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Inside Politics

McAuliffe Scrambles To Walk Back Biden Snub; McAuliffe Mentions Trump Almost 20 Times In CNN Interview; Biden Pushes For Party Unity, Seeks To Salvage Agenda; Allen West Hospitalized With COVID; George Clooney Calls Trump A "Knucklehead"; FBI Sting Nabs Navy Engineer & Wife In Espionage Case. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: President Biden, for example, won by it 10 points just last year. So it is noteworthy that the Democratic candidate is playing a bit of cleanup entering the stretch. Trying to move past a comment on a call he thought was private, the President Biden's sagging poll numbers are hurting him.


TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR NOMINEE: We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington. As you know, the President is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through.

It said dragging me down. I worry about the people of Virginia.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: That making it harder for you?

MCAULIFFE: You know, harder not -- I mean, people understand what I'm doing.


KING: Joining our panelists who try to translate that for us, CNN's Dan Merica and CNN's Eva McKend, both of whom are reporting extensively on the Virginia race. Let's start with the Biden factor. Terry McAuliffe on a call he thought was private nobody, nobody, nobody in 2021, should think any call you have is private. Sorry.

But, you know, telling the truth, right? So why is there such flak over him saying the President's poll numbers are down and that could drag us down? That happens to be a fact.

DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Because it's never good when a politician plays pundit. I mean, any political operative would say that. But it, yes, it's also true. And Terry McAuliffe has taken a number of positions on Biden throughout this race and the primary, he was a Biden Democrat. When Biden started slumping a bit, he started to pull some distance back, say what he said on that call. He's also said, you know, the federal headwinds are against him, he's attacked Congress. And now he's obviously trying to clean that up with Dana Bash.

But at the same time, there is a reason to do this. He is hoping comments about Biden, worries about the race, public concerns will turn out Democrats, will boost people, get them focused on Youngkin and then turn people out in November. We'll see if that really works. But that is part of -- you know, part of the strategy is getting people to focus because Democrats were concerned for a long time that there wasn't enough focus on this race that Democrats were taking it for granted.

KING: The flip side, though, is if you have a discouraged Democrat who maybe thinks Terry McAuliffe, he was governor before, he's kind of old school, I wanted something to do.


KING: And then this is my president that you don't vote, right? Isn't that the flip side that you actually contribute to Democratic disenchantment?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, he is hoping that his brand of politics works -- continues to work for him. This straight shooter style telling it like it is, leveling with folks, "Hey, I really need you. Our president might not be popular right now in the state, but that doesn't change the reality." But that does present the -- that does illustrate the very specific dynamics in this race where both Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin are keeping their party leadership at arm's length. They have to keep some distance. We see McAuliffe keeping some distance between him and President Biden, but Glenn Youngkin doing the same thing with President Trump.

KING: Right. So here's just to show you where a few weeks out, three weeks out, tomorrow, we count the votes. This poll, 48 McAuliffe, 44 Youngkin. Governor's races tend to be pretty close, but Virginia has been trending blue. So if you're a Democrat, you're looking at that, you're thinking OK, that's a problem.

Biden's favourability in the state is 49 percent, McAuliffe is 48 percent, Youngkin is 44, Trump is 41. So this is a referendum -- it is a referendum on Biden and the Democratic agenda as much as it is a -- and its referendum on Donald Trump and Republican turnout. But Terry McAuliffe sometimes, sometimes, lets the tongue get out ahead of the brain this is a debate scene here where Terry McAuliffe says schools, parents, why do we want to listen to them?


MCAULIFFE: I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach. You know, I get really tired of everybody running down teachers.

GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR NOMINEE: Terry McAuliffe wants to put government, bureaucrats, politicians between parents and their children. Terry McAuliffe has said sit down, be quiet. I don't care what you think.


KING: Terry McAuliffe would like to clean up his words, again, as he did on the call. But it is difficult in a state where a close election will be determined in the fast-growing Northern Virginia suburbs where you have a lot of parents and a lot of debate about critical race theory about what's being taught in schools to have a candidate for governor say, I don't want to listen to parents or I want -- I would go side with teachers over parents stepping in it.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's clearly a misstep. And I just -- let's just say for the record, just in case anyone doesn't know, they don't teach critical race theory to kids in K through 12 schools. That's not a thing anywhere in the country, including in Virginia, but setting --

KING: Only for Republican candidate.

TALEV: Yes, but it is a hotly debated, but not actually a thing. So, I think for Terry McAuliffe, there are two challenges, and one is that Glenn Youngkin is not Donald Trump. If Terry McAuliffe was running against Donald Trump, it'd be a completely different race, right? But Youngkin has a mass appeal to kind of the center or slightly right a center or -- I don't -- well, probably not left to center, but center and right of center. And so, that's making this a more real race.

He has acquitted himself with very well as a candidate, and he has taken this deliberate step away from Trump. Not really talking trash about Trump, but being very careful to make clear he is not aligning himself as a Trump candidate, and that is giving some assurances to Virginia voters in the middle and that has got McAuliffe in a more defensive position. And the other is the school issue because, look, I think it sounds to me like, what McAuliffe was trying to say is, I'm not going to let irresponsible parents who are against science terrorize school administrators into making your kids unsafe. That's actually not what he said.


It's just not what he said at all. And so, of course, it will be used against him.

KING: Yes, if that's the world we live in, right? You've -- anything you say can and will be edited and used against you. If it's not, maybe it's a little out of context. But you mentioned Glenn Youngkin is not trying to get a little safe distance from Donald Trump. That's why Terry McAuliffe, this interview lasted 13 minutes yesterday of State of the Union, 13-minute interview, 18 times, this.


MCAULIFFE: I'm running against a Donald Trump wannabe. He wants to do a Donald Trump-Betsy DeVos education system. Everything Trump says this guy's on. This is all the Trump talk. And I'm just surprised Trump hasn't come to Virginia yet. We're not going back to the Trump world.


KING: He was -- I think he was trying to bait Donald Trump and coming to Virginia, which he would like very much.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, he's also trying to take a page out of the playbook of Gavin Newsom in California by making this a referendum on trumpism and tying his opponent to that. But this also isn't California, which Joe Biden won by 30 points. In Virginia, he only won by 10 points. I know that that's still a lot, but it's not the 30 points.

And where Terry McAuliffe needs to do very well as with the independence. As independence that even Joe Biden, as he pointed out, is not doing particularly well with right now. He also needs to do quite well, I'm told by Democrats, in areas where there are a lot of Hispanic voters, and there are also black voters, also with suburban women.

And so the question is, can Joe Biden also help him with those if he were to come to the state? What I'm hearing from Democrats is they're hoping that more appearances by the Vice President Kamala Harris, would potentially help with some of those voters as well.

KING: Well, one of the things that's different this time is Virginia has kept in place the expanded voting from the coronavirus pandemic. So you have more early voting, you have more in-person early voting, which allows a smart campaign to sort of understand the terrain. You know, three weeks out, do I need to turn on more black voters?


KING: Am I having a trouble with suburban women? You know, the issue because that's all public record.

MERICA: Yes. I mean, there's a lot of data out there. These campaigns are smart, they know where they have to target. And you're absolutely right, that McAuliffe would gleefully accept Trump coming to the state. He told me before the primary was over, that he would personally pay for the gas to get Trump plane to Virginia, because that image of Trump shaking hands with Youngkin on stage would be played over and over and over again.

That is -- that's the contour of this race. And you're exactly right. There might be both be keeping their party leadership at arm's length, but it's going to determine this race. Is Biden more popular? Is Trump more popular? That's going to be a huge factor in this race.

MCKEND: But it could backfire McAuliffe constantly --


MCKEND: -- invoking --

KING: Yes.

MCKEND: -- Trump because, yes, Trump repels Democrats, but he also inspires Republicans.

KING: Right.

MCKEND: And that's what Republicans want to hear.

KING: Three weeks from tonight, we get to count votes. That's always one of my favorite times. We'll go through and I bet -- I'll bet you $1 that Biden ends up there before the end of the election to turn up voters.

Up next for us, the President tells Democrats, unity is the key to the 2022 midterms. But a big family feud right now, complicating efforts to pass the President's agenda.



KING: The debt ceiling deal that cleared the Senate last week buys time for Democrats to try to settle their differences over a bigger spending bill meant to advance key pieces of the Biden agenda. But while there's a lot of talk about sorting it out, there are still significant price and policy divides.

Our panel is back with us. So let's begin by listening to the president of the weekend, a pep talk to the Democratic Party. So he's supposed to be upbeat, and the President says, hey, hey, let's be friends, let's be unified.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to stay together and bound by the values that we hold as a party. Because here's the deal. We want 2020 as a unified party, and we look to 2022. As we do that, we need to stay unified.


KING: Does he mean that progressives in the House shouldn't keep calling Sinema and Manchin not Democrats? Does he mean that Sinema and Manchin should not keep calling the liberals in the House unrealistic big spenders? Is that what he means?

CHAMBERS: Well, he faces a dwindling number of options here, John. Mitch McConnell has said that Republicans aren't going to help them out again when it comes to the debt ceiling, so that's out of the question. And he could either tell Joe Manchin and Sinema, Senator Sinema as well, like this is what's going to happen, this is what we're going to do. Or as we were just discussing in the break here, he could take Terry McAuliffe's advice and put everybody in a room and say, "No one's leaving until we get this done." But he is running -- he is facing a dwindling number of options, particularly, if their target date is the end of this month, which is bruising glass (ph)

KING: So, on the one hand, they did buy time. The debt ceiling deal cleared the Senate, it will clear the House when they come back. That takes us off the fiscal cliff. Democrats had hoped to pass the reconciliation bill as they call it back then, but forget about it, that deadline has passed, they talk. But the longer you're talking, the more you can have things like this on the Sunday shows debating.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I think the ultimate price will be around $2 trillion. I'm really optimistic. We will get both of these bills to President Biden's desk by the end of this month, hopefully, possibly by the end of the year.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): I know Senator Manchin. I know the people involved in as I've been in the rooms. We will get these bills done.


KING: Both optimistic, Phil Mattingly, and Senator Coons is significant because he has the President's old Senate seat and they are very close.


KING: So when he says $2 trillion, he's not making that number up. The question is, at what point will the President decide or will the President decide when we get there, that this is messy, it's hurting us to be doing this in public. It's hurting my public opinion polling for us to do this in public. Let's come to the White House. Let's sorted out in private.

MATTINGLY: You know, I think that the calculation from the President up to this point has been trying to force the hands of Senators Manchin and Sinema is the worst way you could possibly go about this.


Much of the frustration and chagrin of progressives who said, they need to know where you stand. You need to tell them this is my top line and these are the elements that are going to be inside and we're moving forward. He has decided not to do that to this point. I think you're coming to a moment right now where things are very clearly coming to a head.

I think the biggest question right now is you talk about kind of the dynamics of the policy of the top line. All these things, they need to make a decision about what's inside it. I think everybody knows it's going to be somewhere they're shooting between $1.8 trillion, $2.3 trillion. The top line is not really the issue, it's what's going to be inside it. Do you do the full scale with shorter duration of what the President and progressives want or do you do fewer programs and try to do it for longer? Those are really complicated and very, very meaningful -- impactful decisions that have to be made and that need to be made now.

TALEV: It does seem like for right now that that is where they're tracking. So far at this moment, it does seem like there is an effort to keep everybody in all the programs in the tent together, because that's where all the people are. The people who want childcare really want it. The people who want some element of subsidized college really want it. The people who want the broadband really want it, but they don't all want each other stuff.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And so they will not be happy if you lose them and you give it to them. I will say this, Axios has a partnership with a group called generation lab that does polling on 18 to 29 year olds.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And we just got these numbers back to a fascinating -- two- thirds of young people, people under 30 in America, two-thirds of people think that Congress should pass something and a majority thinks that -- or about half thinks that if they've passed anything, whether it's infrastructure or reconciliation, that it'll help Democrats, it'll help Biden but they're completely split on which way to do it. Half want the infrastructure, half want the whole enchilada. And if that's young people who are more liberal and want more social spending, then helps explain how it's so inextricable.

KING: It -- look, this 50 states, it's a complicated puzzle to put together, shade everybody coming in. Up next, George Clooney talks politics. And by that, I mean, talks Trump.



KING: Topping our political radar today, Allen West was in the hospital with what he describes as pneumonia caused by COVID-19. West is a Republican candidate for governor in Texas. He is not vaccinated and says, this solidifies his position against COVID vaccine mandates. West Facebook post says he's been taking hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Both of these drugs, both of these drugs, let me say it again, both of these drugs not recommended to treat COVID.

George Clooney called Donald Trump a knucklehead in an interview with the BBC and said the country's mood, get this, one of a battered child.


GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: It's so funny because, you know, he was just this knucklehead. I knew him before he was, you know, a president. He was just a guy who was chasing girls.


KING: But he also says he has no interest in running for political office because he, quote, would like to actually have a nice life. Today, President Biden is attending his nephew's wedding. Cuffe Owens is marrying Meghan King -- no relation-- who used to star on Bravo's reality TV show, "The Real Housewives of Orange County." King recently posted a photo of her and Owens on Instagram captioning the pic, "Trying my best to avoid any cheesy introductions like my main squeeze, so just meet my man."

In the city, I know a little something about that prides itself on many things. One Boston mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George, leaning heavily into a time-honored Boston trade.


ANNISSA ESSAIBI GEORGE (D), BOSTON MAYORAL CANDIDATE: And I'll be the teacher and the mother and the mayor that's going to get it done.


KING: They don't take sides here. That's a great accent. Voters will head to the polls next month. It's a historic race between two women of color. Essaibi Georgia and the Boston city council member Michelle Wu. The Boston Marathon has just crowned two new winners, two Kenyan runners, Benson Kipruto, and Diana Kipyogei won the men's and women's races respectively at the 125th annual race this morning. A marathon was canceled in 2020 due to COVID pandemic and was delayed earlier this year.

CNN's own Andrew Kaczynski is running this year and we wish him the best. He's raising money in memory of his daughter Francesca nicknamed Beans, who died from a rare brain tumor back in December of 2020, when she was just nine months old. We're all in for team Beans here.

And as the makings of a movie, an AV engineer arrested, accused of trying to sell America's nuclear secrets. How he got caught? You won't want to miss this. That's next.



KING: A little spy drama now, a Maryland couple arrested and accused of trying to sell military secrets to a foreign power. A year-long investigation by the Justice Department found they were trying to sell information on some of the United States most restricted submarine technology and trying to sell it, turns out to an undercover FBI agent. And get this, the Fed say this couple even passed along electronic memory cards inside a peanut butter sandwich.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now. This quite a spy drama.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is, John. You know, the details revealed in this criminal complaint read like a spy thriller. And, you know, that couple isn't just accused of passing along this information inside a peanut butter sandwich, but also inside a sealed Band-Aid wrapper and a chewing gum package. So this all started when U.S. Navy Nuclear Engineer Jonathan Toebbe allegedly reached out to a foreign country in 2020, we don't know which one, and he offered to hand over these government secrets about nuclear powered warships in exchange for cryptocurrency.

Well, that foreign country turned the offer over to the FBI, and that began a months long undercover investigation. So Toebbe allegedly went to three different spots between June and August of this past summer to drop off the information, but he was tracked by the FBI the whole time. And they were in constant communication with him via an undercover agent. And Toebbe also provided codes that were revealed as top secret information and in the process collected more than $100,000 in cryptocurrency payments.

Toebbe was confident that he would not get caught here. He told the undercover agent he was in constant communication with this, saying, "I was extremely careful to gather the files I possess slowly and naturally in the routine of my job, so nobody would suspect my plan. We received training on warning signs to spot insider threats. We made very sure not to display even a single one. I do not believe any of my former colleagues would suspect me if there was a future investigation." But, of course, John, the entire time, he was in communication with this FBI undercover agent, got caught, will appear in court with his wife tomorrow.

KING: Busted. Jessica Schneider, appreciate that. Thanks for joining us today. We'll see you tomorrow.

Pam Brown picks up our coverage right now.