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EPA To Norfolk Southern: Handle The Cleanup Or We Will; DeSantis To Police: Florida Is "Where Woke Goes To Die"; Nikki Haley Digs At Trump On Iowa Campaign Swing; NYT: Chris Sununu Eyes GOP's "Normal" Lane; McCarthy Gives All 1/6 Security Footage To Fox's Tucker Carlson; Dem Rep. Barbara Lee Announces Bid For CA Senate Seat; Rep. Cicilline To Resign At End Of May. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 21, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: To that point, Donald Trump, forgive me, has not had a very good start to his campaign in 2024. So he says he's going to go to East Palestine. He says uncorroborated that you see more increased action by the Biden administration now because of him.

To your point, Secretary Buttigieg says, no, the EPA administrator is there today, and I will get there when it makes sense.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: When I go, it will be about action on real safety, like the actions that we are calling on Congress to help us with, that we're calling on industry to take, and that we are undertaking ourselves as a department to help make sure that these kinds of things don't happen in the future.


KING: His point is we will do our job. We don't need to go, you know, wave the flag just to wave the flag.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I think that's right, but I do think it's a legitimate criticism that he could stand to be there. This happened, what, two weeks ago or so? He is saying at this point, he'll go when the time is right. he time was probably right maybe a week or two ago.

Listen, I think the folks in this community look like the folks in too many communities that are left behind, right? They're white and they're working class folks, right? And we saw this in different communities throughout the last many years, whether it was in Jackson, whether it was in Flint.

And so if you're the Biden administration and you're supposed to be the administration that not only is competent, but also compassionate and reaching out to folks who are in need and the folks who are, again, too often left behind, I think it probably does make sense to have a sort of higher profile, more consistent presence there. So we'll see when Pete Buttigieg gets there, and we'll see if the President also goes.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Pete Buttigieg's argument part of it is that right now, the National Safety Transportation Board is still conducting its investigation, which they haven't finished on what exactly caused the derailment, but we are seeing he move a bit faster this week.

I mean, after saying that the administration was constrained because of regulation -- safety regulations that were repealed under the Trump administration, Buttigieg now this week, is starting to say that he wants Congress to pass stronger regulations. Trying to speed up what companies are doing to make their braking method safer and other measures that they think that they should be able to do in recent years rather than wait, you know, five or six years down the road.

KING: Right. And again, we'll have a conversation to Washington. Obviously, the most important thing is what happens on the ground in East Palestine, that the air gets cleaned, the water gets cleaned, the cleanup goes well. We'll stay on top of that for us.

Up next, the 2024 campaign trail. Yes, suddenly busy. Nikki Haley talks Trump out in Iowa, and Ron DeSantis is on the road. He says to recruit cops, but probably future supporters as well.



KING: A suddenly active 2024 Republican presidential race includes this, a blue state tour by the Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. He's traveling to cast himself as tough on crime and he says to recruit law enforcement officers to move to Florida. It's safe to say he's also competing for votes.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Woke education doesn't work. Woke indoctrination about law enforcement doesn't work. I can promise you this that in Florida, we will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Our state is where woke goes to die.


KING: Our great reporters are back to the table with us. It is interesting. Nikki Haley -- will get to her in a minute, the former governor of South Carolina announced her candidacy and we do all of a sudden see more newspaper interviews, more television interviews, and more moving around the country by others like Ron DeSantis.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, this isn't just about Ron DeSantis trying to potentially take on Biden or Democrats. It's also about the fact that he is likely to jump into the Republican presidential primary. What I find interesting about what he said there, you know, Republicans have now used the term woke as this ambiguous catchall for things that they are fighting against when we're talking about essentially the rights of others. LGBTQ people, learning about black history, learning about any type of ethnic studies, history, book banning is what is happening in his state. And we saw that the governors and the officials in the states that he visited specifically pushed back on him on that, saying that we're not going to ban LGBTQ rights, we're not going to ban books just based on the ability to learn about race and gender. And we're seeing also that in polling, those aren't necessarily popular policies across the country when you get into swing state.

KING: And more narrowly, the Republicans used to be the party, at least cast themselves, the party of law and order. I find it hard if you at home disagree with me, fine, for Donald Trump to do that after January 6, after what happened to the Capitol, to Capitol Police Office in Metropolitan office. But Ron DeSantis clearly sees a lane there speaking to police unions first in Staten Island, then in Chicago.

HENDERSON: And I think that's firmer territory than I'm banning black history courses for high school students. You know, sort of combining, you know, woke policies with the crime increase in some of these cities. You know, it's sort of a dubious connection. There really wasn't any sort of defund the police and a lot of these policies that they talk about never really implemented.

But I think this is much firmer ground and it gets at some of the angst that lots of voters have in these cities all across the country. Particularly the kind of voters he's going to need, which is suburban, higher educated women voters that I think are probably turned off by a lot of the other culture war territory that he's been on.

KING: I would not urge anybody at home not make a bet on the polls today because nobody votes for almost a year. The Iowa caucus is almost a year from now.


But if you do look at the very early polls, it is Trump and DeSantis at the top of the Republican pack. Everybody else way below. The candidate trying most actively to change those numbers right now is Nikki Haley. She gave her announcement speech in South Carolina, then she's going to Iowa and New Hampshire.

In Iowa, she got asked a question and she gave a pretty direct answer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should we vote for you in the caucus instead of perhaps someone like Trump?

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I don't think you have to be 80 years old to be in D.C. I really don't. Look, President Trump is my friend. I think he was the right person at the right time. Everybody wants to talk about the past. We need to leave the status quo in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Can she keep that balance, essentially saying, he's my friend? I enjoyed his one term, he's too old for another one. It's going to have to get a little more spicy than that, isn't it?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, I think that President Trump will make it more spicy than that once they have a chance to have a debate or actually be on the stage together. But it is a very interesting needle she's threading there. I mean, she's using age because that can be applied to both the current occupant of the White House and the person who's likely to be her biggest target on the Republican side.

But also trying to make sure that she doesn't alienate his base, which nearly everyone on the Republican side is going to need. So what I'd be curious to know is if President Trump would also say she's his friend.

KING: Yes, that's a good one. She says she's not personally criticizing him or policy criticizing him because he hasn't criticized her yet. His campaign did release about five pages of criticism of her. So that's a, you can make the nuance there at home. But Donald Trump just moments ago did endorse one of Nikki Haley's big announcement planks.

She said she believes any candidate for president, especially if you're over 75, should have to take a mental acuity test of some kind. Trump just posted, anybody running for the Office of President of United States should agree to take a full and complete mental competency test simultaneously or before their announcement that he or she is running. So is that a win for Nikki Haley?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, I don't know if this is going to be a sort of push up contest between everybody on a debate stage. I don't know what this looks like, but listen, she is obviously getting some traction for this idea. It's obviously an unconstitutional and unworkable idea, but it's, you know, her idea.

So you have Donald Trump, and I guess he's sort of comparing himself to Biden, saying that maybe he doesn't see Biden as having physical stamina. I think some people could obviously make that argument about any number of people.

But listen, I think the key for Nikki Haley is what is really her lane. It's not never Trump lane and sort of anti-Trump lane. It's not fully, you know, a sort of mega acolyte either. So where does she sort of fit in at this point?

KING: And it's a great question because someone who has clearly made his decision is the Republican Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, who says, I'm not MAGA, I'm a conservative. I'm a smaller government, less regulation, get the government out of the way of individuals conservative.

The New York Times has a profile of him right now. He says he's the normal lane. That's what he wants to be. Mr. Sununu, a Seinfeld quoting, COVID booster-boosting son of a governor who supported Mr. Trump's first two campaigns, is offering himself as a walking referendum on the direction of the party, road testing a message of de-MAGA-fied conservatism."

The question is, is that a big enough lane? Are there enough people?

BARRON-LOPEZ: He also said in there that he's not an extremist, which we've seen President Biden try to use that language when he's attacking Trump, as well as a number of the Republicans that ran for office in 2022 in the Senate in the House.

And so, I mean, right now there is no indication, especially when we look at the midterms, that normal as Sununu calls himself, or just conservative who does not subscribe to the abortion or COVID policies that a lot of the other Republicans are has a lane right here because they lost in the primaries in 2022. And right now, other than Sununu, we aren't really seeing that many Republicans that are potentially going to run, that are distancing themselves from Trump, especially on policy.

KING: Does normal vote in primaries, I guess is one of the questions. But it is interesting. You have everyone trying to get their ideological lane, but you also have a governor of New Hampshire, former governor of South Carolina. There's a map lane as well in terms of how the calendar goes. A home, you know, local candidate, if you will. We'll watch. It's getting busy, which means it's getting interesting.

Up next, Speaker Kevin McCarthy offers a gift to a very frequent critic. Tucker Carlson gets access to thousands and thousands of hours of January 6 footage. Yes, the same Tucker Carlson who says McCarthy has no principles, and the same Tucker Carlson who peddles bogus conspiracy theories about what happened during that assault on the Capitol.



KING: Kevin McCarthy is giving Fox's Tucker Carlson access to tens of thousands of hours of January 6 security footage. Your tax dollars paid for most of the cameras that captured the scene inside and around the Capitol that day. But Speaker McCarthy is granting access only to Carlson and to Fox.

Carlson is a frequent McCarthy critic who says the Speaker has no ideological core. Carlson also repeatedly spreads conspiracies about the attack, suggesting it was orchestrated somehow by the deep state, the FBI, not the pro-Trump mob, as we all witnessed.

Our reporters are back around the table. Why?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, I think we have to ask, you know, we have to look at Tucker Carlson and the fact that Tucker Carlson is one of the leading propagandists on Fox and that he has lied about the January 6 insurrection repeatedly, has lied about the 2020 election and the fact that this comes on the heels of documentation and evidence showing that Tucker Carlson knew that those were lies about election fraud that Trump was feeling around the 2020 election, still decided to go on air and talk about it.


And McCarthy knows that, and he's deciding to hand it over to someone who is going to filter the message anyway.

KING: And so is it then simply raw politics that Kevin McCarthy has only a four seat majority? Kevin McCarthy could be, you know, recalled essentially by his members at any moment. One of his sharpest critics happened to be one of the most popular programs among the MAGA base. And Kevin McCarthy is saying, Tucker, if I give you these tapes, stop saying this?


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: McCarthy is not especially conservative. He is, in fact, ideologically agnostic. First, release the January 6 files. Not some of the January 6 files and video, all of it.


KING: And there's worse than that. I mean, he said, he's not really a conservative. He's agnostic. He, you know, flaps with the breeze. He has said worse. Is that simply what this is? Maybe if I give this to you, you'll be nice to me?

MASON: Well, I think the answer to your question is yes. That seems pretty transparently. So but what is sort of maybe a broader question is if those are good politics for McCarthy. If you look at the results of the November elections, the candidates that were pro-insurrection, to use a shorthand there, did not do well.

And the conspiracy theories may have some popularity among some on the base, but it's not a broad popular position for the Republican Party. And if that's something that the Speaker is now feeding into by giving those tapes to Tucker, it may backfire.

KING: Right. And so let's go back and look at some of the images of that day. And I always hesitate to do this because it causes trauma. But you see the images of that day upon Capitol Hill and you see horrific things happening. That's the Vice President of the United States being led away at the time, Mike Pence, being led away by his security detail.

The crowd outside was chanting, "hang Mike Pence" --


KING: -- at that time. Then you saw Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, coming across a hall and Officer Eugene Goodman turned the mob, essentially had the mob follow him so that Senator Romney could get away and pulled him there. And then you see in the doorway, officer -- Capitol -- Washington, D.C., forgive me, Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges being mobbed and pushed and shoved.

Now, if you have tens of thousands of footage, I am sure without a doubt there were dozens, if not hundreds of people who followed the mob into the Capitol and then said, oh, I don't want to be here.


KING: This -- I thought this was just going to be a protest and turned and left. No doubt. You do see in some of the footage that has been released, police removing some of the barriers. So what are we going to see? Selectively editing that video. Should -- if you're going to release it all and taxpayers paid for most of it --


KING: -- shouldn't everybody get it?

HENDERSON: That's right. And listen, that was one of the arguments that news organizations are making. Release the footage, you know, in law enforcement and Justice Department. Concern that maybe it's giving away some security, you know, details about where officials ended up going when they were in the Capitol. So there is a legitimate problem with it just going out wide.

But I think one of the things that Kevin McCarthy is doing is essentially outsourcing this sort of conspiracy theory, right? A lot of folks in his caucus wanted them -- you know, wanted there to be massive hearings about January 6 to advance some of these conspiracy theories. So now he's saying, hey, Tucker Carlson, you have these conspiracy theories.

I mean, it's terrible that he's going to possibly do what you said, which is selectively edit and air this and advance these conspiracy theories. But listen, that is who Kevin McCarthy's bases. Those are the people he works with every day and have to pleased.

KING: But outsourcing it, I'm sorry, you made this -- you're the speaker, you made this decision to do this. You can't wash your hands of it later and say, well, I didn't. That was them. That wasn't me. You gave them the access to it. And just this just into us. One of the questions has been, what do the Capitol Police think about this?

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger just confirming in a statement to CNN. The Capitol Police gave the House Speaker the security tapes. When congressional leadership or congressional oversight committees ask for things like this, we must give it to them. Manger said in a statement.

Unclear from that statement whether he's happy or not with this decision. We know the Democrats on the committee think it is reckless to do it this way.

Coming up for us, the race to replace. Longtime Senator Dianne Feinstein just got more crowded. Another Democratic member of the House announces her candidacy.



KING: Topping our political radar today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee announcing today she's running to be California's next senator, highlighting her progressive record.


REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): I was the girl they didn't allow in, who couldn't drink from the water fountain, who had an abortion in a back alley when they all were illegal.

I don't give up. Come on. That's not in my DNA. I didn't quit when I refused to give the President completely unlimited war powers after September 11th.


KING: Congresswoman Lee, now the third House Democrat to announce she is running for the seat being vacated by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Rhode Island Democratic Congressman David Cicilline plans to resign at the end of May. The move will trigger a free for all special election this year in Rhode Island. Cicilline has served in Washington since 2011. The congressman also announcing his post congressional gig this morning. He'll become the CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

A special election underway right now today in Virginia to fill the seat of the late Democratic Congressman Donald McEachin. He passed away in November. Democratic State Senator Jennifer McClellan is facing Republican Leon Benjamin. Benjamin lost to McEachin both 2020 and last year. If McClellan wins, she would be the first black woman to represent Virginia in the Congress.

Good news for families flying with children. United Airlines now making it easier for folks with young folks to sit together free of charge. New map technology will help identify the seats that are near each other.

Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. We'll see you tomorrow. Abby Phillip picks up our coverage right now.