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Biden Slams "Mega-MAGA Trickle Down" Policies In Midterm Pitch; NV Sen. Race Deadlocked, Could Decide Who Controls Senate; Biden Admin Talking To Elon Musk About Using Satellite Internet Inside Iran. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 21, 2022 - 12:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And on the Democratic side, perhaps not so much.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not quite as much. But look, there's some Democrats out there as well. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is campaigning a lot. Ro Khanna is campaigning. Senator Bernie Sanders is going out. Former President Barack Obama is going out. Jill Biden is probably the biggest Democratic star on the campaign trail.

But look, the point is the President, not uncommon for presidents at this moment, they simply are not in demand, which is why we see him at the White House or Delaware, much more than actually on the campaign trail. But what a lot of those Republicans have in common, they're thinking about running for 2024. So yes, it's to help other Republicans but it's also a bit self-serving. And that's only a fraction of the list. You could add Mike Pompeo to it. Mike Pence to it, on and on, so.

KASIE HUNT, CNN NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's funny how many of them have shown up in New Hampshire, which is not necessarily in most headed Senate race on the map, and Iowa also not the most.

ZELENY: Rick Scott was in Iowa. Steve Scalise was in Iowa yesterday.

HUNT: And there's, yes, I mean, it's for Chuck Grassley. Well, no, he was there for house race I think. And it's so interesting to me.

PHILLIP: Yes. I can't imagine why that might be. But there is a part of this. That is just raising the question. And I think we should, especially those of us who've covered White House before. Does the President campaigning for these candidates really end up mattering all that much. And here's Ron Klain's take on that when asked about Biden's strategy.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Both President Obama, I was here, I'll share responsibility for it, and President Trump got walloped in the midterms. So I don't think it should surprise anyone that we're not using the strategy that failed in 2010 and the strategy that failed in 2018. Instead, what you're seeing is the President is traveling the country, with Democrat elected officials with Democratic candidates, and he's talking about the issues that really impact people.


FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: And Democrats are kind of having the best of both worlds here, Abby, they get the President sometimes coming to their state where they go to reception that aren't always on camera. And they get to fundraise with the President among party insiders who want to donate money to their campaigns in order to be in the room with the President. But yet they also don't have to be seen out there with the President of the United States.

And he says that there's roughly 15 to 20 people who are asking for him to come out on the campaign trail. And he -- we expect him to be out there more frequently. But at the same time, some of the states we're not seeing him in are these top Senate races, Arizona, Nevada, he was out on the western swing, and didn't go to those states. And actually, there were two House members who were from Nevada, who went to the state of California to be at one of those fundraising receptions with the President. The White House says that those where people want him to be. And the question, Abby, is do they want him to be in some of the Senate races in --

HUNT: Well, and I mean, look, the challenge here is that it's just there's no rosy way even for Democrats to spin it. The President is unpopular, and in many cases, he's more unpopular than some of these candidates who are Democratic candidates who are running. One of the interesting things we've seen this year is people have been more willing to say they want to vote for the Democratic Party, but they don't like the Democratic president. That's actually kind of one of these unusual dynamics that's been going on behind the scenes.

And as much as Democrats want to try to say in public that it's otherwise, I mean, that's just the reality of the challenge of the whole thing. And, you know, I think there's also, you know, people don't want to talk about questions of, you know, whether the President is going to be at his most effective self in these kinds of rallies, and loud, raucous events. Perhaps if they thought that he was, they might put him in those kinds of scenarios but they're not.

PHILLIP: You want to play to the President's strength and I mean, you heard him today, mega MAGA trickle down. I don't know if that's going to stick. But it's where does he play the best, and I think that the White House is basically saying, we think that he is better raising money, we think that he is better talking about policy. And we don't think it's necessary to put him in front of a raucous crowd to what end?

ZELENY: I think he's doing a lot more interviews than he has been previously, really between the month before the election, he'll do more than in his entire presidency. But look, I think that Joe Biden is not the rallying kind of guy. I mean, he didn't do that running for president. But the question is about the purpose of rallies. They're actually organizing tools. They're for early voting, registering, getting volunteers out of things. So that's why this actually matters not just simply holding a rally.

But Ron Klain there, he's been around a lot of midterm elections, making a bit of lemonade there, I would say. You know, it's our decision to not do it. The reality is --

HUNT: That's kind of what I was reacting.

ZELENY: -- he's not in demand. And, you know, he just is -- that's not the kind of person. That's not saying what he's doing isn't effective, though, talking about the accomplishments, I think is something good. But there's going to be a Democratic president who's out there doing rallies and that's Barack Obama starting next Friday, Saturday, and then the following weekend in Nevada.

PHILLIP: I think that the moral of the story is that there's probably just one big Democratic star still on the table and it's President Obama, who will be out next week.


Coming up next for us, the sleeper Senate races that you should be paying attention to, and that could tip the balance of power.


PHILLIP: Here's something you should keep an eye on, Democrats fighting to win close races out west and in New York of all places. Republicans hope that key issues like crime and inflation may give them an opening to pick up seats in these places that are typically leaning blue. That is bad news for Democrats who really cannot afford to lose ground in their fight to defy history, frankly, and to keep control of the House and the Senate.

My panel is back with me. In particular, one of the toughest Senate races is turning out to be in the West, in the state of Nevada where you have Catherine Cortez Masto going up against Republican Adam Laxalt and that raised according to a recent CBS poll is basically, basically virtually tied 48, 49. What's going on there?

NATHAN GONZALES, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, INSIDE ELECTIONS: And that's where it's been for most of the cycle. I mean Nevada, I would say under normal circumstances leans blue but these are not particularly normal midterm circumstances. And where we've seen Republicans make gains in Nevada is in midterm elections, to with the Democratic president, that's where we are.


I think Nevada is fascinating, because Laxalt is a good example of that. I believe political experience matters. We haven't seen him have the same kind of struggles, who we've seen Blake Masters or Herschel Walker, or J.D. Vance in Ohio, who are first time candidates who have really struggled to get their general election sea legs. But Nevada, you know, it's been at the core of the battleground and remains there I think until November.

CHAMBERS: And this week, we heard Rick Scott, the National Republican Senatorial Committee leader have a very optimistic view of what he thought Republicans could achieve. I mean, you're the President, have a very optimistic view just a few minutes ago, well, what Democrats could achieve. But as far as Republicans are concerned, Rick Scott, saying that he thinks they could get up to 55 seats even, they would have to run the table essentially, in win all of these competitive, all of the competitive seats that Democrats are currently holding in the United States Senate, including Colorado, which right now you see the incumbent up by more than eight points against, you know, Republican Joe O'Dea in that race.

GONZALES: And that's just running the table. They're taking races that aren't even on the table.

PHILLIP: Right to be clear, Nathan, you are much more conservative about the outlook in the Senate. I mean, you're thinking one move forward for the Democrats or one move forward for the Republicans not really a whole lot more than that.

GONZALES: If things break late, you know, maybe they're plus two plus three, but plus five is a lot.

HUNT: It seems very optimistic. I mean, so if -- we can go back to Nevada for a second. I mean I find this race particularly interesting, because it will showcase a couple of the sort of trends that are going on more broadly, like, yes, it's one single state. But first of all, if you look at those numbers, and how close they are, I think that's going to give us a very good barometer of where the country is, in some ways, it's a generic ballot test. You're right that Adam Laxalt is a relatively experienced candidate compared to others. But they're both a little bit sort of blank slates compared to say, Pennsylvania or Georgia where the candidates are extremely well known. So you get this sort of purer test.

The other thing it's going to show and, you know, Hispanic voters, we never want to make the mistake of lumping them all together, first of all, that can be offensive to people. But second of all, it's not necessarily politically astute, but there is one kind of Hispanic voter that typified in Nevada, and we're going to get a real good test of where they are. Are they with the Republican Party more than they are with the Democratic Party? This has been one of the trends that's been ongoing. It concerns a lot of Democratic strategists as it should.

PHILLIP: The economy really looms large in Nevada, where the hospitality industry is such an important part of the economy. But I do want to talk about what's going on in New York, because in New York, you've got according to Nathan's race ratings, and by the way, go online and take a look at them, you are moving now, by my count five New York congressional races away from the Democrats. That is part of a microcosm of what's going on in that state where crime is really on the ballot. Listen to some of these ads, playing in New York on this very issue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Underfunded police, ending cash bail, releasing violent criminals back on our streets, Robert Zimmerman supports the same reckless policies that created this crime wave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cashless bail is a huge threat to every Nassau County family, including yours. Unfortunately, Laura Gillen doesn't get that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathy Hochul knows the more you focus on her record, rising crime, pay to play corruption, higher cost of living, the less you'll want her as governor.


PHILLIP: This is a -- it's New York, right? A blue state but Democrats are in a fight, in the governor's race, and in many of these congressional seats.

ZELENY: Without a doubt. And I mean, in one of the biggest reasons you mentioned five seats. That's all it takes for Republicans just to win the majority. So that is why Democrats are so worried about New York. But look, they got a very unfavorable and surprising redistricting hand handed to them. They thought and this goes back to Andrew Cuomo, we could talk about why this happened. But now that it, right, exactly, now that is happening, there are very, very tough races happening in congressional seats.

And yes, it's a blue state. There are many, many, many Republicans in the state of New York. So yes, they're going to win some of those seats. The governor's race, we'll see. I mean Kathy Hochul is a new governor. She's not too been in this kind of challenge before. And crime is an issue without question. But this is one of the things that, you know, it's a choice, not a referendum on her unnecessarily. So if she can make it into a choice with Lee Zeldin, you know, who has a January 6th history of his own but the fact that Democrats are spending as much money in New York, that's certainly one of the issues.

But back to the economy for one quick second, I think if you had to frame the question facing voters, abortion, or the economy, that is really what's going to it's going to come down to us in Michigan this week. And that is really -- there's a sense that I'm not sure that I trust most polls at this point. Because pollsters and a lot of people have different views on abortion they're not going to tell a pollster so let's be a little bit. Let's just let this play out and not so --

PHILLIP: It is a push and pull. And we don't know how that tug of war is going to end up between the economy and abortion.


But coming up next for us, a CNN exclusive, why the Biden administration is in talks with Elon Musk about Iran.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIP: We have new and exclusive CNN reporting now, the Biden White House is negotiating with Elon Musk to provide dissidents inside of Iran with satellite internet. CNN's Natasha Bertrand broke this story. Natasha, the White House has been looking for ways to help and support these protesters inside of Iran and now they're turning to Elon Musk?


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE & NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right Abby. So we're learning that the White House has had conversations with Elon Musk in recent weeks about potentially setting up the Starlink satellite system inside Iran.

Now, as we know, Starlink consists of a number of satellites that orbit and lower orbit that can then connect to terminals on the ground. The problem with this issue is that there are going to be a lot of difficulties actually getting those terminals on the ground in Iran, right, because it's not like Ukraine, where the government actually wants these systems to be there so that it can expand internet access for military personnel there.

In Iran, this is actually going to be used if it is implemented by dissidents, by activists, that the Iranian government obviously is trying to censor. So this is a conversation that has been ongoing, the White House views it as potentially one solution to expand internet access for the Iranian activists and protesters on the ground there who have been protesting for just over a month now over the death of that woman who was in Iranian custody for violating morality police rules.

So this is an area where the Biden administration wants to help. But obviously, there are a lot of questions about whether Elon Musk is the right person to do that, just given his volatility in his dealings with the U.S. government in the past, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's exactly right. Very fascinating reporting there, Natasha. Thank you.

And while Donald Trump remains the dominant figure within the Republican Party, and on the campaign trail, we now have reporting about the brand that former Vice President Mike Pence is building. Republicans say that Pence has quietly been a reliable presence, polling in more than $10 million for GOP candidates in key battleground states. CNN's Michael Warren is joining us with this new reporting. Michael, so tell us what is Pence doing out on the trail, he isn't this in demand surrogate now that he is no longer the vice president.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: That's right. And he's keeping very busy this midterm cycle. And today he's in Kansas. He's raising money for and campaigning for Derek Schmidt, the Republican candidate running against the Democratic governor there Laura Kelly. And he's got a busy final couple of weeks of the midterm elections. He's going to be campaigning for candidates in Washington State, in North Carolina, in Pennsylvania, and even in Virginia. And he's even going to be doing a bus tour with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who he of course, supported in that primary in May, and now supporting him here in the general election. And as you say, he's been raising a lot of money, more than $10 million for Republican candidates visiting something like 32 states, this cycle. He's trying to help Republicans, he says he wants to get Republicans to win majorities and add more governors.

But of course, we know the context of this. He wants to also run for president in 2024. He's laying the groundwork for that. He's picking up a lot of chips, as one Republican strategist told me by doing all of this work and helping out Republican.

PHILLIP: Right. He's building support among the establishment and certainly it's not a huge surprise that he's hit with the donor class. But what does this tell us if anything about whether actual voters are open to Trump voters in particular, open to Mike Pence?

WARREN: Well, it's a big question. Now, you know, Pence has been trying to campaign for a broad spectrum of Republicans across the party's campaign for David Valadao just earlier this week. One of the impeachment tend voted for impeaching Donald Trump. He was also supported MAGA candidates like Blake Masters in the Senate but -- in Arizona.

But there is a problem here, which is that the polling show it's early, yes, but former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, pulling much bigger numbers among those Republican voters who say that's who they want to be their standard bearer in 2024. Pence is sort of a distant third and a lot of these. But it's a long time and he is building these relationships with donors with operatives, and it's really starting to turn heads within the Republican Party.

PHILLIP: Yes. And of course, he played a little coy this week on the 2024 sweepstakes, but he was pretty clear he's considering a run. Michael Warren, thank you so much for that excellent reporting.


And coming up next, Trump's Boeing 757 is ready for takeoff again. And a European leader on tape touting a gift from the Russian President Vladimir Putin.


PHILLIP: And topping our Political Radar, President Biden with a straightforward rejection of a Republican idea to cut aid to Ukraine should the GOP take the House. And the last hour, President Biden said that such a suggestion doesn't make sense.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't understand the threat that they're saying they may have to stop funding the Ukrainians in their war against this brutal dictator. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Former President Trump's Boeing 757 is back in action. It has been rehabbed after remaining idle during Trump's presidency and in the months after. The plane, you will remember, served as a backdrop to many Trump rallies in 2016. And the timing is notable. It comes just weeks ahead of the midterms and as speculation grows that Trump could make another run for the presidency.

A gift from Russia with love, leaked audio catches former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, acknowledging Europe's public enemy number one, Vladimir Putin, sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter for his birthday. The audio released by Italian news agency "La Presa" also includes Berlusconi bragging about being quote, the first of Putin's five true friends and criticizing Ukraine's President. Berlusconi insists that the recordings were taken out of context.


And thank you again for joining INSIDE POLITICS. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.