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Inside Politics

Today: Walker, Warnock Face Off In Pivotal Senate Race; Today: Voters Choose Walker Or Warnock In Critical Senate Race; Biden, Trump Try To Boost Candidates Ahead Of Senate Runoff; Senate Contest Could Have Significant Impact On Dem Agenda; Jan 6 Cmte Chair: Panel Will Make Criminal Referrals; Heroes Of Capitol Attack Receive Congressional Gold Medals; McCarthy: "Wait Till We're In Charge" To Negotiate With Dems; GOP Rep Biggs Running Against McCarthy For Speaker. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 06, 2022 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A very big step as they're now formally charged hundreds of charges. Lucy, thanks so much for brining that to us. I really appreciated. And thank you all so much for watching At This Hour busy day. I'm Kate Bolduan, Inside Politics with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing runoff day with us. It is yes decision day in Georgia. Raphael Warnock versus Herschel Walker in a big Senate runoff. The winner comes to Washington and alters the balance of power in a big way.

Plus, a December rush, Congress must be through a long list of must get done items. Right now, big divides on defense spending, vaccines and stopping a government shutdown including a new Republican rift between Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy. And today a watershed decision - watershed decision from the panel investigating the insurrection. The January 6 media says yes, it will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department.

Up first for us today though, Georgia delivers a verdict and settles the Senate map. Voters streaming in and out polling places all across the Peach state today. And tonight, we count those votes. The choice Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent or republican Herschel Walker. And this choice, a 51-49 said it tilted toward the Democrats or a 50-50 divide in the upper chamber.

Yes, just one seat. But yes, an impact beyond what may look like simple math. 51 gives the Democrats tiny but critical space to maneuver. 50 leaves the president with no room for error in the Senate, just as a new Republican majority takes charge in the House.

We begin today in Smyrna, Georgia, in Cobb County, the heart of the Atlanta suburbs and CNN's Eva McKend is there. Eva, weeks covering this race here, it is run off day. EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: It's sure is, John. You know, what a difference a few days makes? The last time I was with you on this program. During the early voting period. I was showing you these long lines of voters all across the state but that is not the case this morning. I started out today in Atlanta. I'm now in Cobb County and people seem to be getting in and out pretty quickly according to the Secretary of State's office.

Right now, the average wait time is about a minute and 25 seconds. Herschel Walker and Senator Warnock meeting with supporters again today. Senator Warnock in Norcross, our Herschel Walker doing the meet and greet with supporters in Marietta. You know, Cobb County where I am right now, this is a place that both of these candidates really want to be competitive. That's because historically, it was a red county, but now it's more purple.

And so, it is the site of swing voters that both of these candidates have long worked to capture. So, the polls close at 7pm, but really important, if you are online, if you happen to be in line, no lines right now. But if you happen to be online, you can actually stay through the hour. You do not have to leave at seven, you just have to be online by seven. But the polls close later this evening. Back to you, John?

KING: Eva McKend live on the ground for us on an important day. Eva, thank you for all your reporting throughout the past month. Now let's take a look at where we will be watching on the map tonight is the votes in Georgia fill in this map. Herschel Walker, the Republican Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent.

Let's go back a month to the general election and use this map to lay out the stakes today. Why are we here today because no candidate back a month ago got over 50 percent because in part because of the libertarian candidate. So, what are we going to look for? Where was Eva just then? She just noted, she was here in Cobb County.

You notice back in November, Herschel Walker got 40 percent, 41 percent if you want to run that up and Herschel in ran that up for Herschel Walker. Here's the challenge tonight. The governor was reelected on the same ballot. Look what Brian Kemp got in the same county, 47 percent. This was the challenge for Herschel Walker. He underperformed in the suburbs. Even the suburbs that were voting democratic, he needs to increase his margins.

Cobb County is one of them. Come back to the Senate race. Come across to Gwinnett County. You have Fulton County in the middle. That's Atlanta in the suburbs. That's the largest county. Then you have Gwinnett at number two, Cobb number three. Look what Warnock got a month ago, 38 percent, 39 percent, if you round that up.

Governor Kemp getting 44 percent. This was Walker's problem. The reason he couldn't reach 50 percent, is it was underperforming the Republican governor in the suburbs. Can he change that today, knowing the Democrat has an advantage in the early vote, Herschel Walker must overwhelmed at the polls today? So, he has to do a better job in the suburbs. And he has to turn out voters in the red up here. Swap this here, bring this in, has to bring out. You see these conservative areas here and here. Do those smaller counties. Do Republican voters come out even though they know it doesn't matter who wins in terms the Democrats will control the Senate either way? Do these voters come out? Do they stay home? That will set the stage tonight which is why in the final days both candidates saying, if you haven't voted vote, if you have voted find somebody else who hasn't.



SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK, (D) GEORGIA: Your assignment, if you already voted your assignment is not yet done. Your assignment is to get some more of your friends. Matter of fact call, your father and your mother, your sister and your brother, call Lottie Dottie and everybody. Tell him it's time to vote.

HERSCHEL WALKER, (R) GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Right now, Georgia looking for a senator who is going to speak for them. Raphael Warnock has not spoken for Georgia. Everyone knows that and they've never said anything about it. Right now, I'm going to speak for the Georgia people, to Georgia people to get people.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post, and NPR's Claudia Grisales. We'll wait, we count the votes tonight.

You have this runoff election unpredictable. But we do know based on the early voting that Herschel Walker has to dominate today? In terms of the day of vote, some people say yes, it gets 60 percent, somewhere in that ballpark of today's vote because of the Democratic advantage. What else that played tonight?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I mean, yes, you're absolutely right. You know, when it comes to this runoff election, Democrats have really left everything on the field between the money, between the stars, between, you know, just the amount of time and effort put into this. Whereas the Walker campaign has in these final days, has kind of been without star power, aside from the candidate himself. You've had these kind of auxiliary, kind of Southern senators that have been around him.

But at least in the final push, it sorts of just been, you know, the man on his mission to get elected to the U.S. Senate. So, we'll have to see. I mean, it's very cliche to say it all comes down to turnout. But when you have the Warnock campaign, I'm feeling good about the early vote, and the walker campaign doing one of these tonight.

KING: And it's an interesting point, because two men who have enormous stakes in this secondary stakes. They're not the candidates or the president, United States, Joe Biden, who would love that 51st vote in the United States Senate. It gives him more leeway now. I think one seat, but it's a very important and Donald Trump, who had a horrible miserable midterm election year and is hoping Herschel Walker, his endorsed candidate can at least end it with a win. Neither one of them is invited in by the candidates. Both of them though did fold it in last night.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT (voiceover): Every way it really is critical because look, all the things that Raphael Warnock has supported are things that the people of Georgia care a great deal about.

DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: A vote for Raphael Warnock as they vote to give Chuck Schumer and the unhinged far left Democrats total control of the United States Senate.


KING: Oddly, about stakes for the President and the former president tonight?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right, exactly, they had to phone it in because they are not having a positive impact, if you will, on such a tight race in a battleground state. They don't want to be the figures who are going to tip this one way or another, not in favor of their candidate.

So, when we look at Trump, for example, he's trying to make his argument that this will cause headaches for Democrats, let's do this. But we haven't seen them there, as well as for Biden, the same case for him. And this is reminiscent of what we saw throughout the midterms. And it worked for a lot of candidates, including Democrats in terms of pushing their races in their favor.

KING: Majorities Joe Biden, the President United States, former vice president of United States, but also 30 plus years in the United States Senate. He understands 51 does make a big difference. It gives you majorities in each committee. It gives the chairman subpoena powers. They don't have to get Republicans to sign off on everything they do. Fewer tie breaking votes in the Senate, easier to get judicial nominees through easy if there's a cabinet shake-up in the second half of this first term to get through. How important is the White House view this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think they view a very importantly, given the fact it's going to be a split Congress, given the fact the Senate and being able to move in particular nominations through committees. There are procedural logistical and time hurdles that will no longer exist if they have 51 votes. And if they control the committees with a clear majority, and I think they view that as critical.

But I also think when you talk to White House officials, they're very cognizant of what Georgia means to the Biden presidency to his win in 2020 and the political future going forward. I've been kind of fascinated by the president's post midterm travels. He was kind of allowed in Michigan a little bit before the midterm elections, but one of them was Michigan where Democrats are performed today, heading to Arizona where he wasn't necessarily welcome.

And to be completely clear, the president is OK with that. When you talk to his officials take it personally sometimes, but the president has always made clear. They don't want me. I don't need to be there. I've been in this game long enough to understand that.

But what I'm most fascinated about is if Warnock wins tonight, and we obviously need to count the votes, if Biden very soon after is in Georgia as well, because you're kind of seeing him lock into very critical states that he flipped in 2020, where Democrats overperformed and certainly if Warnock wins tonight, it would be a very good sign for a Biden team that hasn't necessarily launched yet for 22.

KING: And it's the last contest in the 2022 midterms, Georgia, again, because of the runoff law, being the last voice here. And it's interesting in that President Biden has a huge stake because of his agenda and his nominations and the control of the Senate was also a point of pride.

This is Phil's point about Georgia, but Donald Trump does to the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan has a never Trumper, and he believes that Donald Trump's pick of Herschel Walker is going to cost him the seat tonight. It is striking. Listen here, even Republicans who maybe regret some of whom would be grudgingly say, OK, I want Walker to win just because I'm on Team red. Geoff Duncan says it's not going to happen.



LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R) GEORGIA: We're trying to break this vicious cycle of addiction and Donald Trump is Republicans and that's really what it is, we put the wrong candidates in place all over the country. I'm sure the folks in Arizona wish they could have somebody other than Blake Masters and Kari Lake. I'm sure the folks and the Republicans in Pennsylvania wish they had somebody other than Dr. Oz hindsight is 2020. And I think unfortunately, we're going to want wakeup on Wednesday and realize that we wish we had somebody other than Herschel Walker representing us.


KING: To what degree is this in part? It is a Trump verdict to be had here too, in the sense that he did have a pretty miserable midterm year and he's a candidate for president again.

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think a huge part of it is a Trump verdict. All the candidates, Geoff Duncan, listed Blake Masters, Dr. Oz are all candidates that Trump endorsed, and the primary who beat candidates endorsed by Mitch McConnell are sort of more traditional Republicans. And I think Republicans felt like they had the wind at their backs, this election cycle with inflation being so high, with the president being unpopular, and that these Trump candidates cost them races that they should have, you know, won pretty easily.

These were narrow margins. And I think they feel like if they had put less controversial, better candidates that they probably could have come out on top in a couple of these states and may be left with the Senate majority.

KUCINICH: I need to know about Georgia is you have a Raphael Warnock ad where he's campaigning with Republicans and its Republican saying how they voted for him, those split ticket voters that we've been talking about throughout this contest.

The fact that they're in play at all in a state like Georgia, tells you all you need to know about what kind of candidate Walker has been throughout this process. It's a fascinating race and then a month of a runoff race and join us as we count up tonight our CNN's special live coverage. The Georgia runoff starts later today, starts at 4pm Eastern hope you can join us.

Up next, a very big announcement from the chairman of the January 6 committee Yes, Chairman Bennie Thompson says the panel will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department.




KING: Giant decision from the January 6 committee. The panel's Chairman Bennie Thompson telling reporters this morning that members of the committee will make criminal referrals to the Biden Justice Department. CNN's Sara Murray is live for us on Capitol Hill, and the former federal prosecutor Elie Honig also joins us. Let's start with you, Sara. What did the chairman say and what comes next?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, like he said that they will be making criminal referrals that has been decided, but he didn't have a lot of other details to fill out about this. I asked him if he's narrowed down the universe of individuals, they're considering. He said that they had not, you know, we know that they had been looking at potential evidence of perjury, potential evidence of witness tampering, potential evidence of obstruction.

But we don't know if that's going to be the basis for their referrals. We do know that they want to make this stuff public. They want to be able to do this quickly. But they're not, there yet. You know, we're already seeing signs that the committee is sort of trying to water down the news the chairman made today.

We got a statement from a spokesperson for the committee saying they've determined that referrals to outside entities should be considered as part of the final work. So, it's clear that this is something that they are still working on the details of, and we're expecting the committee to be meeting later today to sift through some of these details. KING: Sara, stay with us. Elie, I want you to commit to the conversation. Let's deal with this question first, then I'll get to the process and whether it matters if it's a specific referral or not in a moment, but based on everything we heard publicly at the hearings, if you were a member of the committee team with your prosecution background, who would you be putting on the list of possible referrals?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you have, to start with Donald Trump. John. I mean, I think there's no question that the committee established quite clearly that all of this happened because of Donald Trump, with Donald Trump's knowledge and to some extent with what Donald Trump was hoping to accomplish. Also, let's keep in mind, the committee has been sort of clear about their list of the usual suspects.

In fact, in their subpoena to Donald Trump, they said, we're particularly interested in your communications with certain people. Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, so I'd be looking to see if they named those names as well.

KING: Elie, standby. So, Sara, when you go up in the Hill, we do know Congresswoman Cheney, the vice chairman of the committee has had a particular focus on Donald Trump. So, I think Elie is right that you'd have to put that question at the top of the list. Do we know, is it going to be we believe crimes happened here and you should look at our report, or we believe A, B, C and D committed crimes. And here's the evidence.

MURRAY: Well, that's all we're waiting to see. I mean, we're waiting to see how specific they are going to get on this. And what we know is that the committee is really under a time crunch here. They have essentially a couple of weeks left to finish their work to get to nail down these criminal referrals, to make those referrals, to finish their final report. And I think that they are still grappling with what exactly this document would look like that has to do with criminal referrals. John?

KING: And Elie, when a document like that gets to the White House, we don't know exactly what it's going to say. But is there some legal requirement that the Justice Department has to look at in a certain way? Or is it just another branch of government, which did a very thorough and important investigation, sending along its advice and Justice Department can take it or leave it?

HONIG: It's the latter, John. It's a political statement by Congress over to the Justice Department. It's a criminal referral, prosecutors get criminal referrals all day, every day from every type of outside entity, so it doesn't require DOJ to do anything. In fact, we already know DOJ is investigating. Merrick Garland confirm that when he appointed special counsel, Jack Smith, specifically to oversee the Trump investigations.

But that said, what the committee could be trying to do here is one put a capstone on their work, put a sort of strong conclusive statement to what they've done. And do they could be trying to just sort of get the American public used to the idea of a potential indictment of a former president. That's a big deal. And from DOJ point of view, it could be that the more people hear this, from the more authoritative sources, it could become less of a shock if and when there comes a day when they do indict Trump.

KING: And so, Sara, to button it up with you back up on Capitol Hill. The committee in its public hearings was remarkably unified. The Democrats and Republicans working very well together. It seems as if especially with Bennie Thompson, the Chairman saying there will be referrals and the committee trying to clean it up. Are we seeing in the end here that getting to the finish line? There are more divides in debates among the members, maybe mostly behind closed doors, but that they exist?


MURRAY: You know, I think what we're seeing is that, you know, sometimes we see the chairman get a little bit further ahead of where the rest of the committee may be ready to be on public announcements. I think this meeting scheduled for later today. I think the other committee members were expecting to go into this and continue the discussion about criminal referrals.

But look, I think that this is something that they have made clear they want to do as a unified committee that it when it comes to criminal referrals, whoever they may decide to put on that list. They clearly want to put a unified front forward. And I think that's essentially why we're getting so few details about who was on the list, what potential crimes are on the list. They do want to be able to present a united front when it comes to that final document.

KING: We will circle back when we get more of those important details, but appreciate the hustle and the reporting, Sara Murray on the Hill. Elie Honig, thanks to you as well. And the law enforcement heroes who defended the Capitol on that day back on January 6, honored today in the very same building Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan police who protected members of Congress, protected the then Vice President Mike Pence, and the staff members in that building, protecting them from riotous were awarded today the Congressional Gold Medals, the highest honor Congress can bestow.

During the ceremony, it appeared some there would not shake hands with leaders McCarthy and McConnell on the Republican side including, the mother of the fallen Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick. Congressional leaders condemning the attacks and thanking the brave men and women who save lives and protected the Capitol that day.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) MINORITY LEADER: To all the law enforcement officers who keep this country safe, thank you.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY: And when an unhinged mob tried to come between the Congress and our constitutional duty, the Capitol police fought to defend not just this institution, but our system of self-government.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: You stare directly into the heart of darkness and go out numbered, you held the line, the line of democracy.

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER OF REPRESENTATIVES: Your valor on that dark day is the stuff of legend.





KING: Kevin McCarthy's goal of being elected speaker in the new Congress is a giant complication as lawmakers tried to sort through a busy to do list for the final days of the current Congress, funding the government and for how long is just one big issue. A Pentagon spending blueprint is another, some lawmakers want to debate immigration. The negotiations on any issue are complicated anyway. And even more so today. The House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy says his Senate counterpart should agree to punt every big decision until Republicans control the House.


MCCARTHY: We're 28 days away from Republicans having the gavel, we would be stronger in every negotiation. So, any Republican that's out there trying to work with them is wrong (crosstalk). Yes. Wait, too, we're in charge.


KING: That's an interesting moment there. We expect Kevin McCarthy if, and we'll get to this part in a minute. If he can be elected speaker to have a lot of fights with Joe Biden, but it looks like he's going to have just as many fights with Mitch McConnell.

GRISALES: Exactly. This is really showing that divide for Republicans on the Hill at this time. In terms of trying to get on the same page, McConnell would love to see full spending permanent bill to get through this year. And McCarthy is pushing forward to wait until next year.

There are some Republicans like outgoing retiring Senator Roy Blunt, who said the GOP is not ready to handle this spending bill next year. We need to take care of it now. So, it's just another reminder of this grand division. We're going to see for these two coming up next year.

KUCINICH: Well, Roy Blunt used to be the whip in the House. So, he knows a thing or two about the House. And if you're having trouble whipping the vote to become speaker of the House, that skepticism is probably valid. KING: Right. You can't even get enough votes. You can't get 218 for yourself right now. And to complicate this since that interview on Fox last night, Representative Andy Biggs says, he's still going to challenge Kevin McCarthy. He tweeted just today. I'm running for speaker to break the establishment. Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by and maintained by the establishment.

So again, McCarthy has more votes than Biggs. McCarthy is in a much stronger position than Biggs, but it only takes a handful or several to at least make this go several ballots, which is embarrassing to Kevin McCarthy, which is why right now he's essentially saying, you know, he's trying to appease the hardliners by standing up not only to Biden, but to McConnell.

ABUTALEB: Exactly. And I think Kevin McCarthy also knows if Donald Trump or Donald Trump Jr, someone from the Trump orbit comes in and says, let's rally behind this guy, which you've seen Trump Jr. kind of do in the last couple of days that he will probably get the vote. So, he's very much trying to appeal to that flank to get a sort of big endorsement that will get everyone else in line.

But you can tell his behavior over the last couple of weeks. He was kind of outside the White House last week after meeting with Biden and Pelosi and Schumer and McConnell kind of grandstanding about the border and fentanyl and a bunch of issues that Republicans are trying to raise in the new Congress.

He's trying to secure those votes and make sure he becomes speaker and then they can kind of deal with what comes next. But I think like Jackie was saying this is exactly why McConnell does not want to have to negotiate with him over a longer-term budget.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I just think view everything right now to the prism of what is endgame is. Kevin McCarthy's endgame is to get to tomorrow at this point, and then maybe get not - we are not trying to be---

KING: It's a very valid point.

MATTINGLY: It is trying to maintain everything to get the number of votes he needs to become speaker of the House. Mitch McConnell's endgame is to not have to do deal with House Republicans that have no ability to find consensus at this moment in time that may change about the big issues that allow the government to function beyond September