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Inside Politics

Cash In California: GOP Rivals Trade Insults On Debate Stage; South Carolina Shutdown: Haley, Scott Spar For Attention; Trump Brushes Aside GOP Debate He Skipped; Trump On Witness List In N.Y. Fraud Trial Set To Start Next Week; House GOP Tensions Boiling Over With 3 Days Until Shutdown; Congress Barreling Toward Shutdown With 3 Days To Reach Deal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 28, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, Republican candidates get busy bruising each other in a debate marked by insults, prepared one liners, and plenty of pettiness. Plus, the spectacle starts.

Today is day one of a House GOP impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. Republicans promise his show and tell the Democrats retort where's the evidence. And danger nocks. President Biden is in Arizona to warn the country and revive a 2020 and 2022 campaign theme that Democrats believe worked that MAGA extremists are a singular threat to American democracy.

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

Up first, a chaotic crosstalk filled Republican debate that gave us more questions and more insults, but little clarity about who if any of these candidates can truly challenge Donald Trump. The frontrunner was not there again. But in Simi Valley, you could sense the desperation among those on stage to find a breakthrough moment. You could literally see and hear that more and more Donald Trump's Republican rivals realize, they won't win by playing nice with the former president and time is running out.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And you know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight.

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is where President Trump went wrong. He focused on trade with China. He didn't focus on the fact that they were buying up our farmland. He didn't focus on the fact that they weren't killing Americans.

MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My former running mate Donald Trump actually has a plan to start to consolidate more power in Washington, D.C.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're ducking these things. And let me tell you what's going to happen. You keep doing that. No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We're going to call you Donald Duck.


BASH: We did get important insights into policy differences on immigration, on Ukraine, on abortion, but the tone sharp and often personal was more prominent.


HALEY: I honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say. And what we've seen it, you've gone and you help China go make medicines in China, not America? You now wanted kids to go and get on this social media that's dangerous for all of us? You were in business with the Chinese that gave Hunter Biden $5 million. We can't trust you.


BASH: Joining me now to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's David Chalian and CNN's Phil Mattingly I hit the panel jackpot today. Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you so much for being here.

Well, I should say that that Jeff and David, you and I were up way, way late last night. I know, we're not going to complain to you about lack of sleep, Phil Mattingly. But it was very interesting to be there. And to kind of get a sense of what it was like, here in Cal California, there in Simi Valley.

I want to start with you. Excuse me, David Chalian, can you just give an overall analysis of what we saw and why it matters?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we saw seven people on that debate stage thirsty for attention. I mean, I think that was really clear in how they present themselves last night. And what we didn't see again, for the second time in a row now was the frontrunner on that stage.

And so, these debates are becoming this exercise, where we are now, you know, just over hundred days from the Iowa caucuses for one of these candidates to start being able to consolidate enough support in the non-Trump supportive wing of the party to actually emerge as an alternative to Donald Trump.

And so, this is a process, right? You don't expect that to happen overnight with one debate. But you could see how they were all behaving and with different strategic imperatives in mind, how much they wanted to optimize their talk time for that kind of direct conversation with voters.


But I would just note, Dana, I thought there was little that occurred on that stage that actually is going to alter the trajectory of this race. And Donald Trump clearly is still a dominant frontrunner in this race and there was very little last night. I think that occurred with all that crosstalk that you noted that was nearly chaotic at times. That's going to upend that position for the frontrunner.

BASH: Yes. It seems that was very likely the case. But Jeff Zeleny, at this point, you know, this better than most of us because you have been most recently out talking to voters in these key battleground states, in the early voting states, I should say.

And at this point, it is to be heard to break through. It is also to keep the money flowing, and to look like somebody who can potentially stay in there for a bit, particularly for the anti-Trump sector of the Republican Party.

On that note, Nikki Haley, was really trying to kind of stand out. And just like the first debate, she did. Let's listen to some of those moments.

OK. I don't think we have that soundbite. So, I will just tell our viewers about the gist of what she did. She went after Ron DeSantis on fracking. She went after Tim Scott in a very big way. We do have it. Welcome to Live TV everybody. Let's listen to it.


HALEY: Ron DeSantis is against fracking. He's against drilling. Look, I appreciate Tim. We've known each other a long time. But he's been there 12 years, and he hasn't done any of that. He hasn't -- they've only given four budgets on time in 40 years, he was part of that.


HALEY: 12 years, where have you been? Where have you been Tim?


HALEY: 12 years, we've waited, and nothing has happened.



BASH: Jeff Zeleny?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, those were certainly memorable lines, particularly when Nikki Haley was directly again, basically picking up where she left off at the first debate going after Vivek Ramaswamy.

Saying famously, I think we'll remember this for a long time. So, everything you say makes me feel a bit dumber. But going after tick tock on policy, but every single critique and attack, Nikki Haley did was rooted in her strategy. It was not simply to throw darts. It was because she was trying to sort of have the lane in South Carolina to herself. What she didn't say last night to her fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott is, I put you in that seat. And when she was governor of South Carolina, she appointed then Congressman Tim Scott to fill the Senate seat of retiring Senator Jim DeMint. And then of course, he's been elected on his own, but that certainly was showing that she is trying to have that lien to herself.

But I think overall, Dana, you hit the nail on the head about donors and money. We're at the very final days and even hours of the month of September, and the third quarter fundraising period. It wasn't just voters in New Hampshire and Iowa who were watching this debate, and they were. It was also these donors who are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to jump in to help fund and support a Trump alternative.

So, that was a key audience as well, that certainly one she was playing to. I would say, Tim Scott was as well, he came out with a new sense of energy, and really a bounce in his step, if you will, going after Vivek Ramaswamy, and a backup to Nikki Haley, and on abortion and other matters.

So, I thought that he was the most improved perhaps, of the night, but I think overall, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis centerstage. He also had a very strong night, and he is the leading alternative in some people's minds and a lot of voters' minds in Iowa. And he probably solidified that, at least to some degree.

BASH: Phil, let's talk more about Tim Scott. You and I covered him for many years on Capitol Hill. And Jeff just talked about the moments that he had. Let's listen to one of them on the debate stage.


SEN. TIM SCOTT, (R-SC): America has suffered because of slavery, but we've overcome that. Black family survived slavery. We survived poll taxes and literacy tests. We survived discrimination being woven into the laws of our country. What was hard to survive was Johnson's Great Society.

If you want to restore hope, you've got to restore the family, restore capitalism, and put Americans back at work together as one American family. Our nation continues to go in the right direction. It's why I can say I have been discriminated against. But America is not a racist country.



BASH: And, Phil, before I bring you in here, we were talking about sort of the back and forth between the South Carolinians Nikki Haley and Tim Scott. I talked to Senator Scott right after the debate. Listen to what he said about that?


SEN. SCOTT: I was surprised by the vitriol. But the good news is this is like a football game. You put your uniform on, and you go on the field, and you play to win. I think people call me a happy warrior because I'm happy warrior. But if you're happy and you're a warrior, sometimes there are issues that you must defend.


BASH: What do you think, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: You know, what I think is most interesting is if you frame what the senator told you afterwards, which I think is the best capture, obviously, he would know. It was him of what actually happened last night with Tim Scott in its entirety.

Then I think a lot of the moments that we've seen play out in highlights throughout the course of this morning or in the wake of the debate. Tim Scott came out of the last debate with a lot of criticism about standing on the sidelines, not willing to engage, not doing enough in terms of throwing elbows around.

He did that last night. But I think the sound you played at the top from, that was his biggest moment of the debate. When I was talking with Republicans this morning. They will all acknowledge to a person, that moment, particularly when he went straight to camera, talking about his personal experience. That is the moment that you see on the campaign trail.

I know Jeff seen it up close that resonates that is the moment where voters or people who are watching him or learning about him for the first time. We haven't covered him like we all have kind of say, oh, wow. OK. This is a different kind of candidate. This is a candidate that has a real story and a story that I'm interested in.

And I think that was what -- when I was talking to Republicans throughout the course of the morning, they're saying that that was the moment. And yet, everyone was talking about whether or not he could throw elbows, his willingness to throw elbows, the back and forth with Ambassador Haley.

And I think that's kind of the difficulty to some degree that he has in this moment. Donors will give him a ton of money. People who know him think very highly of him within the party. But to get attention in this moment, when you're 30, 40, 50 points behind frontrunner, and there's that many people on stage, you have to try other things. And whether or not, he can be both, both the happy and the warrior, tried to demonstrate it last night, but it's a challenge.

BASH: Yes. He was clearly trying to lean more into the warrior, part of the happy warrior label that he so proudly wears. David, meanwhile, Donald Trump, it's pretty clear from CNN's reporting that he is not going to go to the next debate, not a surprise.

He was doing his counterprogramming thing in Michigan. And he said, effectively, that he doesn't see anybody on the debate stage as his vice president. That's the way he is framing the debate that happened without him last night.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Yes. No, they're all job candidates. They want to be in the -- they want to, they'll do anything, secretary of something, they even say VP. I don't know. Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don't think so.


BASH: It's better to hear from him than to hear me talking about it. Go ahead, David.

CHALIAN: I don't think so, a little warning, right, to the rest of the field that nobody, nobody yet is in his mind's eye as a potential VP here. Listen, he -- Donald Trump is trying to do two things here simultaneously. He is trying to elevate himself to be perceived as all but presumptive nominee and starting to frame a general election contest with Joe Biden as he was trying to do in Michigan yesterday.

And yet, what you just heard in that soundbite that you played, he's well aware that there is still a nomination race to happen here. Voters have not yet weighed in, and he can't just take it for granted. And so, he'll return to Iowa this weekend.

His campaign has said, they will be back in Iowa with several times throughout the month of October, because they can't lift their foot up off the gas pedal on trying to put the nomination race to bed, even as he wants to portray himself as the obits, certain nominee.

And so, he's got to do those two things simultaneously. And you're right. I don't think anybody could begrudge him on the politics of it. For not showing up on the debate stage. It has been two debates now. And I don't think we see any evidence yet that it hurts him politically in any way, not to be there.

BASH: Well, you know, where he did, just show up, he just showed up on a witness list. There's one that came out with Donald Trump's name on it, black and white. And we just learned that the former president may be compelled to take the stand in his New York civil fraud trial. It's slated to start next week. Let's get more on that from CNN's Kara Scannell. Kara, what do we know?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the witness list have come out from both the New York attorney general side and Trump's defense team, and both of them have put Donald Trump his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump on the list as potential witnesses that both sides might call in this case.

They are defendants in the case. They are at the center of the case and the issue here of the inflated financial statements, which the judge earlier this week ruled were fraudulent. And so, that the company and these individuals had engaged in persistent fraud.

So, now the question is, will they actually be called as witnesses? These witness lists are putting out there because if they don't put someone on a list, I mean, they can't call them. There certainly was a lot of eagerness according to one source of mine for Trump to testify that he wanted to. But this can change always as the case is playing out. And given that the judge has already found against the Trump organization.


There's a question of what -- whether he would want to testify in his own defense. Now the AG's office could compel him to testify. They also have -- he also has sat for a videotaped deposition. And in that deposition, he said he had little if any role in compiling these financial statements. Dana?

BASH: Kara, thank you so much for that report. In Washington a shutdown is 72 hours away. But what are Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz talking about? Well, they're talking about influencers, and payoffs, and we're going to explain all of that from the behind closed doors testy exchange after a quick break.


BASH: This morning, new tensions exploding into the open between House Republicans with just three days left until a government shutdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went toe-to-toe with his most outspoken critic, Congressman Matt Gaetz that happened inside a GOP meeting. CNN's Manu Raju of course was outside, got all the scoop about what happened inside. What happened?


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. This has been percolating for some time. You know, Matt Gaetz, of course has been making clear that he may push a vote seeking the ouster of this speaker. If the speaker does not heed some of his demands, including over this all the fight over to keep the government open past Saturday.

Well, Gaetz has been concerned because he believes the speaker's allies have been essentially promoting negative posts on him on social media, paying conservative influencers, especially bashed him on social media. Gaetz confronted the speaker about that this morning behind closed doors and asked him about the speaker brushes size that he has other things to worry about, then this issue.

When I asked Gaetz about it afterwards. And he confirmed that all this happened. And I asked him, are you ready to move ahead with pushing for the speaker to be ousted? He said, he didn't indicate it. That is not going to happen at this point. But that is something that continues to remain on the table.

Now this all comes as the fight over keeping the government open, continues to play out among Republicans, particularly on the House side. The speaker is making clear, he plans to have a vote tomorrow, to keep the government open for a short period of time. But he does not have support among his own conference. Democrats opposed it because the cuts that are in there. Republicans' hardliners are opposed to it as well as including Matt Gaetz, saying they don't want to keep the government open for a short period of time. They want longer term spending bills.

I talked to one congressman this morning, Eli Crane of Arizona. Someone who is aligning himself now with that Matt Gaetz strategy, saying that he will not support a short-term spending bill. And he also made clear that he could vote to oust the speaker.


RAJU: To shut down those speakers' fault for handling the way he handled the spending bill?

REP. ELI CRANE, (R-AZ): In my opinion, in my opinion, it is it, right. You're the leader, right? You take credit for the wins. And you take ownership and accountability of the losses. And quite frankly, I don't believe based on what I've seen that there was any real effort to do the appropriations process. That's what I believe.

RAJU: Should he be out of a job?

CRANE: You know, I think that members should be looking at for stronger leadership. And you know what, quite frankly, I know that people in my district that I represent, want to see stronger leadership. So, I'm all about it.


RAJU: And Dana, therein lies the problem for Speaker McCarthy. If he cuts a deal with Democrats to keep the government open, he's going to face a vote pushing for his ouster. People like Eli Crane, Matt Gaetz, others, they have the votes as long as Democrats kick them out as well.

So, the speaker's calculation now trying to get Republicans to keep the government open. Republicans aren't there, even the Senate is moving in a much different course, something that the speaker himself opposes, raising real fears of a government shutdown. Dana?

BASH: Manu, thank you so much for that. Phil Mattingly is back with me, along with Leigh Ann Caldwell from The Washington Post. Three former Hill rats. You're looking at all three of us on the screen proud, former Hill rats.

Phil, I mean, we've seen this movie so many times before. And we know how it ends. We know that there has to be a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives in order to overcome this. The question is not how much pain, but what flavor of pain will be extracted, most importantly, by the American people, but politically inside the Congress in order to get there?

MATTINGLY: Yes. And just to underscore your point, Hill rat is not a pejorative, that's a compliment. Look, I think you make -- I think the former is the most important. The latter is what everybody's trying to figure out right now. The former being that this has a real impact on real people.

And while, I don't have any sense that this is going to match the 30 plus day shutdown, that we all went through in 2018, 2019. The scale of both the macroeconomic effects on that, but also on individuals, not just federal government workers, but contractors as well that didn't get back pay, paid back is significant, tangible and shouldn't be ignored.

On the latter point, I think the difference between now and every other time that we've seen this movie that we all know the end to is, I don't know how the process to get to the end, right? We always know that there's, you know, a lot of pain and an arduous kind of back and forth, and let's do some test votes, let's do some messaging votes, let's pass some things. We can get in the room and still end up in the same exact place.

They can't even do that in the House Republican c. I think Manu, and Mel, and Lauren Fox have been doing such great reporting from our Hill team, about a situation that doesn't really have any precedent because they're trying to move full year spending bills that have no impact on the actual stopgap bill that they need to do.

But they're trying to do those in order to have built trust, so you can vote on a stopgap bill. But they don't even have the votes for the full year bills. And by the way, the full year bills would be dead on arrival, the United States Senate never be signed by the president.

And if that sounds confusing to people watching this, it is, it's completely nonsensical and it's tethered to nothing that's going to move this process forward. And we're now at like two and a half days until the shutdown.


BASH: I mean, I just remember John Boehner, merlot on one hand, cigarette on the other hand, saying you got to work the process out and you got to work the process out. I mean, the process eventually worked him out and I think he's probably very happy about it at this point.

Leigh Ann, let's just kind of look at the math here. And the numbers that make it so clear that Kevin McCarthy eventually is not going to be able to do anything that funds the government without help from Democrats. I mean he's got a four-seat majority. And then you look, there's a list of hard knows that is longer than four, than likely knows longer than five.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. That's absolutely right. He is trying to negotiate with people who are never going to come to the table. And so, it makes absolutely no sense in real world situations. But for McCarthy, this is self-preservation. That is all this is about.

He is afraid to turn to Democrats and find 10, 20, maybe 30 Democratic moderate votes to pass a short-term government funding bill, to keep the lights on past Saturday, because he is worried that there will be protests from the right and efforts from the right to remove him from his speakership.

And so, self-preservation over governance. But I will say that there is a growing amount of frustration among Republicans about this strategy that is very transparent. I interviewed Representative Ken Buck of Colorado this morning for Washington Post's live.

And he said that it is absolute, "malpractice" that Kevin McCarthy is waiting until the day before a government shutdown to put forward a bill to potentially short-term fund the government for a few weeks, knowing that it's probably going to fail and that not trying this weeks ago. So, there's a lot of frustration among Republicans.

BASH: Many, many weeks ago, we got to break, but real quick Phil. The whole back and forth between Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz. Yes, McCarthy is worried about his job. But he's also like, so done with what they're trying to do. It's pretty clear.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And I also don't think -- I think it should not be ignored that he's not the only Republican in the House Republican conference. That's so done. And that's, you know, how we feel about Matt Gaetz.

I think the frustration is far more widespread amongst the rank and file their 220 plus members. I think that people understand. But the fact that it has become kind of a mano, mano thing that's happened repeatedly. I think frustration is probably a massive understatement here.

BASH: For sure. All right, standby guys. Because coming up, House Republicans are actually taking the time to hold their first impeachment hearing, that's happening as we speak. And two of the GOP's handpick witnesses gave some testimony. They probably didn't actually want to hear. Stay with us.