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Inside Politics

Zelenskyy: Blinken and Austin to Visit to Ukraine Today; Western Unity on the Ballot Today in France; McCarthy Scrambles to Contain Fallout from Leaked Audio; Airplane Mask Mandate in Limbo as DOJ Appeals New Ruling; DeSantis Has Busy Week Fighting the Culture Wars. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 24, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): A Russian general reveals his country's new war plan, seizing eastern and southern Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy warns other countries are in Putin's crosshairs.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia wants to invade other countries. Attack on Ukraine was only the beginning.

PHILLIP: Is he right?

Plus, caught in a lie. Audiotapes reveal the GOP's House leaders true feelings about Trump in the days after January 6th.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I've had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.

PHILLIP: The former president says he's standing by McCarthy, but for how long.

And the Republican war on Mickey Mouse. Why did Governor DeSantis turn his state's most iconic company into a culture war villain?

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


PHILLIP (on camera): Hello, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Philip.

We begin this morning with a high stakes trip to Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced at a news conference he'll welcome Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today in Kyiv.

There's been no confirmation, but Zelenskyy he expects them to bring more than just words.


ZELENSKYY: They should not come here with empty hands now. We're not waiting just for presents and cakes. We're expecting specific things, and specific weapons.


PHILLIP: And today marks two months since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion, and it's also the day of an orthodox Christians in Ukraine celebrate Easter. In his nightly address, Zelenskyy drew parallels between that holiday and the war.


ZELENSKYY: There will be a resurrection. Life will defeat death. The truth will defeat any lies, and evil will be punished.


PHILLIP: Intense fighting does continue in the south and east. Eight were killed in a missile strike in Odessa, including a mother and her three month old baby. The Russians are pummeling a steel plant in Mariupol, where thousands of civilians are sheltering and the last pocket of Ukrainian fighters in the city remain.

And a Russian general says that the Kremlin now wants to capture Ukraine's entire southern coast, and maybe even part of neighboring Moldova.

CNN's Phil Black is joining me now from Kyiv.

Phil, let's start with this potential U.S. trip to Kyiv. What do we know about that this morning?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have no further details, Abby, other than as you say, it was announced in an unexpected way, by President Zelenskyy during a press conference over here last night, in Kyiv. He dropped it as if it was no secret. But of course, these things do tend to be kept closely guarded for security reasons. It's usually at a fairly advanced stage.

We wait to see what happens here today. But as you touched on over here in Ukraine, the weekend of the orthodox Easter has seen no significant reduction in violence. In the south of the country, in the region of Kherson, they say that they continue to be shelling of settlements in and around the area.

They also claimed something of a success there, attacking a command post. They say that strike resulted in the death of two Russian generals. We can't confirm that.

As you mentioned in Odesa, residential areas there were struck by cruise missiles fired from Russian warships, killing at least eight people including a three month old child. This was something President Zelenskyy spoke about very emotionally last night at his press conference. He also touched on the ongoing situation in Mariupol, where thousands of people, soldiers and civilians are hold up in the sprawling steel works inside, which is effectively the final stand in holding off Russian forces in the devastated city.

We are hearing from Ukrainian officials today that this area, that site is under constant bombardment. There is evidence that Russian forces and equipment are building up over there, in an apparent preparation to storm the site, even though president Putin has ordered his forces not to do so. In the east, the focus of Russia's efforts in the key regions, in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk, there continues to be shelling and strikes against civilians in residential areas, resulting in significant deaths, Abby.


PHILLIP: The situation to get a lot worse, very soon. Thank you so much, Phil Black.

And joining me now with a reporting and insight, Susan Glasser of "The New Yorker", and Julia Ioffe of "Puck News".

Thank you, ladies, for being here.

Look, this visit by Blinken and Austin is coming actually after several other world leaders and senior European officials have already made a trip to Kyiv. Do you think there's any value in it? What are they doing?

JULIA IOFFE, PUCK NEWS WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I t think it shows, right, that, first of all, Kyiv is secure enough for these top U.S. officials to visit, and to underscore the fact that the Russians still have not taken the capital. And that again, they can see the foot here, it's wonderful Ukrainian control. It's also a sign of support, fact of the U.S. is still standing behind Ukraine. But it is interesting that Zelenskyy said don't come out empty-handed and do not bring cake, right?

PHILLIP: Right, I don't think that was by accident. In fact, earlier this week, President Biden was speaking to the American public about the war, he really touted what the United States was doing, when it comes to sending weapons. Take a listen.


BIDEN: To modernize Teddy Roosevelt's famous advice, sometimes we will speak softly, and carry a large Javelin. The sustain of coordinated support for the international community, facilitated by the United States, is a significant reason why Ukraine is able to stop Russia from taking over the country this far.


PHILLIP: But there's a big but here. A lot of Ukrainians, and observers, some of them are saying, is the U.S. still even, at this point, doing enough? Are they not arming the Ukrainians just enough, but not enough for them to actually win this war?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, the Russian military capabilities in some ways is better suited to the war that they finally seem to be pivot to fight right now. And the big shock in many ways or is the poor performance of the Russian military.

Their military plan was terrible. They decided on a blitzkrieg strike on the capital, they failed, and that the battle to Kyiv was lost. This is the war that many experts expected them to fight, it plays to the Russian military strike, they can put their big artillery in and blast way at these cities.

So I think that Biden has really shifted in his willingness to be giving more and more weapons to Ukraine. I noticed President Zelenskyy has also shifted the frustration he often expresses with the United States at the beginning of the conflict. You know, he said the other day that it has gotten a lot better. I think that is a notable shift.

It is very significant for Blinken and Austin to be going to the capital right now. That is the highest level delegation the president will have received since the beginning of the war.

PHILLIP: Do you think they are doing enough, the United States?

IOFFE: The fine enough, right? I think that the Ukrainian officials I am speaking to said basically, come in and fix this for us. If you guys are the master of the house --

PHILLIP: Which they will not do, right? The United States will not do that.

IOFFE: Right, exactly, but for them, enough is the U.S. getting in and fixing this, as Ukrainians see it, in a week. That is obviously not going to happen, so anything short of that I think to some Ukrainians is not going to be enough.

PHILLIP: I want to talk about the supposed change in strategy, securing, if we look at the map over here, securing the area around the Black Sea. Basically, what this general is saying is that Russia wants to connect this southern part of Ukraine to Russia, through the separatist-controlled regions. But notably, also including an area in Moldova, that is right over here, Transnistria. This is an area that is disputed, but is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova.

What would it mean if, in fact, that is actually their objective and they are able to achieve it?

GLASSER: Well, look, this has been a concern for a long time that Russia might seek to expand the war. Geographically, you look at that map over there. You can see the logic behind it. It's the same reason, that there was a fear for years that Russia would launch a bigger war a Ukraine.

Because they had already seized part of Ukraine's territory, the Ukrainian peninsula, linking up to the rest of the country. So now, I think that the fear is, as long as you let Russia carve up Ukraine, Ukraine will never have security.

One of the reasons why they were able to sustain this war, and they have thrown a huge percentage of their armed forces at Ukraine right now. You know, it is a big country, but it is not a forever war that they could easily fight with this level of ambition.

PHILLIP: It is also notable.


They have already devastated that city. But, now they are seemingly positioning themselves to storm the steel plant. Does this signal a Russia that is poised to have bigger ambitions? They seem to be struggling just to say victory, when it comes to a city they have already devastated, Mariupol?

IOFFE: I think it is them constantly repositioning, spinning their failures early on in the war into successes. So I think getting back to the map you showed, this is them readjusting their war aims.

Two months ago, they said they would take over all of Ukraine. They were going to have a victory parade in Kyiv. He had the dress uniforms, tanks headed towards Kyiv.

Now he's focused on creating a landlocked, carved up Ukraine, and achieving, it should be said, their goals from 2014 that they were unable to carry out back in 2014. This is them now saying, actually, this is the aim. If we achieve it, that is the victory as opposed to, we had bigger aims we failed to achieve.

PHILLIP: I want to play something pretty sobering for me. A Ukrainian member of parliament, her assessment of the situation.


KIRA RUDIK, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: What is happening in Ukraine is called genocide. This is why we explained the world that you cannot get into any peaceful agreements with Russia, because in comparison, it is like going to have an agreement with Hitler saying, we will have an agreement with him, and he might spare some lives from the Jews. We know that it's all useless.


PHILLIP: Just quickly, is she right?

GLASSER: I mean, the reports, what is happening in Ukraine now is horrifying. Massacres of civilians, the massive displacement of entire populations including President Zelenskyy, who said hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are being forced, deported to Russia. We have not seen this since World War II, in this scale in Europe. It is a horror.

PHILLIP: It absolutely is.

Standby for us. Coming up next, with today's presidential election, what it means in France, and the future of Europe, and for the war in Ukraine.



PHILLIP: Western unity is on the ballot in France today as Emmanuel Macron seeks reelection. And while economic issues have dominated the campaign, Macron is leading into his role as a leader on the world stage in engineering, one-on-one talks with Putin, also it's Zelenskyy.

He's also raised question about his far-right opinions close ties to Russia, including a loan her party owes to Russian bank. It will reach verge rate outside of France. It could threaten western lines at a critical moment.

This is something, this is a long running drama for France, but one that there is so much nervousness, it feels, like at this moment about what we may not know about the strength of the views of the pen, and this far-right push. It would eventually lead France toward Russia.

GLASSER: Look, were there be an upset victory in France today? It would be an upset victory where Le Pen to win, it would be an absolute earthquake in European politics, you know, rolling up Brexit and Donald Trump's election all and one. It really would be extraordinary, marine le pen has not only been a Putin apologist she took millions of euros from Russia trying to, payback in an effort to take the spotlight away from that she has run as an economic populist she has criticize and found a receptive audience for her economic criticisms, and her domestic policy of Macron. But this would be basically upending all of European security, where she to win today.

PHILLIP: What role, if any, do you think, Macron's effort to be on the world stage especially in this Ukraine crisis, plays in his faith today?

IOFFE: Well, it seemed at first like it was going to strengthen his position, to show him as a kind of worldly statesman who has been running back and forth between Kyiv and Russia trying to present this, cataclysm, Marine Le Pen has spend it like, while he is negotiating with Russia, -- she said Crimea is Russian. This was all NATO's fault. Has basically paired it rushing talking points, why he is off doing this, he is neglecting the concerns of everyday Frenchman.

But I worry about, the same area that Brexit was the bellwether for the 2016 election in the U.S., should Marine Le Pen win, it will be a bellwether for the U.S. and 2024, because one of Putin's goals and all of this has been to show the hollowness of Western institutions, Western promises, and of Western alliances.

PHILLIP: Yeah, the fragility of the western alliance is really at the heart of that. It is at the heart of whether or not the United States and other European allies can remain united and their populations willing to back to Ukrainians.

Just in the last month, there have been an eight-point drop and whether Americans feel like the United States should have significant role, a major role, and the conflict in Ukraine, from 40 percent in March to 32 percent in April.

Does this foreshadow the support is waning, that this is something that could taper off, as this conflict goes on?

GLASSER: Yeah. Look, I think, I heard from my very senior U.S. official recently, what's the biggest worry? Complacency, normalizing it, just feeling like this is a conflict that's going to go on for a long time that America can't do anything about.


So, I think you see these political views, by the, way across the political spectrum the United States. But, paradoxically, you also see polls that suggest that Americans think that Joe Biden should be doing more, should be tougher on this.

PHILLIP: But they don't want troops on the ground.

GLASSER: They do want him to do more.

PHILLIP: Exactly, in certain ways.

I want to pivot to something, Julia, that you have written about. People wondering, why is it that the body is coming back to Moscow, to Russia, are not producing a kind of push back against Putin? You make a really interesting point. It has been decades of really effective propaganda that people are living under.

IOFFE: Yeah. And, also, one of the most important points, the coffins aren't coming home to Moscow. Most of the fighting is being done by people from the poorest regions of Russia, where there isn't must economic opportunity, and isn't much value for life. Life feels meaningless. There is no meaning and their lives. If anything, paradoxically, the war gives them that meaning.

I talk to journalists who cover the region around, one part of it is very economically depressed. It is populated by -- they are very Asian looking, and really stand out in this war for, the Russian world, this pan Slavic vision. They are being killed at a disproportionate rate. They are joining a disproportionate rate.

It is in part because it's an economically depressed region. There is nothing for young people there to believe. They are gravitating towards this war.

PHILLIP: That's really fascinating stuff. Julia and Susan, thank you so much.

Coming up next for us, lies, secret tapes, and January 6th. New revelations test the alliance between McCarthy and Trump.


[08:25:53] PHILLIP: Kevin McCarthy spent much of his weekend in damage control mode. New audio tapes from the House GOP leader's discussions with Republicans in the days after January 6th reveal a man who was furious at then President Trump.


MCCARTHY: I've had it with this guy. What he did was unacceptable. Nobody can defend it, and nobody should defend it.


PHILLIP: And, ready for him to resign.


MCCARTHY: The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass. And it would be my recommendation that you should resign.


PHILLIP: Those private discussions were part of his upcoming book by Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. After two phone calls to Mar-a-Lago, and a lot of explaining, McCarthy's efforts appear to have worked. Trump, telling "The Wall Street Journal," this. I did not like the call. But almost immediately, as you know, because he came here, we took that picture right there, you know, the support was very strong. I think it is all a big compliment, frankly. They realized they were wrong, and they supported me.

And joining me now with their reporting and insights, Catherine Lucey of "The Wall Street Journal", Evan McKean of CNN, Jonah Goldberg of "The Dispatch", and "Politico's" Rachael Bade.

So, it's funny because McCarthy is actually denying that he said he would talk to Trump about resigning. Take a listen to how he is explaining it.


MCCARTHY: Let me be very clear. I have never asked to the president to resign. So, what's the book said was not true. All I did was walk through, like anybody did, the different scenarios that would happen. All we did was put out of the different options.


PHILLIP: So, we all heard what he said. I mean, I don't want to relitigate that. But do you believe, Jonah, that he is out of the woods actually with Trump? I

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he is okay for now. I have long believed that Kevin McCarthy was going to end up not being the speaker because, if Trump betrayed him, it will be after they win the Republican state back Congress. Sort of like Moses not being allowed in the promised land.

He'll be right there, he'll think he'll be speaker, and then Trump will pull it out from under him, maybe under the guise of supporting Jim Jordan, someone like that. But for now, Trump likes the storyline that Kevin McCarthy caved and turned into a sycophant for him. So, Trump likes to humiliate people.

PHILLIP: And he has done that many times, JD Vance, even with Mitt Romney. He likes to make people come back and grovel. But to what Jonah is saying, what is the dynamic within the House Republican Conference? Is McCarthy in a strong position?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think Republicans, everyone was waiting to see what Trump would say. So if Trump turned on McCarthy, then I think a lot of House Republicans would as well. So the fact that we have the president coming out and McCarthy making a whole bunch of his own damage control calls, means he is, again, okay as you said, for now. January, 2023 when the race will actually occur, it is a long way away.

And we know from president Trump, after four years, he goes hot and cold on people very quickly. He has distanced himself from supporters, allies in the past for less. He unendorsed Mo Brooks, because Mo Brooks said at the time, it is time to move away from talking about the 2020 reelection.

And there's a lot of people in Trump world who do not like Kevin McCarthy. They will do everything they can to spin up the former president against McCarthy, between now and January. So, this is not over.

PHILLIP: And McCarthy has a meeting with the conference coming up this week?

BADE: That is right. And Republicans, it is funny, I made a bunch of calls to House Republicans right after this happened. And a lot of them were not surprised. They say, McCarthy is not exactly known for his glowing honesty.

You know, I have covered him since 2015. And a lot of Republicans, they tell people what they want to hear in that moment, which means he flip flops on the things. So people were not surprised by this. So, maybe, that helps him Wednesday, we'll see.

PHILLIP: What about this part of the book, not in the tapes maybe yet? But where he talks about, maybe Twitter should just banned some of these other Republicans, not just Trump. That seems to be a kind of looming problem for McCarthy.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I think that is something else that will come back to bite him. Listen, if he gets to the speakership if Republicans take back the house, it will be on the skin of his teeth.

He's really got to worry about the right flank because now they have this as ammo. You know, Kevin McCarthy is not a reliable ally of the former president. That is what their argument is going to be during that contentious speakership race. So we will have to see.

And someone else who's not a reliable ally is the former president, right. So we'll have to see how long Kevin McCarthy enjoys his support.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, if I was Kevin McCarthy I'd be sleeping with one eye open at this point.

BADE: I think he benefits though from the fact that a lot of these House Republicans have been in the same boat as he is --


BADE: -- where they were privately freaking out --


BADE: -- about what Donald Trump did but didn't want to say it publicly.


PHILLIP: This is the dirty little secret of it all in Republican politics.

LUCEY: But also it's that s Donald Trump likes that it's a for now situation. He likes that not only has Kevin McCarthy sort of come back, groveled, tried to make peace, but also that there is this tension about will he, won't he, that this hangs out there in the air.

PHILLIP: When it comes to January 6th. There was a new filing in the courts on Friday, that revealed quite a lot, according to the January 6th committee, about the deliberations behind the scenes.

In the filing a former Meadows -- Mark Meadows aid alleges that there were conversations among White House officials, and Republican allies on Capitol Hill, about January 6th, about the prospect for violence, about the -- about the plans to go from the Ellipse to the Capitol. Take a look at just the sheer number, frankly, of members who were a part of those conversations according to this filing, it raises a lot of new questions about how much exactly the White House knew, Mark Meadows, then chief of staff, knew about what was going to transpire on that day.

MCKEND: And could he have done more? Right, I think that many people are now asking that question.


MCKEND: And, you know, that is the reason for this -- this committee. But I would say, I think the appetite from much of the country on this is sort of waning.

So these are important questions. They are questions that need to be asked. But I just don't know how many people at this point really want to hear these answers. GOLDBERG: I also think -- I mean part of the indictment, I think

sometimes Trump critics get over their skis about this.


GOLDBERG: You don't have to prove that these people planned for a mob to storm the capitol, spread their feces around, chant "Hang Mike Pence". You just have to demonstrate, which I think is obvious, that some of this was foreseeable, right.

Like you send the president of the United States to rile up a mob about how the election was stolen. Mark Meadows should have said, you know, what could go wrong. Because that's the only question. You don't have to like have been in on the violence. I don't think a lot of these people were down for actual violence, but they were certainly open to the idea of intent -- the whole plan was to intimidate congress -- to obstruct congress with a mob outside its doors to prevent it from, you know, certifying a lawful election. That's bad enough.

PHILLIP: Right, yes.

GOLDBERG: And you don't have to go all the way to, oh, yes, you know, Marjorie Taylor Greene wanted to, you know, hang Mike Pence because I don't think you can prove that.


LUCEY: Certainly, also part of what the committee is trying to do is show scale here, right, in terms of how many people were involved in conversations, how many people knew --


PHILLIP: I mean these are sitting members of Congress who are still --

LUCEY: Yes. Exactly.

They try and build a case, and make -- what it's all about.

PHILLIP: Jamie Raskin has suggested that the hearings to come will be a bombshell. Is that really your expectation? I mean, are people expecting this to matter more when the hearings actually start?

BADE: I mean I think there's no doubt that these are going to be big headlines when you see people like Marc Short, the former chief of staff to the vice president sitting in the witness chair, and recounting, you know, what exactly happened when they were running from the mob, and hiding from these people. That will be powerful.

But the question, you know, as Eva just said, does this really move the public? I mean, you know, this is -- it's been, what, well over a year since this happened. And, you know, people have investigation fatigue around the country from two impeachments and now a bunch of these high profile hearings. Will it really move the needle in terms of turning either independents against Trump or Republicans especially against Trump.


PHILLIP: Well I think -- I think we know it probably won't move --

BADE: It won't. Yes, exactly.

PHILLIP: -- Republicans against Trump.

Stand by for us. Coming up next the Justice Department appeals a ruling to end mask mandates on planes and trains. But does the administration really want to put the masks back on?



PHILLIP: There's now one more thing that you can forget at home next time you fly, a mask. When a federal judge struck down the federal mask mandate on planes this week, some travelers immediately ditched theirs, others remained cautious.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if we extend it as long as there's a public health issue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And right now we're still in the middle of a pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people are just so tired of wearing masks. And so I think it's a good idea.


PHILLIP: The Justice Department is now suing to overturn the ruling, but Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's more than just about the masks.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: For a court to come in and interfere in that is really unfortunate. It's unfortunate because it's against public health principles, number one.

And number two is because that's no place for the courts to do that. This is a CDC decision, and that's a very bad precedent.


PHILLIP: So the administration, Catherine, decided to appeal this ruling, even though the mask mandate was scheduled to expire just in really a few days. What's the rationale behind that strategy?


LUCEY: Well, certainly you can read a lot into the fact that they didn't immediately appeal or look for a stay on the order. I mean that sort of speaks to the moment we're in as mask mandates are going away. And the White House is really trying to signal that we're moving into a new phase of the pandemic.

But in terms of the appeal, I mean as Dr. Fauci said, and we've heard from other officials, they think a couple of things. They do think, you know, this is a CDC authority, and that it shouldn't be decided in the courts. They also do want to preserve that ability to be able to put mask mandates in place in the future.

So that's kind of what we'll see play out. But I do think the big picture here, what you really are going to hear more about from the White House, especially as we get -- keep heading into midterms, they really want to signal that we're in a new place now. We have vaccines, we have treatments, mask mandates are going away, that we are moving ahead, and moving past some of the worst aspects of the pandemic, that normal life can resume.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, first of all, the pandemic is not over. I mean, there is still a virus out there. There could be more variants. But as people have looked at the polling on this issue, one of the things that's been confusing is that mask mandates are broadly popular.

But when you look at that other column, are you likely to wear a mask, the number actually drops significantly, 46 percent who are actually likely to wear a mask. And as you can see there, a very clear partisan split.

So the public is kind of in a different place on this issue, and the White House recognizes that.

MCKEND: Yes. They have to be sensitive to that. And I think that the only way to -- I guess this is -- has become such a political issue, but the only way to win, and I hate to even say it like that, because it really is a public health crisis, is to continue to articulate to the public, like listen, the reason why we keep doing this, even though it might seem onerous, is because we care about the health of this country, and we care about public -- the public well being.

I think that's the only way to move forward.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think there's a bit of a bunker thing where the White House likes the power to do this much more than they need to. And a lot of this polling, I think there's a social desirability bias to it. People think they're supposed to say they're in favor of these things.

I don't blame the CDC for wanting to hold onto this power and I don't blame the Justice Department for wanting to protect it. There's a solid argument there.

There's also a solid argument for the White House to do this thing called ask Congress to change the law to give the CDC this power. And this judge did not say this is unconstitutional. It said the law doesn't back up as written what the White House did.

PHILLIP: That's an interesting point because I'm not sure that if the White House were to ask Congress, that that would actually pass because the mask mandate has been opposed by bipartisan majorities in the Senate.

BADE: Politically right now there's just no way. I mean Democrats, moderate Democrats, also Democrats in the House who are looking at losing their seats this fall, no way they would vote for something like that.

But it really --


GOLDBERG: But that does point to why the polls are probably wrong.

BADE: But it shows the Catch-22 when it comes to this issue and this lawsuit in particular because the White House does want to protect this executive power. The CDC, you know, if the pandemic takes a big turn for the worse, they want to be able to say look, we're going to put these new regulations in place. They're lawful, number one and so we do have this authority.

But on the other hand, you know, if they do win this case there could be some blowback, politically, because that's sort of where people are right now.

PHILLIP: The politics of this is that Republicans actually are still running on this pandemic, and wanting to lift restrictions that, in many cases, don't even exist, but that is the politics of the situation as the White House sees it.

LUCEY: That's right. The Republicans have tried very hard to make Democrats the party of masks, the party of rules, the party that is not letting you do any of these things and the Democrats are desperately trying to get past this. Democrats running in tough seats, tough districts really don't want this to be the issue that they're running on.

PHILLIP: In some ways it's a psychological thing for Americans at this point, winning -- we've got to go here, but winning the idea that Americans think that they are moving forward from the pandemic. They will start to feel a whole lot better about their lives if they feel that way.

But coming up next for us, it's a whole new world for Walt Disney. Why the Florida Republicans have turned against their state's most important company.



PHILLIP: The GOP's culture wars have a new commanding general, Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis. In just the last week he signed bills that restrict how schools and businesses talk about race, approved a congressional map that will make it harder to elect African-Americans, and he endorsed the banning of some math textbooks for teaching, quote, "prohibited topics". And he targeted Disney after it criticized the so-called "don't say gay" bill.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You're a corporation based in Burbank, California. And you're going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state? We view that as a provocation, and we're going to fight back against that. I don't think Walt would appreciate what's going on in this company right now. I'm sorry.


PHILLIP: The "Miami Herald's" editorial board actually compared it to Richard Nixon's enemies list. This is all happening and Ron DeSantis is getting more popular, actually.


PHILLIP: This is controversial stuff but it seems to prove, especially when it comes to the LGBT part of this, where, you know, critics say that the comparison of, you know, gay people to pedophiles or groomers is bigotry. And that seems to be very popular in the state of Florida for DeSantis.

BADE: Yes. I mean absolutely. Republicans are sort of seeing this as like an issue that they can use to sort of rev up their base.

And that includes attacking corporations right now. A lot of times we have seen, you know, Republicans be very in lockstep when it comes to being pro-business, in touch with corporations, but DeSantis, you know, going after these sort of cultural issues and including going after Disney, it just shows there's like a huge gap between the way Republicans used to sort of operate and where they're looking to go right now.

PHILLIP: And I know Jonah, you've talked a little bit about this, just what it means for conservatives to start targeting corporations, but interestingly, a Pew poll in 2021 found that there's been a really significant drop between 2019 and 2021 and how Republicans view corporations.

Just 30 percent saying in 2021 that corporations have a positive effect on the way things are going in the United States. It was 54 percent in 2019. So, has the tide turned when it comes to whether conservatives think that corporations have a role in public life?

GOLDBERG: I think they think they have a role in public life. It's just that they think it's a bad one. And, you know, we're in a very populace moment on the right, in particular. And the arguments that conservatives used to make in Citizens United, in Hobby Lobby and all these kinds of things have been sort of flipped on their heads.

I do think that DeSantis' decision -- moves here, there's a high risk/high reward proposition for him. It's very risky in the state of Florida to go after Disney but this is very good for him and for his national profile.

Right now I would say if they did a secret poll today, a lot -- the chief stakeholders on the right would vote for DeSantis over Trump for president.

PHILLIP: Interestingly, DeSantis is not -- he is leaning into this being part of a broader ideological battle against the left. He appeared this week with the person who I would call the godfather of the sort of critical race theory idea, which is this right wing activist Christopher Ruffo (ph). To me that was a signal that he's not backing down from this being not just something about the state of Florida but a broader campaign against left wing, what they would call, ideology.

MCKEND: That's right, Abby. He sees a lot of political currency in this. Christopher Ruffo has sort of become the, I think the chief strategist for the cultural wars among Republicans. And he sees a lot of -- that he can really take this very far.

I was just in Florida this week speaking to voters. And they say that they like what he's doing, right. So as long as that cheering squad both in the state -- Republicans in the state and across the country, continues to be loud, what is there to really stop him?

PHILLIP: And Democrats, meanwhile, hands in the air, a lot of them don't really know what to do, but they got some hints this week from a Michigan, you know, lawmaker -- a Michigan state senator, Mallory McMorrow. This part of her speech went viral.


MALLORY MCMORROW (D-MI), STATE SENATOR: I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or red lining or systemic racism somehow means that children are being taught to feel bad or hate themselves because they are white is absolute nonsense.

I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard and supported -- not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian. We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people's lives.


PHILLIP: From obscurity to a call from President Biden on Friday, what does that signal to you about what Democrats are feeling, how they need to deal with this issue?

LUCEY: It really went viral, right, Abby? And I think it shows and you saw President Biden, you saw people like Hillary Clinton elevating it, a lot of people tweeting about it, promoting it.

I think it really speaks to the fact that Democrats are looking for a way to land on a plain-spoken defense and celebration of their policies and their ideas in this moment when the GOP is really leaning into these cultural wars and these attacks. And so I think you're going to see more of them pushing for conversation like this.

PHILLIP: Many Democratic strategists don't think it's a good idea to even touch this stuff.

MCKEND: Yes. I mean other than Mallory and I think John King who's running for governor in Maryland who made this front and center in one of his political add, taking on this argument about -- this false argument about critical race theory head on, I'm not seeing a lot of Democrats out there really wanting to have this conversation in a fulsome way.

They need to maybe get on Mallory's playbook and take this up --



LUCEY: -- all these things vary by individual races. We're going to see a lot of different things in different congressional races but there certainly is -- I think we saw some hunger for more of this conversation.

BADE: Yes. We wrote about this in Playbook this week, in fact. You know, the conventional wisdom has been when it comes to tough political races, just don't engage on a cultural issue and that's what the Democrats did.

You know, Democrats can't win, Republicans sort of run circles around them, but this very much showed a lot of Democratic strategists in town, who we were hearing from, that you can fight on this issue and you can win.

And so, there's a feeling right now amongst Democrats that when it comes to abortion issues, when it comes to gay rights and transgender rights that the right is moving too far. And that this is going to at some point start really repelling people and that, you know, Democrats can actually pick a fight on this, too, and they can win.

PHILLIP: It's an important point that the messenger in cases like this does matter a lot.

But that is it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Thanks for watching.

And coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guests include Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Dr. Ashish Jha, the Biden administration's new coronavirus response coordinator.

And be sure to tune in tonight for the unbelievable true story of a man who took on Putin and lived to expose the truth. The Sundance Award-winning "CNN FILM: NAVALNY" airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.