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Inside Politics

Trump Previews A Dark Message As 2024 Campaign Begins; Crime, Public Safety Expose Cracks In Democratic Unity Ahead Of 2024; ESG: The Latest Acronym Caught Up In The Culture Wars; Buttigieg Punches Back At His Conservative Critics In New Interview; President Biden Heads To Selma To Mark 58 Years Since Bloody Sunday. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 05, 2023 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): Trump's dark version.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the final battle and if they win, we no longer have a country.

PHILLIP: The ex-president regales the MAGA faithful with promises for his supporters and threats against his enemies.

TRUMP: I am your voice, I am your justice, I am your retribution.

PHILLIP: Plus, crime and punishment. President Biden ignites a firestorm inside his own party over violence in big cities.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One thing that the president believes in is making sure that the streets in America are safe.

PHILLIP: But is he picking politics over principle?

And remembering Bloody Sunday in Selma as the nation grapples with how to reconcile its past with its present.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: History matters, and Black history matters.


PHILLIP (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Philip.

Donald Trump offered a dark and ominous preview last night of what will be his third presidential bid. Before an audience of MAGA die- hards, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, just outside of Washington, Trump gave one of the darkest speeches of his political career. He promised to reward his supporters and punish his foes.


TRUMP: In 2016, I declared, I am your voice. Today, I add, I am your warrior, I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution, I am your retribution.


PHILLIP: He described this next election in near apocalyptic terms.


TRUMP: The sinister forces tried to kill America, done everything they can to stop me, to silence you, and to turn this nation into a socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radicals.

This is the final battle. They know it. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it. This is it.

Either they win or we win. And if they win, we no longer have a country.


PHILLIP: And he emphasized, as if it needed emphasis, that this is his Republican Party.


TRUMP: We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalist, open border zealots, and fools. We are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Roven and Jeb Bush.


PHILLIP: We'll discuss all of this and more with our great panel, Hans Nichols of "Axios", CNN's Eva McKend, Laura Barron Lopez of the "PBS NewsHour", and Todd Zwillich of "The Vice News".

So, this is not obviously a surprise that Trump would go dark, go negative, and go hard to the right as he launches his third presidential bid. But I think this was especially dark. There seem to be, like, great care made to choose language that would inflame.

This idea of retribution, what are they trying to do here?

HANS NICHOLS, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, there re-litigating the past election, right? And successful presidential candidates tend to be about looking forward. Donald Trump, as he is done so much throughout his political career, is reversing the script, and he's looking backwards. And he's got to get through the primary, we know we're all going to have discussions in the coming weeks but how difficult the primaries going to be.

But Donald Trump is not only running against Joe Biden. He's only running against, you know, China in some ways, he's running against the major leaders of his party. And he is running against the past. And that's going to be interesting to watch how that plays out.

PHILLIP: And this was obviously a his stomping grounds, I mean, CPAC, by all accounts, wasn't really stacked with Trump loyalists and really illustrates that, he won against DeSantis 62 to 20 percent. That may not be broadly reflective of the Republican Party. We don't really know yet. It was a show force of the Trump campaign really wanted.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely, this used to be a venue where the mainstream of the party, also the grassroots of the party joined together to sort of test out conservative policy ideas and to connect with voters. This was all about the politics of personality of one man.

I will also say, I just question the strategy here in terms of the focus of the conference, in terms of positioning Republicans for being competitive in the general election.


So, some of the panels at the conference included the Biden crime family, true stories of January 6, the prosecuted speak. They stole it from us legally.

You know, when I'm out in the country speaking to voters, but this was the focus of the CPAC conference.

PHILLIP: Speaking of which, this is actually good opportunity to bring this up. One of the things that got a lot of attention was from someone that I would hazard to say very few people watching know who this person is. He got a speaking saw at CPAC, and here's what he had to say.


MICHAEL KNOWLES, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing. For the good of society, and especially for the good of the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.


PHILLIP: So, Michael Knowles is a right-wing commentator for "The Daily Wire". But it's what he is saying there. He is not the only person who said that at CPAC this week.

The idea of targeting transgender people was a huge part of the conference, and really a signal of where this party is going.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Yeah, I would say it's one of the biggest themes of the CPAC conference, across the speeches, whether it was Marjorie Taylor Greene, Sebastian Gorka, who, you know, was a Trump advisor, as well as the number of other people on the stage, talked about -- accusing Democrats, falsely accusing Democrats of wanting to mutilate children, saying that doctors should be punished if they're giving any type of gender affirming care to transgender people, and really just demonizing transgender people.

And this has become a theme across not just CPAC but the wider Republican Party. We are seeing in states across the country, just recently in Tennessee, this week, bills being passed that would criminalize gender affirming care for minors. And that's something that Republicans are making a big part of their message heading into 2020.

PHILLIP: It goes back to you this point as well, that, is this what people in the country want from their government? Is this a top issue for Americans? It doesn't seem to matter to CPAC or the Republican Party.

TODD ZWILLICH, HOST OF "BREAKING THE VOTE" ON VICE NEWS: There is a name for Michael Knowles rhetoric there, calling basically for the government to eradicate transgender-ism from public life. That rhetoric is fascist. Fascism in this country doesn't have to look like the German kind, that's the American kind. I think it's very important to diagnose it and call it what it is.

The fact that this was a featured at a major political conference of the American right, I think it's an extremely chilling, it's a huge wake up call for Americans, at the wake for journalists who cover this kind of politics.

I want to lightly disagree with Hans in his sort of assessment of Trump looking to the past with the speech. I think he is doing that in part, but I think is very much looking towards the future. When you look at the context in which Donald Trump is going to be running for president, he's probably going to be indicted. He's going to be running for president will under criminal charges for the thing in the past.

But the signals he sending here, Donald Trump looking towards the future, already suggested to his followers that if he's indicted, they point to the streets. His allies, including Lindsey Graham, have suggested on television that if he is indicted, that violence would follow.

This type of rhetoric, saying that this is the final battle, it's good versus evil, you won't have a country funny this stands, I'm here for retribution, very much looking towards a future and really the violent future that he expects if the law comes for him.

NICHOLS: Yeah, look, I don't have a crystal ball, I think you're right and sort of laying out potential issues that will come up. I think, one, I don't think any of us know he's going to be indicted. You know, there is a -- lot

ZWILLICH: It's likely, I think we can say it's likely, but yeah.

NICHOLS: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

PHILLIP: And he also raised the likelihood that he would not go anywhere if he's indicted. NICHOLS: Yeah, that to me was on a huge surprise, it would've been

surprising if it's at the opposite. I know he talked to a bunch of reporters, had Donald Trump, I think all of us at this table would be surprised if Donald Trump said, actually, if the DOJ comes out, I'm just going to focus on a legal case and put all this politics aside. I think we don't be surprised on that.

To me, the interesting thing about going forward is that there still hasn't been, at least within the Republican Party, the big fight. And that is the big fight between Donald Trump and whoever the other finalist is going to be. That still needs to happen.

PHILLIP: And are they going to do it? I mean, here's Rich Lowry in "Politico Magazine", he said, there is no way around Trump, only through. That will require making a case against him.

And if you listen to the other speeches, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and others at CPAC, nobody wants to actually talk about Trump to, say his name, to take him on.

MCKEND: But she is at least sort of conceding or acknowledging the Republicans have routinely lost the popular vote.


And I just think that this argument doesn't have the ingredients for success in a general election. Like, demonizing transgender people, it is not the first thing on voters' minds. So, how are Republicans going to make a general election pitch when they're not talking about pocketbook issues, something they've often criticize Democrats for, and instead, you know, waging a war on these cultural battles that are not top of mind for many Americans?

PHILLIP: All right. Everyone, standby.

Coming up next for us, an unexpected decision from President Biden that shocked his fellow Democrats and exposed some deep cracks within his own party. That's next.



BIDEN: By working together, we made historic progress towards the vision of building from the middle out and bottom-up. The people in this room are the reason for that. It's been one of the most successful united caucuses we have ever seen. And you all stick together, thank god.


PHILLIP: A message of optimism and unity, President Biden rallied House Democrats that earlier this week as they huddled to craft a winning 2024 agenda at their annual retreat.

[08:15:01] But unity very quickly gave way to division after he revealed that he will sign a controversial Republican resolution to block D.C.'s new crime law. The president tweeted, I support D.C. statehood and home rule, but I don't support some of the changes in the D.C. council put forward, such as lowering penalties for carjacking.

As for the mood within the caucus, well, here is a little snippet of it. One lawmaker said, you cannot trust the White House.

Another told CNN, the White House F this up royally. Effing amateur hour.

A third said, people are rip roarin' pissed.

This is -- it's funny, actually, in some ways because one would have thought that we would've gotten a lot more of this in the first, you know, two years of the Biden presidency, and we didn't. There was a lot of Democratic unity. And that seemed to have all been exposed by this controversy over D.C.'s crime bill that is also about self governance for the citizens of Washington, the city. It's really collided with the politics of crime.

AOC tweeted, criticizing President Biden. This ain't it, she says. D.C. has a right to govern itself like any other state or municipality. If the president supports D.C. statehood, he should govern like it. Plenty of places pass laws the president may disagree with, he should respect the people's government of D.C., just as he does elsewhere.

MCKEND: Yeah, this echoes the sentiment that I've heard from the activists based on a number of issues over the years, where Democrats look like they're going in one direction and then they make a hard pivot because they sort of crumble under the pressure of Republican talking points.

And I think what I'm hearing is that the message that this sort of myths is that we think these core constituencies are expendable. We're not all that worried about the folks in D.C. and what they think, we're going to do -- we're going to do to avoid just getting bludgeoned by Republicans. Not only on this crime issue, Abby, but also recently the decision to weaken asylum in this country, right?

The message they're sending is that they're not all that concerned about, you know, (INAUDIBLE) action being on the doors and also registering folks of color ahead of 2024.

PHILLIP: But the other side of this though is that this is really, it's a proxy war but crime in the approach to dealing with crime.

The context, if you haven't been paying tension to all the back and forth on this, is that the city council passed this bill and the mayor, a Democrat, Muriel Browser, vetoed it. And they overruled her. But here's Bowser explaining why she thinks the crime bill is bad.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: I fully support a fair reading and update of the criminal code. But I think after so, so many years of working on it, I want to be able to look my residents in the face and say that we didn't make carjacking penalties more lenient, we didn't make the environment for police who are trying to take guns off the streets even harder.


ZWILLICH: Can I? I'm sorry.

PHILLIP: Yeah, you can absolutely jump in. Crime is definitely an issue in Washington. She's very sensitive to it as the mayor. One of the pieces of context also about the anger from Democrats that our reporters are hearing is that many of them were actually mad the White House didn't tell them they were going to do this and then they cast a vote in a way that could be politically damaging to them, they wish they had known that Biden was not going to veto it.

ZWILLICH: Crime ticks up politicians get sensitive here like the mayor in D.C., like President Biden, clearly. But she raised the carjacking minimums again, just like I think president Biden did in his tweet. They're both wrong.

The real thing that is amazing about this whole thing, one of the things that has Democrats the most upset, yes, it is D.C. self governance, it's Democratic cohesion. The D.C. -- I got an education when I was researching this crime bill and this reform, what it actually did.

D.C. has won carjacking statute with a maximum of 40 years, no never gets 40 years in D.C. for carjacking. Really, they get the maximum, the most egregious carjackings get, it's 15 years. This bill moved to align maximums with actual real world sentences. The new maximum is 24, which is nine years more than any carjacker gets.

The idea that this has gotten lenient on carjackings or robberies another one, it's a red herring. It's not true, the White House did nothing, no work at all, to try to push back against the veto of this bill, to try to say what's actually in it. And then just sort of ran for the hills and vetoed it and made Democrats crazy.


PHILLIP: That's the politics of it. I mean, I think the politics of it is that their position is probably, if you're explaining, you're losing, if this is also in the context of Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago losing her reelection bid, largely on this issue of crime.

BARRON-LOPEZ: That following also in 2022 in New York where a number of Republicans ousted what people would've considered at the time, you know, safe Democratic seats. And that was because in New York, the issue of crime became a big one leading in 2022.

The White House has said no real explanation though for the reversal, which is that they did initially put out a statement saying that they supported D.C. in this decision, that they were not going to support any of the attempts by Congress to repeal this new criminal code. And then this week, coming out and saying that they were going to allow this veto of the criminal code to go through.

And when the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about it, she really just said, look, the president can support D.C. home rule and statehood, and also say that he doesn't support this, and didn't really address the contradictions there at all or have any kind of answer when people said, how do you square those two things?

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, it's tougher when D.C. statehood is basically in the Democratic Party's platform. And then you do this.

NICHOLS: Yeah, I mean, look, there is a process foul here. Clearly, the administration didn't communicate their position very -- as well enough as they could have. I think, you know, the quotes who thought the beginning of the segment. I think we're all anonymous.

I suspect that later on today and throughout the week, some of those anonymous quotes will become TV sound bites and people start really owning their anger because the anger is real, for the reasons you lay out, but also their big deep policy differences here on how the country should respond and what the real causes are behind the uptick in crime, and just where the uptick in crime is.

Where is it on the murder front? Where is a non violent crime? Where is it on other things? And the numbers are all moving around. But I do think the White House --

PHILLIP: The numbers are moving around, but I just have to say, I mean, what's at play here is how people feel about where crime is headed and whether the Democratic Party --

MCKEND: But there is no evidence to suggest draconian laws are effective.

PHILLIP: Maybe that's -- maybe that is true. But I think it's the job of politics to say, what's the solution?

NICHOLS: Yeah, the White House clearly thinks they want to be on to the right of this issue. They've been signaling this now for two and a half fears.

You remember last year in its budget, the president made a big issue of funding the police. I suspect the White House in some ways, there will be factions in there that actually like this debate because it makes them look tough on crime.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I think that that's part of the politics of it all, too.

Coming up next for us though, the front emerging in the war on woke and the schism that it's causing between the GOP and its once allies in big business.


PHILLIP: First, there was the anti-LGBTQ push, and then CRT. Now it's time to add another acronym to the culture wars, ESG. That is about to trigger the first veto of President Biden's presidency. It stands for environmental social and government.

And it's basically Wall Street jargon for the belief that a company that does good will also do well. That is to say minimizing your energy use or treating employees well will pay off financially in a capitalistic system. And last year, the Biden administration approved a rule that would allow but not require retirement fund managers to consider those factors when they're picking their investments.

But Republicans call that woke. They say it's putting liberal policies ahead of investment returns. They falsely imply that that rule was a mandate.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Joe Biden has said his politics matters more than a retirement, and he's perfectly happy for you to take the hit.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): He so committed, the president's, to his climate change approach to things and his pipe dream that he is willing to crush the American dream.

REP. ANDY BARR (R-KY): Now is not the time to put politics or climate or social justice or other political factors ahead of financial performance, in 401(k)s, and other retirement plans.


PHILLIP: So, we just laid out why the idea that this is President Biden kind of forcing investment practices that are bad for investors, it's just not true.

But also, on top of that, ESG, I'm going to go to you, Hans, as a former business reporter here. ESG is supposed to be something companies want to do, if they think it's good for their bottom line.

NICHOLS: Right, I mean, look, this is a big debate that's been happening now for, I don't know, close to a decade. It's really bubbling up now.

What is so clear is that Republicans obviously want to have this fight. They love this conversation, they love going after big business. And to the larger point, this is part of the Republican Party moving away from their traditional roots.

This is not a country club party anymore. They want to be associated with working class Americans. This fight allows them, at least in their mind, to give it.

We can all fly speck on whether not the rule mandated or whether or not the rule sort of just allows, again, to your point earlier, when explaining in politics, oftentimes you're losing. This is just, I think we should all be aware, the extent to which the Republican Party enjoys this conversation


PHILLIP: That's a good point.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Politically, I'm not sure that it's also necessarily that much of a winner for Republicans. Only because, I mean as it is talked about, and as voters understand the fact that this was allowing businesses to make decisions based on potential impact -- investments based on potential impacts to the environment, the impact of climate change, Republicans are losing Gen Z-ers and Millennials time and time again in the last three cycles.

They care deeply about climate change and the environment. It is like one of their top five issue and they overwhelmingly have been voting with Democrats and that isn't helping when Republican base continues to appear to shrink with predominantly older, non educated white people.

ZWILLICH: And how do we know that young people care about those issue? Because the market is providing the products that satisfy it.

I'm very fond of a saying which I did not make up, "there's no such thing as woke capital. There is only capital."

These products, these ESG funds are available widely on Wall Street for two decades because customers want them because brokerage houses want to offer them because they make money. Young people especially when they're investing, more and more investors are asking for these products. They're allowing, even requesting that their money be invested there.

So the idea that this is Joe Biden's agenda, first of all, all of this predates Joe Biden. But the fact that these products were widely available in the very, very liberal bastion of Wall Street, this proves that it's a product people wanted.


PHILLIP: You know who would disagree with you on the idea that there's no such thing as woke capitalism? It's the one and only Ron DeSantis, who in an op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal" wrote this. "In this environment the old guard corporate Republicanism isn't up to the task at hand. In such an environment reflexively deferring to big business, effectively surrenders the political battlefield to the militant left."

He is centering his entire campaign up until this point, on this idea that it is not just enough to be for lower taxes, you've got to take on woke corporations, or at least take on the woke corporations but it's fine to take money from the wealthy individual CEOs who also still fund the Republican Party and Ron DeSantis.

MCKEND: Listen, I would agree with my colleagues on the panel. Some of these arguments seem really shortsighted when you think about trying to build a broader coalition of support among voters.

As I have traveled the country over the years, we know that young Republicans care about the environment. On this issue of woke-ism I just have to say it is really a sad statement that a word that was born in a community among black folks to mean that in a community they were aware of racial injustice has now been weaponized to the degree that we don't even really know what it means --


PHILLIP: And it's been rendered -- it has been rendered meaningless at the end of the day.

One other thing on DeSantis, I mean this was a week in which he basically took over the district in which Disney resided as retribution for Disney doing things that he didn't' like. And here's what he also said as he did that.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We also have people that very much want to see Disney be what Walt envisioned. I think all these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.


PHILLIP: One of the board members that DeSantis appointed CNN's K File reported this week, he suggested that tap water could turn people gay. So Disney ought to be creating content that Ron DeSantis likes.

NICHOLS: I don't know where to begin with the tap water thing. I'll just leave it there, right.


PHILLIP: -- the tap water thing. But just to the point. I mean these are the types of people. He packed the board with these types of people.

NICHOLS: Yes. Again, Ron DeSantis wants to signal to his donors, to his base that this is the direction that he is going in. Like we will be talking about this for the next year and I suspect even longer as the Republican Party continues to move away from -- yes, there were a lot of big Wall Street donors that support the Republican Party in the past.

When you talk -- I got off the phone with Jim Banks yesterday and we're doing a China story separately. And he's making this point that look, the Republican Party used to rely on Wall Street when you look at big Wall Street money, it no longer goes to the Republican Party.

When you look at actual hard dollar, if they can get to a big (INAUDIBLE) money conversation here about where Super PAC money goes.

The Republican Party likes this fight. They want to have it. They like this conversation we are having, every time we talk about this is what Ron DeSantis wants us to talk about. And that's just the political reality.

PHILLIP: All right. Well, we'll also going to try to put a little bit of factual information on the table here in that conversation as well.

But coming up next for us, we've got a CNN exclusive interview with Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary hitting back at his conservative critics. We'll have the details next.



PHILLIP: This morning, we have a CNN exclusive interview with the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Speaking to our own Isaac Dovere, Buttigieg is acknowledging some mistakes in his response to the East Palestine, Ohio train disaster and he admits that he should have gone to the devastated community sooner.

The accident created a political firestorm with Buttigieg at its center. The transportation secretary has become a target of an almost unrelenting onslaught of professional and very personal attacks from conservative media.


JESSE WATERS, FOX NEWS HOST: What is he? 150 pounds wet? Not even a size small construction vest fits this guy. It's draping off of him. He looks like he's wearing a costume.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: If Pothole Pete seems lazy and out of touch to all of you, that is because it is true.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: There's never been a cabinet secretary this flamboyantly incompetent and just so obviously uncaring almost to the point of evil, if we're being honest about it.


PHILLIP: Buttigieg is now hitting back telling CNN, "It's really rich to see some of these folks -- the former president, the Fox hosts who are literally life long card carrying members of the East Coast elite, who wouldn't know their way around a TJ Maxx if their life depended on it to be presenting themselves as if they genuinely care about the forgotten middle of the country. You think Tucker Carlson knows the difference between TJ Maxx and Kohl's?"


PHILLIP: CNN's Isaac Dovere did that interview and joins us now and he has the answer to that question. Just kidding.

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: I don't know if that's --

(CROSSTALK) PHILLIP: Just kidding. But it is -- it is significant that he's acknowledging the mistake but also going on the offense a little bit.

DOVERE: Yes. Look. What we have seen over the last bunch of weeks here with the train derailment and before that with the flight delays and cancelations at Southwest, any time anything comes up about transportation, suddenly it is Pete Buttigieg's fault. And there's a point in the article you don't have that when the price of eggs went up. It wasn't like Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary, was on the hot seat in this way.

Buttigieg obviously ran for president and did pretty well. There's a lot of speculation he'll run for something more in the future. And that has made him a target. Made him a target for the right, made him a target for the left even on things that he doesn't really control.

And in sitting with him when we drove around in Kansas and Missouri on Monday of last week talking about this you can see the frustration about it coming through. I asked him about that, about the criticism that he'd gotten there and asked him about whether he said -- whether he went to East Palestine because Donald Trump went and people think that that's why he went and he said on the record to me he said that's bull -- but he use the full word that I won't use to keep us from getting any fines.

PHILLIP: No fines on cable. But you know what was also interesting in your piece, you talked to a Democratic member of Congress who will go nameless -- he's nameless in the piece, who says Buttigieg's appeal in 2020 as a fresh face who wanted to get past the divisions -- the divisions and move the nation forward.

But this person says it is sad to see him become a partisan brawler on Twitter and cable news. He's become the most polarizing member of Biden's cabinet.

So what is interesting to me about this is that I think there are a lot of ways that Democrats view Buttigieg's almost like viral cable news stardom. When he goes on Fox News a lot of Democrats who don't even really him in other areas cheer that on but this member seems to think that that was actually not (INAUDIBLE).

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. I'm not sure that member is representative of a lot of the other Democrats in the party and definitely not within the White House. I mean the White House loves to have Secretary Buttigieg go across the cables especially on Fox. You know, it's something he also did when he tried to make a run for the presidency.

And they view him as one of their most effective communicators even in a moment like this when they're dealing with the Ohio train derailment.

I also just wanted to point out something when you played that Tucker clip. He used the word "flamboyant" and he used the word "evil". We know what he is talking

about there. He's talking about an openly gay man by calling him flamboyant and evil which also speaks to what we have been talking about during this show which is this larger message from Fox, from Republicans in trying to attack LGBTQ and transgender people as their wider campaign message.

PHILLIP: All right. I have to play this. This is from SNL. Kind of speaks to exactly what you're talking about.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Train exploded and who do we blame? Who do we blame? We blame Buttigieg. Pete Buttigieg. This was his responsibility.

Unfortunately he was too busy being a nerd and being gay. Dealt with the very much more important issue of should trains have big poison.


PHILLIP: I mean, the fact that he is gay is such a huge part of this. Right?

DOVERE: One of the things that I asked about was the attention to the shoes that he was wearing there. And they were not work boots that he wore when he got to the train derailment site. They're boots. They're sort of fancy-ish boots and he said to me that that's maddening and he got -- his voice got a little tight as we were talking about it.

And he said it's just when people are talking about things like that when I'm trying to talk about peoples' lives and how to solve the problems here, that these outlets need to make a choice were his words, to whether they are covering fashion or whether they're covering policy and whether they're covering what happens when people are trying to recover from a disaster like this.

PHILLIP: Before you jump in Eva, I mean one of the broader points of all of this is this is the transportation secretary we're talking about. Most Americans have no idea who that person ever is.

And here's Ray LaHood, former transportation secretary himself saying he's never heard of this level of criticism against another secretary ever. And I've been following this a long time. I've never seen it like this before. This is pure politics. It is politics because people think he's going to run for president. That's why.

MCKEND: And it is because of his identity, right? He can't change the fact that he is gay and so many of these attacks are bad faith attacks. There's a tweet from a prominent conservative suggesting that him and his husband holding their children is everything that is emblematic of what's wrong with America.


MCKEND: He can't do anything to really argue with that because the terms of the argument are not even fair.

I will say though in his interview with you, I think it is good that he is being so publicly contrite in saying listen, yes, I did mess up here.

And then steering the conversation back to the policy and saying hey but now that we have Republicans' attention let's hold the railroads accountable, something that Republicans in the past have not championed. That's probably the only way forward on an issue like this one.

PHILLIP: And to be clear he did acknowledge that it was a misstep. Not just on his part but on the White House's part to just not see the politics of this one coming when clearly this was getting picked up very heavily by conservative media as a political issue.

But coming up for us, President Biden is heading to Selma. How looking back at black history moves today's civil rights movement forward.


JOHN LEWIS, (D-GA): We come to Selma to be renewed, we come to be inspired, we come to be reminded that we must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do.



PHILLIP: In just a few hours, President Biden will travel to Selma, Alabama to commemorate 58 years since hundreds of young black activists, including the late John Lewis, courageously marched across the city's Edmund Pettus Bridge and into history. They were brutally beaten and tear gassed, all for the right to vote.

This visit marks Biden's third trek to Selma's annual remembrance, but it is his first as president of the United States. And ahead of today's speech, he used the White House's bully pulpit to send a clear message about history.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important to say from the White House, for the entire country to hear, history matters. History matters. And black history matters.

Look, I can't just choose to learn what we want to know. We learn what we should know. We have to learn everything. The good, the bad, the truth, and who we are as a nation.


PHILLIP: And this is a moment in which black history is under attack. There are those, you know, in the political sphere who basically want to say, we should only talk about the good parts and not about the bad parts. Not about the fact that John Lewis was beaten nearly to the point of death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And people who are still alive today were there to witness it.

I mean just take a look at some of these headlines that just show how widespread the efforts to restrict black history are all across the country. So this is a moment in which I think history is front and center.

BARRON-LOPEZ: It is. I mean, the president has oftentimes invoked the civil rights movement, especially when he's talking about the moment that the country is facing, even when he ran for the presidency, to -- and right now, Democrats are really trying to push back on an effort, as you noted, Abby, in a number of Republican states, where they are trying to restrict not just the African-American studies pilot program -- AP pilot program but also they are banning books when it comes to books that talk about racism, books that talk about the history of racism against black people in this country.

And that's now becoming a bit of a rallying cry for Democrats to push back on that.

MCKEND: Yes. This is an opportunity for him, because this trip to Selma, while it's important, especially Selma dealing with the aftermath still of that natural disaster, there is sort of a limited extent to what these performative acts of solidarity can actually achieve.

So he has got to use this really to speak to a core constituency. I interviewed black parents in Virginia who are really concerned about the way that the legacy and the impact of slavery and racism is taught in this country. And so he has got to speak to that anxiety.

PHILLIP: It used to be that the idea of, let's call it diversity in America was not all that controversial. Maybe you might have disagreed about how you got there, but the idea that it was better for more people to be involved was not all that controversial.

And similarly, when we look at Selma itself, as a margin, this perform performative bit of politics that we see, it's pretty bipartisan. You see Democrats and Republicans holding hands on the Edmund Pettus bridge, but it feels to me like we are in a moment in which where the idea of civil rights or the civil rights struggle is politicized more than ever.

ZWILLICH: I think it's important to remember what's playing out in this realm that's really not part of the political debate right now.

Alabama is the source of Merrill v. Milligan. In the Supreme Court right now, they heard this case in October. The Supreme Court is about to decide about Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, right after John Lewis and his army for civil rights marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

And now the Supreme Court is about to decide whether to gut Section 2 of the Civil Rights Act.

Now, Alabama has seven congressional districts. It used to have two black-represented districts. Alabama Republicans made sure that that's now only one. And now the question is, does that stand? It's taking place in Alabama right now. And this court has already gut its section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. So that very law that passed then right after that march is under

threat and it's in the Supreme Court.

P6: And on top of that, here's one civil rights activist who described the situation that they're in right now saying that we used to have water hoses. We used to have Jim Crow and segregation laws. Ron DeSantis is now using the word "woke" as his southern strategy and that is hard to combat.

It's shifted, this debate.


NICHOLS: Look, we will be talking about this in some form or another now until the Election Day and I suspect after. What you heard from the president of the United States there is, yes, there's performative politics there.

But this is a president who's pretty comfortable in front of black audiences and who understands how crucial it is to his overall coalition.

And I suspect that this is going to be a conversation moving forward. It's a conversation frankly the White House wants to have.

And they feel like this is something, A, that's important to do, as we've been talking about, as sort of this historical echoes, but also just on what it means for him going forward.

And I don't think we should be surprised by some of the rhetoric from the other side, which I also think is going to get more heated, and potentially more coded.

PHILLIP: Yes, for sure.

And honestly, the coding is sort of falling away a little bit. They're saying the quiet part out loud in many cases.

But that's it for us here on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY.

Coming up next here on CNN, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. And Dana's guest this morning includes House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and New York City's Mayor Eric Adams.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have great rest of your day.