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6,000+ Killed, Tens Of Thousands Injured After 7.8 Earthquake; USGS: 100+ Aftershocks So Far In Turkey; Biden To Renew Push For Police Reform, Assault Weapons Ban; WH: Biden Will Remind Americans "What Has Been Accomplished"; McCarthy: Won't Tear Up Biden Speech, GOP Won't Be Childish; Staff For "Gang Of Eight" Briefed On Chinese Balloon; CNN: New Select Cmte On China Takes Bipartisan Tone; McCarthy Reveals Santos Is Facing House Ethics Probe. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 07, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very, very busy news day with us. 6,000 plus death, 6,000 plus grief running over Turkey and Syria, hoped to running out as rescue crews continue to look for thousands still lost in the rubble of a monster earthquake.

Plus, tonight the president tells the country what he's done and where he wants to go. Advisors promised a classic Joe Biden speech, but his State of the Union collides with big global challenges and the complications of a newly divided Washington.

Plus, a secret briefing, Congress gets access to intelligence about that Chinese balloon. It's a brand-new CNN reporting raises questions about why the Pentagon was so slow to shoot down that suspected spy in the sky.

But up first for us, a dramatic, harrowing race to find survivors. It's barely more than 24 hours after a massive earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, already again more than 6,000 are dead. And the aftershocks still creating treacherous conditions for rescuers, trying to reach victims trapped in the rubble. More than 5,000 buildings have collapsed, falling tragically, faster than many people could escape.

In the devastation, there are though moments of hope, like this one. A young girl rescued after 24 hours, buried beneath concrete and bricks in Istanbul, and crews pulling a teenage boy from the rubble lowering him to safety. Turkey's president has now declared a three-month state of emergency in the hardest hit areas, and President Biden has pledged to provide assistance, that part of a massive international response and rescue effort now underway.

Our CNN's Becky Anderson is live for us in Gaziantep, Turkey. Becky, tell us what you're seeing?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. Well, it is basically cold here, John, but that is not dampening the efforts that are going on behind me here. This building was a 10-story building, at 4:15 AM on Monday morning local time, when that massive earthquake hit a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which shook this entire region. 23 million people according to the WHO have been affected by this quake, not least those here in Gaziantep in the west of the city in a place called Ibrahimli, where this road is based, and you can see.

If you just can see to the building beside me, that is what this looked like, some 36 hours or so ago. And that building, by the way at the side as is unsafe, it's beginning to tilt to the left. And there are cracks on the first, second and third floor. So, we're not going to hang around here too long. But I do want to get you a sense of what's going on behind me.

These members of the search and rescue units who are here on site have been working now around the clock, trying to ensure that they get to everybody unaccounted for. There are more than 50, as we understand it still unaccounted for underneath the rubble here. And we've been here for about four hours, John.

And what we've been witnessing is the sort of process through which these teams go, which is ensuring there is coordination, ensuring that they call for silence every so often and turn the generators and heavy machinery off when they believe they have heard sign of life below the rubble. And that's happened four or five or six times since we've been here.

As I say, just in the last four or five hours, we've been using thermal and sound machinery to get down below the rubble. There are voids we are told, difficult to get through, but there are voids. And amazingly, John, there are people who are actually using their mobile phones to communicate with the rescuers to say that they are still alive. And they have seen that, and I'm sorry to say that as we speak.

I'm just going to let Schawbel (Ph) give you this shot because they are clearly bringing somebody up. I can't tell whether that person is alive or dead. I understand that they asked us to turn the camera away, and that is understandable. So, I'm just going to move this way. I'm sorry, guys. I'll move this way. Absolutely, I'll move this way.

Just to give you a sense, sorry, sir. Thank you. And this is out of a mark of respect, obviously because they've got a white sheet up, John, which I think we safe to assume means that they are bringing out somebody who hasn't survived this. As I say it is brutally cold here at 4:50 in the morning. When this earthquake struck, it was cold, it was raining, it isn't raining now but the temperatures are frigid.


Let me tell you, and so there are fires going on all the way around me behind me. But, you know, it is an awful, heartbreaking situation. They are understandably asking us to move away at this stage, John?

KING: Becky Anderson live on the ground for us. Remarkable reporting. Appreciate your showing respect there and walking away as well. It's great to have someone with your experience on the scene. We'll stay in touch Becky and your crew. Thank you so much. I'll obviously continue to track that dramatic story, the tragedy in Turkey and Syria.

Back to Washington now and Joe Biden's big night ahead. In just hours, the president addresses the nation. The Congress serves as his stage. The bullet point, his achievements, his plans, and his early case for reelection. The setting is the same, but this will feel very, very different tonight. The biggest reason why we'll be right on the - right third of your screen, that would be the House speaker.

Now Kevin McCarthy, and his descendants underlines the new divided reality here in Washington. The speech we are told by White House officials will track familiar Biden themes, featuring calls for unity, his bottom up, middle out approach to the economy and a body of evidence to connect the dots, the White House says between Biden's policies and what they see as remarkable signs of American progress.

Let's get straight to the White House. Our chief correspondent Phil Mattingly is there. Phil, a big night for the president to look forward, but he wants to look back a little too.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. When he talk about that progress, I think there are key components that White House officials point to as underscoring that key progress, whether it comes to the economic side of things, a legislative agenda that really hasn't really been matched over the course of the last seven or eight decades in terms of the scale of the accomplishments.

And to some degree, a public health crisis that is, at least in the waning moments. At this point in time, even though the country is still grappling with it. And it's the effort, that I think you're going to see from the president tonight. To really bring all that together to capture the moment of not just what's happened in the next two years. But what can happen in the next two or potentially six ahead as he waves that reelection announcement in the weeks ahead.

When you talk about who the president's audience is, I think that's also important. Yes. The in-person audience will be the members of Congress, 535 of them Republican and Democrat. The real audience is the eyeballs at home for a primetime address. Those millions of Americans that maybe aren't paying attention every single day to what the president has done, or the legislative items that he's passed or the agenda that he's now in the midst of implementing.

And I think you'll also be able to take a look at what the key elements of this speech are when you look at who will be sitting with the First Lady tonight. You obviously have the parents of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by police just a week or two ago, viscerally watched by Americans on television.

You have the Ukrainian ambassador, that will be a central focus of the foreign policy elements of the president speech Bono, Paul Pelosi. As the president talks about taking the temperature down from political extremes ism and obviously the Monterey Park shooting hero. Mass shootings, which have obviously developed over the course of the last several weeks as they have for the last several years will be a key component as well. Overall, though, I think the thematic issues will be familiar to us. We are not necessarily the audience. The audience is the American public as the president tries to underscore very clear progress, but a job not done yet, a job he wants to finish in the two years ahead, and perhaps the six, John?

KING: All right. Perhaps always the largest audience, the president gets. Phil Mattingly, appreciate you're kicking us off from the White House. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's MJ Lee, CNN's Melanie Zanona, and Cleve Wootson of The Washington Post.

And so, MJ, let's stick, you covered the White House. The president tonight is going to talk about police reform. He's going to urge Congress to pass an assault weapons ban. He's going to say they should reinstate and expand the child tax credit. And he's going to say one way to bring more money into Washington is to raise taxes on billionaires.

Zero chance on almost all of those things, if not all of them in Congress, because there is a speaker Kevin McCarthy over his shoulder, but the president will make the case. The question is they have any realistic hopes at the White House of getting anything big done legislatively in the next few years?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he will certainly try to make the case that he would like to get all of these things done. And the White House has been talking a lot about sort of this unity agenda, trying to emphasize that even though there is a new political reality in Washington, he still plans to stay laser focused on reaching out to Republicans on some of these issues.

But you're absolutely right, that the fact that Kevin McCarthy will be sitting behind him, the entire time will serve as a reminder of how difficult it will be to get some of these things done. I also think just Phil really hit it on the nail when he was talking about trying to reach out to the millions of Americans who are tuning in, maybe really for the first time and sort of absorbing what the president has accomplished and wants to do.

I think particularly on the economy, the White House does believe that it has a good story to tell. But you look at the polling and you see that there is a real disconnect, right? When four out of 10 Americans are saying that they think their own finances are actually worse now than when the president first took office. Yes, they're sort of the data side of things. I think the numbers look good, but clearly that is not really translating in terms of the public sentiment.


KING: And so, that's the political challenge. How do you try to bring the American people along with you, if you will, you can't lecture them about the economy. People have been through two plus years of COVID. Couple years of inflation. They just have, they're exhausted. And they have questions. So, Jeff Nussbaum, who a veteran democratic speechwriter, he's written for President Biden as well, says this the New York Times. Joe Biden has to say the same thing a thousand times before the world catches up to him.

That's actually meant just a compliment, in the sense that Jeff's point is that Joe Biden is not a flashy orator. He's not going to say something that you're going to remember the line, like you might have Barack Obama or somebody else, but that he's just consistent and resilient and tough. Biden's often underestimated. The question here is can he start to break through with the country, so you can start to feel a little better?

CLEVE WOOTSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. This is the biggest megaphone that president has. And the question is, is it going to be loud enough out? You know, MJ talked about that disconnect. There's also a disconnect between what the Biden sees - the Biden administration sees, as you know, historic progress that they've made and what Americans see. You have like 62 percent of Americans saying they've done very little or not enough.

And so, you know, will Biden be able to sort of hammer home the fact, you know, just the things that they've done in a way that average deal on the street is able to understand and sort of take with them through the coming months as these fires continue.

KING: And so, one of the big dynamics will be the president's first year. It's not going to call the State of the Union when you're newly elected, but Nancy Pelosi was behind him with the Vice President Kamala Harris. Second year, last year, this first day, the Union address, Speaker Pelosi was behind him.

Tonight, it will be Speaker McCarthy, who says that he wants to do this, he has reverence for the job. He says speaker McCarthy saying, Nancy Pelosi famously ripped up a Donald Trump's speech. He's not going to do that. Listen?


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We're member the Congress. We have a code of ethics of how we should portray ourselves but also do our jobs. And that's exactly what we'll do. But we're not going to be playing childish games, tearing up a speech.


KING: How does he view this moment? And I understand this morning at a meeting, he was trying to convince rank and file Republicans, some of whom might be more provocative, some of whom might be looking for buzz on social media, that the cameras will be on you. Everything you say might be picked up by a microphone and please behave.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: There is a real concerted effort by Kevin McCarthy to position himself as the most reasonable person in the room right now, particularly when it comes to these debt ceiling negotiations. He has tried to strike a calmer tone. I think part of the strategy is to calm the markets. Part of the strategy is also set up a fall guy in case things go sideways.

But when it comes to tonight, it will be interesting to see how these Republicans react if they actually heed McCarthy's advice to behave. We'll see whether that pans out - right, exactly. But you know, with the debt ceiling, I'm very interested in what tone President Biden strikes on this, because behind closed doors, it seems he has struck a more conciliatory - a conciliatory tone with these talks that are very early on with Kevin McCarthy.

But how hard does it go? Does he continue to insist no conditions on hiking the debt ceiling? Does he, you know, chastise Republicans as MAGA Republicans? Does that poison the well? I mean, there's going to be a lot of pie in the sky talk tonight, a lot of pomp and circumstance, but the debt ceiling is the most important thing that they have.

KING: And so, how does the White House view that in the sense that during the campaign, the president talked about extreme MAGA Republicans? In several events recently, he said that what do they mean by spending cuts? When they say let's reduce spending? What do they mean? Do they mean Social Security and Medicare? How specific, I guess how pointed will he be tonight? Or will it be more of a - let's try to be bipartisan and then see if it collapses?

LEE: Well, typically, when you are listening to President Biden and making a speech. When he's out on the road, it is very common for him to use language like MAGA Republicans, like extremism, and really trying to paint House Republicans and in particular, as being too extreme as getting in the way - objecting to really any kind of progress that Washington might be able to make.

This is a very different setting, right? The number of times, again, that White House officials have been using language like the Unity agenda, you know, it might feel a little bit less appropriate for the President in front of every member of Congress to use that kind of language. But at the same time, it is really important for him politically, as a political messaging tool to contrast Democrats and himself from those very House Republicans that he often does criticize. So, it will be sort of a balancing act, I think, for this president.

KING: And you mentioned the frustration at the White House that the American people don't feel they've accomplished most that they get the frustration with the economy, people just don't feel like personally, even if the numbers might support otherwise. Part of the president's challenge tonight is to convince Americans that you know that he's up to the job, which sounds bizarre, but if he's planning to run for reelection, and he's 80 years old, the idea being that, you know, I'm up for this and I want it.

WOOTSON: Yes. You have these built-in concerns, not just from Americans in general, but also from Democrats about whether Biden is too old about how he'll fare against a potentially younger opponent. And so, a lot of this is about him showing, not just, you know, these are the things that I can do. But like this is, you know, I am the person that can kind of drive it over the finish line in the next couple of years.

[12:15:00] KING: Always one of the biggest days in Washington, can't wait for tonight. Up next for us, Congress getting briefed today on the China balloon drama and it will also be a topic in the president's State of the Union speech.


KING: This morning at the Capitol staff members for the top lawmakers, the so-called gang of eight briefed behind closed doors on the Chinese balloon. The White House confirms the president will mention the balloon tonight in the foreign policy section of his State of the Union speech.

Our great reporters back to the table. MJ, let me start with you because you covered the White House. This is Kate Bedingfield, the president's communications director this morning say, of course, the balloon drama will be in the speech, but she suggests not that much had to be rewritten.


KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: The president has obviously worked to continue to manage our relationship with China to a place of competition and not conflict. I would anticipate that he will mention the events of the last week. But again, the speech and the larger pieces about his foreign policy have not been reworked. We ultimately shot it down and sent a very direct message to China that it was unacceptable.



KING: I expect the president to track that, it was unacceptable, but you do have, you know, the American people captivated by this now on an issue that maybe sometimes it's hard to break through and get their attention about the economic, the strategic challenge that is China. What will we hear from the president?

LEE: I mean, it's not at all surprising that China would be a part of the foreign policy element of this address tonight. I think the devil is really in the details and really the tone, right? What we have seen with this incident is the threat of sort of undercutting what the president has been working on when it comes to China.

I mean, for one, it has been very important for this president to sort of show that the U.S. can contain China, can compete with China. And now we have Republicans saying that he has been weak on China over this incident, right?

And then secondly, obviously, over the last couple of months, there has been a real effort to try to reset things with Beijing. That is now the rearview mirror. We don't know. I mean, officials are pretty blunt and saying, this has not been good for U.S.-Chinese relations to point out the obvious. I'm just watching out to see exactly what his tone is. Does he say, yes, this was not an acceptable breach. However, we sort of got more out of it than you might have expected, or does he sort of send a stronger message to Beijing, and sort of say like, yes, layoff. Xi Jinping, I see you, and you can't do this anymore.

KING: Yes. And it's interesting, the reaction for Republicans. MJ notes, a lot of Republicans early on said the president should have shot it down, you know, second across into U.S. airspace. He is a sign of weakness. We were expecting some resolution, but now Republicans are sort of waiting to do that. This is Byron Donalds. He says, we want to make sure that we have all our ducks in a row, and we get to play politics on so many things in here, but this is a very serious issue.

Is this an issue on which the partisanship actually the initial reflex partisanship has now taken a backseat because there is this new bipartisan commission, and they are trying to actually prove Democrats and Republicans can have an adult conversation about China. Has that pulled back from a partisan resolution?

ZANONA: That is the hope anyway. So, I think with Republicans, the natural instinct, as we saw over the weekend, is to devolve into partisan bomb throwing with China, it's a really delicate issue. There's a desire to put on a united front. I think Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that there is a benefit to putting on that united front against a foreign adversary. That is why the resolution that Republicans were initially considering, it was going to criticize Biden, now it's going to criticize China more broadly over the spy balloon.

There's also this select committee that they put together, and they are trying to show united front, the chairman and the ranking member, a Democrat and Republican without a joint statement. They're saying that they are hopeful that they can embody that type of bipartisan relationship, but it's going to be tough.

I mean, there's concerns about Republicans using this as a platform to bash Biden. There is concerns about this fueling anti-Asian rhetoric, but the chairman is very cognizant of those concerns. He purposely changed the name of the committee to say Chinese Communist Party, instead of China to draw that distinction. But we'll see. I mean, it's going to be a tough road ahead for them.

KING: And the foreign policy section of the State of the Union is often sort of the afterthought, right? The president, especially in the last few years, you're in the COVID pandemic, you're dealing with inflation, uncertain economic signals. Here with the China challenge, and the president trying to keep the American people invested in what's happening in Ukraine. This is critical.

WOOTSON: Yes. And you have to also remember that foreign policy is part of Biden's brand. When he was running for president, he said, you know, all these other guys can do domestic stuff, everybody can do that. But I know foreign policy. I know these people on a first name basis. And so, to project strength or to project weakness is particularly damaging for, you know, for Biden going forward.

But I also think about what the secretary of state said earlier, earlier this week, or maybe last week, you still got to go back to the table with China or whatever. So, I'm interested in his tone and whether it's too sharp, or whether it kind of takes him to a place where you can't go back to the negotiating table with China.

LEE: You're so right. That's such a big part of his messaging was bringing America back to the world stage in a more acceptable and respectable way after Donald Trump. So, I do think that will be a really key theme and a tone that we hear from the president tonight regardless.

KING: All right, another reason to watch. Up next, Kevin McCarthy confirms the House SS committee is now investigating the freshman Republican George Santos. What the embattled New York current congressman is saying about that.




KING: We now know officially that George Santos is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy confirming that to CNN for the first time earlier today. But the freshman Republican says, he is not concerned that even as he faces mounting problems on multiple fronts. And get this a busload of his constituents right now is on the way to Washington to call on Mr. Santos to be expelled from Congress.


PATRICIA CAIOZZO, DEMOCRATIC SANTOS CONSTITUENT: Who was representing us? I feel like this is some kind of storybook character that's scamming us and laughing because we're being scammed.

BEN MARZOUK, REPUBLICAN SANTOS CONSTITUENT: It's amazing that somebody can just lie, lie as much as he did without any compassion of who he's insulted.


KING: Our great reporters are back with us. He is a story book character. Well, and the speaker today confirmed for the first time the House Ethics Committee is taking a look. We know that the HEC and regulatory agencies are looking at his campaign. We know the Justice Department has an investigation that some of his (Inaudible) but George Santos says first State of the Union tonight, all's good.

Yes. So, George Santos. We know he's under investigation now by the House Ethics Committee. He's facing his litany of investigations.