Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

D.C. Pulls Crime Bill After Biden, Dems Turn Against It; Rep. Jayapal: Biden "Most Progressive" President In A Long Time; Buttigieg Regrets Not Visiting East Palestine Earlier; Trump Says He Won't Drop Out Of W.H. Race Even Is He's Indicted; Marianne Williamson Announces 2024 Presidential Bid. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 06, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Well he -- but he's the CEO of the operation. I get your point. The White House is sometimes fail to communicate. But as Manu noted, 100 plus Democrats just cast this vote. And then after that, the President publicly said, well, I'm not for this. I'm with essentially with the Republicans with it.

So Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader who would like to be speaker and needs those battleground Democrats to win in 2024 says, time for a private that.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), MINORITY LEADER: I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the White House yet about the president's view, so I'm not going to characterize his position one way or the other until we've had a chance to talk --

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he said it.

JEFFRIES: -- about that issue.

BASH: I mean, he's made it clear it's not -- unless he changes his tune again.

JEFFRIES: Well, they are public conversations and they are private conversations --

BASH: So you think --


KING: It's the last part. Look, Hakeem Jeffries is a good, loyal Democrat. He's trying to help his president out there. But his members just cast a vote that many of them would have cast a different vote if they knew the President was going to change his mind, or if the President made clear, you know, two weeks ago, as opposed to a few days ago, what his position was on this bill. How big of a wound? How big of a -- how mad? LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: This is huge. And that's why so many House Democrats are furious. It's all about timing. The President could have said this two weeks prior, and then some of these House Democrats who are in difficult districts would have a much easier time on how they were going to vote.

Only 31 Democrats voted with Republicans on this legislation. And this is some of the biggest challenge that House Democratic leadership has. They try to keep their members together on these bills that they thought this was going to be just a messaging bill. Turns out President Biden came out and said that he was going to support it. And like Manu said, I had same reporting that as many as 70 senators are going to support this when this vote happens later this week.

KING: And so it's hard to be the leader of a complicated family. We see this among House Republicans. The President speaking to the firefighters union right now. There's probably his best friends in the labor movement. He was at Selma yesterday for the reenactment of bloody Selma -- sorry, Bloody Sunday.

And, you know, black voters were the key to his coming from way behind in the primaries in winning. Pramila Jayapal was a Bernie Sanders supporter back in 2020. But she says, look, progressives have occasional fights with the President, but he's one of us.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), CHAIR, PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: Nobody's surprised that Biden was not my choice in the first election for the primary. But the CPC and the President and his administration have formed an incredibly strong partnership. I also believe that this President really believes in what he's pushing. And we've never had -- I think he's been the most progressive president that we've had in a long time.


KING: If that's the truth, I have no reason to say it's not. But if that's the truth and everybody can work in private saying, of course, we have fights, of course we have disagreements, but the President needs his entire base to be active. We're going to have a very competitive 2024 election. We assume Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. Is that the true state or is there a little bit of festering in the family?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, it goes long way when someone like -- someone like Jayapal says that. And they have been happy, by the way, with what Biden has done. He's acted on the list of executive actions that they wanted. They'd like to see him take more always, but he's primarily done what they've asked him to.

When it comes to the Senate in this vote, what he did do was give political cover to a lot of these senators who were up for re-election in 2024. On this vote, nearly two dozen Democrats up for re-election. And so, while he may have hurt some in the House, perhaps he helped some of these senators who wanted to vote the way they were going to anyway.

KING: The Hakeem Jeffries conversation is going to be a lot of fun. It's like, sir, I know you're a senator, then Vice President, the President, remember the House, remember the House. Senators have a hard time remembering the House sometimes.

Up next for us, Pete Buttigieg says he made a mistake. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the Transportation Secretary has very little patience for his critics, but concedes he should have visited the site of that toxic trained derailment sooner.



KING: Today, investigators now descending on the site of another train derailment also in Ohio and from the same company, Norfolk Southern. Authorities say the freight train was in route to Alabama when 28 of its 212 cars derailed downing power lines and sparking shelter in place orders. That wrecked in Springfield, Ohio, about 200 miles from East Palestine.

Soil removal has started there in East Palestine after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed last month and crippled that town. Now, in an exclusive interview with CNN, the Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, says he made mistakes in the wake of that disaster, admitting he should have visited earlier. Yet he also showed very little patience with his most vocal critics.

CNN's Isaac Dovere is here. He conducted that interview and joins our conversation. Let's start with the, I should have gone sooner part. In the interview, Secretary Buttigieg says this. "Sometimes people need policy work. Sometimes people need performative work. And to get to this level, you've got to be ready to serve up both former."

Former mayor, mayors are known. You show up at the fire. You show up when there's a police shooting. Why did he sort of miss that queue here?

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, part of what he said to me is that he had looked at had there ever been a previous transportation secretary who'd gone to a trained derailment site, and he said he hadn't been able to find one. That Anthony Fox, who was President Obama's second transportation secretary, had gone to a funeral after an Amtrak disaster.

But that he looked at this and he said, let's do whatever the buy the book way of this is. What he came to realize is talking about the politics of this and the spotlight that's been on him has put him into a different situation than any previous transportation secretary.

KING: Number one, not many transportation secretaries have run for president before.



KING: Number two, we live in a very different age than even even the Obama administration in terms of social media, in terms of the MAGA, you know, media bell horn and stuff. So but he admits he made a mistake, yet he has very little patience for his most vocal critics.

I want to read this. "It's really rich to see some of these folks, the former president, these Fox hosts, who are literally lifelong card- carrying members of the East Coast elite, presenting themselves as if they genuinely care about the forgotten middle of the country. You think Tucker Carlson knows the difference between a T.J. Maxx and a Kohl's?

So disdain, even though he admits he should have done better, disdain for the critics.

DOVERE: I would say real frustration with it and feeling like they are not being honest about what that criticism is. He feels it really deep what's come at him. One of the things that was criticized about him was the shoes that he wore when he went to East Palestine, that the boots were too fancy for it.

He said to me, look, I didn't have work boots at home in my apartment in Washington to go with. But he said, who cares what kind of shoes I'm wearing when we're trying to deal with the policy about helping people in their lives get through this disaster? He said that people like that are focusing on fashion and not on actual solutions.

This is getting at deeper things, obviously. Pete Buttigieg is the most prominent gay official in America at the moment. It seems like that's part of what the criticism that he's facing has something to do with. But it's also just being constantly with each time that there's been one of these transportation situations, it's not really been his portfolio exactly, or his fault. He's not the one who drove the train off the tracks feeling like he's just come under fire for it and feeling the frustration of it.

KING: Right. So he's a target, without a doubt, of that slice of the media universe. But he's also somebody with great ambition who you would think is saying, you know, I know this world is out there, and so how do I get ahead of it?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, and all that is part of it. I think the, you know, the best way to get sort of beyond something like this is to do your job and to sort of focus on that. So we'll see going forward if -- you know, even though it's not his direct responsibility, the NTSB is actually taking over it. The reality is he put himself up as the face of the administration when there was any sort of small airline issue. He was on every morning show, other things.

So sort of -- he made himself more prominent. Now he has to sort of deal with it. But, look, he's been a rising star, and this is what happens with rising stars. The bigger thing is sort of how he comes out of it. But I'm sort of struck by his relationships with members of Congress on the Hill.

You even saw Senator Mitt Romney, who rarely takes potshots at people, saying he's not sure he's up for the job. So I'm questioning why his legislative liaison skills aren't slightly better, why he didn't have some relationships with members of Congress and others to kind of help him out at moments like this. He's been in town more than two years now, and I'm not sure how much he's grown in that time.

KING: And if you're spending time as he should, what could I have done better?


KING: Anybody in any job should be thinking about that when something big happens. What could I have done better? If you're thinking time about that, he's also a very smart guy with good political instincts. You know, he sounds now he's going after Tucker Carlson, going after Donald Trump, going after others. Do you know the difference between a T.J. Maxx and a Kohl's. So he's picking another round in this fight, right?

CALDWELL: Yes, absolutely he is. I mean, it's interesting, the media tour that he is on, trying to explain himself, and also so soon after the disaster, he's already showing that he is introspective and reflecting over this. But he does have bigger ambitions, and that is also very much at play here, especially when he is from middle the country, America. And what part of the criticism is is that the Biden administration is forgetting white working-class voters.

CHAMBERS: That's 100 percent right. And there is frustration among Democrats, and particularly the Biden administration, that they feel like they responded to this quickly, that President Biden himself was on the phone with the governor, with senators and whatnot.

But then you had Donald Trump go there, and then he was seen there. It was the face of it in the public perception was that the Biden administration was behind the ball, even though they feel like they were not.

KING: Be efficient to watch. If there's a response from those he says don't know the difference between T.J. Maxx and a Kohl's. I suspect we're not done here.

Up next, Donald Trump dares the special counsel. Mr. Trump says he will stay in the 2024 race even if he's indicted.



KING: Donald Trump with a bold weekend statement you might even call it a dare. He vows to stay in the 2024 race for the White House even if he gets indicted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn't even think about leaving. This comes largely from the Justice Department, or as I call it, the Injustice Department. It starts there. They've even weaponized the local agencies and the local D.A.s and attorney generals. And, yes, probably it'll enhance my numbers.


KING: Former president, of course, faces two different federal investigations, plus state investigations of political and personal conduct in Georgia and New York. With me to share reporting and insights, CNN's Jessica Schneider and CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero.

Let me just start with you in the sense that that's essentially a dare, or trying to bait the special counsel or the D.A.s in New York or Manhattan that, I'm running. Nothing you can do about it.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, or potentially he's been warned by his lawyers that maybe an indictment is coming, but definitely an outspoken former President Trump.


But I'll tell you what, John, it doesn't matter if Donald Trump has been indicted or maybe even convicted. It doesn't matter when it comes to running for president or even being president, because the contours of the Constitution are really what dictate who can become president.

There's really only three factors. You have to be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen, and have lived in the country for the past 14 years. So there's really nothing prohibiting the former president from running again or even gaining the presidency again. It's all up to the Constitution. It's all right there in black and white.

Interestingly, a little tidbit that our colleague Tierney Sneed dug up back in November. Back in 1920, there was a candidate, a Socialist candidate, running for president. He was in prison on an espionage charge. He garnered 900,000 votes, and he was in prison at the time.

KING: Well, I grew up in Boston. We have mayors who perfected this, and I used to cover the mayor of Providence who went to jail and then became mayor again. But in this case, Carrie Cordero, if you're the special counsel and Donald Trump is baiting you, I know justice is supposed to be blind.

I know you're not supposed to be influenced by politics. I know you're not supposed to be influenced by the calendar. If you're Jack Smith, are you -- even before Trump said that, are you feeling any pressure to answer this question one way or another before we get too deep into the campaign?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, if you were to pose that question, our reporters were to pose that question to the Justice Department, they would say, no. Justice will run its course. We will take our investigations wherever the facts will lead us. This is what the attorney general or anyone at the Justice Department would say.

We're going to look at the entire investigation, and we're going to let it run its course, and it is not going to be dictated by the political calendar. But as a practical matter, I have a hard time believing that in some ways, they don't see that marker of 2024 on the calendar and recognize that if they don't want their investigation or the outcome of their investigation to impact the political process at all, then that will factor into their decision.

KING: And so let me -- forgive me for interrupting you. Let me stay on that point, because we always talk about, you know, 90 days or 100 days before a general election. The Justice Department essentially, and they did this with the Hunter Biden investigation in the last election. They did this with some Trump stuff in the last election. They just pull back.

Let's wait for the election, then we'll get back to work. Does that apply in a primary setting, that they have a debate in August? If you're the other Republican candidates, you know, you want an answer to this. If you're trying to convince Republican base voters Donald Trump is damaged goods, you don't want this, you know, does -- doe the guidelines apply in primaries or only November general elections?

CORDERO: Well, it's really at the discretion of the Justice Department, in this case, the special counsel. That was always a matter of policy. It's not like there's a law that was mandating whether or not to bring indictments within a particular time window of an election.

So it's really in the judgment of the special counsel in this case, or potentially the Attorney general, whether they want to look at that primary schedule. But they have to look really first at the status of their investigation. And if it's not ready yet to make a decision by primary time, then they can't make them.

KING: Well, to that question, which is the question, we know Jared and Ivanka Trump have been, you know, called before the grand jury. At least we'll see what happens there. We know Mark Meadows, the President's former chief of staff, we know that both Mike Pence and Donald Trump, they're aligned in this regard trying to fight a subpoena for Mike Pence.

Most smart prosecutors, like Kerry would tell you, don't issue subpoenas for those people in the beginning of an investigation. You do that near the end. So does that tell us anything, that Smith is getting closer to decision time?

SCHNEIDER: Well, he's been moving fast and furiously. That's not -- those aren't the only subpoenas he's been issuing. He's been issuing a number of other subpoenas. Other people have been coming before the grand jury, including three Trump attorneys who were involved in that whole classified documents dispute.

So there's been a lot happening. And the fact that the former president is continuing to harp on this idea of indictment, maybe something's coming soon, maybe his lawyers are in tune with that. We'll see.

KING: He would know more than we do because of the secrecy rules. Appreciate you both coming in to explain this question that will stay with us until we get an answer.

Up next, former Trump campaign chairman striking a multimillion-dollar settlement with that same Justice Department.



KING: Topping our political radar today, Paul Manafort agreeing to pay more than $3 million to settle a civil case filed by the Justice Department over undeclared foreign bank accounts. You'll remember the former Trump campaign chairman admitted back during the Mueller investigation to lying on his taxes about more than two dozen offshore bank accounts in multiple countries.

Democrat Marianne Williamson launching another longshot bid for the White House. She first ran back in 2019, but dropped out before the first votes were cast. This help author made it official on Saturday here in Washington, calling President Biden a weak choice.


MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not a time, however, to just ask what can I get? It's time to ask how can I serve? I'm not saying that one person can fix it. I'm not saying even one president can fix it. But let me tell you something, a president who lays it down and says it like it is would do a lot of good.


KING: In a rare TV interview, the First Lady Jill Biden box at Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley's call for politicians over the age of 75 to take mental competency tests.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nikki Haley, one of the Republican candidates, is calling for mental competency tests for those politicians over the age of 75. What do you think about that?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would your husband ever take one of those?

BIDEN: I mean, we haven't even discussed -- we would never even discuss something like that.


KING: Hear what else the First Lady Jill Biden has to say about the President's last two years of his term and the possibility of a run for a second term. CNN Primetime, "Jill Biden Abroad" begins tonight at 09:00 p.m. Eastern.

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