Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

House Republicans Release Scathing Report On Afghanistan Withdrawal; Biden Admin Planning Over 35 Trips To 23 States To Tout Agenda; Wyoming Voters To Decide Liz Cheney's Political Fate. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 12:30   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that, in turn, of course, complicates any efforts to unfreeze the funding. We've seen aid groups and economists come out and say that that freeze unfreezing needs to happen.

But CNN has also spoken with the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Tom West, who said in the short term, there is no prospect for the U.S. to recapitalize the Central Bank of Afghanistan precisely because of this very concerning issue that despite all promises to the contrary, this country has continued to be a safe haven, at least to one very well- known terrorists. John?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Clarissa Ward live on the ground for us one year later, Clarissa grateful to you and your team for the important reporting. Thank you so much. Joining our conversation back here in the studio is Evan Osnos. He's a CNN contributor and the author of Joe Biden, the life, the run, and what matters now. This is a president who prides himself on his foreign policy experience. This is a president who one year ago decided enough. We were getting out of Afghanistan.

There's a new House Republican report, the findings are scathing. It says there was a complete lack of proper planning that only 36 State Department officials were at the Kabul airport, one officer for every 3,400 plus evacuees. Evacuation flights, leaving a 50 percent capacity, 25 percent of evacuees were women or girls. You've documented Joe Biden well in your book. He is someone who bristle sometimes at criticism, what would he say when you're later?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he would say that the United States is better off for being out of Afghanistan. And there's a lot in that sentence, because it's drawing the perimeter very narrowly. He has always said keep the focus on the impact on Americans, on American troops, on our national political cohesion. He's never put as much emphasis on what it means for the Afghans, the Afghan political society, and ultimately for the people who now do find themselves really at the mercy of the Taliban.

But I think fundamentally, he would say the same thing he believed beforehand, which is that it was four presidents who failed to take the United States out of a war that should have ended a long time ago. And he's glad he did it even though it went in a way that he never would have projected.

KING: If you go back to that day, we can show you the President's approval rating throughout his presidency. And look on this graphic, look right in the middle. You see where the President's approval rating crosses lines with his disapproval rating. That's when Joe Biden first went underwater, right around that time. Now, a lot of Americans if you asked him, what would cause that they might not say Afghanistan but competence, leadership, Joe Biden was the president who was supposed to be ready to deal with these challenges, especially the global challenge.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. That's right. I remember talking to people on the stump about their choice for president and a lot of them but we're talking about Joe Biden's a foreign policy experience, in fact that he knew world leaders all around the world, something that he said on the stump quite often. Around that time, not only did Afghanistan happen, and his approval ratings certainly slid because of that, most people judge of the withdrawal very poorly, COVID was also going on around that time, too.

So there was a real sort of perfect storm of issues that he pledged he could take care of that around that time were really going south, not only in Afghanistan but here in terms of COVID.

KING: Right. The Biden administration would say, number one, to Evans point, they do say that America is better off, not that there are problems in Afghanistan, not that the Taliban aren't bad actors, but that America is better off. And yet you do hear sometimes, you know, there are a lot of progressives who say, well, what about, can we do anything to help those girls go to school, there was a lot from George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration, a lot of effort put into boosting Afghan women. And then Joe Biden, essentially almost, they would resist these words, the White House. But almost in an America First reaction, saying, you know, it's been tried for 25 years, it's time to go.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And this is, into Evans point, this is something that he has been very consistent on, his view that the troops must leave Afghanistan. And I think what you're going to hear from -- what you've already heard from the White House, and we're going to hear from them in the coming weeks when these critiques, these really tough reports come out about the withdrawal one year later is the -- prove that you do not need a military presence in Afghanistan for us to take out a wanted terrorists.

But at the same time, there will be questions that have already been raised about, well, why was the Taliban harboring this terrorist, like what is -- and what is the condition for the people of Afghanistan who are still there also, that House Republican report raised questions about or pointed out the fact that there were far more U.S. citizens and green card holders that ended up having to be evacuated from Afghanistan that initially indicated by the Biden administration.

And I know, when the House Republicans talk about investigations, they point to, you know, investigating his family or his family's finances. But they really want to look into the Afghanistan withdrawal. That's been a consistent oversight demand of theirs. And you may see more of that if and when House Republicans take --

KING: Is that, is that, you spent a ton of time on the Hill, is that a prototype? Is this House Republican reported, prototype? It does -- if so, you know, oversight is a good thing. Oversight is not necessarily a bad thing. This one tends to at least go through facts as opposed to a lot of things you hear from other Biden critics among House Republicans go through conspiracy.


HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Yes, I mean like Seung Min said, we're absolutely looking at a preview of what a House Republican majority would do if they take Congress next year. And, you know, I think this is just the beginning, because they're in the minority right now. So they have some power, but not all of it and think about, you know, when they have the gavels, and this one came from Mike McCall, who is known as a pretty common sense Republican on the Hill.

I think a lot of Democrats are looking at this report, and also taking it seriously. And in some ways, they're cringing because the White House is circulating its own memo that doesn't really accept responsibility for the disastrous withdrawal, and tries to kind of spin it in a positive way. And Democrats on the Hill are just like shaking their head privately, like, why is this our message right now?

KING: Right, they essentially -- Biden White House essentially saying that Trump signed the agreement to get the United States out and we had to deal with all the mess that followed that as opposed to blame some on Trump and some issues about the messiness. We'll continue to follow that.

Up next for us, President Biden summer of consequence, Democrats celebrate a string of policy wins and hope, hope they improve the midterm political mood.



KING: President Biden and the Democrats are looking now to turn a summer of significant policy wins into a midterm fall political rebound. Now watch this with a dose of skepticism. It is very hard in polarized America to quickly or significantly move public opinion yet, watch this closely. Democrats do have something to sell in just the past two months, a bipartisan gun law, the CHIPS Bill which boosts American semiconductor chip manufacturing, the PACT Act, which expands health care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, and in the next few days, the President will sign a historic climate and health care bill passed by the Congress just last week.

Now one part of the sales pitch is more aggressive travel by the President himself, the Vice President and the cabinet. Some 35 trips we're told to 23 states just before this month is over. Our reporters and Evan Osnos back with us to discuss. So they do have something to say. It is whatever your politics at home things the Democrats wanted to pass some bipartisan legislation, a very different story to try to sell now is if we opposed to rewinding the tape, say three or four months ago, but can they?

KIM: They're certainly going to try. And they're hoping that, you know, they know that especially with the climate and health care package that the President will sign into law this week, they know that most of that in the package is not going to take effect right away. So the average voter may not see their energy bills go down right away, or whatnot. But they want to prove to the public they want to prove to voters, they want to be essentially approved, approved to disaffected the Democratic voters, that this is the kind of stuff that can happen when you have Democrats in Congress and in the White House. And they want to show that we can do more of this if you keep us in power.

Now Republicans are, you know, thinking that the mood is already so down with the economy and the inflation that is too late to change that, to change that dynamic. But I think the White House feels that if you can kind of nudge the president's approval ratings a little bit up. And a lot of that -- and a lot of the reasons why his approval ratings are down is because of Democrats. So if you can get the Democrats a little bit more excited, maybe that helps at least in the house.

KING: Right. So bring back the poll graphic we showed you in the last block in the context of Afghanistan, Afghanistan withdrawals in the middle, whereas Nia smartly noted there are also a lot of other developments ever come all the way down to the far right of your screen. Those are historically bad numbers. That's a lower approval number than Obama was at this point, it's a lower approval number that Trump was at this point, they both lost the House. But look at the trajectory. Again, this is what I watch in polling, it is heading in the right direction finally, for Democrats. It's still a miserable number. But it's a miserable number that at least is starting to trend better. And that's the point if you're a House Democrat and you're in a district Biden just barely won, or Biden just barely lost, every little bit of that you think might help.

HENDERSON: Every little bit helps. I mean, it's sort of like swagger begets swagger in this instance, and I think particularly for average voters, because that's why to Seung Min's point, that's why these approval ratings are where they are, it's because he is a below where Trump was, below where Obama was with their own base and with their own voters. And so if he can start to make average voters feel better about the democratic brand, what they stand for, what they got done and what they couldn't get done. If they're able to maintain power, then that is a good thing.

I mean, we pivot a couple of weeks ago, even I mean, Democrats were down in the dumps. It looked like you know, Biden's presidency, in some ways was over what was he going to be able to get done, given the fact that it looked like all of these achievements just weren't going to happen because they couldn't get Joe Manchin on board and all sorts of things. So yes, they have a pretty good laundry list of bread and butter issues, again, they might not be felt by average Americans immediately, but in terms of a package that they can sell to voters. It's a pretty --

KING: If you can put the list back up there. This is the idea they hope in a midterm election year, it's normally about the party in power and the president in power. They hope the bipartisan gun law, you reach out to some into independents and suburban Americans say, hey, we did something you want. The CHIPS Bill is about investing in the American economy, the PACT Act, amen, Democrat or Republican President, amen. The veterans were owed that.

And the climate and health bill, Heather, is where they think, number one, a lot of young voters tune out in midterm elections. They think maybe the young people are disgusted with this town, frankly, for years, nothing has been done in the climate. Maybe that helps. And the prescription drug benefit and other pieces of the healthcare bill the Democrats have learned in the last couple of elections. Those can motivate voters if you sell them, right.

CAYGLE: Yes. And that prescription drug benefit affects seniors and who votes in midterms, seniors vote in midterms. And so that's what they're hoping. And I want to get back to a point you made about the approval rating a minute ago. The interesting thing is in the House, vulnerable Democrats have actually been out running Biden's approval rating. And they're a little -- they're basically neck and neck with their Republican candidates.

So they're hoping that if it takes up even a little bit, they have a chance. They're starting to poke their head out from the sand and saying there's a chance.


KING: I want to read a little bit from some great reporting by our colleague, Edward-Isaac Dovere, the beltway crowd, dismiss him is out of touch said New York representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman. Now these wins will only allow President Biden's approval rating to catch up with the popularity the agenda he's put forward. That's the Democrats hope, in terms of the process. One of the criticisms have been the President Biden has too often been Senator Biden, and they've -- you've had this long process, we're letting let it go, let it go. Do they get that this is a different age, you know, the social media age where Democrats spent months and months and months infighting. And now they want to go the American people and say, hey, we're one big happy family.

OSNOS: It took them a while to get the message that the truth is for all of Biden's legislative experience. They didn't want him in the trenches every day. And in fact, it was a liability, because when things didn't go well, you saw that cost to him personally and politically. But it's worth pointing out on that list of bills that we just saw pass, one message that hasn't gotten as much attention is that three out of the four of those were bipartisan bills.

You know, that's something that is going to be useful around the edges. When you're talking about a midterm election where there may be some Republicans out there who say, you know, this Trump business is not as charming as I founded a four years ago, all of a sudden you've got some bills where they say, look, these aren't progressive maximalist policies. These are things that are popular, veterans benefits, gun safety. So that's a message that you're going to hear more. That's the Joe Biden that ran for office after all, he said, look, I can break through I can pick the lock on some of these issues that overwhelming majorities of Americans want done, climate change, gun safety, these things are clear and now they have a record 2.2.

KING: They have said for months, we'll see him out there more. I guess now we will find out if that's true and where he where he goes and if he is suddenly more welcome in more places. We will watch it.

Up next for us, live to Wyoming, Liz Cheney finds out tomorrow, if her outspoken criticism of Donald Trump will cost her her job.



KING: Wyoming Republicans decide Liz Cheney's next chapter tomorrow or at least the beginning of it. The conservative Congresswoman faces a Trump-backed primary challenge. And the polls look bleak for Cheney. She of course was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, and she has angered him even more by serving as Vice Chairwoman of the House January 6th Committee. The committee role has created a national brand for Congresswoman Cheney but it's a tough sell back home in a state Trump won by more than 40 points twice. CNN's Jeff Zeleny live for us now in Jackson, Wyoming. Jeff, you're out there waiting for the primary tomorrow talking to voters. What are they telling you?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we are on the eve of the primary. But in fact, early voting has been underway here in Wyoming since the first of July. And actually outside in early voting center here in Jackson, Wyoming, really the only blue spot of the state of Wyoming and that is where Liz Cheney is trying to make her appeal. She's talking to Democrats and independents quite blatantly trying to get them to come over to her side to switch parties, which you can do here in Wyoming. Her challenge and problem is though, with Republican voters who have largely turned against her, here's a look at some of our conversations with them earlier this week.


JENILLE THOMAS, WYOMING REPUBLICAN VOTER: I want Wyoming to be protected. And I don't feel that Liz is doing that job. My husband works for coal mine. And that's a very important resource for our family.

BRYCE FREEMAN, WYOMING REPUBLICAN VOTER: She's part of a very old and very storied political family in Wyoming. So I think she was well thought of, and I think short of that whole impeachment and January 6th hearing thing she probably would have been all right. But I don't think she's going to be able to recover from that myself from what I can see.


ZELENY: And you can almost hear the sense of disappointment in the voice there are Bryce Freeman, who we talked to in Cheyenne. But of course there's a lot of anger from so many other Republicans. Again, her only chance now, her own supporters and advisers will acknowledge trying to get enough of that crossover vote and there are signs that is happening. Here in this county alone as of last Friday, some 3,300 people have already voted in the Republican primary. This is a Democratic rich County. The line inside here, John, I was just inside is stretching around the corner and nearly out the door. A few 100 People are likely to vote throughout the course of the day, perhaps even more than that, again, though her bigger problem is with Republicans who have frankly, abandoned her.

KING: Jeff Zeleny live for us in Jackson. We'll talk again tomorrow, I hope, as we watched the primary votes turnout. Appreciate that very much, a big race to watch, one of many tomorrow. We'll keep an eye on.


Up next for us, denied, Senator Lindsey Graham's bid to quash a subpoena in Georgia's 2020 election probe is rejected.


KING: Topping our political radar today, a federal judge has ruled the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham must testify before Georgia grand jury, that grand jury investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Graham's legal team had asked the judge to nullify his subpoena arguing his position as a senator protects him from being questioned about legislative acts. Graham's subpoena asked him to appear before that grand jury next Tuesday, but he is expected to appeal today's ruling.

Brittany Griner's legal team has filed an appeal now that over her drug conviction and nine year prison sentence. A Russian court, you remember, found a WNBA star guilty of smuggling after she was found with cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage. The United States and Russia though have been engaged in talks over a possible prisoner swap to bring Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan home.

The Chinese government today issuing a warning, a stern one, that after another U.S. congressional delegation is in Taiwan. The new group led by the Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts meeting with Taiwan's president and its foreign minister. Chinese officials vowing quote resolute countermeasures in response, the U.S.'s provocations. The unannounced trip of course coming less than two weeks after the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Taipei.


This quick programming note join Dana Bash and she goes inside the fight against the world's oldest prejudice. This new CNN Special Report. Rising Hate: Anti-Semitism in America begins Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Thanks for your time today in INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Very busy primary day, please join us. Alex Marquardt picks up our coverage right now.