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Pelosi Meets With Zelenskyy During Unannounced Visit To Kyiv; January 6 Committee Promises Blockbuster Hearings In June; Democrats Running Against Big Inflation, COVID Headwinds; High-Stakes Races; Despite COVID Concerns, Biden Attends Press Dinner. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired May 01, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Confronting Putin. New U.S. aid is turning the Ukraine invasion into a global struggle between nuclear armed powers.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Aggression will not win. Threats will not win. And the world must and will hold Russia accountable.

PHILLIP: How high is the risk of outright war between Russia and the West?

Plus, Ohio votes on Tuesday. Will the May primaries be a defining test of Trump's influence?

JD VANCE (R), OHIO U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: This time we put somebody in Washington to break the broken establishment game.

JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm going to Washington to be reinforcements for fighters, fighters like Donald Trump.

PHILLIP: And it's back. Journalists, politicians and celebrities together in one room for the White House Correspondents Dinner.

BIDEN: Great to be here again. I told my grand kids and Pete Buttigieg, they could stay up late and watch the show tonight.

PHILLIP: Is it a sign of a new people normal, or was it a superspreader event?


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

We begin this morning with breaking news. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an unannounced visit to Ukraine's capital this morning. Pelosi is now the highest ranking U.S. official to travel there since the war began. She and a group of U.S. lawmakers met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv with a message of support from the American people and in a news conference in Poland after her visit, they had strong words for Russian President Vladimir Putin.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Do not be bullied by bullies. If they're making threats, you cannot back down. That's my view of it. That view, we're there for the fight. And you cannot -- you cannot fold to a bully.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): We are not interested in stalemates. We are not interested in going back to the status quo. The United States of America is in this to win it.


PHILLIP: That trip came just days after President Biden asked Congress for a huge new long-term aid package for Ukraine, $33 billion.

And the request comes as Russian missiles hammered southern and eastern Ukraine this weekend, destroying the airport and the black sea city of Odesa.

But a glimmer of hope is emerging for those trapped in the city of Mariupol. Civilian evacuations have begun at the steel plant and 20 women and children have made it out so far. However, hundreds of people remain trapped inside.

Our own Matt Rivers is joining us now from Kyiv with the latest.

Matt, what do you make of this visit of Speaker Pelosi, and what is the latest about what the situation is in Mariupol?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a significant visit, I mean, considering that it was just one week ago that the U.S. secretaries of state and defense, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, were both here, one week later. Now we're getting a congressional delegation led by the speaker of the House herself.

So this is clearly yet another show of support. No question about that, Abby. With President Zelenskyy saying during this meeting he really appreciates the fact that Speaker Pelosi and this congressional delegation came here on the heels of more and more aid being provided to the United States, Zelenskyy called the United States a, quote, leader when it comes to -- or the leader, rather, when it comes to supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

And, you know, Speaker Pelosi will have obviously a very key role to play when it comes to shepherding through President Biden's request for $33 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, some $20 billion of which will be for heavy weaponry, which is what Ukraine has been asking for, for a long time now, the kind of weaponry, it says it would need to take or retake a city like Mariupol.

This is a city we have been following very closely inside this Azovstal steel plant complex, it's a four-square-mile complex that is the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian assistance and it's where our attention has been because of the amount of civilians that remain trapped there, some 20 or so people according to a commander inside that steel plant complex managed to get out. That's the first good news about evacuations we've had in weeks now.

But it is only 20 people. Hundreds and hundreds remain. And so, President Zelenskyy says he needs all the leverage he can get, Abby, when he comes to negotiations to get those people out, this heavy weapons package could give him more leverage in future negotiations.

PHILLIP: Absolutely. It's a desperate situation for those people, including a lot of children trapped in that plant complex.


Matt Rivers, thank you so much.

And joining me now with their reporting and insight, former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty, and retired Brigadier General Steve Anderson.

Jill, this visit by Pelosi is very significant especially because it is back to back with another visit by senior officials, and it is coming at a time when Biden has said to Congress we need a huge package. What is the signal to you?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN RUSSIAN AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: I think it signals that obviously this is a war, you just heard from one of the congressmen, this is a war that the United States is really now actively involved in, and Putin wants to make it that way.

He wants to say that Ukraine, you know, is a theater of operation, but actually it's the United States that's pulling the strings, both with Ukraine, and with Europe.

And I think it's really a dramatic moment, I mean, I really think that we are, at this point, the confrontation is really -- as we were just saying, almost going back to another cold war.

PHILLIP: Yeah. General Anderson, what do you make about this shift that seems to have occurred, not just rhetorically but also in terms of weapons? I want to play out how to rhetorical shift has played out. Here's how if I recalls have been talking about this conflict recently.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: If there's no answer to this aggression, if Russia gets away with this cost free, then so goes the so-called international order, and if that happens then we're entering into an era of seriously increased instability. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: If you're inside the pentagon right now, what are your marching orders based on what they just said?

BRIG. GEN. STEVEN ANDERSON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, obviously, Abby, we're hearing that we are in it to win it, and we're going to do everything in our power now to ensure that the Ukrainians get what they need, as quickly as they possibly can.

We need to step up our deliveries of munitions, and equipment into Europe. We need to push as much as we can, as fast as we can, forward in the Ukraine.

The $33 billion package has got to get signed. But I would submit to you that's still only the equivalent of about four months in Iraq. So, we can actually do more.

The other thing we need to do is we need to push our NATO allies to do more. The Germans and the French have shown some sign, they're starting to provide some equipment, but the Germans are still paying the Russians more money now with their gas payments than they've given the Ukraine. We're in it to win it, we need to make sure NATO does the same.

PHILLIP: Jill just mentioned the prospect of a new Cold War, which is an interesting prospect. And as you pointed out, General Anderson, inside the White House, they view this 33-billion package as maybe six months' worth of funding, but also a strong signal to Europe that here's what we're putting on the table. What are you willing to do?

DOUGHERTY: Yeah, I think that's obviously what's happening right now. That it is perceived, this can go on for a long time, and the unity is still holding among the allies.

So I think at this point they are saying, okay, we are now really moving forward to protect Ukraine, and also to protect Europe.

You know, I think I'm watching May 9th, the anniversary of the victory in World War II, a big celebration in Russia, and what Putin's going to do. I mean, there are -- there's a possibility, you could say, okay, we won. Russia won and try to present something as a victory.

But he could also try, I think, to extend it, and say, you know, we have to extend this war against fascists, let's say, everywhere. It's -- this is -- this is a very important moment.

PHILLIP: Yeah, to that May 9th date, what does victory look like? I mean, if we take a look at the map, you know, where it stood, on March 5th, you have Russia. You know, they're in the south.

They're in the north. About a month and a half later Ukraine has reclaimed a lot of the northern territory, and Russia has expanded in the Donbas.

But they haven't pushed -- they haven't pushed forward. They haven't really gone beyond where they were here. So what is victory on the ground for Russia?

ANDERSON: Well, I would submit to you that victory is going to be probably whatever Vladimir Putin says it is. But it's certainly not going to be military victory. He might be able to break some of the political lines. He might be able to withstand some of the sanctions.

But militarily, he's a third rate army and he knows it. He knows his troops are poorly head, they're poorly equipped. They don't have the supply capability to maneuver warfare.

PHILLIP: What do they have the forces to do right now?

ANDERSON: Right now, pretty much hold the line and continue to fight a battle of attrition, he's fighting across an 800 mile front. He's ridiculously -- his lack of concentration, a lack of utilization in mass, fighting in one particular area.


He who fights everywhere, fights nowhere. And that's what he's doing right now.

He's fighting in at least eight or nine different places and he's not achieving any success. The Ukrainians are doing a great job of conducting an active defense, a mobile defense that responds quickly to their attempts to penetrate. They've been able to fight them off.

Every day Ukraine gets stronger, every day Russia gets weaker. They've lost a thousand tanks, 2,300 mechanized vehicles. Every day the situation is looking better for the Ukrainians.

PHILLIP: Do you think, Jill, that Russia can sustain a war of attrition that involves their troops just being trenched in against the Ukrainians in the south of Ukraine for a long time, for a year, two years, or more?

DOUGHERTY: I don't believe that they can. Now, I'm not a military expert, but I can tell you that this could turn into much more repression at home, and a complete mobilization of society. I mean, you could pull up every single you know male from the age of 18 on. He could.

PHILLIP: And to continue to have troops on the ground, but also to maintain support for a military operation?

DOUGHERTY: Yes. I mean, I think, you know, if you look at what's happening in Russia, I think his temptation now is to say that this is a fight for the mother land, and to really extend it, and to bring everybody into the fight.

May 9th is a very emotional holiday. A lot of people, obviously, you know, tens of millions were killed in World War II. So people are kind of emotionally very on edge right now in Russia. And he could make that case, I think very strongly, that we do have to extend this.

PHILLIP: That's very interesting. Jill and General Anderson, thank you so much for being here with us this morning.

Coming up next for us, a new book rocks Washington with revelations about Trump and the Biden White Houses. Co-author Jonathan Martin will be with us here at the table.

And later, the tricky politics of student loan forgiveness.



PHILLIP: There's a date for the January 6th committee hearings. There will be eight of them, starting on June 9th. The committee promises blockbuster revelations. The panel is still hearing from witnesses and requesting testimony, including from some GOP lawmakers, and that includes Kevin McCarthy.

The committee wants to know more about revelations in the new upcoming book, "This Will Not Pass" from Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. (AUDIO GAP) after January 6th, and a criticism the leveled a far right members of his own conference.

And joining me now, with their reporting and their insights, Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times", CNN's M.J. Lee, and co-author of that very book, Jonathan Martin, also of the "New York Times."

So, Maggie, it seems that McCarthy is okay for now partly because Trump threw him a lifeline. But do you think that that will hold with members of his conference?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot is in question, Abby, I think we'll see what ends up -- how many people end up getting elected after the November midterms, who those people are, whether there's anybody else making a credible case.

It's not just the Trump said I didn't like what he said, but he supports me now. Jim Jordan's support for Kevin McCarthy was also notable.

But nothing is certain with Trump, as anybody who has gotten his endorsement knows, just ask Mo Brooks, it could go very, very quickly, right? So we'll see what happens in the fall.

But for the moment, I think that there's a couple of factors at play, one of which there are overlapping circles of advisers around Trump and McCarthy right now.

And I think it's in both of their interests to keep this quiet.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and for Trump, it's almost like he has all the leverage over McCarthy at this point.


PHILLIP: He keeps him alive --


PHILLIP: -- and McCarty really can't go out of line as long as that's true.

MARTIN: And Kevin McCarthy is a testament to Donald Trump's continued influence over the Republican Party, which Trump obviously cares about as much as anything else.

Every time Kevin McCarthy has to bow and scrape to Donald Trump, it just reinforces the fact that Trump has this grip on the Republican Party.

So, Trump, I think, loves this ongoing narrative. I think Maggie is right, there's a long ways between now and the next Congress. I think it's uncertain where the far right's loyalties are going to be.

That was why Kevin McCarthy was not offered the speaker when he tried previously six years ago. I think it's still an open question, and we'll see what happens between now and then.

Part of the challenge, though, is that there's just not a lot of people who can do that job. John bay nor couldn't do the job, Paul Ryan couldn't do the job. Kevin McCarthy is going to try next.

The larger issue is trying to govern a caucus that's ungovernable as we get the book, which is out Tuesday.

This is a party now which is just very difficult to contain, and Trump obviously is a huge driver of that.

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And there's also just such a difference between being house speaker, and being a powerful house speaker. There's no telling right now whether he is for sure going to be able

to continue -- you know, maintain the support that he seems to have now, become a house speaker eventually if Republicans take the House.

But there are real questions about what kind of power will he have as the leader of the conference. He's going to be potentially more beholden to Donald Trump, than he has been in the past. He might also feel like he owes certain things to members of his own conference.

And then I think, not to be, you know, underreported, is sort of the dynamic that this -- all of this reporting has created between McCarthy, and members of the media that cover him day and day out, when you lie about something and then you are caught lying about that lie in addition, there's a real credibility problem.


And I don't see how that goes away anytime soon.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, the brazenness of it all is incredibly notable. But we're talking about a scenario in, you know, potentially, you know, January of 2023 when we would have had a midterm election. Look at the landscape in the country, who is running for these congressional seats?

I mean, these are Trumpier and Trumpier and Trumpier candidates. He's going to be facing some potential members who are even more in Trump's column than what he already has.

I thought it was notable, J. Mart, you had another excerpt in your book, this is about Mitch McConnell, and about his miscalculation after January 6th. You write that McConnell seemed buoyant. It became clear why.

Trump, McConnell said, was thoroughly discredited by this, this being January 6th. He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, he said it couldn't have happened at a better time. You ask me how I feel. I feel exit railed by the fact that this fellow finally, totally, discredited himself.



PHILLIP: And then he thought that there would be more than 60 votes.


PHILLIP: Not even close.

MARTIN: So that scene is late -- January 6th. McConnell is leaving the capitol after probably the most extraordinary day of his career in Congress, and he sees political opportunity in that moment. This president who he never liked obviously worked with, and frankly enabled at a lot of levels to get what he, McConnell wanted, which is largely more conservative judges, finally he thought this is the moment.

And it's so reminiscent of "Access Hollywood" you see this collective sigh of relief. This has to be the one. This is it, can't come back from this one. That was certainly the feeling on January 6th.

The days after the 6th, McConnell believes of course we're going to have the votes to convict if the Senate, House Democrats will impeach him and it will come over, we'll have the votes to convict, and then bar him from running for office again in the future.

Of course, we all know what happens. In the days and weeks after the 6th, it becomes clear once again to Republican members of Congress that their voters don't feel the same they way do.

And this is the recurring theme of our book. There is this gulf between the leadership class of the GOP and the voters in the GOP.

PHILLIP: And the voters are driving a lot of this, and Trump knows that.

MARTIN: Right.

PHILLIP: Very well. One of the -- I just want to read one more excerpt from the book to

that point. Trump all but threatened right wing violence, if future elections did not work out for him. The next election must be, quote, honestly run. I think the people are very angry, Trump said, I think you're underestimating the anger of the people on the right.

That seems like a threat, but also Trump's understanding of his own voters' sentiment.

HABERMAN: Everything Trump is leaning into it but not totally crossing the line on stuff like that. As we approach January 6th and on that day, he was pretty overt. But he ends up leaning into, someone's going to fight for me.

One thing I was struck by, as Jonathan was talking about the line between "Access Hollywood," and January 6th. It's not just that there is this gap between what elected leadership finds a bridge too far, and what the voters find a bridge too far, it's that elected leadership keeps looking for someone else to be the one to stand up and stop it. If Mitch McConnell voted to convict, he did not.

MARTIN: Right.

HABERMAN: Was he out there whipping to convict? Not by anything that I know.

In 2016, you saw Paul Ryan get booed when he criticized Donald Trump at a rally and then you saw a lot of other people back down from doing it. So, if people want to see -- in the Republican Party want to see Donald Trump stopped they have not made a huge effort themselves.

MARTIN: There's a seven-year bet that he's going to fade away.

PHILLIP: We're more than halfway through that period of time, he has not faded away.

MARTIN: He's not faded away.

HABERMAN: He is not going to fade away.

PHILLIP: You all are not going anywhere.

MARTIN: We'll be right here.

PHILLIP: Coming up next for us, new CNN reporting on a frustrated Joe Biden hopes to save Democrats in November.

And will the 79-year-old Biden run for reelection in 2024?



PHILLIP: Democrats thought a year ago, they would be campaigning against at a roaring economy and herd immunity. And instead, they're facing runaway inflation, COVID variants and a war in Ukraine. Now, this midterm poll has been keeping some Democrats up at night.

They are losing to Republicans by a huge margin with parents and Latinos, and they're statistically tied among young voters.

The economy is a big reason for it, and it looks especially rocky this week, Democrats say they've got one chance to turn things around, and convince voters that it would be even worse if Republicans were in charge.

This -- the message here, M.J., being that maybe you don't love the way things are going but do you really want Trump, do you really want Matt Gaetz, do you really want Marjorie Taylor Greene? Is that going to work?

LEE: You know, first of all, we actually don't hear a lot of that from President Biden. I obviously cover anything that he says out of the White House pretty closely. When he does sort of explicitly bring up that contrast between his administration, his agenda, and what the Republicans are doing, it actually kind of stands out because it's not something that he spends a lot of time focusing on.

Just one example that is an issue that's out there a lot recently is student debt forgiveness -- cancellation. It's something that the president actually doesn't talk about very much even though this is an administration that has already cancelled billions of dollars in student loan debt through various forgiveness programs. That's just an example of one thing.

But I think this White House probably acknowledges, openly and in private, that they're not doing a good enough job taking credit for.

MARTIN: Joe Manchin went on a different network in mid-December and he effectively stopped the Biden agenda. It is now May 1st. Since that period what has the Biden White House said, their message, their strategy on politics, on policy, anything.

I mean this is why Democrats in Congress are, you know, deeply concerned. There's very little guidance. It's not clear what their plan is to either revive their agenda in congress, or to promote their agenda on the campaign trail in the midterms. And that silence is extraordinary.

M.J. just mentioned that Biden himself unwilling to take it to the Republicans in the way Democrats are dying for him to do.

We have a scene in the book where Paul Begala, who's on this network quite a bit, talks to Ron Klain, White House chief of staff, and he offers him a line that's right out of the book -- Clinton playbook.

He says Republicans fear Trump more than they care about you. And says, Ron, Biden should put that on his stump and go out there and say it. And Klain tells Paul Begala that is not Biden's brand, probably not going to do it.


MARTIN: And that's the truth. He doesn't do that.

PHILLIP: But White House officials are now saying they think that's the message. I think the question remains --

MARTIN: Will Biden do it.

PHILLIP: -- will Biden be the one to do it.

HABERMAN: To your point it is fundamentally against who Joe Biden is. We've seen this over and over again, a Democratic strategist was making a point to me the other day and this is what they were -- this is an ironic point -- but, you know, that Joe Biden is going to come out and he's going to attack Republicans and then he'll give the eulogy at (INAUDIBLE) funeral.

And I thought that really -- I mean I don't have the (INAUDIBLE) to do that but that's where he's going to attend. But it did sum up where things are. Biden -- it isn't just that Biden, you know, likes comedy. He doesn't want to be in a fight.

He still has this vision of Washington as a place that he was part of for decades. And it's just not that place anymore.

PHILLIP: To the extent that there is stagnation on the agenda, that is actually translating to voters. There's a Celinda Lake focus group just in the past week of words Democrats are using to describe how things are going in the country. Frustrated, aggravated, discouraged, worrying, frightened. These are --

MARTIN: Democrats.


MARTIN: Right.

PHILLIP: These are Democrats.

MARTIN: Right.

PHILLIP: And they are frustrated. M.J., you brought up student loans which I think is something that kind of encapsulates the rock and a hard place position, the Biden administration is. They're being pushed by their base to do it. But the policy of it and the politics of it perhaps, it doesn't quite work.

You know, here's actually Mitt Romney, here's how he put it. "Desperate polls call for desperate measures. Dems consider forgiving trillions in student loans. Other bribe suggestions: forgive auto loans, forgive credit card debt, forgive mortgage debt, and put a wealth tax on the super rich to pay for it all. What could possibly go wrong?"

Now some Democrats would say that's actually totally fine. We would probably be fine with taxing the rich to forgive all those things, but the Republicans see this as a bad political play for moderates and Independents. LEE: And one concern that I think Democrats legitimately have, and

this is informed by experts who really know this issue, they do worry that a level of student loan debt forgiveness, that if that were to happen, that that could end up exacerbating inflation concerns, and inflation is one of the top concerns for the administration right now.

It is the reason that even though they keep getting very positive economic data, including the unemployment rate being so low, it's a real struggle for the White House to tout the bright spots in the economy because of the day-to-day experience that people are having across the country, they don't feel it because they go to the store, because they're going to the gas pump, and everything costs so much.

HABERMAN: There is a White House that experienced exactly that problem not that long ago, and it was the Obama White House. They figured out how to message that particularly in --- after the disastrous midterms of 2010, in '11 and '12 when they were heading into a presidential reelect year, when unemployment was still incredibly high.

I think it was over 8 percent still, until the very end of that presidential race. They did recognize, and it took a lot of push and pull. But you have to tell people that you understand what they're going through.


PHILLIP: That is the perfect segue. There's some reporting this week about, you know, reportedly Biden's frustration. The Democrats seem to be maybe moving on from him, but you know, on the 2024 -- will he run again? Where do you think they stand on that?

MARTIN: I think today he would like to run again. I think the people around him told us, Alex Burns and I for this book, "This Will Not Pass", that he does plan to run for reelection in 2024. That's still a long ways away.

We have not been in this moment in recent American history where an incumbent first term president was uncertain about whether or not to run for reelection. And I think part of it will be his health. But let's be honest, part of this is politics too.

And if Biden puts off this decision, and he's hovering between 38 and 40 percent approval ratings, going into '23, and the clock is ticking in '23, and he hasn't said yay or nay, this party is going to be so restless because Trump's going to be in the wings. They don't have their nominee. It's not clear our 80-year-old president is going to run again. This is going to be an enormous story in the months to come.

PHILLIP: If it's Trump --

MARTIN: And by the way somebody might force his hand. It wouldn't surprise me if some Democrat got in the race if Biden does not make a decision by, let's say spring of '23.

PHILLIP: Ok. So Bernie has said he wouldn't do it if Biden is running. But there's a world in which other people say. And if it's Trump, some Democrats think Biden --

HABERMAN: Is likely.

PHILLIP: -- is likely to run. But what if it's not? What if it's DeSantis? What if it's someone else?

HABERMAN: Well, here's the thing Abby. We're not really going to know if it's Trump, I think, for a long time. Because Trump actually, unlike all of these other candidates, Trump could wait until, you know, November of 2023, basically.

PHILLIP: Yes. He could wait as long as he wants.

HABERMAN: Filing deadlines -- yes, filing deadlines permitting in various states for primaries and caucuses. But he can wait a very long time. Whereas the rest of us feel that he's essentially freezing and really can't.

MARTIN: It's a game of high stakes chicken because Trump and Biden are going to be watching each other after the midterms. The clock starts the day after the midterms on this question.

PHILLIP: Exactly. Yes.

HABERMAN: It's going to start before that, I would argue. And also just one other point I would make. The thing that is unifying both parties at the moment, is anger and fear of both of those men. And that's not going to change until right after November.

PHILLIP: Well, coming up next for us, the former president's big bet in the Buckeye State. Is Trump backing JD Vance enough to get him over the finish line?



PHILLIP: The next four Tuesdays will test former President Trump's dominance over the Republican Party. The first comes this week as Ohio Republicans choose their nominee for an open senate seat. JD Vance is Trump's pick but he's facing a big field of other MAGA acolytes.


JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm going to Washington to be reinforcements for fighters. Fighters like Donald Trump.

J.D. VANCE (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATES: A lot of Republicans didn't love Donald Trump in 2016. The difference between me and them is that I've actually had the honesty to admit that I was wrong.


PHILLIP: Now, Trump's endorsement was a big boost for Vance. A Fox poll shows him gaining 12 points since March, and former front runners Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons have also lost support. J Martin, do you think that this is going to do it for Vance?

MARTIN: He clearly has a boost from the Trump endorsement, and I think, you know, he does not have to get 50.1 percent. This is a multi-candidate race. And I think you have the Trump endorsements and the media surge that comes with that for ten days, the two weeks. I think that puts in a pretty strong place.

But it's also a multi-candidate race. And so it's hard to sort of gauge what's going to happen when you've got a six-way contest like this.

But it does show that Trump is going to intervene in races, even where it's politically safer and perhaps smarter to stay on the sidelines. They all with one exception courting him in this race. They all want his endorsement.

It wouldn't have cost him anything to have said I'm for all of them, but the one guy, and they're all for me. And to have stayed out of it. But you know, he wants to put capital on the table. He can't help himself. And so here we are again.

PHILLIP: He typically, I mean in past, you know, midterms, he likes to kind of spread out his endorsements and at the end of the day tally up all the wins and losses.

MARTIN: That's right.

PHILLIP: You know -- but he's, as J Mart said, weighed into this race where he doesn't really have to and where other Republicans like Ted Cruz have waited on behalf of other candidates. Take a listen.


SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): When I look to candidates, I don't look to what they say on the stump, because they all say the same darn thing. Every candidate says, "I love Donald Trump. No, no, no, I love Donald Trump more. No, no, no, I have Donald Trump tattooed on my rear end."



PHILLIP: I mean, that's funny, but it's true. I mean, everyone is fighting to be the Trump guy. But this race, in particular, is kind of fracturing the Republican Party in some ways.

HABERMAN: It is. Look, among other reasons, it is a crowded Republican primary. It was a primary where a lot of candidates got started very early. It's an increasingly a reliably red state in a presidential year so I think it's a little more indicative of where things are headed in the GOP.

But it is absolutely, Abby, the field where you are seeing -- and most of these primary fields are basically, you know, 50 shades of Trump. At least for these open Senate seats.


You are -- but it is one where he has dipped -- you know, dipped in, and these are basically candidates who are equal on issues, on where they are on Trump, on a number of factors. So if Trump does end up making the difference here, that will be telling.


PHILLIP: But to Jonathan's point, it's hard to predict. I mean, you know, Vance's team is feeling very good, but we're a couple days out.

LEE: And as much time as we're spending, you know, talking about is the Trump-endorsed candidate going to win, or the other guy that isn't endorsed by Trump going to win, and that's obviously important. I also think the big picture here, that is worth us talking about, is that this is the seat to replace Rob Portman.

PHILLIP: That's right, that's right.


LEE: This is somebody who is, you know, right center, in the Republican conference. Somebody who, you know, worth reminding everyone, took a lead role in the infrastructure bill months ago.

So the idea that he is likely to be replaced by somebody who probably wouldn't have supported that bill, it just goes to sort of the bigger picture shift, the continuation of the shift of the Republican Party, towards this more Trumpist, Trump wing of the party.

PHILLIP: It's fascinating story about the state of Ohio as well, the shift that's happening there. But J Mart, go ahead.

MARTIN: No. I was just going to say, Abby, that's a great point, that there's a history there of people in the GOP who were going to -- from that Portman mold, kind of center right, business friendly, but hardly flame throwers. You know, the Portman candidate -- (INAUDIBLE) sort of fade, and it's not even really in contention.

I just want to make one point in Ohio and beyond, Ted Cruz and Jeff Rowe (ph), his strategist, wouldn't like to hear this on the air, but they are lined up against Trump, in a lot of different statewide races, all over the country, including in Ohio. And if they find some success, that's going to make things more interesting about 2024.

I'm skeptical that Cruz would challenge Trump if Trump does run again. Cruz is young enough to hang back. But Cruz has said himself, Abby, the most fun he's ever had in his life is running for president in 2016. And he's also one of the few Republicans who ever beat Donald Trump. He beat him in Iowa, as Maggie well knows.


HABERMAN: I do recall.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean that's a fascinating point about Ted Cruz. There's also the Matt Dolan factor.


PHILLIP: He's not an anti-Trump Republican, but he's not a Big Lie Republican.

LEE: And by the way, if Matt Dolan ends up winning, that is going to be a huge, huge warning sign for just sort of the immense chaos that exists on the right wing of the Republican Party, that this is a race where so many people are in the race. It is very crowded.

And if that sort of -- that vote ends up being (INAUDIBLE) then he ends up winning, well Republicans are going to have to figure out a way to avoid that.

PHILLIP: Yes. And we always tell people here, we don't know what's going to happen. People are going to go into ballot boxes and vote, but in this particular race there have been almost a quarter of the Republican electorate undecided. So something to keep your eye on.

Coming up next for us, packed parties and bad presidential jokes, Washington partied last night like it was 2019.



PHILLIP: Last night a return to pre-pandemic Washington. A packed downtown ball room, cabinet secretaries mingling with Hollywood A- listers.


TREVOR NOAH, COMEDIAN: It is my great honor to be speaking tonight at the nation's most distinguished super spreader event.

Dr. Fauci dropped out. That should have been a pretty big sign. Fauci thought it was too dangerous to come tonight.

Pete Davidson thinks it's ok. And we all live with Pete, ok.


PHILLIP: That was comedian Trevor Noah. And an attempt at presidential humor as well.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Republicans seem to support one fella -- some guy named Brandon. He's having a really good year. And I'm kind of happy for him.


PHILLIP: Maggie and M.J. are with me again. I know both of you actually didn't attend the dinner last night. But it was a return to some degree of normalcy.

And I think Trevor Noah actually got quite a lot of good reviews for finding this weird balance in Washington between telling jokes and not making people in that room feel uncomfortable.

HABERMAN: Yes. I mean from what I saw and from what I read, it wasn't over the top. It was pretty topical. He did hit on the fact that -- I mean I thought the Fauci joke was pretty funny and did make the point that, you know, that the top infectious diseases doctor was concerned about what was taking place in this room before this room full of unmasked people.

I do think, look, there is this dichotomy and this tension in the country between return to normal and what that looks like and the fact that the virus is very much still there.

So, that was obviously a major theme of last night. But that said, things do go on. People are trying to figure out what the new normal looks like. I thought last night was an interesting step.

PHILLIP: Yes. You know, President Biden didn't stay for the actual dinner. He didn't eat, but he came, didn't wear a mask. I was -- I did attend the dinner. Not too far from Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff. He wore a mask throughout the dinner.

But the White House kind of wants this to be a moment -- President Biden in one of his jokes said -- I mean it was a joke but he was saying, we can sit here in this room because everyone here had to be vaccinated, boosted and tested.

LEE: No. And I think the hope is that for the -- for this White House is that this room that we saw last night filled with people having a great time, that that really symbolizes what is to come and that there will be another dinner next year. That a year from now we will be completely back to normal.

The issue, obviously, is that we have no idea, we have no way to predict whether there is going to be another variant that comes up a couple of months from now, that ends up being incredibly contagious or more severe. The vaccines that are working now, to prevent sickness, those end up not working with the new variant that creeps up. So, that's the sort of un -- you know, the part of this that the White House can't really predict. It's unpredictable. Can't really do much about. They're hoping that this time it's not a message.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean Dr. Fauci had a little bit of a mixed message in the last week. Is the pandemic over, is it not over? If you look at the trajectory in COVID cases versus hospitalizations, it's a little unclear.

You have the cases kind of almost plateauing but hospitalizations ticking up ever so slightly. And I think everyone is just unclear of what does this really mean about where we're headed.

[08:54:49] HABERMAN: Right. And there had been so many, to your point. I mean Dr. Fauci issued mixed messages last week. Not the first the administration has issued mixed messages. I doubt it will be the last because to M.J.'s point, they don't know where this is heading.

They have really had trouble sort of predicting the track of this based on new variants, based on, you know, new therapeutics and what works, what doesn't, the vaccines and their durability.

I think that people are hopeful that they can start to, you know, move forward. I will say that for people in the country, even those who are vaccinated, even those who are boosted and even those who are taking precautions, you know, there has been this message of, this is a variant where it's not extreme. It doesn't really hurt people. It's not severe.

When people experience COVID, it's person by person. So, I think that --

PHILLIP: And it has implications even beyond their health for child care and for work and so on.

And of course, M.J., you and I both have daughters who are under the age of 2. And that remains one of the big outstanding issues. When are those vaccines for young kids coming?

Maggie and M.J., thank you so much.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Don't for get you can also listen to our podcasts. Download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcast and you can scan that QR code at the bottom of your screen.

But coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guests include Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Thank you again, for sharing your Sunday morning with us.

Have a great rest of your day.