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Inside Politics

McCarthy Wins Gavel After Longest Speaker Battle Since 1859; Biden to Visit Border Later Today for First Time as President; Democrats Celebrate Unity Amid Bitter Republican Clashes. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 08, 2023 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): A historic fight leads to a historic win.

CHERYL JOHNSON, HOUSE CLERK: The Honorable Kevin McCarthy is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I hope one thing is clear, I never give up.

PHILLIP: But what did McCarthy trade away for the gavel? And can the weakened speaker rule his unruly caucus?

Plus, a party united.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): And the D and Democrats stands for deliver.

PHILLIP: In the face of Republican disarray, are Democrats the real winners of the week?

And Biden visits the border after announcing a new crackdown on illegal crossings. The president will see the crisis firsthand for the first time.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message is this: do not, do not to show up at the border.


PHILLIP (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Philip.

After 15 ballots and four days, Kevin Owen McCarthy became the 55th speaker of the House early on Saturday morning. This week offered us a rare and maybe unprecedented window into the drama taking place on the House floor as a party went to war with itself. The wheeling and dealing, as different factions hunted for support, the agony of the vote that went the wrong way for McCarthy, parents on the floor dealing with fussy babies and new and former leaders sharing a moment of levity, board members looking for subtle ways to pass the time.

And most dramatically, a near brawl just after 11:00 p.m. on Friday night. But after a half an hour and a sudden turn of fortunes, the dissenters finally gave McCarthy a win at the literal 11th hour.


MCCARTHY: That was easy, huh? I never thought we would get up here.

We're going to pass bills to fix the nation's urgent challenges, from wide open southern borders to American last energy policies to woke indoctrination in our schools. Our system is built on checks and balances, it's time for us to be a check and provide some balance to the president's policies.


PHILLIP: Let's discuss all of this and more with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Kasie Hunt, John Bresnahan of "Punchbowl News", and Seung Min Kim of "The Associated Press".

I don't even know. I don't even know to say at this point. We've all been on marathon coverage of all of this, but this is crazier than I think maybe we anticipated.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: For sure, and this is the easy part. I mean, that is what it is, you know, when you step back from this, we've all covered speaker votes, they've all been quick.

But the fact that this was drawn out does not mean that this is the end. This is the very beginning of Kevin McCarthy's saga here. So, we'll see how long it goes, how far it goes. Look, I mean, he was trying to put, I thought his humor there in the early morning of Saturday was a very good touch. That reminded me of the young gun Kevin McCarthy that we all covered more than a decade ago.

So, despite all this, he still has some joy it is hard. Gosh, he has one of this for so long. He literally gave everything away except for the speaker's balcony practically for this. So, we'll see how it all plays out. Maybe he did, we'll see.

PHILLIP: So, it was so interesting, he tried to be the happy warrior for so much of this, and that the very end, the anger and frustration really blood through. But just listen to him, just throughout the week, just putting a smile on this really crazy situation.


MCCARTHY: Because it's not -- it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

It's not a start, it's how you finish. Now, we have to finish with the American public. You know, my father always told me, it's not how you start, it's how

you finish.

It's not how you start, it's how you finish. So, don't judge us on how we start, watch how we finish.


PHILLIP: Talk about on message, right? But he, I mean, to Jeff's point, he has wanted this more than perhaps anything else, and he got it. It was a win, right?

JOHN BRESNAHAN, FOUNDER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: I was standing next to him for one of those, by the way. No, he was, you know, you guys well covered him, I was there in 2015, I was actually with him before he walked over to the Longworth building, he was going to be speaker, and he -- conservatives blocked him.

And he turned around, and he rebuilt himself. He tried to reach out to conservatives, again, at this moment, they're going to block him again. You know, so, I think, you know, I do think he gets some credit for holding them together, because I didn't think he was going to make it.


By Wednesday and Thursday, I did not. I can honestly say that I didn't think he is going to make it. A lot of his allies didn't think he was going to make it. I mean, we had people telling us there's a 5 percent chance.

So, I think you deserve some credit. But he's, I mean, this is just the start of his problems.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think what you saw on display there, the humor that we talked about, that he showed when he first got up on that dais, and then the relentlessness with which he said that same message over it over again. I mean, those two things are why he ended up where he was.

I mean, he was incredibly stubborn, one of the things that some people have mentioned to me is that the 2015 fight, I think at least three of us, members of Congress, Jeff, you may not have been on the campaign trail. I remember covering that and he learned from that, which was that he felt like he backed down too quickly in that fight. He refused to do at this time, and he kept that happy warrior face on to the extent that they could, honestly, that's the reason he is well-liked, right? His political power comes from relationships he's built that personality he has, from those 200 that were voting for him time and time again. That's ultimately what got him over the finish line.

Now, my question is, how long does he keep the job?

PHILLIP: And as you asked earlier, what did he give away to get it? Listen to how Matt Gaetz described what the House is going to be like, perhaps under these new rules, there is the deal that Kevin McCarthy landed with them.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The construct of these rules concessions functionally turn the speakership into a ceremonial position, as a matter of fact, if my colleagues get what they want for McCarthy, the chairman of the freedom caucus will actually be more important than the speaker of the House. You will have to live the entirety of the speakership in a straitjacket, constructed by these rules that were working on now.


PHILLIP: I mean, wow, is he right?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he's not wrong there, and speaking to those concessions, I mean, what really makes Kevin McCarthy so much less powerful than other speakers in the past is that right now, he has a conference, a very narrow majority with many members who are willing to just basically push a vote of no confidence on him at any term, any sort of bad move that Kevin McCarthy -- Speaker Kevin McCarthy makes, whether it's policy, House rules, procedure tactics, politics, as we saw earlier this week as well, it is going to be, it is going to put him in that position of being put out for a referendum because of that motion to vacate a measure where any one member could call for that vote to speaker.

So, we could see this exercise over and over again, and I imagine Kevin McCarthy, while he is a fighter, he is a survivor, he's going to have to be looking over his shoulder almost every morning when he wakes up to figure out how could I be ousted, like, today?

PHILLIP: And that man, Matt Gaetz, so you just saw on your screen, is going to be the person trying to be front and center on all of this.

I want to review a little bit of what happened on Friday night, it is amazing. From 11:32 p.m., you see there, Kevin McCarthy really walking away and then this, this moment. There is a little bit of history here. This is not maybe the first nor -- nor maybe the last new brawl on the floor.

Back in 1858, this happened. It's described this way. Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow and South Carolina Democrat Laurence Keitt exchanged insult, then blows. A melee ensued, Wisconsin Republican John Potter and Cadwallader Washburn ripped the hairpiece from the head of Mississippi Democrat William Barksdale. There were hairpieces ripped.

KIM: You can't touch the hair pieces.

PHILLIP: Not on Friday night but Mike Rogers has been the guy.

BRESNAHAN: He was upset all week.

PHILLIP: He's been upset all week. BRESNAHAN: And one of the things was that Gaetz talking -- Gaetz

serves, Mike Roger is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Gaetz serves on the committee, Gaetz wanted a subcommittee chairmanship on Armed Services, which actually, Kevin McCarthy cannot give him, only Rogers can give him. And Rogers came over and said, you're done, he's the only guy in the Armed Services voting against McCarthy and then it got a little worse, that's when Richard stepped in.

But one thing that's interesting to me, what we were told was Lauren Boebert was sitting to next to Gaetz, and we are told on that vote, on the 14th vote, she was actually going to vote for Gaetz, which would've allowed Gaetz to vote present, which McCarthy would've won on the 14th vote.

PHILLIP: She would've voted for McCarthy.

BRESNAHAN: No, she would've voted for Gaetz, because if she votes for Gaetz, that lowers the margin by one, and then Gaetz can go to president. What happens is she voted present, Gaetz voted present, then he didn't get, he actually got on the number, but didn't get there.

And so, there was some confusion about what was happening, that is when everybody just flipped out.


PHILLIP: Right. Okay, another iconic moment, I will say, this photo, Marjorie Taylor Greene holding up a cell phone with the initials DT on it.

That hand that you see there is Congressman Matt Rosendale who didn't vote present or for McCarthy, which also really screwed up the math for McCarthy as well. I mean, really incredible.

ZELENY: Without a doubt, I mean, when I saw that picture, I'm thinking, ET, like, ET phone home.


ZELENY: And for Rosendale, I mean, Trump went out to Montana in 2018 again and again and again to campaign for him for Senate run. But then he was running against him -- he said, don't put me in that position.

Look, at the end of the day, all of this, it wasn't love for Kevin McCarthy that gave him the speakership, it was the disdain for Matt Gaetz and the others not wanting the 200 members not wanting to give them sort of a victory here. So, that was Kevin McCarthy's insurance policy all week long, it was the hatred of the Freedom Caucus and these others.

PHILLIP: And perhaps the disorganization of his opposition, they opposed him, but they never really got their act together.

ZELENY: It was in the center of gravity, necessarily. I mean, at the end of the day, Matt Gaetz, I mean, he essentially made the speakership possible for Kevin McCarthy.

PHILLIP: All right, well --

ZELENY: We'll see what he gets out of it.

PHILLIP: Coming up next for us, that battle may be over, but the war is not one. We'll talk about what is facing Republicans as soon as they gavel in tomorrow morning. That's next.



PHILLIP: All right. Kevin McCarthy will face the first test of his newly minted speakership tomorrow. If he thought winning the gavel was tough, actually, wielding it may be even tougher. McCarthy, however, insists that the chaos of the past week actually puts him and his conference in a much better position.


REPORTER: How do you expect to govern this way if it's been taking this long to get the conference united?

MCCARTHY: See, this is the great part, because it took this long, now we learned how to govern. Now, we'll be able to get the job done.


PHILLIP: Now we've learned how -- now we learned how hard it's going to be to get all of this done. I am fascinated by this, but tomorrow, we're going to be talking about rules. And the rules are critically important here. And this is not a fight that is over.

BRESNAHAN: No, it's not a fight that's over. There's two things, or a couple things happening. They're going to vote on the actual rules package tomorrow. That is going to pass. There's only one member who is opposed, a Republican who is opposed, Tony Gonzales of Texas, but that's going to pass.

The thing we haven't seen, there's a document circulating around, a couple of pages, like a three page document that has got some unwritten rules that they're talking about, which is like reducing spending to 2022 levels. It would be big cuts in government spending. This is one of the problems that McCarthy faces, moderates were upset about it.

PHILLIP: So, this is like not in the rules package, but it's a secret document that --

BRESNAHAN: Yeah, it's floating around. Yeah, they're not actually even letting people have copies of it. So, yeah.

HUNT: How damaging could be for them if it got out.

BRESNAHAN: Yes. And so, I mean, there is going to be, they are going to try and pass the rules package, look at that done, then they're going to launch into some votes, they think it will help them, they'll be abortion votes, that will be a crime vote.

But, you know, we're going to see a fight pretty soon on immigration. That's going to happen in the House, and that's going to be the first flash for him. I think he's going to have a problem. McCarthy's going to have a problem.

PHILLIP: Because as you pointed out, some of the concessions or learning that McCarthy made, include this idea that they could cap spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, it would be a cut to defense spending. There is the motion to vacate, which would allow anyone to call a vote to get rid of the speakers any moment, basically, putting some of these hard-liners on key committees, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, no more omnibus spending bills.

These are potentially pretty significant concessions, which really raise the question about what is going to happen to the institution over the next few years.

HUNT: Well, you played the clip of gates calling this a straitjacket, so that list is really the straitjacket that he's trying to describe. Basically, it ties the hands on some of these critically potentially crisis level situations, try to solve problems fast which is what omnibus spending bills have become in recent years.

That's not to say it's not a problem. Congress is not supposed to govern this way, in fact, I think one of the youngest members of Congress, the first time since Congress passed all its appropriation bills on time as the year he was born or the year before he was born, something like that, right?

So, this is how we've operated for a long time. But, you know, I think that we've learned how to govern, it sticks in my head. This is been the reality inside the Republican conference since well before Kevin McCarthy got the gavel, right?

This is why -- resigned, this is ultimately why Paul Ryan decided to throw on the towel. It's been an ungovernable conference. This group of people has bedeviled anyone who's tried to run the country.

This is a much more prolonged version of, I think, the example that was set, it means we're going to be going from crisis to crisis, we're going to face potential government shutdown. When we hit the debt ceiling, with potentially face very real possibility of a default.

It seems like a lot of these members do not care about that, and there are very real world consequences, and it's going to layer right over the top of a very contentious --

PHILLIP: Maybe they don't care, some of them actually want to take it all the way to the brink. And then on top of that, there is something else that McCarthy agreed to. This is a committee that would investigate the investigators. Investigate the FBI, the DOJ, people who, by the way, are investigating some of the sitting members of congress. This is extraordinary. It also would kind of dabble in some of the

social media censorship world. McCarthy pretty much immediately said, yes, we are going to do that. What is that going to do?

ZELENY: Well, we'll see what it does, they wanted funding for that committee. So, I mean, the reality is, that is, all of that will be playing out here with many investigations. The Hunter Biden investigation is something that really was, you know, one of the reasons that Republicans won.


I mean, there were -- every Republican voter I talked to last year's right concerned about this. And the Afghanistan pullout, China, the origins of COVID -- there is some real oversight and investigations here. Just investigating the investigators, we'll see. I mean, that is something that Jim Jordan and others wanted.

But at the end of the day here, one thing we're also not talking about, we can't forget, the Senate is controlled by Democrats.

KIM: Yeah.

ZELENY: And the White House, for sure.

So, never mind what gets out of the House, most of the stuff is done on arrival.

So, one thing is different, some Democrats will be in the House. They'll vote for some of these things. So, that will be a margin, a, you know, I felt for Kevin McCarthy here on the spending thing, some moderates will help him.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, look, if you tell Democrats, let's cap defense spending a lower level, some of them will be like, sure, we need to do that. So, that is one of the things.

But it strikes me also that the fallout from all of this is that McCarthy has basically single-handedly empowered these really fringe characters in the Republican Party. We're talking to people like Paul Gosar, and Scott Perry -- Paul Gosar, who spoke at a white supremacist conference, Scott Perry who's basically being subpoenaed over his involvement in the January 6th stuff, Jim Jordan. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a member of leadership, as she describes herself now.

I mean, that is really extraordinary, and maybe a long-lasting consequence of all of this.

KIM: Right, right, because of the narrow majority that House Republicans won in November, he is -- Kevin McCarthy is so hamstrung by these very -- I mean, it's hard to call them conservatives. They're just very hard-line far-right people, and a very small minority of the conference, where most of the conference, or majority of the conference, do want to actually unify and govern, and get some stuff done, and get some of the red meat stuff out there. But I am just, when Jeff was talking, I was thinking about what

speaker, former Speaker John Boehner used to say back when he is in charge. He would try to temper expectations against the Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House. Back then he said, we control, what was that? One half of one third of one government, to try to illustrate how little they can actually get accomplish because of the opposition in the Senate in the White House.

How Speaker McCarthy going to temper those expectations against the House Republicans who have set a pretty high bar for him? That be one dynamic to watch.

PHILLIP: Yeah, they're not going to be unilaterally passing any spending bills or dealing with the debt ceiling, if you feel the other half of two thirds of the government on that one.

Coming up next for us, though, President Biden is heading to the border for the first time as president. We'll have more details on that, next.



PHILLIP: In just a few hours, President Biden will touch down in El Paso, Texas, marking his first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border as president.

President Biden's trip comes as the U.S. is seeing a record number of migrants crossing the southern border, three times as many as there were just two years ago. Ahead of his visit, the president unveiled the most far-reaching border measures yet.

Among them, allowing 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, as well as Haiti to apply for entry into United States from their home countries every month, while expelling the same number, if they cross the border illegally. That expands the use of a highly controversial Trump era policy known as Title 42. It has been used to expel migrants at the border.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should all recognize that as long as America is the land of freedom and opportunity, people are going to try to come here. We can't stop people from making the journey. But we can require them to come here, that they come here in an orderly way under U.S. law. The actions we're announcing today will make things better. We'll make things better, but we'll not fix the border problem completely.


PHILLIP: So, this trip by Biden, the immigration announcements, it is taking on an issue had on that we really haven't seen from the Biden administration up until this point. KIM: Right, right. And every time you would ask him -- for example,

his border trip. White House officials will tell you it is still a symbolic measure but it is a pretty important symbol.

And I think every time you ask a White House official, you know, why hasn't he gone to the border yet. Democrats and Republicans want him to say. They would say, well, he's got deputies, it wouldn't solve a problem.

PHILLIP: Let's take a listen to some of that.

KIM: Oh, great. Yeah.


REPORTER: Mr. President, do you have any plans to travel to the southern border, sir?

BIDEN: I'm not at the moment.

JEN PSAKI, THEN-WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He does not need a visit to the border to know what a mess was left by the last administration. The president does not believe that a photo op is the same as solutions.

REPORTER: Mr. President, why -- why go to a border state and not visit the border?

BIDEN: Because there are more important things going on.


KIM: Right.

PHILLIP: It is not just a photo op. I mean, there are things happening at the border.

KIM: Precisely. And the explanation that the White House will give you when they ask why now is, he's on its way to Mexico for this leader summit. So, he's just stopping on El Paso on the way there.

But the fact that they are combining a border visit, a very important trip, along with this very -- you know, according to immigration advocates, very arduous, very almost draconian measures to try to deal with the situation at the border, is a sign that they are -- they know they need to take a much more hard-line position. They know that this is a problem.

They will have to take pretty aggressive measures. Very comparable to what was implemented under former President Trump to tame what is happening right now at the southern border. I think what is really interesting, too, is that one of the people with President Biden today on his El Paso visit is Democratic representative Henry Cuellar -- probably the most critical Democrat of President Biden when it comes to his immigration policies. HUNT: I mean, let's call this what it is, it's politics. I mean, this

is -- Republicans have been hammering this issue, over and over and over again. They know it's going to be an issue in the presidential campaign.

That last quote from the president is probably the most damaging one in that kind of montage you showed. But there's more --


HUNT: -- important things going on, right.

For a lot of people, that's not the case. Obviously former president Donald Trump used immigration as a very, very effective political issue. I think this is recognition that they are behind the 8-ball on it, and they need to get ahead of it.

BRESNAHAN: And we have senators going to the border. We have a bipartisan group of senators including Kyrsten Sinema going to the border with John Cornyn. They're trying to get some legislation together.


PHILLIP: Yes. Which they're trying to do in the lame duck, and it didn't go anywhere.

BRESNAHAN: Right. No. And I have a very hard time seeing it happen in this Congress because the Republicans are so hard line on it but this --


BRESNAHAN: -- because of politics. But this is going to -- we're going to start seeing a lot of fights on the Hill about this. And the administration has to change their position and also 2024, the Senate, is a huge problem for that.

PHILLIP: It's worth noting, though, that the politics are perilous on both sides of this. What the Biden administration announced last week is basically to say, if you have a connection to the United States, we're going to make it easier for you to come in legally.

But the critics, including some Democrats, say that basically that leaves people who are truly fearing for their lives out in the cold.

Here's a statement from a bunch of Democratic senators. "We are deeply disappointed by the Biden administration's decision to expand the use of Title 42. Continuing to use this failed and inhumane Trump era policy put in place to address a public health crisis will do nothing to restore the rule of law at the border."

And it may not stop the flow because some of the people walking up to the border, they don't have passports, they don't have cell phones, they don't have connections in the United States. They're just coming because it's a sign of desperation. ZELENY,: Fleeing for a reason, absolutely. But that statement there

indicates one thing. Excuse me.

President Biden's biggest problems, of course, are House Republicans on immigration. But it is probably the more pressing serious ones are Democrats. Democrats are deeply disappointed in what this administration has and hasn't done.

He's not taken this as seriously. You can hear by his rhetoric there. So that, of course, is why he's going.

Yes, it's a photo op, but anytime a president invests time in going to a place, it is showing that they're taking it seriously, at least politically. So we'll see what comes of this.

But that is his issue with the Senate Democrats. It's a huge challenge for him. And it's one of those things where you're not quite sure if President Biden -- he understands a lot about foreign policy, of course, given his time at the Foreign Relations Committee, but things have changed at the border. And you're not sure he's aware of the politics inside his own party about this.

PHILLIP: And this why I don't -- I don't like to describe this as a photo op because what has been going on in cities like El Paso has been very real, and it's been bleeding into other parts of the country.

Look at this headline from "Politico". We have been ignored, Democratic-led cities -- by the way, these are in places like New York and Colorado -- are begging Biden for help with migrants.

There is a real situation happening at the border that as president sometimes you do have to see it to understand it.

BRESNAHAN: Their messaging throughout the administration has been really bad on it. They don't really have a cohesive policy, at least they haven't presented one. And look, the 2024 Senate is up for grabs. You have guys like Jon Tester of Montana. I mean if there's an immigration bill, he might vote for it, you know. Sinema, I mean she's part of this now.

There's, you know, going to be the lot of talk about a border wall. I mean, I think that will be part of a trade Republicans may make on funding down in September. So we may see some of that come back.


PHILLIP: Is there an argument to be made that there could be a little triangulation happening here? That he has to go a little bit to the right on the border in order to even start a conversation.


HUNT: 100 percent, yes. I mean the dynamics of this -- the dynamics that you showed in that statement from Senate Democrats completely different from the ones that drive the fight for control of the Senate, the fight for the presidency coming up in 2024.

And look, it was easy relatively for Democrats to point to the inhumanity of many of the Trump policies when Trump was in charge and Republicans controlled some segments of the government.

Now Democrats are in charge, which means that they own the problem. When we have Democratic governors like Jared Polis of Colorado raising flags and saying, hey, this is a problem, the administration is now -- they're the ones who have to answer for that.

So yes, they're going to get some pressure I think from their left on what obviously they're saying is the inhumanity of these policies. But the bottom political line is that they're going to have to own it. And if it's an expansive problem, it's a political problem for them 2024.

PHILLIP: And I don't want to raise expectations that there's going to be some kind of immigration breakthrough, however. It's a problem the Biden administration is going to have to deal with, with a Republican- led House.

Speaking of, coming up next, Kevin McCarthy may have won the speakership, but were Democrats the week's real winners in all of this?



PHILLIP: "Two Houses, both alike in dignity," William Shakespeare wrote in "Romeo and Juliet", but it is not in fair Verona where we lay our scene, it is here in Washington. And this week, both Houses were not at all alike in dignity. Republicans were drowning in discord as Democrats stood very much united, a fact that they made sure to highlight over and over and over again.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Today, Madame Clerk, House Democrats are united.

We are unified behind a speaker who will continue that progress, despite the chaos on the other side.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Vote after vote, Democrats stand united and ready to get to work.

AGUILAR: The House Democrats stand united again on this ballot.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): House Democrats continue to stand united with Hakeem Jeffries.



PHILLIP: And at 1:10 a.m., very, very early on Saturday morning, I was here, before handing the gavel to Kevin McCarthy, the new minority leader kept the celebration going with lots of alliteration.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy, benevolence over bigotry, the constitution over the cult, freedom over fascism, governing over gaslighting, maturity over Mar-a-Lago, normalcy over negativity, quality of life issues over Qanon, "Yes, we can" over "you can't do it", and zealous representation over zero self-confrontation.


PHILLIP: He went all the way. A to Z in the alphabet, and it played in about half of the room. Republicans were booing him by the end there. But just -- I mean it's just a case in point, Democrats, they were tired but gleeful about this whole thing because they're seeing their opposition basically in shambles.

BRESNAHAN: And they were only a couple short of a majority. I mean this is -- like this was -- this couldn't have gone better. If you're in the minority, it's not great, but the start of this could not have gone better for Democrats.

Jeffries looked good. His caucus was united. McCarthy looks weak. They anticipate, you know, two years of where they will just be pounding these guys. You know.

And the great unifying factor is they could be in the majority again in two years, depending on what happens in the presidential race.

So, you know, we're going to see some retirements out of Democrats, you know, we may see Pelosi leave and some of the others. But right now, they feel very good about where they are.


HUNT: I mean -- oh, I'm sorry, go ahead.

ZELENY: One of the things that I think that may sort of change that is when some of these Democrats now, the moderate ones, the Elise Slotkin and other -- they will want to join some of these Republicans and get some things done. So it's always this challenge obviously unifying the Democrats.

I have been surprised, obviously, at how unified the Democrats basically have been over the last couple of years in the House, but Pelosi was in charge of that. So we'll see what Jeffries does.

And we've all watched that sort of the AOC wing of things has been pretty quiet. We'll see how long that goes.

HUNT: I mean that's exactly the point I was going to make, though. I mean the phrase "Democrats in disarray" had become a punch line in Washington because it seemed to happen so often. And the way that they have stood together through this process has just completely repudiated that. I mean Nancy Pelosi orchestrated what is possibly one of the smoothest

leadership transitions from a long time. I mean she, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn have been at the top of the party for decades.

This transition to her successors was incredibly smooth. It's clearly a new generation of people. And she also has shown they are willing, she kept them together, and I think it also proved to Democrats who may want to say that they're unhappy about things, but actually if you do it that way, you're going to win in the end, which I think is really important.

PHILLIP: Can I just say, I mean I think the progressives also are just fundamentally different from the sort of like far right of the Republican Party. They organized themselves pretty early on in the Biden administration, with AOC and others coming out publicly and saying, we've got a narrow majority, we're going to keep it together because we don't have much room for error.

But I thought this was on a separate point pretty funny from Kevin McCarthy's speech, a little message to his friend, the gentleman on the other side of the aisle.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Hakeem, I've got to warn you, two years ago I got 100 percent of the vote from my conference.


PHILLIP: In other words, watch your back, this may not last long.

KIM: Right. That was a pretty enjoyable line. And it is, you know, it was remarkable that they were united, but when you're in the minority of the House of Representatives, it's pretty easy to just kind of stick together because your one job, you know, strategically and procedurally is to oppose the House majority and make life harder for them.

So I think that they certainly got off on a good note for the year. I can tell you President Biden, the White House, was having a very good week the last several days as well, and kind of "enjoying" is not the right word but they --


KIM: -- A little bit.

President Biden did call it an embarrassment and THAT the world was watching. I do think he believes that, considering his view on how a democracy should function. But yes, there's a little bit of Schadenfreude there.

PHILLIP: And he was also in Kentucky this week doing a positive thing and touting his immigration bill.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank, you can count on it, and he's willing to find common ground to get things done for the country. So thank you, Mitch.


BIDEN: I believe it sends an important message, an important message to the entire country. We can work together. We can get things done. We can move the nation forward. We just drop a little bit of our egos and focus on what is needed in the country.


PHILLIP: That was Mitch McConnell, I should -- I think I said -- I should have said infrastructure bill. The other I. That was Mitch McConnell that Biden was talking about there who was in Kentucky for this event.

BRESNAHAN: Yes. So, I mean, look, we'll see where they can go. I mean, it's easy now -- as Seung Min (ph) said, it's easy now for the Democrats and the White House. They will be opposed to anything House Republicans do.

But there are going to be divisions. The Republicans will be able to exploit some stuff, but I think it's right now they're going to have to see how far McCarthy can go and how far -- can he hold his votes together? And he's got to prove to Democrats that he can cause a problem for them.

I mean, he can cause a problem with investigations and subpoenas, that's stuff any White House can handle. Can he cause a problem for them legislatively, other than shutting down the government or defaulting.

PHILLIP: And he can cause problems -- McCarthy can cause problems for himself. I mean, when the government shutdowns happened under Trump, those were politically very damaging for Republicans. So there's risk there in really going to the brink.

But coming up next for us, an embattled Republican Congressman George Santos, is officially in the House, but could the falsehoods potentially land him out? That's next.



PHILLIP: The luckiest Republican in the House this week may have been the one representing New York's 3rd congressional district. George Santos, who fabricated major details about his life, faced a rather awkward start on Capitol Hill. But as the days went along, he seemed to find his place within this unruly conference, sharing laughs with Marjorie Taylor Greene and enjoying the views with Andy Ogles and chatting with Matt Gaetz between the votes. But when it came to facing the Capitol Hill press corps, he spent most

of the time avoiding questions about his past and his future in the House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Congressman, what do you say to voters who feel misled about you at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, please.

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Guys, you need to give us space to walk please. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was that a conversation you had with Kevin McCarthy?

SANTOS: I have no need to have those conversations with him.


PHILLIP: So in all the dysfunction and craziness happening on Capitol Hill, George Santos may actually be less dysfunctional than all of that?


HUNT: Let's just say he was overshadowed -- his dysfunction was overshadowed by wider dysfunction among the House of Representatives. You know, I think there are so many -- I mean if politics shows us anything, it's that people can push through things like this. This seems like a particularly egregious case.

But I kind of wonder if it's not going to matter until the voters get a chance to have another say.

PHILLIP: And in an amazing moment, after being finally sworn in on Saturday morning, he put out the statement saying that "The work of congress is not about my personal life. It is about delivering results for my constituents, finding bipartisan solutions and reversing abysmal policies that have caused some of the worst inflation and crime."

He's acting like he wants to just put it all behind him.


PHILLIP: How about any part of his life?

BRESNAHAN: Well, the first part, he's going to face -- he's going to face criminal investigation. And traditionally when these happen, Congress waits to see what law enforcement does. And he's under criminal investigation by the Justice Department. He faces state investigation, local investigation, he's got all sorts of criminal problems going.

Then he's got FEC problems. This week, like Kasie said, this was not their biggest problem. This is not Kevin McCarthy's biggest problem, not George Santos, because he was voting for him. And that's all they really cared about this week.

ZELENY: And we saw pictures of him with members. But what I was hearing throughout the week was how ostracized he was by others. Many did not want anything to do with him.

So look, as John said, this is going to play its case out. He's not going to be front and center, but his bigger problems are what we can't see. The investigators -- in Brazil, authorities there are looking into him as well.

So we'll see how it all works out but I don't think George Santos is going to be the biggest issue of the 118th Congress. He'll just sort of swing around a little bit.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean one wonders how long he will swing around now that the vote is done. McCarthy has the votes, he's good to go on that front.

What's interesting is also that George Santos, one of the reasons he even ended up in Congress is that he really played the base like a fiddle to some extent. Take a listen to what he said back in 2021 about being at the January 6th rally.


SANTOS: Something I mention often, I was at the Ellipse on January 6th. That was the most amazing crowd.


SANTOS: And the president was at his full awesomeness that day. It was a front row spectacle for me.


PHILLIP: I mean first of all, we don't even know if that is true. But the real point here is that he's giving, you know, the Republican base what they want, and they were like, ok, great, go to Congress, you're in.

KIM: Exactly. And I think a lot of the -- it seems some voters care less about whether their member of C Congress is truthful or not. And that's sort of disheartening to see. I feel like this is something that obviously has to play out over the next several months. You know, we expect Republican leaders to be pretty hands-off about this.

And I do think that, if and when he goes on the ballot again before voters in two years, that while he did win by a pretty healthy margin in the district, it is still fundamentally a Biden district.

[08:55:00] KIM: So whatever dynamics come up politically and how his constituents feel about his lies, his misrepresentations, it will be really interesting to see over the next two years.

PHILLIP: We will see whether he makes it two years.

KIM: Right.

PHILLIP: Well, that's it for us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY.

Coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. And Jake this morning has an exclusive interview with Republican Congressman Chip Roy and the new number two House Democrat, Katherine Clark.

And tonight, go inside the rise and the fall of a political fire brand, the "CNN ORIGINAL SERIES GIULIANI: WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA'S MAYOR" premieres tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.