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Inside Politics

WH, GOP Reach Debt Limit Pact Just Days Before Potential Default; Deal Raises Debt Limit For Two Years, Claws Back Unspent COVID Cash; Biden Defends Debt Deal, Dismisses Concerns He Gave Away Too Much; Biden, McCarthy Confident Debt Deal Will Get Enough Support To Pass; This Week: First Official DeSantis Campaign Events In Iowa, NH, SC; DeSantis: If I'm Nominee, I'll Beat Biden And Serve 2 Terms; GOP's Sununu To Decide On 2024 Bid In Next "Week Or Two"; Poll: 53 Percent Of GOP Voters Chose Trump For 2024 Nominee. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 29, 2023 - 12:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to this special Memorial Day edition of Inside Politics. I'm Manu Raju in for John King in Washington. Honoring their sacrifice, the president marking this Memorial Day with a stop at the tomb of the unknown soldier. And it was an address thanking troops who gave their last full measure of devotion to the country they serve.

Plus, a dead deal if they can sell it. The text of Biden, McCarthy deal is now out. The president and the speaker must find a goldilocks road now to get it to the president's desk. And Chris Sununu says, he'll decide soon on a 2024 run with the field already overcrowded for everyone, not named Donald Trump.

But up first for us, a salesmanship test for the president of the United States and the Republican House speaker. The pair is striking a deal to avoid going over the debt cliff, but now comes the hard part. Mr. Biden must convince Democrats he didn't give away too much. And Mr. McCarthy must convince Republicans he extracted just enough but deals taxes now public released late last night.

And this morning, new optimism that the middle out strategy will get enough members on board to push the deal across the finish line. But there are already loud complaints too, progressives say the president opened up the door to draconian restrictions on work requirements. Heartland Republicans insist their speaker only got a tiny slice of what they want it.

So, that's for all this. Let's get straight to CNN's Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill. So, Lauren, break down this deal for us and tell us what the path ahead is?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Manu, this deal certainly cut between Biden and McCarthy in the middle of what both sides wanted. It raises the debt ceiling for two years through January 1, 2025. It also imposes new work requirements on social safety net programs, claws back some of that unspent COVID money about $28 billion. And we're rescind some of the money that was going to go to the IRS for more IRS agents. That's about $20 billion.

But like you noted, this is when the sales game begins. You are already seeing furious efforts to whip this bill with Republicans trying to get votes from some of their members. Meanwhile, some conservatives are already arguing that this bill does not go far enough that the spending cuts are not significant enough.

We're going to see the first test tomorrow in the rules committee. That is when we expect to see whether or not a number of conservatives who serve on that committee are going to support the rule or not. That will be the first test, then it goes to the floor of the House on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Democrats have their own work cut out for them.

The White House is doing a series of detailed briefings today, trying to convince members, trying to help them understand why this is the best deal that the president could get after this passes, or if this passes out of the House of Representatives. Then it goes to the Senate and that is another fight entirely. This could push of course, up to that June 5 deadline. If any one Republican or Democratic senator decides to drag out this process. Manu?

RAJU: Yes. We could put them right up against that June 5 deadline to avert first ever default here in the country's history. Lauren Fox, thank you so much. And here with me in the room our panels, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So, you know, we have heard some opposition building on the right and the left. Probably the loudest opposition so far has been the conservatives. They have really taken to Twitter, some have gone on air and really railed against the justice. So, just some of them Ralph Norman Congressman says, it called an insanity, Chip Roy called it a turd sandwich, Dan Bishop called it Zippo, and Ken Buck called it a major win for Joe Biden.

Now Ken Buck, he voted against this bill and the Republican bill that went much further back in April. The other three actually voted for that Republican bill. How do you see this conservative opposition playing out here in the days ahead? And how much of a risk is it for McCarthy?

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I know you know this, but there are many conservatives out there who have already expected that a majority of the Freedom Caucus is about 33 of them will likely vote no, that's always been the starting gate. Well, McCarthy really needs is the majority of the majority. It was actually a promise, not necessarily written in stone.

But during the speakership week that any bill that is brought to the floor needs to have a solid amount of Republican support. That means you can lose 111 Republicans, that's a pretty hefty amount and it gives a lot of these conservatives the space to say, I don't like this because of all of these different reasons. But then, when you get to the math, you obviously would need 107 Democrats.

[12:05:00] The thing though of course with these Freedom Caucus members is, they obviously have the option to vacate McCarthy. So, sure, you could lose their votes, but they still want to be seen and heard. And that's a lot of the things that I know you and I will be watching this week.

RAJU: Yes. It's going to be really interesting to see. We do know this Freedom Caucus members are strategizing about they're way ahead. They may not have the numbers to stop it. But look, this is what the risks that McCarthy took. And he's the one the speakership. He cut this deal to allow a single member to call for a vote to seek his ouster.

And any member who was angry could do it. And then McCarthy would need 218 votes on the House floor. That means losing no more than four Republicans to maintain his speakership that has to be weighing on him. He says, he's not concerned about. He told reporters yesterday, I'm not concerned about losing my speakership over, but this is the first real test of Republican division in the speakership.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Right. And so, the test to me is not just will they support the bill. But in the next few days as they watch how McCarthy whips votes, as they watch what happens in the rules committee, as they watch what happens as the bill heads to the floor. Will they start saying they're displeased with his leadership? We already have seen some conservative saying, they didn't think he did a good job in the negotiating room with President Biden. They think he didn't fight hard enough.

I was speaking to Representative Andrew Clyde, who is one of those kinds of hardliners. And even on Thursday, as they were planning to recess, he was saying, I want Kevin McCarthy to keep fighting for our Republican bill, don't settle for anything less.

So of course, they're disappointed. But are they at the point where they're ready to kind of, you know, execute this plan to remove McCarthy. We know that that's unlikely to happen. But they could toy with him a little bit and make it difficult, embarrassing. But right now, it's not clear if they're willing to go that part.

RAJU: You know, up until this point, the speaker has done a good job of keeping those folks on the far right on his side. Remember Matt Gaetz told me, not too long ago, they give Kevin McCarthy an A for his job as a speaker, I mean this is a person who went after trying to prevent him from becoming speakers that he would never become speaker. And look, he won them over.

Now they're going to be divided. This is what McCarthy tried to avoid. There are serious divisions, though, on the Democratic side, to me. The Republicans are upset that there were not enough concessions, the Democrats, they will listen to the White House, who said, we were going to concede on anything. We were going to just demand a clean debt ceiling increase. And here are a whole host of debt concessions that they made.

And listen to Pramila Jayapal. She is the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, someone who, unlike other progressives are not happy about allowing the concessions or what has made.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL, (D-WA): It is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this. And while at the end of the day, you know, perhaps this will because of the exemptions, perhaps it will be OK. I can't commit to that. I really don't know.


RAJU: She was talking about it. In particular, the work requirements are added as part of the food stamp program and expanded the work requirements to this deal that was completed Biden and Republicans. This shows you the challenges that he has on his left and the tension with him in his party.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No question. And those challenges have really been there throughout his presidency, but they are about to perhaps be more stinging than we've seen them before. And a couple of different things are in play.

Ron Klain, who was the White House chief of staff at the time, did a very good job during the first half of the first term of keeping progressives informed in the loop and also sort of at bay that, you know, being pragmatic is sort of what you need. He's missing from this equation.

So, we'll see how the left actually fares on this. But some of them actually believed what the president was saying. And the White House was saying is, we're not going to negotiate on this. Well, the reality is that was never going to work. It's (crosstalk) not how things work here. The president obviously knew that, I mean, he was definitely trying to negotiate as he was saying, we're not going to negotiate.

He thought that Republicans would fracture. That's what they thought all along that Republicans would not be able to say together. They did say together up until now, we'll see if they do over the next week or so. But look, I find it hard to believe that the left would not be there for him. He is their president. He's facing a reelection. It's really hard for me to imagine that only more than a handful would that supportive.

RAJU: Exactly. Into the point of miscalculating out and what the Republicans would do, Republican -- they didn't think -- Chuck Schumer said, they're not going to be able to pass a bill in the House. They passed a bill in April. He's kept saying, show us your plan, shows your plan. They showed him a plan. And then they passed the bill and because of that, they had so much more leverage with the White House going forward.

And this was one Senate Democrat told me last night after they got briefed by the White House. He said, it's not a victory, but it's a lot better than what might have happened if there were defaults. So, there's kind of just going to hold their nose and kind of vote for it. Congressman Jim Himes, who is a member, not one of the lefties in the Democratic caucus said this yesterday about the process of doing that, holding his nose and voting yes.



REP. JIM HIMES, (D-CT): It's a small enough bill that in the service of actually not destroying the economy this week, may get Democratic votes. I'm tempted to say no, I'm in no vote, because as the speaker said, there is absolutely nothing for the Democrats in these things. And oh, by the way, do I really want to validate a process, which at the end of the day is a hostage taking process, even if I get to use it two years from now?


RAJU: I mean, that is the hope among the White House here that members like Jim Himes will say, all right, I have to vote for us because there's no other option. What am I going to do? Default see the economy, the first debt default in American history? Because this is the only option and it's a bad option for a lot of Democrats.

SOTOMAYOR: Absolutely. And here's the thing that both McCarthy has said privately, and also the White House is starting to tell Democrats, elections have consequences, you have to come to the negotiating table and divided government. And you're now starting to hear both of those different sides also trying to play into 2024 politics saying, hey, you're a Republican, you want to see more cuts, you better keep us in the majority.

Well, Democrats are going out there and starting to say and something that Shalanda Young actually said on the call to Democrats yesterday. Well, we all need to go out there and talk about the economy. And say that, we have saved it in all these different ways kept in place a number of the bipartisan bills that Biden was able to sign into law, and still go out there motivate voters, tell them to elect Biden and also win back the majority (crosstalk) you get votes.

ZELENY: I mean, the Inflation Reduction Act is kept in place. So, I think that is going to assuage a lot of his progressive concerns. I mean, it's a negotiation. So, I think you can obviously argue both sides. But I mean, the fact that they did not sort of redo all this progress in the first half is administration, pretty big deal.

RAJU: I mean, that's actually one of the members told me, we got off that call yesterday said that 99 percent of that White House briefing was about what was not included as part of it. So, they are arguing that it could have been worse. I do want you to listen to what the president said, along with Speaker McCarthy about how they're messaging this to their respective bases.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what do you say to members of your own party who say, you've made too many concessions in the field?

JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: No find, I didn't. REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA): I think you're going to get a majority of Republicans voting for this bill. This is a good bill for the American public. The president agreed with his bill. So, I think there's going to be a lot of Democrats that will vote for it too.


RAJU: I mean, it's hard, the president is dealmakers, a negotiator, which is why a lot of Democrats will concern when he is in the room with Speaker McCarthy.

MITCHELL: Yes. I do think there is a little bit of relief from Democrats, if they want to be honest that it wasn't, it could have been worse is what I think the Biden White House is selling. And I think a lot of Democrats kind of agree with that. That cuts, the budget cuts that Republicans had in their bill that they said they were not going to back away from. Well, ultimately what is in disagreement is it's much less it's pretty much flat government spending. It's only for a couple of years.

And then beyond that it's kind of an agreed upon, but not binding. Those are things that I think Democrats were really concerned that there were going to be steep cuts. Medicaid was another place where Biden said, hey, I did not agree to any changes with Medicaid. That was something that Republicans really wanted to implement work requirements for Medicaid, which is healthcare for the poor and disabled.

RAJU: Yes. And it's clear that White House wants to put this chapter behind them pass this, move on to the next issue. But a lot of Republicans didn't want to put this issue. They want a one-year debt limit increase to fight it again next year. That's one of the things that McCarthy has to convince them, why he agreed to suspend the debt limit until January 2025.

OK. Up next for us. New Hampshire's governor considering jumping into the 2024 race for president, with crowded Republican feel though, helped Donald Trump.



RAJU: GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, joining the chorus of rightwing Republicans saying the agreement to raise the debt ceiling is a bad deal.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Prior to this deal, Kayleigh (Ph), our country was careening towards bankruptcy. And after this deal, our country will still be careening towards bankruptcy. In Washington D.C., they do the cycles to just get them through the next election. And that's ultimately one of the reasons why they continue to fail.


RAJU: And this week, DeSantis will hold his first events as an official candidate in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The former president also headed to Iowa. Now our panel is back. Jeff, you're hitting the road, you're going to be in Des Moines tomorrow. What is going to be DeSantis's challenge when he starts to engage with voters there?

ZELENY: Well, first, it will be his official kickoff talk about someone who's had multiple bites of the apple here. I mean, it didn't go so well last week on Twitter. So, he'll be doing an actual rally in Des Moines. And look, there are many Republican voters out there who are exhausted by the former president and are looking for someone who can take him on and beat him.

Well, this will be the first opportunity for him in a rally like setting to really show what he's made of. For the last several days, he's been doing something on conservative talk radio stations across the country and a lot of interviews going after the former president on his ideology and his conservative agenda.

He was talking about his spending plan, how much money he added to the debt, immigration, how he didn't build the wall, all these things. So, we'll see if he actually is that forceful when he's in person at this rally. But look, a lot of Republicans are wanting to see if he is a strong enough candidate. But at the same time this is getting to be as we head into June here.

The race is now just underway. It's not at the end, it's not even at the middle, it's just underway here. So, a lot of voters are going to take their time to size up these candidates and see, you know, sort of who in the Never Trump lane looks good, but that lane is getting pretty crowded, of course, which helps the Trump lane.


RAJU: And Iowa was getting crowded too. If you put that map back up on our screen, you can see the number of candidates who are going to be in Iowa just this week alone. And DeSantis is having his kickoff rally in Des Moines. There was a Trump campaign events in (Inaudible) and town hall on Thursday in Iowa. Joni Ernst is hosting several of these candidates -- potential candidates like Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson, Vivek Ramaswamy, all in Iowa.

I want you to listen to though that how Ron DeSantis is trying to separate himself, saying that he is a winner, not just one term, but two terms.


DESANTIS: Everyone knows if I'm the nominee, I will beat Biden and I will serve two terms. And I will be able to destroy leftism in this country and leave woke ideology on the dustbin of history. At the end of the day, I've shown in Florida an ability to win huge swaths of voters that Republicans typically can't win, while also delivering the boldest agenda. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Is that enough to separate him from this very crowded field?

MITCHELL: I think as he speaks, I'm sure that there are conservatives who are listening who say, I like what he says. I wonder, though, as the media, as his Republican opponents, and should he become the nominee or draw attention from Democrats, as Democrats start to really dig into Ron DeSantis's record, dig even into those wins at the polls.

What do they really tell us? What is his coalition? What is the factors? What are the factors that played into that? And that exposure, that digging deep that he really hasn't faced, I think that is where he could face some headwinds.

RAJU: And look, this is how The New York Times put it as he is getting a more crowded field DeSantis because he is trying to fight to be that anti Trump candidate or the person as a Trump alternative, but it's crowded.

This one says, each new entrant threatens to steal a small piece of Mr. DeSantis's potential coalition, whether it be Mr. Pence with Iowa evangelicals or Mr. Scott with college educated suburbanites. Trump's base more than 30 percent of Republicans remains strongly devoted to him. So, his effort to try to become that alternative, challenging.

SOTOMAYOR: Oh, yes, absolutely. It seems like DeSantis is trying to be, you know, try and capture the Trumpism without the Trump baggage, which a lot of voters are in the midterm said, you know, I'm a Republican through and through, but I just don't know if Trump should run again. We've obviously seen Trump against surge in the polls, kind of come back with force.

And it's true that the more people that get in, as we saw in 2016, it just helps Trump in the primaries. And of course, the DeSantis's team has said, you know, this isn't 2016, it's a different landscape. I'm trying to make, or at least show that contrast of these are the promises to your point, Jeff, that Trump said he would finish and do, but he wasn't able to get done.

RAJU: Yes. And look, we see more of these candidates in the race. Just yesterday, Chris Sununu, New Hampshire governor indicated, he's got a big decision.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R-NH): The one thing I'm looking at is where can I be most effective? And both in terms of making sure I can be a good governor. I still have a 24/7 job. I'm one of the few people that I still very much focused on my state. I just want what's best for the party, doesn't have to be the Chris Sununu show all the time.


RAJU: I mean, how does a candidate like Chris Sununu, who has some appeal. No doubt, he's obviously from New Hampshire at the second race, a second state here in the primary met calendar. But how does someone like him gain traction in the race?

ZELENY: It's a real tough road, the road is crowded already. And to me that sounded like, you know, the reverse indicator was sort of on his car there and he's beeping backwards. It doesn't have to be the Chris Sununu show. That to me seems like, he's looking for an off ramp not to run. I was in New Hampshire, about a week and a half ago, talking to a lot of Republicans, including his father, John Sununu.

And he said, you know, we'll see, but he has a day job, and he could be more effective in the party as a messenger. So, we'll see. If he gets in, it will change the equation in New Hampshire. I mean, he is not to the front runner necessarily, but he could really occupy that Never Trump lane and cause some issues for others. But he's been an interesting voice, though, in this race.

And I think he'll continue to be -- he was one of the first Republicans to criticize Governor DeSantis on his Disney stance, kind of led the way on that and saying this isn't conservative. How is this a conservative philosophy going after a private business? So, regardless of if he runs or not, his voice will be heard in this race.

RAJU: A national Republicans, he doesn't really register on the dial. You just saw the poll that we showed just a little bit earlier, 53 percent of Republicans see Trump as their clear choice, top choice, DeSantis about half that, then you got Pence and Nikki Haley. I mean, so much of this is about name recognition, and being able to, you know, have the money to be able to convince the voters that you can actually win here.

MITCHELL: Right. And that to me, it's the test for Ron DeSantis as well. As he gets out there, he's an official candidate now, because he was -- his hands were tied a little bit in the recent months. But now that he's actually campaigning, he's going to show up at those rallies. Will he be able to increase his level of support because right now Trump is besting him in the polls two to one.


So, he's got a lot of ground to make up. Will he be able to do it once voters get to know him? Or as we've read in some articles that his retail politics aren't the greatest and it could turn voters off. That'll be the test in the coming week.

RAJU: So, many tests, as Jeff says, this race is just getting underway. All right. Next, California Senator Dianne Feinstein returned to the Capitol. But questions remain, if she will finish out her term, and what California voters are saying, and for the race to replace her in 2024.