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Inside Politics

Auto Workers Union Wavers On Endorsing Biden; GOP Group Uses Barbie Meme To Hit Dems; Justice Dept To Take Legal Action Against Texas Over Floating Razor Wire Border Barrier; CNN: Dem Concerns Growing Over Cornel West Green Party Run; Legendary Singer Tony Bennett Dead At 96. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 21, 2023 - 12:30   ET



MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: -- again. And Donald Trump is also trying to capitalize on this rift that has emerged with Biden. Yes, he's pro-labor, pro-union, but he's also pro-environmentalist, and that has caused a rift between these two core constituencies. The push for electric vehicles is something that has ruled UAW and one of the things that they've criticized Biden over.

So they have withheld their endorsement of Biden for now. I think part of that there is they're trying to get more of a commitment from Biden as they head into these critical labor negotiations, but it's certainly not a constituency that Democrats can take advantage, take for granted.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: You're nodding your head.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: The -- for sure. I think Biden realizes that if he's going to win Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and a number of these other states, he's going to need to appeal directly to the union voters.

Every time he speaks in front of a crowd, he talks about how he's the most pro-union president. He talks about how union workers are the best workers, and he's going to be doing that for the next several months for sure.

BASH: OK. Everybody stand by because we've seen battles on Capitol Hill. They're nothing new, but the one taking place right now is pretty unique. It's called Barbenheimer.




SEN. MARK WARNER (D) VIRGINIA: You know, I'd love to give you the answer to that, but it's extraordinarily classified.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: That's Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner weighing in tongue in cheek on the most pressing question on the minds of Americans are you team Barbie or team Oppenheimer? Independent Kyrsten Sinema, never afraid of controversy, says she's both. So does Alabama's first female senator Republican Katie Boyd Britt.

But Senator Sherrod Brown says he is more of a Ken. And Senator Ben Cardin disagreed with a Twitter user who said he's an Oppenheimer, sharing this Barbie version of himself. And his fellow Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen reassured him they can both be Barbies.

And then there's this Barbie is governor, literally, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer became Barbie little Gretch, rolling out in style in her pink convertible.










BASH: Now, we would like to note the studio that produced Barbie is owned by Warner Brothers Discovery, which also is CNN's parent company.

My panel is back. It's nice to see that these politicians can have a little fun, not just with the sports when that happens, the big Super Bowl or the World Series, but with a cultural moment, which is what this is.

ZANONA: Yes. And on Capitol Hill, I would just say, in terms of embracing the Barbie corps fashion, we have seen lawmakers, more and more female lawmakers expressing themselves. And I think for so long --

BASH: That's interesting.

ZANONA: -- particularly in the political world, women are told or discouraged from showing themselves. You need to sort of downplay your femininity, and it's taught that it's almost a liability, not an asset, and that people will be distracted if you're wearing a certain color or hoop earrings or whatever it might be.

But it has really resonated, not just on Capitol Hill, but all throughout the country, particularly with women who are now embracing this sort of Barbiecore phenomenon.

BASH: You've seen it?

ZANONA: Yes, I have seen it, and I've seen --

BASH: You see both?

ZANONA: I've seen both.

BASH: OK. So you're a Barbenheimer.

ZANONA: I'm a Barbie.

BASH: I just want to point out that you are kind of -- with your tie, you're going Barbie and Ken.


BASH: I love it. I love it. So we have -- I have some props. I have some props. So you can pick if you want to do. Eye glasses or the Barbie glasses.

ZANONA: I need to do Barbie purse (ph).

BASH: OK. There you go. You definitely need a prop also. But in all seriousness, the fact that -- actually there's no all seriousness.

ZELENY: But I think the Governor Whitmer thing is actually very interesting --

BASH: It's clever.

ZELENY: -- that she's embracing this because a few years ago --

BASH: Right.

ZELENY: -- you know, to be a strong female governor, you wouldn't necessarily want to be associated with this.

BASH: That's exactly right.

ZELENY: And I was thinking back to 2016 during that presidential campaign when there was a skit on SNL and there was President Barbie who was kind of made to look like Hillary Clinton, and the young girls didn't want to play with it. And they said, oh, there can be a female president. They weren't interested.

And that was sort of something at the time. The Clinton campaign kind of recoiled at. Fast forward eight years later, so much has --

BASH: That's such a good point.

ZELENY: -- in politics, and I think the Governor Whitmer people are obviously leading the charge on this and not only embracing it, they're doing it. BASH: Toluse, you're not excluded from this. I'm going to get you in. I just want to quickly put up the RSC, the Republican Study Committee, is having fun/using it as a bit of an attack on Democrats. In honor of today's big release, meet the Democrats Barbies. There you see Nancy Pelosi, then you see the Barbie you'll make -- the Barbie will -- this Barbie will make you miss your flight.

Pete Buttigieg --

ZANONA: That's Pete Buttigieg, yes.

BASH: And he's just Ken and that is --


BASH: Yes, that's the president.

OLORUNNIPA: Nothing is above politics of this day and age. And you're not surprised at all to see this sort of become a partisan battle. I do think it has been interesting to see a number of male politicians who, when asked about sort of which movie they wanted to watch, said they wanted to be --

BASH: They chose Barbie.

OLORUNNIPA: -- Barbie even though, you know, Oppenheimer is sort of the serious, you know, movie that involves --

BASH: Yes.

OLORUNNIPA: -- Congress and has congressional hearings involved in everything. So I think everyone's getting swept up.

BASH: OK, well, this is something that you can have in the spirit of that, the Barbie hat. There you go. It's all yours.

ZANONA: Joining the crew.

BASH: Coming up, brand new reporting about Democrats sounding the alarm about Cornel West's third party bid. Is the White House taking the threat seriously enough? Details next.



BASH: A new escalation in the tensions between the Biden administration and Texas Republican governor. CNN has learned the Justice Department is planning to take legal action against the state over the placement of floating razor wire barriers in the river along its border with Mexico.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is breaking the story. What are you learning?

[12:45:08] PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is a significant escalation and development, Dana, in a feud between Texas Governor Greg Abbot and President Biden over a delicate political issue being immigration. So the DOJ telling Abbot on Thursday that they plan to file legal action against the floating barriers that were put up by Abbott in the Rio Grande, saying, quote, "The state of Texas actions violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government's ability to carry out its official duties"

Dana, I've been talking to officials for months who said there was ongoing discussions between the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department as to what to do against the Texas governor and his border operation. They are now moving forward, potentially with this legal action.

But we should note, this is unrelated to the ongoing assessment about mistreatment of migrants. Dana?

BASH: Priscilla, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

And President Biden is prepared to take on a Republican on the ballot next fall, but is he ready for a challenge from the left? Cornel West, a semi-celebrity among progressives, is running on the Green Party ticket next November. That's the same party that Democrats blame for spoiling the 2016 election.

And CNN's Isaac Dovere and Eva McKend are here with new reporting on growing concerns among some Democrats who see a progressive Green Party bid sneaking up on President Biden. And they're here to discuss now.

First of all, this quote from David Axelrod, who's our colleague who helped get Barack Obama elected, "This is going to sneak up on people". And he said, "I don't know why alarm bells aren't going off now. They should be at a steady drumbeat from now until the election". I'm sure they were thrilled to see that in the White House.

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: As they often are when David Axelrod makes a comment like that. But with the mixed metaphor that he used there, though, is getting it where a lot of Democrats are thinking about this. And within the Biden campaign itself, there's not concern so far about this, but the Green Party has a ballot line in a number of states already.

I think it's 16 states already. In 2016, they were in 44 states. So when you think about the attention that's been going to this no labels --

BASH: Yes.

DOVERE: -- possibility and how that could spoil the election, they are still getting on the ballot, whereas the Green Party is much easier to get there and would be there with a candidate who is well known among progressives, has celebrity and connection to a lot of black voters. And that is what is generating this concern.

BASH: Such an important point. And you have a quote in your story from the Michigan Democratic Party chair saying, "I don't think Cornel West or the Green Party is something we need to worry about, but it's absolutely something we need to keep an eye on". But I'm sure that that party chair knows the history of that state and also Pennsylvania and Wisconsin back in 2016.

You just have to look at what happened. The Green Party, look at Jill. Stein was on the Green Party ballot then. Look at the vote she got and look at Donald Trump's margin.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Now, Democrats can't afford to cede any of their coalition. So I think that some are recognizing that they would be remiss to ignore the threat of Cornel West. Something that struck me about our conversation with him is the attacks are so pointed.

And I asked him, did you vote for President Biden in 2020? Why are you so disappointed by him? And then when you kicked the tires a bit, even though he was part of this antifascist coalition of Bernie Sanders supporters that spoke well of Biden, he got in the voting booth and didn't actually vote for Joe Biden.

And the way that he described that evolution on that issue, I think was in an authentic way that other progressives will be able to connect with that message. So I think that should be of concern to Democrats.

DOVERE: Yes. The argument that Jill Stein makes for what happened in 2016 and West echoes and should be said Stein is working on West campaign now --

BASH: Right.

DOVERE: -- is that those voters wouldn't have turned out at all. They weren't Hillary Clinton voters who left.

BASH: Yes.

DOVERE: That is not something that is going to put people in a very comfortable place going into what many of us expect to be a tight election.

BASH: Such important reporting. You can read the full story on Thanks for sharing it with us.

DOVERE: Thank you.

BASH: Appreciate it.

And ahead, he got under our skin and made us love the way we love. Next, we remember a crooner who crossed paths with 11 presidents.



BASH: It's an end of an era in the music world.




BASH: Tony Bennett, the legendary singer, behind timeless classics like "Rags to Riches" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", has died. His albums were on the charts in every decade from the 1950s to the 2020s. He was also active in politics. You can see him here with Dianne Feinstein, who was mayor of San Francisco, where he left his heart.

And he was in the House chamber when the representative from San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi, took back the speaker's gavel. Bennett sank for 11 presidents, including featured gigs at the White House for John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.


And in 2005, Bennett became a Kennedy Center honoree. Tony Bennett was 96 years old.

Our friend and CNN Anchor Jake Tapper is here with me. Jake, we went deep into the Jake Tapper archive. This is something you wrote in October of 2020 when you were on the campaign trail with Al Gore -- Excuse me -- October of 2000.


BASH: When you're on the campaign trail with Al Gore. "Tony Bennett's on stage right now, pompadour frizzy and wild, suit shiny and gray, with a red hanky in his pocket. He doesn't really fit in with the country and western theme of the night, but he's a star, so whatever. The best is yet to come and babe, won't it be fine, he croons." Do you remember that?

TAPPER: The hoe down before the showdown. I do remember that. I guess I saw him in concert briefly. There were a lot of stars that came out for Al Gore in the year 2000. And he's -- obviously, Tony Bennett had a proud record as a liberal and a Democrat, but I don't remember --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- that part of him. I just think about his music and --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- what a beautiful singer he was. And he said I read in one of his obits today he wanted to be known for being a nice guy. And I think his legacy is pretty secure. He was known for being a lovely, lovely man.

BASH: And we were talking, I mean, 96 years. That's a --

TAPPER: That's a great run.

BASH: That's a great run.

TAPPER: We should all be so lucky. He had a great, great life. I mean, when you think about everything he fought in World War II, huge star, et cetera.

BASH: OK, so let's talk about this. I somehow have ended up with two books here, which I'm happy to take.

TAPPER: Well, one you actually read --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- and the other one is the cleaner version.

BASH: Thank you. OK. Yes. One is all marked up, "All The Demons Are Here". There are so many things I wanted to talk to you about, but let's just focus on the characters. The main characters are siblings, Ike and Lucy. Lucy's struggling to get recognition.

TAPPER: The 22-year-old journalist, aspiring journalist in Washington, D.C. trying to make it in a man's world.

BASH: In the 1970s.


BASH: 1977, but I really liked her parents, especially her father, who was a fictitious Republican senator in the post-Nixon era. He was somebody who you made helped push out Nixon along with Howard.

TAPPER: Yes. He was on the House Judiciary Committee and along with Larry Hogan Sr. voted to -- voted for the articles of impeachment.

BASH: Yes. So I love this is true historical fiction. There's a section where Lucy, the daughter, is having lunch with her parents in the Senate dining room, and she says, "Dad says there's a House caucus of Nixon Nuts. They want to bring Nixon back. They're saying the whole Watergate thing was a liberal plot".

And then her mother says, "Your father's party is about to descend into oophagy.

TAPPER: Oophagy.

BASH: By the way, she was a zoologist.

TAPPER: So Margaret's a zoologist.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: Oophagy is when sharks in embryo eat the other eggs of their shark. BASH: That is some deep research.

TAPPER: Well, my characters are generally much smarter than me, and like -- but I just thought of, like, Margaret is left of center, and so she looks at her husband's party skeptically, but also just the fact that there was going to be all this jockeying for the 1980 presidential nomination. And she talks about animals a lot.

BASH: But I do like this because there's so many points in this book where you 'resaying you think, oh, wow, that's a parallel to today.


BASH: But this is one of them, because he's talking about being kind of an old school Republican, and he's seeing his party change before his eyes.

TAPPER: Yes. Well, the party is becoming more and more conservative. The party gets rid of the ERA and the civil rights platforms, in the Republican National Committee platform document from 76 to 80. Ronald Reagan becomes ascendant and it becomes a more conservative party.

BASH: There's another storyline about Vietnam vets living in the woods, some of whom are clearly sick because they were exposed to Agent Orange.

TAPPER: Yes. Although the government at that point is not acknowledging it.

BASH: Exactly.

TAPPER: And not -- and refusing to pay for any treatments for these Vietnam veterans.

BASH: What's the genesis of this?

TAPPER: Well, you know, it's interesting you ask. So I wrote a book about Afghanistan, a real -- a non-fiction book about Afghanistan, about Combat Outpost Keating. And the lieutenant governor of Delaware was moved by the stories, not by me, but by the actual true life stories. He invited me and a bunch of the guys who actually served at Combat Outpost Keating to an event in Delaware.

And I heard from Delaware public officials about Afghanistan and Iraq veterans living in the woods. They had gone off the grid. They couldn't deal with contemporary society. I tried to report on it. I could never find them. But their legacy lives on in this fictitious band of camping Vietnam veterans.

BASH: OK, well, this has everything. It's got Evel Knievel.


BASH: It's got --

TAPPER: Elvis? BASH: Elvis, lots of Elvis.

TAPPER: Son of Sam?

BASH: All of it. It's really good. I have to say I just couldn't get off the couch one weekend day. I read the entire thing.

TAPPER: Really in one setting?

BASH: Yes. And I want to say that this looks like a thriller, and it is a thriller, but there's a lot of -- there's some chiclet in here.

TAPPER: Well, it's written in -- as you know, it's written in first person, alternating chapters. Ike writes a chapter. Lucy writes a chapter.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: And it's very important for me to have strong female protagonists.

BASH: Well, there were a couple of them.


BASH: Thank you. Thanks for sharing.

TAPPER: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Join me this Sunday on State of the Union. That's -- it's nice that you're here, my co-anchor.

TAPPER: Yes. Keep going.

BASH: We're going to talk to former VP and presidential candidate Mike Pence. And we're going to speak to Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Governors Spencer Cox and Jared Polis this Sunday morning at 09:00 a.m. Eastern.

Thanks for watching Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts right now.