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Mar-A-Lago Documents Included Most Sensitive Types Of Intelligence; Trump Urged To Bolster Defense Team Amid Legal Fallout; Democrats Celebrate A Summer Of Key Accomplishments, Wins; Inside Democrat's Changing Fortunes; Biden Student Loan Decision Could Have Major Midterms Impact; 59 Years Later, The March On Washington's Dream Is Unfinished. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired August 28, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): Unsealed.
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The top secret stuff and compartmental can get people killed.
PHILLIP: A bombshell release sheds new light on the classified documents kept at Mar-a-Lago as Trump's legal peril grows.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: As I read the affidavit I see a conspiracy, this is a big case.
PHILLIP: What's the next domino to fall?
Plus, back on the trail.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The MAGA republic don't just threaten our personal and economic security, they're a threat to our very democracy.
PHILLIP: President Biden ramps up his rhetoric ahead of the midterms. As Republican campaign woes persist, are Democrats gaining momentum?
And promise kept.
REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): The president promised some forgiveness. He's doing it.
PHILLIP: The president follows through on a campaign pledge to forgive student loans. But is it a lifeline for Republicans hoping to revive the red wave?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): If you are that slacker barista, Joe Biden just gave you 20 grand.
PHILLIP: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
PHILLIP (on camera): Hello, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY, I'm Abby Phillip.
The more that emerges, the worse it looks for former President Donald Trump. According to the newly released affidavit before the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, the FBI believed Trump held onto highly classified documents related national security and that there was evidence he was obstructing its investigation.
The warrant was based on what they found in the 15 boxes that Trump returned to the national archives back in January. Those included 184 documents with classification, 67 of them marked confidential. 92 documents were marked secret.
And 25 were marked top secret. And they contain an alphabet soup of some of the most sensitive materials available in the United States government, including human intelligence that could possibly identify, and put at risk U.S. inform ants abroad.
The search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8th uncovered even more classified materials and now the top U.S. intelligence official says she's conducting an assessment of the potential damage that might have been done to national security.
Let's discuss all of this, and more, with CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, CNN's Melanie Zanona and Alex Burns of the "New York Times."
Carrie, there's a lot in the affidavit that fills in some blanks about what was going on leading up to this search of the former president's residence. But what might actually loom over all of this is the part about obstruction.
Here's what "The New York Times" writes about that. But some measures the crime of obstruction is -- is as or even more serious a threat to Mr. Trump or his close associates. To convict someone of obstruction prosecutors need to prove two things, that a defendant knowingly concealed or destroyed documents and that he did so to impede the official work of any federal agency. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison, twice as long as the penalty under the Espionage Act.
And as you've noted, the fact that these documents were classified is important. But not essential to what the federal -- the federal investigators are looking at here.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so they had to recover the documents because they were classified information, but it also was presidential records that were retained by the former president at his residence, that he was no longer entitled to have. So we have both pieces of that.
Look, the affidavit was -- that was released was heavily redacted. It's clear there was a part of it that established probable cause, even though it was redacted we know from the headings there was probable cause, information demonstrating probable cause that there were documents that needed to be recovered there, and there also is this obstruction side of it.
Both of them potentially, potentially carry significant criminal penalties. But the details of the investigation really matter as to the former president in terms of what his knowledge was, who was involved in packing the boxes, who was actually in the back and forth conversations with the Justice Department, and may have misled them about not returning documents.
PHILLIP: And some of those details were still under seal.
CORDERO: Those details are still part of the investigation and that's why the Justice Department was arguing not to have this affidavit released in more detail, because they are still conducting that investigation.
PHILLIP: What do you think the prospects really are that this could, when all things are said and done, actually result in criminal liability, either for the former president or other people around him?
CORDERO: I think there's a substantial likelihood that him and people around him have criminal exposure, both on the obstruction case, and on the mishandling of classified information. That does not mean that we are going to see the former president go to jail.
There is a wide range of potential charges, pleas on misdemeanors that could end up, if it turns out that the information simply sat in the boxes, was never seen by outside people, was never seen by media, foreign governments, other people not having access to it, those facts we still don't know.
And on the obstruction piece, what really matters is, who was involved in potentially misleading or making false statements to the justice department? And we don't know on the outside at this stage whether that was the former president, or whether that was his advisors or legal counsel.
PHILLIP: It's such an important point, as I always like to say, there is so much that we don't know. So we should operate within that realm. But there is something about this timeline here of what happened in the time since May 2021 when the Archives first started making requests for documents that they knew were missing, May, they ask for documents. By the fall they weren't getting anything.
It wasn't until December that the Trump team even responded saying hey, we have the documents and they didn't turn them over until January of this year. When those documents were turned over they were discovered to have classified materials in them. And here we are in august with a search that produce even more classified materials.
Meanwhile the Trump team is saying we've been cooperative all along.
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: I mean, I think the affidavit, from what we did learn, was that it completely debunked the narrative that Trump was Cooperative, and that this was a snap decision by the DOJ to issue this search warrant on Mar-a-Lago.
It is clear there was months of negotiations that Trump and his team were downright hostile, but definitely resistant, and that Trump absolutely did not want to let go of these documents. I think that also has really hurt him from a political perspective.
Their arguments and defenses have changed consistently as more information has come out and you've also seen some Republicans who initially were jumping to defend him after the search, were rallying around him, they're now keeping a little bit more distance.
Glenn Youngkin, for example, he joined that chorus initially, suggesting this was politically motivated but on Fox News on Friday, he said there's a lot we don't know and he urged caution.
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If you've not heard Kevin McCarthy reissued his warning to Merrick Garland he's going to be hauled in front of the Republican House in a couple months.
And, Abby, to your point how little we know here, it's so essential to remember, you laid out a persuasive timeline how this developed. Let's remember that six weeks ago, seven weeks ago, it was a dominant narrative in Washington that the Justice Department was sort of sitting on its hands and where is Merrick Garland and what are they up to and why don't have the guts to take on Donald Trump?
And now, we're sitting here talking about the range of outcomes that could go from a misdemeanor plea deal to the former president going to jail, right, and that's not because there was sort of a sudden burst of activity in the last six weeks that came out of nowhere.
It's because there was an enormous amount going on that we didn't know. I do think, not all of us here are political reporters, some of us are more grounded in legal expertise than others, but I do think it behooves those of us who are political reporters to remember actually what a small piece of this story --
PHILLIP: Yeah, and when things are kept quiet, sometimes they should be when it comes to federal investigations.
Carrie, I do want to ask about this special master case that was also unfolding this past week. The judge responding to the Trump team's request for special master saying she's inclined to do so. What did you make of that?
CORDERO: Well, it's interesting that she actually has indicated publicly a lien on this, because it's not obvious that there should be a special master appointed in this case. She may do it in part potentially to try to protect the integrity of the justice system and make sure that this appears that there -- every benefit was given to the former president.
But there's a rule of law, actually sort of problem in that, if that's what her approach is, because what we really want is we want the law to apply equally to everybody.
And the former president is making claims based on privileges that really are not very strong claims, whether you think about it in terms of attorney general, or executive privilege, which he no longer enjoyed after January 20th, 2021.
PHILLIP: It was notable to me their filing did not mention the issue of classified documents, at all.
CORDERO: No, they're making their arguments really very, very general arguments, and so I will be interested to see if she sticks with that potential claim, and goes with the special master, because as I said, there just is not a super strong claim.
And just to follow up on your point, national security investigations take a really long time. And so we have to keep in mind that this investigation, while it does involve the former president, is similar to other national security investigations, they're in the handling, those investigations take a substantial amount of time, and the Justice Department, in my view, is approaching it in that same way as they would other mishandling of classified information cases.
PHILLIP: Carrie Cordero, thank you so much for breaking down all of the legal elements of this. And Alex and Melanie are sticking with us.
But up next for us, as Trump faces a litany of legal problems, one ally is still telling him to fight back.
Will it work?
PHILLIP: Former President Trump is now facing what could be his greatest legal peril ever. But he's not acting like it. Instead, he's taking legal advice from people like conservative activist Tom Fitton who reportedly told Trump earlier this year not to cooperate with the investigation, and he's still saying the same thing now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM FITTON, JUDICIAL WATCH PRESIDENT: In my view, still, he should go back and say, these are all my personal records. I want them back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: Other people close to the former president are urging him to take a different route.
One Trump ally told CNN after the affidavit was unsealed that Trump, quote, really needs a competent defense attorney even more now.
Joining our panel are Toluse Olorunnipa and Yasmeen Abutaleb, both of "The Washington Post."
This is a common theme for the former president. He has always a cadre of people whispering in his ear things that don't make sense. But a lot of times, they confirm things that he already feels. He went on Truth Social, obviously, after this affidavit was released and with a very strident statement calls the affidavit heavily redacted, attacks the FBI and the DOJ. And then he claims, we gave them much, which they were entitled to in the first place.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS AND ENTERPRISE REPORTER "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yeah, these are not Donald Trump's own personal records. These are government records that he should have given them before he left office, in saying that he gave them much does not cover up the fact that he did not give everything and there are several boxes of classified government do you means found in his personal home.
And as was reported by CNN, the people close to the president who believe he needs a competent defense attorney aren't being listened to. He's listening instead to people telling him what he wants to hear. This will all go away, just, you know, be defiant, allow your activist supporters continue to speak out in support of you.
And that's not going to work when it comes to the justice department, who is actually going forward with a criminal investigation. So he does need to be taking this very seriously, but it doesn't appear that he has a serious legal defense just yet.
PHILLIP: Always with Trump, I think a lot of his allies believed since up until this point, nothing really has stuck, nothing's going to. Do you feel like this moment is any different?
BURNS: I do. He doesn't control the Justice Department anymore, Republicans don't control Congress anymore. There are all kinds of levers of political and legal power that were not available to people scrutinizing him for years. They're now extremely available to them and will be for the foreseeable future.
And, Abby, I think it's worth reflecting on the long arc of Donald Trump's career here that actually prior to entry in politics, he was pretty good about hiring competent attorneys who would keep him just this much on this side of the law r that he was involved.
The casino industry, real estate development, New York politics in New Jersey and Las Vegas, these are some pretty steamy spots to do business and he never came under the arm of the law the way he is right now.
And the question to me is, does he still have those instincts he had for so long to keep himself just barely out of the kind of trouble he seems to be headed for here, who did the armor of the presidency lead to a kind of atrophy of those instincts?
PHILLIP: Yeah, it's a really important point, and we've also seen reporting he's just really struggling right now to find lawyers who want to work with him, to find people who are qualified to deal with this degree of legal complexity. And Republicans, I think, it's a real question how they're reacting to this, because there's been a bit of an up and down, ebb and flow.
Take a listen to one Republican congressman, Warren Davidson, trying to explain away what the affidavit shows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. WARREN DAVIDSON (R-OH): His contention is, they're not classified. He declassified records. I don't think he knows everything that was in the box from what I've heard public will but it's not unprecedented at all, and, frankly, the good thing about the boxes is, they're not connected to the Internet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: They're not connected to the Internet is not quite the explanation I was expecting. What do you think?
YASMEEN ABUTALEB, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: You know, I think this is pretty typical of you know Trump's staunchest allies sort of contorting themselves to try to justify or make sense of whatever he's chosen to do. You know former president Trump said he had a standing order to declassify everything he took to the residence, which I don't think is a thing.
PHILLIP: There's no evidence of it either.
ABUTALEB: And there's no evidence of it. Several advisers said they knew of no such order.
So, you know, I think there aren't that many Republicans right now who will publicly in the beginning, of course, when we knew about the search, there were many who came out and railed against the FBI and the Justice Department saying it was an overreach.
When it became clear the severity of the situation, some of the documents that President Trump might have in his possession that he did not return, the numerous attempts the national archives made to get the documents back. I think you've seen fewer and fewer Republicans willing to try to justify this and make sense of it and want to see how it plays out.
PHILLIP: I do want to raise one thing that is starting to bubble up in conservative circles.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump's former acting chief of staff, saying that maybe the classified documents from Mar-a-Lago might turn out to be from Crossfire Hurricane. That's the Russia investigation, the Russia investigation which conservatives have been so focused on.
That seems to be maybe a way that Republicans are saying, well, it's about Russia, so it doesn't matter if they were classified or not. ZANONA: Or it's about Hillary Clinton's email. That's what Warren
Davidson was saying when he said it wasn't connected to the Internet. Republicans are trying to throw everything at the wall in terms of the fence to see what sticks.
And before this information came out, we were hearing Republicans admitting that, yes, if there were highly classified documents, that would be problematic. Well, now, that we know that there were highly classified documents, including information about human spies, they have been silent. It's recess, they're not in town, which is probably to their advantage.
But this is a problem for a lot of Republicans, even if they won't admit so publicly.
PHILLIP: One of the underlying issues for Trump is that he is not president anymore, despite what he might think, over the last year and a half has spent a lot of time doing things that make him seem like the president, holding meetings with foreign leaders, like Viktor Orban, using the presidential seal at public events with a podium, and even on his statements.
The reporting is that he thinks these documents are, quote/unquote, mine. That is part of the problem here. He has not let go of the presidency in his own mind.
BURNS: When I was down in Mar-a-Lago in April of '21 to interview Trump for a book project, you just see the evidence of that everywhere. There's a model of Air Force One in the middle of the great room where he receives people. You have aides scurrying around with --
PHILLIP: Calling him Mr. President.
But, of course he's not the president anymore, and he's not done -- part of it is the fact that he's always intermixed the personal and government power in a way that's totally uncharacteristic of modern presidents holding a Republican convention at the White House. This is stuff that's unheard of in the norms of our American political system.
But some of it is also just sort of a matter of a basic ego and the fact that he does want to be president again. This isn't just some sort of 85-year-old former president who can't let go of the best job he ever had. This is a guy who fully intends to run for it again.
I think, to Melanie's point, it underscores why this is a political problem for Republicans, right now and going forward. The stuff that he is saying and that he is pushing them to defend isn't just relevant for the next two months of this midterm election campaign. This is 2024, and it's happening right now, and they can't control it. To some of them, anyway, it's scaring the hell out of them.
PHILLIP: And they don't know where it's going, most importantly. But everybody stand by. Coming up next for us, in a post-Roe America, there are new signs of
surging Democratic enthusiasm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: MAGA Republicans don't have a clue about the power of women. Let me tell you something, they are about to find out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: After months of a snag in their agenda and President Biden's approval ratings in free fall, Democrats all but wrote off ropes for the midterm elections. But there are some new signs their fortunes could be shifting. CNN's poll of polls shows that Biden entered August with a 36 percent approval rating. He's ending it at 40 percent.
That uptick comes as Democrats are celebrating a summer of major accomplishments, including on many long-time priorities, from passing the inflation reduction act, to announcing student debt relief, to surprising electoral victories, and according to brand new reporting this morning from our Melanie Zanona, the GOP is bracing for a tougher fight this fall and what could be a smaller house majority than had been predicted.
Melanie, this new reporting really indicates that what is in the atmospherics is being really digested by Republicans as a bright red flashing sign. What are they telling you?
ZANONA: Yeah. Well, first we should caveat with Republicans are still confident they will be able to flip the House in the fall. I mean, they have an easier map, their historical trends are in their favor. But they are starting to get nervous that the margins are going to be a lot smaller than they perhaps originally anticipated.
One GOP source told me and my colleague Manu Raju that they're not ruling out a possibility it could be a single digit pickup, which would be a lot smaller than a year ago when Kevin McCarthy predicted as many as 60 seats. Part of the reason is because of the roe versus wade ruling that got overturned.
One GOP lawmakers said they have been caught flat-footed. I want to read you what one lawmaker told me: Roe caught Republicans off guard and we haven't used tit to paint the left as extreme, nor shown any sort of compassion on the issue.
And so, they recognize this is a problem for them, their message on abortion has been completely nonexistent or completely disjointed. They're worried about that. And so it is something that is a growing concern for Republicans right now.
PHILLIP: I mean, I think that this is one of the things that was a possibility. Does it surprise you, Alex, that we are sitting here in august, maybe August is too early, frankly, to know where this is really headed.
BURNS: I think it is. And one of the things that midterm elections is that the circumstances really just in the week or two before the vote matter a whole lot, and they matter a whole lot more in many respects than in a presidential campaign when the whole nation is much more fixed on the big personalities and big terms of debate.
But, look, what does surprise me, Abby, is the reality that Republicans are caught flat footed by a Supreme Court decision that huge swaths of the party had been rooting for, for literally 49 years. And that there wasn't --
ZANONA: And they're completely running away from it.
BURNS: -- right, they're running away -- they don't know what to say about their own position on the issue. They don't know what to say in response to extremely foreseeable Democratic attacks on the issue.
I do think it underscores the sense and Melanie alluded to Kevin McCarthy's prediction that they would pick up 60 some seats. This is some time ago that he said that.
There was never -- you talk to Republicans over the last year and a half. There was never a sort of careful architecture of a strategy to achieve that goal. There was always this sense that if they sort of play it safe, don't take big risks, don't antagonize Trump, don't act coo crazy of their own initiative, then it's a midterm election, so we're going to do super well, right. But there was a sense of sort of the tide would carry them, and the tides have changed, at least somewhat, this summer.
PHILLIP: And the "Washington Post" is also reporting this morning, on the flipside, that Democrats are starting to contemplate holding onto the House, because the thing is, it's basically a coin flip at this point. You don't need that many seats to take control of the House and you don't need that many to hold onto it.
OLORUNNIPA: And they're looking at the data from the most recent special elections in which they have actually outperformed what they did in 2020 and they won the House in 2020 --
PHILLIP: Well let's -- I mean I just want to -- while you're talking, just show you some of that, some of these special election results have been really eye opening. In Nebraska, a Trump plus 15 district, the Republican won by only five. In Minnesota, Trump plus ten, the Republican won by four in 2022.
In New York 19 that was just this past week, Biden won this district by less than two points. A Democrat, who was not really expected to win, did win by more than Biden did. And in New York 23 the Republican won a Trump plus 11 seat by just six points. But to your point, continue.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes, that data does not portend what the kind of environment that we might be in if we were in a wave election. Obviously as Alex said, we're very early and there are still several weeks before the actual election.
But the fact that Democrats are outraising Republicans in a number of these states and the fact that several Republicans on the Senate side and in some cases on the House side, have been too far out of the mainstream to be able to win over some of these Independent voters and haven't been able to be the kind of strong candidates that you need to take advantage of a wave election and flip some seats that are maybe on the outskirts of sort of what, you know, politicians typically see as, you know, stretched seats.
And in this case it appears that they're fighting for some of these flip seats that they wanted to flip and it's not yet clear that they will be able to do that.
PHILLIP: Meanwhile, President Biden basically kicked off his foray into the midterms. Take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're at a serious moment in our nation's history. The MAGA Republicans don't just threaten our personal rights and economic security. They're a threat to our very democracy.
Those of you who love this country -- Democrats, Independents, mainstream Republicans -- we must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving America than the MAGA Republicans are destroying America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: Yasmeen, he road tested some new, tougher arguments against Republicans. But will it stick, do you think?
ABUTALEB: I think it's hard to tell. Like Alex and Toluse said, it's still early and it's August, and you know, things need to continue going in Democrats' favor.
One of the things that President Biden has going for him, they had this string of legislative and policy victories, inflation has been going down, gas prices have been going down, if that changed I don't know that his message would matter as much.
But I think you do see Democrats excited by what they've been seeing from the president this week that he's been much more direct, sometimes personal in calling out Republicans.
You know, they're seeing more of the fighter that they wanted to see in him this whole time where they thought he was sort of harkening back to days that didn't exist anymore of trying to work with Republicans.
And you know, you even saw the White House Twitter account, getting a bit personal with Republicans. So I mean I think people are excited by this and they want to see more of this. But I think ultimately the bigger factors at play, the way the Roe
versus Wade ruling plays across the country and how Democrats capitalize on that, if inflation continues coming down, if gas prices continue coming down, I think all of that needs to be aligned for, you know, things to continue going in Democrats' favor. If inflation numbers start going back up, you know, I think that's going to be very difficult for them.
BURNS: I think that's totally spot on. The one thing I'd add is in terms of that tone you heard from Biden.
Part of this is there's not anything he's looking to get out of the Republican Senators anymore, right. They got infrastructure, they got chips. They got the (INAUDIBLE) legislation. There's not going to be a whole lot of bipartisan action in the next two months that that kind of rhetoric could jeopardize.
PHILLIP: Right. Now the real fun begins on the political side.
But coming up next for us, President Biden also fulfilled a big campaign promise this week. Will it help or will it hurt with key midterm voters in November?
PHILLIP: What was a campaign promise is now a financial reality for millions of Americans after President Biden announced a plan to erase up to $20,000 in student loan debts.
In 2019 more than one in five families reported holding student loan debt and it's not just the educated elite. A significant amount of debt is held by those who never even finished college.
The issue could play a big role in the November elections. That's because among the states with the most student loan borrowers per capita, four -- Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are key battlegrounds in this midterm elections.
But for now, voters are still divided on the policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's fantastic. It's going to give a lot of people a break. I've already paid off my student loans. It doesn't bother me that these folks are getting a break that is in there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that $10,000 isn't sufficient.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it could set a dangerous precedent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was like great, that means I don't have to pay on what I owe that's left because I've been paying on it since I left college in like 2007.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think that there's a better way to make education affordable, and this was a very unfair way to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: This is going to be a case where there are some people wo win big and others who maybe don't benefit at all, and I think the question for the White House is, will those people be ok with that? How do they see it inside the White House?
ABUTALEB: I think what you saw reflected in all those voters is exactly why the debate in the White House took so long. It took the president a year to come to a decision on this, even though it was a campaign promise of his.
I think they feel like, you know, generally it will help them, particularly with young voters who overwhelmingly support this. I think for young voters, it's more than 60 percent who support it, and I think that's really the demographic they feel they need to excite and get energized before the midterms.
But you know, I think what you saw actually reflected a lot of the president's concerns in deciding how big or how ambitious to go on this policy. You know, there were Democrats calling for $50,000. There were Democrats saying not to do it, some saying $10,000 wasn't sufficient, it wasn't going to close the racial gap.
So you know, I think the White House is well aware of these concerns. But ultimately you see President Biden using the bully pulpit to defend this pretty staunchly.
PHILLIP: And as some of the reporting from the "New York Times" on this very issue of how Biden really struggled with this issue, and he did so publicly and privately.
They write that over lunch he appealed to the president's emotions, describing a young woman who approached him in tears in her eyes saying the crushing burden of her loan payments made it difficult to live.
The senator also sought to soothe the president's fears that erasing some debt would be a boon for rich white students telling him the vast majority are poor people and people of color.
And to that last point the impact of the student loan decisions is something that has real affect on communities of color. According to some estimates 50 percent of Latino borrowers would have their entire debt forgiven by this move and 25 percent -- about 25 percent of black borrowers.
That right there tells you a lot about the politics of it for Biden at the end of the day.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes. That played a big role in how this program was constructed. They decided to focus on people who were earning less than $125,000, or $250,000 for a couple, and really focused on Pell Grant recipients, who happen to be overwhelmingly people of color, and people of color who have been able to take advantage of the Pell Grant program. However, people that come from low income backgrounds and those are other people who are struggling with the biggest burden of this student debt loan crisis.
And so it's very clear that Biden wanted to construct the program that would not be -- you know, the victim of some of these attacks from Republicans saying that he was giving all of this relief to people who are already wealthy, people who don't deserve, people who are basically free loading because they went to expensive colleges.
So they wanted to really be very clear about how they constructed this program so that they would not be victims of some of these attacks.
PHILLIP: But of course, it's happening against the backdrop of record high inflation, a looming recession, the Fed basically saying hey, pain is coming.
ZANONA: Yes. And Republicans really see an opening here to shift the conversation to exactly what they want to be talking about, which is inflation. So they're trying to make the argument that this is going to add to the debt. It's going to drive up inflation.
Obviously that's up for debate. Some experts say it would have an impact. Others say it would have a modest impact. But they are really excited about the opportunity to go after Democrats and Biden over this issue, and try to play upon the fears of voters which is about inflation which is still a very top concern.
BURNS: There's something Republicans ought to be careful about here, right. When you talk to certainly party strategists in the GOP feel like there's an opportunity here to cast what Biden has done as deeply irresponsible and not actually addressing the underlying problem.
And at least on a second point, they're absolutely right. The student loan policy is not going to make higher education more affordable going forward, or sort of bend the overall trend towards higher and higher tuitions, and less and less affordability.
But I do think that when you hear this sort of language that Ted Cruz is using over the weekend about slacker baristas benefiting, there are a lot of Americans who know that they themselves are benefiting from this policy, right.
And I do think that you've got to be careful about how you make the valid critique that there are serious structural questions about the Democratic policy here versus sort of demonizing people who are benefiting from it who are voters and who are potentially open to voting for the opposition party.
ZANONA: And it could be Republican voters ore Ted Cruz constituents.
BURNS: Exactly. Exactly.
PHILLIP: There are plenty of Republican voters who tried to go to college, couldn't finish and still have that debt and maybe are working at the Starbucks down the street. But to your point, Alex, take a listen to this ad from the American Action Network, a Republican group, on this student loan issue and just how they are framing it to voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biden's right, you should take my tax dollars to pay off your debts. My family will figure out how to get by with less. What's most important is we spare college graduates from any extra stress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to be a struggling artist? College is on me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: There's a reality that conservative voters might benefit from this too, but that ad speaks to a certain group of voters who might be very amenable to this idea that like spoiled rich liberals and big cities are taking what is mine.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes. That's something Biden was very aware of as he tried to sort of grapple over how much to sort of give in student loan forgiveness. He's the president who said he came from Scranton and he represents the firefighters and the blue collar workers.
And so he was a little bit uneasy about the idea that college graduates, maybe people who went to very expensive schools, would be benefiting from this. But it's clear that the way they constructed this program may allow them to sort of shield themselves from some of the impact of some of those attacks, but they realize those attacks are going to be coming.
They decided they were going to brace themselves for it and they decided this was a campaign promise. This is something that the base wanted and they need to show that they're going to do something about it.
PHILLIP: And they are fighting back. I just want to show real quick some of this Twitter activity that Yasmeen was talking about. They're going after individual Republicans over their PPP loan saying that you guys got your loans forgiven and now you're attacking students. So that's how they're reacting.
BURNS: I've got to say I do think it is sort of the burden is going to be on Biden and his party to sell this to people who are skeptical of it. And we have not seen a whole lot of evidence over the last week other than these kind of indirect -- you know, look, the PPP attack plays really great on Twitter.
It doesn't really address the reservations that voters may have about this program and the questions that the White House has sort of struggled to answer about how you're paying for this, what you're doing to sort of make sure this is a financially sound decision for the government to make and they don't seem super ready for that debate.
Maybe they don't need to be if they can just sort of keep pushing it back on Republicans. But it's an obvious thing that they should have prepared for it and I don't know that we have a whole lot of evidence that they did.
PHILLIP: Yes. It's a huge -- it's going to be a huge test for them to figure out how they're going to do that before the fall.
Coming up next for us, almost six decades later we're going to reflect on Dr. King's dream for black Americans.
PHILLIP: Today marks 59 years since the historic march on Washington. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words about racial equality, his "I have a dream speech" are what we all remember from that day, of course. But what many people forget is that King and other civil rights leaders were also fighting for jobs and economic equality.
In the early 1960s black Americans were saddled with high unemployment, low wages and limited economic opportunities fueled by racial segregation. And the government itself played a role, allowing racial covenants that prevented black people from owning homes in white neighborhoods. And if they did manage to purchase them, allowing banks to devalue those homes.
Now almost six decades later, many of those same systemic issues persist. Recently a black couple said they had to scrub their home of any evidence of their race so an appraiser would raise their home's value by $300,000.
And on student loans, black Americans bear a disproportionate burden. 30 percent of black Americans have student loan debts compared to 20 percent of white families. Black borrowers also owe $25,000 more than white borrowers on average. In part because of Jim Crow era racism, those students are less likely to have the safety net of generational wealth to help them pay for college.
Now, the unemployment rate for black Americans is also double that of white Americans. And more pain could be coming soon.
Fed chair Jay Powell said this week, tackling inflation may necessitate raising unemployment and black workers, of course, could be hit hard.
Toluse Olorunnipa is back with me to discuss this. He co-wrote "His Name is George Floyd", a book that looked at some of these same economic and social forces through the lens of George Floyd.
But Toluse, it's interesting to me because President Biden is in a unique position where black constituencies who elected him are asking him to take on some of these issues. OLORUNNIPA: Yes. And Biden is in office and he has acknowledged this,
in part, because black voters showed up for him in the primaries and in historic numbers during the general election as well.
And so he said on the first day in office that he would deliver for those voters, that he would deliver for those communities that helped him that have often left behind by government policy and often been discriminated against by government policy.
And so he has said that equity would be part of his administration from the very beginning. And now, we have seen him do a number of different things including appointing the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court, running a number of different policies that are focused on equity.
But in some cases there are areas where his record is incomplete. Black people have asked for things like policing reform. They've asked for voting rights. And he has not yet been able to deliver on that because of the very close margins in Congress. And so he's pushing to try to get more of that done and doing what he can through executive authority as well.
PHILLIP: And of course, we are just a couple of months away from the midterm elections. The question of enthusiasm in the black community is a real one for President Biden.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes. It is a very important one. I mean when Trump was in office, that was something that helped to boost enthusiasm to get him out of office because of his racially-offensive activities while he was in office.
Now that Biden is in office, he has delivered on a number of different things that have helped with some of the enthusiasm but there are a number of things where African American voters have called for more action and called for more focus, have said that these things should not be part of the background of the administration. It should be at the forefront. Things like voting rights, things like policing reform.
And we have seen Biden sort of move on to sort of more moderate issues, issues in the Inflation Reduction Act that may help a number of voters but aren't necessarily focused specifically on helping the communities that Biden said helped him get into office.
PHILLIP: But the prospect of an economic recession could be one that is devastating to a lot of black families.
Do you get the sense that at the White House they are looking at inequality in that area?
OLORUNNIPA: They have been focused on these equity issues from the very beginning. And 60 years -- almost 60 years after Martin Luther King Jr. said he had a dream that everyone would be treated equally, we do still see these major forces of inequality in our society. And the Biden administration is trying to push against some of them
but he is working against the weight of history. There are a number of things where he has not been able to fully influence those levels of inequality and we're seeing the potential of a recession.
And that often, when those things happen, when the economy slows down, black Americans are often the hardest hit by those --
PHILLIP: And as we've noted, it's been almost 60 years. A lot of the same issues, even longer for a lot of these same issues. They're not going to be fixed overnight.
Toluse Olorunnipa, thank you so much for joining us for that.
And that is it for us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Don't forget, you can also listen to our podcast. Download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcast and scan that QR code at the bottom of your screen.
But coming up next here on CNN, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guests this morning include Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu.
Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.