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Inside Politics

Supreme Court Faces Midnight Deadline On Abortion Pill Decision; Trump Campaign Softens Abortion Stance After Backlash; Texts Show Trump Allies Weighed Using Breached Voting Data To Keep GOP Hold On Senate In 2021; Some Democrats Pushing For Biden To Negotiate With McCarthy; Larry Elder Announces 2024 Bid; Talks Racism In America; GOP Leader Who Voted To Expel TN Three Resigns Over Sexual Harassment Allegations. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 21, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The midnight deadline now looming for a Supreme Court decision on a major abortion access question. The judges are deciding the fate of mifepristone, a widely used medication to end pregnancy.

CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic joins our conversation. Joan is also the author of the great new book, "Nine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court Strive to the Right and It's Historic Consequences". So it is almost 12:30 in the east, they have 11 and a half hours, I guess. So they're going to keep us to the end?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: I am worried about that. OK. They had been -- you know, OK, first of all, let's just say, they all met together this morning in a private conference. From everything I can tell they're out of that. But I don't, you know, they didn't come out with a one page order, which is, you know, it could take just one page order, we can talk about some of those options.

But I do have to say, recently, they have been trying to avoid late night orders, and especially Friday night, late orders. They -- we've had a spate of those, you know, back about two, three years ago, and I thought they'd wean themselves from that. And let's hope that we get something by close of business, because this is so important.

KING: All right. So walk through the options.

BISKUPIC: Exactly.

KING: And by the way, I put superglue on the seat, you're not going anywhere.

BISKUPIC: OK. So what they have before them is a request from the Biden administration and the drug manufacturer Danco to suspend the lower court orders that put new restrictions in place, the FDA authorization of mifepristone, which has been available to people, to women to end their pregnancies in the early stages since the year 2000. So what they could do is just grant that request first day, and nothing changes, while the merits of this controversy play out in a lower Regional Court, the Fifth Circuit, which is scheduled a hearing for May 17. And then as it plays out with -- at the U.S. Supreme Court, on the actual, as I say, merits of the controversy. Or they could deny it, and these restrictions that will mention would immediately go into effect.

That's -- that goes to the availability of the drug. Would women be able to get it as they can now at 10 weeks of pregnancy? Or would that be rolled back to seven weeks of pregnancy? Would they be able to get it by mail after consulting with medical personnel physician or others, and then be able to get it by mail rather than pick it up in person, which is another thing that would go into play if things were rolled back?

Or they could, you know, what's before us now or, you know, kind of a hybrid of what the Fifth Circuit Regional Court did with the original judge's orders. The original judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas had negated all of the FDA authorization back to the year 2000. The Supreme Court itself could start meddling with various regulations, which the Biden administration says would cause chaos nationwide, do not do that. We will see.

KING: And so as we wait, a lot of things to talk about, let's start with this judge, Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas. It has now been reported. Other organizations have some of this reporting. CNN's KFile has some of this that he did not fully disclose some of his past conversations, past authorship of about social issues like abortion, like contraception, like including this. This is from February 2014. On a conservative radio show where the judge's -- well, listen.


MATTHEW KACSMARYK, JUDGE: People who experience a same-sex attraction are not responsible individually or solely for the atmosphere of the sexual revolution. You know, it's a long time coming. You know, it came after no-fault divorce. It came after we implemented very permissive policies on contraception.


KING: He certainly entitled his opinion, but there are a number of -- including Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski on Capitol Hill who say, I would have liked to have known all this. I feel duped.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, and for context here, you have to submit these detailed paperwork when you have a confirmation process and you're supposed to include everything that you've ever said or written publicly, this would have fallen under that category. And now he said that it was like an honest mistake, but it certainly creates the appearance --

KING: Yes.

ZANONA: -- that he was trying to avoid scrutiny for this. And just coincidentally, he had a colleague who was nominated for a federal judgeship. And during the confirmation process that came out and he made some controversial comments of that exact radio show. And then his nomination was derailed.

KING: There you go. So as this plays out, the Dobbs decision wiping out Roe v. Wade significantly restricted abortion access across America. Now you have the medication abortion question before the courts which could significantly reduce it even more dramatically so. So it's a huge issue, as we talked about in politics right now.

This is Donald Trump. This is the Trump campaign to The Washington Post the other day. "President Donald J. Trump believes the Supreme Court, led by the three justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the state level." Well, that drew outrage from a leading pro-life group that has a lot of sway with socially conservative voters in the Republican Party, the Susan B. Anthony group.

"President Trump's assertion that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion solely to the states is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold. We will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard."


Coincidence or not. Just today, a new statement from the Trump campaign to CNN, in which they say, "Thanks to the Supreme Court's recent discussion, the states have now been empowered to take up the issue. Even though much work remains to be done to defend the cause of life, President Trump believes it is the states where the greatest advances can now take place."

So a lot of wiggle room all of a sudden.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there is -- that's an interesting interplay, I think, is going to play out across the Republican primary. As you mentioned that Susan B Anthony group is part of the real social activism that drives a lot of the grassroots energy on the conservative side, that is ardently pro-life.

I mean, you saw Tim Scott really struggle with this, as he announced too, because finding the compromise position on abortion for Republicans has been very hard. The jobs decision really messed up their messaging on abortion. They were -- they turned it from a hypothetical to a real reality. And then a lot of these states particularly were their state legislatures, that had big gerrymanders, these groups can push for big of restrictions that are not supported by the public at large.

It's an interesting dynamic, particularly with Trump, who was actually freed who has not been a real driver on this issue. And so he is having some wiggle room there because while Senator Graham's 15-week --

KING: Right. HERNDON: -- they're pushing us to compromise, because he knows that, like the public at large, hasn't really landed on that as a compromise.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And we just talked in the last segment about how the former president has been going on the offensive against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But on this one, Ron DeSantis, did sign a six-week abortion ban --


MIN KIM: -- in Florida. And in the primary field and in that space, that is where DeSantis could have the advantage now. Does it apply to general election? That is a whole different question.

KING: That is a whole different question. Fascinating to forward. Don't go terribly far. I didn't really put superglue on the seat, though.

Up next, exclusive reporting on a Team Trump election obsession. Newly obtained text messages, detail efforts to gain access to voting machine data and then to use it to overturn a Georgia Senate race.



KING: Some intriguing new details now to add to the ongoing investigation into former President Donald Trump and 2020 election interference in the state of Georgia. For the first time, we're now seeing text messages between operatives working with Trump's legal team. In those texts, they're trying to figure out what to do with data from a breached voting machine. And if they should, or could use that information to try to decertify Georgia's Senate runoff back in 2021. There's a lot to sort out here.

CNN Zach Cohen and Sara Murray join us with this new reporting. Zach, just walk us through what you've learned and where it fits.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: John, these are two guys that we know were working directly with Trump's legal team, including people like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. And they were really tasked with finding evidence of voter fraud, right, that could be used in lawsuits, that could be used as sort of discredit the presidential results.

But we're learning for the first time now that after January 6, after, you know, everything that happened that day, that continued and they did successfully get access to data from a voting machine in Coffee County. And these texts two weeks after the breach happened, show you for the first time what they were planning to do with it.

They were looking -- you know, it's very clear here, one text says, "Here's the plan. Let's keep this close hold for now. We only have until Saturday to decide if we're going to use this report to try to decertify the Senate runoff or if we hold it for a bigger moment later."

Now they're talking about the Senate runoff in Georgia, obviously, the one that David Perdue, the Republican lost and it was won by Senator Jon Ossoff. But for the first time, we're going to go window into how people that were working for Trump, in the lead up -- or the aftermath of 2020 election kept trying to do the same stuff after weeks after.

KING: So they keep going even after January 6. This is a conservative county. And this is part of a big -- we always talk about the investigation by the D.A. in Fulton County, is about the 2020 presidential race, but it's bigger than that.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is bigger than that. I think what the D.A. is looking at there is really election interference. And this is part of it. You know, we know that she has information about not only the attempts to breach these voting machines in Coffee County, but also the attempts to try to use these to undermine or to try to undermine the Senate runoff results as well as the 2020 presidential election results.

And it's telling that, you know, even after they saw how horribly when trying to overturn the 2020 election, even after they saw what happened in January 6, that there was still this kind of scheming going around in the layers around former President Trump at that time.

KING: It's a very conservative county. So you would think if you're trying to prove fraud, why are you looking there? But is it because that's where they were able to get someone to help them get access? Is that this?

COHEN: Exactly. They were able to find an election worker in Coffee County, which, as you mentioned, Trump won about 70 percent of the vote there. They were able to find an election worker who was sympathetic to some of the claims about, you know, voting machine irregularities, that, you know, they're potentially vulnerable to foreign hacking.

And so they opened the front door and let this team of operatives in, you know, that data was shared with a select group of Trump allies. And ultimately, they were talking about whether or not to use it to try to up in the Senate runoff results (ph).

KING: And important to note, data that no member of the public should be able to touch, especially nobody with access to it knows vault in a campaign with a partisan agenda should be able to touch.

MURRAY: Right.

KING: Do we know where we're going here in terms of timetable?

MURRAY: Well, look, I mean, frankly, I think this is part of the reason the D.A.'s investigation has taken so long as it as we peel back the layers in a state like Georgia, we're finding more and more about what happened. I mean, we knew Donald Trump called Brad Raffensperger.


We knew Rudy Giuliani showed up and said crazy things to state lawmakers but it was well after that that we learned about this breach in Coffee County, that we learned about sort of the gang of people involved in that. And we know she's looking at these potential racketeering charges. Maybe this spring, we're still waiting.

KING: All right. For this to be happening even after January 6 just speaks volumes.

Thanks to both of you for coming in to share that great reporting.

Up next for us, the debt ceiling debate has both sides on edge here. Republicans working feverishly to get enough votes to pass their negotiating blueprint. And now some Democrats are getting nervous at the president for flatly refusing to negotiate right now.



KING: Now to Capitol Hill, where even Democrats, some Democrats starting to get jittery over the debt limit. There's a growing chorus who say President Biden should sit down at the negotiation table with the House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy. The White House has dismissed the Republican leaders plan to avoid a default earlier this week, and it shut down any expectation that a meeting is coming soon.

Our great reporters are back at the table with us. Let's start with the Republicans because they need to pass their negotiating blueprint next week. Things are looking better. It's been messy publicly, but Speaker McCarthy seems to think he's close. He's on Fox today saying, I have a plan. It's the president's problem.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: People should negotiate together, especially when you're talking about the American public. The President said he wanted a plan, we put forth a plan. Why won't the President sit down? What is he afraid of all the time before people have? He's treating this list like he treats the border. He wants to ignore the problem and hopes it go away, but it will not go away.


KING: Smart message to the Republican base, the White House position would be, would do the debt ceiling separately, then we'll talk spending cuts. But does he have 218?

ZANONA: He doesn't have 218 yet. There are still a number of lawmakers who are undecided. I expect that the whipping is going to continue through the weekend. They're going to have some more meetings next week.

A number of lawmakers are still concerned. You have moderates who are worried about these tougher work requirements for government assistance programs, conservatives who don't think it goes far enough. Some are still pushing for last minute revisions, but leadership says they don't want to open it back up because that would just be a whole new can of worms for them.

I think that they will ultimately get there. And the reason why is because McCarthy has been making this argument to them behind closed doors is, this isn't going to become law anyway. We just need this to get ourselves to the negotiating table. And if we're able to pass something, anything, and it does default, we can at least try to blame the other side and that they just want to look like they are rational and reasonable. And that Biden is the one who's refusing to negotiate.

KING: And so the President says, number one, he doesn't like what the Republicans proposed. Number two, he says it's not the way it's supposed to work, or at least that's not the way it's worked in the past. We do debt ceiling separately, then in the budget process, we can talk about spending priorities.

But you're beginning to have a small number, but still a number of Democrats from vulnerable districts. This is Jared Moskowitz, he won in Florida by about five points saying, Mr. President, please.


REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D), FLORIDA: I think Joe Biden should be talking to Kevin McCarthy, even if those conversations right now prove nothing productive. But I do think they should be talking.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And what is your fear if they're -- these talks don't happen?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, my fear is that this gets pushed all the way to the last moment. And then if we're at the last moment, and things fall apart, we go off the cliff for the first time in default, which will be absolutely catastrophic.


KING: It would be catastrophic for the economy if we went off the cliff. Most Democrats think they don't want that to happen. But most Democrats think if it did, the Republicans would get blamed. He's not so sure. He thinks might be everybody.

MIN KIM: Right, right. And I think senior -- some -- many senior Democrats do recognize that, ultimately, there will be a point where Biden will have to talk with McCarthy and figure something out whether it's an independent budget deal, and then a separate debt limit or whatever form that takes.

So right now, for Democrats, it's a leverage game. You know, we think that -- we think maybe what McCarthy would get to 218, but we don't know that for sure until next week. And if McCarthy falls flat on his face, then Democrats have all the leverage. So they don't need to be out there or most -- the decision makers in the party don't need to be out there saying, yes, we will talk with him, or we should talk with them. But these vulnerable Democrats do have their own political cases to make and they will probably be proved right at the end of the day.

KING: We always talk about the narrow Republican House Majority and how tough it is for the speaker, what the challenge is for the Speaker. The Democrats don't have big majorities in --


KING: They don't have a tiny majority in the Senate. And they're, you know, they're in the minority in the House. So it's difficult to the President can't have too many Democratic defections, if he wants to hold his position.

HERNDON: Absolutely. And they're looking at the tough House and Senate map coming in '24. I think you have a Democratic Party where -- when you have some of those moderates speaking up, they want Joe Biden to sit down, but I think it is to that point about leverage. It's about who might get the blame.

But that brinksmanship is weighing on this fight largely, and I think he's waiting on public. I mean, when this gets to the end, I think there is a sense. So, you know, I think back to that right track, wrong track number, some of that is built because of how Washington has worked in these type of ways.

KING: Or not work.

HERNDON: Or not work to your voice (ph).

KING: Yes.

HERNDON: And so I think there is some sense coming from Democrats, that they don't want to be projected as that and that's also driving Republicans who don't want to look like a kind of dysfunctional side too. But the issues are where there's a problem.

KING: We'll learn -- the next installment we learn next week, if the House Republicans bring their plan to the floor. We'll see what the Vulcan (ph) is and then we move from there.

Up next for us, the conservative talk radio host Larry Elder joins the 2024 Republican race.



KING: Topping our political radar today, the conservative talk radio host Larry Elder running for president as a Republican. Remember he ran against Governor Gavin Newsom in California's recall election.


LARRY ELDER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Aside from the obvious things about the borders I mentioned before, the crime, the --

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Yes. ELDER: -- maligning of the police, there a couple of things that I think our side does not spend enough time talking about, and that is the lie, the absolute disgraceful lie that the Democrats put on everything which is that America is systemically racist.


KING: A Tennessee lawmaker now resigning over ethics violations two weeks after helping expel two other lawmakers for protesting against gun violence. A local TV station confronted Tennessee House Representative Scotty Campbell about sexual harassment allegations involving interns. He resigned the same day. Campbell says he had, quote, consensual adult conversations outside the workplace.

Thanks for your time. We'll see you Monday. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.