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Inside Politics

Calm, Cautious Optimism At U.S. Border As New Policies Roll Out; Trump Builds Big Lead In Primary Polls Even As Legal Woes Mount; Trump Won't Say If He Backs Federal Abortion Ban; U.S. Faces Default As Soon As June 1 If No Debt Ceiling Deal; Santos Indicted On 13 Charges Including Fraud, Money Laundering; Biden Delivers Howard University Commencement Address. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 14, 2023 - 11:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Crisis averted.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I want to be very clear, our borders are not open.

PHILLIP: After weeks of warnings, the southern border remains calm. But with thousands of migrants still hoping to cross over, how long will it last?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked her, why the U.S.? She said to have a better future.

PHILLIP: Plus, facing off.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Governing is not about entertaining. It's ultimately about winning and about producing results.

PHILLIP: The Florida Governor is back in Iowa ahead of a 2024 announcement that could come any day. But has Trump ended DeSantis' campaign before it even began?

And countdown to catastrophe.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is not a deadbeat nation. We pay our bills.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): They have no plan, no proposed savings and no clue.

PHILLIP: With three weeks to go, can the President and the Speaker make a deal to avoid a devastating default?

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

Calm, not chaos. Just over 48 hours after a COVID-era policy, allowing the U.S. to quickly turn away migrants expired, these are now the scenes at the U.S.-Mexico border.

For weeks, U.S. officials had feared that an influx at the border, as a result of Title 42 being lifted, would come, but so far, Border Patrol agents say that those numbers really have not come to pass. Still, asylum seekers who are making that dangerous trek to the U.S.- Mexico border, they will now face a reshaped immigration landscape.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is on the ground in El Paso, Texas for us. So, Polo, right now things are a bit more calm, but even at the beginning of the week. But migrants are facing tougher immigration policies now than before. What are you seeing on the ground?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And those policies could be a factor in all this, Abby. Good morning to you. And those fresh pictures here in El Paso really tell you everything you need to know, as far as what the head of the Department of Homeland Security saying this morning that there was no apparent spike in illegal crossings after the expiration of Title 42.

In his conversation with our colleague, Dana Bash, this morning, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, saying that they've experienced about a 50 percent decrease in the total apprehensions.

The number that was at about 10,000, leading up to Thursday to the expiration of that public health policy. But in the subsequent days, for example, on Friday, that number dropping to about 6,300, according to the secretary, and then 4,200 yesterday. Today, that number is likely to continue to drop.

Now to be clear, the system still remains quite strained. In fact, it according to one senior CBP official that cited and recently filed federal court documents, the number of people who are in custody leading up to that expiration certainly at a record number. So the result has been overcrowding in some of these processing facilities.

And at one shelter that we visited yesterday here in El Paso, the folks who run that had to turn away some families saying that they are also at capacity. But perhaps this nearly 50 percent drop, Abby, will allow some of the officials on the ground, some of the people at the very frontlines to sort of get their head above water.

I tell you what, there is a number that will continue to increase. And that is the total number of asylum seekers that are arriving in America's largest cities. I've been speaking to many of them whose compass is set to places like Denver to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, these are numbers that are likely to rise perhaps by a few dozen a day. But if in New York City where I've been covering this for the last year that potentially can rise by several 100 a day.

And that's why you have municipal leaders at the local level that are calling not just lawmakers, but on the President of the United States to step in and to do something to deal with the tens of thousands of people who've arrived recently, who whether Republicans and Democrats like it or not, they are here for many years until their asylum cases play out.

PHILLIP: And where you are right now on the frontlines of this in El Paso, what are you hearing from the migrants who are already there, many of them coming with their families seeking for some kind of opportunity?

SANDOVAL: Right. No, we actually spent some time in that shelter yesterday. We found that there are many people that are basically in a state of limbo here, Abby. They have been apprehended and processed by federal authorities, released. And so they're taking shelter here for a day or two as they try to plan out the next day.


It is a place that can lead to hopelessness, but we found because of many migrant mothers, which we thought was very appropriate on Mother's Day, there is a sense of hope, as they are caught in a very difficult situation, obviously, many of them don't know when or even if they'll be able to go to their final destinations, but they hold their children close.

I do have an opportunity to speak to a 38-year-old woman from Honduras, her name Connie. It is a bitter Mother's Day for her. You see, she crossed the border illegally before turning herself into U.S. authorities with her three daughters. She was processed and released with her 6-year-old Daniela [ph].

However, her older daughters are still in detention. So she says she's not going anywhere. She remains here in El Paso, Abby, until she could find out when her daughters will be released. And then she'll take up some opportunities to head to Houston.

PHILLIP: Polo Sandoval, thank you very much for all of that and for putting a human face on something especially on this Mother's Day. Thank you.

And Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said that while it is too early to tell if those border crossings have peaked, it is clear that what we are seeing in the administration's plan, according to him, is working.


MAYORKAS: We have communicated very clearly a vitally important message to the individuals who are thinking of arriving at our southern border. There is a lawful, safe, and orderly way to arrive in the United States. That is through the pathways that President Biden has expanded in an unprecedented way. And then there's a consequence if one does not use those lawful pathways.


PHILLIP: Here to discuss all of this and more CNN's Jeff Zeleny, pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson of Echelon Insights, Laura Barron- Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, and The Washington Post's Paul Kane.

So, Laura, just on the basic question of Title 42 has expired. Today, we are here on a Sunday, what are we seeing on the border? It is not, I think, what Biden's critics have expected and what they were saying was going to happen. So does the White House feel better about the situation good about the situation right now? LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, PBS NEWSHOUR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think right now, they feel good about the situation as the Secretary Mayorkas was saying, that they think that their proposed -- their policies are working right now.

And I was texting with an immigration lawyer as well as an advocate that are down there in El Paso, also on the border, and they were saying that right now, not much has changed for them in terms of how they're helping migrants or whether or not they -- they're -- the attorney is working for some migrants across El Paso and New Mexico.

They said that they think that that's because of those policies that were then put in place when Title 42 was lifted. So the new asylum restrictions that are being challenged from progressive organizations that President Biden put in place, because these asylum restrictions are so limiting for being able to actually seek asylum, that the lawyer was saying that they think that migrants are aware of that, that they know that it's not necessarily easier right now. And so they aren't flooding the border.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, that's a huge part of this. And it's one of the reasons why. Sometimes you think if you sort of transpose the names, if it were Trump doing this, instead of Biden, Biden doing this instead of Trump or what have you, people on the other sides of the aisle would have different perspectives on it. But right now, they're really vulcanized in their camps.

And Republicans are really doubling down on this partly because of poll numbers like this from Reuters showing that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of President Biden's handling of immigration. Real or perceived, those are the numbers that the Biden administration is dealing with.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt, and those numbers are likely, I'm guessing, not to change, at least in the short term despite, you know, the relatively orderly scenes, at least it looks like in the first few days.

But look, the Biden administration is also under no illusions that this is likely to stay orderly. I mean, immigration is going to remain a central challenge for them. There are -- some things they can do about it, many things they cannot do about it. So if we have fast forward to 2024, in the months leading up to the election, this is likely still going to be a major challenge for them.

But one thing absent of all this talk about immigration is any talk actually about immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform. There is a discussion going on, on the Hill about this, but it is, of course, unlikely to happen. So it seems like every time we go through a wave of immigration challenges and discussions, that's one thing that is still missing.

PHILLIP: Yes. And I mean, we have historically seen this issue being super potent for Republican voters, much less so for the rest of the country. I've wondered sometimes whether that will change as we are seeing migrant issues starting to affect places pretty far from the border because of the sheer numbers.

But how much does it matter that it really is very potent if you are Republican or conservative leaning, but maybe not so much for other voters?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, ECHELON INSIGHTS POLLSTER AND FOUNDING PARTNER: Well, it's certainly the case that if you ask Republicans what the top issue is, immigration is right there near the top of the list. But as we heard if folks are coming to the border and then going elsewhere and these issues begin to affect other communities, it can certainly change the political geography of who is interested in immigration and

As we heard, if folks are coming to the border and then going elsewhere, these issues begin to affect other communities. It can certainly change the political geography of who is interested in immigration and where.


But consider also the politics of the border. This was an area where it was long suspected that Republicans would struggle as the demographics of a state like Texas changed. And yet, the border regions are the exact sorts of counties and precincts that swung quite red over the last few years.

I think if you go to an average swing voter and you say, hey, we had 6,000 border crossings on Friday, but Saturday, we only had 4,000. I don't think that's the sort of number that is going to set a lot of those swing voters at ease that immigration has been fixed. I think this will still be a problem for Democrats.

PHILLIP: I want you to take a listen too. This is Mark Green, a congressman, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, talking about this issue on State of the Union, and pushing back really on what Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier this morning about how the numbers are coming down. Listen.


REP. MARK GREEN (R-TN): What the Secretary failed to say is that this week has seen more crossings than any time, any week in our history. But he admitted, just moments ago, that they can't predict the peak. CBP said 40 percent increase is expected with Title 42 gone. That's another nine million people in two years.


PHILLIP: If those numbers are right, what are they going to do about it?

PAUL KANE, WASHINGTON POST CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF: Yes. So as Laura was saying earlier, I think what the -- what the Biden administration did pretty good so far was communicate to the migrants. Hey, this is not a free pass, you can't surge. And it created this rush to get in before Title 42 expired. Everybody was expecting the rush to come after it expired. And instead, people wanted to get in before it expired because they think it's going to be tougher.

That's what Chairman Green was referring to there. It is not -- it's Jeff's point, there's still not really an answer on the hill. There's a group of bipartisan senators, but there's about a half dozen who have talked about things, who have ideas of what could come together, but they are a group of six and they are nowhere near getting 60, 65 people on board.

PHILLIP: I want you to listen to this flashback. This is from Ronald Reagan, 1986. The last time we had a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This bill, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that I will sign in a few minutes, is the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws since 1952. It's the product of one of the longest and most difficult legislative undertakings in the last three congresses.

Further, it's an excellent example of a truly successful bipartisan effort.


PHILLIP: Well over, you know, decades have passed since that and it sometimes seems that we do not have the capacity as a country and as a Congress perhaps to get back there again, but we will see in the coming months.

And coming up next for us, Teflon Don versus Meatball Ron. Well, Governor DeSantis is preparing to officially jump into the 2024 race, but we'll see more scared, that's next.



PHILLIP: Governor Ron DeSantis was back in Iowa yesterday trying to get his 2024 group back. Donald Trump was supposed to be there too, but he canceled his rally due to a tornado warning. So DeSantis had the state all to himself. So he flipped burgers. He made nice with voters. He engaged in the kind of retail politics that people say he typically shuns. And he also took what can be generously described as a swipe at the front runner in the race.


DESANTIS: If we make 2024 election a referendum on Joe Biden and his failures, and if we provide a positive alternative for the future of this country, Republicans will win across the board. If we do not do that, if we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again. And I think it'll be very difficult to recover from that defeat.


PHILLIP: Former President Trump, on the other hand, has not been quite so subtle earlier in the week when he talked about his top rival.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm leading to sanctimonious by a lot, by 40 points or 45 points. I think he ought to just relax and take it easy and think about the future because right now, his future is not looking so good.

The problem with Ron DeSanctimonious is that he needs a personality transplant. And those are not yet available.


PHILLIP: So first of all, he's sticking with DeSanctimonious, that is the thing. But also, you know, the Trump team, they are going hard against DeSantis in more ways than one, really trying to make DeSantis seem defunct before he's even in this race. Is it working?

ANDERSON: Well, the polls right now I think are still premature, right? We have -- he's not even in the race. And so even though Donald Trump is formidable, and this moment, the front runner for the Republican nomination, we've got a long way to go.

That said, I think there's an argument there to be made by someone, and you've seen DeSantis try to make it that there's a real risk in going with Donald Trump again, because Republican voters know that he's not everybody's favorite flavor, so to speak.

And that for many Republicans, they view the next election as existential. What I see in my polling is that they don't just view the next election as competing two different visions for policy that for many Republicans they have a sort of apocalyptic. This is about the survival of the country kind of view and risking it on going back to Donald Trump who has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for the last number of Republican losses. That's why you see someone like DeSantis trying to hammer that message home that Donald Trump is no longer the one who's going to lead us to winning.

PHILLIP: But there's no question, Jeff, this has been a rough go for Ron DeSantis.



PHILLIP: I can't -- just it's such an early stage. I mean this is the headline from the New York Times, a pretty robust piece about the failings here. Why Ron DeSantis is limping to the starting line.

And then the evidence that they know that this is not going well is the fact that they called our friend, J. Mart [ph], down to Florida for a meeting with the Braintrust to kind of pitch him on a reset. And here's what they told him. "Everyone knows the majority of the Republican Party wants to move on," says DeSantis' campaign manager and his closest aide.

Another Texas-based, a bundler, told J. Mart, "The major donor network has walked away from Trump. They are looking for new leadership, and 85 percent of them are waiting for DeSantis."

Maybe, except that we still hear regularly from DeSantis would-be donors who are saying, we're holding off for now.

ZELENY: Right. I mean, there's no question, to your point, Kristen, what you were saying about how Republicans want to win. Three words that Governor DeSantis says in every speech that he gives, and he said it repeatedly yesterday in Iowa, the culture of losing. He is trying to impress upon Republicans that it must be time to reject the culture of losing. So he's not talking about Donald Trump by name, but he's talking about him in spirit in the midterms from 2018 and 2022.

Now the question is, can Ron DeSantis bring it? Now is -- we're on the cusp of him announcing his finally, his campaign that's been in the works for quite some time, likely at the end of this month, perhaps in the very early days of June. And he is going to have to show that he is the athlete that he sort of proclaims to be. Of course, he's a baseball player from college. He's going to have to show that he can perform at a very high level.

In a short period of time, there is just about six months or so before, you know, voters really begin finalizing their decisions in Iowa and New Hampshire. So he will have to, you know, build this coalition. But I think early polls at this point where you're saying, we should effectively ignore them, and see what the governor is able to do to win over these people.

But he has not yet proven that he is able to sort of live up to the hopes and dreams and aspirations that many Republicans thought he would.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Also, if that clip that we played of DeSantis is the strongest that he sounds and going after Trump, I mean, he doesn't even really mention him by name. He talks about this culture of losing. And it's really hard to see how by continuing on in that vein that he wins over this sizable chunk of the Republican primary electorate that is very much still wedded to Trump.

And when it comes to the culture of losing, one thing there is, to me, the policy still does stick out because of the fact that DeSantis and Trump are aligned on abortion. And that was a massive issue in 2022. And it's going to continue to be a massive issue in 2024.

And how do they win in the suburbs or win back more women that they've lost in recent election cycles when they are both aligned on this issue of against more --

PHILLIP: Well, since you brought it up, let's talk about that for a second. Because at the CNN town hall this week, Trump made some news on this abortion issue. Let's just play what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: For 50 years, this has been going on, I was able to do it, and I was very honored to do it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Would you sign a federal abortion ban into law?

TRUMP: What I will do is negotiate so that people are happy.

COLLINS: Let's be clear, Mr. President, you would sign a federal abortion ban into law?

TRUMP: I said this. I said this. I want to do what's right. Some people are at six weeks, some people are three weeks, two weeks.

COLLINS: Where is President Trump?

TRUMP: President Trump is going to make a determination what he thinks is great for the country.


PHILLIP: So, Laura, I mean, you point out, maybe they are aligned on abortion. But you can't really tell from that clip because Trump is trying so hard to avoid being nailed down on a number. He doesn't want to say six, he doesn't want to say 15, he doesn't even want to say national. Is he trying to create some space for himself?

KANE: He created a problem there for himself in both the primary and the general election, because -- and for the primary voters, they didn't hear anything concrete. They were kind of hearing a guy waffling about a core issue for a lot of Republican voters.

In the general election, a lot of people heard him really taking credit for that Dobbs Supreme Court decision, which has proven to be very, very bad politically for Republicans. So he had a problem in that regard and both -- the way he waffled there, and it was almost kind of like John Kerry-esque talking about the Iraq war in 2004.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. I think that that line that he said over and over, to your point, Paul, about I'm the reason that Roe fell, like it was me and the fact that I put these judges on the court, that's going to be played over and over again in the general election.

ANDERSON: And it's putting to the test, at least within the primary context, how much are evangelical voters who are among most pro-life in the Republican coalition? How wedded are they to Donald Trump in a situation where he doesn't make these firm commitments?

The reality is that when I asked Republican voters what the top sort of cultural social hot button issues are for them, actually, abortion is not toward the top of that list. Right now, all the energy around abortion as a top issue is on the left, not on the right. The right is much more focused on issues like gender identity, etc. And so he may be gambling that actually this is not an issue that is going to cost him with the far right.


PHILLIP: I do wonder if all of this seems to raise the question, when are Republicans going to -- Republicans running against Trump going to actually start taking on Trump.

And the other thing that came up in the town hall was this E. Jean Carroll case in which he was found liable for sexual assault. And he kind of tried to make a punch line out of it in the town hall. But earlier in the week, here is how his rivals responded to that rule, that verdict from the jury.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to get into that. That's something for Trump to respond to. We've got to focus on what people are talking about.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's a question for the American people. But I really can't comment on a judgment in a civil case. I just don't think it's where the American people are focused.

DESANTIS: I've been -- I've been pretty busy. I know there's different stuff in the news.


PHILLIP: Why pull the punches on that one?

ZELENY: Well, the reason is simple because these candidates all still are trying to get access and supportive Trump voters. I mean, it is still his Republican party without question. So when you talk to Republican strategist, when are your candidates going to go after Trump frontally? It will happen without a doubt. And it will -- I'm told by some DeSantis advisors, once he is formally in this race, they know that he has to engage more directly on this.

But they just view no upside now at this point in the Republican primary, because to win, they believe they would like to peel off some of those Trump voters.

But I think one thing interesting happened this weekend that when Trump decided not to go to Des Moines, there's a lot of local Republican activists, who were tweeting yesterday and in the Des Moines Register this morning, wondering why he didn't come.

There was a tornado watch, not a warning. It expired before the rally. A small crowd was gathering. We know that Trump can draw a big crowd, no doubt about it. It was very interesting that he scheduled his Iowa rally because he has an eye on DeSantis.

So as I know, Trump has had the upper hand in this fight, but we'll see if that continues through the summer.

PHILLIP: And for the folks looking for fight in DeSantis, just the fact that he showed up at an off the record stop at a barbecue -- at a barbecue joint --

ZELENY: Standing outside [inaudible]

PHILLIP: -- shaking hands, hugging people, that seemed to show that they were paying attention to what was going on.

But coming up next for us, three weeks to go until a devastating default on the debt. So are President Biden and Speaker McCarthy moving any closer to a deal? We'll tell you next.



PHILLIP: We have just under three weeks to go until the Treasury Department could run out of cash to pay the United States' bills. President Biden and Congressional Republicans spent this week publicly sparring over how to responsibly raise the debt ceiling.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: We have a speaker who has his job because he yielded to the "MAGA element of the party." Republican threats are dangerous and they make no sense.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: They have no plan, no proposed savings and no clue. Apparently President Biden doesn't want a deal. He wants a default.


PHILLIP: But as is often the case in Washington privately the White House and Congressional staff did meet this weekend and there have been some small signs of progress which President Biden hinted at yesterday.


REPORTER: How are debt ceiling talks going right now?

BIDEN: Well, I think they're moving along. It's hard to tell. We've not reached the crunch point yet. So but there's real discussion about some changes we all could make, but we're not there yet.

REPORTER: How confident are you that a debt deal will be made before June 1?

BIDEN: Has to be.


PHILLIP: Has to be. There's progress being made. Surprise. The meeting really was probably a little bit for show, but was it the starting gun?

PAUL KANE, WASHINGTON POST CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, that meeting early last week was -- it was sort of an ally of Kevin McCarthy described it as how dogs greet one another. He was just sort of --

PHILLIP: He's sniffing the butt.

KANE: Just seeing how things go. And now the staff are doing the real sort of substantive policy work. They're talking about actual budget, you know, two-year, five year, 10 years on this and five years on that, 10 years on this. And so, they're going back and forth with real policy.

Now, they were supposed to meet on Friday the principals, the president and the four congressional leaders, and they postponed that. You can read that as some people say, this is a good sign. Staff are making progress. We want them to continue making progress so that when the principals meet, things are good.

But there's also concern, especially among some Republicans, that they're kind of being slow walked by the White House to get it closer to the deadline to create more sort of tension and chaos. So we're going to know by about Tuesday whether or not, you know, are things coming together? Do the principals meet? President Biden leaves later this week for a trip to Asia.


KANE: And if he leaves without the principals meeting again, that is a very bad sign.

PHILLIP: Yeah, it's crunch time.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And the president has said, although I'm skeptical that he actually would postpone or not go on that trip, he has said if he needs to stay back as we reach the June 1st X -- State, that he would, the White House, you know, tried to spin the delay of that Friday meeting as progress is being made. This is still positive. It's not negative. Some of that may be also because if they had another meeting amongst the principals and they exited that meeting with no real tangible, then again, there's another cycle of where exactly are they on this?


One thing that they seem to be reaching some agreement on potentially is permitting reform. That it appears as though the White House may be willing to work with Republicans on that, as well as potentially some unspent COVID funds pulling some of those back.

PHILLIP: Yeah. And just to add to what you just said there, some spending caps seem to be perhaps on the table, but not on the table is what some Republicans want. A full repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Student Loan Debt Forgiveness Plan being repealed, cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, et cetera.

So, I mean, I look at this, but I still don't see the numbers that you need in order to actually get where I think Republicans want to be in terms of spending reductions.

ZELENY: No question about it. I mean, the applying back, the COVID money and these other things, we're talking just a fraction of the money. Even though it's billions, it's a fraction of the money.

So look, I mean, what we're leading toward, if those are the only items on the table, are a Democrat only with a handful of Republicans signing onto this in the House. And I still don't know that that will happen. So I think that what's missing from all this to me is a sense of urgency that still hasn't kicked in, despite the fact that we're 15 days away from that.

But I think once members of Congress start sort of feeling this pressure and urgency from their constituents, a real sense of worry either on Wall Street or that, you know, that actual people are going to be impacted by this, I think that's when things start to move, but I still don't feel that. Maybe that'll come this week, maybe not.

PHILLIP: I wonder what you think about this from Trump at the town hall this week really seeming to give Republicans an excuse to do really nothing at all, to negotiate.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You think the U.S. should default if the White House does not agree to the spending cuts? Republicans are demanding?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, you might as well do it now because you'll do it later. Because we have to save this country. Our country is dying.

COLLINS: The U.S. defaulting would be massively consequential --

TRUMP: Well, you don't know.

COLLINS: -- for everyone in this room for all of --

TRUMP: You don't know, it's psychological. It's really psychological more than anything else. And it could be very bad. It could be maybe nothing.


PHILLIP: So before you jump in, Kristen, I want you to just look at this Washington Post, ABC News poll 26% says that Congress should raise it only raise the debt ceiling only if Biden agrees to spending cuts, 58% say that they should be handled separately. So you have a message from Trump on one side and then something else, perhaps from the American public in some polling.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, this is very sensitive to how you ask it. You know, I've seen versions of that question where when you ask it and you say, should President Biden come to the table and negotiate around spending, or should he demand a clean debt ceiling increase? When you word it that way, they lean more toward the former than the latter.

So what I think is happening right now is that there is not a sense of urgency, certainly in the electorate. There's this assumption, I think, that, oh, this will get solved. And there may be a sort of conflation in the minds of voters between defaulting on the debt and things like government shutdown.


ANDERSON: We've had lots of these moments that are this crisis point, we have to do something or else bad thing X happens, and we always seem to avoid it or if it's, for instance, a government shutdown, we get through it. This would be categorically different than those things we've experienced before. But I don't think the American electorate yet understands that or believes that it's actually happened.

PHILLIP: And just to reiterate, we have never defaulted on our debt.


PHILLIP: We have had government shutdowns. We have never defaulted on our debt. Before we go, let's play some swing voter sound. These are Georgia swing voters voted for Trump in 2016 and then for Biden in 2000. Here's what they have to say about all this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like with your own spending. You're just like, oh, well, we'll just keep moving our budget up, up, up. You know, then you never have any limits.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work for a public, for a corporation, and we watch every single penny, especially now, and we make hard cuts. I do think there must be waste across the board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things would have to be cut here and there in little slivers, I wouldn't think massive cuts. Probably those little slivers across the board could equal massive cuts collectively.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They should pull away from sending so much money out the country and focus more on the people that's in the country.


PHILLIP: So just to give you a sense of what we were talking about, these are swing voters, maybe Republican leaning with swing voters.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And I think that President Biden is definitely paying attention to voters like that, particularly when he has been trying to stress and go out more than I think we ever saw President Barack Obama go out when he was having similar fights with Republicans. We saw Biden on the stump this week trying to really make his case of, look, I'm not saying no spending cuts and I'm not saying that I'm not going to negotiate around the budget. But he is still wedded to his lesson from 2011, which is you don't negotiate on the debt ceiling and trying to make clear to the American public like, what exactly would happen in the case of a default.

PHILLIP: Yeah. Well, coming up next for us, Congressman George Santos, he's returned to Washington D.C. after being indicted on federal criminal charges. But what does this latest legal peril actually mean for his political career?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who paid your bail?

REP. GEORGE SANTOS, (D) NEW YORK: How are you, Manu? Good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Kevin, can you answer that question?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you expect to run for reelection after facing these charges and after lying to voters for the past two years?



PHILLIP: The list of scandals plaguing Congressman George Santos grew even longer this week. By 13 counts, to be exact, the Long Island Republican was indicted on federal criminal charges amid an investigation into his finances. And among the accusations he's facing duping donors, using campaign cash to buy designer clothes, and lying to Congress, all while collecting thousands of dollars in COVID unemployment benefits during the height of the pandemic. And that's despite working apparently, on a six-figure job at the time. So Santos, he pleaded, obviously not guilty and made it very clear that he wasn't going anywhere.



SANTOS: The reality is it's a witch hunt, because it makes no sense that in four months -- four months, five months, I'm indicted.

The way I look at it, I'll be a chairman of a committee in a couple of years. If you just look at the standards of Congress, look at the Senate.


PHILLIP: Meanwhile, Republican leaders are still standing by their man.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Walk through like every American. You have your day in court and go through it, just like with another member inside the House. Santos, we never put on committee, so he won't serve on committee. He will go through his time in trial, we'll find out how the outcome is.

REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: In America, there's a presumption of innocence, but there are serious charges. He's going to have to go through the legal process.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK, (R) REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIRWOMAN: This legal process is going to play itself out. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress from either party has been indicted.


PHILLIP: Shamelessness thy name is George Santos. But for the congressional leaders, I mean, they're literally trying to argue that their oversight responsibilities are to stop the exact thing that one of their sitting Congressmen is accused of doing. But they won't say, he's got to go?

KANE: There was a bill on the floor last week that dealt with fraud in unemployment insurance during COVID. A co-sponsor of the bill, George Santos, he did vote yes on that bill. They are in Abbey, a very difficult position. By every standard and precedent, this has happened. There have been many members of Congress who get indicted. Usually they then lose a committee chairmanship if they're that powerful, or get kicked off of their committees altogether. George Santos is on no committees.

But the precedent then is to allow that indicted member to serve until there was some sort of verdict or a plea deal. It can take a long time. Bob Menendez went two and a half years between an indictment and winning at trial. And, you know, getting his chairmanship back at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

So Santos could be in a very long time here, up until through the election of 2024 and that's the problem. They would love him to go away, but they don't know how to do it without breaking all of congressional precedent.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, it's not just breaking precedent, though, right? Because I'm not sure Speaker McCarthy does want him to go away because of the very thin.

PHILLIP: Mark just not right at this very moment.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Not right now, not before he could potentially keep his majority after the 2024 cycle, which Democrats think they can win back the House in the 2024 cycle. But that's a big element here because of the fact that, yeah, on all of these votes, even the immigration bill -- excuse me, the border security bill that House Republicans just passed, even the debt ceiling and spending cuts bill, those were passed by very narrow margins because of the fact that he has a narrow majority.

KANE: He was the 217th vote for the debt limit bill. He was the very last person to come on the floor and vote to give it a majority. PHILLIP: And let's be honest, I mean, George Santos knows that. That

is why he is running around Capitol Hill talking at every chance that he gets. But listen to his Republican colleagues from New York who are basically sick of all of this.


REP. MIKE LAWLER, (R) NEW YORK: My belief is that George Santos needs to go. He needs to resign. I've said that repeatedly. And believe if he had any decency or dignity, he would.

REP. NICK LALOTA, (R) NEW YORK: He's a complete embarrassment. The nation's focus needs to be on solutions that matter, no longer George Santos.

REP. MARC MOLINARO, (R) NEW YORK: There's a clock ticking and George Santos should have resigned in December, he should have resigned in January, he should have resigned yesterday and maybe he'll resign today, but sooner or later, honesty and justice will be delivered to him.


PHILLIP: And by the way, I mean, one of the reasons you are hearing this is because George Santos and several of those other Republicans from New York, they are in Biden districts.

ZELENY: Right.

PHILLIP: They are in districts that in some cases, Biden won by a good double-digit margin.

ZELENY: For sure. But as Laura was saying, I mean, the bottom line is, if there was a wide majority that Speaker McCarthy had to work with, he would have been gone by now, because Republicans are sick of answering questions about George Santos, but they are going to continue. They're going to drag out. I think it was interesting when he tried to use the word witch hunt. Some people sound a smart. I think one person uses that phrase. And George Santos is not Donald Trump as much as he wants to sort of act like that.

So, look, it's a farce. It's a joke. Yeah, like a cheap version of that. But as Mitt Romney said a few months ago, he's like, you don't belong here. And that is what a lot of Republicans actually believe and feel, but they need his vote.

ANDERSON: But it's also, if I'm not mistaken, Kevin McCarthy did say, I will not support him for reelection, which may be the closest you can get to a thank you next --

ZELENY: Right.

ANDERSON: -- in the situation that he's in. And to me, when I look at the charges that have been leveled against him, I mean, there was a lot of heat around things like, was he a drag performer in Brazil? Was he actually on a volleyball team? [11:50:02]

There was so much attention around that. But from my perspective, I always said there's a lot of campaign expenses for $199.99 and that doesn't just happen. And that was always going to be the thing that brought this to a head. And it looks like that's where we're at.

PHILLIP: It was always going to be the money. Coming up next for us, President Biden gives the commencement speech at one of the country's oldest historically black universities. So what was his message to the class of 2023. We'll have it next.


PHILLIP: Yesterday, President Biden became the 7th sitting President to give the commencement address at Howard University, right here in Washington, D.C. It is one of the nation's oldest historically black universities. And in his remarks, he echoed the central theme of his 2020 election bid, as well as his current reelection campaign, and that is that the U.S. is in a battle for the soul of the nation. He also offered words of hope to the new graduates.



BIDEN: Class of 2023, you're the reason I'm so optimistic about the future. And I give you my word, I really mean it. You're part of the most gifted, tolerant, talented, best-educated generation in American history. That's a fact.

And it's your generation, more than anyone else's, who will answer the questions for America: Who are we? What do we stand for? What do you believe? What do we believe? What do we want to be?

So on the hilltop high, keep standing for truth and right, and send your rays of light.

Congratulations to you all. We need you. God bless you. And may God protect our troops.



PHILLIP: And our congratulations to Howard's class of 2023 and all the graduates this season. But that is it for us here on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY.

Coming up next is "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. And thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. And to all of the mothers out there, including my own, a very Happy Mother's Day to you. Have a great day.