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Inside Politics

McCarthy Dealt Another Blow As Hard-Liners Sink Defense Bill; Zelenskyy Meets With Top Lawmakers To Bolster Ukraine Support; Republicans Split Over Sending More Aid To Ukraine; GOP Splinters Over Funding Ukraine's War Of Survival; Poll: Country Split On If U.S. Should Do More In Ukraine. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 12:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Today at Inside Politics, Kevin McCarthy hits the wall. The speaker suffers another humiliation on the House floor. Republicans can't agree to move forward on a defense bill and will remain nowhere close to solving a shutdown riddle.

Plus, life or death politics. Ukraine's president tries to convince a coalition of the unwilling to pay billions more in bullets. Whatever Washington decides will be felt on the battlefield thousands of miles away. And the media type makes his exit. Rupert Murdoch announces, he will step aside and hand off the family business to his son.

I'm Manu Raju in for Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, a rerun, Kevin McCarthy wanted to avoid at all costs and could not, paralysis right now gripping the House floor. Republicans just tried and failed to pass a rule to start the debate on the defense funding bill.

The development left the speaker visibly frustrated and openly venting that his members and are telling him, one thing than voting another way. That the House cannot even start debate is telling, both of how little control McCarthy currently has over hardliners and how concession after concession has entered the House speaker very little progress.

Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill with CNN's Melanie Zanona. So, Mel, break down what happened here and what went wrong for the speaker?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. This was an embarrassing defeat for Kevin McCarthy and the leadership team. This is the second time that a procedural vote on a defense bill has failed on the House floor this week alone. That's something you rarely see in Congress. And now is happened twice for this House Republican conference.

But heading in today's leadership was confident. They had had this leadership meeting last night with all of the rest of the conference. It was two hours long. They worked out their differences. They thought they finally had a path forward on these spending bills. So, it was a huge surprise when this vote went down on the floor.

And in fact, there was two members who had voted yes, on the procedural vote earlier this week that ended up voting no, today. So, the math problems are only growing. But I think the big picture here is that the House is paralyzed. There is no path forward on spending, let alone trying to solve this government shutdown problem.

They are trying to put this bill on the floor on Saturday, that would just be a Republican only funding plan bill, but it doesn't look like they have the votes for that either. I asked one of the members who helped negotiate that deal, whether they're going to still try to push forward that that and he said, I don't know, they sounded really defeated and really deflated.

And at some point, Kevin McCarthy is going to have a decision to make. He has been trying to work within his ranks, trying to give conservatives, every concession they want it to get them on board. It has not been enough, when will he -- will or will he, at some point work with Democrats? That is the big question in Washington right now.

But there's a lot of concern about what that could do for Kevin McCarthy's speakership. And then you also have members like Matt Gaetz, were threatening his own colleagues who are going to try to team up with Democrats.

Let's take a listen what he told me a little bit ago?


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): There will not be sufficient Republican votes for a continuing resolution. Now, if we've got some of these moderate Republicans who want to go and join up with the Democrats, they will be signing their own political death warrant and they will be handing their it to their executioner.


And Gaetz also told me that he would personally go to New York to campaign against some of his own Republican colleagues. Republicans who are the majority makers, who can help them keep power in the house. So, frustrations at an all-time high and the House just paralyzed right now, Manu?

RAJU: Yes. Just remarkable to see and so many significant things here on the table, the narrowly divided House, Kevin McCarthy having a very difficult time navigating it. Melanie Zanona from the hallways in the House. Thank you for that.

And here into this -- in the studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Audie Cornish, CNN's Daniel Straus, and Times' Molly Ball. So, we've seen this movie before, but now we're in the prospects of a government shutdown in just a matter of days. The speaker after all this went down, vented his frustration to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It's frustrating in the sense that I don't understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate, and then you got all the amendments if you don't like the bill. This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down, it doesn't work.



RAJU: So, viewers may have a hard time sorting out all the budget and spendings issues they have to deal with here on the Hill. The issue that they get collapse right now was a year-long bill to fund the Pentagon, typically Republicans all vote in lockstep for that bill, typically they also vote for the rule. That is the first procedural vote that has to happen. Typically, the majority party votes for it.

This time, in what has been -- now been a common practice among these hardliners, they are voting against moving forward on the rule. The process is leveraged to try to extract concessions, leaving McCarthy in a bit of a jam. Quite a jam and how much trouble did the speaker isn't right now?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: First of all, I love that you're still reporting this out, while you're sitting in that chair, you cannot stop. I was more intrigued by the fact that McCarthy said some people just want to burn it all down. Like he's shocked, like he hasn't been around since 2012, 2014, 2018. So, I don't know what the performance of shock is supposed to do. But clearly, he is trying to figure out how to lead by exerting a kind of public pressure. And I'm wondering if it's working, it's likely.

RAJU: Yes. It's not, because he tried it. If this happened earlier this week, it failed on the same bill. Again, this is the year-long bill. That nevermind, we are 10 days or less than 10 days away from having to pass a vote to fund the government. They're trying to do that just a month-long stopgap measure to keep the government open for a month with a whole bunch of measures that have been demanded among the right flank of their party.

They don't have the votes to get that on the House at the moment, let alone getting in the Senate to the president's desk. The speaker in the all the while done -- some of these members are warning him, if you cut a deal with Democrats, you're out of a job.

DANIEL STRAUS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And look, it shows that at this point, the insurrectionist very hardline conservative wing of the party is in-charge of way more than I think House leadership would like them to be. And right before we came on today, I was texting with Keaton, House aide, who said, look, we don't have a functioning majority right now. And we can't pass anything substantive. And the fact that rank and file conservatives on the Hill are admitting that is pretty telling.

RAJU: Yes. And you, Molly, have been -- have written about Nancy Pelosi extensively. When she was speaker compared to this current speaker, much different. You know, she had tight margins as well, but she ran her caucus differently. There was a difference, though, between how the members feared her versus whether they feel Kevin McCarthy or not.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, and her knowledge of her members, right, I don't think she ever would have been in a situation like that where she was seeing votes go against her that she didn't expect. On the other hand, let's not forget, she had a lot of difficulty with that Build Back Better bill. And there were several weeks where they were going on and off the floor, trying to find the votes for that and didn't. And eventually they passed something, and it didn't pass, you know, the history.

I will say, you know, I'm mostly being contrarian here, not making a prediction. Look, the pattern we have seen from Kevin McCarthy is repeatedly wiggling his way out of these jams, right? He gets into jam, things look as bad as they can possibly be, he sort of lets his members fight it out in public. And at some point, he kind of says to them, all right, you're the inmates, you run this asylum.

Do you have a better idea? And it's that realization that they don't have a better idea that sort of causes everyone to either and he also has an unlimited appetite and ability to just eat crap, right, to be humiliated, and to have these, you know, cable segments where people say, well, he doesn't know how to do his job. And then it all comes together in the end. So, I would not put that --


CORNISH: I'm glad you're saying this because it's philosophical, you know, for so long. McCarthy and others said, we didn't like the way Nancy Pelosi ran the House. Like it was an iron fist. It was this, it was that. It was too centralized. And we are witnessing a different approach and he is following through. And even as you said --


CORNISH: -- as you delicately as you said it, even if it means, he has to eat, fill in the blank to make it work.

RAJU: His speakership has gone through various, been up and down, right, it took him 15 bouts to become a speaker. He had a -


RAJU: -- they had a honeymoon period, they pass --


RAJU: --exactly. They pass legislation along party lines and energy, immigration, parental, bill of rights, he cut that debt limit deal. That's what caused him a lot of problems with the far right.

And those members are now demanding some action on spending. They come down to what they want, because they believe he sold them out on that debt limit deal. And, of course, one member can call for vote, seeking McCarthy's ouster, and that's something that Matt Gaetz has threatened to do for the last several weeks and can certainly do it any day now.

I want to hear about this, but just there is just so much frustration in the rank and file Republicans at this point. I mean just, you hear the name calling and just being very public about it. Sometimes you know, it's hard to get that on the record. People have no problem going on the record, expressing how they feel, including one Congressman Steve Womack, who is a member of the House appropriations committee.



REP. STEVE WOMACK, (R-AR): It's a breach of our duty right now. We're supposed to be leading and governing. And yet, the difficulty right now is the fact that we got a fracture free conference, everybody knows that. We got a handful of people. It's a classic tail wagging the dog scenario. We got a handful of people that are holding the rest of the conference, the majority of our conference kind of held hostage right now in turn, holding up America.


RAJU: Holding up America, holding the country hostage, holding the party hostage. But those members who are trying to get what they want, they don't really care.

STRAUS: Right. And look, this is the reality of Republicans being in power right now. Usually, you hear this kind of griping from whichever party is in the minority. You go up to the Hill every day, you lose every day. But here the reality is the cost for Republicans of being in the majority in the House is having to deal with that rank and file wing of the party that is very powerful and can trip up any bill, any procedural event that usually would be pretty easy to pass.

And the reality is, we know names like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene because they had been the standard bearers for this for a while now.

RAJU: Yes. And look, this is just one of the major issues on the table. Another one, Ukraine which we're going to talk about next. A tale of two houses. Ukraine's president gets a warm welcome in the Senate or walks into an ice (Ph) House. That's ahead.



RAJU: Right now, Ukraine's president is at the Pentagon, where at any moment he'll lay a wreath at the 9/11 Memorial. And today, Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned to the Capitol in a very different divided Congress. This trip, no joint address to Congress and no certainty that Zelenskyy will leave Washington with concrete promises, to keep supplying Ukraine's military with the weapons it needs to survive in advance on Russia. CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill. Lauren, you have been outside these House and Senate meetings that occurred today. What were the members saying when they came out?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it was such a juxtaposition between the House and the Senate. Where in the House of Representatives, you had Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader walking with him into the meeting. You did not have House Speaker Kevin McCarthy publicly photographed with him. There were some pictures taken inside the room that our colleague Annie Grayer got a hold of.

But it just shows you that he clearly did not want to be seen publicly with the president of Ukraine. Given the fact that so many hardliners in his conference have been openly mocking support for Ukraine. You had Matt Gaetz, posting a picture of the speaker from last year, with the colors of the Ukrainian flag and the Ukraine flag pin on, say, how does this make you feel on Twitter?

Meanwhile, in the United States Senate, you had Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, both flanking the Ukrainian president as they entered their all-Senate meeting. And that is another distinction here, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not hold another joint session of Congress. Despite the fact that CNN has reporting that he was asked to hold one.

When we press McCarthy about why he elected not to do that. He said there just isn't enough time, given the fact that they are dealing with government funding. After that meeting, McCarthy made clear, his mind really has not been changed. He made no commitments to get that $24 billion in Ukraine supplemental funding on the floor by the end of the calendar year, despite being pressed by me and other colleagues repeatedly about whether or not he would make that commitment.

So clear, that while this was a very important meeting for Zelenskyy, given the fact that McCarthy has the power to decide whether this would come to the floor or not. It was clear that McCarthy is still weighing his options as he is trying to hold off a rebellion from his right flank. Manu?

RAJU: Such a different dynamic than the last times Zelenskyy was here. Aid is really, really questionable, whether they get that done. Lauren Fox, thank you for that report from the Hill. Our panel is back with us, and also, I want to bring in CNN's Natasha Bertrand who, of course, covers the Pentagon and national security, and is all over all these issues.

I want to just get dive in a little bit more about the divide between the House and the Senate. And just to show the difference in the walk between Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, walking down very public showing here. Kevin McCarthy was not next to Zelenskyy walking. And they can make a decision if they want to have a photo op.

There's Hakeem Jeffries, instead making -- walking with Zelenskyy here. Not Kevin McCarthy, we could only find those pictures because of our reporter, colleague Annie Grayer, got those pictures inside the room of McCarthy and Zelenskyy next to each other. A much different, how concerned is the Pentagon right now that this aid may not get approved by Congress?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, look, the Pentagon still has quite a bit of money in its reserves through the presidential drawdown authority, essentially all of the weaponry that it has in its stockpiles that it can still tap into and give to Ukraine. So that money really hasn't run out yet. But they are very concerned about the possibility of a government shutdown.

For example, if there is a shutdown, according to the Pentagon, there could be a significant disruption in the assistance that goes to Ukraine, the training programs for Ukraine could be disrupted. The funding, of course for them could halt. And so, this is something that they are very concerned about. And they're watching very closely.

And they're saying publicly, look, if this happens, and we kind of run out of money, and run out of personnel and have all these furloughs, then it's going to be very difficult for us to continue the level of the tempo of the support that we have been giving to Ukraine so far.

With regard to the supplemental, you know, that I think is more of a concern right now for the Ukrainians, because they are not doing as well in their counter offensive as the U.S. had hoped. And so, they are hoping that this money will still get to them, even though they're aware of the optics here, even though they are not making as fast progress as everyone had hoped in a way that might incentivize right, further support from the Hill or from the White House.


And so, while President Zelenskyy is coming here and he's hoping for all this aid, he's going to come away disappointed on certain aspects of it. He's not going to get everything he wants.

RAJU: Yes. And look, it's divided within the Republican Party and it's mostly the House, there are some Senate Republicans who also are concerned about it. Senator Paul, for instance, says that he may delay the funding to the government if aid to Ukraine is attached $24 billion that the administration wants here. But both Senator Josh Hawley and Rand Paul are making clear that they will fight this.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY, (R-MO): They're going to ask for more later this, there's no end in sight. We were told this could literally go on for years. It's another forever war.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R-KY): Every two to three months, they're over here. You know, he'll be here again today, begging for more money. I think he's wrong. And I think most American people, frankly, are with me. We don't have the money.


RAJU: How difficult a sales job is going to be for the White House to close the deal. Get it through Congress in the next couple of months or even this month.

CORNISH: I mean, I think there's been some recent polling, for instance, when John King was reporting out of New Hampshire about the primary electorate there. And what a significant number of Trump supporting voters are completely against funding for Ukraine, not a little bit against, not we have a problem with globalism, no, which is why McCarthy would not be taking a photo with Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy has always been very savvy about American politics. I think he's here to make people look him in the face, not have a kind of screaming into the void about funding in general, but look him in the face and say, we won't help you. And that's what today is about.

RAJU: Yes. And look, some of those members on the right are threatening the same ones who are trying to turn the House, McCarthy from the speakership. And they look at polls like this one. That says, question that CNN poll, recent one asking about how Americans feel about -- how the U.S. has dealt with this in Ukraine. Should the U.S. do more?

In August of this year, 48 percent, just say the U.S. should do more, that is down from 62 percent from February of 2022. And February 2022 then, just 38 percent of the U.S. had done enough. Back then 51 percent, didn't thought that the U.S. has done. So big, big change here. The American public, and that's been reflected among these Republican members.

BALL: Yes. And it is being driven by, as Audie said, by Republican base voters, and in particular, Trump supporting Republicans. It's really remarkable how much the dynamic that we're talking about on this issue, mirrors the dynamic we were talking about with the government funding from the last segment, right?

It's the exact same issue where you have bipartisanship in the Senate, and a fractured narrow House majority of Republicans who are split in so many ways. I think, you know, just as with the government funding, you still have a majority of Republican members who are behind McCarthy, who are behind McConnell, who want to send a message of, you know, politics stopping at the water's edge.

But you hear McCarthy trying to triangulate this issue by saying, oh, you know, we want more conditions, or we have these quibbles with it, not wanting to take that outright position. But the position with the base and the position with Trump is we should not be in this at all, and possibly even that we're on the wrong side of it. And so, that's a hard circle.

RAJU: Yes. It is. And look, this is how, after a classified briefing last night, in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, a senate majority leader, essentially said that the message was that he needs to be approved this month, or Ukraine could lose to Vladimir Putin.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY): The effect on Ukraine would be very quick and devastating. We cannot let Putin win. Without aid, Ukraine could run a very strong risk of being defeated.


RAJU: And one of the things that I hear from members who are critical of the aid is that Ukraine needs to define what success is, what exactly is success? Have we been able to make that sale and explain that effectively? And what would amount to success here?

BERTRAND: Well, they have very maximalist objectives, right? They want Russia completely expelled from their territory, at least when it going to back to the February 24 lines when the war first broke out. They want Russia expelled from all of that territory that they have gained in the year and a half since they invaded. They also want Crimea back.

And, of course, some members of the administration, some European countries are questioning whether that is a reasonable demand as part of a peace negotiation. And so, the idea that these aids seem out of reach, in many instances, obviously, is going to give a lot of officials across the west, some pause, in, you know, trying to articulate what it is that Ukraine can actually successfully do.

The Ukrainians, of course, are going to take that position, because that is it's existential for them, right? If there is any part of Russia on Ukrainian territory, they can't join NATO. They're going to have problems joining the EU. And Russia will then just be encouraged to keep going further and try again and it's attacking them. And so, yes, it is very difficult for the Ukrainians to say, OK, we'll negotiate here. This is what success might look like in this instance, because for them, there is no middle ground.


And that is, of course, something that President Biden and the administration has had a difficult time articulating. You know, they say the reason why this is so important is because if we don't help them win at all the cost, then the Russians are simply going to push further and then attack NATO. And so that is really that the tough spot there.

CORNISH: And the bigger trend overall is that that argument does not hold sway with the American people the way it did in the 70s or 80s. Fundamentally, there's been such a breakdown against globalism, against those multinational conversations. Again, saying that Russia is forming a bloc that we need to fight in some way, such a harder sell now than it used to be. And I think it's up against that overall decline in the idea that America can solve it.

RAJU: Yes. And the question to how much more money can they sell it to Congress and what will happen if they don't get that money? And will Russia -- will Ukraine fall? Huge questions for Capitol Hill and the White House. Ahead, a real-life episode of succession. 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch stepped down as chair of his Fox media empire, leaving one of his sons in charge.