Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Tensions High On Capitol Hill Over Gun Reform; Biden Slams "Epidemic Of Violence" Against Trans Community; Kentucky Republicans Pass Anti-Trans Law Targeting Minors; Poll: Majority Reject Anti-Trans Bills, But Support Is Rising; Trump Slams DeSantis' Comments Criticizing Putin; Disney Takes Power Back Ahead Of DeSantis-Led State Takeover. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 12:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: It is no surprise that this is bringing up raw emotions. How could it not? More kids killed in an elementary school.

I want you to also listen to this exchange that happened basically in the halls of the Capitol between Congressman Jamaal Bowman and a Republican congressman over this issue as well.


REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D), NEW YORK: They have control in the House. The American people need to know that they don't have the courage to do anything to save the lives of children. More guns lead to more death. Look at the data. You're not looking at any data.


BOWMAN: Well, (INAUDIBLE) what I'm saying.

MASSIE: Calm down.

BOWMAN: What? All that children are dying.

MASSIE: I know, I've got to --

BOWMAN: Nine-year-old children. That's the solution --


PHILLIP: What is there to say? I mean, I should say actually, though, that you're hearing in that clip Congressman Massie saying, support my bill. His bill would put weapons, more weapons in school.


PHILLIP: A good guy with a gun.

KHALID: Yes, I mean, that's been the position of some Republicans. And then you have Democrats who say that they've been calling for this assault weapons ban. You heard President Biden himself say that really, he feels like there's not much more he can do on the executive side. This is really in the hands of Congress.

And I think the challenge is that there are irreconcilable positions among some members of Congress. And you just got a preview of that. I mean, look, I will say on a personal note, though, Abby, this is something that like I -- I mean, I was in high school when Columbine happened.

I now have my own children who are entering and going to be entering the public school system. And I think many of us look out and say, well, Congress has been debating this for decades and there has not been a fixable solution to date.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Yes, I think what we're seeing from Democrats is not just the grief over these repeated mass shootings, but it's also the frustration of the thoughts and prayers and the wait for all the facts to come out. That is usually the response from Republicans.

And I think it's compounded because Republicans especially lately, have been all about law and order and repealing the bill in D.C. that they felt was going to contribute to violent crime. Yet when it comes to assault weapons, yet when it comes to mass shootings, Republicans are much more reluctant to tangle on gun issues. And so there is a very palpable frustration that we're starting to see renewed from Democrats that's coming out.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, the reality is that only in Washington is the idea of taking this issue holistically, not on the table. Because everybody -- I mean, Republicans in particular, are in a camp where you cannot talk about guns. I think at this point, Democrats are in the place where they're saying, let's talk about all of it -- mental health, let's talk about security, but let's also talk about the weapons.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it tells you everything you need to know when even the congressman from the very district where this happened, right? A Republican Congressman after the shooting happened, said, I don't really think there's a role for Congress to play here.

I mean, that's stunning, that it is his own district where that's happening. And yet that is the reality, is that almost immediately after these shootings happen, there is a question of, all right, what's going to be done now? Is something going to be done?

And almost immediately after that, whether I'm talking to folks at the White House or on Capitol Hill, it's immediately, well, nothing's really going to get done. The political realities have not changed. And that is why the White House, despite President Biden coming out forcefully and calling for an assault weapons ban once again, they are not mounting some kind of all out pressure campaign in the wake of this because they know that it's just a political loser, at least in terms of getting something done.

PHILLIP: Yes. And it's not a political loser because the American people are in their camps. DIAMOND: Yes.

PHILLIP: The polls actually show that the American people are somewhere in the middle. It's a political loser because the people in Congress are beholden to people on the far --


PHILLIP: -- fringes of our politics. But we got to leave it there on that one, but stick with us. Kentucky is now the latest state to pass laws that impact transgender people, especially kids, restricting the bathrooms that they can use and the care that they could receive. But Kentucky is definitely not alone on that one. We'll have more details next.



PHILLIP: A new and powerful proclamation from President Biden on what he calls an epidemic of violence. A wave of discriminatory state laws the President says is targeting transgender youth, terrifying families, and hurting kids who are not hurting anyone.

Tomorrow marks Transgender Day of Visibility. But in the state of Kentucky, Republicans just passed one of the most extreme anti-trans laws in the country overriding the Democratic governor's veto. State Senator Karen Berg delivered a gut wrenching plea against the bill, which targets young people. Her son Henry, a transgender activist, sadly committed suicide in December. He was only 24 years old.


KAREN BERG (D), KENTUCKY STATE SENATOR: The last thing my child wrote to anybody and published it to the world because our lives are quite literally on the line. Children, do not give up hope. Do not hurt yourself, and God forbid, you not go out and hurt somebody else over this.



PHILLIP: Our panel is back with us. And what she is talking about here is the statistics, which are clear and really sad. This is, according to the Trevor Project, 59 percent of transgender youth in the state of Kentucky seriously considered suicide, 24 percent, a quarter of them attempted suicide.

And these bills are popping up really all over the country, pushed by conservative activists who want to make this a real key part of the political messaging at the local, at the state, and even at the federal level.

DIAMOND: Yes, there's no question that Republicans, especially in our hyper polarized, hyper gerrymandered times that we live in, see the culture wars as a winning issue for them and see it as a way to energize their base ahead of the elections.

But I think it's so important to center the debate around exactly what you just showed there, which is the fact that trans youth disproportionately have higher rates of suicide, of depression, of anxiety. And the focus here, what we've seen, is, I think, nearly 200 bills, anti-trans bills that have been passed across the country with no focus, it seems, from Republicans at least, on the mental health crisis that these trans youth are also facing.

KHALID: I mean, I'm also confused by the political reasoning behind doing this, right? I mean, there is an assessment from some Republicans that this is a successful wage issue for them. But we had some polling out just this week at NPR that showed, in fact, it remains the economy that is actually, by far, the most important issue for many voters.

And you don't see Republicans really extensively hammering home that issue. I mean, they seem to be going after this issue that, according to our polling, doesn't necessarily -- it's not as politically popular.

PHILLIP: Well, here's your -- the polling I think that you're referring to here. This is looking at the laws that criminalize gender affirming care to minors. Back in April 2021, 28 percent supported those laws, 65 percent opposed them.

In March of 2023 this year, 43 percent supported, 54 percent opposed. So support still -- support for these laws is still a losing proposition. However, that gap is getting smaller.

MITCHEL: Well --

PHILLIP: And that's, I think, the objective here in --

MITCHELL: I think so. And I think Republicans are seeing that that their messaging is starting to pay off, particularly with their base. Those Christian conservative voters that we know are the lifeblood of the Republican Party right now. And these Christian conservative voters want the government to reflect their principles.

And a lot of conservative Christians just don't agree with trans -- they don't think transgender people should exist, quite frankly. And so what we're seeing is an attempt to erase the whole -- erase transgender people. It's not keeping up with science, it's not keeping up with parents or transgender youth are telling us, but they're not listening to them. They're moving forward kind of based on ideology.

PHILLIP: And there's also a part of this, as you point out, there are a lot of conservative Christians who want the laws to reflect their views, but there are also those people who are also conservative who are kind of pushing back on some of this.

Just this morning, the North Dakota governor actually vetoed an anti- trans bill that was pushed by Republican state legislators. And here's his rationale. He says, "It infringes on local control by unnecessarily injecting the state into rare instances that are most appropriately handled at the parent, teacher, and school district level."

This -- that bill would have prevented teachers from using a transgender child's preferred pronouns without parental -- explicit parental permission. But that argument that these bills are targeting a small population of people who are already at risk is one that not only he's making, but you also saw a similar argument from Utah's governor as well last year.

KHALID: Yes, I mean, I think that this is something that clearly suggests that there are some within the Republican Party who see the pitfalls of perhaps really using this as a political wedge issue when, in fact, it could, you know, alienate many of the independent voters that Republicans will certainly need ahead of a 2024 presidential election.

PHILLIP: Look, there are a lot of people who maybe they don't know how they feel about transgender people, but they see cruelty. And I think that that is something that is a risk in all of this.

And coming up for us, Ron DeSantis is still not a declared candidate for the president, and yet he's getting attacked almost daily from former President Trump, including the latest slam on his foreign policy.



PHILLIP: Ron DeSantis may not be a presidential candidate yet, but the Florida governor is expected to make a decision when his state's legislative session ends in May. Still, that is not stopping Donald Trump from treating him like a top rival and maligning his acolyte turned enemy. The latest dig, slamming DeSantis's foreign policy credentials after his criticism of Vladimir Putin.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This kind of neocon rhetoric mocking Russia's nuclear weapons, along with implying that Putin must be tried and presumably executed as a war criminal, only increases the chance of deadly nuclear escalation.

We need a statesman and a peacemaker in the White House, not someone who recites mindless and recycled talking points to win the approval of the failed foreign policy establishment.



PHILLIP: Our panel is back with us and Trump is going after DeSantis from the -- are far right here. But I just want to play this real quick. This is from Hannity, his interview with Hannity, where he talks about his, I guess, his friend Vladimir Putin.


TRUMP: Well, I'm going to have to go a little short, but I got along with him great. Had I been president, he would have been much better off because he wouldn't have gone into Ukraine. But, ultimately, he's going to take over all of Ukraine.


PHILLIP: Sounding there like he is ready to throw in the towel on all of Ukraine. That will also be a problem, too. But DeSantis is dealing with the issue of the flip-flop, being tough on Ukraine at first, then backtracking, that's going to get him in trouble (ph).

DIAMOND: And this is why DeSantis has a tougher race to run, right? Because he has to not only try and appeal to the Trump base, which was his initial comments about Russia and Ukraine, talking about -- calling it a territorial dispute, but then he also has to listen to some of the criticism that he's getting from establishment Republicans who want him to have a more mainstream position on Ukraine.

Now, when you see Trump there saying that Putin is going to take over Ukraine, I guess that's how he's going to avert World War III is just allow Putin to take over Ukraine. Because that's what he said in his criticism of DeSantis, saying that he is the only one who can prevent World War III and bring about peace.

PHILLIP: Again, something tells me that that's going to be an issue. But DeSantis is also trying to burn -- I mean, he is the governor of Florida. He has to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

KHALID: Yes. And, I mean, there are places in which I think he has really kind of stake out ground, right? Like, he has called for being really tough on China. He's reportedly planning a trip to Israel, I believe, next month, right, and he's taken former trips to Israel. And I think there are places in which he feels like he can take really a tough stance.

I think on the Ukraine issue, I mean, he was trying to navigate this fine line polling shows that some Americans are concerned about kind of endless spending in Ukraine. I think the challenge for DeSantis, to your point, is there's not a lot of wiggle room for nuance on that issue within the Republican electorate.

PHILLIP: So this has been what pretty clearly a tough couple of weeks for DeSantis. And it's a time when he's been playing to friendly media, rolling out a book tour, and look at the polls. The Fox poll today, just the latest, showing Trump growing in his lead against DeSantis. 30 points now, compared to 15 points ahead in February.

MITCHELL: Yes, that's the big problem for DeSantis, because he's kind of putting out this trial balloon kind of in the race, but not officially in the race, and things aren't looking good, and he's not getting the foothold that he thought he would get as the alternative to former President Trump. And the risk is, right now he's still staffing up, he's still raising money. But if he can't show that he can be that viable Trump alternative, then we could see that start to diminish and he might not ever officially become a candidate for president.

PHILLIP: He is dealing with the fact that he's not a candidate, but Trump is attacking him like a candidate.

DIAMOND: He's become a punching bag for Trump --


DIAMOND: -- while he was --

MITCHELL: Whether or not he's in the race.


PHILLIP: It also doesn't help that his big calling card, which is taking on the woke corporations, he took on Disney and then Disney did this. Disney quietly took power from DeSantis's new board before state takeover. The Trump allies are having a field day with this.

I just saw a tweet from Roger Stone basically saying that Disney took -- he says, Ron DeZero to the cleaners. This is actually now going to become part of an attack line by Trump against DeSantis.

DIAMOND: It's so interesting because it was kind of one of the major things that DeSantis used to not only get national coverage, but to kind of stake himself out as someone who's like the champion against the woke left, right? And now you see these snarky comments, not only from Roger Stone, but a Trump Super PAC saying that Ron DeSantis got out, negotiated by Mickey Mouse.

I mean, they are having fun with this one. And it's -- this is the key in politics, right, is when you can turn something that is a major strength for someone into a political weakness. And that, I think, is what they're trying to do here.

MITCHELL: And I think it also shows that when you go against a powerful corporation, then you might not -- it might not be as easy of a road as when you're doing legislation against kind of helpless transgender kids or taking books off the shelves of schools. You know, I think they assumed that Disney was just going to take this, and that's clearly not the case.

It just shows that they probably underestimated what they were up against -- Governor DeSantis underestimated Disney, and now it's coming back to haunt him.

PHILLIP: And this Disney -- what's amazing about this story is that the Disney move basically happened in broad daylight and the DeSantis folks were blindsided. Now they're calling in big time lawyers in Washington and in Tallahassee to help, but it may very well be too late for all of that.


Thank you to our panel for joining us today. And tonight, former Vice President Mike Pence will sit down with Wolf Blitzer in Primetime as speculation swirls around his political future. Pence is being ordered to testify about conversations he had with former President Donald Trump.

Hear what he has to say at 09:00 p. m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

And thank you again for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Alex Marquardt will pick up our coverage right after this break.