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Inside Politics

Zelenskyy To Visit U.S. With Aid Stalled In Congress; Johnson Prepares For Biden Impeachment Inquiry; This Week: House Expected To Vote On Launching Official Biden Impeachment Investigation; Trump: "I Want To Be A Dictator For One Day"; Special Counsel Asks Supreme Court To Resolve Whether Trump Has Immunity From Prosecution. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 11, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Ukraine is running out of ammunition and running out of time. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be in Washington tomorrow to meet with President Biden and top lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Johnson. His goal is to convince Congress, especially Republicans, to invest in his country's existential fight with Russia. Zelenskyy's crucial last ditch lobbying effort comes as Congress remains stalled on an aid package for Ukraine, Israel and others.

CNN's Manu Raju is following this from Capitol Hill. Manu, what are you hearing about the welcome that he will get or whether or not people are in sort of the mood to be open to changing their minds?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be very hard for the president of Ukraine to change the dynamic here on Capitol Hill. Republicans are dead set, even the ones who are staunchly supportive of Ukraine, insisting first that there needs to be changes to immigration laws, tightening the laws at the border given the migrant surge that is happening there.

And they have proposed changes to asylum laws as well as parole laws, how the president can grant parole to migrants crossing the border. Those changes, though, have gone nowhere because Democrats say that they go far -- they go way too far. Some even too prominent Hispanic Democrats came out today said doing so would essentially lock in the Donald Trump hardline immigration policies.

So there is this lingering divide over immigration. And that's exactly what Republicans say needs to be resolved first before they will agree to greenlight more funding for Ukraine and with it aid to Israel as well. So even this pitch, this concerns that Zelenskyy, undoubtedly the raise tomorrow that if it does not get enacted this month, that Ukraine could fall to Russia. Changing the dynamic and the politics in the capital is unlikely despite those urgent pleas we expect tomorrow morning.


BASH: And let's switch topics to impeachment, Manu. House Republicans are turning up the heat on President Biden. They say they're ready to launch an impeachment inquiry. Listen to what House Speaker Mike Johnson said over the weekend about that.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Next to the declaration of war, I think impeachment is probably the heaviest power that the Congress has, the House specifically under the Constitution. So we have to be very methodical and careful and follow the facts where they lead. The impeachment inquiry is the next necessary step because the White House is now stonewalling our investigation.


BASH: What are you hearing, Manu?

RAJU: Well, the impeachment inquiry has been going on since September, since when then Speaker McCarthy announced that he would move forward with this unilaterally without a vote of the House. There does not actually need to be a vote of the House, but Republican leaders want to show some forward momentum here.

But to do so, they need to convince all but three Republicans to vote for this going forward. And at the moment, it appears that vulnerable Republicans plan to endorse this idea of authorizing an impeachment inquiry. But I spoke to several of those vulnerable members, and they are making clear here that, yes, they'll be -- they're OK with allowing the investigation to go forward, but some of them are making clear they want to focus on other priorities instead.


REP. JEN KIGGANS (R), VIRGINIA: I have said before, and I'll say again, I think the American people deserve the right to know answers to questions. However, I really also believe that we need to continue to focus on the priorities that we had coming into this Congress.

REP. JOHN DUARTE (R), CALIFORNIA: I'm very comfortable with the impeachment inquiry at this point.

RAJU: Do you think your constituents want you to be pursuing an impeachment inquiry?

DUARTE: I don't believe this is an issue of my constituents or the political effects.

REP. DON BACON (R), NEBRASKA: An inquiry is so much different than an impeachment. I don't think so. This is just -- we're trying to get the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: So that is the question, where does this go from here? We do expect one Republican to vote against this, at least on Wednesday when it comes for a vote. That's Ken Buck of Colorado. But will they actually get the votes ultimately to impeach Joe Biden, making him just the fourth president ever to be impeached by the House representatives?

Right now, they simply don't have the votes for that because a lot of the Republicans say the evidence simply is not there yet to connect Hunter Biden to Joe Biden. And that's what Republicans who are investigating this want to prove in the weeks ahead.

BASH: Manu, thank you for all that reporting. Appreciate it.

And former President Donald Trump doubled down this weekend on his plan to be a dictator, but only for one day. Should we take him literally?



BASH: This weekend, Donald Trump doubled down on comments he made about being a dictator, though, he promises only for a day.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the past few weeks, the radical left Democrats and their fake news allies have unveiled their newest hoax, that Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party are a threat to democracy. Do you believe that?

We call it now the threat to democracy hoax. Because that's what it is. I said I want to be a dictator for one day. But the New York Times said, and you know why I wanted to be a dictator? Because I want a wall, right? I want a wall, and I want to drill, drill, drill.


BASH: The Atlantic is out this month with an entire issue dedicated to concerns about threats to democracy that a second Trump administration could represent. In an editor's note, Jeffrey Goldberg writes, "Our concern with Trump is not that he is a Republican or that he embraces, when convenient, certain conservative ideas. Our concern is that the Republican Party has mortgaged itself to an antidemocratic demagogue, one who is completely devoid of decency."

Joining me now is the person who wrote that, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg. So, obviously, you wrote that before the dictator for a day comments both last weekend and this past weekend as well. What do you make of --


BASH: -- those comments? GOLDBERG: I don't know. You know, we put out a whole special issue, and then he just goes and says it. You know, we put a lot of work to -- a lot of work in there to try to prove that he has dictatorial tendencies. And then he just goes and says it, which, by the way, is his kind of superpower in a way.

You know, he -- unlike other politicians who -- when they say something outrageous, they walk it back. He goes further. You know, we've seen that since 2015 when he started attacking John McCain, you know, a war hero, as a, you know, a kind of person that's worthy of disrespect.

And so, this is part of a pattern. It's -- he neutralizes the serious criticism by embracing it, and he overturns the traditional rules of political physics. But here we are. He's embracing this idea that he's going to be a dictator. And don't think that -- I think that American citizens who take politicians and politics seriously ought to consider the fact that the putative nominee of one of the two major parties is promising to rule as a dictator.

I know he says for one day, I don't even know what that means. I mean, this is just -- we're at a level of absurdity here, and he's telling us what he's going to do.

BASH: Let's listen to some of the response from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, some who are fans of Donald Trump, some who are not.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's entertainment. You know, we've been around him long enough. It's entertaining.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was a joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's probably just fairly kind of typical Trump rhetoric.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all know Trump uses unique expressions when he explains things.


BASH: It sort of reminds me, Jeffrey, of Corey Lewandowski when he was Donald Trump's campaign manager back in 2015, beginning of 2016, where he said, you should take Donald Trump seriously, but not literally. But I feel like --


BASH: -- the four years of his presidency changed maybe the way we should view him. We should not be surprised by not just the things he says, but the things that he does.

GOLDBERG: Right. I'll make two quick points about the reaction that you played there from members of Congress. The first is that you and I both know plenty of people in Congress, plenty of Republicans in Congress, and we know who they actually feel about Donald Trump. They're scared of Donald Trump. They're repulsed by Donald Trump. They don't like antidemocratic language, most of them, at least, but they're frightened for their jobs.

And so this is not what they say on camera, is not what they say privately. Some of them say it publicly, like Mitt Romney and people like that. And they tend to be the people who leave Congress. The second point is there's a double standard here because, you know, these same people -- let's use the war in the Middle East as an example.

Hamas and Iran say things about Israel and Jews and America, and they say outrageous things. And these guys quite fairly say, believe them when they say what they -- well, they're not just joking. Believe people when they tell you what they want to do and what they set out to do.

So, you know, I'm not comparing American politicians to Hamas, God forbid, but I'm saying, like, let's apply the standard here. When political leaders of any stripe, political groups of any stripe, say to you what they're going to do, it's best for you to believe them and not dismiss it as a joke.

I mean, we already have January 6th as evidence that Donald Trump does not want to conform to the norms of democratic behavior. So I find their sort of dismissal disconcerting.

BASH: Jeffrey Goldberg, thank you so much for coming on. The entire issue, as we said, is dedicated to what a Donald Trump second term would look like. And it's like everything you do incredibly well thought out and well explored and explained and reported. Appreciate you coming on.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

BASH: Up next, breaking news on Special Counsel Jack Smith. He's taking his case to the Supreme Court.



BASH: Breaking news, Special Counsel Jack Smith is asking the Supreme Court to decide whether Donald Trump has immunity from criminal prosecution for alleged crimes he committed while in office. CNN's Paula Reid and Joan Biskupic join me now. Paula, explain what Jack Smith asked of the Supreme Court exactly.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This is huge. This is the first time the special counsel is going right to the Supreme Court, and he is asking them to decide the question of whether former President Trump is immune from criminal prosecution. Now, this is a question that Trump has been litigating. He lost at the district court level. He said he intended to appeal, but usually an appeal would at least first go to the court of appeals and then, depending on what happens there, possibly go to the Supreme Court. But the special counsel here is saying, no, no, just you guys take this up now because, yes, this is an interesting constitutional question, but the special counsel is mindful of the calendar.

This is all about timing. So here the special counsel is saying, look, we need you to decide this now so that this case can go on as planned in March. In fact, they're also saying that, look, even if you don't want to take this question up, if you don't want to skip the court of appeals, can you at least tell the Court of Appeals to do this quickly?

Because, Dana, if a question like this goes through the normal channels, it can take months --

BASH: Yes.

REID: -- possibly well over a year to decide this, which could push that trial until after the election.

BASH: Joan, how likely is it, based on your experience in covering the court, that they will say yes to short circuiting the process?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, what Jack Smith has done with his team is to point up very important precedent, taking us all back to the summer of 1974 and the Watergate era and the tapes case. And what Jack Smith is saying here is that this court was able to handle that kind of urgent question back in 1974, heard arguments.

I think they got the petition in the summer, June, July. They heard arguments roughly July 9th, if I'm remembering right, and they issued an opinion on July 24. This was all in a matter of days. And we know what the consequence there was. The court said unanimously that Richard Nixon did not have absolute privilege to withhold those tapes.

This kind of question is exactly of that magnitude now. And what they're saying is today is what the 11th, they're saying if get the response from the other side, from the Trump team by December 18th, and we will waive a longer response period ourselves to get this all on the calendar as soon as possible. And the justices actually could do it.


They have space in their calendar to do this. It's not -- we don't have the kind of term we had two years ago. They don't have yet a big abortion case pending. They could pick one up this Wednesday, actually, the abortion medication case. But what Jack Smith has tried to do here is say, whatever else you have, this is so important.

BASH: Yes.

BISKUPIC: It involves the, obviously, things stemming from January 6, the imminence of the trial coming, and the need for the Supreme Court to step in and resolve this immunity --

BASH: Yes.

BISKUPIC: -- question is so important.

BASH: Yes, what you just said is -- well, all of what you both said is very important. But the precedent, the fact that Jack Smith is pointing to Watergate --


BASH: -- and not only is that critical for president, it also reminds all of us how, to use your word, huge. This is and would be when it comes to the ability or inability to prosecute a former president and whether or not he would be immune from these alleged crimes.

Thank you both so much. I'm sure we're going to see you all day today explaining even more as you get more information. And thank you so much for watching Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after the break.