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Congress Returns To Confront Debt Limit, Feinstein Divide; Today: McCarthy Delivers Debt Speech From NYSE; McCarthy: "No Strings Attached" Debt Limit Increase Will Not Pass; Sources: GOP Wants To Put Debt Proposal On Floor By May; Feinstein's Absence Divides Dems, Stalls Judicial Confirmations; Trump, DeSantis Super PACs Attack Each Other In New Ads; DeSantis To NH Donors; I Don't Have Drama; Judge Delays Fox-Dominion Trial; 4 Killed, 28 Hurt After Shooting At Sweet 16 Party In Alabama. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 17, 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. 2024 revs up Ron DeSantis aligned Super PAC, answers what you might call a sticky ad by asking why Donald Trump is now spending his time attacking other Republicans. This week the Florida governor heads here to Washington, to Capitol Hill that after a donor defects from his campaign in waiting.

Plus, a class field trip tries to turn up the pressure on Alvin Bragg. House judiciary Republicans hold a hearing in Manhattan, the D.A.'s backyard. They call him soft on crime, and yes, to deflect attention from Bragg's prosecution of the former president. And a delay on the eve of a billion-dollar trial. Our Fox and Dominion perhaps headed for a settlement or will the tankers, some of whom read blatant lies on the air have to take the witness stand.

But up first for us, Congress is back today, and lawmakers returned to a very long to do list. This morning, the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy using the New York Stock Exchange as the backdrop for a speech in which he placed blame for the debt ceiling stalemate at President Biden's feet. Speaker McCarthy detailing the broad strokes of what Republicans want in exchange for agreeing to let the government borrow more to pay its bills.

Now Republicans don't have a budget yet because of infighting. And they do not even have full agreement yet on a new strategy for this debt showdown. Yet, McCarthy says the president is the problem, branding him an absentee negotiator, unwilling the speaker says to make the hard spending choices.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): President Biden has been missing in action and misleading the public. Mr. President, with all due respect, enough is enough. This is not how the leader of the free world should act. A no strings attach debt limit increase will not pass. But since the president continues to hide, House Republicans will take action. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In the Senate, a familiar face is back. The Republican Leader Mitch McConnell returned to work today after some time off to deal with a fractured rib and a concussion. Leader McConnell ignoring questions on a pressing Senate issue, where the Republicans will block a democratic plan to temporarily replace the ailing Senator Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee.

Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill with CNN's Lauren Fox. Lauren, let's focus on the Republican leader who was talking today, the speaker McCarthy. Again, Republicans don't even have a plan yet, but he wants to make the case. This is all the president's fault.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And McCarthy is arguing that Republicans plan is going to be unveiled in upcoming days. He walked his conference through some of the details of the spending cuts that they are hoping to rally around. But as you noted, House Republicans have struggled over the last several months to get together on even basic messaging bills, on immigration bills at times.

And therefore, whether or not they're going to be able to rally around a debt ceiling negotiation is another question entirely. And that is exactly what the White House is banking on that this idea that Republicans are going to be able to coalesce around one plan is really a far reach for them, especially given the fact that they have such a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.

Still, they are going to try to push ahead in the upcoming days. I'm told from sources they are hoping to unveil legislative tax. If they do so, they are also hoping to rally around one single debt ceiling increase plan. It would raise the debt ceiling until next May. It would be accompanied by strong spending cuts. Whether or not they can do it though, John, another question entirely.

KING: Another question entirely. Plus, there's the Democratic Senate and a Democratic president. But this is the opening act of this showdown or at least the opening post break act of this showdown. Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thanks for kicking us off. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Manu Raju, Molly Ball of TIME, and Francesca Chambers of USA Today.

Manu, let's start with the debt proposal. There's a lot for Congress to do now that they're back. But this is going to be the defining moment because the debt showdown or you're talking about spending cuts, you're talking about government priorities. You're talking about negotiations between the new speaker of the Democratic president. So, everything is going to get lumped in here.

They want to raise the debt ceiling for one year the Republicans say, they'll return spending to 2022 levels, and they want to rescind any unspent COVID-19 relief funds. That is the framework of a Republican deal. But do they have full agreement yet? And it's just leverage, right, because they know obviously the Democratic Senate will go along?


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No question about it. And there are other provisions to that. Actually, I'm told have gotten some concern from some of the more moderate members including, imposing new work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries for people who are under 60, people have no dependents.

I'm told that some conservatives have been pushing for other measures as part of this including, more border security measures. They have not moved on a border security bill in the House this year because of infighting within the party. Also, other things as well, dealing with the repeal of green energy tax credits. I'm told that some conservative pushing hard for that uncertain how they will deal with those internal issues.

But John, in talking to a number of these senior Republicans over the last several days, they do feel confident that they can ultimately get there, even though they can only limit his factions to just four Republicans in order to pass a bill long, straight party lines.

McCarthy, I'm told, wants us on the floor in May. The hope is they can get this out of the House and that will strengthen their negotiating position with the White House. Even though, as you said, no chance of passing the Senate, but they want to try to force the White House to the negotiating table. They're saying the White House demands for no clean, no conditions with the debt ceiling increase simply will not pass. So, they're trying to make that case here. We'll see if they can get there.

KING: And these negotiations, Molly, will be a very difficult. But let's set the details aside for a second. This is Kevin McCarthy's first big moment. He just barely got elected speaker. He had to fight through it. He's calmed everything down since then, and deserves I guess, as a political leader, some credit for that.

But he's up on Wall Street where even his Republican friends would say, you take us off the cliff of the debt ceiling crisis, you're going to damage the economy. The question is, can he rise to this challenge and keep as Manu notes. He's got three to four votes to spare just that.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: That's exactly right. And as Manu was saying, you know, even getting the party together around a proposal that will pass is hard enough, then you have to enter the negotiations because that's only the first step. And you know, the White House looks at things like this speech today and says, you know, say whatever you want, show us the money, basically, right?

They want to see this bill, because both sides are sort of negotiating with themselves to this point. You have the White House, you know, sticking firm to this position. But below the surface, there is some acknowledgement that, you know, Republicans do have some leverage and there will have to be some kind of deal.

And then Republicans meanwhile, you know, going back and forth with the different factions, trying to triangulate all of these different perspectives, which is very difficult with such a narrow majority. So just to get something on the table is going to be hard enough. And then to actually see it through, I think, you know, there's a lot of skepticism even within the Republican ranks about whether and how they're going to get there.

KING: And Molly certainly, right. They have some leverage. They took the House narrow majority, but they took the House. And the president United States has to recognize that Speaker McCarthy trying to bait him there. He's missing in action. He hasn't brought me to the table. Is this the White House changes strategy, or they just let the Republicans go first?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, so far, the White House not taking the bait on that the president, we don't expect to see him today. But he just got back from a trip a couple days ago in Ireland and they don't have a White House press briefing today.

But in their pre-buttle statement to this, they did indeed, as you were saying suggest that they do not plan to change their strategy on this in response to the fiscal year levels of 2022. They suggested that those would be devastating cuts more or less.

And so, this is just something that they say that they are not going to be negotiating on. So, we are in sort of a standoff between the White House and Congress, and really nothing much has changed since before Congress left for recess in that respect.

KING: And so, the debt ceiling will dominate this session. Also on the table, maybe border security bills, the House Republicans hope to come to agreement there. The classified documents leak is a big issue right now. House Republicans want to pass another bill essentially forcing the D.C. government to have more transparency in police records including body cams and judicial nominations as a giant priority.

But the president, holding that up is Dianne Feinstein's absence. She is not here. She's dealing with the case of the shingles. She says her doctors have not cleared her to come back to Washington yet. Listen to three of her Democratic colleagues, essentially saying we have to get a resolution here soon but let's have patients.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): She's been voted by her state to be senator for six years. She has the right in my opinion to decide when she steps down.

SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI): Look, it's up to Dianne Feinstein and her family to decide.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): But right now, she says she's going to return. Let's make sure that happens. And it's sure better happened before the debt ceiling vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: You see Senator Klobuchar bringing in the debt ceiling vote. This is also the president's, you know, trying to get as many judicial nominees as possible. Where's the tipping point? I guess the Democrats probably do not have the votes. Republic, they probably won't get 10, Republicans to go along to temporarily replace her. So, when does the clock -- when does someone pick up the phone and say Senator sorry.

RAJU: Yes. I think that remains to be seen. Chuck Schumer said in his statement, she talked to her, and she'll be back "soon." What as soon mean? And I talked to Dick Durbin before they went on this two-week recess. He told me that this has longer term ramifications, because if she is not there, they can't get judicial nominations processed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They deadlock because of that.

And as a result, they can't process them on the floor. It takes a lot of time to schedule these things. The Senate is out of session a lot. So, they don't have much floor time. And that is a real concern. So, if she doesn't come back in a few weeks, maybe then pressure is going to build among Democrats calling for her resignation.


So, right now, she is able to withstand if she has to come back sometime soon. The other question is what will Mitch McConnell do? Will he allow those nine Republicans to vote to change the -- to allow another Democrat replaced on the committee, it seems unlikely that's going to happen.

KING: It's a tough one because it's the Democratic agenda at stake. And yet, she is a trailblazer and icon in the party.

BALL: When you can hear, I think in the voices of all of those Democratic senators, they're very careful to want to leave the decision up to her. We saw what happened when the party was waiting for her to decide whether to run for reelection and it was a similar thing.

A lot of Democrats, you know, knew and hoped that that she would not run, but they had to hold back and leave it -- leave the ball in her court, let her feel empowered to make the decision, because the last thing they want to do is sort of provoke her to mount a show of, I'm still here and make even more problems.

CHAMBERS: Especially the Democratic women wanting to show up and be very supportive for her, we saw yesterday. And so far, the White House has said that they're very glad for what she's done for President Biden on the judicial nominations.

KING: You make a key point, Washington's definitions are often different than America's definitions. How do we -- what's suit in Washington we shall see. Up next, the Trump, DeSantis proxy war. Super PACs aligned with the former president and with the Florida governor ramping up of becoming nasty TV ad war.




KING: It is April 2023. Yes, April 2023. But an early proxy war is underway between the top two Republican 2024 contenders. A Super PAC aligned with the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a new TV ad suggests Donald Trump has lost his way.


That ad from a pro DeSantis PAC is responding to scathing ads from a pro Trump group, including this yes, stomach churning dig at the Florida governor after a report that he ate putting with his fingers.


Let's -- it's just interesting. I mean, these are "Super PACs." They're aligned with the candidates. They're not supposed to coordinate with the candidates. But out of the box early, pretty clear, each thinks of the other as the greatest threat and it's kind of gross.

BALL: Well, I mean, to me, what's interesting about that ad is it actually is a substantive policy-based attack. And you can see the outlines of an argument that the candidates will clearly be making. This is something Trump himself has been talking about when it comes to DeSantis. His position on entitlements, which he hasn't really clarified since taking the votes referenced in the ad back when he was in Congress.

All that being said, you know, the larger sort of political context is that, yes, you have a lot of sort of donors and supporters around DeSantis, who has started to get heartburn about him not rebutting Trump's attacks to this point. And, you know, I think Governor DeSantis himself wants to seem above the fray and focused on his work in the Florida.

Legislature and the fact that he hasn't declared his campaign yet. But there's a feeling that he needs backup if he's not going to be too tarnished by these attacks from Trump to mount a campaign when he finally does get in the race. So, the battle is joined, and now they just need a fighter.

RAJU: Isn't it fascinating how the Dem -- this fight over entitlements and Social Security is part of the Republican primary. I mean, this used to be the Republican platform. George W. Bush tried to overhaul Social Security. He got pushed back and didn't happen. Paul Ryan tried to overhaul Medicare. It didn't happen, he got pushed back. But now you're seeing this being waged in the Republican primary, that's fascinating.

It's also interesting to see DeSantis how his team or his allies are trying to attack Donald Trump. We have not seen a whole lot of these Republican candidates tried to level a specific attack against him. And will they broaden that out to say, he can't win, which seems to be one of the big issues that Republicans are seizing upon, people don't want him to run. They don't think he can win again in general election. We saw what happened in the last election cycle and previous ones, and they don't think they can -- he didn't turn it around.

KING: It's interesting. You make an interesting point. And you have the DeSantis side. His allies saying, wait a minute, we can't let the -- we can't take all these punches, we have to respond. And yet, they don't say it's not true. They just essentially say Donald Trump, you know, why is he -- why is he attacking Republicans? It's not, this isn't true.

And another thing, the Democrats pointed this out today, and in fact, it actually is true that Donald Trump has consistently said, I won't touch Social Security, Medicare, but every one of his proposed, budget proposals when he was president did curtail those programs. They got nowhere on Capitol Hill, but he didn't put it in writing.

CHAMBERS: And the DeSantis crew says that this is just a warning shot. They have other receipts that they say that they could be bringing to the table in the future as this potentially heats up. And you talked about why Social Security and Medicaid has become such an issue. It's not just this. They also have an adult related to guns.

Republicans are trying to find any little maneuvering room between their positions and Donald Trump's positions because they do have many of the same positions on these issues. When it comes to the guns out, if you haven't seen that one at all. I mean, they're really cranking up the temperature with Trump having said at the NRA that I'm not going to touch them.

But then referring back to comments he made in the White House, including to Dianne Feinstein about wanting to put more things in the bills. And they didn't happen when it comes to gun control, but again, another warning shot there.

KING: Four months until they all appear together. How many Republicans run on a debate stage? Ron DeSantis, this is not subtle. He does not say, Donald Trump just got indicted. He does not say remember the Trump presidency, but he does say, make me your nominee instead of him and things will be calmer.



GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: We don't have leaks. We don't have drama. All we do is get the job done day after day, and that means we beat the left. Day after day we provide a fresh vision for American renewal, Republicans will win the White House, the House in the U.S. Senate. So, we cannot get distracted.


KING: We cannot get distracted. That's a word a lot of Republicans are starting to use about Trump. Again, they don't want to take him head on because they know the history that often dangerous but distracted. BALL: Well, I mean, there's so many echoes right of 2015 and all of this, right? In 2015, there were candidates who tried to attack Trump as insufficiently conservative and not there on the policy. And what they found was, at least at that point, him not having been president yet, and we're obviously in a very different era now. But a lot of primary voters really didn't care.

The electability argument is one, I think we're going to hear advanced a lot. The no drama argument. Remember Jeb Bush calling Trump the chaos candidate, and most Republican primary voters said yes, we love it. Give us the chaos, give us the fight. So, you know, there's a fine line between no drama and just being boring. And one thing we've seen that is that if you want to be in the ring with Trump, you have to have some kind of excitement.

KING: So, to the ring part, as you jump in, just put that graphic back up. There are four fully declared candidates, Tim Scott, you see the blue under his name. He says his exploratory commission. So, he can just still blink and get out. DeSantis, we all expect to announce formally after the Florida legislature finishes up next month. And you have Pence, and Kristi, and Sununu there, Mike Pompeo over the weekend saying, he will not run. The party is trying to get everybody say yes or say no now.

RAJU: Yes. And look, Ron DeSantis by not saying yes, has allowed Trump and his allies to define him negatively. You've seen him slip in some of the poll numbers. And the longer he stays out, the harder it will be for him to define what his candidacy is about, which is why the DeSantis supporters want him to get moving here.

CHAMBERS: And so, his camp though, DeSantis's camp thinks look, there's plenty of time in the race to rebuild those numbers back up. They'll see some of that support come back potentially as the debates began. And again, they're trying to label Trump at this point as a gun grabber. We'll see if that -- we'll see if that sticks.

KING: Well, the Trump indictment that is part of the "distraction argument" from DeSantis and others has helped them raise a boatload of money $15.4 million in two weeks after -- just after the indictment. So, you can wait and wait and wait but that matters. Like him or don't like him, money matters in politics.

Up next, trial delayed. We'll go live to the courthouse for new details on why the Dominion voting systems defamation lawsuit against Fox is on hold for a day. And a sweet 16 party in Alabama devolves into violence and chaos, becoming the site of yet another deadly mass shooting.



KING: I want to turn out to some last-minute drama in the Fox News defamation case. That trial was supposed to start today but it has been delayed. And CNN watched his lawyers for Dominion voting systems brought more than 40 boxes into the courthouse today. Most likely evidence and other materials. CNN's Oliver Darcy joins us now. He's outside the courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware. Oliver, what is happening?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Some 11th hour, in 11th hour twist really casting into question whether a trial, John, is even going to take place. Right behind me was where it's supposed to have and started, opening arguments were supposed to be taking place right about now. But last night, the judge abruptly delayed the trial saying, it's going to now start on Tuesday. And there's no reason given.

The judge said today that he doesn't find it unusual for this to have been delayed by one day. But Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, as well as some other outlets now reporting that, a last-minute settlement might be in the works that Fox might be pushing to settle this case, avert a trial and really spare some of its high-profile talent. And executives like Rupert Murdoch from having to take the stand and testify as to why they allowed election lies to be broadcast on Fox, as despite knowing that they were not true.

Now, the both sides are still preparing for a trial. The judge said basically to be back tomorrow, and a trial will start if a settlement is not reached. Dominion brought in about 40 boxes earlier of evidence into the courtroom. So, they're clearly ready, John, to go to trial if a settlement is not reached. Right now everything sort of seems just up in the air.

KING: Up in the air. Let's -- we'll see how the negotiations go behind closed doors. Oliver, keep us posted if anything changes in the hours ahead. Now we move on to Alabama, and sadly we move on to yet another mass shooting. Still no information on the suspect or motive after four people were killed, 28 others injured at a sweet 16 party.

The shooting happened Saturday in Dadeville, a small town about 60 miles for Montgomery. Spokesperson from the hospital where some of the patients were treated, talk this morning about how the situation hits so close to home.


HEIDI SMITH, LAKE MARTIN COMMUNITY HOSPITAL SPOKESPERSON: Dadeville is a very small community. It just was really difficult because everybody knows everybody and seeing people come through the emergency room that, you know, I think it was just very difficult.


KING: CNN's Isabel Rosales joins us now live from Dadeville. What is the latest?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. I just spoke in the last half hour or so face to face off camera with Dadeville police Chief Floyd who told me that they have strong leads in this case. The Alabama law enforcement agency which is the lead agency investigating the shooting at this dance studio right behind me. It says that they don't have any concerns for public safety. [12:30:00]