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Sen. Sinema: I Support Voting Bills, But Won't Support "Underlying Disease of Division"; Biden Battles Multiple Crises Ahead of Midterm Elections; GOP Congressman Apologizes for Comparing D.C. Vaccine Protocols to Nazi Germany; David McCormick Announces Run for U.S. Senate Seat in PA. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: In fact, no majority at all in the Senate unless you count the vice president's capacity to break ties in that you still have enough ideological diversity and sort of personality if you will, diversity in the Democratic Caucus of 2022 that it's going to be tough to keep all 50 in line on every vote.

Look, they got two major bills last year with basically no majority, the Rescue Plan on COVID in March, and then of course the bipartisan bill on infrastructure which finally passed in November in the House. Which are not small things, the challenge, John, here is the expectations - the Biden folks and Democrats have so set the expectations here for this sweeping historic agenda that it's hard to claim victory for those accomplishments that are substantial when you're setting yourself up for something much bigger.

And also, to that point, you're telling your activists yes we're going to do these big things both on voting and Build Back Better. And guess what? The activists believe it. And so when you don't do it, or you have a narrower version, you're setting them up for some frustration themselves IE, not showing up for Biden's speech in Atlanta when he goes there the other day.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And so, Ayesha that's the challenge, how's the president going to handle this? What a welcoming committee - he's on his way up to Capitol Hill and one of those Democratic Senators he's trying to convince in the private meeting is on the Senate floor saying sorry Mr. President, no.

Let's listen to a little bit of Senator Sinema. Remember, in the Atlanta speech the president said choose your side in history. What she's saying here is, sorry Mr. President, I think there's a bigger issue at play.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.


KING: That's a no. So what does the president do now?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, I'm sure he's going to talk about fighting for the soul of the nation. She's worried about division, he's worried about the soul of the nation. And at this point Sinema holds the cards, right?

Like I mean, one thing that President Biden did say in that speech in Georgia which was true is that he has 50 presidents in the Senate because any one of them can stop action, and that's a fact. And that is frustrating to Democratic activists who want more, but the fact is as you're fighting for democracy, democratically elected representatives are saying they do not support making changes to the filibuster, that is democracy.

And so he is running up against a very hard place, and he is going to have to see if he can dig under it, if he can try to convince them. If he can - like, it is going to take something where he cannot just strong arm it. He is going to have to be strategic about trying to get this done, if it can be done.

KING: Yeah, I think the if is the big part. And Catherine Lucey, Jonathan makes a critical point about expectations. When Joe Biden won the presidency in November, he thought he would have a Democratic House and a Republican Senate - that would be a very different presidency. Then they win those two Georgia Senate seats and they have the narrowest of majority and Democrats think hey, we can do everything now.

Well, Senate rules make it hard to do anything, let alone everything. So here's the moment, the president of the United States is going up to Capitol Hill, the leader of the Democratic party saying I need you. Those two Democrats Manchin and Sinema are saying no. Listen to the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden called out Republicans mostly in this speech (ph) the other day, but she says yes, these two Democrats as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about Senator Manchin? What about Senator Sinema?

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I don't think anyone should be absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you worried (ph) -

HARRIS: - especially when they took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: And in "USA TODAY," today this from Barack Obama, the former Democratic President of the United States, the first African-American President of the United States. "Now is the time for the U.S. Senate to do the right thing. America's longstanding grand experiment in Democracy is being sorely tested. Future generations are counting on us."

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama and two members of the Democratic party say no.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well those comments from the president and the vice president, and former President Obama, it reflects what a lot of people around Biden think that even though this seems like an unwinnable fight, or it's a very challenging fight that they think it's too big not to mark this moment - that this is too important. They feel they have to show that they are putting everything they have behind it, and that's why you saw the speech in Georgia -

KING: Right.

LUCEY: - you see them going to the Hill today. And they really think that - again, even if this doesn't succeed, they need to show that ahead of the midterms that activists are frustrated, that the party faithful (ph) are frustrated, they feel they're not doing enough.

And so you (ph) really have to make a big show here, they have to really show that the president is doing everything he can. But you are also dealing (ph) - and it's an interesting moment for President Biden who, as a former Senator and really an institutionalist (ph) whose someone who himself during (ph) his career (inaudible) respected the rules of the Senate and these procedures and the filibuster -

KING: Right.


LUCEY: - it took him a long time as president to get to this point where he is saying this moment is too big, voting rights is too big a concern we need to rethink the filibuster. And the reality is as Asy (ph) said, as I just said that these two Senators can completely block him. And so it is not really clear how they proceed from here, but they really do think the moment is too important not to try.

KING: It is. And a fascinating moment -

MARTIN: Can I just jump in real fast, John?

KING: - go ahead, go ahead.

MARTIN: Yeah, I was just going to say, look, I think there's a pretty obvious way to proceed here. If the White House is open to it - and I'm not sure that they are, at least not right now because they want to show as Catherine pointed out some real effort first. And that is to bless this bipartisan gang that's formed in the Senate to address elections more so than voting which is now including folks like Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

And yes, could include people like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. I think that could be a way to do something, the question is if they can't get everything are Democrats willing to do something on elections this year? I think that would be the way to do it. It's obviously what shook loose infrastructure last year forming (ph) one of those gangs. In the Senate the question is now are they willing to do that on a really fundamental issue for their party?

KING: Right, and can you get 10 Republicans as everyday gets us closer to the midterm election, can you get to that -

MARTIN: Exactly.

KING: - magic number of 10? Which is why we'll continue the conversation. Next, why this midterm election year is off to such a rough start for the president. Inflation is up, president's poll numbers are down. COVID is by and large the culprit, and the calendar now is a giant White House worry (ph).



KING: There are some genuinely good numbers for President Biden as he approaches the one year mark and braces for his first midterm election. Here's just a couple, the unemployment rate right now below 4 percent, and 2 million Americans are newly signed up for Obamacare, that after a big Biden administration push to highlight new healthcare enrollment windows.

But the number that usually is the north star of midterm elections is a giant problem for the president right now. This is our latest CNN amateur polls. It puts the president's job approval number at 42 percent, 53 percent a clear majority there disapprove of his performance.

Our panel is back with us. So Catherine Lucey, the challenge for the president and most smart people who cover elections and follow elections would say you got to do this by Easter, or at least by Memorial Day is to find some kind of a reset button. The challenge is with COVID exhaustion everywhere, how do you get that reset button?

In a very smart piece in "The Washington Post," today the veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake put it this way, "the volatility is so great right now that voters are almost shellshocked... The way people describe it is they're on a roller coaster and they want to get off."

LUCEY: I mean, I think that's right. I think what you're seeing coming into this year is not how Biden wanted to start '22. We're still dealing with this huge Omicron COVID wave, inflation - you know, because we saw (ph) record highs last month, and you're dealing with pandemic related shortages, reports of you know grocery stores being out of goods, people struggling with higher prices, and just generally a weary public. And so all of those things are contributing to the situation with his

poll numbers right now. And he ran, as you recall, as someone who could get the pandemic and the economy under control. And a lot of people right now don't feel like either is under control.

KING: (Inaudible) -

LUCEY: So yes, usually (inaudible) do then is tries to move to some kind of reset, move to some kind of pivot. One thing that they could try and do is to (ph) revive BBB the Build Back Better plan, the social policy agenda - but that is increasingly looking challenging and the new inflation numbers might make it that much harder to convince Senator Manchin who had been a challenge on some of those policies going forward.

KING: It's hard to break through, Jonathan, you were mentioning some of this earlier -

MARTIN: Right.

KING: - but you look - we have the new inflation report, two days in a row you get a bad inflation report, here's another one. You just look at the line, I don't even need to give you the numbers. You just look at the line and that tells you that's a political problem for Joe Biden because it's a pain in the wallet problem for everyday Americans.

Joe Trippi, the Democratic Strategist in that same "Post," piece says "most people don't feel 9 million jobs created... they feel when it's $10 more to fill your tank up or bread is up..." high inflation sustained through the election, it's going to hurt.

MARTIN: Right, and look, I think that obviously there are some bad actors who want to put January 6 in the memory hole. But at the same time there's a lot of voters out there who aren't thinking about January 6, they're thinking about their lives day in, day out and the price at the pump, and obviously the cost at the grocery store. And that is the challenge that Joe Biden is facing.

I'm not sure that a pared down Build Back Better, or a pared down voting bill is going to have that much effect as long as COVID and the economic impact of COVID are still looming over most people in this country. Look, until people feel like we're out of COVID and there's some kind of a sense of normalcy on prices, I just think it's going to be politically challenging for Joe Biden.

And by the way, John, that's against the backdrop of the challenges that a president almost always has in his first midterm. It's never easy for a president facing the voters in that first midterm. So it's sort of compounded by this moment, but this was always going to be a tough cycle for (inaudible).

KING: And you're starting to see seeds (ph) Ayesha of the White House saying sure we know you're frustrated about this but remember you're not just voting about that. The other guys, Joe Biden repeatedly now, more frequently trying to turn attention to, but don't put those guys in power.


RASCOE: Well yeah, that's pretty much what he has to do is because as we have - you know, outlined just in the past few minutes, the odds are against him. Like, you know, everything that is - could go wrong, almost, is going wrong. The pandemic, inflation - all these things that make people very upset. And it's not clear that the pandemic will be behind us.

You know, that was a promise that was made, it's not clear that that can actually happen. So now it's time to return to the Republicans and say but look at them, can they actually govern? Can they actually fix things? You know, remember January 6 and all these other things. That's the time to try to nail your opponents to at least try to stem some of the losses that Democrats are expecting in the midterms right now.

KING: You are two weeks - two weeks into the midterm year, long way to go. A long way to go.

Everybody standby.

Up next for us, another Republican crosses the Nazi line. The Congressman in question equates a vaccine mandate to Nazi Germany. Now he says, he made a mistake.



KING: An important apology today from a Republican Congressman after he invoked the Holocaust in a tweet criticizing vaccine mandates. Last hour, Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio posted this right there, you see it. "Sincere apologies," he says "to his jewish friends, among all others."

Davidson yesterday tweeted this when voicing objection to Washington, D.C.'s new vaccine requirements. This has been done before, he said, comparing vaccine cards and requirements to the Nazi ID cards and Nazi restrictions against Jews and minorities. You see the giant swastika right there, visible for all. It's still not up - that tweet is still up on Twitter.

Our reporters are back with us. Jonathan Martin, grateful for the apology, but why? Just why - I mean, this is just - this is decency 101, commonsense 101, communications 101. Have a fight about vaccine mandates if you want, but leave the Nazis and the Holocaust out of it, period.

MARTIN: Doesn't know better, and is reflective of a larger change in the party. He has John Boehner's seat, which tells you everything you need to know about one district and how that reflects one change in the party going from John Boehner to somebody comparing you know, COVID restrictions to Nazis. I think it's a pretty illustrative moment. KING: Well, the Auschwitz Memorial, Catherine Lucey, responded

yesterday exploiting the tragedy of all people who between 1933 and '45 suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime Nazi Germany in a debate about vaccines & COVID limitations ... is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay."

Again, we're grateful for the apology from the Congressman, but it's hard to argue with that. The moral and intellectual, just the coarseness of our conversation has gone off the rails.

MARTIN: Right.

LUCEY: Yeah, I mean - yes, of course there was an apology, but he said this. And I would also cite the Anti-Defamation League comments yesterday saying similar things. They said that the - it's not appropriate. These are public health guidelines.

As you said, we can have a debate about public health guidelines, but referring to the tactics of Nazi Germany? They also said that minimizing the Holocaust in this way is deeply offensive and harmful. And I think that is a message that certainly some people were trying to get through to him yesterday.

KING: Right. It just is - respect for history, respect for decency, respect for your fellow man. But Ayesha, sometimes is it this - some people seem to think that outrage is the new way, right? If you say something outrageous you get attention, you raise money -

MARTIN: Right.

RASCOE: They want attention any way they can get it. But the fact is, if you think of comparing something to the Holocaust and you want type a tweet about it, smack your hand, put the phone down, push the computer away and don't do it. Like, that is - that is the rule.

KING: That should be -

RASCOE: That's the rule.

KING: - that should be the golden rule, count to 10 -


KING: - before you tweet. Put it down, think about it, count to 10 before you tweet. That should be the bipartisan golden rule.

Appreciate it, everybody.

Up next for us, you don't want to miss this, a new threat from the Republican National Committee to the group that oversees presidential debates.


[12:55:00] KING: Topping our political radar today, a new threat from the Republican National Committee to the body that oversees presidential debates. Get this, the RNC says it is prepared to prohibit future Republican presidential nominees from participating unless the Commission on Presidential Debates makes changes to its procedures - including how it selects moderators.

We'll watch how that one plays out.

Republican Hedge Fund Executive David McCormick is now running for Senate in Pennsylvania. The 56 year old once worked in the Treasury Department, back in the George W. Bush administration.


DAVID MCCORMICK (R-PA) SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Dave McCormick. I've been fighting my whole life from wrestling in this gym, to one just like it at West Point. I fought for freedom in Iraq, and American capitalism - not socialism. And now I'm running for the U.S. Senate to fight the woke mob hijacking America's future.


KING: Several former Trump White House aids are now advising McCormick's campaign including Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller. The crowded Republican primary field in Pennsylvania includes the TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.

There's big money being spent on Senate races across the country. A new CNN analysis of ad spending has battlegrounds Arizona and Ohio at the top. You see the numbers there - in Arizona more than $31 million already spent on political ads. In Ohio that number is more than $23 million, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania rounding out the top four.

The Biden administration is meeting with software developers and big tech firms today to discuss how to make open source computer code more secure. A new bug was found in commonly used computer code that allowed hackers to access some government agency systems. Fortunately the hack does not seem to be as severe as some experts had initially feared.

This quick programming note, you know her face, but do you know her whole story? Discover the life and legacy, the true Marilyn in a new CNN original series, "Reframed Marilyn Monroe," that's 9 pm Eastern right here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us today on "Inside Politics." Remember you can also listen to our podcast - download it, Inside Politics, wherever you get your podcasts.


I hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage on this very busy news day right now.