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NYT: President Biden Received Early Warnings That Immigration & Inflation Could Erode His Support; OH GOP Primary Is First Big Test Of Trump's Endorsement Power; Grand Jury Selected In Trump GA Election Interference Probe. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 02, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: OK, but then at the same time, what happens if Putin does cross that line?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So this is the fascinating question that the White House has been gaming out, the Pentagon has been gaming out. And I agree with congressman that it would certainly cross a line, a red line, we have not seen nuclear use since of a nuclear weapon being used in anger since August of 1945. And that was the second attack the one on Nagasaki.

That said, I think the place where the Biden administration might separate itself, from what you just heard was that respond in kind. So let's just gain this out for a moment, supposing that Putin launches a tactical nuclear weapon either on Ukrainian territory, or over the Black Sea, or supposing he conducts an atmospheric nuclear tests, which were banned back in the 60s, right, and says, this is all a reminder for you to stay out of the way.

My guess is that President Biden does not respond by launching a nuclear weapon overall. I mean first of all, what are you going to launch it on, you're not going to drop it on Ukraine, and you're probably not going to launch it on Russian territory, what you probably -- what he probably try to do is use that to sort of further the economic isolation and say, he's going in a place that none of the rest of us will.

KING: Help me if you can, because this is a riddle, it's been a riddle for some time, understand Sergey Lavrov, Putin's foreign minister, who over the weekend, says that, you know, to justify this quote, unquote, Nazi reference to the Ukrainians saying Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, and that's why they're going after Zelenskyy. Is this for Russian consumption on state television? Do they have to gin up World War II again, for their own population? Is it just Sergey Lavrov, angering the world?

SANGER: Well, Mr. Lavrov has been known to say things like this in the past. He has been around for 20 years as Foreign Minister. I think the most important thing we've learned about Sergey Lavrov in recent times is that he was given a few hours notice that the invasion was even going to happen after spending weeks telling the world it would not happen. But yes, I think this is mostly for domestic consumption. They have to somehow make the connection that this -- they are denazifying Ukraine seems crazy on its face, particularly with a Jewish President running Ukraine at this moment.

But he was playing to both Russian. And I think some Ukrainian undercurrents of anti-Semitism. And you heard the Israelis come after him pretty hard today.

KING: Right, after staying largely on the sidelines.

SANGER: That's right.

KING: In the days coming. We'll watch how that one plays out. David Sanger, as always, grateful for your important insights.

Up next for us, the midterm mood and the early warnings, very early warnings, of the President's pollster.



KING: The midterm elections are six weeks -- six months, excuse me. I wish they were six weeks. From tomorrow, they are six months from tomorrow. And at this moment things look bleak for President Biden and his fellow Democrats. Republicans have a big edge for example, when voters are asked about the economy and inflation. And we know today that the President will not be able to say he was not warned.

Private memos obtained by the New York Times so Biden pollster John Anzalone writing this to the White House last year. The economy and inflation continued to dominate what is on the minds of voters and their attitudes keep getting worse, which continues to impact the President's job rating on the economy, negatively. Immigration, he also wrote, is a growing vulnerability for the President. Voters do not feel he has a plan to address the situation on the border.

Panel of great reporters back with us. So Courtney, there's no way they can say at the Biden White House, we were not warned these memos go back to late last year. The question is, have they figured out their internal debates about what to do about it, try to convince voters are on top of especially inflation?

COURTNEY SUBRAMANIAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, we've seen them, we've seen certainly seen them, certainly try. This is an issue that I think if you even talk to folks who were on the transition team, they were, you know, sending up signals about immigration very early on. But the focus was the pandemic, it was the economy, getting that under control.

But in some regard, this just underscores how much they've had their head in the sand about immigration, you know, debate about how long to keep some of these Trump policies in place. We did see that the Department of Homeland and Security issued this memo about how they're going to replace Title 42. But I don't think it's done much to move the needle. And certainly it hasn't gone beyond anything they've said before. So, you know, the question is how do they move forward? What do vulnerable Democrats campaign on and there just doesn't seem to be a plan in place at this?

KING: And so the President, they say he's going to start traveling more, they say he's going to focus on, you know, big things they did do, the American rescue plan, the bipartisan infrastructure plan. If you look at this in the new Washington Post, ABC poll, President's handling of the economy, when you're at 57 percent disapprove on the economy, it's just tough for the President and his party, you have the normal midterm dynamics anyway, it's always tough for the President's party.

And then you look at the President's approval rate job approval rating, 42 percent in our average, our CNN poll of polls, 42 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval, that's actually a very slight uptick from the President. So again, we're going to do this every week, over the next six months. If you're the Democrats, you have to hope that's at least stabilizing and maybe turning in the right direction, but still a steep hill.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, 42 percent is decent. I mean it's been much lower than that in the 30s, high 30s for a while. Listen, I think if you're the Biden administration, you're looking back at a lot of time they wasted on trying to get big ticket items, like Build Back Better, which they thought would be a kind of silver bullet around the economy. Even recently, they were sort of talking about reviving parts of it. And that doesn't look like it's going to happen.


Going forward, they have a real problem, because a lot of these feelings about the economy are baked in for months and months and months. The pollster was telling them that this is how Americans were feeling uneasy about the economy. So listen, we'll see if any of these sort of barnstorming of the country and going to local markets actually helps. The fact is, people are still going to go to the gas pump and sometimes pay $6 for a gallon $5, $4 And then sometimes go to Target and see some empty shelves because of the supply chain issues as well.

KING: You look now the numbers are bleak. The question is, can the Democrats make the case by September-October into the November elections that things are getting better after a tough time, then that Washington Post ABC poll, you do see this if the elections were held today for the United States House, who would you vote for? And you see there, again, follow the trajectory, Democrats polling essentially into a tie with Republicans. That's an improvement.

Now it's an improvement from horrible to terrible. But do Democrats on Capitol Hill have any sense that things are getting at least stable? And then hopefully build to a little better? Or is it panic?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Last week, when I talked to them? There's a lot of panic about the message, what are they supposed to be talking about? And in some ways, they've been looking to the White House and leadership for so long, the Democratic Party has really kind of had a top down strategy when it comes to what the priorities are. And right now they don't feel like there is a cohesive message.

And I know messaging may seem like a distraction from the overall issues. But when you have a party as diverse as the Democrats, when you have Ilhan Omar in the same party as Joe Manchin, getting everyone on the same page and making sure that progressives maybe take a backseat to some of those frontliners who are running for reelection, that's a challenge. And right now, when I talked to Joe Manchin last week, he said, I've always had a cohesive message. It's just the other 49, don't agree with me.

KING: Yes, that's -- right at this a long time. That's sort of a recurring Democratic theme.

Up next, yes, there are two parties in America, Ohio, tomorrow kicks off a month of important midterm year primaries, the Republican Senate primary there, a giant test of Donald Trump's influence. Just don't ask him to name of his candidate.



KING: Voters in Ohio tomorrow kick off a month that will begin to answer a giant question in American politics. How strong is Donald Trump's grip on grassroots Republicans? The Republican Senate primary in Ohio is the big Trump test author J.D. Vance, you see him on the left there, he has to Trump endorsement in a five candidate race. A house primary in West Virginia is the test of Trump's power next week. And by month's end, we will have a half dozen races to help us assess the power or lack thereof of a Trump endorsement.

My panel of reporters back with me, it would help, it would help and we can show you the live picture right now. This is J.D. Vance, the author you'll remember also a conservative. He's campaigning in Dublin, Ohio, right now the day before the primary trying to turn out Republican voters. Donald Trump with another candidate he's endorsed in Nebraska just yesterday, he brought up these cheers campaigns. That's J.D. Vance. J.D. Vance, you're looking at him right now live on your screen. Here's Donald Trump talking about him yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've endorsed Dr. Oz. We've endorsed JP right, J.D. Mandel. And he's doing great. They're all doing good. They're all doing good.


HENDERSON: Oh, boy. Yes. Yes. You know, I mean, this you feel like this could be some sort of campaign ad because the Mandel campaign in his supporters who are many Trump supporters, people like Ted Cruz, and other folks in the Trump orbit are saying he should never endorse J.D. Vance. J.D. Vance is sort of Johnny come lately to the Trump bandwagon has said derisive things about Republican voters. So you imagine, maybe this will help Josh Mandel in this primary fight.

But so far, you have seen J.D. Vance, get a little bit of a boost from this. Listen, I think he's at like 23 percent in the crowded field. That's good in a crowded field. You've seen him have a little bit of surge. So we'll see what happens tomorrow.

KING: Right, so you see that number right there. And that's what happened. J.D. Vance was, I think around 11, or 12 percent, Donald Trump endorses he went up to 23 percent. In a crowded five way primary, OK, 23 percent, or 25 percent, might be enough to get you in. You look at that giant question mark. That's 25 percent undecided. One of the questions, we never -- do not do this on one race. But by the end of the month, we might have a much better sense of if there's Donald Trump endorsement. What does it get you? Does it get you above 30 percent? Does it get you to 50 percent? Or is it, yes.

FOX: Right? Or is it depending on which race he actually endorses? And are the dynamics of individual states, outweighing the Trump dynamic? I think that we don't have the answer yet. And anyone who says that they clearly think that Donald Trump is still the Rainmaker in this entire conference or Republican Party. I mean, they have to give this a little bit of time to play out.

But I will say that folks on the Hill who are running for reelection, they still want Trump in their corner and they still want to go and have conversations with him at Mar-a-Lago. But I think it's an open call question whether or not it gets you the victory and I think it's an open question whether or not people looking at Trump endorsements say this guy is unbeatable and the next election, or may maybe not.


KING: Right. It does, it's an important point because a number of these candidates who do not have Trump's endorsement are still not poking Trump, some are. There are some people out there saying Donald Trump is bad for the party, but most. Listen, this is Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer in Ohio. He did not get Trump's endorsement. He thought he might. He didn't get it. But this is earlier today him saying that's, OK, I'll be fine.


JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm going to win tomorrow, and I'm going to work with President Trump in the general election. We're going to be working together to beat Tim Ryan beat the Democrats. But more importantly, we're going to work together to advance the America first agenda.


KING: So for most Republicans, it's a pretty fine line, even if you're mad at Trump, because he didn't endorse you. You don't want to poke the bear.

SUBRAMANIAN: Yes, I mean, you could look back to, you know, Virginia and Youngkin and how much he sort of distanced himself from Trump, and managed to succeed there and using that model. And so, you know, no matter what, Republicans are going to line up whoever -- behind whoever wins this primary. It's just a matter of how much Trump's influence matters. And when, I mean, he certainly didn't clear the field when he came in at the end to endorse Vance.

KING: Right, and you mentioned the evolution, a lot of conservatives saying you shouldn't trust J.D. Vance. He was in 2016. He said Donald Trump was horrible for the Republican Party. He said he was not a true conservative. And then this weekend, we see him campaigning with Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. If there's -- if you need any evidence of that we're J.D. Vance believes the energy among Republicans who you want to vote for you in a primary. It's an important distinction, but Republicans you want to turn out for you in a primary. That picture speaks volumes.

FOX: Well, that's exactly right. And I think one thing to keep in mind is this is Rob Portman's state. Rob Portman is not a Trump enthusiast. It doesn't mean that he didn't vote or help the President when he was in office, but he's not going out there campaigning saying Donald Trump or the highway. And I think that that is such a strong point of remembering where the Republican Party has evolved. This is Rob Portman's seat.

HENDERSON: Yes, they are all Trumpers, ultimately. They might not get Trump's endorsement, but they have certainly most of the folks in this field fully endorsed Trumpism.

KING: Right. And you also see we just show you the pictures Ted Cruz, who of course, remember ran against Trump in 2016. That did not go well. He's out there campaigning for Mandel over the weekend. The question, the question is, is this, you know, are these primaries, they're settled, everybody makes peace? Or do we have fractures in the Republican Party? They're going to play out throughout the year and then carry over to 2024?

SUBRAMANIAN: Yes, I mean, I certainly I think everybody is watching or you could even say the White House is watching as they're trying to set up this as a contrast between Republicans and the Biden administration. Instead of this being a referendum on the Biden administration. We heard the President say multiple times, this is not your father's Republican Party, and that's something that they're hoping to see play out within the Republican Party.

KING: Back to your point, I think Rob Portman would say in Ohio, this is not the Republican Party. I remember either.


Just in for us, a grand jury being selected, has been selected to decide if Donald Trump or his allies broke the law when they tried to change George's vote count back in 2020. We're live in Georgia next.


KING: This just into CNN a special grand jury has now been selected in Georgia, their evidence about then President Trump's effort to change the 2020 election outcome in that state. The Fulton County district attorney is leading this investigation and the evidence includes phone calls from then President Trump to top Georgia officials urging them to help him quote find votes and to reverse Joe Biden's win. CNN's Sara Murray is right there in Fulton County live with the details. Sara, tell us more.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the judge and the district attorney made pretty quick work of it today whittling a pool of like roughly 200 potential jurors down to 26, that includes three alternates. It's a pretty diverse group, as you would expect to see here and Atlanta. And look, this is the case for the district attorney has been working on for over a year ever since that infamous call between Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger leaks. Here's a portion of that call.


TRUMP: So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know we have that in spades already.


MURRAY: Now, Trump was insistent wrongfully in that call that he won the state of Georgia. After it came out, the district attorney started digging into this. She's already interviewed roughly 50 witnesses. She plans to subpoena about 30 more. And look, this is not a panel that can bring an indictment but it is a panel with wide investigative authority. They can subpoena witness testimony, they can subpoena documents, they can skew the phone records. And then they will make a recommendation to the district attorney about whether they think she should bring charges against Donald Trump or any of his allies.

KING: Sara, a very important criminal investigation but it also happens to be playing out the grand jury beginning its work a couple of weeks away from the Republican primary in Georgia. How does that factor into this?

MURRAY: Well, it's a pretty uncomfortable time I would say right now for some of these potential witnesses. You know, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp are both locked in difficult primaries. They're running against election deniers who have been backed by Donald Trump. But the district attorney here has said she's not going to plan on calling any witnesses until after that primary is over. She says they wouldn't be able to focus, back to you.


KING: Sara Murray live of course on the ground in Atlanta. Sara thanks so much. Appreciate your time today Inside Politics. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.