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Inside Politics

63 Days Until Midterms, Biden Trying To Defy History; Today: Biden Convenes Cabinet To Tout Summer Progress; Midterms Pit Economic Frustration Vs Abortion Concerns, Trump Chaos; Biden: Not All Republicans Are Extreme But Trump Allies "Full Of Anger"; Trump, DOJ Face Friday Deadline On Special Master Candidates, Details; DOJ Considering Its "Next Steps" After Trump Wins Special Master Case; GOP Needs To Net 5 Seats To Take Control Of House; Dem Campaign Arm Targets GOP Sen Candidates On Abortion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 06, 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. Joe Biden back at work. Next hour, the president convenience his cabinet. It's part of a midterm bid to convince voters Democrats are the party of doing things. While Republicans the president says, are the party of chaos.

Plus, a big legal win for Donald Trump. A federal judge demands a review of the documents the FBI recovered at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors cannot use those documents until a special master clears it. How that process will work. How long it will take, remain giant questions. And day one on the job for Britain's new prime minister. Today Liz Truss making the trek to receive the queen's blessing. She enters office facing a big ben sighs task, rescuing her country's economy from freefall.

Up first for us though, the Biden factor in the now nine-week dash to election day. The president huddles with his cabinet next hour. He does so, facing what you might call a high wire challenge to navigate a still quite big to do list, while trying to defy midterm election history. 63 days, nine weeks exactly until we count your votes. And the president's approval rating remains in traditionally perilous territory.

But, but an important but, it is on an upward trajectory, in every tick up improves Democrats odds. Today a cabinet meeting to promote progress made over the summer on semiconductors, on climate, on healthcare and on taxes. The Biden bet that showing your government at work could help reframe the midterms as a choice between normal and crazy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is not your father's Republican Party. This is a totally different party man. These guys are different. I've worked with a lot of Republicans, conservative Republicans I worked with, got a lot done and we - but it was always - there was always something decent about the work.

This new group headed by the former president - former defeated president. We found ourselves in a situation where we really got to look forward and look backwards. And it's clear which way he wants to look, is clear which way the new MAGA Republicans are, their extreme.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, Laura Barron-Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, Cleve Wootson at The Washington Post, Margaret Talev of Axios, and Nathan Gonzales of Inside Election. So, the president sits down with his cabinet next hour. He wants to say, we're doing things relevant to your lives, therefore defy history. Don't vote against the president, don't vote against the president's party. We saw the president on the trail yesterday. How do they at the White House, see his role in these critical final nine weeks?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Well, they want him to be out there as much as possible. So, I think that we can expect to see just in the past week, we saw him out about, I think three to four times on the campaign trail. And we can expect that to continue. At the White House, they want to see him out there on the road. Even if there are some Democrats who don't necessarily want to be seen next to the president.

Because, again, if it isn't the president, then who else is going to push a lot of the big accomplishments that they got done that they had on their wish list, which was infrastructure, which was, you know, prescription drug reform and all of these other elements, as well as the fact that now, you know, the president is starting to insert himself and speak very directly about what he sees as a threat to democracy. And specifically, what he sees is driving it within the Republican Party.

KING: So, team Biden, and some Democrats think the president should be out there more often. But just this morning, right before I came up, getting more incoming from Democrats saying, we're not so sure about that, because if you look at the fundamentals of an election, Nathan, Republicans still have an edge on the economy. Republicans have a giant edge on crime. Republicans have a significant edge on inflation.

There are a lot of Democrats who think, you know, the president is in charge. If you're a Democrat at home, your say, it's not his fault, it's not his fault. OK. But he's in charge. That's the way it normally works. Who think Joe Biden should stay out of the way, do things here in Washington, try to keep checking his numbers up a little bit, but let Democrats instead focus on this abortion?

NATHAN GONZALES, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, INSIDE ELECTIONS: Any Democrat that's on the ballot, wants Biden's numbers to improve for this fall, but they also don't want an election that is based on, do you think Joe Biden is doing good job or not? Because even if his job approval rating is getting a little bit better, still a majority of Americans believe are disapprove of the job that he's doing. So, there's that balance of, all right, get them out there, promote the accomplishments, but also keep the focus on Republicans because the more the voters are focused on, former President Trump focused on infighting within the Republican Party or what Republicans are doing. That is why are Democrats benefit because voters are primed for change. But if they see Republicans as too extreme as an alternative, then they might just stick with the status quo.


MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: And Trump's reemergence as a central figure in the midterms has given Biden a window to get back into the race with a different impact. When he is center stage now with the microphone, he's not saying, hey, this election is a referendum on me. He say this election is a choice between the direction we're moving in and going back to the morass of the months after 2020. I don't know if that's going to work, abortions probably a clear political bet in some states. But if that plus his poll numbers inching up has made it possible for him to get back out.

KING: And you see a slight evolution in how he's talking about that. When he is out there, he had the fundraiser was not on camera. We talked about semi fascism. Then he had the speech in Philadelphia, where he talked about MAGA extreme elements. And then yesterday, listen to this, it's just a little bit more moderated.


PRES. BIDEN: Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican, not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology. I know because I've been able to work with mainstream Republicans in my whole career. But the extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress have chosen to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division. But together, we can, and we must choose a different path forward.


KING: The in-Congress part was significant. They're number one, because a lot of Republicans are trying to say, he's smearing Trump voters, right. He's smearing the voters out there. He's trying to make that distinction. But also, not every Republican is a MAGA Republican. That seems a little bit more nuanced in the idea that if the Democrats are going to defy the odds, and especially with the Senate races, when battleground states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, they're going to need some Republican votes to do it.

CLEVE WOOTSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, exactly. And I mean, you have Biden trying to define the Republican Party in a way that benefits him, right? I can't work with the MAGA folks, but I can work with everybody else. And I think that's because he still wants to be that guy that can sway, you know, moderate Republican voters. And if you're, you know, calling all of them MAGA Republicans, it just doesn't work.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And it took the president a long time to even get to this point to distinguish or and to actually go forcefully after what he is calling MAGA Republicans. And I was talking to Senator Schatz of Hawaii, who said that part of that is because this, Biden has long worked with a lot of these Republicans, he's still considered some of them friends. And so, it's difficult for him to even paint them in this way or characterize them in this way. And but he's not the first president to warn of domestic threats internally.

KING: So, the challenge or what's, I don't know the answer to the question. But what is the best role in the final nine weeks in the sense that if you listen to the road yesterday, you just heard the contrast there with MAGA Republicans in Congress, with the president also talking about some of his achievements, including the Democrats passed a bill after years of trying, they passed a bill that would allow the government to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, Biden says big win for you.


PRES. BIDEN: We beat pharma this year. We beat pharma this year, and it mattered. We're going to change people's lives. Finally beat pharma.


KING: So, at the cabinet meeting, he'll talk about that. He'll talk about other things they did in the rearview mirror important things this summer. What about the last nine weeks? What is the president hope to achieve? What does he want his Democratic friends in Congress to achieve, including on the table is the idea that they will try, maybe attaching it to the resolution to keep the government open, the government spending to codify same sex marriage?

TALEV: That's right. The codification of same sex marriage, the return to this promise to cap insulin prices at, what $35 month or so. There are a few items like this, that they - there's an anti-trust bill, that big tech has been fighting, the Democrats want to get credit for bringing to a vote, at least to some extent, whether they get these things or not matters not as much as their ability to say, look, we tried.

But if they could, they believe as the leadership aides describe it to us, that would be the icing on the cake, of what they see as moving in a really good direction. Will it be enough to hold the House of Representatives, history says no. But it wasn't even a remote possibility a few weeks ago, the fact that it is now is really important.

I want to say one other thing. Some of this may be personal if Biden wasn't watching any of Trump's rally over the weekend, because my colleague Jonathan swan was there. For TV, for family safe environment, pretty raunchy set of messaging inside those rallies about Biden, about Kamala Harris.

If there were a democratic ad contrasting, the scene in that rally to the scene at Biden's Labor Day rallies, you really would see a different message that is personal, its vendetta based, it's about grievance. Biden is trying to on abortion on the economy on some of these social and policy issues, trying to show the Democrats are at least inching the ballpark.

KING: You make a critical point there in the sense that, you know, again, there'll be a debate about how much the president should be out there and be visible. Where he should be visible, maybe where he should stay away from, but the idea the reemergence of Trump, in the sense that if we went back a few months, Nathan, and you're looking at your projections.


The idea that Democrats are way underwater on crime compared to Republicans. The Republicans have this advantage on inflation. This had a traditional suburban reaction to the suburbs which made George H. W. Bush President, which made George W. Bush President. We're going back toward the Republicans on crime and inflation. Trump reemerges along with the abortion issue.

And we see the swings back in the suburbs again, and you know, House races are different. We'll talk about that later in the program. But in Senate races, the races for governors, if they're competitive, they decided in the suburbs. And right now, what we thought was a Republican advantage seems to be drifting away.

GONZALES: No. I think we see suburban voters, among other voters but conflicted between the current economic environment with the threat of what could happen if Republicans are in charge or if Democrats remain in charge, it's that tension. What I think is interesting about what Biden is doing now, and remembering back to 2010, when there was criticism that President Obama after Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act, he did not stump.

He was not out trying to sell it and he kind of let Democrats, he hung them out to dry and they got wallops, but this time at least Biden is out there trying, you know, trying to sell, you know, sell the agenda. And it's a marked difference. We'll see if it's enough.

KING: And so, I was talking about this this morning. I think you agree. I just, I've never been at this point in a first presidential midterm where it's so uncertain, so uncertain nine fascinating weeks. We'll come back to it a bit later in the program. Up next, though, a win for the Trump legal team. What happens now that a federal judge has ordered an independent review of the sensitive records the FBI recovered at Mar-a-Lago.




KING: A Friday deadline now looms as we tried to understand the impact of a big court ruling related to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago. A federal judge yesterday granting Donald Trump's request for an independent special master to review all the documents the FBI recovered with its search warrant. We don't know who will lead that review. And we do not know how long it might take. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Sara Murray, and the former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. Allegedly, the two parties are supposed to come together, the Justice Department and Trump's lawyers, they make a joint filing. Even that seems bizarre, because they disagree so profoundly on this, but somehow, some way they have to file with the judge on Friday. What are the big questions here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do disagree profoundly. And, you know, we should note there are a lot of people who are on different sides of these cases. And it's not uncommon for a judge to ask them to come together and some of the filings like this, so we'll see how that goes. But they're supposed to submit names for who they believe could be a special master. Obviously, there's only a narrow universe of people who can do this, because they do need a certain security clearance in order to be able to do this.

They need to lay out what their duties and limitations are going to be sort of a timeline, a schedule, and then who is going to compensate the special master? And I think, obviously, we're going to be looking closely at who the namesake would forward are. But also, what is the schedule that we are looking at here? Are we talking about a delay of potentially weeks or potentially months?

KING: Now, the Justice Department thinks this was bad law. You agree. The question is, do you fight it? Do you try to appeal it? Which definitely means months and months and months of legal fights, you go to a circuit court. And then whoever loses there, could it go to the Supreme Court if you want. Or do you just eat your peas and say, we don't like this judge. But here, let's try to do this right. Let's try to put this on a fast track.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: By the textbook you lost, you appeal, you try to make it better at a higher court. The problem is that that is fraught with peril for the Justice Department to try to appeal this. Because number one, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is the perhaps the nation's most conservative appellate court, maybe one of the two most conservative ones.

So, they might lose there. And if they win there, it goes to the Supreme Court, and they can get an even worse decision for them. So, maybe the tactical decision here is roll the dice, see what happens. Maybe you get access to the documents and a few weeks and conduct the investigation now as its. But it's not always the right decision to appeal, something you lost just because it could be worse on the other side of it.

KING: Right. There are those who would argue whether you agree or disagree with the law, that it's not that big of a deal given. We're about to hit the 60-day threshold anyway, that because it's a former president, you're investigating, you wouldn't be doing a lot of public things anyway, because of the protocols of the Justice Department, you know, don't try to sway people's votes.

Jonathan Turley argues this on his personal blog. The appointment and review will cause delay, but it was unlikely the prosecutors would bring charges until after the midterm election anyway. The order also does not halt the criminal investigation, only the use of the documents. Prosecutors can still interview witnesses on what was known, because it's not essentially to say, you can do a lot of the work here, maybe not all of it, you can do a lot of the work here.

The question is, does the Justice Department believe that? Or do you want to then step back and just be extra careful, so you don't do something and have somebody then accuse you of, you know, you were sneaking use of these documents?

MURRAY: Well, look, you can do some of the work here, you can interview witnesses. But if you are going to try to then take those witnesses and put them before a grand jury and get grand jury testimony, and a lot of cases, prosecutors are going to want to have those documents accessible to them. They're going to want to be able to refer back to those documents, to potentially quote from those documents to show images of those documents, when they have these witnesses and when they're doing their grand jury presentation.

Now, it is true that we are, you know, going into this quiet period. But of course, grand jury proceedings are secret that could still be going on as part of that quiet period. I mean, it does hamper where the Justice Department can go in the immediate term with their investigation.

KING: If you're inside to follow up with that, if you're inside, you do this for a living. You're inside your meeting with your team. What's our next step? Now that your hands are tied somewhere. Do you want a full pause or partial doer?

WILLIAMS: You don't need a full pause. But to pick up on Sara's point, it's kind of a gray area when you're talking about interviewing witnesses, because what if this is a witness who saw something in a document. Now they can't testify about it, and they can't interview them about it. So, what if it's somebody who handled the documents? So, what does it mean to not be able to work with the documents?

So, what the Justice Department is now figuring out, which aspects of this investigation can we proceed with. But Professor Turley is correct that they weren't going to indict anybody between now and election day. They weren't going to even execute any search warrants in all likelihood between now and election day because that 60-day informal policy means, you don't take any big public steps in advance of election day. But I think they're just trying to figure out where the wiggle room is that they can still proceed. But it's tricky.


KING: And so, one of the parts of the analysis and from some camps criticism of this judge is she's a Trump appointee, and a lot of language is sympathetic to Donald Trump. And so, people are saying, ha ha, this is a political thing. Is it? Is it or is it the law? I just want to read a little bit. At least her take on the law, you can disagree about certain things.

She says this at one point. As a function of plaintiff that's Donald Trump's former position as present United States, the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own. A future indictment base to any degree on the property that ought to be returned would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude. A lot of people are saying, wait a minute. The critics have said, she's elevating Donald Trump above it. Was anybody at this table, fair?

WILLIAMS: Sure. You know, what's also stigmatizing being investigated in a criminal proceeding? There are folks being investigated all over the United States right now that are not being entitled to that same level of deference. Now, look, I'll acknowledge that a former president of the United States is in a separate class. He's the one person who has held that job. But I think she's going with that paragraph and some others going out of her way to treat the former president almost with kid gloves.

KING: You mentioned it's a select small group of people who have the criteria security clearance to do this. And then you're asking the Department of Justice and team Trump, who are at odds here to try to agree on that person. Do we have any idea of a potential roster of prospects?

MURRAY: We do not, at this sense have an idea of what the counteroffer is going to be. She didn't give them some wiggle room. She said, you know, if you guys cannot figure out how to do this together, submit separately your list of names, and essentially, I will go through them. So, if we're all looking forward to this Friday filing to see what these folks were for, John?

KING: And as of now, do you see any evidence they will appeal the Justice Department?

WILLIAMS: As of right now, we don't see any evidence that they will appeal. But who knows they have a matter of days under the rules of the court to decide?

KING: It's a remarkable moment. Thank you both. It's important. Up next. Nine weeks out, what to watch for? As we now enter the midterm stretch.




KING: Nine weeks now, exactly nine weeks until midterm election day. And the day's headlines. Take a look, remind us it is a quite unsettled political climate as we enter the stretch. Republicans are counting on a traditional midterm close, and they believe, and hope, worries about inflation and crime will turn voters away from the president and his party. But democratic prospects are improving at least at this moment.

The biggest factor there is that Supreme Court decision, wiping away the federal guarantee of abortion rights. Our great panel of reporters back with us to discuss. Let's dispense first, with the house. If you look at the current balance of power, the Republicans only need five seats to win control, 219 to 211. Do you see, there are some Democrats who think that because the president's approval rating is up because they think the Dobbs decision helps them that it's possible to completely defy history. You don't see it in your latest projection.

GONZALES: We have to - we've all learned our lessons, right? We have to be at least open minded to the small possibility. But I think Republicans because they need so few it's that that net gain of five that they will still get there. But the idea that they're going to reach into the dozens and multiple dozens, I think is, right now looks out of reach based on Biden's job approval rating, the national generic ballot improving in the five special elections that we've seen recently where Democrats have over performed, those reach districts, I think now look out of reach for Republic.

KING: Do you make the key point, it's not just one data point. You see the special elections. You see the polling, you see turnout, you see registration. There you see the president's approval rating, taking up some, still low but taking up some of the trajectory for the Democrats. Here the question is can they sustain it? House races are different, some of those House races, battleground races are in the suburbs, that Democrats believe the Dobbs decision, the abortion issue can help them there.

But we're seeing this much more in statewide races. We're close statewide races as we talked about before. Look at this new ad. Look at this new ad spending analysis. Democrats who spent $66 million on more than 250 ads, mentioning the abortion issue. You see the Republican number. It is a much smaller number and a much smaller number. This is from the Arizona Senate race, an ad against the Republican nominee Blake Masters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was 18. He was so abusive. Choosing to end the pregnancy wasn't easy, but it was the right choice for me. Blake Masters has no idea what I went through.


KING: You know, you follow the money and politics that that much money is going into the ads, tells you the Democrats believe this is the, this is the issue for them.

BARRON-LOPEZ: They do, and we've also seen a number of Republicans, especially Senate candidate Republicans that have decided to change their positions ever so slightly on abortion, trying to make very clear when they support exemptions for rape and incest and changing their language on their website, because they're very aware of the fact that it's becoming a big issue.

I mean, you mentioned it, John, voter registration. I think that that is a big story right now, because of the fact that in key states like Michigan, Wisconsin, we saw it in Kansas in the special referendum. But that women have been now jumping ahead of men in terms of their voter registration since the Dobbs decision. And I think Democrats look at that and see that it's been in their favor versus Republicans.

KING: One of the conversations that has been consistent through the primary season is all Republicans hurting their chance is the Senate, most in many cases and some governor's races by nominating Trump endorsed candidates or candidates who they viewed as outside of the mainstream. Tonight, in Massachusetts, we have the gubernatorial primary. Our Charlie Baker, the Republican incumbent is now running for reelection.

You have a Geoff Diehl, who's endorsed by Donald Trump, running against Chris Doughty more of a traditional Republican there. Deal by all my friends in Massachusetts who are smart up there, believe he is going to win. And they believe this is like the mirror image of what happened---