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Biden Could Announce Reelection Bid As Soon As Tuesday; DeSantis Ups The Ante In His Contentious War Against Disney; 2024 GOP Hopefuls Pile On DeSantis Over Disney; Could GOP Hardliners Upend McCarthy's Debt Limit Deal?; U.S. Marks Somber Milestone, More Shootings Than Days In 2023 So Far; Targeted TN Lawmakers Discuss The Future Of Gun Reform. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 23, 2023 - 11:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Biden's ready. The President's reelection announcement could be just days away. What's his pitch to retake the White House?

And man versus mouse.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They may have run Florida for 50 years before I got on the scene, but they don't run Florida anymore.

PHILLIP: DeSantis is upping the stakes in his battle against Disney. But is it a war he can actually win?

Plus, McCarthy's Mountain. The House Speaker must get his debt ceiling plan through the House. Will his caucus give him the votes he needs?

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Right now, I'm leaning no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you supporting this package?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I support the framework, but I haven't looked at. I got to go look at the text that delves the details.


PHILLIP: Hello, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Philip.

And so the countdown begins. In just a matter of days, President Biden is expected to take the plunge and formally announced his bid to retake the White House. It is a move that the president has held off making for months now. But it is also a move that however he -- that he's been telegraphing for quite some time now.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My plan is to run for re- election. I'm in good health, then, in fact, I would run again.

When I announced if I now and my intention is that I will run again.

Well, I plan on running now, but we're not prepared to announce it yet.

I told you my plan is to run again.


PHILLIP: Now the President's entry into the race is likely to come in the form of a campaign style video, which could be released as soon as Tuesday. But that day also coincides with the four-year anniversary of Biden's official return to public life when he kicked off his 2020 campaign with the release of this video and this message.


BIDEN: We are in the battle for the soul of this nation. I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.

And above all else, that's what's at stake in this election. We can't forget what happened in Charlottesville. Even more important, we have to remember who we are.


PHILLIP: Let's discuss all of this and more with our political panel, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe is here. Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times. Time's Molly Ball, and Daniel Strauss from The New Republic.

So President Biden is typically the one to kind of describe the moment that he was running against this sort of Trumpian era as like a fever dream, really, that people would wake up from. And here we are, again, and that fever dream is running for president against him. So can he run on that same idea?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BOSTON GLOBE: I think he'll run about the -- he'll talk more about what could be, and the forces that are still very much at play in many -- in many states. And we're talking about voting rights, that sort of thing.

But I honestly think this launch is going to be about the accomplishments that his administration has been able to get done in the short time that he has been, or in the last couple of years that he has been in office, things like prescription drugs, we'll hear about, that infrastructure. It's going to be a lot more about promises kept than I think what is than his opponent, just by virtue of, you know, being an incumbent.

PHILLIP: The soul of the nation, maybe a little bit less of the emphasis here. ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think so, I mean, compared to the last election. I was talking to a senior White House official or a former senior White House official that's close to this decision making who is basically saying, look, it's going to be about drawing the contrast both between economic -- both between the legislation that the president has passed and current proposals that have been put forward by certain Republicans in Congress mainly cuts -- potential cuts to Medicare or Social Security.

Also, they were -- saw what happened during the midterms, saw how the road decision factored into the midterms and how abortion and really the fight to protect reproductive rights has continued to be a theme. Just look at the court case this week as well with the availability of abortion pills. That's something the White House has been out and talking about. So drawing a contrast between where the White House's stance is on an issue like that and Republicans are -- will also be a theme going forward.


PHILLIP: The timing of this is so interesting also. I mean, President Biden is a little superstitious. He loves -- he loves rhyming. He loves the poetry of it all. Just take a listen to kind of his love for this sort of the balance and all of this.


BIDEN: We have a shot to make hope in history right.

Join us. Join us in making hope and history right.

We have a chance to make hope and history rhyme.

This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an age where we can once more may open history rhyme.


PHILLIP: The four years to the day of his last presidential announcement. But all of that is really in the context of a man who is now president who basically came back onto the scene because he thought he was needed. He thought he was the only one who could do it.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: That's right. And, you know, the refrain that we heard in the State of the Union finished the job, I think is going to be the main theme here, right? And that's inevitable for an incumbent president running for re-election. It's always going to be a sort of state of course campaign.

And in this case, I think it presents a lot of challenges for a president who isn't popular, whose agenda isn't necessarily popular, getting voters to agree to stay the course and let him finish the job. You know, I think he has a lot of work to do to convince voters that these achievements that he's been working so hard to sell are, in fact, good and should -- and do deserve four more years. But that's going to be -- you know, the note he has to hit.

I think to Zolan's point, it will be very interesting to see if he leans into the abortion issue, given that it was so notably not quite missing, but almost missing from that state of the Union address. He very much does want to run on this this, you know, ambitious legislative agenda that he's managed to pass.

And then -- and so the question is, can he convince the American public that he does need four years to finish the job?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I think one thing we're going to see a lot of in this campaign is that it is going to be about contrast between the GOP. I mean, the situation is definitely different than four years ago where Biden's premise for running was to stanch the bleeding to turn the country in a different direction to turn down the temperature.

And now, especially with the GOP's moves to curb back abortion rights, there's going to be a lot more contrast on what this current GOP wants to do. And the environment is different. The conversation is different. It's not necessarily only about Trump anymore. And that's the approach this White House wants to take, especially because, as Molly says, his poll numbers are not ideal.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, one of the things we do have to kind of talk about always with Biden, but that it's really his age and how he handles it, how this campaign is necessarily going to be different from the last. There isn't COVID-19 that has basically nixed all campaigning of the second half of the general election.

Here's the New York Times editorial board basically telling Joe Biden he needs to talk about this more. They say, if Mr. Biden runs again as he recently said he intends to do, questions will persist about his age until he does more to assure voters that he is up to the job.

The president also needs to talk about his health openly and without embarrassment. And to the -- to end, the pretense that it doesn't matter. Only a combination of performance and complete candor will change the minds of skeptical voters.

Does the White House agree, though?

KANNO-YOUNGS: I find that when you ask the White House about this topic, in particular, his age, it's one of the issues that they are most sensitive about. This will absolutely be something that resonates going forward in the election.

They are planning on sending him out on a travel blitz. I know that. They want -- they do believe that the president is best when he's in front of people, when he's traveling around, but we do know that this is an issue on the top of mind to voters. Just one more thing too, as we were talking about this theme of them talking about implementation and the benefits of their -- of their packages, there is a challenge of galvanizing voters based off of legislative packages, many of which have not really taken effect yet or do not impact people day to day yet.

So that will also be a challenge for them. How do you talk about the sprawling bills in ways and convince them, this will benefit you even if you're not feeling it yet.

KUCINICH: But going back to the age thing, I do think if former president Trump does end up being the nominee, that contrast is a little ticking a little bit more off the table, frankly, because they're at the same age.

PHILLIP: Which is one of the reasons that --

KUCINICH: Exactly.

PHILLIP: -- so many Democrats -- I mean, they don't want Trump to be president, but they think that the odds are slightly more in their favor, if he is.

We've all been talking a lot about abortion so far. Just in this segment, President Biden did issue a statement after the Supreme Court made its ruling on Friday. He said, "I will continue to fight politically driven attacks on women's health. But let's be clear, the American people must continue to use their vote as their voice and elect a congress who will pass a law restoring the protections of Roe versus Wade."


And someone, you know, mentioned that this is an Irish Catholic president. He has not always wanted to talk about abortion. In fact, the vice president has really been the one to take the lead on this, but will he have to in this environment?

BALL: I think we're going to see, you know, with every passing day, we get more and more evidence of how unpopular the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade was. And what a powerful motivator this is for Democrats, for the Democratic base, for Democratic voters.

But it is still one that the president is personally uncomfortable with, prefers to issue written statements rather than get out there and give a speech. And it is something that we've seen the vice president increasingly comfortable with. There's a feeling that she's been effective on this issue in a way that she's had a very hard time being effective on other issues.

So it's possible that they continue to have that be the tag team, that they continue to have this be primarily, you know, the vice president's issue to go out and galvanize the base. And that would be a somewhat traditional arrangement as well to have the vice president be more of the general of the base, the sort of attack dog of the team, and the president is out there, you know, sort of being more centrist and statesmen like particularly on an issue where he has some personal discussion.

PHILLIP: So meanwhile on the Republican side, there's just -- I think it would be fair to say, a lot of disagreement about how this is supposed to be approached. Listen to Congresswoman Nancy Mace has been pretty outspoken that she thinks her party is on the wrong side of this.


MACE: Well, it was the right decision on Friday night by the Supreme Court. The judge's decision in Texas, this was a handpicked case for the handpicked judge.

I want us to find some middle ground as a Republican, a conservative, constitutional conservative who's pro-life.

Weed to read the room on this issue because the vast majority of folks are not in the extremes.


PHILLIP: Meanwhile, also this morning, Senator Lindsey Graham telling Dana Bash just a little while ago that he thinks Republicans will win if they really just emphasize the late term abortion part of this. He wouldn't answer the question, whether he thinks that there's a federal role.

STRAUSS: Yes. And, look, there's a special irony here that this is -- these are both South Carolina lawmakers. And a third South Carolina lawmaker, Tim Scott, who's getting ready to run for president, has also struggled on the abortion question.

I think, to be honest, that even though Mace is a, you know, solidly conservative lawmaker, she's kind of the outlier here. And most of the party really wants to fall in line with Graham's argument here. And, you know, frankly, that's what Democrats want to see.

PHILLIP: That is not where the debate. At this moment, now that Roe is gone, the debate is not how late is abortion allowed.

KUCINICH: How early.

PHILLIP: It's how early, because that's actually where the legislation is happening.

KUCINICH: Right. You have the six-week ban that DeSantis signed recently in Florida, that he hasn't really talked about that much. When you're talking about the abortion pill. That is -- that is 10 weeks. And according to, you know, where the ruling is right now, now, they're arguing whether it should be sent in the mail, there's that part of the argument among Republicans, but that is -- what Graham is doing is, you know, trying to misdirect where this debate currently is.

And voters know that. They know -- they know that we're not talking about third trimester, second trimester situation. Talking about access to early -- to -- in the -- in the first trimester and those early weeks. And, you know, we'll see if [inaudible] works, but it certainly isn't where the debate is.

PHILLIP: And in the case of mifepristone, you're talking about a drug that is not only used for abortion, but it's also used for miscarriage care and other women's health care and that's a real thing for a lot of women.

But coming up next for us, a prison next to the happiest place on earth. Well, late night TV finds a little humor in DeSantis' latest threats against Disney.






PHILLIP: This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis upped the ante once again in his battle against one of the most powerful and wildly popular opponents in the Sunshine State, Mickey Mouse.


DESANTIS: A corporatist would say that you have to give Disney everything at once. That's not good government, that's not free enterprise.

What should we do with this land? And so, you know, it's like, OK, kids -- I mean, 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.


PHILLIP: Now, DeSantis ignited his self-described war on woke just a year ago after Disney denounced his highly controversial bill. The critics have dubbed, the Don't Say Gay bill. It bans public school teachers from discussing gender and sexuality.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I don't think Ron DeSantis is a conservative based on his actions towards Disney.

ASA HUTCHINSON FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Do we want the conservative government to tell businesses what you can and can't do or what you can't speak out on and not speak out on?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): This has gone from kind of going after a headline to something that is devolved into an issue and it convolutes the entire Republican message.


PHILLIP: DeSantis has taken this up, but it's kind of an issue he's sort of lost control of in some ways, and now he's grabbing at whatever he can to fire back at Disney. Here are some of the latest proposals he wants to maybe put a ride in monorail inspections up the ante on those, imposing taxes on Disney hotels and acting toll roads that lead to Disney theme parks, and maybe even investigate Disney's efforts to limit his oversight over this Reedy Creek Board that is -- that's a weird an acronym of Florida.


But the reason that this becomes problematic for Florida is because there's a reason Disney is in Florida, and it's this, 75,000 employees that Disney has in that state, 50 million annual visitors, and $1.1 billion, with a B, in taxes paid.

BALL: Yes. And so some of these are things that DeSantis can do himself through his executive authority as governor. Some of it has to go through the Florida legislature, which is currently in session and has been willing to mostly do DeSantis' bidding, but there are some signs that they're getting a little frustrated with things like this.

But it's hard to overstate how central the battle with Disney is to Ron DeSantis' political identity. His whole theory of the case, and this is what makes him sort of a conservative populist, rather than a traditional Republican. He's saying, as the elected representatives of the people, the government should be more powerful than these other what he would call woke institutions.

And so whether you're talking about corporations or other institutions that have sort of soft power in society, he is saying, you know, as your leader, I want to exert control over these institutions.

PHILLIP: I just want to --

BALL: It's a whole chapter of his book, it's very important who he is as a politician. So this battle for dominance with Disney, you know, I think he has to win it or he looks very weak.

PHILLIP: I think we should, like, really underline what you just said that they're -- that DeSantis, his ideology is that the government should be more powerful than businesses, than, you know, schools and institutions, even individuals, perhaps. That actually, honestly, does not seem that conservative to me. And I think that that's what you're hearing from Asa Hutchinson and Chris Christie, and others who are looking at this and they're saying, what are we doing here?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Yes. It seems to almost run up against one of the, you know, known traditional values of the Republican Party in a way, you know, wanting -- basically taking this focus on culture wars in the case of DeSantis. And that running up against sort of the pro-business values that you see, that prompted some of the criticism of him this week from other Republicans as well. I just think it's fascinating as well that you're seeing him lean into whether it's a fight with Disney like this or some of the legislation he's put forward that would restrict what can be taught in schools that you're seeing such a focus on that.

And it really shows just the interest in appealing to the Trump base, even if it runs up against, again, one of those traditional values that we would see, which would be allowing a business to basically work, you know, in a state that's great.

KUCINICH: She points, it is a strain and the Republicans, I mean, the whole ESG posts trying to punish companies that have social governance as a part of their -- is how their boards are running their companies. I mean, that is very much something that is, you know, discussed and pushed on the right. And that's who DeSantis is really targeted.

Now, how that -- how that -- if he is successful in a Republican primary, how that plays in a general election? That will be solid.

PHILLIP: TBD. And meanwhile, the question now, actually, it's not even -- we're not even quite there. We're just asking, what about the Republican delegation from Florida?

Here's where we stand on endorsements. You got a very long list of Republican lawmakers from Florida endorsing Trump, just one so far officially endorsing DeSantis, who to be fair, is not even in the race yet.

But here is Anna Paulina Luna, one of the -- she's actually a freshman Congresswoman tweeting out this Lord's Table photo of Trump endorsees over down in Mar-a-Lago really kind of trolling DeSantis on this.

STRAUSS: Yes. But look, what we saw in 2016 is that endorsements don't matter as much as they used to a few decades ago, and they can shift very quickly. There were a lot of lawmakers who were the original Never Trumpers and had strong objections and supported anyone but Trump.

Mitt Romney ended up supporting Ted Cruz in the end. And then Romney wasn't the best example of this but -- and then they switched to supporting Trump. And I think that is DeSantis' bet here. That over time, if he can win over the base first, that's the face in the Republican primary there at, then those endorsements will switch over to him from Trump.

But right now, it is telling about who he is as a governor that he does not command a huge amount of support among elected officials in Florida.

KUCINICH: Even he was as a congressman.


KUCINICH: I mean, when I heard he was going back to Capitol Hill, I kind of scratched my head because when you talk to Republicans who were there, when he was a congressman, that kind of shrugged. So it wasn't really bet.

PHILLIP: All right. So here's a -- this is actually really eyebrow raising quote from Congressman David Trott in Politico. He says, "DeSantis showed up right at the gavel time." This is -- he's relaying a story here. "And didn't say hello or introduce himself. And then the next hearing, the same thing happened. I think the third time it happened, I thought, oh, this guy is never going to say hello to me. I think he's an asshole. I don't think he cares about people."

This is not unusual from what you hear from other Republicans who served with him, who've interacted with him in the -- in the intervening period. It is not going away, these kinds of stories.


KANNO-YOUNGS: And you also saw people, members of Congress this week, releasing statements noting that the former president was reaching out to them directly too and kind of recognizing that affirmation that they were getting from the former president.

So in the meantime, you have these statements kind of criticizing DeSantis, wow, Trump seems to be actually reaching out directly to people and putting in that effort to reach out.

PHILLIP: Trump does seem to be doing a little more retail politics. Maybe we can leave them with this little bit of Trump down in Florida with some pizza.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody want a piece that I've eaten?



PHILLIP: Yes, the notorious germophobe offering a piece of a piece of pizza that he's eaten.

Up next for us, Kevin McCarthy is in a standoff with members of his own party. Can he pass his biggest test yet?

And also, the Tennessee Three head to the White House tomorrow. But first, they'll be joining me right here in the studio. That's coming up next.



PHILLIP: This is a must win for Kevin McCarthy and yet victory is not all assured. In the opening salvo of his first real legislative test, the speaker of the House unveiled his sweeping 320-page debt ceiling plan this week, and the reaction from his caucus was well mixed. Some were yeses, some maybes, and most problematically, there were some nos.


REP. NANCY MACE, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Right now, I'm leaning no. I just haven't had a chance. I was no yesterday and I'll be a no until I fully read the package and see what it does and doesn't do.

REP. CHIP ROY, (R) TEXAS: I support the framework, but I haven't looked it. I got to go look at the text. It doubles in details.

REP. RALPH NORMAN, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm going to total it up, just like I do in the business arena. You total it up and see what it comes. What the country is in trouble and we'll see what it adds up to.


PHILLIP: All of which means there will be even more than the usual amount of wrangling, cajoling, arm twisting on Capitol Hill this week. He can only lose fewer than a handful of those people. And I think the semaphore headline really sums it up best. It says, don't f it up. That's what Republicans worry as hardliners in the conference push for more debt ceiling concessions. This is going to be really, really tricky for him.

MOLLY BALL, TIME MAGAZINE NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think we're going to see a replay of the Speaker fight, basically, right? Because it's the same threshold, same margin for error and exactly the same problems, which are that, you know, the caucus does not see Kevin McCarthy as a sort of strong leader, that they are all sort of duty bound to coalesce around. They all want something from him, and they feel like by holding out, they can get it. And there's a precedent for that.

At the same time, what we did see in the speaker fight is it eventually ended because it was worse for them not to end it than to finally find something they could agree on. Hopefully that's the case before we hit the default deadline. But there is a very hard deadline here. It could be sooner than anybody thinks. It could be as soon as early June. And this is still just the first red down. This is still just the opening offer.

You know, the White House saying we're not going to negotiate, but if we were, we certainly wouldn't do it until you'd given us something to negotiate on. Now, they're saying, well, we can't negotiate on this until you've shown that you have the votes for it, so there's still --

PHILLIP: I mean the difference between -- and this is not good news, the difference between now and the Speaker fight is that McCarthy was only negotiating with himself, basically, his own conference. Now, he has another party involved, the White House, Democrats in both the Senate and on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just listen to -- this is from this morning, you're hearing McCarthy here trying to put this right back on President Trump, but doing so in an interesting way.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm beginning to wonder about the words that he says and the thoughts that he's using, because the idea that he won't even negotiate for more than 80 days, he is now putting the country in default.

We are the only ones being responsible and sensible about this. The real decision is he's afraid to even negotiate.


MCCARTHY: I can't believe that the leader of the free world and to choose the words, it makes me begin to wonder about what his thoughts are.


PHILLIP: President Biden, obviously not President Trump, but he's one wondering what Biden's thoughts are.

KUCINICH: He's getting ahead of himself. He's got to get this bill. This is something that's basically a messaging bill that they're going to need so much political capital to put into, its DOE in the Senate. It just -- it is -- this needs to get done with the two Houses, Congress and the White House. But at this point, it's going to be stuck in one. And putting all of this, all of these cuts and all of this wish list in the House Republican proposal just gets everyone closer to X Day. Whenever it does. Come to your point, it could be early June.

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I think what rank and file Republicans saw from the Speaker fight is that there's always more that they can get out of McCarthy until the very end. There's always, always going to be these whispers that McCarthy wishes went into the void about what else could be put on the table. And at this point, there is not a feeling that that limit has been reached yet.

PHILLIP: So Joe Manchin, a Democrat in the Senate who is running, maybe running for reelection, he put out a statement basically praising Kevin McCarthy. What do you make of that?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it's fascinating there oftentimes you've seen Sander, Manchin kind of put out these statements that seem to kind of appeal and try to kind of get to a middle ground, if you could say such coming.

I think also it's worth noting just right now, just how much the White House is also watching to see which members of Congress, which members of the Republican Party specifically, which moderates are going to jump forward to support any proposed bill that has any semblance of restrictions also on social safety net programs as well.

[11:35:13] There is a political dynamic here for Democrats and the White House too, of almost challenging them to put forward these proposals, to basically say, hey, voters, look, these are some of the programs that would be cut here.

PHILLIP: But it also does sort of feel like you're hearing more and more Democrats saying maybe don't tie this to the debt ceiling, but we should talk.


PHILLIP: We should talk about what this looks like for the federal deficit in the long term.

But coming up next for us, the Tennessee Three who were targeted for leading protests on the state House floor head to the White House tomorrow. What will their message be for President Biden? I'll ask them when they join me right here in the studio, next.


PHILLIP: This week, the U.S. reached a somber milestone with more mass shootings than days in the year so far. That number making clear the chilling reality of the gun crisis that is hitting communities nationwide, including in Nashville, where in just days, families will mark one month since six teachers and children were gunned down in an elementary school.


And ahead of that anniversary, the Tennessee Governor, Bill Lee, is now calling for a special legislative session to tackle gun reform. Among those pushing for immediate action on tighter gun laws are three state Democratic lawmakers who are dubbed, The Tennessee Three. They have emerged as some of the most powerful voices on gun reform after being punished for protesting on the Tennessee House floor. All three of them are heading to the White House tomorrow to discuss gun violence and what could be done about it with President Biden.

And all three of them are here. Joining me now, Representatives Justin Jones, Justin J. Pearson and Gloria Johnson. Thank you all for being here. Representative Jones, I want to start with you. I mean, what are you going to tell the President tomorrow?

JUSTIN JONES, (D) TENNESSEE SENATE HOUSE: Yeah, I'm going to lift up the names of Aquila de Silva, of Michael Hill, of these children whose lives were taken in Nashville, and ask for the President to declare a public health emergency. When it comes to gun violence. I think that we need emergency response because we're facing a crisis situation, and that in states like ours, we need help from our national leaders. Because we're in a state where the only action that our colleagues took in response to the mass shooting in Nashville was to expel the two youngest black lawmakers and then to pass a law to protect gun manufacturers. That's all they passed this session. And so we need support, and we must continue the fight on a nationwide scale.

PHILLIP: I do want to play a little bit of what President Biden has said about what he thinks he's able to do and what he's not. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do on my own anything about guns. Congress has to act. The majority of the American people think having assault weapons is bizarre.


PHILLIP: Do you agree with that? Do you think that he's maxed out his potential here? And, you know, I mean, maybe he's right that Congress does need to act. But is that something that you think is possible?

JUSTIN PEARSON, (D) TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE: Right. So, obviously, Congress needs to act, and our state legislatures need to act. We're in a state where the Republican Party that's in control has refused to do anything substantive about protecting kids and children. But for President Biden, and we're fortunate to have the chance to meet with him tomorrow.

It is also to think about, beyond executive orders, what other authority exists within departments and agencies that the president is ultimately responsible for, that can call for a public health emergency, that can call for resources to go into communities that are feeling the harm of the epidemic of gun violence the most in order to get mental health resources in order to get gun prevention resources to those places as well.

I think there's a really holistic approach that has to be taken that isn't just addressing guns, but it's addressing how we prevent gun violence and how we support communities that are suffering because of the inaction of people like the Republican Party in Tennessee.

PHILLIP: There is also the culture of guns in this country. I mean, I think I feel like this week we really saw that so vividly. We had these three incidents with young people doing normal, innocent things, being gunned down.

Luckily, some of them survive. But, Representative Johnson, I mean, you represent actually a pretty conservative part of Tennessee. I mean, your district went for Trump -- or your district, which is in a county that went for Trump by 15 points in the last election in 2016 by 23 points. How do you see the challenge of taking on that culture?

GLORIA JOHNSON, (D) TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE: Well, you know, the reality is in my district, because I'm a teacher, taught for 27 years, I was in a school that had a school shooting. Gun violence has always been a big issue for me, and I have read, run red flag laws in the past. But we've hold in my district in red Knox County, and overwhelmingly, the majority of Republicans in my district support red flag laws, and Independents and Democrats. So this shouldn't be difficult in our legislature because many Republicans also support reforms that are sensible.

PHILLIP: But it is so. Why? JOHNSON: Well, we -- as we saw on this week, the Tennessee Firearms

Association were standing right in there. You know, the NRA is big in Tennessee. They're big donors to Republican campaigns. And the Firearms Association, I mean, they had a letter that they were passing out to all Republican members that was quite threatening, actually.

And they were even sort of harassing some of the women. Some of the moms that were there are asking for us to talk about gun violence. They're prominent, they're present, and they're near threats.

PHILLIP: So Tennessee House Republicans put out this tweet on this issue of red flag laws. It says, "Any red flag law is a non-starter for House Republicans. Our caucus is focused on finding solutions that prevent dangerous individuals from harming the public and preserve the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."


You know, Governor Lee who is a Republican, he says he wants this special session. But like, what reasonably can we expect to come out of this?

JONES: I think movements can change political priorities. The reason that this NRA endorsed governor is calling a special session is not because he saw the light, but because he felt the fire and pressure of a movement. Thousands of students, mothers, community members coming to the Capitol week after week after week since this mass shooting occurred.

And so what I also know some inside knowledge about that Tweet is that I've had Republicans colleagues tell me that leadership put out that statement without talking to all their Republican members. So they put out a statement on behalf of the caucus without talking to all of their members. Many of the moderates would say we should pass red flag laws, something that the majority of Tennesseans support across party line because it's not an issue of left or right, but it is a moral issue of right or wrong.

PHILLIP: Do you think there is moderate support in the Tennessee legislature right now to do something on guns? And will they be allowed to do it?

PEARSON: The reality is thousands of people have come to our Capitol. Hundreds of thousands of people have sent phone -- had phone calls and emails going to this Republican majority saying that they need to do something.

We have folks who are Republicans holding signs saying, I'm a Republican. I want to see common sense gun control legislation. The reality is the pressure from what's happening outside is forcing people who are within the institution to do differently than they otherwise or normally would. And that is what gives me courage and hope in this moment.

PHILLIP: You were going to -- JOHNSON: Yeah, I definitely have hope because of all the people that

are coming out. We did a human chain of almost 9000 people from Vanderbilt Hospital to the legislature. And it is having a difference. And those Republicans that he was talking about, Republicans for Gun Sense, they were there every day last week and just letting people know.

However, you know, I know that there are some Republicans that would like to vote with us, whether or not they will, because they are bullied in their own caucus. And it's -- you know, will they have the courage. It's going to take political courage, and hopefully they will find that courage to do the right thing, because an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans want to see something done.

They want to focus on more security and all that in the school. And for me, I want to prevent guns from ever getting to the schoolhouse door. We can do prevention that keeps guns from getting there. It seems like they want a gun battle at the door with a lot of police, and, you know, let's think about prevention and how do we prevent those guns from getting to the schoolhouse door?

PHILLIP: I want to show this image from earlier this week of Representative Jones. You were walking into the Tennessee Capitol with a coffin representing, as you were just saying, the children, the young children who were killed this week. These are tactics. I think some people -- you know, you're making a statement there, and some people have criticized your tactics. What do you say to them?

JONES: So that casket was actually brought by the clergy who came, clergy who have buried children and congregants who were killed because of gun violence. That march was led on behalf of Reverend William Barber II of the Repairers of the Breach, and they asked us to bring that in because they could not bring it in.

And so we brought in as a symbol that we must challenge this policies of death that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are promoting policies that make it easier to get a gun than it is to get health care in our state. And so it was about lifting up the issue and dramatizing for the nation that this is an issue of life or death. And that if we leave session and do nothing, that we have morally failed because children, three nine-year-olds lost their lives in Nashville, where I live. Three adults lost their lives.

Yesterday was the anniversary of another mass shooting in Nashville at the Waffle House, where four precious young people lost their lives. And we've had more mass shootings this year than we can even count because we're not doing anything.

And so it is an issue of life or death. It is personal, and it requires us to do things that are out of the ordinary, like protest on the House floor, like bring a casket and say, colleagues, look at what we're doing. There are children dying, and we have to do something to do -- to move the needle forward and to force action.

PHILLIP: There was, this week a member of that body, Scotty Campbell, another representative, who resigned, but only after it was publicly revealed that he had been found to have been guilty of sexual harassment. And that happened prior to you two being expelled from that body. What's your response to how that was handled?

PEARSON: Well, Speaker Cameron Sexton is running a mobocracy, not a democracy. And in this type of institution, what he desires and wants is what rules. And what he wanted was to expel lawmakers for protesting, to end gun violence, and he wanted to protect a lawmaker who committed sexual assault against a 19-year-old intern. That's what we're dealing with in our state when we have a supermajority of the Republican Party that's way more concerned about protecting their own, upholding the systems of white supremacy and patriarchy than doing something about justice.


And so it wasn't until it was public that Speaker Sexton, Leader Lamberth actually did something about this. But it shows the disparity in treatment for black lawmakers, for women lawmakers, and for the white lawmakers who are in charge and operating in the State of Tennessee.

And it shows everyone in this nation why we have to continue to be persistent, why we have to continue to advocate for change that needs to happen in Tennessee.

PHILLIP: All right, well, I want to thank all three of you for coming in and joining us today. Representative Jones, Representative Justin J. Pearson, Representative Gloria Johnson. Thank you very much for all of that.

And coming up next for us, Michelle Obama gets personal on what life in the White House was actually like for her. That's next.



PHILLIP: Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, appeared on the Tonight Show this week, and she was very candid about exactly how she feels about living in the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I noticed that you went back -- you went back to the White House recently that you haven't been back.



OBAMA: -- wasn't invited.


OBAMA: Oh --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. Wow, I'm adding a chapter right here. Hold on.

OBAMA: Oh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You return, what did it feel like to go back and you go, oh, yeah, I lived a lot of time in this place.

OBAMA: Yeah, yeah. We were good when it was time to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you ever have dreams that you still live there?

OBAMA: No, no. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that like that. That's the progress of democracy. You do your time, you pass it on, you let the next president lead. And --


OBAMA: So it was -- it's kind of a relief.


PHILLIP: All right, how's that for honesty? But that's it for us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great day.