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Inside Politics

Democrats Compare Biden's Border Positions To Trump's; Trump Quotes Putin, Praises Kim Kong-Un And Viktor Orban; Sen. Manchin Still Flirting With third-Party Run; Texas Abortion Case Captures National Attention; Speaker Johnson Faces New House Freedom Caucus Warning; Rep. Good's DeSantis Endorsement Ruffles Right-Wing Feathers. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 17, 2023 - 11:00   ET





MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Elusive deal. Senators raised to find it immigration compromised before Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are making significant progress.

RAJU: How will President Biden balance the needs on the border with pushback from his own party?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A return to failed Trump-era policies is not the solution.

RAJU: Plus, abortion struggle. A case in Texas hits a nerve.

Any comment on the Kate Cox decision in your state, Senator Cruz? Do you support that Kate Cox decision?

Can Republicans coalesce behind a coherent message?

And impeachment saga. The GOP plows ahead as Hunter Biden strikes back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no fairness or decency in what these Republicans are doing.

RAJU: A new reporting on the threat that Speaker Johnson faces from the right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to go back to doing things the right way. Today was an abysmal failure.

RAJU: My politics, the best reporting from inside the quarters of power, starts now.


RAJU: Good morning. Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Manu Raju.

It's been a busy weekend on Capitol Hill where a handful of senators are pushing to reach a deal by tonight on immigration, a topic that's eluded Washington for decades. And hanging in the balance, aid to Ukraine and Israel. Since Republicans refuse to approve more aid without kinder immigration restrictions amid a surge of migrants at the southern border.

Senate is due back tomorrow after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer delayed the start of senators' holiday recess and has pledged to put this all to a vote this week.

But congressional sources tell me this morning, they are skeptical about being able to reach a deal given that sizable differences remain. Something that senators reiterated on the Sunday shows.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The bottom line here is we feel like we're being jammed. We're not anywhere close to a deal. It'll go into next year. I've never been more worried about a 9/11 than I am right now and our borders have been obliterated.


RAJU: To get to this point, President Biden has privately offered major concessions and has been roundly criticized by members of his own party.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I'm amazed that what is the equivalent of Trumpian ideas is being promoted by President Biden and the Democratic White House.

SEN. ALEX PADILLA (D-CA): It's very concerning what we've heard is being put on the table. I mean, the return to failed Trump-era policies is not the solution.


RAJU: All right. Let's break this all down with our great panel, Laura Barron-Lopez from the PBS NewsHour. Carl Hulse from the New York Time -- New York Times, and CNN's Daniel Strauss.

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for being here. It is a busy morning. There's been a lot happening in the Capitol. Carl, you've been covering Capitol Hill for a very long time. You know this place better than anybody.

Schumer has set this very ambitious deadline to try to actually pass something.


RAJU: Biden this week, and that seems so implausible, given that this is such a toxic issue and they'll have to draft -- not mention the mechanics, actually drafting the legislation.

Is there any possibility this gets done in this Senate?

HULSE: It is hard to envision, right? I can see them coming out and saying, we have a framework, we have a tentative deal, but then, you know, the devil is always in the details with these things. A lot of this is optics.

They need to be seen as really trying to get this. The House left town without doing anything, and it didn't look great. So I think that's on their minds.

But Schumer and McConnell, especially as you know, they really want this. So they are -- this is a serious effort. They're trying to get there. But the House is gone. And I've sensed all, and Lindsey Graham just reflected that.

I've sensed over the last few days, the Republicans don't want to do this right now.

RAJU: Yes.

HULSE: Most of them. They don't want it to look like, look, they caved right before the holidays. Here they go again. So, you know, there'll probably be some movement over the next couple of days, but how they get there, I don't know.

RAJU: Yes. And like if they get a deal, imagine just the politics of this, right? Then this will hang out over the holidays. People will shoot it down on the left and the right. And you're already hearing pushback on the left because of some of the potential border changes that the president is considering.


We're not talking about comprehensive immigration reform, like a pathway to citizenship, dealing with the Dreamers. We're talking about more immigration restrictions as the Republicans have been pushing for things like expulsion, authority, stricter asylum standards, more deportations, expanding detention.

I'm told that a lot of those issues still simply have not been resolved behind closed doors. But just the openness of the president to cut these deals is generating pushback from progressives, including the leader of the congressional progressive caucus.


RAJU: How much backlash will he get from the left if he does agree to these changes?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): He's going to -- there's going to be a lot. 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 and involves a lot of folks of color. And this issue of immigration is critically important to them.


RAJU: Does a White House see it this way?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the White House wants funding for Ukraine. And right now, they feel like the only way that they can get that additional aid to Ukraine is by giving to Republicans.

Because Republicans -- the whole reason we're in this situation right now is because a growing faction of House Republicans. Some Senate Republicans have said that they're not going to support any additional funding to Ukraine unless they get these more severe restrictions on asylum seekers, on undocumented immigrants.

And I know that everything's fluid and that's what I've heard from sources as well. But on what the Senate is potentially considering with the White House at the table saying they're open to it, the impact of those policies would impact the 11 million plus undocumented migrants that are currently living in the U.S., some who have lived here for years, married here, have children here.

It would also impact asylum seekers. If those things were to become law, it would essentially eliminate asylum as we know it right now under the current U.S. law.

So their dramatic immigration change is not just throwing more money at border security or border patrol, which is what the White House was initially OK with doing.

And so because they want that Ukraine funding, we hear, you know, the administration feels as though they don't really have a choice but to be at this negotiating table.

RAJU: And, look, obviously immigration politics is very complicated and particularly as we head into the election year. And it puts Democrats in a complicated spot because they want to support the administration. They recognize they have to do something but they don't like the policy.

One of the top Democrats who I spoke to, Dick Durbin. He's a Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. Typically, the Judiciary Committee chairman would be involved in immigration negotiations. He has been completely shut out of these talks. He's been -- even though he's been involved in these issues for some time.

He told me that he is concerned about the way this is moving, but also recognize that the president has to do something.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I am concerned about it. And I think it's an indication of the delicate position we're in on this compromise. I think that the president understands the reality that changes have to be made in our policy at the border, you know. And what we currently see is unsustainable.


RAJU: And perhaps the polls also show on that. This is the way how the Wall Street Journal talks about the way Biden versus Trump on handling border security, 54 to 24 percent significant difference in Biden versus Trump on that issue.

But then also just how do independent voters view the president's handling of immigration?

This is from also -- from a Fox, recent Fox poll. Twenty one percent of independents approve of Biden's handling on it. Clearly, they recognize they got to do something, but will that change anything in the polls?

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN REPORTER: Yes. Look, I mean, this is a made -- this is probably the biggest liable issue for Biden going into reelection on substance. And it's one where they're in they have to walk a very, very thin tightrope here because on one hand, they do want that Ukraine funding. They do want to push back on the perception that they are weak on border security, that the border is open. All the things that Republicans like to lob at Democrats.

But at the same time, this White House has made clear, they do not want to alienate the progressive left.

RAJU: Yes.

STRAUSS: And any agreement that this White House makes with Republicans is probably going to make them -- make the left angry.

RAJU: And they're already angry over the Israel-Hamas situation.

HULSE: No. I just -- there are Democrats who want this. You know, there's guys in tough races and we know who they are. I've talked to Democrats in both the House and the Senate said, you know, in some ways, this is a gift. We can get something and maybe we can take this off the table.

And where is the left going to go on this issue? Are they going to support Donald Trump? So it is -- it's a tricky one, but there's a lot of cross currents, but time is short.

RAJU: Yes. Look, I mean, he's -- the president's favorability among Hispanic voters has suffered. And I asked one of the top Democrats, Hispanic-Democrats, about the fact that Joe Biden is struggling with Hispanic voters and whether this could change things.


RAJU: Why do you think the president's struggling so much with Hispanic voters compared to last time? [11:10:00]

PADILLA: The -- well, look, I am not as worried about that yet. I think if we do go -- if he does go too far in the Trump direction when it comes to this, it's going to be felt at the ballot box next year. No doubt about it.

It's going to be felt at the ballot. Pretty strong warning. Just look at the polls before you jump in, Laura. Look, the Hispanic -- among Hispanic adults, immigration and border security ranks second, 15 percent inflation ranking. The highest according to that recent CBS News poll.

And also just the president's favorability among Latino voters. Right now, in a recent poll, 42 percent among voters. His -- the -- how the exit polls looked for him in 2020, 65 percent of Hispanic voters supported him.

But will this make a difference? Do they want -- they're not -- it's not a homogenous community. Everyone's a much different view on this. But how does that impact that electorate?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. Immigration typically is not the number one issue for Latino voters in the United States. It tends to rank second as that poll shows or third.

And I was just talking to a pollster who focuses on Latino voters this morning who said that actually when you put the economy up against gun violence, gun violence takes number one among Latinos right now in a lot of battleground states.

And so I think that, look, there's clearly an argument that President Biden can make when he starts contrasting himself with whoever the GOP nominee is. But, of course, he has to pay attention to those numbers because Trump is gaining marginally with Latinos.

RAJU: Yes, yes. It's a huge, huge issue. We'll see if they're going to deal and what kind of impact that will have.

All right. Coming up, Trump on the campaign trail where his anti- immigration rhetoric, and praise for dictators, once again, becoming an issue.



RAJU: In less than a month, Iowans will gather in schools, churches, and community centers for the first caucuses of the 2024 presidential election.

Republican candidates are fanning out across Iowa as well as other early voting states, including Nevada, where former president Trump is set to speak later today.

Alayna Treene joins me now live from Reno, Nevada. Alayna, Trump was in New Hampshire yesterday, where he shared some praise for dictators.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Manu. Donald Trump, in those remarks, yesterday quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to argue that President Joe Biden is a threat to democracy.

He also praised other authoritarian leaders, including the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, which he described as highly respected. He also characterized North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, as being very nice. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was like a rocket ship sent by Kim Jong-un. Just like that. Who was very nice, I will tell you, even Vladimir Putin.

Has anybody ever heard of Vladimir Putin? Of Russia, says that Biden's, and this is a quote, politically motivated persecution of his political rival, is very good for Russia because it shows the rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracies.

And they're all laughing at us. Viktor Orban, the highly respected prime minister of Hungary, said Trump is the man who can save the Western world.


TREENE: Now, Manu, some pretty remarkable language from a former president, but it's also not totally surprising. Donald Trump often expresses fondness for these leaders while on the campaign trail. He often describes them as being strong leaders, as people who are feared. And he uses that to compare them to President Joe Biden, who he tries to argue is weak in comparison.

But, look, I mean, I think the context here is very important. This language comes as critics are increasingly warning that Donald Trump wouldn't be an authoritarian leader himself if reelected to the White House in 2024.

And, of course, also after critics, and he faced backlash for sidestepping questions about being a dictator during a Fox News Town Hall where he said he would only be a dictator on day one in order to build a wall and to drill. Manu?

RAJU: And then later doubled down on those remarks as well.

Alayna Treene live for us from Reno.


RAJU: Thank you for that.

All right. Let's bring this back into the room as we dive deeper into this. That was not the only eyebrow raising claim from Trump. Believe it or not, he said more than one controversial thing at a rally as he did yesterday in Durham, New Hampshire.

Also, saying this about immigrants in particular, which has gotten a lot of attention today.


TRUMP: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poisoned mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about, but all over the world, they're coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world, they're pouring into our country.


RAJU: Now, critics jumped on this. A lot of them say that poisoning the blood is reminiscent of how Hitler called out, calling out in Mein Kampf talking about the purity of their own blood by getting rid of Jews.

And that's what the Biden campaign is jumping on this morning saying that he quote, parroted Adolf Hitler. I mean, that is just remarkable, like, typically you don't invoke Hitler in political attacks. And here you have the president -- president's campaign making that their point.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, this is the second time that former president Donald Trump has used those specific words, poisoning the blood of our country. And both times, not just the campaign, but scholars of authoritarianism, scholars of fascism who have spent their careers studying. Nazi Germany said that this does echo Hitler's words.

And PBS NewsHour, the first time Trump said it, we reported that that this echoes Hitler's words because it does. Hitler specifically used the term blood poisoning when talking not just about Jews, but also about migrants. It's also a common playbook of fascism to talk about your political opponents as vermin, which Trump has done in the past as well.

And to talk about people that you don't support, you know, people outside of the white race, which is the case in Hitler's case, but to talk about migrants and anyone else as though they are vermin or as though they are poisoning this pure blood. And so I think it's very serious that the former president continues to do this.


RAJU: And this underscores kind of how the Trump opponents in the primary are also dealing with them. There are people like Ron DeSantis who goes after him on the issues of policy. There's Nikki Haley who talks about the chaos of Trump.

And then there's Chris Christie, who goes right at Trump as he did this morning on these comments. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's disgusting. And what he's doing is dog whistling. You're telling me that someone who says that immigrants are poisoning the blood of this country, someone who says Vladimir Putin is a character witness, is fit to be president of the United States, was the right president at the right time. Nikki Haley should be ashamed of herself.

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On so many levels, the tone at the top matters.

Look, anti-Trumpers think I don't hate Trump enough. Pro-Trumpers think I don't love him enough. I call it like I see it.


RAJU: So Haley's actually gaining in Trump in New Hampshire's a new CBS-YouGov poll that has Trump at 44 percent in New Hampshire, Haley at 29 percent, DeSantis is at 11, and Christie at 10. So you can see that on your screen there, there is some momentum with her in New Hampshire.

What do you make of the way she has handled Trump?

STRAUSS: Look, credit to where credits due. Haley's argument from the beginning was pick a candidate who can win, who can rally a swath of most of the Republican Party together, and it's paying off in New Hampshire.

Now, Trump still has this huge lead. And in 2016, we saw that despite strong efforts and viable seeming candidates in New Hampshire, Trump can still win there and win handily.

But it's clear that voters and Republican voters, at least in this more libertarian moderate-ish state, are responding to Haley's message in her argument that she does not -- she does not feel like attacking Trump on the substance is really going to win her much ground, but neither is entirely arguing that he's the only one who can win in a general election.

RAJU: Yes. I like to always look at how money is being spent in these early states, and there's just a snapshot of Iowa and New Hampshire, how the campaigns and super PACs are spending their ads over the next several weeks here from December 15 to the future, $5.3 million being spent by Haley in Iowa, $4 million in New Hampshire.

She's, by far, the most out of any of the others. DeSantis and Trump is not spending nearly as much in Iowa. And Chris Christie is spending nothing in Iowa, $2.3 million in New Hampshire.

Carl, does Haley have any real pathway here to dethrone Trump?

HULSE: I mean, it's -- you said she's gaining but not fast enough, right? There's just not enough time. And, you know, she's handling these Trump issues delicately. I like the rest of the country are having a hard time seeing Trump not win, right? How did -- without some kind of huge snafu?

Now, some of the things that he just said would be normally considered huge snafus, right?

RAJU: Yes.

HULSE: These are the kind of things that would knock out candidates, but none of this ever knocks out Trump because the people that he's appealing to actually want him to say these things, right?

They applauded the other day when they said he was going to be a dictator. This is what he says these things because he gets the response he wants.

STRAUSS: What's clear is that if Trump is knocked out in some way, it is not going to be for something he says.

RAJU: Because a lot of this stuff is already very much they then --

STRAUSS: This is -- the voters know this is who he is, and the voters know that, and his supporters accept that.

RAJU: Yes. And we'll see how --

HULSE: And wanted.


RAJU: We'll see how the criminal charges play out too. Yesterday, his campaign manager said it has a complication, his travel schedule. We'll see how that impacts his campaign.

Voters actually care about, particularly in the primaries, we'll see in the general election as well if he gets there.

But, you know, on the Biden side, there's always, you know, obviously his numbers are not been good. He's been losing to Trump in battleground states, national polls. And then there's the question about the third parties, the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, is running. That was not good for Democrats back in 2016.

What about Joe Manchin? He is someone who has floated the idea of being a third-party candidate. He said to me this week that he has not totally ruled it out. He reiterated it this morning. Listen to what he said.


RAJU: Is there time for you to actually mount a credible third-party bid?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Well, basically. The time is now to mount basically. People wanting to come back to the middle. Let's talk out and speak out. RAJU: Would you run to be a spoiler? I mean, would you --

MANCHIN: I've never be a spoiler. I'll never run to be a spoiler.

RAJU: We'll need to win if that's --

MANCHIN: That's exactly. If I'm running, I'm winning.

RAJU: Yes. So then this can be hard, the third-party.

MANCHIN: Everything's hard. I've never had it.

RAJU: Not a part. Almost impossible to run -- to win is a third-party.

MANCHIN: Let's just say hard. We've never had a situation like we are right now. Is there enough people that are upset? There's enough people concerned. I think there is I hear from all over the country. So we'll just see.



RAJU: Carl, you've covered Joe Manchin for a long time. Is he just -- is he really serious about this or is he just looking --

HULSE: I don't -- I don't think so. I think Joe Manchin likes one thing on Capitol Hill to be relevant. And I think this helps keep him relevant. But he didn't run in his Senate race partly because he was probably going to lose in that -- in that current environment.

He doesn't want to run for president and lose and embarrass himself. I don't see it.

RAJU: Yes, I don't see it. If I'm a betting man, I'm saying Joe Manchin does not run. We'll see if I'm wrong.

All right. Major court cases inject abortion politics in the 2024 campaign season. I try to get answers from Republicans about that, next.


RAJU: Courts around the country this week heard a slew of cases challenging abortion restrictions, bringing the issue front and center as we head into 2024.

In the swing state of Arizona, for instance, a renewed push for a law that predates the state itself to send abortion providers to prison. And the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case that could impact the accessibility of a commonly used abortion pill. But the one perhaps getting the most attention, the case of a Texas woman named Kate Cox.

[11:30:12] Cox whose deadly fetus had a deadly -- whose fetus had a deadly genetic condition, had to leave the state in order to end her pregnancy, that she had argued threatened her life and her future fertility. The Texas Supreme Court denied her an exception to the state's strict ban, which is effectively at six weeks.

And in a sign of how politically perilous the issue remains for Republicans, the two top GOP senators from Texas wouldn't touch the case when I asked them about that this week.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R) TEXAS: That's strictly a matter of state law. I'm a federal official, I'm not a state official, so I'm not going to comment on what state officials are doing. I'm happy to comment on anything that I'm responsible for.

RAJU: Any comment on the Kate Cox decision in your state? Senator Cruz, do you support that, Kate Cox decision?


RAJU: Now, Caroline Kitchener joins our panel. She covers abortion and women's health for the "Washington Post." Good morning, Caroline. Thanks for joining us. What do you think the implications politically of this Kate Cox case and really all these other cases that are coming down the pipe?

CAROLINE KITCHENER, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL REPORTER: I think there are incredible political implications. I mean, legally, this doesn't set any precedent. It was just about her individual case and her ability to get an abortion or not. But I think this case really put people's eyes on what the exceptions really mean.

I think a lot of people assume that somebody in Kate Cox's physician, somebody who has been to the emergency room four times during the course of her pregnancy, who has a fatal fetal anomaly, I think a lot of people hear about that and think, oh, well, there are exceptions to these bans. And of course, she would be able to get an abortion.

But obviously, that wasn't the case. She was denied. And I think there was national uproar about this case. And I certainly would not be surprised to see other cases similar to this one emerging in the near future.

RAJU: Yeah, and we'll see how these different courts deal with it. Of course, Texas has one of the strictest in the country, and it really just underscores to, look, we're a year past the decision on Dobbs, and Republicans are still struggling with exactly how to deal with it.

Do we have a national ban? Do we do it by the state level? How many weeks? It's a debate that's playing out on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, and among some of the members who are in difficult races.

As the Supreme Court announced, it would take up this case involving the abortion pill and whether or not it would allow its accessibility more widely. Some of the Republican members said it was a bad idea.


REP. MIKE LAWLER, (R) NEW YORK: The states should be making a decision about access to abortion services, including Mifepristone.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: The thought that there would be an effort through the courts to shut down what has been determined to be a safe procedure in the early stages of pregnancy, I think is very concerning.

SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: I do agree that there are some states that have overreached.


RAJU: That was Thom Tillis saying about the six-week ban in particular. He was concerned about Republicans have time to put together a cohesive strategy on this issue before next year.

BARRON-LOPEZ: We do have time, but whether or not they do that is another question. And a lot of them, at least the GOP presidential candidates, have said that they would support a six-week ban, which the majority of Americans don't support.

A majority of Americans do support some restrictions, but not that. And I think that, you know, when you look at the battleground states, abortion access is supported there. We've seen time and time again when this question has come up since Dobbs fell about whether or not voters want more access to reproductive health care and abortion access or not, they always vote on the side of abortion access.

I was just talking to a Republican strategist in Arizona who said that, look, Biden's numbers aren't great there, the economy isn't good for him, but that abortion could be the one thing that saves a candidate like Biden.

RAJU: And let's see what the voters say in these polls, the Wall Street Journal poll, 44% believe that Biden versus Trump, 44 to 33, he would do a better job on that issue. But when you look at how it ranks in terms of abortion, how it ranks, 7% of voters say that is the most important issue behind the economy and immigration.

So yes, it will inject the issue in the campaign trail. But is this the same dynamic as 2022, which the Roe decision to end Roe essentially gave Democrats this kept in the law and keep the Senate?

HULSE: Yeah, I think it is. I think the problem for Republicans is they're on the wrong side of public opinion on this, and it's hard to cover that up with some kind of message. And you said we'll see more cases like this.

I think what we'll see is a lot of ads about cases like this. This is an issue that really drives women voters. So maybe even those polls aren't that reflective because you have to think about how women will vote on this. It also the Supreme Court this huge issue and the times my employer

had a great story this week about the deliberations around Dobbs and showed how much the court realized it was so political and the steps they took to kind of disguise how quickly they were moving on this.


So, Republicans know this is just a brutal issue for them and it's going to be hard for them to come up with some message that somehow settles everyone's concerns.

RAJU: Yeah, and again, you've been covering about Ron DeSantis in Florida. He of course has signed into law the six-week ban, but there's actually a court case coming up about whether that would actually be triggered or not. That could inject this right back into the four.

KITCHENER: Absolutely, it's impossible to overstate the implications of that Florida Supreme Court case. So if they rule that it is constitutional to restrict abortion rights, immediately, you know, within 30 days a six-week ban takes effect and there are just, you know, the Florida is just such a massive state and then, you know, everybody has to confront that. DeSantis has to confront that. And Trump actually has been out there saying specifically that six-week bans are terrible.

So he is really, you know, I think clearly trying to get out in front of this thing and he can, I think he's seeing where public opinion is going on this and he has really laid into Ron DeSantis for that particular ban.

So, you know, I think if that is allowed to take effect, we're going to, I think we're going to see people pushing him really hard on that.

RAJU: And yet Trump is also the same one who appointed three Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe. And we'll see what they do on this abortion code case. Thank you for that.

Up next, I talk to the newly admitted leader of the House Freedom Caucus as the Hardline Group gears up for more challenges to Speaker Johnson.



RAJU: After a tumultuous year, the GOP-led House left for the year and will return in early January. But the challenges for the new Speaker are mounting, two deadlines to avoid a government shutdown and navigating a potential Senate deal on immigration, along with aid to Israel and Ukraine.

And just like his predecessors, Johnson facing pressure from his right flank. New reporting this morning from my colleague Melanie Zanona, Alayna Treene, and myself today takes a look at the leader of the effort seeking to hold Johnson's feet to the fire. The newly appointed Chair of the House Freedom Caucus Congressman Bob Good, one of the key players in the move to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. And when I talked to him this past week, he was already frustrated with Johnson's deal on the Annual Defense Policy Bill, known as the NDAA.


REP. BOB GOOD, (R) VIRGINIA: We got to go back to doing things the right way. Today was an abysmal failure to pass this NDAA that was essentially Schumer's NDAA that really didn't contain the Republican wins that we fought for and passed out of our own NDAA back in the summer.

RAJU: Is the freedom probably going to be a thorn in the side of Speaker Johnson?

GOOD: If Speaker Johnson does the things that Republicans across the country elected us to do, we will be his greatest advocates, his greatest partners, his greatest cheerleaders. If we do things like what we did today, then the Freedom Caucus will absolutely be a problem.


RAJU: Absolutely be a problem. I would have to say that most Republicans in the House GOP conference say they have already absolutely been a problem. Listen to Carlos Jimenez.


RAJU: How much is it did the members in the Freedom Caucus have to blame for all this?

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ, (R) FLORIDA: Yeah, they're mostly to blame.


RAJU: Pretty blunt, but that's just kind of how they feel. How does Speaker Johnson navigate as we deal with potentially this deal coming out of the Senate and immigration will see if they get a deal but also avoiding government shutdown as he faces this pressure.

HULSE: Yeah, I think that what the Freedom Caucus has yet to realize is that the House Republicans cannot get everything they want in all these deals. Speaker Johnson so far has recognized that and he keeps making these deals to get bills passed, maybe not what the far right expected when they chose him, but he's trying to appease them with impeachment, right?

RAJU: Yeah.

HULSE: OK, well we're going to do these other things, but over here we're still impeaching President Biden. You know, I don't think that there's -- I think they're going to be a problem in getting legislation passed. I don't think there going to be a problem in moving to vacate the chair. RAJU: Yeah, you don't seem to have the support to do that right now.

We'll see what happens, it seems. I agree with you on that. What's interesting too is the division over Trump. Actually -- Bob Good actually doesn't endorse Donald Trump for president. He is endorsing Ron DeSantis and there's been some blowback on the right over that. And I asked him about all this.


GOOD: I'm a big fan of President Trump. I supported Trump enthusiastically in '16 and '20. I think he's the best president of my lifetime. If he's our nominee, I will enthusiastically support him again. I made a decision back in May that I thought Governor DeSantis gave us the opportunity for eight years that we need. I think we need eight years of Republican leadership, conservative Republican leadership. I will be enthusiastically behind either one of them as a nominee, but I stand behind my endorsement to Governor DeSantis.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE, (R) GEORGIA: He's a turncoat, basically a traitor, had no loyalty to President Trump who had endorsed him, supported him when he ran for Congress in 2020.


RAJU: That's pretty strong words. I mean, Marjorie Taylor Greene was no longer a member of the Freedom Caucus. She got booted because she was too close to Kevin McCarthy, but it shows you just how the Trump politics play on the hard right.

STRAUSS: Yeah. Look, I was about to say not all is well in the House Freedom Caucus, but you're right. She's not no longer there anymore. There is sort of a small sense of fealty among the HFC to DeSantis, but overall, this is a very, very Trumpy Republican caucus in the House.

And this is one that very much feels that they need to hold the line here. At the same time, though, I'm pretty skeptical about how much congressional and House endorsements matter in this primary. It's just not what voters are looking to, to make their decision.


RAJU: But I think in the congressional primaries actually made matter. We're not reporting we talk about how good primary challengers trying to use DeSantis support against him. Will that work? We'll see how voters in his district respond to that even as he battles the Speaker.

The Speaker, meantime, as Carl was mentioning is dealing with the moving forward on the impeachment inquiry after the vote to move forward this past week when all Republicans voted to go ahead in the impeachment inquiry.

Can they get the votes on impeachment is a totally separate question. A lot of the more moderate members are just simply not there yet and he can only afford to lose three Republicans in a party-line vote. It's interesting to talking to different Republicans about this. One congressman Mark Green who's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told me that Republicans will get a blowback if they do not impeach Biden as well as Alejandro Mayorkas.


REP. MARK GREEN, (R) TENNESSEE: In fact, I think if we don't go down these impeachment routes, a huge part of America is going to just say, you know, we're not supporting Republicans anymore. I mean, there are people that want, I mean, look at the shell game with the money.

I mean, people want us to look at that. And I would think everybody would want us to. And in terms of the failure at the border, you know, Americans are dying. So yeah, I think if we didn't act, we'd be in much more political trouble.


RAJU: But do voters actually think that is? One interesting thing coming from a focus group of North Carolina voters from the company engages, who, talking to a voter here, voters who voted for Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020. This is what this one voter says.


JOHN, NORTH CAROLINA SWING VOTER: We're the facts and we're 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 it's noise.


RAJU: But they're going to -- this is going to stretch into the election year. And that's actually when Democrats moved forward on the first Trump impeachment. They did not want to stretch into the election year because they were worried about political blowback. But there's division about whether Republicans actually see it as a problem or not.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, I think that a lot of the House Republicans view it the way Green does, which is that this is a bit of a runaway train. I mean, Nancy Mace, even before House Republicans took control, said, I think we're going to impeach Joe Biden and that we're going to go down that route.

But that voter, that's what I've heard from a number of voters. Voters who voted Trump in 2016, voted Biden in 2020, ones that are more moderate, you know, more independent, they've said that they don't see the evidence.

Now, if that were to change, then maybe they would change their mind. But there is no evidence to date, despite months of investigations from the House Republican Conference, that shows a connection between Hunter Biden's business dealings and President Biden.

RAJU: Yeah. I think that's going to be the challenge, getting that evidence and can you convince the more moderate members. I spoke to a number of those more moderate members in swing districts, from their 18 Republicans in Biden districts. They will really determine if they move forward here, given the narrowness of this Republican majority. Yes, they said we will authorize the investigation. Let's investigate. But are they there on impeachment? Another question.


RAJU: How close are you to being ready to support impeachment, actual impeachment of the president?

REP. MIKE LAWLER, (R) NEW YORK: We're not there.

RAJU: Are you ready to go as far as impeaching the President?

REP. JOHN DUARTE, (R) FLORIDA: No, I'm going to let the committees continue their work, develop their articles, if they develop articles of impeachment, show their evidence and then we'll make a separate choice there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So is there a chance when you get to the end of the inquiry that there won't be article (inaudible)?

REP. DON BACON, (R) NEBRASKA: Yeah, I think -- actually I think that's probably more likely than that.


RAJU: Do you think they'll eventually fall in line here?

HULSE: I don't think so because it's district specific. Why most of the districts that have elected Republicans want impeachment, the districts that make the majority might not want impeachment. I think I've talked to Don Bacon about this a couple of times and he seems very reluctant. That was an easy vote last week, the tough ones coming.

RAJU: Yeah, we'll see if they actually get to that. All right, when the House returns in January, we'll be without their former leader. The ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave his final floor speech on Thursday.

Last week, we shared a few of the many lively exchanges I had with him during his reign atop the House GOP.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) CALIFORNIA: Why don't you ask the other questions? Why don't you ask them?


RAJU: I did. You never --

MCCARTHY: -- change your position.

RAJU: I never change my position. MCCARTHY: I can always count on you for the most inappropriate

question. He does this every time.


RAJU: That can go on for actually an hour if you want to show all the exchanges but McCarthy himself weighed in on those exchanges on Meghan McCain's podcast this past week.


MCCARTHY: Manu with CNN.


MCCARTHY: I was frustrated with him when I was minority leader. He was always Trump. But you know what? As Speaker, he was tough on me, but he was fair.


RAJU: Well, they'll take the praise, thank you for that.

OK, up next, why cry over spilled milk? And when you can give it, in a speech on the House floor.



RAJU: War, a border crisis, and milk? This week, House members took time on their busy schedules to debate an utterly important question. Should whole milk return to school lunches? The federal government banned it more than a decade ago, thanks to health guidance that called for fat-free or low-fat options.

That effort involved then-First Lady Michelle Obama. But experts' advice has since changed on the issue, and on Thursday, House Republicans had a cow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And let's not skim over the facts here whole milk is truly the cream of the crop.

REP. VIRGINIA FOXX, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: Nutrients in whole milk, like protein, calcium, and vitamin D, provide the fuel Santa needs to travel the whole globe in one night. Whole milk is the unsung hero of his Christmas journey.

REP. TOM TIFFANY, (R) WISCONSIN: Some may ask, why are we focusing on this issue? Unfortunately, it's because the USDA has its sights on getting rid of chocolate, milk and schools. Come and take it, USDA.

REP. CORY MILLS, (R) FLORIDA: This is an issue maintaining American control of critical supply chains that the Chinese state-owned enterprises have no business being in our schools.


FOXX: Let's end the war on milk.


RAJU: The bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis as past week, 330 to 99. And then the debate moved over to the Senate, sorry about that, where Roger Marshall, who is a Republican Senator, chugged an entire glass to show his support. But Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow blocked quick passage, saying the decision should be left to the experts and leaving a sour taste on Capitol Hill.

That's it for Inside Politics Sunday. Up next, State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests include Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie and Senator Joe Manchin.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. We'll catch you next time.