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Inside Politics

Today: First Test Of McCarthy As Speaker; Tonight: House Votes On Rules Package Crafted With Hard-Liners; GOP Rep Apologizes After Calling McCarthy Holdouts "Terrorist"; GA Grand Jury Investigating 2020 Election Completes Work; Fulton Co. Judge Dissolves Grand Jury, Sets Hearing In Trump Probe; Biden Becomes First Pres. Since 2014 To Visit Mexico; Border Issues Take Center Stage During Biden's Mexico Visit; Republicans Slam Biden's Border Visit As A "Photo Op". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 09, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. And welcome to the new House. Kevin McCarthy starts his speakership with a giant fight over the rules. Republican hopes to stop fighting and start governing clouded by the very same math problem, the dog McCarthy's battle to win the gavel.

Plus, a summit surrounded by tension. President Biden is in Mexico for a big meeting of the Three Amigos. He is there one day after his first post look at a persistent humanitarian and political problem, the southern border. And rioters stoked by lies about an election, reach barricades, ransack offices and set fire to a democratic institution. Brazil's far ride copies the January 6 model with its own attempted coup.

We begin today with Kevin McCarthy's first big test. Now that the gavel is finally his. House Republicans today returned to the Capitol to adopt a rules package, a blueprint designed to govern the next two years in the lower chamber. Also returning though, the intra party differences and tensions that complicated McCarthy's chaotic path to finally being voted House speaker early Saturday morning.

The rules include a host of concessions McCarthy had to make to win the final votes. They set him up to be a weak speaker from the get-go. And many establishment Republicans worry, he yielded too much power. The concessions give the rebels more power when the calendar forces contentious policy debates, over things like defense spending, the debt limit, and other must pass priorities. Already this morning, signs of disconnect, playing out on Fox.

Listen here, to a member of McCarthy's leadership team say no worries, the votes will be there. And then one of the maybe saying maybe not, just one hour later on the very same show.


REP. TOM EMMER, (R) MAJORITY WHIP: I do believe both Tony and Nancy will come around tonight when they realize the things that they want to talk about are in this separate agreement.

REP. TONY GONZALES, (R) TEXAS: I'm against the rules for a couple of different reasons. One is the defense spending - the cutting defense, I think that's absolutely terrible idea, but the other is the vacate the chair. I mean, I don't want to see us, oh, every two months being locked down.


KING: Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill, our chief correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, will act to for Kevin McCarthy be as chaotic does act one?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to be incredibly complicated as difficult as it was last week to go through 15 ballots. And we get as Mr. Squish, who's going to get the rules package is going to pass.

REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R) LOUISIANA: Yes. We're going to bring it up shortly. Obviously, rules package is the first piece allowing us to get started with our agenda to go fight for the American people. And that was the real goal of the rules changes to open up the process. And let members of Congress be able to represent their constituents better to address the challenges facing our country.

RAJU: What about the one-person motion to vacate? There's a lot of concern that could instability in the speakership. What do you say to those folks who are concerned about?

SCALISE: Well, that's the way Congress worked for over 200 years. Nancy Pelosi is the one who changed it. We're changing it back to what it used to be. And then ultimately opening up the process. One of the things that doesn't get talked enough about regarding the rules package is we're making members of Congress show up to work again, just think about this.

For the last two years, we've had proxy voting, including just a few weeks ago, where you had dozens if not over hundred members of Congress voting from a remote location on a $1.7 trillion spending bill that was written in dark of night and dropped on members before they could read it. That's the kind of thing that people are sick of. And we need to change that about Congress. And we do that with the rules package.

RAJU: It doesn't make sense to me a week speaker. So, John, you heard from the number two Republican that new House majority leader says, Steve Scalise, indicating here he does believe that that rules package will pass today. Despite some of those concerns about some of the concessions that were made, namely what is in there to allow a single member to call for a vote to (Inaudible) sitting speaker, they've been saying that this has been the way Congress has operated and that is true.

But when that threat was wielded over John Boehner in 2015, you remember, John, that's when John Boehner stepped aside from the speakership. They later changed the rules, so half of the House could call for a vote, then McCarthy as a result of trying to get the votes for the speakership had to lower that back down to a single member to call for a vote.

And tonight, the House is expected to codify that, include that in a language which sets McCarthy up to potentially be a pretty weak speaker if the threat is continuing wielded over him. McCarthy denies that I'm not going to be a weaker speaker, and he says that he will stay for two years in his job.


But John, that is just one of the major issues playing out as a whole host of other policy concessions. The speaker made to get that job are also part of a side agreement that a lot of members in his own conference are concerned about. John?

KING: First chapter of chaos over. We will see what the second chapter brings. Manu Raju, fortuitous timing there, appreciate that live report upon Capitol Hill. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Phil Mattingly, CNN's Melanie Zanona, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe and Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post.

So, you just heard Manu that's a nice bitter, he brought his rabbit's foot with him today. We got a nice timing there. We focus a lot on Kevin McCarthy because of the chaos he went through last week, 15 ballots to get elected speaker. A lot of the work now falls to the gentleman we just saw there.

Steve Scalise, as the majority leader, he's the disciplinarian. If you will, rounding up the votes. This rules package they're going to vote later. If you're going to have new spending, you've got to cut. That's what the House Republicans demanded. No pay as you go, it's cut as you go. Forces a debt limit vote, that's must pass legislation. The United States government could default, requiring lawmakers to declare single subject of bills, meeting none of these sweeping bills that do a little bit of everything.

Are they done here? Do they understand what they did last week? And like, OK, took 15 ballots. Now let's show that we can actually do our business or?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Republicans are really starting to come to terms with these concessions. I mean, he's still getting text message right now, asking me from Republicans, what is it? What are some of these deals? Can you confirm this. We're hearing this. So, they still don't even know everything. And that's because this roof package only contains some of the concessions that Kevin McCarthy agreed to, a lot of them are more handshake deals.

So, we don't really fully know what Kevin McCarthy agreed to, but of what we do know there is a lot of concerns about how this is going to hamper their ability to govern, how Kevin McCarthy is going to have this threat dangling over hand that someone could force a vote to fire him at any given moment. And so, they are starting to really come to terms with that reality. KING: And so, you say it's not all here. They promise they're going to be the most transparent House in history. They promise they're going to give people time to read everything so that they understand everything. Chip Roy, one of the original 20 holdouts. And he said from the beginning, he could bring 10 votes, he wanted changes to this document. They gave him changes, he did bring the votes. He says, It's OK, that's the way it has to work.


REP. CHIP ROY (R) TEXAS: Well, first of all, you know, let's remember that a little temporary conflict is necessary in this town in order to stop this town from rolling over the American people. Some of the tensions you saw on display. When he saw some of the, you know, the interactions there between Mike Rogers and Matt Gaetz, you know, some of that is we need a little of that. We need a little this sort of breaking the glass in order to get us to the table in order to fight for the American people and to change the way this place is dysfunctional.


KING: That wasn't breaking of the glass, it was almost coming to blows. I'm assuming he doesn't mean that, that they should be coming almost to blows on the House floor all the time. But is that the way? Do they really believe that's the way they want to run it that every vote is a giant question mark?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, that's absolutely right. What these members on the far right want to do is they want to invoke their power. They want to make major changes to how the House of Representatives operates. Now, there's an important point here that some Republicans are making to me, a lot of these members have only served in the minority.

They have only served in a Nancy Pelosi run House of Representatives. And they don't understand that in the majority, that they have more power, they have, you know, they have just a lot more say on how things run.

And so, there's some concern for more of the establishment members who have been here for a long time that that the concerns of these far- right members aren't necessarily legitimate concerns, because that's not how Kevin McCarthy was going to run his House. But regardless, these Republicans want to ensure that they have power that they hold the speaker to account.

And you're absolutely right. There's the rules package that they're going to vote on today, but that's only some of the things. And as Melanie said, there's a gentlemen's agreement between these far-right members and McCarthy on all of the other things, including members of House Freedom Caucus, members who are on committees.

KING: And that's why you have questions everywhere. I don't even like the terms right left anymore because a lot of these holdouts are not truly conservatives in the sense of lower taxes, less regulation. That's not what they think about them. A lot of them are thinking about individual fame, if you will. But Tony Gonzales, Nancy Mace, two more establishment Republicans who are conservative.

Listen to them saying, well, Kevin McCarthy gave a lot that way that makes those of us over here a little nervous.


GONZALES: We're not just going to line up and jump off the cliff. All of us represent our districts and we're going to fight for that. At the end of the day, you can't let, you know, the insurgency caucus, take hold and dictate.

REP. NANCY MACE, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: What I don't support is a small number of people trying to get a deal done or deals done for themselves in private and secret to get a vote or vote present. I don't support that. That is just what Nancy Pelosi does and that's not what they should be doing. And so, I am on the fence right now about the rules package vote tomorrow for that reason.



KING: McCarthy's calculation, Majority Leader Scalise's calculation is that those more mainstream mainline they might, you know, forgive my language, bitch and moan a little bit but they'll get them in line when they need their votes. The question is how often can you do that every time to them before? Some of them say enough.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Well, that's the thing. I mean at this point you have a caucus that is very divided. And it's not clear that everybody is going to fall in line because people who looked at those 15 votes will say, hey, if I can give three of my buddies together, and maybe one more, I can cause some trouble. I can - or I can get what I want what is important to me.

So no, I don't think that everyone's just going to lay down. And I also think when they talk about the way Congress used to work, well, Congress used to have compromises too, right? It wasn't just a scorched earth. We're going to take everything from the other party. So, if you want Congress to work the way it used to work, you have to also be willing to work with Democrats.

KING: So, Mike Rogers, who almost came to blows with Matt Gaetz had to be restrained says sorry, overreacted, heat of the moment. Matt Gaetz says, it's all fine. I like you. I respect you will be good. Dan Crenshaw, we had the picture of the 20 on the board a few moments ago. Dan Crenshaw, another member of Team McCarthy, a very conservative, a lawmaker in his own right, called them terrorists. He says, sorry.


REP. DAN CRENSHAW, (R) TEXAS: Look, I've got pretty thick skin. I'm called awful vile things by the kind of the very same wing of the party that that I'm fighting, I was fighting at that moment. I sincerely apologize to them. I don't want them to think I actually believe they're terrorists. It's clearly a turn of phrase that you use and what is an in transient negotiation.

KING: But I get it, again, hyperboles a lot of that in politics, but the emotions were so raw on what nothing is going to be easy for this narrow majority. But it was supposed to be the easiest, picking a leader. Now it's the next easy voting on rules, then it's actual stuff. Should we cut defense spending? A lot of these Republicans say we need to cut spending as part of a debt limit deal. And they, say we need to take about Medicare and Social Security. There's a lot of quicksand ahead of this Republican conference.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is the lowest of the low hanging fruit when it comes to a new majority. There's no question about it. Now, look, there are two ways this can go. This could be one of those moments where everything blows up. And what comes out of it is not just the retort Kumbaya, but members actually start to trust one another and believe that.

All right, look, it's more important when we're working together. We've gone through this process. We have a better understanding now that we're in the majority is and saying, this is how it has to work and perhaps this creates a path forward. I can't see any realm in which that is the way this actually goes based on my experience in the last 15 to 16 years in Washington, D.C.

Look, here's the issue. And I think you make the great point here. This side deal when it comes to spending, when it comes to debt limit, you can say you're going to hold those lines as much as you want. You don't control the Senate. You don't control the White House. If you don't want a government shutdown, and you don't want to default on the debt, you will have to deal and break the terms of that side deal period.

In short, there's no other way around that. How does that happen going forward? And what happens when they do the things that these members of---

ZANONA: And conservatives are already warning, we will use that motion to vacate till the second that Kevin McCarthy does that. So, it's a huge problem.

KING: When he has to do his job. The second he has to do his job. OK. We'll come back to this a bit later the program, but we want to bring in another important story this hour. CNN has now learned that special grand jury down in Fulton County, Georgia, just outside Atlanta, including Atlanta has completed its investigation into Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state. We do not yet know the findings of the special grand jury, but we do know there's a court hearing scheduled for later this month.

Let's get to CNN's Sara Murray. She's staying on top of this for us. Sara, what do we know?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we know that the special grand juries work is finally concluded. And so, they've gotten everything that they want to get or everything they're going to get at this point from witnesses in terms of documents, you know, they've been investigating for over a year. So now that part is done.

Their report is going to go to the prosecutor, who then will look at whether they made any recommendations about whether someone should be charged, what they should be charged with. And then District Attorney Fani Willis can decide whether to bring charges.

One of the things that we got from this court order today, dissolving the special grand jury was the line, saying the special grand jury voted and thinks its report should be made public. So that's going to be one of the topics of discussion at that January 24 hearing, is whether this report, all of its contents, its recommendations and whatnot, should be made public or whether that frankly should stay secret, while the district attorney decides to go forward with her work and decides whether she is going to bring indictments against anyone.

You know, this started with that call from Donald Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking Raffensperger to find Trump the votes needed to win the election. But it's expanded well beyond that, John, as we've talked about to fake electorates, his statements before lawmakers in Georgia. So, we're just going to have to wait and see what that means in terms of indictments.

KING: Fascinating, couple of weeks ahead as we wait for that January 24 hearing. Sara Murray, I appreciate the important news there. We'll stay on top of it. Up next for us. President Biden is in Mexico right now for a regional summit. He finally visited the troubled southern border on his way is held on the way from the White House.



KING: Today President Biden is in Mexico. He's the first president to visit in nearly a decade. They'll meet with the leaders of Canada and Mexico and the worsening migrant crisis will without a doubt be high on the agenda.

Yesterday, the president you see him there made his first trip to the southern border. He inspected the border wall and met with officials including one harsh critic, the Texas Governor Greg Abbott. But the president did not appear to meet any migrants either sleeping on El Paso streets or those in shelters seeking asylum.

CNN's MJ Lee is traveling with the president. Join us now live from Mexico City. MJ does the president a lot of critics say it was a photo op on his way to this meeting. Does the president have a new substantive plan for the border?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, first of all, I should tell you that the formal diplomacy here in Mexico City for President Biden will begin tonight. He is going to have a bilateral meeting with the Mexican president at the National Palace right behind me. And then there's going to be a ceremonial dinner with the two leaders and the Canadian prime minister later in the evening.


This is the first time as you noted that a U.S. president has visited Mexico since 2014. Obviously, during the Trump years that U.S.-Mexico relationship was incredibly fraught. And while we are going to see President Biden and the Mexican president tried to show goodwill, there are some really tough issues that the two leaders are going to have to work through. And namely, one of them, of course, is immigration.

Remember, last week, when the Biden administration announced the expansion of Title 42. Along with that came this agreement by Mexico to accept up to 30,000 migrants back into the country of Mexico, people who were turned away at the U.S. border.

And it's just really interesting, you know, hearing National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, briefing reporters this morning. He essentially said, look, we just need to see if that initial plan works. And we're not going to be announcing any kind of new plan or have a new deliverable coming out of this visit.

Now, as it goes to the El Paso visit that you mentioned at the top that the president made when he wanted to go down to the U.S. southern border and see with his own eyes, the situation. It was incredibly notable that he essentially didn't get to see or meet with any migrants.

And what Sullivan said about that this morning is that the administration was really focused on the president seeing groups at work who are essential, providing essential services to migrants. But again, it did seem very much like a noble mission. I should say, the three leaders of course, will discuss plenty of other important topics, including trade and other economic issues here too. John?

KING: Daily live for us in Mexico City. MJ, thanks for that. We'll follow the president's trip there. Let's bring the conversation back into the room. Phil Mattingly posed the same question in the sense that in a couple of weeks, the present United States will deliver a State of the Union address, it's not scheduled yet, but he will be standing in the House chamber with a Republican speaker behind him.

The Republicans say this was a photo op. The Republicans and hit their support in their media network have said, why hasn't he been to the border before? Whereas vice president Harris? Why hasn't she been to the border?

Does the White House see an opportunity to say, OK, we'll give you some border security money, not the wall technology, but in exchange, give the dreamers citizenship, create a guest worker program that a lot of Kevin McCarthy's constituents back home in Bakersfield would like for farm workers and the like. Do they see an effort to pressure the Republicans here? Or do they just want hands off?

MATTINGLY: What's interesting about the El Paso visit and within this context is, yes, they do. When you talk to advisors, they see this as a divided government is often the time when you can make deals on the most complicated and politically toxic issues.

Certainly, House Republicans will have a say in that, but they feel like there is an opportunity to at least raise an issue that for the two years they controlled all of government, never really got off the shelf in any way shape or form, in part, because this isn't just a Democrats versus Republican issues. There are very significant issues inside the Democratic caucus, when it comes to immigration.

However - and so, I think you will see the president not only in the State of the Union, but also whenever he gives remarks out of Mexico as well. We'll talk about bipartisan immigration reform. We'll talk about trying to find some semblance of a framework that they can start putting together.

And if they don't, try and put this very much in the lap of Republicans as being the obstructionist who got in the way of addressing this issue. That has been a very vulnerable issue for the administration politically over the last two years.

I do think, however, that when you talk to officials who look at this issue and try and figure out where things are going from here on out, it is a very complex issue. That's not changing. I think the pathway right now it's still very---

KING: Yes. It's complicated issue. And it's not changing, in part because you can go back to, I covered the Clinton White House, and then the George W. Bush White House when this was front and center, then Obama. It's a complicated issue because it's been part of the dysfunction of Washington for so long.

There were pictures of the president when he got to Texas. The Republican governor met him. And the Republican governor handed the president United States a letter, in which he said you should detain everybody who illegally crosses the border. You should fully enforce that Title 42, which is turned them back seeking asylum.

Let them file their claims from elsewhere, aggressively prosecute illegal entry, resumed the border wall construction Governor Abbott wants, unnamed Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. This was an opportunity for a constant critic of the president to politely and respectfully, say this is what I want you to do, sir. Is there any chance? Maybe not with the Congress, with the governors, is there any chance or are we just in this political standoff over this issue?

RASCOE: I think we're in a political standoff. I mean, I think there is a reason as you said, this has not gotten done. People are dug in on all sides. And it's something where anything, any type of movement on it could be considered amnesty. Republicans will not do that. We have a lot of debates within the left on how to handle this.

And people will point out that it is not illegal to cross the border and to seek asylum. That is not illegal. So, how you deal with this issue, it does take a congress and lawmakers and policy people who are willing to work together, we have not seen that for the past few decades. [12:25:00]

KING: And back to the previous conversation quickly, both of you jump in. If you're Kevin McCarthy, your speaker and if, if the president United States is the leader of the country. If he made a proposal, is there any chance this Republican speaker on the tenuous ground he lives on could try to negotiate?

CALDWELL: And the sort of proposal from the Democrats is going to include something like you said dreamers and that is not where the Republican Party stands now. They want border security first, and then maybe they'll discuss dreamers, illegal immigration, legal immigration, but they are nowhere close.

ZANONA: And also, we should just point out how toxic it is about to be on Capitol Hill in terms of the investigations, potential impeachment of Alexandria Marquez. So, while theoretically, I completely agree with Phil, that it could happen. I also just think that the politics are going to get incredibly difficult for both sides.

MATTINGLY: To be clear, I think it could.

KING: Right, but politics, politics. Up next, back to this same recurring story. The key moments and the key players in the four days and 50 rounds of voting to choose a House speaker. The images that will last including a tense confrontation during a late-night vote. And yes, Donald Trump's role. Marjorie Taylor Greene was Trump's phone a friend partner in the final push, and speaker McCarthy is grateful.