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Inside Politics

GOP Won't Help Dems Replace Sen. Feinstein On Judiciary Committee, Setting Up Bigger Problem; DeSantis Threatens Retaliation Against Disney; 2024 Hopefuls Use Disney To Fire Shots At DeSantis; WSJ Reporter Denied Detention Appeal In Moscow; Oklahoma Gov.: Officials Who Made Racist Remarks Should Resign; Biden To Sign Child Care Executive Order. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 18, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: This morning, if you had any doubt, the leader of Senate Republicans making this crystal clear. The GOP will not help Democrats solve their Dianne Feinstein dilemma.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Senate Republicans will not take part in sidelining a temporary absent colleague off a committee just so Democrats can force through their very worst nominees.


KING: That makes clear Democrats are short devotes to temporarily replace the 89-year-old on an all-important Senate Judiciary Committee. That means Biden judicial nominees are in limbo. And Feinstein's absence would complicate other big challenges coming up, like the debt ceiling fight and filling a Biden Cabinet vacancies.

And so, there are more Democratic calls for Senator Feinstein to resign. Close allies, though, say she hopes to return soon and deserves more courtesy. The Senator has been absent since early March.

Our great reporters are back at the table. That's a tough one. She's an icon in the Democratic Party. She's a legend in California. She's a trailblazing woman in the United States Senate. But, but the President's agenda is on hold here.

One of my questions is now that it's crystal clear, Republicans will not give you the votes, is at some point, is the President of the United States going to have to call his former friend -- his good friend and former Senate colleague out in California and say, I need you here or I need you to go?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It would, though, expose one of the more sensitive sort of issues that the White House often faces, which is the President's own age, which polling had shown is on the minds of Americans throughout the country.

In previous whether -- situations with tensions and -- among the Democratic Party in Congress, whether it be with congressional negotiations over legislations or what have you, the White House stance has always been to send top White House staffers, whether it be Senior Adviser Steve Ricchetti, whether it be Louisa Terrell as well to the Hill and at least publicly say that Biden would take a step back.

This has got to be something to watch, though, because as you noted, this involves one of the issues, one of the things in that being judicial appointments that the White House has celebrated for the past six months. So it will be something to watch.

KING: And it's something you can still get done in divided government. Now that the Republicans control the House, you just need Senate confirmation of judicial picks. Just look at these numbers. 119 Biden federal nominees to the federal bench confirmed by the Senate. So far, only one approved by the Judiciary Committee to get it to the Senate floor since Feinstein has been out. So it puts that process on hold.

We're a week or a month away from the debt ceiling showdown. The President's Labor Secretary resigned to take a new job. They need to replace somebody in the Cabinet. So Democrats have 51, absent Feinstein so they have 50. We went through this with the Biden agenda when, you know, when it was 50-50, again, at what point?

HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Yes, I think there is kind of two narratives on display there. If you talk to Senator Chuck Schumer, he'll say, well, I've talked to her, she says she's coming back soon. And then other people, though, skeptically, will say, well, if she's coming back soon, then why are we working so hard to replace her on the Judiciary Committee?

So I think privately, a lot of senators on the Democratic side don't think that she's coming back anytime soon. And I think they're going to -- they're willing to give it a few more weeks because, like you said, she is an icon up there, a trailblazer. But we will probably hear more calls for her to step aside in the next few weeks as this queue of judges continues to back up. We get closer to the debt ceiling, and like you said, we need to confirm a new Cabinet secretary.

KING: And so, the thinking at the beginning of the week was that the Democrats seem to think, or at least think it was a possibility they could get 10 votes. You just heard Leader McConnell. His deputy, John Cornyn says, never once have we allowed this, and so we're not going to do it now, especially over the issue of judges, which are so critical.

You know, this has been McConnell's calling card for years and years and years. But listen to these Republican senators. Joni Ernst of Iowa, "We're not going to help the Democrats with that." Chuck Grassley also of Iowa, and on that committee, "I don't think senatorial courtesy will work to move liberal judges." Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, "She said she's going to be coming back soon. I take Dianne at her word." Susan Collins, who's a close friend of hers, also on the committee, "There clearly has been a concerted campaign to force her to leave the Judiciary Committee. I will have no part in that."


The Collins thing is delicious in the sense that she's not just making this, I'm a Republican, I'm not going to help the Democrats. She's like, you know, the Democrats are trying to nudge my good friend off the committee.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Which is very ironic. But, I mean, it is true that Senator Feinstein was supposed to be the chair of the committee, but there was a pressure for her to back away from that because they did not believe that she was able to handle it anymore in her years.

But what I am told is that this is now out of the hands, at least temporarily, of the Feinstein Senate staff. This is in the hands of the Feinstein family, which is very different than the Senate staff. So she is, you know, soon means very different things --

KING: Right.

ZELENY: -- to -- by way of explaining this, but, interestingly, if she would happen to retire. Our Lauren Fox this morning on Capitol Hill just a short time ago talked to Senator Mitt Romney and he opened the door to the idea of Republicans may not even agree to helping to fill the committee seat if she retires.

So in the opposed of Merrick Garland rule, all the decorum of the Senate is, you know, really out the window when it comes to judges. So that will be something fascinating here to watch what happens even if she retires. The reason it matters is on that committee, you need her vote on the committee to vote them out to the full Senate.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: There are the votes in the full Senate with the vice president, but there aren't on the committee. So that's why it's so important here. So it's too early to say there are hints of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in terms of should she have retired earlier for the longevity of the courts. But look for those conversations to come because that is what's at stake.

KING: And you have some progressives mostly in the House for now, saying she already should have resigned.


KING: There's a generational piece of that. There's a House versus Senate piece of that. But it's an incredibly difficult issue. But the Biden agenda, very meaningful consequences. We shall see. Up next, Ron DeSantis threatens to build a state prison next to Disney World. The Florida governor cast this showdown as a war against woke capitalism. Many other Republicans, though, see it as a power trip way outside conservative principles.



KING: Ron DeSantis is vowing to win his fight with Mickey Mouse. The Florida governor is asking the legislature now for help after being outmaneuvered by Disney in a debate over how much autonomy the company has over Disney World. The governor insists he will get the last word here, even if it means giving the happiest place on earth an unwelcome new neighbor.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: People have said, you know, maybe have another, maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison. Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless.


KING: Our great reporters are back to the table. He's not just the Florida governor, of course, he's expected in May, once the legislature is done, to announce his candidacy for president. This is a power play here. Where are we going?

ZELENY: It started out as a power play that he was winning, you know, for the last year or so. Now, it appears he's not. And interestingly, those comments yesterday, once again, his fellow Republican, potential rivals in the presidential campaign, Governor Chris Sununu, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have -- are piling on him, using the Disney thing as an example of how he's not conservative about, you know, is the government supposed to go after a specific company?

But never mind that. It looks to me like you could almost see the ads from Trump world playing that he sort of got SWAT around by Mickey Mouse. And it just -- you wonder how far he's going to go with this. And just if that passes for humor, build a new prison outside of Disney World, I don't know. It just strikes me as odd. I'm not sure how this can be a winning argument for him at this point.

KING: And so let's listen to some of that. The first Republican debate is scheduled for August, but it's starting to play out right here because Trump and DeSantis are at the top of the pack. Chris Sununu, as Jeff noted, Republican governor of New Hampshire, has not declared his candidacy, says he's thinking about it.

To Jeff's point, he says, this is not what Republicans do. We applaud free markets. We don't use government power to punish people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: This has gone from kind of going after a headline to something that has devolved into an issue, and it convolutes the entire Republican message. I think we have a great product as Republicans with limited government, limited government and local control and low taxes and individual responsibility, but that gets all muddled up with our messaging. We're horrible at selling our message.


KING: That is Sununu and Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, who is also thinking about running again, he has not said he would yet. So let's get in the ring. If you're going to get in the ring, he makes the point that Ron DeSantis presents himself as Mr. Strong, but he just got outmaneuvered not by Mickey, nice try, but by the Disney CEO, Bob Iger.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: That's not the guy I want sitting across from President Xi and negotiating our next agreement with China or sitting across from Putin and trying to resolve what's happening in Ukraine if you can't see around a corner that Bob Iger created for you.

Sometimes in politics, you just have to admit when you screwed up and you got taken. It happens. It's hard to admit it because it happens to you on a public stage and everybody gets to see your mistake. But if you're not used to that, then don't get in this business.


KING: That's it. Almost, a, a vision strategy, but then a manhood test.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Yes, no, absolutely. I mean, you wonder if this is sort of an unexpected sort of backfiring of prioritizing culture wars over the more traditional pro-business values of the Republican Party. But you kind of are seeing a clash of those themes here.


Let's be honest, I mean, the origin of this goes towards trying to appeal to potentially supporters of the former president as well by leaning into some of those divisive issues and the grievances of some in the country. But now you're seeing that Republicans in -- that Republicans are now criticizing him for not just devaluing sort of the traditional business values of the party, but also now losing a negotiation which could factor into whether or not you're qualified for higher off.

KING: That part is interesting, right? Who won the negotiation or who won the battle? But Sununu, an establishment voice, Christie, an established voice. They were wrong about Trump, too. So are they wrong about DeSantis, and how it plays with voters. We could talk about how it plays in Washington, how it plays with other establishment people. Donald Trump proved, yes, nice try. You all said I couldn't do this and he was president.

CAYGLE: Yes, I mean, you make a great point. DeSantis is playing to one audience right now. That's the GOP primary audience, right? We see that with the six-week abortion bill that we know is not going to play well with general voters. But he pursued it. He signed it. He put a press release out. He did sign it in the middle of the night, but that's who he's trying to get right now.

I think this is a huge question, though, for Washington and for donors and other people who want to back him. What is this guy really like? And can he make it on the big stage in a debate against Trump? And he'll be up here tonight in Washington actually introducing himself to some of these Republicans.

KING: Right. That'll be an interesting question. Here's just a few. Chip Roy of Texas has already endorsed him. Thomas Massie of Kentucky has already endorsed him. Darin LaHood of Illinois, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Randy Feenstra of Iowa. Some conservative Republicans there.

DeSantis served in the House. He knows them. Coming up, essentially to say, you know, if I run and he's going to run, be with me. It is an interesting test. Can you make more friends? You have more surrogates. That matters.

ZELENY: For sure. I mean, he is trying to slow the role of endorsements to the former president, first and foremost. But we should all remember one thing. There's a lot of headlines now. Oh, he's had a disastrous month. You know, he's stumbling before he gets in. All fine and well, but I always think back to 2007.

Boy, Senator Barack Obama had a rough year against Hillary Clinton.

KING: Yes.

ZELENY: He didn't start taking off until the fall. So we have no idea how you recover from some of these earliest stumbles when only we're watching here. So, let's see how it plays out.

KING: Yes. Joe Biden had the same.

ZELENY: A couple of times.

KING: Yes, a couple of times on those as well. So, one day at a time.

Up next, freedom denied. An American journalist accused of spying on Russia -- look at that -- appearing in a glass cage inside a Moscow courtroom.


[12:52:09] KING: Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich tried to appeal his detention today, but was denied by a Russian court. Gershkovich, you see here appearing in a Moscow court earlier from inside a glass cage. He was arrested last month and charged with espionage. Gershkovich denies the charges, as does the United States government.

CNN's Matthew Chance has more.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the first real glimpse we've had of Evan Gershkovich for weeks, really, since he was detained on suspicion of espionage in March. And you can see he looked pretty calm and relaxed. U.S. diplomats who have now been granted consular access say that he appears to be in good health and seems strong.

The court, though, in Moscow rejected his appeal to be released on bail, offer his custody to be downgraded to house arrest. Instead, Gershkovich will stay behind bars at the notorious Lefortovo Prison in Moscow to await his trial, or after the decision.

His lawyers spoke about how he's holding up inside, reading classic Russian novels, once said, and watching cooking shows. The U.S. ambassador, though, was much more critical, saying how troubled she was at seeing what she called an innocent journalist in these circumstances and calling on Russia to set him free.

Meanwhile, there are new concerns being expressed about another prominent prisoner being held in a Russian jail. Lawyers for Alexey Navalny, the anticorruption campaigner serving an 11 and a half year prison sentence now say, he's been beaten up in his jail cell and separately, he's facing more criminal charges. That comes after the Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years for treason, sparking more international criticism, but underlining Russia's continued lurched towards authoritarianism.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

KING: Still ahead for us, Oklahoma's governor calls for resignations. That after local leaders are hot on tape making racist and threatening comments. Plus, the former Congresswoman Liz Cheney is pending a memoir, and it includes a warning.



KING: Topping our political radar today, Oklahoma's governor calling for former Curtin county officials to resign. Those officials caught on tape talking about killing reporters and about lynching black people. It is tough to hear it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this were back in the day, what that do with Alan Marshall (ph), you take a damn black guy and whoop their ass and throw them in the cell, I'd run for fucking sheriff. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well it's not like that no more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. Take them downhill to a mud creek and hang them up with a damn rope.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't do that anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything about it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got more rights than we got.


KING: The Oklahoma attorney general is investigating.

Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney is spilling the tea in her new memoir, "Oath and Honor." The book focuses on the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election and what led up to January 6. Cheney also expected to reveal why she says she decided to stand alone against her party to, quote, do what she knew was right.

The book is pegged as a memoir and a warning. It drops in November.

In Sunny, Arizona, a lot of shade being thrown at Senator Kyrsten Sinema. The Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, who's running for Sinema's Senate seat, says the independent incumbent can jump in the race. But --


REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: If she wants to end up in third place, for the first time ever, any senator ending up in -- any incumbent senator end up in third place, she has the right to do that.


KING: Senator Sinema has yet to announce her reelection plans.

Next hour, President Biden will sign an executive order to make child care more affordable and more accessible. The order includes 50 directives across nearly every Cabinet agency to fix the so-called care economy. The President, you'll remember, could not pass a sweeping childcare bill through the Congress last year.

Thanks for your time on INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you tomorrow. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.