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Soon: Biden, Macron Speak Side-By-Side At The White House; Senate Aims To Avert Nationwide Rail Strike; Manchin "Reluctant" To Add Paid Sick Leave To Rail Deal; House Committee Obtains Trump's Tax Returns; McCarthy Previews GOP-Led Probe Into Security On Jan. 6. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 01, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a busy news day with us. Any moment, a side by side look at the American and the French presidents at the White House. Today, Emmanuel Macron here in Washington for an official state visit. The first of the Biden presidency complete, as you see, with pomp, circumstance. And tonight, a state dinner.

The pageantry, though, clashing with some very real tension in this relationship. Most of them over what France and its European partners see as Biden White House spending in subsidies that give U.S. companies an edge now in the global marketplace.

As President Macron arrived at the White House, President Biden praising France for its historical support and its crucial partnership right now, in the face of the global test from Russia.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: France and the United States are once again defending the democratic values and universal human rights which are the heart of both our nations. The wellspring of our strength is a shared commitment to liberty and justice for all -- liberte, egalite, fraternite.


KING: The French President makes clear the personal relationship is quite strong. But both at home and here on U.S. soil, he has directed sharp critical words at Biden administration policies warning they make it even harder for Europe to survive the economic pain brought on by the bloody Ukraine conflict.

Listen here, President Macron telling ABC earlier today that one big agenda item in the talks to get the nations back on the same page.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: France and the United States are once again defending the democratic values and universal human rights which are the heart of both our nations. The wellspring of our strength --

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: I hope I would say to resynchronize in a certain way and build new ambitions for the future.


MACRON: I think so regarding some economic issues.


KING: Let's begin at the White House with our Chief White House Correspondent, Phil Mattingly. Phil, again, the historical relationship and the bond between these two men is great, but there are some very real issues.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, the symbolism is very rich, very intentional. I think the relationship is very real, very tangible. The issues, though, while maybe not on the surface, maybe not overarching are also very significant. And that is in large part with the two leaders and their teams are working through right now in that bilateral meeting that has been ongoing now for more than an hour.

You have the pomp and circumstance of this morning of the major welcome of everything that goes along with that. You certainly have the glitz and glamor to some degree of the dinner later tonight. This is the moment that matters on a substantive basis. There are a myriad of foreign policy issues that they are mostly aligned on when it comes to Ukraine, when it comes to China.

Some divergences there that are important that they want to discuss. There's no question about that. But it is on those economic issues where you have seen the French President who has been in town for several days has had several appearances and has not been subtle, has not been shy about making clear just how significant he views the issues of the subsidies that are in one of the president's cornerstone legislative achievements.

That economic and climate package has been something President Macron prone has been raising on a regular basis over the course of the last several months and one that he has gone increasingly aggressive with over the course of the last couple of days. It gets to the reality here, I think, that the White House will acknowledge to some degree. The relationship is in a good place.

The relationship between the two men, particularly in the wake of the submarine deal earlier in the administration that caught the French by its surprise something that even the President acknowledged was somewhat sloppy and how it's handled. It is in a much better place than it was back then. However, the economic issues, particularly on the long term, particularly as you look at countries and their domestic equities are increasingly important and will be a central focus not only the bilateral meeting but certainly at the press conference that they have later today.

Whether there's anything that President Biden can actually put on the table to try and assuage some of those concerns given its law, it's legislation, it's in place right now is an open question. The push, however, from President Macron is not the other major issues here. They're no secret, John. Obviously, how the two presidents align themselves when it comes to Ukraine, the Western Alliance has been so critical.

There are obviously major concerns in Europe about how this is all going to end, if it's going to end, how they answer those question. And on that alignment in particular will be critical when they speak to the press shortly. John?


KING: Looking forward to hear how they each answer the same question whether the language is a little nuance, watch the nuance. Phil Mattingly, grateful for the kickoff for us at the White House.

Let's move over to the State Department now. CNN's Kylie Atwood is standing by there. Kylie, President Biden going out of his way to say Macron is not only the President of France but a leader in Europe. Again, they want to show a message to Vladimir Putin that Europe, France, the United States altogether here. Is there any hope at the State Department, Secretary Blinken that some of these other more difficult issues will be resolved or is it just smile and move forward?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think when it comes to the State Department angle of all this, the overriding theme here is working together alongside France on the Ukraine war. As you have said, both President Biden and President Macron made that a centerpiece of their remarks earlier at the White House today with President Biden calling the alliance essential for both of their national securities, the alliance between the U.S. and France. And President Macron calling for the two nations to be brothers in arms once again.

So, what you're seeing is that that is the overarching theme here. But when it comes to the nitty gritty, as Phil was saying, there will be some questions in terms of how diplomats in this building and also U.S. officials at Treasury and Commerce are able to work with the French over those economic concerns. Because last year, there was that dust up over the submarine deal that left France in a bit of a pickle. They lost millions of jobs and money, and so they're trying to figure out how their alliance when it comes to the issues translates to benefits for them also economically.

KING: Kylie Atwood at the White House, standby as well for the press conference.

In the meantime, let's continue the conversation in studio. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Jackie Kucinich of the Boston Globe, NPR's Asma Khalid Holland and Marianna Sotomayor of the Washington Post. It's interesting when leaders have a big meeting like this.

Sometimes -- even when there are differences, sometimes you mute those differences publicly before the meeting. You try to keep a face. President Macron has gone out of his way to be very clear and candid about the differences including this saying essentially U.S. subsidies, whether it's for microchips, whether it's for U.S. auto manufacturers on the climate are hurting Europeans.


MACRON (through translation): What has happened in recent months is a challenge for us because we are starting to have differences on energy issues and the cost of the war is not the same in Europe and in the United States. But most importantly, the choices that have been made for which I share the goals, in particular, the Inflation Reduction Act or the CHIPS Act are choices that will split the west.


KING: It's an interesting moment, Asma, because we talked so much about the generational changes and the political changes happening here in the United States. Macron is not only the President of France, he's trying to be even more so a leader in Europe. Angela Merkel has moved on, there's a new chancellor there. Brexit has moved the U.K. out of the European Union. He's trying to step up. So he's speaking for all of Europe there, not just France.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Indeed. And I think one of the key challenges for any American president is that fundamentally the European interests economically do not always align with American interests. You know, he mentioned the CHIPS Act, the Inflation Reduction Act.

In many ways, what we've seen President Biden do, I think, is really continue on with this ownership. You could argue it wasn't really carried out under former President Donald Trump. But this idea of America first and manufacturing more in the United States, that is something President Biden has made a mission. He spoke about it during the campaign.

It's something that he has largely followed through on. And, you know, fundamentally that does not really align with European economic interests. And that will be a challenge.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But I think right now it's even more important to keep Europe together because of what's happening in Ukraine. And that is another -- and it seems like Germany has been very steadfast. France has been hanging in there too. But Macron has been very clear about how the Russia and Ukraine should sit down at the negotiating table.

He's spoken to Putin probably more than some Western leaders throughout this conflict. And so -- but that unity is going forward, continues to be tested by the economic concerns as well.

KING: And China is an area on which they disagree to some degree. The United States now getting a tougher posture of vis-a-vis China. A lot of the Europeans having the conversations, well, are we -- especially when you're dealing with Russia and the energy issue, are you willing to sever additional ties with China as well?

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, and that has united Congress. We have seen both the -- at least the chips bill passing in a bipartisan fashion with a lot of Republicans saying we need to do more to counter China and the reliance on their technology. We saw that come through because of the pandemic. And there is that real realization in Congress have more to do on that front.

So it's unlikely that you will see, you know, Congress even react to this. And even Macron has said, you know, I understand that the U.S. wants its interests first, wants to be able to manufacture and do things their way. You're obviously seeing Republicans call for more energy independence, especially as they regain the majority next year.

And he understands that if, you know, if I were in that position, of course I would want to do that for France too. But don't forget that eventually, this could lead to a trade war and he's warning about that now so that they don't find themselves in that position later.


KING: The trade war issue is important. Let's come back to Ukraine for a second in the sense that Russia recently trying to take out the electrical and the heating infrastructure since -- to make it a more painful winter for everybody across Ukraine. As Phil mentioned and Kylie mentioned, President Macron has been more leaning forward. Is there a way to get a diplomatic solution here?

Here's how he described his view of peace with George Stephanopoulos of ABC.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have a vision of what a successful peace looks like?

MACRON: It's a sustainable one. And my conviction and my pragmatic approach is to say I have to engage with the existing leaders and the one in charge of the country. Because if we do believe in national sovereignty, we cannot decide to say it's a precondition as a regime change to start negotiating. I think he made mistakes. Is it impossible to come back at the table and negotiate something? I think it's still possible.


KING: That last part. You still think it's possible. You won't find many people in the Biden White House who believe at this moment, it's right to negotiate or it's ripe to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. And yet even General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, has suggested this can't go on forever.


KING: Is there a movement on that issue or just the idea that maybe if we have some differences, you know, we talk about those privately and publicly, we keep a united front.

ZELENY: It's fascinating, I mean, but, look, he's quite literally on the front lines, much closer to this than the U.S. And the energy concerns are very, very acute across Europe. And you make the excellent point that he is coming here to the U.S. for the first state dinner of this administration trying to be a leader in Europe. And he really is.

You know, he's coming off of a difficult election of his own, but he does want there to be some type of at least a pathway toward a peaceful solution to this because they are very worried going into the winter, what is going to happen in France and Germany, et cetera. So, the personal relationship will be focusing on that a lot throughout this visit. But it is fascinating to see how much he has grown as a leader here.

I remember thinking back when former President Trump was there visiting. He was a young French leader. He does not seem that way. He seems very, very confident here. So that's one of the reasons the meeting is running long, likely, with President Biden. There is much to discuss here, and he's coming in as a position of strength, really, in Europe as well. So, this is a very interesting and impactful state visit much more so than state visits probably were intended to be when this invitation was sent out.

KHALID: And to that point, I mean, I would echo, that's part of why I think we're seeing Macron publicly speak about --

ZELENY: Right.

KHALID: -- some of his misgivings about what, you know, Congress has passed to date, because he is coming into this from a position of strength, thinking he can put additional public pressure.

KING: To that point, I just want to read a little bit from a Le Monde editorial, essentially getting at the two roles Macron has here as the French President, but also representing fellow European partners as well. "Emmanuel Macron's mission is to present the European Union's grievances to Joe Biden at a time when itis torn between the de facto dependence on Washington and its legitimate desire for sovereignty. In the end, though, the visit, Emmanuel Macron is speaking to his European partners more than to Joe Biden."

So the audience, Le Monde is making the case, the audience is really the Chancellor of Germany and other European nations as Macron tries to make this case. It's interesting because when I was covering the White House and the French President came, it was often the United States complaining and booing, for example. Complaints about European subsidies to Airbus. There's a flip now.

They see this investment in chips, they see investment in the U.S. auto manufacturing industry here. They say, hey, wait a minute, you're putting your thumb on the economic scale in a way that hurts us.

SOTOMAYOR: Right. He's really trying to bring home and give that warning as we've all more or less mention, that, listen, this could get worse for us and we're going to feel the brunt of it. They already are. The Europeans are. And, of course, the U.S. is seeing that in other ways as well with rising gas prices.

But this does not look like, at least with Russia and Ukraine, that it's going to end anytime soon. This is, to your point, winter is coming there and it's going to be very aggressive. So he's really trying to just drive home. This is what we're experiencing, not just us, French people, but everyone else in Europe.

ZELENY: And also worried about French companies potentially relocating here. You're right, it's so fascinating really, just in a couple of administrations, how this has absolutely flipped from the Bush administration, which is when I first started covering the White House, to now, and the Clinton administration obviously as well. It is absolutely fascinating just the subsidy conversation here, really, you know, in what, just 20 years or so.

KING: And happening in the context of Ukraine where the French say --

ZELENY: Right.

KING: -- you know, it's hurting us even more because of the energy punch we're taking from the Ukraine.

Well, we'll continue to watch the White House. The two leaders again expect to come out of their meetings, make statements, and then take questions. Up next for us, the Congress trying to move through a packed to-do list in a hectic yearend agenda.



KING: I hope so, was the take of the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell today when asked if the Senate would act today on legislation that would avert a major freight rail strike, a strike the White House says would cripple the economy. The Senate might act today, the hold up, the search to make sure they have enough votes.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I talked to Chuck Schumer this morning about it. He's still waiting for a sign from Senator McConnell that he's ready for us to call this measure. It takes bipartisanship to get to the measure. It takes bipartisanship to pass.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The one legitimate questions being asked now, are we about to do something where Congress will forever be settling the disputes through congressional action? I think that's a bad precedent and something that resonates with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The White House sending top administration officials up to Capitol Hill to say inaction could have dire consequences.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: It's not just shutting down our trains, it's really shutting down our economy. Immediately, you would see effects, including when it comes to inflation, prices shooting up because of the cost of shipping. Within a few days, you would start to see our ports unable to operate because they couldn't ship the goods out of the port. So they would eventually get so congested that after turn ships away, you would see our auto industry very quickly grinding to a halt.



KING: Our great reporters back around the table. There are more than enough votes to pass this, but there are hang ups over amendments, language, Republican concerns, Democratic concerns as well about they call it precedent. The Railway Labor Act has been used before. It would not be a precedent, but it would be, I guess, a recent precedent. What's the biggest hang up?

SOTOMAYOR: Yes. And timing simply, you know, the Biden administration is saying you need to get this done. You heard the warnings from Buttigieg and he's telling right now, Senate Democrats, this is what you have to do at lunch (ph).

KUCINICH: Kimberley Walsh (ph) having like a scared straight conversation, I think.

SOTOMAYOR: Correct. And, you know, there's been a lot of progressive Democrats bringing up the point and you've seen a weird coalition with a lot of Republicans they wouldn't think supporting the fact that, you know, you need these rail workers do need more sick leave. And in the House yesterday, they were able to pass both the agreement and, you know, tack on a little bit of, you know, that reprieve of sick days.

That's a little bit of where the Senate is kind of debating. But, you know, if you're against the clock and not to mention that both the House and Senate have so much to do in the next three weeks, you are going to have to pass something. There is that feeling I think it is a little bit to instill the fear today, get it done because today's fly out day, usually for senators. And Schumer has said no one is getting out of town until we pass them.

KING: And so, the economic consequences are very real. Nobody disagrees about that. There is a question Democrats don't like essentially offending labor unions, so traditionally huge supporters of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders trying to follow what the House did. The House passed two bills.

The second one would give the paid leave. That's very dim prospects in the Senate. Sanders would like that to happen. Joe Manchin -- we've had this divide before. Joe Manchin saying he opposes going that, or he doesn't think the Senate should pass separate legislation saying you get paid sick leave. I'm very -- I'm really reluctant to jump in and set a precedent. He's uses the precedent word again.

You have some people saying it's a precedent to impose the contract. It would not be, it would be rare but it's been done before. And now this debate about sick leave. The question is, when -- they just let everybody talk and say tonight or what?

ZELENY: I think that's a big part of it.


ZELENY: And the calendar and the fly updates, interesting, but we seldom hear Senator McConnell saying, I hope so. He usually knows the votes and obviously, you said the votes are there, they're just not sure exactly where they're coming from. But a couple of things are happening.

One, the Christmas holiday season is looming, but also that December 9th, it has to be done well in advance of that because an official I was talking to said the strike preparations, excuse me, begin a week before the strike date.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: So companies are already trying to put this in place. If it's not done by this weekend, that's a big problem for them. But the alliances of this are so interesting. Like Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, aligned with Bernie Sanders. Over here, Marco Rubio, very populous. So that's what is perhaps so interesting about this, about politics.


KHALID: Because you did have sick leave come up in Congress before, and we saw very few Republicans really --

KUCINICH: Right. Like, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are all of a sudden taking the populist stand with -- but it's more about punishing union leaders than it is, and they're saying they're on the side of the workers. So there's some trolling --


KUCINICH: -- in politics going on.

KHALID: I mean, I am stressed by how, you know, the sort of the challenges, I think politically this poses for President Biden. He came into office saying that he was essentially the best friend that labor had ever had, that he was going to be, you know, the most union president that this country has ever seen. And, you know, by many accounts, he certainly has, I think, listened to unions in a lot of ways. But this has put him in an awkward position by essentially forcing Congress or trying to force Congress to get this deal through. And look, I don't know that there are very many other presidents who could have, you could say, the street cred to do this. I think it still poses political challenges from this.

KING: His historical ties to labor give him a longer leash on this question than any other Democratic president would probably have. But this, like everything else at this moment, this is a huge economic issue, but everything else gets caught up in the transition of the moment, that you have transitions going on. The Senate will stay the same. The Democrats have a majority. We don't know the final number yet.

The Georgia run off will get to that in a minute. But the House, you have a lot of transition underway. One of the big issues there is the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. For months and months and months, I think it's years, have fought to get Donald Trump's tax returns. They now have them. They now have them about 30 days before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives.

So what happens there? The Ways and Means Committee has them. They have to be very careful. This is a very sensitive issue. Whatever animus they may have toward Donald Trump, whatever secrets they may think are in there, this is another issue where they need to tread very carefully.

SOTOMAYOR: Oh, yes. And they are being careful. Chairman Richard Neal not even telling reporters if he has them --


SOTOMAYOR: -- even though we know that they do. They're just not going to be devolding that much. But again, there's only three weeks left of them having the majority. Could they potentially put out a report? Maybe if they work fast enough. But they are supposed to be meeting today, the Democrats on Ways and Means to try and figure out, OK, how can we distill this information? Because it is something that many people have had questions about for years.

We now have them. And Republicans are not going to take this up. We don't know who will chair the Ways and Means Committee on the Republican side, but there is no interest to really dig into now former president who has declared that he's running again.


KING: And another issue again caught up in this transition, the January 6 committee racing the clock to finish its final report. Zoe Lofgren, one of the members, saying they're going to make almost everything public, and her take on that was one that's important for the American people to see it. Number two, she believes when the Republicans take charge, they're going to try to cherry pick and cast doubts on the investigation.

So she says, let's make just about everything public. The man who wants to be speaker of the House -- we don't know if we'll get the votes -- the current House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a letter yesterday to the committee, "Although your committee's public hearings did not focus on why the Capitol complex was not secure on January 6, 2021, Republican majority in the 118th Congress will hold hearings that do so."

So he's going to try, the Republicans, are going to try to distract attention from Trump supporters storming the building and get to an issue which is a legitimate issue. The question is, how did they get to it? That were there -- did they fail to connect the dots? Did they fail to connect intelligence? Should there have been more security at the Capitol that day?

KHALID: I mean, I think those are legitimate questions, but like many things, I think in the new Congress, things are going to be viewed through a partisan lens. And ultimately, I think there are other hearings that we've talked about before. I've seen on the show that they're intending to take up around the President and his family.

And so I do think at some point, you lose political capital when many of your investigations and hearings are seem to be largely partisan. So I think we'll see which way they have.

KUCINICH: Yes. Not to mention, the control that McCarthy will have on his conference of staying on task with that particular issue, you also have Marjorie Taylor Greene saying she wants an investigation into the people who were arrested and who were a part of the riot. So that also will detract from -- or could distract from anything they do on an issue that really is legitimate is how it was vulnerable.

ZELENY: It's legitimate. But politically speaking, I'm not sure how helpful it would be for Republicans to open up this box necessarily to sort of go down the rabbit hole of --


ZELENY: -- all this because the next election is right around the corner. And a lot of those Republicans who won in those districts do not want to be talking about this. They want to be talking about the economy, inflation and other matters. So that could be in the unhelpful category.

KING: Legitimate oversight should always be welcome. But I think you all make the point about this history. Past comments tells us to be skeptical that's what is about to happen.

Up next, the Obamas are helping out in very different ways as the Georgia Senate runoff enters it's critical final days.