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Inside Politics

Soon: Biden Meets With Veterans Exposed To Toxic Burn Pits; Biden Savors End-Of-Year String Of Successes; Biden Economy: Inflation Cools, Gas Prices Hit 15-Month Low; CNN Poll: Biden's Approval Rating Up, But Lingers Below 50 Percent; Elon Musk Suspends Twitter Accounts Of Prominent Journalists; Pelosi, Schumer Discuss Decades-Long Friendship Over Meal; Dishing Over Dumplings: Pelosi, Schumer Talk Biden & Trump; Pelosi, Schumer Was "Masterful" In Oval Office Spat With Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 16, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A Twitter purge, high profile journalist kicked off some permanently. Elon Musk gives a reason, that's simply not true.

Plus, a CNN exclusive, Chuck, Nancy, and a side of shrimp dumplings. The two Democratic leaders' dish on the relationship on Joe Biden and on their battles with Donald Trump.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: With close friends, it's almost like brother and sister a little bit.


SCHUMER: It's usually her.



KING: And Russia launches an overnight onslaught of 70-plus missiles on Ukraine, Kyiv residents back to taking cover. Power stations damage. This as the United States prepares to deliver more firepower and more training.

But up first for us, an important and an emotional event for President Biden. And he made it now, the commander in chief will promote the new benefits for veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

The venue for this event, a National Guard facility in the president's home state of Delaware, that is named after his late son, Beau Biden. President Biden is saying that signed that legislation back into law in August, believes that Beau Biden's exposure to burn pits during his time in the military contributed to the cancer that took his life. CNN's Jeremy Diamond traveling with the president. He joins us now live. Jeremy, an important policy event for the president, but this one is personal.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it, John. And every time that we have heard President Biden talk about this PACT Act, which the president signed in August, and expands access to VA healthcare and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and other toxic chemicals.

The president has never failed to mention his son, his late son, Beau Biden, who died at the age of 46 from brain cancer. A brain cancer that President Biden adamantly believes was caused by exposure to those burn pits, while Beau Biden was serving in Iraq.

Now, today, though, the president will try and call attention to some of those new benefits to make sure that veterans are signing up for them. It's a part of what the Veterans Affairs department is calling a week of action with more than 90 events across the country to draw attention to these.

And the president is also going to talk about some of the progress that's already been made. 185,000 veterans have already applied for new benefits under this law. 730,000 veterans have received these new mandatory toxic exposure screenings that VA must give to all of these veterans who receive VA care.

And so, the president's going to talk about that progress. But again, it all comes back to the personal significance of this. So, we've heard the president talk about the obligation that this country has to its veterans. Today, of course, that personal significance, as he does delivers these remarks, holds a town hall at this National Guard headquarters here in Delaware, renamed in 2016 after his late son. John?

KING: Jeremy Diamond live for us in Delaware. Appreciate you're kicking us off. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Manu Raju, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, and Sabrina Rodriguez of the Washington Post.

I want to expand the discussion in a minute to talk about where we are. This is sort of an end of the year victory lap of sorts for President Biden. So where is he politically at the end of the year? But I don't want to move past this. Jeremy just noted 185,000 applications already, 700,000 veterans tested for exposure to toxic chemicals.

This is a landmark piece of policy for veterans. And it doesn't get maybe as much as attention as it should. Because in the end, even though it was they had to argue and haggle for a little while, it was a big bipartisan bill. So, it doesn't get as much attention maybe as it deserves.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And look, this actually was not that easy to get through Congress, because there's so many competing demands in the Senate - on the Senate floor, which is why it was difficult to get floor time for this proposal, given how busy this past legislative calendar was, and any one senator could hold up the legislation. And that's what we saw happen in the Senate.

There are also some technical snack foods, which delayed this for some time. There was not an agreement because some Republican senators were concerned that this was an entitlement program that can cost the government much more money than it has been estimated here.

But at the end of the day, Republicans under unyielding pressure, who bended. They allowed us to move forward, they did get approved by a bipartisan vote. A lot of Republicans did back into the end of the day, but no doubt about it. This is one of the things that they're going to tout heading into the next level.

KING: And so, we'll hear from the president a bit later. He'll talk about the policy and again, it's very personal to him because he attributes Beau Biden's brain cancer to exposure to toxic chemicals went overseas on military deployments. At the end of the year for the president, look, it's been a tough midterm year.


So, it's in one way life is going to change (Audio Gap) respect for Marriage Act, sorry this week. Brittney Griner is home. There's a big nuclear fusion breakthrough that the administration is claiming is going to change American life, you have still some more research to do and everything. He averted a big rail strike. The president ending the year feeling upbeat.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely. And also remember this summer to the legislation that was passed, Inflation Reduction Act as well, that comes after last year too with the bipartisan infrastructure act. Probably something that I know a lot of people in the White House are also watching, the number of officials that shared articles about low gas prices too coming down. So, starting to get some of the economic sort of impact as well that people really feel. But there's no doubt this is a positive moment for the president till they are sort of on a victory ladder here.

The challenge is going to be also communicating a lot of these legislative victories that many Americans may not feel for years. You may not feel an infrastructure project right away, Inflation Reduction Act as well. You're going to need to actually get out to the country, kind of like what we're seeing today. And go and actually communicate this.

I go back to a comment the president made after his first year in office, when asked what should you improve on? What do you wish you did more? And he said, get out into the country and actually communicate these policies.

KING: Well, if he's planning on running for reelection, which he says he is, you will have opportunities to get out of the country as we move into 2023 and beyond. The question is, is that yet another crossroads moment, in the sense you met, you mentioned the economy. 10.5 million new jobs. The president can save my first two years in office, the economy created 10.5 million jobs, that is huge.

The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low, gas prices are back down after spiking over the summertime to a 15-month low. Inflation is starting to trickle down. But if you look at financial markets today and yesterday, a lot of turmoil too, because some investors think there's still that possible R-word around the corner.

So how does the president say, hey, give me some credit for this with if there's risk because of the possibility of recession?

SABRINA RODRIGUEZ, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. I mean, he's definitely trying to project confidence. And I think it's at this point where he needs to really be touting those accomplishments, especially also going into a divided Congress next year, where getting those legislative achievements is going to be significantly more difficult.

So right now, he can do that victory lap positioning himself for 2023, 2024, especially now with the midterm victories and the fact that the red wave didn't happen, and that he can tell, you know, we have a majority in the Senate and such.

But with the economy, I mean, with gas prices lowering, you know, that's something that he needs to be touting because people don't realize it until a little later. This is not something that people are immediately, people are still complaining about the economy, people still are complaining about inflation, it's going to take a while even with that, for it to really materialize, and people to talk about it. So, for him, it's going to take some time and really talking about it.

KING: And the question is, can you keep improving? I always talked about trajectory, right? If you look at his poll numbers from the beginning of the year to where he is now. You know, 46 percent approval, 54 percent disapprove, that's still underwater. But he's in better shape now than he was at the beginning of the year. And certainly, where he was, when he got to the bottom. When his approval rating fell below 40 percent in the summertime.

The question is, can you keep your trajectory, the green line? The green line is heading up, the red lines heading down. Can you keep that trajectory as you're ahead again, turn the chapter on 2022 into the next cycle?

KANNO-YOUNGS: And so much of this depends on the economy as well, as we've been talking about. And the tough thing is when you have gas prices fluctuating, when you have consumer prices that are still high, it's tough to go out and communicate and point to job growth. It's tough to point to and try and sway voters by looking at economic indicators that show a positive economy, but that you don't feel it right away. That's really the challenge going forward.

Look, I mean, if we're talking, the president has said that he intends at this point, we don't have an official announcement on reelection. But for all these legislative victories, you still have a country that's coming out of a pandemic. You still have a lot of discontent, a lot of frustration and concern amongst some also about the one thing he can't change, which is his age as well.

RAJU: So much of this too we judge, John, in the next two years about who his competition is, who is an adversary, yes. His adversary in the next two years is going to be the Republicans in the House. How do they perform that could impact how Joe Biden performs and how will he sharpen and change his political approach heading into 2024?

So much of what 2024 is, if he does decide to run, will be about how he has handled the two years with the Republicans in charge. This will be fresh in voters' mind. What will they go? What will they do? Will they overreach? Will they be successful? Well, we have a government shutdown. We have debt default, the first ever in American history. All those major issues will be huge for the president and will determine how voters feel about him heading into reelection.

KING: It sounds like you're saying we're going to need a pretty good Capitol Hill team next year.

RAJU: Yes, it's a fine one.

KING: All politics is local, my friend. Up next for us. Elon Musk suspends the Twitter accounts of journalists, among them CNN's Donie O'Sullivan (Audio Gap)



KING: Elon Musk's actions are contradicting Elon Musk's words. His promise that his Twitter would be a champion of free speech. The Twitter CEO suspended the accounts of more than a half a dozen prominent journalists who've been covering Musk and recent Twitter developments and controversies. Those suspended include CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and others from outlets including the New York Times and The Washington Post.

This right there on the screen is what you see when you click on their Twitter accounts now. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us now live from New York. Donie, Elon Musk in a statement says - in a tweet says, criticizing me all day long is totally fine, but doxxing my real-time location and endangering my family is not. And you did no such thing nor did the others, correct?


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is (Audio Gap) account, which is publicly available flight information, change rules get it kicked off. As we were reporting about it last night, that's when these suspensions came down.

KING: Donie, you have spent years, the last couple of years, tracking social media, tracking controversies on social media, tracking Trump's use of hate speech and like on social media, where are we? What do you make of this moment? Again, Elon Musk said, I'm going to be the champion of free speech. And he used that - he used that mantra to allow more hate, more antisemitism back on Twitter.

And then some people cover him critically, meaning lower case see. I don't mean negatively. I just mean, we're watching what you're doing, which is what we get paid to do. And he seems to have, take that as an affront.

O'SULLIVAN: Look, I mean, I think it's important for us to remember that Twitter is a private company, the First Amendment, even though some Republicans like to portray it as such, does not apply to Twitter. Musk can do whatever he wants, just like on January 7th or 8th of 2021. When they kicked off Trump, Trump has on our platforms, life goes on.

But for this guy, who is the world's second richest man now, and supposed to be the savior of free speech, and the free speech absolutist, it is quite rich to see him kick off these journalists, including myself. What I will say, though, John, is, you know, I have a platform, I am here talking to you right now, I can post on other platforms on social media.

But I think the big concern here is for the chilling effect and the precedent this might set for independent, freelance journalists, particularly outside of the U.S., many of whom, you know, need to be on Twitter. We can choose not to be on Twitter, essentially, if we don't want to be, with many freelancers, independent journalists need to be there to get work, to get assignments, to have their platform.

And especially, I think, as well, the potential chilling effect on journalists that cover Musk's other companies like Tesla and SpaceX.

KING: So, walk me through, I sort of see this in two avenues. One is him personally. You have a clearly paranoid hypersensitive. I would say ego, maniacal, rich guy, who doesn't like people being critical of him. OK, he has the right to do whatever he wants, as you said.

And then on the other hand, he has this big new company that he just took, he wants to have as a free speech. What is the business impact potentially on Elon Musk for imposing his personal view now on Twitter?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, I mean, that is what we're going to see. We have heard over the past few weeks about advertisers may be pulling away from the platform. But we haven't really seen that in a meaningful way, as far as I've seen and my colleague, Oliver Darcy, who has been watching this closely, I've seen.

I think, for us as journalists, particularly if our accounts don't get restored, I think it will give other journalists and also our newsrooms pause to say, wait, do we want to stay on this platform as an organization? And I mean, there are alternatives out there. And some of those we've been hearing more and more about them in the past few weeks as people are kind of getting fed up of Elon Musk.

KING: I think we'll see track that as we move forward. Donie, appreciate your insights today, sir, very much so. Up next for us, is CNN exclusive and its over dumplings. Look right there, in their first ever joint interview, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi weigh-in on the 2024 Biden run, and oh, they don't hold back when it comes to Donald Trump.




KING: The two most powerful people in Congress can finish each other sentences, and they say they're more like family than colleagues. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sat down with CNN's Jamie Gangel for their first ever joint interview. They short shared war stories over Chinese food. Going all the way back to 1987, when they were first introduced to each other by Schumer's then roommate.


SEN. SCHUMER: He said, there's a new person joining our group. Her name is Nancy Pelosi. She's the new Congress member from San Francisco. And he - before I met her, she will become the first woman speaker. That's what he said.

GANGEL: Who really knew the first time?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I knew she would really be a force.

GANGEL: You know everybody's phone number.

SEN. SCHUMER: I probably dial hers more than just about anyone other than people in my family.

PELOSI: Here's the thing. I say this all the time. He has it, what do you call that phone?

SEN. SCHUMER: Flip phone.

PELOSI: A flip phone. If he had a regular smartphone, we could reduce the number of conversations because I could just text him.


KING: Jamie Gangel, joins us to share her reporting and very clever yearend, and you said your expense account there. And just in honor of that, I decided to have some dumplings brought into the table. We can show our viewers. You're not the only one getting away with this.

GANGEL: You noticed I did not eat on camera.

KING: But you can right now if you wish. We're having some fun with this because it's worth having some fun with this. But it's also a fascinating relationship. The two most powerful people in Congress are Chuck Schumer and a lot of people forget because even the Senate was in the House way back in the day. What was your biggest takeaway just from watching them together at the end of this very interesting year?

GANGEL: So, I was not surprised that Chuck Schumer emoted. He is from New York where he likes to say Brooklyn. So, that is - but we normally see Nancy Pelosi, the speaker very buttoned up. You don't normally see that side of her. I don't know whether it was the Chinese food or whether it's moving on from being speaker.


But I thought it was most fascinating to see actually how well they get along. The fact that they speak four times a day and they talked about, I think we're going to see it. I asked if they played good cop bad cop with Trump. And why they showed the next --


KING: Let's listen to that because it is really, as you pointed out. Pelosi is much more reserved publicly. In private conversations, she tends to be more relaxed and open. But you're right. You got her publicly to do what she - you normally doesn't privately. And here's they're both talking about their fascinating interactions with the former president.


SEN. SCHUMER: We sort of set him up instinctively. We didn't plan this. Everyone thought we did out. It was about the government shutdown, the first time. And Nancy said something to him about he didn't understand what - about women.

PELOSI: Chuck was masterful? He was masterful.

SEN. SCHUMER: She set him up, so I could go in for the kill.

PELOSI: No, but he was masterful. He's talking to him about the government shutdown at about immigrants in north. And he says, I have take ownership of the shutdown.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, I said. So, Mr. President, will you own the shutdown? Yes, I will.


KING: You've covered the both for a long time. The House and the Senate often don't get along. Even Democrats on the Senate side versus Democrats, they view the Chambers as differently. When you see that and how they work together. Is there more interaction between those two than is normal between the leaders?

RAJU: Yes. I think so. And that that moment in the Oval Office with Trump and remember that it was just such a fascinating. Well, they actually allowing the cameras in there in such a tense meeting. But it did show how they were been united. They have been united for much of the past several years.

And in that is a lot different than what we've seen tension between the House and the Senate just because of the competing demands and interest in the politics of his chamber. And certainly, different than the upcoming relationship that we're going to see between Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, assuming that he does become the speaker, was still question.

But if he does, then that's going to be - they don't have that same kind of relationship. They do get along. They do have - they talk, their staffs communicate. But it's not the way that we saw in Jamie's interview, it's not that same war.

KANNO-YOUNGS: You have to wonder if the mood would also be the same if we had a different outcome in the midterm elections to. It seems that this is also another example of Democrats coming out quite confident after the midterms, as we were saying the same thing with President Biden going to tell these legislatures - all these little bills and legislative success. This seems to be another example of that.

But going into next year, when you're going to have to deal with oversight investigations, a divided Congress, it'll be interesting to see just how long this can last.

KING: And listen to Senator Schumer, who comes out of this year, maybe the best of the four leaders, if you will. At the beginning of the year, if you sense that at the end of the year, we will say Chuck Schumer is the one who wins the most. I think people would be surprised by that statement or disagree with that there, but he does. He's going to have an increased Senate majority on the House. He's talking here about why he thinks Nancy Pelosi was so great at dealing with Donald Trump?


SEN. SCHUMER: Nancy instinctively knew how to handle Trump. Because for her first, you know, 35, 40 years of life, she raised five children, and she knew how to deal with children. And that's what helped her deal with Trump because he ultimately was a child.


KING: That's not just Chuck Schumer looking back. He knows Donald Trump is a declared candidate for president. It is running for next time and that's again needle.

RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. I mean, we've seen that that tumor and Democrats are already starting to taunt, you know, Trump. We've seen it especially even with the president. I mean, he right now, and we're talking about, you know, major achievements that he's had. Just yesterday, you know, Trump was announcing he had a major announcement, and it was to announce some digital trading cards.

And then we saw the White House, we saw Biden tweeting, saying, well, I have my own major announcements in recent weeks. You know, inflation's down, gas prices. So, it's really, you know, a lot of people are just poking fun at Trump at this point, because they don't think he could ultimately win, or they're trying to at least project that that's what we're looking at for 2024. KING: And so, Jamie, again, the generational question. You asked that over lunch in the sense that Nancy Pelosi decided on stepping down. I'm not going to be the minority leader. She says, she's going to stay in the House. We'll see for how long. Chuck Schumer also not a young man, I don't know.

GANGEL: 72, he is 72, she is 80.

KING: And so, the question, you know, they're the two most powerful Democrats in the Congress. At the moment, will Hakeem Jeffries takes the leadership spot come January? Should Biden run again? They both say yes.


PELOSI: I think President Biden has done an excellent job as president of the United States. I hope that he does seek reelection. He's been a great---

SEN. SCHUMER: And what he's accomplished?

PELOSI: You think he should run again.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes. He's done an excellent, excellent job. And he runs, I'm going to support him all the way.


KING: You may have violated protocol during that sound. You opened your fortune cookie before you had a dumpling. I don't think that's allowed.

GANGEL: But I do have a fortune for you since you didn't get a fortune cookie, that I think --


KING: There are lessons to be learned.