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Biden: "No Regrets" About Not Disclosing Docs Before Midterms; Nikki Haley Hints At 2024 Bid: "I Can Be That Leader"; PA Gov. Josh Shapiro Touts Opportunity, Freedom At Inauguration. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 20, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Today is the two-year mark of the Biden presidency. And this afternoon, the President will address the nation's mayors tout both his achievements so far and his plans for the next two years. That event part of a White House communications strategy designed to draw contrast with the new House Republican majority and to begin to lay some building blocks for a 2024 reelection campaign.

The new special counsel investigation, though, is an unwelcome and unpredictable dynamic. At this important political moment, say little or say nothing is the White House strategy with hope the investigation of how classified materials ended up at the President's home and a private office he used wraps up quickly. But yesterday, the President decided to say something.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any regret, sir, that you did not reveal the existence of the documents back in November, before the midterms?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just hang on. OK. Look, as we found a handful of documents were failed -- were filed in the wrong place. We're fully cooperating. Looking forward to getting this resolved quickly. I think you're going to find there's nothing there. I have no regrets. I'm following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do. It's exactly what we're doing. There's no there.


KING: Our reporters and our legal analysts still with us. Carrie, let me start with you. There's no there. The President is not supposed to talk about a case that is an open case, any open case, let alone one that involves him directly. I assume the lawyers and the communications team not happy with that.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the communications team might, you know, want a little bit more transparency, but the legal team, absolutely. The President shouldn't be talking about this anymore. His answer should always be if he continues, if he wants to provide some audible response to a question, this is with a special counsel. The Justice Department process needs to play out. I'm, you know, confident in the outcome, but that's it. It shouldn't be any more than that. His lawyers would not want him to say anything more than that now that there is a special counsel in place, which is a special designation by the Attorney General.

KING: No regrets, even if there was no nefarious conduct here, classified materials ended up where they shouldn't have been. Somebody was at a minimum, careless. Don't you -- aren't you supposed to regret that?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not going to second guess his like reason for why he'd want to speak, but I think speaking like a human being and not like somebody who is minding the lawyers and minding the comms people is one of the things that makes a President relatable. So, I mean the guy was called Uncle Joe before he got into office. Like, I'm not too shocked that this is happening, but I don't think there's anything to do that will mitigate this as a problem for the White House specifically.

KING: That's an interesting point, though, because their approach is that Joe Biden translates outside of Washington very differently than he translates inside Washington, and that Washington often gets it wrong. And so, you know, the lawyers would say please don't say that. The White House is banking on the idea that the American people will be OK, you know, we'll see where this goes. Here's what bothers the White House. Just look at the headline on this, how Biden's Wilmington residence went from a family home to subject of investigation. Biden insists the classified documents were in a locked garage, the full scope of who may have had access to them is a central question, not only for the Special Counsel, but for House Republicans. Those investigations run in tandem. Most Special Counsels tell Congress of any party, wait, let me go first.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think House Republicans are interested in waiting. I think what they want to do is explore every aspect of the Biden family, of his administration, of this document issue. They are not going to wait. I think that they have been waiting for this moment for several years and they feel very confident being in the driver's seat, leading these investigations on the Oversight Committee and elsewhere.

KING: How confident is the Biden White House that what is their plan today, which is full speed ahead, that, yes, cooperate with the Special Counsel, yes, you know, provide any information, access to the people that the Special Counsel and his team want, but don't hit the pause button. They say, at least at the moment, on the reelection campaign. The mayor is today, the State of the Union is coming up in just a couple of weeks. And the President is supposed to travel the country and then sometime in March, or maybe early April, announced his reelection. At the two year mark, gas prices are down from their peak, something people in our business don't like. The President is historically low in the number of press conferences he has had.

Inflation is beginning to moderate. That's a positive sign. It's still too high for American families, but it's beginning to mitigate. The national debt will be a debate with the House Republicans. The President Biden saying he's been more responsible than Trump was, for example. But do they really confidently believe they can keep their political plan with no hesitation?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that right now they're trying to have the blinders on, which is that they are directing all of the press to the councils, the White House Counsel's office with questions, and then they are directing the press to the Justice Department saying that we don't really want touch this. But the President himself, yes, he's fully focused right now on trying to sell, still go on this tour and sell what he passed in his first two years, knowing that there isn't going to be much past the next two years with Republicans. And we see Vice President Kamala Harris focusing on abortion this weekend, where she is going to be giving this big speech about abortion rights and taking it to Republicans in Florida, because Democrats clearly see that as a political winner for them, given the midterm. So those are their big focuses, I think, over the next two years, regardless of this investigation, because they do feel as though it will wrap up relatively quickly.


KING: To that point, you have deep experience in handling classified materials. It just -- it adds to the process. It adds time. You need experienced people. You need people with clearances. You need to be extra sensitive where you have certain conversations. In a best-case scenario, how long does this take?

CORDERO: Oh, it's really hard to put a timeline on it, but I wouldn't say fast. There's not anything about national security investigations that moves quickly. And in some ways, I think the Biden situation, that investigation is a little bit more complex because of the time that has elapsed from the time that the documents were originally moved into these unsecured locations from his time as Vice President. So we've got years. The Justice Department investigation out of the Special Counsel's office has to backtrack all the people who potentially might have had access and who originally was responsible for moving those documents.

KING: I guess the contrarian argument then, if it's going to take months, you can't over delay any other plans you have. You just have to hope for the best as we go.

Up next for us, Nikki Haley makes clear her presidential ambitions. And she belittles a former Trump administration colleague who is also eyeing the 2024 Republican race.



KING: Donald Trump is the only declared Republican 2024 presidential candidate at the moment, and he has his first state campaign event tomorrow in South Carolina. Nikki Haley won't be there. The former South Carolina governor and Trump ambassador to the United Nations is gearing up for a likely run of her own, and she is now abandoning a prior promise to sit it out if the former president ran again.


NIKKI HALEY (R-SC), FORMER GOVERNOR: When you're looking at a run for president, you look at two things. You first look at, does the current situation push for new leadership? The second question is, am I that person that could be that new leader? That, yes, we need to go in a new direction. And can I be that leader? Yes, I think I can be that leader. I think it's time for new generational change. I don't think you need to be 80 years old to go be a leader in D.C.

KING: Our great reporters are back with us. You do not do that interview in that sort of homie setting a couple of days before Donald Trump comes to your state, unless you're leaning way into running.

CORNISH: I mean, I'm happy for her lean in. I think that's great. I do suspect that some of this has to do with the fact that Trump's campaign so far has been underwhelming, right? It's not kind of out there in your face. People are not reporting on it breathlessly, constantly. And I'm sure that people like Nikki Haley are paying attention to that and thinking, oh, maybe there's an opening here, not just because people might be tired of him, but because is he able and capable of running the kind of campaign that he used to.

KING: Right. And the question is, who will, maybe -- I don't know if courage is the right word, but who will decide to declare first? Because they know Trump is out there, and they know what Trump did to chainsaw all the Republicans he ran against in 2016 was the nomination. Who's going to step out first and get into hand to hand combat with Donald Trump? It's a long list of potential candidates.

His former -- another former Trump administration was John Bolton, Liz Cheney would be interesting, Governor DeSantis, Nikki Haley is there, Governor Hogan, Governor Hutchinson, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, former congressman as well, Senator Scott, Governor Sununu, Governor Youngkin. There's a whole group there. What was interesting in this Haley interview is Mike Pompeo, who's also actively moving around the country, just hasn't declared yet. He's building a team and doing his thing.

In a new book he has out, he writes about hearing that perhaps Nikki Haley was trying to get Donald Trump to dump Mike Pence and to make her the vice-presidential nominee in 2020. Nikki Haley says no.


HALEY: I never had a conversation with Jared, Ivanka or the president about the vice presidentship. And, you know, what I'll tell you is, it's really sad when you're having to go out there and put lies and gossip to sell a book.


BARRON-LOPEZ: If you're Mike Pompeo, you're putting that out there, of course, because you know that the only way you're going to win this primary is if you win over those Trump voters, those loyal Trump voters. And that's his attempt to try to say, Nikki Haley is not loyal to Trump, but it still is also time to move on from the former president. That's what all of them are trying to do right now, which is potentially challenge him, but also win over that entire base that he's really been able to keep a lock on.

I mean, we saw in the midterms Republican candidates move more towards Donald Trump, especially in swing statewide races, then they moved away from him or tried to offer some other vision for the Republican Party, and they ended up not winning, but in a primary, they're successful.

KING: And so I got ahead of the calendar. It's not tomorrow. Donald Trump will be in South Carolina. It's a week from tomorrow. My excitement about the 2024 campaign, I'll be getting myself. If we put up back on the screen again the list of the prospects. And there are even more than this. There could be more than this. But if you look at that, the question is how many of them? Because that would be -- if they all ran, or most of them ran, that would be Donald Trump's dream. Because then you can get high 20 percent or, you know, maybe crack 30 percent in a primary, and winners take all rules and Republican delegates and boom, you go. The question is, when are we going to know more? How long? It takes a lot of money. You have to build a staff. People at home I know are watching saying, hey, John, it's January 2023, please. Yes, yes, please stop. Yes.

I get you in terms of listening to them every day or having ads in your house, but if you're trying to build an organization and build a team and raise the amount of money you will need, you need to get going, but they all seem a little hesitant to make it official.


FOX: I think that your point about who is going to jump out first is such an interesting one. Because perhaps the only way around that is to have multiples announcing very quickly and in succession so that there is more fighting back against Donald Trump and his inevitable attacks, which are going to come, and they're going to be personal and they're going to sometimes be made up. And I think that all of those candidates are very cognizant of the fact that whether or not Trump still has staying power in the Republican Party remains a very unanswered question.

CORNISH: Yes, the midterms really made through a big, like, you know, question mark under that. And also fundamentally, you have to figure out how do you make an argument that says, I believe in, I was for the policies of the Trump-Pence administration that you support. I believe in him, but somehow, I need to peel myself from him and make an argument that swing voters would be interested in as well. You heard from Haley there. She's using the generational argument.

KING: And the question is, it'd be fascinating to how she deals with the Trump factor because she was critical of Trump, that she served with Trump, that she was critical of Trump again, we have to figure out which does she pick up, does she pick one? I guess it'll be the question there.

Up next to the states, new governors and reelected governors stir new policy debates, and yes, they also stir talk of higher ambition.



KING: The 2022 class of governors is just getting started on their new terms, but already stirring some policy debates worth watching. Democrat Wes Moore is the first black governor of Maryland and is putting an emphasis on economic disparity.


GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): Maryland is asset rich and strategy poor, and for too long we have left too many people behind. We know it is unacceptable that while Maryland has the highest median income in the country, one in eight of our children live in poverty.


KING: Governor Moore, by the way, has a high-profile friend who suggests we pay close attention.


OPRAH WINFREY, AMERICAN HOST: This might be his first day as an elected official, but Wes Moore has been a public service -- servant his entire adult life, and there's so much more to come. He's just getting started.


KING: I love watching new governors. Nothing against reelected governors, but these new governors, it's the bench, essentially, of American politics. You start with Wes Moore, Democrat, replacing a moderate Republican governor in a state and trying, you know, saying, yes, I have some Democratic left of center priorities, but I want to be bipartisan about it.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, I mean, very clearly, Oprah is alluding to the fact that there is a wider or bigger Democratic bench than people maybe thought. I mean, even though it was a big primary in 2020, a lot of people have still been wondering who exactly is going to come after President Biden, especially even if he runs again. Because it isn't this foregone conclusion that it'll necessarily be Vice President Kamala Harris. And so you see, governors like Wes Moore and Josh Shapiro really captivating a lot of the Democratic base in their state.

KING: And so for now, that's a 2028 conversation.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. I jumped way ahead.

KING: No, no, no, you know, it's fascinating to watch. We'll see what happens as the 2024 campaign plays out. You mentioned Josh Shapiro, the new governor of Pennsylvania, the former attorney general. Interesting, in his case, a number of former Republican statewide officials, including the former governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, came to his inauguration as he promised. Again, yes, I'm a Democrat, but I want to listen to everybody.


GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D-PA): People from all different walks of life, from rural, urban, and suburban communities, united to tell me what you think. You showed the underlying goodness within our commonwealth, that you want a society that creates opportunity for all people. We've proved together that we value our freedoms and that we are willing to do the hard work necessary to protect our fundamental rights.


KING: It's interesting, both from a policy and political perspective. Democrats have a problem with blue collar workers over the last 10 years, Governor Shapiro adopting a policy, wiping away essentially the four year college degree requirement for most state jobs, saying, we want everybody to apply for these jobs.

FOX: It's fascinating because he's clearly got a uniter-type message. It's a similar message from what we saw from President Joe Biden when he was campaigning, but there's something about his delivery I feel like that's very different than what we saw from Biden. And I think one of the reasons you go after a policy about state workers and ensuring that people who don't have a four-year degree or maybe didn't have an opportunity to go to college can work for you is because you're trying to make it clear. I care about people, even if they're not elites, because Democrats and elitism often get cobbled together, and I think he's trying to make the case that doesn't happen.

KING: Well, you mentioned Democrats and elitism, Brian Kemp, the newly reelected Republican governor of Georgia, went to Davos, went to Davos. A lot of Republicans mock climate change. They say it doesn't exist. Governor Kemp says, you want to build electric vehicles, come to Georgia.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): While my promise in 2018 to bring good paying jobs to every corner of our state was not industry specific, I believe Georgia is uniquely positioned to lead the one, lead the nation in one in particular. By the end of my second term as your governor, I intend for Georgia to be recognized as the electric mobility capital of America.



KING: Makes it about economics.

CORNISH: He does. It's an uphill battle policy-wise. We know that there is a kind of anti-electric car push in many Republican circles, even fighting factories that come to states like Georgia. But the real issue for all three of these people is it's a reset and reintroduction to the public. After the midterms, it's saying, here we are. We're the next crop, and here are the policies we're putting on the table going forward.

KING: The American people already know this. Not all good ideas originate in this town, fact, fact, fact.

Thanks for your time on Inside Politics. Hope you have a great weekend. Erica Hill picks up our coverage after the break.