Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

McCarthy's Team Confident Debt Deal Will Clear House; Some House Dems Still Sour On Deal To Avert Default; Tonight: House To Vote On Deal To Advert Crippling Default; Conservatives Frustrated With McCarthy Back Off Threatening His Job; DeSantis Dares Trump To Weigh In On Debt Ceiling Deal; DeSantis Courts Iowa Voters, Takes Swipes At Trump; DeSantis To Supporters: "Time We Impose Our Will" On D.C.; NYT: Special Counsel Subpoenas Trump WH Staff On Firing Of Fmr Top Election Security Official. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Did Speaker Kevin McCarthy calm was swirling debt deal drama? Just minutes ago, the speaker saying the agreement to pull the United States back from a crippling default is on track to pass tonight.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We're going to doubt overwhelmingly. I don't want to be on the wrong side of history. Every single one of those members who vote no, will miss the opportunity to vote for the largest cut in American history.


KING: Plus, Ron DeSantis shows two sides of himself in Iowa. With the voters, the Florida governor keeps Donald Trump's name out of his speech. With reporters though, Mr. DeSantis says it's time to give the former president the gold watch. Move on to the next generation.

And today, new special counsel threats, Jack Smith now reportedly looking into the firing, the Trump's firing of the cybersecurity chief who called the 2020 election secure. And why a Mar-a-Lago employee wanted to know the ins and outs of how the compounds security cameras work.

Up first for us, though, Kevin McCarthy climbs out of the quicksand. Yes, there was controversy and turbulence. And yes, there's still some chatter about a potential hardliner challenge to McCarthy's grip on the speaker's gavel. But an important but, at the moment, the debt deal brokered by the speaker and the president looks like it will make it out of the House.

Tonight, McCarthy will tee up a vote on that pact. Walking with reporters and talking this morning McCarthy says, he feels quote, very good about the deals' chances, and is quote, not at all worried about his personal job security. McCarthy's team too voicing confidence. A, that a majority of House Republicans will vote, and that yes, with the help of some Democrats that deal will pass.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): I think we have the votes passes today. And we had a really tough negotiation. But we had good conservative wins. I think the votes are there on both sides.


KING: Let's start up on Capitol Hill with our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, everybody suddenly seems calm. They have reasonably?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, yes. I just spoke to Kevin McCarthy on his way back into the Capitol just moments ago. And he told me, oh, yes, when I asked him whether or not he believes you'll get a majority of House Republicans to support this plan. That has been the threshold that they have been pushing for now.

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader has one and Republicans have more than that, 150 Republican votes. McCarthy would not say if he had that many votes, but even with the majority -- a majority, that could be enough to fend off any challenges from his right. Some members of that hard right Freedom Caucus said that they would try to target him for the speakership. If this is approved by a minority of House Republicans, but that is not expected to be the case.

Now, behind closed doors, Hakeem Jeffries did talk to House Democrats and a briefing with White House officials imploring them to get behind this deal saying, this is the best possible option that they are facing with the prospects of default just days away.

They do need some sizable number of Democrats to vote for this tonight in order to get this over the finish line. But that doesn't mean there isn't concern in the ranks, particularly among the left flank of the Democratic caucus with several of them planning to vote against it.


REP. CORI BUSH (D-MO): This is a bad deal. I think that they did grateful what they had to work with. The shame is on the Republicans. The shame should be on McCarthy.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): The biggest concern, obviously is not validating this hostage taking approach. I mean, I have that concern.

REP. JARED HUFFMAN (D-CA): I don't like this deal. I think there were better ways to avoid default, instead of saying patting us on the head and saying, it could have been worse. They could have said, this is the end of the fossil fuel giveaways. I'm pretty discouraged and frustrated.


RAJU: Now, the last congressman was referring to an exchange that he had behind closed doors with White House officials where he raised concerns about the provisions in there that he believes are going to make the climate change crisis worse. But the White House said that the actual provisions in the bill that Republicans were pushing that did not get into the proposal would have made things worse, not happy with that explanation.

But nevertheless, there is still expected to be a significant amount of Democrats voting for this at the end of the day. And John, we expect to vote this afternoon. On the first step, the procedural vote, the rule to set parameters for the floor debate. Some Democrats maybe -- they may need it to vote for that, typically the majority party votes for the rule, but we expect some potential Democrats to vote for that. And then later tonight, the big vote, passing the bill and sending it over to the Senate. John?


KING: Sending it over to the Senate, Manu Raju, appreciate. Manu, kicking us off from Capitol Hill. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Laura Barron-Lopez of The PBS NewsHour, Carl Hulse of The New York Times, and USA Today's Francesca Chambers.

All right, Carl, this was going to be -- this was the first big test of Speaker McCarthy, the first big legislative big test. A couple of days ago, a lot of grumblings, people threatening his job, today seems very calm. Why? How did he manage this?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, it's getting to be crunch time and people start to take positions. I do think there was a lot of blowback from Republicans towards these conservatives who were agitating against the speaker yesterday, you know, that makes -- that looked bad.

And for people to be out there publicly saying, we could go after McCarthy's job, that was bad situation. It hurts trying to get the bill passed. It's such a numbers game, John, it's like, is he going to get 112? Or is he going to get 150? I think that, you know, bare minimum, he has to get half of his conference plus one. And can he get to 150?

Watching that, I do think the Democratic complaints about the bill probably helped him somewhat with the Republicans. One of the Republican criticisms yesterday is like, well, the Democrats are all for this. But it looks like he's going to eke it out. And I think that people believe that he was somewhat underestimated by the White House and delivered a few things and probably will hold off.

KING: And to that point you make is quite interesting because McCarthy is telling people in private meetings, look, we stopped and cut federal spending from going up. We've leveled it off, maybe brought it down a little bit. It's a good downpayment on what we want to do.

But the president is having an event right now, right now, and maybe we'll hear from him any minute now. The event is to get briefed on the upcoming hurricane season, upcoming wildfire season, but we'll see if he talks about this. But he has not talked about it a lot. But his team is telling Democrats privately, look, we did OK, here.

They wanted to strip away the whole first two years of the Biden presidency. Yes, we had to make some concessions, but not by. Is the president being quiet on purpose of so that to Carl's point, so the Republicans don't say, see he's gloating, we vote no.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Yes. Throughout this process, the White House has been tight lipped on this until we saw Shalanda Young at the podium just yesterday, because they want to see this get through. It can still end up not passing. And so that's a lot of what you're seeing here.

But you were just mentioning that Democrats are for this. Well, some Democrats are not for this. The Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal says, that she is not for this. And while the caucus hasn't finished its whip count, released right before the show started. If she's saying that she is not going to vote for it, that that signals that there could be a massive progressive uprising on this.

KING: And so, well, listed here. This is Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs, two of the hardliners who made it difficult for Kevin McCarthy to become speaker. Yesterday at this hour, House Freedom Caucus members were having an event where several said they thought they would challenge McCarthy no matter how this turned out, the volume on that has turned down considerably. Listen?


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I have not been involved in any discussion about ousting McCarthy from the speakership.

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): I can't project what will happen with Kevin, I know there's a lot of dissatisfaction.


KING: As the speaker managed not only to cut a deal and pass a deal, we'll see that votes tonight to avoid a default. But has he found a way to somehow turn down the constant threats within his own group?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Maybe I don't think we're really going to know the answer to that until we see this pass on the floor, until we see the votes play out on the floor. Because Gaetz may say that right now, but he and a number of other Republicans said, you know, less than 24 hours ago that if there was not a majority of Republicans supporting this bill, that they would then challenge McCarthy's speakership, and it only takes one to bring that challenge.

So, I wouldn't say that McCarthy is totally out of the woods here yet. When it comes to, you know, Democrats frustrations with a bill. I think one of their points is kind of important here, which is that they say that it's about governance. And it's about the fact that they feel as though now this whole process. Their frustrations with the president is that this whole process set a precedent now with the debt ceiling being taken hostage.

And there are a number of Republicans who have said, you know, that, essentially, they're going to vote against the bill, even if that means a potential default. So that's their concern here that now in future cycles and rounds of this that the debt ceiling will continue to be taken.

KING: And so, the vote in the House is at eight o'clock tonight, then we'll talk later about the Senate process. One of the interesting questions we raised yesterday at this table was what about Donald Trump? If Donald Trump came out against this, would that complicate Kevin McCarthy's math? I think the answer is yes. I don't think anyone would dispute that. Ron DeSantis in Iowa last night said, where are you?


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now in terms of the debt limit? Yes, I think he should -- guys should think, he should come up. You know, I mean, are you leading from the front? Are you waiting for polls to tell you what position to take? I lead from the front on this. I think he owes it to folks to come out and take a position, you know, one way or another on it.



KING: He has not that Kevin McCarthy quietly work Trump?

HULSE: I don't know if that's the case. I was wondering about that myself. I mean, several House members, Republicans Florida remember, they already endorsed Trump over DeSantis. I think DeSantis isn't showing much influence here. Obviously, Trump coming out against this would complicate thing so.

CHAMBERS: And the folks who were -- who would be swayed by Donald Trump, or the folks in the Freedom Caucus who've already indicated that they would not be voting for this. I just want to pick up on your point about progressives too. They feel like that they were cut out of this process. Ultimately, it was the president in cutting a deal with Kevin McCarthy here.

And they're concerned that the next two years are going to be like this. They're asking for a meeting with the White House on this. And it'll be interesting to see if the president ends up meeting with progressives that he feels like he has relationships he needs to work with him.

HULSE: And if I could go back to the Trump thing for just a minute, though, because Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, some of that the people who are closely aligned with Trump, they kind of want to get past this. They have other concerns that they want to take up and maybe they're influencing the president too. To them the investigations, you know, are more important than this fiscal fight. KING: That may be the big act or after this, the fiscal fight pushes a lot of issues off till the presidential campaign here. So that's what they'll get to. Again, we'll watch the vote tonight. But up next for us, the aforementioned Governor DeSantis, looking for an opening day win. He is in Iowa. Iowa goes first in the Republican nomination contest. DeSantis begins his campaign there with sharp attacks on Donald Trump.


GOV. DESANTIS: There a lot of voters just aren't going to ever vote for him. We just have to accept that.





KING: Today is day two on the trail in Iowa for Governor Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor now aggressively, openly, repeatedly challenging Donald Trump.


GOV. DESANTIS: Leadership is not about entertainment. It's not about building a brand. It's not about virtue signaling. It is a bout results. When we say that we will do something it is not fluff. We follow through and we produce results.


KING: Our great reporters are back at the table. Interesting anyway, that from until his announcement, very nuanced about going after Trump. Now just full-throated go after Trump. Not so much in his speeches where that's about Donald Trump the entertainment, he doesn't mention his name. And in his meetings with reporters, radio interviews, he's going after Trump personally.

But to me, the interesting part is Iowa. He's spending a lot of time there. His team says, they're going to organize all 99 counties, that he's trying to beat Donald Trump in the first contest. Take on Donald Trump in the first contest, essentially knock them down.

CHAMBERS: Well, and to your point, it was later on in the Q&A when he went after Trump by name, that speech was more about Joe Biden. And when he mentioned him by name. So, another thing he's trying to do is reclaim that ground as I am the best candidate to beat Joe Biden in this election, because he had been pulling better than Trump against Biden but lost a lot of that ground in the last few months.

KING: And if you think about Iowa, you know, rural voters, Christian conservative, so blue collar voters. Listen to Ron DeSantis. This is much like he governed in Florida, he's saying, you know, woke is the threat and I will beat it.


GOV. DESANTIS: We will not allow malignant ideology to be imposed on our society, we will never surrender to the woke mob. And we will leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history. It's time we impose our will on Washington D.C.


KING: The language is interesting. Number one, that's his brand in Florida, the attack on the woke. That we will impose our will, not our ideas are better, not our ideas are stronger. It's a very muscular, we will impose our will.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. I mean, when he's talking about, woke, you know, what that's come to, at least for him mean is, you know, anyone or any identity that is not, you know, white or Christian. He also incorporates a lot of his religion and a lot of his Christianity into his speeches saying, you know, with the power of God, I will go about and exert this will, essentially, and you've seen a number of, you know, evangelicals and others flocked to figures like him and to Donald Trump.

And so, in a woke for DeSantis, and woke for Trump means anyone that isn't white and Christian is going to have their rights restricted, whether it's attacks on, you know, drag queens, or LGBTQ people or transgender people, or saying that certain types of history cannot be taught in schools, that certain books about sexual identity will not be taught in schools. So that's what that means.

I mean, you know, when you talk to Republican voters, and you ask them what woke means, they don't really have a concrete definition of it. It's kind of just any grievance fits under that banner.

KING: And so, this, the hill is steep. This is a national poll, so be careful. But Iowa goes first, and you can change the national polls. But here's where Ron DeSantis is at the moment. If you go back to just after his reelection in December, he was actually ahead of Donald Trump in National Republican polling, including Monmouth. But now you see Trump at 43 percent, DeSantis at 19.

So, Carl, again, it's a national poll, but he's trying to break through, and all these races are nationalized until you change it state-by-state. He's in Iowa. He goes after the woke. He goes after Trump. He sounds a lot like Trump, though. And one of the things that jumps out me as a striker is, he's constantly attacking the elitist. This is Ron DeSantis, who went to Yale and Harvard Law. Is that authentic? I mean, can he break through?

HULSE: I think he's -- I think that he's obviously getting so much more aggressive that he thinks he can break through. I think you nailed that with the evangelicals. This is the group that controls the Republican Party in Iowa. But what occurred to me is winning that group could really crush him nationwide because the arguments that he's going to have to be making there that we're going to basically impose our will on you.

You know, that's not going to play so great in some of the swing states here. So, you know, when the primary lose to general, but I think that I'm actually sort of surprised at how aggressive he is it being right now.

KING: One of the things he's being very aggressive about is COVID. Saying essentially, that Trump turned the country over to Anthony Fauci and he says, then then, you know, Donald Trump fought in a post firing back under Ron DeSanctimonious. That's the nickname. I don't know how many times I'm going to repeat, but under Ron DeSanctimonious as governor.


Florida, the third worst state in deaths by COVID. Why do they say DeSantis did a good job? New York had fewer deaths. Also, we shut down the state. Part of the DeSantis is getting aggressive, last night was you challenge my record Donald Trump, I will punch back.


GOV. DESANTIS: He used to say how great Florida was hell. His whole family moved to Florida under my governorship. Are you kidding me? Look, if someone is saying that I am going to -- I'm going to counterpunch, I'm going to fight back on it. I'm going to focus my fire on Biden. And I think he should do the same. He gives Biden a free pass. I'm focusing on Biden, that's my focus.


KING: Trump does go after Biden a lot, but it's just -- it's a fascinating question is, you know, most Republicans, especially in a conservative state, Republicans, you know, Republican base in Iowa, they like Trump. Can DeSantis pull them away? What is the key? Is it COVID? Is it I can win? Is it a combination of all of the above?

CHAMBERS: So, he's making three arguments as he kicks off his campaign. One is a border and immigration argument. One is that canceled culture wars argument. And then the other one is COVID, as you touched on. COVID is his vehicle for talking about the economy, because he's don't hear him talking there a lot about the economy.

It's that, our economy was doing better and our state was doing better because I didn't put in all these Fauci type restrictions, and he's trying to win the anti Anthony Fauci caucus there. And that is something that I've heard from the people close to him as a very specific strategy.

Why Iowa, this is a state where they view Trump as vulnerable. And if you can pick-ups team in Iowa, and you can pick up the momentum there and potentially do quite well in New Hampshire and South Carolina,

KING: Ted Cruz won it last time? If you go back to 2012, Rick Santorum actually beat Romney. It didn't seem that way on election night, but Rick Santorum has been a conservative candidate. And in Santorum case, and Ted Cruz's case, a conservative candidate who organized and there's interesting reporting today in The Washington Post, because there is a lot of Cruz people around.

Governor DeSantis, if they're going to do the 99 counties, they're going to try to organize it again. If you have a formidable front row like Trump, one way to weaken him, I give you Hillary Clinton back in 2008, you know, is to beat them in the first state.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. I mean, clearly, DeSantis wants to draw first blood because it would show a big -- it'd be a big sign of strength, if he's able to do that. That doesn't mean though, that he'll ultimately go on to win the nomination.

And so really, to me, it comes down to yes, on certain policy aspects. DeSantis may try to differentiate himself from Trump. But if he can't convince the voters that he's the better general election candidate, then I'm not sure that he can take down Trump.

KING: And to add in Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, former friend of Donald Trump, who now says Trump must be stopped at just about any price will announce his candidacy Tuesday in New Hampshire. Christie is not -- does not fit the Iowa model, if you will, doesn't mean he won't campaign there. But he doesn't fit the Iowa voter base. What is the significance of that? Again, New Hampshire is open. Concept number two, independence undeclared can vote in that primary. Does that make a difference?

HULSE: Right. I think that there is, you know, they're trying to line up a little firewall, let's beat him where we can and deny him these wins. I know that Republicans are pressuring some of these candidates, hey, you got to run in New Hampshire and deny Trump the victory there, and then you can slow them and somebody else can take his place.

One thing about Iowa too, though, they do remember Trump for what he did with judges. This is something that is important to Iowa voters, what he did with the Supreme Court, and you know, maybe he gets some credit for that still out there.

KING: We got about seven months to people vote, but it's getting feisty out there, which makes it interesting. Up next for us, some brand-new reporting on the scope of the Trump's Special Counsel Investigation. The New York Times reporting Jack Smith now exploring why the government's top cybersecurity official was fired just after saying there was no fraud in the 2020 election.




KING: New reporting now on Special Counsel Jack Smith probes into the former president. The New York Times has learned Smith's team, subpoenaed Trump White House staffers who may have been involved in the firing of the government's top cybersecurity official just days after he deemed the 2020 election, "the most secure in American history."

Here to share his insights, the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. Our Chris Krebs was the former cyber security official. And nine days after the election, he posted a statement saying, was the most secure in American history. And five days after that, not only was he fired, but Trump tweeted about it, saying he was terminated after releasing a highly inaccurate report. Why would the special counsel care about that?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it adds to the pile on evidence about Trump's state of mind, meaning how many people must tell him that the election was fine before he can finally believe that. So, we can add Krebs to the pile of the DOJ officials that also told him there is no election problem. I think he got rid of Mark Esper as well, based on that.

So, it really goes to if everyone in your administration, the experts are telling you that there is no fraud, it really starts to swing the notion that you're just deliberately pushing out the lie.

KING: Deliberately pushing out a lie. And you mentioned the DOJ, The New York Times story that mention is the Krebs investigation. Part of Smith's investigation also says, Mr. Smith's team, also seeking information about how White House officials, including in the Presidential Personnel Office, approached the Justice Department, which Mr. Trump turned to after his election loss as a way to try to stay in power, people familiar with the question said, including in that story, the idea that a Stephen Miller ally who have been they tried to place his liaison on the Justice Department.

The Justice Department eventually just said, please just don't come here anymore. Again, what are we looking at?

WU: Yes. Really extraordinary that the Justice Department said no on that. When you consider that bar with such a loyalist to Trump.