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Inside Politics

Oz, Fetterman Exchange Insults, Clash On Policy In PA Sen Debate; PA Senate Debate Renews Questions About Fetterman's Health; Oz: Abortion Should Be Left To "Women, Doctors, Local Political Leaders"; Fetterman, Oz Clash Over Crime At First And Only PA Debate; 2 Weeks Before Election Day, Biden Pivots To Economic Message; Biden Announces New Rules To Crackdown On "Junk Fees"; Biden Warns Voters: GOP Will "Crash The Economy" If They Win; NY Gov Hochul, Zeldin Spar Over Crime, Abortion In Only Debate. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 26, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A big stage and now this big question. What will Pennsylvania voters think of John Fetterman's debate performance. The Senate race showdown produced big policy clashes between the Democrat Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz, who was also though an hour long look at Fetterman's ongoing recovery from a stroke.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm also having to talk about something called the Oz rule, that if he's on TV, he's lying.

DR. MEHMET OZ (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: He didn't pay for his own house. He got it for $1 from his sister, and he hasn't been able to earn a living on his own.


KING: Plus, 13 days out, President Biden tries another take at a closing message. New steps announced today, he says will help ease the pain of inflation and a warning. Republican control of Congress, the president says will bring government shutdowns and chaos. And the camera captures the post-debate call between Donald Trump and Arizona Senate hopeful Blake Masters. The former president's advice, pedal election lies at every turn.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT (voiceover): If they say, how is your family? She says the election was rigged and stolen. You'll lose if you go soft. You're going to lose that base.


KING: Up first for us, day after debate questions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The biggest, what the voters make of John Fetterman's struggles after his stroke? The two candidates for Senate, the Democrat Fetterman, Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, sharing a stage in Harrisburg for the first and only-time last night. The exchanges were barbed wire sharp. Fetterman, (Inaudible) Oz was a perpetual liar and a phony. Oz cause the Democrat a radical and a freeloader.

The candidates clashed on abortion, on crime, the minimum wage, energy and more. Those policy differences give voters very clear choices. The wildcard is Fetterman's halting debate performance five months into his recovery from a stroke. He plainly called that the elephant in the room and suggested Oz was cruel for constantly raising questions about his fitness to serve.

Fetterman also openly told the audience, expect me to miss words or to mush them together. He did that often, while also making the case his struggles, will in the end make him a better senator.


LT. GOV. FETTERMAN: This campaign is all about to me, is about fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania that ever got knocked down, that needs to get back up and fighting for all forgotten communities all across Pennsylvania. That also got knocked down that needs to keep get back up.


KING: Let's go live straight to Bedford, Pennsylvania, CNN's Jeff Zeleny on the ground for us. On the day after, Jeff, what do we know?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, there's no doubt. The debate is certainly the talk of Pennsylvania this morning. The voters we've been talking to though, largely are thinking what they thought going into the debate. One woman here just a few moments ago, she said it was embarrassing. She said it was a spectacle. She does not believe John Fetterman is ready to be Senator asked, well, who are you supporting going in? She said I was with Dr. Oz.

A few moments later, I talked to a man who was out walking dogs. He said that it showed that John Fetterman was gaining strength. He said he was impressed by his ability to A, show up, but B, show his resilience. I said well, who are you voting for before? He said John Fetterman. So those, of course, are the basis of both parties. That is not going to change. And is the voters in the middle of course, who will be influenced by the debate after the debate if you will.

Ads are already beginning to air including the abortion ad. The Fetterman campaign and Democrats are trying to seize on Dr. Oz, tying him to Doug Mastriano. Who of course, is the Republican candidate here, who does not favor any exceptions for abortion. Of course, the Oz campaign is focusing on fracking. It was a clear stumble from John Fetterman, trying to explain his evolving position on that.

So, the bottom line is, John, we are going to need to take some time to see how voters sort of digest all of this. We know from years past debates are not one of the moment, they're one in the days after. As the you know, conversations around dinner tables in workplaces, water coolers, et cetera, begin to settle in.

And John, it also ran into several people here this morning, who said they didn't watch the debate at all. One person said she taped it, she plans to watch it tonight. One person said, she's not interested. So, the reality is again, there are 13 days and let's take all of those days to see how this settles in. But no doubt it is one of the most closely watched Senate races, and last night's debate ensured that it will be for the next two weeks.

KING: Without a doubt, without a doubt. Jeff Zeleny, live for us in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Jeff, thanks for that. On the ground reporting with me in studio today to share their reporting and their insights, Laura Barron-Lopez the PBS NewsHour, Josh Jamerson, the Wall Street Journal, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post, and CNN's Dan Merica.


Dan, I want to start with you because like Jeff, you've been in Pennsylvania a lot in recent weeks and you're talking this morning to some voters. How do they process this? Do they view Fetterman as courageous for standing up there and doing the debate or do they have any questions about - what would he do? Can he perform in the Senate?

DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: So, I spent the morning calling Fetterman supporters who I've talked to in the past and to a voter, they're still going to vote for Fetterman. These are people who went to his rallies. One guy bought a homemade t-shirt that he made to support Fetterman. These are diehard Fetterman supporters, but also to a voter. They said they are concerned about that performance.

They're concerned about, not how it affects folks like them, but their friends, their family, people they work with, who aren't hardened Fetterman supporters, who may have reservations about Dr. Oz and haven't yet decided.

Many of them said, that they're worried to have those conversations with those friends because they are known Fetterman supporters, they know people are going to come to them and ask them for their thoughts. They did have compassion for Fetterman, and they spoke highly of some points that he made. But overwhelmingly, there is concern among Fetterman's performance, among many of his most hardened supporters.

KING: And Fetterman again, tried to address this straight up. He told voters at the top of the debate. I'm not going to be perfect. I'm going to mess up some words. One of the other questions though, is if you were concerned about the performance, and you just say OK, is he getting better every day? So therefore, he'll be in the Senate months from now. Is he getting better?

So, one way to answer that would be to be more transparent about your medical records that did come up with a debate. And Fetterman has released a letter from his doctor, but his doctors have not talked to reporters, even to play experienced medical reports. Fetterman says, he thinks that should be enough.


LT. GOV. FETTERMAN: I believe if my doctor believes that I'm fit to serve and that's what I believe is appropriate. And now with two weeks before the election, you know, I have run the campaign. And I've been very transparent about being very open about the fact we're in news captioning. And I believe that again, my doctors, the real doctors that I believe, they all believe that I'm ready to be served.


KING: The question is, does that answer stand or as Jeff said, it takes a few days for debates and settle in? Some voters watch, some talk to their friends about it. Some watch snippets on social media and like, does that answer stand or does the Fetterman campaign have to watch this day-by-day and decide, do we have to do more? Or are we good?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I think that's what's going to happen. I was talking to some people close to Oz this morning. And they say, it's not a health issue, it's a trust issue and a transparency issue for voters that Fetterman could be more honest and open with voters, especially given where he was in the summer.

Now, the Oz campaign - or I'm sorry, the Fetterman campaign, they are telling me that they're thrilled with his performance last night, given where he was immediately after his stroke, and that he continues to improve day-by-day, but ultimately, it's up to the voters.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I also think it's important to offer the context that Fetterman wouldn't be the first stroke survivor to serve in the Senate if he were to win. I mean, Leigh Ann, we've been there like Mark Kirk, the Republican from Illinois. I covered him when I covered Congress, and he actually took a year to recover after his stroke. And he was in far worse condition than Fetterman.

He physically was not the same after his stroke. His intellect was intact, but his physicality and his speech was not. And so, I think that, yes, that question you raised, John, that's something voters are going to have to grapple with. If they're OK with the fact that it may take Fetterman more time to recover, but that eventually he could very well be closer to what he was prior to the stroke.

KING: Part of his argument, is he actually now has an experience that many others don't have. You mentioned, former Senator Kirk, and the like that - dealing with challenges gives you an experience that can be helpful. Can be incredibly helpful when you're making healthcare decisions, when you're making accessibility decisions, when you're making other decisions.

The question is, do the Pennsylvania voters process it that way? There were some significant policy divides in this debate. So, voters want to settle the issues on policy, they had a lot including. the Fetterman campaign believes, Dr. Oz made a misstep, especially when it comes to undecided voters in the suburbs, when he talks about abortion.


DR. OZ: I am not going to support federal rules that block the ability of states to do what they wish to do. The abortion decision should be left up to states, I've been very clear on my desire as a physician not to interfere with how states decides. I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy, that's always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward, so states can decide for themselves.


KING: The local political leaders' part is where the Fetterman campaign sees an opening, they see an opening and they move very quickly to put this ad on television.


KING: Nimble, very next day.

JOSH JAMERSON, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes. No, I think what's important to remember is, we all talk to voters on the campaign trail, voters are willing to overlook a lot of things and typically it's because, you know, if a voter is willing to overlook something with the candidate, it's because they view the other person as a worse choice, and I think that's just where we are.


And so, I think this race will come down to you alluded too, Dan in your reporting earlier, but you know, for some of those that thin slice of swing voters maybe the suburban women that we've talked about, are they willing to overlook Oz's abortion stance that that comment? Because they think John Fetterman's communication, his cognitive ability or whatever his transparency, or are they willing to overlook John Fetterman's communication because they disagree with Oz on those issues.

KING: And also, in this race, you have - we see worth watching this play out in a lot of places. The fight for the suburbs in the sense that Democrats think, if you win in on abortion, Republicans and this was a crackling debate last night on crime.


DR. OZ: John Fetterman during this crime wave has been trying to get as many murders convicted and sentenced to life in prison out of jail as possible.

LT. GOV. FETTERMAN: All he's done is just put a plan up on his website in the last 24 hours. He has no experience. He has never made any attempt to try to address crime during his entire career, except showing up for photo ops here in Philadelphia. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We see this in the three or four Senate races beginning with that one in Pennsylvania. They're going to decide which party controls the Senate come January. We're watching that same debate play out because close races are settled in the suburbs.

MERICA: I think this is also where you saw the issues Fetterman was dealing with the clearest. In interviews PennLive, he did an editorial board. He did a conversation with Amy Klobuchar over the weekend. They spoke about crime. He was far more nimble, far more able to kind of make a point about Oz direct and attack. Obviously, it was a friendlier environment with Amy Klobuchar.

But I think in the debate last night, you saw that he had the policy he wanted to make, a decision he wanted to make against Oz. He did, delivering it was the issue. And I think what that left viewers with is, is a questions about their differences. What Fetterman would do differently? What Fetterman would - how he would go after Oz on that issue because there was some, you know, the way that he spoke, left a little bit lacking?

CALDWELL: Yes. In the Collar counties, the suburban women are going to be critical in this race, as you've mentioned, and there's the abortion issue that Democrats feel very strongly about that they're in a very good place. And then the crime issue that Republicans feel that they are that, you know, Oz is doing better on that. But the Fetterman campaign also thinks that, that they have - that Fetterman has a strong record on crime and that they've been able to beat back these issues against Oz, but Collar counties are going to be key.

KING: We're going to see it. We're going to talk more later about some other races a bit later in the program. When we see these same arguments playing out again and again and again, especially in the big Senate races. Up next for us. Though, President Biden this morning announcing new steps, he says we'll crack down on fees, that he says unfairly costs you, the taxpayers billions.




KING: President Biden staging an event at the White House today to say, his administration will now take tougher new actions to help you with what the administration calls junk fees. The president says airlines do it, hotels do it. Today, an announcement focusing on banks, overdraft fees and when you bounce a check.


PRES. JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Now it's been a tough few years. But from day one, my administration and laser focus on easy to burden facing working class families.


KING: So, the president making this announcement this morning at a time when many Democratic strategist have said, Democrats for weeks and weeks and months and months should be focusing on things like that. Whatever you can do, even if it's modest to help people deal with high-cost inflation.

JAMERSON: Yes. And I will say, I think one thing that's interesting watching candidates on the campaign trail like others in Georgia, Raphael Warnock, for example, they are spending some time on the campaign trail, talking about things they've gotten through Congress that might help lower the cost of living, things like that.

I think the issue with this, the attempt to draw a contrast on future policies is a lot of voters I've talked to for example, they're like experiencing things in real time, I mean right now. The grocery bills, they noticed when they go to the restaurant, it's more expensive. So, I think that's maybe the message disconnect, is that you're talking about things in the future and people are dealing with things right now.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And a lot of the immediate things, you know, which is why Democrats have been pushing the president is whether or not, he's talking about the more, he's going to take some type of action himself and his administration to handle these things. Because what Congress pass, including prescription drug reform isn't going to be filled for probably at least another year or so.

And that's why, to what Josh said, it speaks to the fact that voters are like, well, nothing is bringing down the cost of living right now. Biden, I also thought it was interesting that today said that he thinks that the price of gas will continue to stay low. So really trying to, you know, forecast this because of the fact that he is saying, he's taken steps to release more from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

KING: This strategy, and I covered the Clinton White House, and this became called the Rahm strategy. They called it and or Rahm Emanuel, now the ambassador to Tokyo, but then a top adviser to President Clinton, wear school uniforms, where President Clinton would make the small announcement especially, when he had divided government.

Well, you can't do a lot, you can't do big things, you do little things that you think are popular. The president today, essentially saying, I know you're upset. I know inflation is bad for you, attorney focus to the airlines, to the banks, to the hotels and fees. The question is, do voters, you know, see that as a genuine effort on the administration's part to help even if it's just a little?

CALDWELL: Well, it's the things that voters and people notices and that are just annoying, right? We were just talking, you check into a hotel, you think your rate is $200 a night and then it goes to $250 a night. And so, this is an attempt to tell voters that they are trying to ease the pains of the pocketbook, because that's what Republicans have put, said over and over again, every time voters go into the grocery store, every time they fill up their bank or fill up their tank on a daily basis, they are reminded of the status of the economy.

KING: To that point about the economy, the president knows the headwinds. This is from the NBC poll over the weekend, pretty consistent with any national poll. You look at right now, the president's handling of the economy, 38 percent of Americans approved, 57 percent disapprove. That's a tough headwind in a midterm election year, which is why you do here, and you can listen to it here. The president in recent days is saying, I know, you're mad at me, you're frustrated. But if the Republicans take power in Congress, will have government shuts down, we'll have financial chaos and worse.



PRES. BIDEN: Given their demands on social security and Medicare, which millions of Americans rely on and earned and paid for it. Republicans are going to crash the economy. Republican leadership, and Congress has made it clear. They will crash the economy next year by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States.


KING: It's understandable strategy. The question is, can you sell it in the sense that midterm elections, traditionally a referendum on the party in power, he's trying to make it a choice, warning that you give Republicans the House and the Senate, this time we'll go crazy.

BARRON-LOPEZ: He isn't. It can be a little bit abstract, right, when we're talking about the debt ceiling, which is what Republicans have threatened to take hostage. And essentially, he's trying to make the argument to the voters, which is that this debt ceiling, if we default on the debt ceiling, then it's a huge deal, you know, the economy could very well tank very fast.

And so, he's trying to really hammer home the point about social security and Medicare, which we have heard from some Republicans, not all of them, but some like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, that that's things that they would like to see spending cuts on, and particularly with older voters, voters that consistently vote, you know, President Biden was able to get a number of them in key states, those are also going to be key to whether or not Democrats are able to keep the Senate.

CALDWELL: It's harder to run on something that could happen and something that is happening.

KING: Right. That's the communications challenge for the president. All right, much more to come, including next debate night. In New York last night, Governor Kathy Hochul, Republican challengers Lee Zeldin clashing on crime on abortion and on Donald Trump's election lies.




KING: Crime was the biggest flashpoint in another high stakes debate last night. New York's Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul is being challenged by Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin.


REP. LEE ZELDIN (R) NEW YORK GOVERNOR NOMINEE: We need to make our streets safe again. I'm running to take back our streets.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D) NEW YORK: They can either work on keeping people scared or you can focus on keeping them safe. There is no crime fighting plan, if it doesn't include guns.

REP. ZELDIN: Kathy Hochul believes that the only crimes that are being committed are these crimes with guns. And yet, people who are afraid of being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars. They're being stabbed, beaten to death on the street with hammers.


KING: Hochul is from Buffalo, Zeldin from Long Island. You can see right there the crime debate front and center in the hometown papers this morning. Joining me now to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Athena Jones, and Emily Ngo of NY1. Emily, let me start with you.

Like many debates around the country, crime a big issue. What makes the New York, what's so fascinating? A, it's a race for governor, or B a crime. If you look at the new Quinnipiac poll, is the number one issue there. In many places we see the economy and inflation as issue number one, and then crime is a bit lower on the list. But you see it right there at the top, which is why it was such a flashpoint last night.

EMILY NGO, POLITICAL REPORTER, NY1: Oh, absolutely. The reason that the polls appear to be tightening between Zeldin and Hochul, is because he has laser focused his campaign on crime and that's starting to resonate with voters who are already concerned about so called quality of life, and this is the point that Zeldin kept coming back to time and again.

But what this debate, the spectrum needs to be, which is the only time these two candidates will meet toe to toe on a stage before election day. Shed light on is the fact that crime is underpinned by a variety of social economic issues, including lack of housing, lack of jobs, and Zeldin did have fewer answers, was less ready to talk about some of the other issues at hand. Some of the other challenges that New York state faces.

It's not outside the realm of possibility that Zeldin could be the first Republican elected statewide since George Pataki was reelected as Governor 20 years ago. And Kathy Hochul task last night was to show that Zeldin is not a moderate like Pataki that he is a MAGA Republican, and she may have succeeded in that, just as you may have succeeded in paging her as to soften crime. KING: That's fascinating debate. Athena, point I saw that you made in your writing about this afterwards, they both candidates took a liking to the new New York City mayor who has come to office saying, I'm going to be tougher on crime.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's interesting. This is the debate that didn't have a lot of areas of agreement, but both Governor Hochul and Lee Zeldin had a lot of nice things to say about a New York Mayor Eric Adams, who, as you mentioned, he's a moderate, he ran on a tough on crime or a crime fighting, tough on crime message. The state - the jury's still out on whether that's working because where Lee Zeldin is also running on some of the very crimes that Eric Adams is trying to fight.

One thing that I think is interesting is this is a perception issue. And you saw kind of both candidates talking about this, Hochul focusing on guns, gun control, gun safety, touting her efforts to do things like past that raise the age bill after the top supermarket shooting, raising the age to 21 to buy a semi-automatic weapon.

But then on the other side, you know, if you look at transit crimes and you look at crimes, transit crimes are up, but things like shootings and murders are down. So, it's really a perception issue as well, but Zeldin, it is helping Zeldin the perception that people are feeling unsafe.

KING: And Emily, abortion, all the more important in governor's races now because we live in Dobbs America, not Roe v. Wade America, and abortion is not a state-by-state issue. The two candidates' big disagreements. Let's listen.


GOV. HOCHUL: Why nothing changed, there's actually Dobbs' decision. It's because I'm the governor of the state of New York and he's not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said that you won't change the state law. But what if a Republican legislature did change the abortion laws? Would you sign a bill into law?

REP. ZELDIN: Well, first off, there's not going to be a Republican legislature in January. I've heard from New Yorkers, who say that they don't want their tax dollars, for example funding abortions for people who live, you know, 1500 miles away from here.