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Inside Politics

Biden To America: "Let's Finish The Job"; Biden Sketches 2024 Roadmap In 73-Minute Speech; McCarthy: "We Need To Be Smart, Don't Take The Bait"; Biden Baits And Hooks Republicans Into Heckling Him; Biden Confronts Republican Talking Points On Border, Fentanyl; Now: Twitter Execs Testifying Before Oversight Committee; Now: House Cmte Grilling Ex-Twitter Execs On Hunter Biden Story; Tyre Nichols Family Gets Bipartisan Standing Ovation. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 08, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Finish the job, President Biden provides a State of the Union slogan and lays the foundation for a 2024 run. He also rope a dope Republicans into booing, heckling, and cheering him in front of millions.

Plus, a "sick puppy" who should quit and impromptu scolding for Mitt Romney captured on video targeting the congressional conman, George Santos. And investigating the Biden's. Right now, House Republicans putting Twitter executives under oath. It is hearing number one dedicated to digging in to the Biden family.

Up first for us though, the president's day after road tour. This hour President Biden lands in Wisconsin. The setting quite telling, because it follows the State of the Union that served as yes, a 2024 teaser. And as a nod to the election map, Mr. Biden sees as a path to reelection. The president's speech clocked in at 73 minutes, but three words defined it, finish the job. The part unsaid by the president that he wants another term, six more years to do it.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: We've been sent here to finish the job in my view. Let's finish the job this time. Let's cap the costumes for everybody at $35. Let's finish the job and close the loopholes. Allow very wealthy to avoid paying their taxes. Let's finish the job and get more families access to affordable quality housing.

They want to have the best educated workforce. Let's finish the job by providing access to preschool for three, four years old. Let's come together to finish the job on police reform. Do something, do something. Let's finish the job and ban these assault weapons. And let's also come together on immigration.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Remarkably, last night, the chamber, you see a crackling with tension, reflecting the new at times bitterly divided dynamic here in the nation's capital. The president setting and Republicans walking straight into a trap on entitlements. Some lawmakers repeatedly disregarding the traditional decorum, looking past pleased to stay quiet from their own speaker heckling the commander in chief.

Let's get straight out to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who's on the road for us in Wisconsin today awaiting the president. Jeff big speech in Washington. Now the president tries to sell it and it's not a coincidence in battleground Wisconsin.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, it certainly isn't. I mean, the president will be arriving here within the hour. He certainly has a bounce in his step. There're certainly were high fives literally at the White House were told, so they feel good about the speech. The question is how it landed in America. Are Americans still listening to this president? And that is very much an open question.

We are here just north of Madison. This is a deep blue part of battleground Wisconsin. That is where the president has decided to come for his first stop after the State of the Union. Not by coincidence. He wants to show Democrats, he still has vigor in his step. He wants to show a Democrats that he is the man for the job.

But John, talking to supporters of his. Nevermind the swing voters, nevermind the critics, but talking to Democrats here. Over the last couple days, you get the sense there is a deep respect for this president. But it is very much an open question if there is a desire for him to seek a second term.

Talking to some Democrats this morning, some who watched the speech, some who didn't say, they believe there should be more of a conversation inside the party about 2024. They believe it should not be a fait accompli, that he should automatically just decide to run for reelection. So those questions, of course will come later.

The president is selling his message, and this is part of his burden as well to show that he is up for the task of, A, finishing his first term. He has two more years. Nevermind running for four more years. So that is what is hanging over Democrats here. They love this president. They have respect for him. But again, there is a question. Should the party be having more of a conversation about what's to come? John?

KING: When the president gets so Jeff, his answer to that question is, he hopes not. He hopes not, but we shall see how that one plays out. Jeff Zeleny on the ground for us in battleground Wisconsin. Thanks for kicking us off.

Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Carl Hulse of The New York Times, and Catherine Lucey of The Wall Street Journal. So, the president hits the road today. The speech last night was very much a blueprint for reelection. The moment, the moments that the country is buzzing most about was the lack of decorum in the room. The president baited the Republicans.


So, let's listen to it. The president teed up. There's a big debt ceiling fight coming. Republicans say, you need to cut spending. The president said, what do you want to cut? Show me your plan. Last night he said at least some Republicans think that should be Medicare and Social Security.


PRES. BIDEN: Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security sunset. I'm not saying it's the majority. Let me give you - anybody who doubts in, contact my office, I'll give you a copy. I'll give you a copy of the proposal. That means Congress doesn't vote. I am glad to see. No, I'll tell you, I enjoy conversion.


KING: Carl, let's talk both the policy argument and then the theater, the drama, whatever you want to call it. The president, he kept saying, I know most of you don't want to do this. This is Senator Rick Scott's plan from last year. Some other House Republicans have said, we should talk about Social Security and Medicare. They proposed the old school way of doing it, a bipartisan commission to look at, but it's Senator Rick Scott's plan. So, the president essentially, yes, he was not reflecting the view of most Republicans. They took offense, but did they overdo it?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, you know, Republicans, when Rick Scott issued his campaign manifesto, Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, they knew it was a disaster, huge blunder, but they never knew it was going to be used like this, bludgeoning them at the State of the Union. You know, the president sort of lowered them into this. And then he boxed them in because at the end they're like, well, we can't touch Social Security and Medicare. We'll see how that plays out.

But, John, this - he's the president, but this is home turf for Joe Biden up on Capitol Hill and he's jousted with Republicans for a long time, and I think he actually enjoyed that any benefited from it. But I don't think Rick Scott benefited from it actually.

KING: No. We'll get to Rick Scott a little bit later in the program. But again, there's the issue. This is the specifics of the issue, but then there's the bigger Biden calling card. I'm the adult. I get government. These House Republicans are unruly, they're chaos, they're Trumpy.

Even their speaker today on Fox News, saying he believes they overstepped, but yes, they had every right to take offense. The president was sort of lumping them all in one barrel when they all went, he himself. It says Social Security and Medicare off the table. Kevin McCarthy says, wish we hadn't done it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It was so partisan. And the frustration that I had felt, you heard from people out in the audience. The president was trying to go to members and the members are passionate about it. But the one thing the president was saying is something that he knew was not true. I just spent an hour with him. I've said it many times before Social Security and Medicare off the table. He tries to use that for a political ploy. We need to be smart. Don't take the bait.


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Which is what he told them before the speech, right? But they just couldn't help themselves. I mean, this was a perfect moment for Joe Biden. Many Americans can't stay up that late and watch a whole speech. So, they'll get takeaways and sort of highlights or lowlights this morning. And that's what they'll see.

They'll see Marjorie Taylor Greene, a seeming to not be able to control herself in that moment and calling the president of the United States a liar. She has said, well, she's representing the views of her district. She's also representing her party. She's representing Congress. She's representing America. And I think that didn't do too well for the Republican Party.

And you can see that Kevin McCarthy, a bit upset about it. But listen, he's the one who has elevated and given Marjorie Taylor Greene some power, and now she has become one of the most famous Republicans in the country, and Democrats would be happy if she becomes the kind of face of the House GOP.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And John, in addition to showcasing Republicans booing and heckling, and McCarthy's concern about that, you're with me. So, Joe Biden, comfortable, engaging, seeming to relish this back and forth. He's someone who sometimes in a formal speech can seem kind of stiff, and he seemed to be really, I think, invigorated throughout the speech by some of these exchanges as it went on.

KING: Right. And if you look at the speech, look, he's planning to announce for reelection. There's a big debate. You just heard Jeff Zeleny, and even some Democrats saying, is this, is he too old to seek reelection. He's planning to run for reelection.

The speech was carefully crafted to address some of his weaknesses and some of the party's weaknesses. Democrats increasingly have a problem with blue collar voters. The president said, he's middle-class Joe. He has a blueprint for you. And he talked about helping Americans get good jobs, even if you don't go to college.


PRES. BIDEN: Let's finish the job and connect students to career opportunities, starting in high school, provide access to two years of community college. The best career training in America, in addition to be a pathway to a four-year degree. Let's offer every American the path to a good career whether they go to college or not.


KING: And I was joking last night, I'm not sure it's a joke that whoever wrote the speech, spent some time watching another news network which constantly focuses on the border and the fentanyl crisis. The president knowing House Republicans are going to focus on these issues saying, watch me, I'm going to get ahead of you.



PRES. BIDEN: We now have a record number of personnel working to secure the border, arresting 8,000 human smugglers, seizing over 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the last several months. Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year. You got it. So, let's launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production.


KING: Again, there, he just lets the Republican protesters go. The Republicans will argue, he's late to this. The president laying out there, let's do it, maybe there's somethings, not most things, but maybe there's a few things we can do together.

HENDERSON: Yes. Listen, I mean, this is a big talking point among House Republicans. As you said, you hear it on Fox all the time that there's fentanyl pouring over the border and leading to a massive amount of deaths there. I think it was masterful for the president to sort of let the Republicans say that it was his fault and say, OK, let's see what's going to be done about it.

There's not a lot. I don't necessarily think that's going to be done in this Congress between the House GOP and in this president and the Senate that's controlled by Democrats. But it was a good moment. I think, acknowledging as you said, the president has this weakness. This is a powerful talking point that Republicans have against him. So, he wanted to reach out.

HULSE: Yes. I think the Republicans learned last night, the power of the presidential bully pulpit, you know, he gets to go first. And then they have to react to it. I also thought his litany of the junk fees that they were taking out. This really appeals to people, right? You're going on vacation, you're paying extra every time you get to the airport, the hotel, now even restaurants at some. And so, you know, if something going to really happen there, who knows, but it certainly sounds good to people when they hear.

LUCEY: They made a point of - like he made a point last night of laying out things he thought they could work on together, which included things like opioid addiction, working on Veterans affairs, and mental health. Those are some of the things. So, he did, they call it a unity agenda.

So, in addition to sort of talking about the things they want to keep working on and addressing a lot of democratic issues that will not have I think, any interest in this Congress. He did try and say, aren't there somethings where we can work together.

KING: We'll come back to some of those other issues later, where the president was clearly trying to play to emotions in the room and emotions in the country. Will there be anything done on it? We will get to that. Up next for us though, Twitter, under Biden's laptop and the 2020 campaign. The new Republican House Oversight Committee holds a high-profile hearing to make its case that big tech censored news to help the Democrats.




KING: See the live picture right there, right now a House committee grilling former top Twitter executives. It's the Republican majorities first major hearing in their investigation into President Biden's son Hunter. Republicans accused Twitter of working with the federal government to suppress stories about Hunter Biden's laptop just ahead of the 2020 election.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Immediately following the stories publication, America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence communities to suppress and de legitimize the existence of Hunter Biden's laptop and its contents. That morning, Twitter and other social media companies took extraordinary steps to suppress that story.


KING: Sounds quite ominous, right? But our CNN reporting says, allegations of this collusion to suppress the story remain unsupported, no evidence. Half a dozen tech executives and senior staff along with multiple federal officials have denied any directive and they did so again, today.

Let's get more, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us. Donie, you've spent a lot of time of this. If you listen to Chairman Comer, the media, the government, Twitter all colluded. It's a big allegation so far, though he hasn't been able to connect the dots.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. And look, there is a discussion to be had here. And but it doesn't look like Comer is having that discussion today, which is a discussion of how should platforms particularly after 2016 when they saw that foreign interference from Russia, you know, setting up fake groups and profiles? Pretending to be Americans, how should they handle tips from government who might have insight into that?

But that is not what we're seeing today. And that is not really what Comer is and his colleagues are alleging. And we heard from Jim Baker, formerly of the FBI. He went on to work for Twitter as a lawyer. After that he testified under oath today, this is what he said.


JAMES BAKER, FORMER DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL, TWITTER: I'm aware of no unlawful collusion with or direction from any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation. Even though many disagree with how Twitter handled the Hunter Biden matter. I believe that the public record reveals that my client acted in a manner that was fully consistent with the First Amendment.


O'SULLIVAN: Now, two other former Facebook executives who are there today. They said that they thought it was a mistake for Twitter to initially for, you know, a day or so restrict the sharing of that infamous New York Post Hunter Biden story.

What we've also heard, you know, is we've seen so much the past few months from these Twitter files and so forth. But ultimately, we haven't seen this smoking gun of alleged collusion between the FBI and big tech to censor the Hunter Biden story.

KING: Donie, stay with us. Want to bring our reporters back into the conversation as well because Donie makes a key point. Elon Musk says, the Twitter files prove this collusion, they do not. They do not. They raise a lot of questions and Donie is trying to get it. Donie says that they're not asking the right question, because they're convinced. Jim Baker used to work for Jim Comey. Then he went to work for Twitter, therefore to Republicans, he's a nefarious actor.

Let's listen to the executives who say, we overreacted. We made a mistake. But we didn't collude with the government or the Democrats or the media.



YOEL ROTH, FORMER GLOBAL HEAD OF TRUST & SAFETY, TWITTER: The company decided to prevent links to the New York Post stories about the laptop from being shared across the service. I've been clear that in my judgment at the time, Twitter should not have taken action to block the New York Post's reporting.

VIJAYA GADDE, FORMER CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER, TWITTER: In hindsight, Twitter should have reinstated the post account immediately.


KING: Their point, and again, we'll let the hearing unfold. We'll see what happens is that because of the 2016 experience? They were sort of hypersensitive about these issues. And they thought this could, you know, is this valid, is this interference, is this and they overreacted? The question is, can the Republicans actually connect any dots to say, the government told them to do this? Or they were listening to the government?

LUCEY: Yes. It doesn't, so far it does not seem like they have, right? They are saying sort of freely in this hearing that they overstepped that they weren't sort of overly cautious, but that doesn't. So far, we've not seen evidence of track with commerce accusations.

KING: Right. And they believe there's a deep state. The point I was going to make as Donald Trump was president when all this happened. The federal agencies were controlled by a Republican president. They argued that doesn't matter because there's some deep state.

HENDERSON: Yes. And it was the deep state that acted on behalf of the Biden campaign in collusion with the media, you know, I mean, this is kind of you're going down a rabbit hole, kind of stuff here. There is this obsession among people on the right, with Hunter Biden, with this laptop, with the idea, particularly that the media in the deep state intervene to help Joe Biden and prevent Donald Trump from being present. I mean, they really think this had a big impact on the election. The fact that this didn't get out, even though it didn't get, right? I mean, that's the thing.

KING: I think, I've discovered a lot of legitimate questions about Hunter Biden. The question is, are they asking the right questions? One of the points Jamie Raskin, one of the Democrats made was, he said, so we're beating up on Twitter, because we think they were helping Joe Biden. Isn't this the same organization that helped Donald Trump and those who plan the insurrection?


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Twitter and other social media companies acted as central organizing and staging grounds for the January 6 violent insurrection against Congress and against Vice President Pence.


KING: Beyond the specifics here, you heard Jamie Raskin, you hear the Republicans. Are there different grievances, but both parties have significant grievances against big tech and social media.

HULSE: Yes. It's one area where they agree in some ways. But I think what Republicans are going to discover, in conducting these investigations that they're teeing up is it's one thing to throw red meat out there to make claims and, you know, rile up the base.

It's another thing when you get witnesses in there who are testifying under oath, and you're not going to maybe get the answers that you're looking for. And I think that, if they don't show some credibility in these investigations, people are going to quit paying attention to it.

KING: And so Donie, that gets you to the point. Is there any hope that once each side makes the partisan argument, it decides to make? And has the opportunity to try to present facts to back that argument up? That will there be an adult conversation between all parties about OK, we had 2016, now we've had 2020. When we get to 2024, maybe we can figure out a way to do it better?

O'SULLIVAN: Adult conversations and Washington D.C., John, look, I mean, I think it would serve, it would serve both sides, you know, they both love to beat up on big tech. So, it would serve for there to be a conversation where there is some kind of framework in place that doesn't impose on the First Amendment or anything like that. But we're not hearing that right now.

Look, I will just mention that there was, as these executives said, a total kind of overcorrection after 2016, when all these platforms, as you remember, were hosting all these Russian sites. And they did not want these platforms. Silicon Valley didn't want to be blamed again, as such in 2020. And they were getting some information from the federal government, giving them clues as to say maybe this is an account, that is an account.

But one thing that was quite interesting from Yoel Roth there, when the former Twitter executives, he said they would often get tips from the FBI of tweets that might be foreign, but they turned out not to be, and he even said that he didn't think that that was a great use of the FBI's time.

KING: That is a question worth exploring. We'll see how that plays out. Donie, appreciate your joining us. When we come back, the president last night pushing for police reform, as the family of Tyre Nichols looked on at the State of the Union. This morning, Tyre Nichols' mother's emotional play, urging Congress please, act now.


ROWVAUGHN WELLS, TYRE NICHOLS' MOTHER: My son didn't die for nothing. It has to be some greater good that's going to come out of this.





KING: The parents of Tyre Nichols were among the president's guests last night. Today on CNN, they praised his call for Congress to pass police reforms. They believe if those reforms had been enacted sooner, Tyre Nichols might be alive today.


RODNEY WELLS. TYRE NICHOLS' STEPFATHER: If they had passed a George Floyd bill initially, my son may not have died tragically the way he did.

ROWVAUGHN: If they don't do anything, the government then - they're showing me, they have no humanity and that they're not for the people because I am part of the people. So, you need to get up your butts and get this bill passed. We can have another Tyre. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rowvaughn and Rodney Wells, as you see them there, received a bipartisan standing ovation in the House chamber. However, the prospects for congressional action on significant police reform appeared Dems. Our great reporters are back to the table. That is a fair statement, right? They tried to do this after George Floyd.