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Inside Politics

Scott Tweaks Language On Medicare, Social Security After Backlash; Court Docs: Fox Stars, Execs Privately Trashed Election Fraud Claims; Kari Lake Loses Appeal For AZ Governor, Vows Fight Isn't Over; Three Democrats In States Trump Won In 2022 Are Up In 2024; CNN: Senators Manchin, Tester Both Undecided On 2024 Reelection; Republicans Attack Vulnerable Dems On Retirement Benefits. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 17, 2023 - 12:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: It's politics 101. If you're explaining, you're probably losing. And today, Rick Scott is explaining and revising. The President used Scott's Rescue America plan as a hammer to hit Republicans on Social Security and Medicare. The original language said this, quote, "All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again."

But today, the Florida Republican senator has some edits to that plan. The new language reads, quote, "All federal legislation sunsets in five years, with specific exceptions of Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans' benefits, and other essential services. If the law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again. Note to President Biden, Senator Schumer, and Senator McConnell, as you know, this was never intended to apply to Social Security, Medicare, or the U.S. Navy."

Our panel is back. That's a lot. That's a mouthful.



PHILLIP: But it's extraordinary that he has gone back now and put a carve out that was very clearly not there before.

RAJU: I mean, I have talked to Senator Scott many times about this plan and about whether he believes he made a political mistake in putting this out there. He has been defiant said that we need to run on ideas. He's criticized Mitch McConnell for pushing back on his plan.

But this is precisely why Mitch McConnell refused to put out a Republican agenda in the run up to the last midterms, because Democrats would seize on it, attack them over some of these policy ideas. They wanted to make the election about what Democrats are doing, not what Republicans are doing. But Scott has refused to make any changes to this. But ultimately, he had to do it. He is up for re-election in this coming cycle. He plans to run. He's favored to probably win in this Republican leaning state, but nevertheless, this became a clear liability, and he implicitly recognizes it by making this change.

PHILLIP: And I have to note, he included in the list President Biden, Senator Schumer --

TALEV: And Mitch McConnell.

PHILLIP: -- and Mitch McConnell. And here's why. Listen to Mitch McConnell rebuking Scott over this plan.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Let me say one more time, there is no agenda on the part of Senate Republicans to revisit Medicare or Social Security, period. I've noticed that the Speaker of the House has said the same thing. So on Social Security, it is not an issue between the parties.


TALEV: Right. I mean, Rick Scott had to do this. It doesn't mean that Joe Biden isn't going to keep talking about this issue, but now Biden is going to have to talk about it in a slightly different way. It's a staunch the bleeding kind of a move, and it at least for now, puts a pin in the discussion of Social Security and Medicare.

I'm not sure that's a good thing because these programs are actually both like not sustainable the way they're currently structured. And something's got to give and --

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's not wrong on the merits and what he was -- and when you looked at the plan and when you're talking about cutting, you want to cut spending, those programs or something. In theory, if you're cutting things, you'd want to look at, but it's so toxic that it managed to bring Mitch McConnell and former President Trump together.

RAJU: I mean, it's really just --

KUCINICH: It really is amazing.

RAJU: It is also remarkable how the politics have so shifted on this issue. And it wasn't too long ago that George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. He got major pushback for that. It wasn't too long ago that Republicans were talking about raising the retirement age or -- and other changes to the program to provide means testing on benefits, major changes that would limit benefits.

They're not talking about doing any of that right now. And this comes at a really crucial moment. You mentioned the insolvency of these programs, but also they want to cut spending and tie that to raising the national debt limit. That is the House Republican approach. But they don't want to touch two very expensive entitlement programs. How are they going to be able to do that? That's a big political problem there.

PHILLIP: And they also don't want to touch military spending. And if you take too many things off the table, there's really not going to be much that's left. But to your point about there are plenty of Republicans who talk about reform. They don't want to talk about it publicly, but they talk about it privately because the details of what reform to these programs look like sounds to a lot of Americans like cuts.

TALEV: Cuts, right.

PHILLIP: Like their benefits are going to change.

TALEV: There's other ways to do it. You could structure it any way you wanted to. And if Americans were fully committed to keeping these programs working the way they currently work, you would probably basically just have to raise a ton of taxes or come up with revenue some other way as long as people continue to live for a long time and as long as there are a lot of people in a certain age group, like there are formulas where you can figure this out.


But I guess the problem is, politically, it's a third rail. Everyone's like, we're not going to talk about it, but in real life, there's going to need to be a bipartisan solution, like not that far in the future. And the fact that nobody's willing to put political stakes on it just means it's going get pushed until later and more precarious.

PHILLIP: And -- but I also don't think that this change is going to change how the Biden, perhaps, soon to be campaign addresses these issues. It's been a very -- it's been very fertile ground for Democrats for quite some time. So I'm sure that they'll continue to utilize it.

But up next for us, new court documents reveal prominent Fox anchors and executives privately ridiculed former President Trump's election fraud claims, all while promoting them on air. We have the damning messages ahead.



PHILLIP: Fox News and its biggest primetime stars went all in on Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. But according to newly released court filings, they knew that those claims were, in their own words, ludicrous and totally off the rails. And they even mocked Trump's adviser and attorney Sidney Powell, who was pushing the false claims.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Tucker Carlson texts Laura Ingraham and says, "Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It's insane." Ingraham then responded to him, "Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy."

And in the deposition, Sean Hannity testified that the whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, "I did not believe it for one second." Those texts and testimony are part of a lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, suing Fox News for $1.6 billion for defamation.

My panel is back with me to discuss. This, if you were paying attention at the time, is not entirely surprising, because you could see when the shift happened for Fox. There was some skepticism at first, and then they started to worry that their viewers were going away. I want to bring up one other part of the messages from this lawsuit.

This is a message from Tucker Carlson about one of Fox's White House correspondents, Jacqui Heinrich, who had basically, factually, accurately, fact checked President Trump. And here's what Tucker says. He says, "Please get her fired. Seriously, what the f? I'm actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It's measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke."

KUCINICH: The stock price.

PHILLIP: The stock price is down. It seems to me that these indicate it was all about profit.

KUCINICH: Yes. It was about the show. It wasn't about the truth. And the fact that, you know, this reporter was put in the crosshairs because of this. It just shows how the commitment was never -- it was never about the facts. And they were worried that their viewers weren't being told what they wanted to hear anymore and they were going away.

I mean, that is just -- it is such the antithesis of what journalism should be. It's not surprising, but it's shocking, I guess.

RAJU: Yes. It's not -- certainly not the way it's supposed to work, but this -- it's not just a programming decision or a monetary decision, these have real consequences in how people how voters view what's happening in society. There's a significant segment in the population that falsely believes that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen.

Why? Because they were consuming news that we don't know from these texts very clearly that the people who are purveying that knew it was false, knew it was bogus, but believed they were pushing -- and wanted to push that because they wanted to feed into this audience. So, you're supposed to tell the audience the truth of what's going on. But by presenting mistruths, that affects per voters' perception and has an impact on democracy.

PHILLIP: And it's further evidence, I mean, as the January 6 committee hearings illustrated, people closest to Trump were also the ones who knew that this was -- this stuff was false. And that actually includes some of these Fox hosts. People like Tucker and Hannity, who are very close to Trump, knew at the time that it was false. But in this moment also, we have the Kari Lakes of the world. Kari Lake, who lost the Arizona gubernatorial election, now says, buckle up, we're going to take this all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court because she wants to have a redo of her race in which she lost. The election wise just won't go away.

TALEV: Yes, she's lost challenge after challenge because there's no there there. Look, we know from study after study that viewers or audiences of programs are deeply cued by the programming, right? That your belief system is not only reinforced but actually shaped by the news that you're consuming.

What this suggests is that elements inside the network were so afraid that the audience would walk away from them, that it created them incentive structure to continue misleading people. And if that all -- if those facts all bear out and a lot of this is still redacted, I think there's more to come. It is deeply, deeply disturbing.

Gallup and the Pew organization -- Gallup and the Knight Foundation this week came out with a report. I check it out on Google. It's too much to get into, but basically about Americans distrust in news. And one of the things that showed is that people now believe that news organizations are literally out to mislead them and don't care about the repercussions to politics, to the impact on society.


And the idea that's revealed here that these fictions jumped from the entertainment side to the news side and directly put pressure on news coverage is deeply problematic.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, and look, that's a real issue that you're talking about. But there's responsibility on the part of our elected leaders and people who claim to be in the news media to tell the truth. It's pretty simple.

But up next for us, we have new CNN reporting. Vulnerable Senate Democrats are in a tough spot now, weighing critical decisions about their personal future and the future in their party.



PHILLIP: More new reporting as we look ahead to the battle for control of the United States Senate in 2024, we know the Democrats are on the defense. They are defending more than 20 seats, including three in states that Donald Trump easily won in 2020. Two of them, West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Montana's Jon Tester haven't decided if they're going to run again, and it could put the Democrats currently -- current one seat majority in even more jeopardy.

They talked about all of that with Manu Raju, who's also here with us. So Manu, they're facing obviously some really tough decisions. They are plan A, B and C for the Democrats. RAJU: Yes, it's a really difficult bat for them. Look, the Democrats are defending 23 seats, Republicans just 11. There are very few, if any, pick up opportunities for the Democrats. On the Republican side, you know, they're in a 51-49 minority right now. But if Joe Manchin decides to step aside and retire, that seat is probably gone. There's probably virtually no way Democrats can hold that seat.

Jon Tester, if he steps aside in Montana, also very possible that that seat can flip. And Ohio Sherrod Brown told me that he is planning on running, but that is still going to be a difficult race. It's unclear what Bob Casey will do in Pennsylvania. He just had treatment for prostate cancer. There's some expectation that he will run, but if he doesn't, that would be a problem as well.

Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, is moving behind the scenes to try to prevent any retirements. When there's a retirement, that could create a problem for their party. But there are also other wild cards that will be interesting to see what happens here. In Arizona, what does Kyrsten Sinema do? She's an independent now, and she's debating whether to run for re-election.

But there's a Democratic candidate in that race right now, and there's also potential of a hard right Republican candidate. We talked about Kari Lake in the last segment. She's considering running. Republicans are very nervous that if she runs, that could put that seat --


RAJU: -- at risk. So there are so many significant dynamics here. And also major players in the institution. Bernie Sanders hasn't decided whether to run for re-election, and neither has Mitt Romney, who told me that if he runs, he believes he can win.


RAJU: He hasn't made a decision yet.

PHILLIP: I just want to play a little bit of what both Manchin and Tester told you about this issue.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I make a decision based on have I been able to deliver for the state and have I basically been able to support the constitution and oath that I've taken. I think I have.

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: We can get a lot of good things done because of my position on veterans affairs and defense chairman, but it's something that we just -- I just think you need to take the time and talk it over.


PHILLIP: The problem for Democrats is that really, the only Democrats who can win in those states are named Manchin and Tester. And it's not clear what the 2024 cycle is going to be in terms of the overall political environment, except that it will be a presidential year. And they're running on the same ticket with a sitting president who's still in the 40s right now in terms of approval.

TALEV: Yes, you have just outlined all of the challenges. This is shaping up to be a very, very difficult year for Democrats. And I think sometimes it's just a matter of this happens. Other times it's a matter of states consolidating, you know, becoming more red in some cases or less purple in some cases.

I mean, part of Manchin's calculation is going to be whether even Manchin can win re-election. We're talking about how the only person who could win re-election as a Democrat would be Joe Manchin. If Manchin determines that he can't anyway, that would be a disincentive for him to run again.

So I just think this is why Democrats know that they need to get as much consolidated and done now as they possibly can. And it explains why there's a lot of anxiety and what they're bracing for.

PHILLIP: And it goes beyond -- Manu laid out a lot of other races where this is a factor. Those two, Manchin and Tester's race are important. But listen to this National Republican Senatorial Committee ad against Tammy Baldwin. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You earned your retirement benefits. Follow the rules, paid into the system, but Tammy Baldwin wants to take them away. Baldwin backed Joe Biden's extreme agenda, putting your Medicare and Social Security at risk. Tell Tammy Baldwin, hands off our benefits.


TALEV: There's it again.

PHILLIP: There's it again. We were just talking about Social Security and Medicare. It's actually interesting that they are attacking the Democrats on an issue that they are vulnerable on. I don't know. I don't know --

KUCINICH: I mean, that is not a natural place to go for various political parties. But listen, that shows me that they're going to throw everything but the kitchen sink into --


KUCINICH: -- this race, and it's going to be so expensive. I mean, they have an open seat in Michigan. They are already seeing people lineup for the -- even in California, where they're likely to hold, it's still going to be expensive --

RAJU: Yes.

KUCINICH: -- in the primary.

RAJU: Yes.

KUCINICH: I mean, my goodness.


PHILLIP: And they're going to play everywhere they can and then some.

RAJU: Yes, and Tammy Baldwin told me that she is not going to make a decision yet or announce her decision until the spring. So it's still uncertain exactly if she will run. But you mentioned Michigan. We talked about Pennsylvania. There's also Nevada.


RAJU: Jacky Rosen, she told me she does plan to run, but that was one of the closest races in the last cycle. Mitch McConnell is going to pave a different approach this cycle. He's going to be more aggressive in primaries. They're ready to take on Trump endorsed candidates if they believe they are weaker. That could set up some messy primaries in places like Montana.

TALEV: And those are all battlegrounds too.

PHILLIP: This is going to be a wide open Senate map in 2024. Manu, Jackie, and -- thank you all -- Margaret, thank you all for being here with us.

And thanks for joining us on Inside Politics. Don't go anywhere. Kasie Hunt is picking up our coverage right after this break.