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Inside Politics

Biden Heads West This Week To Sell Bidenomics; CNN Poll: 63 Percent Disapprove Of Biden's Handling Of Economy Despite Rising Wages, Lower Inflation; Poll: GOP Voters Sour On War Vs. "Woke"; DeSantis Defends FL Education Standards On Slavery; Dem Rep. Dean Phillips Urges Primary Challenges To Biden. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 07, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden is going to be hitting three states to highlight his economic record and his legislative accomplishments because as you noted, it is the one- year anniversary of several key pieces of legislation and the president is going to be highlighting each one of them on the different stops of this tour.

On Wednesday, the President will be in New Mexico where he's going to be touting the clean energy manufacturing provisions of that very same law. And then on Thursday, the President and is also going to be in Utah where he's going to focus on the PACT Act which provides veterans benefits for those who were exposed to toxic burn pits and other chemicals.

All of those pieces of legislation were passed one year ago this month and so that's where the President is headed. But he's also aiming to try and flip some of his numbers on these key issues, on the economy and on climate change. On both of those issues, Dana, the President is underwater with 63 percent of Americans disapproving of his handling of the economy, 57 percent disapproving of his handling of climate change.

And so this is the White House's central task this month. And where they think that they can make some ground is by making Americans more aware of the pieces of legislation that the President has actually passed. Those numbers on climate change, for example, in that very same Washington Post poll, voters say that they have little familiarity with the fact that this is the largest ever investment in climate change in the Inflation Reduction Act.

So ultimately, hoping that they can flip those numbers. And on the economic front as well. We know that the numbers are looking better in terms of the economy itself. Inflation is cooling, unemployment remains very, very low. But the White House hopes that over the coming months, as those numbers start to set in with the public both the perception of it but also how Americans are feeling about their personal finances.

They hope that they can flip those numbers in time for next year's presidential election. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: They sure do. Thank you so much, Jeremy.

And let's just look at a couple of other sets of numbers while we sort of think about this. It's economic performance versus perception. Inflation is down, unemployment is down, consumer confidence is up, wages are up. But 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Joe Biden is doing with regard to the economy. That is what this western trip is trying to change.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. And part of the reason that they're feeling that way is because since COVID all of America's been through a lot of economic, psychological trauma and some real economic trauma and prices are higher now than they were a few years ago for everything. And Joe Biden is the person in charge.

And so, person at the top faces the blame. Axios does a monthly focus group series with swing voters. Our panel is in Michigan tomorrow night and we will be talking about this question. I'm really, really interested.

BASH: You know who else was in Michigan? This guy. Jeff Zeleny was in Michigan.

TALEV: Why do the focus group? Let's just says, Jeff.

BASH: And I want you to talk about it, but let's listen to what you talk to some voters about.



ZELENY: What does Bidenomics mean to you? Do you know what that means?

FRITZ BENSON, MICHIGAN VOTER: No. I have absolutely no idea what it means.

PAUL NEWMAN, MICHIGAN VOTER: Democrats has never done a good job selling themselves. That's one problem. I think they need to get out their, you know, like Trump and everybody did and just start talking about all the things that are going on.


BASH: So interesting.

ZELENY: It definitely is. And the first gentleman we've talked to there, a retiree from East Lansing, he went on to say, but I think it means that he's doing good things for the economy and it shows. So Jeremy was absolutely right. The perceptions of the economy have not cutup to the conditions of the economy.

Without question, inflation has cooled. Unemployment is down. In Michigan at a 23-year low.

BASH: Wow.

ZELENY: It's really extraordinary when you think about that.

BASH: Michigan especially, yes.

BASH: But people still don't necessarily feel it. I talked to a lot of store owners as well. And one store owner who said, I don't want to talk about politics in my stores. Others were shopping around it, but she said she can feel the mood is brighter. She said the mood is just brighter.

Overall, people, you know, the acrimony has gone down a little bit. So there is a sign that the economy is improving, but there's definitely a sign that the challenges are still underway. And it is the burden of the President to make the case. Some of this is on him. Some of it's, you know, the fact that he's not the best public speaker, the fact that he's not always campaigning.

And there's a lot of other stuff going on. A lot of Trump news is overshadowing everything here. So that is one of the things I think we found. But there definitely is a sign of the economy. When you travel around that things are slightly getting better, voters need to catch up to that. What do you see when you go out on the road.

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, you know, it's hard for this perception issue that the White House is facing. It's hard to break through that because as Margaret pointed out, there's a lot of noise. Americans have been going through a lot of psychological trauma in the last few years. So that's competing for people to try to figure out what Biden has done.

And these policies that he's out on the road about this week, they're really hard to prove to people because if you're not feeling it in your pocket that the economy is going well --

TALEV: Someone telling you to feel it is not going to be --

COLVIN: Right.

TALEV: -- or if you're going to put a name on it, Bidenomics that may not resonate (ph).

ZELENY: And for the Congress, you know, those bills were so big.

TALEV: Right, exactly.

ZELENY: There's so much in those bills --

BASH: Exactly, yes.

ZELENY: -- that actually have to be broken down.


TALEV: The one subgroup that we're watching as I think we probably all are, are non-college educated voters. My friend Josh Kraushaar who writes Axios's sneak peek newsletter on Sundays, has been watching this trend where Biden has long had a problem with white, non-college voters.

But his lead with non-white, non-college educated voters has shrunk considerably since the last time around. Some of that is on some of the cultural issues. That subgroup is a little more moderate rather than progressive. Some of it's on the economy. These are people in their daily lives. They don't feel all this great economic rebirth that the economists are talking about.

BASH: I have something, here's 30 points from where he was during an election day in 2020 to 2022 where they are now, yes.

ZELENY: Which is remarkable. I mean, that really shows all the gains that they need to make here. But I think the one thing on infrastructure, this was such a landmark bill. One thing that the Biden White House is doing is they are trying to be a little bit bolder in taking credit for this and pointing out that a lot of Republicans voted against these --


ZELENY: -- infrastructure bills. You cannot drive across -- I was in Michigan last week travel all over. All the road construction you're seeing out there, all the construction at airports, other places, that's the infrastructure law at work, and so, so much more. But they have to make the case for that. That's why they're fanning out across the country.

BASH: So interesting. OK, so is the war on woke not a war that Republicans want to fight anymore? We're going to talk about next.



BASH: Is the war on woke played out? A New York Times/Siena College poll asked Republican primary voters to choose between a candidate focused on battling woke ideology or one focused on restoring law and order. And you can see here, nearly two-thirds said they would pick the candidate who puts the streets and the border at the center of their campaign, not dismantling the woke companies and culture that we hear, at least heard a lot of candidates talk about.

My panel is with me. This is so interesting because you could not get away from the term woke, and it turns out that the people who are all about woke maybe are not appealing to what voters really want to hear.

COLVIN: Yes. And you have to wonder if people really know what it means. Does it resonate with them? It doesn't look like it does. You know, the culture war issues, that was something when we saw some of the off year elections, gubernatorial elections, state legislatures that worked a few years ago. But making it a centerpiece of a campaign, I don't know if that's going to be a lasting strategy, I mean, throughout the rest of the primary season. BASH: Well, the sort of -- the leader of the woke brigade, of course, has been the Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis. He actually, I remember as you were talking, he told our colleague Jake Tapper last month that if you know it, you see it. Meaning, like, what is woke? I know people don't know what it is, but I know what it was.

Let's just look at the number of times, just a little snippet of the number of times he has talked about this issue.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't just say, let it go, because then we're going to be living under an oppressive woke- o-cracy (ph).

I believe that the woke ideology represents a war on truth itself.

To be yet another institution in American life that gets infected with the woke mind virus.

Woke agenda. We rip the woke out.


BASH: I don't know how I missed the woke-o-cracy. Was that a thing that you guys had said to you?

TALEV: You just got distracted by rip the woke out? And so, I mean, you can see how that would happen, right? I actually think that like anything else in politics, it's like politicians are going to drive as far as they can without crossing the line and get as much out of it as you can.

I don't think that the woke thing is over to the extent that, you know, there are places in the American suburbs and excerpts where arguments about teaching kids about social liberalism or stuff in schools is still going to resonate with voters. It wasn't that long ago that Glenn Youngkin found --

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: -- the exact right way to calibrate this much to Democrats' dismay and take the statehouse, you know. But I think Disney seemed to have crossed a Rubicon for Governor DeSantis. It's still an incredibly popular company with Republicans and independents as well as, you know, Democratic people with children.

And so I think you're seeing the limits here of the debate.

BASH: That's so true. It's the limits of the debate. It's not as if there aren't people in this country who are interested and who sort of perk up when you hear some arguments about the culture changing. But there was a quote from a voter, a Pennsylvania voter in the New York Times, which completely makes your point.

And her name is Christy Boyd. She said, "If you don't like what Bud Light did, don't buy it. If you don't like what Disney is doing, don't go. That's not the government's responsibility".

And one of the most interesting divides that I saw -- we talked about this -- going into this Republican primary contest was that Republicans like DeSantis were saying, we want to use government to change culture, whereas, the traditional old school libertarian conservatives were more like Christy Boyd.

ZELENY: Without a doubt. And that was one of the first sort of maybe warning signs for Governor DeSantis that this was not going to be as strong of a national message as it was necessarily in Florida.


And I remember when a New Hampshire Governor, Chris Sununu, before he decided and told you he wasn't running for president, he was one of the first Republicans to criticize the Florida governor, saying what? This isn't conservatism. We're using essentially big government to tell a company what to do.

But I think voters often should be our guide, our guide. They make the decisions in this process. And Christy Boyd has I've heard so many people say the exact same things. If you don't like it, sort of don't do it. So the libertarian strain is very much live.

I still think that this is one of the other reasons that the DeSantis campaign is doing a reset, because the wokeness of it all is not as popular. But I was down for his inauguration in January, and his -- the main soundbite quote was, this is a state where woke goes to die.

BASH: Woke goes to die, yes.

ZELENY: And he got big applause there. In Iowa, it's fallen flat.

BASH: But in Florida, they, of course, now famously, infamously, a couple of weeks ago changed the education laws and they put the line in there about slavery giving people skills. Ron DeSantis did an interview with NBC today, and he seemed to be doubling down on the notion about slavery.

So I'm going to read to you what he said. "So that means they developed skills in spite of slavery, not because of slavery. It was them showing resourcefulness and then using those skills once slavery ended. And the people that put those standards together were scholars of African American history. They were not political standards. Florida eliminated critical race theory because it's ideology and we want education, not indoctrination."

COLVIN: His line about slavery and job skills, that's going to be an indelible mark, I think, on his campaign. He has to routinely come back to it, try to backpedal, and it's going to be there. He's going to be asked about it from here on out.

I think it also shows us again that either when you're talking about woke or talking about critical race theory, what works in Florida may not work in the 49 other states who have to vote to potentially make him or anyone else a nominee. So it's just going to be interesting from hearing out to see how he plays this.

BASH: OK, we're going to go to the other side of the aisle after a quick break and talk about somebody who is arguing it is not a competition or it should be a competition, not a coronation. Democratic lawmaker said that and is talking about what democratic primary voters, he thinks really want. We're going to talk about that next.



BASH: Now a dare from Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips to other Democrats.


REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D), MINNESOTA: Democrats are telling me that they want not a coronation, but they want a competition. If we don't heed that call, shame on us. And the consequences, I believe, are going to be disastrous.

So my call is to those who are well positioned, well prepared, of good character and competency, they know who they are, to jump in because Democrats and the country need competition. It makes everything better. That's my call to them right now.


BASH: The panel is back with me. I mean, that's pretty amazing to have a sitting Democrat go out there, House Democrat go out there, and he said he doesn't want to run, but that other Democrats should get in and run against a sitting president.

ZELENY: But, boy, that's a can of worms that most Democrats that I talk to are afraid of opening. I mean, history will show that when a president is challenged in a primary, that is a problem for them. George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, et cetera.

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: Look, he says he doesn't want to run for president, hasn't ruled it out. Some of his fellow members I was talking to, a fellow Minnesota member who thinks that his ego has gotten a little bit inflated here because he's talking about this, you know, who knows?

He has said early on, he's been saying for months that he thinks that the President's age is an issue and other people should be a younger infusion of people. But it's harder to actually put a campaign together than it is to talk about it. So color me skeptical.

COLVIN: Yes, it doesn't seem like Representative Phillips, his sentiment about Joe Biden is being talked about loudly. Like you said, Democrats might say somethings behind closed doors, but they're not, you know, going on TV and discussing it. But I do think he is representing perhaps some anxiousness among Democrats who are a little nervous about what a Biden and Trump matchup looks like.

We know from polling that the two seem to be in a dead heat if both are the nominee. So that is making some Democrats a little nervous. But I'm not sure if his view is widespread.

TALEV: I think if Donald Trump is not the Republican's nominee, there may be a moment when everybody in the Democratic Party goes, oh, shouldn't we have had a conversation about other people running? But until that moment, I don't see it. And it is true to the congressman's point that a lot of Democrats say they wish they had an alternative. But when you ask them who, there's zero consensus on anyone whose numbers come close to Joe Biden.

BASH: And let's just look at what Democratic primary voters think about the notion of nominating somebody else, 64 percent before in July of 2022. Now it's down to 50 percent. But that is half right.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: I mean --

ZELENY: It is --

BASH: The feeling -- the sentiment and the reality might be very different things.


ZELENY: I mean, I think that if this happened, what it would mean is a full on ideological discussion about the Democratic Party. So you would have, you know, from -- my ear falls out here. You would have a -- you know, the -- essentially the same arguments that we saw re- litigated in the 2016 and 2020 campaigns with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden litigated in this.

The Vice President Harris, would she be the frontrunner in this scenario? A lot of worms and that's why people don't want to talk about it.

BASH: Your ear, my coughing, we got through it.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

And thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts right after a quick break.