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McCarthy Not Ready To Abandon Negotiated Funding Deal Despite Conservative Opposition; GOP Opposition For Stopgap Funding Grows; Schumer Changes Senate Dress Code; Trump: I Was Listening To "Myself" When I Said Election Was Rigged; Special Counsel Seeks Gag Order On Trump; GOP Looks To Women, Veterans & Minorities In Battle For House. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: And now a deal to avert a shutdown looks like it's going nowhere. CNN's Manu Raju has all the details from Capitol Hill. Manu, you just spoke with the Speaker Kevin McCarthy. What did he tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I asked him if it was time to essentially push back against his right flank abandoned them who are opposing this bill to avoid a government shutdown by the end of the month and instead work with Democrats and he told him he didn't respond to that latter point about whether it's time to work with Democrats, but he downplayed the Republican division and indicated that he believes there is still time before the deadline of September 30th to avoid a government shutdown.

But no question about it, Kevin McCarthy is in a jam because of the divisions within his party, overspending, and also threats among some members on the right, namely Matt Gaetz of Florida, who are warning they may try to seek a vote for his ouster if they moves on the spending plans that are counter to what the -- those far right members are pushing.

Now earlier today, McCarthy expressed his own level of concern and frustration at those same members who are vowing to take down this short-term spending bill, asking them what they want.


KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I've never seen anybody win a shutdown. We only put the power in the hands of the administration. If you want to secure the border, past the homeland. If you want to make America strong and secure, you pass the DOD approach bill.

If you're not willing to pass appropriation bills, and you're not willing to pass a continuing resolution to allow you to pass the rest of the appropriation bills, and you don't want an omnibus, I don't quite know what you want.


RAJU: He's saying, I don't know quite what you want, referring to those members who are not willing to go along yet on this short-term spending plan, but it still remains to be seen exactly when there could be a vote seeking McCarthy's ouster in a troubling sign potentially for the speaker one.

Congresswoman today, Victoria Spartz, put out a strongly worded statement attacking McCarthy over his leadership, saying, "Unfortunately, real leadership takes courage and willingness to fight for the country, not for power and a picture on a wall. It is a shame that our weak Speaker cannot even commit to having a commission to discuss our looming fiscal catastrophe".

And the numbers really tell you all, Dana. As you know, this is a narrowly divided House. If Democrats don't support McCarthy on any number of issues, he can only afford to lose four Republican votes to pass measures along party lines.

He doesn't have the votes to avoid a shutdown and there's a risk now. He may not have the votes to stave off that push for his ouster. Dana?

BASH: That was a pretty strong statement. Thank you so much, Manu. Appreciate it. And for getting that new information from the Speaker.

Let's go back to the panel. Lisa, you were in D.C. for a while. You've covered the Hill with with some of us for a while. Let's just start with where Manu ended, that quote from Victoria Spartz because it's one thing to see and hear that from Lauren Boebert or Matt Gaetz, those who have been trying to take McCarthy down since before he even became speaker.


It's another thing to see it from somebody who has -- I mean, yes, she's conservative, but she's worked with him. She's a -- she was born in Ukraine. She's worked with the leadership on trying to fund the war in Ukraine. And to see that, is that a canary in the coal mine situation?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIME: I mean, it's a striking. I guess we always talk about Democrats in disarray. This is a striking amount of Republicans in disarray, and this has really been consistent throughout his tenure as speaker. It seems that he really has very little control over his own caucus, and in part because he's really squeezed.

What does he have, 18 or so Republicans who won in areas that Biden won, so they need him to take a more -- maybe not moderate, but they need to show that they're getting things done, particularly that they're avoiding government shutdown.

On the other flank, he is these hard-right conservatives. It's a very precarious situation even for a really strong speaker, only be able to lose four votes from your own party is rough He is in a really tough spot and she just may be a canary in the coal mine. PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This ends one way, and that's what Democratic votes helping, you know, the 130, 140 Republicans get it over the finish line. Just like the debt limit deal did --

BASH: You're talking about funding the government.

MATTINGLY: In terms of funding the government.

BASH: Democrats aren't going to --

MATTINGLY: No, no, no. They're not going to bail him out of anything.

BASH: Right.

MATTINGLY: But we all know how this ends.

BASH: Right.

MATTINGLY: It was the case under Speaker John Boehner. It was the case under Speaker Paul Ryan as well. These are things that conservatives don't like when it comes to spending. If you're going to do stopgap bills, you're going to need Democrats.

You could skip to that part of the equation, but his -- the threats to his job are very tangible right now. And so therein kind of lies the rub and the tension. I think the most wild -- and then I think you of all people would understand this, the ability, or inability to pass a defense appropriations bill, not to wander into the weeds of probes as much as I'd love to, but like, that's the lowest hanging fruit --

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: -- of a Republican majority and a partisan bill that you could ever imagine. And they can't get 218 for a defense appropriations bill. 218 votes the majority. That, I mean, you're nowhere. Don't even talk about a CR. You're never going to get a full year of anything if you can't agree just within your party on how to fund the Defense Department.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: The favorite phrase I learned when my wife went to business school was BATNA, Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Basically, what you get if talks fall apart, right?

The problem for Kevin McCarthy is the BATNA for this faction in his own caucus is a government shutdown. You tell them, oh, if we don't make a deal, we're going to get a shutdown. They're like, yes! Do it! So how do you negotiate with that? He's got --

BASH: Right.

BERMAN: -- he's got no juice in this negotiation. So he is an absolute bite. His superpower until now has been to figure out a way to survive until tomorrow, not long term, but until tomorrow. But that superpower may be running out. LERER: And on the other side, you have Democrats popping popcorn. Like, even if eventually they don't want a government shutdown so they join, they're going to ride this as long as --

BASH: Yes.

LERER: -- they can get some political mileage out of it.

BASH: I want to make a turn to something that is happening. It is certainly less serious than the government shutdown, but it is something that caught my attention as somebody who covered Congress for a long time, and that is the dress code in the U.S. Senate, which has been strict, but has changed over the years.

Senator Chuck Schumer, who's the majority leader, put out a statement where he said that now senators are going to be able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit. Now, we think that this is in answer to John Fetterman, who likes to wear sweatpants and a t shirt and allowing him to do this.

But to me, as somebody, again, I covered the Hill for a long time, I remember when women weren't even allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor.

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: Yes, I mean, I think that this is who I love seeing all of these images, but yes, I think this is a step forward. I just don't understand why you have to do the business of Congress, which, you know, incredibly long hours, incredibly demanding.

I don't think it requires a suit. I think particularly it doesn't require women to wear dresses. I think I, you know, that's just ridiculous. But yes, I think this is a move forward. I think this is a good step.

MATTINGLY: I also think, like, let's be honest -- and the sad part is, is maybe this will disappear. One of my favorite parts of votes, particularly either Monday evening votes or when senators were coming back or when they were trying to get to the airport, I was watching the senators from the cloakroom --

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: -- desperately try and vote from the very back of the Senate chamber --

BASH: Wearing jeans.

MATTINGLY: -- could go on to the floor and they're wearing jeans.

BASH: right.

MATTINGLY: Richard Burr was never wearing socks or whatever attire that they came with. They would come from the gym. And so as appealing as that was for a color -- for color in a digital story and maybe that disappears. You know, I think this is the reality. BASH: It's good for --

MATTINGLY: Are you upset by it? Like, does this bother you?

BASH: No, I mean, I -- no, it doesn't bother me. I just find it very interesting. Particularly covering John Boehner who, like, freaked out when people wore jeans on the House --

MATTINGLY: If your tie was the wrong length.

BASH: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Everybody stand by. Coming up, did Donald Trump just complicate his legal strategy again? Stay with us



BASH: Did Donald Trump just sabotage his own defense? Listen to the former president say, no, it wasn't. His lawyers who pushed him down the road to challenging the 2020 election, he did it all by himself.


KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You called some of your outside lawyers. You said they had crazy theories. Why were you listening to them? Were you listening to them because they were telling you what you wanted to hear?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know who I listened to myself. I saw what happened. I watched that election, and I thought the election was over at 10:00 in the evening.

WELKER: Just to be clear, were you listening to your lawyer's advice, or were you listening to your own instincts?

TRUMP: I was listening to different people, and when I added it all up, the election was rigged.

WELKER: Were you calling the shots, though, Mr. President, ultimately?

TRUMP: As to whether or not, I believed it was rigged. Oh, sure.


TRUMP: I -- it was my decision.


BASH: John Berman?

BERMAN: Look, it sounds jarring to hear it but I don't think he just admitted to ordering the code red. I don't think it's tantamount to that.


What -- if you listen to his language over the last month, you can hear the discussions I think he's had with his lawyers. He liters his phrases, what, in my opinion, X, Y, and Z. You know, I think X, Y, and Z. By his saying it was his decision and he thought the election was rigged, that could play into a defense that is, I firmly believe that what I was doing was justified, and it gets to his state of mind.

And it may be that he thinks and his lawyers thinks that's somehow defensible. Now, I will say, there's a long time to go before these trials, and he can do a lot of interviews. And if I'm his lawyers, I'm super nervous any time he walks into a situation like that. But I'm not sure that that crossed any fine legal line.

BASH: Not -- it didn't maybe cross a fine legal line, but part of what we had heard from his lawyers was that he was only -- he was acting on advice of attorneys and not his own. And that --

WASHINGTON: Yes, and I think --

BASH: -- said the opposite.

WASHINGTON: -- that kind of -- and you're right, he's walking this kind of fine legal line. I mean, I would not have him on television if I was his attorney, frankly. But yes, I mean, the whole argument that we had seen kind of them previewing it was he was listening to advice of counsel. He was doing what people were telling him.

That, you know, and he's now saying this was my decision. I do think it sounds a little contradictory. But I hear what you're saying, too, that he's walking a bit of a line here that maybe doesn't get him in legal trouble.

LERER: I mean, man, I just watched that and thought, like, what a long road. Like, he is not someone who is known for weighing his words, for thinking particularly carefully about what he's going to say.

And now he is going to run a presidential campaign, where as part of a presidential campaign, you appear in public in unscripted, you know, moments like a TV interview for him, like even rallies where he's going to constantly have to be doing this calculation, and it just feels like it's going to be a tough needle to thread.

BASH: Well, you said that if you were his lawyers, you would probably prefer for him not to do these interviews.


BASH: Jack Smith, the special counsel, definitely doesn't want him to be out speaking in particular because he is, the former president, is making some pretty stark attacks on Jack Smith calling him deranged and worse.

MATTINGLY: I think he's more than happy to have him talking about the specifics of the legal cases, just not threatening either prosecutors or potential juries or witnesses or any of that, which is why the kind of limited gag order idea was proposed. And it's been something we've been waiting for.

At some point, it was going to have to happen. He was going to push it and anybody else in this situation would get slapped down if they were a normal individual who had been indicted. And I think that's kind of the bigger picture here of, Donald Trump has stress tested every institution that we've had up to this point.

And with these four indictments, particularly the two on the federal level, he's going to stress test the courts and the legal system at a level that people, sure, maybe after January 6th or in the lead up to January 6th, we saw it. I'm not totally sure people understand just how close to the edge and to the brink he's going to bring this system.

BASH: Well, it's funny that you say that because as you were all talking, I was thinking, I cannot get to the point where it is just normal to be having a conversation about a former president, current candidate, for president, to be talking about the ins and outs of the the chaos and the potential coup that he was involved in.

BERMAN: He's running on it. I mean, the thing, it's --

BASH: Yes.

BERMAN: -- to try to separate what happened in January of 2020 from this campaign is now impossible. That's what I was getting to in the beginning. You know, he could be running on his three Supreme Court nominees. He's not. He's running on an election that he says is stolen that wasn't. But that's his campaign. The courtroom is his campaign.

BASH: Yes. Everybody, thank you so much. Great to see you. Appreciate it.

And up ahead, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. New CNN reporting on how House Republicans hope to run in 2024 and win back the House again.



BASH: Women, veterans and minorities. Republicans think these candidates are the key to hold or even expand their very slim House majority in 2024. It worked in 2020, but will this time be different?

CNN's Melanie Zanona is on Capitol Hill with brand new reporting. Melanie, what are you learning?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: So Dana, this is really a key strategy that is emerging among House Republicans to try to win in suburban swing districts next year. They have put a heavy emphasis on recruiting and elevating candidates from all three of those camps. And so far they have had some major recruiting successes on that front.

Already, there are nine veterans, nine candidates of color and nine women who have officially announced bids in key suburban and Biden won swing districts. And the reason why Republicans see those types of candidates is so crucial is because they tend to outrun the top of the ticket. And that is backed up by data from the last presidential election.

When you had four different Republican women, all of them who flipped Democratic held House seats, all of them outran Donald Trump by several points. And of course, that type of performance might be necessary again, especially if Donald Trump is the Republican presidential nominee.

But even more broadly, Dana, Republicans recognize that they need to do a better job of electing candidates that actually look like and represent the type of voters they are seeking to serve in Congress. And while they have made some progress on that front in recent years. They are still lagging behind their Democratic counterparts.


BASH: OK, Melanie, thank you so much. I appreciate that reporting. Very, very interesting. And we'll see how successful they'll be.

A programming note, today I will sit down with California Governor Gavin Newsom for a special one-on-one interview. Hear him talk about a potential Biden Trump rematch, the state of California, of course, which he is governor, and also about the politics of climate change and much, much more. Tune in to see it at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Thank you so much for joining me on Inside Politics today. CNN News Central starts after a quick break.