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Inside Politics

Biden to French President "What We Did Was Clumsy"; Biden Domestic Agenda in Question at Start of Major Foreign Trip; Biden Visits the Vatican for 90 Min Meeting with Pope; Rep. Adam Kinzinger won't Seek Reelection, 1 of 10 GOP Republicans who Voted to Impeach Trump; Top DC Federal Judge Criticizes "Schizophrenic" Justice Department Approach to 1/6 Cases. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 29, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Now they'll go into this close door meetings there will be much more to come out of this very important meeting of President Biden and the French President. Kaitlan Collins and Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much for being here with us. And thanks for thank you all. I'm Kate Bolduan. "Inside Politics" with John King begins now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate. And welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington, a very busy, consequential day for the president on the world stage.

Just moments ago there you see them right there pictures at the French Embassy in Rome, a very important meeting between two allies after significant tension in the relationship between the United States and France.

You see President Biden there with President Emmanuel Macron of France, asked by reporters if the relationship is repaired, there was a big dust up last month. France had to deal with Australia to sell them submarines, and the United States came in with the UK to upgrade those submarines. The deal was France went down.

The president expressed regret. He said it was not handled with grace. But he says there are bigger issues in the world, and that the France is an extremely valuable partner on the world stage a lot to discuss about the president's trip, including a meeting earlier today with the Pope.

CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us from Rome. Kaitlan, the meeting with the Pope, some contention there, but the White House says it went smoothly. Let's focus on what we just saw. A month ago, the president was in the position he doesn't like the word of apologizing at least trying to make amends with France.

Even here, the gesture, the President of the United States went to the French Embassy in Rome for this meeting. Both leaders I think trying to put this behind them and say, yes, there might be some tension there. But we have bigger issues at play. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Yes, John, from the logistics of that meeting to the opening statements, you saw how the U.S was making some concessions toward France.

Whether it was the president's words or the fact that it was French hosted this arrangement, this meeting between the two leaders often that would happen in a neutral site at a summit like this, of course, among other world leaders, but this is happening at the French Embassy in Rome.

That is where you're seeing those two presidents sit now they're meeting behind closed doors; where they're obviously have more candid conversations. But there the president was pretty blunt talking about this thwarted submarine deal that infuriated the French so much that they recall their ambassador back to France for several days.

I believe, for the first time in the U.S French relationship history of course, that is something that the White House is hoping to move on from but the president did address it there. When reporters were asking if the relationship had been repaired and it started from the moment President Biden got out of the car.

And you saw handshakes a smile from the French President as he greeted him at the door. President Biden was asked if he needed to apologize. And he asked to whom? They followed up, of course, meaning the French President, given that submarine deal that had gone wrong and essentially cut out France has a multibillion dollar deal.

And the president said we've already talked. Yes, they've had two phone calls. But this is their first in person meeting. And so you saw President Biden there saying that the way that that went down, he believed was clumsy. That's how he described it.

And he said that he honestly thought France was better informed of what was happening with that deal. Of course, they had struck a deal with Australia to provide these diesel powered submarines then there was an agreement made between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to have nuclear powered submarines to help thwart and curtail the influence of China.

That is something that cut off - cut France out of that deal and of course, what has led to this diplomatic rift between the two. But the president there has been conciliatory, saying that it should have been handled better.

He thought that they knew more than they did, of course, as we have now learned. And the French president himself John saying that now the time is to focus on moving ahead and moving forward and trying to put this rift behind them.

KING: Remarkable day. Kaitlan Collins appreciate the live reporting from Rome. Let's bring it into the room with me to share their reporting and their insights "POLITICO's" Laura Barron-Lopez Zolan Kanno-Youngs of "The New York Times" and NPR's Claudia Grisales.

There's so many different ways to come at this number one, this is the first G20 meeting. We're seeing these meetings the leader side by side Joe Biden actually reaching out touching the president of France as the COVID pandemic. So there's the just watching these happen is a big deal after the last year and a half that we have lived through.

When you watch they're both leaders seem determined. We know Macron was furious at the White House about the not being kept in the loop about what was happening? At the end about the result too; but especially about a friend not telling them, hey, we're about to do something that's going to infuriate you.

But he seemed to make the point. Look, they have to deal with the COVID pandemic. They're trying to come up with a global tax system. They're trying to figure out a sweeping global agreement to advance the fight against the climate both seem determined to say, yes, still some rough edges to work out but bigger fish to fry.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I mean, a goal for both of these leaders really when President Biden was elected was to shore up these relationships both between the United States and European leaders. When you look at President Biden's foreign policy strategy, two of the main principles were one restoring credibility for the United States in his own words, but also competing with the economic influence of China.

If you look at that submarine deal, it gets to both of those principles and undermine both of those principles you might say in turn of striving towards compete with China by assisting Australia but at the same time angering allies in Europe.


KANNO-YOUNGS: So this meeting was pivotal, right? It was a - it was a test, it was a step in Biden Administration strategy to once again strengthen those relationships, even if it means overcoming in an initial hiccup.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the White House is headed into this trip, especially these talks with France to try to make amends in this area. So the White House, you know, French is looking for the administration to potentially give some guarded endorsement of their own separate military force outside of NATO.

And so whether the White House appears poised to do that? You heard Macron there speaking alongside Biden about a clarification in what European sovereignty meant? And how security is a part of that? So they're definitely looking for the White House to come their way to show that, as Biden said, they made a bit of a mess and clumsy mess in terms of how they handled that original deal.

KING: And it's not the language of diplomats. But this trip has also given us a taste, if you will, of a competition for who's on first among European leaders, if you will, because Chancellor Merkel is leaving the stage in Germany. She has been the glue of the European alliance.

The UK has to the European perspective left if you will, because of Brexit an important ally but not part of the European family, per se. So you had President Biden was meeting with the Italian Prime Minister now with the President of France.

Macron has national elections on the horizon. So it's interesting to watch this play out as who is the U.S.'s most trusted friend in Europe? If you set the UK aside, as we watch this trip plays out?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, NPR: Yes, we're going to find out over the next few days that are exactly, especially after he mentioned this dust up with Macron? We're going to see how does this all play out? Have the Democrats reset the button after the Trump Administration and they're starting these relationships?

KING: Is he weaker or stronger in the sense that the president wanted congressional passage of the infrastructure plan. A congressional timeline to pass a sweeping spending plan that mostly has nothing to do with foreign affairs except for the climate part of it.

Biden wanted winded his back personal political momentum, and a climate peace to carry on to the climate summit that comes at the end of this trip. He does have landmark U.S. investments in the framework; it's not guaranteed to get to the finish line.

Does he have a wind at his back or European leader still looking at Joe Biden saying you're not Donald Trump but we're not sure?

KANNO YOUNGS: It was interesting, because when you look at - if you listen to Jake Sullivan, yesterday, he was kind of asked these questions, right? He was saying, well, look, we have to think that these foreign leaders also understand the Domestic politics at play when it comes to implementing policies.

But what it certainly does is it definitely increases the sense of urgency here, right? There's no question that if the president went on this trip, went to Europe, and had that clean electricity provision in his bill had the central point of basically his climate change policy in that bill. That it would give him a little bit more legitimacy as he basically negotiates and tries to compromise these.

And look, that's you just have to look back at John Kerry's comment two weeks ago when he said, look, if we don't, you know, have something to say for climate change going into this trip, then he compared it to when the United States dropped out of the Paris Climate Accords.

I mean, he later kind of soften those comments. But if you listen to the administration itself, it's clear that they wanted more in the reconciliation bill to address climate change going into this climate summit.

KING: We will watch that play out in few days. So I want to shift now to what for the President of United States had to be a personal highlight his first stop of this trip. President Biden the second Catholic President of the United States, you see the pictures right there meeting for 90 minutes this morning with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The president called the meeting wonderful. And he said "He was happy I was a good Catholic and keep receiving communion". That's noteworthy because many of you know Catholic bishops, some of them back here in the United States, say Mr. Biden should be denied communion because he supports abortion rights.

The president says abortion didn't come up at all. In the meeting with the Pope the White House says the two focused instead on shared goals, like fighting poverty, the climate crisis, getting COVID vaccines and other pandemic relief to corners of the globe that are often forgotten.

Let's discuss now with Jonathan Merritt. He writes on religion and faith in "The Atlantic" and joining us now. Jonathan, grateful for your time. Let's start with the personal America's Second Catholic President.

We see Joe Biden go to church every weekend. There has been that dust up about should he receive communion conservative U.S. bishops are essentially want to call him out on that. Listen here to the president's - what the president's take on what the Pope is told him about that.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITIED STATES OF AMERICA: No, you cannot do this talk about the fact that you're --?


KING: President Biden has to be pretty happy with that message to some, again, Catholic critics back home, that the Pope says keep doing it.

JONATHAN MERRITT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, that's right. You know, the Pope has said this from the beginning. He said that that communion is it's a pastoral issue. It shouldn't be politicized.


MERRITT: But he's at odds, obviously with the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. And there are many, many conservative bishops who are saying that, that if you buck the system on this if you oppose the church that you should be refused communion. And that's a big deal for Catholics like Joe Biden, who are devout; this means a lot to them.

KING: And talk to just about the style of this meeting itself. American Presidents meet the Pope, when they traveled to Rome. Joe Biden as Vice President has met Pope Francis before. He handed him a challenge coin leaders call it. This one very significant to the president because it had the Delaware National Guard Unit, his son Beau served in. And Francis helped console the Biden family after the death of Beau Biden. President Biden met with Francis for 90 minutes that his meeting with President Trump back in the days was 30 minutes. President Obama 50 minutes. Does the time matter? Does the history of this relationship, does that make it more important more special?

MERRITT: Well, the time you know, the time may actually reflect something. We know that with the previous president, there was a lot of tension with the Pope. The Pope, at one point said that anyone who is interested; more interested in building walls of any kind and building bridges is not Christian.

And so that was a - that was a huge blow. And there was a lot of tension there. There has not been a lot of tension with this president. They do have a warm relationship. And in fact, he has put a photograph of the Pope featured prominently in the Oval Office, which I think is sort of symbolic of their unique relationship.

KING: And on the common ground, they do have fighting poverty, trying to get COVID relief to corners of the world that are often forgotten. Is the Vatican, a key player from a policy perspective? Is this more a moral push in the back, if you will?

MERRITT: I think that they are - I think they are a key player. I mean, moral language is obviously very, very important when you're talking to religious voters. We know that presidents have always disagreed with the Catholic Church on a range of issues.

If you want to name a president who has agreed with the Catholic Church on every jot and tittle of doctrine or policy, you're not going to find one. Meetings with the Pope go back to Woodrow Wilson.

And if you look at different presidents like Richard Nixon, who met with the Pope twice, despite deep disagreements on Vietnam, Jimmy Carter, or even President Reagan, who met with Pope John Paul, despite deep disagreements on nuclear weapons, this is sort of a common occurrence that they meet they discuss things they have their disagreements.

But at the end of the day, they want to keep that relationship strong because there are an awful lot of Catholics in the United States who love the Pope and that relationship should stay warm.

KING: Should stay warm. Jonathan Merritt, grateful for your insights on this important day I appreciate it very much. Up next for us, another Republican Trump critic heads for the exits a key voice who strongly denounced January 6.



KING: Big political news this morning Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger announced today he will not run for reelection next year. Kinzinger of course one of ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump and he is one of only two House Republicans who were willing to defy Trump and to serve on the committee now investigating the January sixth insurrection.

One factor here is redistricting; new lines in Illinois essentially combined two Republican districts. But this is without a doubt a short term victory for Trump who vows revenge against those who defy him. Kinzinger vows his effort to raise money and support for Republicans who reject Trump will continue.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I cannot focus on both a reelection to Congress and a broader fight nationwide. I want to make it clear. This isn't the end of my political future but the beginning. Serving six terms in Congress has been an honor of a lifetime.


KING: CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates joins our discussion. Let us start with this decision. He told Manu Raju just days ago, but not that long a couple weeks ago, that he would run no matter what even in the redistricting complication.

We can put up on the screen the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. He's the second to decide never mind, I'm not going to face a primary challenge. In this case, it would have been against an incumbent Republican and most likely pro-Trump challengers as well.

He says he's going to continue the fight. But you have to score this as a short term win for Trump, do you not?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I would think so because of the fact that this is one of his most vocal opposes in Congress, someone who is sitting, as you noted on the January 6 Select Committee. Clearly what factored in for Kinzinger is a mix of he would have been put pitted against another Republican who would have been far more willing to align himself with Trump and also where his party is headed?

And how Kinzinger is headed in a very different direction than the Republican Party, he has made clear that he along with Liz Cheney are speaking out and saying that what Trump is saying about not only January 6, and the fact that Trump has tried to revise history there, but also the big lie around election fraud, that Kinzinger and Cheney aren't going to stand for that.

Now, where his political future lies, that is a huge question, because I'm not sure where Kinzinger sees the next opening for himself.

KING: Back in January, he started a Super PAC. He said he was going to raise money to help candidates who reject Trump who rejected the big lie who want to run on traditional Republican principles. He says there I'm not done.

But can you - how do you continue that for is it? I guess, can you continue that from the outside? Or was it the challenge for Republicans that you can put the back up on the screen and the other eight are still fighting at least so far in their primary challenge wasn't the test whether you could fight from within? [12:20:00]

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. And you know, what's so frustrating about this is the idea of, although he has his own reasons, I'm sure his own personal political journey, it appears to be throwing in the towel when the voice is needed all the more because what you said was so accurate.

The notion here of people who are going to oppose the big lie, I.E., they will support democracy, and we actually have fair and free elections in this country, doesn't matter who actually wins. But if you have a fair and free election, that's where democracy requires.

To have him say that essentially look enough, enough is enough, the government's not functioning the way it's supposed to the cost benefit analysis of being able to run and focus on my oversight and legislative functions. That's a real statement about how our actual elections impact the ability to have the checks and balances we need in our democracy. They're not parent there.

KING: Look, in his defense, not my job. But in his defense, let me give you the devil's advocate here. He's a Republican who's not welcomed by his own leadership. He would have an incredibly tough path to reelection. Let's even assume he got there, right?

You're not welcome in your leadership, Republican state, they're going to take power next year, make some sense to say I'm going to take a break and figure this out. But again, it takes off the elected battlefield, one of the very few people in the party willing to stand up to Trump.

GRISALES: Yes, for sure. He was essentially politically cornered. He did not have a lot of options politically. We have new maps in Illinois. And there were questions about what he was going to do going forward?

He's been so vocal these last few months, speaking out against Trump over and over joining the Jan six panel. And so in those steps, there has been some speculation is Kinzinger, possibly thinking of walking away from his seat and trying something different?

I spoke to him a few weeks ago wondering this question. And it sounded to me like he was keeping his options open. So in some ways, this is a stunning blow for the party for the moderate wing of the party. But in other ways, it's also in some ways, not surprising.

KING: And as he does the work on the committee, he promised this anyway, but now at least he doesn't have to worry about being on the ballot. He doesn't have to worry about a primary challenge. He doesn't worry about having to explain what he does, as the committee gets to the truth. That's one way to get to the truth.

Another way to get to the truth, are these court cases. And you had a key judge involved Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the D.C. District Court here in Washington. He wrote this about the Justice Department. The government has essentially tied the sentencing judge's hands on restitution, and unclear sentencing options that are normally available. The rioters were not mere trespassers, they were not merely disorderly.

Judge Howell Laura essentially saying he thinks the Justice Department's being too lenient. There's not being tough enough against the people who stormed the Capitol. These are some of the words he used in his decision, schizophrenic, baffling, muddled, peculiar, puzzling, from a federal judge. What do you make with it?

COATES: Those are the nice words. He also goes on to talk about the idea of how no wonder the American people is confused - are confused about whether this, in fact, was just mere trespassing, or really an attack on the Citadel of democracy because of the decisions they've made?

But remember, prosecutors make decisions not because they're supposed to be swayed by public opinion. But because the evidence that supports the case, either it's there, or it's not, I have had the opportunity to essentially analyze the resources they have.

Talking about hundreds of people who I would note, were allowed to walk out of the Capitol but hundreds of people who left you have existing crimes that have already been committed across the district, you've got limited number of prosecutors and staff deals to do it.

You have to undergo the sort of balancing act of what are the high priority cases and which are not. Now these are all high priorities and sense of democracy. But if the charges can be accomplished through a conviction on a misdemeanor, then so be it provided there was nothing higher they could have charged.

This judge wants to talk about the idea of look, I want to be able to exemplify through the poster child analysis of all these people. But listen, the prosecutors are the ones who bring the case of the judge if they have decided this is the best they can do and secure a conviction does be it.

As far as the fines though that's where the American people are probably going to take issue $500 fines here and there and misdemeanors does not add up to the millions of dollars in damages to the Capitol.

That's where Congress though has to come in do some more heavy lifting because look around the room. The prosecutors aren't the ones making the discretion to say give them a slap on the wrist. If the reason Kinzinger others are wanting to walk away because members of Congress who were the ones are not wanting to do the heavy lifting.

KING: And the committee itself investigated -- he is going to face similar decisions about how tough to be against others. They've granted more time to several of the pro-Trump witnesses, they want to bring in the questions what happens after that?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, as the committee has tried to say, I mean, Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney had said that they are going to be very forceful, but you've seen in recent days where they have postponed some of their attempts to hold those contempt or they've postponed witnesses coming forward.

So to Laura's point, I mean, how aggressive are they going to go down this road? How long is it going to take? We're still waiting.

KING: We'll watch. It makes some sense to give people - I'll give you a little bit more time and then you're on that timeout, then we'll see what happens? But we'll follow that.

Up next for us, the framework of the Biden agenda includes landmark investments in the climate and in early education but many Democrats is still nervous and still negotiating because a framework is not a final deal.



KING: --this morning for how Washington views the fate of the Biden agenda. Look at the headlines today for major papers and the president's public gamble is now the stuff of doom even embarrassment fails still unfulfilled stumbles.