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Inside Politics

Tomorrow: Biden's First State Of The Union Since Republicans Took Control Of House; Poll: 37 Percent Approve Of Biden On The Economy; Yellen Dismisses Recession Fears: "Economy Is Remaining Strong"; Fmr. Special Asst D.A. Says "Many Bits And Pieces Of Evidence" Exist To Charge Trump; Poll: Americans Don't Want Trump Or Biden Again; Rep. Santos Denies Sexual Harassment Allegations From Prospective Staffer. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 06, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Bit later this afternoon, President Biden will return to the White House from Camp David. He spent the weekend there huddling with advisers that ahead of tomorrow's State of the Union address. It is a critical speech as the President discusses his hopes for the next two years of divided government. And as he ramps up for a reelection run.

New numbers tell us the most important audience that would be you is skeptical. The President's approval rating sits at 43 percent. That's according to CNN's latest poll of polls average. That is up three points from the eve of last year's address. But a new ABC News Washington Post poll finds this, only 37 percent of Americans give the President a thumbs up on the economy.

More than two thirds lack confidence in the President to make the right decisions for the country's future. In six and 10 say President Biden has accomplished little or nothing. Our great reporters are back with us. That has to be an enormous frustration at the White House where they understand inflation sort of fogs people's perception of everything right now after the pandemic.

But they would say, he passed the rescue plan, he passed infrastructure, why isn't it trickling out? I guess that's part of the goal tomorrow.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": I think part of the issue is that they haven't been great salesmen. You know, the fact of the matter is, when you had someone like Trump in the White House, what he knew how to do was sell, you know, his message. One thing they would talk about all the time during the Trump administration was like, low record, low black unemployment. You hear that all the time.

And Trump got so much credit for it. And so I wondered, like I was like, wait, unemployment is falling. How is black unemployment doing? I had to look it up. I'm like, oh, it's near record lows now, but I don't hear about it as much. Like, I'm sure Biden mentions it, but he doesn't sell it. You got to sell these things.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Trump would cheer the stock market --


RAJU: -- on a daily basis going, you know, that is -- we don't hear that message really much at all from this White House. I mean, yes, you mentioned there's all these bills that they passed last Congress. It was by any measure a productive Congress. You can say criticize what they did if you don't agree with it, but they still pass a lot of legislation.

But the problems, these are big mess of bills that take many years to implement. Infrastructure, the Inflation Reduction Act, allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, those are all things that will take some time from people to feel so we'll have enough an impact for when voters go to the polls.

That is a striking number. 62 percent of the voters do not believe the President has really done a whole lot in office. That's something he has to be concerned about.

KING: Striking. And members of Congress must hear it too when they go home because listen here, this is one of the top progressives in Congress and one of the much more moderate centrist Democrats in Congress essentially saying the same thing. To your point, Ayesha, the President needs to sell it.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), CHAIR, CONGRESSIONAL PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: He should be a relentless salesman for what we have achieved over the last two years. The economy adding 517,000 jobs and bringing unemployment down to the lowest level since 1969. He should continue to focus on that as well as laying out the vision for 2024.

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D), CO-CHAIR, PROBLEM SOLVING CAUCUS: What's really important is laying out agenda for our country and showing that we can come together even in a narrowly divided government like we're facing now.


KING: Gottheimer there at the end makes the point about the narrowly divided government. How much, from the White House perspective, do they want to tout the accomplishments and then pitch them forward and how much do they want to talk about this new dynamic, meaning Republicans run the House?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Sure. I think it's a little bit of both. I think that watching Biden do the events that he did last week, where he went out to look at bridges, to look at some of the items and areas where the infrastructure bill and his other legislation are having an impact, is a sign of things to come.

He's going to travel later this week on Wednesday and Thursday in the aftermath of the State of the Union. And it is largely about saying, look, this is what I've done. But it is a slightly less sexy sales pitch when you're talking about implementation because that's really what the next two years of the Biden presidency are about.

He's not going to get -- probably not going to get any major big legislative accomplishments done with the current conditions of this Congress. I think he will say tomorrow night, he'll note a few things that he thinks they can work together on. President Biden's identity is largely about working with the other side. So he'll talk about that, but he'll also really emphasize this is what we've done so far and we can move it at least a little bit further together.

KING: Part of the problem -- forgive me for interrupting you, but part of the problem and the President gets this because he talked about this in the last midterm campaign and prior Presidents have gotten this. You can't tell people you're doing better. People have to feel it. And if you look at this poll, you worse off financially since the President took office. This is in the Washington Post ABC poll.


That's the highest number they've been polling for 37 years. And 41 percent of Americans say they're worse off since the President took office. That's the old Ronald Reagan question, right, running for election. Do you feel better off than you were four years ago? So that's a tough one.

Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, saying look at last Friday's unemployment report. The economy is actually doing gangbusters.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: You don't have a recession when you have $500 thousand jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years. So what I see is a path in which inflation is declining significantly and the economy is remaining strong.


KING: It's just the psychology out in the country which is, look, the pandemic then inflation. You mentioned Trump cheering the stock market. The markets have been bouncing around --

RAJU: Yes.

KING: -- for a couple of months. President has to be careful.

RAJU: He does because they've been wrong about inflation in the past. Yellen was wrong about inflation as there were other members of the administration. So they had to be careful and going too far. But they also have to cheerlead what's happening in the economy.

It will be interesting to see how he deals with the issues that are confronting Congress, like avoiding a debt default, the first ever default in U.S. history. How much does he go after Republicans on this issue? Does he have an olive branch to Kevin McCarthy? Does he try to get a deal on this? All questions that will be interesting to see how he deals with it tomorrow.

KING: And I'm fascinated just by the optics in the sense that when the President spoke his first year, technically not a State of the Union, last year's State of the Union, it was Kamala Harris, the Vice President, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker behind him. That will be Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Speaker, where you see former Speaker Pelosi right there. That'll be a fascinating moment tomorrow as well.

Up next, a former prosecutor says the Manhattan D.A.'s investigation of Donald Trump turned up enough evidence to charge the former President. The D.A., though, says the work continues and that you should beware of someone trying to sell a book.



KING: Manhattan attorney who investigated Donald Trump and his organization's business dealings is speaking out, frustrated, the former President was not indicted in that case. Now, in his new book, the former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz says the evidence he had access to would have easily resulted in charges against anyone else.


MARK POMERANTZ, FORMER SENIOR PROSECUTOR ON MANHATTAN D.A.'S TEAM: Take the exact same conduct and make it not about Donald Trump and not about a former President of the United States. With the case have been indicted, it would have been indicted in a flat second.


KING: Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell, who's tracking this investigation. Kara, that's pretty strong words from the prosecutor, Mr. Pomerantz, their former prosecutor. What critical points did he make in this interview?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this was his first television interview since he resigned in protest last year after the incoming D.A., Alvin Bragg, stopped him from pursuing an indictment against the former President. Now, in this interview, Pomerantz also says that refusing to move forward with those charges was a grave failure of justice.

He said he believed that they had bits and pieces of evidence that would tie Trump to these alleged crimes. Now, that he was -- he did not -- that was not a universal view within the D.A.'s office. Several prosecutors resigned from the team because they thought they were moving too far ahead, and, you know, sources told us last year.

In addition, other experienced career prosecutors on that team also thought that they didn't have enough evidence to prove that Trump had criminal intent in the preparation of these financial statements. Now, some of these bits and pieces of evidence have come out in the New York Attorney General's civil lawsuit against the former President and his family members, you know, in that she had alleged that they had engaged in a decade long fraud by manipulating the value of many assets on the company's financial statements, and that Trumps have denied any wrongdoing.

But, you know, that Bragg has said that he believes those career prosecutors, he thought more work needed to be done, and he said that Pomerantz's plane was not ready for takeoff. Now, the former President's attorney has said that Pomeranz's statements are a desperate attempt to sell this book. Now, one thing that Bragg and Trump agree on is that no one wanted this book published. John?

KING: Prosecutor certainly doesn't want to publish in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Kara Scannell, grateful of the important reporting.

Let's get some perspectives, CNN Legal National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero is back with us. And let's listen, because in the 60 Minutes interview, Bill Whitaker asked a key question, how strong is the evidence tying this to Donald Trump?


BILL WHITAKER, CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS PROGRAM 60 MINUTES: So what ties Donald Trump directly to this? You know, couldn't he say, my accountant said it's worth this, I signed it.

POMERANTZ: There were many bits and pieces of evidence on which we could rely in making that case.


KING: It's an interesting choice of words, many bits and pieces. Normally in a case, you heard prosecutors say the evidence was overwhelming or it was a slam dunk. Bits and pieces.


KING: Do you bring a case against anyone or especially the former President, if you have bits and pieces?

CORDERO: Yes. Normally, prosecutors would not get too excited about bringing a case based on bits and pieces. What they want to be able to do is bring an indictment based on a case that they are -- have a large amount of evidence that they feel can convince a jury. And it's really not ethically responsible to bring a case unless they have confidence that they can actually win it.

And there's a real irony here as well. Presumably, this case is still ongoing in some way in New York. And the fact that a prosecutor who has knowledge and access to what the evidence was is now publishing a book and presumably profiting off of that inside information for an ongoing case, not a case that is over, has and disposed of, was prosecuted in the past. [12:45:01]

And, you know, prosecutors write about the cases that I did way back when. This is very different. This is something that's ongoing. So I think there's a real sort of ethical issue there as well.

KING: And to that ethical issue, is it -- obviously, if there were a nondisclosure agreement or something in a contract, we couldn't publish the book. Obviously, there's nothing there, just a judgment call.

CORDERO: Well, he was able to do it. It's a judgment call, and so that's what happened. But look, prosecutors disagree about the the weight of a case all the time. Ultimately, in this situation, it's the D.A.'s call. You know, just on the federal side, Justice Department attorneys can disagree about whether a case should be brought or not. It's the Attorney General's call. In this case, the D.A. made a decision. That's the D.A.'s job.

KING: Well, I bet the book is going to sell. We'll see how the investigation goes from there.

Up next, your early take of the 2024 presidential campaign. Interest in a 2020 rematch is low.



KING: No repeats, please. That's the message from voters in a brand- new ABC News Washington Post poll. The survey crystal clear. Take a look. Broad majorities of Americans simply don't want Donald Trump or Joe Biden back in the White House come 2025. And both Republicans and Democrats prefer their parties choose someone else to headline the ballot in 2024.

58 percent of Democrats and Democratic leading independents say pick not Joe Biden, please. 49 percent of Republicans and Republican leaning independents say anybody but Trump.

Our great reporters back around the table. The American people want new candidates but Biden is about to announce, right, give or take a few weeks and Trump's already running. They're not listening.

RASCOE: They're not listening. And I'm not sure that the parties, even though that's what they say, I'm not sure they're ready to quit Biden or Trump just yet. You know, sometimes people say things but do they really mean it? And I don't think in this case -- I mean, because really, like, when you look at it, obviously so much can change.

I'm not in the predictions business, but there's a very good chance that we could have another Biden, Trump matchup. Like that's just, you know, the facts of the matter.

MASON: I joked with my team when I saw that poll come out over the weekend. Did we really need a poll to tell us? I mean, look at how both of them are deeply unpopular with segments of the American people and yet I think you're spot on in many ways. Are they really ready to quit, these two men? And I think both of those two men also think they're the one to beat the other.


KING: Right.

MASON: And that's part of this calculus.

KING: Well so that's an interesting part of the calculation, is they both seem to think we're on a collision course for a rematch. We'll see. We have primaries to come. President Biden at the moment not facing any significant challenge on the Democrat.

But listen here. This is the Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair of Ben Wikler. "In an era where the radicals on the right inspire revulsion, anxiety and the most vicious kind of cheers, having a Democratic leader who gives you the sense that things are going to be OK is exactly what the doctor ordered."

So you have Democrats who -- maybe Joe Biden wouldn't have been their first choice if they went to, you know, candidate -- to invent a candidate but they think, OK, sort of dull, boring, predictable, not crazy.

RAJU: Yes, that's going to be the contrast. I mean, he's -- Joe Biden is not going to be someone who's going to really energize, get the base core voters incredibly excited. He's not going to give those big speeches that, say a Barack Obama could give on the campaign trail. They're trying to message about competence, getting things done, and hope that sells and contrast that with Donald Trump.

But the question, the concern about a lot of Democrats is perhaps Biden could be Trump. But what if there's another candidate that emerges who's younger, who has a more generational argument, who can actually appeal to some of the middle, those disaffected voters who are concerned about Trump, the suburban voters and the like? That's the concern about Democratic voters. Can Biden get those in that kind of context?

KING: And so this is a very early conversation, right? Trump is the only declared candidate right now, although Nikki Haley will get in next week, and then we'll see Republicans come in after that. The interesting dynamic is the billionaire Koch Brothers Financial Network, which gives a ton of money to Republican candidates, but it's never gotten involved in a presidential primary.

The Koch Network plans to back a Republican other than Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential primary. Now, Trump will try to turn that to his advantage, saying, the rich establishment is against me. But that is an interesting dynamic because there are a lot of Republicans who think, OK, if we nominate Trump, we're going to have 2020 all over again.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, like, the benefit that Biden has is that he has beaten Trump, right? Like, that's what he has. And when Republicans look at this and they see what happened in the midterms, they know that Biden wouldn't have to motivate his base because Trump would motivate the Democrats very, very well.

So, yes, you have an establishment that's like, we don't want to go down that road again. I think the problem is we don't know if the base feels exactly the same way.

MASON: And it's a blow to Trump, I mean, to have that amount of money coming in for one of his competitors. It may be advantageous to him to have a big field that may win all the support and end up getting empowering his own base. But having that much financial backing to a competitor is not a win for him.

RAJU: Yes, I mean, the hope for Trump is to have a big field, I mean, that actually could be very beneficial to him at the --

MASON: Sure.

RAJU: -- end of the day, divide up the vote. If he does keep that 30 percent of voters, 25 percent even, depending how big of a field this is, that could be enough to get him where he needs to go. So that's going to be something to watch. I'm sure he's cheering on more candidates, jumping in.

KING: Right. It's all -- well, he'll cheer them on and they'll also beat them up as they go. Again, we get Governor Nikki Haley next week, and we'll go from there. It's all theory at the moment, but it's getting more real by the day.

Still ahead for us, Congressman George Santos facing a new allegation this time, a claim of sexual harassment.



KING: Topping our political radar today, Republican Congressman George Santos strongly denies a new sexual harassment accusation against him. A former prospective staffer, Derek Myers, filed a complaint with the Health Ethics Committee.

He alleges Santos made an unwanted advance during a private encounter in the congressman's office. He claims he was later denied employment with the freshman Republican. Santos calling the allegations, quote, disturbing and dishonest.

Thanks for your time in INSIDE POLITICS today. We'll see you tomorrow. Busy news day. Stick with us. Abby Phillip picks up our coverage right now.