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Pivotal Meeting In Mexico City, Donald Trump: Word Association; Israel military Chief: Gaza war to last many more months. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2023 - 12:00   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Today on INSIDE POLITICS, a pivotal meeting about the crisis at the southern border. President Biden sending two top cabinet officials to Mexico City to meet with the Mexican president. Will a new plan emerge to stop the unprecedented number of illegal border crossings?

Plus a new survey shows voters associate Donald Trump with words like revenge and dictatorship. And believe it or not, the GOP frontrunner seems to be bragging about it. And it's time to say goodbye to 2023. We've got a countdown of the biggest political stories of the year. I'm Phil Mattingly in for Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines in INSIDE POLITICS.

And at this hour, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas headed to Mexico meeting with the Mexican president about the crisis along the southern border. The goal, convince him to take action to help stop tens of thousands of migrants before they reach U.S. territory. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez leads us off from the White House today. Priscilla, what does the administration hope to actually get out of this trip from a policy perspective?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, simply put, they want help to drive down the number of border crossings that administration officials have been seeing creep up over the last several weeks. Now, this is not what the President wanted to have to face, heading into the 2024 presidential election because this of course, is not only a logistical challenge for the administration, it's also a political one, as he faces heat from Republicans and Democrats.

So the senior U.S. officials going into these meetings with requests from Mexico to try to get more help to drive down these numbers. What those look like according to the officials I've spoken with include, for example, moving migrants who are on the northern border of Mexico, further south. Decongest that area, as well as controlling railways. Those are used by migrants to more quickly get to the U.S. southern border, and also providing incentives like visas for migrants to remain in Mexico and not make the journey north to the U.S. southern border. Now all of this is an extension of a call that took place between

President Biden and the Mexican president just last week, where the two agreed that additional enforcement was urgently needed. Now numbers since then have dropped slightly according to a Homeland Security Official I spoke with. The number yesterday of encounters at the U.S. southern border was around 6000.

Compare that to earlier this month, when they were over 10,000 encounters on a daily basis. So that's some reprieve for the border towns, but officials are chalking that up in part to the holiday. So they're still bracing for what could happen in the days to come and all of this ratcheting up the pressure on President Biden to do what he can and work with his Mexican counterpart to try to get some relief for these border towns.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, some near term relief. There's no long term relief without Congress. Those negotiations still ongoing. Priscilla Alvarez for us at the White House. Thanks very much.

And one of the border towns hit hardest by the historic surge of migrants is Eagle Pass, Texas. Here's what their mayor told CNN.


MAYOR ROLANDO SALINAS JR., (D) EAGLE PASS, TEXAS: Our city here in Eagle Pass, we've been getting slammed with 2000 to 3000 people a day. And it's just an unfair, unethical situation, what's going on here in Eagle Pass, we feel ignored by the federal government.


MATTINGLY: Let's discuss with our great panel of political reporters. Joining me now CNN's Kristen Holmes, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times and Jessica Washington of The Root. Zolan, this is your area of expertise. You know more about this maybe other than Priscilla than anybody I know. In terms of what administration officials and their Mexican counterparts will be talking about today, is there anything that can have a dramatic effect on what we've seen the last several weeks?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oh, man, a dramatic effect. I think that that remains to be seen. Look, I mean, for really throughout the Biden Administration, I mean, really the past few administrations, often when you look at the border, officials are discussing sort of short term plans and solutions to drive down crossings. I should say that there is a history as well.

And these caravans have become more frequent. And they do tend to break apart when going through Mexico and tend to get smaller on the way to the U.S. But to your question of can they actually have any plans that dramatically drive down crossings? I don't know how you can do that when you're just talking about two nations here.

This is now a hemisphere wide issue, where you have migrants coming from Venezuela that are making their way through Panama, as well as through Costa Rica. And unless you're able to establish collaborative solutions with each of those nations, I don't know exactly how you're able to really address this issue in the long term.


I just spent time south of the border, covering Latin America for the past couple of months. And in Costa Rica, you essentially have buses of picking up migrants as soon as they get out of the Darien Gap, driving them north to the Northern Triangle, and on the way to the U.S. It's now a hemisphere wide issue.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, it's such a good point. Your -- your piece on busing in that area was excellent. I think that the fact people have almost missed the point of the nuance of that is it's no longer just Northern Triangle countries as it was a couple of administrations ago. The populations that are coming, including from places like Venezuela and Cuba, make everything astronomically more difficult.

And Jessica, I think that leads into there are negotiations, there are bipartisan negotiations about some type of immigration plan. And it comes as we hear, not just Republicans upset with the administration, but Democratic governors and Democratic mayors upset and frustrated. Listen.


MAYOR BRANDON JOHNSON (D), CHICAGO: We've had an uncoordinated approach without significant federal support. This is not sustainable.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: The federal government said to New York City, we're not going to do our job, you do our job. You take care of 4000 people a week, Eric, you and your team. I am not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel from the federal government.


MATTINGLY: Jessica, does the bipartisan pressure drive this administration closer to trying to make any kind of deal with Republicans in the Senate?

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: Certainly. I mean I think what's complicated the matter, obviously, is that this has been now connected. Border security has become an issue that is connected now to all different types of foreign policy issues, including Ukraine, including Israel.

You know, I interviewed Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries last week and what he was telling me is that, you know, at least from his perspective, he's not interested in a deal that only capitulates to these kind of short term, right wing solutions to immigration. He was really looking for a deal that's more long term. And I will say Democrats do kind of always say that, everyone says that on immigration.

And so it's -- you know, we'll have to wait and see if there's actually going to be any kind of deal that addresses this issue in a long term way that feels good to everyone that actually addresses the humanitarian crisis as well. MATTINGLY: Yeah, it's a really interesting point, it's a fascinating moment in this now decades-long debate where nothing ever seems to get done. Kristen, from a political perspective, I think a lot of people have probably gotten used to talking about this as a Republican base issue or a Republican issue that doesn't necessarily move into the top two or three categories.

In a general election that seems to be shifting. If you look at the numbers, President Biden's numbers right now, on immigration, 26 percent approved, 69 percent disapprove and I think perhaps more interestingly, and underscoring the fact that Hispanic voters are not a monolith. They are not a single issue voting bloc, but Biden at 47 percent in The New York Times Siena poll of the likely electorate most recently, Trump at 35 percent.

Yes, that's a lead, but it's significantly less than the exits from 2020. What does this all say for the Trump campaign and what they're doing right now?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Phil, you played those clips of Democratic mayors. They really played just like a Republican ad during a general, really pointing to the fact that this isn't now just a Republican focus point but it's also a Democratic focus point. You can be sure that no matter who the Republican nominee is, particularly if it's Donald Trump, there's going to be a huge focus on immigration.

You talk about it being one of the top issues. Well, other than the economy and abortion for Democrats, immigration is a leading issue for so many people across the country. And again, you are seeing this uptick in rhetoric from Democrats as well, which is increasing the pressure but it's also giving Republicans and particularly in a 2024 presidential election year, a lot of ammunition to make this a top issue, to bring it to the forefront, as they have been trying to do for several years.

MATTINGLY: Zolan, when you were down reporting in Mexico City in the region, did they view things through the 2024 context, knowing that Donald Trump is the likely Republican nominee concerned, perhaps particularly the Mexican president about what that might bring?

KANNO-YOUNGS: I think there's -- there's certain -- look, people and officials in the region are always paying attention to U.S. politics, as well as the election cycle as well. You know, the relationship between the Mexican government and the Trump Administration was obviously tense at times with you had at that time, the former president threatening tariffs, threatening to shut down the border.

That would impact not just migration, but also you have Mexican officials worried about the collateral damage when it comes to commerce as well and their economy. So of course, that was definitely concerned. But I have to say as well, when I was down there, I noticed that tensions were increasing even right now between the Mexican government and the Biden Administration, not just with this issue, but also with how to address something like fentanyl trafficking as well.


AMLO has always been somebody that has tried to push the Biden Administration to address this issue by giving more U.S. aid, as well as trying to address root causes in the region but you can expect the Biden Administration officials today will be trying to get assistance on the enforcement side, particularly with the southern border of Mexico as well.

MATTINGLY: Jessica, you mentioned you talked to the Democratic Leader of the House, Hakeem Jeffries. Is there any concern that if they get close to a deal, Donald Trump will come in and try and sink it for political purposes?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, and so I mean, that wasn't something that came up in our interview. I think they're thinking more short term in terms of passing something in the very near future. But I think certainly, Donald Trump is a wildcard factor in these negotiations. Trump obviously, is someone with a lot of very incredibly hardline immigration views.

So I think that's certainly an overtone of the entire conversation. I think also the way that Trump plays into this to a certain extent is Trump has always been for progressives and Democrats, the Immigration Boogeyman. And so I think there's another political concern for Biden, if he seems to go more to the right, does he not seem like an important alternative to Trump?

So I think, for the Biden Administration, they've got to think about this politically, both from appeasing you know these Democratic governors you heard from but also not alienating the progressive base that really cares about this issue, and was really animated about it during the Trump Administration.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, an extremely complex needle to thread. Guys, thank you very much. We could talk about this for another couple hours. I hope we do sooner rather than later. Appreciate it. Thanks very much to our panel.

Now to another big story this morning, the Michigan Supreme Court rejecting an attempt to ban Donald Trump from the state's ballot based on the 14th amendments, Insurrectionist ban. That decision of course, coming just days after Colorado's highest court came to the exact opposite conclusion.

CNN's Paula Reid joins me now from Washington. And Paula, look, this is just -- it has to be the Supreme Court's ballgame now, is that fair?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's completely fair. And just another example of how the U.S. Supreme Court could be such an influencing factor in the 2024 election. Now the question here is ballot eligibility. And this is something that has been litigated across multiple states with varying outcomes. And here, the question is whether former President Trump can be kept off a state ballot because of the U.S. Constitution's 14th amendment, which says that officials who engage in an insurrection are barred from holding future office.

Now this was something that was designed to keep former confederates out of -- out of office. It's been used twice in the past 100 years. But also note that this provision does not specifically state the presidency. The President is among those who would be barred from holding future office. Now, the Colorado Supreme Court, as you noted, it surprised a lot of people last week when they ruled that Trump can be kept off the ballot in that state.

That was surprising, because lower courts in that state had held that while they do believe he engaged in in Insurrection, they held a trial, that was their finding. They said that because this provision of the Constitution didn't specifically state the president among the list of people who should be barred from holding future office, if they engaged in in insurrection, they couldn't keep them off the ballot.

So when the State Supreme Court went the other way, that surprised a lot of people. And it is expected that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up this issue. Now we see here in Michigan, they went the other way, even though it was more of a procedural decision. They didn't have a trial. But while Trump is praising this, and not surprisingly, praising this decision in Michigan, and Michigan and Minnesota, they left the door open even though they said look, he can't be banned here for the primary.

They left the door open in when it comes to the general election. So Phil, unless the Supreme Court weighs in and gives us some clarity about exactly what the 14th Amendment says, it's possible that this whole issue could come back up again for the general election if he's the nominee.

MATTINGLY: Because it's not confusing or complex enough. Paula Reid, we appreciate it as always. And coming up next. Many more months. That's how long Israel's military chief warns the war in Gaza could last. It's probably not what the Biden Administration wants to hear. More on that ahead.




MATTINGLY: A top Israeli official is in Washington this week as the White House continues to press Israel to shift to the next phase of fighting. But on the Gaza border, Israel's Military Chief said the war will continue for "many more months."


HERZI HALEVI, CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES (through translator): There are no magic solutions. There are no shortcuts in dismantling a terrorist organization. Only determined and persistent fighting.


MATTINGLY: Elliott Gotkine's live for us in Tel Aviv. Elliott, the disconnect between what you've heard U.S. officials say publicly and what seems to be happening on the ground is fairly clear. Is there any sign right now that the nature of the war could be changing in the near term?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Not hugely Phil, to be perfectly honest. And as part of those comments part of that briefing, Halevi also saying that we are increasing the pressure in various ways. They're constantly learning and constantly adapting to dealing with the enemy, to dealing with Hamas. But in terms of the communications we get from the Israelis, from the IDF on a daily basis, it seems to be war as usual, namely striking from air, land and sea; taking out infrastructure, weapons storage facilities; militants themselves discovering tunnels and other weapons and the like underneath civilian infrastructure like schools, mosques, and hospitals.

Those are the communications we get from the IDF and I suppose the reason why the method of war is staying the same is because the objectives of the war from Israel's point of view have remained the same and haven't yet been achieved, namely destroying Hamas militarily so that it can never again visit an atrocity of the sort that we saw on October, the Seventh again, as it has promised to do.


To prevent Hamas from continuing to stay in power at the end of this war and to get those hostages home, more than 100 of whom are still believed to be alive. One thing that may change at some point could be what's going on in the north, because let's not forget that Iran's proxy Hezbollah is continuing to fire towards Israel. Israel is continuing to retaliate against Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, in southern Lebanon as well.

And just today, Israel's Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, on a tour of the border was warning to Hezbollah, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah, that all options are on the table, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Yeah. And an escalation there or in other parts of the region is something U.S. officials have made very clear they do not want. It's interesting, I mean, a top adviser to the Prime Minister, Ron Dermer, was at the White House yesterday meeting for more than four hours with top national security officials. What do we know about what happened in that meeting?

GOTKINE: Well, they discussed a number of things, but important to know the importance of Dermer. He is one of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closest confidants. He's the Minister for Strategic Affairs. He's part of the war cabinet. And he's a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. when Barack Obama was in the White House, when, of course, the Vice President was the now President, Joe Biden.

They discussed a number of things. Four points, essentially. First of all, the endgame of the current phase of the war to move from this intensive bombing campaign, which has led to according to the Hamas- run Health Ministry, more than 20,000 Palestinians being killed, most of them they say women and children, they don't distinguish between combatants and non- combatants. They discuss moving from that phase to a phase where they are just targeting high value Hamas targets, bringing the hostages home, and what happens at the end of this war, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Elliott, when it comes to that last point, I think that's the one where there just doesn't seem to be great answers, for obvious reasons. Is there any sense that directionally things are moving towards some type of end game, some type of outcome that both regional players, the U.S. and also Israel can -- can see working?

GOTKINE: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that post Gaza needs to be ruled by whoever it is, if it's a reformed Palestinian authority that's deradicalized in his words, with no presence of Hamas whatsoever, demilitarized as well and Israel's demands would require Hamas to surrender or to be defeated. There's no sign of that happening just yet.

The U.S. seems to be more open to having the Palestinian Authority as is which of course administers parts of the West Bank taking control post Gaza, but Mahmood Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has himself said that he would only do so if there was a clear pathway towards a two-state solution, which seems a very long way off and for now, that last point.

What happens at the end of this war? Who will rule Gaza? That point seems to be perhaps one of the biggest differences between the Israeli government and the position of the United States, Phil.

MATTINGLY: All right, Elliott Gotkine, thanks so much. Coming up, the latest polling showing former President Trump with a commanding lead in the Republican field and a near tie between him and President Biden in a general election matchup but how predictive are those polls, 11 months out? That's next.




MATTINGLY: Well, believe it or not, we're less than three weeks, just 19 days until the Iowa caucuses and former President Trump continuing to lean in to concerns about his penchant for authoritarianism. A survey from the Daily Mail asked voters what words they associated with Trump. That yielded this word cloud. You're looking at it right now which Trump proudly shared on his social media platform.

The biggest words revenge, dictatorship and power. Many of Trump's voters don't seem to think -- see those as bad things. Now, according to the latest Des Moines Register poll, 43 percent of likely Iowa caucus goers said statements like Trump having "no choice" but to lock up his political opponents didn't actually matter. 36 percent said Trump saying the 2020 election justifies terminating parts of the Constitution doesn't impact their decision of whether to support him.

Joining me now to discuss this and so much more, two of the absolute best in the business, Anna Greenberg and Neil Newhouse. Guys, thanks so much for joining us. Neil, I want to start with you less so on where things stand heading into Iowa and more so on that language kind of really diving in on the idea of revenge, or I am your retribution, how that plays in a general election? Is that something that you think will resonate with a broader population of people?

NEIL NEWHOUSE, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Phil, I mean, you got to step back for a second and truthfully look at what Former President Trump has said over the last five or six years. And I don't think you're going to find anything that really surprises voters, what he's saying right now. I think it's going to have a negligible impact on you know, 2024 election.

Voters already know that he is inclined to say things off the cuff, that he's a little bit wild in his statements. And they don't -- they don't take him at his word for that. I don't think it's going to make big scheme of things. It's not going to have much impact at all, Phil.

MATTINGLY: So what does? I mean I think that's my biggest question. It's not just because I have to cover it every single day. And I'm trying to figure out what -- what to focus on and what not to but Neil, when you're looking at kind of the dynamics of this race right now, what do you think matters from the Trump campaign perspective?

NEWHOUSE: Well, first of all, it's a two-way race. I mean, Trump versus -- I mean it looks like -- I mean, let's assume for a second for argument's sake that you know Trump's a nominee and Biden's the nominee on the Democratic side. You -- what matters from the Trump point of view is --