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Inside Politics

311K Jobs Added In January, Unemployment At 3.6 Percent; Punchbowl: House Oversight Chair James Comer "Is On A Quest To Prove Himself As The Kingpin" Of GOP Probes; Saudi Arabia & Iran Resuming Diplomatic Relations; China Gloats After Brokering Middle East Detente; VA Gov. Youngkin Defends Transgender Policy; Says Schools Need "Gender Neutral" Bathrooms. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's about dignity. It's about your family's dignity. And 12 million more Americans can look their kids in the eye and say, honey, it's going to be OK. And mean it. You know, there's -- that's a little more dignity for 12 million Americans. It's not just good numbers, people can feel it.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: There is, though, a potential downside to the robust numbers that would be pressure on the Fed to get more aggressive again, in raising interest rates. Jeanna Smialek of The New York Times joins our conversation. She's the author of "Limitless," a very timely new book on how the Fed is navigating these extraordinary times.

And to that point, you write a lot in the book about the deliberations, especially in this new economy, what is the role of the Fed. Well, in the here and now, the Fed has been raising interest rates to try to slow this robust. To these numbers, another strong month of jobs, is it inevitable that the Fed not only raises interest rates when it meets next week, but goes back up to a half point as opposed to a quarter point?

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE AND ECONOMY REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I don't think it's inevitable. I think it is certainly still on the table after these numbers. So we saw some signs of actually the kind of progress they're hoping to see under the surface. But I think that they were far enough under the surface, that this big jobs number, the fact that we're really not seeing any meaningful slowdown, and how many jobs were adding each month, is probably enough to make them a little bit nervous. So I think this is really going to focus all attention on an inflation report that we're about to get next Tuesday.

KING: So we wait. We have another report. And the President mentioned that as the CPI said next week, you know, super Price Index, and we'll see. But just look at this jobs bar chart. Look at this chart. Going back to September 20 -- September of last year, 350,000 jobs, 324,000 jobs, 290,000 jobs, 239,000 jobs, 504,000 jobs, 311,000 jobs.

If you are a president preparing to run for reelection, I mean, that's handstands and yet they worry about inflation so much.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's -- I mean, it's handstands and cartwheels are an incumbent president who is looking to -- who's looking to run again. But it's just the inflation numbers that like, regardless of the fact that the inflation numbers are better. And the President mentioned that, in his jobs remarks this morning, it is still something that hits consumers pocketbook.

So you did see the President this morning trying to be a little bit more measured, saying it is getting better, we expect it to get better, obviously watching that CPI report next week. But that's why they're watching the jobs numbers so closely. And clearly, 12 million jobs over the course of his presidency is a very good data point for President Biden. You do see Republicans trying to puncture that, and not quite yet working.

KING: And Republican statement for the Republican National, he just went right to inflation in the sense that because you can't criticize those numbers, wages are going up. The unemployment rate went up a little bit, but because people are coming off the sidelines, people saying, OK, finally time to go look for a job.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, they see a strengthen in that argument and focusing on an inflation, I'm sure that it will be a key aspect as we head into 2024. But as I've been out on the campaign trail, you know, something that I think doesn't get emphasized enough is the apathy from some folks, right?

Some people are not thinking about who's running for president, mayor or dog catcher, if they are not comfortable financially can't find a job. And so that is why this component is so important.

KING: And so the Fed is one dynamic that could tip the economy if that raises interest rates too much and stalls things into recession. The other big thing ahead of us is the debt ceiling negotiations. And just before we came on the air, the President mentioned this at his event, the House Freedom Caucus releasing their list of demands.

They say, sure, we'll raise the debt ceiling if you give us. And if you look at the demands, ending Biden student loan plan, rescinding all unspent COVID money, pulling back climate spending from the Inflation Reduction Act. Essentially, House Republicans are saying, President Biden, if you erase your first two years, we'll go along with you, which means it's not going to happen, which means we're going to the cliff.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I think that it's so telling, here's Biden, celebrating these numbers. It used to be that, boy, everybody in the country can get a job. That's great. But look out. Well, the real economic threat is coming down the pike, because there has to be some resolution to raise the debt limit. And I think as we've been talking to a lot of members of Congress and the people in the administration, they're all reassuring us that this is going to get done under some scenario, but it's hard to see what that scenario is. And when you see the Conservatives come out today, that's a fairly big group say, we're not going to sign off on this unless all these things which are not going to happen, happen. I mean, it's trouble.

KING: It is trouble. We have a couple of months still, but it is trouble. But back to the Fed and the timeliness of this book. Just the other day, Chairman Powell was up on the Hill and Elizabeth Warren, one of the progressives who has been a critic, consistent critic of the Fed and him particularly, she seemed to know these strong jobs report was coming and she said to him this.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Chair Powell, if you could speak directly to the 2 million hard working people who have decent jobs today, who you're planning to get fired over the next year, what would you say to them? How would you explain your view that they need to lose their jobs?


KING: How does the Fed is supposed to be apolitical? How does it play out because you're right in the book about how Warren was very skeptical when President Biden renominated him. He was the Republican pedigree, was Trump's nominee.


Biden renominated and because he wanted to prove the Fed was independent. And the tradition is you have a second term. So you hold over the other guy, even if he's not from your party. But progressives look at him very skeptically.

SMIALEK: Very skeptically. So Elizabeth Warren said that he was very dangerous man to have at the head of the Fed when he was up for renomination. So the Warren-Powell beef, I think goes back quite a ways. He actually got a little bit rattled when she was doing that line of questioning this week, which is very abnormal for me for him.

It's -- he's usually a very cool customer. And I think that really, the Fed is going to come under a lot of this political pressure from progressives as we go through the year, because there is a good chance that they're going to slow the economy enough to throw people out of work.

In fact, that's kind of the plan. They expect the unemployment to rise by design. And so, I think they're just going to have to kind of try to ignore that because at the end of the day, they very much see their job as getting inflation under control. And that is just going to come at some cost to the economy.

KING: Try to ignore that as we go into an election year. Good luck. I think of the two words there. Good luck.

Up next for us, early Republican grumblings about early Republican moves in the new GOP House. There are new investigations everywhere you look but are there new facts?

Plus, the Marjorie Taylor Greene factor. She wants as part of those investigations to meet with January 6 defendants who are behind bars.



KING: Stay in your lane. That's the message to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer from some of his fellow Republicans. Punchbowl news reporting today Comer is on a quest to prove himself as the kingpin of GOP investigations. But there is some grumbling within the GOP ranks for members who worry that Kentucky Republican is taking on too much and perhaps intruding as well on other committee.

Our great reporters are back with us. Carl, this was a big Republican promise. They said give us House majority and we will launch investigations into all of these things where we think there has been malfeasance by the government, malfeasance by the Biden administration. Just the House Oversight and Accountability committee this week.

COVID-19 origins, pandemic spending, inflation, southern border crisis, artificial intelligence, Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Office of Personnel Management. Now the Republicans say these are all legitimate inquiries. So two questions for me, have they actually unearth any new facts? And what about this criticism that Comer is trying to put his hand in too many honey pots?

HULSE: Yes, I mean, I haven't seen a lot of new facts. It's one thing to make these promises that you're going to do all these investigations, it's another thing to produce some actual evidence of wrongdoing. The Twitter hearing, I think, produced evidence wrongdoing from the Republican side, right.

That was what happened there. I think they're finding it's hard to do. Real Congressional investigations take real work and real inquiry, seasoned staff. And you can't investigate everything. You have to pick your targets. So I think Republicans are finding, hey, we'd like to talk about all this stuff, really turning up evidence that's hard.

KING: And to your point about these things take time, there's a lot of things you could have legitimate investigations and legitimate oversight. And they would take months --

HULSE: Right.

KING: They would take months. The issue is did they over promise in the campaign they've -- for two years in the minority, excuse me, they were saying just give us power. And we will prove all these things to you. And you see it this is in Politico both are touching on Hunter Biden, this is on Comer and Jordan -- Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Committee intersecting each other.

Twitter, "Both are touching on Hunter Biden, Twitter, the administration's border policies. Comer clarified he doesn't see himself as Jordan's competitor, comparing the Ohio into fellow Buckeye State native LeBron James, while describing himself as the kid lucky to be on the team."

I have said this before, but some of these Republicans have a history of declaring the verdict, and then scheduling the trial, which is a hard way to do if you go back to the Henry Waxman days, he happened to be a Democrat, but he would take two three years and then produce a report that was wow.

MIN KIM: Right and classic oversight. You get the facts first, and then you reach a conclusion that you then present to the public, but considering the promises that they made as they campaign for the majority last year, and just the rest of this of the voters who were, expecting results were expecting impeachments, expecting all these retributions against the Biden administration.

That's why you see this hurriedness here and I do think that to the extent that this irritation among House, especially House committee leaders develops with Jamie Comer that is when Steve Scalise as majority leader needs to step in and kind of work itself out. He does see -- oversee the committee so it does seem like there needs to be more coordination here.

KING: And Jeanna yet, forgive me for interrupting but I just want to work this Franklin and yet the -- one of the problems here is the Speaker McCarthy promised a lot of these things to get the votes --


KING: -- to be speaker and he can't afford because any member one day remember raise their hand say let's have another vote. Among them Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was a big supporter of McCarthy, not just a supporter of McCarthy, but a big supporter McCarthy throughout that process.

She's on Oversight and Accountability now and she says that those who were arrested for January 6 are being treated like political prisoners. This is her letter to Mayor Bowser of the District of Columbia. "The treatment of January 6 detainees paint a picture of despair, hopelessness, and a severe abuse of justice. The committee is concerned by reports that January 6 detainees are facing a unique form of mistreatment due to their politics and beliefs representing potential several human rights abuses."

That's a huge allegation of the D.C. jails right here. Can they prove it?

MCKEND: Well, we'll have to see but, you know, Kevin McCarthy did make this pledge. So this is something that is going to be a conversation at least in this Congress.

[12:45:04] Listen, this is selective outrage. I think Marjorie Taylor Greene might find some surprising allies. If she focuses on criminal justice reform, I think there'll be Democrats and Republicans eager to work with her. But this of course is in service to something else.

KING: Well, it plays great. In their media silo, it plays great to allege these things. The question is, even those consumers of that news eventually say where's the beef, but we shall see.

Up next for us, an alarming Middle East realignment. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore ties and China helped brokered this deal.



KING: Today, they taunt in the Middle East and China wants the world to know it is thanks to Beijing. Saudi Arabia and Iran say they have a new deal following negotiations hosted by China. The agreement revives a security cooperation pact, this after years of Iranian proxies lobbing missiles and drones at the kingdom.

The deal also promises embassy openings within two months. China was quick to brandish its role in brokering this rapprochement and yes, it pointed out the United States played no role.

Joining our conversation, the former Middle East Negotiator Aaron David Miller. Aaron, number one, Iran and Saudi Arabia making dice. And number two, China's saying it is the middleman, that tells you what?

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPT. MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: Number one, it tells me that there's a realignment underway. And the United States at least on this one is sitting on the outside looking in. I mean, it's a trifecta of coincidence of interest, John. Chinese have a great stake in breaking out of their isolation and demonstrating their Middle East player.

Iranians very isolated, I think have the same objective in the region. And the Saudis, I think are sending, whether it's a middle finger to the Biden administration is probably overstated. But I do believe it's MBS, Mohammed bin Salman is very much his show, demonstrating that he doesn't live in a unipolar world anymore, with the U.S. as the center of gravity.

He's much interested in branching out, not just to the Russians, as we saw during October, two weeks before the midterms, when the Saudis cut oil prices, and the administration, quote, unquote, threatened consequences. But now, giving this to China, America's erstwhile adversary in the international arena, and legitimizing Iran, America's erstwhile regional adversary. So I think, again, it's a lot of signaling going on, but it is meaningful,

KING: And you say signaling at the moment. But if you just look at that map, if you have on both sides of the Persian Gulf, the Saudis and the Iran, Iran making nice with each other again, we'll see if it works out. But Saudi Arabia has long wanted more access to nuclear technology. Is this is a -- is that one possibility of this, is with China's helping Iran sell that Saudi Arabia now gets access to nuclear technology?

And what does that mean? A, for stability in the region, whether it's strategically or whether it's economically because as I noted on both sides of the Persian Gulf now, you would have allegedly new friends.

MILLER: Fascinating angle, John, the Saudis have not yet made a decision either to get a nuclear reactor from the South Koreans, or perhaps even the Chinese. But it does signal I think, another option. Iran, China, one, an established nuclear power, the other one, perhaps putatively seeking at some point to weaponize and actually produce nuclear weapons, very much so.

And I think it should send an unmistakable signal, I think, to the administration, not that their options are all that great, that there are some new realities. The other issue is if the Chinese can broker, an Iranian Saudi deal, maybe and there's reporting the Wall Street Journal and other places that perhaps there's a way new regional alignment, to get the Americans somehow involved in brokering the relationship between the Israelis and the Saudis.

So a lot is happening. And frankly, if you can reduce Saudi-Iranian tensions, bitter rivalries, and we're not on the edge of a cusp of a golden age, in relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but if you can reduce friction, seems to me that that's all to the good.

One final point. It's so ironic that the U.S. Navy is in the Gulf, essentially protecting what amounts to sea lanes for China, who has now become Saudi Arabia's largest purchaser of oil. Another Middle East irony.

KING: A complicated region seems all the more complicated today. Appreciate the beginning of the conversation about what it means. Aaron David Miller, thank you. Appreciate it very much.

Up next for us, the political version you might say of March Madness. The Maryland Governor Wes Moore lays down a challenge on the hardwood for the Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and you won't believe why.



KING: Topping our political radar today, the Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin defending his state's rules for transgender students including a requirement to use a bathroom tied to your sex at birth. In a CNN town hall Thursday, a student who identifies as a transgender man asked the governor this.


NIKO, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Look at me. I am a transgender man. Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me? GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA: What's most important is that we try very hard to accommodate students. That's why I have said many, many times. We just need extra bathrooms in schools. We need gender neutral bathrooms and so people can use a bathroom that they in fact are comfortable with.


KING: On a lighter note, a winner-take-all game of one-on-one basketball between the governors of Maryland and Virginia. The prize, the next FBI headquarters. The Maryland Governor Wes Moore challenging Virginia's Youngkin who happens to be a former college basketball player. Youngkin says, game on. You see it right there, accepting the challenge with this video.

Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. Hope you have a safe and wonderful weekend. Kristin Fisher picks up our coverage right now.