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President Biden Vows To Defend Taiwan From China. Perdue-Kemp Race Symbolizes Trump-Pence Battle. Stacey Abrams Critical On New Georgia Voting Laws. Aired 12-12:30pET

Aired May 23, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING HOST: Hello, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very busy news day with us.

The headline primary tomorrow in Georgia. The ballot says David Perdue versus Brian Kemp for Republican nominee for governor, but might as well say Donald Trump versus Mike Pence.

Plus the problem is reality. Democrats now fearing their path to keeping power is collapsing, first by inflation and the president's unpopularity.

And precious cargo, the U.S. military, and airlift touches down in middle America with a critical shipment onboard; 500,000 bottles worth of baby formula.

So we begin the hour in Tokyo and President Biden dispensing with diplomacy to deliver a stern warning to China.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?



BIDEN: That's the commitment we made. We agree with the One China policy. We signed onto it, and all the attendant (ph) agreements made from there, but the idea that it cam be taken by force, just taken by force, and it's just not - and it's just not appropriate.


KING: The president did not spell out just what military involvement might mean, and the White House insists the president's answer does not alter American policy, but it does rip up the careful script the president formally followed on the Taiwan issue. We start our coverage in Tokyo with CNN's Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, the

president said the quiet part out loud.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did, John, and as you mentioned the White House swiftly trying to walk back the president's comments.

A White House official saying that the U.S.'s policy has not changed, and claiming that the president said as much. While the president did reaffirm the One China policy, what he didn't reaffirm and, in fact, appeared to upend is the U.S.'s policy of strategic ambiguity as it relates to Taiwan.

This strategic ambiguity as to whether or not the U.S. would respond militarily if China were to invade the island of Taiwan. Instead, the president saying very clearly that he was wiling to get involved militarily should China invade.

And unambiguous, frankly, the statement with very little if any caveats included there.

And what's more, John, is that this is not the first time we've heard this from President Biden. Twice before going back to August, President Biden has suggested that the U.S. would intervene militarily.

In August, he said, quote, "We would respond if there was an attack on Taiwan", and two months later he then said that the U.S. had a commitment to protect Taiwan.

In both of those instances we also heard the White House issue the same line insisting that U.S. policy has not changed, but at this point, John, I think the president's words speak quite loudly. John --

KING: Jeremy Diamond for us live in Tokyo. Jeremy, appreciate it very much. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Francesca Chambers of "USA TODAY", Leigh Ann Caldwell of "The Washington Post", and former Director - Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sanner.

Beth, let's just start with is this an oh my God moment or should this be a thank God moment?

In the sense that I'm looking - they just brought me a transcript of a conversation I had with George W. Bush 20 years ago where George W. Bush, then the President of the United States, said, "I would do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself, and the Chinese must understand that."

There's always been this sensitivity to not saying out loud out of deference to China. China has not been a great actor, a good actor in the world. Why do we have to keep up the dance or is the (ph)?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: So I think there are two reasons for strategic ambiguity. One is China, and the reason of not pissing them off kind of is gone in my view. The other is to prevent Taiwan from declaring independence that could

escalate and create a situation where China would intervene.

So I think you could do this successfully as long as you go to Taiwan and say, you know, hold your horses and let's not talk about that. You could do this safely because it is saying exactly what everybody thinks.

And you know, U.S.-China war plans include every single one that the U.S. is going to be involved.

KING: Every single one that the U.S. is going to be involved.

Let's listen to a little bit more of what the president said because this obviously comes up now in the context of Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the United States not sending boots on the ground but it is military equipment.

So the question was what about Taiwan? Listen to the president trying to make the comparison.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?




BIDEN: That's the commitment we made. We agree with the One China policy.


KING: That's the older sound. Let me read you the other comment from the president.

He said it would dislocate the entire region in another action similar to what happened to Ukraine, so it's a burden that's even stronger.


KING: In the sense that that would be a war.

BASH: It would be a war, and what you just said, Beth, is so fascinating. Talk about the quiet part out loud.

I mean, that every war game, every plan if there is a war there includes the United States, so that is what President Biden knows, and he - it seems to - even though his administration they're trying to play cleanup, they're trying to fix it because of the stakes long-term but also where he is right now, and he's on a trip there where he doesn't need this kerfuffle, but he obviously - the thing about Joe Biden is that it's not even just saying the quiet part out loud.

He oftentimes says what is - what is real and it is real that not just this president but other presidents are kind of done with this falsity that the United States really is supportive of this One China policy.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think that we can't look at this in a silo because what happened in Ukraine and what is happening in Ukraine with Russia probably really had an impact on President Biden, on the administration, even though they are trying to walk it back a little bit.

And so, these two things are very closely related. You mentioned it in what you've just read previously, but I think that that is - I think that you're also going to hear a lot of more hawkish people in Congress as well maybe even applaud the president for actually finally saying it.

FRANCESCA CHAMBER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: This isn't the first time, though, that we've heard President Biden suggest that there was a change in U.S. policy when it comes to Taiwan, and then the White House walked that back and we saw the same exact thing when he was on his last foreign trip and he talked about potential regime change with Vladimir Putin, and then the White House had to walk that back also.

And so, to your point, Dana, there have been multiple times throughout this administration where President Biden has said something that's stronger on these trips and then the White House has had to draw back on that a little bit and say, no, we're not signaling a change in any U.S. policy here.

KING: Another announcement of the trip. One of the reasons we've been so differential to China is because it's the biggest role (ph) in our economy. Let's just be honest about it. We get cheap products in China. Everybody says we need to be nice to China.

BASH: Exactly.

KING: As you mentioned, you know, maybe it's time to just put that behind us. Another thing they announced today was what I'm going to call mini TPP.

At the beginning of the Trump administration he blew up the Obama Transpacific Partnership, which was supposed to be a trading block that would make life harder for China. Trump sold it as a gift to China and accelerated the opposition in the United States Congress.

The president announced a more modest framework today to try to get countries in the region to have more economic cooperation.

It's try to put some counter to China's economic growth in the world, but it's also an effort to try to help the United States. And as part of that, the president said he does not believe it is just necessary.

Not absolutely positive the United States would dip into recession.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your view, is a recession in the United States inevitable?

BIDEN: No. Our GDP is going to grow faster than China's for the first time in 40 years. Now, does that mean we don't have problems? We do.

We have problems that the rest of the world has but less consequential than the rest of the world has, not because of our internal growth and strength.


KING: Do this in reverse order and go to the intelligence expert before the political experts.


KING: In the sense that it's an incredibly consequential trip for the president. In the middle of Putin's war in Ukraine, trying to deal in the neighborhood with the securities challenges of China, but the president knows his political situation back home. He's trying to get more economic cooperation. Any little bit to help. How significant is this new partnership?

SANNER: Unfortunately, it's not that significant at this moment. It still needs to be fleshed out really in a lot of ways. It is - it is more than just being something on paper, but it is not yet like anywhere near a trade agreement.

And so, you know, there are some bureaucratic things like regulations. There's some important things like digital trade, but there's still so much to go here. No one in the region really knows what this means. They don't know what they're signing up for yet.

CHAMBERS: And the administration is acknowledging that they're calling it a starting point for talks, and one thing they're trying to avoid is what happened to the Transpacific Partnership under the Obama administration.

They have said that they - that that failed, that this is something they expect to be broader than that.

That was a trade agreement. They want this to be more of a broader, comprehensive economic agreement, but they're acknowledging that they're going to have to work with pretty closely with Congress on this, and if there were firm agreements they might need to get it through the Congress where they could run into headwinds.

KING: You can - you can go back 40 years to Ross Perot and NAFTA to see the beginning of this in our politics, the beginning of globalization, trade, resentment, and how it changes our politics.


Neil Thomas, the China Analyst from the Eurasia Group, says - this is what "The Wall Street Journal" says (ph).

"The key problem for Biden in Asia is that he's constrained by the domestic politics of trade in the United States. What countries in Asia want is precisely what Biden cannot give: greater access to the U.S. market."

BASH: Yes, that's exactly right. And the fact that he refused to sidestep the question about the recession was a really big deal. That was another Bidenism.

At this table yesterday I had his Economic Adviser, Brian Deese, and I tried three times to get him to say whether or not he thinks a recession is inevitable, and he wouldn't. Joe Biden said no. I don't think it is inevitable.

And yes, it is just maybe a term and that doesn't really matter as much politically or just when it comes to people's actual lives, when people are struggling with inflation, high gas prices, the whole thing, but the term recession is a really big deal, and if the economy in the U.S. gets to that point he knows from political history that is very bad for his party.

KING: And he also knows that we keep the tape or the digital files now too (inaudible).

BASH: Yes.

KING: He said inflation would be transitory and, of course, it wasn't.

BASH: Yes.

KING: So we'll see how it plays out. We'll continue our eye on the president's trip. Obviously next for us, though, another big primary day tomorrow here at home. The crucial races include two Trump Big Lie grudge matches in Georgia.



KING: Tomorrow a huge test to Donald Trump's power in Georgia. The former president trying to beat the state's incumbent Republican Governor and incumbent Republican Secretary of State. Why? Well because they refused to help him cheat back in 2020.

Today the former President is holding a tele-rally for his handpicked candidate, the Governor, former Senator David Perdue.

That call just an hour after his former Vice President, Mike Pence, who campaigned for the incumbent, Brian Kemp. Our reporters back with us to discuss.

And so, it's Kemp versus Perdue. It's Trump versus Pence.

CHAMBERS: It is absolutely Trump versus Pence in this state. I'm told that Mike Pence got involved in this because Kemp is a former governor like him.

He spent a lot of time in the state, in Georgia, got to know him really well. So he did see this as personal.

But look, the elephant in the room is clearly Donald Trump, and the former vice president knew exactly what he was doing when he got involved in this race, and this really is a potential test of 2024 powers here if both Pence and Trump end up running.

We're seeing an early test of that with some of these endorsements in these races.

KING: And the Georgia race is usually important, so I want to come back to the Governor and the Secretary of State.

That matters in that state, but let's just stick with Trump-Pence for a second in the sense that Pence has sort of inched his way away from Donald Trump and inched and inched and said maybe there's a path for me over here. This is a break.

BASH: Yes.

KING: This is - this is just here at the crossroads. It's like, no. I'm going that way.

BASH: He inched his way, but he was shoved.

KING: Right.

BASH: He was shoved away by his boss, by the president on January 6, 2021 because he refused to go along with Donald Trump's election lie.

And like you I've heard that this was - I mean, look. It doesn't take a political genius to understand that if you're going to get involved in a primary against your former boss and potential opponent in 2024 if it comes to that, in Georgia especially you know exactly what you're doing.

You know that it's going to be looked at as, first of all, from Trump's point of view as heresy, but also from everybody else's point of view as a - as a proxy war, and that's exactly what it is.

And they're not only not shying away from it in Pence world. They're embracing it.

KING: Embracing it. And if you're a politician and the polls look like this - that's 60 percent in this Fox News poll for Brian Kemp, 28 percent for David Perdue - that gives you the luxury of doing many things, including how you could pick a fight with Donald Trump if you wanted to.

Brian Kemp knows he doesn't have to. So this question comes up and he's like block them both (ph).

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: I had a great relationship with Mike Pence. I had a great relationship with President Trump. I've never said anything bad about him. I don't plan on doing that.

I'm not mad at him. I think he's just mad at me, and that's something I can't control.


KING: That's pretty honest. I'm not mad at him. He's just mad at me.


CALDWELL: I mean, there's been reporters who've called this the Vendetta Tour, revenge. So - and that's what this is for Donald Trump.

He has been so invested in Georgia. He's been invested in a lot of states, but perhaps no state more than Georgia. And he took it as a personal front, what Brian Kemp did.

Not only did Brian Kemp and Mike Pence resist Trump's attempts to overturn the election in 2020 and not only are they governors, but that resistance has really united these two. And so, that is also on the ballot, too.

Our voters, which there are many, many Republican voters. I would say more and more by the day who think that the last election was stolen, but are voters going to resist that tomorrow?

KING: That's a key point you make in the sense that the Big Lie has spread like a cancer in Republican politics. In the Secretary of State races across the country, in governors' races across the country, in the state legislature races around the country.

The new bench, if you will, of the Republican Party more and more is talking about the Big Lie, Donald Trump's Big Lie.

David Perdue trying for a comeback against Brian Kemp talks about the Big Lie.


DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA GOV. CANDDIATE: He has divided our party, he allowed them to steal the election. He denied it. He is now covering it up, and he's suppressing evidence, and that's why he cannot win in November.


KING: Brian Kemp, the facts are out there and I know a lot of Republican voters who were told not to believe us, do this on your own. Take 10 minutes, take an hour, look at this. The facts are out there. Joe Biden won Georgia.

Just narrowly, but he won. Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger did the right thing. But David Perdue is continuing to push that. [12:20:00]

If Kemp wins, if Raffensperger can win against Jody Hice, the congressman in that primary, will it take the air out of the balloon, or is that too much to ask for?

BASH: It won't take the air out of the balloon, but what it will do in a place like Georgia and other places where election deniers lose is allow the Republicans to run on the issues that they think are the winning issues against the Democrats like every issue we talk about every day.

Inflation, you know, you name your topic that makes - that make the headwinds so, so tough for Democrats and help Republicans. If and when they talk about election lies looking backwards, sure, that helps with the base, but that doesn't help get Independents your way.

That doesn't help get maybe some disgruntled Democrats your way.

The other issues, the real bread and butter issues, that's what Republicans really want to talk about on a national level to take the governors' mansions, the keep the governors' mansions, and to take the House and the Senate.

KING: This is remarkable. If you put the graphic back up there, Brian Kemp has the support of Mike Pence. He has the support of George W. Bush, the NRA, the Republican Governors Association.

David Perdue has Trump, Sarah Palin, Marjorie Taylor Greene. This is sort of the Trump guard of the Republican Party versus the old establishment guard of the Republican Party. I don't think we're going to settle this fight in 2022.

We may get some scores. I think it's going to take through the primaries of 2024, but 2022 will tilt the scales.

CALDWELL: Yes, absolutely. But never did I think two years ago that Perdue would be the party of Marjorie Taylor Green. He is a very, you know, traditional Chamber of Commerce type of Republican.

Of course, he had a very close relationship with the former president when Trump was in office, but still it's just a little bit shocking to me.

But politics does a lot of things to a lot of people, and the fact that Perdue has said that Trump called him over and over again and that is why he is in this race, that's not enough for most voters.

CHAMBERS: And he knows better than perhaps anyone else in the state of Georgia how former President Trump comes in and talks about the election being stolen, how that can affect your race moving forward, and I'm hearing from Republicans they just think that Kemp has a better chance of beating Stacey Abrams. He did it before. He can do it again.

KING: And again, Democrats don't like this, but if you're a Republican voter you look at Brian Kemp's record, cutting taxes and, you know, he's antiabortion and he's brought business into the state, you know, it's hard if you're a Republican voter to find why we're mad at Brian Kemp unless you think Donald Trump is correct.

Let's close with this one. In Pennsylvania, the race between Mehmet Oz-Dave McCormick for that Republican Senate nomination, yes, a week later still neck and neck. Oz now leading by a little more than 1,000 votes. You see it there. That is within the 0.5 margin that would automatically trigger a recount.

McCormick now asking that undated mail-in ballots be counted, though it's unclear just how many of those ballots were submitted.

The winner of this race, once we get one, will face off against the Democratic nominee, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman in November. You might recall Fetterman suffered a stroke nine days ago.

He was released from the hospital yesterday. In a statement the Lieutenant Governor says he feels great, following the orders of his doctors and his wife to stay at home and rest and recover.

Ahead, more on the big primaries. Georgia is seeing record early voting. The Democratic candidate for Governor, Stacey Abrams, says she still sees giant problems with the state's new election law.



KING: Back to Georgia now. The big primary tomorrow. Stacey Abrams is running uncontested to be the Democratic candidate for Governor. She ran four years ago as well. Will she get a rematch without Brian - with Brian Kemp? That's what the Republican primary is about tomorrow.

Abrams has made her mark organizing voters, demanding more liberal, more generous voting rights.

So Georgia is also in a big test this year because it is one of many states that changed the voting laws after the 2020 presidential election, and there's been record early voting so far, but as we go to CNN's Eva McKend she's live for us in Atlanta covering this race.

Record early voting so far, Eva, but Stephanie Abrams still says problems with that law?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, John. That has been remarkable to see more than 800,000 people, both Republicans and Democrats, turning out in Georgia during the early vote period.

Well Republicans seizing on this, saying see, the bill that Governor Kemp signed into law, it is not restrictive or racist as some have claimed.

Well I asked Stacey Abrams about this in an exclusive interview. Here's what she told me.


STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GOV. CANDIDATE: But we have to remember that voter suppression isn't about stopping every voter. It's about blocking and impeding those voters who are considered inconvenient.

The moral equivalent of saying that voter turnout diffuses or disproves voter suppression is like saying that more people getting in the water means there are no longer any sharks.


MCKEND: So Governor Kemp still has a primary tomorrow even though all eyes, really, he seems as though he's moved on to the general election.

I will say even though Abrams is running uncontested, there is a lot of enthusiasm among Democratic voters here eager to see a rematch between Kemp and Abrams.

Something else that struck me from that interview is that Abrams, unlike many Democrats, is eager and comfortable to enter the cultural battles that Republicans have waged.

We've seen Democrats really shy away or be uncomfortable when issues of transgender rights come up or critical race theory, but here's what Abrams told me.

She said that we have to lift up the needs of non-binary folks in Georgia. We cannot like to our children about our racist past.