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Brittney Griner Back In U.S. After Russian Prisoner Swap; House GOP Braces For McCarthy To Fall Short Of 218 Votes; U.S. Military Braces For Impact Of COVID Vaccine Mandate Repeal. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 09, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Is that environment getting better in terms of the popularity of the League is certainly getting better. The T.V. contract is a little better than it was a few years ago. Endorsement deals seem to be getting a little bit better, or do you still see a lot of pressure? Will some of your colleagues, what happens if he came -- the call came for yourself, would you go play in Russia at this moment? Or is that off the table?

ELIZABETH WILLIAMS, SECRETARY, WNBA PLAYERS ASSOCIATION: I know I personally wouldn't play in Russia. However, there are currently WNBA players playing overseas at this moment throughout Europe. And I think the reality is that this is a pay equity issue. And at the end of the day, I know that the League is putting more and more investment in making sure that players are able to comfortably stay stateside. But there is a reality that the salaries and contracts overseas are lucrative for us.

KING: One of the refreshing things throughout this has been the social activism, the political activism, of yourself and your colleagues essentially saying we're not going to let you forget this. We are not going to -- we're going to talk about this every day, we're going to focus on it as we traveled throughout the League. You did this as well, when you were playing in Atlanta and had questions about the ownership there.

I want you to listen, this is you thank the President in your first answer here. This is a political issue. I know for you it's that, you don't view this as political. You do this as a friend and a colleague and getting her safe and home. But listen to the man who wants to be the Republican Speaker of the House saying the President made a big mistake here.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Think about the exchange here, the Merchant of Death for a WNBA star who was picked up for marijuana. What a victory for Putin. It's made us weaker. It's made Putin stronger, and it's made Americans more vulnerable.


KING: What would you say to your fans out there who might listen to that and question the President's decision here?

WILLIAMS: Well, honestly, I just don't think that's a fair thing to say. I mean, recently, President Biden successfully helped get Trevor Reed home, a former U.S. Marine. He has, you know, advocated for all of the wrongfully detained Americans that are abroad. And he will continue to do so. So I think that that argument is a bit disingenuous, unfortunately. And at the end of the day, we have not only a basketball player, a star, an Olympian that's returning home but also a sister and a friend. And so any opportunity to bring an American home is what we're looking for and in the situation that we're in politically.

KING: I'm a basketball fan, including a WNBA fan, so I'm familiar with how good, how awesome are Brittney Griner is on the court as you are too. We have some video here. This is a match back in 2021 that you're playing for Team Nigeria. She is on Team USA. Tell us about Brittney Griner as a player and I assume you hope that everything is OK. And that whether it's at the beginning of the next season or soon after, you'll be back in moments like this.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I think any opportunity for her to be her best mentally and physically. Obviously, I don't know what her future is basketball wise, but to see her on the court would be amazing. She's an elite athlete and also an even better person. So I'm just excited that she's home, excited that Cherelle and her family will be able to see her.

KING: Elizabeth Williams, grateful for your time today and see you in a couple of months at the Mystics game.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. Appreciate it.

KING: Thank you very much.


Up next for us, Republicans consider the doomsday scenario as in what happens if the hardliners don't blink, and Kevin McCarthy cannot get enough votes to become house speaker.


KING: Kevin McCarthy's path to becoming speaker is even more complicated today leading some Republicans to consider what they call the doomsday scenario. By that, they mean a plan B, if it becomes clear McCarthy cannot win. McCarthy though tells CNN quote, I'll never leave vowing to get the 218 votes he needs to be Speaker. This as a group of Republicans lay out a list of demands they want McCarthy to meet, anyone to meet, in order to get their votes. CNN's Melanie Zanona keeping track of this live for us up on Capitol Hill. Melanie, math problem persists.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: It persists. And Kevin McCarthy has a lot of work to do, so in addition to those five House Republicans that have already vowed to publicly oppose Kevin McCarthy on the House floor, now we have this group of seven new Republicans who are laying out their conditions in order to win their speaker vote. Even though they don't name Kevin McCarthy by name it is very clear that this is directly squarely at him. And some of their demands include a promise to put more conservatives on key committees, a promise of leadership not to play in primaries, and a promise to restore this process that would allow any single member to force a vote on deposing the sitting speaker. That is something that Kevin McCarthy has been adamantly against.

But Manu Raju and I are hearing that McCarthy might be willing to negotiate as he's struggling to get the 218 votes for speaker, and he is certainly in negotiating mode right now. Take a listen to what he said on "Fox News" earlier today.


MCCARTHY: I think what's happening right now is negotiations that people want to see certain changes and we're working through that and we'll get there. And if we can't come together on that opening day, no investigations, no subpoenas, no repealing 87,000 IRS agents, no becoming energy independent, no securing the border. I think that's more important than sitting and squabbling with one another.


ZANONA: Now, even though McCarthy and his allies are so confident that he can get 218 votes on the first round, some Republicans are starting to quietly game out what the next steps would be if they go into multiple ballots. That's something that hasn't happened since 1923. You have some Republicans vowing to keep fighting it out. But other Republicans are now vowing that they're willing to work with Democrats to potentially elect a candidate who would be a more Republican bipartisan consensus speaker. So it's still a longshot idea. But the fact that it's even being discussed really shows the uncertainty hanging over the speaker's race, John.


KING: Wild volatility continues. Melanie Zanona, appreciate kicking that conversation off from Capitol Hill. Let's bring the conversation in the room. Not since 1923, has a speaker's race gone to multiple ballots, that Kevin McCarthy is on "Fox" about every other hour, which is part of his negotiation. I mean, it's just the way it is. And that's where you go if you want to speak to his crowd, as Melanie just noted, willing to negotiate even essentially his authority, meaning any one member could raise up any day, twice a day, if you feel like it, and say let's have a vote to depose the speaker that's, he's negotiating, you would have to argue from a position of weakness, right?

MARIANNE LEVINE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, I mean, it's clear that he does not have the votes. And it's really not clear if he will have the votes come January. I mean, it's also I think, notable that this is all happening after they won the House, albeit not by the margins that they wanted. But he traveled the country, he raised a lot of money, and yet he still does not have the votes.

And so it's clear that he's meeting with hardline conservatives, and that he's going to have to make concessions. But the question of whether he gives them this ask about the motion to vacate, where essentially challengers is authority. And this is what happened with Speaker Boehner, where any single member could challenge his authority. He has said that's a red line for him. But the fact that there are still these discussions that that's still a key demand, I think, is a storyline that we're going to watch play out.

KING: And I said, he's negotiating the position of weakness, and yet he's the strongest candidate, he has way more votes than anybody else, which has to be said, he's closer to 218, or whatever it takes, if there's a few parliamentary or people go missing for a day, you know, and you lower the count, but all the Democrats are going to show up, all the Democrats are going to show up because they sense this Republican unpredictability and weakness. And so they're going to do, so Don Bacon, who is a more centrist Republican from Nebraska, who's on team McCarthy says to the hardliners, if you keep messing with us, maybe we do have to come up with a plan B, but it won't -- you won't like it.


REP. DON BACON (R-NE): Well, I've been public that if a small group refuses to play ball, and be part of the team that will work across the aisle to find an agreeable Republican. But I hope we will get there.


KING: You cover Capitol Hill for a long time. Again, you got to go back to 1923 to go multiple ballots. But just the idea that so there you have a centrist Republican saying, OK, hardliners keep messing with us, and we'll work with the Democrats, really?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, what other opportunities do they have? What other choice would they have if Kevin McCarthy can't get all of the votes? Now, you could argue that maybe it could be Steve Scalise, he's number two who has been very notably quiet during all of this, very notably quiet. You could also argue maybe that an Elise Stefanik could do it, although with Donald Trump, her biggest benefactor right now political supporter right now, in a very weak position, unclear if that would happen.

We have to remember that unlike every other leadership position, the Speaker of the House is a constitutional one, which means that the votes we're talking about happen on the floor, and they happen among every single member. It's not just a party vote. So that's why the threat of, OK, we'll bring in a more moderate Republican that we can get Democratic votes for isn't that farfetched if McCarthy goes down?

KING: And I mean, Nancy Pelosi navigated this, it was messy at times, but she was able to navigate for two years, a very narrow majority. The question is, can Kevin McCarthy do that, when he's not yet the leader? And some of these are congressmen-elect or congresswoman-elect who just won by Republicans. But first you have seven, seven who say, we want concessions, they want -- they say they want this of anyone who would be speaker. You know, as I said, no leadership involvement in primaries restoring so you could vacate the chair and more conservatives on key Committees, 72 hours to read a bill before a vote, so there's those seven demanding that and that's part of their demands right there.

And then you have five more who have said, we will not vote for Kevin McCarthy under any circumstances. Now there's one or two of them in there that team McCarthy thinks they can get, possibly with negotiations, maybe it's a Committee assignment, maybe it's some other concessions. But that's 12. That's 12 for a guy who can only lose three or four.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it's not just the concessions, but also just the different ways that he's already trying to incentivize the Republicans to come together here. That includes floating out. Look, we have a plan to bring Ale Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary to Congress. That happens more effectively if we're unified here. That also includes establishing a Committee to focus on competing with China, talking about also kicking Democratic lawmakers off the Committee's.

Already we're starting to see in these negotiations, real concessions here and incentives that also could have a real impact on the congressional outlook in the months to come.

KING: His problem there is any Republican can promise that. Once they have the power, any Republican can do those things. When he talks about, you know, cutting spending or doing things at the border, you have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, Republicans can make a shutdown the government if they want, they can have hold lines if they want, but they can't do anything, either. I mean, yes, they can say, Mr. President, you can't do much, but nor can the Republicans. On the policy stuff, he doesn't have that long of a leash to promise things.


BASH: Yes. I mean, you think it is that there's gridlock now, actually, given what we've seen over the past couple of months, it's relatively speaking to where we've been over the past 10 years, it hasn't been as bad. I mean, grinding halt is how we would have to describe Congress if that happens.

KING: Who will lead it, still a question, still a question as we go.

Up next, a big White House concession to get an even bigger priority through the Congress, the new defense spending bill will drop the military's COVID vaccine mandate.



KING: A big question looming now for the United States military. What next after the House voting to rescind the COVID vaccine mandate. That decision came as the House voted to pass sweeping legislation authorizing $858 billion in national defense funding. Military officials and experts worry lifting the mandate could have ripple effects. Let's get to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. Barbara, why, why is the military brass think repealing the mandate is a bad idea?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are looking at the statistics. And since the vaccine became mandatory in 2020 and it took hold in the ranks. And the vast majority of the troops are vaccinated. The number of cases in the military has declined dramatically. The number of deaths declined dramatically. People are getting sick, just like the rest of us are not getting as sick because they have been vaccinated. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, have all indicated they believe that the vaccine works and it should be continued to be a mandate.

But now, widespread bipartisan support on the Hill to do away with it. And all the indicators politically, John, are that President Biden is likely to sign that piece of legislation, and therefore the mandate will go away. So what are we left with? What about countries like Japan and South Korea where U.S. troops routinely deploy? And they have to have the vaccine to get into those countries, that will impact readiness. Will there be an impact on recruiting if less troops get the vaccine and still join the military? What will the impact be?

There are some indicators not entirely clear that people have avoided joining the military because they didn't want to take the vaccine. What about the small relatively number of troops who have been dismissed from military service because they refuse to get the vaccine, will they be allowed back in? And bottom line fundamentally, what now for the troops? How will they be kept safe from COVID? And what about commanders who have spent all this time telling the troops, it's a lawful order they must obey? And now they might have to say nevermind. John?

KING: Might have to say nevermind. So the Secretary and the Generals want that big spending bill. But it will bring some complicated issues for them. Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, grateful for that reporting.

Let's move on to two big economic indicators today. One key inflation measure does show prices cooling off in November, but still they remain high. And the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index shows Americans, that means you, are feeling slightly more confident about the economy. This coming as a new CNN poll, look at these numbers, find the President's approval rating, his job approval rating is up to 46 percent after drifting as low as 38 percent back in June and July. Let's get some perspective on the new numbers today from our business reporter Matt Egan, who joins us now live. Matt, what does this new PPI report tell us?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, John, inflation is starting to go in the right direction, but it still remains way too high. Now today's report measures wholesale inflation. This is inflation that's in the pipeline before it reaches you and I as consumers. Wholesale prices up 7.4 percent year over year, 0.3 percent month over month, both of them harder than expected. I think there's some good news and bad news. The good news is that this 7.4 percent figure, this is actually an 18 month low. And this is the fifth straight month of improvement. So that is a good sign. The bad is that these numbers are still very high historically.

And we know that high inflation has really soured Americans views on this economy. Now we actually had some potentially good news on that front today, the University of Michigan saying that consumer sentiment ticked higher this month, that is coming as gas prices fall sharply. But as you can see on this chart, sentiment remains very low historically. And one thing to keep an eye on here, John, is that consumer expectations of employment fell and it actually is now at the lowest level in 11 years. John?

KING: Kind of mixed numbers to sort through as we go end the year and head into the new one. Matt Egan, appreciate your help with that. Appreciate it very much.


Ahead for us, how about this for a welcome to Washington, the incoming Gen Z Congressman Maxwell Frost, getting his first taste of expensive D.C. life, as he tries to find a place to live.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen signing her name into the history books for the first time ever, U.S. currency will feature the signatures of two women. Take a look, besides the signature of the first female treasury secretary. Bills will also be signed by the U.S. Treasurer, Marilynn Malerba. She's the first Native American in that role. Those bills go into circulation next month.

The First Gen Z Congressman, 25-year-old Maxwell Frost, get this, denied a rental apartment here in Washington because of his bad credit score. Frost drove an Uber while campaigning for Congress full time and piled up debt because of it. He tweeted about this saga saying it highlights the difficulties of hold an elected office if you are not wealthy.


A Florida lawmaker who sponsored that state's don't say gay bill, has resigned. Federal prosecutors indicted State Representative Joe Harding this week for allegedly swindling more than $150,000 from COVID relief funds. Harding goes on trial next month.

Thanks for your time on Inside Politics. Hope you have a pleasant weekend. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.