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Inside Politics

Abortion Bombshells Rock Georgia's Toss-Up Senate Race; Tight Races In Key States With A Month Until Election; Biden Blames Russians & Saudis For Rising Gas Prices; OPEC+ Cuts Oil Production Despite The White House's Pleas; Biden Takes Steps Toward Marijuana Decriminalization; Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Landmark Voting Rights Act. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired October 09, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): From bad to worse for Herschel Walker.

HERSCHEL WALKER (R), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: This here, abortion thing is false. It's a lie.

PHILLIP: An ex-girlfriend now says Walker told her to get not one, but two abortions. How much longer will GOP leader stand by him?

Plus, the White House caught flat-footed after the Saudis moved to raise oil prices.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): It is outrageous. It is ungrateful, and there needs to be consequences.

PHILLIP: Now with 30 days until the election, gas prices are headed back to four bucks a gallon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I drive over 50 miles a day and it's getting harder and harder.

PHILLIP: And the politics of pot.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.

PHILLIP: The president pardons thousands for low level drug violations. Is it the first step toward nationwide legalization?

INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


PHILLIP (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip.

Control of the U.S. Senate could well rest on the state of Georgia. And Republicans can't be feeling good about their chances there after the week their candidate has had.

Days after a woman told "The Daily Beast" that Herschel Walker encouraged her and paid for her abortion in 2009, "The New York Times" is reporting on Friday that he wanted her to have a second abortion two years later.

But that time she told "The New York Times" she refused. She has the baby who is now ten years old. That child is one of three children that Walker had not acknowledged publicly until this year. Quote, as a father, she told "The Times", he's done nothing. He does exactly what the courts say and that's it.

She said that Walker has only met his son about three times.

Now, CNN has not independently confirmed this woman's account. And here is what Walker told reporters about the initial report that he told that woman to terminate her first pregnancy.


WALKER: They're desperate to make this race about my family. They know they don't want to talk about Joe Biden and Raphael Warnock, what they've done to Georgia families.

But let me tell you this, I'm not deterred. I'm not scared, and I'm not going to bite down. The stakes are way, way too high. This here, abortion thing is false. It's a lie.


PHILLIP: Here's why this matters. Walker has made a career of decrying absentee fatherhood in the black community. He's described himself as anti-abortion without exceptions.

Walker's opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock, is trying, though, to stay above the fray.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): It's up to Georgia voters. It's not up to him, not up to me. It's up to them. My opponent has trouble with the truth, and we'll see how all of this plays out. But I am focused squarely on the health care needs of my constituents, including reproductive health care.


PHILLIP: We've got a lot to discuss. Here with me is Margaret Talev of "Axios", Astead Herndon of "The New York Times," Laura Barron-Lopez of "The PBS NewsHour", and CNN's own David Chalian.

So, Astead, this is really a messy saga, but it's more than just, you know, family drama. It seems like the Warnock or the Walker strategy here is basically to take the Trump mode and hope that no one cares?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. This is pretty clearly what's come from that campaign since these allegations have come out. They deflect, deny, but not even done so with real veracity. They haven't provided any receipts to disprove, haven't provided any reason why someone shouldn't believe what's coming because they really think that the Republican base will just double down. This has been a strategy we've seen from Republican candidates all across the country since Trump took that playbook nationally.

And the belief is that the grassroots base of Republicans simply dislikes Democrats more and will accept any and almost everything. But what we see is affecting this race is on those margins. Georgia is going to come down to a few percentage points, and we are seeing Senator Warnock go ahead of where we see the gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams be.

There seems to be an emerging Kemp/Warnock voter.


HERNDON: They're hoping that slice really takes Democrats over the top specifically in the Senate race.


And we have seen Walker do basically nothing to try to win those folks back.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, look, they're asking a lot of voters here.

I mean, just take a look at some of the many issues that he's had to address so far in the campaign. Domestic abuse allegations, I mean, serious domestic abuse allegations against an ex-girlfriend. He had a previously undisclosed children, as I mentioned, three of them. He falsely claimed that he graduated from the University of Georgia, which he didn't. He claimed to be a law enforcement officer. He's exaggerated his business record.

And what you're hearing from the Warnock campaign is lie upon lie upon lie.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, PBS NEWSHOUR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. To Astead's point, they have provided no evidence to suggest that they are lies or to say -- to back up their claim. At this point, all the evidence is stacked against walker in terms of the woman who came forward and saying that he paid for this abortion. There are all these receipts to back that up.

On your point, Abby, I think a lot of Republicans, whether it's the Republican base in Georgia as well as the Republican Party apparatus, they knew some of those things before they even decided to back Warnock. They still decided Warnock is our candidate, we're backing him anyways because former President Trump did. And they've stuck by him despite all these damming allegations. And I think part of that is because when we get down to what has happened with the Republican base over the years, is that one stat to me really sticks out, which is that in 2011, 30 percent of white evangelicals said, only 30 percent said if someone had a moral failing in their personal life, then I think they can ethically lead public office. Now 72 percent.

PHILLIP: Yeah, we actually have that poll. It's a PRRI poll back in 2011, 36 percent, 2020, 71 percent.

Yet I bet, Chalian, a lot of Republicans are like, is it too late to do something different? It is too late.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And you see that by what they're doing. That's why you see Rick Scott and Tom Cotton going down to Georgia this week. That's why you see Ralph Reed, a social conservative leader in the movement and with Georgia roots, on the day this is happening, like go out and talk to reporters and totally vouch for Walker, because there's no other option here for them.

Listen, it's a 50/50 Senate. This is a linchpin race for the Republicans if they are indeed going to take over the majority, and this is -- this is their candidate. I mean, I do think we have to be a little careful here because I don't think we know yet how voters are responding to these allegations and how much of this is baked in or not, to pre-existing perceptions of Walker because these other stories you highlighted are out there.

So, I don't know that we really have a sense yet of how much this shifted voters' perceptions.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We will know in the next few days.

CHALIAN: No doubt about it. And the Republicans are locked in through November 8 and perhaps through December 6, because remember, control of the Senate may hang on a Georgia runoff yet again.

TALEV: This has always been a somewhat cynical -- the idea of the Herschel Walker campaign was he a famous be loved football star in Georgia and that would carry the day. And now, we're in a moment where there are Republican efforts not just to make abortion illegal, but to penalize people who help women to get abortions.

I've been -- my ear has been very as tuned to his denials that he never paid anybody to have an abortion because it would be a potentially prosecutable crime in some states, and that is the moment that we're in.


TALEV: There are multiple issues around these allegations, one is the sort of political candidate hypocrisy. The other is the fatherhood, these alleged texts where the son is do you know how old I am? Like, you know, can you come to my baseball game? Like, these are -- it is -- it's heartbreaking. PHILLIP: Yeah, easy for people to understand. Also, one of Herschel

Walker's sons who he did acknowledge, Christian walker, has been one of the most forceful voices against his father. Just take a listen to some of what Christian Walker has been saying, the videos that he's been posting over the last few days.


CHRISTIAN WALKER, HERSCHEL WALKER'S SON: I stayed silent as the atrocities against my mom were downplayed. I stayed silent when it came out that my father Herschel Walker had all these random kids all across the country, none of whom he raised.

Family values people, he has four kids, four different women. Wasn't in the house racing one of them. He was out having sex with other women. Do you care about family values?


PHILLIP: That is one of the many reasons that this isn't going to go away. And for the audience of your -- Christian Walker identifies as a conservative, supported his father.


But when he says atrocities, he's talking about his mother who is the person that alleged Herschel Walker abused her in their marriage. So, it goes very deep.

HERNDON: It does go very deep. I think the premise of the Walker campaign was around his celebrity, but also around those stereotypes around black fatherhood. I mean, this was someone specifically pushing the idea that he was different than those type of stereotypes and really playing on that toward the base.

But this scandal speaks directly to that. I think what we'll see is how much voters are going to judge that. But you're also going to see Democrats really -- really try to bring over those margins. I think that is going to be where this race is won and lost.

We know you can raise more money among the Trump voter base by doubling down. We know they can increase enthusiasm on the grassroots conservative side, but that is not enough to win in this current version of Georgia.

TALEV: But you mentioned the split ticket, and you're right, the trick about the split ticket is there are going to be Republican voters in the state of Georgia who turn out to vote for Governor Kemp.

So the question is not are those vote going to stay home? The question is when those voters look at the ticket, are they going to skip the race or vote a different way? And I think without Kemp on the ticket, this is a different scenario. But with Kemp on the ticket, you have a turnout motivation.

But many of those voters who like Kemp like him because he has space from Donald Trump. So, there's a lot going on here.

PHILLIP: I want to switch gears just a little bit, but this is important. And it speaks to what you're saying, Astead, about racist stereotypes. Here is Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville talking about crime and reparations and you'll see what the connections he makes on that.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): Some people say, well, they're soft on crime. No, they're not soft on crime. They're pro-crime. They want crime.

They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparation because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit. They are not owed that.


PHILLIP: I mean, just straight up racism from a sitting United States senator, but really talking to white voters about their own preconceived notions of Black people being responsible for crime and not deserving anything as a result of it.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right, and the they being the Democrats who are supportive of this supposed Black crime which, as you said, I mean, there's no other way to look at that and listen to that and say that it isn't racist. I mean, it is racist.

But one thing is that again, this, as well as the Herschel Walker element, it's all playing to this majority White base. If you look at what determines whether someone is Republican now, it tends to be whether they're White and, you know, whether they're -- how religious they are and what type of religion do they subscribe to.

PHILLIP: And their education level.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And their education level.

So, you know, Republicans are playing to this predominantly white evangelical base, and again, this all comes down to power. It's not really about abortion. It's down to the fact that they're okay with their elected officials either saying racist things or potentially paying for an abortion because they want their people in power instead of Democrats.

PHILLIP: A really sad state of affairs.

But stick with us. Coming up next, will two Sunbelt states Biden carried in 2020 go red this November?


[08:17:43] PHILLIP: New CNN polling in two critical midterm states find the races for senator and governor are in a dead heat with just 30 days to go before Election Day.

So, here is the big takeaway, Republicans are running now in a very favorable environment. But Democrats have still managed to keep those races competitive.

CNN's David Chalian is back with us and he's going to take us through some of these really interesting numbers out of Nevada and Arizona.

So what are we seeing here?

CHALIAN: Yeah. I mean, we polled the governor's race, Senate race and secretary of state races, Abby, in these two critical battleground states.

And take a look, five of these six races are all in the margin of error. It's razor-thin. So, you're talking about races that could go either way. The only race outside the margin of error is this race here. Kelly has a slight edge in the Senate race in Arizona over Blake Masters. So, keep your eye for the next 32 days or so on these states. What's driving these races, it's the economy and inflation.


CHALIAN: I mean, look at this -- this is where, when we talk about, as you just said, an environment that seems favorable to Republicans, here is the issue. By far, the top issue for voters in both states is economy and inflation.

Abortion, which obviously is activating Democrats, there are far fewer people saying it's their top issue. Same thing here with voting rights and election --

PHILLIP: I do want to pause here for a moment because I think when you look at this -- I mean, both of these states are very close, these races are very close. But Nevada, 44 percent, almost half the electorate say the economy is the top issue. If we pop back up to the match-ups here, what you're seeing in Nevada are really, these are the dead heats. Like these are essentially tied races in a state that Democrats had thought for a little while would be a little bit more blue, frankly, than Arizona.

CHALIAN: Yes. But this is where you also get at candidate quality. Let me just -- let's stay here, though, because I want to stress to people, you're noting 44 percent in Nevada say economy and inflation is important. And, overwhelmingly, the voters who say so want to vote Republican in the midterms. That is the problem for Democrats.

And when you look here, perceptions of the economy are terrible.


Sixty-three percent in Arizona say the economy is worse. Fifty-seven percent in Nevada, Biden's approval is not helping anyone -- 41 percent approve, 58 disapprove basically in both states.

But to your point, so why then are Republicans not kind of sweeping the floor with Democrats here, and this gets at the candidate quality issue. So, you said that Democrats were thinking Nevada could be easier than Arizona. Well, Blake Masters has very high unfavorability ratings, 51 percent unfavorable compared to Mark Kelly's 42 percent.

In Nevada, the two candidates have roughly equal unfavorables. So, Adam Laxalt is not seen as tied to Donald Trump as Blake Masters is. His unfavorables aren't as high and that's causing a much tighter race in Nevada.

PHILLIP: And candidate quality obviously matters on both sides of the ledger. But in these two states, Trump really looms large but especially in the state of Arizona. There's also some demographics at play here in both these states. You have a pretty sizable Latino populations. What are we seeing there?

CHALIAN: Yeah. I thought this was one of our most interesting numbers in our battleground state polls conducted by SSRS. If you take a look here, in our brand new poll, Mark Kelly has 60 percent among Latino, compare that to the exit polls in 2020 when he was on the ballot, he got 65 percent of support among Latinos.

Now, both Cortez Masto and Kelly are winning among Latino votes. But here, in our poll, she's got 52 percent support, compare that to her exit poll when she was on the ballot in 2016. She had 61 percent support.

So, both the Democrats are running in our poll right now a little behind with Latinos than where they were in the last election.

PHILLIP: This is the subject of a lot of conversation among Democrats right now, whether they are seeing some erosion in Latino voters, and for a lot of Latino voters, the economy is such a huge issue, maybe an overriding issue, perhaps like all voters. But it is something that is of a factor.

One more thing before we go -- I mean, these two states are so critically important in the overall Senate landscape, right, it's a nail-biter. 30 days before the election, we're looking at the prospect of maybe another 50/50 split, maybe, if anything, a 51/49 split.

CHALIAN: Yeah, I mean, the joy about a 50/50 Senate when you're a political observers like we are is that any one state can be the state that makes the different. But if you look here at the yellow states, the true toss-up states, Nevada, which we were just talking about, Georgia, we were talking about in the last segment about Herschel Walker and Pennsylvania.

If you basically want to boil the map down, the party that's going to win two out of three of those contests is more likely going to be the party with the majority vote.

PHILLIP: And on this map, you see few others. I mean, you got Wisconsin, North Carolina, a little bit of a sleeper state that some Democrats are starting to take a second look at as well.

David Chalian, thank you. You'll be back with us.

Coming up next for us, though, how a decision from the world's top oil producers could hurt Democrats' chances this November.



PHILLIP: A fist bump turns slap in the face. That is how one analyst describes the move by OPEC this week to raise oil prices by cutting production. So, that means higher gas prices here at home which were already inching up before this move.

President Biden wants Americans, of course, to blame Russia and Saudi Arabia.


BIDEN: I was able to bring gasoline down well over $1.60, but it's inching up because of what the Russians and Saudis just did. I'm not finished with that yet.


PHILLIP: And the White House insists that the president's visit earlier this year to Saudi Arabia wasn't a waste of time.

His fellow Democrats say the kingdom needs to be held to account.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I question whether or not they are allies and whether or not we should be trusting them when it comes to critical decisions.

KHANNA: For them not to ease when we have an energy crisis, for them to play the United States while they are making over nearly $100 million, they have a 73 percent margin on this, it is outrageous, it is ungrateful and there need to be consequences.


PHILLIP: Margaret, the president went to Saudi Arabia and took a lot of heat for it and did it because he knew he needed to do something to at least try to bring down oil prices, but now it's really just come back to backfire. And the Saudis seem to be thumbing their nose at him in a very overt way saying we really don't care, we're going to do this 30 days before your midterm elections whether you like it or not.

TALEV: Correct. I mean, look, I think the image that we just showed, again, the fist bump image is the one that haunt Biden in perpetuity. Had he not done that trip, would things be better for gas prices? No. I mean, I don't see that argument. But going didn't accomplish what the White House hoped it would, and neither did months of lobbying by multiple layers of officials.

And now the question really is one of domestic politics. I think the solutions that people are talking about, potential solutions have consequences themselves for intelligence, for geopolitics, for Russia policy, for Iran policy. There's not a simple answer to this and even if there was, politically, there's not a simple answer before November other than messaging.

So, the question is what is the real impact of the Saudi and the OPEC move going to be in terms of gas prices. They'll go up. Are they going to go up 20 cents a gallon or $1.50 a gallon? The answer to that matters for politics. What's the next move for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and how do Democrats message this.

And we've seen Gavin Newsom in California call a special session in the legislature, suggest there's going to be some kind of rebate mechanism. He's got to do that. Gas prices are $6.00 and God knows what, and he's probably running for president.

But what are Biden's messaging nodes (ph) that's what I would watch for in the next few weeks.

PHILLIP: It's also -- I think one of the issues that Ro Khanna and Dick Durbin are raising is broadly about what does this say about U.S. global power, about our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia?

The "New York Times" David Sanger and Ben Hubbard write, "If there's any lesson from Mr. Biden's bitter experience, it is that the days are gone when American presidents can request favors from their Saudi allies and expect them to be carried out merely for the good of the relationship or to ensure the continued American commitment to protecting the kingdom from foreign attacks."

That's a pretty dire reality perhaps that we are now facing, that Biden is facing.


CHALIAN: And a significant change, right. I mean I think they're noting a significant difference there. Remember, this is a kingdom that Joe Biden in the presidential campaign called a "pariah", right. And then had to swallow all of that to go do that fist bump to get caught trying something and still not working at all.

So to your point, yes, I think there's an obvious difference politically between $1.50 a gallon increase or 25 cents, but it's going in the wrong direction. So like it is not politically anywhere where the White House would like to be 30 days out and that just presents a huge headache.

As Margaret was noting the message and you heard Joe Biden in that piece of sound that you played, Abby, I don't know that American voters are going to buy his argument about this being about Russia and Saudi when they go to the pump and feel the pain of increased prices.

The president -- you know, the buck stops here -- tends to take on a lot of the responsibility for that.

HERNDON: And we saw this earlier this year. I mean when gas prices were at their highest, that was when President Biden's approval rating was at the lowest. You can pretty much track these things in correlation even though the causation question is murky, right. It's not his fault but he'll definitely be blamed.

I think the White House is right to be deeply scared about this. The numbers you were just showing with the inflation and the economy at the highest in terms of voters' concerns, gas prices are usually what triggers consumers feeling worse about the economy, even going past where experts are in terms of the economic conditions.

I think the White House is very right to be worried about this, because on their worst issue, to David's point, it's moving in the wrong direction.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And the White House all along, even as Democrats have, you know, rallied around abortion rights messaging, has said time and time again when you talk to them that they think the election is going to be about the economy.

And so that's why you see the president going out and trying to make these speeches about what they've done so far to help people's pocketbooks, you know, the inflation reduction act with the prescription drug prices, because they're trying to show that, while we may not be able to control gas prices despite all of his efforts, you know, even going to Saudi Arabia, that there are other areas that they're trying to help people when it comes to inflation.

PHILLIP: You both have brought up those poll numbers. So I'll show everyone again. The economy is far and away the top issue for voters beyond abortion which is the second highest.

But look at where crime is. I mean Republicans have been trying to pivot to crime but it's all the way down basically at the bottom. And actually, if you listen to Kevin McCarthy, you can see him -- this is the Republican leader in the House -- you can see him really wanting to make that pivot to firmer ground if you're a Republican.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Think of what he did on the very first day ending an American pipeline, stopping leases. He's made us dependent upon Russia, Saudi Arabia and now Venezuela.

America could be energy independent where the price of our gas would be lower, inflation would be lower.


PHILLIP: Not a whole lot Biden can do about this, but it's going to be a problem as we head into the midterms.

TALEV: The best thing that Biden can hope is the fact that gas prices hit $5.00 in June and that they probably won't hit $5 again before November 8th has given him a little bit of a cushion.

But there's some magic Rubicon. I don't know if it's $4.50 a gallon. There's something that people will freak out about and they are just hoping it doesn't get to that before November.

PHILLIP: In some ways, 30 days means it's not that much time for gas prices to go up dramatically.

But coming up next for us, could President Biden's move toward decriminalizing marijuana light up the Democrats ahead of November?



PHILLIP: A little history for you. In 1970, two years before Joe Biden first entered the senate, the federal government classified marijuana as a schedule one drug, that's the same category as substances like heroin and LSD. And now 52 years later, Biden as president is trying to change that.

He's directing the Health and Human Services Department to review how cannabis is classified under federal law and he'll pardon thousands who were convicted under federal law for possessing or using marijuana.

Now, it's a significant move that fulfills a campaign promise that he made back in 2020. And Biden says that it is a step forward for criminal justice.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I said when I ran for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. It's already legal in many states. And criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, to housing and educational opportunities. And that's before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences.


PHILLIP: So this is probably a good moment to sort of give credit where it's due. This is not something that they just came up with yesterday. They've been working on this, deliberating on it, rolling it out now right before the midterm elections with an eye toward fulfilling more promises which is what voters have been asking him for.

BARRON-LOPEZ: That's right. And it's also a big move from President Biden who on the campaign trail, you know, said that he didn't know if the data was fully there and called marijuana a gateway drug.

So this is -- you know, we've seen Biden move from that to all the way to here which is fulfilling one of the biggest pieces of this, which is potentially de-scheduling marijuana which effectively would decriminalize it.

That's one of the possibly most impactful elements of this because the pardons impact some 6,500 people, these are people that aren't in prison right now. It's ones who have misdemeanors and who, you know, this could impact whether they get housing, whether they get jobs and all of that.

But one thing still left on the table that a lot of marijuana criminal justice reform advocates have talked to me about is that there are still some 2,700 non-violent cannabis offenders that are in federal prison. And they've been pushing the Biden administration on that since the president took office. And so they're hoping that next year -- some time next year, the president moves on that.

PHILLIP: One of the interesting things about the moment that we're in, just to your point about Biden's evolution, the country has made basically the same evolution.

I mean looking back to 1973, right. Like this is even after Biden was elected to the senate, 19 percent said that they supported legalizing marijuana. That number in 2021 is now up to 60 percent.

Part of this is because, take a look at what the country has been doing. It's pretty much legal or decriminalized in a lot of this country. I mean when you look at the population centers of this country, that's a huge swath of Americans.

TALEV: I like the green --


PHILLIP: The green means legal.


PHILLIP: It is a sea change. And so for the administration to do that now is really just reflecting where a lot of the public already is.

TALEV: It's a majority of Republicans, by the way. Also support decriminalization or legalization of marijuana. What Biden is doing is not wave a magic wand. There are still states that can, you know, continue these incarceration policies, but it's certainly pressure in that direction.

And the racial disparities around sentencing are undeniable. This is not a matter for debate. It is statistically undeniable. And so this is a racial justice policy in addition to something that's popular.

PHILLIP: Real quick, though, before you jump in, Astead, you were talking about Republicans. This is Nancy Mace, a Republican congresswoman talking about Biden's move.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I want to give credit where credit is due. I don't always agree with the Biden administration. I've been very vocal about that. But this is a step in the right direction. The president wants to pardon people for very simple possession of non-violent cannabis offenders at the federal level. And he wants to encourage our governors across the country to do the same. I think that's a great first step.


PHILLIP: From Nancy Mace to John Fetterman who has been for decriminalizing marijuana from the beginning and thanked Biden in a tweet over the last couple of days saying that he spoke with Biden about decriminalizing marijuana.

This has become an issue in that race in Pennsylvania but it just goes to show, that's a pretty wide swath of a spectrum there, agreement on this issue.

HERNDON: Yes. Ideologically there is agreement about some DNR (ph), about criminal justice reform and this piece of it. I think if we see Biden as a kind of central figure of the Democratic Party, someone who represents that middle wing, I think this is a kind of culmination of those efforts.

We've seen a number of those in this presidency from marijuana reform to student debt cancellation. I think that's a real victory for the kind of grassroots progressive wing which really pushed him to embrace some of these issues.

Biden was the outlier in the primary for his refusal to really embrace this type of marijuana reform. You're getting it close to these midterms because there's a recognition that it can be one of those drivers, particularly of young people, particularly of people who are kind of disaffected who think this is one of those issues that matter for some folks.

And Biden has finally come around after that type of pressure. I think that is because there is DNR pushing it.

CHALIAN: And one of the first things that I will look for in the exit polls on election night is sort of did this actually increase turnout among younger voters. Did this come up suggesting they made these policy changes purely politically but the potential benefit that Astead is talking about, we saw in 2018 an explosion of youth turnout in those midterms.

I'm wanting to see the student debt issue, the marijuana issue which tend to have appeal for younger voters as well, do we see it have that kind of political impact?


PHILLIP: And broadly among Democrats who generally want to see Biden doing more of the things that he said he was going to do. So that's what we will also be looking for.

Coming up next for us though, could the Supreme Court strike another blow to the Voting Rights Act in this latest case? I'll speak to one of the lawyers representing the challengers in the Alabama case coming up next.


PHILLIP: The very first Supreme Court class photo was taken in 1867, and this is what it looked like. Now 150 years later, there's a new and very different court, the most diverse in U.S. history, you see it there. But that court on Tuesday wrestled with a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and could ultimately decide to keep or scrap parts of this civil rights bill.


PHILLIP: Now, the case centers around lawsuits seeking to force Alabama to create a second black majority congressional district. The state's voting age population is about 27 percent black, and yet it only has one black majority congressional district.

Alabama argues that the federal government should only step in if there was intentional racial discrimination in creating the state's congressional map, but the challengers vehemently disagree.

They point out that regardless of the intent, the consequences of Alabama's map is that it severely restricts the voting power of its black citizens.

Joining me now is one of the lawyers who represented the challengers, Deuel Ross who is a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Deuel, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

So at one point -- at one point in the oral arguments this week, Justin Kagan who is one of the liberal justices on the court says that if Alabama prevails in this case, it would essentially cut back substantially on our 40 years of precedent.

And she also asked, so what's left? I want to pose that question to you. I mean what is left of the Voting Rights Act if Alabama ultimately prevails here in, I should note, a very conservative Supreme Court?

DEUEL ROSS, LAWYER, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND: Yes. So what Alabama is essentially arguing is that the Voting Rights Act only prohibits intentional discrimination. And even worse, Alabama is saying that any time you use race and redistricting, that that itself is potentially unconstitutional.

And so if Alabama prevails on those arguments then, you know, it would make it much more difficult for any state, city council, school board, to draw majority, minority districts and would really have a -- really negative effect on the ability of minorities to elect candidates to congress and to every sort of representative body in the country.

And so, you know, Alabama's argument also flies in the face of what Congress did 40 years ago when they amended the Voting Rights Act and expressly eliminated any sort of intent requirement.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean I read some of the analysis of what we heard in the oral arguments this week that suggested that the conservative justices in their questioning seemed to indicate that maybe they're looking for a way to just simply uphold Alabama's congressional map without perhaps making more sweeping changes to the Voting Rights Act, perhaps gutting the Voting Rights Act even further.

Was that your interpretation of what transpired?

ROSS: You know, it's hard to tell what the justices were getting at, but I think certainly they didn't seem to be accepting of Alabama's sweeping view of the limits of the constitution and of Congress's power to address racial discrimination and voting.

And so, you know, I think that there were definitely acknowledgments from, you know, Justice Barrett, from Justice Alito that the Voting Rights Act does reach further than intentional discrimination which is as I said, exactly what Congress did when they amended it.

And so we're hopeful that whatever the outcome is that Alabama's more extreme arguments didn't seem to take much hold before the court.

PHILLIP: Do you think, by the way, that there is a way for the court to do that, to just simply narrowly deal with Alabama's map and not address the Voting Rights Act?

ROSS: You know, I think that this, as Justice Kagan pointed out, is sort of a slam dunk, traditional Voting Rights Act case. Not only, you know, plaintiffs, essentially what's happening in this case is that plaintiffs presented some alternative maps just to show that it was possible for Alabama to draw an additional majority/minority district.

And those maps look very similar to maps that Alabama drew for the Board of Education plan which has eight districts, two of which are majority black and so it's sort of difficult for Alabama to argue, you know, that it's impossible to draw an additional minority/majority district when Alabama itself basically did the same thing at the same time in 2021.

And so, you know, we think that any correct interpretation of the Voting Rights Act is consistent with the law would require Alabama to do more than it's currently doing with respect to black representation in the state.

PHILLIP: We also heard Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest justice on the court making what is essentially an originalist argument in her line of questioning. Originalism, you know, as many people understand, is typically viewed as the purview of the conservative side of the court. Were you surprised to see her make that kind of argument?

ROSS: I think the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendment, the reconstruction amendments were passed to specifically empower Congress and the courts to protect the rights of African Americans and other people of color.


ROSS: And so I was glad to hear Justice Jackson bring up the fact that, you know, we had fought a civil war in which thousands, millions of Americans died to get those amendments added to the Constitution, and that to ignore that history really ignores the sacrifices that many people made in this country to have unity in it.

PHILLIP: Deuel Ross, thank you so much for joining us. I know that we'll be watching what happens in this case, a critically important case for the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Thank you for waking up early for us.

ROSS: Thank you for having me.

PHILLIP: And that is it for us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Don't forget you can listen to our podcast, download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcast and scan that QR code at the bottom of your screen for more.

And coming up next on CNN, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests today include Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy.

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