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Government Shutdown Grows More Likely Amid House GOP Chaos; Menendez Accused Of Trading Favors For Cash, Gold, A Car; Democrats Face Daunting Senate Map In 2024; 2024 Republicans Slam Trump Over Abortion Stance; Dems Grow More Anxious As Polls Show Tight Biden- Trump Race; Lindsey Graham May Face Conservative Primary Challenger. Aired 11a-12pm ET

Aired September 24, 2023 - 11:00   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Fear and loathing on Capitol Hill.

REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): This is not conservative republicanism, this is stupidity.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): It is the fault of a failed speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's indefensible.

RAJU: Congress has paralyzed as House Republicans turn on each other. Is a shutdown now inevitable?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The game is not over. I'm going to stay with it and solve the problem.

RAJU: Plus, a damning indictment. Senator Bob Menendez accused of aiding the government of Egypt in exchange for cash, cars, and gold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This case is serious and powerful. He is not weaseling out of this one.

RAJU: And they're ready to rumble. The Republican field prepares for a second faceoff, but the man they're all chasing, will be nowhere to be found.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: If he had any guts, he'd get on the debate stage.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): He owes it to people to be there.

RAJU: INSIDE POLITICS, the best reporting from inside the corridors of power starts now.

Good morning. And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Manu Raju.

Congress is hurtling towards a shutdown. House Republicans aren't engaged in open warfare. Kevin McCarthy could soon be facing a vote seeking his ouster. And the week is only just beginning. Congress has just six days to pass a spending bill to fund the government. But a handful of hardline Republicans are blocking that path at every turn. They're now facing more pressure than ever from the rest of the party to bend. I caught up with a top McCarthy ally, Congressman Garret Graves, after House GOP Conference call yesterday.


RAJU: You're worried that if the longer you go, the closer you get to a shutdown, you guys could get rolled by the administration and by the Senate.

REP. GARRETT GRAVES (R-LA): Well, there's no question. Any of these efforts to delay or to hold out further empowers the Senate, the Democrat majority in the Senate and further empowers the White House. There's no question there.

It really is fascinating to see this dynamic playing out where you have folks that effectively are empowering the status quo. We're empowering the White House and Chuck Schumer to do whatever they want.


RAJU: Now, it was a very long week for Speaker McCarthy who endured multiple losses on the House floor with his hard right giving him a very little room to maneuver.

Now, he is planning, once again, to try to get Republicans on the same page and pass a GOP spending bill this week. Even if he did have the votes in the House, it still would not have a chance in the Democratic-led Senate because of the provisions he added, ended winning over his right flank.


MCCARTHY: It's frustrating 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: Now as the clock ticks down, Democrats are increasing the political pressure. Here's President Biden last night.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Members of the U.S. military are going to have to continue to work or not get paid. A government shutdown could impact everything from food safety, to cancer research, to head start programs for children. Funding the government run those basic responsibilities of Congress. And it's time for Republicans to start doing the job America elected them to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, let's break all this down with Julie Hirschfeld Davis from the New York Times. John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News. CNN's David Chalian, and CNN's Alayna Treene. So good to have all you guys here on a very busy, busy weekend of news.

And when they were in the capitol all day yesterday, the House Republicans were -- and some of them, negotiating with Speaker McCarthy trying to figure out a way out.

Look, McCarthy is trying, once again, to do something that he was unsuccessful in doing, trying to get Republicans online to keep the government open. But there are, just this morning, we heard one hardline conservative, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, make clear he's not going to support the short-term goal to keep the government open.

He can only afford to lose four Republican votes. There are probably about seven right now who will say, they're not going to go forward. So why is McCarthy continuing down this path and how does this end?

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CO-FOUNDER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Well, it's -- we're going to have a shutdown. That's clear right now. Even if the Senate were to pass something this week, it would still take up until that weekend, there's going to be a shutdown.

Listen, McCarthy's trying to save himself. At some point, he's going to face a vote over whether it's -- you know, it's his future or there's a -- or there's a potential shutdown, and in so far, he's choosing the shutdown path.

And, you know, there's way over -- there are 7, 8, 10 votes against some kind of CR, continuing resolution, to fund the government. There's no way they're going to be able to pass that with just Republican votes. The challenge he faces and that he will not make is he has to go to Democrats to get votes. And if he does that, they'll try to remove him.


RAJU: And look, that seems almost inevitable at this point. And this all comes amid this just palpable tension among House Republicans, something we've really not seen since the beginning of this year during the speaker. It's really going after each other and really increasingly personal terms.


LAWLER: These people can't define a when they don't know how to take yes for an answer. It's a clown show.

GAETZ: 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.

REP. STEVE WOMACK (R-AK): Got a handful of people that are holding the rest of the conference. The majority of our conference kind of held hostage right now. REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): It gets harder each time there's another failure by leadership to do what they what they should do.

REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): They say Congress is broken. I think today's vote showed just how broken we are.


RAJU: Look, this has been escalating. This happened in January, eventually they got 15 votes. McCarthy became speaker. He had a bit of a honeymoon period. Then he cut a deal with the White House to raise national debt limit. And some of these members are now going after him.

But this has been the story of McCarthy's conference, trying to live day by day trying to get past one kind of setback after another and survive the speaker.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, his strategy has been very much sort of live to fight another day. That's why he's going forward with these bills this week that have no chance of keeping the government open.

He's trying to wear down the resistance. But the problem is you have so much frustration on both sides, right? You have the frustration of the mainstream Republicans, particularly you saw Mike Lawler there from New York, he's in a Biden district, he's a more moderate republican. He wants to keep the government open.

And he knows that this small group of the right wing that's preventing that is a tiny minority. It's not -- it's not the base of the party, as Steve Womack said.

But on the other side, you have these right wing Republicans who saw Kevin McCarthy bring up that debt bill or the budget bill earlier this year. That's what they wanted him to do. Then he turned around and cut a deal with President Biden and relied on Democrats to get it through. So they're thinking they're frustrated. They don't want to go through that again with the spending bills. So there's just no way that these two can mash at this point and that --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Another way to put that is primary politics versus general election politics.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

CHALIAN: All right. When you look at somebody like Mike Lawler, who's in a battleground district, and one of the majority makers for Republicans right now, and will be one of the key concepts. You hear the politics of somebody running in a very marginal district like that.

When you see Matt Gaetz whose pure mission is to rally the right and be in that echo chamber and scare members about a primary challenge, you see, when primary politics takes over. And just looking at those sound bites, you saw back and forth, like somebody who was totally enmeshed in primary politics, versus somebody who's about general election politics.

And they could figure phase one a very difficult vote as John was mentioning just moments ago about whether or not to keep the speaker and as speaker. Kevin McCarthy could face a historic vote. Never before in the history of the country as a vote successfully happened to remove the Speaker of the House.

One member could call for a vote seeking McCarthy's ouster. That is what Matt Gaetz has been threatening all along. He actually may have the votes just this morning. Tim Burchett of Tennessee talking to our colleague, Dana Bash, made clear that if Kevin McCarthy cuts a deal with Democrats to keep the government open, he could vote to oust him.


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: If Speaker McCarthy ultimately allows a deal to pass with the Democratic votes, would you support ousting him from the speaker's chair?

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): That would be something I would look strongly at Miami. If we -- if we do away with our duty that we said we're going to do.


RAJU: I mean, how -- what happens then, right? Because there's nobody else who could get 218 votes and McCarthy gets kicked out of speakership. They got to keep voting till they elect a new speaker.


RAJU: But what we saw back in January is that nobody could get a majority vote in the House.

TREENE: Exactly. Well, this is the problem that has long been hanging over McCarthy's head. We've known, since the beginning of this year, that when it would come to the debt ceiling, which he somehow maneuvered and was able to push through when it comes to a shutdown.

And other that this was always going to be the problem. And that any one of these members, the Matt Gaetz is of the world could hold this over his head and do what they're doing, which is really preventing them from keeping the government from working and operating.

And the thing that I keep hearing over and over again from a lot of the people I talk to, and even voters out in the field is, you know, they just want things to work. And this is something that even Republicans, not even just Republicans in general but Republicans in the House cannot agree on.

It's not, you know, chambers fighting, it's House Republicans fighting with each other on this and it's going to be very difficult for McCarthy.

RAJU: John, you're in the capitol every day with me walking into the hallways. Tell me how the speaker is gaming out the possibility of this vote to oust him. How does -- how does the speaker office think this is going to play out? And do you think there could be a situation where they may need to rely on some Democrats to have him hold on to the gavel?


BRESNAHAN: Yes. I don't think McCarthy is there on the motion to vacate, like --

RAJU: Because he's so worried about trying to avoid a shutdown.

BRESNAHAN: Yes. Exactly. I mean, he's got one fire. I think he's worried about a future fire, OK. So I don't think he's focused on that right now.

I do think -- I was talking to a Democrat on the way over. And there is some talk about in Democrats, maybe moderate Democrats, maybe they support McCarthy if it comes to a challenge, or maybe they just don't vote within which would lower the number which would make it easier to keep it on just Republican votes. But they would have to make a deal. If there's impeachment inquiry on Biden, that will be over.

RAJU: And what they need to see, as I -- as I've been told to me by some of these Democrats, they need to see McCarthy come to them.


RAJU: Funding the government, the impeachment inquiry. There's a lot of deal making --

BRESNAHAN: There's room there for McCarthy to operate. He just has to give in and it'd be a lame duck.

CHALIAN: And look, imagine what the democratic base would do if these members were all in the McCarthy coalition. What Democratic voters are going to be okay with that --

RAJU: Yes.

CHALIAN: -- unless real concessions were extracted, which seems an unlikely scenario.

RAJU: And look, one of the things with this -- all this is tied to funding the government, right? So right now, at the moment, there are talks that are happening between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell about trying to figure out a bipartisan deal for the Senate.

And as you heard Garret Graves say at the top of the show to me, that he's concerned that the sentences simply jammed the house. So perhaps if McCarthy gets to deal with the Senate, maybe Democrats will help him, we'll see. That's an issue for the later day.

But I did talk to Chuck Schumer about his thinking about this. He made very clear, they're planning to go forward. And he's making some pointed comments at the House GOP.


RAJU: You've been through government shutdowns before. At this point, how likely do you think that's going to happen?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Well, I've never seen a group that is as hell-bent on a shutdown, as these crazy MAGA Republicans, that small group. But I am still hopeful. I am still optimistic that once the Senate acts in a bipartisan adult, mature and -- way that cares about the American people, and what they'd be through, that maybe the House will follow our example.

I know that Leader Jeffries, the Democratic leader, is ready to work with Speaker McCarthy. Speaker McCarthy just has to realize that following these hard right people is like following people over a cliff.

RAJU: You said you think the speaker should work with Democrats but, you know the politics over there. If he does that, he's going to face a vote to try to push them out of the speakership. Are you, at all, cognizant of that? Are you concerned about what could come next if he is pushed out?

SCHUMER: Well, you know, the bottom line is that these guys have threatened. And, finally, they came to their senses when it came to the debt ceiling. The bipartisan bill passed both Houses and it worked to the benefit of America.

I think he's got to sort of -- he's got to eyeball them and saying, I cannot go along with you. Don't you dare shut down the government. And I think he'd have the support of the overwhelming majority of Republicans in his caucus if he did that.

The people who push for a shutdown and say, unless you do it my way, I'm going to shut down the government almost always lose and lose politically.


RAJU: Look, Schumer is right. Overwhelming majority of his copy of the GOP conference agrees with Kevin McCarthy. But not a mature -- he needs to have 218 votes, and there's just a handful of members no matter how much pressure he puts on them, are just saying essentially, hell no.

TREENE: Right. No. Exactly. I mean, this is why you saw these rule votes happen that, you know, the first time in years that the people have lost this many votes. At least that's the track that he's going on. And I do think that this is the issue, like, I -- I'm curious what McCarthy is going to do.

I do think ultimately, and I agree with you, John, that he's going to have to, ultimately, maybe kind of deal with Democrats or find a way around them. And if the government shuts down, it does. But eventually, that's probably where they're going to end up.

RAJU: If there's one shut down now, remember, they have to pass a long-term spending bill at some point to keep the government open until next year, and then there could be another shutdown in the fall. So this movie is simply not ending so much drama to play out. OK.

Next, more drama. Cash, cars, and gold bars. The shocking allegations against Senator Bob Menendez. Prosecutors say the senior Democrat took bribes to help the Egyptian Government.



RAJU: An alleged agent of a foreign power inside the United States Senate. Today, we're expecting to see Senator Bob Menendez in public for the first time since federal prosecutors indicted him on Friday, accusing the powerful Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of using his influence to do Egypt's bidding.

The purported payoff, cash, gold bars, a luxury car, a no-show job for his wife, mortgage payments, and more.

Menendez is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. But the court of public opinion is already jumping to conclusions. Nearly every member of New Jersey Democratic establishment says he should resign. He's already facing a new primary challenge from Congressman Andy Kim.

But Democratic leaders here in Washington are so far hesitant to cite against the New Jersey Colleague. Listen to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, speaking this morning to our colleague, Danna bash on State of the Union.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): This is a very serious charge. There's no question about it. But it bears reminding us of what I've said about the indictments against Donald Trump equally serious charges. These are, in fact, indictments that has to be proven under the rule of law. The person who is accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: He is going to be up for reelection. Do you think he should run?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that it's a significant event. Clearly it is. And whether or not he will run for re-election remains to be seen.


RAJU: Not quite answering the question there about whether he should run. But it is interesting to see the striking difference between the New Jersey Democrats and the Democratic Leader. Chuck Schumer didn't go as far as saying he should resign. He said -- he call them a dedicated public servants that he has a right to due process and a fair trial. He noted he will lose his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

[11:20:10] What do you think of the national Democrats handling of this so far?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, clearly, this is a group of Democrats that has worked with Bob Menendez for a long time, they're reluctant to turn on him publicly. It doesn't look good for the party, of course, to be associated with something like this.

But then, again, New Jersey is a state that they are pretty confident about keeping the seat in. And now if it's Bob Menendez, who's the candidate, that could be a problem for them, and they know that, but I think they're trying to let this play out and see how it goes.

What you do see is, you know, a lot of Democrats, as you mentioned, not just in the New Jersey delegation, but from inside and outside of Congress, really saying, this is enough. Yes, the man is innocent until proven guilty, but these accusations are so serious that it can't be tolerated.

And particularly Democrats who have spoken out against Egypt's human rights record and who had been sort of waging despite policy-wise, are really disgusted by the idea that he would stay in this position, which is given that the Senate has a lot of power in that area, a pretty incredible thing that --

RAJU: Yes.

DAVIS: -- you know, he's in a position to either bless or basically veto an aid package like this. And the allegations are that he really abused that power.

RAJU: And look, he stepped down as chairman. He can still go to classified briefings. He can still vote.

DAVIS: Yes, absolutely.

RAJU: He can still sit on the committee. So they're still going to have these significant amount of power despite this indictment.

And just look at some of the just really stunning allegations here about this bribery scheme that was laid out in the indictment, providing sensitive information to the Egyptian government uses position to push for more military aid to Egypt, pressured prosecutors in a case involving a Menendez associate. And, of course, the $480,000 in cash, $100,000 in gold bars found at his home.

You've been -- John, you've been covering Bob Menendez for a long time, including in his last corruption trial.

BRESNAHAN: The first trial. It was the New jersey trial.

RAJU: It went to a mistrial. And have actually was not convicted here. But he's going to face a primary challenge. Can he survive this? And you think that he's defiant? He's indicating that he's going to try to fight it out. But can he survive?

BRESNAHAN: Well, I don't think he runs again. I think -- Raju: You know.

BRESNAHAN: Have you remember in New Jersey the state party chairs are very powerful. The county power is very powerful. I think already signaling they don't want him to go again. I think -- I don't think he runs again.

What is fascinating to me, first of all, in the whole history of the United States Senate, only 12 senators have ever been indicted. He's been indicted twice. First time in history this has ever happened.

I think the fascinating thing here about this case is they raided his house in June 2022. And he's been sitting there for the last 15 months. He knew this was coming.

RAJU: Yes.

BRESNAHAN: And he's been doing all this stuff. And he tried to -- he clearly tried to pay back the loan -- the loan for the car payment and stuff. He's been ready for this to happen.

I don't think he runs again. I do think that it's interesting Booker hasn't said any -- Cory Booker, the other senator, you do -- I think that the pressure will come on the leadership when other set -- other Democrats start saying this now.

Adam Schiff and Katie Porter in the California Democratic primary have already called for him to resign.

RAJU: Yes.

BRESNAHAN: If Tester calls from Arizona.

RAJU: Yes.

BRESNAHAN: If Brown -- if these people are in swing races. I think that will be a problem. And AOC came out today also.

RAJU: And you know, as Fetterman did so, right? So --

BRESNAHAN: Fetterman did that --

CHALIAN: Who comes from neighboring state and shares a media market, right. So you have --

BRESNAHAN: And a way with the Senate race.

CHALIAN: -- understood where the politics was on this pretty quickly, which is interesting to watch what Casey [ph] will do on this as well.

The divide -- the divide is fascinating. I'm not as convinced as you are that he's not going to try to gut this out. I mean, I just think we have seen examples. Ralph Northam in Virginia, Donald Trump on a daily basis as an example of folks who just don't take all of that pressure into a place of shame and disrespect and they feel they have to go away. His statement was so defiant. And he feels somehow the victim and aggrieved here. I'm not sure. But clearly, the immediate primary challenge exerts a whole new level of pressure.

BRESNAHAN: Yes. But Kim is -- but Kim is not going to be the -- I mean, Mikie Sherrill is the one they really want. That's who they really want.

And they're -- I was talking to Jersey Democrat today. I think this is -- Kim's already got people running for his seat, which I think he was a little surprised about.

But I do think that -- I do think there'll be so much pressure that they'll just unite around somebody. I mean, they have the governor coming around.

RAJU: In respect talking about the Senate map. I do want to show just so viewers understand the significance of, can Bob Menendez run again? Look at the Senate races in 2024. This is the full map. Democrats are in a very, very difficult spot here, because there are a number. There really only two possible seats -- Republican House seats that can flip Texas and Florida, and that is a reach.

And you're looking at those deep purple states, those are the vulnerable states right now for -- that are being held by Democrats. Those could flip and those can absolutely flip. And you add New Jersey to the map. If he does run, that is an expensive media market. That is a difficult race. It's going to be hard to keep that seat --

TREENE: Right.

RAJU: -- with someone who's facing bribery charges.

TREENE: Exactly. And that is something that when I talk to the different campaign committees and others, they note that, that we cannot be affording in a race like this with a map like that to be diverting resources to a state like New Jersey. They just can't be doing that and that's something that they recognize.


And I think that's part of the reason, to everyone's point here, that they're really going to want to rally around another candidate. They're not going to want to have to deal with Bob Menendez. Even if he -- if he does run, it's going to be a ton of money, a ton of effort that they really do not want to be spending in New Jersey.

RAJU: Can Chuck Schumer convinced someone who is so defiant --

TREENE: Right.

RAJU: -- to step aside in the middle of this? That is another question. You think so? I'm not so sure. Davis is not so sure. We're not so sure. We'll see. Hence, the tip of the response.

BRESNAHAN: New Jersey has legislative elections in two months. So I think that will have a huge impact on this.

RAJU: All right. So much to watch. Okay.

Coming up, the race for second place heats up as the Republican candidates take the debate stage again this week. Will anyone emerge as Trump's true alternative?



RAJU: The 2024 Republican field will take the stage on Wednesday night for the second GOP presidential primary debate. But once again, front- runner Donald Trump will not be there, and his rivals are calling him out.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't just not be on a debate stage because you're so high in the polls. You've got to show not what you did in the last four years. What are you going to do in the next four?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you had any guts, he'd get on the debate stage, and he's got things to say about me, stop hiding behind your social media site, your failed social media site, Donald, and start taking me on directly. Show up. Stop being a coward.

RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He owes it to people to be there. He owes it to people to make the case and to defend his record. You can't be just not showing up to these things.


RAJU: But this is the last debate. There was not a whole lot of discussion about Donald Trump. They trained their fire on Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ramaswamy jumped up in the polls afterwards. So this debate, do we expect them to actually go after Donald Trump?

CHALIAN: Well, we should know, Ramaswamy may have gone up in the polls, but Donald Trump continued to dominate the polls.

RAJU: No question.

CHALIAN: He got information back that said skipping the debate doesn't much matter. So he comes to a different conclusion. I do -- we have started seeing on the trail these other candidates being a bit more inclined to take him on directly by name, not just over whether or not he shows up on the debate, but on the issue of abortion or other issues that have come up a little more aggressively.

So perhaps we'll see a touch more of that. You noted in the last debate, I mean, there was a whole section about Donald Trump and his indictments. And you remember, Bret Baier had to turn to the Republican debate audience and said, please let us get through this, you know, because it's not popular to talk about Donald Trump in a negative way.

I also think that we're starting to see them skirmish a little bit more with each other. So this battle for second place, not that second place gets you the nomination, is also intensifying. And I would expect to see a bit of that on the debate.

RAJU: Yeah, and look, you mentioned going after Trump, about the issue of abortion. He made those comments on Meet the Press, which was last week, and he spent several days trying to just suggest that his politically Republicans are not speaking about it as well, and as a result, he got a lot of incoming fire about suggesting that maybe moderating his position on this issue.


MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You saw him walking away from our commitment to the sanctity of human life. I'm pro-life. People that know me know I'll always stand for the unborn.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the foreign president is wrong on the issue. He was a pro-life president. We need a pro-life president in the future.

DESANTIS: For him to then attack people like Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, all these other states, I thought was a big mistake. But look, I mean, I think he's -- he's taking positions that I think are different from what he took in 2015 when he first came onto the scene.


RAJU: But are they gaining any traction on these attacks? Remember, Trump, of course, nominated and they got confirmed three justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.

TREENE: Exactly. Well, this is something -- the abortion issue is really interesting. It's something that the former president has actually struggled with for months now. I mean, there's been a lot of people, particularly the outside groups, the SBA list, those types of pro-life groups, really pushing him to have a firmer stance on a federal ban. And he's refused to do that. And he personally sees it as a political play for him. He does not want to alienate a lot of the voters that he knows he would need if he wins the primary and when he gets into the general.

And that's something that is very much front of mind for Donald Trump. But of course, like you just said, Manu, he's continuing to be able to rely on the fact that he did. He was the one who put the justices on the bench and was able to overturn Roe v. Wade because of his decisions. And so that's where the Donald Trump camp is coming from on this.

RAJU: And I want to give it to what David mentioned about this. This is really a battle for second place in this debate. And you look at the primary polling nationally versus the states. So Trump is just dominating. There's no question about it 62% lead in national polls. But in second, in that's 50 points higher national polls in second place.

Now, but when you get into the early states, it's a little tighter. It's still significant. I mean, 31 points. He's above DeSantis in Iowa. He's up 26 points over Ramaswamy in New Hampshire and Haley's in second in South Carolina. She gets 18 points. So this is still very difficult for these -- these candidates to make up that that level of how much Trump is winning by.

DAVIS: Absolutely. And that's part of the frustration you see when they talk about him not being on the debate stage and they don't get a crack at him. They can't actually draw him out and engage him on some of these issues that they think they think could probably hurt him and damage him, someone in the eyes of Republican primary voters.

However, I think, you know, at the moment, if you're one of these other candidates, if you're Ron DeSantis, if you're Nikki Haley, the best thing you can do is to position yourself as strong as possible relative to the rest of the field so that if finally what all of them have been saying and been worrying might happen, he does crater if the indictments start to take a toll. If, you know, there's some event where nobody can figure out what that might be because there hasn't been anything so far, which has been mystifying.


But if he were to start to kick down, they all want to be in that position to be, you know, the first among equals to have those primary voters come to them. And I think that's really what Haley is counting on. That's what I think her camp thought. Maybe she was getting toward at the end of the last debate and what she really wants to try to solidify in this upcoming debate.

RAJU: And we'll see if Haley comes under fire. I mean, there was a new poll out today from NBC that talked about head-to-head matchups with these key, with all the key candidates here. Biden-Trump, tied 46-46 nationally. Biden-DeSantis still basically a dead heat up by just one. Nikki Haley, 46-41, the one who has the most significant lead. She's -- that probably means that they're going to come after her in this debate and she's got to be ready for it.

BRESNAHAN: You would think so. She's got the one -- she feels like she has momentum right now more than any other -- other Republicans on the trail. I do think she's a good candidate. She's good on the stump. She gives good speech. She's got good energy. I mean, I do think that she's somebody, if I were the other Republicans, I would target her. How you go after her is another thing. It's fascinating to me, her, the dynamic between her and Tim Scott to South Carolina Republicans, that dynamic who both in a lot of ways could be good vice-presidential candidates on that ticket with a Trump at the top. So it's -- it'll be interesting to see how she handles that.

RAJU: Yeah, and you talk about Tim Scott, I caught up with Senator John Thune this week. He's supporting Tim Scott. He wants them to draw a firmer contrast with Donald Trump at this debate. We'll see if Scott makes any interaction here. But one of the things that just these candidates are really not

talking about other than Chris Christie was the social media post from Trump, from Friday where he essentially suggested that perhaps Mark Milley, the outgoing Joint Chief Staff Chairman may perhaps be executed. And this is what he says. He says, "This guy turned out to be a Woke train wreck who, if the Fake News reporting is correct, was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States. This is an egregious act so -- this is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH. The war between China and the United States could have been the result of this treasonous act to be continued." But the candidates aren't touching this.

CHALIAN: Well, first of all, that rhetoric should surprise no one. It is, as repulsive as it is to suggest that about service members. It should surprise no one. This is part of Donald Trump's -- it's part of what you're called mystifying, right?

I mean, here you have a four times indicted, 91 criminal charges, twice impeached, commander-in-chief who disparages those who serve, and he's the dominant frontrunner in the Republican Party. And that is the bind that the party finds itself in right now. And so you say they're not touching it. They're not touching it because they don't see an opening with the voters they are seeking, that that would be an appealing, case to me.

RAJU: Yeah, it's constant tension between general and primary that continues to play out throughout this race.

OK, coming up, Democrats like to boast of Biden's record by why aren't those policy victories translating into better polls?



RAJU: Lately, I've been chasing down Democrats in the halls of Congress to ask them about the top of their 2024 ticket, President Biden, and his chances for reelection. Many of them defend his record. But when I asked them why he is vulnerable, heading into reelection, they believed the Biden team has to do a much better job selling Americans on his accomplishments.


RAJU: What do you think accounts for just the lack of enthusiasm among many voters and Democratic voters in particular?

SEN. DICK BURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: I can't explain it. I mean, they don't seem to be attentive to many of the changes that are taking place, which are dramatic.


RAJU: It could be, as Dick Durbin suggests, that people simply aren't paying attention to White House wins on things like infrastructure, green energy, prescription drugs, but conservative Democrat Joe Manchin argues it's those dramatic policy plays that are driving voters away.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: You can't push people to the extreme.

RAJU: Exactly. Concern that he has gone too far to the left.

MANCHIN: Gone too far to the left, as far as in my eyes. And I've been very -- I've been very I think, respectfully critical of thinking he's gone too far. It's not, you know, that's not how I know that when Joe Biden was voting, was voting here in the Senate was not what -- what we see today.


RAJU: Now Biden is basically tied with Donald Trump in every recent national poll. His close ally, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, though, admits the polls aren't great.


SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE: Right now the polls head-to-head are more concerning than I would expect, but I would so much rather be in this position of having an incredible record for our president to run on.


RAJU: So the polls aren't great. That is absolutely true for Joe Biden. Look at the two new head-to-head polls out just this morning. One Washington Post, ABC poll seems to be a bit of an outlier, not really consistent with other national polls has Donald Trump on nine points up nationally.

But there's an NBC poll out today is more consistent with all the other polling that we're seeing deadlocked 46/46. Also if you're the Biden team, you're not feeling too great about those polls.

CHALIAN: Yeah, and I actually don't think it's the head-to-head horse race number that concerns them the most. I think it's some of the numbers underneath. I mean, he has -- his approval rating in the economy is dismal. His approval rating on immigration is dismal. He's got some of the highest disapproval that has been recorded at this point for presidents in in modern history.

And there are pieces of his own coalition that are not where they should be. Republicans have an enthusiasm advantage. So there are a lot of red lights like going off every which way in every poll that they see. This is a reelect for the Biden team that is going to be uphill.

RAJU: Yeah. CHALIAN: Now, they believe that the contrast with the likely nominee

Donald Trump is one of the things, in addition to an argument about abortion rights, that is going to be the thing that keeps them in office for another four years.


And we'll see if that is -- but what is amazing in poll after poll, Manu, this is a rematch that nearly nobody in the country would like to see, and that seems to be where we're at.

RAJU: And look, you mentioned about what the polls say, how they view his performance here. Look at the NBC News poll. Disapproval of his overall job provides 56%, 59% don't believe he has the physical or mental health to serve. Of course, his age has been an issue for many voters. Disapproval of his handling of the economy, 59%. And the economy is always such a huge issue in every election 28%, Julie, just a proof of his handling of the economy.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: I mean, I think, David's right, much more than the head-to-head. It's those kinds of numbers that are really of concern. And it's a difficult thing for the White House to figure out how to tackle, because they have been doing, all of the messaging. They have been talking about the infrastructure bill for a year. They've been talking -- or more than a year, they've been talking about the Inflation Reduction Act for more than a year. The economic numbers have ticked into a better direction for them.

And yet, it's very clear from these polls that that is not being felt, or at least that's not being appreciated enough by the voting public, or by the folks who are responding to these polls, to actually be determinative for his approval ratings. So they need to figure out a way. And I think it's true they think that once it's clear that Trump is going to be the nominee, if that ends up being the case, they're going to be able to draw a very effective contrast.

But I think they also know that if they can't get those numbers in terms of handling of the economy and overall approval of how he does his job into a better spot, he is going to be very weak going into the general election.

RAJU: And the impacts can be felt all up and down the line for Democrats on the ticket. Ones who are running and battling to control, keep control of the Senate, take back the House. I caught up with some of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate. And asked them about Joe Biden standing, about whether they would be willing to campaign with them.


SEN. BOB CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: He's going to run a strong campaign in the state, he's going to win the state and so and I will too.

RAJU: Yeah. Will you campaign with him?

CASEY: Yes, I already have. RAJU: Would you campaign with him, though?


RAJU: I mean given his numbers, is he going to be -- your rating may drag you down?

ROSEN: You know what, in Nevada, what we've been doing has been a big success story.

SEN. JON TESTER, (D) MONTANA: There'll be folks that try to paint me or something else that always happens.

RAJU: Would you campaign with him?

TESTER: No I don't think that's -- I'm going to be focused on my race, not -- not his.

RAJU: Now, of course, Jon Tester's from Montana, it's a deep red state so Joe Biden's not going to Montana, so.


RAJU: But it's interesting, the purplish states, Pennsylvania, Nevada, these -- Casey and Rosen are saying that they will campaign with Joe Biden. And Casey himself, he just got a challenger on Thursday from David McCormick who's trying to tie him to Joe Biden but Casey's saying, fine.

BRESNAHAN: I was really fascinated by the Rosen answer because she's very vulnerable.

RAJU: Yeah.

BRESNAHAN: You know, I think, look, he -- Casey has to deal with Biden, because Biden have Pennsylvania every other week. So, you know, it just -- he can't run away from him. He's there anyway. And Biden can't be reelected without Pennsylvania. So he's just making the best of that.

I did find the Tester thing hilarious because always tell the truth. I mean, like, you know, you're not asking West Virginia either. You're not asking Arizona.

RAJU: Yeah.

BRESNAHAN: You know, so like, look, I think that Biden -- the problem for Biden's legislative accomplishments, they all unfold over the long term. His economic problems are all short-term, gas prices, inflation, interest rates, these are all hitting Americans right now. You know, you could say, yeah, my road's going to be rebuilt in 10 years. But right now, I'm paying a hell of a lot more on my -- you know, for gas than I was. And that's where his huge problem has always been.

I do think that, you know, look, he's beaten Trump once. He'll -- they'll make the argument like you say, you know, once Trump is the nominee, if he's the nominee, it's a lot clearer argument for Democrats for the White House against Trump. But, you know, right now, Democrats are nervous about it.

RAJU: Yeah.

BRESNAHAN: And there's nothing you can do about it. Because he's 80 years old, he ain't getting any younger. So, you know, he's just -- they're just going to have to deal with what they have.

RAJU: What do you think?

TREENE: I totally agree. I mean, I think the thing also that I hear a lot from Democrats is they recognize that Joe Biden is in a weak position as of now. And I think they're trying to do that delicate dance of, OK, do we acknowledge it? And admit it and not pretend like everything's great? Or, you know, he is most likely going to be the nominee, you have to stick by and the negativity around it could just drag him down. And that's something I know a lot of people are struggling with on a messaging standpoint.

RAJU: Especially those vulnerable members, so much to watch.

OK, next, which conservative Southern Senator could already be facing a primary challenge for 2026?



RAJU: Senator Lindsey Graham has been one of Donald Trump's most steadfast allies. But that doesn't mean he isn't vulnerable on the right. At least that's what Congressman Ralph Norman believes. Norman is part of the hard-right faction known as the House Freedom Caucus, which has been giving Kevin McCarthy fits all year.

The primary for South Carolina's Senate seat is until 2026, but Norman believes Graham has been too liberal on federal spending and he thinks that will do him in with South Carolina's GOP voters.


RAJU: Lindsey Graham, does he deserve another term in South Carolina?

REP. RALPH NORMAN, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I like Lindsey personally. I don't like his policies. What I don't understand about Lindsey, he -- after he gets elected, you know, for four years he's basically liberal. In the last two years he's conservative. So, yeah, I think something's got to change.

RAJU: Are you considering running against him?

NORMAN: Oh yeah.

RAJU: So you think --

NORMAN: Competition's good. RAJU: You're definitely going to do it?

NORMAN: We'll see. A day in politics is a lifetime. That's a '26 race.

RAJU: Yeah,

NORMAN: We'll see.


RAJU: Now, Lindsey Graham has held his seat in the Palmetto State since 2003. He was once a close ally of John McCain's, willing to cut deals with Democrats on issues like immigration, but as he has close -- stuck closely to Donald Trump and as Norman backs Nikki Haley, Graham remains consistent about spending big on defense and maintaining U.S. support for Ukraine.

I tracked him down in the hallway to ask about Norman's potential challenge.


RAJU: I talked to Ralph Norman, he told me he's considering challenging you in 2020, he says he criticized you as basically a liberal.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm worried about the 2024 election. Keep the House, pick up the Senate, win the White House.



RAJU: And for members of Congress, it's never too early to be thinking about the next election.

That's it for Inside Politics Sunday. Thank you for spending part of your morning with us. I'm thrilled to be your new host of Inside Politics Sunday, where I plan to bring you brand-new information, working my sources in interviewing U.S. leaders during the week.

Up next, State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guest includes Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. See you next time.