Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Today: DOJ Deadline In Court Fight Over Abortion Pills; Tim Scott Launches 2024 Exploratory Committee; Sen. Scott Campaigns In Iowa After Announcing Exploratory Bid; Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Sues GOP Rep. Jim Jordan. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 12, 2023 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. An imminent and an important deadline for the Justice Department. It has until 1pm, one hour from now to respond to a late-night filing and an abortion court battle that could impact women coast to coast.

Plus, family ties and college controversy. The top Democrat in the House says he hardly remembers his uncle's flagrant antisemitic remark but CNN's K-file uncovers an opinion piece from a college aged Hakeem Jeffries defending his uncle and defending Louis Farrakhan from his, in his words, quote, white media.

And Tim Scott fills out a presidential run. Today he's in Iowa. As he stands up an exploratory committee is opening message heavy on biography, heavy on faith, the Biden agenda but makes no mention of the Republican front runner, Donald Trump.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Today, our country is once again being tested. Once again, our divisions run deep and the threat to our future is real. Joe Biden and the radical left have chosen a culture of grievance over greatness. I will never back down in defense of the conservative values that make America exceptional.


KING: Up first for us this hour. Perhaps the biggest, legal, political and policy question front and center right now in America. How will the court settle a big fight over keeping abortion pills on shelves? As soon as today, a federal appeals court could rule to pause or to let stand a ruling from a conservative judge that would take abortion pills off the market.

The Biden justice department must meet a 1pm deadline, that's an hour from now 1pm deadline to respond to an overnight filing from anti- abortion doctors. Those doctors argued again that the FDA is harming women, harming girls and that its approval the doctors argue of abortion inducing drugs as part of a 'decades long agency lawlessness.'

The Biden administration now must defend the government's authority to regulate medications and the legal uncertainty has prompted a run on abortion medication. Liberal states now buying up supplies as a check against a possible legal defeat. The politics too can be thorny. The legal attack keeps abortion front and center, Democrats believe to their advantage as the calendar now everyday creeps closer and closer to 2024.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Lauren Fox, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and CNN's Joan Biskupic. Joan is the author of the great new book, 'Nine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Courts drive to the right and its historic consequences.'

Let's start, Joan with you. The Justice Department has what 58 minutes left.


KING: 57 minutes left to drop its filing in on the court. The filing by these anti-abortion doctors. I want to read you a quote this is from an ex-Antonin Scalia clerk. So, a conservative clerk on the Supreme Court who thinks these doctors are making a political argument, not a legal argument. This is Adam Unikowsky, "A vague speculation that someday somewhere some unspecified doctor will be overwhelmed by an onslaught of patients coming to the ER after taking mifepristone does not established that these particular doctors face an imminent risk of concrete and particularized injury."

It is a big political issue. And sometimes court filings get into the politics, not the law. What are the big legal issues here? And when will we get clarity?

BISKUPIC: Sure, really, in a matter of almost 24 hours, we'll probably know whether this order from Judge Kacsmaryk in the Northern District of Texas has been stayed put -- temporarily put on hold, he invalidated FDA approval of the first pill of a two-drug medication abortion protocol. And he wanted his -- his order to go into effect on Friday.

Now overnight, of course, the original challengers, the anti-abortion physicians and medical group said, let it go into effect. The quote you just read is from someone who is backing the Justice Department's position saying these doctors didn't even have legal standing as it's known to sue because there's nothing that's going to happen to them.

They don't prescribe this drug. They're -- they're just speculating on the harms to them. And there are no true harms to women. What the FDA has said is that since the year 2000, the agency has found it through scientific determinations to be safe and effective.

That key issue is not right now before the Fifth Circuit. It's -- do we just take a pause and it will be astonishing to me frankly, John, if this regional appellate court doesn't allow a stay right now and if it doesn't, it will go to the Supreme Court. [12:05:00]

The Justice Department has said that it wanted the Fifth Circuit to act by tomorrow, Thursday so that they have Friday to get to the Supreme Court. And it seems to me that everybody's got to cool the temperature a bit, because there's so much legal uncertainty. And there's uncertainty about the availability of the drug right now, which actually hasn't changed. But there's a lot of chaos out there.

KING: Cooling the temperature part would mean quieting the politics until we get the legal rulings, which is simply not going to happen at this moment. And one of the subsets about this is you mentioned Judge Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee. It's no question the plaintiffs in this case, the original case sought him out, a single district judge in West Texas, to get him. And one of the things when people look at this is the Biden administration says we'll follow the law, we'll fight this in the courts.

But they also -- if you talk to people, a lot of people look at the wording in his decision. And they say this is this politics, even here in his legal arguments. He uses buzzwords, buzzwords from the anti- abortion movement, chemical abortion, abortion, this unborn human, unborn child. So, the critics of this decision, say, you know, if we're having a political conversation, the judge is part of it.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATE PRESS: Right. And it's actually a challenge that Biden himself has dealt with so often over and over because he is this traditionalist. He wants to kind of play by the rules, kind of not rock the boat a little bit. But especially progressives, abortion rights activists want the administration to push the envelope as much as they can, because in their words, this is a crisis for healthcare.

This is a crisis for women, we saw a lot of this tension when right in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, when you heard from advocates, you wanted to, for example, declare a public health emergency on abortion, the Biden administration declined to do that. They have also emphasized that they're not going to just ignore this judge's ruling, like some Democrats have called for.

So, they're trying to make another case, obviously, working its way through the justice department. And they're also trying to make the public relations case. The White House actually just distributed a brief from -- from pharmaceutical executives just now that they filed with the court that emphasizes, for example, the ripple effect that this kind of decision could have on actual lifesaving drugs, and FDA's approval or the ability to approve those. So, they're trying to make that case. But sometimes advocates say it's not enough.

KING: So, part of the legal arguments is just regulatory authority. Take abortion out of the question, just regulatory authority. Does the government have the right to approve or disapprove of drugs? That's part of it. But in this case, the politics of abortion are front and center and a lot of people remarking about the relative silence from Republican politicians, especially Republican politicians who might have to run in tough races next year. If you look at the Pew -- Pew polling out, new Pew polling out, excuse me abortion, medication abortion should be legal in my state. Total of Americans 53 percent say legal, 73 percent of Democrats say that even more than a third 35 percent of Republicans say that. And if you look at some of the recent headlines, The New York Times, The Hill, Axios, Washington Post, all essentially making the point that if you're a Republican, and you have to run in the suburbs, you have to run an even up competitive district or competitive state, this issue could be quicksand,

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Right. And Republicans also saw what happened in Wisconsin with the recent Supreme Court race. And there are just so many recent examples of Republicans losing at the polls when abortion is front and center, of course, primary among them the 2022 midterms.

I think Republicans conveniently in Congress have had this two-week recess that have allowed a lot of them to dodge the question, but they're back next week, and they won't be able to avoid the questions and avoid the scrutiny. And quite frankly, it's not just about abortion. Yes, abortion is the pressing question. But we're talking about women with non-viable pregnancies.

We're talking about women going through miscarriages. We're talking again about other uses of these drugs for things that are not directly related to abortion. And that I think is what's also going to really put Republicans in a tough spot, because when you start talking about women's health, and suburban women being such an important block that can sway an election. There, the Republicans don't have a good answer right now.

KING: And one, one, just to back that up. If Democrats thought this was a difficult argument for them, they would be quiet too. But instead, you see them stepping forward. And we have again, a red state versus blue state thing. The governor of California, the governor of Michigan, the governor of Massachusetts, among the Democratic governors in blue state saying we're going to buy a lot of supplies of this mifepristone. We're going to have it on standby. So, if the court says, you take it off the shelves, we will have it and we will use state authority like the governor of Massachusetts.


GOV. MAURA HEALEY (D) MASSACHUSETTS: The battle to ban abortion has been waged in the States. And I believe that the battle to secure abortion, to protect abortion and women's access to reproductive health care is going to be won in the states. Whatever is happening out there, Texas court elsewhere, that nothing was going to impact a woman's ability to access mifepristone here in Massachusetts.



KING: It's just proof by the Democrats so willing and eager to get out and talk about this that even as it plays out in the courts, they think it helps them.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean Tammy Duckworth was on Capitol Hill doing a pro forma session and I asked her specifically about this. She said let's take it to the voters in 2024. They feel like this is an issue that they absolutely can win on and when it is front and center, they do succeed, they feel like especially in those suburban districts.

KING: Don't go far in case this plays out in the next hour. You come right back here Joan; we will be waiting for you. Up next for us, Senator Tim Scott tests the Presidential waters as Republicans confirm plans for their first 2024 debate.


KING: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is running for president but he's leaving himself some wiggle room to say nevermind. Scott today launched a presidential exploratory committee that is short of an official campaign committee but it does allow Senator Scott to raise money with an eye on qualifying for the first Republican debate in August.


He is in Iowa today looking very, very much like a candidate. You see the pictures there this morning (inaudible) roundtable was about homeschooling. Later today Senator Scott speaks for the Republican women's groups. One thing though that he that he is ducking explaining his strategy to beat the clear Republican front runner.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you answering my question about how you beat Donald Trump by saying that your personal story is what's going to sell you to the American people?

SCOTT: What I'm saying in response to your question is that the field of play is focusing on President Biden's failures.


KING: Jeff Zeleny live for us in Marion, Iowa at the moment. Day one, I guess you might call it, Jeff, even though it's exploring, what are you seeing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senator Scott clearly has been going down this road for a while, John, but he did make it official today with an exploratory committee. And look, he's trying to present himself as a more optimistic Republican candidate, someone who will unify the Republican Party, you know, not talking about the anger or the grievance.

So, the translation here is, he's not Donald Trump, but boy he certainly does not want to talk about the former president who looms large in this race on this very windy day here in Iowa. Senator Scott is very popular within the party. There's no question about that. He also comes to this race with something that his rivals do not. That is more than $20 million in federal financing that he can use in this race that's left over from his very successful Senate race last year.

So that gives him a big head start here as he makes his introduction to voters. But John, the central question hanging over Senator Scott, Nikki Haley, his fellow South Carolinian as well is, is there room in this Republican primary conversation for someone other than Donald Trump?

Some voters say yes, they said there is this Trump exhaustion factor. But Senator Scott clearly is not eager or willing or interested in taking on the former president. He's presenting himself at least as of now as a bit of a backup plan, if you will. So, we will see how that goes as the day presents himself but he decided to jump in today because of this date in history.

It's when the first shots were fired in the Civil War. So, he is using his candidacy steeped in the history of South Carolina, and in his own story to make the case to voters. But John, there is no doubt and he knows this. It's a very tough sell, at least as of now, John.

KING: It's a tough sell. But Jeff Zeleny and Senator Scott, both in Iowa prove the campaign is heating up. Jeff, thanks for that report. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reporters. Look let's just look at the biography. He's an interesting candidate. As Jeff notes, very popular especially among fellow Republicans here in Washington.

We'll see if he can sell out in the country. He's the only black Republican senator. In 2013 is when he came to the United States Senate then Governor Nikki Haley, now arrival in the Republican race appointed him to that seat. He led the effort to make lynching a federal hate crime, led a bipartisan policing negotiations after George Floyd's murder, said there was no constitutionally viable means to overturn the 2020 election.

And let's listen to just a little bit from his (inaudible). What does make him different is Donald Trump is often dark and full of grievances. Some people say they see that in Ron DeSantis. Scott is consistently optimistic.


SCOTT: I know America is a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression. I know it because I've lived it. That's why it pains my soul to see the Biden liberals attacking every rung of the ladder that helped me climb.


KING: Can you sell that in Donald Trump's Republican Party?

MITCHELL: Well, I think that remains to be seen. But we're looking at the polling. He's been speculated as a potential candidate for weeks, if not months, and he's still not polling really well among fellow Republicans. And I think it's still the question of what is his lane? Yes, he's not as dark and maybe not as caustic as Donald Trump.

But the messaging still, the woke left, and Democrats being too liberal is not that much different. And I don't know if that creates a new lane for him. Similar to the questions about Nikki Haley, also, how do they run on their personal story without fully leaning into their personal story about them being you know, in Nikki Haley's position, a woman and a person of color, Tim Scott being a black man running as a Republican.

So that's kind of like the elephant in the room that he's kind of talking about, but not directly. It's just unclear what will be his lane when Donald Trump is the clear front runner, and right now, Ron DeSantis, is widely considered the main alternative.

KING: And it's interesting, you can be well liked by a constituency, whether it's all Republican voters, whether it's your fellow Republicans in Congress. Question is do people see you as a president? This is a poll out just today in his home state, the Winthrop poll from South Carolina.

Among likely South Carolina Republican voters Trump at 41, DeSantis at 20, Nikki Haley, the former governor at 18, Tim Scott at 7 percent. So, you're running a distant fourth in your own state. Now it's just the beginning. Numbers can change but it just shows you the steepness of the hill.


MIN KIM: Right. Right. And I think obviously South Carolina constituents have seen him for more than a decade now as a legislator, not as a chief executive So it not only does he have to change the perceptions of his -- his -- his public service among his own voters right now but elsewhere in the country. I do think in terms a lane, I was talking to his people this morning and they feel that he can make deep inroads with at least the evangelical community in Iowa.

He is a man of deep personal faith. But also, a reminder the evangelical community still remains very heavily behind Donald Trump and how he handles the Donald Trump question is going to be a big factor. I mean, I think he's kind of waiting for Trump and DeSantis to kind of pummeled each other and maybe he emerges as kind of the sane alternative, but that is hard to see right now. But obviously long campaigning.

KING: To that point, Trump just announced that he's going to Iowa later this month to speak to a Christian conservative, big Christian conservative organization there. But clearly, you see other people getting active. If there's a potential opening and you're Donald Trump, you want to block them. Now this is going to find the opening. So, the Republicans announced today, confirmed today, their first debate will be in August, we knew it'd be in August.

They haven't given the date, but I'm told it'd be the third week of August on Fox News. So, here's who was announced. This is the announced field. Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor ASA Hutchinson, the entrepreneur, Vivek Ramaswamy. And Tim Scott is now exploring. We'll consider that an announcement even though he calls it exploring.

Those who are still considering Ron DeSantis. Again, pretty active campaigning but he's waiting for the legislature. Former Vice President Pence, Governor, New Jersey, Chris Christie, governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, Mike Pompeo, the former congressman and Secretary of State. When?

I mean, the party is encouraging these people get in, we want to set the rules for the debate. We want to set the parameters for the debate. If you're going to run, please get in.

FOX: Yes. But as soon as you are in the race, you are a target of former President Donald Trump, right? Which I think is part of the reason why people sit on the sidelines, because what is the incentive necessarily to get in, as we've talked about before. DeSantis has a book; you go on a book tour. It's not a campaign per se, but what do you do, you have a book tour in Iowa, a book tour in New Hampshire.

Suddenly you are getting to glad hand, shake hands get to know the voters in those states. And so, I don't really know what the incentive is, if you're thinking of running to actually get in the race sooner than you absolutely have to.

KING: Yes, or are you thinking of running because you think you could win? Or are you somebody and there will be one or two of these who run to try to be on that debate stage to try to say Republicans, please don't nominate Donald Trump? There will be at least one or two of those. We will watch as it plays out. Up next, a defiant Donald Trump and a very determined Manhattan prosecutor. Trump insists his presidential campaign is on track despite his deepening legal peril.

And the Manhattan DA's extraordinary response to House Republicans. Alvin Bragg files a lawsuit accusing Trump allies of interfering with his case against the former president.



KING: Defiant new steps by both Donald Trump and the Manhattan prosecutor looking to convict the former President. Trump in a new interview says he's all in in 2024 regardless of his legal landmines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you get convicted in this case in New York?

DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: No, I'd never drop out. No. I'd never drop out. It's not my thing, I wouldn't do it.


KING: That New York felony case is being prosecuted by district attorney Alvin Bragg who's taking an aggressive new step to challenge Trump allies in Congress. The former federal prosecutor Shan Wu joins our conversation. Shan, by aggressive step, I mean, the House Republicans through Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan have subpoenaed one of the prosecutors who used to work for Alvin Bragg.

They want documents from his office even though it's an ongoing active investigation and prosecution. They want to bring witnesses; they have a field hearing scheduled for New York next week. Alvin Bragg says go away. And to the degree he filed a lawsuit, essentially saying that they are unconstitutionally in his view overstepping their authority. This is from the lawsuit.

"District Attorney Bragg brings this action in response to an unprecedented, brazen and unconstitutional attacked by members of Congress on an ongoing New York state criminal prosecution and investigation. Chairman Jordan and the Judiciary Committee are participating in a campaign of intimidation, retaliation and obstruction. "

KING: Punching back does he have legal grounds to do so?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the Supreme Court has specifically said that Congress is not a law enforcement agency. They have no business interfering with a federal trial and absolutely zero business interfering with a state criminal trial.

KING: So standby on that so Jim Jordan says he disagrees with the distinguished counselor. My vote's with Shan in terms of the history of the law. But Jim Jordan says sorry, Alvin Bragg, we're not backing down.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Alvin Bragg use federal funds to indict a former president for no crime. And then when we ask questions about it, when we want to investigate, he takes us to court. They're obstructing our constitutional duty to do oversight.


KING: I believe about $5,000 in federal funds, grants that go to prosecutors who are involved in this. So, it's a modest amount of money, but I guess it's federal funds. He's not going to back down either.

FOX: No, I mean, Jim Jordan is absolutely not going to back down. That is what Monday is about. It's about going to Bragg's home turf, trying to make this case that he should have been focused on other crimes in Manhattan, rather than looking into the former President Donald Trump.

But the reality here is that it is a modest amount of federal funds and in the grand scheme of things, it was something that Bragg's office readily said we used exactly this amount. Here's where some of the money came from. Here's where other parts of the money came from. We answered that question. Also, we're happy to provide you other people to come in and answer your questions.

But we're not going to get into details of an ongoing investigation.