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U.S. Supreme Court Likely to Have Final Say on Whether Insurrectionist Ban Applies to Trump; Biden Says That U.S. is Pushing Israel and Hamas to Reach a Deal on Hostages; Border Towns Face Record Rise in Migrants; Texas Makes Entering Illegally a State Crime Amid Surge. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 20, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Just into CNN, President Biden speaking about the historic ruling disqualifying Trump from the Colorado ballot because of the 14th Amendment's insurrection is banned. The president spoke to reporters just a few moments ago.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) Colorado ruling on Trump (inaudible)?

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm not going to comment on a court case. That's up to the court. That's all I have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he an insurrectionist? Is Trump an insurrectionist, sir?

BIDEN: Well, I think, certainly, it's self-evident. You saw it all. Now whether the 14th Amendment applies, I'll let the court make that decision. But he certainly supported an insurrection. No question about it. None. Zero. And he seems to be doubling down on (inaudible). Anyway, I've got to t do this."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) are we expecting a (inaudible)?



BIDEN: Whoa, where?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no. I was talking about (inaudible).

BIDEN: You're talking about -- we're pushing it. There's no expectation at this point. But we are pushing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you address the prisoner exchange with Venezuela, sir?

BIDEN: Yeah. Can I do that after this event? OK? All right. It looks good. It looks like, Maduro so far, he is keeping his commitment on a free election. It ain't done yet. We got a long way to go, but it is good so far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And your reaction to the 20,000 dead in Gaza? The death toll reached (inaudible).

BIDEN: It's tragic.



ACOSTA: There you have it. The president there and MJ, when the reporters were asking him to comment on the Colorado case, he was kind of away from the cameras. You had to sort of lean in to listen to the audio. But when he was asked is Trump an insurrectionist, President did move up to the cameras and --


ACOSTA: -- he was quite audible there. He seemed to maybe want to take that question.

LEE: Yes.


LEE: And I mean, he was reacting to the news. But honestly, what he was saying wasn't new, right?


LEE: Because we've heard him say this before as far as January 6th is concerned.


LEE: I mean, in fact, he's given like major speeches that are just about or solely about -- mainly centered around what he sees as these like major threats to democracy. So, I mean, I think the fact that he was eager to address what is this huge news, not surprising, but again, just the legal aspect of it, like he is going to be very careful to not touch that and not even give off the impression that he's trying to sort of meddle in that.

ACOSTA: And he was asked about hostages, potential for a deal in the Middle East on that, and you have new reporting on some of this.

LEE: Yeah. I mean, our reporting is that Israel is sort of back at the negotiating table, which is a big shift since the pause in the fighting had ended and the hostages stopped coming out. The fact that they are willing to sort start putting proposals on the table I think it is noteworthy. We don't know where that's going to go, but I do think that both Israel and Hamas, I mean they are under a tremendous amount of pressure I think for the Israeli government, obviously, the public opinion, the public sentiment, the global support eroding, none of that is helping.

I think the fact that they mistakenly killed three Israeli hostages, that has been terrible for the prime minister and his government. And then I think for Hamas, the belief among U.S. and Israeli officials was always that once the military operations resumed in southern Gaza, that they would feel that pressure and that at some point, they would think that the pause needed to come back. And so they will agree to releasing more hostages. Again, we just don't know whether and when we're going to get there.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Nia, to get back to the president's trip here. He's in Wisconsin.


ACOSTA: Big important swing state, critical to president's re-election chances. And he's going to be trying to talk about the economy, as things are starting to swing in the right direction for him politically. Your sense of it.

HENDERSON: Well, listen, he has got to convince voters that the economy is much better than they feel like it is. There is, obviously, inflation. There's also a wage increase, but it sort of doesn't really even out. As well there's just lingering anxiety about the trauma the nation has gone through because of COVID over these last years. So here's a president who has to go to these states, Wisconsin, the sort of blue wall states that he was able to sort of piece together in 2020.

And he's got to reach out to African-American voters, he's got to reach out to young voters who aren't as confident in him as they were before. There is some discontent about his policies on any number of issues, most presently, Gaza and Israel. And so, he's got a real tall order and a lot of Democrats are like, he has to get to it now. They feel like in some ways he's leaning back a little bit too much.

ACOSTA: Well, and Dave, I mean, we do have -- the polling issues continue for the president. There's a headline in Slate that the polls are as bad as they could possibly be right now. There's no precedent for this according to Slate. But I do want to point out, Dave, New York Times/Siena College poll, Biden leading from 47/45 among likely voters. No clear leader, we should emphasize that, within the margin of error and so on. But despite all of this tough news for the president in recent weeks, this is still a very tight race and it is probably going to remain so.

DAVID WEIGEL, REPORTER, SEMAFOR: It's tight with Trump. And what Democrats will tell you -- they tell all of us is, keep watching these economic numbers. They are going to show up in the data. No back and read articles from 1983 about Ronald Reagan and how people felt so sour about the economy and his age, and they turned around. That is their theory, that things are going to turn around as soon as people feel that we have moved on. They feel the growth in the economy, they feel that the recession which a lot of people predicted would happen this year didn't happen.

That's it. Just wait for people to feel like it has improved. Even in Republic rhetoric, they talk about fighting inflation. It's low enough now that the Fed is talking about lowering rates next year. And that's something all Democrats say yes. Is it going to lead the news? Donald Trump is kicked off Colorado ballot, probably not. But wait till May and see what the Fed does, and then see how optimistic people are.


WEIGEL: Nothing (inaudible) can change expect for these external factors.

ACOSTA: If it's not morning in America yet, perhaps it's the night that's darkest just before the dawn.


ACOSTA: Maybe that's the stage that the Biden folks feel right now.


ACOSTA: All right, guys. Thanks very much. Did the January 6th insurrection make Donald Trump ineligible for the presidency? We'll talk to a constitutional expert about how the Supreme Court might rule. That's next.



ACOSTA: To help us understand how the Colorado Supreme Court decision could play out, I'm joined by Professor Derek Muller, who is an expert in elections and the constitution at Notre Dame Law School. Derek, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it. Obviously, this is heading towards the Supreme Court. I guess, there's a pretty decent variety of possible outcomes. What's your sense of it? I mean, are the predictions accurate that you're hearing from some, this will just be 9-0, that the Supreme Court will throw this out?

DEREK MULLER, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: So, I don't think that's likely. I think it's going to be a very contested question. I think there are lots of ways for the court to go. If it does want to throw it out, but I think there's going to be some very serious arguments on history and original understanding of the constitution that could divide the court in some interesting ways.

So, I think there's a lot of challenges for the plaintiffs. There's no question. They have to win on everything, every element, which they did in Colorado. But at the same time, there are going to be some serious challenges that the Supreme Court will consider and we'll see if there's consensus, if they want to try to reach a general understanding, so that there's not divisions in the court, or if it does start breaking down among the justices about the right approach in this case.


ACOSTA: And how much does it matter to the case that Trump has not been convicted of or even charged with insurrection? We heard the president say a few moments ago that it's apparent to him that the former president is an insurrectionist. But from a legal standpoint, how much of that is going to be an issue do you think before the high court?

MULLER: So, I don't know that that issue will be very significant in the courts' eyes. In a separate provision of the 14th Amendment, it talks about how the right to vote is -- might not be given to those who have previously been convicted of a felony or other infamous crimes. So, that same provision of the constitution also expressly uses words like "criminal conviction," whereas this section of the constitution talks about the words "engaged in insurrection." It doesn't seem to really require a criminal conviction.

So, I think it's a very popular rhetorical point, but I'm not sure it's the kind of legal argument that's going to have as much weight when it gets to the United States Supreme Court. But, we'll see how persuasive the arguments are.

ACOSTA: And how interesting might it be that we could have some justices who typically opine for originalism when it comes to how they view the constitution and yet, that might not be convenient in terms of how they might want to rule on all of this. What do you think?

MULLER: Yeah. I mean, there's been a lot of originalism that's happened in these cases. If you read the briefs, if you read the arguments from the legal experts and the historians, it's a lot of discussion about what was happening in 1868. What did the newspaper articles of the time say, what did the justices' writing at that time have to say about this law. So, I think there's going to be a lot of pressure at least to have an original focus as much as the court can.

But there is also no question that for the originalists, it might end up being the kind of case that harms the former president of the United States and perhaps one who appointed them to the court. So, it does set off (ph) these tensions in the court, but I think that's why they are insulated. They hold their offices for life. And I think there's a reason why they have the ability to issue decisions without thinking as much about the repercussions that might come.

ACOSTA: And does the Supreme Court need to act quickly here? Do you think, because -- could you have a scenario emerge where other states will say, OK, well, Colorado is doing this now. So, I guess we better jump on top of this.

MULLER: Yeah. I think there's a risk of a cascading effect. That Colorado is the first to reach this decision on the merits, but may be not the last. There's cases pending in Maine and in Michigan and in Oregon right now. And I think more are coming, as ballot deadlines approach and as the primaries begin. So, I think there's a risk that more of these states jump on.

And I think the pressure from the Supreme Court will weigh in (ph) sooner than later for no other reason than the practical concern that voters out there now have a very serious question in their minds about whether or not this candidate is eligible to vote for, whether or not he is going to be eligible to serve in office. I think voters are going to want to that certainty and decide, should I waste my vote? Am I risking wasting my vote? Should I vote for somebody else?

So, there remains to be some pretty significant and uncertain effects in the primaries and political process, and a reason why the Supreme Court is going to have a lot of pressure to weigh in much sooner rather than later.

ACOSTA: All right. Very good. Well, stay tuned for that. Perhaps it will be in early 2024, something to look forward to in the New Year. Derek, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

MULLER: Thanks for having me.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, a new legal challenge to the Texas law targeting migrants illegally crossing the border. We'll take you live to the border, next.



ACOSTA: Two civil rights groups are suing Texas over its controversial new border law, the bill comes as Texas has seen a surge of crossing at the southern border, more than 12,000 migrants in just the past 24 hours. Critics argue it is illegal and will lead to racial profiling. Governor Abbott says it simply allows law enforcement officials to do their jobs. In Texas, CNN's Rosa Flores is live for us near the border in Eagle Pass, Texas. Rosa, what can you tell us?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, what I can tell you is that there are communities along the U.S. southern border that are concerned about this very bill and let me show you why. Take a look behind me. You'll see thousands of migrants that are waiting to be transported for immigration processing. Now, all of these migrants will eventually be in federal custody. It is the responsibility of the federal government to apprehend them, to process them, determine if they have legal basis to be in the United States or not.

Now, under SB 4, this new law that was just signed by Governor Greg Abbott, it makes the illegal entry into the State of Texas a state crime. So, what communities are worried about is that what you are looking at could become a state problem, a state issue. And whether it be county judges or sheriffs, they are wondering how are we going to house these people? Where are we going to hold them? And where is the money for training going to be coming from? I talked to the Maverick County Sheriff about this. Take a listen.


FLORES: Are your deputies trained to enforce that law?

SHERIFF TOM SCHMERBER, MAVERICK COUNTY, TEXAS: No, not exactly. I'm hoping they get some kind of a training -- some kind of training.

FLORES: Have you heard from the Governor's Office about training or about jail capacity increases, or anything like that?

SCHMERBER: No, we have not heard anything. I'm hoping that we will but I haven't heard anything yet.


FLORES: Does this law put you in a bind?


FLORES: Now, Governor Greg Abbott maintains that this law is constitutional and he says that he plans to take this legal fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Jim, all of this, as we are hearing more from a CBP official about what is driving this surge, this particular time, and according to this official, there are pseudo travel agencies that are orchestrating some of this. But I think we ran out of time, Jim. So I am going to toss back to you.

ACOSTA: All right. Great reporting there, as always, Rosa. Starting laws is one thing, enforcing them quite another. Great point there from the Sheriff.

Thanks very much for joining us on "Inside Politics." "CNN News Central" starts right after the break. Have a great day.