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Today: Biden, Top Lawmakers To Meet As Default Looms; Chat GPT CEO: AI Could Be "Printing Press Moment" But Needs Regulation; Sources: DeSantis To Launch 2024 Bid By End Of May; CNN: Mayorkas Impeachment Pressure Builds In House GOP; Kentucky GOP Primary Today. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Some important insights now on how House Republicans see today's big White House debt limit meeting between President Biden and congressional leaders. The House Speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, this morning urging his fellow House Republicans to stick together to maximize their negotiating leverage.

The Speaker insists the only way the House will vote to raise the debt ceiling is if the President agrees to significant spending cuts. Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado is here to join our conversation. He's a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Sir, thank you for coming in.

And let's start. The Speaker this morning has a meeting and says, everybody stick together because, as we know, there are some differences within the Republican family over how much you want spending to be cut.


One of your colleagues, Nancy Mace, says this morning, we passed our plan, but we're negotiating with the Democratic President and the Democratic Senate. So in the end, we're probably going to have to fix up less.


REP. NANCY MACE (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We have to be prepared to get less. We also have to be prepared to try to figure out how we get votes from the other side. It's a very slim majority. Nobody wants to shut the government down. Nobody wants to see that happen. And, you know, finding a way to work together, that's one of the things that the American people want from us.


KING: That's what one of your Republican colleagues says. You have never in your 10 years plus in Congress never voted to raise the debt limit. How do you vote yes this time? Can you vote yes this time? Is it possible?

REP. KEN BUCK (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS: Well, it's possible, but we do need significant spending cuts. We are in a fiscal crisis, and we're going to default whether it is in June or whether it is in ten years. This country is going to default if we don't change course.

KING: But when you say change course, you know, the President says he'll -- he says it's not a negotiation over the debt ceiling, but he's negotiating over spending cuts right now. Will you take less than what the House just passed? You wouldn't vote for that if that's what you have to do to get a deal.

If the Speaker came back to you and says, this is a good deal, we're getting the COVID money back, we're getting budget caps of whether it's two years or five years or something like that and some other money, would you say, all right, I'm going to take one for the team and do it?

BUCK: Well. First, the team for me is America, it's not Republican, it's not Congress. It's America. And if that's what's in America's interest, yes, I'll do that. But it has to be -- we've got to set the tone in the first year, and then we've got to move in that direction significantly in years two through five.

KING: Everybody jump in, please.

DANA BASH, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Well, my question is about just even the concept of the debt ceiling. You heard the former President Donald Trump on our air last week suggesting that, I'm paraphrasing, it's not the end of the world if America defaults on its debt. Do you agree with that?

BUCK: I don't think it's the end of the world, and I don't know what a default looks like because we've never been there before. Is it something that happens slowly over time, and within day two or three, America -- we pass a debt ceiling? But I don't think that it is the end of the world to default. That doesn't mean I'm encouraging a default in any way, shape or form.

BASH: You don't think it's a threat to the economy? Even now there's some jitters, even before we get to the actual date.

BUCK: Sure. So --

KING: Just today, some CEOs -- let me interrupt.

BASH: Yes.

KING: Just today, some CEOs say devastating scenario, jobs lost, facing credit around the world, devastated.

BUCK: Yes. So what does that look like? Does it look like the stock market drops 1,000 points? Probably. Is it something that other countries take seriously? All of a sudden America isn't going to support its debt or honor its obligations? I don't think anybody takes that seriously. I think they know. Right now there's a political fight going on. How much spending are we going to cut? And when that decision is made, we'll move forward.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: On spending, I want to ask you specifically, you said on the Republican bill that it didn't cut enough spending. So if you have defense is off the table, if veterans is off the table. So that's my question to you. Are those things off the table for you or should veterans, should Department of Homeland Security entitlements all be on the table?

BUCK: Everything should be on the table. The Democrat plan in 10 years takes us to $58 trillion of debt. The Republican plan, quote unquote, saves us $5 trillion. That's $53 trillion of debt. That's unacceptable. The Republican plan is unacceptable in the Democrat. It is a bipartisan bankruptcy. That's what we have to avoid.

But, yes, the military is absolutely on the table. We have a failed procurement system in the military. We have other waste that need to be cut across the board. You don't run $1.5 of discretionary spending without having waste.

CALDWELL: So is the Republican plan, on its face, not really going to do much to reduce government spending and reduce the debt and reduce the deficit long term?

BUCK: So Speaker McCarthy said this is the first step. The next step is the budget, and the step after that is the appropriations bills. And so I take him at his word that he wants to cut starting now and send a very clear signal that we have to make major cuts in the appropriations.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So how major are you talking about to get on board? You, obviously, haven't supported this raising the debt ceiling in the past. I mean, how major are you talking about? And do you fear that too many big cuts could drive certain constituents away, could make it harder for House GOP members in swing districts to get elected?

BUCK: So I think we have to do it in an intelligent way, but what we have to do is we have to make sure we identify what are federal functions. The military, obviously, is a federal function. Immigration is a federal function. Maintaining the currency is a federal function.

There are functions like education that we need to start with block grants, and then we need to start giving the states more and more authority, and we need to start reducing the amount that we spend in that area. It's not something that -- just just as the default would be catastrophic, so would taking all this money away from the states on day one. So it's something that's going to take a period of time.


I think Paul Ryan's budget proposal when the commercials were out, where he was throwing a grandma off the cliff in a wheelchair, that was over 30 years. And so that's the kind of time frame that we have to take into account if we're ever going to get back to a balanced budget.

KING: To that point, the Speaker has four votes to spare within the Republican family. You guys all met this morning and everybody -- you know, the Speaker, we talked you were on our air during the Speaker's vote. He just barely got elected Speaker after a long process. How long of a leash does he have?

He goes to the White House today. How long of the lease? The Democrats are counting on him to blink at some point, you know, to say, OK, I can't take the country over the cliff. I'll get something, but not as much as I can sell back home. How long of a lease?

BUCK: I think what the Speaker says to President Biden right off the bat is, I got a bunch of crazies in the House caucus. Ken Buck is one of them. And I think that Joe Biden has to recognize -- Joe Biden was in the Senate. He is a creature of Congress. He understands the dynamics between the House and the Senate and within a legislative --

KING: But you seem too as well. You seem to be open to some compromise, even if it's something you can't vote for in the end, seem to understand, this is where they got there. I'll vote no, but I'm OK with this. I'm voting no on my principles, but I'll get there. But is the rest of the Republican family with you? Or if Kevin McCarthy negotiates a deal that's less than what the House already passed, is someone going to challenge him for his job?

BUCK: Oh, great question. I'm not going to. I don't want that job. I think it's the worst job in America.

Yes. I think that there will be a challenge to Kevin McCarthy if he walks away from what he's doing, but he has made it very clear that he's not going to do that. And I think, frankly, that President Biden is going to be losing politically also, if he doesn't look like he's coming to the table with a compromise.

KING: We'll see if we get negotiations. The Congressman is going to stay with us. We'll ask him some questions on the other side of the break on some other big issues, including artificial intelligence. And some House Republicans want to impeach President Biden's border chief.



KING: Today, the OpenAI CEO, Sam Altman, the man behind the viral Chat GPT, tells senators his company's technology is revolutionary. But yes, he says Congress should impose some guardrails.


SAM ALTMAN, OPENAI CEO: We're here because people love this technology. We think it can be a printing press moment. We have to work together to make it so. We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models.


KING: Congressman Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, still with us, along with our great reporters. You have long urged Congress to do more in this technology space, whether it's TikTok, whether it's Facebook and Twitter. Now you have AI, which could be, as the CEO there says, a printing press moment.

Remarkable, revolutionary. The however part is what gets scary. One of the things you have legislation to prevent the Pentagon from having AI anywhere near nuclear weapons, if you will. Where are we going here? And what should Congress do now?

BUCK: Well, I spent an hour and a half last night listening to Sam Altman answer questions from various members of the House. It's fascinating, it's scary, but the potential is tremendous. The potential that we'll make in the advances in health care, the advances in education are absolutely tremendous.

What he said, unequivocally, was that we are far ahead of China. And that's really the scary part, is that we regulate out innovation. The fact that we have a lead gives us the opportunity to regulate in an intelligent way and make sure that we use AI for the benefit of humanity and make sure that bad actors can't use AI to create the sort of Sci-Fi scenarios that we're all afraid of.

KING: And so help me, because these issues come down. We were just talking about the spending, and you can't get people in the same room to figure it out, to get a compromise on this issue. Democrats and Republicans for years have been saying we need to do something, whether it's about the social media platforms, and now it's about this. But they haven't passed anything because they can't -- the Democrats have this position, Republicans have this position.

How do you get people in a room and say, we're going to stay here until we figure this out? Because this is groundbreaking and breathtaking, but as you say, it's also scary.

BUCK: It's scary, and we're behind. The technology is moving so fast at this point that we should have been doing things a couple of years ago. You know, the great thing about being in Congress is you have expertise that's a mile wide, but it's an inch deep. And nobody really came to Congress understanding AI and the implications. And so we've got a lot of learning to do in order to make intelligent decisions.

BASH: Can I just shift topics to something that happened yesterday in the regional office of one of your colleagues, Gerry Connolly, and vicious attack with a baseball bat that injured a couple of his staffers? He is calling for more security. I am sure you talk to your colleagues every day on the House floor about the increase in threats to people in both parties. What do you think needs to be done to protect not just you, but your staff, given how vitriolic things are right now?

BUCK: Yes, we've worked with the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies in Colorado to develop security procedures to protect staff. But you're absolutely right. You know, you want to be as accessible as possible to the public. It's something that makes Congress different than the executive branch.

You don't walk into the White House. You don't walk into the Supreme Court. You can walk into Congress. We have magnetometers and other things to protect us in those buildings. But at the end of the day, we're vulnerable, and we need to make that we protect ourselves in the best way possible. Terribly sad event. And again, something that could divide our country, and hopefully it doesn't.


HENDERSON: Shifting a little bit to 2024, it looks like it's going to be a fairly crowded field. Donald Trump, of course, already announced Ron DeSantis, probably at some point. You served in the House with him, possibly, Tim Scott out of South Carolina. Are people courting you at this point for your endorsement? What are you thinking about as you look at what's going to be a pretty robust field of challengers?

BUCK: Yes, my kids don't even listen to me for so long (ph) and so I don't think that anybody's are --

BASH: Are they running for president?



BUCK: But they are voting for president, but they still don't listen to me. I think that we have a situation where time will allow us to sort things out on the Republican side. I think that Joe Biden is vulnerable, and I think Republicans ultimately want to win, and they will make a decision on who the best candidate is to go against that.

CALDWELL: Do you think Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden in a general election?

BUCK: I have no idea at this point. Predicting what's going to happen a year from now, 14 months from now, is very difficult.

CALDWELL: Do you think he should run? Do you think he is qualified to run given all of his legal troubles, given everything that's happened?

BUCK: Well, I think that he is as qualified to run as Joe Biden.

KING: I was going to ask you about something else, but I'm sorry, that's -- I get your ideological, philosophical differences with Joe Biden, but they're very different issues when it comes to the conduct on January 6. The idea to this day saying the 2020 election was rigged, which is simply not true. So I get the Democrat-Republican thing. But you think they're equals?

BUCK: No, I don't think they're equals. I think that Joe Biden has some mental challenges at this point. I think that Donald Trump has some ethical challenges at this point. I don't -- I would not -- if I had a perfect world, they would not be my Democrat candidate or Republican candidate running against each other.

KING: Mental challenges because of his age or things that you have seen?

BUCK: Well, things I have observed on TV. I have not interacted with the President that much that I can make that determination.

KING: Very quickly, we're running over time, but some of your colleagues want to impeach the Homeland Security Secretary, and they're working with the Speaker to try to get him, to let those votes go forward. Do you think that's a good idea?

BUCK: I think that there are other ways of dealing with this. I think impeach is defined in the Constitution. There are very narrow reasons to impeach, and I think you've got to prove that he committed a high crime or misdemeanor. We can do it with the budget.

We can just x out the position of Secretary of Homeland Security. He has to leave office. The next day, we, you know, amend the budget or amend the appropriations bill. And the President has to reappoint somebody or has to appoint somebody. I think there are other ways of dealing with somebody who has not administered the office well.

KING: We'll see how that plays out.

Congressman, I appreciate you coming in, taking the questions. Really appreciate it very much.

Next for us, it's primary day in Kentucky. We'll go live to Kentucky. They're picking candidates for governor.



KING: Topping our political radar today, it's primary day in Kentucky. Republicans there deciding who will take on the Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. Trump has endorsed the Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron. Ron DeSantis today endorsed Kelly Craft, she was ambassador to Canada in the Trump administration.

CNN's Eva McKend is live for us in Kentucky outside of polling site. Eva, what are you learning?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, good afternoon to you, John, from rainy Kentucky. Not the ideal conditions for an off- year election when there was already concerns about turnout, but this has been a bitterly fought battle. You mentioned Ambassador Craft, she has lent her campaign $9 million. Daniel Cameron, he raised $1.5 million. And the two have just gone back and forth in these brutal ads.

Voters tell me they're a little turned off by what they've seen on the airwaves and that could give an opportunity to Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. Republican strategist here tell me he has a built in base of support in these rural communities and could pull off an upset even though Cameron could be favored to win this race.

But no matter who gets through this competitive primary, John, something to watch here. I met a Republican voter in Shelbyville over the weekend, a Trump supporter, a state employee, and he told me as a state employee, he thinks that Governor Beshear has been doing a pretty good job. So that is something that all of these candidates, whoever makes it through this primary, is going to have to overcome. John?

KING: Remarkable moment. Eva McKend, glad you're there on primary day. We'll watch these race as it plays out. Eva, thank you.

In Philadelphia today, nine Democrats running in the mayoral primary. It's seen as a big test for progressives. The winner likely will be a key player in President Biden's reelection bid. Three women among the leading candidates for Philadelphia mayor, hoping to become the first woman elected mayor in the history of the City of Brotherly Love.

And North Carolina Republicans could override the governor's veto to implement a 12-week abortion ban. That vote scheduled later today. The Democratic Governor Roy Cooper says he's still looking for a single Republican to join with him to stop it.

Appreciate your time today on Inside Politics --


GOVERNOR ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: We're going to work hard up to the last minute to try and get one Republican, one Republican to keep a promise, one Republican that has some courage, one Republican who's willing to stand up to his or her party and do the right thing here.


KING: This quick programming note. Shimon Prokupecz returns to Uvalde, Texas, where the community is still seeking answers. Families have turned to CNN for the footage. The Texas authorities refused to release.

A new episode of "The Whole Story With Anderson Cooper" airing this Sunday night, 08:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Again, thanks for your time on INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you tomorrow.

"CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.