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Inside Politics

30 Dead In Kentucky Flooding, More Heavy Rain Expected Tonight; Schumer Wants Vote On $740B Bill By End Of The Week; Make-Or-Break Week For Dem Agenda; WSJ: Schumer-Manchin Deal "A Tax Increase On Nearly Every American"; This Week: Senate Dems To Force Vote On Burn Pits Bill; Veterans Affairs Secy On Burn Pits Bill "Just Get It Done"; 99 Days From The Midterm Elections; Midterm Outlook Evolves Amid Supreme Court's Roe Reversal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. We learned a lot this week about the midterm mood. The countdown to November now at 99 days but votes tomorrow will test the new politics of abortion and test the belief among Democrats that a horrible political climate is improving some.

Plus, a high stakes trip. Multiple officials now tell CNN the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will touch down in Taiwan ignoring dramatic warnings from China. And this week, Democrats promised to put a vet's bill back on the floor a second time that after Republican rejection prompts angry viral protests.

We begin the hour though, with death and devastation, sadness in Kentucky. More heavy rain coming tonight, adding to the already historic and destructive flooding. At least 30 people are dead, including these four children, two, four and six and eight years old swept away when strong floodwaters rip them from their parents.

The Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear warns they will be "finding bodies for weeks."


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR, KENTUCKY: Certainly, the deadliest and the most devastating of my lifetime. We can now confirm that we have lost 30 Kentuckians to this flooding and that's going to grow. We know about additional bodies beyond these 30 confirmed. There are hundreds of unaccounted for people minimum and we just don't have a firm grasp on that. I wish we did.


KING: Rescue teams continue to desperately search for the missing entire homes floating. Thousands now without clean drinking water or power. The fast-rising floodwaters stranding some of the most vulnerable, including this 98-year-old woman. You can see sitting in floodwaters, waiting for help. She was later rescued, treacherously wading through water up to her neck.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is on the ground for us in eastern Kentucky. Evan, what are you seeing?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I want to tell you a quick story about one house on Thursday night, they explained what's going on. I just talked to a guy here. I'm on highway 28 in Perry County, one of the hardest hit counties. Those two buildings back there, that's his grandfather's old used car, sorry, classic car collection. Beautiful cars back there. He says they're fine.

Right here, this is where his grandmother Eunice's house was. On Thursday night, he said he showed up, and the water was already starting to come in. He told his grandmother, we got to leave, we got to get on this house. She didn't want to go, but he took her. 10 minutes later, that house was picked up by floodwaters. Taking past this tree right here. Part of it landed on the banks over there, ripping off the bottom of the floor.

There you can see there's some toys and everything on the floor. And the rest of it was carried down to a bridge, just off camera right down there. That bridge was then blocked by that house, trapping other people in their houses on the other side of that bridge. A lot of people here can only have one way or another anyway out to where they live.

And so today he's back here, picking stuff out of his grandmother's house off of that bridge and trying to save it as they take that bridge - take that house off the bridge and build and get back in there. And the good news is, Eunice, his grandmother is watching the whole thing. She made it out. Everything was fine with them. But her house completely gone.

A lot of people in this area are dealing with that kind of loss. Everything gone in 10 minutes. The governor, as you mentioned is out here with rescue teams. They're still trying to do search and rescue. They're finding more bodies. Unfortunately, we're hearing those terrible stories. But really what you need to think about is the devastation level of loss. Everything you own, everything you have in your house gone in 10 minutes. That's what these floods are like and that's what we're dealing with here in Kentucky, John?

KING: Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you. The pictures are just heartbreaking, as you show the pictures, and you watch the floods rises. The governor says this will go on for weeks, trying to find an account for everybody. Evan, thanks so much. And for more information about how you might help the victims of the Kentucky flooding. Please, please go to

To Washington and politics now and a defining moment for President Biden and for his party. The top Senate Democrats wants to tee up. By the end of this week, a new climate and healthcare deal that promises big changes in American life. But the week begins with two very big unknowns.

[12:05:00] A, whether the Senate rule keeper, the parliamentarian says that $740 billion Inflation Reduction Act as it calls, meets the test to be debated under a process known as reconciliation. And big question number two, whether Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema is on board. Senator Manchin making the rounds on the Sunday shows, giving a gentle nudge to his colleague from Arizona.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D-WV): When she looks at the door and sees the whole spectrum of what we're doing and all of the energy. We're bringing and all the reduction of prices and fighting inflation by bringing prices down, by having more energy, hopefully she would be positive about it. But you know, she'll make her decision and I respect that.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, and CNN's Eva McKend. It is striking you, on the one hand it's big legislation. So, you understand Senator Sinema wants to take her time. Number two, Senator Sinema has to know the Biden agenda, A, democratic hoping for momentum after several times promising big things. There's a lot of pressure on yea or nay.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It hangs in the balance in terms of what she's going to end up doing. All eyes on her before it was about Manchin. He of course, a reverse course after killing build back better reviving it in parts. And they have been smart to in some ways put pressure on Sinema smart, I think to name it the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

As people are so worried about prices here, it's more to focus on things they can actually get done, right, and voters care about. Think about the climate money. Young voters particularly care about that. You think about prescription drugs. That's something that all voters care about but certainly, older voters. In particular these are important constituencies as they look down are really tough headwinds going into November.

KING: And Democrats trying to sell it or focusing on some of the policy specifics, most of them quite popular that you just mentioned, $389 billion energy security climate change programs, allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, Democrats have long wanted to do that, most of them. Cap-out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000. Extend expiring Obamacare subsidies, a 15 percent corporate minimum tax.

Democrats say, it's not everything we promised you a year ago or year and a half ago, but it's a lot of really important and very popular things. Republicans say it raise taxes. It will raise taxes. And the Republicans are saying, it will break Joe Biden's pledge to not raise taxes on Americans, making less than $40,000 a year or less. Senator Manchin says, it's not true.


SEN. MANCHIN: The only thing we have done is basically say that every corporation of a billion dollars of value or greater in America should pay at least 15 percent on minimum corporate tax. That's not a tax increase, it's closing a loophole.


KING: Senator Manchin, Seung Min as we speak, is answering more questions. And he's being asked about this very specific. The Joint Committee on taxation looked at this proposal. And it's not a complete analysis. In the sense that it does say it would raise taxes on by Joe Biden has drawn the line of $4,000 a year. The committee does say it would raise taxes on people below that line. And what the Democrat says, it doesn't take into account the trade off, if you will, the net. What do you get in, you know, for energy credits? What do you get for healthcare credits? But Republicans will use this to say, aha.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's just very easy to message a tax increase, and Republicans can point to that JCT report and says, yes, this raises taxes across the board. But the reason why Democrats have focused out zeroed in on the corporate minimum tax increase. It's something that they feel is a more compelling political message saying, all corporations, particularly those who make all this money should pay something into the economy.

And that's what's convinced Kyrsten Sinema in the past, because remember, she had opposed kind of raising the corporate - the standard corporate tax rate, but she's OK with a corporate minimum tax. At this point, we'll see whether she has different concerns in this current economic climate. But yes, certainly she is the one to watch here for the next several days.

KING: And Senator Manchin just saying, Republicans are trying to discredit it by finding things to pick at. True, because Republicans know there's one Democrat, one Democrat right now, if they can get her to say no, again, they stopped this bill.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. I have a feeling that behind the scenes, they're putting a lot of pressure on her. They're doing so actually publicly as well. Listen, this bill potentially gives Democrats something to run on but the process itself, I think, is arguably problematic. Why is the Senate majority leader and just one senator, ultimately coming up with the deal, a 735-page bill, and now everyone sort of has to read between the lines to see if it will - in fact, do everything that it promises.

So, I'm still a little bit skeptical that this is the big victory, that the administration is kind of characterizing it. As President Biden already I think, taking a premature victory lap last week. We have a long way to go.

KING: You mentioned the president. Obviously, he likes this deal. He was not directly involved in the negotiations. I guess the question now is what is his role, responsibility? Now, we're going to talk about later in the program. He's fighting a relapse of COVID, but the White House says he's very mild symptoms and he's doing fine. Is he on the phone to Senator Sinema or is his hands on or hands off the best approach for the present?


HENDERSON: It's unclear. If you're Sinema, who you are going to listen to. I mean, if you're Joe Biden, do you have much sway with Sinema Are there going to be folks in the health side who might be squirrely about some of the provisions in this particularly, progressives who aren't getting everything they need Oh

You have much sway with cinema. Are there going to be folks in the House side who might be squirrely about some of the provisions in this particularly, progressives who aren't getting everything they need? But listen, I think if you are Biden, you want to seem like you have some skin in the game. You want to seem like you are party to making this happen, not just sort of putting it all on Schumer and Manchin to make this happen.

KIM: I will point out to there's been a lot written in the last several days about Biden's big legislative wins. I will note that those legislative wins, he's purposely stayed out of it and let the senators negotiate let the ledge or let legislators actually, legislate when you're looking at the gun law. When you're looking at the semiconductor legislation and certainly the mansion Schumer deal.

MCKEND: But what I hear from rank-and-file members all the time is that they want more buying in the process early on. They don't like this, you know, leading senators, coming up with these deals and then coming to them last minute for their approval.

KING: On this one, thing gets under Senator Sinema, then on the House side, it becomes passive, please. But we'll watch, it's on the Senate at the moment. We'll watch that play out. Happening now, another big legislative debate. You see veterans outside the Capitol. Those veterans demanding action on a bill that would help take service members exposed to toxic burn pits.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to win this, and we have to win it now and they have to admit their mistake.





KING: Furious veterans and their advocates are protesting on Capitol Hill today after several previous days as well. They are demanding Congress passed legislation that expands healthcare access to service members who are exposed to toxic burn pits. Senate Democrats initially said a new vote on that measure would come today. The timetable now is sometime this week.

The legislation stalled last week when 42 Senate Republicans voted no, only 14 Senate Republicans had voted no on a procedural vote one month earlier. But Republicans like Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania say, they liked the legislation, but they want to make some changes to how its funded.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): People take a sympathetic group of Americans, craft a bill to address their problems. And then sneak in something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own and dare Republicans to do anything about it because they know they'll unleash their allies in the media and maybe a pseudo celebrity to make up false accusations.


KING: Our reporters are back with us to discuss. You heard Senator Toomey talk about a pseudo celebrity, by that he means Jon Stewart who today said, bring it on.


JON STEWART, COMEDIAN, VETERANS ADVOCATE: You can attack me all you want. And you can troll me online and you can tell me, I don't know. If Schumer would just take out his 400 billion, it's not in there. But here's the beautiful thing. I don't give a shit. I'm not scared of you, and I don't care. Because these are the people that I owe a debt of gratitude too. And we all owe a debt of gratitude too and it's about time we start paying it off.


KING: Specifics aside of those veterans are grateful to Jon Stewart because he does use his celebrity. He does use his platform to sometime kick the door for people who shouldn't need someone like him to get attention. This burn pit problem is a giant problem. The question is can they work this out? Is the delay in part because maybe Schumer and the Republicans going to have a conversation? What do we need to do to, at least give you the vote you want and then we move on?

MCKEND: Time will tell, and that time is not on Republican side. Every day that veterans are camped out on the steps of the Capitol, it becomes, frankly more and more embarrassing for Republicans in the Senate. And they always seem to find religion on fiscal responsibility. I think at the most interesting times, I think that as this goes on, it just becomes politically untenable for Republicans. And they will have to move on this.

KING: Toomey says, he doesn't want the foreign ability to be mandatory spending. He wants discretionary spending. How much of this is it hard to tell the where the exact line is sometimes in these debates? How much is this that, all on the substance? Or how much - is it some Republicans are annoyed that the Democrats had them vote for the China competitive bill, the chips bill and then announced this reconciliation package that will be an all-Democratic proposal, and some Republicans think they somehow got blindsided.

KIM: For people like Pat Toomey, I do think it is a matter of principle when it comes to fiscal responsibility, because he was one of 14 Republicans who did vote to block this back in June. My question is for the two dozen or so Republicans who flipped on that vote from June to last week because the discretionary versus mandatory, spending issues, automatically it's - a bottom line, it's a question of whether some of the spending goes on autopilot every year or subject to congressional oversight every year.

That provision has been around since June. So, it is really a question for why the two dozen or so Senate Republicans flipped? Did they just find out about this? Were they angry about what happened with a major Schumer deal? It's a good question for them.

KING: And when you hear the stories of the families impacted here, veterans who have lost their lives, the families who are left behind. It gets to a point, we had Denis McDonough, the Veteran Affairs Secretary on television yesterday saying sorry, Senator Toomey, you're wrong.


DENIS MCDONOUGH, VETERAN AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I can't in good conscience do that, because the outcome of that will be rationing of care for vets, which is something I just can't sign up. These folks have waited long enough, let's just get it done. And also, let's not be for a proposal that places artificial caps on year-by-year and then functionally. At the end of those 10 years, makes this fund go away.


KING: Don't get me wrong. It's critically important that you know, there'll be clear rules for how your tax dollars are being spent. One would hope that when it comes to this particular issue in the constituency involved, veterans and their families. If they're adults, why can they figure this out? Quietly, peacefully, and then have a big bipartisan bill, and say, sorry, it took so long. We'll do this.

HENDERSON: No. I think that's right, given that men and women have gone off to war, fighting for American causes and Americans rights. They were put in harm's way by these burn pits and Lord knows they are facing the consequences of them. It seems like a very, very a tough road for Republicans to continue to walk down to talk of the sort of procedural issues that took to me.


I imagine he cares about this deeply but for so many Republicans to sort of jump on board, this sort of niggling issue around the funding and what kind of funding it is, it just seems very difficult, given how important veterans are, given the sacrifices they've made for this country. And listen, I think if you're a Democrat, you would very much want to run against Republicans on this issue. I mean, the ads right themselves, you know, if you're Republican votes against it, it seems to be not a good idea politically.

KING: That math makes a ton of sense. So perhaps everybody will come to a reasonable compromise in the next couple of days and then get this passed. We'll see that. We'll watch the protestors as it plays out up next for us. The midterm mood at the yes, 99-day mark. There are giant warning signs for the Democrats, but also a few hints the climate might be improving, at least some.




KING: 99 days now until the midterm vote, and primaries in a handful of states tomorrow will give us some very important clues. Democrats feel a little bit better of late, a little bit. But they also know history is not their friend. Since the end of World War II, 77 years ago, the president's party has lost House seats and all but two midterm cycles.

Let's get some perspective from someone who understands the midterm shellacking, David Axelrod who was a top adviser to President Obama back in 2010. In that election cycle, Democrats lost a staggering 63 House seats. David grateful for your time.

So tomorrow, one of the things we're going to watch is you have these Republican gubernatorial primaries in Michigan and in Arizona, two states critical in the governor's race this year, two states obviously critical as we move on to 2024. You also have tomorrow, Senate Republican primaries. In places like Missouri, should be a Republican state, but we'll see what candidate the Republicans pick out in Arizona as well, another battleground.

So, you can go race by race. But I want to start the conversation with you by looking at some of the big dynamics at the moment. And Doug Schoen, a Democratic strategist should know very well, pulls them together in a recent memo. These are the warning signs for Democrats, since World War II, the party in power has lost seats in all but two midterm elections. That's a pretty damning historical record.

The country voted for change in seven of the last eight elections, nearly 75 percent of Americans. David, say the country is on the wrong track right now. And Joe Biden's job approval is lower than where Donald Trump's was in his first midterm lower than where Obama was in the first midterm. In fact, it's the lowest in history at this point of his presidency. Having sat in a White House and tried to overcome a red wave. When you look at all these historical data points, how nervous?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think very nervous, John, but you know, something interesting has happened in the last six weeks, I think. I think if you asked anyone six weeks ago, Democrat or Republican, they'd be predicting a category five hurricane for Democrats come November.

Now they're thinking, well, maybe it will only be a category three. And the reason is a confluence of events. I think the Doug's ruling was very, very activating for a lot of potential Democratic voters. I think the two mass shootings in Uvalde and in Highland Park, spurred a debate that was helpful to Democrats and the reemergence of Donald Trump and his sponsorship of candidates in these primaries has brought him back to the center stage.

As you know, there are a lot of Republicans urging him not to announce before November, because they're worried about the impact he might have on the general. But he is having a lot of impact on these primaries, including tomorrow, several of his candidates may win. If the Democrats hold on to the Senate, they may owe it to Donald Trump and some of the candidates that he helped nominate during the spring.

KING: And so, what specifically do you look for? And Doug Schoen agrees with you, and I have these bullet points from his recent memo. The prominence of Trump and Trump controversy to January 6 hearings trumping out on the campaign trail, Trump having rallies all the focus on Republican candidates who remain election deniers. Democrats believe that helped and they believe it helps produce weak Republican candidates.

You also have a significant democratic fundraising advantage, is not everywhere, but most everywhere. And you mentioned the Supreme Court, Doug, (Ph) really, we're going to find out in Kansas tomorrow. For example, does that really motivate voters in the way Democrats believe? So help me with the definitional term? Has it turned to a horrible climate better less worse? But do we not know yet?

AXELROD: I think, we don't know. But I would have to start with less worse. And I think, you know, look, I think there is a kind of widespread belief that the house is going to turn Republican Republicans only need five seats. They may get that just via redistricting. And given all these other climatic issues, you'd have to think the Republicans will take the house, the question is, what will the margin be? And it is, what is it one that Democrats can contend with down the line? And then the second, and the big issue is can they hang on to the Senate? And that is looking more promising.

The interesting thing, John, that I haven't seen before that is happening here is that there seems to be some detachment between the president's approval rating and the generic ballot for Congress. They generally traveled together, but in the past few weeks, we've seen the President's approval rating go down and sort of settle into a 37-38 percent range, while the generic ballot has gone up and people seem to be making I hear it from focus groups as well people seem to be making a distinction in their mind between Biden and this choice that they're making.