Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Biden Ends Trip to Europe with Toughest Words Yet for Putin; White House Clarifies: Biden Not Pushing Regime Change in Russia; Russia Strikes Lviv, Near Polish Borders, White Biden in Warsaw. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 27, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): President Biden ends a historic trip to Europe with strong words for Putin.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.

PHILLIP: Will this fight define his presidency?

BIDEN: My message to the people of Ukraine: we stand with you, period!

PHILLIP: Plus, Ukraine on the offensive. Its military blows up a Russian ship and blocks the advance into the capital.

VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV MAYOR: We never, ever go to (INAUDIBLE), better we die than give up.

PHILLIP: But after new air strikes in the West, is Putin really narrowing his ambitions?

And, the culture wars and the court. Did Republicans go too far in attacking a historic nominee?

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I am committed to serving as an even-handed Supreme Court justice.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Do you agree with this book, that babies are racist?


PHILLIP: Good morning and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip.

President Joe Biden is back at the White House this morning after a trip to Europe and a speech in Warsaw that could very well go down in history as one of the most important of his presidency. His address included some of the most forceful rhetoric against Russia since Ronald Reagan's famous Cold War speeches, and this warning to Vladimir Putin.


BIDEN: A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people's love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.


PHILLIP: That last sentence, those nine words, were not in President Biden's prepared remarks.

And Secretary of State Antony Blinken clarified that Biden wasn't talking about regime change. He said he meant that Putin can't exercise power over his neighbors. The president also called the fight in Ukraine just one battle in the larger war of autocracy versus democracy.


BIDEN: History shows this is the task of our time, the task of this generation. Let's remember the hammer blow that brought down the Berlin Wall, the might that lifted the iron curtain. Were not the words of a single leader, it was the people of Europe, who for decades fought to free themselves. We're seeing it once again today.


PHILLIP: Meanwhile, the war rages on in Ukraine. Russian forces hit the city of Lviv, near the polish border in the West. And just a day after a top Russian general said that their focused only on liberating the Donbas province in eastern Ukraine.

CNN's Phil Black is there in Lviv.

Phil, tell us about the damage that you see today, in a city that had largely been not in the line of a lot of the warfare that has been going on in that country.


Lviv is a slightly rattled city today. This is a city that has largely carried on operating normally through the course of this war. Today it is a little quieter, a lot more people stayed home than perhaps normal because the strikes that took place here yesterday have shown there is nowhere in this country that is safe from Russia's firepower there have been other strikes in this region. These were the first to take place within the crowded city limits.

The missiles that struck the fuel depot created a huge fire that emergency workers spent most of the night, in fact all of the night really battling. They didn't extinguish it until just after sunrise this morning. And the other site that was hit, we understand, is some sort of military infrastructure, the Ukrainians aren't specific there, but according to the Russian military which has confirmed that it did this, it says that it was a radio repair plant of some kind being used to modernize Ukraine's weapons systems.

Now, all of this, of course, while President Biden was across the nearby border in Poland, in the region, so there has been speculation here from the mayor of Lviv and other officials that perhaps this was a targeted message at the U.S. president. It is possible it also fits part of a wider pattern of behavior, where Russia has been targeting this sort of support infrastructure.


It is the third fuel depot in recent days to be destroyed in different parts of the country, along with weapons at storage areas and that sort of thing. It is a clear campaign to knock out the logistics and support sites that Russia thinks the Ukrainian military is relying on, Abby.

PHILLIP: And, Phil, tell us about what is going on the ground in terms of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

BLACK: So, we have been talking this week a lot about Ukrainian counteroffensives in and around the capital Kyiv. Making progress there to the west, the northwest, the east. We also have some new video, evidence of yet more counterattacks, but this time it is taking place in the far east of the country, near the eastern city of Kharkiv. This is a city that has been largely encircled from the earliest days of the war, it has been really under really significant bombardment throughout and now, Ukrainian forces there say they are pushing Russian forces back.

And this video seems to show them in a fairly intense fire fight in a village 12 miles from the center of the city, directing much of the fire on to a school building at one point where it appears the Russian forces are holed up. We also are hearing reports of -- and seeing some evidence of counteroffensive operations a little further north in the Sumy region as well.

As I say, add that to the progress being made around Kyiv. And it shows that there has been a dynamic shift in Ukrainian operations over the last week or so, no longer just fiercely resisting, but counterattacking, clawing back territory that had previously been conquered by Russia.

PHILLIP: Phil Black, thank you for all that excellent reporting.

And joining me now with their reporting and insight, Robin Wright of "The New Yorker" and Wilson Center, and also CNN contributor and former Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty.

Great to have both of you here.

Look, there is a lot happening this week when it comes to Europe. The capstone of it was this Biden -- you could call it a gaffe -- he already called Putin a war criminal, a butcher, but now this.

What is the significance, do you think?

ROBIN WRIGHT, NEW YORKER CONTRIBUTING WRITER: Well, this was, I think, one of the three most important speeches given by an American president in the last 60 years. You have Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, Reagan in Berlin, and now Biden talking not just about this moment in history, but about this juncture in history.

The gaffe is certainly kind of absorbing all of our attention, but I think history will look back on this speech as one in which he's trying to pull the west back together again, after a years of a fraying alliance and trying to say we have to stay the course, we can't let the kind of fatigue that often sets in divert us from what is a challenge, not just in Ukraine, but ultimately between Russia and the west, defining, you know what the 21st century looks like. Biden so hoped to move his pivot to Asia, not be dragged into European wars and he's back where he was.

This is a moment to try to move on saying let's deal with this and get back to business.

PHILLIP: Much ado about nothing?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN RUSSIAN AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: Unfortunately, I think those -- you know, the last nine words are the thing that people are focusing on. Obviously, you're focusing on history, which is important, but I think -- you know, I understand the emotion. And I'm sure President Biden is seeing much more than we are seeing, that the horrible --

PHILLIP: He had just visited these refugees, he had really been up close and personal with them.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. And we know he's a personal person.


DOUGHTERY: So I'm not surprised that he feels that way. Right now in terms of what is happening on the ground, it is not only history, but it is the actual war. And so, there could be other ways of saying what he wanted to say.

Now I watched how, you know, Russia is reacting to this. Putin has been thinking about this for years. This is no surprise that the Russians know that he wants to -- that the United States would love to do regime change, at least in their eyes. But I think their reaction has been interesting because they're concentrating more on the comments by Biden, this is going to be a long war and we have to stay in there.

They're not talking so much specifically about regime change, because I think that is uncomfortable for the Russians to bring up. By the way --

PHILLIP: Yeah, and Peskov kind of shrugged it off, like, well, it is not for Biden to decide. And some people read that as just them sort of -- it is baked into the cake. I think there is an argument to be made perhaps that Putin is not going to spare the Ukrainians whether Biden calls him a war criminal or not, whether Biden says he should go or not.

Is there any validity to that -- to that?

WRIGHT: I think one of the big questions is what is Putin going to do in response. I -- they may not want to bring this up in public because it -- you know, this is embarrassing, humiliating and Putin is very thin-skinned. We know that. This is -- this is a campaign that is important.

But Biden, he's also made this comment at the time that the Russian military is not doing very well.


And so, do you have that intersection where they try to say, well, we're just looking for Donbas, we're not looking for all of Ukraine. Nobody is going to believe that.

PHILLIP: Well, do you -- I mean, do you buy that?


PHILLIP: We had a strike on Lviv yesterday, which seemed to say, no, we're not doing that.

DOUGHERTY: And yet, and yet it could be a way for Putin to begin to make the case to the Russian public that the objective has been achieved and we have won. Because if you look at the original reason for going in, it was all protecting the Russian speakers in the eastern Donbas region. And so I think, you know, you can make the argument that it is at least preparing the ground to say that's what we wanted to do, we protected our own, we have done it, ergo we have won.

But that strike on Lviv I think kind of blew that out of the water.

WRIGHT: Well, and he's also still going to be a pariah. He's still going to face sanctions. This doesn't solve any of the issues that have now cornered or limited Russia's interaction with the world.

PHILLIP: What does the climb-down look like? What can a structure of a cease-fire, a peace deal, look like? Would the Ukrainians have to give up the Donbas, have to cede some territory? Would Russia agree to what some people have described as a kind of, you know, neutrality for Ukraine, meaning that, you know, the United States agrees to protect Ukraine and so does Russia? What does that look like?

DOUGHERTY: Neutrality already is out there. I think they can deal with neutrality. In terms of recognizing Donbas, there is two people's republics. I think you might be able to fudge that in some way, that you could not recognize because after all, they're saying they're independent countries and Russia is too. Crimea, you might be able to do that too, in some fashion, by saying, you know, de facto it is in control, but not forever.

But I think these are very difficult political decisions for President Zelenskyy because there are many people in Ukraine who simply won't go with that, and if you challenge his presidency to do that.

WRIGHT: Yeah. I just don't think that Zelenskyy, having fought and -- Ukrainian people feeling very deeply, remember, this war didn't start for them on February 24th. This war started eight years ago. And the danger is that even if there is a -- some kind of limitation on Russia's offensive now, that doesn't mean this is over.

I mean, Putin made clear for 15 years now that he sees -- he sees Ukraine as part of Russia. He -- that's what he genuinely believes. And so whether there is some kind of limit right now, this war is not going to end. And that's the problem. I don't think Zelenskyy is in a position that even if you wanted to he could compromise very much.

PHILLIP: Just take a quick listen to President Biden this week talking about what the future holds for Europe and the United States.


BIDEN: America's ability to meet its role in other parts of the world rests upon a united Europe and a secure Europe. We have learned from sad experience in two world wars and we stayed out of and not been involved, stability in Europe, it always comes back to haunt us in the United States.


PHILLIP: Is this a pivot point for the world, for global security going forward?

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. There is no question.

I think, you know, you look at events the end of the Cold War, the end of -- well let's say Putin's presidency, all of this, this to me is the biggest event, because Putin is taking it to the end here. He's risking his entire country, his economy is really cratering.

Domestically, he has problems. Militarily, he is stuck in a war, whether he wants to end it or not, how he ends it, I think it is very, very -- it is really a turning point.

PHILLIP: It certainly feels that way.

Great conversation with both of you. Thanks for being here.

And coming up next for us, one month into this war, does Ukraine have all the momentum? Retired General Steven Anderson thinks so and he'll explain why, coming up next.


[08:18:08] PHILLIP: One month into Russia's war in Ukraine, the Ukrainians say they're on the offensive. Their forces destroyed this Russian ship docked outside of the strategically significant Sea of Azov, just in the Southeast. The Ukrainian forces have managed to push Russian forces further out of Kyiv.


KLITSCHKO: We never, ever go to (INAUDIBLE) better we die than give up. The Russians never, I tell you as mayor of Kyiv, as citizens of Kyiv, the Russians will be never ever in our hometown.


PHILLIP: And joining me now is retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson.

Russians have said over the last couple of days, maybe they might be satisfied with just the Donbas region. Maybe they don't -- they can't and won't try to take territory in other parts of Ukraine. What do you think?

BRIG. GEN. STEVEN ANDERSON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I think they're saying that because they can't win elsewhere. That's really their only play at this point. They have shown themselves to be totally incapable of really conducting effective maneuver operations against Kyiv.

They have executed a poor strategy. Their military is performing terribly. Their leadership is poor. They have morale issues.

They're leaving their dead in the streets. You know, American armies would never abandon their soldiers like that.

So, they're performing terribly and I think that's why they're shifting their strategy to the Donbas.

PHILLIP: And yet, you know, let's show people a little bit of what's going on on the ground. Just yesterday there were strikes all the way over here in the western part of Ukraine, perhaps just a signal to the West. But the Ukrainians are saying that they are taking some territory over here near the city of Kharkiv, over here near the city of Mariupol, under siege for several weeks. And in Kyiv, Russians are being pushed further back. They have not been able to encircle the city.


So what does that tell you, even about their ability to limit their own ambitions here?

ANDERSON: Abby, what it tells me is that momentum shifted to the Ukrainians. They're definitely taking the fight to the Russians, they're pushing them back. They're now completely out of artillery range. They have been able to protect Kyiv as such.

They're conducting counteroffensive operations all over the country that seem to be successful. Now, the Russians did attack the logistics depot, the fuel depot there last couple of days and they're trying to essentially attack the logistics supply chain that the Ukrainians have. But thus far, the Ukrainians have been winning the logistics war. Because of that, they're winning the military war.

PHILLIP: Tell us about the tools they're using to do that. President Zelenskyy wants more, they want more of everything, frankly. But what is working for them right now?

ANDERSON: Well, what has happened in the -- unfolding in front of us, we're seeing the advantage of technology, we're seeing a smaller force on paper that should be getting decimated by the Russians. They're able to hold the day, and shift momentum because they have technology on their side.

That's why Americans need to continue to invest in high technology. Specifically drones. Look at how the drones have performed.

They have taken out a lot of cargo trucks, a lot of command and control vehicles. They have done a magnificent job. Drones are a huge addition to the modern battlefield we need to continue to leverage.

Then the Javelins, if you heard about, 5,000 successful engagements with Javelins. They have decimated 275 tanks probably with javelins and then, of course, the Stingers. The stingers now use -- they're not heat seeking anymore. They use infrared imaging technology. They've been able to take out 200 aircraft of the Russians, tremendous, tremendous.

So, we got to continue to invest in technology to give Ukrainians and smaller countries like that an advantage.

PHILLIP: And Ukrainians say they want a thousand of those a day, 500 javelins, 500 stingers every day.

I want to ask you, though, about the logistical challenges that the Russians are having on the ground. They have experienced, according to some estimates, up to 15,000 killed on the battlefield. In ten years in Afghanistan, 10,000 soldiers were killed. They're also losing a lot of generals.

What is the significance of that?

ANDERSON: It's hugely significant. It shows they have a poor leadership structure. The issue with the Russians is they don't have noncommissioned officers in their ranks. They essentially centralize all decision-making, so they don't have people at the tip of the spear that can make decisions. So, the generals are having to push themselves forward and exposing themselves and getting shot by snipers.

So it is exposed this weakness within their military, they don't have lower level, midlevel management and leadership that they need to successfully conduct combat operations.

PHILLIP: But before you go, lots to talk about, the use of chemical weapons, that perhaps Putin could be pushed back against the wall, and decide to use them. What do you think is the likelihood of that? And what would be the battlefield advantage to using chemical weapons?

ANDERSON: Well, I think that it is -- it is somewhat likely at this point because he's losing so bad everywhere else. So what does he have left in his playbook? This is probably one of the only things and that, of course, is nuclear. We don't want to go there.

But we got to make sure that we do everything we can to set conditions, to make -- give him an option other than using these weapons of mass destruction. We have got to ensure that we unify NATO, and Ukraine has succeeded in doing that. Their encouraging commitment has inspired the whole world. We need to stay unified and tell Russia we're not going to stand for this.

We don't need to tell him what we're going to do. We don't need to tell him what we're not going to do. But we need to tell them we're going to take appropriate action if they do something like this.

PHILLIP: Very, very serious situation on the ground.

Brigadier General Steve Anderson, thank you so much for being with us.

Coming up next, the politics of President Biden's trip to Europe, how do voters feel about his handling of Ukraine?

And before we go, to break, take a look at this. Scenes from a makeshift underground shelter in Kharkiv.



PHILLIP: In Europe, President Biden saw firsthand a continent transformed by war. He met with American troops stationed in Poland, praised a revived and united NATO alliance, comforted some of the over 3 million Ukrainian refugees, and he confronted head on the looming challenges ahead for global democracies.


BIDEN: It will not be easy, there will be costs, but it is a price we have to pay because the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.


PHILLIP: But this morning, Biden is back in Washington, where polls show Americans are skeptical of his Ukraine response so far.

Joining me now with their reporting and their insights, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Asma Khalid of NPR, and CNN's Manu Raju.

So, guys, President Biden had this big moment on the world stage, and delivered an incredibly forceful speech, derailed by a few words at the end, but also I was struck by the White House moving so quickly to publicly walk it back.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was so striking. That walk-back, Abby, came before the motorcade even got to the airport after the speech. And the reason it came so fast, I was talking yesterday to some folks in the White House, and I was so struck by the speed of that walk-back. And I said, there was no way you guys could try to -- you know, I embrace that statement?


MARTIN: And what they said was basically, his dedication to keeping the coalition and NATO together is such that there is no way that they could try to sort of own the gaffe, if you will, because it would have roiled every other European capital, that so far has been in sync with the U.S. in confronting Vladimir Putin. And the idea that Biden can simply call for regime change and not consult Paris, London and Berlin was just not acceptable. So, they had no choice but to walk back Biden's comment.

PHILLIP: But I mean, the irony of this all is that the American people seem to want him to be tougher. The polls show that 52 percent oppose his handling of Ukraine. They want him to be tougher. That statement was, to some people's ears, tougher.

ASMA KHALID, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was, but it was -- because also I would say to as many people's ears, a suggestion of regime change, which is just something that by most foreign policy experts accounts would essentially escalate the conflict.

And at this point in time, I mean, it also suggests that there's not really a whole lot of room of negotiation with Putin. And if you want a cease-fire, you need to be able to negotiate with Putin. I will say I think that the trouble President Biden has, is that because he has wanted so much to have a united response with allies, you have to move at the pace that many of your European allies, and the rest of the world, wants to move --


KHALID: And that means sanctions, largely --

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, look, that's been the real challenge for Biden so far. Because he wants to maintain unity but he also wants to talk tough and deal with Putin as tough as he can. But oftentimes it's a much slower pace than what the American public wants but it's the pace that his allies want. Whether it's revoking Russia's trade status, that's something that was pushed by Congress to do. Ultimately he said yes but hit the brakes on that initially because he was trying to get the allies on board.

And this has been the challenge for him all along, where it's an off the cuff comment saying that he's a war criminal or off the cuff comment calling for regime change. The challenge is maintaining unity but also maintaining diplomacy. MARTIN: This is the classic Biden though, right? He is what he is. And

part of his appeal is that he's the unvarnished product and that has helped him (inaudible) over the years.

It's also dogged him politically over the years. I have a book coming out, May 3rd, you can buy it now. "This Will Not Pass" you can preorder it today. Me and Alex Burns, that talks more about this. That there is this debate inside The White House about do we let Biden be Biden or do we try to restrain him and limit his access to the microphone because he can sometimes step on the best-crafted remarks. Even speaking to the world in Poland.

PHILLIP: He was faced this week with the question of how this would affect his electoral process. Democrat's electoral process. Here's what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No election is worth my not doing exactly what I think is the right thing. Not a joke. I'm too long in the tooth to fool with this any longer. My focus of any election is on making sure that we retain the House and the United States Senate, so that I have the room to continue to do the things that I'm able to do, in terms of grow the economy and deal in a rational way with American foreign policy and lead the world.


KHALID: I mean, when I talk to Democratic analysts, though, about the midterms, I will say that Ukraine is not, at this moment in time, really at the top of the list for what domestic concerns are amongst voters. And I know that's sort of harsh reality. I think if things were to drag on for an extended time that may change. But it's largely broader frustrations that people have and that's tied to COVID and the economy --


PHILLIP: -- I just want to show this to the audience, this is an ad from American Democratic super PAC, trying to tie Republicans to a sort of pro-Putin message. This is in Ukrainian, by the way. And it's -- I forget what it says here. But it's in Ukrainian. I don't speak Ukrainian. But it's tying Republicans to this issue.

RAJU: Yes. I mean, we'll see if it's effective. But you're absolutely right. I mean, this is an issue about how Americans feel and if this war drags on and prices continue to drive up at the pump, that's what will drive voter frustration at the end of the day.

But the question is that if the American public does believe that Biden is handling this well, it improves his approval ratings overall, which we haven't seen much example of yet. But this is still early in this crisis. Perhaps that could also lift Democrats down ticket. That is how this could eventually impact the midterms because in House races, in particular, oftentimes it depends on how the president in power is doing. The party down ticket could suffer if he's struggling and right now Biden is --


MARTIN: -- Biden's at 41, 42 percent approval on Election Day, that's going to do Democrats up and down the ballot. And the truth is, as long as gas prices are where they are or worse, it's going to be very difficult.

I had one senior White House person tell me a couple of weeks ago, he said, look, it's going to be tough for us to message domestically out of this crisis as long as gas is where it is. And I think unless that changes sometime soon, they're going to have real issues in The White House.

PHILLIP: All right. We'll have to leave it there on this issue. But coming up next for us, racist babies and the definition of a woman. Will Republican attacks on a historic Supreme Court nominee backfire?


PHILLIP: In the history of this country, there have been 115 Supreme Court justices. All but seven of them have been white men. And soon that number may be eight.


JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I am here standing on the shoulders of generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity. And I hope that it will bring confidence, it will help inspire people to understand that our courts are like them.


PHILLIP: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will almost certainly be confirmed, but that didn't stop some Republicans on the Judiciary Committee from aggressively interrogating her last week.


SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R-TN): Can you provide a definition for the word woman?

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX): Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY, (R-MO): I want to try to understand here, is it your view that society is too hard on sex offenders?


PHILLIP: You know, kind of playing for a different audience here in that room. What do you think is going to be the impact of that kind of questioning on this particular nominee?

RAJU: Well, look, it's not going to prevent her from being confirmed. She has the votes to get confirmed. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said on Friday that he is going to be a yes vote. The Democrats will keep their party united. But this will be one of the closest confirmation votes in history, given the nature of a 50/50 Senate and given the nature of how polarized the confirmation process is.

I mean, there's no doubt that she's -- both sides will agree that she is a well-qualified juror (ph), someone -- you cannot dispute any of that. But the way that the confirmation process has completely devolved and broken down over the years, both sides clearing are, of course, blaming each other for it, it just shows that no matter how qualified you are, to get more than a couple of votes from the other side is incredibly difficult these days. Maybe even impossible these days. The confirmation hearings show just why that's the case.

PHILLIP: And on the Democratic side, there's no question that her treatment was sort of almost a galvanizing moment for progressives.

KHALID: It was. And I do think, though, this point of the process is really important to bring up. Republicans clearly saw this as, I think, a pre-midterm campaign strategy to test out some of their messages. But I was struck. I was looking at polling from Gallup. And they look at all this stuff from how popular various nominees in recent history have been. She's up there with, you know, now Supreme Court Justice John Roberts as one of the most popular -- in terms of public opinion of the American public approval rating.

And so you look at Congress and where she's going to get confirmed, I think John Roberts got confirmed like 78-22. It was an overwhelming approval in Congress. She's not going to get anywhere near numbers like that in Congress.


KHALID: It feels like the public and Congress is just totally out of sync.

PHILLIP: And you can see --


PHILLIP: -- over the years, it's been -- it's almost impossible --


PHILLIP: -- now. It used to be almost unanimous Supreme Court nominees and now --


MARTIN: -- 90 to 9 on the screen who she is replacing.


MARTIN: By the way, you know who voted to confirm Stephen Breyer? A fella (ph) named Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. Because back in that period, early '90s, certainly in the '80s, as well, this was a vote that if -- unless the pick was controversial at some level, typically sailed through. It's now become one more red versus blue triable (ph) up and down vote. And I think that's why we are where we are.

You mentioned Democrats being galvanized by this. You know all of us get these e-mails, press releases and (inaudible) money in our inboxes. I couldn't help but notice this week that Cory Booker sent out an e-mail to his list talking about his comment, which of course got picked up widely on the left and were seen as very inspiring to a lot of folks in the party. That was fascinating to me.

I think Booker knows he had a good moment there and he said that he was --

PHILLIP: Well, let's go ahead and just play that one --

MARTIN: There you go.


SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D-NJ): For me, I'm sorry -- it's hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom, not to see my -- my cousins. One of them who had to come here and sit behind you. She had to be -- she had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours. Nobody is going to steal the joy of that woman in the street or the calls that I'm getting or the texts. Nobody is going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.


PHILLIP: So Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz wanted some viral moments but that was the viral moment of this week.

RAJU: Yes, it was one of them, for certain. I was in the room at the time, and I was watching the audience, I was watching her family right behind her. They were -- people were -- all of them in the front row were wiping tears out of their eyes, several of them were. She was, too. So it was a very emotional moment. Which (ph) was also striking, too, was that there were very few Democrats on that committee who did just that.


RAJU: Defend her in such vigorous terms. Now, Booker is different. Of course, he's the one black member on that committee. And of course, he spoke to, you know, the impact on his family and the like and growing up as a minority. But, still, you didn't really see as much from Democrats --


RAJU: And that was one of the criticisms that I heard because they tried to avoid kind of the back-and-forth mudslinging that we have seen in confirmations past. And Dick Durbin, he did push back from time to time against Ted Cruz, against Josh Hawley, but they wanted to keep the process moving. They didn't want to -- you can see what happened in the Kavanaugh proceedings. And as a result, you didn't see very many moments from Democrats really aggressively --


PHILLIP: -- could that have been a mistake?

MARTIN: I mean, I think for Booker, it was an opportunity. Probably the best moment Cory Booker has had since he came to the U.S. Senate. And I can hear the voices of his campaign staff saying, if only we had that moment during his campaign because obviously his campaign for president flamed out a couple of years ago.

PHILLIP: For the future of Supreme Court, you know, confirmation processes, Lindsey Graham giving us a little bit of a hint this week that we could be in this broken place for a while. The Republican dogma on this seems to be, we will confirm Supreme Court justices of president of the opposite party whenever we feel like it and not a second before then.

He says to "The Washington post," it's a tricky situation, Graham said, is if Thomas or another justice were to die in 2023, before the actual primaries and caucuses start in the presidential campaign, he says, this is sort of uncharted territory. Which, of course, it is actually not. Twice before has the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court nominee in a situation like that. We're just in kind of no man's land when it comes to this, I think.

KHALID: I mean, I do think the process being broken is really a valid point to bring up. I'm not entirely convinced that this will not electorally backfire on Republicans to some degree.


I think the assumption that you can be -- I mean, you know, Democratic organizers were telling me that they thought -- particularly women of color, that they thought some of the questioning was disrespectful and rude. That all being said, the midterms are a long time away. And I'm not sure this will be top of mind, but...

RAJU: Hey, look, Mitch McConnell has not committed to -- if he's majority leader next Congress -- to confirming a Supreme Court nominee if there is a vacancy. And if there is a vacancy, they can potentially keep it open through 2023, 2024, and it just shows you the -- how this has just completely...

PHILLIP: Just...

RAJU: ... devolved. I mean, even Democrats, when they were in power, they let Clarence Thomas go through, despite the fight in that confirmation proceeding. And who was the chairman of that committee? Joe Biden. And they still had hearings...

PHILLIP: It's just incredible. Thank you all.

Coming up next, those bombshell texts from the wife of the Supreme Court justice about overturning the 2020 election.


PHILLIP: Twenty-nine texts from the wife of a Supreme Court justice to then President Donald Trump's chief of staff in the days after the 2020 election. Ginni Thomas wrote on November 6th, "Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back."

And then another text on November 19th, "Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down."


Democrats are, of course, outraged and are pushing for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from Trump January 6th cases, with Senator Ron Wyden saying his conduct looks, quote, "increasingly corrupt."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement on Friday, though, saying that he has "total confidence in Justice Thomas and his brilliance and impartiality."

So we are here now with Ginni Thomas, kind of, repeating these really extraordinarily outlandish claims. I think, for a lot of people, just on that front, it's shocking that some of these conspiracy theories have gotten this far.

KHALID: Exactly. But -- but I would say, you know, I was struck by what you pointed to, which is that there has been concern amongst Democrats in Congress, but you thus far have seen the top two leaders, Republican leaders in Congress, really not suggest that Ginni Thomas -- or, I'm sorry, that Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from these cases because of the texts that his wife...

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, they think it's no problem.

And the January 6th Committee, though, is looking at some of this. But it seems somewhat unlikely that they will pursue this any further. What do you think?

RAJU: Yeah, I think it's an open question. There's a big debate. And, remember, one person on this committee is Liz Cheney. She is someone who is very close, and despite her being on the outs, right now, for pursuing this investigation, the Thomases are held up in high esteem in conservative circles. Going after Clarence Thomas' wife could potentially be problematic for someone who's still looking to keep on her -- keep her seat come this -- in the -- in the primaries that she's facing, of course, a Trump-backed challenger.

Now, it still remains to be seen exactly how they manage to move forward here. But it is just remarkable to see the wife of a Supreme Court justice advance really outlandish conspiracy theories, and even after January 6th suggest that the vice president of the United States could have overturned the election, which has no basis in legal rationality.

And she -- and here we have the -- the justice that -- who has decided not to recuse himself in dealing with a January 6th case. It raises a lot of questions. But the decision to recuse is up to Thomas himself. And it doesn't look like he's going to do it.

MARTIN: It reads like the Facebook comments section...


MARTIN: ... of some relative that, maybe...

PHILLIP: I mean, or worse.


There are some darker places on the Internet than even that.

MARTIN: And, yeah, look, it is an illustration that Ginni Thomas was a conservative before Donald Trump came along. When Donald Trump was still giving money to Nancy Pelosi, she was a conservative. What it does show, I think, is just how much the Trump effect has reshaped conservatism, right?

The language that she's using, the references, are so deep down these rabbit holes of -- of, you know, sort of, online far-right conspiracy theories. This is not, like, low taxes, less regulation of yesteryear. This is like, you're spending a lot of time on the Internet -- like, and these references are so arcane. Again, this is the kind of stuff that you'll see on a Facebook comment section, like, what the heck is this...



PHILLIP: But it is now the litmus test for the Republican Party. Donald Trump rescinded an endorsement of Mo Brooks over this very issue. And take a listen to what Brooks said about that.


REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): The president has asked me to rescind the election of 2020. That's -- that's...

UNKNOWN: You said "That's illegal. You can't do that."

What did he ask you, and what did you tell him?

BROOKS: He always brings up, "We've got to rescind the election; we've got to take Joe Biden out and put me in now."

UNKNOWN: He still says that?



MARTIN: Hell hath no fury like a man with his endorsement rescinded, I'll tell you what.



PHILLIP: When you're more outlandish than Mo Brooks, I think you're, kind of, in some -- some really dicey territory.

MARTIN: Mo Brooks is now going -- well, he's like, all of a sudden, Mo Brooks has -- has -- has discovered his conscience about President Trump's very troubling demands. I don't know. The timing is very...


MARTIN: I don't know. What do you think?


PHILLIP: The other side of that, though, in Georgia, where President Trump, former President Trump was last night, David Perdue is going all in on the conspiracy theories.

RAJU: Because, look, they realize that this is the only thing that Donald Trump cares about.

MARTIN: Right.

RAJU: You have to repeat what he has been lying about since right after the election, that he lost. Otherwise, what happens? He rescinds the endorsement.

But, look, the reason why Mo Brooks lost the endorsement is not because...

KHALID: Um-hmm.

RAJU: ... Trump says (inaudible). The reason why is because Brooks is tanking.

MARTIN: Right.


RAJU: He may lose in this primary. And then Donald Trump will -- it would be a huge embarrassment for Trump.


PHILLIP: It raises the question about his -- his juice, I mean, is he picking the right horses in these races?

KHALID: I mean, I think there were questions about was he ever picking the the right candidates from the get-go? But, I mean, to -- in Georgia, if you look at things, I mean, it's a challenge to go against any incumbent when, by most accounts, Brian Kemp, the governor there in Georgia, has done things that Republicans and conservatives are happy with. They are pleased with how he has governed.

And so the issue there in Georgia is that David Perdue was always, you know, facing an uphill challenge against an incumbent governor.


KHALID: I think the bigger question to me, though, is that who former President Donald Trump endorses is very different than if Trump himself chooses to run again, because he has always been the person that rallies parts of the Republican base, not the people he endorses.


PHILLIP: I mean, is there any concern that, you know, Trump is really jeopardizing Republicans' chances?

MARTIN: Look, I think, in some of these campaigns, if he pushes forward a candidate who would have a hard time winning the general, it could cause problems. I think the view generally, Abby, on the right is the wind's at their back. There's going to be a backlash for...


MARTIN: ... President Biden, and that this is going to be a good year to be a Republican. But, look, we all covered 2010. And we recall that candidates do matter.


MARTIN: And if you get behind a candidate, even in a good year for your party, who is, you know, not acceptable in the general election, that candidate could still lose.

PHILLIP: I'll leave it there. Thank you all for being here this Sunday morning. And thank you for being here at home. That's it for "Inside Politics Sunday."

Don't forget, you can also listen to our podcast. Download "Inside Politics" wherever you get your podcast. Just scan that QR code at the bottom of your screen.

But stick with us. Coming up next, "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guests this morning include Senators Cory Booker and Jim Risch. Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.