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Inside Politics

Biden 2024 Roadmap Takes Shape: Sell Progress, Target GOP; GOP Members: Santos Asks Off Of Cmtes Until Issues Are Resolved; GOP Rep Hesitant To Boot Omar From Cmte: "Two Wrongs Don't Make A Fight"; McCarthy Makes Case In Morning Meeting To Kick Omar Of Cmte; Biden To McCarthy: "Show Me Your Budget, I'll Show You Mine"; 2 More Memphis Officers Out, 3 Fire Personnel Fired Over Response; Shelby Co, D.A: "Looking At Everybody," Could Bring More Charges; Crump: New Info About Officers Relieved Of Duties Brings "Questions"; Biden To End COVID Public Health Emergencies On May 11. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 31, 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. The Biden 2024 plan takes shape. The president wants a tour through what he calls America reborn, circling infrastructure as a big selling point and the new Republican majority as a big target. And two cities, two grand juries, two giant legal developments in the investigations of Donald Trump in Manhattan. Prosecutors now reportedly presenting evidence about hush money payments.

And in Washington, two witnesses in the classified documents case have testified under oath. Plus, two more Memphis police officers out, three Memphis EMTs dismissed. Tyre Nicholas' families, though ask why now, what took so long? And what else might the city behind?

Up first for us though, the president on the road today, celebrating a past achievement and using it to shape the politics of this year and next. This hour the president in New York to showcase a revamp of the rail tunnel borrowing under the Hudson River.

Today's agenda underlines a White House event by event strategy for the divided government battles of 2023. And for the president soon to be formal 2024 reelection bid. The optics straightforward, put the president on the road in places where he can literally point to progress and where he can make the case, smart government spending seeds a growing economy. And so, the president will say beware of Republicans looking to slash Biden priorities from the federal budget.

Let's get straight to the White House and begin with CNN's MJ Lee MJ, what will we hear from the president?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's certainly nothing subtle about the president's backdrop today. We're talking about the west side rail yard in Manhattan, where he is set to announce hundreds of millions of dollars in money that will go towards finishing this river that runs under the Hudson River, this tunnel, excuse me. And this, of course, it's part of the bigger sort of implementation phase for the president that the White House is really trying to emphasize that if he spent the first two years, talking about what he hoped to accomplish, that officials believe now is really the time to talk about what he has actually accomplished.

And of course, it goes hand in hand with the economic strategy as well, talking about jobs growth and inflation, finally seeming to be moderating and also the political messaging that you alluded to there trying to cast Republicans as being extremists. And sort of getting in the way of some of that very economic progress of the president wants to talk about, you take all of this in totality.

And officials here at the White House, say that you basically get a roadmap for not only the president's upcoming State of the Union speech next week, but also his 2024 reelect announcement, which could come in the next several weeks. This of course, as the White House is very much trying to move away from what has been a distraction in the form of the classified document. That is certainly something that they're trying to turn the page on by talking about the last two years, and also just pointing to what they feel like they can get done in the next few years as well. John?

KING: Quincy time, busy time at the Biden White House. MJ Lee, thanks for kicking us off. And I say busy because the president's New York stop today a prelude to a big potential clash tomorrow. Tomorrow, the president meets for the first time with the Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The speaker wants unity Republican strange heading into that important sit down, but instead, there is distraction and some dysfunction in the Republican family. Speaker McCarthy, saying just moments ago, the embattled New York Republican George Santos was right to walk into the Republican family meeting this morning and say he will step back from his committee assignments.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): And that was George Santos yesterday, and I think it was an appropriate decision that until he can clear everything up. He's off committees right now.


KING: Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill and our chief correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, again, the speaker wants to come to the White House saying, Republicans are unified, but they have some issues at the moment to say the least.

MANU RAJU, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they do. And this is designed in part to alleviate some of the pressure on the Republican leadership and a bit of a crack in the wall of defiance from George Santos, who has said all along that he's done nothing wrong. He's got nothing to hide, and that he will not resign from Congress. And as he's stood firm in his position, the Republican leadership, Kevin McCarthy and his top allies awarded him with two committee assignments. Those committee assignments, he plans to step aside from telling his conference behind closed doors at the Science Committee that he was given a seat to as well as the Small Business Committee. He no longer will serve until some of those issues are resolved.


Now, Santos did talk to reporters right here, right by his office just moments ago. And he was asked about all of this, and he indicated, he had sit down for a TV interview was going to address some of these questions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mentioned that you're going to interview with the press who already did?

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Oh, I already did actually. You should be looking out on TV today. It should be interesting. Look out for breaking news today, it should be fun. It should be very comprehensive too.


RAJU: Now, we didn't provide any more details than that. And so, it's unclear exactly what questions he's going to respond to. He has refused to answer questions in the hallways here in the Capitol over a range of issues, whether it's campaign finances, the investigations, he is facing the fact that he's fabricated major portions of his life story, his career, his college, going to college, playing volleyball in college. I put those questions to him time and time again. He has refused to engage. Does he is respond to those questions.

Here is another - I think we'll have to look for going forward. But that is the one thing that Kevin McCarthy indicated to him both privately last night and publicly today when he came out of that Republican conference, that Santos needs to clear up a lot of these questions until he does. At that point, they feel more comfortable putting him on those committees.

But John, we know that he is facing federal investigation, he could very likely face the House ethics investigation as well. So that will take some time to play out as the pressure builds on George Santos. But for now, saying he will step aside from those committees even as he indicates he will still serve in Congress and won't resigned from that seat. Despite a poll today coming out showing that an overwhelming majority of his own constituents want him out of Congress. John?

KING: More trouble every day it seems for the freshmen we shall see. Manu Raju, live on Capitol Hill. Manu, thank you. Let's continue the conversation. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times, Toluse Olorunnipa of The Washington Post, and NPR's Tamara Keith. Julie, let me start with you. Just the fact that reporters are camped out of a freshman congressman's office, tells you he's a problem for the Republicans, normally he'd be a backbencher. It'd be interesting in getting to know us at time. But he has become one of several distractions, dysfunction, what's the right word is Kevin McCarthy tries to prove. We have a new majority. We have our act together, but they don't.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's all about, I think it's distraction, it's dysfunction. You could have argued in the very beginning of the month that maybe he was a welcome distraction from Kevin McCarthy's other problems becoming speaker. But this is now had, you know, a much longer tail than I think Republicans initially thought it would.

I think it's important, though, to put this in context, right? He is not being yanked off committees, he's not being punished. You don't hear Kevin McCarthy saying, it's unacceptable what he's done, he's deceived the public, and therefore we can't let him sit on the committee. I think what he did, and the indications are that he wasn't pressured, we'll see whether that turns out to be true.

We're hearing, you know, a lot of speculation about why this might have happened and the timing of it. But I do think that this sort of - the intention is to sort of get this brushed aside for a variety of reasons, including that Republicans are looking to boot a Democrat off of a prominent House committee.

Ilhan Omar, who would otherwise be serving on the foreign affairs committee. And they've been saying that they're going to try to food her off. And they're having some pushback within their own ranks about that. I think they're trying to convey here that they want to clean their own house, so that they cannot have pushback from the Democrats when they go and try to do that.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, and in some ways, it's two sides of the same coin, right? It's the same numbers problem that Kevin McCarthy has. The reason that they are not moving full speed ahead on the Ilhan Omar vote is because they may not have the votes to boot her off the committee, and the speaker does not want a losing vote. That's a numbers problem.

And the reason that George Santos is even still in the House or was, you know, is allowed to persist and has not been under pressure from party leadership to resign is they need him. They need his number. They need his vote. And he has proven that he will vote for Kevin McCarthy as speaker, he will be, you know, sort of a vote when Kevin McCarthy needs a vote.

KING: It's a key point in the sense that you have many Republican lawmakers who would like to say, OK, our majority is narrow, but let's try to do something. Let's take whatever leverage we have and try to use it against the Democratic president to reduce spending, to change policy in areas where they have legitimate philosophical disagreements. You mentioned he doesn't have the votes. The Omar issue is a question because Victoria Spartz of Indiana, one of several Republicans who say, look, maybe she said some things that are horrible, but is this really the game we want to play?


REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): I'm not here to defend any of this Democrat representatives. There has no Loblaws between them and I. I am here to defend, you know, the rule of law, the presumption of innocence in due process and freedom of speech because the two wrongs don't make a right and we can go and look at it to fixing it. We can establish processes to address these issues. But we have to, you know, support the rule of law. We have to support protection of rights and as a constitutional republic, I have a problem with that.



KING: It's early and Republicans have plenty of time to get back on track to a policy debate. But if you look at polling, if you just talk to policy minded Republicans and so like, why are we doing this out of the gate? Why are we spending all of our time on George Santos, Ilhan Omar out of the gate when we should be talking about other things?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And while Biden is crossing the country, talking about the things that he's done over the past couple of years. It's the big stark contrast between a Democratic president who is able to say, this is what I'm delivering for the American people, new infrastructure, new tunnels. And Republicans who can say I'm kicking someone off of committee. And polling shows that that is not what the American people are interested in in terms of their top priorities.

And it's maybe something that McCarthy promised to a number of other Republicans within his caucus, because he had to make a lot of promises in order to secure the speakership. But it's very difficult for them to have a cohesive message and say, this is what we're doing with the power that the American people gave us. It's very difficult for them to show that they're actually moving forward.

KING: Sorry to interrupt, which sets up the drama of tomorrow's meeting. Again, the new speaker comes in, he has the new majority. He wants to say, look, we won. The American people electing a Republican House, say cut spending, curtail these programs. But the president as he left the White House today, well aware, they can't bring even a border bill to the floor.

The president's, you know, they're having a debate whether you should, you know, is it just cut the IRS? Is it cut Social Security and Medicare? We're also the spending cuts if the president says, when the speaker sits down in the Oval Office, simple question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you negotiate with McCarthy?

JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Show me his budget. Show me his budget.


KING: They feel at the White House that they have the upper hand in this one.

KEITH: Yes. And President Biden loves this line so much. He also delivered it twice last night, which is this, show me yours, I'll show you mine on the budget. They do feel like they have the upper hand. They feel like Republicans are overreaching and are probably going to overreach even more when it comes to investigations, or when it comes to this debt ceiling fight. And also, there is time, there is time for both sides to sort of stake out their positions before a true crisis actually erupts.

KING: And as the president, the president knows most Democrats in Congress will get in line. The speaker has these issues. Some Republicans want to cut Ukraine funding, some of them won't have this new national sales tax. Some of them do say, you should put Social Security and Medicare on the table. The speaker says, he's not going to let that happen, but he has a problem when the president says OK, you say cuts navel.

DAVIS: Right. And I mean, this is a bit reminiscent of when the Republicans used to talk about Obamacare and the evils of Obamacare. And then the question was, OK, well, what's your plan to replace it? And what Republicans learned at that time was it's very politically risky and really hard to come together on a proposal to do that, that will be acceptable to people.

And so right now, I think this is a lot of pre-positioning. I think the White House does feel good, but part of this is them trying to bake in the idea that Republicans are the ones being reckless here, and then you know, prove us wrong.

KING: OK. Tomorrow is an interesting day, one of many interesting days we will see. Up next for us some new fallout following the death of Tyre Nichols. Another officer relieved of duty, three members of the fire department terminated. The D.A says the investigation is not over yet.




KING: More police and firefighters are being sidelined in the Tyre Nichols investigation. And the district attorney says more criminal charges are possible. A sixth and a seventh police officer are now on leave that in addition to the five already fired and charged. And three Memphis fire department personnel also were fired because of their response at the scene of the Nichols beating. Let's go live now to CNN's Nick Valencia, who joins us with more, including Nick questions about the initial police report.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This initial police report, which we have verified with the district attorney's office there in Shelby County, directly contradicts what we saw all saw happen on those videos released last week by the city of Memphis. Principally, it makes no mention whatsoever of officers punching and kicking Nicholas. It was written in the hours after Nicholas stop and actually lists him as a suspect and an aggravated assault.

And one of the former officers now charged with second degree murder as a victim in that assault. It says that Nicholas was violent. I rate and sweating profusely that at one point he grabbed for an officer's gun and that he was grabbing for their duty belts. We didn't see any of this happen again on any of those videos, those police videos that were released last week.

John, we are working to try to figure out who exactly in the police department wrote this report. That's something that we have asked the district attorney to help us verify. We are still waiting for answers on this. But bottom line here is that this initial police report directly contradicts what we all saw happen with our own eyes. John?

KING: Nick Valencia, appreciate that important live up. And let's get some perspective from our CNN senior law enforcement analyst chief Charles Ramsey, former commissioner in Philadelphia and here in D.C. Chief grateful for your time today. So, you've been through this before, when you hear something like Nick just reported that you have an initial police report. And then you have the video. And one is A, and one is z. What happens internally trying to investigate this to find out who's responsible?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I mean, he lied on the report, and the officer has to sign the report. So, there will be a name and a badge number there. So that would be one additional charge, administrative charge more than likely, that would be filed against the particular police officers. As far as additional police officers now, their action surfacing, that's really not all that uncommon.

In a complicated case like this, when you have multiple officers at a scene, you have to isolate each individual officer. And as far as their particular actions from beginning to end, I'm sure that's what the D.A did when he came up with charges, and that's what they're doing internally.

KING: So, let's listen to the D.A who is looking at this. Obviously, five of the officers were quickly fired, and then pretty quickly charged. The D.A says still at it, listen?


STEVEN MULROY, SHELBY COUNTY, TN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: But nothing we did last Thursday when we returned indictments in those cases, precludes us from bringing later charges against other people further on down the road. And we are in fact looking at everybody. We're looking even at people who are doing the paperwork later on.



KING: The D.A there seems to touch on the possibility of not just the initial police report but something about the paperwork. Is there though a risk in the sense that when you charge some right-away, they had the video, they had the video to look at when they charged the five. And then you have a pause, where you're still looking at more. As the D.A says, is there any risk and how the public perceives that in your view?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, there could be, but the reality is the five that were directly responsible, at least as far as we can see so far, or the death of Mr. Nicholas, the beating of Mr. Nicholas. They were charged quickly, actually, and they were fired right away.

Now, you start the administrative portion of the investigation, looking at everyone else. It doesn't mean that you won't have some more people charged criminally, it doesn't mean that you won't have additional people fired. But he wanted to take care of the main group first. So, they set some priorities.

And I agree with that. I've had cases where I've had 10,12 officers involved, a videotape, it's at night, you have to actually isolate the actions of each individual officer to justify the charge for that particular officer, whether it's criminal or administrative, and you go over that tape over and over and over again.

And there are some tapes, I looked at 40-50 times in order to make sure we had it right. And so, that's what they're doing now. But they got the main five. Again, it doesn't mean that there won't be additional ones charged later on.

KING: So, the family's attorney Ben Crump says, everybody who was out in that scene, who contributed in any way should be held fully accountable. How would you walk through this in the sense that a lot of people respond to a scene? Right, especially if they were falsely reporting, we don't see it in the video. So, I'm going to say falsely reporting, maybe from the scene, you know, officers are being beaten or there's a threat to the officers.

A lot of people show up in a case like that. If you're going through you say you watch video over and over and over again, how are you making the case this is criminal conduct. And this is administrative conduct that you disapprove of, but maybe doesn't rise to the level of a criminal charge.

RAMSEY: Actually, what you wind up doing with a case like this is as you turn everything over to the D.A, and the D.A will make the decision as to whether or not it's criminal or not. So that part of it, the D.A will decide in terms of being criminal. If you're at the scene, you're going to look at their actions and you're going to also look at their inactions. Anybody who wrote a report with false information can be charged administratively at the very least. OK? If you stood by and watch this take place and failed to intervene, failed to take any steps at all to stop it. You can be charged administratively up to the D.A whether or not that's going to rise to a criminal level.

If you fail to take any kind of action in terms of the care of the individual who was obviously injured, and you did nothing to provide care to that individual. Again, you can be charged administratively up to the D.A, whether or not it would be criminal, but everyone at that scene is going to be looked at very, very carefully. Again, action and their inaction will be reviewed.

KING: If you watch that video, they deserve to be reviewed and reviewed and reviewed. Chief Ramsey, as always grateful. Sir, thank you very much. Up next for us. A page turning moment in the country's COVID response. What a White House decision to end the COVID public health emergency, means for you.




KING: A big change in the government's COVID response is coming. The Biden White House says, the COVID public health emergency will end on May 11. The timing here is important. House Republicans were planning to vote this week to end the public health emergency and the government powers that come with it. The politics of that in a moment. First, the pandemic state of play.

It's been a long time since we showed you this map. And look, lots of red last time I was here. This is why people say you can use the public health emergency, make it go away. Low is yellow, low is that your community transmission in most of the country, medium in some, the red high transmission relatively hard to find now, which is a good thing as you look at the - across the country, hospitalizations a year ago 143,000 down to 33,000.

Now, so low, still a number that public health officials don't like but way below where we were in the last two COVID winters. Deaths again, you don't want to report 468 deaths yesterday from COVID. Every death is a tragedy, but we were at 2600, one year ago, or above 3000 two years ago in the COVID winter. So again, even deaths are down compared to one year ago and two years ago.

This one does nag public health officials. Why aren't more Americans getting fully vaccinated and boosted. You see that fully vaccinated and boost is below 40 percent, 80 percent of Americans are at least partially vaccinated. Again, the president saying the public health emergency will end in a couple of months, House Republicans say that's because of us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): This week, House Republicans will pass a bill that will force the federal government to acknowledge what the American people already know, the pandemic is over.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): The White House yesterday finally said, they will end these public health emergencies. The problem is the president said he's going to wait until May. Well, Mr. President, if you know what's the right thing to do, don't wait until May.


KING: Our great reporters are back with us. It is true. The politics here are pretty clear. Some Democrats did not want to take a vote if the president, you know, to say no, we need to keep it going. It's Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeting too late, Republicans already announced we're declaring COVID is over. The GOP is leading on this issue by just trying to take the credit.