Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

GOP Governors Send Migrants To Democratic-Led Cities; After Winning Primary, GOP Election Denier Admits Trump Lost; 51 Days Until Midterms; GOP Senators Distance Themselves From Graham's Abortion Bill; Bringing Brittney Griner Home. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired September 18, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): Border wars. Republican governors in the South send thousands of migrants to blue cities and states in the North.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: It is not defensible for a superpower to not have any control over the borders of its country.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO, IL: This is an orchestrated plan to create chaos in Democratic-controlled cities, make no mistake about it.

PHILLIP: The GOP base may love it, but could it backfire?

Plus, with 51 days until the midterms, the president feels the window at his back.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The soul of America is vibrant. The future of America is bright, and the promise of America is real.

PHILLIP: But will stubbornly high inflation derail the Democrats momentum?

And the GOP primary field is set. It's filled with Trump fake election deniers, and now, some are changing their tunes.

DON BOLDUC (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE CANDIDATE: We live and learn, right? The election was not stolen.

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. Illegal immigration roared back into the headlines this week as

Republican governors doubled down on sending migrants from border states to Democratic-run cities up North. Florida Governor Rob DeSantis, flew approximately 50 Venezuela migrants to Martha's Vineyard this week, saying he was using the state's taxpayer dollars to make a point.


DESANTIS: The legislature gave me $12 million. We're going to spend every penny of that to make sure that we're protecting the people of the state of Florida. These are just the beginning efforts. I mean, we've got an infrastructure in place now. There's going to be a lot more that's happening.


PHILLIP: The Democrats say he's using human beans, including women and young children, in a cynical ploy.

And he is not alone. Buses, sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, brought dozens of migrants to Washington, D.C., dropping them off right outside the Vice President Kamala Harris' residents. One of those buses included this young, one-month-old baby.

It has been going on for months. GOP governor sent at least 10,000 migrants to cities like New York, Washington, and Chicago. But the problem is that it happens with little, if any, coordination with local officials.

Let's discuss all of this and more with our great panel. We have Seung Min Kim with "The Associated Press", Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report", CNN's Kasie Hunt, and CNN's Priscilla Alvarez.

So, Priscilla, you have been covering this for months, and for people tuning in now, it might seem like a new thing. It might seem like a small thing. These are actually large numbers.

What's the scale here of the people who are being sent up north, and how does it compare to what is going on at the border?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: So, the Biden administration has been grappling with a large number of migrants coming to the U.S. Mexico border for months now. This fiscal year, they are already tracking 1.8 million encounters. And I say encounters, because that also includes some people who are crossing the border more than once.

But migrants -- let's just take a step back here -- they move about the country when they are released from government custody as they go through their immigration proceedings. So, these are migrants that are being bused to these different cities, and they're doing -- they have less government custody because they're going through immigration hearings and often seeking asylum.

I have talked to those who have come to Washington and they are coming to Washington, D.C. and they knew they were coming to Washington, D.C. in some of these cases, had hoped to come here, the move about other parts of the country as they get settled and go through those hearings.

And so, this is a costly endeavor for the states. We know Texas has already spent more than $12 million to take migrants to Washington, D.C. and New York City and he most recently began doing so in Chicago. But again, to take a step back and to remind viewers, that these are migrants who have been processed, and who are released, as they go through the immigration process in the United States.

PHILLIP: It is astounding to me. I mean, first, it is a lot of money that they're spending to do this, presumptively that money could be spent elsewhere. But it's obvious that they're doing this for clear political reasons.

The polling on this pretty much tells a story. Republicans say that immigration is the top issue, 22 percent of them. Look at Democrats, just 1 percent. I mean, it could not be more night and day.

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Right. And then look at where independents are. I think that's the group of voters we don't spend enough time talking about. We talk about based politics all the time.

I've sat in enough focus groups this year and to give you a sense of where some of these swing, or independent voters are. And they are dispirited, and cynical, and frustrated.

PHILLIP: They are cynical.

WALTER: They are cynical. They're incredibly cynical because they see politics as incredibly cynical.


They don't believe what anybody is telling them, even one good thing -- quote/unquote, good things happen, they don't know that they're going to be followed through on by politicians. A politician says this is going to happen, I'm not going to trust it until I actually see it coming through.

So, the success, quote/unquote, of anything that these politicians are doing, you know if you're making a political statement, yeah, you may be enraging the other side, engaging your base, but you're alienating these voters who, quite frankly, there are a small percentage of the electorate. But they make and break elections.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, they make a difference. And, I mean, let's be clear about what Ron DeSantis is doing here. He is trying to enrage and he is more focused on the people of Martha's Vineyard, and the reaction that's going to generate from Democrats, then he clearly is about the welfare of these people.

And so, I think that's the kind of politics, as Amy was saying, that has rewarded Republican politicians in the last, however many years, six years, since Donald Trump was running for president. But it's something that really undermines, I think, a sense of our system generally. You know, whatever hope we have of the president likes to talk about unity, soul of America. I think Republicans feel he hasn't hit that no correctly in the past couple of weeks. But it sort of leaves us in the same place we've been for however many years.

ALVAREZ: Well -- and they also know that immigration is a sensitive issue in this administration. In the first few months of this administration, they were dealing with the surge of children, and then they had a moment in Del Rio where they had primarily, Haitian migrants under a bridge and now this. And so, the administration will argue, it's a Western hemisphere issue, but these governors know that in the U.S., it resonates.

PHILLIP: What strikes me, though, is that Democrats have made a choice here. As we've been discussing, this busing has been going on since April. But 50 migrants in Martha's Vineyard really kicked off a pushback from Democrats that we had really seen before.

Listen to this ad from Charlie Crist, who's actually running against Ron DeSantis in Florida, picking up on this very issue.


REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL), CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR: My faith teaches me that we're all children of God. That whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker. But he who is generous to the needy, honors him.

That is lost on Ron DeSantis. For him, it's always putting politics over people's lives. Lying to migrant children to lure them onto a plane to God knows where, mocking their flight for freedom, it makes me sick.


SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I found that ad, in particular, really interesting because I think -- for all betting women here, I don't think we think that Charlie Crist is going to win in November, but it does have some interesting interstate dynamics for Rob DeSantis. Obviously, we're dealing with primarily Venezuelan migrants here.

This is a constituency, particularly in southern Florida, that Republicans have worked for several elections cycles to court. And to the extent that voters down in Southern Florida are paying attention to this, and, you know, choose to reward or punish DeSantis, I think that's a slice of the electorate that we're going to be watching.

But Democrats writ large -- I mean, I can't count how many times the White House got asked about this in the press briefings earlier, or the past week, and how many times Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said over and over, that this is a cynical political stunt. You heard President Biden say this as well at the gala Thursday night.

I do think it's also interesting that President Biden is going down to Florida next week for a political rally. And we'll see if this comes up.

HUNT: I mean, let's be clear, Ron DeSantis is going to look at this as a win, because what are we sitting around this table talking about at the top of the show? We're talking about immigration. We're not talking about abortion. We're talking about him.

PHILLIP: And that is exactly the point. The Democrats have decided to let this be the storyline. That, in and of itself, is a gamble, because that is what Rob DeSantis wanted.

HUNT: Yeah, it is a gamble. I mean, I also, you know, to your point, Seung Min, I mean, this is -- I do think on the flip side, where it could backfire on Ron DeSantis because I have had, of talk to a couple Republican strategist this week who, while they say I don't feel sorry for Martha's Vineyard, which is how the base thinks about it, they also say, look, this is not people who are economic migrants, necessarily.

They are people who are fleeing a basically communist regime. It's what they're saying, and they're coming to America because they see our system as a hopeful system, right? That is what the Cuban migrants in Miami, that's experience they had. That's one that is often aligned with the Republican Party. I mean, I think there is some danger there.

PHILLIP: There is also a part of this where and other cities, including here in Washington, Chicago, New York, they are calling this a crisis, which seems to cut against the argument the Democrats have been making to voters which is that this country can handle immigration.

ALVAREZ: It's been the through line in all of these cities. A big part of that, they say, is a lack of coordination. And the Department of Homeland Security has also said that lack of coordination can wreak havoc and that's what we're seeing to an extent.

These shelters and these cities are not built to help this specific subset of migrants. These are vulnerable migrants. They have, as you noted, flooded difficult conditions.


And so, the shelters in these cities just aren't necessarily always equipped to meet their needs. And so, that is what they're working on.

PHILLIP: Well, we -- this is something that I think is going to be a test of whether immigration actually ends up being a rising issue for voters. But so far, it's a rising issue for Republicans as it's always been.

Coming up next for us, though, a MAGA Republican admits that he actually, that Trump actually lost the election, but that is only after he won his Senate primary. So, will voters buy this abrupt reversal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIP: The primary season is officially over and election deniers handpicked by former President Trump dominate the GOP field, 22 nominees for governor, 11 nominees for secretary of state, and 19 nominees for Senate rejected or cast out on the 2020 election results. But now, they will have to appeal to a broader electorate.


And so, some of them are already trying to soften their edges. Take, for example, the Republican nominee for Senate in New Hampshire, Don Bolduc, he spent his entire primary campaign insisting that Trump won the election. But then less than 24 hours after he won the nomination, he said this.


BOLDUC: We, you know, live in the, right? I've done a lot of research on this. And I've come to the conclusion, and I want to be definitive on this, the election was not stolen. Was there fraud? Yes.

And, unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country.


PHLLIP: Hans Nichols of "Axios" is joining us at the table here.

So, Hans, I'm going to let "The Boston Globe" speak here. They say, how dumb does he think voters are? How dumb does -- I mean, really, how dumb does he think they are?

HANS NICHOLS, AXIOS POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the issue for Bolduc as a Senate candidate for New Hampshire, as we just saw there is that New Hampshire has this late primary. It's really hard to pivot back to the center. All politicians do it, maybe not as brazenly as that.

HUNT: Pretty brazen.


PHILLIP: It really is painful.

NICHOLS: And I've done a lot of living and learning just to get that out there.

HUNT: It's so funny that it only took him, what? Like 12 hours?

PHILLIP: Twelve hours.

NICHOLS: Anyone is trying to pivot back to the general this better served, if they're in a state with their primary in May or June, it's going to be difficult in September. How do we know that? Because Republican strategists really wanted to read New Hampshire, say, it's a little. It privately, they'll tell you it's not going to work.

But we'll see New Hampshire. The test in New Hampshire is how much outside planning, how much outside Republican body goes into that state. And we can have a conversation.

HUNT: Well, this is also about those people that Amy is obsessed with, but I also, let independent voters. New Hampshire is one of my favorite places for politics because not just the presidential primary. This is a congressional delegation that has literally wholesale on back and forth, back and forth with the political winds. It's because it is a true swing state where independent voters really make the difference.

And the question is going to be like, do they buy this, right? I'm skeptical. And I know Republicans in Washington are skeptical that he can win, Republicans in the state and establishments are skeptical that he can beat Maggie Hassan.

And I think he does have some consultants here in D.C. that are more like, hey, if you want to, when you do this. I think that's what he's listening to.

NICHOLS: Real quick, the news here is that Kasie is pro-New Hampshire and not Iowa. I just want --

PHILLIP: Well --

HUNT: Iowa has a special place in my heart.

PHILLIP: Iowa and New Hampshire, they're both on the rocks in terms of the primaries.

But I mean, it's not just New Hampshire. It's also Blake Masters in Arizona, trying to describe abortion from his record. You got Dr. Oz taking off his Trump endorsement. Other candidates taking off Trump endorsements from their websites and their Twitter handles.

People are trying to make that pivot, but this is about some of the most, you know, -- you can stop a random person on the street and they know the issue of election deniers. They understand Trump endorsements. It's going to be hard to erase that from people's brains.

WALTER: In some ways, yes. But in other ways, again, for the people around this table who spent all of our team immersed in politics, it is hard to believe that there are many people who are now just tuning head, or maybe haven't tuned in at all. It's been the background for them.

So, what's driving their vote choice is what's happening in their lives right now. And that's really the question. And this is where this entire election pivots is, are we spending the next six weeks talking about election denier, January 6, whatever is coming out of Mar-a-Lago, and abortion politics? Or are we spending the next six weeks talking about immigration and the economy?

And if you're Republicans, you're hoping it's the latter. And that if you watch every single one of those ads that Republicans have put up since Labor Day started. The words inflation and Biden are in almost every single one of them. And Joe Biden's approval rating in every one of those days you just mentioned is significantly underwater.

Now, right, the question is, is it going to work in an era where people are saturated for the next six weeks with all this money that Hans was pointing out? These Senate races now, the amount of money, it's just mind-blowing.

It's the kind of stuff that a presidential campaign wouldn't have spent 40 years ago. Hundreds of millions of dollars, I'm very sorry for those people in those states, but you are never going to turn off your --


PHILLIP: So, you're doing a great job of teasing over going to be talking a little bit more about in the show. But the one thing that is looming over this, making it a lot more difficult for Republicans to keep the focus on the economy, and people's, you know, kitchen table issues is the fact that former President Trump is out there. He's out there. He was in Ohio last night.

And "The New York Times" had a great piece this week saying that Trump has been showing up basically uninvited at some of these rallies.


He's showing up whether he's invited or not. He's holding rallies at battleground states to the point of some of these candidates are holding calls to them their advisors to strategize on how they deal with calls from Trump saying I'm coming.

KIM: Right. And we've known from years and years of watching these Trump rallies that, you know, 99 percent of the time, these Trump rallies are not about the candidates that he's coming into rally for. It is about Donald Trump himself. We saw that in Ohio last night. I'm sure we'll see that in North Carolina later this week when he goes and campaigns for the candidates down there.

But the focus has always been on Donald Trump, which is why you see a lot of these candidates and these swing races feel that he is not very beneficial. And you have -- so, you have people like Dr. Oz, saying yes, I would've voted to certify the 2020 election to Congress. I'm sure that did not make Donald Trump very happy.

But it's a stance that you're going to have to see for sometime. We talk a lot about President Biden and how his approval ratings are still underwater, even though they do seem to be improving. But you look at Donald Trump's approval rate. They're underwater by double digits, which is why you're seeing the stance by Republicans.

WALTER: Yeah, it's a question. Can you rerun 2020 and 2022 in swing states?

HUNT: Democrats hope.

WALTER: They hope so because all those states that Democrats need to hold the Senate are all states that Biden nearly won. But the other thing, so I was talking to (INAUDBILE) the other day and

said, can you mention, though, if just for the last two weeks at these rallies Donald Trump, if he can do his election denier all that, but then just closed with economy, Biden, disaster, get rid of them all, right? If he could just make that his pitch, but as we all know, how many times do we go through the hole, if only to be more strategic?

PHILLIP: How many times will Republican strategist go down that road where they wish Trump is not who he is --

WALTER: If only he can do that.

PHILLIP: And also, even if here were to do that, it was overshadowed by all of the other stuff that comes before it. I think it will be a question in some of these Senate races where he has endorsed candidates Georgia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania governor's race, Wisconsin, where his endorsed candidate -- these are potentially winnable races, but they are having a little bit of a tough time.

HUNT: They are, and I think it almost all of these races, I mean, there's a couple exceptions. Senate races, you know, the candidate do matter in a way that they don't necessarily as much in House races.

But the reality here is that if Democrats can make a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, they are more likely to win. And if this is a question of like whether Biden is doing a good job or not, which is historically what midterms are about and what Republicans want this to be about, then the Republican will have an advantage.

And, you know, right now, with the way that things have been going with Trump in Mar-a-Lago, and his rallies, and all of that, it's becoming a choice between Trump and Biden. So, if I'm a Republican strategist, yeah, I mean, they always say to us in a phone, you know, man, if Trump could just be on message, it would be so great.

It's never going to happen. They know that, but they have to live with him, so they will stop.

PHILLIP: All right. We're going to dig in a little bit more on the Democratic side of this, because after a string of political wins, Democrats now think that maybe they can defy some midterm history, when we come back.



PHILLIP: For months, Republicans were sure that they'd be surfing a red wave to majorities in Congress. But now, with just 51 days to go, Democrats actually think that they're back in the game. And here's why: President Biden's fortunes are changing. His approval rating is up, nine points since July in "The New York Times" poll.

And with 83 percent of Democrats giving him favorable marks, and just this week, he celebrated two big wins.


BIDEN: I'm very pleased to announce the tentative labor agreement between -- has been reached between the railroad workers and the railway companies. This agreement is a big win for America.

The single most important legislation passed in the Congress to combat inflation and one of the most significant laws in our nation's history, in my view.


PHILLIP: But here is something that Democrats can't seem to shake, that is his constant stream of bad economic news, from rising mortgage rates, markets tumbling and even warnings of a worldwide recession.

And this week, a near miss on a labor strike, potentially, that could have totally derailed the economy, but Biden was able to avert it. And that, plus the poll numbers trending in his direction, the inflation numbers not trending in his direction. But the other ones trending in his direction, making Democrats feel like, okay, maybe this might be a weird midterm year in which they can outrun the economy?

NICHOLS: That seems mostly aspirational, at least on the public side, at least on the House side, like I know Nancy Pelosi is obligated to say that she can win the House. But you don't meet -- and we all talk, you don't meet many serious Democrats that think they're going to win the House. You just don't, right?

HUNT: Including apparently Chuck Schumer who's overhead at a restaurant.

KIM: Very loudly heard.

NICHOLS: Very good point.

PHILLIP: But it's not just winning. I mean, obviously, what, the better ground to small in the House. But they could minimize Republican gains.

NICHOLS: That still means McCarthy has a gavel. A small majority from McCarthy makes his life difficult, but it doesn't make it easier for anyone downtown on the other side of Pennsylvania who's going to have to deal with those investigations from Speaker McCarthy.

So, yes, he has a hard time. Let's say he has a five or ten-seat majority, he's a hard time of government funding, with the debt ceiling, all the things that we'll be talking about, potentially, down the line.


But the core of the power structure will mean that they have investigative ability. They have investigative power and that's going to be a difficult challenge for the White House.

And you know, we can have a debate about the Senate, right. The Senate I think is more of a jump ball and I think everyone acknowledges that and that's where Biden's numbers coming up probably do help.

PHILLIP: Yes. And where the generic ballot being what it is also helps quite a lot.

But I am a little bit obsessed, and I know Amy, you are too, with just the weirdness of it all. It is a weird cycle in which there is a bit of a disconnect between now voters feel about the president and how they feel about Democrats writ large.

This NPR/PBS Marist poll shows that among those who disapprove of Biden -- so these are people who, they don't like really disapprove of Biden but they somewhat disapprove of him. Who will they support in the midterms? 44 percent say that they will vote for a Democrat in Congress. That is not really all that typical.

WALTER: that's not normal for at least these last, I don't know, let's call it six to ten years. Those voters who that disapprove of a president vote overwhelmingly, like 90 percent, 85 percent for the other party's candidates and people who said they like the president vote overwhelmingly for that party's candidate.

So this group of people calling them like the meh voters, right. They're like I don't really like him, I don't really hate him, I don't think he's doing a great job but he's not the driving determinant of my vote. It is how I feel about the direction that the country is going in.

Now, I think a big issue and a big reason why the president's numbers have rebounded is he's doing a lot better with Democrats. Remember, look at how badly he was doing, 70-whatever percent it was, in that New York Times poll. That's like historically low. And especially in this polarized era. So I think a lot of his somewhat disapprovers are people who, let's face it, they're Democrats.

PHILLIP: And hey, people like when their team wins, right? So that helps.


HUNT: I mean there's a combination of things going on here, right. Some of it is what Biden is doing, passing the Inflation Reduction Act, the student loan stuff may have been polarizing with Independents, helped with Democrats.

(INAUDIBLE) just the environment, abortion primarily, right. I mean if you are someone who is galvanized by the issue of abortion, you are probably going to look at the president and suddenly feel a lot better about the fact that there are Democrats in charge than you would otherwise.

PHILLIP: Well, to that point, here are some quotes from some voters that the "New York Times" spoke with this week. One who is an Oregon voter says "I can barely leave my house right now because of inflation. But at the end of the day, we're not fighting over politics, we're fighting over human rights." This is someone who thinks inflation is terrible but is probably going to vote for Democrats.

And then James Moran, a New York registered Republican who tends to vote for Democrats says "What has taken place is unacceptable to me. They denied women the ability to control their own bodies."

So to some extent, although I don't want to overstate this, but to some extent, in some states and for some voters this abortion issue has changed the calculus for them a little bit about what will cause them to make a decision in how they cast their ballot.

KIM: Right. And I think it was the New York Times/CNN polls that said if you take issues of what they call societal issues, so issues of abortion rights, issues of democracy -- Democrats overwhelmingly perform well among voters on that issue, which is why you're seeing Democrats still on the offensive so much on which is why you're hearing President Biden talk more about democracy to get the base excited because I don't think there's going to be a lot of persuasion of swing voters here.

I think especially later in the weeks closer to the midterms, you'll see a lot of voters kind of go home to their parties, going to see the elections tighten up a little bit. But the more that the president can do to talk about the issues that matter, and get Democrat excited, I know we talked about the 70 percent number in the AP poll back in July. It's 65 percent of Democrats approve of --


KIM: I can't imagine President Trump with that kind of a rating among Republicans.

PHILLIP: I mean for all the things that Trump did, he really keep the Republican Party together so Biden bringing Democrats home is hugely significant. To just illustrate vividly bringing Democrats home, look at Biden in Detroit at an auto show earlier this week. Just take a look at this.

Literally holding hands -- no closer than that if you ask me. I mean we have gotten some really big campaign with Biden to they're holding hands.

WALTER: Yes. Well, let's see how many other people in swing states want to hold hands.


WALTER: Gretchen Whitmer -- Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan is in a much more solid position politically than many of these swing state Democrat --

NICHOLS: Do you think --


PHILLIP: All right. I'm kicking you off. WALTER: We are. But the other group of voters -- and look, this is

what Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over since 2020. Those voters who voted for Trump in 2016 but voted for Biden in 2020.

Republicans were convinced in 2021 that those voters had been rented, right. These are the suburban voters that they on most issues support Republicans but they couldn't stand Donald Trump so they voted for Joe Biden.


WALTER: Now Democrats are saying yes but now we're going to get them back because we're not talking about the issues that were important to them like the economy, like taxes, like inflation. Instead we are talking about abortion and election denial and democracy.

HUNT: And abortion, you know, you mentioned Trump brings Republicans home, guess what else Trump does. He brought these Democrats home --

WALTER: Yes he does.

HUNT: -- to the party.


HUNT: And he turns off Independents from Republicans. So for those suburban women voters in places like the Philadelphia suburbs or the Chicago suburbs when abortion is suddenly the salient issue, Trump is on their television all the time, they're way more likely to vote for a Democrat than they are Republican right now.

NICHOLS: Just real quick on the Siena poll that everyone's talking about. The president's approval rating is still at 42.

WALTER: That's what I mean. Yes.



PHILLIP: But that's better than it was.

NICHOLS: Right. Had you asked any Republican strategist a year ago if you want to go into the midterm elections in 2022 with the president of the United States in the low 40s they would have taken that.

WALTER: Yes. Yes.

NICHOLS: And there is this frothiness out there that that things maybe aren't going to be as bad as Democrats as they thought three months ago. But the overall environment is still bad, it still favors Republicans.

That's why when you, you know, that's why they like their chances in the House and they actually -- I mean you showed a few polls up there in the tight Senate races. It's really going to come down to three states.


NICHOLS: It was kind of (INAUDIBLE). It's going to be, you know, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, right? Like Republicans are not running away with it but they're in position. And a lot of money is going to come in.

WALTER: That's right. A Democratic strategist said to me the other we have gone from hopelessly pessimistic in May to reasonably competitive and I think that's a very fair assessment of the --

PHILLIP: The smart strategists are not getting over their skis on this. they think it puts them in the game but ultimately Democrats, abortion or no abortion, they still have to answer for the economy at the end of the day.

But stick with us. A key Republican rattled his party by calling for a nationwide abortion ban. So why did he do it? We're going to discuss next



PHILLIP: Senator Lindsey Graham stunned the Republican establishment this week introducing a bill to severely restrict abortions nationwide. It's the most significant proposal by Republicans in Congress to curtail the procedure since Roe versus Wade was overturned three months ago.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say after 15 weeks no abortion on demand except in cases of rape, incest to save the life of the mother and that should be where America is at.


PHILLIP: One Republican strategist called the move an absolute a disaster but the question is, is it?

According to Lindsey Graham -- Lindsey Graham believes according to a source that Dana Bash spoke to that he needs to give the base something here. He doesn't think that it's going to work for Republicans to ignore abortion. They have to address it head on. The source says, you can't fight something with nothing.

HUNT: You can't fight something with nothing. What I will say about what Lindsey Graham has proposed is that it is within the mainstream of opinion. Our polling shows us that, right. Americans are willing to tolerate some restrictions on a abortion at a certain point.

WALTER: Right. PHILLIP: Let's -- just to pause it for a second. Let's take a look at some of these numbers because that speaks exactly to your point. Six weeks into the pregnancy 74 percent of Americans favor abortions being allowed to proceed. 15 weeks the number drops to 53 percent. At 24 weeks, it flips. A majority say -- 65 percent say that abortion should be restricted at 24 weeks. Back to your point.

HUNT: Right. Now, so the problem -- so he is in the mainstream and part of what Republicans have been having trouble with even in red states like Kansas is that they have been taking the far extreme position which Americans do not support which is no abortions, no exceptions, right.

But the challenge here is that what Lindsey Graham is saying would apply to blue states everywhere, right. So states where currently abortion is legal he's now saying oh nationally we want to make it illegal.

He's putting his fellow senators in a very, very difficult position in places like Pennsylvania where abortion is legal and were people don't seem to want to make the change like his party right now on the extreme edge.

He's trying to allow people to get off of that extreme. But I think we have seen from the political reaction that this is not -- it's just not tenable. People don't want to hear it.

WALTER: Well, he's doing what many Republicans wished.

HUNT: Yes.

WALTER: And the Supreme Court chief justice wanted to do which was to the Dobbs case coming to that conclusion, right.

HUNT: Right.

WALTER: 15 weeks, that's fine. The state wants to have a 15-week limit we are all for it. We at the Supreme Court aren't going to overturn the precedent of Roe v Wade. That's what a lot of us assumed was going to happen before the Dobbs decision.

HUNT: But then the Senate was the most extreme, right. When Roe protections were in place, Republicans who didn't -- or I'm sorry, Democrats who supported no restrictions could be cast by Republicans as extremists.

Now with the most extreme, you know, Dobbs decision being basically allowing the most extreme positions it is very, very hard for Republicans to cast themselves as anything else.

PHILLIP: It does also strike me here that what we don't know is whether voters even want national legislation on this at all. Maybe in, you know, Mississippi and Louisiana a 15-week abortion ban is about well within the mainstream, but we actually don't know what that looks like at the national level.

But I will say this. Republicans in Washington when they were asked about what Lindsey Graham is doing they do not agree. Take a listen.


SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): This is an issue that people talk about but ultimately the campaign is going -- the election is going to be about this ridiculous inflation.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): I don't think there's anything at the national level for sure that comes anywhere close to getting 60 votes.

SEN. RON. JOHNSON (R-WI): I support this going out to the states, letting we, the people decide.



PHILLIP: And to be fair the position prior to Roe being overturned was that this was something that the states ought to decide.


NICHOLS: Yes. I mean the best line I kind of heard on the Graham move was someone privately saying well, he meant to be helpful. And I don't mean like there's a southern bless his heartness to that.

Eventually I don't know if it's going to be two cycles, three, six cycles -- you can see the country getting to me the 15-week consensus (INAUDIBLE) at this point.

WALTER: Or 20.

NICHOLS: Yes, or 20. Right, I mean not yet.

PHILLIP: I don't know that the polling really supports -- a whole lot of support --

NICHOLS: Yes. Not this cycle.

PHILLIP: But certainly as you get into 2024 it is there.

NICHOLS: Yes. Eventually you could see the country maybe coming to this consensus. We're so far away from that. And that's why this is such a divisive issue, why there will be so many elections that are fought on this.

HUNT: Well and just the existence of a national ban completely undermines the Republican argument all the way along which is for states to decide.

KIM: Which is what Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday. And I will point out one thing with the timing, too is that Lindsey Graham rolled out his he bill on Tuesday, which was the same day a pretty bad inflation report came out for the Biden administration. The is what Republicans wanted to focus on particularly that day. The stock market came crashing that day. But what everybody was

talking about was the abortion issue and how that was splitting Republicans.

PHILLIP: And from a political perspective Democrats are going to be making the argument to some voters that this is not all hypothetical anymore. A Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House means abortion restrictions are coming. And here is the contrast that Lindsey Graham literally created for voters and put on a platter for Democrats.


GRAHAM: If we take back the House and the Senate I can assure we will have a vote on our bill.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): In terms of scheduling I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.


PHILLIP: That's -- bless his heart.


PHILLIP: That is definitely a bless his heart.

NICHOLS: Here's where I think that's going to have the biggest impact is that Lindsey Graham just raised a lot of money for Democratic candidates, right. That clip out there and you've already seen this having it so animating and kind of the broader picture we're talking about which is Democratic voters coming back home.

Lindsey Graham is helping them come back home. He's helping the Democrats raise money on this. You know, it is -- in his position he saw Maroc Rubio join him as well. It is Marco Rubio's position as well. You didn't see the entire caucus. But at the end of the day Democrats --

WALTER: Florida also passed is it a 15-week ban.

HUNT: Yes. I believe it's --

WALTER: They have -- the hardest place would be in a place like Nevada which already has enshrined with abortion rights into the constitution and it gives -- and that has given Republicans in that state something to shield them from having to confront this to say I support what the voters of Nevada already voted on.

But now with Lindsey Graham it brings it back and allows Democrats in that state to say whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Remember. If you elect Republicans they're going to overturn what voters in this state approved.

PHILLIP: The Hill was chockfull of great sounds with lawmakers. I got to play this one from Nancy Pelosi. Take a listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think what you're seeing there is a conflict within the Republican Party. There are those in the party that think life begins at the candle light dinner the night before.


HUNT: Provocative.


PHILLIP: She's ready to take this to the ballot box. She knows what it means to take something that is a wedge and use it to her advantage.

HUNT: Yes, she certainly does. I mean both she and Mitch McConnell are both -- they're both reflecting, they're both politicians at their core. They are so focused and good at electoral politics in their respective realms and they both know that the way Lindsey Graham did this is a huge political problem for Republicans.

I mean they have very different styles. They said very different things. Thankfully maybe Mitch McConnell wasn't talking about candlelight dinners. But they were saying the same thing.

PHILLIP: And Nancy Pelosi speaking directly to the Democratic base, she knows how potent this is for them and how important it could be for the turnout come this fall.

But coming up next for us, is WNBA Brittney Griner getting any closer to freedom? Her wife met with President Biden on Friday and I spoke with her right after that.

We'll have more on that conversation coming up next.



PHILLIP: This week a significant development for the families of two Americans detained in Russia. President Biden held meetings at the White House on Friday with Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, and with Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, a former marine.

Now the U.S. government considers both of them wrongfully detained by Russia. And I first met Cherelle Griner back in July. And she told me then in an interview she that was deeply frustrated with the administration's response.


PHILLIP: I know that you've had some conversations with the secretary of state and with other officials, but you want to talk to President Biden, right?

CHERELLE GRINER, WIFE OF BRITTNEY GRINER: Absolutely. You know, he has that power. He is the person, you know, that ultimately will make that decision for BG to come home. So while everybody else wants to tell me they care, I would love for him to tell me he cares.


PHILLIP: And that meeting has now happened. And I spoke to Cherelle Griner again on Friday shortly after she left the White House. She told me that Biden was genuine and honest about what the administration has been trying to do behind the scenes.

She said, quote, "He's in a position where nothing is going to stop him from getting this done but he's going to continue to just see barriers along the way which is causing the elongation. It's not the fact that he isn't putting in the effort every day."

And among those barriers is this, a toxic relationship between Russia and the United States amid a war in Ukraine that just isn't going Russia's way.

CNN reported earlier this year that the Biden administration had put a prisoner swap deal on the table offering a notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for Biden and Whelan. But Biden also suggested this week that Russia had been moving the goal post in those negotiations.


PHILLIP: Cherelle Griner telling me after meeting with Biden, quote, "I don't think they've quite figured out exactly what Russia wants in return for BG."

And for now the families believe that a meeting between Biden is a key piece of this incredibly complex puzzle. Earlier this year President Biden met with the family of Trevor Reed, another American who'd been detained in Russia about a month before he was released eventually in a prisoner swap.

So could this be the beginning of the end for both Griner and for Whelan? Well, Cherelle Griner certainly hopes so. And after meeting separately with Biden on Friday as well, Elizabeth Whelan pleaded with Russia to, quote, "engage in good faith with the Biden administration".

Both families acknowledging, unfortunately, that the ball remains in Russia's court.

But that's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Don't forget you can also listen to our podcast and download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcast. Scan that QR code at the bottom of your screen.

And "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash starts next.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.