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Inside Politics

Biden's Voting Rights Push Collapses As Nation Marks MLK Day; Critics Say Government Has Been Too Slow On Testing, Mask Guidance; Trump Slams Republicans Who Don't Support Election Fraud Claims; DOJ Charges 11 Oath Keepers With Seditious Conspiracy; Poll: 54 Percent Of Americans Say Economy Is Getting Worse; What MLK Day Means In 2022. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 16, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A call to action on voting rights falls flat.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: Do you want to be the side -- in the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to in the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

PHILLIP: With the losses piling up, is it time for Joe Biden to hit reset on his presidency?

Plus, the administration announces a new testing plan but is it too late to stop the surge?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just starting to feel like it's not going to end.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're forced to be on call for 24 hours, with no support.

PHILLIP: And Donald Trump versus the GOP establishment.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to get rid of Mitch McConnell, by the way. Ducey has been a terrible, terrible representative of your state.

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


PHILLIP: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip. Thank you for being here this morning.

President Joe Biden will mark one year in office this week and his domestic agenda has hit a brick wall. In just the past days, the Supreme Court struck down his vaccine

mandate on big businesses and even Democrats began criticizing his administration for being behind the curve on COVID, inflation hits a 40-year high and as the country celebrates Martin Luther King Day, Biden's bill to protect voting rights is on the cusp of defeat.


BIDEN: The state legislative bodies continue to change the law not who can vote but who gets to count the vote, count the vote, count the vote. I don't know if we can get it done, but I know one thing, as long as I have a breath in me, as long as I'm in the White House, as long as I'm engaged at all, I'm going to be fighting to change the way these legislatures have moving.


PHILLIP: Senate Democrats are still promising a vote on the bill this week, but it has really no shot at passage, not after Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin both refused to carve out an exception to the filibuster in order to pass voting rights.

And joining us now with their reporting and their insight, Toluse Olorunnipa of "The Washington Post", Margaret Talev of "Axios", CNN's Melanie Zanona, and "Washington Post's" Seung Min Kim.

Thank you all for being here.

So, Melanie, Biden and Schumer still plan to have a vote this week. Why?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yeah. E with don't usually see leaders push having votes that are going to fail. And in this case, it's going to be two votes that fail. First, they're going to try to pass the voting rights legislation, which Republicans do not support. So, that's going to fail. And at that point, Schumer is going to move to try to break the Senate rules. That is going to fail because Sinema and Manchin really don't support it.

And Schumer in the meantime is also forcing his members to walk the plank. A bunch of these other members are going to have votes in favor of breaking the filibuster knowing it's ultimately not even going to work.

But it really shows that Schumer is in a tough spot right now. He doesn't have a lot of options. He himself is of the re-election this year. He's under a lot of pressure to show the base. They're trying absolutely everything.

I think ultimately, what they're trying to do is exhaust all of their options before they potentially try to move ahead with something far more modest and can get the support of Republicans.

PHILLIP: I think that seems to be the strategic play. Perhaps, as to just show that it's going to fail, that it has to fail. And, Seung Min, there's some talk of several groups, frankly, of

bipartisan senators working on some more modest proposals, maybe to reform the Electoral Count Act and smaller piecemeal bits of this.

What does it potentially look like? Can Democrats really trust Republicans to come to the table on those issues and actually vote for that?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, there's been discussions about that Electoral Count Act. That very obscure, 18th -- you know, 19th century era law that sets up the process for presidential election results to be certified in Congress and Republicans that I've talked to have certainly expressed interests about, for example, clarifying that the vice president's role in this. Remember the scrutiny vice president pence came under about his power that he actually did not have but that conservatives asserted he did to overturn the election results.

There's talk about clarifying the vice president's role in the process. Perhaps make it harder for election results in a state to be challenged, so you don't need just one House member and one senator to be able to kind of create the process to try of overturn a state of results.


Republicans have actually said it's not we're trying to supplant the voting rights efforts of that Democrats are pushing there, because all we know that is set for failure at some point early this week. But after we see the collapse of voting rights efforts, at least in the shape that Democrats want, it is a question whether the White House Democrats will get on board with bipartisan efforts.

Their stance right now has been that this is certainly not a replacement for the broader voting efforts that we want to do, but what is very clear, even more clear that this it's not going to advance in this Congress, maybe they get on with the smaller scale changes.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, there are some election experts who say, I mean, this is the fast-moving train that is heading directly for us in this next election, all the state-wide efforts to potentially just simply overthrow the next election. But for Democrats, I mean, there's another problem they have.

I mean, there's a Quinnipiac poll out this week asking voters about whether they trust that their vote will be protected and it's actually the Democrats and black voters who are the most confident in their right to vote being protected, contrary to the rhetoric that you're hearing from a lot of Democrats. That seems to be a real political problem when it comes to will to get some of the stuff done, Margaret.

President Biden, in addition to, you know, really being in a tough spot on voting rights, he was just, frankly, embarrassed by Sinema and Manchin this past week, with the way that they pushed back on him so publicly, just as he was in the middle of the massive push, I mean, is Biden, at this point, out of juice and out of the voters are not necessarily even with Democrats on this issue?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. Certainly not the way the president wants to spend their one year mark in office.

But I think it's a turning point, if you look at the calendar. These elections, these midterms, you know, are about to start happening. The primaries are gathering steam now. Even if Congress were to have 50- plus-1 to break the rules move forward, they would be in a race against time in terms of dealing with legislation in states.

So, I think what we're beginning to see now is back in the states on two fronts, both by sitting Democratic governors, Democratic election officials, and candidates who are Democrats in office in some key states, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, to try to fortify the voting rights laws, protect the voting rights laws or block restrictive legislation in those states.

Also a nationwide effort by voting reform advocates and electoral advocates, civil rights leaders, people like Michelle Obama and her group to try to maximize turnout and enthusiasm, because there's basically a recognition that the magic hasn't been in Congress.

PHILLIP: At least not at the federal level. You know, also in response to President Biden's speech on voting rights in Atlanta, Republicans came out and they said we don't recognize this guy who gave this speech, claiming he went too far. Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Restoring the soul of America has become this. Agree with me or you're a bigot.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): President Biden goes down the same tragic road taken by President Trump, casting doubt on the reliability of American elections. I expected more of President Biden.


PHILLIP: I mean, beyond the stunning, you know, equivalency being made here between trying to literally overturn an election and putting forward legislation to protect the vote, Toluse, I mean, do you feel like President Biden is in a position now where Republicans are going to argue that he is maybe not the moderate that he campaigned on in his first election?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. That is exactly what is happening. That's going to happen over the next several months as we go into the midterms. They have seen that President Biden's approval rating has fallen over the course of his presidency. And he has lost some support from some of the moderate voters, some of the independent voters that are out there, in part because of policies and the fact of the fact that we're still dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

But a lot of these Republicans essentially are saying Biden is catering to a small subset of the American populace. He's focusing on the left. He's focusing on liberals. He's putting forth rhetoric that pushes away some of the suburban voters who are don't like hearing, you know, if you don't support some of the voting rights changes that, you know, you're on the side of Bull Connor and you're on the side of segregationists from the past.

That has pushed away a lot of these Republican lawmakers who needed an excuse to go against some of these voting rights issue, even though they're already opposed.


And this has given them an easy option to say, you know, Biden's rhetoric is too inflammatory. He's more like Trump than like the uniter he said he was going to be. And that is facetious in a way but something they have used as cover and to try to drill home on the fact that Biden is struggling to gain the support of some of the moderate voters that pushed him into office and, you know, the fact we're dealing with falling approval ratings, at one year mark of his presidency, makes it harder for Biden to counter some of those claims that are coming from the right.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and to your point --

ZANONA: We should point out --


ZANONA: Abby, Democrats also said that some of Biden's rhetoric went too far. Dick Durbin said that to our Jake Tapper. "The Washington Post" reported that Biden actually wanted to see McConnell on the Hill and explain to him that he wasn't trying to compare him to racists and segregationists. And I think that reflects that Biden recognizes the value of having a working relationship with McConnell. He very well could be in charge of the Senate during Biden's final two years of his first term.

But I am curious, if Biden does run again, will he run on that same message of unity, or does it ring hollow?

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, I think what you're seeing from McConnell is a cleared-eyed focus on the next election, the midterms, and also the next presidential trying to position Biden to the left of the American public. So we'll see if it works.

Coming up next, for us, the Biden administration promises free COVID tests for everyone. But what took so long?



PHILLIP: Starting on Wednesday, President Biden says you'll be able to order free at-home COVID tests on a new government website. Every household can order four at a time. And health insurance are also required now to cover the costs, if you buy them yourselves.

The administration has been under fire, though, from some Democrats for being behind the curve on the issue of tests. And, of course, President Biden disagrees.


BIDEN: When I got here, we were doing fewer than 2 million tests a day. This month it's estimated we'll hit approximately 15 million tests a day. We'll have over 375 billion at-home rapid tests in January alone. That's a huge leap.


PHILLIP: Biden also promised to make high-quality masks available for free, as well.

Dr. Jonathan Rainer joins our conversation on this along with Seung Min Kim.

Dr. Reiner, the omicron wave is here. It's more like a tsunami. We've got the masks. We've got medical personnel being deployed to hospitals that are overwhelmed. You've got the COVID tests.

But is all of this a little bit too late for this particular wave?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It certainly is. We've had rapid tests in the United States now for almost a year. You know, the BinaxNOW tests, for instance, was given an EUA by the FDA in March of last year. And many public health officials for many months have been urging the government to do this because it was seen these rapid tests were the tool to keep businesses open and keep the pandemic at bay. But they've come to the party very late.

So, the government's website will open on Wednesday. We're told that initially there will be about 50 million tests available for shipment. Each home can order up to four tests, and it will take about seven to 10 days for the tests to be shipped.

So, we're really talking about tests into homes really beginning in February. And for a large part of this country that's being hit the hardest, particularly in the sort of upper Midwest, Northeast, Mid- Atlantic, most of omicron is going to be waning by then, gladly waning by them. But it's a welcomed step but we need more.

We need tests available at your corner stores. You know, readily available to pick up, because when you need to test, you can't wait 12 days.


REINER: You know, hopefully many homes will go ahead and acquire a supply. This is really a bit late.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, you can't wait 12 days and four tests are probably not enough for some families.

Seung Min, it's not just people out in the world wondering what took so long. Senate Democrats sent a letter over to the White House asking that very question. And Vice President Harris was asked in a recent interview about whether they should have anticipated this and acted sooner. Listen.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: They're going to go out -- we've been ordered. They've been ordered. I have to look at the current information. I think it's going to be by next week. But soon, absolutely soon. It's a major of urgency for us.

REPORTER: Should we have done that sooner?

HARRIS: We are doing it.

REPORTER: But should we have done it sooner?

HARRIS: We are doing it.


PHILLIP: So Vice President Harris didn't want to play ball at the end there. But, I mean, it's a real question not just about this wave but about the one that is come that we don't know about it. Is there a recognition in the White House that they were late on this and that perhaps they missed an opportunity to get ahold of this virus?

KIM: I mean, they won't say it so quickly but sure it seems to be the sentiment among a broad array of people in Washington. What I found fascinating about that Senate Democrat -- that letter from Senate Democrats to the administration was just how stark in their language and their disappointment about the administration's COVID response.

They use the words, quote, grave concern about the preparedness of the administration to handling the latest omicron wave. It comes from not only Senators Manchin and Sinema, obviously, frequent thorns in the side of administration, but Senator Mark Kelly from Arizona.


He is a vulnerable senator up for re-election. And, yet, also in the letter two other senators who come from these sort of more purple, more moderate states.

So, you do see, it is a sign that Democrats, even if they are allies of the administration are feeling pressure from back home, are feeling the political heat and trying to kind of distance themselves from the administration's response a bit and to see if, you know, how much that pushes the administration to change their response or if more Democrats start being critical of what the White House is doing.

PHILLIP: Yeah. Also this week, the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration's attempt to mandate vaccines at large corporations.

Dr. Reiner, we're at the stage where a lot of people are talking about what living with COVID looks like. You know, COVID, perhaps an endemic virus.

Is it too early to think about that? Especially since we're stuck in the '60s when it comes to vaccinations. Is there anything that we can do, at this point, to move the needle and put the virus behind us?

REINER: It's actually worse than being stuck in the 60 percent range. The CDC has really steadfastly refused to call fully vaccinated what it should be which is three doses to mRNA plus one or J&J plus one. But if you use what most of us do believe the definition of fully vaccinated is, which is three doses, the United States is only fully vaccinated 24 percent of the population.

And if you want to understand why we have a million cases per day, actually many more, if you include rapid tests at home, and our hospitals are packed, because we have only fully vaccinated 24 percent of the population. Until we do better than that, this virus is going to be not endemic, it's going to continue to be a pandemic.

But eventually this surge will end, starting to dip now in places like Washington and New York. A little bit in Massachusetts now and Maryland. And eventually, this pandemic phase will end and we'll have to learn to live with endemic COVID.

And you can already see, you know, the possibility of us having society where low levels of COVID, your vaccines will protect you from getting really sick. If you get COVID, it will be like a mild case of the flu. We will learn to live with it.

But we're going to need to learn our lessons from this pandemic because there will be another pathogen.


REINER: Our CDC needs to be rebuilt. Our surveillance systems need to be rebuilt, and we need to really look at what this shows us about how dysfunctional American medicine has become.

PHILLIP: There's no question about that.

Thank you, Dr. Reiner, for joining us this morning.

And coming up next, for us, Donald Trump returns to the stage as he tries to cement himself as the 2024 GOP frontrunner. Can anyone stand in his way?



PHILLIP: Donald Trump focused on his familiar grievances last night in Arizona, his first rally of 2022. He had a lot to say about Joe Biden's first year in office, but he also attacked members of his own party who challenged his election lies.


TRUMP: And then you have Liz Cheney who is polling at 16 percent. And Adam Kinzinger, he's another beauty. He's a crier, he cries every time you talk to him.

And we have to get rid of Mitch McConnell, by the way, just in case.


PHILLIP: It was just a few days ago that McConnell and handful of others, Senate Republicans, pushed back on Trump and called the election results fair.

But at the same time, as we all know, Donald Trump is back to his, you know, parade or avalanche of lies, he's unfazed by all of this. It seems like last night, Toluse, was really about showing who is boss in the Republican Party, who is the king maker in the Senate and gubernatorial races and who is likely to be running for president as the Republican nominee in the next election.

OLORUNNIPA: Yeah. Abby, you've got it exactly right in terms of talking about how the former president is doing what he did for four years while he was president. He's back to his old antics. He's back to his old lies. He's focusing on the big lie, talking about the 2020 election and claiming falsely it was rigged, and also, attacking his own members of his own party.

That's part of the reason he's power of the Republican Party over the past half decade, is because he's willing to throw punches at people with in his own party, at people that challenged him and people that raised their hand over the parapet and say they're going to contrast what he wants to say.

And when he does that, he has come out sort of as the leader. He's come out as the person that can draw 15,000 people to a rally in Arizona. Even though, you know, a lot of things he said in that rally are not true.

So he is the leader. He talked about a historic comeback during that rally, and it's a hint that he's going to run again in 2024, just two years down the road. So, he is the leader of the party. He continues to get support from large number of people within his party. The people that oppose him have been dwindling, a lot of them have been announcing their retirement.


So he's the head of the Republican Party going into these midterms and going into 2024 and anyone who tries to oppose him within the party are finding themselves on the exits, including Mitch McConnell, who he attacked and who he says we have to get rid of, so it's a big clash that we've --



But you hinted at it, there was like a hint in Trump this week that he was looking over his shoulder and over his shoulder is sitting the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And the two of them have been in this quiet almost kind of sub-tweet war where they are referring to each other but not talking directly about each other. Here's DeSantis this past week talking in a little bit of revisionist history about lockdowns and what he did and didn't do.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I never thought in February, early March, that it would lead to locking down the country. And I think if knowing now what I know then, if that was a threat earlier, I would have been much louder.


PHILLIP: DeSantis locked Florida down, let's just put that out there but he's referring to Donald Trump.

You know, Margaret, I mean where does this all go between the two of them?

TALEV: Abby, Donald Trump is clearly trying to clear the field or at least make sure everybody knows that if he wants to run, he can be the guy who decides who the nominee is for the party. And DeSantis has always been the Republican in the polls, in the early polling who has given Trump the most run for his money.

And I think that's clearly why you're seeing all of this play out fairly publicly. It's almost becoming a competition for who can present themselves as the more anti-mandate, vaccination-freedom sort of candidate. And that's why we've seen DeSantis sort of seeming like he would be open to defying the Supreme Court vis-a-vis certain, you know, mandates that are still standing.

But look, here's really what we're seeing is in Congress, this is playing out really two different ways depending on if you're in the House or if you're in the Senate.

And while Donald Trump has certainly taken on Mitch McConnell, I just don't see any evidence that Mitch McConnell is at risk of, you know, his leadership being at stake if the Republicans were to return to control of the Senate or in the other scenario.

Whereas in the House, you see it play out quite differently. There would clearly be a leadership battle for the speakership if Republicans took control and if Kevin McCarthy wavered in his support for Donald Trump. And that's part of why you see things looking very different in terms of how the House Republican leader is kind of conducting his public messaging in recent days.

PHILLIP: And while all of this is happening, there is the January 6th investigation in Congress into real attempts to subvert the last election and indictments being handed down for seditious conspiracy.

So you know, Melanie, where does this put Republicans as it seems like there are real investigations happening that could further implicate the former president and yet they still seem to be kind of wringing their hands about what to do with him? ZANONA: Yes. Well, with the sedition charges, this is a really big

deal. It shows that prosecutors view the attack on the Capitol as an organized assault, an effort to overturn the elections, prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

And clearly these were organized groups. They showed up in military gear. They were using military formation. They were stocking up on weapons. They were absolutely prepared for violence. So it really runs counter to a Republican narrative that is we can hold (ph), that this is just a protest gone wrong.

I think the big question that is still unanswered is whether there was any level of coordination between these groups and Trump associates or White House officials. That is certainly something the select committee is looking into.

When it comes to Republican cooperation and what to do there, I mean Kevin McCarthy sees zero political upside to participating. Look at what happened to Mark Meadows who only briefly participated and he landed himself in hot water there.

And in fact, if anything I think McCarthy could improve his standings with his right claims (ph) if he goes toe to toe with the committee. So I do not expect Republican cooperation here but it is going to be a distraction for Republicans. They want to be talking about anything else right now besides January 6th.

PHILLIP: I don't actually recommend that people listen to the avalanche of lies last night but it's notable how much effort went into defending these January 6th defendants and saying that they were being held as political prisoners. It's a window into where this is all headed for Republicans.

Thanks for being with us on all of this. And Seung Min, we will get you in on the next one.

But coming up next for us, the prices are rising for the American consumer and Republicans see a political opening.



PHILLIP: As President Biden ends his first year in office, he's hoping that voters think less about what he hasn't done and more about what he has, like bipartisan infrastructure.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven't gotten done. We're going to get a lot of them done, I might add.

But this is something we did get done and it's of enormous consequence to the country.


PHILLIP: But voters are focused elsewhere heading into a critically important midterm year. 54 percent of Americans now say the economy is getting worse.

So Margaret, I mean I think many of us would not have blamed the Biden administration for thinking that infrastructure was an important priority. But voters are focused right now on the economy, on keeping schools open, you know, on this inflation that is affecting their day- to-day lives.

Did they maybe prioritize the wrong things?

TALEV: Well, I think Biden had to do what he did going out of the gate, which is try to contain both the virus and economic implications of the pandemic. But these most recent figures, the CPI -- rate of inflation, you know, worst inflation since 1982. Those aren't the kind of headlines that instill confidence in people.


TALEV: There are a lot of signs that some of this may be getting under control, those gas prices are down at least for now. The rate of food increases slowing down. By springtime, we could be in a different economic picture.

The problem is, for consumers right now, I think there is this underlying anxiety about is there another shoe going to drop or what is really the bottom that is triggered by the pandemic itself.

We have all lived through two years now of a health crisis that -- that won't go away despite all these steps. There are vaccines now. there are boosters now and yet omicron breaks through.

And so people are kind of living their daily lives thinking if I listen to what public officials say, if I do what they say, it still might not be better.

And if you apply that kind of psychology to the economy, there is a real concern that if the numbers seem like they're getting better, they might not really be getting better but when they look like they're bad, they're bad.

I think there's kind of a pandemic (AUDIO GAP) that goes beyond health and kind of pervades the way everyone's experience in life in general.

PHILLIP: To your point, this has been a tough winter and the pandemic has pervaded everything. I mean here are some of the headlines from around the country just showing that. Garbage and recycling pile up as omicron takes its toll. Texas schools struggling to remain open as bus drivers and teachers call out sick. Daycares shutting down. There is a sense that this is all pervading people's day-to-day lives.

Meanwhile, in Virginia you see the consequences for Democrats of what a loss looks like. You've got a new governor, Glenn Youngkin in his first hours putting into place executive orders rolling back mask mandates, banning critical race theories.

Among other things, Toluse. So the stakes are very high for Democrats going into the midterms because this is a window into what America would look like if Republicans are able to take over.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, Republicans are salivating at the idea that they will be able to take power in not only in some of these state houses but also in Congress in 2023 after these midterms. And Democrats have a lot to be fearful and they can just look at Virginia and look at what's happened.

They had the power in Virginia. They had the House -- the State House and the Senate and they were able to have the governorship and they were able to do a lot over the past four years and now that voters have voted a different way. We have a new governor and that governor can use his executive authorities to do other things a lot differently and to roll back some of the things that Democrats have fought for, for quite a long time.

And Democrats who have been in power in Congress just going on four years now could see a lot of what they have pushed for and a lot of the things that they had voted for and a lot of things that they had fought for slip away if Republicans take over, if they start reversing some of these investigations.

And the idea of pushing forward the Biden agenda could be an open-and- shut case if they lose the House. And we saw that -- we saw what happened under the Obama administration. They had two years of the House and the Senate and then once they lost the House, it was much harder to get legislation through.

So Democrats have a lot to be fearful of and it's something that they're looking to try to change before November.

PHILLIP: The question for Biden is, what are his voters feeling? And there were some hints and over the past week. One Young Democrats of America activist says, "I don't know if the right word is apoplectic or demoralized. We are down. We're not seeing the results."

And there's a Nevada voter who says she leans Republican but has voted Democrat recently who says, "Instead of things getting better, it's getting worse every time. I don't know if it's the president or what happened but under Trump, it was so much better."

I mean Seung Min, what is the Biden answer to all of this? He's got a press conference coming up where some of these questions are going to be asked. How is the White House seeing the job that they have to do and do they have enough time to turn it around before it's too late?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, certainly aside from the basic kind of goal that they laid out in the administration, you know, turning -- you know, shutting down the pandemic, turning the economy around -- I think you're going to see a stepped-up messaging effort on the part of the president, on the part of the administration, particularly as we're in a midterm year. I mean obviously we know congressional mid-terms are inherently a

referendum on the party in charge of the White House and that's kind of difficult to change. But the more that the president can do in terms of taking his administration's accomplishments and contrasting it with a Republican agenda or Republican positions on certain issues, I think that is one thing that you will start to see the president do more and more.

For example, talk about that $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package saying it was money in that -- it was money in that legislation that Republicans did not support that got your schools back open, that you know, had the child tax credit provision that significantly -- put a significant dent on child poverty.


KIM: But the problem is in terms of accomplishments, in terms of getting things done, it does look so difficult in this midterm election year even with just Democrats.

And I think you're going to hear more kind of just -- they're going to have to find ways especially to motivate and jazz up these voters, particularly important states like Arizona and Georgia. These are critical Senate battleground.

They're going to be -- especially if Republicans take back the House, which I think most people project. So a Democratic Senate is going to be a firewall against a lot of things and that's why making sure their voters get excited in both states and are motivated to go out and knock on doors is really critical for this November.

PHILLIP: The voters who put Joe Biden in the White House want to see what they were promised. And I think that's what you're hearing a lot from Democrats this week.

Coming up next for us -- how a divided nation is marking Martin Luther King Day.



PHILLIP: It has been nearly 60 years since civil rights icon Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this.


REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.


PHILLIP: And this weekend, the country honors King -- his words, his actions, and his sacrifice which helped put black Americans on a long path to equality. But his son, Martin Luther King III, says "Please don't celebrate my father this weekend unless you can honor his legacy and pass a voting rights bill."

CNN's national politics reporter Eva McKend is joining our conversation. And Eva, this is a weekend in which a lot of people are talking about voting rights and MLK III in a recent interview said he thinks his parents would be rolling over in their graves if they saw what was going on now.

Do you think that as a nation on voting, on you know policing -- are we backsliding?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, certainly that is the sentiment of activists that we are regressing. And I think as we ask ourselves this question, we have to recognize that there are limits to representation. Sometimes people will think what we have advanced so far because they will see certain people of color in high- profile positions. But that doesn't necessarily mean that systemically our institutions aren't worth examination. So I think that that is what he is speaking to there.

I will also say that if we're thinking about members of Congress and what they are doing to honor Dr. King's legacy, I think a really good example of that was last year, when Congresswoman Cori Bush, she slept on the steps of the Capitol. That kind of direct action to call attention to the lapsing federal eviction moratorium, I think that is in the spirit of Dr. King and is an example of the direct action that he would have taken if he were alive today.

PHILLIP: It's in that spirit I mean that MLK III and other activists went to Arizona to pressure Senator Kyrsten Sinema who gave a speech this week saying that she would not support getting rid of the filibuster to pass voting rights.

And a lot of those activists are directing this other lesser-known perhaps quote of MLK's at her saying in his letter from a Birmingham jail, he said, "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the white citizen's councilor or the Ku Klux Klan but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice."

I mean Eva, those are pretty strong words to direct at someone from your own party. Do you think it is warranted, given the position that Sinema and also Joe Manchin are taking?

MCKEND: Well, for her part, Senator Sinema would say that that comparison is unfair. That she is standing on principle in support of this Senate rule. But I think the frustration really came, she was having conversations with activists and then she comes out on the Senate floor and gives this robust speech against the filibuster.

That I think felt like a real stick in the eye and ultimately these activists say that when bipartisanship is prized above all else and often black America's issues are often on the chopping block, and so that is where that frustration is coming from. PHILLIP: And Toluse, you're writing a book about a man who has really

been central to these last few years, George Floyd, in terms of this conversation about policing. But at the same time, we've seen what seems to be a real backlash critical race theory has become a big issue. These voting rights bills, policing reform has basically gone nowhere. Where are we in terms of George Floyd's legacy?

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, there was a period in the summer of 2021. It really did look like things would be different. That George Floyd's death had brought together a wide swathe of different political interests, moderates, suburbanites, even people in the conservative wing of the country who essentially said, you know, what happened to George Floyd was wrong and it opened their eyes to the fact that systemic racism does exist in policing in a number of institutions across the country.

But we have seen over the past year and a half that things have really shifted and there has been a backlash to the kind of protests that we saw that really brought a lot of people together, the largest civil rights movement since the 1960s, that brought together so many different people.


OLORUNNIPA: And now we are seeing a splintering. We're seeing the pushback. We're seeing, you know, people try to take advantage of the fact that some Americans aren't comfortable with the kind of conversations and changes that are being sought.

And when it comes to things like critical race theory, that has been really exploited, the idea that, you know, people are learning about the origins of the country and some of the sins of the past has been exploited by a number of people who wanted to take political advantage of the fact that they see that there can be, you know, political benefits from exploiting some of the changes that have taken place and some of the concerns that are out there among parents and among people that see change happening very quickly.

So we are seeing a backlash. We are seeing the kinds of divisions that King worried about and the kinds of problems that make it very difficult for there to be lasting change.

And we haven't seen the kind of change that people were talking about in the aftermath of George Floyd's death, when we thought there would be policing changes, when we thought there would be more conversations about systemic racism and legislation to address the kinds of things that happened after, in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.

Instead, we're just getting people back into their camps and lots of conversations about how to take advantage of this politically.

PHILLIP: And you know, as we all know, backlash is as American as progress is when it comes to race in this country.

Eva McKend, Toluse Olorunnipa, thank you both for being with us this morning on this MLK weekend. And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us here back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time and also the weekdays show as well at noon Eastern time. And don't forget, you can also listen to our podcast. Download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcasts.

But coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests including Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn and Republican Senator Bill Cassidy.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Thank you for joining me here on my first Sunday back. We'll see you next week.