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Giant Of The Senate, Dianne Feinstein, Passes Away At 90; Govt. Shutdown Set To Start Tomorrow Night At Midnight ET; Sen. Feinstein Remembered As Trailblazer, Political Icon; Congress Barrels Toward Shutdown At Midnight Tomorrow; McCarthy Gets Unexpected Win In Bid To Avoid Govt Shutdown; House GOP Has No Plan To Avert Shutdown As Deadline Approaches. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 29, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, a giant of the U.S. Senate has died. We're going to talk all about Dianne Feinstein's passing, more importantly, her barrier breaking legacy in minutes. But we're going to start this hour with breaking news on Capitol Hill.

As we speak, we are watching a critical vote to avert a government shutdown. I want to go straight to Manu Raju, to give us the latest of what we're seeing on the House floor. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is a procedural vote right now to advance the Republican led some effort to keep the government open for about a month. Now this procedural vote at the moment, they have the votes to advance it to the final vote. Now that doesn't mean this is good news for the speaker. In fact, a number of these members who are opposed to speaker spending plans made clear that they're OK voting going forward on this procedural vote.

But they plan to vote no, in sync the bill this afternoon to keep the government open just for a handful of weeks because of their opposition to vote the way the spending issues have been handled here and their demands to instead move forward with longer term funding bills. Meaning, Congress could be staring at a government shutdown, barreling into a government shutdown by Sunday morning because of this impasse.

Now, the question for the speaker all along is what is next. He is still trying to get the votes for this Republican led bill. He is refuses to entertain publicly or even privately to some of his colleagues. What he will do if the bill does indeed fall collapsed this afternoon, which pretty much everybody here on Capitol Hill expects him, whether he will actually cut a deal with Democrats.

I asked the speaker, why not cut a deal with Democrats at this moment? And he had some strong words saying, that he is not ready to surrender.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA): Yes, it's easy. It's easy to surrender. If you want to surrender, yes. But if you want to fight for the American public, to secure our borders and keep government open, how is that a problem? It's only for CNN that that becomes a problem, that I don't surrender to the liberals. What I want to do is stand for America.


RAJU: And part of this bill would include spending cuts as well as border security measures, things that Democrats simply will not accept. And the speaker has yet to try to cut a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House says, as he has tried to get Republicans online.

And one big reason why, Dana, are warning some of his far-right flank. That if you were to cut a bipartisan deal, that could be enough to sinking, push him out of the speakership and call for a vote for his ouster. The speaker is consistently downplayed that that's been part of his calculation, but that there's no question about it, that is hovering over the speaker at this moment.

And Dana, in a clear sign that Republicans expect this key vote in the afternoon to fail to keep the government open, even as this procedural vote succeeded. They do expect the underlying bill to fail this afternoon. The House GOP plans to meet behind closed doors this afternoon to talk about their way forward.

They would not be having that kind of meeting if they had the votes to succeed here. So, a lot of moving parts here is so much is hanging, so many people are watching to see what Washington does as a government shutdown seems more real by the moment. Dana?

BASH: It sure does. Manu, thank you so much for that -- for the blow- by-blow and talking about the stakes here. And high wire act that Kevin McCarthy is walking right now. Appreciate it. Get back to us if you hear any developments.

Now we want to turn to toughness that did not come in a pinstripe suit. There are flags flying at half-staff across Pennsylvania Avenue as the country reckons with the loss of one of the great ones. California Senator Dianne Feinstein passed away at age 90. And today on the Senate floor, a moment of silence and palpable grief.


BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: And, Lord, we pause to thank you for the life and legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein. May her death, teach us to number our days that we may have hearts of wisdom.



BASH: The senator's desk is now draped in black adorned by white roses. The site moved her longtime colleague, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to tears.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY): So today, we grieve. We look at that desk and we know what we have lost.


BASH: Those flowers will eventually fade, but not the permanent imprint. Dianne Feinstein left on the U.S. Senate and well beyond. We learned of her death shortly before 9 am. And in the hours since tribute after tribute centered on one word, trailblazer.

The list of superlatives for her career is very long. The first woman to serve as San Francisco mayor, the first woman elected to the Senate from California, the first woman to sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first woman to chair the Senate Rules Committee and co- chair, the Inaugural Committee and of course, the first woman ever to chair the important Senate Intelligence Committee.

Feinstein was without a doubt an American original, whose career was powered by the pain of a tragedy. She said, she could never unsee the lifeless body of one of the first openly gay politicians in America, Harvey Milk.


LATE. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: The door to the office opened and he came in. I heard the door slam. I heard the shots. I smelled the cordite. He whisked by. I walked down the line of supervisors' offices and found Harvey Milk, put my finger in a bullet hole, trying to get a pulse.

It was the first person I'd ever seen shot to death. And that began a saga. I became mayor as a product of assassination of the mayor being killed, and the first openly gay public officials being killed by a friend and colleague of mine.


BASH: Feinstein told me in that 2017 interview, 25 years after she first made it to the Senate in 1992. And every day she said she came to work. She tried to honor her friend Harvey Milk. In 1994, Feinstein penned the assault weapons ban, guns and trying to stop them from spreading to every corner of every American street, became a common theme for her in her time in Washington.


LATE. FEINSTEIN: Everybody says, I don't know, Pat. let me tell you. I've seen assassination. I've seen killing. I've been a mayor. I know what these guns can do. Why is that every man comes before me and says, nice lady, you really don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: As you saw there, Feinstein was really no nonsense. A dogged advocate for her causes. She held her own government to account namely the Central Intelligence Agency, the entire intelligence community. Feinstein built bridges too in her own party, most famously hosting a smooth things over summit in 2008 for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton after their long and bitter presidential primary. She talked often about the isolation, the partisanship that pervades this town brings.


LATE. FEINSTEIN: This is a lonely place. Washington is a hard place. It is the most partisan place I've certainly ever been in. And there is a mean edge to that partisanship, our solidarity, our ability to break through it, our ability to be human in each other's company. I think knits that kind of bond that frankly sets an example for the men.


BASH: Feinstein's commitment to service ran through her very core case in point. Her last vote was yesterday morning. Let's go to the White House now, and CNN's MJ Lee is covering the president who -- before he was president, obviously was a longtime Senate colleague of the now late Senator Dianne Feinstein. What did the president say?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Dana, for President Biden, this is the loss of not just a longtime colleague, but a dear friend. Of course, the two serve together for many years in the Senate, including on the Judiciary Committee. And the president has spoken openly about this close friendship that he and First Lady Jill Biden developed over the years with the late senator and her late husband.

And we did just moments ago hear directly from the president, paying grief tribute to the late senator before a military ceremony. These are the words that he used to describe and talk about the late senator.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: She was a historic figure, trailblazer for women, and a great friend. Dianne made her mark on everything from national security to the environment, gun safety to protecting civil liberties. Country is going to miss her dearly, and so will Jill and I.



LEE: Now we were told, Dana, that the president was informed about Senator Feinstein's death earlier this morning by senior advisors. We also know that the president had tried to reach out to the late senator last month in August. The two didn't end up connecting, but he did speak with the late senator's senior aide and asked that his hello and his admiration for his friend be passed on to the late senator. We also know that the White House has been treading carefully, when it comes to questions that they've been asked about Senator Feinstein's age and health and about her potential replacement. So going forward, we certainly do not expect the White House to publicly weigh in in any way on questions about filling her vacancy. Before right now, Dana, the flags here at the White House have been lowered in tribute to the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.

BASH: MJ, thank you so much for that. And here to share their insights and memories with Senator Feinstein, Gloria Borger, David Chalian, Eva McKend and Jeff Zeleny. Gloria, you spent a lot of time with Senator Feinstein.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I did. You know, she was one of a kind, I have to tell you. She was endlessly curious. She was interested in what other people were saying about what was going on in the Senate. And for some reason, I became part of a group of women.

She used to call or have an aide call to ask us to have dinner about, I'd say, once every month or six weeks. And we'd go to this perfectly set up dinner at Cafe Milano in Washington in a corner table with beautiful flowers and off the record.

But it was not only a discussion, it wasn't really about what was going on on the Intelligence Committee of which she was chairman or. It was about sort of the events of the day. How are you? What's going on in your news organization? There was a little bit of gossip thing there.


BORGER: There was a little bit of gossip thing there about some of her Senate colleagues, et cetera, et cetera. But such a gracious hostess. And you always got this feeling that, she just -- she just wanted to bring people in. You know, she lived in this big house in Washington, and her husband was very often in California. And that, you know, maybe she just wanted to have some good conversation and friendships.

BASH: And the fact that she so often reached out to female, reporters and colleagues and that says a lot.


BASH: Jeff Zeleny, before you were on ACE Television reporter, you are an ACE's print reporter at a little paper called The New York Times. And I mentioned the fact that there was the summit that Senator Feinstein brokered, which is a big, big deal back in 2008 after the primary, excuse me, you broke that story.

And I just want to read a little bit about what you wrote back then. Before Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped forward to endorse Senator Barack Obama, which he is scheduled to do here on Saturday, they came together for a private reconciliation on neutral turf, the living room of Senator Dianne Feinstein 's home.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And it was extraordinary at the time, because it came just two days after the final round of primaries ended. And just a couple days before, then Senator Clinton would ultimately endorse. And we all remember how acrimonious that campaign was. At the very end, it was very raw.

So, without that meeting, you wonder. Would that have -- would that door have ever opened? Would she have become secretary of state, or would he have frozen her out? We don't know. But that meeting, just the two senators over a glass of water in the senators, Senator Feinstein's living room. She was upstairs in her study. She would say later, and she said she wasn't listening in.

But you have to wonder about that. But the reality was that meeting, and of course, she endorsed Senator Clinton, she endorsed Clinton campaign. But she knew Senator Obama a bit, but he was brand new to the Senate, basically, and they had only served a short time.

But as she talked to reporters about it the next day, she said there were some nerve endings that needed to come together, this needed to end in a positive way. At her core, she was a Democratic Party stalwart. So that certainly was a very important meeting.

But in terms of what she did in the Senate, she would later go on to challenge the Obama administration very forcefully on the CIA on torture. So, it was a nice meeting, but she was much more substantive than just hosting meetings.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You can connect what you were talking to Gloria about convening women, right around the table, to that meeting with Secretary Clinton was then Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. Jeff notes, she was a Clinton supporter.

But also remember, in that bitter primary, there was this real concern in the Democratic Party about female voters being sort of, having dampened enthusiasm that the person who was trying to be the first female Democratic nominee would fall short in this.

And so again, I just think her, you get elected and something that got called The Year of the Woman in 1992. Joe Biden, you know, you -- and if Feinstein and Carol Moseley Braun to get on the committee in the aftermath of those Anita Hill hearings.


What she stands for in women advancement in politics and women empowerment. I think will be right really a key part of her legacy. And I think that that part of her bio was part of why she was the right person to convene that meeting at that time as well.

BASH: Such a good point. And Eva, as I bring you in, you mentioned the era of the woman. 1992, it was -- it was a lonely place for women, still was rather lonely, a little bit lonely after '92, but less so. So, before Senator Feinstein was elected with other women in 1992, it was just three women in the United States Senate. Afterwards, you had six. And I just want to compare it to today, 24, it's now 50. But it's not three or six.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: And 125 women in the House, now it's easy to take this legacy for granted. As we walk through the halls of power now and see so many women. She had to deal with an overt sexism that would not stand today. She was not a quitter. She ran and lost in many elections but kept going. And so, we are now, I think, benefiting from that legacy. And it is very easy to take that for granted.

BORGER: You know, one more thing about her is that she defined herself. Everyone saw her as a centrist. And that sometimes got Liberal Democrats mad and she faced primary opponents in California when she ran for the Senate. But she always would say that she was a pragmatist, not just a centrist, which is why she could be somebody who defended the CIA so much.

But then could also take on the CIA over torture, and release over 6000-page report, which talked about how detainees were treated. And she said it was a stain on our values and on our history. So, she was one of these senators that wasn't so predictable all the time and got herself in some trouble. But she refused to just be labeled one way or another.

BASH: You're right. She took on the Obama administration, her fellow Democrat and push to release that. She was pretty upset about the intelligence that she saw that she felt she was misled about when it came to her Iraq war vote as well.

Thank you all for your recollections. Don't go anywhere because coming up on Inside Politics much more on the legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein. I'm going to talk with two of her longtime Senate colleagues.




BASH: This hour, the House Speaker notched an important win on a procedural vote to avoid a shutdown. Republican hardliners held their fire for now. This is key, it doesn't mean that the House Speaker is headed for smooth sailing, nor is the federal government. The big question is whether or when the government will be able to stop paying its bills. Panel is back with us.

Now, Eva, that's really critical. I just want to refer to what Manu told us at the top of the show that this is an intentional strategy by the Republican hardliners to say, yes, on this procedural vote in order to give to sort of really bring the axe down and vote no on the substance of this bill, which would have kept the government running.

MCKEND: Right. And there's still no clear end in sight, Dana. Listen, if you are a conservative firebrand, there is a lot of incentive to go all in and support this shutdown. That's why we're seeing, you know, Congressman Gaetz say, this is about curtailing spending. But really, you know, he knows the reality. He knows the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, and that McCarthy has done all that he can.

But it's really about the politics. It's about illustrating that you are a firebrand. and firmly in Trump's camp, you're following Trump's orders. And that's why we see the situation that we're in. This is just something to show McCarthy, but it's not really going to make a difference in the end. They have a long way to go.

CHALIAN: Yes. I doubt you're going to ever say smooth sailing and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a sentence together. Again -- -

BASH: Unless you're trying to be funny.

CHALIAN: But I do think it is worth noting here. Remember, if indeed, on the actual stopgap measure to keep the government open. If indeed that fails, if there are enough Republicans that voted against that. That is because Kevin McCarthy is still pursuing a strategy to do this with Republicans.

You know, as you know, because he's looking for his own survival as speaker, he could, you know, get a stopgap measure passed potentially with a bipartisan kind of product that would be democratic buying, but it would certainly ensure his demise as speaker of the House. And so, that's why we're in this pickle that we're in right now.

BASH: You say he could. He will. I mean, the only way to get the government either to stay open or to reopen, which is probably where we're headed is a bipartisan because he's going to lose Republicans no matter what.

BORGER: Obviously, he puts himself in great political jeopardy, losing his job, et cetera. You know, the question that I have is the Democrats because there are a lot of Democrats who are mad at Kevin McCarthy, don't want to save him because he opened an impeachment inquiry. I mean, these things are all kind of related.


And, you know, while they want to keep the government open, they're not interested in doing the guy any favors right now. And so, the Democrats have to figure out where they come out -- where they come out on this. And, you know, I don't know the answer to that yet. And I don't think the Democrats have an answer on mass to what they would do.

BASH: Yes. I think you're right. And just politically speaking, this is one area where the Democrats and Kevin McCarthy agree, which is that, even though most people out there if the government shuts down, or is going to say, they're going to say, Washington and blame everybody. It's likely that Republicans will get most of the blame. And that is something that the president is trying to, to flames that the president is trying to fan, and he did so again this morning.

ZELENY: Right.


PRES. BIDEN: Our troops deserve so much better. The House fails to fulfill its most basic function and fails to fund government by tomorrow, we'll have failed all our troops. Our service members will keep upholding their oath, showing up for work, standing sentinel around the world, keeping our country secure, but they won't get paid to disgrace.


ZELENY: Look, he's trying to brand this as they're shutdown. And in a sense, that's right. I mean, he already cut a deal earlier this year with the Speaker McCarthy. The reality is, I think, you know, no one will probably emerge a great with this, but Republicans certainly will get more of the blame. That's certainly what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich thinks.

I mean, he believes that to shutdowns are not good. As he said privately to the people -- -

BASH: What does he know about shutdowns?

ZELENY: What does he know about impeachment shutdown, a bad politics. But the reality is, the better question now probably is how it gets reopened. We've had more experience with shutdowns in recent years than in the course of history. And the question is how long our mission is going to be.

If it's a couple of days, I think we'll quickly forget about this. If it's a month, like it was in 2018 and 2019, that is a much bigger problem. And then the people in America start seeing things and reflecting their anger on the members of Congress. So, but the bigger question now probably is, how does this get back open? And is it worth sacrificing your speakership for? We'll see.

MCKEND: And some of these hourly wage workers, you know, are not eligible for back pay. Conservatives want to make this argument that they are for the American worker. If they push this shutdown, it flies in the face of that argument.

BASH: Yes. Really good point. Everybody standby. Because coming up, we're going to talk to two of Dianne Feinstein's longtime colleagues. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons are going to be here to talk about her legacy. That's next.