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Inside Politics

Biden Moves To Tame Gas Prices In Final Midterm Stretch; Inflation Dragging Down Dems' Midterm Outlook; Pelosi: Dems Need Better Message On Inflation; Michigan Voters Weigh In On Biden Economy; Doctor: Fetterman Has "No Work Restrictions" & Health Is Improving; Rubio Reaffirms Anti-Abortion Stance But Backs Bills With Exceptions; McCarthy Suggests GOP-Led House Would Oppose More Ukraine Aid. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 19, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a busy news day with us. President Biden again taps the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, 15 million barrels is barely one day of what America consumes, but the price of gas is hurting. Democrats' midterm prospects and the announcement from the president next hour, an effort to show he is trying to ease your pain at the pump.

Plus, a preview an important one from the man who would the speaker. No blank check for Ukraine. A promise to boot Democrats from committees, no promise to rule out cutting social security and Medicare. Kevin McCarthy gives a big window into his agenda, should Republicans take back the House and martial law. Russia signs off on new decrees direct from Vladimir Putin trying to exert more power over Ukraine.

Up first for us, though President Biden in a new move designed to help your budget a bit. And he hopes also maybe improve his party's midterm outlook some. In just a short while, the president announces a batch of new oil, drawn from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, some 15 million barrels and his energy team today won't rule out releasing more oil over the winter.

Team Biden hopes adding a little more supply to the market keeps prices stable, maybe even helps drive them down a bit. The hope is voters see this as proof the president is doing whatever he can to help in an election year. We're worried about inflation and the economy are a big drag on Democrats. Let's get straight to the White House live to our CNN's Phil Mattingly. Phil, tell us more?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, there are a few things that the individuals in the building behind me care about more than gas prices. Yes, it has a massive effect on consumers, but the political effect is very clear. There is a correlation between the president's approval between consumer sentiment, between really the prospects for Democrats in the midterm elections, it's pretty clearly tied directly to what the prices are at the pump. And that was brought into more of an acute reality when OPEC plus decided to lower its output targets by 2 million barrels.

Now, keep this in mind, John, administration officials I have been talking to have long been planning to try and deploy other tools in the weeks leading up to the election to try and dampen gas prices. The OPEC decision really accelerated that effort and expanded it, including this 15-million-barrel release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

It's actually part of the 180 million barrels unprecedented amount that the president pledged to deploy over a six-month period. The bigger issue though, is the commitment for future releases if they feel like it's a necessity, this is something that sent a very clear message to the market that may shave some sense. And yes, that matters off of the price at the pump here.

You're also going to see the president take a direct shot at oil executives and gas companies, again, a regular focus of his trying to reduce the spread between what you're seeing at the retail level on gas prices and what you're seeing at the wholesale level as well. There's some correlation there, officials tell me in terms of prices, this underscores just how important this issue is for the White House, how important the issue is for consumers.

Generally, the president also holding an infrastructure event today, talking about battery supply chains, $2.8 billion in grants, that's an inflation issue. That's the cost issue. Also, the 12 states that will benefit some of them, Georgia, Nevada, York, Michigan, you might be familiar with those states and the importance of them in the next three weeks or so, John.

KING: Interesting perspective there. Connecting the dots for us, live at the White House Phil Mattingly, appreciate that. Let's get some perspective now from one of the important midterm battleground states. Phil just went through Michigan.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny live for us in Fenton, Michigan. Jeff, you're out there. It's a big race for governor. There are several big congressional races there. You're talking to voters and also you talk to a Democratic congressman about the midterm inflation issue or for Democrats, I guess problem?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, John. And by now, three weeks before the midterm elections, Democrats had hoped the page would be turned. President Biden, of course for months has talked about how inflation was temporary. They hoped by now when people started voting and they are voting now here in Michigan, that inflation would not be at the top of mind, but it absolutely is when we talk to voters, the economy inflation so central to all of this, but we caught up with a Congressman Dan Kildee who's running here in Michigan's eighth congressional district. He said, yes, economy is a challenge, but he also is still framing this as a choice.


REP. DAN KILDEE, (D) MICHIGAN: To deal with inflation, you have to reduce costs for the American family, while we get through this for sure. But is it a challenge for us? Absolutely. People tend to hold the party, you know, that holds the White House responsible for everything. We just asked us to really think carefully about what the alternatives are. Look at the current condition of the Republican Party, look at their policies.



ZELENY: So, it is the state of the Republican party that is also very much coming up in discussions here. And Republicans have not offered a lot of policies in terms of what they would do to combat inflation and the economy. Of course, they say spending has just been simply too high in this administration. So, the next 20 days, so important in districts like this, as Democrats try and make this a choice election.

Yes, abortion is still very much an important issue, particularly here in Michigan, where abortion rights is also actually on the ballot or voters are being asked to decide if they want to add that to the state constitution. But John, still economy and inflation, top of mind to so many voters, we talked to here, John?

KING: Jeff Zeleny live for spent Michigan. Jeff, the trees behind you, that's how I know election day is close behind us. The trees are changing across the Midwest. Yes, yes, they indeed, Jeff, thanks so much. With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jeff out there, looking at there are two very competitive House races, right, in the neighborhood where he is right now. The speaker of the House is traveling quite a bit in these final weeks to try to help Democrats with turnout. An interesting interview published in Punchbowl today, I want to read a piece of it about inflation.

This is the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Inflation is there, but it's global and not as bad as it is in some countries. We'll have to message it better in the next three weeks ahead. I think we're in great shape. Other people don't want to believe that. The part about, we'll have to message it better in the next three weeks ahead.

On the one hand, many voters don't tune in until it's late. On the other hand, if you need to message it better, three weeks from election day, when in some states people are already voting. That's a concession that we have a problem.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A big concession. That comment from the House speaker, the fact as Phil reported that the president is going to give this big speech and is trying to make some moves to alleviate some of the pain at the pump. And what I thought was really interesting that we just heard from Jeff - from, yes, from Jeff, from Dan Kildee, the incumbent Democrat who's fighting to keep his seat, is it admission. Yes, we get it.

The people who are in power, always get the blame. Whether or not it is a global problem or not, and it is a global problem, they're right. But the people in power, always get the blame. Consider the alternative, that pivot is new. And I haven't heard that from others. And we'll probably hear more and more of it. You think it's bad now? Well, it's a binary choice. And remember, if you vote us out, that means you're going to be voting somebody else in and is that really who you want.

KING: And it's interesting, because this comes up too, Jeff is out there, talking to the candidates, but he's also talking to voters. A little sampling here, where some voters, it's all personal. How's my family budget? Other voters make sort of a political calculation, they try to think it through.


TOM ROY, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN VOTER: Gas prices in the economy and inflation, I hope that things get, we can continue to spend some sun, it's got to be, you know, it's like a credit card. You can only tap that so long rewards over the limit.

TRACY BOTTECELLI, MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: I want to scream from the mountaintops. It's not one guy who was doing this.

ZELENY: Some of the Democrats don't want the president (crosstalk)

BOTTECELLI: No. And blink corporations and one of the corporate greed, and yes, don't blame politics for every single thing that happens in our world.


KING: That's just a great example. There's a tug of war out there for the candidates.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: And Biden is going to do just that. We think when it comes to oil companies, it's something that you've heard a lot of Democrats hammer on throughout the midterm elections. But I really do think, particularly somewhere like Michigan.

Our Jake Lahut, was there last week, talk to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, and she said that in one of the - people are bringing up abortion to her all the time on the campaign trail, and that's not something she heard before. Now, of course, she's the Democrat. She's going to say that. However, we know we've seen elections, that the economy is top of mind, and we've seen that the party and power thrown out.

We haven't seen what happened with Roe versus Wade play out in an election. We've seen some special elections, and how, you know, some candidates who took that as their main message how that turned out. I think that this x-factor is really, you know, something that we don't know how that is going to play out at the polls yet.

KING: This is a smart. At first glance, it might be hard to read. But if you have chance, log on to the Washington Post, look at the graphic they have today about the president's approval rating and the price of gas. Again, it takes a few minutes to study the chart on the side that prepare at bars. But the president's approval rating has gone up and down with the price of gas, not at this the range is pretty modest, but it's going up and down to price a gas.

Here's where we are a year ago, it was $3.34. A month ago, it was $3.68. A week ago, it was $3.92. So, trending in the wrong direction close to the election, not today down a bit to $3.85. The president's hoping, you know, at least keep it there. Maybe what he does, you know, adds a little bit more supply knocks it down just a bit more hoping that helps.


TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Right. He's hoping to buy himself some time again knowing that election day is three weeks away. And the thing is when gas prices were surging to record highs, Republicans were blaming the Biden administration, even though we know that it's more complicated than that, and there are global issues at play.

But when gas prices started to come down, we saw President Biden and members of his administration taking that victory lap. And so, now they've got to, you know, take the responsibility. Now that gas prices are going back up again, it's more nuanced. But when you boil it down for a message during campaign season, the buck stops with the president. He understands that which is why he's making those (crosstalk)

KUCINICH: All at once.

BASH: If there were only gas prices, maybe it would be a little bit more manageable, but it's so much more than that. Maybe it's inflation across the board, the report that came out last week, eggs up 33 percent, right, the basics, the fundamentals that everybody in this country needs and relies on.

KING: Interesting to watch again, the president next hour. Next for us. More important campaign news day, a new letter from John Fetterman's doctor, trying to put to rest any questions about his health.




KING: The Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Senate John Fetterman, just last hour released a letter from his doctor that after a visit on Friday. It's the first medical update directly from a medical professional since, since - he's made since June, he suffered a stroke. Fetterman did back in May. The letter says, the Democrat is recovering well from that stroke and has no work restrictions.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, I know you've had a chance to look at the letter from Dr. Clifford Chen. A, what stands out at you and just from somebody who does this for a living? Is there anything missing? Is there any data or data point? If you're trying to assess, how's he doing? Is he getting better? Did you'd like to see here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, in terms of what this letter reveals, I mean, the big issue, the big question regarding his speech and his ability to understand, they talk a lot about that here. And Dr. Chen, who's his general practitioner says, Fetterman speech was normal. He was able to speak intelligently without any cognitive deficits. He does have auditory processing disorder, which is something that we talked about last week, John.

Dr. Chen said this auditory processing disorder comes across as hearing difficulties more than anything else. Interestingly, he makes a note here that this auditory processing seems to be localized to language, to words, but for example, he could hear music and process music without difficulty. So really making the case. This isn't a hearing problem, it's an auditory processing problem. This isn't a comprehension problem, given that he's able to still speak intelligently, did not have evidence of cognitive sort of deficit.

In terms of your second question, John. I mean, we still haven't heard really what the underlying issue was that may have caused this stroke in the first place. It sounds like it was a pretty serious event back in May, he had to have a defibrillator place and he had to have a pacemaker placed at the same time. So, what exactly was going on there, he had a procedure to remove a blood clot from a blood vessel inside his brain.

Again, I don't want to minimize what had happened to him at that point. But now, five months later, what his doctor is saying, Dr. Chen, is that these exams have continued to improve and that he is fit. This is the last line he is fit for duty for public office.

KING: There's some stats in here. I could look at them and think, OK, that seems about normal. But I have a brain surgeon right now on the TV with me. So let me put them to you. As physical exam was normal, the letter says blood pressure 115 and over 82, heart rate 80, pulse oximetry 97 percent on room air. Where's that put him on the spectrum?

DR. GUPTA: You know, all these numbers look good. I looked at all those lab values as well. I will tell you that the other thing that Dr. Chen writes here is that that Lieutenant Governor Fetterman takes appropriate medications to help control these things. We aren't told at least in this letter, what those medications are.

And the big question is, you know, what would those lab values be like, if he was not taking these medications? Nevertheless, what the underlying issues are that may have led to the stroke and any other health problems seem to be adequately controlled or addressed with these medications, which is what I think Dr. Chen is saying here. So again, functional issue in terms of auditory processing, more than cognitive and good health, you know, numbers overall.

KING: Dr. Gupta, appreciate the hustle. Help us better understand this very much. Thank you. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our reporters. In a statement releasing the letter, Fetterman essentially said, sorry Dr. Oz, I'm good, they debate next week.

BASH: That's going to be the case. Yes. That's going to be the whole ballgame, I think. When it comes to the question, obviously, the bigger issue, which is the issues and the policy debates and who could and should be the better candidate in the eyes of Senator, in the eyes of the voters. But when it comes to this open question about his ability poststroke to do the job. This debate is going to answer that question for the voters.

And the open question is whether Dr. Oz is going to be more like he was in an interview recently, where he was more like you would want a physician to be a little bit more empathetic, or whether he's going to go for the jugular like his campaign has done when he's on stage with him.

KING: Right. Questioning his ability - just questioning his ability to serve as health---

BASH: From a medical point of view.

KING: From a medical point of view, without a doubt. Obviously, this is, you know, this is the Senate race that could determine the balance of power. The story of form around the country that was going to determine the balance of power, they debate next week. Fetterman just the other day, put up an ad that starts with dealing with, you know, everyone's trying to talk about my stroke.

Now he put out this letter from his doctor. It does tell you. We just talked in the last block. Nancy Pelosi saying, we need to better message inflation. It does tell you that they understand that this is a legitimate question for voters, and they need us to do a better job answering.


KUCINICH: Well, this is about political independence, right, because Democrats aren't want the seat, Republicans want the seat. This is about the people in the middle and convincing them that Fetterman is at serve. And I think it's been interesting to see this rollout, right, because we saw it start with some of the televised interviews that Fetterman has done, explaining how he's communicating at this moment, this letter, just this kind of steady rollout where he's saying, I'm fine. And so, when he does get on that stage, you're just managing expectations. It seems like it is what they're trying to do to set the table because they know how important that debate is going to be.

MITCHELL: Yes. And I think it's also about projecting to voters that this is an even match, because I think that's something that Dr. Oz has tried to say is that, why is this guy even up here with me at this point, it's obvious that I can do a better job leading for Pennsylvania. I think what Fetterman's people are trying to show is that he can match us, he can go toe to toe, and that he's ready to serve. But you guys are right, that debate is going to say a lot.

KING: This debate is going to stay alive. This is another important Senate debate in Florida last night. It's a race that doesn't get as much attention because it has been viewed as a lien red state in the presidential elections. You had Marco Rubio, that Republican incumbent. Val Demings is the Democratic challenger. Right out of the box, the very first question got to the abortion issue.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: I'm 100 percent pro-life, because nothing as I'm going to deny anyone the rights. Because I believe that innocent human life is worthy of the protection of our laws. That said, every bill I've ever sponsored on abortion, every bill I've ever voted for, has exceptions. Every one of them does, because that's what can pass and that's what the majority of people support.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D) FLORIDA SENATE NOMINEE: Number one, you have been clear that you support no exceptions, even including rape and incest. Now as a police detective who investigated cases of rape and incest. No, Senator, I don't think it's OK. For a 10-year-old girl to be raped and have to carry the seed of her rapist. No, I don't think it's OK for you to make decisions for women and girls.


KING: It is a crystal clear, both candidates very clearly explaining their views on this issue. That's a battle for the suburbs. The question is in Florida is that as effective in argument for Democrats, as they believe it is, in some other places.

KUCINICH: Remains to be seen. John, I honestly, I mean, there's a reason that Democrats have honed-in on this issue because they believe that they have the political advantage. And that's why you have Republicans talking about the economy and inflation. But certainly, you know, Val Demings, you heard her at (Inaudible) law enforcement background even when answering that question and so.

BASH: If it's going to make a difference, meaning help her a point or two that would be a place where I think it probably could, because she's trying to get Democrats out. She's trying to get independents and Republicans who are going to vote on this abortion issue in a way that they obviously haven't before. It doesn't necessarily mean, I'm sure you'd agree with this. But this is suddenly a competitive seat, a highly competitive seat, right.

MITCHELL: Right. And that's why Demings needed the debate. She doesn't have the party apparatus behind her the way they're behind candidates in Pennsylvania or in Georgia. So, she needs these moments to try to swing voters. And I think she had some good moments that answer on abortion and invoking a 10-year-old girl who's the victim of rape, you know, I think will speak to people. But can it swing an election where polls show her down? That's a bigger question.

KING: It was a substantive debate, credit to the candidates and the moderators in the sense that it was a substantive debate. It was on the issues of some interesting conversation about guns as well, continue that conversation. Keep an eye, 20 days out, you think which data is going to surprise us, rates are going to be erased and where we don't think is going to be really competitive it might turn to me.

BASH: Yes. It could be. It could be. Right now, it doesn't look like it, but who knows.

KING: I know, it's been shifting the other way, I think for most. Up next for us. Very important conversation. Kevin McCarthy toes the line on impeachment. And he gives us a preview into just what House Republicans would do if you the voters put them back in power.



KING: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, giving us a new glimpse at just how Republicans would use their majority if they retake the House after the midterm election in 20 days. This morning, Punchbowl news where the McCarthy interview, reporting the prospective House speaker is as of now opposed to impeaching President Biden. Listen carefully.

McCarthy says this, "I think the country doesn't like impeachment used for political purposes at all. If anyone ever rises to that occasion, you have to, but I think the country wants to heal and start to see the system that actually works. McCarthy also says, House Republicans want to curtail federal spending. Interestingly, he says that could mean, cutting support for Ukraine, he says. And McCarthy did not rule out spending cuts for Medicare and social security either.

Our great reporters are still with us. Where to start is the challenge here because he had a lot in this interview. Let's start with that. McCarthy did not say we will cut social security and Medicare. Let me be crystal clear about that. He did not say we will. But he said, we wouldn't predetermine anything. When you get back into these debt ceilings.

The easy answer there politically is of course, not. Any changes to social security and Medicare, we will do only in conjunction with bipartisan agreements, with Democrats period and question. He didn't say that.