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Inside Politics

Voters Split On Party Preference For This Year's Midterm Elections; Economy Most Important Issue For Candidates To Address; 55 Percent Think GOP's View On Abortion Is Too Extreme; Judge Considers "Modest" Delay, Pushing Back Opening Arguments; Former Top Trump Natl Security Official To Testify Thursday; Thompson: Trump Not Above The Law, "Like Every Other American"; Trumpism On The Ballot In Maryland Primary Elections Today; Dem Groups Spend Money To Boost Trump-Aligned Candidates. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 19, 2022 - 12:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Abby Phillip in Washington in for John King. Today new and important reporting on the January 6 panels primetime witness list. And Democrats pushed the MAGA candidate in a Trump vs establishment battle in the state of Maryland.

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Plus, a Donald Trump plays host to the Saudi owned golf league, but 9/11 families say Trump and others are pocketing blood money.


BRETT EAGLESON, SON OF 9/11 VICTIM JOHN BRUCE EAGLESON: This move is incomprehensible. I mean, this is the most evil form of greed that I've ever witnessed.

JULIETTE SCAUSO, DAUGHTER OF 9/11 VICTIM DENNIS SCAUSO: The fact that you are, and even the players that this is blood money that you're taking, same with him hosting these events. They're trying to sports' wash their way through this. They have a very long history of human rights violations, not just 9/11. And it's their way of trying to erase that is through sports. I mean, we are going to try to fight that as much as we possibly can, because it's just absolutely not right.


PHILLIP: But we start this morning with brand new CNN polling, painting a picture of an electorate that is both divided and depressed ahead of this November's midterm elections. Let's get straight to CNN's political director, David Chalian, who's breaking it all down for us. David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, Abby. We have these brand- new CNN polling numbers conducted by SSRS, looking at the midterm electorate. So, let's start with that what we call the generic congressional ballot. Look at these numbers. This is a tied race at the moment. 46 percent of voters in this poll say they prefer the Republican candidate in the midterm election, 46 percent Democrat.

And I do want to caution here, this is a score that pollsters normally believe Democrats need to actually be a head on, if they are going to pick up seats. So, a tie in this generic congressional ballot usually does benefit the Republicans here. This is not a number that Democrats see and say, oh, we're going to be fine in the midterms. But it does show a competitive contest, perhaps more competitive than the overall political environment would suggest.

And take a look at it over time here. Back in January and February, Democrats were down at 43 percent in this. They were at 44 percent. April, May down at 42 percent. They're now up to 46. So, Democrats have seen a little bit of a bump, perhaps coinciding with the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade and that energizing some Democrats.

As for the issues that are driving this race, Abby, the economy is issue number one. 51 percent of Americans in this poll, say they want to hear from congressional candidates about the economy. But look, when you split by party, overwhelmingly on the Republican side. 71 percent say they want to hear candidates talk about the economy and inflation, nothing else really even breaks the double digits. OK.

Now, look at the Democratic side, it's more of a smorgasbord of topics that Democratic voters are looking to hear from congressional candidates on. Yes, economy, inflation still up on top 32 percent, gun policy 23 percent, voting in elections 15 percent, abortion down to 10 percent. So, this is still an electorate that is looking to hear about the economy, but overwhelmingly for Republicans more of a mix for Democrats.

And the other thing we look for is, who has the edge on enthusiasm, because it's one thing to look at registered voters. It's another thing, who's going to show up and one of the ways we explore that is to see who's more enthusiastic about voting.

Look at these numbers here. The Republicans have a seven-point advantage over the Democrats in terms of being extremely enthusiastic to vote. 35 percent of Republicans say so, 28 percent of Democrats. You see that that has been an advantage in all the polling this year for Republicans, and you see how it ticks up as the year goes on. More and more people are getting enthusiastic about voting. But again, this is a significant advantage, seven percentage points here for the Republicans on that score.

PHILLIP: And there's so much to break down in all of that. Here to share the reporting and insights, White House reporter and associated of the Associated Press, Seung Min Kim, NPR's host of Weekend Edition Sunday and Up First Ayesha Rascoe, and Early 202 co-author at the Washington Post Leigh Ann Caldwell.

That generic ballot, I really can't get out of my head in part because of what David showed us, how it's changed over time. We are in a basically head-to-head battle between Democrats and Republicans. This election of the environment seems to be so favorable to the Republican Party. Inflation is high, people's economic sentiments are incredibly low, there is a feeling of unsettledness in the electorate. And yet, this looks like it's going to be a fight.


LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And especially with President Biden's low poll numbers, and still Democrats were tied with Republicans in the generic ballot. And that's what was so surprising to me. But digging deeper into the polls, David, as you've laid out that people are frustrated with government, that are frustrated with both parties, they want the economy to get better. And they don't have a very optimistic view of the future. But the fact that Democrats are tied with Republicans in this generic ballot is very good news for Democrats who think - who have been very concerned about the midterm elections.

CHALIAN: And I would just note to this point about the president's numbers being down but being tied. What is so interesting when you look at our poll is that 19 percent of people who say they disapprove of the job President Biden is doing, they're still voting for a Democrat on the generic congressional ballot.

So, that is the mission for this White House in this party is to take people who are expressing all this dissatisfaction with Biden's leadership and performance at the moment because of the economy would have you, and still actually have them cast a ballot for the Democrats. At one in five disapproves of Biden are doing that in this poll.

PHILLIP: I mean, this is what is so fascinating about this environment is that this is by all accounts, the Republican Party's race to lose with the president at 38 percent. And yet, you see voters, kind of basically saying we see both parties, kind of along the same lines. One thing that I thought was interesting. We have a part of the poll here that asks whether candidates have in their area have their priorities at the top of their mind. And basically, voters say, the Democratic candidates, 67 percent no, 65 percent they know about Republicans. They don't like any of these people.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Look, it kind of makes sense. I mean, you can't really blame people. I mean, when it looks at the - when you look at the economy, the big issue is inflation. What can the government really do about that? And the fact is, there's not much that they can do on either party. The Republicans don't have a plan to fix inflation, they are benefiting from being able to just call out the problems, but they don't have a solution to fix it.

And really, I mean, there is a bigger problem for democracy here. And that people do not feel like the government is answering their needs. And when you look at Congress, and you look at how things get stalled, and how Congress is unable to do the big things, you can't really argue with people on that. They're not really handling the issues. Like that's just a fact.

PHILLIP: And yet far and away. If you look at the polls and the numbers in our poll, and the numbers in a lot of other polls. The number one issue for voters is the economy. It is by far a bigger issue if you're a Republican leaning voter, but it's still the top issue, even for Democratic leaning voters. And those voters also say according to our poll, that they think, 54 percent say Republicans would be better at handling economic issues, compared to a lot of other issues. So that is still a problem for President Biden and the Democrats to solve for.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: You've seen actually a pretty aggressive messaging coming from the White House over the last few days. Trying to first of all, remind the public that at least for the last several weeks, that gas prices have gone down dramatically. Now, we don't know whether they are dropping in here to stay or not. But really trying to be out there and telling, that things, you know, we hear you, things are tough right now, but on this front, gas prices, at least for now are improving.

And here are all the other things that we're doing to try to improve the economic situation for voters, but because they do know that this is their biggest liability heading into the midterms this fall, and just we're talking about the issues. Now, what I found really interesting, what else from that CNN poll was that, while obviously, the economy inflation took the top billing for what is important to voters. Abortion was actually a little bit lower on the list that I thought would happen.

PHILLIP: Even for Democrats.

MIN KIM: Even for Democrats.

PHILLIP: It was not freighting for Republicans very much, but for Democrats, it was pretty low. On that point, though, take a look at this. Asked about whether the party's views on abortion are too extreme or mainstream. Voters overwhelmingly say, the Democrats are in the mainstream, and that Republicans are too extreme on the issue of abortion. So, David Chalian, what does that say to you?

CHALIAN: Well, it says, I think it explains why we're seeing a lot of Democratic candidates leaning into this issue of a woman's right to choose and privacy rights and all the aftermath of the decision that came down from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade as a principal part of their campaign messaging because of all the issues we tested, Abby, it's only that issue, that a majority see one of the parties as too extreme.


In this case on abortion, 55 percent as you showed, say the Republicans are too extreme on this issue. That's the only one that scores that way as a majority of Americans respond, looking at the parties on all the given issues we tested.

CALDWELL: And that's why you see Democrats on Capitol Hill holding votes this week and trying to hold votes last week on some of these issues to paint Republicans as extreme. They're going to vote on access to contraception. They're also going to vote on a same sex marriage codification bill today and might get the support of some Republicans. But they do want to put Republicans on the record on where they stand on these issues and try to paint some of these Republicans as extreme.

CHALIAN: Which is such an odd thing to see Democrats leaning into cultural issues enforcing.

PHILLIP: Yes. And this election may not, you know, it may not turn on cultural issues, but it seems based on this poll, that there is a brand problem for the Republican Party right now that they have to deal with. But up ahead for us, new details about what we are going to hear and who we will hear it from in this week's primetime January 6th hearings.




PHILLIP: Steve Bannon's trial right now in recess after some important courtroom developments this morning. Let's go straight to the courthouse now, where CNN Sara Murray is. Sara, so the judge is now considering a delay. Can you tell us what happened?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Things are not going exactly as planned this morning. You know, they were hoping to get through, seat the jury, get the opening arguments started, none of that has happened. Instead, both sides spent the morning fighting over admissible evidence. In this case, letters from the January 6 committee to Steve Bannon's attorney and letters from Steve Bannon's attorney back and how much of that should be admissible.

At one point, Bannon's attorney suggested to the judge that they should delay this trial for another month. The judge shot that down at pretty quickly. But he did say they were going to take this lunch recess, and that he was open to potentially delaying the trial by about a day or so, so that everyone could get their ducks in a row.

So that's what we're waiting for. When they come back from lunch, to see if the judge decides that we're going to, you know, give this another 24-hour before we get into it or to see if they can settle their disagreements about what evidence is admissible and get to the opening arguments.

PHILLIP: All right, Sara. We'll stick with you on this one. Thank you. Plus, a curveball today for the January 6 committee panel. Its Chairman Bennie Thompson has COVID. As of now, the committee says that there won't be any changes to Thursday's primetime hearings. But we also have two more big developments today, the Secret Service delivering text messages in response to the January 6 panels subpoena. And we also have word of a new witness for Thursday's primetime hearing as well.

Matthew Pottinger, he is the former Trump deputy national security advisor who quit on Insurrection Day. Now Pottinger is obviously not a household name here. But he is someone who is importantly, was in the White House, was in the West Wing, and actually went into the Oval Office at a certain point on January 6. They are trying to fill in the gaps here, about what exactly Trump was doing. And you saw up there, not only Pottinger, but also Sarah Matthews, a deputy press secretary going to testify on Thursday as to what was going on in that building.

RASCOE: Yes. And you know, Pottinger, like most people won't know him. But he was a national security advisor. His main focus was China. He wasn't known as like a firebrand in the White House or anything. But he was, you know, known he could speak Chinese, he delivered some speeches in Mandarin, trying to reach out to the Chinese people.

What people will be interested in for this hearing is what was Trump doing? And all the evidence we have heard thus far. And even when I talked to people who were around at that time, it doesn't seem clear that Trump was making any calls to the defense department or anybody. Here you have the Capitol under attack. You are the commander in chief, what are you doing? And it doesn't seem like he was doing very much.

PHILLIP: And this is the thing of Pottinger, according to some reports that are out there, a lot has been reported about this day in books and in articles. He was so incensed by something that he witnessed on that day, that he went into his office, and he typed a resignation letter to leave his position that day. That is incredibly significant.

CALDWELL: Yes. He couldn't believe what the president did in response to the people entering the rioters, entering the Capitol on that day, and the president did nothing. And so, one thing that's also significant about Pottinger and Matthews testifying on Thursday is yet again, the January 6 select committee has brought people to testify, presumably against the former president.

And these are people who were Trump's some of his top advisors, people who was around the president on that day. And so, the committee has been able to get people, not only to speak behind closed doors, but to go public with their deposition and their testimony for these hearings.

PHILLIP: There is a question now also about Trump trying to get into the political sphere and whether that is an attempt to kind of skirt accountability. Take a listen to what Bennie Thompson said about whether that will work as far as it relates to the January 6 committee's work.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Two years before the election.


THOMPSON: I would think none. He's not one who can just do what he chooses, because he's running for president. So, Donald Trump is just like every other American citizen in this situation. And if they have some issues that the public can benefit from him as a witness to commit it, then I have to committed deems that important. Then we'll make every attempt to bring him in.



MIN KIM: Really fascinating, and I think obviously the former president if he does choose to announce his race, or 2024 bid relatively soon. I don't think he will skirt accountability in the eyes of the January 6 committee but does it under the eyes of the justice department and I think that is the big question here.

We've seen how careful Attorney General Merrick Garland has handled this situation. You know, obviously lawyers, people smarter than me, you can weigh in on the actual legal ability for someone who is inactive political office to be charged with a crime.

But particularly, I think the broad assumption is that that is part of Trump's calculus and announcing this early, even with all the resistance coming from many pockets of the Republican Party who don't want him to run while the midterms are going on. So, it's certainly something that is in the minds of the January 6 committee. I'm sure the justice department is watching this closely. But what they will do is the real question.

PHILLIP: And Lisa Monaco, the justice department, the Deputy Attorney General said today that they will follow the facts, "no matter where they leave, no matter to what level" when she was asked about the potential for Trump to announce a presidential run. But Ayesha, as you know, Trump is often viewed as someone who sees his political positioning as a way to shield himself from scrutiny, not just as it relates to his conduct or misconduct in office, but even his personal finances.

RASCOE: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, and this is the conundrum that Trump has brought up over and over again because generally the idea that you'd be investigating political candidates, someone running for president, obviously, that brings up a lot of issues, because, you know, the Democrats put someone in office and now they're investigating a Republican running for president.

But the fact is, is he above the law? Just because you run for president, does that mean that you can just do whatever you want, and no one can look into it? Because you'll say that it's politically motivated. Like, those are the questions that Trump, you know, brings up over and over again, and he uses it to his advantage.

PHILLIP: And the January 6 committee's Pete Aguilar, said this about where the probe would be headed next? He says, we are going to spring through the finish, the peak investigative time was probably February, March or April. It's fewer interviews right now, but I don't think that that means we're letting up. We're doing some read interviews of folks. So, they're not slowing down necessarily. This could continue even past this Thursday.

CALDWELL: Not only are they not slowing down, but the fact that they've had these public hearings has also led them to more information and to expand their investigation. For example, Pat Cipollone, probably would not have come and testify or be deposed before the committee. If there wasn't - if Cassidy Hutchinson did not come, go public.

And so, they have a lot of questions. Because they have to wrap this up at some point, and they want it that closer to be done toward the midterm elections. Bennie Thompson said recently that there would be an interim report perhaps in the fall, and then maybe a final report later on. So, they don't have the final chapter written yet. They're still writing.

PHILLIP: This is still very much ongoing. But tune in to CNN's live special coverage of all of this, the January 6 hearings this Thursday at 7pm Eastern time. And coming up next for us, as voters head to the polls in Maryland, Democrats are spending money to elevate the Trump back to candidate for governor. But could that strategy ultimately backfire?




PHILLIP: Trumpism is on the ballot today in Maryland, specifically in the Republican primary for governor. Voters are going to choose between four candidates. The top two hit Trump against the outgoing governor. Former state commerce secretary, Kelly Schulz, has the support of Trump antagonist Larry Hogan, who is the current governor of Maryland. And state Delegate Dan Cox is Trump's chosen candidate.

Now Cox, not only attended the January 6 rally, but he also bussed people to Washington that day, and he tweeted this. Pence is a traitor. So, Maryland is also the latest example of Democrats meddling in these GOP primaries in order to boost Trump aligned candidates. One democratic group spent over $600,000 on this ad.

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PHILLIP: Listen, this is a very expensive game of Russian Roulette that it seems like the Democrats are playing, not just Maryland, also in the state of Pennsylvania where they spent tens of thousands of dollars to boost Doug Mastriano, the Republican, who is now the Republican nominee for governor. Mastriano similarly to Cox is also known, as you know, a Trump backed candidate - sorry, Trump aligned candidate, although Trump didn't back him until the last second.

He was outside of the Capitol on January 6. He is a big election liar. He supports no exceptions for abortion bans. And this is what Politico says today about that race. Democrats boosted a MAGA longshot in the Pennsylvania governor's race, and now he's got a real shot of winning. A lot of Democrats right now raising some questions about this strategy.

MIN KIM: And that's what happens when you metal, and I think we were all old enough to cover. You know, when Claire McCaskill did this to Todd Akin in 2012, and was successful. She spent money to boot the most conservative candidate in the Missouri Senate race. So, there are instances where this kind of cross-party meddling does work.