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Bill Protecting Same-Sex Marriage Heads To President's Desk; GOP Divided On What Went Wrong For Party During Midterms; WH Briefing After Brittney Griner Freed In Prisoner Swap. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 08, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: A historic moment today as the House voting to pass landmark legislation protecting same sex and interracial marriage. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking moments ago as they sent that bill to the White House.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: At last, we have history in the making. But not only are we on the right side of history, we're on the right side of the future expanding freedom in America.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: Today, the long been in exile trouble march towards greater equality takes a very important step forward.


KING: Though straight up to Capitol Hill our chief correspondent Manu Raju is there. Manu, a very big deal near the end of this congressional session.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. This bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which denied, it allowed states to deny other states recognition of same sex marriage. What this essentially does is, no state can deny another state's legally valid marriage. It doesn't set a national standard for same sex marriage. But by doing that it essentially would protect same sex marriages. And it also will provide some exceptions, allows religion institutions such as churches that actually deny same marriage not allowed them to be perform on site and not be penalized for by losing their tax exempt status for instance.


That compromise was necessary in order to get Republican support which they got 12 Republicans to vote for this in the Senate, it came over to the House, which have passed today on a bipartisan basis, 258 to 169 to one, one member voting present. So 258 in the affirmative, that included 39 Republicans, John. And when the Defense of Marriage Act was initially passed, was signed into law by Bill Clinton, there were 67 members who voted against it. Today, there are 258 who voted to repeal it. John?

KING: Math does show the changing times. Manu Raju, appreciate that live report from the Hill. Let's bring the conversation back in studio with CNN's Audie Cornish, excuse me, a little Boston accent coming out there, joins our conversation. It's interesting because Speaker Pelosi in addition to being there, and what they call the enrollment ceremony to sign the bill and send it down to the White House. She wrote an op- ed today in "The Washington Post" because she wanted to talk about the importance of this to her, just as I began my career fighting for LGBTQ communities, I'm overjoyed that one of the final bills I will sign as speaker will be the Respect for Marriage Act, ensuring the federal government will never again stand in the way of marrying the person you love.

Critical distinction, the federal government, because the state could still and people think with this Supreme Court, you know might open the gateway for states to do it as the Supreme Court opened the gateway for states to act on abortion rights but a pretty important piece of federal legislation here.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I don't want to diminish the moment, you talked about Massachusetts, you will recall many years ago, same sex marriage was approved in Massachusetts, somewhat kind of kicking off this battle nationally in terms of where it would go. It is fascinating to see where it is right now. I think one thing I want to mention is for the Republicans who continue to vote against this in a Senate. They keep talking about that religious liberty aspect. And it's almost like putting a foot in the door, right, to keep the door open to say, here's an issue that we continue to pursue.

KING: And the question is, you know, will there be challenges at the Supreme Court, the Obergefell decision, make same sex marriage the law of the land, but Clarence Thomas and the Dobb's decision, essentially said, maybe we should look at all of these things. And that's why the Congress decided they needed to act.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The Congress and also President Biden warned about that immediately after the Dobb's decision. He came out and said, this isn't just about abortion access, it's about privacy, it's about marriage, it's about everything that right now, people, a lot of these issues where people thought that they were settled, and that they may not very well be settled. And so again, it's also -- this comes I think, about 10 years or more after President Biden's said got ahead of then President Obama and said that he supported same sex marriage.

And so, the White House isn't said necessarily when the President is going to actually sign this bill. But it's come full circle for him as he's ready to support what has that Congress has just passed.

KING: When you have a conversation you use a term like this issue, if it not settled out there? That's a fascinating question, in the sense that, you know, Republicans would argue abortion rights, you know, many Republicans happy with the Dobb's decision on policy, and yet they just paid a price politically for it. Isn't this issue settled? Maybe not every little detail of it, but the idea, especially with younger voters, that should Washington be telling me what to do about this? Should politicians be telling me what to do about issues, whether it's about gay rights or abortion rights? Are Republicans going to push this issue now that this law is passed to try to challenge it somehow?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: In some respects, yes, of course, in primaries and things. But there are two numbers. I think that sort of make the argument that it is more settled, that is 39 Republicans in the House, but with Democrats in 12, 12 Republicans in the Senate, you may say, that's not very much. Actually, when you think about especially what you were just saying pointing out that it has just been a decade, it was going into the reelection effort of the Obama White House.

And the Obama aides on that side of the White House were actually furious of then Vice President Biden for stepping out and saying he support same sex marriage. So in a decade, that is what has happened. So yes, it is not as far as many activists in the community wanted it to go without question. But this was compromised. This is actual compromise. And it only started because of that House vote. And that's when Senator Tammy Baldwin on the Senate side got the idea that she could maybe get the Senate Republicans, because so many House Republicans surprisingly, actually voted with Nancy Pelosi.

This was not -- this was sort of seen as a political vote early on in the summer. And then it became real by seeing so many Republicans on the House side, Liz Cheney and many others, and that gave Senator Tammy Baldwin on the Senate side, the idea that this could indeed happen.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Especially once the midterms are over, right? Since they tried before the midterms.

KING: Very smart, tactical, strategic decision way until after the midterms to make it less of a political issue.


Up next for us, the Republican Party's Trump problem, and some other big midterm lessons.


KING: Herschel Walker's defeat in Georgia is the last blow of a disappointing midterm election year for Republicans. And the finger pointing is fierce.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): In an election year when it should have been a referendum on the current administration, their policies, the Democrats in many cases were able to kind of turn it into a choice election because of Trump's presence.

SEN. MIKE BRAUN (R-IN): And we have no blueprint for what we're for. We're going to have to talk about what worked, what you're mad about.

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): We're very disappointed. We didn't get our vote out for sure.


KING: Out great reporters are back around the table with us. That was sort of the mild version because their senators there. They tend to speak more diplomatically and more calmly. There's some pretty fierce. One of the things that you hear more and more and more, it's not universal nowhere close, more and more and more is it's Donald Trump that our problem was Trump and we need to push him to the side. Will that last this time? Not the first time we've heard it. Will it last?


BARRON-LOPEZ: I mean, it's hard to say that it'll last simply because, you know, what the past has shown us is that every time you think that there will be a complete break from the former president, there isn't. If there would have been one, I would have thought it would have been after the January 6th insurrection, and it still didn't come then.

So also, those comments from the Republican senators seems to ignore the what we were just talking about abortion access and ignores the Dobb's decision, which is that that played a huge role in Democrats being able to essentially battle Republicans to an even on the economy. If you look at even CNN's exit polling out of the general election, it showed that Republicans voted based on the economy and inflation. And Democrats were boosted extensively by the Dobb's decision.

KING: Right. So you just had a fact based, logic based, database explanation, right? You can back all that up with facts. You can look at data and back all that up. The problem for Republicans is as they sort this out, a lot of the debate is going to happen in their own media silo, where you have people saying Donald Trump endorsed Herschel Walker. Herschel Walker could not get votes from the same voters who voted for Brian Kemp, the Republican governor, that tells you we have a problem, right?

Voters who are available to Brian Kemp, even in the Democratic suburbs, he didn't win. But he did much better than Herschel Walker. Why aren't they voting? Marjorie Taylor Greene says it's not Trump. It's because they wouldn't let people like me help Herschel Walker.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): The audacity and really the frank rudeness of the campaign consultants and Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, where they thought, you know, we're going to keep Marjorie Taylor Greene away from Herschel Walker. And we don't need her voice at his campaign rallies and events, where we're campaigning all of this -- all over the state, I think is a really major mistake and an insult to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Can you have a, you know, fact based fair, sometimes tough conversation about what went wrong and how do we make it right when you have -- when -- that is her view, she believes it?

CORNISH: I mean, two things, I don't want to draw too broad a stroke with Georgia because the Georgia suburbs are more diverse than they used to be. And yet it's the same state that could send Marjorie Taylor Greene right to Congress. I think you want to follow the money though. If you're Peter Thiel, you just lost a bunch of cash into races where you were not successful. Mehmet Oz just saw what happened when he poured all his money into his race.

Democrats were able to put their money to work and smarter ways around more consistent messaging. And they put way more ads on air and they use them to define these candidates, not just in relation to Trump, but in relation to the actual platform of the party in so many ways about Dobb's abortion and other things.

So I think the senators feel bold now because they've had a couple of voters come out and they feel like oh, God, OK, I don't have to be scared of Trump. But the truth is, if you don't have a Trump, what is your alternative vision for the ideal Republican candidate?

KING: It's interesting point, because Mike Braun was one of those senators, he's leaving the Senate to go run for Indiana governor. And his point was, we need to also explain what we're for. And I think that's your point, make a policy argument, because the Democrats were making policy arguments. But there's -- you're trying to make that argument where your only declared candidate for President right now, if you're a Republican thinking about 2024, is Donald J. Trump and Karl Rove, who helped George W. Bush win the White House says, we ought to realize the Trump endorsement is not an inducement to support that candidate, but a warning to beware. I think you could edit that a bit to say it may well helping the primary to support a candidate, but in the general election, that's the beware.

ZELENY: And I think, you know, the lesson is crystal clear from this midterm. And Karl Rove hit it on the head, but what it doesn't really tell us is what this means for Donald Trump in a presidential primary of his own. If he looks weaker now, oh, wow, maybe 12 or 15 other Republicans will say, I can beat him. Well, that's how he succeeded the first time in 2015 and 2016. So in many respects, in Florida, they're saying bring it on. He wants a big field.

But I think the reality here is I was in Georgia and one thing that Herschel Walker didn't do, he didn't appeal to, he didn't change his message or appeal to those voters. He wanted Marjorie Taylor Greene's district. That was not his problem. His problem was, as Audie said, and of course, it's a very diverse in different state, but his problem was not in her district.

KING: Right, Brian Kemp won by nearly 300,000 votes. There were plenty of voters available for Republican candidates that did not vote for Herschel Walker.

[12:49:29] When we come back on this day, Brittney Griner went away back to the United States, the White House about to hold its briefing. We'll be right back.


KING: Take you straight to the White House and Karine Jean-Pierre over the briefing.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Brittney's safe return home is the product of months and months of painstaking negotiations that were the culmination of extraordinary efforts across the U.S. government. Officials from the White House, the State Department, and across the administration worked tirelessly and relentlessly to see this moment through.

As the Secretary of State said publicly in July, we have been engaging in intense negotiations with Russia, pursuing many different avenues over the course of the last six months to secure Brittney's release. And we know Brittney fought tirelessly too.

Throughout her ordeal, we saw Brittney, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist for Team USA, demonstrate strength, courage, and dignity. As the President said this morning, she represents the best of America.

I had the opportunity to speak to Cherelle Griner a couple of hours ago, who is looking forward to seeing Brittney as soon as she returns home later today.

Cherelle, who herself has handled Brittney's detention with incredible strength, asked me to communicate once again her sincere gratitude to everyone in the administration and in their broader -- and in their own broader support network, who made this day possible. She also wanted to reinforce the commitment she and Brittney have made to stand up and speak out for other Americans wrongfully detained abroad.

While we're celebrating Brittney's return home today, we have also continued to be in touch with the Whelan family for whom this news brings mixed emotions.

In recent weeks, it became clear that while Russians were willing to reach an agreement to secure Brittney's release, they continue to treat Paul Whelan differently, given the nature of the totally illegitimate charges they have levied against Paul. Unfortunately, the choice became to either bring Brittney home or no one.

As the President said this morning, he will never stop working to secure Paul's release and return home. And he will not give up.

On a personal note, Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympian. She is an important role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI plus Americans and women of color. She should never have been detained by Russia. And we are, I am, deeply proud of the work that the President has done, this administration has done to get her home.

With that, Seung Min.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, a couple of questions on Brittney Griner. In his post-Election Day press conference, the President said, quote, my hope is that now that the election is over, that Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be more willing to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange. So can you discuss how precisely the end of -- how the talks changed after the midterms? Did Russia seem more -- did their posture change? Were they kind of cognizant that the campaign season was over?

JEAN-PIERRE: If you could bear with me for a second, I'm going to give you all a timeline that will answer probably many of your questions about what happened and when things changed.

So as you all know, over the past year, we have been pursuing many different avenues, as I just stated at the top, to secure Brittney's release, as -- and I mentioned what the Secretary said in July. But since that time, U.S. officials continued to press Russia publicly and privately to engage in good-faith negotiations pursuing a variety of different options.

In recent weeks, though, it became clear that while the Russians were willing to reach an agreement to secure Brittney's release, they continue to treat Paul differently, as I just stated, with their totally illegitimate charge that they levied against Paul.


In this last week, the President approved moving forward with releasing Viktor Bout in exchange for bringing home Brittney Griner. Over the last 48 hours, Brittney was moved from the penal colony where she was held in Russia, to Moscow, and then flown to the UAE.

Bout conditional grant of clemency was not complete -- completed until today, when U.S. officials in the UAE verified Brittney was there too and ready to return to the U.S.

Yesterday, U.S. officials met with Paul Whelan's family to inform them of the news. And I expect, as the President said earlier today, this President will speak with them later or when they are ready to have that conversation, understanding, and the President said this as well, how difficult of a moment this is for the Whelan family.

And this morning, just to clear up some of the questions that you all have had, Cherelle had been invited to the White House for a meeting with the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.

When she arrived, she was welcomed into the Oval Office by President Biden, who personally delivered the news that Brittney would be returning home today.

The President was joined in the Oval Office by Vice President Harris, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and also Secretary of State Blinken.

Once Brittney lands in the United States, she will be offered appropriate care and support from the U.S. government, including medical screenings as well.

Look, I'm not going to get into specifics as to your question about what was occurring to change the minds of Russia as it relates to the midterms or doing this after the midterms. I'm not in the business of speculating how Mr. Putin thinks.

What we want to make sure that is very clear: The President made a promise, and he kept his promise, and not just to Brittney Griner, he's keeping his promise, he's going to do everything, his team is going to do everything that they can to secure Paul's return as well, and other Americans that are wrongfully detained abroad.

And so we have seen this happen, right, just across the President's administration. And we've brought home, the President has been able to secure about a dozen wrongfully detained or hostage individuals, Americans, bringing them home. We know we saw the situation with Trevor Reed just this past April.

So this is a commitment that the President has, that his administration has, and we will continue.

KING: You're listening there, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary laying out some of the details of the negotiations that led to the release in a prisoner swap of the WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is now on her way back to the United States. We will continue to track that briefing for new developments.

Thanks for your time tonight inside politics. Ana Cabrera picks up our important coverage on this big breaking news day after a quick break.