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White House says Biden will Honor Promise to Pick a Black Woman; Breyer Retirement gives Biden a Chance for a Midterm Reset; President Biden gets First Chance to Make First Supreme Court Pick; Any Minute: President Biden Makes Remarks alongside Retiring Justice Breyer at WH. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 27, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for your time on this very big breaking news day.

A nation changing event takes place this hour. Justice Stephen Breyer is due at the White House to formally announce his retirement after nearly three decades on the High Court. A Supreme Court vacancy is a cherished legacy moment for any president. The timing of this one makes it all the more consequential for this president.

President Biden promises history. A black woman he says will be his nominee and just that his giant. Plus the confirmation process adds new drama to a midterm election year perhaps, perhaps a chance for the president and his fellow Democrats to reset a political landscape that up to now anyway, this tilted decidedly in the Republicans favor.

That opportunity officially begins in just a few moments when the President and Justice Breyer appear together at the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is there Kaitlan, a giant moment for the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A huge moment, but we are expecting this to be a pretty small ceremony actually John here at the White House where President Biden is going to formally announce that Justice Breyer is retiring from the Supreme Court.

Of course, therefore, giving him that coveted vacancy where he can then select someone to put on the Supreme Court. But when you see the two of them here at the White House, in a few moments, we do expect more of the focus to be not on whom it is that Biden is going to pick to replace Justice Breyer.

But on Justice Breyer himself, who of course, President Biden was the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presiding over his confirmation hearings, back in 1994, when Breyer was confirmed to the court, of course, where he has remained since then.

And so that will be part of the focus today. And it is unusual, you don't always see a justice when there retiring, come to the White House and appear next to the president. That's actually pretty rare. And so you will see the two of them today to make this formal.

And that will be President Biden making his first real comments on this because yesterday, he said he wanted to wait for Justice Breyer himself to make it clear that yes, he is stepping down. So of course, then the speculation will turn to who it is that President Biden is going to pick?

We know that the White House has said he is standing by that promise to pick a black woman to make history by putting the black woman on the Supreme Court. And so that will be what we will turn to next what it's going to look like on Capitol Hill?

But today, you'll see Biden and Breyer have side by side. Of course we know that Breyer told the White House last week that he believed he was going to step down. He did not tell that to Biden directly. But you will see the two of them appearing together here shortly John.

KING: Remarkable moment, just moments away at the White House and we'll go back there live when it happens. Kaitlan Collins, appreciate you're kicking us off. Now we sometimes get surprised in a process like this.

But we do know there's a shortlist of black women who President Biden is now considering. CNN's Joan Biskupic is also here with us today. Joan, let's talk first. I want to look back at Justice Breyer in a moment. But let's talk first about the women we know are the leading contenders.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, John. You know in a few minutes after this ceremony will really be into this Supreme Court sweepstakes. And let me just mention three right off the top here that have a very good chance, especially Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who's on the D.C. Circuit, which is the highest Appellate Court here in Washington D.C.

She was a trial judge before President Biden appointed her to that court. She was approved last year with the support of three of the Republican Senators for her confirmation. So that already gives her a little bit of an edge, including that she was already vetted and had met with President Biden then she has a background that connects her to Justice Breyer.

She was a law clerk to him. And she also served on the Federal Sentencing Commission, which is part of his background, too. She's 51 years old. Another very strong contender is Judge Leondra Kruger, who's out on the California Supreme Court. She's a justice there. She was appointed, I think in 2014. So she served for about eight years out there, but she has strong Washington connections, that what might help her in this, this selection here, she used to work in the Solicitor General's Office. She was in the Obama Administration.

She has plenty of supporters out here. She also was a former Supreme Court Law Clerk just like Judge Jackson. She worked for John Paul Stevens and finally, someone who's important to mention because of the politics of the moment.

Judge Michelle Childs, who is right now in a South Carolina trial court and has been nominated to the prominent D.C. Circuit, most important there John James Clyburn, the House Whip and big supporter of Joe Biden are really backing her.

KING: Well, we watch - fascinating process to watch play out. Let's talk a little bit about the departing Justice; Justice Breyer. You had an interview with him last year all the justices say this but Justice Breyer says it here we'll listen in a second very succinctly.


KING: He said he's troubled about the recent conversations that the courts are essentially just a bunch of politicians. And whether you're a D or you're an R affects how the decision is going to be. Let's listen.


JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts and in the rule of law itself can only diminish diminishing the courts power, including its power to act as a check on other branches.


KING: So the Justice they're publicly very sensitive, and yet, the timing of this announcement, he knows, puts his seat, his seat on the court right in the middle of politics, capital P.

BISKUPIC: That's right. And there was no way he wasn't going to go when a Democrat was President, if he could help it, if he could help it. And it's certainly convenient that the Senate still has a Democratic majority right now.

Look, you know, politics has been part of the process, part of the Supreme Courts since 1789, when the Supreme Court, you know, first appointment was made, and it's inevitable what we have now, John though is something different because of, frankly, in part, and it's because of the rulings by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has become much more of an engine of social change social dilemmas social, you know, conflict with some of the rulings. You can't - you can't say that the Supreme Court can't be part of politics, when right now they're considering whether to overrule Roe v. Wade, which has been around, you know, for 50 years. So I understand exactly where Justice Breyer is coming from. He's always had that ideal. But at this point, this is when the Supreme Court becomes most entangled with politics. And Chief Justice John Roberts has warned that when nominations battles occur, how can the public not think that you get a politicized justice?

KING: Well, we're going to watch this one play out. Joan is going to stay with us as we wait for the big event at the White House. Joan, appreciate that very much. With me now to share the reporting and their insights Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast" Paul Kane of "The Washington Post" and McClatchy's Francesca Chambers.

Jackie, let me start with you. And let's just put up the ideological balance of the court right now. This pick by President Biden will not shift the ideological balance of the court. He's going to replace a left of center judge with a left of center judge assuming he wins confirmation.

But is it chance any president cherishes these moment? If you look on the left side of the screen, Donald Trump had three Justice Gorsuch, Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Coney Barrett. Joe Biden will get this one choice. And as Joan just noted, the timing A, it is a midterm election year B, the next term of the court will consider giant issues including abortion rights.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Absolutely. And this gives Joe Biden I mean, he has had just a heck of a last year and this gives him a chance to rack a win. Potentially assuming everything goes as we think it is going to go through the Senate though everything you know it you could always hit a speed bump here or there.

That said this, this is - and his opportunity to make history by putting the first black woman nominating the first black woman putting the first black woman on the Supreme Court. Now whether or not this does become a motivating issue, I think remains to be seen, given your point about a replacing leftist center justice.

With a leftist center justice, I would actually be - I think it's probably more of the rulings on abortion and things like that that will motivate Democratic voters but this certainly cannot hurt.

KING: It cannot hurt it changes a dynamic Paul Kane, if you think about where - we were having this conversation two days ago, Republicans think just about every political trend is in their favor. It's the president's first midterm election year.

He has economic wins the Coronavirus pandemic wins in his face. There's a history of midterm elections, the Democrats are struggling right now to pass key elements of their agenda. So if you were on Monday, Mitch McConnell's feeling great today, he has to be thinking this is something different.

And I didn't want anything different. I didn't want anything that might change the dynamic. But let's start with the Democrats. Chuck Schumer says I will get this process done quickly. I will keep all 50 of my members on board can he?

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Most definitely. I think it would take something new and revealing about one of these choices that Joan outlined something new that we know nothing about to end up getting one of these one or two of these Democrats to back away from the nominee.

You know, Judge Jackson already received 53 votes, three Republicans supported her elevation to the D.C. Circuit so there's already a sort of locked in base there of the number of votes that they will get. Now some of those Republicans may drop off because they say a vote for one appellate court doesn't mean you go to the Supreme Court because that's a bigger deal.

It happens a lot in these cases. But this is, you know, this in anywhere. I mean, they were talking about trying to do it in five or six weeks, which is really fast by historical standards. That was what the Republicans did with Justice Barrett, back in 2020.

Now, the more likely track is about 10 weeks or so where they have a full FBI vetting where the president will meet with a few people pick make a choice.


KANE: Do the FBI vetting, send the nominee to the Hill for her, and it is going to be her to meet with all the key Senators. And then you have hearings and after that it's another bout two weeks or so. And I mean May 1 is probably a slow process for this. But depending on the various recesses, definitely by mid-April, they should have this wrapped up.

KING: If the Democrats can keep it together. And we do expect the president to move pretty quickly. Francesca and Jackie just made a key point. We don't know. We're talking in January of a midterm election year. The president has not made his pick yet. We'll see how the process plays out.

But we do know that the president could very much do something that changes the dynamic among the Democratic base disappointed that the so called Build Back Better plan is stalled in the Senate, disappointed with the collapse of voting rights.

You wrote a very smart piece today with one of your colleagues looking at some of the numbers back in the 2020 election; Joe Biden got 87 percent of the black vote across the United States. Pew Research survey in recent days shows the president's approval rating among black voters is just 60 percent.

So we don't know if this will cause a motivation, intensity increase among black voters in the Democratic base. But for President Biden, it's an opportunity he very much could use.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: And civil rights leaders and democratic activists that we spoke to for that story said, as Jackie pointed out, also, that it certainly can't hurt him. And it can help him to be seen as keeping a key promise that he made on the campaign trail, which is that he would appoint a black woman to the court.

And whether or not as you voted, we will be a motivating factor for them when you look at all the reasons why the president could be losing black support, including the state of the economy, COVID-19. That's another case entirely.

However, they have said that they do think that this could be helpful. Now, the one thing that they don't agree on John is who should be the nominee among the black women that there could be the president has nominated eight for the appellate courts already.

So there's a wide list of women that he could choose from here, in addition to the three that your colleague named earlier.

KING: Right. We have the three front runners out of the gate but as we've - I've been through this process, many times, sometimes what you have on day one, it's not what you end up with on day 10, 20 or 30 down the road, but that's why we have a fascinating process. Today's the beginning of it.

Everybody stand by, up next for us, a Democratic Senator who knows a thing or two about making history Democrats want a quick and smooth confirmation process but can they stay united?



KING: Senate Democrats now face the opportunity to put President Biden's first justice on the Supreme Court and the Senator who will lead the process. The Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin saying just moments ago, the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has told him President Biden has not yet made a final decision on who to nominate?

Democrats hope this is a smooth process and a fast confirmation. And of course it will play out ahead of the midterm elections this fall. Let's get some perspective now from Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Senator grateful for your time today! There will be Democrats in the country who still might have a little trauma leftover from recent experience on Build Back Better and say, hey, we at risk here of losing Senator Manchin again? Are we at risk of losing Senator Sinema again?

Your colleague Senator Manchin just said today he's open to supporting a Biden pick who's even maybe perhaps a little bit more liberal than him. He traditionally has supported the president on his appointees. Do you have any fear that the Democrats can keep all 50 of your votes locked in here?

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): I don't. I think this - I'm looking forward to seeing who the president decides to nominate. And I'm not on the Judiciary Committee. So I won't be part of those hearings. I will certainly do my due diligence.

But I'm confident that whoever the president decides to nominate will have support in the Senate, and hopefully we will get that nominee confirmed as soon as possible.

KING: What would the Shaheen standard be for a fair process? I know you are unhappy was closer to the election. Of course, in 2020, the president made his pick of Justice Coney Barrett, in September and Republican said we are going to rush this through.

We're having a conversation in late February. So there's plenty of time here. But what's a fair process? Chuck Schumer, your Leader of the Democratic Majority, says he would like to maybe copy that process that was six weeks. What in your view would be fair to everybody?

SHAHEEN: Well, I think the committee will want to hold hearings. I'm sure if it's one of the candidates who are being talked about. There's a lot of vetting that's already gone on of those candidates. But that clearly, will need to be done. And people will want to find out as much about the candidate as possible.

So - but I don't expect it to. I'm sure the White House is looking carefully at who they might nominate. And they're going to choose someone who is going to have the high standards that we expect from Supreme Court Justices.

KING: The president has been plainly clear that he will nominate a black woman with his first vacancy. You are the first woman elected Governor of your great state; you were the first woman New Hampshire sent to the United States Senate.

So you know what it's like to be first you know what it's like to be in a room. Sometimes we look around or not many people who look like you, how much are you looking forward to and what will it mean for not just the court, but the country, if the United States Senate can confirm a black woman to the United States Supreme Court?

SHAHEEN: I think it's a tremendous step forward. One of the things that President Biden committed to when he was running was to have his appointees look like the country and he has really made good on that promise.


SHAHEEN: And this is another opportunity to open the door to expand the opportunities that we want available to all Americans to an African American woman on the court. I think that would just be terrific.

KING: I want to turn to another big subject. The Supreme Court is obviously topic one in Washington today, but you are a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. You're deeply involved in negotiations in the Senate about a potential package of sanctions against Russia because of the standoff with Ukraine.

As you know, the United States and the NATO allies submitted some written responses to some Russian questions about, you know where we might be able to have some negotiations here. The Kremlin Spokesman says it cannot be said that our considerations were taking into account. Are there any willingness to take into account our concerns was demonstrated?

So you see sort of a pessimistic view from the Russian perspective that because the United States would not concede what Russia wants to say that Ukraine would never be allowed into NATO? A, what is your sense of this moment? Do you agree with the White House take that an invasion could be imminent? And how quickly will the Senate have a package of sanctions?

SHAHEEN: Well, I do believe that the threat is very real. And it could happen at any time based on the information that I've seen. I co-lead a delegation last week with Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, to Ukraine, we met with President Zelensky, we met with other officials in Ukraine, and they obviously are very concerned about the threat on their borders on three sides of the country.

And I think we came back with a commitment to try and do everything we could to show Ukraine that we support their efforts, and to show Vladimir Putin that we are united in a bipartisan way to oppose what he is talking about.

And the fact is we know that what he submitted to the United States to Tony Blinken was not something we were ever going to go along with. We are not going to give Russia a veto over who gets to join NATO. And we are not going to stand by while Vladimir Putin decides the future of a sovereign country.

Ukraine is a country that has been looking to the West. And that's what Vladimir Putin is upset about. And we're not going to let him make that determination for Ukraine. That's something that sovereign countries ought to be able to decide on their own what their future is. And Putin knew that when he submitted those demands that we were never going to agree to them.

KING: Is the next move his or do you believe that the United States which I assume you agree with the president and NATO allies have moved some, some military muscle into the region? Obviously, there's some direct aid to Ukraine. But there are some in the United States Senate who say, let's put some more economic and other sanctions on Russia.

Now, let's not wait to see if there's an invasion. Let's show Putin the United States is serious. Are you in that camp? Or do you think we should wait it out?

SHAHEEN: Well, I think we are working on bipartisan legislation that's going to look at a range of things. How do we provide additional aid to Ukraine, both weapons, lethal and non-lethal? How do we continue to engage with our allies to ensure that we're presenting a united front to Russia?

And third, what sanctions does it make sense to address now? One of the things we know is that Putin has already taken actions that I think are sanctionable. And so I think there are ways that we can look at sanctions that might be appropriate now and what we might do. On top of that, should Putin actually invade Ukraine?

KING: Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat from New Hampshire, grateful for your time today, Senator, thank you very much.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

KING: Up next, a new number show the U.S. economy grew last year at the fastest rate in over three decades. And of course, stay with us we're standing by for the big formal announcement. Justice Breyer, the retirement announcement, live from the White House.



KING: KING: Any moment now the Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer due to appear with the President of United States President Biden at the White House. Just moments ago, Justice Breyer releasing his official resignation letter in that letter, the 83 year old justice confirms he will stay until the end of this term, assuming that his successor has been "Nominated and confirmed" and if his relationships with his court colleagues Breyer calls it warm and friendly.

You see the Roosevelt field room right there at the White House was we wait for the President of the Untied States and Justice Breyer to come in. You see the staff right there. Let's bring in CNN's Joan Biskupic.

Joan, were we saying farewell to Justice Breyer here. As he notes in his letter 28 years on the High Court 14 years as a federal judge before that. And then that starts this is a tribute to Breyer day, but it opens the door up to the next step.

BISKUPIC: That's right, John. And the letter you just read, you know, strikes some really interesting notes. They're almost always short and sweet as this one is. Each justice tends to hit something a little different. In this one he conditions, he suggests a condition for his leaving.

And that's the fact that he wants somebody who will be confirmed in place that hasn't happened since 2005, when Justice O'Connor left. And the other thing I have to note, John, is the fact that he referred to his colleagues and the warm and friendly relations he has with them.

And that's actually true. Not all of his colleagues could say the same thing. But Justice Breyer is loved by his fellow colleagues and he is very generous in spirit to the other ones.

KING: Everybody stand by; let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins, Kaitlan again--