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McCarthy Gears Up For Fight To Be Speaker; Nearly 1.9 Million Ballots Already Cast In Georgia Senate Runoff; Today: Supreme Court Hears Web Designer V Same-Sex Marriage Case. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 05, 2022 - 12:30   ET



MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Now all three of them said they're supporting McCarthy, they wouldn't challenge him outright. However, if McCarthy can't get to 218, or if he does drop out, any number of Republicans are expected to jump into the race. And then in the other camp, you have McCarthy's allies and they are starting to get vocal and they are starting to push back. A group of moderate House Republicans wrote a letter to their colleagues last week, warning that if they have a messy floor fight, it's going to undermine them just as they're prepared to enter into power.

David Joyce, an Ohio Republican told me, he refuses to let them handcuffed themselves to a burning building. And meanwhile, you have McCarthy's team, they are confident that at the end of the day, when the lights go on, on January 3rd, that enough of McCarthy's opposition will fold and that they will be able to get there, even if it takes multiple rounds of voting. So really, it is shaping up to be a game of chicken right now, John.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: A game of chicken, the stakes are enormous. Melanie Zanona live on the Hill. Thanks so much. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reports. And let's listen to Kevin McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy to Melanie's point making the point that look Republicans, we're going to have a narrow majority in the House, we want to get some things done, chaos will not help.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military. And that's the first victory of having a Republican majority. And we'd like to have more of those victories and we should start moving those now. What I'm going to announce this week, is a new Select Committee on China, we're going to look at every single industry that China has leveraged in, we're going to start bringing the supply chain back from China to America. Another change you're going to get, Adam Schiff will now no longer be on the Intel Committee when I become speaker.


KING: He had a long list going through there essentially going and we can put up on the screen, the five declared right now, the five declared I won't vote for Kevin McCarthy votes, he's talking to them. He's essentially saying these are the things you want. If we have chaos, these things won't get done.

MICHAEL SCHERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, this is like an early proxy battle and what is likely to be his entire speakership. I mean, you're -- every point, if he takes over, there's going to be five or six or 10 people who will try and hold the whole conference hostage. And I think people would be surprised if they only, you know, watch Twitter and read what Matt Gaetz is saying every day, just how much support he has in his conference, he got 188. A lot of that 188 in the vote for the nomination for speaker is really committed passionate support for Kevin McCarthy, and those people are going to put up a fight, so I think he is in a pretty good position.

We don't see the math right now. It's not clear how it's going to sort out but, you know, McCarthy supporters can take hostages too. They have some leverage in this as well.

KING: Right, it's a critical point to make, because you say he it's a sign of weakness because he can't get these five votes. But he does have considerable strength, obviously, with the votes he has. The question is when it's so narrow, you know, Nancy Pelosi was able to thread these needles when she had these issues. Can Kevin McCarthy?

HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Well, he has a month to do so. So that's working in his favor. I think the other thing that's helping him is there's only five no votes right now. And you know, that is really good, because that little crew insists that there are several others who are against McCarthy and will vote against him on the floor. But they're not coming out and saying so. And so even if McCarthy is not operating from 100 percent position of strength, he looks much stronger than that side, his opposition. And again, they haven't put forward a viable alternative and cannot beat somebody with nobody. That is what McCarthy keeps saying.

KING: And the question is we talked earlier about Trump and some of the reprehensible things he says and does but he still has considerable sway over many people. He's from McCarthy. Marjorie Taylor Greene is from McCarthy. It just show you a clip here out here from Breitbart. This is not unique or exclusive that Breitbart, Mark Levin, who's on Fox, and also more importantly, I think, on the radio across the country, a lot of the MAGA media universe, if you will, from McCarthy.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, his cording of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, and folks in the real conservative chattering classes paying off for him because they are sounding very bullish on him. And so that's good. I think what we don't know is if he is able to pull this off, what his life is going to look like with these hardliners, the sort of raucous caucus making his life difficult, that is going to be something, you know, there's that saying that, you know, it's great to get everything you want in life. It's also terrible to get everything you want in life. And I think in some ways, that's going to be Kevin McCarthy's future if he's able to pull this off.

KING: You get a trademark --


KING: -- there's a bumper sticker in that. What role do the Democrats have to play here, Hakeem Jeffries, who will be the Democratic leader is the Democratic leader was asked, you know, would they support a moderate Republican anything else? I certainly Democrats, just vote for Jeffries, vote for Jeffries, vote for Jeffries, and leave this all to the Republicans.

CAYGLE: Absolutely. They're all going to stand up and vote for Hakeem Jeffries and let Republicans deal with their mess. And McCarthy said he would take it to multiple ballots on the floor. So we'll see if that happens. I will say Jeffries was elected last week in the caucus in a private ballot, but it was unanimous. So there won't be opposition.

SCHERER: I would just say also people have to remember that Kevin McCarthy is not John Boehner and not Paul Ryan. He spent years courting the far right of his caucus. He's shown just even in the clips they're playing, he's willing to play the far rights game in terms of, you know, kicking people off committees and having investigations. And so it's just not the same animosity that was there before. That doesn't mean five people can't technically block him but they have a harder argument to make to their colleagues if they can also point to substantive differences.


KING: Right. And to your point there are five publicly declared, which means if nobody else joins them, he really needs to peel off one. If he could peel off one or two, give him a little breathing room there. So we'll watch it play out. It's interesting to say the least.

Up next, why Democrats are now quite confident about the Georgia runoff, early voting was off the charts. And when Democrats crunched those numbers, they do see a path to victory.



KING: The surge in early voting in the Georgia Senate runoff is a source of Democratic optimism. Nearly 2 million ballots were cast by Friday's deadline to vote early. Democrats say take a closer look at those who cast those ballots. And you will see an important edge for the Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock. Let's dig deep inside the data now Tom Bonier, he's a Democratic strategist. He's the CEO of TargetSmart, that's a democratic data firm. Glad you're here. Let's just start with tonight popping number because it's only a month long Senate runoff campaign and a very short early voting period 1.87 million votes, nearly 2 million votes cast early, you think that's probably around 50 percent of what we're going to get, the rest will come out tomorrow, somewhere a comparable number tomorrow.

TOM BONIER, CEO, TARGETSMART: That's right, it should be about evenly split, which means turned out to be a little bit lower likely in this runoff than it was in the November election.

KING: Right. So that's not a surprise that it drops a little bit. So let's dig deeper and look, you look at the pre-election ballots, we go back to 2018 here, the 2021 runoff, the 2022 general, which is a month ago, if we put this up here, and then the 2022 runoff here among pre- election ballots. And you see among African American voters a little bit of an increase in the runoff, which for as a Democrat you would find encouraging, walk me through that.

BONIER: Yes, very much so. And this election, a lot of it's going to be about just who shows backup, right? You don't have a ton of new voters coming out this runoff election who didn't turn out these previous elections, there are some, but what we're seeing is that black voters are coming out at a higher rate than any other group. And that's certainly a good sign for Democrats. So you were talking about earlier those numbers 96 to 3 in your last poll for Reverend Warnock, very positive sign.

KING: As we speak, Senator Warnock is on a college campus. If you do look through your crunch of this data, if you look at it again, these are voters under the age of 30. You go back to 2018, what percentage were they of the electorate, 2021 run off to 2022 general. It was just shy of 9 percent. In the early voting, it was just shy of 8 percent. So that's a hole for the Democrats, if you will, a problem, an issue, what is it?

BONIER: Yes, when you look at Election Day, you're looking at the Hill, both parties have to climb, frankly, and Republicans do have a steeper hill. But when it comes to younger voters, that's what Democrats are looking for tomorrow is to get the youth vote out.

KING: And other challenge is George has had so many elections, right? You have run offs in the primaries, and you have run off in the generals. But you've looked through the data, and you have 75,000 voters in your analysis, who did not cast a ballot back in November, new voters that is a basket of gold, if you will for any candidate, what did the Democrats do? Where's the success coming from there?

BONIER: So that's remarkable. As I said, you know, it's not a huge share of electorates about one in 25 ballots cast, but it's a good sign of intensity. These are the voters that you want to be winning, if you're pulling people out who didn't vote last month, it means you're speaking to them in a way that speaking to engagement. These voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, when we look at our models are overwhelmingly African American, about 40 percent of them, more than the overall vote. And we modeled Democrats having about a 34 point advantage with these voters who didn't come out the November election. That could be the difference.

KING: So by your math, what does Herschel Walker need to do tomorrow to overcome the lead that you think Warnock already has in the early vote?

BONIER: Well, he's got to do what he didn't do a month ago, he's got to win the Election Day vote, probably by somewhere between 13 to 15 points. He wasn't able to do that last month. It's a very steep hill. KING: It's the first election cycle. So we can't draw any final conclusions. But Georgia did change its election laws after the 2020 election. And a lot of Democrats complained that this was going to be voter suppression, who's going to make it harder for them to vote. What lessons have we learned so far understanding it's one election cycle.

BONIER: I think the biggest question here is did Republicans learn a lesson? Republicans after the November election saw how Democrats were able to beat them not just in Georgia, but around the country in early voting. And they talked about how they need to do better. It's clear that in this election in Georgia, they haven't. The early voting electorate is actually more Democratic than it was in the November general election. So that's a first big takeaway is Republicans have not learned that lesson.

KING: And is that a Republican voter psychology issue? Or is that the Democratic campaigns are doing a better job, I'm going to call it building the voter file. It's all done digitally now. It's much more complicated technologically. When the old days you knocked on the door and you checked people out, but are Democrats just better at the nuts and bolts in the new digital age or is this a Republican voter psychology, I vote on Election Day?

BONIER: It's both. It's frankly, Democrats have gotten this is something that Republicans used to destroy Democrats. If you think about the Republican Party in Florida and what they did with mail voting, Arizona, same thing, what we're seeing in Georgia, what we're seeing around the country is Democrats are getting better. But Republicans are listening to President Trump as they have and he's telling them that this is fraud. And so they're not coming out and it was a big problem in November. It could cost them this election tomorrow.

KING: We'll find out when we count them tomorrow. Tom, appreciate you're coming in to help us share that data. And just as programming notice Tom as noting, tomorrow we count the votes in Georgia, join our special CNN live coverage that Georgia runoff determining the final Senate seat of this midterm election year, it all starts tomorrow 4:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.


Up next for us, gay rights taking center stage today at the Supreme Court arguments wrapping up just moments ago, a Colorado web designer says the state should not be able to require her to work with same sex couples.


KING: Just moments ago, the Supreme Court wrapping arguments in a major case over LGBTQ rights and free speech, the case was brought by a Christian graphic artist who says she is not willing to design wedding websites for gay couples. Justice Sonia Sotomayor here as part of the arguments weighing in with this question, so then where would we draw the line on discrimination? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT: And why is it your invitation? I go to a wedding website. It's something that I send, meaning you, your clients, I send it to my family and friends, or Lily and Luke send it to their family and friends, you don't send it. They go to this website. You're not inviting them to the wedding. Lily and Mary are. So how has it become your message?

KRISTEN K. WAGGONER, PLAINTIFF'S LAWYER: In the same way that it is the message of a ghostwriter who writes in anonymous press release or a book. It is still that writer speech. The whole point of the compelled speech doctrine is to ensure that it's --

SOTOMAYOR: So what's the limiting line of yours, of yours? Justice Kagan asked you about another website designer. But how about people who don't believe in interracial marriage? Or about people who don't believe that disabled people should get married? What's -- where's the line?


KING: Our CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic is live outside of the court with more. Joan, take us inside the arguments, sounds fascinating.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. It was John. Another set of very consequential arguments when more than two hours with the justice is struggling exactly on where that line would be. But I have to say, John, when I stepped back from everything I heard today, I really heard a conservative supermajority looking for a way to rule for this website designer out of Colorado. This is slightly different from the case we heard four years ago brought by another Colorado individual, a baker who didn't want to serve a same sex couple with his cake.

There were very specific facts in that case, John, and the justices ended up ruling for him narrowly. In this case, there are really no any -- no concrete facts yet. Laurie Smith, the website designer is challenging Colorado law before it's even been used against her. So that's why there were so many hypotheticals here, as we heard in the clip from Justice Sotomayor, various justices, mostly on the liberal side, were asking if the court rules for Laurie Smith here, what will it do for cases that are brought on the basis of disability discrimination, racial discrimination, national origin discrimination, other religious discrimination?

And there are no clear answers at this point, because the law, we don't know exactly what the facts are. But we could really feel, John, I have to say the majority of the court is conservative. And they seem to want to be conclusively looking at the First Amendment implications for the free expression of this website designer.

KING: And as you know, Joan, this is about the First Amendment versus a state anti-discrimination law. But since the Dobb decisions, anytime you hear the words gay rights before the Supreme Court, because Clarence Thomas essentially said in his view of the Dobbs decision, maybe we should revisit same sex marriage as well, any relation at all, anything to be read from this issue today into that issue, maybe down the road?

BISKUPIC: Not to the core issue of a fundamental right to same sex marriage, but to whatever services or benefits or anything that other couples would have out in society, whether same sex couples would be able to get those on an equal basis. This is a public accommodations case in many ways, not just a free expression case. And that's where the difficulty of this intersection is, John.

KING: Joan Biskupic, appreciate the hustle after those arguments coming out to share that important with us. Appreciate it very much.


Up next for us, Paul Pelosi, the house speaker's husband emerges in public for the first time since he was brutally attacked inside their California home.


KING: Topping our political radar today, Iran's morality police abolished maybe. The country's Attorney General saying the group responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic strict dress code for women, including headscarves had been shut down. The morality police of course helped light a match that set off weeks of protests that after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in their custody. Iranian state media though denying the forces going away, the Attorney General also claimed last week the mandatory hijab law is now under review.

That standing ovation for Paul Pelosi at this year's Kennedy Center Honors last night. It was his first public appearance since being brutally attacked at his home back in October. Pelosi attended the event with a black hat and a glove on just one hand. He got a fist bump from President Biden as he was walking to his seat. The night was a salute to a group of people who have made remarkable contributions to the American arts began with a big White House reception hosted by the President, singer Gladys Knight, conductor composer, Tania Leon, contemporary gospel singer, Amy Grant, the actor George Clooney, and the Irish band, U2, were the guests of honor. President Biden ticking through the accomplishments of each honoree ending his remarks with a quote from a U2 song and a message about unity.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would do well to remember today at a moment when there's too much hate, too much anger, too much division here in America, and quite frankly, around the world. We have to remember today as our song goes, we are one but we're not the same. We get to carry each other.


[13:00:06] KING: And it's that time of year, time for you to vote on your favorite CNN Hero. Go to You can vote up to 10 times a day every day. And remember, you can use all your votes for one hero or you can spread the love.

Thanks for your today in INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.