Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Biden Back At The White House After Physical; Trump Team Reacts To Georgia Grand Jury Report; Officials Update Investigations Into Michigan State University Shooting; DeSantis Escalates Culture Wars In Florida; Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 16, 2023 - 12:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: His gait is stiffer and less fluid, but there were no cognitive test results. So we'll see what written report comes out of the White House today.

They want to show Biden as someone who is has vitality. They loved what they saw at the State of the Union. But are they going to be able to repeat that in the coming months, especially when he gets out onto the campaign trail and is out in the world?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, campaign is much different from being president. It's much different from going and getting a physical. You have to really submit yourself to the rigors of the campaign trail. And we haven't quite seen that in 2020.

President -- then-candidate Biden spent a lot of time in Delaware because of the COVID pandemic. He wasn't spending as much time on the road. Now, he's going to be four years older. He's going to be 80 and 81 during the height of a presidential campaign, where he's going to be expected to travel around the country.

There's going to be questions about whether or not he can keep up that schedule. Now, White House aides will say he's been keeping up a pretty rigorous schedule as president traveling overseas. He's going to have probably half a dozen foreign trips this year. And they want to show that as president, he is going to be leading the country in a way that will make a campaign seem easy. That's their message.

But the American people, obviously, have questions about his age. And they're going to be looking very closely at this report from his doctor to make sure that the things that they're worried about aren't actual medical issues that are behind those things.

PHILLIP: There was also another report, underscoring how talked about this is in Politico, quoting Congressman Dean Phillips saying, "Nobody wants to be the one to do something that would undermine the chances of a Democratic victory in 2024. Yet, in the quiet rooms, the conversation is just the opposite. We could be at higher risk if this path is cleared."

There's a lot in there that is just really unsaid. A lot -- but to Jonathan Martin, who wrote this story, his point in the pieces that Democrats are saying this behind the scenes. They are nervous about what would happen if Biden does it, right?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right. And, you know, the party officials, the lawmakers, they all seem, at least publicly, to be all in on a Biden reelection campaign. But I think the problem for the White House here is Democratic voters. It's not just Republicans or swing voters and focus groups who are raising issues. Its Democratic voters who in a majority of recent polls have said that they don't want to see Biden re-nominated. And when you talk to them, they definitely raise issues about his age as being the number one concern.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's also so many questions about who the Republican nominee is going to be, because I think the age question is going to be one, were you -- are you contrasting him with a younger governor? Are you contrasting him with former President Trump? Because if it's former President Trump, their age difference is not that significant, and the questions that you would raise about Biden's age, you could also raise about Trump's age.

So I think who he is running against is going to be a really key determining factor here as to how much voters are thinking about this and worrying about Biden's age.

PHILLIP: It's a central question, but standby for us. We have some new first on CNN reporting. Former President Donald Trump's team is now responding to the release of the pieces of that special grand jury report in Georgia.

Let's bring in now Kristen Holmes, who is down in Florida for us. Kristen, what is the Trump team saying?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Abby, just before we get to this statement, I do want to note that several advisors have been concerned about this report, about the overall grand jury investigation in Georgia.

Now, as we have seen the parts of that report, we've just heard from the Trump team. This is what they said that the long awaited important sections of the Georgia report, which do not even mention president Trump's name, have nothing to do with the president because president Trump did absolutely nothing wrong."

Now, in this statement, which was sent to us by a spokesperson, he goes on to say that Trump did exactly what he was entitled to do, that he was allowed to have that phone call with the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, because it's freedom of speech. It was his opinion. And it goes on to say that it was -- because he believed that there was some integrity at risk in the election in 2020.

I will note I think we are going to hear from former President Trump. Again, I've already heard from one advisor, talking about the portion of that Georgia report that talks about the unanimous decision made by the grand jury that there was no widespread fraud in Georgia in the 2020 election. That is something that is going to rankle former president Donald Trump, but it's something that he still talks about to this day.

And it is in part still his defense, when it comes to this Georgia probe, saying that he really believed that there was widespread fraud, which is what entitled him to make that call. So we're going to keep talking to sources on the ground here to see what the reaction is inside of Trump's inner circle.

We'll get back to you with that.

PHILLIP: Yes. I'm sure he's not going to like that part of the report, but it remains true that there is no widespread fraud. There was none in Georgia.

And we should also clarify, no one was named in the excerpts that were released for a lot of reasons, including protecting future investigations.

Kristen Holmes, thank you for bringing us that update. We'll get back to you if you have more.

And up next for us, multiple guns and a bus ticket. Ahead, we'll have new details on what we're learning about Monday's deadly mass shooting at Michigan State University.



PHILLIP: We now have the new details about the man who opened fire at Michigan State University, killing three young students and critically wounding five others. Police say that Anthony McRae had two handguns on him that were purchased legally, but were not registered.

Investigators also found two bus tickets on him, but the big question surrounding his motive remains unanswered.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins us live in Lansing, Michigan. So, Adrienne, these new detail details have come up after police say that the suspect had this two-page note with a chilling message and a list of targets.


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Abby, I asked Michigan State Police about that note that was discovered in the 43 year old's shooters wallet. Investigators say that note had a list of businesses that he wanted to target.

And so the question is, why? Well, investigators say he had contact with some people who worked or were affiliated with those businesses, including a warehouse where they say the 43-year-old shooter was once an employee.

Investigators also telling us they recovered two guns and those guns, as you mentioned, were purchased legally, but they were not registered. Also in a backpack, the 43-year-old was carrying, they found eight loaded magazines, plus a pencil size pouch containing about 50 loose rounds of ammo, and two empty magazines.

We know that Monday night, he shot multiple people on the campus, critically injuring five of them, killing three of them. And in the last hour, Abby, we learned one patient no longer requires critical care.

PHILLIP: And, Adrienne, anything more about the motive revealed today by any of the officials you spoke?

BROADDUS: Nothing. They're still trying to discover or find out why this 43-year-old shooter targeted MSU. If they do have that information, at least they're not sharing it with us. But I can tell you members working this case, even though investigation is still ongoing, have been extremely transparent. So that is the big question and it's one we may never know, the why, Abby.

PHILLIP: You may never know. Adrienne Broaddus in Lansing, Michigan. Thank you so much.

And coming up next for us, immigration, culture wars, and COVID-19 mandates Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, moves forward with controversial legislation in anticipation that he is prepping a presidential run.



PHILLIP: Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, is escalating his war with the College Board. That's the organization that oversees advanced placement courses.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): AP is kind of with the College Board who elected them. Are there other people that provide services? It turns out there are, but it's not clear to me that this particular operator is the one that -- that's going to need to be used in the future.


PHILLIP: The Republican presidential prospect already rejected the AP Black Studies course which prompted hundreds of protesters to rally outside the Florida State Capitol yesterday/ And civil rights icon, Al Sharpton, led that demonstration. Our panel is back with us.

I think what's striking to me about this is that it's one thing to add this to the long list of things that are on DeSantis' anti-woke agenda. You got the African-American studies course, the blocking diversity initiatives, even migrants relocating them to other states, COVID-19 bans.

But when you go after parents and their kids and their college credits, something tells me that that is maybe going into some territory, that might be a little trickier. PARTI: It might be trickier, you know, for general election voters, perhaps, if he -- if he does decide to run in a presidential bid and make it that far. But I think still for the Republican base these days, you know, casting these institutions, academic institutions, major corporations as the elite, the liberal elite and going after them, can still carry some weight in the Republican primary. It's basically red meat for a lot of voters that could still help him in the Republican primaries should he decide to run.

PHILLIP: The irony is that some diversity advocates might say, OK, well, great, let's get rid of the SATs and do something else instead.

But, Tolu, I want to -- you know, we're in this moment in which everybody is kind of dipping their toe in the water. Here's how Mike Pence is responding to all of this trying to maybe out culture war Ron DeSantis. He's got this $1 million fund and initiative to advocate for parental rights policies, perhaps trying to get out front on some of the stuff. Oh, and by the way, he's in Iowa.

OLORUNNIPA: Oh, of course. He's going to be spending a lot of time in Iowa, I imagine even before announcing. And one of the things a lot of these Republican candidates and potential candidates want to be doing is showing that they are leading on the -- on the education front. They want to show that they are standing up for parents' rights, standing up against the, quote-unquote, "woke agenda" that's going into schools, standing against things like critical race theory, even though those things aren't being taught in schools.

It's really just an effort. It's an arms race, in a way, to try to get ahead of the pack and sort of saying that, I will be the person to stand up against, you know, this liberal indoctrination of students.

Now, it remains to be seen how that would play in a general election. We are in a place where the primaries could be leading candidates so far to the right that it may be harder for them to come back to the middle. We saw that in the midterms with a number of candidates who struggled.

And so right now, we're in the red meat zone and primary zone, but it does remain to be seen whether or not any of these candidates can modulate and be able to win over not only Republicans but also moderate as well.

PHILLIP: And, of course, Nikki Haley threw her hat in the ring yesterday. Here's how Ron DeSantis responded to that.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nikki Haley announced her presidential run today. Do you plan on following suit?

DESANTIS: Wouldn't you like to know?

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOX: Playing it coy and, yet, doing all of these things that suggests we are running. But I think one of the questions that Ron DeSantis is going to confront soon, is when you start to build out the Republican primary, and you start to have all of these lanes sort of developing and people taking up space, what do you carve out as your own? And for him, obviously, it's going to be the culture wars.

But it is a bet because like you noted, Mike Pence trying to out- culture war him already. It's just becomes really hard when you have Donald Trump in the race to distinguish yourself as something unique, something different, something that is going to win over the base that has been so with Trump for the last several years.

PHILLIP: Yes. And I mean, Pence is trying to out-culture war him. I mean, there's also a Glenn -- a university, which Glenn Youngkin, who ran on this issue, throws his hat out there.

But if you're Ron DeSantis, the thing that you're looking at right now is the polling, this polling that shows that really, when you ask voters who they would consider for president, there are only two names that come to mind, and it's DeSantis and Trump.

And that is -- there was a great piece in the New York Times over the weekend, by Nate Cohn, looking at the numbers. That's the unusual part about this. Unlike 2016, there is another name that is polling in the 20s and some polls in the 30s. And Ron DeSantis, if he's -- if he's looking at that, he likes that.

PARTI: He likes that. And he's clearly, you know, that laugh showed that. He doesn't -- he's not in a rush to announce because he's already getting the attention. He's already meeting with Republican donors. He's already sort of building out his political operation without having to really be out there in the spotlight as a presidential candidate.

And I think you'll continue to see him doing that because he has a book coming out which, you know, we know is a precursor -- frequently to a presidential announcement. So I think he feels like he is given this -- these numbers and a good place to sort of keep doing what he's doing and see what happens.

PHILLIP: Yes. And I -- and I think that DeSantis also is looking at his other rivals and saying they're the ones who have to prove that they can get above one percent in some of these polls.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. There's a big question about whether or not a big field would be better for DeSantis or better for Trump in 2016. It was much better for Trump. He was able to diffuse a lot of the different votes that were going to his opponents and he was able to win with a plurality 30, 40 percent.

In this case, where you have DeSantis and Trump running together are the anti-Trump voters are people who are looking for an alternative, which it seems like a large number of Republicans are looking for an alternative. Are they going to peel away from Trump and go to some of these other candidates and have DeSantis be the one who benefits from a large field? That remains to be seen.

FOX: And I find out something that's so interesting when you look at this Republican field that is shaping up. In 2016, we had a Republican field that largely was coming out of the Senate as well. Now you may have only one U.S. Senator running for president. And that is remarkable when you think about.

PHILLIP: A lot of other former administration officials and governors as well. Thank you all.

And coming up next for us, presidential hopeful, Nikki Haley, she's paving her own lane. Why she says she didn't ask her former boss Donald Trump before announcing her 2024 bid?



PHILLIP: Topping our "Political Radar," a power outage is creating headaches for travelers over at JFK, a source telling CNN that an overnight buyer cut off power to the airport's international terminal. The TSA says it's closely monitoring the situation.

And the head of the EPA is on the ground in Ohio right now. Michael Regan is assessing the ongoing -- the response to the derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials. He's meeting with the city, state, and federal leaders. And if the last night's town hall is any indication, he could be getting an earful from those who live there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are people getting sick if nothing in the air or the water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody that came here expects a hell of a lot more than what we are getting right now.

TRENT CONAWAY, MAYOR OF EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: I'm a mayor of a town of 4,700 people. If you think I can fight against a railroad or fight against the EPA or fight against any like that, you're crazy.


PHILLIP: Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, says she did not ask her former boss and now political rival, Donald Trump, for his blessing ahead of her announcement.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to keep that phone call personal. I didn't ask. I told that I thought that we needed to go in a new direction. It is time for a new generation of leaders. You shouldn't have to be 80 years old to get to Washington and we've got to start riding the ship. We need new blood because we have some serious challenges.


PHILLIP: And later today, Haley, will make her first campaign stop in another primary state, New Hampshire, where failed 2022 Senate candidate and election denier, Don Bolduc, will endorse her.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee took a big step toward running for Senate and the California Democrat filed official paperwork just one day after Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that she wouldn't run again. And if elected, Lee would likely be the only black woman in the United States Senate. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have already announced that they'll run as well.

Adjuring forecast from the congressional budget office for the government is going to run out of cash as soon as July if Congress doesn't raise the debt limit. The non-partisan agency warning a default on the debt would be a disaster.

And thank you for joining "INSIDE POLITICS." Kasie Hunt picks up our coverage right now.