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This Morning: Classified Briefing For Senators On Unidentified Objects; White House: Objects Could Be "Benign" Balloons; Biden: Inflation Coming Down, "More Work To Do"; Fed Vice Chair Lael Brainard To Be Named Top Biden Econ Adviser; Sources: Pence To Fight Special Counsel Subpoena; Senator Blumenthal: How Many Kids Must Die For Congress To Prioritize Threats To Mental Health? Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 14, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Because they need to analyze the debris and all three were shot down in places difficult to reach. The administration also offering a briefing today to all senators, and most who attended emerged calmer than they entered, though they still said there are many unanswered questions.

Our CNN National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero joins the conversation. So let's start there. Two senators here, let's listen, the Democrat and Republican and they reflect the consensus opinion. They get this briefing and they come out and they say, OK, I feel better.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it was helpful today. Again, I'm not unnerved by anything. I'm confident this wasn't a, you know, an attack on the country. But I think it probably served the country well to have the President explain what's going on.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I am not in any way afraid that we are under a threat of attack, or physical harm to our homeland. That's my personal feeling. But the American people need to be reassured with more facts.


KING: Reassured with more facts. One of the points that White House officials and Canadian officials are making, Carrie, is that one object shot down Friday way up here, above Alaska and the Yukon in Canada. Another one shot down in the Yukon in Canada. Now other one shot down over Lake Huron in Michigan.

They say they've actually done a good job. The first thing, remember, was the Chinese spy balloon, they've done a pretty good job pulling up the debris there. And they say they'll get an intelligence bonanza when they look at that. But the other three identified objects shot down in places that are just inhospitable anyway, especially at this time of year. Is it possible never recovered that debris, and we'll never know exactly what these were?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's possible given the location that they are and the nature of the environment and the difficulty in obtaining them. I think that outcome from the briefing looks good from a bipartisan perspective, the fact that those two senators were pleased with the information that they heard.

But look, the communications from the White House on this has not been good, because what they haven't been able to do is demonstrate the logic behind. There are items and objects in the sky that we felt we needed to shoot down and so we did, but we don't know what they are, and they didn't pose a threat.

So those things are inconsistent. If the issue was that they believe they were a threat to civil aviation, then that is one explanation. But the reason the Chinese balloon as we had discussed on prior days made sense the way they let it, traverse the country until it wasn't a place that they could obtain it made sense was because they could collect intelligence, presumably, and then they identified a location that they could recover it.

These are now unrecoverable, raise the question as to why is this all happening at one time, and so they need to be able to communicate that more effectively to the public and to broader members of Congress.

KING: Well, part of that, and you hear this from Democrats and Republicans, not just Republicans on Capitol Hill, is that where's the President? And adding to that, where's the President who has said nothing publicly about this is both on Sunday, and on yesterday, the Canadian people heard from their Prime Minister.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: This is a very serious situation that we are taking incredibly seriously. The actions we're taking to protect North American airspace, the actions we're taking to recover and analyze these objects. The importance of defending our territorial integrity, our sovereignty has rarely been as important as it is now.


KING: Where's President Biden? Why?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's two key explanations that I've been getting from the White House, the first of which is that, look, there are a lot of unknowns here still at play. And there is a concern about the President getting ahead of where things actually are in terms of what the intelligence community knows, or initial information proving to ultimately change, which as we know, can happen with these intelligence assessments.

The other question here is that they really feel like the leading explanation right now is that these are most likely benign balloons that pose the potential threats of commercial airspace because they were flying much lower than that initial Chinese a balloon, but that ultimately that this is likely a benign situation. And they don't want to make it seem much bigger by having the president come out and talk about this.

Now, we'll see if the pressure changes or not, and they feel the need to ultimately do that. It does seem like that briefing today on Capitol Hill may have brought the temperature down a little bit in terms of providing these explanations about the likely benign nature of these balloons. But nonetheless, we're seeing John Kirby come out every day now and talking about this provide some potential explanation.

CORDERO: And yet that is inconsistent with what Trudeau just said, because Trudeau said, this is a threat, it needed to be removed from Canadian airspace. We're viewing this as a very serious matter. So there is just a fundamental difference. And we can't tell from a public perspective whether that difference is actually a substantive difference between the leaders of these two governments, which I kind of doubt that it is or if the United States government is just not being as open as it is.

KING: And part of that is because it's a new territory, if you will. We can just show you a graphic of where these objects were when they were shot out of the sky.


As Jeremy noted, the Chinese balloon was way up here and then, you know, about 60,000 feet or roughly 60,000 feet. The other objects, 40,000 feet, 30,000 feet, one of them around 20,000 feet, that is more in the ballpark of where you have commercial air traffic, so you get the civilian threat. But is there a -- will there be, I guess, a consistent policy? Because if there's a whole bunch of stuff floating around at 40,000 feet, you can't shoot it down every day?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. And that's really one of the key questions is what they say in the administration at the Pentagon is that the reason why these were detected is because they changed the way they were looking at the radar from NORAD. Fine. Is that going to continue? Are we going to continue to see objects that we would have not even known about, get shut down? What is the new criteria? What are the new policies?

All of those are the facts I think that Senator Blumenthal, a very big and good ally of this President and other Democrats, who came out of this briefing had been saying. Again, Democrats saying we need, our constituents need more information from this White House.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: And we just have to also remember this comes in the context of other issues that have been going on with air traffic control, and some near misses. So it sounds like perhaps maybe another reason why they're being cautious about how they talk about these balloons is they're also trying to put it in the context of just this wider discussion about making sure American skies -- North American skies are safe. KING: And you made this point the other day too. This just -- this technology is outdated across the board and needs to be updated as we go forward.

Up next for us, inflation eases some but prices remain stubbornly high. We'll break down the new numbers next.



KING: Today a mixed picture on inflation trends. Overall, the new labor department consumer prices report shows, take a look there, inflation year over year is slowing down. It came in at 6.4 percent in January, that's the seventh straight month that annual inflation has declined. But, and it's a big but, some of the individual price trends are eye popping.

Look there, the price of eggs up more than 70 percent from last year. Butter, up more than 26 percent. A 17 percent increase in the price of lettuce plus coffee jumps nearly 13 percent.

Our great reporters are back at the table. And so, if you're the president of the United States and you're preparing to launch your reelection campaign, it's a good sign that the overall trend is coming down. Prices are still high, but it's coming down. And the President says, "Inflation in America is continuing to come down. There's still more work to do as we make this transition to more steady, stable growth, and there could be setbacks along the way."

It's that last part, this is a choppy report, the trendline is good, but there are some individual wows to that still uncertain territory for the President.

DIAMOND: Yes, the White House loves to highlight the fact that this is the seventh straight month of inflation cooling, albeit pretty moderately in particular this last month. But there is always that caveat of, there is more work to do when we're going to continue to do the work.

And one of the things that the White House really wants to do over the next year as they implement some of these big bills, like infrastructure, like chips, which don't deal directly with inflation, but they do deal with the economy. And they're going to try and paint a broader picture of trying to talk about not only the impact of these projects directly, but the knock-on effects on the local economies of these places.

And so that's I think some of the economic messaging you'll see from the White House as they continue to cross their fingers for that soft landing that they so desperately would like to see.

KING: Right. Because if you look at this chart, this is the unemployment rate. If you look at this chart, especially the drop, I mean, unemployment rate is as low as it has been since man walked on the moon. That's a pretty good line if you're running a re-election campaign.

And yet, Americans everyday go to the grocery store and steal a degree to the gas pump. And so whether you're the president of the United States or Democrats up on Capitol Hill, in tough districts next year, you still not quite sure how the economy is going to play.

MITCHELL: Right. And there's so, I mean, you know, month to month, there are not only new data, but then there are going to be corrections and updates to the old data. So with everything, just with small percentage points, it's hard to draw a sweeping conclusion, but we know what people mostly are going to remember, is there last time at the grocery store.

Yes, the job market is good. Yes, the unemployment rate is down. But I think that resonates less to people than what they actually experience on a day-to-day basis. And I think the White House knows that, which is why the President's statement today, yes, celebrating the good news, but also saying there's work to do and like you said, there could be additional setbacks.

KING: And to me again, this the name, maybe not known around most of America proof they get this at the White House that the economy is going to be a little bit of a roller coaster the next year as they're bringing in an experienced and adult to be the President's top economic adviser Lael Brainard.

Right now, she's the Fed Vice Chair, she's going to be Biden's top economic adviser, first woman to hold that job at the White House. She served in both the Obama and the Clinton administrations. And in those jobs, Dana, I remember in the Clinton administration, she helped China joined the World Trade Organization.

Then in the Obama administration, when our views of China and the global economy changed a little bit, she was fighting with China all the time, about why it wouldn't tie its currency to global currency rates. So an experienced economic hand with a sub policy plot in China smart to have around at this moment.

BASH: Very smart. For all the reasons I think even maybe the biggest and best reason is her experience at the Fed because they're trying to read the tea leaves on any given day on what the Fed is going to do given the complex economic environment because the Fed is so, so critical when comes to interest rates which impacts everything else.


KING: Inside the White House they do this why. It's so pretty -- in some ways, she's the first woman to hold this job. In some way, she's the number two at the Fed. She wants to be Treasury Secretary someday most would say.

DIAMOND: Yes. And I mean, the experience factor is obviously key here. But the inflation point, I mean, it just can't be understated like the White House is watching this and tracking this data as it comes in every single month, analyzing it, going -- poring over it and wondering crucially, what Jerome Powell is going to do in terms of inflation rates.

Lael Brainard is going to have some insight into that. Obviously, the White House and the Federal Reserve -- Federal Reserve is independent. They're going to keep those two things separate, but you bring somebody in who's been sitting next to Jerome Powell for some time now, that's going to certainly help.

KING: What's interesting, Jerome Powell last week gave an interview he said he's never heard from Joe Biden. They heard frequently from Donald Trump. It's never heard from Joe Biden. I guess now Joe Biden has his whisper.

DIAMOND: There you go.

KING: He doesn't have to do so.

Up next for us, Mike Pence versus the Trump's Special Counsel. The former vice president CNN has told plans to fight a subpoena demanding he tell a grand jury what he knows about Donald Trump's efforts to steal the 2020 election.



KING: Big new legal and timetable questions today for the Trump Special Counsel Jack Smith. Sources telling CNN that former Vice President Mike Pence will fight a grand jury subpoena from the Special Counsel. The Pence argument is new. He's arguing he shielded from the Justice Department because his former role includes serving as President of the United States Senate. And whatever the courts ultimately decide, the challenge could drag on for months.

Back to help us in this conversation, our CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero. You could argue he was vice president, therefore his conversations with President Trump are shielded by White House executive privilege. Instead, he's arguing, I'm the president of the Senate, and you can't have senators or congressmen hauled into court on most matters, so I'm protected. Does he have a case?

CORDERO: Well, this is a really unsettled area of constitutional law. And you're right, it is the exact opposite argument that we have seen former Trump administration officials make in connection with January 6 investigations and congressional inquiries. So in that case, they were arguing executive privilege, the prerogatives of the executive branch.

Here, former Vice President Pence is doing the exact opposite. He's looking to his role, presumably, if this is the challenge that he makes. He's looking to his role as president of the Senate and the function that he was performing in connection with the certification of the election. And so it's a really unsettled area of constitutional law and constitutional law scholars will find this all very interesting, but it could delay things a little bit -- KING: To the delay things part, correct me if I have the process

wrong. Normally, you'd go to a U.S. District Court, the lowest level and oppose the subpoena, that goes up to the appellate court. Whenever that court decides, this party loses goes to the appellate court. And then you could end up with the Supremes and maybe a second appellate court level, if you go to the full panel of judges there. Is there a way for the special counsel to expedite that if Pence -- once Pence goes to court, or are you stuck in that process that can take months?

CORDERO: I think they'll probably go through the process. They're going to litigate it, and they'll see what -- now they could say our investigation, they can make arguments to courts why it should be expedited. But this is a long-term investigation into --

KING: Let me jump in and give you the argument.


KING: Let me jump in and give you the argument. Donald Trump's running for president. It's 2023. We want -- if you're a special counsel, and if you're asking for the Vice President, you just asked for the National Security Adviser. Other top administration officials come before the grand jury, that tells you if you're going for the big fish, you're near the end. That's how you run a system. Do you go in and say I need this answer.

CORDERO: But the judicial system -- so I don't necessarily think that courts will be persuaded by an expedited argument, because the judicial system and the investigation that the Justice Department is conducting is not on the political timetable. So while the election is out there and the Justice Department knows that that's not necessarily going to drive the judicial decision making.

KING: All right. He talked about some of this in the book. We'll see if the Special Counsel argues. He waives his privilege, but we'll get the court on that one.

Up next for us, South Dakota's Republican Governor signs legislation that will have a major impact on transgender youths.



KING: Topping our political radar today, South Dakota the latest state to restrict gender affirming care for transgender youth. The Republican Governor Kristi Noem yesterday signing into law a ban on both surgical and non-surgical treatments. That law takes effect in July. The move comes after the Utah Governor Spencer Cox approved a bill banning hormone treatment and surgery for trans minors just last month.

An important hearing on Capitol Hill today, the topic, kids, the internet and their mental health. The CDC now says teen girls in the United States experienced record high levels of violence, sadness and suicide risk in recent years. Nearly one in three teen girl seriously considered attempting suicide. Lawmakers today urging action to curb online harm to children.


BLUMENTHAL: The evidence of harm is heartbreakingly abundant. Beyond any reasonable doubt, action is imperative now. How many more children have to die before we make them a priority?


KING: Democratic Congresswoman Angie Craig opens up about being assaulted in her D.C. apartment building just last week.


REP. ANGIE CRAIG (D), MINNESOTA: I was assaulted violently punched in the face. He grabbed my neck. He wasn't going to let me out of that elevator if I hadn't fought my way out. And I reached over and poured the hot coffee on him. I jumped out and started screaming for help.


KING: Bit of a lighter ending to this story. Craig tweeting last night thanking fellow Minnesota Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar for stopping by with some beer after the attack.

And on a lighter note, the First Lady Jill Biden is spreading the love this Valentine's Day with a holiday display at the White House. It's called Valentine to the country. Mrs. Biden's message to the nation is reached out with open hearts and helping hands.

Thanks for your time tonight in Inside Politics. We'll see you again tomorrow. Kasie Hunt picks up our coverage right now.