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Protests Erupt Across China In Challenge To Zero-COVID Policy; Protests In Hong Kong In Solidarity With Demonstrators; GOP Leaders Largely Silent Over Trump's Dinner With White Supremacist; Today: Statewide Early Voting Begins In Georgia Senate Runoff; McCarthy Rallies GOP Support In Heated Race For Speaker. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 28, 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.

Protests erupt across China. Thousands fed up with the government stringent COVID restrictions take to the streets in a remarkable and a rare show of defiance. Plus, Donald Trump and the hateful company he keeps. The former President dines with Kanye West and Holocaust denier and white nationalist Nick Fuentes. A few Republicans do condemn Trump, but most GOP leaders and potential 2024 rivals again, choose silence over decency.

And a busy weekend of early voting in Georgia's round two. The Senate runoff election is officially December 6, that's a week from tomorrow. But as Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker campaign, getting early votes in the bank is a big priority.

Up first for us though, the dramatic and rare public displays of defiance across China. Large crowds gathering in at least 16 locations over the weekend, protesting the government zero-COVID policy restrictions nearly three years now into the pandemic. Some are so angry, they're calling for the removal of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which of course, can be a very dangerous thing to say publicly in China.

The police response has in some cases been quite tough, even brutal. Video showing chaotic scenes of protesters being pushed, dragged and beaten. The protests come as China hit another record high in daily COVID cases on Monday, the biggest numbers seen since the start of the pandemic. Overnight, Chinese state media reiterating the country's COVID measures are, quote, scientific and effective.

Now China bristles at anything it considers outside meddling in its affairs. So we will watch for reaction to this. A morning statement from the Biden White House saying Chinese citizens should have the right to peacefully protest.

Let's get to CNN's Ivan Watson. He's live in Hong Kong for us where dozens have gathered in protest in solidarity, Ivan, with those in the mainland as well.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, it's remarkable what we saw this weekend across Mainland China, John. This was probably the biggest, nationwide display of discontent that we've seen in China in a generation. You had these demonstrators out in the streets, in some cases, pushing back at police, and pushing back at the Chinese government's zero-COVID policy, which has put immense pressure psychologically and emotionally on Chinese people, not to mention financially.

Because how can you plan for a future if you never know whether or not you're going to be locked in your apartment for months at a time, whether or not you're going to be able to buy and sell across provincial borders, whether or not schools will be opened or closed for months at a time. And what we saw just tonight, here in Hong Kong, was small demonstrations in this city as well, where the authorities have also completely cracked down on any protests at all for the past couple of years.

So it was just remarkable to see dozens scores of people out in the street showing solidarity with people in Mainland China. I went to one of these demonstrations, which they described as a vigil for the victims of China's zero-COVID policy. And I talked to one man from Shanghai from, the Mainland, he described himself as a victim. Take a listen.


JAMES, LIVES IN HONG KONG: I am a victim. I cannot go home for many years, like two to three years, right? My parents were locked down for three months. And even relatives of my good friends, they suicide because of the lock downs, right? And I know people die because of it. Because of the side effects of this policy, right? I think everyone who has a sane mind should say something or do something to stop this unreasonable social measure.


WATSON: So the big question is, where does China go next? And as you pointed out, there are record new daily cases of COVID for the past six days being reported across China, the government is more determined than ever to try to completely eradicate the virus. So there seems like there is no end to the lockdowns in sight. And China also has a sprawling surveillance and security system to crack down on these forms of dissent. So stay tuned.

KING: Stay tuned. So we will watch this play out of the days ahead. Grateful to have you and our other colleagues in the region. Ivan Watson, thanks so much. We will stay on top of the story.


To American politics now and to this sad, sad but recurring reality. Donald Trump associates himself with conspiracy and hate, and all but a few Republican leaders say nothing. The new episode, a two-hour Trump dinner at Mar-a-Lago with the antisemite Ye, formerly Kanye West and the Holocaust denier and white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

Trump is not only a former president, but he is a declared candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination. Yet, silence from the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, silence from the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. There are a few in the party, just a few willing to call this out.


GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: I don't think it's a good idea for a leader that setting an example for the country or the party to meet with avowed racist or antisemite.

REP. JAMES CORNER (R), KENTUCKY: He certainly needs better judgment and who he dines with, I would not take a beating with that person though. I wouldn't take a meeting with Kanye West either, but that's my opinion.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Tina Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. Why is this so hard? Why is this so hard? This is the company Donald Trump keeps, and it's the company he has kept for years.

Everyone's focusing on Nick Fuentes, who is a horrible, reprehensible human being for what he says and what he advocates. But Ye, Kanye West, whoever you want to say it, also even recently, involved in antisemitism and Trump won't apologize. And they won't call him out, why?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think they're still afraid of Donald Trump. I mean, Republicans are still, you know, lacking a leader in their party other than Donald Trump, and they are afraid of all the blowback that comes with it. Kevin McCarthy, most specifically, he is in the fight of his life now for the House of speakership. So he needs Donald Trump, he does not want to get a crossways with him.

So that's the simplest reason. They're simply afraid of him. But the question is, as more of these things happen, it does feel to me like a different moment. I know we've been here so many times before where Chris Christie is one of the few Republicans, of only Republican speaking out. But it does seem like a different moment to me, I think.

KING: Chris Christie says another example of an awful lack of judgment from Donald Trump, which combined with past judgments making untenable, a general election candidate. Mike Pompeo says antisemitism is a cancer and talks about what he did as secretary of state, doesn't call out Donald Trump.


KING: Doesn't say he should be, you know, not allowed to win the nomination. And Ronna McDaniel, this party Chairwoman, as I have repeatedly said, white supremacy, Neo Nazism, hate speech and bigotry disgusting, do not have a home of the Republican Party. You didn't say, where's the next sentence? So Donald Trump denounced this, or nor do you?

BASH: But at least there's something there. You're right about Kevin McCarthy. It's not an excuse, but it is a political reality that if he says anything that will make Donald Trump combat him, attack him, he could very well lose the very, very small number of Republicans that are even there for him to become Speaker of the House.

Mitch McConnell is a different story. Because my understanding before the election, is that he didn't fight back against Donald Trump -- when Trump actually, not only seemed to put out a hit on him, but also said racist things about his own wife, the former Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao. He didn't do it because he wanted to stay focus on the issues and he didn't want to distract before the election.

The only excuse or reasoning that he could give right now is because there is still one more election in Georgia, and he doesn't want to anger the Trump base before they go to the polls. Again, I am not excusing it. I'm just trying to explain it --

KING: Power and politics over principle, period.

BASH: Right. But it speaks to what Asa Hutchinson said, what so many people who follow these issues, say over and over again, silence is viewed as a green light for more hate, and for even the speech to become more vicious, even to --

KING: If --

BASH: -- become violent.

KING: If you do not criticize something just reprehensible, you are complicit in it. If you're a -- just just today, the suspect in the Buffalo shooting in the supermarket pled guilty, and said that he sought that supermarket out so he could kill the most available black people in one place. He has also railed against Jews as well. If leaders, political leaders, movement leaders encourage such behavior, you cannot be shocked when you get it.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes, we're seeing that time and again with political rhetoric, translating into violence in America. And it's something that, unfortunately, sometimes our elected officials like to focus on the mental health or the red flag laws and not really talking about the root causes of bigotry and racism that contribute to events like Buffalo.


To me with the Trump thing, yes, it's disturbing that other Republican officials haven't condemned it but we also need to look again at the root of this. He is running for president. And instead of meeting with someone who can raise him a lot of money, or someone who's a policy leader, or a political leader, he's meeting with a disgraced rapper, and a known white supremacist. And what does that say about the person who could become the leader of the free world in two years?

KING: And I just want to show you first -- I'm going to do this in reverse order, so I'm going to give the control room heads up -- a tweet that got Kanye or Ye, kicked off Twitter. He's now back on Twitter because of the new ownership there. In which he says he was sleepy, but when he woke up, he was going to go death con 3 on Jewish people. It goes on, I'm not going to read it.

And if you're unfamiliar, one of the things Donald Trump says, is that he is unfamiliar with Nick Fuentes that he was having dinner with a friend who said his friend was on tough time. So he was having dinner with Ye, and he said he didn't know Nick Fuentes. And the time I'm going to finish this sentence, you could pick up this, go to your search engine and do Nick Fuentes.

Is there no one around Donald Trump? If a stranger shows up to have dinner with Donald Trump, who can type in the words Nick Fuentes because then they would get this.


NICK FUENTES, WHITE NATIONALIST AND HOLOCAUST DENIER: We've got the white Christian man that built this country the first time and we'll do it again. Do what must be done. Send the military into these black neighborhoods, make the streets safe, they'll complain about it. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. They're never going to vote for us.

Who cares? You know, we're not with the Jim Crow stuff. Who cares? Oh, no, they had to go to different school, their water fountain and that famous picture was worse. Who cares? Grow up.


KING: The -- when you're a former president and declared candidate for president, if you're the CEO of a tiny company, that's just -- that's a bogus -- I didn't know him, it's not a good excuse. You pick -- you use a computer, you take five seconds.

BASH: Well, and he's pretty deft at using his phone. He knew how to get on Twitter pretty easily. Here's the one thing to keep in mind. I worked on an hour special about antisemitism in America and the question about why the rise in hate not just against Jews, but against a lot of people of color and elsewhere.

And the answer -- one of the key answers was, and this is based on data, researchers looking at data and on the level of chatter online and more broadly in the country. When Donald Trump or other leaders said something or did something or acted in a certain way and did not, then condemn it or come out and make clear that is not OK, it was very clear that antisemites, white supremacist who are sort of laying back saw that as, oh, OK, it's time to act, that there is a very clear wink and a nod that goes on with these kinds of actions and the way that they are perceived.

KING: You invite people off the fringe.

BASH: Yes.

KING: You invite people out of there. They think they better stay isolated because they can't lift their head up --

BASH: Exactly.

KING: -- because people will condemn them instead, you welcome them. Sadly, a conversation that will likely continue.

Up next, some big early voting numbers as Georgia once again needs a run off to settle a crucial Senate race.



KING: Georgia voters being asked to make their voices heard, yes, again. Statewide early voting for the Senate runoff started today. And take a look. This is crowds lining up right in early this morning in Atlanta. And it's not just today. We saw similar scenes throughout the weekend, some two dozen counties were allowed to get a head start on the early runoff voting.

As for the candidates, they will have a busy final week on the stump. The incumbent Democratic senator, Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker, beginning that final week with rallies with their supporters today.

Our great reporters back at the table with us. It is just -- I mean, we were joking about this during the break, but voting has become like I got to fill up my tank. I got to go to Starbucks and I got to vote. Georgia, this kind of almost a daily -- must seem like a daily routine. But this race is important.

MITCHELL: Yes, with, you know, the runoff system in place, both for primaries and general elections and runoff. You know, Georgia has to go to the polls a lot. But what we're seeing is that voters are energized, voters are showing up when they had that flexibility this weekend. They took advantage of it. There is very robust turnout. Even though this is yet another election for Georgia, they -- it's been almost continuous for the past two years.

KING: The spending is off the charts, I'll show you the numbers 27.4 million for Democratic spending. This is just from the general election, this is just the runoff. You see the dates, November 9, through -- booked through Republicans, though Republicans have goosed up their spending in the last several days. When we have those numbers last week, they were behind.

You see, the Republicans decided we need the seat --

BASH: Yes.

KING: -- we want the seat. BASH: They need and want but they -- it's not determinative when it comes to the balance of power. We know that Democrats have that locked up. But every single vote, every single seat matters. We've seen that time and time again. And the idea of the Democrats having an outright majority, 51 votes as opposed to 50-50 with the vice president breaking the tie is really key.

The amount of money is really staggering. It's hard to believe the numbers you just put up that's just in the runoff. And it's not just the money. Of course, I think one of the keys that you've been reporting on is Governor Kemp. The fact that Kemp has turned on his machine, the one that helped get him elected. He's a very different person, a very different candidate, does when it comes to the field operation.

KING: And Axios reporting today that he's setting up a federal PAC as well. We'll see whether that is to support other candidates around the country. He could use it also to support (INAUDIBLE) pretty quickly to get some help in here for Herschel Walker. But it's clear just that fact is that Kemp is raising his national profile now and part of this, he didn't do anything with Walker in the normal election period. And now he is trying to help Herschel Walker so that nobody can say after the fact, you're to blame.


ZELENY: Exactly. And look, all eyes of the Republican Party are on this. So he wants to be a leader in the Republican Party. He is someone really a very rare species actually in the Republican Party who navigated the fierce opposition from the former President Donald Trump. And he did just fine.

He didn't speak out against him necessarily, but he didn't buckle or back down to him during the 2020 election. But as Dana was saying, the majority is set, but having the extra vote, yes, it gives you some breathing room with Joe Manchin, but this is why it's really important because of committee assignments and the makeup of committees.

That means, there will not be an even split on all these committees. Democrats will have a true majority. So every staffer up on Capitol Hill right now is really watching this because it makes a huge difference for investigations, for subpoenas, but also just the makeup of the committee. So that's why Democrats are fighting just as hard for this as though the Senate majority --

KING: If you have a more aggressive House investigations, which we'll get to -- you know, get to later and in the weeks ahead, having subpoena power in the Senate, allows you to just counter programming, if you will, to be prepared to do that. We talked about the eyepopping spending, every vote counts in Georgia, but like in many states, the Asian American population is growing in a swing constituency.

Why this is interesting. So the same Warnock ad we want to show you here, running with Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean subtitles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voting in a real sense is a kind of prayer for the kind of world that we want to see. And our prayers are stronger when we pray together. It is the Lord's work.


KING: The minister, obviously, Senator Warnock has his roots are in the ministry. But this is a fascinating to me, part of a fascinating competition, not only the state of Georgia, this is the next 10, 15, 20 years of American life as the Asian American population is a swing and a suburban constituency in many of the battleground states.

MITCHELL: Yes. And, you know, in Georgia, both parties have been competing for the AAPI vote, the Republican Party opened one of its community centers in a largely Asian part of Metro Atlanta. They've also had a community center in a black part of Metro Atlanta. But we know that generally, AAPI voters tend to support Democratic candidates.

And it's clear that the Warnock campaign is aware of that, as they try to drum up turnout, they consider the AAPI community part of the Democratic base that they need to show up, they need to turn out in hopes of winning this election.

KING: It's fascinating for us. Up next, we'll keep an eye on that race again, eight days to the Georgia runoff.

Up next, Congress returns this week for an end of year session that features several big policy questions and one giant political drama. Can Kevin McCarthy find the votes to become speaker of the House?



KING: Congress is back this week for a year-end session and Kevin McCarthy is leaning on his allies for help. Republicans take charge in the House in 36 days, but the House GOP leader still short the votes to be Speaker.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I think he's got the majority of our conference. And the fact is, what's the alternative here?

REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R). CO-CHAIR, PROBLEM SOLVERS CAUCUS: And the reality is he's earned it. He deserves it. It would set a terrible precedent if you were not to get it.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He's been the leader of our team and he's going to stay the leader of our team.

CORNER: Certainly, there's been instances in the past that certain Republicans voices weren't heard in the conference. We need to give Kevin a chance. You know, I think a lot of these members are frustrated because of things that Paul Ryan did or things that John Boehner did.


KING: Our CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju live for us up on Capitol Hill. Manu, McCarthy allies, they're trying to make the case, give him a chance. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're also confident that he ultimately will get there. But he has very little margin for error in large part because of the numbers. They expect to have likely 222 Republican seats. That means that he can only afford to lose four votes, assuming all members are present and voting because he needs 218 to be elected speaker.

And already a number of hardline conservatives, several of them who are part of that so-called House Freedom Caucus have threatened to vote against him. Some have taken a hard line including Congressman Matt Gaetz, who said he is a no no matter what. And he tweeted this, he said, "This is irresponsible of my colleagues." This is just that McCarthy has the votes.

"They know McCarthy doesn't have the votes. We've told them. We've shown them with public declarations. Now it is time to review GOP speaker candidates. Why the delay? If chaos ensues, January 3, it will be a result of this denialism."

Now in talking to people who are close to Kevin McCarthy, they believe he'll ultimately get there because some of these members have now gone as far as Matt Gaetz. They've threatened to vote against him. They're willing to cut deals, they may want some key committee assignments, something that Kevin McCarthy can help dole out.

They may want some concessions, like some rules changes to give them more power in the rank and file. All those deals could be cut in the days leading up to January 3. And there are other ways to get to -- become elected Speaker below 218 votes if a member for instance votes present, but does not vote for somebody else. That could reduce that threshold from 218 votes to be elected to underneath that threshold.

So McCarthy allies believe there are a lot of other ways they can ultimately become speaker but they don't deny this, John. It's going to be close and it's going to be a scramble from here until January 3.

KING: It's remarkable. It is remarkable. The math problem.