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Inside Politics

Today: Biden Hits the Road to Sell Infrastructure Law; Pelosi: Dems Won't Leave DC for Thanksgiving until Agenda Passed; Biden-Xi Conversation a "Healthy Debate" but no Breakthroughs; Biden to China: Need "Guardrails" to Avoid Conflict; CNN: McCarthy Urges GOP Unity Despite Internal Discord. Aired 12-12.30p ET

Aired November 16, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody, welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your busy news day with us.

America now looks toward Kenosha, a Wisconsin Jury asks the Kyle Rittenhouse case and it could hand down a verdict anytime now. Plus a late night huddle between the world's two big superpowers.

President Biden pleads for cooler heads. China's President Xi has a red line around Taiwan. And there's Mark Meadows want to go to jail, the January 6 Committee today weighs a contempt charge against the Former Trump Chief of Staff.

Up first there for us though President Biden hits the road today to sell his signature achievement and let's be honest to sell him. New Hampshire is the president's destination. More specifically, a bridge put on the red list eight years ago, help now finally on the way because of the bipartisan trillion dollar infrastructure overhaul the president signed into law yesterday.

Yes, the president is in a serious political slump at the moment. And yes, the rest of his first year agenda is still in limbo in Congress, but give the president his due. He was right and many critics wrong about whether big and bipartisan to be in the same sentence anymore.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The bill I'm about to sign law is proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results. We can do this. We can deliver real results for real people.

Today we're finally getting this done. So my message to the American people is this. America is moving again. And your life is going to change for the better.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Melanie Zanona, Tia Mitchell of "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution" Jeff Mason of Reuters and NPR's Asma Khalid.

We're often in a hurry, sometimes in too much of a hurry to get to the next fight. So let's actually stop for a second. The president just boarded Air Force One. He's on his way up to New Hampshire. He was right. He said months ago, we can do this.

You see Air Force One there leaving Joint Base Andrews right now to head for the short trip up to New Hampshire. He was right. Many people said many Democrats said many people who sit in chairs like mindset, don't waste your time. Just do this with Democrats alone. You're never going to get this done.

And here he has an infrastructure bill that not only Donald Trump wanted, Barack Obama would have loved, George W. Bush would have loved even Bill Clinton would have loved a giant piece of infrastructure spending that will change people's lives period.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes, I mean, this is a monumental piece of legislation. I think that that's got lost a bit in the conversation, because Democrats have been focusing so much on that other plan that they want to get through Congress.

But I think for President Biden for Democrats writ large, the issue hasn't necessarily been about the piece of legislation that they're going to pass. It's about the public narrative, and how they are able to sell this piece of legislation to the public? They struggled in doing that with the American rescue plan, right?

You don't see a distinct connection between the American rescue plan back in the spring and how voters feel about Democrats. And I think the challenge for President Biden as well as Democrats across the board in Congress is can they effectively sell this piece of legislation to voters ahead of the midterms?

KING: And the president has to know his team has to know that this is not going to change right away. We can show you our CNN "Poll of Polls" the average of a handful of the most recent polls; the president's approval rating is at 45 percent, 52 percent is his disapproval rating.

You're not going to change that overnight, no one's going to see this bridge, he's going to stand in front of the graph in New Hampshire, it's not going to be repaired tomorrow. But in the spring, they expect to see shovels in the ground and signs it all these projects around the country.

And that is the president's hope, is it not that when you get to the spring, people will say, oh, actually, this does matter. It's easier to get to work. My internet is better. I see proof that Washington did something that helps my community.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Absolutely. I mean, and then the timeframe for that are both for in terms of getting the economy rolling and getting the economic benefit, but also a political benefit with the midterms just a few months around the corner from then.

So it's not going to go as quickly as they'd like. It didn't go as quickly as they wanted to just in terms of getting the legislation passed. It is a massive bill. And it does have a long timeframe for that to happen. But the benefits are going to start kicking in and they want that for again, economic and political reasons.

KING: You mentioned the midterms; we can show you this new "Washington Post ABC Poll". That's bad news for the Democrats. If the election were held today, 51 percent say they would vote for a Democrat for Congress 41 percent. That's the Republicans rarely lead in this poll at all. To have a 10 point lead is off the charts.

Republicans only need a handful of seats to take back the House of Representatives. So the Democrats have to have a long view because those numbers are not going to change again, overnight. The question is, yes hopefully the infrastructure from a democratic perspective helps them to see that happening.

But some of their members also think you know, the president misspoke when he said inflation would be transitory or fleeting, that there are dynamics at play COVID, exhaustion, other dynamics of play in the economy that really aren't in a president's control. So how do you talk about it?

Conor Lamb, the Democratic Congressman from the Pittsburgh area, as I'm saying we have to break these issues down into simpler more immediate terms. What are you going to do with the price of gifts I'm about to buy my kids for Christmas? We get much focused he says about Democrats on general long term benefits of legislation that we're for which are great.


KING: But let's have a simple everyday message as well. Have Democrats learned a lesson from this?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: I think Democrats understand what they need to do. But it's easier said than done. We heard that a little bit in President Biden's speech yesterday, where he said, we feel your pain, we're listening.

And we're trying to implement policies, like the infrastructure bill to address those things that are leading to higher costs and inflation. But again, that's easier said than done, these projects aren't going to be immediate. And a lot of the factors that impact inflation in the rising cost of goods are, as you mentioned, outside of the president's control.

I think what Democrats can do better and better at is making sure people understand those factors. But again, they're going to have Republicans on the other side telling people Americans that this is the Democrats' fault. This is their policies. And that's the reason why you're paying more at the pump.

KING: But that's what makes today and the president's travels, he's going to stay on the road. His team is on the road. So interesting right now, because he deserves this I told you so moment. A lot of people said this would never happen. And it happened yet he can't dwell on it, because of where he is right now.

And there is that other piece of legislation I say sometimes we move too quickly, to the next fight. I waited five minutes because it's important. This is the rest of his first year agenda now in limbo, and even Senator Joe Manchin today, again, you can't lose any votes in the Senate said today he's nervous about inflation, and about another bill that spent so much money, what is the state of play will the next piece of the Biden agenda pass?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, the House Democratic leadership has said there will be a vote this week, potentially as early as Thursday, maybe Friday, which in Congress speak means it's probably Friday, maybe Saturday, what needs to happen is there needs to be a CBO score?

So a scoring of the bill, how much money it's going to cost, and how much money it's going to raise that needs to come out before Friday before the vote. And it also needs to be in line with what it said and what the projections were these moderates are not going to vote for it.

However, the thinking right now is it's going to pass the House. It's just a matter of when this week before Thanksgiving, Pelosi is going to get it done? The bigger problem, John, as you alluded to, is in the Senate, because Joe Manchin has expressed concerns with specific policy provisions.

He's also concerned generally about inflation, he has made clear that he's comfortable voting no if he is not comfortable with the final product.

KING: And so that challenge comes down to what we hear from the president today, not only in New Hampshire, that as he travels around the country, will he speak in a different way and make the case answer the critics who say if you put more federal money into the pipeline, that's only going to drive up inflation? How does he answer that?

KHALID: I mean, he's been saying and his team has been saying that in the long run policies like this, you know, social safety net package that they want to get through Congress will actually help alleviate inflationary pressures. I think the complication is that that is a complex economic argument.

While it may be true, and while he says 17, Nobel Prize winning economists support his way of thinking that just doesn't always rationalize with folks, we're seeing immediate price increases at the grocery store and at the gas pump.

And I think that is the challenge for Democrats is, while that may be a correct argument, it is a complex argument. KING: Back to the politics of this from the Republican perspective a bit later, but happening right now jurors are deliberating in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The 18-year-old is accused of first degree intentional homicide and four other felonies. The most serious of those charges carries a mandatory life sentence.

Let's get to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz outside the Courthouse in Kenosha. Shimon deliberations underway for what a little more than an hour's right now?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, actually, John, we're now approaching just about two hours. And we actually have our first note from the jury, they're asking for more copies of the jury instructions.

You recall the judge read yesterday was some confusion over it. So this morning, in their first note, they're asking for more copies of the instructions clearly working through the law. This morning one of the first things that we saw was Kyle Rittenhouse actually picking the jury.

This is the process here in this courtroom, where the defendant puts his hand in this tumbler in this wheel and picks out the names. He picked out six numbers corresponding to jurors who would be the alternates and if not used would ultimately be dismissed.

So those 12 jurors that were finally chosen now deliberating just to give you just an idea of who they are? It's a five men seven women and one person of color that is a man and like I said they've been about two hours or so John now working through the law through the case.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, grateful you're on the ground for us keep us posted as the day progresses. Up next for us, Presidents Biden and Xi stage a virtual summit designed to ease U.S. China tensions so why then, is Beijing warning don't play with fire?



KING: Last night, a meeting with giant consequences for the entire globe, the United States and China held a virtual summit stretching three and a half hours that's a bit longer than plan. Discussions were described as healthy and straightforward.

President Biden in the Chinese President Xi meeting virtually at a time of very high tensions and a fear that a misreading of intent could turn a cold relationship into a hot war. Let's get straight to CNN's David Culver in Beijing first, David, what's the biggest takeaway?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, one of the biggest motivators certainly from the U.S. in having this meeting is to as you put it to avoid conflict. This was the first time President Joe Biden spoke face to face with Chinese President Xi Jinping. I'll be virtually they covered a range of highly sensitive issues, Biden bringing up human rights Xi responded and saying that they were willing to have respectful dialogue on human rights. Biden also pressing Xi to uphold China's commitments to the phase one trade deal they also talked Taiwan, how that is China's so called Red Line.

China's been putting military pressure on this self-ruling democracy firm in believing that it should be reunified under Beijing control though the Communist Party never controlled the island.


CULVER: Still, Xi is stressing that on Taiwan, the U.S. is, in his words, playing with fire.


BIDEN: Seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended, just simple, straightforward competition. We believe and you and I have talked about this, all countries have to play by the same rules of the road.


CULVER: The meeting as expected yielding no major outcomes, perhaps the warm gestures, the waves, the smiles, or they might just be signs of progress, John, certainly a change from what we have been seeing here for the past couple of years.

KING: A change in the tone anyway, we'll see if there's a change in the content as we move forward. David Culver, grateful for the reporting there, thank you very much! Let's bring into our conversation Yun Sun. She's the Head of the China Program and a Senior Fellow at the Stimson Center Yun, thank you so much for being with us.

So you just heard David Culver there. I just want to bring up some of the major issues in this incredibly complicated relationship for our viewers. There's economic competition, there's the fight for military supremacy. The President of the United States raise human rights, we are told, including treatment of people in Hong Kong treatment of the Uyghurs, the Taiwan issue, Hong Kong COVID-19?

You had low expectations going into this summit. Do you feel better about the relationship coming out? Or do you see trouble sides?

YUN SUN, SENIOR FELLOW & CHINA PROGRAM DIRECTOR, STIMSON CENTER: Well, basically, for this meeting, there's no breakthrough from either sides perspective. But both sides would agree that this meeting has created some slight stabilization effect over the bilateral relations.

And I think that is a comforting sign for all the observers and for the cheerleaders that at least we know that Beijing and Washington are not intentionally heading toward a military conflict over Taiwan or at war other things. KING: Especially when you look at the Chinese readouts, if you will the language on Taiwan. President Biden said something U.S. Presidents aren't supposed to say a couple months back at a town hall; he said the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan.

That's supposed to be everybody knows that the president's not supposed to say it publicly. The Chinese are celebrating the president's language from this meeting last night. Do they have reason to celebrate? Did the United States step back? Or did the president just use the more diplomatic language?

SUN: Well, our president stated what our position is, and I think the problem is with Chinese selective deafness, we're selective blindness. They only hear what they want to hear, and they will emphasize what they want to emphasize.

So for example, they emphasize that President Biden reiterated the U.S. one China policy, and that's the end of it, but President Biden also reiterated the Taiwan Relations Act, as well as the six reassurances that we have for Taiwan.

But although things are lawful to the Chinese, to the Chinese years, so I think in this case, the Chinese will emphasize the message that they want to convey.

KING: And the issue constantly raised by American presidents with the Chinese Leader is human rights, whether it's now the political rights of Hong Kong, there was a clearly negotiated agreement there. And more importantly, many activists would say, what they see as genocide, frankly, against the Uyghur, the Uyghurs inside of China.

The United States can say what it wants to say, is there any evidence that President Xi is listening?

SUN: I doubt it. I don't think there's any sign of view of the President Xi listening and I don't think there's any hope for China to really change its practice and for example, in Hong Kong, and in --, because in the Chinese definition, these are internal affairs of China that is off limits for the U.S. to intervene or having our opinion on.

But the more important issue is that China's seizes policy towards Xinjiang Uyghurs and Tibetans as well as Taiwan, as a part of China's political regime legitimacy. So to make compromises on that issue, he equates to challenge his own legitimacy and that's not going to happen.

KING: That's not going to happen, as you put it. One of the complications relationship going back 20 plus years has been as China has grown certainly as an economic power in the world. Yun when you look now at that, especially when you see tensions in the South China Sea, you know, the Chinese military force is growing at a remarkable rate.

2 million regular forces 1800 fighter jets, by the end of this decade 700 nuclear warheads is the projection, satellites of growing and more powerful navy nuclear powered submarines. How is that conversation changed? A, President Biden having a conversation with President Xi about the strategic issues given the changes in the Chinese military say if it were Bill Clinton at the table 25 years ago?

SUN: I thought that's going to change anything. Pretty much the Chinese has already made a determined decision that they're going to expand that their military forces not only modernization but also in terms of the technology as well as the size.

Because what the Chinese are gearing for is not just is a global power status the first step that the Chinese are emphasizing is national unification.


SUN: And they cannot come to U.S. not militarily intervene in the case of Taiwan contingency. So therefore, for this military buildup, I think the Chinese are also pursuing a cost imposition strategy in order to increase the cost of U.S. potential military intervention so in order for China to achieve its national unification by force, if it comes to it.

KING: May ask you lastly, as we see whether anything comes the first meeting is important just to set the tone, we'll see if there's progress, as the staffs meet, and the agencies speak the government departments of government?

President Biden likes to make the case that because he does know Xi, is they have met several times over the years versus he was vice president knows that that will make a difference? Sometimes personal relationships matter in big diplomacy. Sometimes they don't what's your take on this one?

SUN: I doubt that in this case, is going to move the earth. I mean, the relationship among top leaders is important. But in this case, what we're looking at is a hard conflict of national interest between U.S. and China. So that's not something that the leaders can personally or unilaterally change.

Maybe they can change the style or change the atmosphere of the conversation, for example, to avoid conflict in the case of the summit last night. But in order for the two countries to genuinely improve their relations, that national interest will have to ally but unfortunately, in this case, I just don't see that happening in the near future.

KING: Yun Sun grateful for your insights. Thank you very much. Up next, new reporting on House Republicans there is anger at GOP members who back the Biden infrastructure bill, but a seemingly ho hum attitude about GOP members who glorify violence or ignore COVID rules?



KING: Some telling inside details of this morning's closed door meeting of House Republicans. The GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to quiet anger at the 13 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He was not entirely successful.

McCarthy also acknowledged talking last week to Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar. Gosar of course posted than later deleted an anime video in which he attacked Democratic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and then turn to confront President Biden. CNN has told Gosar also spoke and said he did not intend to condone violence.

Melanie Zanona will come to you first. This is your reporting. I just want to start with that. That so there's more anger at Republicans who voted - 13 Republicans voted for a bipartisan I'm sure there's more anger in the family at them than that a Republican Congressman who posted a video. It's a cartoon, OK, in which he kills a colleague and turns on the president. That's it.

ZANONA: It is a perfect encapsulation of where the Republican Party is right now. And in both cases, it boils down to Donald Trump. In the case of Paul Gosar he is really fashion himself as a MAGA supporter. He is the chief Trump supporter. If they were to punish him or even forcefully condemn him, there would be backlash from President Donald Trump and all of his supporters.

And McCarthy doesn't want to alienate that sector of the party because he needs those votes to become speaker one day. And then when you look at the infrastructure, Republicans who voted for that bill, Donald Trump came out strongly against the infrastructure bill.

This, of course, was a victory he wanted and didn't achieve under his presidency. And now you have members of Congress who are vowing retaliation against these members. They have posted the phone numbers, which led to thousands of angry calls, and in some case, death threats. And yet Republican leaders have still not publicly stood up for these members, again, because of fear of angering Trump.

KING: So I want to read a little bit from your reporting. While they don't want to appear tolerant to violence, they are also reluctant to anger the hardcore Trump supporters in the conference, who will be a crucial voting bloc in any future speaking race.

So speaking out for decency gets shoved aside, because this is about power. This is about power. Kevin McCarthy wants to be speaker and God forbid, he denounced violence, God forbid he punished find some way to single out a member of Congress who posted a video that essentially I'm sorry, you call it a cartoon all you want.

It wasn't right before January 6, but especially after January 6, to post a video in which you take a sword and kill a democratic colleague, and then turn on the President of the United States. And Melanie mentioned posting phone numbers online of those who voted for infrastructure. That's Marjorie Taylor Greene, from your state.

MITCHELL: Yes. And I think it shows that it's about winning at all costs in a way that is not even focused on the policy, like you look at the infrastructure bill, all of these Republicans live in cities and states that are going to use the money to repair bridges, roads, and expand transit. And they're going to welcome those projects --

ZANONA: And it can help them win their re-election.


ZANONA: And help them win back the majority.

KING: Make real people happy, as opposed to make Trump happy? God forbid, God forbid.

MITCHELL: And that's just not where, you know, as Melanie said, that's just not where the Republican Party is right now. We need to be very sober minded about that. The Republican Party is led by Trump, and the leaders of the Republican Party, want to make sure they stay on his good side.

And right now that is sometimes, you know, not about policy. It's about doing and saying the things that will keep Trump from opposing them in any way.

KING: And you see this play out in the country as well. The Wyoming Republican Party, essentially saying Liz Cheney is not a member anymore.