Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Jeffries, Clark, Aguilar Announce Bids For Dem Leadership; Dem Rep: "We Don't Need Any Fighting And Screaming And Name-Calling"; Pelosi Clears The Deck For Generational Shift In Dem Leadership; Pelosi's Remarkable Career, Highlight Reel Staredown With Trump; Far- Right House Members Vow To Out Off Ukraine Aid; Far-Right Wing Of GOP Set To Complicate McCarthy's Role As Speaker; McCarthy: GOP Will Have 222 Seats; Today: Biden To Deliver Remarks On Economy. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 18, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Passing the torch, Nancy Pelosi and her two longtime deputies are stepping aside. House Democrats now poised to elect the next generation big three, their immediate challenge countering the new Republican majority.

Plus, Republicans don't take charge until January, but we are quickly learning their priorities, investigate and subpoena Hunter Biden is one, trying to slash aid to Ukraine is another. And next hour, the president brings in business and labor leaders to discuss the economy. The White House is encouraged by signs inflation may be easing, but it is sobered by the reality divided government, means most Biden priorities are dead on arrival in the new Congress.

Up first for us, House Democrats and the changing of the guard. Today, a trifecta of official announcements confirmed that yes, Democrats will have a new leadership team when they become the opposition party in January.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York officially launching his bid for Democratic leader. Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts confirmed she will seek the number two post in the Democratic caucus. And California's Pete Aguilar says, he will run for the number three job. Jeffries is 52, Clark is 59, Aguilar is 43.

They will replace Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, all in their early 80s. Speaker Pelosi opened the door to this generational shift by announcing this hour yesterday, she will step aside after two decades as the Democratic leader. She will stay in Congress for now and told reporters yesterday, "I have no intention of being the mother-in-law in the kitchen saying, my son doesn't like the stuffing that way." This is the way we make it.

Let's go straight up to Capitol Hill and CNN's Jessica Dean. Jessica, colorful language here from Nancy Pelosi suggesting she will be asked to be a member of Congress but will not be trying to meddle in the leadership. A big news today as we get to see the new team.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, John, and just the idea of Nancy Pelosi being just a rank-and-file member is wild. But yes, let's get to the news today, which is well, yesterday was all about Speaker Pelosi announcing her plans and this new leadership team really keeping the focus on her. That's all they wanted to talk about yesterday.

Today, as you mentioned, we are getting those announcements from all three of them that they intend to run and hopefully be the new guard, the new Democratic leadership for House Democrats. And Nancy Pelosi just within the last hour, putting out a dear colleague letter, really blessing the trio saying that this is a new day dawning is how she described it. So, she is certainly has - they have her backing as they look to the future. And Hakeem Jeffries writing in his letter that his first priority is going to be taking back the majority in 2024. And from there, everything will stem.

He also said, we want to make sure that the perception of the Democratic brand matches up with the reality that we do, in fact, authentically share values that unite the heartland, urban America, rural America, suburban America and smalltown America. This undertaking will not be easy. We must show up early and in unexpected places.

So again, giving us a little window into how he intends to lead the democratic minority, when the new Congress is seated in January, John?

KING: That will be fantastic to watch the new team in place. We'll watch new climate in town. Jessica Dean on Capitol Hill, thank you so much. With me in studio to continue the conversation and share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kasie Hunt, CNN's Manu Raju, Margaret Talev of Axios, and Toluse Olorunnipa of The Washington Post.

Manu, to you first. Hakeem Jeffries, the statement is interesting, because you're moving a brand-new Democratic leadership, completely new generation, but still New York, Massachusetts and California. He talks there about the heartland. There have been a number of younger Democrats, Elissa Slotkin, Michigan for one saying, hey, what about us? What about us in the middle of the country? How does this new team reach out to them?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's a really good question. He doesn't really specify there because the brand of the Democratic Party and rural parts of the country has been not good. It's been underwater. They know they've been struggling there. And it's interesting, he sees that as an area to reach out.

But it'll be interesting to see this transition because he in some ways as a bit of an easier job being in the minority in the House, because he doesn't have to corral and a gene (Ph), put an agenda together. He does not do crowd votes on the floor with a narrow majority, which is always very, very difficult.

Instead, he has to be the opposition party, and he can probably afford to cut some of his members loose who may want to vote with Republicans on some issues, because he knows full well. There's a democratic led Senate that could stop any legislation, a Democrat in the White House the veto pen. So, in a lot of ways his job will be easier. But since the margin is so narrow, they do have a real shot of getting back and the majority which is going to be their prime goal in the next two years.


KING: And it appears at least at the moment there will be no opposition to this democratic slate, which is striking in the sense that you've had for years, about a younger progressive saying we need new leadership the Midwesterners say, but it looks like it. Emanuel Cleaver, former mayor of Kansas City, congressman from Missouri said this, we want to come across as mature leaders of the nation. So, we don't need any fighting and screaming and name calling.

I think the best way to start the new Congress is to have a Democratic caucus that is not engaged in pettiness and hostility toward each other. That a deliberate, they assume, and we'll get to in a minute, the Democrats are assuming the Republicans are going to be a hot mess to be kind, probably worse, and they want to come out. It's like we're adults here.

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: Yes. Everyone at this table is probably looking at the same tea leaves. And you it is certainly now a major unraveling moment for the Republicans as they're about to take the majority. I think if you know Nancy Pelosi at all, you know that her moves are never differential by inspiration, they're strategic by inspiration. And her decision, both the timing of it, the way the message was crafted, was meant to ensure not that she would give away control but that she would maintain control over this transition.

That putting in place is very deliberate group of three people clearing the path from two sides, from the kind of Steny Hoyer side of the equation, making sure that others in their 80s who wanted this job are not going to kind of compete for it, but also to keep the progressives in their lane rather than move controversial, progressive activists into that core column of leadership or to allow that kind of a fight to play out publicly.

KING: Manu was right that in some ways, it may be easier to be in the opposition, you don't need to come up with a big policy agenda. The Democrats have the White House. President Biden will drive the agenda. Senate Democrats have a majority. But in terms of its generationally, there's clearly a big change. What about stylistically?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think inevitably, it will be stylistically different in no small part, because the reality is Hakeem Jeffries' background is very different from Nancy Pelosi. And I think, when I've been talking to Democrats on the Hill, and people who are watching this process closely, including on K Street, their big question is, how are they going to handle.

And again, this is one that they don't have to worry about in the immediate term, because they don't control the process. But Nancy Pelosi was very influential legislatively. I mean, yes, she did politics and publicity and all of that. But behind the scenes, I mean, she was an appropriator, she will take the first chance to remind you that that is part of her background. She knew how to even in the minority, get some Democratic priorities into major legislation.

And, you know, in the case where the Democrats do control the Senate, if Republicans want to show the country, they're getting anything done, they may actually need to turn to the House Democratic minority. So, I think that's going to be the biggest question for Hakeem Jeffries is can he show people that he can meet the moment on substance.

KING: Right. He will be the first black leader. She was the first woman to lead a party in Congress. He will be the first black man to lead a party in Congress. He is not as well known nationally as Nancy Pelosi. Is that an asset or liability in the sense that she was so polarizing? If you're watching ads in this past campaign, you saw as much as Nancy Pelosi, as you did to see other Democratic candidates. Hakeem Jeffries is, he has to introduce himself to the country.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: He will, and you can very much expect Republicans to try to define him for the country and replace some of those ads, targeting Nancy Pelosi with ad showing him as sort of the scary leader of the Democrats who want to take over and take your rights away and whatnot.

And I would not be surprised if we see that coming. It does help Mr. Jeffries, that he is a very strong communicator. He has a long history of being able to communicate an effective message on behalf of the Democrats in Congress. I wouldn't be surprised if he continues that message and make sure that his message is able to move forward and not the message that Republicans want to assign to him and ascribe to him and try to make him into something that he's not.

RAJU: A, and that is a key point because Jeffries is very good on the message. He is precise. He sticks to his talking point, is very hard to get up off of is very specific, (crosstalk). Pelosi is much different. She did - she would talk in paragraphs. He talks and sent the very quick sentences. Pelosi though, knew the inside game of Capitol Hill better than anybody knew. You have to work things behind the scenes, keep her caucus together, twist arms inspire fear. Can Jeffries do that, that's going to be his test?

KING: To that point, one of the Nancy Pelosi history record her is an incredibly effective legislator. Again, history for her role as a trailblazer. In more recent years, she became known for her showdown with Donald Trump, including right after the Democrats won the majority in 2018. She was invited to the White House and this.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I also know that, you know, Nancy is in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now. And I understand that, and I fully understand that. We're going to have a good discussion. And we're going to see what happens, but we have to have border security.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this community as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory.


KING: We knew it, we knew it anyway. Trump does not like powerful women. He is uncomfortable around powerful women and men did she enjoy those moments.

TALEV: Oh, did she ever.

HUNT: Doesn't even show her putting the sunglasses on. Walking out of the White House. I mean, that was the one the iconic.

TALEV: The iconic stare down and finger wagging where Milley face just looked like it was melting. All of those moments, I think whatever your politics are, if you're a woman in politics or who writes about politics, you understand that you're talking about an iconic figure here. I will just say, looking back at - I was here when she was rising up before she became speaker in 2006.

Republicans realizing, hey, we need to make her our next Hillary Clinton. She is someone who we can demonize. She was not always that person. She became that person because of her strength. And I think with the new leadership trio, we will see them define themselves and be defined based on their strength and their impact on American products.

KING: She says she doesn't want to battle. She does want to be the grandmother she said, but they could learn a lot from her anybody. Republicans could learn a lot from her about how to organize, about her organization.

HUNT: Just imagine (crosstalk) mother-in-law.

KING: She, I have to go to break. Next, who is on first in the new Republican majority. Marjorie Taylor Greene says, she will lead an effort to slash aid to Ukraine. And the lawmaker who will become chairman of the oversight committee says, priority one for him, is sending Hunter Biden a subpoena.




KING: We're getting a quick post-election look at how House Republicans plan to use their new power. Congress woman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, wants to audit past U.S. military aid to Ukraine and she wants to stop any future U.S. support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE, (R) GEORGIA: I think the American people and the taxpayers of this country deserve to know why the Biden administration and this Congress is so interested in funding the protection of Ukraine's border and not the protection of our border.


KING: Another clear priority is investigating the president and his family. The top Republican on the oversight committee tells CNN, "this needs to be called the Biden investigation and not the Hunter Biden investigation."


REP. JAMES COMER, (R) RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT & REFORM COMMITTEE: There's no plans to subpoena Joe Biden. There are plans to subpoena Hunter Biden.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Why then would you not subpoena Joe Biden, if this is all about Joe Biden?

REP. COMER: Well, it's complicated to subpoena President United States.


KING: Our reporters back to discuss. I want to start with Marjorie Taylor Greene, in the sense that they think that's a clever line. You know, the United States government is involved in a lot of important things, domestic policy and foreign policy. That is a propaganda gift to Vladimir Putin. But that wing of the Republican Party doesn't care.

RAJU: Yes. Look, this is one of the things that they're going to have to actually sort out this year in Congress is what to do about Ukraine. And this has been had significant bipartisan support. You've seen some that support waning on the Republican side is becoming an issue for the MAGA wing of the party. Clearly here, these people have quite a bit of influence over the new incoming Republican leadership, assuming Kevin McCarthy could get the speakership.

But that's what they're going to have to deal with now. Do they provide more aid in the lame duck session? Right now, where Democrats are in control, both chambers, get into sign into law, it's not clear what the White House wants on that front, but there's going to be that new dynamic.

KING: Is this not proof that the Republicans don't have a leadership right now? In the sense that even if you believe, auditing, or cutting Ukraine funding, even if you believe that's a priority. We'll come in a minute, even if you believe, and there are legitimate reasons to have oversight of Hunter Biden, they will see if they overstep, but there are legitimate questions there.

Even if you think those should be on your list, where's the inflation event? Where's the education event? Where's the border event? Is a big event first out of the box. Instead, anybody gets to do what they want, because Kevin McCarthy needs all their votes. So, he can't say don't do that today, save it till next week.

TALEV: Yes. Look, I think at some point, he's going to have to decide that he needs to lead this more affirmatively than he is right now. But I understand the math is very complicated for that. To me, this is a real contrast between Senate Republicans and House Republicans. And it's partly because Senate Republicans have more experience in foreign policy, have been around longer, because it's harder to get elected to the Senate, because you think about your role in the world more than you do in the House.

And I think it's partly because senators only have to run every six years and not every two years. But this kind of politics, this is politics over policy. This is a pure self-interest over thinking about the long term good of the country. They're conflating two very different events.

HUNT: It also divides the party. I mean, not all Republicans are with, in fact, I mean, very many Republicans are not with Marjorie Taylor Greene on this Ukraine question. I mean, if you had told me 10 years ago that it was going to be Republicans who were arguing that we should spend less money to fight the war against Vladimir Putin.

I would have told you that you'd had seven heads. I mean, like, this is a kind of the world is really upside down here. And I think it's, Manu is right, this MAGA constituency is going to press for this, but I just, I think it creates more problems for Republicans.

KING: And there's also the sense that again, this town needs more oversight of just about everything. Why shouldn't Congress look at how U.S. government money is spent? Why shouldn't Congress look at ethics? Are there legitimate questions about Hunter Biden, the Biden Justice Department inherited an investigation from the Trump Justice Department, it's ongoing. There are legitimate questions about Hunter Biden.

But if you watched that press conference yesterday, they already have their conclusions. They haven't started their investigation yet, but they already know the end. That's the part will it be overreach. Will it be overreach? As opposed to, we think there are legitimate questions here. We've had some people come in and give us information. We're not going to talk about it publicly, because that would be reckless. We're going to confirm it first and then do it. Why not?


OLORUNNIPA: They already have their conclusions and by having those conclusions, they are promising the American people this big smoking gun. And as we saw with what happened under President Donald Trump when he talked about all the scandals and controversy within the FBI and the Justice Department from all these investigations, and it all sort of went away with a whimper without any of the major scandals that the president was promising.

So, the Republicans could be setting themselves up for something very similar, where they promised that we're going to have the smoking gun that not only is Hunter Biden implicated, but President Biden was in on this major scandal. And if they don't have the goods, if they're not able to prove that, then it's going to look like something that the American people are taking - being taken for a ride. And it's going to be very hard to bring people along, because they're going to ask, why should I care so much about Hunter Biden, when I have my own issues, my own family has issues to deal with not the Biden.

TALEV: There are Republicans in polling and focus grouping saying, please don't over focus.

RAJU: Yes. This is the real power, though of the House majority. It is not passing legislation, that's going to be very hard. Even messaging those will be very hard given the narrow margins. And the differences between the folks are 30 or so folks in swing districts, the 40 or so folks from very conservative members. They're going to have a hard time agreeing on stuff, but they have subpoena power.

They in this House, you have unilateral subpoena power, unlike the Senate, you need to have bipartisan support on the committees to issue subpoenas in the House. You can do it by a partisan way, which what they're going to do, they're going to move forward.

And just today, Jim Jordan sending out letters, trying to get Alejandro Mayorkas to come testify other officials, sending out a letter to Ron Klain as well, just moments ago, saying that he wants - they want to talk to a whole bunch of executive branch officials. They can do that because they have subpoena power. The question will be out of those, why do---

KING: They have subpoena power, but they're also going to have - they have 218 seats now. There are five races still on call. So, the highest are going to get us 223. It's more likely they get to somewhere around 220, or 221. Again, Hakeem Jeffries in the first statement says, we want to take back the majority. The next election is a presidential election. If Republicans want to protect this majority, again legitimate oversight is needed in this town. But is that what they want to do? Or can anybody convince them not to?

HUNT: I think that the point you made earlier is the one that applies here, which is that in a world where Kevin McCarthy only has that many votes. He has to let all of these various elements of his conference, to a certain extent do what they want to do, because otherwise they can hold a lot over his head. And that is going to potentially if these investigations go a certain way. And there's a sense of overreach, which it's often hard to avoid in these kinds of situations that could very much endanger his majority from an electoral perspective.

TALEV: Because the majority is on these Republicans who are in plus Biden districts, it may not be moderate. Some are kind of moderate, but some are conservative, but they got elected to districts that Biden won. And they know that they're in grave danger of losing those after two years. If this becomes a runaway train of oversight investigations into the Biden family without policy and---

RAJU: The margins are just so hard from McCarthy. I mean, he's forced us to get the votes to become speaker and that is going to be. If he does have 222 seats like he expects, that means he can only lose four votes and he already have at least two hard no votes on the right, others in the far right are also trying to vote against him. He's got to get there. There is going to be a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes to get there, but big questions for him, John?

KING: And clearly this week, one way to get there was to not ask these people to wait, even if you believe these legitimate priorities. So, they want you to talk about first, he clearly did not say please don't or if he did, they didn't listen. Up next, the president and the Biden agenda. Divided government is about to change just about everything.




KING: Today, President Biden will offer an upbeat take on the economy, while getting some advice and input from business and labor leaders. The president is just back from a big overseas trip. So, this White House event today also may give us a glimpse at how he will promote his priorities now that he knows Republicans will take control of the House in January.

Let's get straight to the White House, CNN's Arlette Saenz is there with more. What are we going to hear from the president?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's clear that the economy remains a top concern for American voters. And that is why President Biden is trying to refocus their attention on the economy here today. He will be convening business leaders, like the heads of companies, like Ford, Kaiser Permanente, Carrier, and also some of the top labor unions in this country to seek their input on how to tamper down inflation and also address some of the economic progress that they've seen.

The White House is expected to be pointing to some of those key figures that have shown some moderation, if just slight moderation, when it comes to inflation. The president is also set to tout some of the measures included in the Inflation Reduction Act that are set to go into effect this coming year. And that includes that $35 cap on insulin for seniors who are on Medicare.

But also, at the same time, while the president will be touting that old initiative, you have to keep in mind he is now entering that era of divided government. Where the opportunity to pass any sweeping economic plans will be made much more difficult. But today, he will try to refocus their attention to the economy after returning from that overseas trip.

KING: Looking forward to the tone there to see how the president discusses this new environment. Arlette Saenz, live at the White House. Arlette, thank you. And the president, our reporters back at the table with us, excuse me, president essentially until he gets a sense of this new environment, but he has to assume it's going to be confrontational when it comes to the House. Talk about what you've already done, because you don't have a lot of optimism that you're going to be to do anything else.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. And he also will be spending a lot of time implementing some of the things that have been done in the past. He's talked about how people haven't quite seen the impact of things like the infrastructure bill, the Inflation Reduction Act some of the things that are going to kick in next year.