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Biden Departs For Japan As Default Looms; Now: Debt Limit Negotiators Meeting On Capitol Hill; Dems Push Expulsion Vote For Rep George Santos; NC GOP Uphold 12-Week Abortion Ban, Override Dem Gov Veto; SC Lawmakers Hold Marathon Debate On 6-Week Abortion Ban; Trump: DeSantis "Losing Women Voters" Over 6-Week Ban; Trump-Backed Daniel Cameron Wins KY GOP Gov Primary. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Very busy news day. Thank you for your time. President Biden is leaving for Japan, but he will return to Washington early because of the debt limit deadline. Both the White House and Republicans more upbeat today after the president tapped three trusted aides to negotiate directly with the House speaker's team, but it's an important but giant policy divides remain despite big progress with the process.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm confident that we'll get the agreement on the budget and America will not default.


KING: Plus, the Carolina is now taking center stage in the nation's abortion debate. North Carolina Republicans override the governor's veto to enact a 12-week ban. In South Carolina, a six-week ban is the subject of a marathon debate, and yes abortion also a flashpoint now between 2024 rivals Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.

And it's a big primaries last night shape the important 2023 election, Trump-backed Daniel Cameron is now the Republican choice to challenge Kentucky's Democratic governor, Pennsylvania and Florida voters also deliver some off you're surprised.

But we begin with the president United States. Just moments ago, the president leaving on a critical overseas trip, but a trip he is cutting short because of the looming crisis about the debt here at home. Today, the president says he cut that trip short to be back for the final negotiations on the debt ceiling.

Right now, new key negotiators are meeting up on Capitol Hill. And last hour the president said, he is now confident there will be an agreement and that the United States will not default.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRES. BIDEN: America is not a deadbeat nation. We pay our bills. The nation has never defaulted on its debt, and it never will. We're going to continue these discussions with congressional leaders in the coming days until we reach an agreement.


KING: The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided not to let the president have the last word as the president -- just after the president finished speaking. McCarthy says, it's about time the president's negotiating.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Now the president and leader Schumer have finally backed off their idea that they won't negotiate. They finally backed off the insane unrational, unsensible idea that you just raised the debt ceiling.


KING: Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He's live at the White House for us. So, a victory for the process if you will Jeremy, progress on the process. The question is what about the substance?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is the big question, John. And to be sure, there are still so many talking points with just 15 days potentially until the United States defaults on its debt if indeed that June 1 deadline stands. But today, the president expressing confidence that the United States will not default, mainly because he says there's no alternative, the United States can't default on its debt.

And he also noted that yesterday, we heard several leaders come out and say that all of the leaders including the speaker of the House acknowledge that the consequences of default would indeed be catastrophic.

In line with that President Biden has now elevated these negotiations to three senior staff members, the president's counselor Steve Ricchetti, his director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young, as well as the Director of Legislative Affairs Louisa Terrell. On the other side for Speaker McCarthy, you have Congressman Garret Graves as well as the speaker's senior staff.

But the president nonetheless in an acknowledgement that this deal is going to come down to him and Kevin McCarthy cutting that trip short, going only to Japan, not going forward with those stops to Papua New Guinea and Australia. And that's because he wants to be back for the final negotiations, which are expected to happen next week, if indeed a deal is to be had.

At the same time, John, as you just heard from the speaker of the House, he is saying, look, the White House is finally willing to negotiate. They've dropped this pretense that they are not negotiating over the debt, not quite.

Here if you talk to folks here at the White House, they still insist they are not negotiating over default. Nonetheless, what's clear is that they are negotiating over the spending agreement with that ticking time bomb of the potential for the fault hanging over them. John?

KING: Jeremy Diamond, kicking us off the White House. Jeremy, thank you. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Melanie Zanona, Francesca Chambers with USA Today, and Margaret Talev of Axios. The idea that you're negotiating the budget or the debt, let's just say that's a difference without a distinction or distinction without a difference, call it what you will.


My question is, Kevin McCarthy gets a big win here on the process, direct negotiations between the White House team and people he trusts on the White House team and the speaker's office. The question is how much wiggle room does Kevin McCarthy have on the substance because the House Republicans are not going to get everything they want?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: They're not going to get everything they want. Whatever they do come up with, there's going to be a sales job that Kevin McCarthy has to do to his conference. They've been trying to lower the expectation, particularly among conservatives, that what they pass in the House is not going to be the final deal that they're going to have to be flexible. This is going to take some compromise.

You're right, that there is a small step forward in terms of process and structure. This is what Kevin McCarthy wanted all along. He wanted it to just be him and President Biden negotiating because he sees Biden as more flexible than some of these other Democratic leaders.

And case in point, Biden is still leaving the door open to potentially some form of work requirements, which is something that Democratic leaders are warning against saying, it's a non-starter for them. But Kevin McCarthy feels like he has an upper hand right now that he can get Biden to a good place.

KING: To that point, the president over the weekend said, hey, I voted for work requirements and welfare reform back in the 80s. The White House said, oh, gosh, and they scrambled to try to quiet progressive complaints. They issued a statement yesterday afternoon, saying the president was not going to accept work requirements. Speaker McCarthy says, it's a red line. Today, as Melanie knows, the president opened the door maybe just a little, but he opened it.


PRES. BIDEN: I'm not going to accept any work requirements that's going to impact on medical health, needs of people. I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist. But it's possible there could be a few other, not anything of any consequence. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do we have any definition of what he means there? He said medical, so I assume he means Medicaid. We'll see if that plays out. But SNAP or food stamps or food assistance, that's another area where problems are looking for is that with the president is opening there? Are we waiting for the White House to clean it up again?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: He is not. So, a White House official tells me that the president thinks that there could be some possibility and other potential areas, but as he went on to say nothing of consequence. So SNAP no, TANF no, Medicaid no. He's not willing to go beyond what he already voted for there.

Now, one area that the White House is signaling that they could negotiate with Republicans on is those spending caps. They might be willing to agree to a spending cap. Now the question of that would be for how long, is this one year, is this 10 years, but that is where you could see some potential movement.

KING: The White House wants to be one or two years that you get through the next election. They hope they win. They hope the Democrats pick up. So, this is part of the dance, everyone is thinking about 2024. But we can go back to just the new -- the president's new team, his budget director Shalanda Young who has deep experience up on Capitol Hill and deep respect among a lot of the Republicans out there.

Steve Ricchetti, I know Steve from the Bill Clinton White House has been around a long time, and Republicans have been in a lot of negotiations with him. Louisa Terrell is the president's legislative affairs director. Garret Graves is one of the speaker's most trusted fellow House Republicans there.

Let me put it this way. You have adults in the room who know how to negotiate. The question is why did it take so long? Because everyone was in the stance over whether or not we're going to negotiate?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: Yes, because he was going to blink first. But look, I mean, you have to -- there is something that will get everyone across the finish line. For Kevin McCarthy, it's to maintain the speakership and is to bring enough of his caucus along that he doesn't lose power.

For Joe Biden, it's two things, not to have a default, and to get this postponed. So, this never has to happen again, until after the next presidential election. Those two things are a win for Joe Biden. Why does he keep opening the door? Is it just because he's gaffe prone and he can't help himself?

I don't think so. It's because we have now 30 some years of polling, but at least five or six consistent years of immediate polling that showed that actually Americans don't think that people should have a free ride. But the way you package this and talk about this matters, and that if for better or for worse, it's usually for worse, there are two Americas. McCarthy is messaging to different voters than Joe Biden is. And what President Biden, I think he's trying to make clear is, he is willing to talk about language that suggests that everybody tried to work if they can, but he does not going to leave anyone destitute or uncovered for health care.

There is a lot of wordsmithing and rhetoric attached to all of this. But when I heard McConnell and McCarthy say yesterday, nobody wants to default. To me that says, this thing is done. And it's just a matter of every -- I think you'll have a back here in a week, it will be wrong, and it'll be an attack. But I think everyone is trying to get to the finish line with their own audience.

CHAMBERS: And I suggested there could be a deal. Also, he said that he's looking for designing it.

KING: I think again, putting that team in the room with somebody McCarthy trust tells you, they very much want to get it done. The question is, there are some difficulties. Let's move on another big thing that's going to happen today that maybe it affects the mood in Washington and maybe it's just a sideshow. Is the Democrats are trying to expel George Santos from the House?

That does break sort of precedent in town that normally it is your own party. If you're going to go to the extreme like that, it's your own party does it. The other party shouldn't be kicking out members of the other party.

Listen to some of the Democrats, including the Democrats behind this morning say, look, George Santos is an embarrassment he needs to go.


REP. ROBERT GARCIA, (D-CA): The Republicans in the House now have an opportunity to stand with the American public and their constituents or to stand with someone who has been indicted on 13 counts.


REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN, (D-NY): To every member of the Republican conference from New York, I say to you. If you vote for this motion to refer it to the Ethics Committee, you are complicit in George Santos's fraud.


KING: Again, a bit of a lesson on the rules of Washington for those of you watching at home, who smartly don't read all of this. It's a privilege revolution. So, the Democrats have a right to get it to the floor because they filed there is a privilege revolution -- resolution.

The speaker wants to then essentially have an amendment that refers it to the Ethics Committee, which buys him weeks, if not months. Let's put the New York Republicans up on the screen. Republicans have the majority in the House because they want a bunch of districts in New York state last year, some of them very competitive districts.

These Republicans have what -- they want Santos to resign. And yet tonight, the speaker is asking them take one for the team, don't vote to expel him, vote to stall this. Will the speaker win on this one?

ZANONA: It looks like they're going to have the votes. My colleague Kristin Wilson caught up with one of those members, Mike Lawler. He said, he's going to back McCarthy here, and he is going to vote to refer this, but he's confident that at some point George Santos is no longer going to be a member of Congress.

Really what this is, it's a delay tactic. McCarthy doesn't want to have to put his members on the record over this. He doesn't want to expose Republican divisions. So, he thinks this is a way to sort of punt the issue. But it's not going to -- it's not going to go away. George Santos is going to be a member of Congress, the House Ethics Committee at some point is going to make a conclusion.

And we already have a lot of evidence about what George Santos has done. He pleaded guilty in Brazil the theft. He's been charged, at least with 13 counts of, you know, why in the Congress, money fraud, money laundering, wire fraud. He's also admitted to lying about his resume. It's just a huge buckeye.

KING: And so, for any of those, again, the speaker says, you need to be a loyal Republican. Vote with me to refer to the Ethics Committee. All of those New York Republicans who do that within months, if not weeks or days will have a TV ad or a radio ad against them from the Democrats in New York who are trying to beat them next year. That's what some of this is about, timing wise. It's about politics.

Up next. Abortion opponents snatch a big win in North Carolina, and they are pushing now for another one in South Carolina.




KING: A new ban on most abortions after 12 weeks will take effect July 1 in North Carolina. Those shouts of shame coming from Democrats, as Republicans in the State House voted yesterday to override Governor Roy Cooper's veto. The new 12-week ban includes exceptions and a later timeline in cases of rape or incest and when there are major health considerations.

Democratic governor says, "Republicans are unified in their assault on women's reproductive freedom and we are energized to fight back." That North Carolina action is just one of many state-by-state abortion debates and the issue is also more and more finding its way into the 2024 presidential race conversations.

Our great reporters are back with us. Let's start with North Carolina. Again, in the post Row, now Dobbs decision America. This is happening across the country in red states and blue states debates about what to do. North Carolina Republicans, look around them. There's a six-week debate in South Carolina. We'll get to that in a minute.

Governor Ron DeSantis just signed a six-week ban in Florida. North Carolina Republicans and if you look at the state demographically, a lot of suburbs, a lot of moderate Republicans. This is a North Carolina Republican saying yes, this bans most abortions, but it has reasonable exceptions.


KRISTIN BAKER, (R) NORTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Senate bill 20 is common sense. It balances protecting the life of the unborn child. It balances that with a woman's need for life saving care.


KING: I mean, people watching at home will have their own opinions on this issue. But this is American politics today. So, you go state-by- state, and maybe North Carolina voters will agree, maybe North Carolina is on the whole will agree, North Carolinian is maybe not. The Biden campaign thinks is worth another look in North Carolina now because of suburban voters and try to use this issue to maximize turnout.

TALEV: Absolutely. I mean, this has been a purple state. And it's hard to describe that because they're actually Republican super majorities in both chambers of the legislature, but the governor is democrat. And this is a state that could be considered purple under the right circumstances once again and this is an issue. It certainly made an impact in the last elections in the midterm elections. It's made an impact in some red states. And it could make an impact in North Carolina.

There are a couple other trends, though. One is that this is actually as you noted, sort of relatively modest compared to some of the other measures that are going on in the American South and Midwest. North Carolina has been increasingly looked at as kind of a safe haven for women in the south who need to get to a place where they have abortion access.

This really diminishes that at the same time, and you have a situation where now this could fuel democratic enthusiasm or centrist sort of nonpartisan enthusiasm and turnout for lawmakers who are going to vote this way. So, there's a lot going on. Here it's a show of force for conservative Republicans, but it could come at a real cost.

KING: And neighboring South Carolina, which just look at a presidential map. It's a more conservative state, even though it's right there. They still tried in 2021 to pass a six-week ban in the state, Supreme Court wouldn't go for it. They've been debating one here. They debated marathon yesterday, went on for hours, more than 12 hours yesterday. They will come back at it today.

Listen here. These are two of the Democrats saying, that we will fight this to the very end, even though we're out numbered, we're going to try to stop this.


REP. HEATHER BAUER, (D-SC): To me every minute, we're in here fighting this is a minute women can get healthcare across our state.

REP. BETH BERNSTEIN, (D-SC): A lot of you have daughters or nieces or sisters and it's really important. Most people in this state and in the United States want abortion access.



KING: It's just, again when you go, we're learning about each and every state. And I think the question is, we watched Kansas last year, a conservative state. Then you watch Michigan was a more of a purple state where the issue was huge. Wisconsin state Supreme Court race. I guess the question is, we know this is state-by-state issue now. I think in two years or five years we're going to look back and see how much did this issue change the politics in some of these states?

CHAMBERS: Well, it's South Carolina, a more conservative state than North Carolina, despite sharing a border and it is a state-by-state issue. If you look nationally at whether abortion legislation could pass or not, you know, Republicans are saying, look, we couldn't even get enough votes to pass this nationally. We've seen the Democrats have not been able to get enough votes to pass legislation nationally in both chambers. So, it's become this state-based issue.

In a state like South Carolina, though, when you're looking at the Republican presidential primary, you have candidates and potential candidates who see this as something that could benefit them because the voters they're going after and their primary, are not the same general election voters.

And so, if you're someone like Mike Pence, saying that you want to support a national abortion ban, that's a way of boosting your base at a time when you needed to, even if in a general election, this may not play well.

KING: Which we've seen just in the last 24 hours is playing out. And Democrats think this benefits them, again when you look at a battleground state map. It doesn't mean it benefits them in South Carolina or, you know, in Nebraska, for example. But they think it benefits them when it comes to battleground state maps if the Republicans keep having this debate.

Governor DeSantis signed a six-week ban, it hasn't taken effect yet. But he signed a six-week ban. Then he criticized Donald Trump just yesterday saying, Trump, a resident of Florida wouldn't say, whether he's for it or against it. Trump firing back against DeSantis saying, I own this issue.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT (voiceover): And I'm going to be leading the charge. We're in a position now where we can get something that the whole country can agree with. And that's only because I got us out of the Roe v. Wade. Ron, if you take a look, he's losing women voters like crazy.


KING: The last part there. Trump had a giant gender gap and he lost to Joe Biden, but he tends to ignore the real math and the truth. But this is his, I'm the one who got us Roe v. Wade. Again, in the Republican primary, Pence is very anti-abortion. And he says, I'm proud to be so.

Trump has gone back and forth about what he wants to say. But because he's in a fight with DeSantis now, he's talking more about it. And we'll see how it impacts the Republican primary. But Democrats are gleeful, Republicans are having this debate.

ZANONA: Oh, totally. And they are banking on the fact that it is going to hurt, whoever emerges from the primary when they eventually go into the general election, because now you have Trump and DeSantis trying to essentially outflank each other. Although, we should point out, Trump still will not say whether he would sign a federal abortion ban.

And I do think it just striking going back to the states, how much of red states are leaning into this versus what you look what's happening on the federal level, members of Congress, Republicans completely running away from this issue. They keep saying, you know, it's in the hands of the states.

The problem, though, is that when you let states be in the driver's seat, you have these six-week bans, you have these abortion rulings that are completely out of their hands. And they are still being forced to answer for the repercussions for those. So, this is going to be a huge issue in the next election, even though Republicans are trying to (crosstalk)

TALEV: We're talking about this as a political issue. But for the women who would actually impact, there is just a crush of stress and drama to try to understand, what is the law? How does it impact me? Where do I have to go to get the care that I need? How many times do I have to see a doctor? Can I take a pill? Is it harder to take a pill than to go to a place and do a thing. And so, that's not a political issue. That is a healthcare issue that's impacting a lot of women.

KING: Right. It's an incredibly confusing time. Sometimes even within a state, you have these different states in turmoil is, what's the law today? When does this law take effect? You're absolutely right. We tend to focus on the politics of it in this show because of the name you see over my shoulder. But it is a very confusing time. Just on the question of, is my state the same, is my state changing? We'll continue to follow that issue as well.

Ahead for us though, a Trump backed candidate gets a big win in Kentucky. And a race for Philadelphia mayor could have major implications for 2024.



KING: Voters in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Florida making some big decisions that not only shape the 2023 off year elections, but perhaps, perhaps offer us some early clues about the 2024 political climate. Let's begin in Kentucky, where Republican voters yesterday picked Daniel Cameron as their candidate for this November's gubernatorial election.

He will face off against the Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear. That election in November. Cameron is a Mitch McConnell protege, who also has the backing of Donald Trump. He's the first black elected state attorney general and now the first black gubernatorial nominee for a major political party in Kentucky history. Cameron defeated 11 other candidates in the primary including Ron DeSantis endorsed Kelly Craft.


DANIEL CAMERON, (R) KENTUCKY GOVERNOR NOMINEE: We have one mission, and that one mission is to retire Andy Beshear from the governor's office. And together we can do that. Together we can make sure Kentucky has a governor who stands up to Washington and against Joe Biden. Let me just say, the Trump culture of winning is alive and well in Kentucky.


KING: Let's check in with CNN's Eva McKend. She is live for us now in Louisville. Eva, this sets up Cameron's victory sets up a marquee governor's race come November.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: It sure does. John, good afternoon to you. This will be the most watched governor's race in the country, a convincing victory last night for Daniel Cameron. We were actually at his watch party and the night was called so early, some of his supporters had not even shown up yet.

You know, this really illustrates how crucial the Trump endorsement is. He was endorsed by Trump really early in this race.