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Inside Politics

Florida Gov. DeSantis Charts His Own COVID Course; Donald Trump is using the big lie to build a massive campaign war chest; Dems Want, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) To Apologize to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 02, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It's the new epicenter of the pandemic. Averaging - look there - more than 15,000 new cases a day. That's nearly 20 percent of the national total from just one state.

And once again, the Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, is charting his own COVID course, signing an executive order that come short of banning mask mandates. Instead it gives parents a choice, masks or no masks. CNN's Rosa Flores live in Fort Lauderdale.

Rosa, we've had this conversation too many times over the last year plus, but Florida leading the nation in new cases.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, it feels like deja vu, you and I talking about this last July. Absolutely every single metric is going up when you look at these numbers. I talked to the Mayor of Broward County yesterday. He described it as terrifying as they're looking at these numbers because the number of hospitalizations are shooting up.

The only number that isn't shooting up just yet here is the number of vaccinations, but we're of course expecting that to jump because that's what we're seeing across the country. The new case positive rate here in the state of Florida, 18 percent, and this next metric is important because school districts across this state and across the country are going to be starting soon here in the state of Florida.

The positivity rate for children between the ages of 12 and 19 is 22 percent, and yet earlier last week Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, making light of the new CDC guidelines at a conservative conference joking about the fact that these new guidelines are out there, saying that he was not for mask mandates, which of course we have know since the beginning of the pandemic.

Now on Friday, Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, signing an executive order, and I should mention that it does not ban mask mandates. If you read it it's actually very confusing, but the bottom line is that he directs the Florida Governor - the Florida department - excuse me - Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health to issue emergency guidelines that give parents choices. Now John, I got to share with you I spent some time here in Broward County with families on both ends of the spectrum, families that are for masks and families that want choice. And all politics aside, I think that Americans have a lot of things in common. These parents especially the love for their children, and they all want the best when it comes to education for them as well. John -

KING: It's just going to be a fascinating and I think somewhat confusing few weeks ahead as we get kids back into school. Rosa Flores, grateful for the live report from Florida.

Back in Washington, some breaking news. The Biden administration says there's a sign of some vaccination progress. The White House tweeting out last hour that 70 percent of American adults have now gotten at least one shot. That is nearly one month behind the president's initial goal of doing that by July 4.

Joining our conversation, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Health Policy Reporter for "The Washington Post". She's also the author of a fantastic best- seller "Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic that Changed History."

Grateful to have you here. So you have just an incredibly complex challenge right now for the Biden White House in that they're trying to ramp up vaccinations. They also know kids are going back to school, and one of the challenges, this you do have, Governor DeSantis and others who the CDC says you should probably mask up indoors. Governor DeSantis says I don't think so.

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, NATIONAL HEALTH POLICY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. It's a really tricky time for them. It was a little bit easier a couple months ago when cases were going down and they could say vaccinated people could take their masks off. Now they have to walk this line of saying the vaccines work. It's your best protection. You should be getting it, especially with the rise of the Delta variant, but also you still need to be careful. It's not the bulletproof protection that we might have thought it was a couple of months ago, not with this variant at least.

So it's very protective, and like you said, they have to battle these mostly Republican politicians who are saying that people shouldn't have to get vaccinated, that people shouldn't' have to get their - put their masks back on, that are accusing them of flip flopping when really it's just that the picture on the ground has changed. We didn't have the Delta variant taking hold a couple months ago.

KING: Change. You used the word change. I want you to listen to Dr. Murthy here, the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, who says, yes. We have to change things from time-to-time, and yes. We know that might confuse, but the science is strong. He uses the baseball term, curveballs.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: What we've seen time and time again with the COVID-19 is that it's going to throw curveballs at us. Delta - the delta variant is the latest curveball. This is what COVID does is it throws curveballs our way. We've got to be able to respond and change our behavior, our guidance, you know, as the science, as the data changes.


KING: Something else that's changing appears to be the president's focus on this in the sense that they seem to get at the White House that he needs to be seen as more on top of this. The president's schedule team, meeting with coronavirus team. Tomorrow, speech on increasing vaccinations. Wednesday, meeting with Pandemic Preparedness Advisor.

Your book is a fascinating look at the Trump administration for its (ph) mishandling of the coronavirus. Inside the Biden White House, especially knowing the lessons of the Trump team, they have to understand they have a giant policy challenge but also political collisions.

ABUTALEB: One thing that I learned both in doing the book and covering this pandemic for the last year and a half is that messaging is just as important part of a response as the actual policies and the response itself.


And that's one thing that the Biden White House, like any White House probably would, is struggling with because the science is constantly changing. It's constantly a different message to people, and there's so much distrust in the country right now that like the surgeon general said in that clip things will change. It's a constantly evolving virus, but people view that as flip flopping or not being honest with them.

And I think one of the challenges the Biden White House has going forward is they talked about how effective the vaccinations were and that they basically prevented against infection, and that's just not the case right now. They do protect against serious illness and hospitalization, not necessarily against infection. It's not serious, so it's still doing what it's supposed to do, but now they need to kind of level with people and make that clear, and how you do that is really a challenge.

KING: Well obviously the president's going to put more time into it in the days and weeks ahead. We shall see. Yasmeen Abutaleb, grateful coming into explain it. Come back, we'll walk through this.

When we come back, some mind blowing new fundraising numbers tell us the former president won't lack any resources as he plots a come back.



KING: Donald Trump is using the big lie to build a massive campaign war chest. The former president has more than $100 million in his campaign bank account. This as we're learning more, of course, about just how far he was going to go to try to overturn the last election, including new details about questioning the then Acting Attorney General in December who declared it corrupt so that he could fight the results in Congress.

The panel is back with me now. From a campaign perspective, $100 million in the bank is a big deal. The question -



KING: -- with Trump is how does he spend it? Does he spend it on the 2022 elections or does he save it for a 2024 comeback?

MARTIN: He's never been known to spend a lot of money or time, frankly, on other politicians. I think he will give some of it away to candidates in the midterms, but I think his focus in the midterms is going to be chiefly trying to support allies and get a level of - a measure of vengeance on his adversaries within the party and, of course, across the aisle.

I think that'll include some rallies, certainly travel. I don't think the money element is going to be that significant, though.

KING: If you're trying to figure out what is the ultimate goal here, right? Maybe you don't believe Donald Trump when he says I'm going to come back in 2024. Listen to his former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, here on Newsmax on Friday. Listen closely.


MARK MEADOWS, FORMER TRUMP W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF: Wanted to join you to talk about really a president that is fully engaged, highly focused -



MEADOWS: -- and remaining on task. Well we met with some of our cabinet members tonight. We actually had a follow up member meeting with some of our cabinet members.


KING: This is August 2021. This is day 195 of Joe Biden's presidency. Day 195 of Joe Biden's presidency. Mark Meadows, talk to you about a president that is fully engaged. We had a meeting with our cabinet.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well Meadows knows what he's doing right there.

KING: Yes, he does.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Which is that we laugh because it's also just stunning and it's also dangerous because there are so many voters that still - so many Republican-based voters that think that Trump won the election, Biden is an illegitimate president.

And so, Meadows is furthering that conspiracy as though they're some shadow government, which isn't true as though Trump is still somehow president or going to return to the presidency in a matter of weeks or months, which is inaccurate. So Meadows is doing that because he knows that it's what the base wants.

KING: But so the challenge is, and we know, look, 2024 is a long ways off. Will something else keep Donald Trump from running? We don't know. We know he wants to at least have the option open. That's why he wants the whole Republican Party to think -



KING: -- I'm still sheriff. Don't even think about it. So the question is what happens in the meantime? Should he invest in 2022 to prove I still have the juice, or should he pull back because we've seen a couple of examples where his candidate has lost in primaries? I don't want to over blow the meanings of that, but you know, Dan Eberhart is a frequent, longtime Republican donor says, "To me, the $64,000 question is how much money he's going to spend on the primaries. Is he going to save it for himself?" That is a challenge. How does Trump frame 2022 as what does he need to do to increase his viability for '24?

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think he looks to - to J. Mart's point, I think he looks at the midterms as vengeance. He would rather spend more money trying to defeat Liz Cheney in Wyoming for a seat that will have no impact on the majority overall because it is a Republican seat.

KING: Sure.

KANE: He's going to spend more time and resources trying to knock out a Liz Cheney or other who - Adam Kinzinger in Illinois than he will on trying to swing suburban districts outside Philadelphia, Cleveland and other places. So that's where I think he's going to spend his money.

The Biden people, on the other hand, will be devoting a huge amount of resources. They're spending his outside super pact group just announced they're going to spend $100 million this month on trying to build support for his agenda, so that's where they're going to be headed.

KING: And it's interesting. I should have followed this up when you said it because I laughed at it and sometimes you do laugh at it because it just makes you laugh, but then you realize the stakes involved that it's not funny in the sense that when you hear Mark Meadows say we have a president that is fully engaged, highly focused and remaining on task. We just had a meeting of our cabinet. Politicians out of office have political cabinets if you will. The term cabinet itself wouldn't have thrown me as much, but we have a president who is --


AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: A president (ph). That's what - yes.

KING: -- again, speaking on Newsmax where you have a group of people who believe he could still be reinstated --



KING: -- or that to your point that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president. The recklessness of that and the danger of that months after the insurrection where people who were told the big lie stormed the Capitol Building is stunning to me.

RASCOE: It is very dangerous, and that's what stood out to me, too. A president. Yes, you might call former presidents presidents. It's a courtesy. It's a title, but he is not a president right now. Like he's not president of anything. He is a former president.

And so, to use that type of language people will believe this, and we saw on January 6 that when people feel like they don't have any other options they can turn to violence. When they believe something has been taken from them they can turn to violence because they feel like we have been robbed. We have no other recourse. And that's what this sort of thing sets up.

KING: And yet, but -


MARTIN: Watch Columbus, Ohio tomorrow. Special election for a Republican seat, very safe seat. Trump as he did in Texas last week has intervened in the primary. No apparent reason. He could win this one, but if he loses that'll be two in a row. I think if you lose two in a row you're going to see a lot of the folks in the big white building on top of the Hill here in Washington start to question how much juice he has in primaries.

KING: Jonathan Martin right there practicing the art of the segue. Up next for us, two big special election primaries in Ohio tomorrow. One tests the Trump factor. The other splits Democratic liberals and the party establishment.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): They are afraid of her. They are afraid for her because she's going to stand up and fight and take them on.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): My job as House Majority Whip is to count the votes, and I need somebody I can count on.



KING: Primary day is tomorrow in two special House elections in Ohio. In the Columbus area, the value of Donald Trump's endorsement is, again, and issue, this is the 15th Congressional District's Republican Primary. In Cleveland in the 11th district the Democratic divide is the big story. Progressive, Nina Turner, is backed by Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders and many House progressives. Shontel Brown is backed by a party of establishment forces, including Hillary Clinton and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Our CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, joins us now live from Cleveland. Jeff, a big test to the Democratic Party struggle at an interesting moment.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFARIS CORRESPONDENT: John, there's no doubt this is not a question of the Democratic majority. Whoever win the primary tomorrow is almost certain to win the general election. This is a Democratic district, but there is a question about the Democratic Party.

Are progressives going to see a moment here that they've really not seen all year long in other primary race across the country. We spent the weekend here in Cleveland, and John, and I can tell you there is a sense of a reviving some of those old divisions going back to the 2016 campaign.

You mentioned Hillary Clinton endorsing Shontel Brown. She's a county councilmember here. Well Nina Turner, of course, a familiar face, a long time Bernie Sanders ally. Bernie Sanders was out in force endorsing here. So establishment versus progressive, and we had a flavor here of what's at stake. Let's take a listen.


NINA TURNER (D), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Congress is a coequal body. It has power to in that my job is not to just pair any administration whether it's a Democratic administration or a Republican administration. My job is to represent the interests of the people who elect me.

SHONTEL BROWN (D), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: You get rhetoric or results. Insults or results. Lip service or public service. The choice is very clear.


ZELENY: So this has been a bitter, expensive, and quite frankly a nasty race. A lot of outside money coming into this, and Nina Turner was really leading the pack. There are actually 13 candidates on the ballot here tomorrow. She was leading the way until a couple months or so ago an there was a rise from Shontel Brown, again, the local Democratic Chairwoman on the county council. A rising star here. A lot of outside money behind her, a lot of support for her as well; the Congressional Black Caucus as you said, leaders coming out here in full force of her.

John, this district since 1999 has been represented by an African American woman and it will be again, but which one, which direction? That is the question here. And it's so interesting to see Bernie Sanders, James Clyburn also representing very different wings.

Now the White House is staying out of this, but we know wherever Congressman Clyburn is he likely has President Biden's interests at heart. Of course, he certainly made his presidential campaign. He was trying to do the same thing here for Shontel Brown.

So John, in a August, Tuesday special election primary race, no question low turn out. So the idea of is that Sanders machine here still something that can push Nina Turner over the edge or will the establishment win another one here tomorrow, John?

KING: At a time the establishment of the progressives are having a tug of war here in Washington over budget, spending and other issues, that race will send a bit of a message about sort of who has the juice at the moment. Jeff Zeleny, grateful for the live report of the important race. We'll track more back tomorrow.

When we come back, see here this photo of the Washington, D.C. Mayor has her explaining. She's indoors. Her mask mandate went into effect this weekend.



KING: Topping our political radar today, some Democrats want the House Republican Leader, Kevin McCarthy to apologize or even resign that after he joked about hitting Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a gavel.

McCarthy was at a fundraiser over the weekend and was given an oversized gavel and told the audience, quote, "it will be hard not to hit Pelosi with it if Republicans take control of the House after the midterms." Pelosi spokesman calling this comment, quote, "irresponsible and disgusting."

The Washington, D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, denies violating her newly imposed mask mandate just hours after it went into effect. "The Washington Examiner" cited a picture of Mayor Bowser without a mask on at an event Saturday. Her office said she officiated at a wedding, and the only time she was unmasked indoors was while she was eating or drinking as allowed by the policy.

Finally for us, the former President Barack Obama marking his 60th birthday with a giant celebration this weekend on Martha's Vineyard. Axios reports it will include hundreds of guests including Steven Spielberg and Pearl Jam is said to perform