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Inside Politics

White House Readies For Fight After House Launches Formal Probe; Swing Voters Unsold On Evidence Behind Impeachment Inquiry; Biden Campaign Fundraising Off House Impeachment Vote; Biden: Impeachment Inquiry Is A "Baseless Political Stunt"; Judge Pauses Trump's Federal Election Subversion Case; Christie Downplays Sununu's Haley Endorsement: It's "One Vote"; Haley, Christie Trade Barbs On Abortion Rhetoric. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, a baseless political stunt. That's how President Biden is describing House Republicans impeachment inquiry. Republicans say they're just following the evidence, though so far, they haven't produced it.

Plus, Donald Trump is celebrating after a judge hit pause on the election submerging case against him well, appeal play out. It means his scheduled March trial could be delayed potentially for months. And more signs of an economy that's actually in pretty good shape. Stocks are at record highs. Inflation is down. Economists think the worst might be behind us. The big question is how voters see it.

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

We start today with the Biden impeachment fight. We have not yet seen evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden. But yesterday, the GOP led House voted to officially begin an impeachment investigation into matters related to his son Hunter's business dealings.

That means, the early months of 2024 could be dominated by impeachment hearings and potentially a trial in the U.S. Senate. Democrats say it is a political stunt. When they hope, will backfire politically on Republicans in an election year.

Let's start with CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House. Arlette, what are you hearing from sources inside the White House, and of course, the Biden reelection campaign?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the Biden campaign is trying to use this opportunity turning into a political advantage for them. I'm told that they started fundraising off of this impeachment inquiry vote last night. And already that email that was sent in Vice President Kamala Harris's name, it is the best performing email sent by the campaign.

Just this month, the vice president wrote in that email, "House Republicans just launched a ridiculous impeachment inquiry into President Biden that lacks real evidence and that they themselves admit is all about politics." So, this is just one of the examples of how the campaign is trying to use this to their political advantage.

Believing ultimately that Republicans pushed to launch this impeachment inquiry will backfire on them. We have heard messaging from the campaign, arguing that this is simply an attempt to prop up former President Donald Trump's a reelection campaign, that is messaging that I'm told. The Biden campaign will continue to stress in the coming weeks and months as this impeachment inquiry is playing out.

And here at the White House, they have repeated their refrains that they view this as a political stunt. You also had a very rare a full statement from President Biden, just yesterday when he tried to put this into stark contrast, saying that while he is focused on working for the American people. House Republicans are focused on what he called a baseless political stunt.

And what this impeachment inquiry vote does, is it formalizes a process that House Republicans have been engaging in for nearly a year. So far, the investigations into President Biden have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of President Biden. But what the House Republicans are hoping for is that this impeached -- formal impeachment inquiry will now give them the tools to try to seek out more information.

But there is still a big question of whether this will actually lead to a formal impeachment of President Biden down the road. But it's very clear that this could become a key issue heading into the 2024 campaign, as Republicans play to continue these investigations into Biden. While Biden and his campaign are trying to stress that they are simply doing the bidding of former President Donald Trump.

BASH: It's so interesting that reporting Arlette that the fundraising effort off of impeachment has done the best so far of any of their fundraising appeals. Thank you so much for that. Let's talk more about this with the panel here. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Carl Hulse of The New York Times and Bloomberg Saleha Mohsin. Thank you. Nice to see you one at all.

I want to start picking up where Arlette left off, which is on the reaction from the White House. I want you to listen to what Ian Sams, who is a spokesperson for the White House Counsel's Office said on CNN this morning.



IAN SAMS, SENIOR ADVISER AND SPOKESPERSON FOR WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL'S OFFICE: We've offered over and over and over again throughout this Congress to meet with them, to talk with them, to hear about any legitimate informational needs that they may have. And time and time again they've ghosted us. And there's a reason why -- the reason why is that this is a preordained outcome. If they've decided from the moment that he took office that they were going to impeach him. And this is a natural continuation of that process.


BASH: Carl Hulse, you spend your days walking the halls of Congress. Are you hearing anything from -- let's just start with sort of the evidence. Are you hearing anything from the Republicans who are spearheading this that they actually are going to be able to produce some evidence that backs up these claims against Hunter Biden?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: So far, I don't think beyond anything that they've shown us, right. It wasn't particularly convincing. I do think that this wasn't that hard to vote for House Republicans. And that they -- you know, they were just voting to do what they're doing. And they can explain to their voters. Well, what's wrong with an investigation.

But I think we've seen this movie before, and it was about Benghazi. And if you remember, they're going to -- they drag this investigation out. And as Kevin McCarthy famously said, at work, because we drove down Hillary's poll numbers. You know, this is going to go on for a while. It goes nowhere in the Senate.

And I did hear a Republican pretty high up Republican this week, who said, maybe we should just censure Biden at the end of this because it'll be better, or it wouldn't go to the Senate where they throw it out immediately and undermine it. So, there's a lot going on here. But I do think it's -- you know, this is -- it's going to -- it's the election here and this investigation will proceed.

BASH: Well, you say it's about Benghazi. What we were looking at was the last time there was -- or the first time in the Trump administration, there was an impeachment investigation of an impeachment vote and his numbers actually politically went up.


BASH: And that's what Democrats and the Biden White House -- that's what they're exactly ---

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: If you look at Biden's numbers over these last months or a few weeks where he's really been losing support and losing steam is with his base. Now, some folks are saying, well that's really driven by what's happening in Israel, Hamas. That these are younger voters who are disillusioned disappointed in the president and the administration stance there.

I don't know if impeachment is the thing that brings them home, right, versus the engagement process. And you already see the Biden campaign leaning into this idea that we have to make this a choice. We have to make it very clear to our voters that what the stakes are in this election. And so, every week they're rolling out.

Here are the terrible things that Trump would do as president. Here are the terrible things that Trump has said. We need to rally around Biden, even if you're not excited about him, even if you think there should be somebody else as the nominee, even if you don't like what's happening in Israel. He is the only person to defeat the bigger existential threat. And this makes it pretty obvious.

For voters, though, who aren't in Democratic camp. For independent voters and voters who aren't paying a lot of attention. I just think they see this and they're like, well, that's just business in Washington now. We do impeachments. That's what they do.

BASH: You know, we actually have some information or a clip from a focus group of voters who went for Trump in 2016, Biden in 2020, asking about this very issue about impeachment. Let's watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe support an impeachment inquiry to look into what's going on financially among the Biden's, none of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are the facts? And where are the evidence? I really largely think that a lot of the talk about impeachment inquiries and corruptness of the Biden's is political posturing and its noise.


BASH: Jeff, you're on the campaign trail a lot. You just got back this morning from New Hampshire. Does that comport with what you hear on the trail, particularly from voters who are not sure how to go?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It does. I mean, just sort of one more example of why people don't like Washington. So, in the short-term, it may be politically beneficial for the Biden campaign. I'm sort of struck by something Arlette said. I guess it's good news and bad news that this fundraising appeal was the best of the month because that shows one other thing that they've struggled a little bit to sort of rally Democrats for reasons that Amy was saying.

But look, you also sort of bigger picture bigger than Joe Biden, bigger than Donald Trump is every president now who we cover going to be impeached. And that seems to be where this country is moving. And that is what frustrates voters. They think that politicians are in it for themselves. They think that no one is sort of acting in good faith.

So as a matter of American history, as a matter of why normal people don't like Washington, I think this is the reason. But front and center more immediately than that is it, you know, the plates are pretty full.


For 2024, there is going to be criminal trials for Donald Trump already in a reelection campaign, now this impeachment. So, I'm not sure he know how the politics of this play. The Democrats believe it's good for them. I don't know it exposes quite a bit of Hunter Biden and other things that turns people off.

BASH: So that on the presidential level. One of the questions is how this is going to affect the House. And whether or not Republicans can keep the House. Listen to Mike Lawler, a moderate Republican from a very vulnerable district said.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): Today's vote was for what? It was for an investigation or impeachment, was for an investigation. So that is where we are. And the facts and the evidence, not the politics, the facts and the evidence will determine any next steps.


BASH: Well, it's not really an impeachment he's trying to say. We just want to get information. Is that going to fly in a swing district like his?

SALEHA MOHSIN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: You know, what we're looking -- seeing right now in the American electorate is that everyone is split or not just the obvious things, but also on what to do with the impeachment inquiry. Bloomberg News put out a poll today with morning consult that shows that 45 percent of Americans polled support an inquiry, 42 percent are opposed to it.

And I think that's what we're going to see in the races and the House GOP's ability to hold on to their votes. On the House side, they are having to thread the needle to find a way, to message it, so that it's not an outright impeachment inquiry. It gets us the point but we're not wearing out our voters.

BASH: You know, we have to take a quick break. But Carl, I can't have you here or not say this because we've covered the Hill for a long time. You are still there. I mean, it used to be anathema to the notion of impeachment. And now, it's like, Jeff said -- every administration.

HULSE: We had one in every two hundred years and then -- now we're on what Clinton to Trump's and a Biden. I mean, I think Jeff nail that this is -- if the president is one party and the House is the other party, it's going to be impeachment. It censures all these things have been ramped up, amplified, talk about weaponization in the Congress -- well impeachments been weaponized.

BASH: Yeah. And we don't have time for this. But we have to come back because I want to talk about how redistricting and gerrymandering affects impeachment. I know that really gets --


BASH: Coming up, Donald Trump starts to lay out his closing arguments in Iowa.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: We will drive out the globalist. We will cast out the communists. We will throw off the sick political class. We will route the fake news media. We will drain the swamp and we will liberate our country from these tyrants and villains once and for all.




BASH: Federal judge hit the brakes on Donald Trump's 2020 election subversion case. Judge Tanya Chutkan says this case is now on hold, while Trump appeals a ruling on whether he's immune from prosecution for crimes committed while in office. This means the trials planned March 2024 start, which of course is in the middle of the presidential primary season could be pushed back.

CNN's Evan Perez is here with us. Evan, can you explain the process and the calendar that is so impactful of not just whether or not he will be convicted, but whether or not if he is the nominee. How voters will see him?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well Dana, look, this complicates the calendar, which was already a pretty tight calendar for the courts, for the Justice Department, and of course for Donald Trump. What this means is that the March 4 trial date, which Judge Tanya Chutkan has been desperately trying to hold on to is absolutely in danger.

And this is why -- this is what the judge finally acknowledged in a filing yesterday. Look, we've all been behind the scenes certainly been very doubtful that March 4 was actually going to be able -- to be the date that the court would be able to stick to that simply because of the appeals process that we knew was going to happen.

We knew Donald Trump was going to go to the Supreme Court and that he is playing a delay game. And so, even with the most generous and the most tightest of deadlines by the Supreme Court, by the Court of Appeals, we're looking at probably -- possibly a decision from the justice -- I'm sorry, from the Supreme Court justices, maybe in February and that is really, really close to a March 4 trial date to start.

So, what the judge did yesterday is simply acknowledge the reality, which is that even if the Supreme Court, the appeals court -- appeals court, by the way, said that they're going to expedite their appeal from Donald Trump. The Supreme Court also has -- we've seen a flurry of rulings from the judges saying, we're going to expedite all of this process.

But because this process moves so slowly, right, by comparison, it means that, you know, this is the President Trump. The former president is going to get his delay, at least a little bit of his delay. We don't know how much, but it means that this pushes it back further -- into perhaps closer to when the nominations are, right. And that makes it things a lot more complicated for the Justice Department.

BASH: Yeah. It is interesting that it was the special counsel that started the ball rolling on what ended up being the delay because he wants -- he's playing the long game to figure out whether or not the former president will be immune.

PEREZ: And you know, Dana, -- real quick, you know, that the former president is making the claim that this is election interference. And if you get to next summer, you know, that argument starts holding a lot more water.

BASH: Yeah. No question. Thank you so much Evan, for your great reporting as always. Our panel is back with us. And I want to start with kind of -- again, putting a little bit more of the political context around this, not that we have to reach far to do that because there's so much politics involved.


This is a poll about whether or not voters would vote for Donald Trump if he were convicted. And the question the answer is, yes 25, no 59. And so, these kinds of questions, if this trial date and others are delayed, will be moved.

MOHSIN: So far, it looks like this kind of polling doesn't affect how Trump voters think and how the Trump campaign thinks. Anything that's happening is happening next year. Like your colleague just said, the deeper we get into 2024, the more it looks like election interference.

But let me just tell you one little nugget. My colleagues at Bloomberg just reported today, we put out a story that Trump is trying to turn into, and his campaign is trying to turn Iowa into Trump central. They are fanning the state so that they can start 2024 and the whole GOP primary season at the top of the game. So that they've knocked everyone else out of the park. At that point, no one is thinking about what the investigations mean for the campaign anymore.

BASH: Except the general election, they will be if he is the nominee, which is ---

MOHSIN: Then we get the election interference.

BASH: -- which is right, or voters saying, I don't want this guy to be the president. But that's why we have elections. Before we get to that point, there is very much a Republican race going on. Jeff Zeleny, you just got back, as I mentioned from New Hampshire. You were there for a couple of days. And one of the things that happened was that the sitting governor Chris Sununu endorsed Nikki Haley, that happened a couple of nights ago.

And Chris Christie, who is close to Governor Sununu, and playing for broke in New Hampshire was not that thrilled about Governor's Sununu decision. Here's what Christie said on the campaign trail.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we've been happy to accept the support, but I wouldn't know exactly what it meant. And then one vote, and we've been nice to hang around with her. And we could have done a funny show like him and Nikki are doing. But again, these voters are not going to be (Inaudible) by anybody who vote for him. What am I going to say? Congratulations on a bad choice.


BASH: And if you could hear that first part, but his line is for what did get Nikki Haley one vote, which is basically saying Sununu doesn't bring a lot of.

ZELENY: Yeah. We'll see. I mean, there are more than one Sununu up there. So, you probably bring some Sununu's reference. You know, brother, former senator, a father, former governor and chief of staff, but anyway. Look, I mean, it is a big question. What endorsements actually mean? We're going to get a good sense of that, once again, some fresh evidence that endorsements -- you know, you'd rather have him than not, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in Iowa.

He has the endorsement of a very popular Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. Now Nikki Haley has the endorsement of Chris Sununu. So, we'll see. I mean, he's not popular among the base. I mean, he's not popular among Trump voters who are going to remain Trump voters over this. Where he is popular is as he told you in the interviewer, and it's obvious seeing him as among independents and moderates, and he brings an organization with him. So that is what her campaign is hoping for. And Chris Christie will admit. He's said it to all of us. He would have loved endorsement (Ph).

BASH: Yeah. This is about -- and just to underscore the point you were making, Jeff. This is about who is going to be the Trump alternative coming -- in New Hampshire and then coming out of New Hampshire. And one of the issues that is out there, and that Chris Christie is really pounding Nikki Haley on in and did so yesterday in New Hampshire is the issue of abortion.

Chris Christie thinks that Nikki Haley doesn't give specific enough answers really on anything he says, but specifically abortion. Let's listen to some of that.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My heart absolutely breaks for her. When I say we need to have compassion. This is exactly what I'm talking about. When you look at someone's experience, we should never want to see someone with a rare condition who has to deliver a baby.

CHRISTIE: As she said, we should deal with this with compassion. And my heart goes out to the mother. This is a continued disturbing pattern on Governor Haley's part. If the question is really hard, she wants to make everybody happy.


BASH: This matters for the kind of voter that each of them is appealing to in New Hampshire. AMY: Well, this is an essence the challenge for Haley and has been for Christie all along, which is there simply isn't a big enough pool even in New Hampshire of moderate independents who both dislike Donald Trump, who would like to see more -- would like to see abortion access to be as what -- maybe what Chris Christie is looking at more liberalized abortion access, who will show up and vote in a Republican primary.


In other words, Sununu instead of helping her break the ceiling that she has right now in terms of the kinds of people she's appealing to. He's only I think highlighting that ceiling, which is the kinds of Republican voters who already have decided they want to move beyond Donald Trump. She is their choice.

But for those voters who like Donald Trump, think he can win. And by the way, the CNN poll in New Hampshire, 57 percent of Republicans in New Hampshire think Donald Trump can win in November. How is Sununu's endorsement going to tell voters in New Hampshire and in other states that she is the better candidate for those people who still like Donald Trump and still think she can win.

BASH: They're trying to get as George H. W. Bush said -- Bush said the big mouth. Let's see if it happens. Everybody standby. Up next. Joe Biden's border bind. The president has a chance to make a big deal with Republicans on the issue of immigration. The question being asked that the White House and the Biden campaign right now is what will progressives do?