, who is to blame for this summer's COVID surge?



PHILLIP: Americans were hoping that this summer would mark the end of this pandemic but instead, we are on the verge of another summer surge. New cases have quadrupled this month, averaging more than 50,000 a day for the first time since April.

And if you are vaccinated, your risk of being hospitalized and dying is still extremely low, but 40 percent of adults in America aren't and neither is anyone under the age of 12. And their risk has never been higher than before.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: This virus has no incentive to let up and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect. Whether you are vaccinated or not, please know we, together, are not out of the woods yet.


PHILLIP: And there is growing frustration even among Republicans about the millions of Americans who refuse to get a shot.


IVEY: But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. I've done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something but I can't make you take care of yourself.


PHILLIP: CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, is joining the conversation.

And I've got to say, I feel the frustration. I think we all do that we thought we were out of the woods and we're not. I mean, what is your response to Republican governors like Kay Ivey saying it bluntly, get vaccinated?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, what I really like that Governor Ivey said was she characterized the vaccinated as the regular folks. And now, the unvaccinated are, clearly, the irregular folks.

But what I didn't appreciate is her basically throwing her hands up in the air and saying, well, I've done all that I can do. She vetoed a bill in Alabama that would have allowed for vaccine passports. As governor, she could mandate that all state workers get vaccinated. There is a lot she can do to set the tone in her state so I don't think she is helpless.


REINER: But it is very frustrating right now.

PHILLIP: And that is true I think in a lot of red states in this country. But we're also learning this weekend, according to "The Washington Post" and some new reporting that the White House is getting increasingly concerned about what could be this really strong summer surge. They write, officials are now looking at models that predict anywhere from a few thousand new COVID cases to more than 200,000 every day in the fall.

One new forecast also estimates the United States could see three times the number of daily deaths from the coronavirus by October compared to now. I mean, Dr. Reiner, is that real? I mean, real life that we could be facing these kinds of numbers again?

REINER: The number of cases will continue to rise, so as you said, we're at 51,000 average cases per day. A lot of that is sort of asymmetric in the United States, focused in Florida and Texas and California. But it is going to rise everywhere much slower and to lower levels in places like the Northeast, which have very high levels of vaccination. As for deaths, we'll have to see.

The excellent thing in the United States is that we have vaccinated almost 90 percent of people over the age of 65, the most vulnerable, where about 80 percent of the deaths came in the first three surges in this country. So, I do not expect to see deaths approach anything like we were seeing in January when we were seeing sometimes 2,000 to 3,000 deaths per day. We will not approach that.


PHILLIP: Yes. Well, I mean if there is any glimmer of hope that is some good news.

We were just discussing Kay Ivey, you know, being this voice for Republican frustration. But there have been others. You saw Steve Scalise this week getting vaccinated. That's good. You saw the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis telling people get vaccinated.

But, Melanie, you know, is this real? I mean, actually take a listen to Joe Biden. I mean he characterized this as basically a come-to- Jesus moment for Republicans.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And, by the way, you know, they're always (INAUDIBLE), you notice a lot of our very conservative friends have finally had an altar call. They've seen the lord. Whether it's on Fox News or whether it's the most conservative commentators.


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Ok. So yes, in some corners of the Republican Party there has been a shift. Steve Scalise, House GOP Doctors' Caucus just held a big press conference this week, trying to encourage people to get vaccinated.

But at the same time they focused on origins of the pandemic. They took a swipe at Biden. They took a swipe a Kamala Harris. Steve Scalise also tried to blame Kamala Harris and Joe Biden for the skepticism about vaccines in the country.

So there's still politics going on. I have also talked to some Democrats who say too little, too late. I mean it's great that, you know, Steve Scalise finally got vaccinated and there is this shift and some segments of Fox News have been moving in a better direction.

But where were they months ago? And is it too late? Are the skeptics still so dug in to their opposition.

PHILLIP: We still don't have answers about many Republicans in the House and whether they're vaccinated -- 96 won't say. Several in the Senate won't say. I mean it's a real problem.

But Asma, over at the White House they're looking at this big picture and trying to figure out what do they do about mask mandates? How do they message this to the American people?

You asked Jen Psaki, the press secretary, specifically this week about what's going on inside the White House. And this is that exchange.


ASMA KHALID, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is the administration not mandating vaccines for White House staff?


KHALID: And do you have a count -- can you offer any confirmation to the percentage of employees who are vaccinated?

PSAKI: I'm not going to provide that.


PHILLIP: What does that tell you about -- why? Why would they not answer that?

KHALID: Ok. So I think there is an assumption that a majority of the White House staff is vaccinated but it's sort of, you know, even when you go as a journalist there's this honor system. You're told if you are vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask. So, you know, I would say a vast majority of journalists are not wearing masks.

But In her response, you know look, I interpreted it as sort of political reason in why they're not willing to engage on this question. What I asked is whether or not there's a mandate for White House staff and I think this administration is extremely reluctant to go anywhere near that word, "mandate".

It has become a very political football, right. and so any time they're asked questions about mandates, they will throw it back to private companies, individual corporations can decide what they want to do, you know.

But look, I was struck by the fact that they could, you would think in theory, mandate what, you know, folks are doing in the White House.

REINER: My contacts have told me that while there's no official mandate for vaccination at the White House, if you will be in contact with the president or any of the principals, you must be vaccinated.


DR. REINER: So that's the unwritten law at the -- at the White House. Now, as for Congress, of the vast majority of those 97 or so members who will not disclose their vaccine status have, indeed, been vaccinated, they just will not tell their status.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their politics again.

LISA LERER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But you know, it's a political question, this question of mandates. The White House may not be able to continue to avoid if the numbers increase. And the reality is even though we know that the unvaccinated population is -- a higher percentage of them are Republicans and are in counties that former president Trump won, this is still -- if the numbers get worse this is a political problem that the Biden administration will still own. It doesn't matter who is getting sick. It will fall on their heads, politically.

PHILLIP: Dr. Reiner, I want to get your thoughts on one deliberation that is happening within the federal government about booster shots. Some thinking maybe that people 65 and older might need the shot and people who are immunocompromised might need a third shot if they got one of the mRNAs. Where do you think they should come down on this?

DR. REINER: Well, first of all, I think we should be hearing about this from the CDC not from Pfizer. It seems like, all the information we're getting is coming from Albert Bourla not Rochelle Walensky. So I want to hear from the CDC.

Look most of us have expected that at some point we would get booster shots. Pfizer is moving ahead with a plan to apply for approval for booster shots because their six-month data seems to suggest that efficacy for their vaccine drops from about 95 percent down to about 84 percent.

So they're seeing some sort of mild, you know, waning of effectiveness. I expect that we will start boosting people who are immunocompromised because when you measure their antibody response many of those folks don't have much.

And then maybe moving into the elderly, who have the most to lose from reinfection.


PHILLIP: Yes. So we'll be on the lookout for all of that. Dr. Reiner, thanks for joining us for this.

DR. REINER: My pleasure.

PHILLIP: And coming up next, he is not on the ballot but Democrats are still running against Donald Trump in a key governor's race.


PHILLIP: It is an off year but Democrats will face their first real electoral test this November as voters in New Jersey and Virginia choose their next governor. Both states have a history of electing someone who is from the opposite party of the person in the White House.

In 2009, voters picked Republicans to lead their state just a year after Barack Obama won both and in 2017, both states swung back electing Democrats.

In Virginia, Democrats are hoping to buck this trend.



BIDEN: Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump and so has Terry. I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.

The guy Terry's running against is an acolyte of Donald Trump for real.


PHILLIP: Biden came out swinging against Donald Trump, which is not actually usually what he does. Were you surprised by that?

LERER: No. I mean part of what you see the parties doing this off year elections is test their messaging and so what we can, you know, for the midterms to come. And so what we can see for that -- from that is the Democrats clearly think running against Donald Trump remains a powerful message to motivate their base.

There is some concern within Democratic voters whether they're -- within Democratic strategists whether their voters will show up in the same numbers that they did during the Trump administration and, you know, keep states like Virginia, which has trended recently Democratic.

I also think part of this was a strategy to try to bait former president Trump into coming to Virginia.

PHILLIP: Nothing more motivating for Democratic voters than Trump showing up and supporting Virginia or wherever.

LERER: Exactly. Voting is very powerful.

KIM: What I thought so interesting too is because -- and so striking is because President Biden and this White House have so focused on not talking about the former president.

They call him the former guy. They insist over and over that they are not paying attention to what he is doing out of office. So to see Joe Biden come up swinging, it really grabs your attention and I think has more of an impact than perhaps if they were talking about him all the time.

PHILLIP: And it's also a different vibe that you get from Biden campaigning and being asked to campaign with, you know, maybe frontline Democrats compared to, you know, when Obama was in office. There was a sense of -- I don't know. Maybe we need to keep our distance.

KHALID: I mean at this point in time, Biden, you look at his approval numbers, he's pretty popular when you look at how he has handled COVID, how he's handled the economy.

But if you also listen to the rest of that speech, he went on to say that voters are going to want to see that Democrats have delivered.

I mean this is also a pitch for folks to get behind his agenda because, you know, beyond the big COVID relief package, the White House doesn't have a whole lot yet legislatively to offer voters as you're looking ahead to the 2022 midterms.

PHILLIP: To that point, I mean we alluded this. But going into the mid terms with the president being a Democrat, virtually everyone, Melanie on Capitol Hill and in Washington believes Democrats will lose the House.

The history of this is pretty rock solid with one exception being right after 9/11 in 2002. You know, Democrats gained 41 seats in 2018 under a Republican president. Republicans gained 63 seats under Obama and so on and so forth.

ZANONA: Well, Republicans could actually win back the House on redistricting alone. So that's also factoring into this. It's not just history, it's the redistricting.

But look, Democrats are going into this. they are already previewing what their strategy is going to be. It's not just tying Trump to all these Republican candidates. It's also talking about the economic policies. So you've seen a very concerted effort on the Hill to start talking up the child tax credits, for example, to really sell what they're doing and what they're trying to do because they know this was going to be an absolute dog fight.

LERER: Right. I had a Democrat describe the strategy to me as needles and checks, right. So vaccine rates and the text of child tax credits, the stimulus payments.

But you have to wonder about that strategy is if they don't get any other major accomplishments done, like you're talking about, do people still remember that in the midterm? Those child tax care credits are going to be long gone, and probably long spent.

We don't know what the situation is going to be in terms of the pandemic and vaccination. So how resonant is that message when other issues will have inevitably come up.

PHILLIP: Child tax credit is barely, you know, a week old or so?


PHILLIP: There's a new ABC New/Ipsos poll out this morning showing some really perilous numbers for Biden and Democrats. Optimism about where the country is headed has dropped about 20 points since April. Pessimism risen by about the same amount since April.

These kinds of right direction, wrong direction numbers, a little bit overstated in political punditry but they do tell you about where the state of mind is for Americans.

KHALID: I think a lot of that is tied to COVID, though. That's what I've heard from some pollsters is that when you have COVID, COVID trumps everything else.


KHALID: And I think as we've begun to see cases and just the concerns over COVID increase in the last say couple of months, it seems to track with some of that that polling.

LERER: And Republicans see other sort of bad news on the horizon that they think they can run on -- the possibility of inflation, crime rates, you know, other parts of American life where people may not feel so secure that they think provide opportunities.

It's just hard to say where the country is going to be, looking out, you know, over what -- a year and a half?

PHILLIP: Right. There's also beyond the House of Representatives, the Senate landscape is one in which you are starting to see some young faces, some diverse faces showing up in the pool of candidates that Democrats are pulling from.

[08:44:53] PHILLIP: Here are just three of them. Three young, black Democrats who are running for senate seats in Wisconsin, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Is this an opportunity, potentially, for there to be a fourth black senator? Only -- two handfuls -- fewer than two handfuls since reconstruction.

KHALID: I mean to your point, Abby, right -- like it has been extremely rare to see African-Americans win statewide. In the 2018 election cycle, I actually did some reporting on this. You know, there were 50 states. There are 50 states and not a single black governor, which is just kind of an astounding stat.

And that year you had three of the Democratic gubernatorial nominees who are African-American. None of them won the general election.

And I think that when I talk to folks, there's you know, a whole host of reasons structurally that they'll talk about why there's a skepticism among largely white voters that black candidates can win statewide. And that goes down to fundraising. That goes down to some of the institutionally, Democratic Party you know, apparatus support that they feel they get.

And so that's why we'll see differences when you look at House and when you look at Senate and gubernatorial races.

PHILLIP: One of the big difference in how the Biden administration is approaching this is trying to boost up the DNC a little bit more than perhaps Obama did in the years that he was president.

Instead of creating a whole separate entity, the Biden administration is now saying they're going to you know, strengthen the DNC as opposed to the other way around.

LERER: Right and part of his appearance in Virginia I think was to send a message to the Democratic Party that the Biden administration is going to be heavily involved in these races and they're hoping to stave off the kinds of losses that the party saw at the state level during the Obama years.

PHILLIP: Exactly.

Well coming up next for us, Hunter Biden's new job is sparking some ethics concerns over at the White House.



PHILLIP: Hunter Biden's newfound career as an artist is raising new ethics concerns for the White House. He's a new artist but paintings are priced now between $75,000 and $500,000 and he's planning to meet with potential buyers at art shows where his work will be sold.


PSAKI: He is attending gallery events that have been prior planned and announced.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There could be prospective buyers there.

PSAKI: He's not -- those discussions won't be happening with the galleries (ph) but that is different than meeting with prospective buyers.

He will not know, we will not know who purchases his art.

WALTER SHAUB, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: The question is can you find anyone other than a president's son who showed up on the scene and started selling for the cost of a house and a half?

Ideally Hunter Biden wouldn't be doing this because it sure looks like profiting off the presidency.


PHILLIP: So I'm not an art critic. I don't know anything about art.

ZANONA: You're not?

PHILLIP: But these people do. One Pulitzer Prize winning art critic says that he thinks that Hunter Biden's art is kind of like a cafe painter. He says, "You wouldn't, unless you were related to the artist, spent more than $1,000 on it."

But then another art critic, who actually likes Hunter Biden's work also says this. "Anybody who buys it would be guaranteed instant profit. He's the president's son."

So, obviously, this is a problem, an ethical problem, one of optics but also just from a practical perspective. Why even do this?

KHALID: I mean the White House has been trying to defend this decision saying that it is a blind sale and that's how these interactions -- transactions are going to occur.

But you know, what, I think that the ethical conundrum isn't just whether or not this is a blind sale. It's the fact that Democrats for the past few years ripped into the Trump family for trying to profit off of the Trump name.

I mean you think of Ivanka Trump and her fashion line that was shut down. And now I think Democrats are in this conundrum of trying to -- they defend what Hunter Biden is doing when they've spent the past few years very much criticizing former president Trump for profiting off that family name.

PHILLIP: To that point, I mean here are just a taste of the headlines over the last few years about the Trump family.

You know, "Don and Ivanka have profited off their dad's presidency." "The Trump children taking millions overseas as the president slams Biden's son". And "Plotting the future: Trump kids even look to profit from their father's fallen legacy". Just because they did it, does that mean that you get to do it, too?

ZANONA: Also how much do you want to bet Republicans are going to investigate this art deal if they win back the majority, right.

Like this is a huge optics problem and ethics problem. Making it more challenging is that it is art and the value is assigned. That's why you have critics saying different things.

And so obviously the White House is trying to get some sort of wrap around this. They've tried to come up with an arrangement that could make it look a little bit better but, you know, they're worried about it.

LERER: And there is a model, right for doing it differently. Like if you look at former President Bush. He is an artist. Granted it's not a perfect comparison. He's the former president. He painted and he donated the proceeds of those paintings to his nonprofit, right.

So there are other ways in which he could be an artist, be a professional artist that wouldn't necessarily -- you know, might have an easier time through like ethics regulations.

PHILLIP: But for Biden, you know, Hunter -- this is his son, obviously. He has been through a lot of different things, whether it's addiction and what have you.

It seems like for Biden and now for his staff, who has to kind of take the president's stance on this, Hunter Biden's ethical line crossing seems to be a bit of a blind spot.


KIM: It certainly is a challenging point for the administration. And I think one other alternative that has been proposed by ethics expert is perhaps making everything transparent, not making these blind sales but to tell people exactly who paid for this and how much. And I believe Walter Shaub was one of the people who proposed that option.

But right now -- but the White House right now seems to think that the blind sale is the best option. But certainly these are questions that they're going to be facing.

PHILLIP: Yes. I find it hard to believe that there is any such thing as a blind sale when you're purchasing art from the president's son.

But that's it for us today on INSIDE POLITICS.

Coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests this morning include Dr. Anthony Fauci, Senator Pat Toomey and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

And thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us.

On a personal note, this is my last Sunday before I go on maternity leave for our family's big breaking news event, the birth of our daughter.

But INSIDE POLITICS will be back next weekend with the help of our guest host Manu Raju. And I will see you later this year.

Have a great rest of your day.