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Inside Politics

Biden Presidency At A Crossroads Headed Into Second Year; Manchin In The Middle: How The Centrist Senator Dominated The Year; Politifact Lie Of The Year: Downplaying January 6 Insurrection; Even Out Of Office, Trump Still Dominating Republican Party; Rising Tensions On Capitol Hill; Under-Covered Stories Of The Year. Aired 8- 9a ET

Aired December 26, 2021 - 08:00   ET





MANU RAJU, CNN HOST (voice-over): Biden's first year. How he's struggling to overcome an unpredictable virus and an uneven economy.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While COVID has been a tough adversary, we've shown that we're tougher.

RAJU: Plus, Manchin in the middle.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): It was a complete stunner. It's unfortunate that it seems we can't trust Senator Manchin's word.

RAJU: But can Democrats still change his mind on Build Back Better.

BIDEN: Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done.

RAJU: And Trump's big lie. It's transformed the Republican Party and now threatens democracy itself.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The election was a fraud. We must pass a complete overhaul of our entire election system.

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


RAJU (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Manu Raju, in today for Abby.

President Biden headed into the Christmas holiday focused on the two issues that have defined his presidency. First, a pandemic that's still raging as he ends his first year in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked. If you're fully vaccinated and especially if you have your booster shot, you are highly protected. And if you're unvaccinated, you're at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized and even dying.


RAJU: Second, inflation and the broken supply chain. Biden says his administration is attacking the problem head on and making major progress.


BIDEN: Earlier this fall, we heard a lot of dire warnings about supply chain problems leading to a crisis around the holidays. So we acted. We brought together business and labor leaders to solve problems. And much -- you know, the much-predicted crisis didn't occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.


RAJU: Now, Biden notched some big accomplishments in 2021. A bipartisan infrastructure law, a largely successful vaccine rollout and 6 million new jobs.

But there's also an economic bill on the verge of collapse, thousands dying of COVID every week, and stubbornly high inflation. He's headed into a midterm year with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency.

Now, joining us now with the reporting and their insight, Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report", Astead Herndon of "The New York Times", and CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Phil, I want to start with you. Let's start with some of the polling that we've seen for this president in recent weeks. According to a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 42 percent of registered voters give the president a positive rating, but he has a dismal 29 percent approval among independents.

Now, this is a president who campaigned on getting ahold of the virus, but, Phil, Americans don't see him achieving that goal with the virus still dominating their lives.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRSPONDENT: You know, Manu, when you talk to White House officials, they're candid about the reality that everything they're seeing in their polling now is tied to the fact that the pandemic is still a real thing in everybody's lives. The fact the president is giving a major speech about the next rollout against efforts to defend against a new variant in the end of this December of his first year tells you everything you need to know about that first year.

His first day in office, I remember talking to a senior administration official who told me everything hinges on COVID. If we handle the pandemic, everything else lines up. The economy, connected to COVID. How they do in terms of legislation? Probably with their success with COVID.

And the reality is -- there's a number of reasons, not all of them because of the White House and what they did or didn't do, COVID is still here, Americans are exhausted. COVID has a direct impact on the economy and those supply chains and that's problematic as they head into their second year.

RAJU: Yeah, the question for voters is did he do what he promised? What he promised was to be a centrist president who ended the chaos of the Trump years, to bring the country together, someone who knew how to work with Congress. It hasn't always turned out that way.

Amy, is his brand of politics meeting the moment we're in? Or how does he need to retool headed into year two?

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR IN CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Yeah, that's a really, really good point, this idea of not just ending the chaos but also lowering the temperature, bringing the country together.

I went back and I read his inaugural address, the term unity, bringing America together was in there a lot. I mean, that was the centerpiece of that inaugural address.


And I sat in on a lot of focused groups, and the thing I hear of and over again is the frustration Americans have that it doesn't seem like things have gotten better on that front. We're divided as ever they say. They're frustrated about the fights they continue to get into with friends and family over Facebook.

It used to be over Trump, now it's over vaccines. Who's getting one, who is not, what information they're getting, you know?

What they're hearing from Washington, so much of the rhetoric there has been incredibly antagonistic. Of course, we still have the ringing of January 6th in lawmakers ears and for many folks in and around Washington. So, this idea that, you know -- I don't think anybody believed that the -- a new president would be able to come in and everybody was going to hold hands, it was going to be a kumbaya, I'd like to buy the world a coke sort of moment, but I think as one voter said early on this summer, I thought things would be better. I just thought they would be better.

So, there's a sense among voters -- and I think a lot of his approval rating dip is not so much of an anger or a frustration, but more of a disappointment. And for anyone who has been a kid, the worst thing a parent can say to you is I'm not angry, I'm just really disappointed in you.

RAJU: When of the things that Biden campaigned on was competence, that is what he ran on.

But listen to some of the things that the president got wrong this year on what might have been the three biggest issues he faced.


BIDEN: Two hundred forty-five years ago, we declared our independence from a distant king. Today, we are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.

Talk of inflation. The overwhelming consensus is it's going to pop up a little bit and then go down.

The jury is still out, but the likelihood that there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


RAJU: COVID, inflation and Afghanistan. Astead, how badly was he hurt by those predictions?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, i think he was. This was a White House that had trained its energy on getting the pandemic done first, would then move on to the other things. You can think of Afghanistan on the foreign policy front as something they would think they would wrap up first, kind of notch an accomplishment, a thing that fits within Biden's ideology and move on to the bigger challenges.

The problem is on all of those fronts, the initial hurdle has been much larger than the White House has anticipated. I mean, I remember back on the campaign trail when the critique of Joe Biden, the candidate, particularly by other Democrats running in that primary he was offering himself as not Donald Trump, that he was pitching competence, he was pitching calm, but not pitching progress.

You saw Biden the candidate react to that by embracing more progressive messages in the general election. Things about how it would improve peoples lives, this is when we saw Build Back Better overtake that unity rhetoric.

But what we're seeing is not being Donald Trump is not enough for many people. They want to see movement on the economic front. They want to see movement in terms of racial justice, voting rights acts, things he promised.

And they're not delivering that so far which is why I think we're getting that disappointment Amy is talking about.

RAJU: Yeah, Phil, COVID in the center of all of this. This week, the White House announced a plan to distribute 500 million at-home COVID tests for free.

But a lot of doctors are saying it's too little too late. It shouldn't be this hard or expensive to find a test.

Now, Phil, you asked the president about this last week. He was defensive in his response, but it does feel like after a largely successful vaccination drive in the spring, they just moved too slowly on a lot of other things.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. I think when it comes to testing in particular, they acknowledge it. They're not where they need to be. I think the reason for the question and -- the president's response to me was that omicron came on so fast, combined with the winter surge and the holidays that caused a rush and that put stress on the marketplace. The reality is 11 months in there was an expectation that rapid tests would be available wherever you wanted them and whenever you wanted them.

Now, there are regulatory hurdles here, manufacturing hurdles here, most definitely, those are big and serious issues. The administration has done things over the last couple of months to try to ramp up rapid testing. But as the administration clearly over the last six to eight weeks even amid the omicron surge has tried to pivot to more of like we're going to have to live with this. You're vaccinated, you're protected, live your lives.

Rapid testing is a huge component of that. And the fact they weren't ready to roll that out to scale when they needed to, I think, is something when you get to the idea of competency or the idea of doing what was pledged, they absolutely do it on the vaccine. They absolutely did it on vaccine distribution.


On testing they just simply are not there. This is a moment where they needed to be there.

RAJU: Yeah, Amy, the Biden administration wants us to focus more on the legislative successes. Now the COVID relief law, that was a big success earlier this year. The bipartisan infrastructure law another major accomplishment, record number of judicial confirmations, something that happened in the past several months.

I want you to hear something from David Frum, an anti-Trump Republican who worked for George W. Bush who wrote this. Relative to its strength in Congress, the Biden administration has proved outstandingly successful. In 11 months, Biden has done more with 50 Democratic senators than Barack Obama did with 57. Perhaps it's not the nature of Democrats to appreciate the glass half full, but half full it is.

So, Amy, is the problem that Democrats just set expectations sky high given that they have such narrow majorities in Congress?

WALTER: Well, that's certainly one piece of it, right? In a 50/50 Senate, pushing something as big and bold as the Build Back Better, you know, that was really taking a very, very big risk. At this point, it's not clear it's a risk that they will be able to overcome.

On something like the bipartisan bill, absolutely. That was a very big accomplishment.

But, you know, Manu, I keep going back to what Hayley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, used to say about politics, which is, never forget to make the main thing the main thing. And it's about the main thing, right?

Which is the main thing for people right now is yes, they're frustrated and anxious and overwhelmed by the fact that we're still in a pandemic, but inflation is taking a bite out of their pocketbooks. You hear people saying over and over again, you know, even though I've gotten a little bit of a raise, we're doing okay, I didn't lose my job, I feel comfortable in that I have security, but it costs more to do everything I do.

And there is a feeling that I hear over and over again from voters that the other shoe is going to drop at some point. So when you have a country that is feeling anxious about their day-to-day living, the idea that you can go and just pivot and say but wait, we have all these great things, we have an infrastructure bill and we have more judges, and we did, you know, X, Y, and Z other things on executive orders, it's just not meeting people where they are.

And I think that has been really the biggest challenge for this administration because they recognize that with a 50/50 Senate and a five-seat majority, that's going to be hard to hold on to in a midterm election. If they want anything done, they have to do it right now. Everything has to get on that train.

It's a very difficult thing to convince a Democratic base that that's a successful strategy when they want to see it done and want to see even more done given what was promised on the trail.

RAJU: Yeah, and, things looking better, the economy is looking better. But if people aren't feeling it, that's a problem and that's something the administration will have to grapple with in the New Year.

And up next for us, how Joe Manchin became Washington's indispensable man. As we go to break, some of the iconic photos of 2021.



RAJU: No one is more critical to the Biden agenda that Senator Joe Manchin. He proved that again last week by torpedoing the Build Back Better bill. He says the nation cannot afford it.

Top Democrats say they were shocked by his decision to suddenly end negotiations. But I spent a lot of time with Manchin over the past few months, he's never been shy about where he stands.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I've never been a liberal in any way, shape or form. There's no one that's ever thought I was.

MANCHIN: Do your voters want this bill, this big massive big right now?

MANCHIN: I think my voters in West Virginia -- but I don't speak for the whole country, my voters are very much concerned. Inflation hit them extremely hard.

I'm more concerned about our nation and our country turning into more of an entitlement society versus a rewarding society.

RAJU: I mean, look, what if -- what if Schumer takes his bill straight to the floor and says I'm going to dare Joe Manchin to vote?

MANCHIN: I wouldn't have any idea how I would vote until I vote in.

No one pressures me. I'm from West Virginia.


RAJU: CNN's Lauren Fox joins the conversation.

Lauren, Manchin has been negative on this bill all year, yet people will still say they're surprised that he officially came out against it. You talk to him regularly as well. Are you surprised of the timing and his decision to say this bill is just not the bill I could support?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not surprised that Manchin got to this place. I'm a little surprised that he got to this place where he wanted to go on national television and make this announcement.

And that's because if you know Senator Manchin, you know that from talking to him that he often wants to continue the conversations with the president. He's close with the president. He wants to continue the conversations with his colleagues. He doesn't really like to disappoint members of the Democratic caucus. That doesn't mean he'll get to the same place as them but he's been having one-on-one conversations with his colleagues for months about this piece of legislation.

So I was a little shocked that he just drew a red line and said I'm not there. I don't think I'm going to get. There the fact that that second piece of it, that he didn't think he was going to get there piece of it also was a part of that conversation last week, I think that is what was a little surprising to me and a lot of people who are watching in the Democratic caucus.

RAJU: Yeah, it's important to note, he said he will still continue to talk to his -- to Democrats about this. We'll see if the talk leads anywhere. Those discussions will continue into the New Year.

Now, Amy, Manchin told me last week he's seriously considering running for re-election in 2024. How much of this do you think is about him trying to win another term in one of the reddest states in the nation that Donald Trump won by nearly 40 points?

WALTER: Yeah. This is -- it is remarkable when you look at the state that Joe Manchin represents and the fact that he's there as a Democrat who has voted pretty much down the line for President Biden's agenda. It's quite remarkable a feat. If you look at his last re-election, even in what was, you know, a

pretty decent year for Democrats in that very, very red state, he won with just over 50 -- it was like 49-point-whatever percent.


So this is a very much of a tightrope that he's walking. I just also want to build on what Lauren said about going on national television to make his case. I think if you are a moderate senator or senator who is up for re-election in 2022, that wasn't a particularly helpful thing for you. Because he basically gave Republicans great ammunition to use against them if, indeed, they do finally vote on a Build Back Better bill and Joe Manchin does, indeed, vote against it.

Those words are going to come back and be shown in ads all across the country in those vulnerable races. They're certainly going to be shown in the districts where House members sit who have voted on this legislation.

So it was more than just drawing a line in the sand. What he did as well is really give some pretty good ammunition to Republican ad makers for going after Democrats in the House and potentially the Senate in the midterm.

RAJU: Yeah, Phil, Amy makes a great point there. There are vulnerable Democratic incumbents in states like Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, they are facing voters in less than a year here. But none of them, Phil, are blocking Biden's agenda or raising concerns.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. I think that's what's so jarring for people maybe, maybe not you, Manu who based on the video you showed you spent more time with the senator than your twins over the course of the last few months.

But this brings into the sharpest focus you can imagine what a 50/50 Senate actually is you have 48 at least, maybe 49 depending on where Senator Sinema stands who made it clear they were there, they would have been there for something bigger despite the fact they come from states that very much so have, according to Amy and the Cook Political Report, have real races coming up in 2022, and yet it only takes one.

I think that's been the issue that kind of the White House has been trying to grapple with. You can go back through what happened over the course of the last 7, 10 days there's a lot of inside baseball stuff about why this happened, why stuff was drafted, but the difficulty of getting something that is transformative even if scaled back to where it was scaled back to, if you can't afford to lose a single member and you don't have members who all come from Biden states or states where members are confident they can win backing a more progressive agenda. And that's the reality of this moment. I think it was just put in such a very clear way.

I don't think things are done. I think White House officials are going to engage and want to give it a go. But what it underscores perhaps more than anything else, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, is he going to put this bill on the floor knowing he doesn't have the votes and make his members vote on it and put them in the same place that House Democrats have been put through in some of those moderate districts as well? It's a really open question right now that I don't know the answer to.

RAJU: Yeah, they will vote for it. They'll own the liability, they have nothing to campaign on, because that bill is not going to become law.

And Astead, I mean, the question for Democrats for sometime is exactly how to treat Manchin going forward, attack him, work with them. There's some disagreements on that.


JAYAPAL: If we look to history and we don't have an agreement, I don't see how we can negotiate with somebody who is always changing their position all the time and whose word you cannot rely on.

REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Let's recognize what we need. We need him, plain and simple. We need his vote. The way my colleagues are approaching this is going to result in exactly what we don't want, which is nothing.


RAJU: So, Astead, do progressives understand here that Democrats need Manchin more than he needs them?

HERNDON: I think they do understand that. The question is how they go about it. They see themselves as really the defenders of Biden's agenda. They see themselves as someone who has forced Manchin to come back to the negotiating table and used the tactics on the house side to hold up the agenda against Senate attacks.

But what we know is that senators are uniquely prickly, right? We know that senators want to act independently. They want to feel like they're dealing with the White House, that they're not dictated to by certainly the House and Joe Manchin has said to this point really pushed off all of the attempts from House members and from progressives to put pressure on him.

The problem is the White House knows that the but Manchin excuse will not fly electorally. It's a Washington problem for them. They need his vote on these issues, but when they go out to make their pitch to the rest of the country, they cannot say this huge thing that we promised you fell because of this singular senator.

I don't think they think that is something that will excite the base. The question is where does the White House go from here? Do they continue to work that inside game, trying to get Manchin along to get whatever they can?


Or do they make a pitch to the American people saying we tried for this big stuff, we want to put public pressure on some of the Democrats who are not supporting it?

Now, that's more of a risky strategy, that's more combative than we've seen from Joe Biden but there's increasing calls from the progressive side to do something like that to demonstrate to voters that Democrats are trying to take this trifecta window with real seriousness.

The problem is they have no electoral leverage over the most critical senator in this moment. So he's really free to, you know, as much as the vice president does not want to say this, act as a president unto himself.

RAJU: That's right. President Manchin is how people often call him.

Lauren, the focus on the New Year is about a small bill, getting a scaled back version of this larger plan through. Getting Manchin sign off, the progressives sign off. Is that really possible?

FOX: Well, this was part of the debate early on, Manu, that we have covered at length, which was a discussion about whether or not you do a few programs well, that was the hope of moderate members, or do you do several programs, many more programs for a shorter period of time? That was the progressive view. That view ultimately won out.

But what Manchin has been saying, specifically on the tax credit is, it's my belief that even though this current version of Build Back Better only had a one-year extension of the child tax credit, it was his belief that it was going to be renewed year after year.

And that was part of his concern about the overall cost of the bill. Is there a middle ground where potentially Democrats could come together and say, look, a ten-year child tax credit would be a huge accomplishment for the Democratic Party? That's where this discussion should go. Perhaps that's something Manchin could sign on to.

But again, it's going to come with a lot of scaling back and potentially some kind of work requirement or other requirement surrounding that benefit that I'm not sure progressives are going to want to get to that point -- Manu.

RAJU: Yeah, a lot -- a lot of questions about what the agenda. But this is much is clear, if they have get a deal, if they do get a deal, it's going to take a lot more time. So, we'll have just to keep reporting that out.

Now, up next for us, more and more Republicans are embracing the big lie. What does that mean for democracy?

As we go to break, more of the iconic images that defined our year.



RAJU: Now, it didn't take long for many Republicans to stop condemning the Capitol insurrection and to start downplaying and denying it. Politifact calls it the 2021 lie of the year. Leading figures in the party said it wasn't actually that violent or that it was Antifa, not Trump supporters, who were behind it.

It all stems from another lie. Former president Trump claims that the 2020 election was stolen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They rigged the election and now based on the rigged election they're destroying our country.

Those responsible for wrongdoing must be held accountable. It was a corrupt election.

The 2020 presidential election was rigged. We won the election in a landslide. You know it. I know it.


RAJU: Now, Amy, would you have believed a year ago that a defeated Trump who lost the House, the Senate and the presidency is dominating the Republican Party the way he is today?

WALTER: In normal days, Manu, I wouldn't have believed that. Maybe, you know, maybe in the era of pre-Trump that would never have happened.

A losing presidential -- well, not just a candidate, but a person who did not win re-election as president is pretty much persona non grata for the party. No one wants to talk about that person again. We certainly saw that with say Jimmy Carter and Democrats.

The fact, though, is that the Republican Party feels incredibly emboldened in part because of just how tenuous the Democrats' hold on both the House and the Senate and even the White House, right. That was a 40,000-vote margin in the Electoral College that gave Biden the presidency.

So instead of looking at those very narrow losses as a way to sort of do some self-reflecting on, boy, how could we have won? Instead it's, boy, we're so close to winning.

However, I will say this. Thus far, if you look at the candidates not named Trump who have been successful since 2020 or maybe in the 2020 election and now in the 2021 elections, they have all been candidates who don't act or sound a lot like Donald Trump.

At least those candidates who are winning in battleground areas. Virginia -- Glenn Youngkin got -- did a very good job of while not alienating the president, while not running as an anti-Trumper, still was able to sort of keep him at a distance and also run as a more sort of traditional conservative Republican, not a Trump Republican.

The successful candidates for the House in 2020. Part of the reason that Democrats are having such a difficult time, are going to have such a difficult time holding on to the House because they lost 12 seats in the last election. Those Republican candidates who were successful, they didn't run as Trumpian candidates either.

So this is really the challenge as we're going to see it coming to play in these primaries, especially in big senate races in these battleground states.

Is the Trumpian candidate or the one that Trump has endorsed, is that person going to be the best kind of candidate to win there? And if those candidates are unsuccessful, what that's going to say about the party and about Trump's standing?

RAJU: Yes. And a perfect example of that, Phil, is Ohio. The Ohio -- your state. The Ohio Senate primary. It's becoming a litmus test in that primary about the big lie, about whether they endorsed Trump's idea that he won the election. Take a listen.


JOSH MANDEL (R-OH), SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe this election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.

J.D. VANCE (R-OH), SENATE CANDIDATE: What we saw in 2020, and it's important to have the courage to say it, is the technology industry working with Democratic operatives in a few big battleground states rigged the 2020 election.


RAJU: Phil, can you win a Republican primary without talking like this?

MATTINGLY: I mean, I think that's the biggest question right now heading into next year, particularly in statewide races at this point in time.


MATTINGLY: There's going to be another -- you know, Pennsylvania is going to be a really fascinating microcosm of everything that's going on as well. I think House races -- I don't think you can, depending on where you are if you're in a red district -- I think it's almost mandatory at this point in time.

But Manu, I think one of the dynamics, and Amy got to this point if, you would have asked me if Trump would have been the dominant figure of the party at this point, I would have said historic precedence says no.

But when you talk to members and I know you and Lauren and everybody does on a regular basis, they're getting this from their constituents, right. Like the reason they're doing this is because this is where they believe the base of their party is.

And you can't win a Republican primary in just about every case without the base of your party. Now, Josh Mandel is lying. Josh Mandel is the same person who stood next to Mitt Romney as an establishment Republican back in 2012, so it's kind of hilarious to watch how he has shifted.

J.D. Vance, similarly to some degree, coming from the D.C. industry to where he is now. But I think that this is the reality of the moment. You watch where these candidates are going, particularly candidates that have no baseline in the MAGA movement or as a Trump-type isolationist or America first type who have just embraced it because they feel like it's the only way. And we're going to find out in a couple of months whether or not that's the case.

RAJU: Astead, how do you see it?

HERNDON: Yes. I think that that's a great point. I mean these Republican elected officials, the folks on the political class are not doing this Trump song and dance because they want to or because they enjoy it.

In a lot of cases, I'm sure -- I've had conversations, I'm sure you all have, that most of that political class will privately say that it's a challenge for them. That you hurt Republicans in places like the Georgia Senate races and that this creates an electoral barrier.

The problem is it is the red meat of the base that has become a large enough faction that they cannot ignore them. These are -- these are elected officials who are taking cues from their town halls, from their constituents, and from a party that really Trump has circumvented the influencer class to really get ahold on the folks themselves.

And so it's going to create a challenge for Republicans, but really one that we have already seen them confront. It's less of an ongoing civil war and more of a skirmish that has already been won.

You know, in Washington, there's the Liz Cheney versus Kevin McCarthy is ongoing. But as we look at the state legislatures, as we look at polls across the country, as we look at the Republicans who have won election posts in these statewide races, almost all of them come from that Trumpy side of the party. Almost all of them are mimicking his rhetoric.

And I think that's where we've really seen the grassroots of Republican Party show its head. That might be coming to Congress in 2022 and 2024, but it's already made inroads in the Republican apparatus at the state level.

RAJU: Now Lauren, this all comes as the state level, there are efforts to try to make it harder to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice says that actually 19 states have done just that. Some have limited early voting hours or imposed stricter voter ID requirements, others are putting in place rules and the personnel to potentially overturn an election result.

There's actually even a bill in Arizona that would allow the legislature to replace a voter's choice with its own. So how worried should the public be about states subverting the will of voters in 2024 or even in 2022? LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Democrats on Capitol

Hill are deeply worried about it, Manu. In fact they started to really change their messaging towards the end of the year from a focus just on Build Back Better to a focus on the immediacy and the need to pass voting rights legislation here in the Senate.

And you know, Democrats have been having a series of conversations, a series of phone calls, a series of meetings about what could happen, how they're going to try to convince Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema to potentially change the filibuster rules to pass this importance piece of legislation because they are so deeply concerned about what states are doing to potentially limit the rights of Americans to go to the polls and vote. Or at least making it harder for those Americans to vote.

Democrats view this as a deeply, deeply important issue. I think a lot of Democratic constituents view this as a deeply important issue. But whether or not, you know, Republicans view it that way, I think so far we've seen on Capitol Hill at least, there's really little interest in doing anything at the federal level to rein in what states are doing on voting rights.

RAJU: Yes. Republicans call it a federal takeover of elections. Democrats, they just don't have the votes to get it done. They don't have Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema to change the filibuster rules. They're going to keep talking but can they get a bill done seems highly, highly unlikely at best.

Now up next, animosity across the aisle. Can Congress lower the temperature in 2022?



RAJU: 2021 began for Congress with a deadly riot in its workplace. It went downhill from there. Since January 6th, death threats and Islamophobic comments directed at Democrats, intraparty squabbles over anti-Semitic comments, fights over masks and metal detectors.

The animosity starts at the top. Here is Speaker Nancy Pelosi after Minority Leader McCarthy railed against new masking rules in July.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leader McCarthy -- Leader McCarthy says it is against the science.



RAJU: And here is McCarthy days later.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It would be hard not to hit her with it.


RAJU: Lauren, we're on Capitol Hill every day. And I personally have never seen relations between the parties this bad, namely in the House. Are we still feeling the aftershocks from January 6th or is it much more than that?

FOX: I definitely think this is part of the aftershock of January 67th. There has been very little trust. And I've been talking to a lot of members leading up to the anniversary of January 6th about where this is coming from.

So many Democrats that I talk to say that they have had such a hard time trusting their Republican colleagues after January 6th because in their mind the lies that were told leading up to that day inspired a crowd to come into the Capitol and attack their workplace.

I think everything that we've seen has really spurred from that crisis, from that dreadful day on Capitol Hill. And I think it's part of the reason is because you have McCarthy who has really since sense has downplayed the attack at the Capitol and has rushed to be at Trump's side, even though initially he pointed out that Trump was responsible for the insurrection.

That tune has changed and I think it has really led to a crisis at the top like you pointed out between Pelosi and McCarthy. All of that animosity has trickled on down.

RAJU: And Phil, check this out. We found a House resolution from 1838 banning dueling between lawmakers after a congressman was actually killed by a colleague in a duel.


RAJU: So at least it's not that bad, thankfully. But is there anything that will bring down the temperature before it gets even worse?

MATTINGLY: I mean I started laughing because it seemed like a long time ago. And then I think maybe don't laugh at this because it might be real based on the direction we're going which I think this is the answer to question. I think no.

Look, particularly in the House. I think the Senate is a little bit of a different place from this to some degree, save for maybe a set of members that were directly involved with the January 6th questioning the election and trying overturn electoral votes.

I just -- there's no political reason for Republicans clearly to change the direction they're headed right now. I think every Republican believes that anything they've done over the course of the last year, which has only served to exacerbate the current dynamics are leading them closer to the house majority.

And so long as that's the case, then that's not going to change. And I think, Manu, as you and Lauren know so well, the people that have the most prominent voices in that House conference right now are not the ones who do policy. They're not the ones who are the political masterminds. They're the ones who have social media presences and they get retweets and likes because of the attacks and the vitriol that have led us that get us to this point.

RAJU: Yes. And Astead as McCarthy eyes the speaker gavel, he's struggling to control his caucus. And Trump loyalists are threatening to impose (ph) him for speaker if Republicans win the House and moderates think McCarthy doesn't really have their backs.

So how hard will it be for him to navigate these two factions of the party if they take the majority next year?

HERNDON: Well, it's going to be very difficult. I mean, I think what we see now is the steroids versions of the same type of schisms that hurt John Boehner, that challenged Paul Ryan. This will be something that Kevin McCarthy has to experience in a greater facet.

You know, I don't want to be the bearer of bad news here, but I actually think the tenor of politics elsewhere is even worse than it is in Congress. And that Congress might have -- that Congress should maybe be preparing for this stuff to get even more vitriolic.

This is the place where politics is at right now. The question I often ask voters when we're at events, is do you feel like the country is at a crossroads? And that's something that crosses bipartisan lines.

Republicans and Democrats both feel a sense of urgency and that is going to be something that particularly on the Republican side is played out through these factions. That's going to be hard for them to navigate as a caucus.

RAJU: And Amy, as Lauren mentioned in the days after January 6th, both McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Trump for the insurrection. Take a listen.


MCCARTHY: The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.


RAJU: But, Amy, they've taken very different stances since then. McCarthy aligning himself with Trump. McConnell doesn't even mention his name. What does this tell us about how they view their party's future?

WALTER: Yes. We talked about this a little bit earlier, but it's the party is following the voters or where at least the activists are. And you could see McCarthy and McConnell sort of jumping to the beginning of the parade thinking they were going to lead the rest of the party, including the voters down that path, right?

We cannot -- this is not acceptable. We cannot accept this from the president of the United States, even someone that we really like, like Donald Trump.

They look backwards and they realize, wait, no one is behind us. Guess this isn't going to work. And everything has sort of gone from there.

So, my expectation is -- or I think the expectation was that, one, that was going to happen and it didn't. Before that, before January 6th, it was that Trump was going to lose by a significant margin, that would help sort of break the spell as it were about Donald Trump. That didn't happen either. And so now they see where their political fate is tied to and that's what they're following.

RAJU: Yes. And it's been a year almost since January 6th and we are still feeling the effects.

Next, in a year dominated by COVID, our panelists share their pick for under-covered story of the year.



RAJU: Now as 2021 comes to an end we asked our panelists to tell us about a story they think did not get the coverage it deserved this year.

Now Astead, let's start with you.

HERNDON: You know what? Student loans and in the news this week that administration saying that they're going to delay payments again. I have been thinking a lot about young voters. I think it's a really underreported story and we've seen approval ratings for Democrats and Joe Biden really crater among young people, a key Democratic constituency and one that they're going to need to motivate come next year in 2024.

That's because the administration refused to act on things like student loans, issues like climate change have been held up in the Senate and there's just an increasing less party affiliation among millennials. It could be a challenge for the future.

RAJU: Yes. Big question, will they come out in the midterms? Will that help Democrats keep control of the House and Senate? If not, lead to a Republican wave.

Amy, what about you?

WALTER: You know, a lot of money has gone out the door from Washington to the states specifically I'm thinking about the stimulus money that went out early in the year, almost $2 trillion.

We don't really know where a lot of it is -- where a lot of it is, where it's been spent. You know, there was a time not that long ago when we have robust local news outlets that would be able to report on this, and tell us what communities are doing or maybe not doing with that money.

Sadly, most of those local news outlets have gone under and now we're all sort of wondering well, what is actually happening with the money that's leaving Washington?

RAJU: Yes. I mean the Committee for a Responsible Budget said that under Biden and Trump $5.7 trillion in emergency aid has gone out. $4.9 trillion has been spent. But great question about what exactly how that's gone and if it's been effective.


FOX: Well, I think one of the under-covered stories was after the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan, Manu, there was a lot of coverage about the days surrounding the exit. But after that, there's been very little coverage of the economic fallout in that country, because of very complicated geopolitical issues related to some members of the Taliban obviously being under sanctions and how the Afghan government actually accesses capital from the U.S. government. So that has been a complicated story and it potentially could lead to malnutrition of millions of children in Afghanistan.

I think it's just one of those stories where the U.S. left, but what is in its aftermath? We just don't have a great sense of it over time.

RAJU: Yes. And a problem that still continues to linger for this administration it will have to deal with in the years ahead.

How about you, Phil Mattingly?


MATTINGLY: You know, Manu, a lot of people are talking about house retirements for good reason. But I actually think one of the most interesting and underappreciated element are the Senate Republican retirements that we've seen, not because necessarily they're going to lose those seats. I'll leave the electoral analysis up to Amy. She can tell me who about out-xenophobe the other in my home state of Ohio based on that messy primary right now.

But when you look at that conference and you look at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the people that are critical allies, are key policy hands inside that conference and I think are considered really kind of steady, level-headed individuals in the conference that helped McConnell a lot.

Rob Portman from Ohio, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Richard Shelby the top appropriator is considered a deal maker, Roy Blunt who is a critical component of that conference even if he's not the most boisterous member of that conference. Even to some degree Richard Burr who is the ally of McConnell's as well.

Now look, this doesn't mean McConnell is in danger in any way in his leadership position. If you want to go after him, I think you better pack a lunch to that regard.

But in terms of demeaning of those individuals in the conference, what it means for that conference going forward both politically but I think perhaps more importantly from a policy perspective.

I don't think people necessarily appreciate that as much as they will in 2023 and obviously we're still waiting to hear what Senator John Thune is going to do which would be another big loss for both McConnell and kind of that Republican infrastructure, Manu.

RAJU: Yes. Look, it started in the last Congress, too, Lamar Alexander stepped aside, a key ally to Mitch McConnell, Pat Roberts, another of establishment type, he's also gone.

Great point, phil. I was going to joke and say that gaslight you all say Joe Manchin has not been the least covered story this year. But instead, I will dig into something that Amy, Cook Political Report does better than pretty much anybody, which is coverage of redistricting. The process that happens every ten years to redraw House lines, that is so significant. It's happening right now.

It's going to have profound implications for the country, also for the makeup of Congress, as well as the partisanship that we see in the House and will have a major, major impact as well on the midterms in 2022.

Thank you all for joining us. And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time and the weekday show as well at noon eastern.

Up next STATE OF THE UNION with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Merry Christmas to everyone, Happy New Year and we'll see you back here on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY in 2022.