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Special Counsel Asks For Immediate Decision From Supreme Court; GOP Rallies Around Trump After Colorado Ballot Ruling; DeSantis: Trump Indictments "Suck Out A Lot Of Oxygen" From Race; Trump's Legal Woes Take Center Stage In GOP Primary; Biden Under Pressure From Democrats On Israel Policy; Biden Campaign Posts Image Comparing Trump's Words To Hitler's; Question For Biden Campaign: How To Talk About Trump? Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 21, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, firing back. Donald Trump is on a social media tear, sending dozens of posts and reposts, slamming the court ruling that kicked him off the ballot in Colorado. His Republican rivals are for the most part standing with him.

Plus, President Biden is grappling with a critical decision on Israel. The U.N Security Council is set to vote on a resolution to stop the fighting in Gaza. Big question, will the U.S. block it? And Congress is paralyzed. Lawmakers heading home for the holidays after one of the most unproductive years in history. And 2024 might be even worse.

I'm Jim Acosta in for Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines in Inside Politics.

I want to start with Jack Smith responding to Trump's legal team, trying to delay the January 6 case. The special counsel is stressing the gravity of the situation and urging the Supreme Court to immediately hear the dispute over presidential immunity.

And CNN's senior crime and justice correspondent Katelyn Polantz is following all the developments for us. Katelyn, what are we hearing about the special counsel's requests?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jim, the special counsel is back before the Supreme Court saying they want the Supreme Court to be looking at this question of presidential immunity now for the former president of the United States whether he can be tried, whether he can be a criminal defendant. A legal issue that has to be determined before Donald Trump goes to trial. That trial is set for March in federal court in Washington.

And so, there's been a back and forth here of whether it's time for the Supreme Court to step in now to look at these legal issues and to decide them with some sort of finality about the immunity around the presidency, the protections around the presidency.

And so now, the Supreme Court could act at any moment. They could decide to take this case or not. If they choose not to or if they sit on it, is going to be an issue -- a legal issue that intermediary court. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals already has teed up to be looking at in the beginning of January but there is a lot at stake here.

And the latest filing that came in from the Justice Department, Jim, today argues that this is an issue of great constitutional moment. They cannot be clear that this is one of the most significant constitutional issues in criminal history for the country and that they want the Supreme Court to be dealing with it now that it doesn't need to be going through these extra steps. Of course, Donald Trump says, well, we can delay because everything here is political.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, Katelyn, this is turning into a kind of a Donald Trump log jam at the Supreme Court potentially right with the Colorado case. So, who knows what else is out there? Maybe the documents case might present a Supreme Court issue. I mean, it's piling up over there.

POLANTZ: It is. Although, there are very few issues in at least the criminal cases against Donald Trump that can actually go through the appeals process before a criminal trial. There are only a couple things that are so important to criminal defendants' rights that they have to be determined. And this is one of them, this presidential immunity question.

So, Donald Trump being tried in Florida. Maybe there are some things that could find a way to the appeals courts, but very unlikely because what is charged in that case about the documents that happened after Trump was president.

And so, this presidential immunity issue, it's the one thing where Trump's team has this opening to argue. We don't need the case to go to trial right now and the Justice Department is saying no. The country needs clarity because this is such an important issue of a former president on trial.

ACOSTA: All right, Katelyn. I suspect it'll be a busy year for you in 2024. If not the Supreme Court on all of these issues. All right, Katelyn, thank you very much. Now to another Trump legal crisis. The former president is responding to the Colorado ruling that he's not eligible to run for president because of the 14th Amendments insurrection has banned.

He just posted on Truth Social, "I'm not an insurrectionist, crooked Joe Biden is." Trump loves the I know you are but what am I defense, but there's only one president who tried to overturn an election and he's no longer in office on the 2024 campaign trail. Trump's Republican rivals are navigating how to talk about yet another Trump court case. The answer has mostly been to defend him at least to a point.



NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this is wrong what Colorado did. Chaos does follow him. And we can't have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it. You don't defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we should beat Donald Trump at the ballot box, not in the courtroom. And I don't think that it will end this era, which I think needs in our country of Donald Trump by courts story.


ACOSTA: And Trump's legal Jeopardy has dominated the primary race from start to finish. Governor Ron DeSantis says, it's no coincidence that he's also dominating in the polls.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish Trump hadn't been indicted on any of this stuff. It distorted the primary because it helped him. Is that what you're saying? It's both that but then it also is just crowded out. I think so much other stuff and it's sucked out a lot of oxygen.


ACOSTA: I want to bring in my political panel on all of this, CNN's Alayna Treene, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, and CNN's Manu Raju. So, one day Donald Trump says, I haven't read Mein Kampf. The next day, he's saying I'm not an insurrectionists.

I mean Jeff Zeleny, if I were the other candidates, I would be exhausted too talking about Donald Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Exhausted and they're being crowded out. I mean, that's the biggest complaint and sort of observation you hear from these rivals. Who just every moment that they think they finally have sort of an inch to get their ideas and proposals out there. Another Donald Trump headline crowds out everything.

So, at the end of the day, when you look at some of these responses to this a Colorado Supreme Court ruling, there is a bit of nuance in there as you said. And the bottom line to all this is Nikki Haley has been saying and Ron DeSantis -- when you've sort of brushed aside his conspiracy theories on this been saying that look, do you want all of this drama again?

Do you want 2024 to be playing out at the Supreme Court or should this be about you? The challenge is though, at least the Republican primary, the base is still very squarely behind Donald Trump. And, you know, this has elevated him throughout the year.

One thing I noticed this morning, when the Florida governor was out campaigning and said, what if the indictments hadn't happened back in April? What if Alvin Bragg hadn't indicted Donald Trump? Would this be a different race? And it may be actually. But you know, ifs and buts, candy and nuts, as John Boehner used to say is, you know, beyond the point.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Alayna, I mean, Donald Trump would not have as many victim cards to play if that were the case. But I mean, take a look at this point register poll. Do Trump's statements make you more likely to support him? It says, more likely 43 percent, the radical left thugs that live like vermin in the U.S. need to be routed out. 43 percent more likely, 23 percent less likely. Immigrants are poisoning the blood of America, 42 percent more likely, 28 percent less likely.

I mean, yes, he's in all this legal Jeopardy. The cases have sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the race. But he's throwing all of this toxic red meat to the base. They're eating it up. And he's -- I mean, that also is perhaps a big factor in why he has the support that he has right now.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Yeah. There is a couple things. I mean with the legal challenges, there's no question that they have helped him with fundraising in the polls. It's interesting. I remember, in the summer after the first slate of indictments that he had come down against him.

His team had actually questioned whether he would continue to enjoy a boost from the legal issues that he was facing, or if it would just be a short-term thing for them. And it's proven to outlast a lot longer than I think they were anticipating. But as for the red meat that he's throwing at these voters.

I think it's important to remember that this is an entirely new rhetoric from Donald Trump in 2016. In 2020, we've seen him use the same type of anti-immigration, violent, dark rhetoric. If anything, though, it's become far more extreme and far more dark now that it's in 2024. But you're right, they are responding very well to it.

ACOSTA: Right. And I mean, we saw during the Trump administration -- I mean, we saw the policies of family separation and so on. But Manu, one of the things that has also been a problem for the Republican Party is a lot of members of Congress, a lot of Republican leaders don't know how to talk about this. And we're seeing this in some of the sound we just played a few moments ago from Nikki Haley to Ron DeSantis. They just don't know what to do with this.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, what are we in year eighth of Trump and they still haven't quite figured out as -- that's not just reflected among the leadership on Capitol Hill, which many of them in the Senate side in particular want nothing to do with Trump. Don't want to talk about Trump. The House Republican side of just push everything under the rug and align themselves with Trump. That has played out. But also, it's reflecting on the campaign trail, right?

I mean, DeSantis, Haley and Christie have had much different strategies about how to deal with Trump. Christie has gone right after him, attacked him. Said, you know, call them everything from -- you know, someone who's should not be part of the audience, not to have off that the - disgusting that was the word I was looking for.


But you know, DeSantis has tried to go after him on the policy side. Haley's just mostly been said, oh, just you don't want all this chaos, but none of it has really worked. I mean, yes, Haley has had some momentum, but she is still very far behind and their right. Whenever there is a big controversy that happens at Donald Trump, he uses that to rally the base behind him. And these candidates feel like that they have to align with where the base is going.

ACOSTA: And that brings me to Tia. I want to play a little soundbite from a guy named Joe Vize. I hope I'm saying his name correctly, an Iowa voter. And listen to what he has to say, very interesting stuff.


JOE VIZE, IOWA VOTER: I feel let's get somebody else. You know, he's not our choice. That's the bottom line. Is he -- you know, the lesser of two evils. You know, and that's what it comes down to if it's Trump and Biden again -- you know, people are going to vote for Biden because they don't want Trump.


ACOSTA: You know, Tia, I wonder -- you know, as the politicians, as the leaders, as Manu was saying. The other candidates in the race are struggling how to talk about Donald Trump. And here we have Joe Vize, almost in Joe the plumber, lane smokiness. Maybe it's Joe the electrician or the farmer out in Iowa, I'm not sure.

But kind of boiling it down, that at the end of the day the voters may just say, you know what we had Donald Trump, as Manu was saying for eight . Let's do something different or let's stick with Biden.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yeah. I think what the voters talking about is definitely the conversation about the general election and why Republicans are concerned that a Donald Trump nomination would make it easier for four more years of Joe Biden but unfortunately, we are in primary time right now.

And what we're hearing from Republican voters in the primaries in a lot of the early states is that they're sticking with Donald Trump. They like his rhetoric, or at least they're responding well to it. The fact that he's playing the victim, they're responding to it. Donald Trump has shown he knows how to speak to his base and keep his support strong, quite frankly, and build support in some ways.

So, what message resonates with primary voters is one that benefits Trump. But the concern in the party is that that same message will not communicate well in a general election. And they don't have the solution for that.

ZELENY: I think one take away though, as we in this pre-campaign year is that Joe Biden's -- President Biden's challenges and weaknesses in many respects have elevated Donald Trump. And the beginning argument of this year was many of the candidates are like Trump can't beat Biden. But when you see poll showing that they're either neck or neck and or the former president is slightly ahead that has elevated him.

So, I hear that out there a lot as well that the Trump can't beat Biden. But that's not a universal thought anymore. A lot of people who didn't necessarily like Trump also say, you know, they think he can beat Biden.

RAJU: But there's so much uncertainties we're having in '20 for sure.

ZELENY: And is there an exhaustion factor?

ACOSTA: Yeah, of course, there is. And look, it is because the trials are going to -- when he has to go through. We're going to play out. I mean, that the Supreme Court, when it decides to do in this taking up this immunity case will have significant implications. But this legal calendar is going to play out all the 2024. He can lock up the nomination potentially by mid-March.

And these trials continue to play out. If there's a conviction that could -- polls show that they'd have some impact on him, particularly in the general election. But what if he's acquitted? What if there's a mistrial that could potentially give him a boost in some of cases as well? So, there's just so much uncertainty we have.

ACOSTA: And Alayna, you're going out to a lot of these rallies. Thank goodness, you're doing it, I'm not. But when you talk to voters out there, are you talking to folks like Joe Vize. We just played there a few moments ago or just -- yeah, they might like Trump's policies. Yeah, they might say that the Des Moines Register, sure I like some of the things that he says. But they're just exhausted by him, and they just want to move on.

TREENE: So, at Trump's rallies, those people are few and far between. The people go to Donald Trump's rallies are the ones who are very, very pro-Trump. People who have never gone to a political event before in their lives but they're coming for Donald Trump. Someone I just spoke to in Reno, Nevada, over the weekend had given me a similar story.

But at some of the other events I go to the ones where there's a ton of candidates at the same type of event. That's where you start to hear some of the same commentary that Joe Vize was saying. I remember there was this one woman who said that she has gone to several -- you know, to some Ramaswami events, to Haley events, to DeSantis event. She's trying to find someone who could be the alternative.

And I do think there's a lot of people who are concerned that they really don't want Joe Biden to continue to be president. And they do worry that if Donald Trump wins, that will effectively allow Joe Biden to have a much easier run at it.

MITCHELL: And that's why there's concerned about trying to coalesce around one alternative -- instead of several. Right now, none of those -- kinds of those fighting for second place, particularly DeSantis and Haley neither one wants to leave the race. Chris Christie has indicated he doesn't want to get out. And without that they're able to split the never Trump field if you will, and he appears to be stronger.


The question is in some of those early voting states, if he stays below 50 percent, I think there will be more pressure to say, let's find one candidate to go up against Donald Trump and maybe they can get all those other votes in the pot and push them over 50 percent.

That's an if. And that'll depend how he does in Iowa and New Hampshire. But I think we're going to hear some of that if he maybe doesn't meet some of the big expectations. He and his campaign has now set for himself in early voting states.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And talking about something we've seen for seven or eight years, a fractured field benefiting Donald Trump. I mean, it's happening all over again. Guys, stick with us. More to come. Coming up next. The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution, calling for a pause in the war in Gaza. President Biden is still grappling with whether the U.S. will sign on. Is next.




ACOSTA: President Biden is facing a crucial decision on the Israel, Hamas war. The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote today on a resolution calling for a pause in fighting in Gaza to allow a surge of humanitarian aid to get in. But it's still unclear if the U.S. will support it. The vote has already been delayed three times this week, as President Biden worries that could be seen as a rebuke to Israel's response to the brutal Hamas terror attack on October 7.

And CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is over at the White House for us. Priscilla, this is a big task for this White House. What can you tell us?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is. And President Biden said himself that they're still talking about it. They're still negotiating, which suggests Jim, that it is still an unresolved matter here at the White House. Now, as you mentioned, this is a vote that has been delayed multiple times amid diplomatic wrangling.

And some of the key sticking points are, for example, that the U.S. needs to see specific condemnation of Hamas as part of the resolution. The other concern is that this would slow humanitarian aid into Gaza with U.N. monitoring.

Now Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed some optimism. He said, just yesterday that they expect or he's hopeful to get to "a good place." But of course, Jim, all of this comes against the backdrop of the growing death toll in Gaza. U.S. officials have said that they expect Israel to transition to a more precise military operation, one that targets Hamas leadership.

But they are still waiting and in discussion with Israel about avoiding civilian casualties. And those are the types of results that the U.S. wants to see and where they have pressure from the international community and here domestically to make sure that that is the case moving forward. But of course, the big question moving forward or at least for today is what happens with this vote.

ACOSTA: And Priscilla, you're learning about a significant call the president had this morning. What can you tell us?

ALVAREZ: That's right. President Biden and Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador were on the phone this morning about the situation on the U.S. southern border. Now sources telling me that the White House has been wanting to place additional pressure on Mexico to drive down the number of migrants who are reaching the U.S. southern border.

We have seen over the last few days that there have been more than 10,000 migrants crossing the border each day. That is a significant strain on federal resources that is raising alarm bells internally.

In fact, just yesterday, current and former homeland security officials were telling me that this could be the breaking point for the U.S.-Mexico border. And clearly the White House sees this as a priority with the president getting on the phone this morning with the Mexican president.

ACOSTA: That is a very important phone call indeed. All right, Priscilla, thank you very much. And my great panel of reporters, that's back with me. Jeff Zeleny, I mean, this is an issue for President Biden.

You were talking about this in the previous segment that they're just these issues that are weighing down the president. It's giving Trump some daylight to make this a tight race. It's going to continue to make it a tight race.

And let's share this Quinnipiac poll on the president's response to Israel and Hamas. Approved 34 percent. That was higher just back in November. And it's obviously gone down since then. Your sense of it right now, Jeff?

ZELENY: Look, it's a big challenge for this White House without question, you know, and we can look at this demographically across the slices of voters. A young voters have big concerns. What the White House is doing here? I mean, we can see it. We can feel it all the elected officials we talked to. And it's not just young voters.

I mean, we have seen the just absolute brutality. That obviously happened on October 7, then against a Palestinians in the wake of that. So look, the White House is limited in one respect of what they can do. But we have seen the president's tone shift dramatically from the beginning there in the early days of October 7, that we've seen his administration he has sent virtually every top official over to the region, essentially to keep an eye on the government there and the military there as well.

But the White House knows this is a problem. But again, this is the challenge for any sitting president. They must deal with what happens around the world. And this is not a quagmire, but it's a major challenge for him that they would like to extract themselves from.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Manu -- and they're in the White House is hearing from members of Congress and the Democratic Party.

RAJU: Yeah. A growing number of members of Congress, not just once on the far left, who have been pretty outspoken against Israel's action really from the start, but even some of the more mainstream members who want to push back against what the Netanyahu government. You've seen that reflected in some of the president's tones and some of his actions, but not as far as a lot of Democrats would like.

But the challenge for Biden will be the second that he starts to move more towards the Democratic position and he's going to keep getting hammered by Republicans. And a lot of Republicans still have -- were supportive of the president right off the -- his resolute support for Israel.


The second you back off of that that becomes a real challenge. And when you point to the real question about what to do with -- how to do with aid Israel? There is just a growing push within the Democratic Party for some conditionality on providing aid, providing humanitarian aid to folks were in Gaza. And that's going to complicate things as the U.S. tries to figure out a way to unite behind Israel this key moment.

ACOSTA: And yet, I mean, despite all the talk about the polling and how things haven't been going so well for President Biden. At the same Quinnipiac poll, among registered voters that shows the race is still very tight between President Biden and Donald Trump. Biden leading, I believe by one percentage point in that latest Quinnipiac poll.

And this is something Tia that the Biden campaign just put out this campaign post comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler. I mean, this is something that the campaign is just diving in headfirst on this and making it very clear. Trump parodying Hitler. We will root out. My political opponents live like vermin within our country. And then a quote from Hitler. Jews are vermin and pests that must be exterminated and so on.

And so, I mean we've heard the president talk about this to some extent yesterday when he was out on the tarmac -- when he was in Wisconsin. He hasn't talked about this a whole lot publicly in front of the cameras. But the campaign has been saying, you know what, we're going to draw these comparisons.

MITCHELL: Absolutely. Because again, the campaign knows that for all of Biden's kind of downsides and the challenges in the polling, the challenges he faces trying to run the country. There's a big segment of the U.S. population that is fearful and concerned what four years under Donald Trump would look like. And Donald Trump, quite frankly, keeps giving them fresh examples to be worried about.

And so, these latest comments he's made about immigrants and using language that does -- if not directly quote Hitler evokes some of the messaging that we heard from Hitler that led to the Holocaust and all these other atrocities. People like, I don't want that as our precedent.

So, the Biden campaign and we can expect them to pull out all these things as we head towards the general election if Donald Trump is the nominee. And what they're telling voters is decide, is this who you want as your president?

ACOSTA: Yeah. And I asked Tom Nichols with the Atlantic this past weekend. Why isn't Biden been more forceful about this -- talking about this out in front of the cameras. And so, he had made a very interesting comment about this. Let me play it and I'll talk to you about this.


TOM NICHOLS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think if the president went out there every single day and said, here's the crazy thing, Donald Trump said today, and here's how I condemn it. By the time we reach next November, Americans are just tuned out there -- they just will be overloaded with it. I think when you're dealing with somebody like Donald Trump, you have to be careful about amplifying his message and you have to pick your shots.


ACOSTA: Yeah. Alayna, what do you think about that?

TREENE: I mean, it's an interesting argument. And I think he's right in the sense that, you know, a lot of people have Trump fatigue. You hear it's the same thing we're seeing with a lot of these court cases that he's facing. It's definitely the same thing with a lot of the rhetoric.

You know, to have a former president parrot language of Adolf Hitler is something that I think no one would anticipate. But some people are shrugging it off, or don't give it as much, you know, scrutiny because it's coming from the mouth of Donald Trump. And he's known to say very crazy things.

I think one other point that I just think it's very worth making here about the Biden argument as well is, a lot of this rhetoric from Donald Trump is also coming as the media is increasingly scrutinizing his comments on dictators and things like that. And also, this question of whether he would be an authoritarian leader himself in a second term.

We've also heard him in his rallies over the past couple of weeks now talking, praising really Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban. Just another example of I think, where we've started to see the Biden campaign as well really jump in and try to draw some -- really play up I guess some of these comments come in from Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, if you're Joe Biden, if you're the Biden campaign, why get involved in this discussion? Let Donald Trump do all the damage to himself. I mean, you know, you could have a lot of the focus right now. Manu, how the economy is doing? How Biden is doing in Israel? And then Trump goes out there and start saying, I want to be a dictator for day one and echoing Adolf Hitler.

RAJU: Sure. I think you do have to pick your spots. The question for the Biden team is, isn't enough just to not be Donald Trump to win reelection? Or do you need to have some sort of proactive message? Talk about what the exact vision is for the next few years and what exactly that agenda is and doesn't matter.

I mean that's -- you know, Trump, of course, has rewritten the rules of politics. So maybe it just not being Trump is good enough. But we'll see the polls show that it's still a close race as they've just tried to draw that contrast but maybe that's not enough.

ZELENY: If the contrast works better, they think than anything else. So, until the economy improves or something, they're trying to get Democrats back home. That's what they need to do first.

ACOSTA: And Biden maybe seeing that happened courtesy of Donald Trump and what he's been saying. All right guys, more to come. Thanks so much. Coming up. A paralyzed Congress got almost nothing done this year. You probably didn't notice that because they just didn't do a whole lot. What went wrong and is there any reason to hope that 2024 will be a lot different.