Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Sources: DeSantis Expected To Enter Presidential Race Next Week; DeSantis: Florida Is "Refuge Of Sanity"; Poll: DeSantis Down 11 Percent Among GOP Voters Since March; KY GOP Gov Candidate: Dem Gov Beshear "Not Fit To Lead"; New Evidence In Classified Docs Probe May Undercut Trump; Biden Ignores Debt Question As He Preps For Critical G7 Meeting; Untested Biden-McCarthy Relationship At Center On Debt Talks; GOP Senator: Biden, McCarthy Will Never Be "Golf Buddies." Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Very busy news day. Thanks for your time. The Ron DeSantis wait is almost over. Sources telling CNN, the presidential campaign paperwork will be filed next week is how to beat Trump battle plan is a culture wars blizzard, on abortion, on guns and on transgender rights.

Plus, the paper trail punctures a Donald Trump defense. New and exclusive CNN reporting reveals the special counsel will soon have his hands on 16 records this show yes, the former president and his advisors knew how the declassification process was supposed to work.

And President Biden is in Japan for a meeting of the world's leading economies. His peers want assurances America's political divide over the debt ceiling won't lead to a global financial mess. And we have some new CNN reporting today on the relationship between the president and Speaker McCarthy.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA): Look, we're not there. We haven't agreed to anything yet, but I see the path that we could come to an agreement. I think we have the structure now and everybody's working hard. And I mean, we're working two or three times a day then going back getting more numbers. I have the greatest respect for Shalanda and for Ricchetti. They are exceptionally smart.


KING: Back to that story a bit later, but we begin with new details of the Ron DeSantis for president launch. The timing, CNN has told the official paperwork will be filed next week. That is a necessary legal step for fundraising and other campaign nuts and bolts. The battle plan though is much more interesting.

A plan CNN reports to run to the right of Trump on abortion, on guns and more. Time frames it this way. What Ron DeSantis means for America? Yes, this is very, very much about him and whether the Florida governor can rebound from recent struggles and seriously challenged Donald Trump's grip on today's GOP.

But it is also about much more including, the fault lines of America's culture wars and the fault lines of our political polarization. And if what it takes to win the Republican nomination will make the winner then a tough sell, maybe an impossible sell in the places that settled presidential elections.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, Seung Min Kim of The Associated Press, Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Finally here, we knew it was coming. He was waiting for the legislature to end whether that was the right decision or the wrong decision. The voters will tell us seven eight months from now. But here's the Ron DeSantis push at the end of that legislative session.

And our reporters were told this foundation of his campaign, a six- week ban on abortion, ending concealed weapon permits, banning gender affirming care for transgender youth, restricting drag shows, expanding the don't say gay law in Florida, blocking the AP Advanced Placement African American studies program, prohibiting vaccine mandates.

This is Ron DeSantis's plan to what, tell Republican voters I'm trumpy with results. I get things done without the drama. What is it?

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Well, he laid that out in Iowa last weekend where that's basically what he said is, you can be successful and a conservative. You don't just have to go. I think he said something about just posturing on social media or sort of turning yourself into a brand. You can actually bring results.

Now, you're right. Do these results also help him in a primary but hurt him with swing voters? We have yet to see. I mean, what we know with swing voters is some of those issues are going to be unpopular, especially on the abortion issue.

But so much of why swing voters moved off of Donald Trump or stuck with Democrats in these past few years are bad things like January 6, or a feeling that Donald Trump himself, just the style and the way he conducted himself was chaotic, was unpredictable. Versus if we're going to have a fight over policy that feels like a very different conversation than we're having a fight over the personality like we did or so much of 2016, 2020 and everything in between.

KING: And so, that's his challenge, first with Republican voters who have a great affinity for Trump. But so, I want to listen to a little bit of how Ron DeSantis is phrasing (Ph) because what you just said is important. Ron DeSantis says, maybe you disagree with me on some of these issues but look at Floridian works and he uses the term normal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: What we've said in Florida is we are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy. And kids should have an upbringing that reflects that.



KING: Some of this you look at Glenn Youngkin's victory in the Virginia governor's race. There's certainly a lot of parental concerns about what's happening in schools. I guess the question is, when will we know? How do we know? If some of these Republicans, it's not just Florida, you see that the trans policies in Texas and other states as well. Are they going so far to the right that suburban voters think this is a solution in search of a problem?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right, right. Well, I think on that specific issue, it hasn't been really tested on a national level in terms of its impact on the elections. But certainly, one of the platforms, one of the planks in the list that you laid out from DeSantis during his term as governor this year has certainly been tested in national elections and that's abortion.

I think that the six-week ban Democrats feel that is a massive political gift for them. But right now, in terms of that, DeSantis is certainly looking at the primary and seeing that as an advantage over former President Donald Trump, who has been very mushy on what he would do if he becomes president again on a potential national ban.

So, I think we can definitively -- not definitive, I'm sorry, I think we can say that abortion will certainly have a major national impact and Democrats feel very energized by that issue still. But in terms of the other cultural issues, I think many Republicans feel that at least on the primary level, that is certainly something that they have to engage.

KING: And to that point, let's show the map of since Dobbs replaced Roe. You have had abortion laws new restrictions take effect in a number of states. Some of them are already on the books, just waiting for Roe to be taken off.

In others, if you look at that map, red are the most restrictive bans. If you look, you see North Carolina, you see Arizona, you see Georgia, there are a few states there that come into play in who picks the president, if you think of the traditional red, blue map. But I guess that is the challenge.

Will 2024 be like 2022 in the midterms. Are the Democrats right about that? That if you have a Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump and the other Republicans fighting for the next six, seven, eight, nine months over who's more restrictive on abortion. Do the Democrats say, thank you very much and pick up the swing states again?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: I think the Democrats are hoping that'll be the case, what DeSantis team are looking at are the polling. But Amy and others that say, when you match me up against Biden, I do better than Trump. And so, that's part of DeSantis's team's pitch to Republicans.

But again, that comes with DeSantis really untested. He sticks to friendly audiences. He is very scripted in his public appearances. As we've seen with the bill signings this week. What happens if he enters the race and has to actually face Trump in a debate or face questions in townhalls and in other forums that right now he avoids.

KING: And you also put on the table, a very important question. Joe Biden is the incumbent president now. He's not running against Donald Trump in the middle of a pandemic, with bleach and everything else on the table and the other things that were questions about -- the other questions about Trump.

There are legitimate questions about him. How people feel about his age? How people feel about the economy? How people feel about his policies. So, the question is, you know, the democratic playbook that worked in the midterms. Does it work when you're the incumbent president, not challenging somebody who made those policies?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I do think that you can't roll out who Biden could be running against. I think the challenger really does matter here. And the set of issues that they emerge from the primary in pushing from the primary matters, because as we were talking about and you're right, abortion was on the ballot in a lot of places in 2022.

It's going to be likely on the ballot in several other states coming forward. And I'm not saying that's the end all be all, but we're talking about some swing states. And so, will they run the same playbook, they might try. But I do think the -- who was on the other side of that equation really will matter.

KING: And so, let's just look at the latest. Let's start with DeSantis-Trump again. And then I want to finish with a bigger conversation. But if you look at the choice of Republican nominee, DeSantis's position has eroded over the last several months. Some of that is because it's a rally around Trump movement, put some of the charges, some of that is Trump and his Super PAC have dumped a ton of money on Ron DeSantis's head with critical ads.

I'm going to say this now, that's a national poll. We're pretty close to the point where I'll start saying ignore the national poll, because you go state-by-state and, you know, you can have a surprised in Iowa, surprised in New Hampshire. Republicans are sticking to the traditional calendar. I guess that is the test.

When Ron DeSantis goes into one of these states where Trump has redefined in some ways repopulated the Republican Party to say, I'm better than him. That's a hard sell, issues aside.

WALTER: I think that's absolutely true. And how that message resonates with people is going to be important. The one thing that's interesting about those polls, though, is that even as his numbers have gone down, DeSantis's numbers have gone down. It's not that his negatives have gone up. So, I think it is reflective of where the media attention is. At the end of 2022, what were we all talking about? What a terrible midterm that Republicans had? What was a big reason for that, candidates that Trump endorsed flopped? We're not talking about that now.


We are rallying that -- we're seeing Republicans rallying around an embattled friend of their, who's Donald Trump, who's getting picked on by the media, getting picked on they see by prosecutors. What we don't know is will that rally around continue once we hear from Fulton County, Fulton County. Let's see what happens there once we hear from some of the other investigators.

KING: Once you get that engagement. One more thing I want to quickly put on the table is Kentucky is not a swing state. But will we get a test of this incumbent versus challenger on these messages? You have Andy Beshear, the Democratic governor running for reelection, and a tough stay for Republicans yet. He has managed to be successful against a protege of Mitch McConnell who has Trump's endorsement, who will wage the cultural wars.


DANIEL CAMERON, (R) KENTUCKY GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: The left is trying to hijack women's sports. And our schools are on the verge of becoming breeding grounds for liberal and progressive ideas. A governor who will not speak out on these issues and who will not stand up for your interests, has abdicated his responsibility to the Commonwealth and is not fit to lead it any longer.


KING: So, we will get a 2023 test. Again, it's not a perfect state to test them in, but it's a good state to test them in of these issues. Go ahead.

WALTER: So, I'll just jump on one thing on that. The one person I think who really wants to see if this works or not are the red state senators who need to win by being a different kind of candidate than the national. So, Governor Beshear, a very popular in his state. He's able to outrun an unpopular president. If he's not able to do that, if he loses, I think if you -- -

KING: So, you say Jon Tester and Joe Manchin, and those guys will be watching closely.

MITCHELL: Yes. And I'll just going to point out Governor Beshear is in my home state of Kentucky is popular because his responses to those issues in those natural disasters have really endeared him to Kentucky residents in ways that kind of have nothing to do with politics. We're talking about showing up at flood zones, tornado zones -- and tornadoes zones and recently a mass shooting.

KING: So, a great test of sort of national issues versus day-to-day in your local environment. A great testable to watch. Up next to CNN exclusive, new evidence for special counsel Jack Smith's investigation. And it contradicts Donald Trump's defense in the mishandling of classified documents.




KING: To an important CNN exclusive now, CNN has told the national archives now set to hand over to the Trump special counsel. 16 records showing the former president and his top advisors knew the correct declassification process. Meaning new, despite the Trump -- what Trump repeatedly says that he cannot declassify a presidential record simply by wishing it so, or just take it with him to Mar-a-Lago. A top archives official informed Trump and his legal team that the Special Counsel Jack Smith will have those documents by next week, May 24.

Our CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams and CNN's Evan Perez join me now. The notification was in case you want to run to court and try to file an appeal to block us from doing this. But what is the significance? If the special counsel gets these documents essentially, tell me if I'm wrong. Communications throughout the process of the national archives is trying to get them back, explaining these all the rules, please follow them.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Not only that is, his communications actually between members of the president's own White House team, essentially people who are close to him. We don't know exactly what the letters say. But according to this letter from the archives that Jamie Gangel obtained. What it describes is a process that the former president knew existed for carrying out the classifications, right?

And so, what it does is it really kind of goes up against what the former president is saying, which is that, you know, I don't -- there doesn't have to be a process. Because I am, as a president, you know, I have the ultimate declassification power.

And he's right about that, in the sense that this has never been tested in court. We don't know where the courts will land on, you know, whether a president can say is declassified. And does he have to wait for the bureaucracy to carry out his wishes, or is it declassified when he says it? It's quite possible that, you know, he may win on some of this. We don't know.

KING: So, pause right there one sec. We'll bring the lawyer to the conversation. First to that point. Let's listen. This is at our CNN townhall where Trump saying, I was president, I can do it.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I had every right to under the Presidential Records Act. You have the Presidential Records Act. I was there and I took what I took, and it gets declassified.


KING: Number one, he admits he took it. He admits he took it, which is important, but that's what he says. I took what I took, and it gets declassified. If you read the act itself. It says, "the United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession and control of presidential records, and such records shall be administered in accordance with the provisions of this chapter."

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He is legally and factually incorrect with the statement he is making there. John, it's a simple fact. Number one, 12:01 pm on inauguration day, every four or eight years immediately at that moment, all presidential records immediately become the custody of the national archives, not the former president, not his family, not anybody. It doesn't matter if it's Donald Trump, anybody has happened to Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, anybody else? So that's number one.

Number two, declassification. Yes, the president has authority. Now that sort of pushing back on Evan's point a little bit. Yes, he does. But there's a process for it, right? Like, I can't file my taxes by thinking, oh, I'm just going to file them with the IRS. There's a process whereby you send the letter, you file documents and so on, and it works the same way. It is a process that has to play out. The president cannot just will it into being even if that's what he wanted that to carry out.

PEREZ: Especially, if what the archives is saying here is that, if he has acknowledged and practice this entire process that has existed by his administration, right? So, what they're going to -- what you can imagine prosecutors are trying to do here is to say, all of these other times, you are adhering to this process. So, now that you're claiming it doesn't exist. Here's all the times that you said it did.

KING: So, before you jump out. Just one of the president's lawyers last night, they're clearly aware of these documents, but one of them still on our air last night said this.



JIM TRUSTY, FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: If you look at the constitution, you look at the Presidential Records Act, there is absolutely no basis for saying that bureaucracy rules and the president doesn't have the authority entrusted in him by the voters to possess and to declassify and to hold on to documents.


KING: Is that Republican consumption? Is that because you say it's been untested in courts, a message to Jack Smith, really you want to test this theory with a former president? What is it?

WILLIAMS: It's just that's simply not accurate. Think about every area and signing treaties or issuing executive orders. The president can do that. But there's a process for doing so, it simply just can't exist in one person's head. That's just not the way our country works.

PEREZ: It's simply their best argument, and he knows it. And you know, we'll see how far that gets them in court.

KING: And you believe the documents will be in Jack Smith's hands next week.

PEREZ: Next week, I think.

KING: Next week, all right. Well, then we'll take it from there. Up next for us. The policy differences in the debt ceiling debate are huge. And some new CNN reporting takes us inside another complication. President Biden and Speaker McCarthy really don't have much of a relationship.




KING: President United States is abroad. But his itinerary confirms his attention is very much on an at home crisis with global consequences. Joe Biden today meeting with the Japanese prime minister, that ahead of a big G7 gathering. Russia's war in Ukraine is topic one at this meeting of the world's leading economies.

Keeping China in check, if possible, is another big issue. But the president will also face questions on the controversy that led him already to cancel the back half of his plan travels. That is the prospect of an American default that could cause global financial turmoil.

Let's go straight to Japan now, CNN's Marc Stewart is there. I guess the question is Marc, can the president reassure? Well, they believe his reassurances when he says, don't sweat it, America will not default.

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's the problem, John. This debt ceiling debate is not just a distraction. It's almost become an accidental agenda item here at the G7. As we have been reporting that president tomorrow when everyone meets will likely face questions from these G7 nations about the risks involved.

And as you have been reporting now for weeks, a debt default wouldn't just impact the United States. It is one of those economic moments that really could prompt a global recession. It's not something just exclusively felt by American economists. It's something that we heard from Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank.

The president today was asked about whether or not progress is being made, where things stand, and he basically said, let's go and put an end to that conversation. So that's going to be something we're going to be listening to.

As you did mention, John, there are other items on this agenda, the war in Ukraine. When I spoke to Japan's foreign minister last week, he did say that it is very likely that President Zelenskyy will make an online appearance. Also expect to see a lot of discussion concerning the war in Ukraine with economic pressure on Russia, liberty imports and exports from the E.U., even to Asia.

And then finally, on this topic of China, which is certainly a hefty issue. While there is some differences in the relationships between many G7 nations with China, the goal is to have at least one common statement, one common voice or thematic approach toward China, especially looking to the future. The real question, John, is just how strong and stringent will that statement be?

KING: Marc Stewart in Hiroshima for us. As the meeting is about to kick off, Marc, we'll be in touch in the days ahead. Thanks so much. And let's bring that conversation back home. A very small circle of advisers to both sides, the president and the speaker, are still meeting to try to hammer out the debt deal. Today, Speaker McCarthy sounding positive for the first time saying he does see a path forward.

CNN has some new reporting today on what our writers call the untested relationship at the center of these debt ceiling talks that of course, the relationship or the lack thereof, between the president and the House speaker. CNN's Jeremy Diamond and Lauren Fox have this new reporting.

And so, Lauren, let me start with you. Someone who does know Joe Biden well, Senator Roger Wicker said in the piece that you and Jeremy wrote. "Well, it would help if McCarthy and Biden were golf buddies, but they aren't and they were never going to be."

How much do people think the lack of a personal relationship, the lack of a policy history between these two leaders will impact the conversations?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a concern. And it certainly is looming over these talks. And it certainly elevated when people saw their interactions, after that very first meeting in the White House, following the February meeting, in which you saw a lot of sharp jabs between the president and the House speaker.

You also saw over the last week before today that Kevin McCarthy was repeatedly much more negative about the outcome of these negotiations than what you heard from the president and the White House's team. And the reality is that these two men just don't know each other that well, usually, and this is something that I've heard from a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill.

When you have a member of leadership, the president will reach out and get to know that person, even if it's divided government, which was the case right now. But one of the question marks repeatedly has been, will this relationship or lack thereof actually impact these negotiations? And a lot of people are telling us that they hope that it won't, but they do have some concerns.

KING: In the end, cut a deal especially if it's a deal that's hard for both sides to swallow. A little personal trust would help. Jeremy, I want to read a little bit more from the piece. McCarthy is taking personal shots at the president, making insinuations about his age including, when he wants quipped that he would bring soft food to the White House.