Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Biden Meets With National Security Team; Biden: No, Border Wall Doesn't Work; Cornel West Drops 2024 Green Party Bid, But Says He Will Run As An Independent; What McCarthy's Ouster Means For The Future Of Democracy. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 05, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: He's building the wall. No, not Donald Trump, Joe Biden. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced this morning that the Biden administration will waive 26 federal laws to build new sections of the border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

Before we get to this, I just want to go right to the White House. The President made some comments there during a meeting. Let's listen to that.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, General Brown, welcome to the Oval as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It's great to have you here and your experience in combat and your experience in administering at the Justice Department and your leadership in just about every theater.

You've been around the world, as they say, as a commander, and you're a trusted leader of the joint force, and you're accelerating the change we need both in terms of material, in terms of the strategies. And CQ, your insight and counsel we're looking for.

The Secretary of Defense been bragging about you longtime and so as the CIA, so we're going to get going. And today, we're going to discuss the intelligence matters that are current. You know, you've kept current all these I know, but we're going to discuss Ukraine and DPRK, and also our continued enhancement of stability in the specific -- in that whole area.

So, anyway, there's a lot we have to do and I just wanted to welcome you. And thank you, thank you. That's why we let the press in here for this reason, and for the PDP, OK.

OK, guys.


BASH: CNN's MJ Lee is here to talk about what we just heard from the President, particularly questions about the border wall, that there are a lot of questions about it. MJ?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. Interestingly, the President was asked about this funding for the border wall. We are told from pull notes that he said this is money that was previously appropriated and that needs to be spent. I do think this is obviously a politically complicated matter for this White House, so we'll see how they continue to field questions about this decision.

I will say, obviously, this is a meeting that the President is having with senior members of his national security team. And we do expect that the situation in Ukraine is going to be a key topic here. And we are just seeing a drumbeat of warnings coming from the administration, including President Biden himself, saying that it is critical that lawmakers on Capitol Hill approve additional funding.

You know, this was such a key priority that ended up getting left out of that spending bill that passed over the weekend. And I just want to put a finer point on the urgency piece of this. You know, what our reporting is showing is that according to senior administration officials, they really believe that there are a number of weeks, several weeks before the lack of additional funding becomes a serious problem.

So in other words, if one, two, three weeks, they end up passing without there being additional funding, whether because there isn't a speaker in the House or whether it's because lawmakers simply can't come around a consensus plan, that that's not going to be hugely problematic.

Now, what does become concerning, again, according to administration officials, is if we end up approaching November 17, that is, of course, the deadline for that government funding bill that passed over the weekend without the prospect of something getting done, some additional money being approved for Ukraine, that that could end up having some serious battleground consequences really on the ground.

So, again, I think this is just going to be the beginning of administration officials, really delivering their warnings on this issue. You saw President Biden himself saying earlier this week that he even plans on giving a major speech on this issue. So the lobbying here and the warnings here from the administration, those are only expected to grow in the coming days, Dana.

BASH: Absolutely. MJ, thank you so much for that reporting. I appreciate it.

Our reporters are back here at the table. Also with us, Retired Lieutenant General and CNN Military Analyst Mark Hertling.

General, let me just start with you on the last thing that MJ was talking about, which of course is Ukraine funding. And the fact that the President does plan to get out there and give a more clear argument to the American people about why giving additional funds to Ukraine is so vital.


BASH: This is being hotly debated inside the Republican conference right now, as part of who will be the next speaker. Can you put into context how important this moment is when it comes to Ukraine?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it is critically important, Dana. And what I'd say is, yes, it's being hotly debated by a few that are opposed against the many, both Democrat and Republican who continue to support. It's so critically important right now is because Ukraine is in about their fourth month of an offensive.

They are literally, as John Kirby said the other day in the Pentagon or, excuse me, at the White House, they -- the Ukrainians are living hand to mouth in terms of priority ammunition for their offensive. They literally are waiting for supply lines to continue to flow. And if there's any interruption at all, and truthfully, Dana, I had this experience in combat myself, where there was a supply chain interruption, it really stalls an offensive.

We're at a critical time in Ukraine right now. The offensive is starting to gain some momentum. And any kind of interruption of the kinds of ammunition, as many of our reporters like Fred Pleitgen have noticed, will cause damaging effect on a completion of their offensive operations. Just at a time when they are feeling pretty good about entering some of their territories in Ukraine.

BASH: Yes. And you're not wrong, it definitely is not the majority of Republicans or Democrats in Congress, who say that Ukraine funding should be stopped or help for Ukraine should be stopped. Just one of the biggest -- most out there candidates for Speaker Jim Jordan told our Manu Raju yesterday that he is going to oppose it. So it kind of gives you a sense of maybe where the power is in that slim majority.

I want to just come back here to the table and go back to the other big, big news out of the White House, which is the money for this border wall. You heard President Biden say that the money would have gone out.

Actually, let's play what the President said. He was asked after he talked about Ukraine.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much, guys.

BIDEN: One question on the border wall. The border wall, the money was appropriated for the border wall. I tried to get to reappropriate and to redirect that money. They didn't, they wouldn't. And in the meantime, there's nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for whatever is appropriate. I can't stop that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe the border wall works?



BASH: Why -- MJ use the word complicated. This is extremely complicated, because the money was approved and appropriated under the Trump administration. But he did promise -- I mean, let's just play something from August 5, 2020 about this wall.


LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, NPR HOST: Trump campaigned on build that wall, are you willing to tear that wall down?

BIDEN: There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I remember that from the campaign. He said that repeatedly, not another foot. And on day one of the Biden administration, I was in the White House when they effectively announced that the border wall construction had stopped. That was true then.

And what the President is also saying is the funding is expiring. That's also true. But the simple sort of observation in this very complicated issue is the politics of this have changed dramatically. We saw a letter this week from the Illinois governor, Governor Pritzker, who was an ally and a friend and an admirer of this administration and president, blistering words, really calling attention to what the federal government he says needs to do at the border.

This is a political crisis for this White House, for this President. So the policy is complicated. The politics is quite simple. They need to do something or show they're doing something on the border.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: And not just for the border wall, but for Ukraine funding because this is a major task on behalf of his new negotiators, right? With Kevin McCarthy, the reason why, just last week, President Biden said that we should be assured that the Ukraine funding is going to come through, is because Kevin McCarthy supports it.

He no longer has that. He's lost his negotiating partner. And you also had on the border wall, you know, just a lot of governors and mayors now also speaking out about migrants who are coming in there. And actually his own Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is calling this a crisis and a very pressing moment with 245,000 migrants coming across the border.

BASH: And, you know, you talked about the politics of this right now. Let's just look at where they are when it comes to President Biden in his job approval rating. Overall, 42 percent, on immigration, 31 percent, and then he's underwater on both but really underwater on the issue of immigration.


And we know this and we should just say it very clearly. The reason that there is a crisis at the border, one of the main reasons is because we lack a federal policy. Congress has been completely paralyzed by politics for more than a decade, almost two decades now. And the person who's in the White House has to deal with the fallout from that, and that happens to be Joe Biden right now.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Right. And he was also -- that was another undercurrent of the discontent amongst House Republicans. We know that they tried to pass funding for the federal government to avoid the shutdown, but it included that border security language that's extremely conservative that would put a -- into a lot of the asylum seekers that we're seeing at the southern border.

So that's something that Republicans have really been getting on the White House about. And as we've said, the White House needed to show something for it. And I think they found that this border wall money wasn't an easy solution.

BASH: OK, everybody standby.

Coming up, Cornel West just made a big announcement about his 2024 presidential bid. We'll tell you what he said after a quick break.



BASH: Just in to CNN, activist Cornel West says he is dropping his bid to be the Green Party nominee for president. But, it's a big but, he still plans to run as an independent.

CNN's Eva McKend is following this for us. So, Eva, what does this mean practically for the 2024 race?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: You know, Dana, whether it's the Green Party or as an independent, this has always been a source of anxiety for Democrats. Because the margins of victory could be so small that would West in play, it could siphon votes away from President Biden.

But listen, Dr. West argues there's no one in the contest right now making a clear case to help the poor and working class. He's been a staple in our politics for years on behalf of progressive candidates. But he firmly believes it's now time to take up the map tool.

Now, on its face, this does make it tougher for him to get on the ballot. It seems from comments that we're hearing from his campaign manager that there might have been some internal party dynamics at work with the Green Party because he's now on his third affiliation.

If you remember when he first announced he was running, he said it was with the People's Party line. Then he switched to the Green Party, and now he wants to run as an independent. But his campaign manager tells us he has started the process of seeking ballot access in all states, as an independent.

And a source close to him tells me, listen, there's no bad blood with the Green Party. He just believes that this is the best path forward. Dana?

BASH: Eva, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

And back here at the table, that last part for people who are thinking like what differences in makeup is Green Party versus independent, it makes a big difference when it comes to ballot access. And yes, he's going to try for ballot access as an independent, but it's a whole lot easier if you're on a party --

PRZYBYLA: If you have a party behind you?

BASH: Well, a party behind you. And if you have a party that's already on the ballot.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: And the Green Party is already on the ballot.

PRZYBYLA: And Jeff pointed this out in the break that, yes, if he doesn't have a party behind him, he doesn't have already a nomination. It looked like he was going to close to that nomination and the Green Party. This is going to make it a lot harder.

Look, this is a victory for Joe Biden. And I thought about this week with the Republicans grousing on how Democrats play teams sports and we cannibalize our brightest stars. This is the latest example here of Democrats quietly in early clearing the field, helping Joe Biden.

Look, this is maybe one advantage of Democrats having older leaders as they're all old enough to remember 2000 and Ralph Nader. And Ralph Nader was out recently saying, look, the stakes are too high. We've got to get behind Joe Biden.

ZELENY: I was just thinking about that. That interview with Ralph Nader with Michael Shear of the Washington Post didn't get that much attention, but very important for this reason. He says we need to get behind Joe Biden because this is a moment that's a bigger, this is about democracy.

Of course, he's saying the Democrats cannot mess up here and help Donald Trump win. That's what he's saying. So that interview earlier this week, coming at the same time as this Cornel West decision is a major development for this White House.

BASH: And not to state the obvious too much, but it is important to note that part of the reason why this matters is because the expectation is that whomever the Republican nominee is, and Joe Biden, the race will be so, so close. So any additional candidate who will take votes away potentially from Joe Biden scares Democrats.

MITCHELL: Right. And even if the candidate pulls or takes a very small percentage, it could be a decision maker. I think it seems like what they're allowing Cornel West to do, or perhaps suggesting that he do is run for president, have the platform, make his points about progressive politics about the poor and working class, but in a way that is less threatening to Joe Biden.

So he still gets to say I'm running for president and have his moments, but not with the same valid access, not with the same level of threats.

BASH: Yes, very smart. That's very true. And he has been around for a long time. I remember covering him on the Bradley campaign, Bill Bradley.

ZELENY: Right, back in 1999.


BASH: Yes. Google it, everybody. We lived it.

The vote to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House exposes deep polarization in Congress. What does it mean for something more fundamental, and that is democracy. We're going to talk about it with a veteran GOP strategist, next.



BASH: The House of Representatives is without a speaker and no one knows how long it could last. The chaos is alarming, even for Capitol Hill these days. But what does McCarthy's ouster mean more broadly for the future of American democracy?

Well, here's what Daniel Ziblatt, a government professor at Harvard told The Washington Post. He said, "If you want to know what it looks like when democracy is in trouble, this is what it looks like. It should set off alarm bells that something is not right".

Pollster and Communications Strategist Frank Luntz joins me now. Thank you so much for being here. I should say, at the outset to our viewers know that Kevin McCarthy is a very good friend of yours. And you are personally saddened by what happened.

I want you to talk about this from your experience for many, many years of helping Republicans with communication, with polling, and looking ahead to how to fix this. And by this, I do mean, democracy.

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: It's the right question to ask, and I'm grateful for this opportunity. The one thing that the American people are demanding from the politicians, from business leaders, from people like yourselves is the truth. And so one thing that we've lost in this society, why did this happen? What is the cause? What's really going on behind the surface?

The public doesn't trust anyone anymore. They don't trust the institutions that govern them. And they don't trust the people inside those institutions. So that's the highest priority. And the second highest priority is accountability.

The idea that if you make a mistake, own up to it, publicize it, and then learn from that mistake. And what scares me the most -- and I am scared for the future of democracy -- is the idea that no one is acting reasonably, sensibly and responsibly.

It is not about ideology, and it's not about partisanship. It's about results for the American people right now. McCarthy found a way to keep the government opened, and how did they treat him? They throw him out. And that's something that the American people do not understand.

BASH: And you heard most of the eight who voted no saying that they didn't trust Kevin McCarthy anymore. Take that for what it is. I mean, I'm sure you ascribe different motives. But again, asking about the future speaker, there has to be one, it's a constitutional role, how will the Republican Party get around that trust deficit? Because it's pretty clear that Democrats are not going to -- it's going to be a Republican decision who becomes the next speaker.

LUNTZ: Well, it's very difficult because if you're a Democrat and listening to me right now, you want them to stand firm against whatever the Republicans offer. And if you're Republican, you want to shut the government down.

By the way, a majority of Republicans do not. Grassroots Republicans do not. Only Washington does. And Dana, probably the most important thing I could inform viewers is that Washington has a different message than you all.

Washington thinks that everybody should be fighting, that everyone should be arguing, stand your ground, don't compromise, don't give in. And yet the American people, that's one of the reasons why Congress's approval rating is so low on both sides. Democrats, Republicans, the Senate, the House, is that they don't want this fight.

They want an end to wasteful Washington spending. They would prefer no tax increases, but they don't want the government shut down. Those eight members chose a decision, chose a path that is not what grassroots Republicans are looking for.

BASH: And so the question --

LUNTZ: It's not that they want you to --

BASH: Go ahead.

LUNTZ: Sorry, go ahead. It's not that they want you to give in. Neither side wants that. But in the end, the vast majority of the vast political apparatchik out there is for argument and for conflict. And what the public is saying is cut it out. It's why so many people are looking for a third alternative.

I listened to your segment before this. An increasing number of Americans will choose an independent candidate, someone who's not aligned with the Republicans and Democrats precisely for what happened and Kevin McCarthy's getting thrown out because they think that neither party offer the solutions, offered the result or have the ability to get it done.

BASH: Well, we're out of time, but we have a whole lot more to talk about because the threat of a government shutdown is still very much hanging over a Washington right now because the deadline is mid- November, and who knows how that's going to happen.

Frank Luntz, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

LUNTZ: It's a privilege, Dana.

BASH: And later today, a memorial service will take place to honor the late Senator Dianne Feinstein at San Francisco City Hall. A private burial will follow.

The 90-year-old Feinstein was the first woman elected to the Senate from California where she already established herself as a force there for decades. She passed away last Thursday after multiple health issues.

Speakers at her memorial will include Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Chuck Schumer and Feinstein's long-time friend and colleague from San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi. The service will also include taped remarks from President Biden.

May her memory be a blessing.

Thank you so much for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts right now.