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Inside Politics

Meadows Advising Right-Wing GOP Lawmakers in Debt Battle; South Carolina Governor Expected to Sign Six-week Abortion Ban Into Law; Nikki Haley Says She Would Sign Federal Abortion Ban if There's Consensus; DeSantis to Announce 2024 Presidential Run on Twitter Today; Poem Recited at Biden Inauguration Pulled From Elementary Section of Library at Florida School; Democrat Cherelle Parker Beats Progressive Challengers in Philadelphia Mayoral Race; First Lady Surprises Military Chefs on Food Network's Chopped. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST Right now, negotiators are at the White House, trying again to prevent a historic, what would be a historic default next week. Last hour, the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy getting out ahead in the messaging game, telling reporters he was up on Capitol Hill before his negotiators go to the White House, says "Too far still" (inaudible). He says, "Don't blame Republicans."


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: You know, you underestimate them the whole time. The one thing you should learn, for me, I will never give up for the American people. Those are the people I'm looking at. Can we get to yes? Yes. We passed a bill.


KING: Melanie Zanona joins our conversation. To Mel in a minute and some new reporting. But to Mr. Mattingly first, he's our Chief White House Correspondent. He's out there constantly, several times a day and he says the hang-up here is the Democrats, that they refuse to cut spending. Where are we from the White House perspective?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House should probably be out a little bit more, talking about their position. The reality right now is, two things must be true. He is right; he was underestimated. There was a lot of spec -- there was a ton of skepticism, not just at the White House, I think throughout all of Washington that they could get anything passed. What is also true is he's going to need Democrats to be able to get anything over the finish line, and there's been no demonstration whatsoever that anything he's put on the table up to this point or as negotiators have could get Democratic support nor has there been an indication he's willing to put anything on the table that would get Democratic support because of what that would mean for his conference. When you talk to White House officials, they believe when they put out their proposal, which had a freeze at current levels, that that was a concession. They didn't think that was going to be the end game, but they at least thought that would signal that they are willing to put things on the table right now. What they got back signaled that they weren't going to get any concessions at all. I think that's been from the White House perspective -- the thing that's been most perplexing to them is you are not putting anything for us to work with here. How are we supposed to move forward? And as long as that remains the case, there are major problems here, major problems.

KING: And so one of the calculations of that, one of the questions for that is McCarthy publicly said, "I'm being reasonable. I am being rational." He's doing these public events. The question is, how long is his leash, right? Because, remember when he became Speaker, 15 ballots, he reminded us several times of the day, any one conservative at any time. So, you have some fascinating new reporting about Mark Meadows, Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff, also one of the founding members of the House Freedom Caucus, still in touch, still advising a number of the hard-line conservatives. And just a reminder for anyone who might forget Mark Meadows or what he looks like, this is Mark Meadows on Newsmax Monday night.


MARK MEADOWS, (R) FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The famous line is eventually, you run out of other people's money. We are at that point. They may have made progress today at the White House with Speaker McCarthy and Joe Biden. I'm telling you, I think Doug will agree.


MEADOWS: That's happy talk. They are not making progress because they want to spend your money.


KING: Explain why this matters, that Mark Meadows is kind of like, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. But he's talking to these hard-line conservatives who keep telling McCarthy, don't give up much --


KING: -- or else we will not back you.

ZANONA: Right. I mean, anyone who covered Mark Meadows when he was in Congress, Phil, Dana, know very well. This is very on brand for Mark Meadows. He spent years agitating against leadership, trying to undermine leadership, including Kevin McCarthy. And we have found that over the last year, even though he has faded from the public spotlight, he's very much working behind the scenes to try to wield influence in Washington, especially now that Republicans have control of the House. The Speaker's race was another example. He was actually advising the Freedom Caucus about what specific demands to make, gaming out how McCarthy would act, advising about how use their leverage. And now, he's doing the same thing in the debt ceiling fight and I mean, it matters for a couple reasons. Number one, obviously, it could impact how these negotiations play out when you have the hard right trying to influence and exert their leverage. But number two, it's interesting because Mark Meadows is arguably one of the most important witnesses when it comes to January 6 and Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And there are signs that the special investigation is concluding and so there's a lot of anticipation and speculation about whether Mark Meadows is cooperating.


KING: Sure

ZANONA: And even Trump's legal team is in the dark about whether or not he is cooperating, which has annoyed them. But it is interesting to see him trying to politically stay relevant while also maneuvering with these legal investigations.

KING: Right.

BASH: Such amazing reporting, particularly for those of us who covered Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus Chair, not Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff under Donald Trump, because that was the guy who made John Boehner's life a living hell.

MATTINGLY: And Florence (ph).


BASH: Horian's (ph) life a living hell. But such a different message when he was Donald Trump's Chief of staff because Donald Trump was not afraid to spend a lot of money, a lot of taxpayer dollars.

KING: Sure.

BASH: Like a lot of it. And so, I think you're right to sort of be looking at and questioning whether or not his separation from Donald Trump on the fiscal matters might be an indicator about whether he's separating from him on legal matters.

KING: But, so connect the dots in the sense, if Meadows has an audience, whether it's five or whether it's 10, maybe it's 20, maybe it's as many as 40 if you are talking about the Freedom Caucus, members (ph) saying here's where you should hold the line.


And Kevin McCarthy is saying the White House has to cut. Phil says they put a freeze on the table and thought, you know, if we do a freeze, maybe we give them a little bit of the work, cram everything they want, (inaudible) deal. The question is can Kevin McCarthy cut it or what happens if he doesn't. This is Ralph Norman who again, go back to the 15 ballots, (inaudible) does. "We talked to Meadows about being Speaker." This is from Mel's reporting. "We asked would he mind if we put his name up? That's not something he thought he could win. His best use is being what he does now. He can freelance and offer advice."

It's just a reminder that, again, at any moment, one person can challenge Kevin McCarthy. So if he cuts a deal with Biden and they get them to Democrats and centers (ph) Republicans to pass the bill, Kevin McCarthy could say, "Wow, I avoided default." And then what? Within 48 hours, could have a speakership challenge potentially.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Could and I think that's the ramifications, you know, we talk a lot about the people and the players, and people at home don't necessarily know. If Mark Meadows walked past them, they might not know who he is. But we have these individuals, these very small number of individuals, are really the ones kind of holding up this debt ceiling discussion, but my question is what is the end game. We have people at home worried a about their social security checks, they are worried about what this will mean to their own finances and there's no clear end game.

We know Mark Meadows is seizing power and advising the far-right members, but what do they actually want?

KING: Right. I think that's a great question, in the context also of what the president wants. Very different from what a conservative House member who goes home to a safe district might want, or a liberal Democrat who goes home, who doesn't want President to agree to anything the Republicans want, that's complicated.

Up next, another controversial and complicated issue, another new law restricting abortion access. All five women in the South Carolina Senate voted 'no.' But that state's new six-week abortion ban will soon be signed by the Republican Governor.



KING: South Carolina's governor says he will sign new restrictions on abortion access into law as soon as possible. Last night, the state legislature passed the six-week abortion ban. The law outlaws most abortions after early cardiac activity in a fetus, which is around six weeks. The new law does include some exceptions for fatal birth defects, the health and life of the mother, and has a longer time line up to 12 weeks for those victims of rape or incest.

South Carolina now, you can look at the map, will join a host of other states since the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned restricting abortion access. Our panel is back with us. And let's start, let's just leave the map up. We're going to get to the politics in a second, but first is the policy. And if you look at the map right there, North Carolina has a new law that's about to take effect. The South Carolina, which is 20 or 22 weeks right now, will go to six weeks. Florida is at 15 weeks right now; it will go to six weeks.

If you look at that map across the southeast, states like North Carolina, even South Carolina or Florida, where if you had more restrictions like in Georgia, Alabama Or Mississippi, that's where women sometimes often went. If you look at that map, across the country, but especially in that part of the country, abortion access is now a giant, giant question mark.

MITCHELL: Yeah, and it has real ramifications for women and people who are pregnant that they can't even have a convenient possibly neighboring state to go to. A lot of states are landlocked by limited abortion access, and we're already seeing reports of people having to give birth in ways or in circumstances that previously doctors might have allowed them to opt for an elective procedure. That's off the table now. So, it's not just 'I have decided, I would like to terminate the pregnancy.' We're talking about babies that might not be able to live long past birth, but the mothers are being told they cannot end their pregnancy early.

KING: This will be a giant issue in the 2024 elections, when you have general elections, Democrats versus Republicans, President Biden versus whoever the Republican nominee is. But it's also an issue right now in the Republican primaries. Democrats are actually happy about that politically for that debate. Just this morning in New Hampshire, Nikki Haley said this.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND FORMER GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA: If there's 60 votes, which we're not anywhere near that, and if there's something where they have come together on consensus, yes, of course, I would sign it. Because that's 60 votes out of 100 saying, this is what America wants. But we're at 45, so we're not anywhere close. I'm being very honest with you. I can't suddenly change my pro- life position because I'm campaigning in New Hampshire.


KING: Her position has been, as she puts it, I'm pro-life, meaning she would sign abortion restrictions but it has to be a consensus. That we don't want to offend people, push people away, so you need 60 votes in the senate. All five women, including several Republicans in the South Carolina senate said, gentlemen, you're going too far here with six weeks. Can Nikki Haley -- we can show you the presidential field, those in and those thinking about getting in -- she's the only woman --

BASH: Yeah.

KING: -- at the moment. But is there -- I don't know if middle is the right word, is there a middle ground or a place for her argument in the Republican primary electorate?

BASH: No. There isn't. Mostly because, if you look at each of the individual candidates, Nikki Haley included, on the Republican side, for the most part, they have fundamental philosophical views on these issues. And Nikki Haley is one of them and you just heard her talking about it. She is fundamentally pro-life.


Now, that's what she calls -- called for against abortion rights.

KING: Yeah.

BASH: The question, of course, is how does that make its way into policy. The fact that she as a true conservative -- state's rights conservative just said, yes, she would be -- if the votes were there, she would be willing to sign a federal ban. That puts her in a bit of a different position than other Republicans and that's where the debate is going to play out, even if it's just theoretical.

KING: Right. She had -- she had -- forgive me for jumping in, but she had said before, it's a silly question.

BASH: Right.

KING: It's a ridiculous question. That she's answered it more specifically now, and tells me she's listening to the pressure she's getting from grassroots --

BASH: Yeah.

KING: -- conservative anti-abortion groups.

MATTINGLY: And I think it's the reality of Republican primary. (Inaudible) What's most fascinating about it is that the former president refuses to take a position on this issue. I think Kaitlan asked him four or five times and he refused. He's acknowledging the reality of what a general election atmosphere or environment may be like. And I think that's what, when you talk to Biden campaign officials, when you talk to Democrats, they are looking at all this, they are looking at that map you showed and seeing a clear opportunity on a political side of things. That's not the case in the Republican primary. And I think that's why you see the shift of everybody but Trump, kind of heading in that direction.

Yeah. Democrats have just real quickly -- put it back up -- they look at that map, they see North Carolina, they see Georgia, they see Arizona, they see Wisconsin and they see states where this helps some of the suburbs, and some of them (inaudible) saying, some Democrats even think maybe we test this in Florida. We'll see when that plays out.

When we come back, why Twitter and why with Elon Musk? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his unconventional, to say the least, 2024 campaign launch.



KING: Tonight, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will officially announce he's running for president. The setting is unconventional to say the least. A conversation with Elon Musk on Twitter's audio platform called Twitter Spaces. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us now. Donie, walk us through this one. Why Twitter? DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Well, Elon Musk has been

working very hard, I guess, to change the perception of Twitter among conservatives and Republicans after, of course, the company banned Trump a few years ago from the platform. Trump has -- is now allowed to tweet. He's been allowed to tweet since about November time when Musk reinstated his account. We haven't seen tweets from him yet.

We had some reporting in the past that he may have some kind of an exclusivity arrangement with the Truth Social platform. But you know, it might be very well likely that we may see him decide to tweet today. Maybe he doesn't want to cede that turf, his turf for so long, Twitter, to DeSantis. This all comes, you know, amid a broader picture of what Musk is trying to do at Twitter, which is to try to get these people back on the platform and really making it a place where content is not only shared but it is created. And we're seeing Tucker Carlson, of course, who was recently fired from Fox News, he's going to be debuting his new show on Twitter. So, it's very much Musk trying to make this a home for Republicans.

KING: On brand for Musk and DeSantis obviously must think there's some benefit for him. We'll watch it all play out tonight. Donie O'Sullivan, grateful for the insights there. Up next for us, a Florida school acting on a complaint from one parent restricts student access to the poem Amanda Gorman, listen here, read at the Biden inauguration.


AMANDA GORMAN, NATIONAL YOUTH POET LAUREATE: "When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?" The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We've braved the belly of the beast."




KING: Topping our Political Radar today, the National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, remember her, has been invited now to recite "The Hill We Climb" in person by the Miami-Dade County Mayor. That after the inauguration poem was removed from an elementary school at one school -- an elementary school section at one school's library.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.


KING: Officials are now moving "The Hill We Climb" to the middle school section at the Bob Graham Education Center because one parent complained the poem contained indirect hate messages. The county's mayor says the poem instead inspires youth to help shape the future. In her first national interview since winning the Democratic nomination to be Philadelphia's next mayor, Cherelle Parker tells CNN her tough on crime platform necessary, along she says with investing in Philadelphia's working-class neighborhoods. When asked about being compared to the New York City Mayor Eric Adams, here's what she had to say.


CHERELL PARKER, (D) PHILADELPHIA MAYORAL CANDIDATE: I'll let the nation be the judge of that. What I can tell you is that I was adamant about not allowing anyone to put me in an ideological box relative to what I believe was the prescription that we needed to employ to ensure that Philadelphia was the safest, cleanest and greenest big city in the nation.


KING: St. Louis' own Jon Hamm voicing a new ad for marine veteran Lucas Kunce, the Democrat who wants to replace Republican Senator Josh Hawley.


JON HAMM, ACTOR: In Missouri, we can't fake courage. We're the show me state. Courage is something you have to show us.


KING: The First Lady Jill Biden becoming the piece de resistance on the Food Network. She made a cameo last night on "Chopped." She surprised four active duty military chefs taking part in the finale of a Salute to the Military.


TED ALLEN, HOST OF 'CHOPPED,' FOOD NETWORK: Please welcome First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden.


JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our military is so important, and we are so thankful for everything that you do for our country.