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GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin Outraged After Virginia Schools Withheld Awards From Top Students; 45 Dead After Dnipro Strike, Including Six Children; Republican Rep. Jim Banks Jumps Into Indiana Senate Race. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 17, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The Republican governor accusing education officials in the Commonwealth's largest county of choosing equity over merit.


GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): They have a maniacal focus on equal outcomes for all students at all cost. This overarching effort for equal outcomes is hurting Virginia's children. And it's hurting even worse, the children that they aspire to help.


KING: See it as Athena Jones tracking this for us live with the latest, Athena help us sort the politics and the truth.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the truth is that there is now this this investigation of Fairfax County Schools, this is in Northern Virginia, the whole school district is being investigated, because at least three high schools failed to notify the students who had received the National Merit Scholarship Corporation's commendations. This is kind of an honorable mention, saying that these students are the top 50,000 of those taking these tests that 1.5 million taking tests to try to win these scholarships. Those students were not told about this commendation in a timely manner. This is the sort of thing that it is an honor. It's something you'd want to include in your early decision college applications.

It gives you access to some special scholarships down the line, like corporate scholarships, business sponsored scholarships that are usually smaller in number, but it does mean that those students are out of the running of the National Merit Scholarship competition. So this is a commendation, but it's not like taking money right out of their pockets. But you heard the governor of Virginia talking about this maniacal focus on equity. We've heard this from the governor. And also, of course, from the Attorney General who has launched these investigations, this idea that these schools were and some of the parents say that that they believe that these schools failed to notify these students because they didn't want other students to feel badly that they hadn't received these awards. What's really unclear here is who's going around saying we want equal outcomes for everyone. That is something along we've heard from the governor and the AG, but it's unclear where they think that comes from. And as for the school, they say that the number one there is an independent third party investigation going on, at least in Fairfax County. They believe this is a one-time sort of human error. And they've gone to all of these colleges that were these students received commendations and let them know that they were commended. They did receive this honor.

So it's a bit about politics here, because this is something that Glenn Youngkin ran on the whole idea of education, these sort of culture war issues. And this issue now is wrapped up in this idea of the admissions at one of these top schools, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, that's one of the three schools that failed to send these commendations in time. That school is ranked number one, by U.S. News and World Report. And there have been a lot of discussions about the admissions process.

They've tried to make it fair to boost diversity of getting rid of an application fee, getting rid of a really difficult test, allowing a more holistic review. Well, Governor Youngkin, among many things, ran on challenging and changing that admission system. It doesn't appear he has the power to do that right now. But this is what that's part of.

KING: We will watch the fight as it plays out both the facts and the politics, Athena Jones, grateful for that. Let's bring it in the room. It happens at a time. Look around the country. And we'll start with Glenn Youngkin. A number of these Republican governors who may have ambitions, say the 2024 presidential race, maybe some other higher office. He's been quiet for some time, Governor Youngkin, he did campaign a lot in the 2022, midterms was around the country.

If you look back at his race for governor most important issue facing Virginia, he made, he raised education, economy jobs 33. He got education up to 24 percent by focusing on critical race theory, saying kids in schools were being taught, you know, things he didn't think they should be taught. The question is, where is he taking this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, he talks about the maniacal focus on equity. I think from him, there's sort of a maniacal focus on higher office, whether it's presidential ambitions or if he wants to run for Senate. And that's what it's all about. This is a continuation of his run for governor was all about the so called woke folks taking over the school system, which again, I mean, we've seen this from Republicans before, right?

It was the gays were going to ruin marriage. And now it's the folks are going to somehow ruin of the school system. And listen, it worked for him in that context. We see a Ron DeSantis doing some of this in Florida as well, a bit of what's going on in Texas. You know how far it gets you in a presidential race? Unclear. But he's certainly going to give it to a try.

KING: I think that's a great question in the sense that we know it's an issue that works with the Republican base. We know post COVID pandemic when there's a lot of frustration with parents, with schools, that any of these issues sort of got you an extra audience, if you will, because parents were so frustrated. The question is you have Governor Youngkin, you mentioned Florida.

Jonathan Martin now of POLITICO wrote a great piece today about Governor Ron DeSantis. One of the questions for Ron DeSantis is he's not a backslapper, he's not a glad hander. Can he be more likeable because it matters, it matters in policies, especially with donors in a great called about a recent event yet what was even more of a thrill to the donors than our Carbone's signature rigatoni, spicy rigatoni, I want that. I'm hungry now. So what happened during the dinner, DeSantis and his wife Casey when table to table greeting and thanking the attendees. The governor's glad-handing illustrate he's absorb the critique about his aloofness and is making an effort at rebuffing it.


To many people listening out there might seem silly but if you're trying to raise money in a crowded primary, if you're trying to convince especially Trump donors, dump Trump come to me, it matters that they feel like you're going to spend a few minutes with them.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. And all you see here with the governors is their individual attempts to try to carve out their own lane or distinguish themselves or address their liabilities because President, former President Trump consumes so much political oxygen, he just automatically gets attention for who he is. So DeSantis is trying to address the likeability issue, Glenn Youngkin is trying to carve out his own lane that doesn't include having to push things to the legislature because we're no he's going to struggle with that. So you're going to -- you're seeing a lot of this jockeying right now this early on, and it's really fascinating to watch.

KING: Another new governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, known to many as the Trump White House Press Secretary, her predecessor Asa Hutchinson, more of a mainstream Chamber of Commerce, yes pro-life but doesn't -- it didn't wear it on his chest, if you will. Listen to Sarah Huckabee Sanders clearly watching DeSantis, watching Youngking saying, I want to go there.


GOV. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS (R-AR): They have to make sure that we are not indoctrinating our kids and that these policies and these ideas never see the light of day. We should never teach our kids to hate America or that America is a racist and evil country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another executive order that's gotten a lot of attention is one that says the word Latinx be limited -- eliminated from official government use.

SANDERS: Our focus is again making sure we're protecting our citizens by not using culturally insensitive language.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: It's a choice whether people at home agree or disagree with what the governor just said. It's a choice when you're a newly elected, newly inaugurated governor, that you want to talk about that stuff out of the box, not jobs, not inflation. You want to do national interviews, not focused on the home front.

HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Right, yes. You want to be on national T.V., not on Arkansas, local public news, right? I think if you look at her, she checks a lot of boxes for potential vice presidential candidate if you're wanting to run for the top job. She is cut from the Trump cloth but she is, like Seung Min said, also trying to carve out her own profile. She's a woman, she comes from a red state, you know, so I think she also has these national ambitions in mind and we're all seeing this jockey, these people want to stand out, but they don't want to stray too far from the base. And, you know, the baseline that Trump set for them.

KING: So it's -- we're in the learning curve process right here. Let's just say -- this -- the next few months are going to be fast as you watch people try to get into the national attention stream as they think about the future.

Up next for us, to the global stage and some major Ukraine news, there are a series of big meetings this week as the United States, the U.K., and others rush more sophisticated weapons to the battlefield. And you see the pictures there, that deadly Russian strike on a residential apartment complex draws the ire the President Zelenskyy. We'll go live in Dnipro next.



KING: Right now in Ukraine, rescuers, frustrated rescuers combing through tons and tons of rubble searching time has passed but still searching for survivors after a Russian missile attack struck an apartment block into Dnipro over the weekend. Look at these new close up images, they show the extent of the destruction. The death toll now up to 45 and more than a dozen people are still missing, at least six children Ukrainian officials say are among the dead. Five others left orphaned. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, calling the attack of war crime and vowing to seek justice. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is right there joining us live now from Dnipro. Fred, what's the latest?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, John. Yes, if you look at some of the numbers the Ukrainians are putting out there, really was a huge effort that that search and rescue crew have put on over the past 72 hours after that massive missile strike took place. The Ukrainian say that they cleared about 8,500 tons of debris in the span of 72 hours, so absolutely huge.

And as they were doing that, we have to keep in mind, they kept finding dead bodies under the rubble, at times also still finding survivors under the rubble. But one of the interesting things is what you mentioned is the death toll once again today rose, rose from 40 to 45 right now with those six children confirmed killed as well. As you can imagine, on the scene here in Dnipro, there are a lot of people who are grieving, there are a lot of people who are very angry. And of course also today the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, she actually spoke about what happened in Dnipro at the World Economic Forum in Davos. And then she also called on the international community to give more aid to Ukraine. Here's what she said.


OLENA ZELENSKA, FIRST LADY OF UKRAINE (through translator): We are facing the threat of a collapse of the world as we know it, the way that we are accustomed to it or to what we aspire. What can be life in a world where tanks are allowed to strike nuclear power stations, what will happen to inflation when state borders start to collapse and the integrity of countries will be trampled on by those who want it.


PLEITGEN: Ukraine's First Lady there. And we speak to Ukrainian officials who spoke to someone the past couple of days, they also said they especially need more military aid from the U.S. and its allies. Of course, those patriot air defense systems that Ukrainians currently are being trained on, those are going to be very important. But if we're looking forward to that meeting in Ramstein in Germany on Friday, the Ukrainian say main battle tanks, also something they're desperately looking for, John.

KING: Fred Pleitgen, live for us on the ground. Fred, thank you so much. We'll continue to watch these developments throughout the week, as you mentioned, very important meeting to come about military hardware. Fred, thank you.


Up next for us, Republicans declare candidacies today in two 2024 Senate races. The map heavily favors Republicans. Democrats are hoping, hoping incumbents in several Trump states stay in the fight.


KING: Prominent Republican candidates announced today in two of next year's important set of campaigns and CNN reporting says a controversial Republican is considering running in a third. It will be Democrats on defense next year. The Senate map includes several states for Democratic incumbents if they run again, we'll have to deal with reliably red presidential year climates. But the early action is among Republicans. Today Congressman Jim Banks became the first to jump into Indiana's open Senate race.



REP. JIM BANKS (R-IN): I've been a leader in the fight to secure our border and pass immigration policies that put American workers first. I've led the fight in Congress to hold China accountable for stealing our jobs and for giving us COVID. I've led the fight on the House floor to keep girls sports for girls and to protect the unborn.


KING: Banks is comfortable stoking the culture wars and the GOP primary in Indiana could serve as a bit of a GOP identity test. Two well-known business friendly Republicans, the current governor Eric Holcomb and the former Governor Mitch Daniels also eyeing that Senate race and conservatives like the Secretary of State, Todd Rokita and the congresswoman Victoria Spartz, also potential candidates. Our reporters are back with us. We're going to be talking about this forever, because the Senate climate I know it's a presidential year. But the Senate climate next year is fascinating.

Well, let's just start with this race, the Indiana seat likely to stay Republican, especially in a presidential year, but it is going to be an interesting test of where is the Republican Party?

CAYGLE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, if you look at Jim Banks, he lost the race for house whip a few weeks ago. So he really had nowhere to go in the house. And then Mike Braun decides he's going to run for governor opening up the seat. So this was a very easy move for him. He had been looking at this for a while. But then today Club for Growth, which is a fan of Jim Banks is out with an ad against Mitch Daniels, who isn't even technically in the race yet, you know, so this is going to be a really interesting test for Republicans. And if you look at their current Senator Mike Braun, I mean, yes, he's conservative, but he's not a huge bomb thrower. He will defend Trump but he's not out there as one of these far right hardliners or anything. So it'll be interesting to see if the voters in that state stick with someone in that lane, or if they do tend towards banks.

KING: Right. Braun is running for governor. So you will see how that race plays out as well. I mentioned most of the 2024. Senate will be about the Democrats in the sense that you have Jon Tester, Democratic incumbents in Montana, you have Sherrod Brown, Democratic incumbent in Ohio. You have Joe Manchin, Democratic incumbent in West Virginia, three states that went reliably Republican for Donald Trump. Ohio was eight points, nevermind Montana and West Virginia off the charts. The first challenge for Democrats is convinced those incumbents to run again.

HENDERSON: That's right, because they are unicorns and being able to stay the course is Democrats in those very, very red states. You know, if you are the Democratic Party, you want to go to Joe Manchin, in basically, Joe Manchin, and then basically give him what he wants same thing with Tester. Sherrod Brown has been really successful for Democrats in Ohio. But listen, all bets are off. You think about a presidential year, all the pressures are they're going to be on those states to essentially deliver onto Republicans because they're so red so we'll see.

KING: And a huge presidential year as you know note, look at the Senate races, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada. I could go on but battleground states there in Arizona CNN reporting is that the Republican Kari Lake who is still running for governor, meaning he's still challenging the election last time is considering the Senate race after her lawsuits are done, Kyrsten Sinema now and independent Democrats face a dilemma there, what do you do?

KIM: Right that the Democrats strategic decisions in that race is going to be so interesting to watch because we thought that, I mean, if you thought that, for example, Ruben Gallego was going to back off running or potentially running for the Senate because they don't want to risk giving that seat to a Republican. You've been wrong. He's been out there kind of leaking polling results, making it very clear, hiring progressive consultants to bring onto a potential 2024 bid. Sinema hasn't said what's her 2024 plans are.

But that race is just, there will be a lot of decisions for the DSCC and Chuck Schumer to have to make do, defend Sinema if you decide to run again to stay out of it. I thought what Sherrod Brown again, he's on top on the ballot. But I thought what he said on a recent interview was really interesting. Like he wasn't willing to say, oh, I'm going to defend my friend and my colleague, Kyrsten Sinema. He's just staying out of it. And that's a really tough decision for the Democratic Party right now.

Do you support someone who has angered your party several times? Or do you try not to do everything to try not to lose that seat to a Republican, who knows?

KING: And I mentioned you'll see the Republican identity test in Indiana, maybe elsewhere, because the Democratic identity is Michigan, California may as well, two big states with perhaps open primaries there as well. It's going to be, it's fascinating cycle. I know it's January 2023. But it's going to be fascinating cycle.


Up next, not all of the speaker vote drama played out on the House floor. No, the C-Span cameras didn't capture this, a bathroom showdown between Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert is now coming to light.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today. Sources telling CNN that Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is now the newest member of the House Homeland Security Committee. That happening of course after the far right fire ran back to Kevin McCarthy in the speaker battle and new details of a bathroom brawl in the middle of the speaker fight. According to "The Daily Beast," Marjorie Taylor Greene, once a staunch critic of the Republican leadership was in a near fight in the middle of the marathon vote. Greene reportedly screaming at her colleague and former friend Lauren Boebert, a McCarthy hauled out in a bathroom right off the House floor.

Donald Trump staying out of the bitter battle for the Republican National Committee Chair telling a conservative podcast quote let them fight it out. The incumbent Chairwoman Trump appointee Ronna McDaniel being challenged by the former Trump attorney Harmeet Dhillon, committee members will pick their next leader at a meeting later this month.


President Biden traveling to California this Thursday that after declaring a major disaster there over the weekend and you all been watching nine successive storms slamming the West Coast, racking up damage estimates already north of $1 billion.

Appreciate your time Today in INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you tomorrow. Erica Hill picks up our coverage right now.