Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Tomorrow, President Biden To Hold Call With Putin; Trump Grudge Against Murkowski Looms Over His Endorsement For Alaska's Governor; Redistricting Process Will Influence Who Controls Washington For Next Decade. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think this is a of extraordinary tension for the White House, for the world really. And you can see that in the fact that President Biden will now be having his second call with Vladimir Putin in a matter of just several weeks.

The president clearly feeling the need to accept this request from Vladimir Putin to have this conversation, and we know that this is something - this is kind of the way that President Biden also operates.

He is very much a politician and a leader who believes that it's important to have that face-to-face dialogue, or that leader to leader conversation with other world leaders. He is very much personality driven in how he approaches diplomacy on the world stage whether it's with Vladimir Putin or whether it's with Xi-Jinping in China.

So I think the president will see tomorrow's call as an important step going forward here. And it's also going to be important for those officials who are meeting with Russian officials in just a matter - in less than two weeks, I believe. Because it's going to help set that agenda and set expectations for what exactly can come out of those talks.

We know that the U.S. obviously wants Russia to withdraw its troops from the border. Russia has been calling for the U.S. to never allow Ukraine into NATO, we will see whether or not there is some kind of middle ground where they can make some progress, at least, and tomorrow's call will certainly be determinative to that effect.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: And Margaret, it's interesting - you know, when you talk about conditions, or potential conditions Russia has laid out a proposal, I think filled with a bunch of bullet points that I think a lot of officials would consider non-starters. And President Putin addressed some of it in a press conference. Take a listen.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Not a single inch to the East, I told (ph) us in the '90s - and what do you know? They cheated. They just deceived us blatantly. Five waves of NATO expansion, and there you go - now in Romania and Poland weapons systems appeared. This is what we are talking about. It is not us threatening someone. If we come to the borders of the USA, of the U.K. maybe, they came (ph) to us.


MATTINGLY: So Margaret, I think this - the issue right now is NATO expansion, these countries in terms of the eastern flank of NATO did this on their own prerogative, they weren't forced into NATO. And weapons systems inside kind of eastern flanked countries. How does the U.S. thread the needle right now, given the demands put on the table by the Russians?

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR AXIOS: Phil, you're right, there's so much signaling going on here. And a lot of it in Mr. Putin's case is to a domestic audience, and to a regional audience. I was talking earlier with my colleagues Dave Lawler and Zach Basu who cover the U.S.-Russia tensions for us and they point out two really interesting things about the revelations around this call - this upcoming call now.

One is that Putin seems to have found out that this sort of threat hanging over Ukraine, having the 100,000 troops or so mast (ph) near the border is giving him extraordinary leverage with Biden, just to get another call, right? This should have been a Wendy Sherman phone call, someone at the State Department. Instead he gets Biden twice in the matter of weeks.

But the second is that the Biden administration seems to be taking great care to make sure that both Zelensky in Ukraine is in the loop, and that NATO is in the loop so that this does not become kind of a proxy U.S.-Russia negotiation around the region, around Ukraine, and around NATO.

But when that invasion of Ukraine occurred on President Obama's watch back in 2014 and Crimea was annexed, can you imagine now it's almost - it's eight years later and that has just been the sort of defining pivot point in the last, nearly a decade - the last several years worth of foreign policy, Russia's role in the world, Russia's role in the economic cooperation, Russia's role in these negotiations.

It has just become entrenched now, seven or eight years later. And for Biden not going to commit, not going to send U.S. troops there - he's made that perfectly clear. He's got the power of sanctions, and he's got the sort of convening power of a region. But in the end to a big extent, you know, Russia makes the next move and the U.S. has to figure out (ph) -

MATTINGLY: Right. And Tia (ph), that's obviously a complicating factor. How does this factor in to kind of the U.S. foreign policy from the kind of macro view of things if you're President Biden?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: I think President Biden wants to show leadership, he doesn't want this to be a potential embarrassment of his administration because we know there's so much going on, and we know that there have been aspects of this (ph) international policy that were questioned in hindsight.

You know, Afghanistan, and some of the other things that have come up in his short tenure. So I think on the big picture that you're asking about, he wants to try his best to get it right -


- so that there isn't as much second guessing that there isn't room, for example, for Republicans to come behind him and say this is what you could have done better. So you know, of course, there are higher stakes than that, but I know that the White House is aware of the stakes back home.

MATTINGLY: Yeah - no, no question about it. All right, we'll get back to you guys in a sec. Coming up next, how to hold a grudge. Donald Trump endorses the Alaska governor, but says there is one thing he cannot do. And a quick programming note, friends, collaborators (ph), legends - Carole King & James Taylor in an unforgettable concert film, "Just Call Out My Name," Sunday at 9 Eastern on CNN.



It is the ultimate blessing in today's Republican party, an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. In the case of Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy there are strings very much attached. Trump says Dunleavy has his, "complete and total endorsement."

But the next sentence redefines the meaning of complete and total. Trump says this endorsement is subject to his "non-endorsement of Senator Lisa Murkowski," and goes on to explain, "in other words, if Mike endorses her, which is prerogative, my endorsement of him is null and void, and of no further force or effect!"

We're back with our panel, I just - I love how he like, takes the time to explain the actual - it's like a publishers clearing house thing. Tia, look, you've covered many races very closely and we all understand the effect of the former president's endorsement inside the Republican party right now. But the idea of hanging this over a state official to try and pull an endorsement from another very high profile state official, what does this tell you about both the former president and the Republican party?

MITCHELL: Yes, and what's surprising about it is it's wholly unnecessary. You have an incumbent governor who is running for reelection, and you have a competitive primary in a Senate seat. He has no incentive to get involved already, and so it's more an indication of how President Trump wants to continue to be perceived as the leader of the Republican party, and he wants to keep his finger on the pulse of all these competitive races so that he can establish himself as a kingmaker.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and Margaret, you bring up who is Mike Dunleavy, the last governor - he's elected in 2018. He's a conservative Republican, fought federal vaccine requirements, he was endorsed by former President Trump in 2018. He doesn't really have much of a primary challenge, if he has one at all at this point in time. So it's not like this is a competitive race. What's the rationale here, from the former president?

TALEV: Just stay in the news, and to stay relevant, and to try to keep endorsements of Murkowski at a minimum. I mean, Murkowski is the only GOP Senator who voted to convict and impeachment whose up this year, and Trump is furious with her, and has been for a long time. And you know, wants anyone but her, and endorsed someone else in that primary.

Don't forget though, like Murkowski is the one who, when she lost her own GOP primary to a tea party candidate back - almost a decade ago or so, went back as a writing candidate and won anyway and was able to retain her seat. She's tough. Could Trump pose a different threat? I don't know, maybe. Times are different now than they were a decade ago.

To me, it's like, did he even have to say it? Because doesn't everyone already believe that just because he endorsed someone he wouldn't retract it if they did something to make him angry? So you know, it's just more coverage, and that's what he wants - and hey, guess what? We're giving it to him. Happy New Year, you know?

MATTINGLY: But I appreciate, he was very explicit about what a non- endorsement or a pulling of endorsement would actually mean. Look, Margaret, you make a really great point and that is as one Republican official told me several months ago, if you want to beat Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, you better pack a lunch, right?

She has done this before through the write in process. Their primary process is not just Republican primary and done, it's a top four that moves on in a state where she and her family name are both very popular and are known for delivering.

Jeremy, this idea of the president going - former president going after anybody who voted to impeach. He's had some success in terms of people not seeking reelection. Broadly, how effective has he been on that kind of target list he's laid out?

DIAMOND: Yeah, I mean, this is the politics of vindictiveness - politics by vendetta. And it's been, frankly, one of the most salient characteristics of the former president's first year out of office. Meaning, we have seen him get involved in extremely local races around the country.

And usually, it's been because of some kind of personal grudge that the president has, whether it relates to his impeachment, whether it relates to the 2020 election and his false claims of voter fraud - including going after state officials who he believes did not do what he would have liked them to do in trying to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election.

So, in that aspect I think this is a continuation of Donald Trump continuing to practice politics based on his personal feelings about individuals, and the things that he cares about - not necessarily thinking about the Republican party more broadly, or frankly a Republican getting elected in any kind of competitive race.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I don't think he ever cares about that, I think it's entirely personal with him. All right, guys, thanks so much, as always.

Coming up next, how maps control Washington. The intense and extremely important fight over redistricting.



Redistricting, it is a wonky word for political mapmaking and the process around it. But don't be fooled, it matters an enormous amount. Maps last for 10 years, and will hold a big sway on which party controls Washington for that next decade.

Michigan approved a new map yesterday, it redraws the lines so four seats lean Democrat, four lean Republican, and five would become swing type seats.

And to help explain all of this, joining our conversation now, Kyle Kondik, the Managing Editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He's also the author of "The Long Red Threat: How Democratic Dominance Gave Way to Republican Advantage in the U.S. House Election." And he hails from the widely acknowledged greatest state in the Union, Ohio.


Kyle, thanks - thanks for joining us. It might be a personal opinion on this Ohio thing. But to start with the idea of -


MATTINGLY: - I know, I feel like I'm in good company here. Kind of the big picture, we had it in a (ph) redistricting, and I think there's a lot of sense, given the Republican control on the state level in a number of states, that this was going to completely shift the dynamics of the House for the next decade.

When you look at the 25 - I think I'm right on that, 25 that are completed so far, I think 19 are left. If the balance of power right now is 221, 213 on net (ph) are Republicans dominating based on how these maps are coming out, or are Democrats hanging in? Where does this kind of land?

KONDIK: I think Democrats are hanging in. You know, my own back of the envelope calculations based on the districts that are - districts that have been drawn, or are largely complete at this point. I have the Republicans up a little bit, the Democrats maybe down a little bit. We're only talking about a few seats here, and you've also got a number of swing districts - kind of toss-up seats across the country.

Although a lot of those basically didn't change all that much from the old maps to the new maps, just some of the Congressional battlefield districts are pretty similar to what they were in - you know, 2018 or 2020.

The bottom line here is, I think redistricting is really important, and it does potentially matter if the House is really, really close. But I think particularly in a midterm year, the sort of bigger picture environmental questions matter more. You know, the president's party often struggles in the midterm, particularly if the president is unpopular. We do have a relatively unpopular Democratic president right now.

And so that, I think, matters more than the specifics of the maps. And I think Republicans feel pretty good about their chance to take the House next year. And I think it's reasonable for them to feel that way.

MATTINGLY: One of the things that's been interesting, separate 2022 - you know, first year of a new president, history shows where that's probably headed, particularly when you look at the current president's approval ratings.

But longer term here, I've been intrigued that you've seen more of a move towards making seats bluer or more red than you have shifting seats into more kind of a competitive, I guess pot of seats. Is that correct? Are we looking kind of long-term here where there's a much smaller universe of seats that are actually in play on a every two year basis?

KONDIK: You've got to remember that even if we had a system across the country that was designed to maximize the number of competitive seats, you'd still have a lot of uncompetitive seats across the country. I mean, it's hard to draw competitive seats in places like New York City, or Los Angeles, or in - you know Republican leaning places like a lot of the Midwest and interior west, and the south.

But generally speaking, I think what you're seeing is that a lot of the - particularly in places where the Democrats hold sway, where the Republicans hold sway, they're trying to maximize the number of seats that they feel like they could hold for the rest of the decade, and minimize the number of seats that the other party will hold throughout the decade.

You know, that said, you have - there have been some states that particularly have completed in recent days where they seem to be maximizing the number of competitive seats. You mentioned Michigan - Michigan is, after being under a Republican gerrymander the last decade, that state could see many competitive House races this next year.

And you know, Michigan is one of the growing number of states that's using an independent - hypothetically nonpartisan commission to draw the maps. And that does seem to be kind of a growing trend across the country.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, yeah. It's interesting. You could look at Nevada too, to some degree on that front. One of the things I've been - and I think you picked up on this, I saw a tweet of yours the other day. The member-on-member battles that are being set up right now, I think are fascinating.

We've got a couple in Michigan, I think there's probably one in Arizona, maybe one or two in California right now. What are you seeing there in terms of how that nets out for each party?

KONDIK: Yeah, this is something that pops up from time to time, particularly in these redistricting years, that you have two members put in the same district. There was just one created in Michigan, you know, when the map was finalized this week. You have two Democrats running against each other - Andy Levin and Haley Stevens in the same district.

A lot of this action is happening in sort of a primary context, as opposed to a Democrat versus a Republican in the - in the same district. But you know, particularly in states - and these are a lot of northeastern and Midwestern states that are losing population, relative to the rest of the country - those states lose a seat, and it means that in the game of musical chairs there's at least one person who's going to be left out in the cold, and that often ends up being resolved in a primary situation, like the example in Michigan I just mentioned.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. Last question, we've only got about 20 seconds left, which is not nearly enough time to answer this question. But, the nonpartisan panels that some states have set up, do they work? Are they effective in what their intent is?

KONDIK: I think - look, I think that from a - sort of a fairness perspective they're better than having just the Ds or just the Rs drawing maps for themselves, although anything with redistricting you can question with and (inaudible) with.


MATTINGLY: Yeah, well, we know you'll be keeping a very close eye on things as the maps are finalized. Kyle Kondik, Ohio's finest. Thank you very much, sir, appreciate it.

KONDIK: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: All right. And a quick programming note, the boys, they're back. Join Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen for CNN New Years Eve Live, the party starts at 8 Eastern, right here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS, my good buddy Jessica Dean picks up our coverage, coming up after a quick break.

Have a great day.