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Any Moment: Biden Speaks On Strike Against Big 3 Automakers; Biden: No One Wants A Strike, But Workers Deserve "Fair Share"; Biden: Workers Should Share In Record Auto Profits; Biden Confronts Choice Between Family, Politics & The Law; Hunter Biden Atty: DOJ Caved To "Republican MAGA Crazies". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, a defining test for the president of the United States. Auto workers walk out on the Big Three, it may force Joe Biden to make a choice between the unions. He says, he loves and the economy that will help decide his reelection fate.

Plus, past the point of no return. The president's Justice Department charges his son with crimes. Hunter Biden's attorneys respond by borrowing from the Trump political playbook. And stuck in a moment and he can't get out of it. Temper tantrums and big divides over how to pay the nation's bills up the odds that the house Speaker can't steer away Congress from a crippling shutdown.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, any moment, President Biden will try to tiptoe a very skinny line in remarks from the White House. Today, three plants in Michigan and Ohio and in Missouri, and three strikes against the Big Three.


SHAWN FAIN, UAW PRESIDENT: For the first time in our history, we will strike all three of the Big Three at once. And we must show the world that our fight is a righteous fight.


BASH: Auto workers have walked out and promised to slow American car assembly lines everywhere until they get what they want. We start our coverage in Detroit with CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich. Vanessa, we're waiting on the president. What do people both on the auto workers side and on the Big Three side hope to hear and maybe not hear from the president?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question. All eyes are on these three strikes happening at three plants, at all three automakers, and all eyes will be on the president in just moments, as both the auto workers and the automakers want to hear what the president has to say. Just a short time ago, I spoke to the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, about a key issue the union wants -- the key issue the union wants to get in their contract. That's a 40 percent pay increase. They also want to see a traditional pension in their contract. And they also want to see a return to a four-day work week that they have experienced in the past.

I also spoke to Mary Barra about whether or not she's reached out to the president and spoke to the president. She says that she has listened to a little bit of our conversation from just a short time ago about, OK -- excuse me -- just as we don't have the sound bite that I wanted to play for you. But I want to go ahead and just lay out what's happening the rest of the day here.

UAW is going to be holding a press conference with Bernie Sanders, a rally a little later today. That is what they plan on doing today. They are not going to be negotiating with the Big Three automakers something that Mary Barra has said that she hoped to be able to do get back to the negotiating table.

As you mentioned the president speaking in just a short time. Mary Barra said that she did speak to the president yesterday, laying out exactly where negotiations were and saying that she really wanted to strike a deal with the union. The Big Three automakers all saying that they have offered historic offers of 20 percent and 17.5 percent for Stellantis. We do have that sound bite from our conversation with Mary Barra just a short time ago. Take a listen.


MARY BARRA, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: We have a very compelling offer on the table. I'm very frustrated because I think we had an offer that resonates with our people. It's a historic offer. Gross wage increases of 20 percent, that we have a deal that I think is very, very important. That proposal sits at the table. Our team is ready to be at the table again. They're waiting and we need to get back. We need the UAW leadership to get back to the table, get these issues resolved so we can get people back to work.


YURKEVICH: Now the union says they want to be sharing in these record profits that GM had in 2022. The UAW also trying to claw back a lot of what they gave up in 2019. When in part, they helped bail out General Motors along with the federal government when they filed for bankruptcy.

We have heard from members on the picket line this morning. They want to see as a key point their wages increase. They again, point to the CEO pay as the key reason why they should be keeping up with rising wages here in the U.S. It's important to note that later today, we expect to hear from more workers just about how they feel about this issue, and I'm sure we'll hear about what they hear -- what they think about what the president had to say.


BASH: Vanessa, great reporting, great interview. Thanks for rocking and rolling with us. I want to now go to CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House. You heard Vanessa talk about the president being involved, talking to Mary Barra, talking to others, of course, I'm sure kind of across the board, across both sides of this strike. What do we expect the president to say when we see him in public any moment now?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, President Biden has walked a very fine line as these negotiations between the UAW and these Big Three automakers have played out. What's unique in this situation is the White House doesn't have any authority to actually be party to those negotiations. But he has and his staff has remained engaged throughout the process.

In the final hours before that strike yesterday, President Biden spoke with the UAW President Shawn Fain, as well as the leaders of those three auto companies to discuss where those negotiations stand. Of course, the White House has been encouraging them to negotiate around the clock to try to reach some type of agreements.

But one thing that the White House will be closely watching as this strike plays out is what the economic impact could be, and whether there are any options that the White House could take to try to blunt the impact of that, the strike on not just these auto companies, but also on the supply firms that are working with them.

There are concerns about what this could mean, for the supply chain. Of course, there are also political implications for President Biden at a time when many Americans remain wary about the state of the economy. There is also this fact that the president talks about. He often describes himself as the most pro union president in history.

And so, it will be interesting to see whether he decides to lend any support to either side in these negotiations. Of course, a lot of this is playing out in Michigan, a critical battleground state that will be key for him heading into the 2024 election. So, we will hear from President Biden in just a short while and see whether he offers any vision, any path forward when it comes to not just the economic, but the political ramifications that this could all have.

BASH: Which are a pretty big on all sides of that. Thank you so much, Arlette. And as we wait to hear from the president, let's talk to our experts and reporters here, CNN's Audie Cornish, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, Paul Kane of The Washington Post, and Margaret Talev of Axios. Nice to see all of you.

This is such a fascinating situation that the president finds himself in for all the reasons that both Vanessa and Arlette laid out. I want to inject the worker, and the workers voice into this. Let's hear from a gentleman named Mark Kidd, who is UAW Toledo Local 12.


MARK KIDD, UAW TOLEDO LOCAL 12: We're all willing to take it as long as we have to. Here in Toledo, we build the world's iconic Jeep Wrangler. It never stops selling. So, as long as sales daily, I don't see them being able to hold out that long. But then again, I'm no expert.


BASH: Audie, put your sense of how this is playing? Let's just start with because this is Inside Politics, the political.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: I follow this very closely. The Big Three have been panicked at the way that Tesla had just pulled completely ahead. They were completely lost on the electric vehicle front. And as they started to pivot some of the things that they wanted to make a battery plant down south and non-union states to make some of these other kinds of, even just the factories themselves and non-union states, this has been a long simmering concern for the union.

And I think the bet they took was that with what Hollywood is talking about. Technology is going to hurt us. They too could come out and say, technology could also hurt us in this sector as well. And even though, union membership is higher than it used to be.

Union actions are 300,000 workers this year have taken labor actions, including right now in California health workers were asking for $25 an hour. So, I think that it'll be interesting to see if we in the media portray, this as a very old school auto industry fight when in fact that the dynamics are totally different.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: I mean, it's both in a way, because there is a huge resurgence of unions Gallup measures, trust in institutions, every other institution is going down. Unions have actually held, which in today's terms mean they're going up, people trust, believe in unions more, right? So, it's Starbucks' workers. It's the writers' strike. It's, you know, now it's auto workers.

There are a couple of challenges to this, though. One is just that, if that auto prices are already so expensive, and there's one argument that says carmakers can afford to pay their workers more, because cars are so much more expensive. The other argument is, if these guys got the raises they were talking about, it would make cars even more expensive and could really complicate inflation, the economy.

Then there is the electric vehicles debate, pitting the Democratic Party enough, then there are the identity politics in American unions, white working-class voters and how that impact. And then there's the state of Michigan. This is ground zero and Michigan is a hugely important battleground state.


BASH: Usually important, although, the -- because they're doing the strike a bit differently. There are workers striking in other states as well, mostly because they make cars all over the country. I want to go back to Joe Biden, and the political moment that he is in for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because of the way that he sells himself and describes himself.

Let's listen to what he has said about him vis-a-vis the unions?


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: My name is Joe Biden, and I'm a car guy. I intend to be the most pro-union president, leading the most pro-union administration in American history. I'm proud to be the most pro-union president in American history. I promise you you'd have a union president. And I am because you're the best.


SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, this is something that you hear over-and-over and is also certainly no coincidence that, the one of the biggest endorsements of the campaign rolled out soon after the president announced his reelection was this joint historic endorsement by the major unions.

But you are going to see the tension that President Biden is basically going to have to walk this fine line between showing as much support for the unions and their strike as possible. While trying to find a resolution to make sure that this doesn't have a broader impact on the economy. Experts tell us that you're going to start to feel this if the strike goes on perhaps in a week. If it goes on for two weeks or longer than it could really be devastating.

So, we're expecting to hear the president say later today that he's sending two of his top deputies, Gene Sperling, Julie Su out to Detroit to kind of see, again, they can't be a direct part in the negotiations, but see what they can do to kind of help things along to make sure what they can -- to make sure that we could resolve this without having too much damage.

BASH: And when we started covering politics before you had such beautiful gray hair.

TALEV: When they still made six shifts.

BASH: When they still made six shifts, Paul Kane. The Democrats pretty much at a hold on union workers, not entirely but much more so than they do now. Then you have comments like this from Danny Butler, he's an auto worker.

This is from POLITICO today. Historically, man, if you didn't vote Democrat years ago, and you were in the union, sometimes you got your ass kicked. Democrats were for the working people. That blank has changed. I'm telling you what, the Democratic Party was not what it was 20, 30 years ago.

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: There has been this shift, especially in the sort of the trade unions. You've got the government unions, state, federal local government workers still tend to vote democratic. But the building trades cars, those unions have shifted. They're in the sort of small cities, big towns across America. And like, a lot of those towns, they have started to shift to the right. It has been a problem for Democrats. It was a huge problem. Donald Trump, as much as he is so completely different than a small town, rural working-class guy who goes to a car factory manufacturing plant. Donald Trump spoke language that they liked.

TALEV: What is cultural, right? I mean, it's cultural identity. It's not about the policies that union members are great.

BASH: I agree with you. And I just want to say we got the two-minute warning for the president. So, I'm going to potentially interrupt you as you talk about this, because what you said, is something that I've been thinking about that this is a huge moment and it's urgent.

But this is part of a larger pattern that we've seen throughout the summer, even before you have an ongoing strike for months in California sag and the writers' union, you have the healthcare workers and others. And it's sort of -- it's this sense of urgency and almost an existential threat from workers.

CORNISH: So, even he might speak, here's the things we need to listen for. If we think back to Clinton, a lot of people thought he sort of abandoned unions with NAFTA that hurt the party for decades. Obama did not do that much better with his pursuit of TPP and going into Asia and wanting to kind of clear the path in terms of markets.

So that means that there have been a lot of union leaders who have felt like, the Democrats have not been holding up their end of the bargain here and you just heard that. But this is a moment where it's not the 80s. It's not where Reagan could just say, air traffic controllers go home, your unions to certified and 11,000 of you are fired. This is a moment where if people hear, there's a billions in profits, we can make a move.

JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I'll like to say a few words about the contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three auto companies. And I've been in touch with both parties over -- since this began over the last few weeks and over the last -- the past decade. Auto companies have seen record profits including, in the last few years because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices the UAW workers. But those record profits have not been shared fairly in my view with those workers.


Just as the Treasury Department has released a report, pointed out that the most comprehensive report ever dealing with how unions are good for both union workers and non-union workers to enhance the overall economy. Unions raise workers' wages, they said, incomes, increase homeownership, increased retirement savings, increased access to critical benefits, like sick leave, and childcare, and reduce inequality, all of which strengthen our economy for all workers.

That's because unions raise standards across the workplaces and entire industries, pushing up wages and strengthening benefits for everyone. That's why strong unions are critical, the growing economy and growing from the middle out, the bottom up, not the top down. That's especially true as we transition to a clean energy future, which are in the process of doing.

I believe that transition should be fair, and a win-win -- excuse me, for auto workers and auto companies. But I also believe that the contract agreement must lead to a vibrant made in America future that promotes good strong middle-class jobs, that workers can raise a family on.

Where the UAW remains at the heart of our economy, and where the Big Three companies continue to lead and innovation, excellence, quality and leadership. Last night, after negotiations broke down, the UAW announced to target a strike, and a few Big Three auto plants.

Let's be clear, no one wants a strike. Say it again. No one wants a strike. But I respect workers right to use their options under the collective bargaining system and I understand the workers frustration. Over generations, auto workers sacrificed so much to keep the industry alive and strong, especially the economic crisis and the pandemic.

Workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they helped create for an enterprise. I do appreciate that the parties have been working around the clock. When I first call them at the very first day of their negotiation, I said, please stay at the table as long as you can to try to work this out. And they've been around the clock and the companies have made some significant offers.

But I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean, record contracts for the UAW. And I'll say that, again, record corporate profits, which they have, should be shared by record contracts for the UAW.

And just as we're building an economy of the future, we need labor agreements for the future. It's my hope that the parties can return to the negotiation table to forge a win-win agreement. To continue our active engagement, I'm dispatching two members of my team to Detroit, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House Senior Advisor Gene Sperling, both of them in Nevada to now, to offer their full support for the parties and reaching a contract.

The bottom line is that auto workers helped create America's middle class. They deserve a contract that sustains them in the middle class. Thank you very much. That's all I'm going to say. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what about you been directly involved in negotiations? Should Hunter get a pardon?

BASH: OK. You just heard President Biden using a lot of very pointed, very clear language to signal to the auto workers and workers in general, that he understands their reasons for striking, and basically has their back without saying anything more than that.

But the language that he used fair share of benefits, saying that the record corporate profits by these auto companies need to be shared in contracts with the auto workers over-and-over in that brief speech that he made. Audie, I interrupted you before. So please pick it up. (crosstalk), you know, exactly, it was very interesting that he is trying to touch on and signal to these workers that he understands that here and a lot of places, the CEOs are making a lot of money. The companies are making a lot of money. They should benefit for them.

CORNISH: And I remember, just in terms of messaging, I think that the CEOs of entertainment have discovered this. You can't just say, oh, they're Hollywood stars, so who cares? People didn't -- that wasn't a winning argument. And I think people know there have been many bailouts for the automakers in Detroit. And Tesla is not a cheaper car, just because it has non-union workers, right? So, you can't really say like, oh, automatically the price is going to go up. So, I think that there's not a downside for him to support the workers here publicly.


KANE: Without the bluster, it was a very Bernie Sanders.

BASH: It was. It was.

KANE: On the policy front, it was very much, you're getting record profits. You should deliver record contracts if you're the Big Three CEOs right now. I don't know what Gene Sperling is going to be able to do when he lands in Michigan. You're going to -- they're going to be looked at him in the labor sector, they're going to be looked at as union negotiators.

TALEV: Because it's not a neutral stance that he just took. Just said, they should go further, meaning the auto makers should go further to accommodate these auto workers. And he just told the auto workers to keep fighting. He said, they deserve a contract that sustains them.

So, he's put his thumb on the scale. And I can see the ads being caught right now. Because each of those sound bites that you mentioned, no one wants to strike. But I respect workers' rights, workers deserve a fair share. This is all going to be the message to union members, to voters in the Midwest and to white union members across America.

BASH: Exactly. And it's coming at it from a very different sort of rhetorical direction, and maybe even some policy direction than a Donald Trump would. But it's going for the same notion that I hear you, I understand you, you are feeling like no one has your back. And we're going to support your efforts for the fair share.

KIM: Right. And I also thought it was important and interesting how he began his remarks. He laid out how, you know, making workers happy and having strong benefits and a strong contract for them, isn't necessarily in conflict with a strong economy. I think we're talking a lot about, well, they're going on strike, that's going to hurt the economy. But he's trying to show how those two can really work in concert with one another.

TALEV: He's also not talking about the impact that the shift to EVs are going to have probably on the workforce over time. I mean, and why would he, obviously, this would be the time to do that, but that's the subtext of all (crosstalk) that's exactly right.

CORNISH: But that's what the unions will be talking. And this is what is going to make it tricky for a counter message. If you're a Republican, let's say you're from Georgia, where there was a state -- where there was a plant that was going to be built there an EV plant, and there were protests, right? Because people thought that EVs are part of the like, global elites plan to do x, y, and z. It's part of the sort of conspiracy patois about what liberals want.

So, you can't just come out and say, well, we want to play it here. We want this. It's not that easy. And I don't know what the counter commercial is that's cut to telling a culture of workers right now who just went through the great resignation. We don't really care what you think about what it means to be fairly compensated.

BASH: I'm just sitting here trying to figure out a sentence I can use with patois (crosstalk)

KANE: There's a fear. Debbie Dingell was telling a couple of us this. She is a congresswoman from Michigan, represents lots of auto workers, and is of herself a former GM executive. Her biggest fear about Washington's involvement in this is that they would pour gasoline on the fire. Her advice was, first do no harm.

Because once you come in and you start pushing things around, whether it's Democrats or Republicans, that could divide the two sides further apart. And the longer this goes on, the more uncharted it becomes. How do you resolve this?

BASH: Yes. Elissa Slotkin, also a congresswoman from Michigan said something similar yesterday, like OK, everybody in Washington, like OK, let's -- let them do their thing for a little bit. Everybody standby because we're going to talk next about the White House navigating a very different situation, the first ever indictment of a sitting president son.




BASH: Today a collision between justice family fairness and the political fortunes of the president of the United States. Hunter Biden may be charged again soon for tax crimes, following a three-count felony indictment for gun related charges. Mr. Biden's legal troubles have put his father in an unenviable position, forced to choose between defending his son and coloring inside the lines of precedent by staying out of the DOJ's way.

Our great reporters are back with us. I want to start by playing what Abbe Lowell, the Hunter Biden attorney said on Erin Burnett last night, and trying to put out there what he hopes obviously not just the legal strategy is, but the political strategy is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABBE LOWELL, HUNTER BIDEN'S ATTORNEY: You have to ask what changed. And what changed, you also just talked about. It is the folks like Chairman Comer and the Republican MAGA crazies, who had been pressuring this U.S. attorney to do something to vindicate their political position. And guess what? They succeeded.


BASH: So, it's not the same terminology that you hear from Donald Trump and his people about what is happening with him. And there is. I just want to state for the record, there has no equivalency at all in terms of the substance here, like at all.

But just in terms of the political strategy and the rhetorical strategy, there has been frustration in Hunter Biden's world about the fact that nobody has been pointing out from their perspective, what Abbe Lowell did on TV last night, which is, they don't think that there's they're there. And the reason that Hunter Biden is being indicted is for political reasons.

KIM: Right. And that is a message that the president in his capacity just cannot even go anywhere towards, even if that is what he personally may feel. I mean, there are so many different aspects to this. But I think one very important message for this incoming administration was kind of this idea of having to restore the faith in the Justice Department.

And we actually have a poll from the AAP out this week saying, half of Americans don't believe the Justice Department is handling its investigation into Hunter Biden in a fair and nonpartisan way. And if Biden really started to weigh in saying this is my son, he's being unfairly targeted. And even giving the sentiments of an emotional father.