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Inside Politics

Fmr AR Gov Asa Hutchinson Announcing Presidential Run; Poll: Hutchinson Starts 2024 Campaign With Virtually No Support; Trump May Ditch GOP Debates Because "Nobody Got My Approval"; Disney Sues DeSantis, Accuses FL Gov Of "Retaliation"; House To Vote On Debt Limit Bill "As Early As Today"; McCarthy Downplays Bill Changes After Saying There Would Be None; House GOP Leaders Expect Debt Limit Bill To Pass Today; Biden: I'll Veto "Reckless" GOP Debt Limit Bill. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired April 26, 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. Any moment now the former Arkansas Republican governor Asa Hutchinson enters the 2024 presidential race. His hill is beyond steep. Donald Trump of course the formidable Republican front runner, but Hutchinson says the soul of the GOP is at stake.

Plus, the House speaker learns governing is hard. Kevin McCarthy makes late night concessions on the debt limit blueprint, but the change is still might leave the speaker short votes. And today, pomp and power a state visit, celebrates a 70-year-old partnership between the United States and South Korea. The two presidents take questions later this hour. And new American promises to protect the south from its erratic, nuclear neighbor to the north is a certain topic.

But we'll begin the hour in Northwest Arkansas. Let's go to Bentonville right now. Asa Hutchinson, the former two term governor announcing his Republican candidacy for president.

ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) FORMER GOVERNOR, ARKANSAS, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Please, grab the cheerleaders. Thank you all for joining Susan and me on this special day. This is a day in which our nation's future and my personal story comes together. Susan has been on this journey with me each step of the way. And Arkansas has never had a better First Lady. Bentonville is a big part of my life story, but so is Gravette, where I grew up on a farm and learned the importance of family, faith and community.

I also learned hard work from my dad by cleaning out chicken houses and building fences. And my life story also includes Springdale, where I was inspired by teachers who pushed me to learn, and it was in Springdale that my political awareness began with the nation's divide over the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights.

But let's come back to Bentonville. I was born in the old Bentonville Hospital. My first law office was across from the square from where we stand today. I tried jury trials in this courthouse behind us. I built Bentonville first FM radio station. I served as Bentonville city attorney. But most importantly, this is where Susan and I started our family and spent some of our happiest years, living on 15 acres of rocks and hills west of town in a double wide mobile home.

It was here on these steps over 30 years ago that I announced my run to the United States Senate. At that time, Arkansas was a blue state, and the Republican Party was pretty much non-existent. I stepped up to take on runaway federal spending to fight for a strong national defense, to support the life of unborn children and to unleash the private sector of our economy.

In other words, I ran as a conservative Republican, when being a Republican was like having a career ending handicap. In fact, lawyers told me that. I continue to fight the establishment. And over time, guess what, we won. That was the beginning.

And since then, I've been a consistent conservative through my time as leader of the party in the United States Congress and as governor. And now I bring that same vigor to a fight in another battle. And that battle is for the future of our country and the soul of our party.

Today, I am announcing that I am a candidate for president of the United States. In this campaign, in this campaign -- in this campaign for president, I stand alone in terms of my experience, my record and leadership from Congress to the DEA, to Homeland Security, I have served our country in times of crisis.


As governor of Arkansas, we cut taxes and created record surpluses. We increased pay for teachers. We've reduced regulations, we recruited industry, and the private sector grew by over 100,000 jobs. My metal has been tested. It was tested when I put on a flak jacket and assisted the FBI hostage rescue team in negotiating the surrender of an armed terrorist group.

My mental was tested after the 9/11 attack, when I was responsible for protecting the United States from another act of terrorism on U.S. soil. And my mental was tested once more as governor, when I demonstrated how we can leave through a pandemic without closing down every business and shutting down our schools.

When I had pressure from Washington, and the national media to shelter in place, I said no. And the result was that our businesses survived and prospered. And we had more days of in classroom instruction in our schools during the pandemic than almost any other state. And yes, that's right, we beat Florida and Texas.

This campaign is about courage. It is about making the tough decisions to rebuild our economy, to give peace a chance through America's strength and to renew the American spirit of freedom, opportunity and the rule of law. And we've got our work cut out for us. Let me offer some solutions today.

First, we need to get our economy back on track. The Biden administration has turned his back on the American worker. To turn our economy around, we have to stop the break the bank federal spending that has led to high inflation and rising interest rates.

Every hardworking American family gets a double hit from the Biden economy. Their paycheck doesn't go as far and they're paying more on car loans and credit card debt because of the high interest rates. It hurts them in buying groceries at the store. That is not acceptable. I have been chief executive of our state for eight years.

And that means I know how to balance a budget, I did it every single year. And while I was in Congress, we balanced the federal budget and its high time we did it again. And that's just the beginning of what we must do together to bring out the best of America.

We must secure our southern border. We need a pro-growth energy policy that is not focused on limits but on production. We should not limit American growth, but rather we should unleased our energy producers. And if America is to be the best that we could not yield to China in terms of global leadership.

KING: You're listening there. That's the former governor of Arkansas. The two-term governor Asa Hutchinson joining the Republican presidential field today in his hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, a traditional conservative, pro-life, tax cutting, conservative who has a very steep uphill climb now. Donald Trump by far the formidable Republican front runner in the race. Asa Hutchinson no promising to challenge Trump. He says the Republican Party needs to fight for its very soul.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Lauren Fox, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, and Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe. If you rewound the tape and looked at Asa Hutchinson resume in the pre-Donald Trump Republican Party, there is a traditional mainstream conservative. He cast himself there as anti-establishment, but he would fit in the traditional Republican mold.


The question is, can a man who barely registers in the polls right now, can he get Republican voters? He is the only candidate. Now that he's an official candidate, to say Donald Trump should actually drop out because of Donald Trump's legal problems. Can he get the attention of Republican voters?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, he is occupying a much slimmed down never Trump lane. I mean last time you did see that was a slightly more crowded. And this time, its him, and potentially maybe Sununu, who sort of like never Trump lane. So, for that reason, perhaps he'll get a little bit more attention.

But you're absolutely right, despite the fact he has law enforcement, he was a congressman, tow-term governor, all the things that he's done. It's not -- to a Trump voter who right now hold the keys to the Republican primary, it's a tough.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There's also people that oppose Trump but engage in Trumpism, still engage in the culture wars and what have you. Even in that speech, there you can see Governor Hutchinson drawing a contrast there. Recently, he opposed anti trans legislation that would have been passed in his own state and received backlash for that.

I remember the last time I talked to him, it was during the Trump administration, and he was criticizing Trump's refugee restrictions as well. And on that program, there's been multiple ways in which he's contrast himself from Trump in recent years. And that that does set himself a little bit of apart when you look at this competition, even those that are engaged in sort of tit for tat.

You know, debates right now with Trump still are engaging in some of the same tactics to appeal to his base. The fact that Hutchinson is not doing that may make it even more challenging for him to appeal to that.

KING: And Trump has redefined the Republican Party into combat. It's about fighting. It's about you know, contrast and striking and fighting. And DeSantis, Governor DeSantis of Florida, essentially copies that same model.

My question, I guess, for Asa Hutchinson. Again, if you look at his resume, you look at his experience, he's a credible candidate for president. If you rewind the tape, he would be a mainstream Republican in the pre-Trump Republican Party, but he talks about fighting for the soul of our party. He also says in this speech, that there are misguided people, he means Donald Trump, calling to defund the FBI because of Trump's grievances.

You heard him there, say he kept businesses and schools opened even more than Florida during the pandemic, but he's polite about it. The question is, can somebody with that demeanor break through?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sometimes the Republican Party train may have gone too far down the tracks to catch up with, and I think that that might be where he's sitting right now. He's trying to hold on to this part of the party. This part of politics that just doesn't really exist in this country anymore.

And it's going to be interesting to see whether or not he can find a way to, you know, attack and go after DeSantis. Like, you've sort of saw him doing that in a way that he can actually break through and I'm not seeing it at this point.

KING: There are a lot of Republicans who think that the party needs to be pulled back to the pre-Trump days. The question is, many of them are sitting out 2024. I think I let this go one more time and hope it happens then, they hope that happened before. Our CNN's Eva McKend is there on the ground in Bentonville, Arkansas for us.

To that point, Eva, how does Governor Hutchinson and his campaign staff, how do they see that effort? Where do they see the potential to break through to get Republican voters to think again about Donald Trump?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, they think that he can make the case that he can really distinguish himself as a forward- looking candidate principally concerned about the future and not the grievances of the past. And he also brings to the field just a hefty resume.

I was speaking to people in the crowd, two of them, they actually told me in the past, they voted for both Republicans and Democrats, and that we need civility again in our politics. So those are the very people that Governor Hutchinson, who's on stage now is appealing to. The big question is, can he make gains in this crowded Republican primary? Can he appeal to voters? His team certainly think so. John?

KING: Eva McKend, on the ground for us there. We certainly give Governor Hutchinson his do on this important day for him. But as we bring the conversation back into the room, this is the steepness of the hill. The recent Reuters/Ipsos poll just completed among Republicans.

Trump at 49 percent, DeSantis 23 percent, the former Vice President Pence at six, former governor U.N. Ambassador Haley at three, Vivek Ramaswamy the entrepreneur at two, Governor Sununu of New Hampshire at one, and Asa Hutchinson a blip at zero right now.

The question is, can you break through, one way you would break through is to make an impression on a debate stage with Donald Trump. But Donald Trump now raising questions, my bet is in the end, he will be there. But Trump raising questions about whether he'll participate. The first debate sponsored by the Republican National Committee is in August, the third week of August is what they're targeting.

Donald Trump says this, I see that everybody's talking about the Republican debates, but nobody got my approval or the approval of the Trump campaign before announcing them. He goes on to say a little bit more there. But that just tells you everything you need to know about how Donald Trump thinks, that the party needs to have his approval, that he's in charge of the party and that he's in charge of the process.


FOX: Yes. That's not how it works anymore, right? And he certainly is holding on to this idea that and he is the front runner in many ways, in polling, in endorsements that he's picking up on Capitol Hill, and important endorsements like the one he got this week from Steve Daines.

But the reality is, he's going to have to make a decision. Do you want to show up on the debate stage? Or don't you? And that's the party politics right now. That's the rules that are being laid out. And he's going to have to make the decision.

KUCINICH: And it will be interesting to see, I mean, maybe one of those candidates that are in the vanishingly low numbers at this point, perhaps they actually do get more of a platform because Trump is not on the stage. And is he going to allow that to happen? Because he could put someone down if he's on stage with them. But if he's not, that actually might be a door opening for some of his competitors. KING: I think that's good.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I was going to say, but you've also seen this before that even when candidates are engaging in some of the more traditional campaign strategies, you might see Trump as well just continue with a tour of his own campaign rallies to continue to appeal to his base or go on to social and make posts like this to try and gain attention as well. So, you might still see him go with that strategy.

KING: But so early. We're in April, late April, moving toward the August debate. We will see a lot of ins and outs, ups and downs between now and then. I think going to bring you another important story just into CNN. Some important news that touches on this very 2024 campaign.

Walt Disney parks and resorts now suing the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The company alleges the governor orchestrated a campaign of retaliation, violating the -- violating Disney says, it's federal constitutional rights by eliminating a special taxing district in the state of Florida. The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Florida. That's a federal court. We will watch that case plays out.

Up next. Kevin McCarthy is about face. The House speaker makes overnight concessions to his debt limit plan, and right now is scrambling to see if that brings enough votes to pass it.




KING: House Republicans plan a vote later today on a debt limit negotiations blueprint that after an overnight deal on some key policy changes. Speaker Kevin McCarthy had said, he would not make changes but, because he was short votes. He then agreed to earlier work requirements for Medicaid recipients and to keep some biofuel tax credits.

The question now is, was that enough to get to 218, meaning the votes necessary for passage? Let's go to Capitol Hill, CNN's Manu Raju joins us now live. Manu, what's the answer to that? Do they think they have 218?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're confident at this moment that they will get 218 votes and that is expected to happen later today. But that doesn't mean that the efforts to try to get the conference in line aren't ongoing. In fact, at this exact moment, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is behind closed doors with several holdouts.

People who have said that they're going to vote no. One of them Tim Burchett of Tennessee has told me repeatedly over the past several days, including today that he is still a no. Also, Ken Buck of Colorado, someone who has not said if he was going to vote, yes or no for this package, would not say if he would vote for this package after meeting with Kevin McCarthy.

And even Matt Gaetz, who had pushed for some of those changes, including moving up the implementation of proposed new work requirements for the Medicaid program. He raised concerns earlier today about the last-minute nature of this deal making and didn't say whether or not, he would vote for it. And the Matt is very narrow for McCarthy. He cannot lose more than four Republican votes.

If he does, that could be enough to sink the bill. But in talking to McCarthy, allies say they're confident and they're also saying to their members, get behind this bill right now, because it will put pressure on the White House to come to the table.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): This president has put himself in a terrible position. And us passing this bill this week, will show that House Republicans have a position. We've raised the debt limit. We've made an offer. And we have a menu of options we put before the president. He needs to come to the table and start being a grown up in the situation and negotiate with the legislative branch.


RAJU: But John, there's no clear resolution about what will happen if in fact, the House does pass this bill today. Senate Democratic leaders are rejecting this. They're still calling on the House to simply raise the debt limit without any conditions attached at the position of the White House as well. And of course, we're staring at the prospects of the first ever debt default as early as June, if there is no deal.

KING: It's that last part, Manu, there that, you know, we talked about this in Washington, the American people need. Whatever your political views, keep an eye on this one because what you hear from the financial experts, other global economy leaders. If we get to that cliff could be quite a mess. Manu Raju, live on the Hill to kick us off.

Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reporters. Manu made a key point there, Lauren at the end, this is not going to become law. You have a Democratic Senate, Democratic president. This is a blueprint essentially to get House Republicans to endorse a negotiating blueprint for their speaker to sit down with the president.

But it's more -- this vote is more than that, though. This is a test of Kevin McCarthy's authority. Can he go into a room after the drama he went through to get elected speaker and say, I'm sorry. I know, there are things you don't like, there are things, I don't like too. We have to take one for the team here.

FOX: Yes. And there's really two ways to look at, that either the speaker's race showed that he was going to be a weak speaker or the speaker's race gave him an opportunity to get to know the right flank of his conference in a way that he can now try, and work votes try to change minds.

And that's what I heard from a lot of Republicans when they came out of their conference meeting this morning. They were pretty upbeat. They were feeling like, they're going to be able to get there later this afternoon. Things can change, votes can shift, but they were feeling positively. And one Republican told me, we have practice being united because we had 15 rounds of a speaker's race to get there.

KING: That's an interesting perspective. And we'll watch it plays out. Remember when the Democrats trying to pass things within our majority, things were messy too, both in the House and in the Senate. So, we'll see how the Republicans can work this out.

The question is, does their blueprint help them or hurt them if you were going forward? The changes the speaker and his team originally said no changes. Then they realized they didn't have the votes. So, they made changes. Welcome to politics. Work Requirements, Matt Gaetz asked for this would go into effect a year earlier. They're never going to go into effect, but on paper instead of 2025, they go into effect in 2024, right?


They keep some of the biofuel, ethanol tax credits there. It repeals some of the inflation reduction tax provisions. But this to me shows how hard it is to cut spending whether you're the Republican majority or the Democratic majority. In the sense that you say we're going to cut spending and then members from the Midwest, especially the Iowa delegation saying, we will cut spending, but just not our ethanol, not us.

KUCINICH: Sacred cows (ph). I mean, and that is part of the problem here. But the other part, I mean, the fact that they drew a line at the very beginning to say we're not changing anything, just opens up the fact that, you know, that that he doesn't have authority over some of these members.

I mean, the fact that he had to again capitulate to Matt Gaetz, just tells Matt Gaetz that, McCarthy is going to capitulate to you every single time you hold out. And that is just -- we're going to see that play out over and over and over again, probably right up six weeks to default time. We have to see how he manages. He's going to need Democrat.

KING: And we were talking in the conversation about Asa Hutchinson, about the changes in the Republican Party. To your point about Matt Gaetz in the House Republican Party that Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Members who are not viewed as legislators, who are more viewed as gadflies, and on the fringe are now key to getting things done.

The question is, let's assume the House Republicans pass this. Then the White House has said, so what? We're doing this in two tracks. We don't negotiate over the debt limit, then we will talk to you about all this in a budget conversation, but not now. The budget director this morning on CNN essentially saying the same thing saying, Republicans do what you want but there's a process. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHALANDA YOUNG, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: What we see congressional Republicans do is say, hey, we won't default, only if we get to cut millions of dollars to programs that help middle class and working families in this country. We think that's wrong. And we said from the beginning, default has to be off the table.


KING: She says, just take it off the table, essentially do this in two tracks. Just raise the debt limit, avert the crisis, then we'll talk. Now as president, President Biden is going to say that was the view of President Trump, President Bush, Democrats and Republican presidents in the rearview mirror.

As a candidate for reelection, isn't he a little bit nervous that if you let the long, you let this play on. If we start to have volatility in the financial markets, that he'll blame the Republicans. But if he takes even a little bit of that blame, given how competitive our politics are, could hurt.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I think you're already starting to see the pressure on the White House increase a little bit here. In the press from yesterday, as well the press secretary was questioned. I thought it was very good from Bloomberg. She was basically questioned and saying, well, look, investors don't really care whose fault it is here.

But if the long -- and the long-term impact is that the economy suffers, then doesn't the press -- doesn't that push the president to try and negotiate a little bit here? I think you are going to see the pressure increase.

Now, look, the White House has been -- has said for weeks now, as you said that they want the debt ceiling to be raised with no strings attached. It probably is not going to help that some of these social programs may have restrictions as well if this passes, but long term, I mean, it's the economy.

KING: We'll see. They clearly want to see if the Republicans can pass this plan firms in the White House have stayed back. We'll see what happens after the vote today. If the Republicans pass it, whether the White House changes its posture, we will see. And soon, we'll also hear from the president. Maybe this will come up.

President Biden and South Korea's president, North Korea's escalating nuclear threat will be another key issue. Plus, columnist E. Jean Carroll takes the stand today to testify against Donald Trump. What she is saying, we'll tell you that next.