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Inside Politics

Dems Attack Biden on Border Talks; Interview with The New York Times, Chief Washington Correspondent Carl Hulse; Interview with Bloomberg Senior Washington Correspondent Saleha Mohsin; Interview with Cook Political Report Publisher and Editor-In-Chief Amy Walter. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome back. President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans are inching closer to a deal on immigration policy changes, and to do that -- in order to get aid for Ukraine and Israel. But the president does face an uphill battle to get his own party on board, as do Republican leaders getting their right flank on board.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins me now. Priscilla, what are you hearing about negotiations right now?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, all indications right now is that there has been some progress, but exactly what that is still unclear. What has been clear though, Dana, is that the president has said repeatedly that he's open to compromise, but that means compromising on one of the most delicate political issues for this White House, which is the handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

And the growing urgency by this White House to get money to Ukraine and Israel is putting Democrats in a very difficult position. One telling me that it is putting them in a box because they're having to embrace and support some of these concessions that are very similar to the Trump administration and ones that, not very long ago, Democrats were criticizing.

Now, sources tell me that some of these concessions by the White House include, for example, expelling migrants without giving them the chance to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. That's reminiscent of the COVID era restriction known as Title 42. As well as raising the credible fear standard for asylum seekers, more deportations, and also expanding detention.

Again, these are all difficult pills to swallow for progressives who, for years, have slammed the Trump administration for taking a similar path when it came to the U.S.-Mexico go border. And now it's the White House, the president, who seems to be open to all of these to get that Ukraine aid to the finish line.

BASH: So interesting. Priscilla, thank you so much for that reporting.

Our panel is back here. Carl, again, not to just keep walking down memory lane for you and I. But, I mean, how many offices have we stood outside for years, for almost two decades, as they negotiate some grand bargain on immigration? And these issues are so tricky, so complicated, so political that it falls through. I talked to somebody involved in these talks this morning who said that they are actually making real progress. I know you've been doing reporting on this.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. Look, I was in the capital this morning, and Chuck Schumer was over in Mitch McConnell's office. Not a place he hangs out a lot, by the way. And they seem to be seriously trying to get a deal.

There's a lot of reasons for this seriousness, both Senator McConnell and Chuck Schumer, for once, want the same thing, and they want it very badly. Some of this is optics. They need to be seen to be really working on this. And so, if they don't get a deal, at least they'll have tried really hard when they leave and they get hammered for not finishing this.

On the counter to what she said, there's a lot of Democrats who think this is good politics for them, right? And that taking some action on the border would help people in tough races like Jon Tester in Montana, Sherrod Brown in Ohio. So, there are some Republicans who run around and say, why should we even help the Democrats on this?

I think -- but in terms of -- it is kind of hard to think of doing a back of the envelope immigration deal. The key here is it's not the big immigration deal.

BASH: It's not but it's something.

HULSE: It's not everything. It -- but it is real things. But they think that by limiting these they can perhaps get a deal. I'm still skeptical. I'm willing to be convinced, but they do actually seem to be trying. But there's a lot of Republican rank and file senator types who don't want anything to do with this right now, and they keep saying, well, I need to see some text, well, that's --

BASH: Yes. I mean, this is what always happens. You're right. It's obviously much more narrow, but it's the people who don't have a lot to win or lose because of the politics of their home state who would rather sink it than get a change in policy. Let's look, kind of, more broadly at the stakes, the political stakes, and why this is -- this issue of immigration is so important.


CBS asked the question of the most important problem facing the country. Inflation is number one, right behind it is immigration and the border. And now, let's look over to a "Wall Street Journal" question about border security, who would handle it better? I mean, it doesn't even come close. Joe Biden is just getting killed by Donald Trump double -- more than double the support on this issue. Which is why, yes, you're talking about the Senate politics, but for President Biden, maybe he's going to say. this is more important to me than making my progressives angry.

SALEHA MOHSIN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, that's what we've come down to. When he campaigned in 2020, he campaigned like a moderate, and he's been governing a lot like a progressive because there's a lot of progressive Democrats in -- on Congress. There's a lot of progressive Democrats who have made it into the White House and different agencies, and he's having to listen to that wing. And now, we're kind of starting to see deeper cracks in what happens when you make those swings.

So, again, we're talking about what we're going to do for this policy this time and how that's going to pan out for the general election. That tension is strong.

BASH: Let's listen to what the chairwoman of the progressive caucus, Pramila Jayapal, said about these talks.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): We have to put together a coalition that is the same coalition we delivered in 2020. For him to win the White House, for us to win the Senate, and for us to take back the House. And that coalition involves a lot of young voters. It involves a lot of immigrant voters. It involves a lot of folks of color. And this issue of immigration is critically important to them.


AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": I just don't know that I think this is the issue that's going to be the main factor here in energizing or not energizing that coalition to get out to the polls. I think the issue of the border is a real problem for Democrats and for Biden, and voters are seeing it, whether you're an independent voter or a Democratic voter, the sense of competence is a real question rather than just the issues around asylum and other issues around immigration broadly.

And look, the contrast between a Biden who can say, I worked in a bipartisan measure to get things that even Republicans agree with. Donald Trump wants to go even further. And as we know, there's reporting on talks of mass deportations, putting people in camps around the border. I think that contrast is pretty strong.

And so, for progressives, I do think that may be the bigger issue than whatever comes out of that the House and Senate if it can get past the House --

BASH: Yes, and --

WALTER: -- which is the bigger question.

BASH: -- and taking Carl's, very well-informed skepticism into account here, if they actually get something done. This is how it works, when you make a compromise, you make the people on the -- if you're a Democrat on the left angry, you make the Republicans on the right angry, and you get the votes by having the middle and what you can claim is you have a government that's functioning. Maybe it's not perfect, but it's at least trying to function.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF U.S. NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt. And that's what the Biden administration is hoping for, the Biden campaign is hoping for. Look, I share the same skepticism that Carl has, my former writing partner. I think that, look, it is a difficult lift. But as Amy was saying, yes, progressives are not going to like this, but add it to the list.

There are -- the Biden campaign is hoping that those Trump policies that you were talking about are actually the motivating factor for young progressives, and they may or may not be. I mean, that is a big challenge for the Biden administration. But issue one is if they can get something on the deal on the border. It's not just a border issue anymore. Look in cities across the country. Go to Chicago. Go to Denver. Republicans have been very skilled at sending, migrants up. So, this is a national issue.

HULSE: You know, what it was telling to me? Last weekend, Dick Durbin of Illinois, probably the biggest advocate in Congress for DACA and liberal immigration policy said, something has to be done.

BASH: Yes, that's very telling.

HULSE: And he's not pushing to have DACA included in here, the program for people brought here is. And I -- to me, that was something that caught my attention.

BASH: That's really -- I didn't hear that. That's really interesting. OK. Thanks, guys. Great conversation.

Coming up, stocks are at record highs. Unemployment is at historic lows. Inflation keeps falling, and the economy keeps growing. So, is Bidenomics actually working?



BASH: Look at that. The Dow Jones Index is above 37,000. For the first time, stocks soared yesterday after the Fed signaled it's done raising interest rates. Inflation is falling along with the chances of an election year recession. That's what the statistics tell the U.S., but Americans are telling us something different.

Jeanna Smialek of "The New York Times" wrote a comprehensive piece on this very topic this morning and joins me now. Thank you so much for being here. Again, let's just do a little bit more on the statistics and I want you to, sort of, fill in the blanks. Let's look at inflation, which is what people really, really feel every day. The highest it was, 9.1 percent back in June of 2024. Now, it's at 3.1 percent.


Is that something that Americans should be feeling when we go to the grocery store, go to the gas pump, and so forth?

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE AND ECONOMY REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's absolutely something people should be feeling. But I think it's important to, sort of, talk about what that actually feels like. You know, I think sometimes when you talk to people, when I talk to people out in the world and I tell them that inflation is falling, what I'll hear back is, oh, but prices are so much higher than they used to be.

And there's a difference between price levels falling and inflation falling. You know, what 3.1 percent inflation means is that prices are still going up three percent on an annual basis, which is a little bit faster than it used to be, but much slower than what we were previously seeing. But that means the price levels are still quite a bit higher than they were in 2023.

BASH: So, that speaks to why people aren't feeling it as they should if you just look at the raw numbers. I mean, the latest CNN poll asking about how people feel. 43 percent of respondents said that they are very worried about the state of the economy, and 41 percent said somewhat worried. I mean, you add those two numbers up, that is -- I mean, those are some big, big numbers, almost two thirds of Americans.

SMIALEK: Yes, and consistent with what we see across a whole range of polls and consumer confidence surveys. It does seem like people feel pretty bad about economic conditions right now, which is interesting because typically, when you have an economy like this one with very low unemployment, solid job gains, good wage growth, all of these positives, would expect people to be feeling better. But it seems like those price levels and a couple of other things are just really weighing down people's optimism.

BASH: So, the constant challenge for the Biden White House, for the Biden reelection campaign, and Democrats generally, was the challenge was actually the numbers when they first came in, and things were really bad, genuinely bleak. And now it is, again, just going back to that feeling, how people feel. They're trying to change that. And the -- look, I just want to give one example of an ad from the Democratic National Committee of how they're trying to do that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are investing in our community. These policies are helping to support small businesses like mine, allowing us to really grow and create jobs. We have a president that actually just cares about the work. It cares about doing stuff that helps everyday people.


BASH: My colleague David Wright added up how much money the Biden campaign and the main group supporting it have spent on this particular message on the economy, $11.9 million on broadcast television. Do you have any sense that it's penetrating?

SMIALEK: Yes, you know, I think it's a really interesting question. I think that there certainly was a feeling when you would talk to people a few months ago that the administration hadn't paid a lot of attention to this issue, that there wasn't a lot of economic messaging come out -- coming out that people weren't -- people within the White House weren't aware of how hard it was to buy a house for the first time, for example.

And so, I do think we've seen this pivot towards more of a focus on economic messaging. And, you know, Lael Brainard, who's the NEC director, gave a speech on housing affordability just this last week. And so, I think we are seeing this message much more -- in a much more devoted way. And so, I think that that could penetrate potentially.

BASH: Jeanna Smialek, thank you so much. It's great seeing you.

SMIALEK: Thank you.

BASH: And up ahead, the Supreme Court takes up critical cases that could reshape the 2024 election. Abortion access and January 6th prosecutions all on the docket.



BASH: The stage is set for another series of nailbiter decisions from the Supreme Court. Justices will hear several critical cases in 2024 that could have real impacts on the 2024 election.

CNN's senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic is here to break it all down. Joan, first, let's talk about the arguments over access to the abortion pill.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: You know, this takes us right back to the court that started it all, about a year and a half ago when it reversed constitutional abortion rights nationwide. This involves women's access to a drug that has become the most common method for women who need to end a pregnancy, the most common method to do that. And it's -- it -- the case does not challenge the core year 2000 approval of the drug, but rather restrictions, Dana.

How easy is it to get the drug? Can you get it through telemedicine? Can you pick it up? Must you put it up in person, or can get you -- get it through the mail after you've been approved? Can you get it at 10 weeks into your pregnancy or just seven weeks? Those are the crucial questions in this case.

And it also involves, Dana, the authority of the Food and Drug Administration to decide what drugs, all sorts of drugs, cancer drugs, diabetes drugs, epileptic drugs. You know, what drugs are safe and effective, or in situations where lower court judges might second guess that as happened right here in this case.

BASH: Yes, obviously, this is going to be very impactful on the election. Another issue that the Supreme Court said that it will consider is, one that has to do with the January 6th attack. If you look at that and then the broader question about whether or not they are going to give Donald Trump immunity from prosecution on the allegations against him. These are all very, very, important when it comes to the 2024 election.

And so, Joan, my question is, I know they're supposed to be apolitical, but you know these justices. How much will they consider the election as they make these choices?


BISKUPIC: Look, they know the election's looming. You know, when Jack Smith, the special counsel, made his plea to the justices on Monday, I'm sure there was, you know, plenty of trepidation, but they knew -- they know they're going to have to decide whether Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution at some point. And I think Jack Smith made a good argument for why it should be sooner rather than later.

Dana, you and I have been doing this long enough that we remember. Even back in 1992, there was a crucial -- a big election year, there was a crucial abortion case. The justices have decided Bush v. Gore in the year 2000, you know, deciding the election right there and then.

So, this is not something they're unaccustomed to. And they try to get -- they try to get away from that all those atmospherics, but we know that it affects them. It's just a matter of how it affects them, Dana, and which way they'll go based on that include -- and also on the law of the land.

BASH: Oh, yes. There's that. Joan Biskupic, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you for joining "Inside Politics". "CNN News Central" starts after the break.