Return to Transcripts main page
Poll: Haley Surges To 2nd In NH But Trump Still Has Big Lead; Poll: Half Of NH GOP Voters Say They've Firmly Made Up Their Mind; Trump Leads In Every National And Early-State Primary Polls; Poll: NH GOP Voters Opinion Of Ramaswamy Declines; Ethics Committee Finds "Substantial Evidence" Santos Broke Law; Santos Says He Won't Seek Reelection After Damming Ethics Report; Biden Faces Tough Questions On U.S.-China Relationship. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired November 16, 2023 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on INSIDE POLITICS, rising fast. A brand new CNN poll out this hour reveals the shifting sands of the 2024 race in the critical battleground state of New Hampshire. One candidate has surged to second, while another has plummeted into the single digits.
Plus, substantial evidence. That's what a damning new report from the House Ethics Committee says about George Santos stealing from his own campaign, among other things. So just how long can the embattled congressman from New York hold on to his seat. and trust but verify that's how President Biden is describing his approach to Xi Jinping. But he also called the Chinese president a dictator after their critical summit. Can the two superpowers still play nice?
I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at INSIDE POLITICS.
We start with CNN's brand new exclusive polling out of that critical primary state, New Hampshire. Donald Trump remains the frontrunner vaguely. But there are new data points for other candidates that are showing a shift in the field.
CNN political director David Chalian is at the wall. David, tell us about what this says for the former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you're noting her movement, but we should remind folks here, Donald Trump is still way out in front in the first -- in the nation primary state. Our brand new poll conducted with University of New Hampshire UNH. Donald Trump is at 42 percent of likely Republican primary voters, Nikki Haley is at 20 percent. Now that's a 22-point lead and that is big.
I'm going to show you something here, you're going to see her growth. Christie third at 14 percent, DeSantis, Ramaswamy now in single digits, Doug Burgum down to 2 percent. And look at the change over time, Dana.
Nikki Haley is up eight percentage points since September from 12 to 20. That is the real movement in this poll. You see, Trump is holding about even Christie upticks a little bit. The other significant movement here is down five points for Vivek Ramaswamy from 13 to eight. And I know there's not much moving for DeSantis but psychologically getting down into single digit -- that glory direction.
BASH: Yes. So, we'd like to talk about how solid sticky the support is for these candidates. What's the answer?
CHALIAN: Well, we asked folks is your mind made up? Or is there room here for folks to make a case? A majority 52 percent of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire say they are definitely decided, 35 percent say they're leaning to someone, just 12 percent say they are still deciding.
But if you add in Trump supporters here and just take a look, those who say Donald Trump is their choice in this primary. 83 percent, Dana, say they are solidly locked in, that is the stickiness of his support. 11 percent of Trump supporters are leaning to someone they consider themselves sort of leaders, 5 percent still deciding.
And as you know, one of the main arguments that we're hearing from candidates not named Trump is that he can't win. And that argument is falling on deaf ears with this New Hampshire Republican primary electorate. Look at this movement. Donald Trump back in September, 51 percent of likely Republican primary voters said he had the best chance of winning a general election. That's now up just 57 percent. So he's up six points on electability.
Now you see Haley is made progress on electability too, she's up five, DeSantis way down on this score. He's down 11 points on being seen as the one with the best chance to win. But it's not an argument that people are hearing that Donald Trump can't win the general election.
BASH: You know, and when you initially look at this kind of poll, you think, well, these are just people kind of playing pundit, but it's not just that. It is how they view a candidate and whether or not they think that that Republican can be Donald Trump and that dictates their vote. There's another side to this question.
CHALIAN: Yes. We ask people who have you ruled out and you'll never support. You may remember, this has always been Christie's weak point, right? It's like he doesn't fit with the modern-day Republican electorate. In September, he was at 60 percent of likely Republican New Hampshire, primary voters saying never support. He has made progress on that. That's now down to 47 percent. Now that's still the largest chunk of all these folks, right?
32 percent say they will never support Trump. You see here, Haley's got the lowest here, she only 24 percent rule her out entirely, but Christie as time goes on and he invest so much in New Hampshire, he's making a little bit of progress to at least be considered an option.
BASH: That's really interesting. We want to go back to Nikki Haley, because she is sort of the story along with Chris Christie in this poll. Yesterday, she was asked about why she doesn't think this is the right time for Donald Trump and what she would say if she were asked to be his vice president. Listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chaos follows him. Everywhere he goes, chaos follows him. And then a time where we need to start getting our act together. Do we really want to go that route? I don't think we do. I don't think the American people do.
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, CNBC CO-ANCHOR, SQUAWK BOX: Let me ask you this. If in fact, he becomes the nominee and he calls you up and says, I want you to be my vice president. Would you do that?
HALEY: I don't play for a second. I've never played for a second. I'm not going to start now.
ROSS SORKIN: But would you accept -- would you take that position?
HALEY: I'm not playing for a second. I'm not going to do it. I am running because this country is in trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Our brilliant reporters are here to break all of this down, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Alayna Treene, PBS Newshour's Laura Barron- Lopez, and of course, David Chalian is now back at the table with us. Jeff Zeleny, you are out on the campaign trail a lot, including and especially in New Hampshire. Does what we're seeing here match with the kind of sentiment you're seeing on the ground?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It definitely does. I was in New Hampshire just a little over a week ago with Nikki Haley. And you can feel the excitement about surrounding her. You can see it in her crowd size. Really you can mark this since the debate time. I mean, the debates have not had an effect on the overall trajectory of the race with Donald Trump, of course, still the commanding leader, but without question, it's helped her.
There's an excitement level for Nikki Haley in New Hampshire. That kind of fits the state's electorate and we've all covered New Hampshire for a long time. It's a state where there's a lot of independent sort of minds. So, and she's been much softer, I guess, in her views on abortion. She's called for a consensus. So yes, it definitely fits that. But it also fits the overall picture that Donald Trump is still in the driver's seat here and also Chris Christie.
He has a special connection, I guess, to those independent voters as well. When you add Christie and Haley up, you're getting close to a challenge there of Donald Trump. But that's not how this works. I mean, not for Trump. He benefits from the division here, even though. And I think one small thing on DeSantis it's just reinforces the fact that now we know for sure why all of his eggs are in Iowa's basket.
BASH: Yes. Oh, that's such a good point. You cover Donald Trump for us. Let's just pull up some specifics. When we look at the person who is still far and away the frontrunner in New Hampshire just like everywhere else. Policy position 67 percent, physical and mental fitness 63 percent, understanding people like you 60, honesty and integrity 46, temperament 37. I don't think anything in those numbers will particularly at the end are surprising.
ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: No. I mean, listen, I think New Hampshire is such an interesting state. And you look at the other candidates as well. A lot of them see the path to besting Trump through New Hampshire, people like Chris Christie. That's why they're spending so much time there.
But I was in New Hampshire as well last weekend for Donald Trump's rally in Claremont, a small town in New Hampshire. And I talked to voters, and they are very excited about him. Even though other people are trying to make a play for the state. They think that this is a place where they can gain enough support to maybe become second place the Trump alternative.
A lot of the voters that I talked about that rally we're all in on Donald Trump with very much supports the poll numbers that say, you know, the people who are decided and the Trump voters who have decided are very much with him. And that is what I keep hearing on the road, not just in New Hampshire, but in all the other states as well.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: I mean, look, I think that this polling is interesting because the fact that Haley is surging well over DeSantis. But again, to your point, Jeff, this isn't a true primary competition. I mean, Trump is far and ahead above all of the other candidates.
And unless they start to drop out between now and January, then Haley is not going to see any coalescing around herself from the majority of these voters, and she's not going to really have a chance at taking Donald Trump down. And there's no indication despite some Republican saying that they hope that they can coalesce around this alternative candidate. There's no indication from establishment that they're actually going to do what they need to do to make sure that that happens.
CHALIAN: And just I want to pick up on Jeff's point about the independence, the undeclared, those that are not registered in a party, and they can play and go vote in the Republican primary New Hampshire. And if you look at our poll, Trump, Christie and Haley are splitting independents roughly evenly, they each are getting sort of an equal share of them. Trump is so strong with registered Republicans he's dominating in that force. So, we in this poll I think 43 percent of the likely Republican electorate in this poll are independents.
And if you look back at 2012, the last time there was a Republican primary in New Hampshire without action on the -- real action on the Democratic side. It was about that -- it was about 45 percent of the overall Republican primary electorate were actually independents. And so, I'll be curious to see how Haley and Christie specifically tried to increase and bring in more and more independents into the electorate.
BASH: I want to just look at one other, well, there's lots of interesting data in this poll. But one that is really striking is the opinion of Vivek Ramaswamy because he was ascending for a little bit. Boy, has that changed. I mean, look at those numbers since just September where he was -- this is his favourability, plus 12, now negative 10.
ZELENY: I mean, he's done little to improve his likeability. Obviously, we've seen it on the debate stages, he picks fights, he talks over people and the things he does on the campaign trail. I'm thinking of one, a video of his campaign put out about going wakeboarding in a suit in Miami after the debate. It's very viral. I mean, his campaign is more directed toward a different crowd than the New Hampshire electorate. That is clear.
Look, and we've seen a similar fall in Iowa in some polling there. But look, he's still a factor in the race. He certainly is in a Nikki Haley's head, and they've been sort of going back and forth. So even though he may not, you know, he doesn't seem prepared or projected to win, he could still be a factor.
BASH: He could absolutely be a factor.
ZELENY: It is hitting bomb, perhaps.
BASH: Yes, maybe. It's just a reminder that Trump is in a category of his own. That he can do all of these things that Vivek Ramaswamy does, but he does it in his own way. And he does it in a way that of course, alienates some people but not like this.
BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. And Ramaswamy and DeSantis both have tried to be Trump -- like Trump 2.0 or a different version of Trump, but not really. And it's showing that that's not actually what's working, especially in a state like New Hampshire. They want someone that is actually going to take on. Those independents want someone that is actually going to take on the type of party that Trump has created in his image.
And that's why Haley and Christie we are seeing move ahead, and the Ramaswamy and DeSantis is who are saying, if you don't want Trump, you can get me who's just like Trump. It's not working because Trump is on the ballot.
TREENE: And just to add to that, I think when I talk to Donald Trump's team and his advisers and talking about New Hampshire, I'm sure they're going to be happy about these numbers. It's interesting because they know that the strategy of others is to try to win through the primaries that they can do well in Iowa, they can do well in New Hampshire, maybe they have a shot.
Similarly, Trump's team thinks that if he can do really well in Iowa, New Hampshire as he is showing to do in the polls, they think that that will essentially determine the race and the others are going to fall like dominoes after that and that's their game plan..
ZELENY: And they're likely right about that.
TREENE: Yes. I agree.
BASH: I'm actually going to speak with Chris Christie about this brand new poll later in this hour. But first, a damning ethics report for embattled Congressman George Santos. How long can he keep his seat? That is the question now. Will tell you what this report said next.
BASH: Breaking news from Capitol Hill, a House Ethics Committee report found substantial evidence that Congressman George Santos broke the law. And their highly anticipated report, the committee writes that Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of this House candidacy for his own personal financial profit, blatantly stole from his campaign and deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefits.
CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill. I mean I have never read anything like this, it's pretty remarkable.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And in addition to that, it says in the report, he sustained all of that through, "constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and his experience." Now the question for George Santos is how long he can remain in his seat.
He just announced moments ago that he would not run for reelection, despite telling me just a couple of weeks ago that he absolutely would run even if he were expelled. We do expect the chairman of this committee, the Republican chairman, Michael guest tomorrow to file a resolution to kick him out of the House, which will need two thirds majority to succeed.
The question is, can he get there? Now, among the things that are detailed in this report is one of the aspects of that he knowingly falsified his financial disclosures with the House that it's also part of the 23-count indictment that George Santos is facing. Santos has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I asked Santos about that exact situation, about allegedly filing those false disclosures with the House and here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: In the indictment, it says, and this is the serious part about filing false reports with the House, allegedly, financials. They said you made up your income. And that could be a problem for your ethics problem. What happened? I mean did you not list your income properly here? REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): All I can say is, first, no, that's not true. Second, were there mistakes made on those forms? Now I know they were. Was I -- were they malicious? No. Did I understand the reporting date? So, this is from last year to current date this year? No, I didn't understand how that work. And I'm a new candidate and I'm sorry that like mistakes are made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now Santos has not formally responded other than through on social media saying if there was a single ounce of ethics in this ethics committee, they would have not released his bias report. He went on to say, the committee went to extraordinary lengths to smear myself and my legal team about me and not being forthcoming. Now he did not participate in an interview with this committee.
They had asked him for a voluntary interview. He said no, they decided not to also have a formal recommendation to expel him, Dana. And the big reason why, according to the chairman, is that it would extend this even further into next year, this probe so decided to do it this way but still this so significant and could lead to his expulsion, something that could happen by the end of the month.
BASH: That's such an important point is that you're making there Manu that the ethics committee intentionally didn't put in the recommendation to expel because they wanted it to happen quicker, which is fascinating. Manu, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it. The panel is still with me here.
I mean, you know, this is -- I mean, this is it. It's not that long. I mean, the evidence is much longer, but it is so sharp, so blunt, there is absolutely no room for any gray area at all, absolutely unanimous about everything that he did fraudulently, exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit, blatantly stole from his campaign, deceived donors into providing payments for his personal benefit, fictitious loans for his political committees, use connections with high value donors to obtain additional money for himself sustained. All of this through series of lies to his constituents, to his donors to his staff.
ZELENY: Essentially guilty of what we've been reading about first in the New York Times, and then here and elsewhere. I mean, it's all confirmed. He can put out a statement at the end for going after the ethics probe. But he did not cooperate as Manu said. He did not give an interview. So, he has nothing to say.
And the reason that they didn't subpoena him is also interesting because they didn't find him credible. And they said he would simply embellish this. So, the reality is, this has been a huge black eye on the House in a year -- in a term of Congress of many, this certainly will stand out but it's an embarrassment.
BASH: Laura, you've been looking through some of the evidence. BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. The report, which is about 55 pages, it says that Santos spent some of his campaign money on Botox treatments, on lavish Atlantic City trips with his husband. And it also on that fictitious part that you mentioned, Dana, it says that he really tried to create this entire fictional narrative around how he was spending the money to cover it all up, essentially. And another important point, I think is that the House Ethics Committee is evenly split. It's half Democrats, veteran half Republicans, and they all unanimously voted in support of this report.
BASH: Apparently, I'm told that he also spent some of this campaign money on OnlyFans, which is apparently a porn site. So that's good use, I'm sure of his donor money. This question about what happens in the future. The vote to expel him, it looks like it's going to happen soon. He did change course and say he's not going to run for reelection.
Just want to read a tweet from one of his fellow New Yorkers. As expected, this report confirms what we knew George Santos is a fraud -- committed fraud and should not serve in the House of Representatives. This is why I call for his resignation voted for his expulsion. I believe he needs to be removed from Congress. Again, this is a fellow New York Republican, and we should say on politics, these New York Republicans gave the House the majority in the GOP.
TREENE: They did. And I think what happens next is going to be really fascinating to watch especially because, you know, they have tried to bring up expulsion before for George Santos. I think many people didn't vote for it because they wanted to wait and see this ethics report, now that they have it, now that you know, as Laura mentioned, they voted unanimously to bring this to the floor.
I think it's going to be a very different game when expulsion comes up next. And the fact that he announced that he is not going to seek reelection, even though he's saying that this report is a smear campaign against him and denying the, you know, the substance of what is in the report.
That does bring a lot of questions for what will happen next, especially if he does ultimately get, you know, if he ultimately is expelled from the House. That could have been a special election. What does that mean for the numbers and small majority? There's a lot to be thought about there.
BASH: OK. Everybody standby because I want you to look at a picture. It's a handshake between two leaders of the world's -- two biggest superpowers. but beyond the niceties, there was some harsh words from President Biden for China's longtime leader. We'll talk about that next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: President Biden took questions on some of the thorniest issues facing his administration in a wide-ranging press conference after his high stakes summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping last night. But President Biden made the biggest splash when asked by our very own MJ Lee whether he still considers Xi a dictator?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Mr. President, after today would you still refer to President Xi as a dictator? This is a term that you used earlier this year.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, look, he is. I mean, he's a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country that a communist country that is based on a form of government that is totally different than ours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)