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Inside Politics

Moments Ago: Biden, Trudeau Meet Amid Surge In Border Crossings; DeSantis Rules Out Being Trump's VP: I'm "Executive Guy"; Nikki Haley Courts Voters In First-In-The Nation Iowa; Politico: Sinema Trashes Dems To GOP Lobbyists & Donors; Today: House Approves "Parental Rights" Bill; Prosecutors Accept Deal With Rep. Santos In Brazilian Fraud Case; Elian Gonzalez Set To Become Cuban Lawmaker. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 12:30   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: While there are certainly issues that they're trying to work out underneath the surface, on the top line, it's very clear when you talk to U.S. and Canadian officials, very aligned on some of the critical challenges at the moment. John?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Phil Mattingly live for us in Ottawa. Phil, thanks so much for that coverage.

Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reporters, including two White House correspondents at the table. We just show you the illegal border crossings into Quebec. These numbers are nowhere near what you see at the southern border, but it has become a thorny issue for both governments. How do you deal with this?

And to Phil's point, the President in the bilateral meeting was almost small talk, but saying how lucky he felt that our neighbor to the north is a democracy. And you have a problem, you have an issue, maybe some tension, but you sit down and you say, OK, what do we got to do? You know, this is a pretty quick resolution of something that -- if you look at the U.S.-Mexico border, is always a very thorny political issue.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes, there are other issues that they are also dealing with too, and a pretty fundamental disagreement, not to change the subject, but about how to deal with the crisis in Haiti, where there is a belief on the U.S. side that there does need to be military assistance and they would like it to come from Canada.

And on the Canadian side, they have virtually no interest in that, even though there is a connection between Canada and Haiti. So there is a lot for them to discuss. But I think that the idea of two democracies, of, you know, the fact that Trudeau is a strong ally on G7 and NATO related issues makes this an easier meeting to have, certainly, than some others. ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This kind of deal and rule has been debated and talked about between these two countries for years now, going back multiple administrations. It has to do with something called the Safe Third Agreement, right?

And it basically did allow Canada or the U.S. to turn migrants back, vice versa, back to the U.S. or vice versa. The difficulty here is that when you talk to advocates is whenever you sort of restrict crossings at a legal port of entry, or in this case, an unofficial port of entry, do migrants then take a riskier path which then may result in more illegal crossings?

It's something that we've seen at the southern border in past administrations too. You tighten one door, vulnerable families seeking sanctuary might find another one as well. But that 15,000 window for refugees in Canada, the Biden administration and the Biden White House is breathing a sigh of relief for that because they're hoping that can then be a window not just we may think of this as the northern border, but also for those trying to cross at the southern border, which we know has emerged as a prime political vulnerability for the President.

KING: And it's just a reminder, look, it's a very difficult issue. Migration has become a difficult issue in politics around the world, but it's long been an issue here. But the President can go to the north, meet his partner, yes, have some differences, but have adult conversations on the immigration issue with the Republicans in Congress.

The likelihood of an adult conversation, an actual compromise between this President and the House Republicans is what? Zero? Less than zero?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It is absolutely less than zero at this point. In fact, when I talk to Republican senators about this, I've covered this issue for years, and you check in with them and you say, you know, is there any discussion, anything happening in the House of Representatives? And they say, we are taking a backseat to this.

If anything is going to get done, it's going to happen between those guys and the President, not us. But, you know, even House Republicans are having an issue, John. They had to postpone markups of eight immigration bills next week. Their leadership telling them hold back just a little bit because there's not broad support in the Republican House conference to get these passed. So, still a lot of disagreement even among House Republicans.

KING: And just we talk about the politics of this issue quite constantly. That those who work the border on a day to day issue, just going to show you this remarkable video. This is a one year old rescued along the Colorado River. A border patrol agent seeing a smuggler apparently had left the baby behind and going across and getting the baby to safety.

Everybody I know watching has their own issues, politics and disagreements and views on the immigration issue. That's somebody there saving a young life. So grateful for that.

Up next, a look at the campaign trail. The "it factor". Why the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' people here in Washington just don't like him? The former Congresswoman Liz Cheney takes on DeSantis amid questions of whether she's going to run.

And Nikki Haley hoping the third time you might say is the charm. 2024 hopeful making yet another trip to a key early state.



KING: You are about to hear an 11-word answer. A simple no would have done the trick.


ERIC BOLLING, NEWSMAX HOST: Would you be willing to serve as vice president with Donald Trump?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I think I'm probably, you know, more of an executive guy.


KING: Our great reporters are back at the table. I take that as a no.

FOX: Yes.

KING: I take that as a no. So if you're, you know, if you're a Trump supporter who thinks DeSantis is the future and you had this idea of a dream ticket out of Florida, never mind.

FOX: Yes, I don't think he wants to be the understudy for Donald Trump, is what he's making very clear there. And there's a reason for that, right? He is trying to cut his own identity as somebody who can take the Trump message but do it in a way that's less distracting.

I think that that is certainly something he thinks is resonating with voters and something that probably is moving the needle in some regards. But, yes, very clear, he does not want to be Donald Trump's number two.

KING: And that is an interview on Newsmax. He's done an interview with Piers Morgan that aired on the Fox Streaming Nation.


He's selling a book right now, but he's using that as sort of a getting to know me tour, which is smart. Smart. Whatever your politics. The guy's about to run for president. He'll probably announce in May.

And in this interview, this is with Piers Morgan. Another clip of this. Ron DeSantis says there are people in this town who say, we don't like him. He says that's because he doesn't do the grip and grand, doesn't meet the donors, doesn't stroke, doesn't go to all the dinners, and he's fine with that.


DESANTIS: These are people who are in the political class, journalist class, politicians, and like, D.C. in particular, they get mad. I don't do the cocktail parties. I don't like rubbing elbows with other people. You know, they would say, oh, he doesn't do well with donors. He doesn't glad him with. I deal better with regular people than I do with some of the people in the political class.


KING: He's right that there are people in this town who think you're supposed to stroke their egos or come to their events and all that. My question is, can he use that to his advantage, sort of the anti- establishment?

KEITH: I mean, isn't it a time honored tradition to run against Washington even if you've been in Congress and probably had to go to a lot of fundraisers? Yes. So run against the Washington elites. Run against the establishment while raking in big contributions from rich Republicans who don't want Donald Trump to be the nominee again.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Kind of trying to appeal to those who have, for years, become frustrated with the so-called sort of coastal elites, in a way, and the politicians they feel have become disengaged with their lives and what they know. And again, that's sort of another example, going back to the previous point of trying to appeal to some of the Trump base while also aging in a tit for tat with that specific candidate.

KING: Right, and that is his lane. His lane is, I'm like Trump policy wise. I'll give you everything you look for, but I actually get things done. And I don't tweet all the time. There's no drama. I will actually get things done. That's his lane.

The question is, how many other lanes are there? Do Republican voters want people in other lanes? One of the potentials is Liz Cheney, who is a never Trumper, which means she probably would never get on a debate stage because she wouldn't sign a pledge, I don't think, to support Trump people the nominee.

But she went after DeSantis, who in that in an earlier interview or a questionnaire returned to Tucker Carlson, referred to the Ukraine war as a territorial dispute. "I would have a hard time supporting any candidate who was unclear about the importance of America's defense of Ukraine. Be hard for me to imagine supporting anybody who thought that it was a territorial dispute."

One of the challenges for Liz Cheney is, though we still don't know, is she going to run or is she just going to comment on the race on the sidelines?

FOX: Yes, I mean, the other challenge for Liz Cheney, right, is that she has been tested with conservative voters and she did not win that contest. And I think for her, she's going to stake out her lane as a traditional Republican on foreign policy. And there is room for that, right, because obviously DeSantis and Trump are in a different spot than many other Republicans.

And we've talked a lot about the fact that this is really a moment for the Republican Party to decide which direction they're going to go in. So there's probably room for someone like Liz Cheney. But I don't think it's really clear yet what her plans are.

KING: And is there room for Nikki Haley in the sense that, again, former governor of South Carolina, former ambassador of the United Nations, the only other serious -- well, Vivek Ramaswamy, but somebody with a political background who's in the race, already declared in the race.

Look at this, this is from a politico count. 16 events in Iowa by mid- April. She is the former governor of South Carolina, which comes third. She's trying to do this the old fashioned way, surprising Iowa and then have your state to fall back on. The question, that's the way you did it 10 years ago, 20 years ago, can you do that in today's politics with Trump and DeSantis at the top of the pack?

KEITH: When American politics are so nationalized now. It's a good question. Will Iowa grab back its ability to like, you know, shape the race by, you know, one handshake at a time, Jimmy Carter style? I don't know about that because, you know, in 2015 and 2016, former President Trump became the nominee, did decently well in Iowa by flying into the Iowa State Fair in a helicopter, which is not exactly retail politics.

KING: Different. He did it different. I'm an old school guy. I want to see if the old school rules can work. We shall see.

When we come back, you don't want to miss this segment. It's Friday. Hold the Jell-O. Senator Kyrsten Sinema pokes fun at her colleagues and, yes, at a culinary treasure.



KING: Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has been telling influential Republicans she has no regrets about ditching the Democrats. According to Politico's Jonathan Martin, Sinema's privately trashing Democrats from the leader Chuck Schumer to her influential moderate colleague Joe Manchin.

This Martin reports she told this to a room of lobbyists that she's very happy to skip her former party's weekly lunches, saying, quote, "Old dudes are eating Jell-O. Everyone is talking about how great they are. That's an hour and a half twice a week that I can get back."

Democrats are not taking this too seriously. You see it right there. That's Senator Tina Smith joking that on the menu at yesterday's Democratic lunch. Yes, right there. Red Jell-O. Sinema then retweeting that with a crying, laughing emoji. Our reporters are back at the table. This is funny. This is funny, but it's about something. Yes, we have props, we have Jell-O, we have cool whip in the king household. Growing up, we did it the old fashioned way. You made it out of the powder in a box and then you threw it at your brothers.

But Democrats are trying to let this roll off because they need her vote --

FOX: Yes.

KING: -- on most things. But they cannot be happy that she's now an independent and she's trashing them in meetings with lobbyists while she's raising money.

FOX: Yes, I mean, she's using it, right --

KING: Right.

FOX: -- just paint this picture that she's an outsider, that she's above the fray, that she's not just falling in line with Chuck Schumer every single time.


And yes, I mean, I think it stings a little bit, right? Our colleague Ted Barrett tried to ask Schumer about this yesterday. All he would say is that she's a very effective lawmaker, but it doesn't feel great when your colleague is trashing you.

And as somebody who stands outside those hour and a half lunches every single week, I mean, they do have a lot of substantive policy discussions as part of those lunches. They dealt with a lot of issues among their own party in those lunches. They're important.

And so the fact that you're skipping them every time, you know, I do think that it shows for other the numbers (ph).

KING: The makers of Jell-O are very happy that you say Jell-O goes with substance. That's good. That's great.

Jane March (ph) piece, though, again, we're having fun with this, but it's also very important to understand she's an independent now. She has not declared whether she's going to run for reelection. But that's hard. That's hard to run in a state.

And, you know, as you're running as a third party candidate, essentially, one of her colleagues quoted in the piece by Jonathan Martin, one of her Democratic colleagues, a confirmed moderate, told me in private earlier this year about Sinema. "She's the biggest egomaniac in the Senate."

There are a lot of big egos in politics. So some people understand this is the brand, some people don't like it.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Absolutely. I mean, we were saying this may sting here. I mean, it's not the first time we've seen a member of a party criticize, you know, the White House, even if there's a Democrat in that White House. But, I mean, this goes beyond that.

In that piece, Jane March (ph) reporting as well, that she's criticizing Ron Klain as well during a judicial appointment, even putting up, you know, giving the finger at one point in front of a crowd, you know, criticizing various aspects of the administration and the White House.

We knew, or really the senator said that when she moved over to be an Independent that she still would be aligned with the party. And also, she acknowledges there that really, that's for committee purposes as well.

KING: But she got to keep her committee assignments. They need her vote, and yet she feels free to pour salt, or shall we say, Jell-O in the wounds. But the question is, what about the Republicans who would like to win that seat back? So if you're Mitch McConnell, do you try to get Senator Sinema to switch parties? She's no inclination to do that.

If you're Mitch McConnell, you're looking to potential list. He's worried that Kari Lake may run again. Has she even conceded the last one yet?


KING: Blake Masters, he ran for Senate. Kari Lake ran for governor. There are some other candidates on there who might be more acceptable to Mitch McConnell. But the easy way would be to get Senator Sinema who's won the seat to switch over. But do you risk that flirtation?

KEITH: Is that really the easy way? That is my question, because she has clearly shown that she has a very strong independent streak and she has cultivated that brand. So it's not like she would be a reliable Republican vote if she changed parties and that caucus would face all of the same challenges that the Democrats are currently facing.

You know, it isn't clear whether she's going to run. It is clear that she would be, with this move, avoiding a Democratic primary that would have been quite bruising and problematic.

KING: Right. And so at that point, you know her well. You know her probably as well as anybody. Is she going to run? And could this happen? This can happen without the Democrats can't get too mad with the Republican House in the Democratic Senate. There's not a lot of big policy going to get done anyway.

So it doesn't become as important. So I guess you can have more sport, but she's going to break some friendships here.

FOX: Well, I think she probably already has in some ways, right? And, you know, the question of is she going to run? I don't think we have enough insight at this moment what her decision making process is going to look like, but she doesn't have to declare for a long time. She's got a lot of room to sort of flirt and entertain with the ideas of what would it be like if I ran, what would it be like if I didn't? So I think there's a lot of questions right now about how she's being perceived in her party, but also how she deals with her party. When you would watch her on the floor, she spends more time, as much time on the Republican side of the aisle as she does with her Democratic colleagues.

That's been true before she declared she was an independent. That was always how she functioned. And the reality is when Chuck Schumer says she's an expert legislator, he's not lying. I mean, she's been at the forefront of every bipartisan negotiation that has happened and been signed by the White House.

KING: She is different, which is what makes it interesting. And the politics are interesting. Red Jell-O or blue Jell-O? Preference?

FOX: Red always.

KEITH: Not if you're throwing it.

KING: Only at my brothers. Only at my brothers.

He was once the face of an international political battle. Now get this. Elian Gonzalez, yes, that Elian Gonzalez set to become a lawmaker in Cuba.



KING: Topping our political radar today, the House approving a so- called parental rights bill. The Republican led measure would require schools to provide parents with lists of books available to students and to publicly post the curriculum.

And most schools would have to obtain parental consent to use a minor's preferred pronoun. The legislation is certain to be ignored by the Democratic controlled Senate. The embattled Congressman George Santos has reached a deal and will avoid fraud charges against him in Brazil. Santos' attorneys say he will now formally agree to confess to the 2008 crime of defrauding a clerk of $1,300 for shoes and for clothes. He will also pay damages to the victim.

Elian Gonzalez, the boy whose custody battle rocked the United States and Cuba, now poised to become a Cuban lawmaker. The country is set to hold elections on Sunday and last month, the now 29 year old Gonzalez was nominated for the National Assembly.

Back in 1999, Gonzalez was rescued off the Florida coast when a boat carrying his mother and nine others capsized. It set off a month long, tense custody battle between distant relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba.

Thanks for your time today and this week on INSIDE POLITICS. Try to have a peaceful weekend. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now.