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Inside Politics

Civil War Classification, Donald Trump: Key Dates; Biden Faces Mounting Political Pressure Over Migrant Surge. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Today on Inside Politics, what caused the Civil War? Most would give a one-word answer, slavery, but not Nikki Haley, and this morning she's trying to clean it up. Plus, Donald Trump's lawyers have a very busy few weeks ahead. We'll tell you the key dates to watch in his multiple civil and criminal trials.

And Republican Lauren Boebert barely won her very red district last time around. Her solution moved to an even redder district. I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and Inside Politics.

We start in New Hampshire and one of those campaign moments that you just knew would immediately go viral. It was a Town Hall last night in the state where Nikki Haley has been doing quite well and a voter asked what seemed like a simple question with a simple answer. Listen to for now, just part of what happened.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned always the case. We know the Civil War was about slavery. But it was also more than that. It was about the freedoms of every individual. It was about the role of government. By the grace of God, we did the right thing and slavery is no more.

But the lessons of what the bigger issue with the Civil War is that let's not forget what came out of that, which is government's role, individual liberties, freedom for every single person, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do and be anything you want to be without anyone or government getting in your way.


BASH: Again, that was Nikki Haley. She was actually speaking today about what she thought - what she meant to say, last night. I want to go to Eva McKend who was there last night at that event. Eva, she tried not once but twice so far already today to clean up her comments, last night.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, she is in clean-up mode indeed. Because this conversation really brings into focus the larger way that she has run her campaign, really in a play it safe mode, she is reluctant to go after her rivals directly. But here is how she responded last night when she's asked this very direct question about what were the origins of the Civil War? Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the cause of the United States Civil War?

HALEY: Well, don't come with an easy question. I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn't do.


MCKEND: So Chris Christie has often lamented that Haley tries to be everything for everybody. Governor DeSantis laments that he believes that she runs a different race here in New Hampshire than she does in Iowa. No doubt what this controversy will do will continue to feed that flame and feed that narrative that she sometimes is malleable and not consistent in her messaging.

But she is working overtime to refute that, to move on and pretty soon after addressing these, this civil war fallout, she went right back to her standard stump speech, Dana.

BASH: OK, Eva, thank you so much for that. I want to bring in my great panel on this and much more. CNN's Kasie Hunt; the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Tia Mitchell and the Associated Press' Seung Min Kim. Nice to see you all, especially on a holiday week. OK, so we played a bit of what she has said this morning, and also Eva just played a bit of what sparked all this last night.

I want to actually play all of it or at least enough - enough of it all that we could hear because some of it was a bit inaudible. This voter asking the question, and then Nikki Haley's exchange back and forth with the voter.



HALEY: I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn't do. What do you think the cause of the Civil War was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not running for President. I wanted to see your (inaudible) on the cause of the Civil War.

HALEY: I mean, I think it always comes down to the role of government, and what the rights of the people are. And we - I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people. Government doesn't need to tell you how to live your life, they don't need to tell you what you can and can't do.

They don't need to be a part of your life, they need to make sure that you have freedom. We need to have capitalism, we need to have economic freedom, we need to make sure that we do all things so that individuals have the liberties so that they can have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be anything they want to be without government getting in the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. And in the 2023, it's astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word slavery.

HALEY: What do you want me to say about slavery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've answered my question. Thank you.

HALEY: Next question.


BASH: So let's talk about this, first of all, just on its substantive level, and then we'll talk a little bit about sort of the mechanics and the politics of what it says about her campaign. Substance wise, there was only one answer, and it was slavery. She did not give that answer. And we heard the voter come at her and say, why didn't you say slavery effectively? I'm paraphrasing here.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right. Yeah, I mean, I'm - I think it's important that you played that whole clip, because you can see that she had plenty of time, and plenty of opportunity to say that. And, you know, there was even this one moment where, you know, he says, I'm astonished, you don't mention slavery and as you saw, she says, what do you want me to say about slavery?

It's not as though she wasn't handed the opportunity, you know, on a silver platter there, and she didn't take it. And, you know, I heard in how she was addressing that, you know, I covered her campaign for governor of South Carolina. This seems like the kind of answer you give when you're being careful to talk to a certain group of voters in a southern state, about, you know, an issue like this, that I think let's be clear, this conversation evolved during times of racial strife.

Well, after actually, the end of the Civil War, when a lot of these monuments to the Confederacy went up, etc. And there's a lot of pain in the way that this conversation is had for people who were directly impacted by slavery, whose ancestors faced that horrible reality. And, again, I think, you know, the Biden campaign said it right away, you know, just very shortly after it went up on social media, they said it slavery, the DeSantis campaign was able to say, you know, this was inexplicable, it's slavery, that's pretty straightforward.

BASH: Well, let me just before you jump in, because you mentioned that. I want to show our viewers some of what you're talking about. This is this morning, a DeSantis spokesperson said, Andrew Romeo said, embarrassing clean-up attempt. Even if that's true, if she can't handle a question as basic as the cause of the Civil War, what does she think is going to happen to her in the general election? The Democrats would eat her lunch. Last night, not only the Biden campaign, but the President himself said, simply, it was about slavery.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yeah, and not when you asked about the mechanics of her answer, because she avoided mentioning slavery, even what she said, left it up to interpretation, who's side she was even on, you know, kind of talking about the Civil War. She talks about things like individual rights and capitalism.

Well, quite frankly, that was some of the arguments made by slave owners in the Confederate states as to why they felt they were justified in this war. And so without making it clear that this was about slave-owning states wanting to continue keeping people as property, you're missing the key argument and almost as you're trying to gloss over what the war was really about.

BASH: And so OK, so I mentioned that this - first we have to talk about the substance of this. But then there's the question of who she is, where she is, what her campaign has done in the last 12 to 14 hours. And so much of sort of the way a campaign goes, is determined by how they react within things happen. Things happen on the campaign trail. You know, candidates make gaffes, they just do. It's happened to even the best candidates in the world. And so the question is, how does she respond?


We played at the beginning, what she said, right out of the gate, she came out in a Town Hall this morning about an hour ago and said explicitly that this was about slavery and tried to clean it up. This morning, she went on a radio show and had a very, very lengthy answer saying, of course, it was about slavery. But then she said, I didn't want to engage with this - with this person, because the person who asked the question was a Democratic plant, and then started saying how the Democrats are trying to tear her down because she's a threat to Joe Biden.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right, right. I was watching her comments in the last hour. And the first thing that kind of came to my mind is this classic rule of politics that if you're explaining, you're losing, and this was clearly, politically, just not a good moment for her because it does two things.

First, I mean, obviously too - too early to gauge the long term impact of what this blunder would do. But what it does right now is, first of all, it punctures this image that she's had and that she has cultivated during the primary campaign of being this very disciplined on message kind of this, you know, very perfect candidate, if you will. And it really kind of knocks her off that. Clearly, this is not what she wants to be talking about for the day, but on the - and then the second thing that it does, it really does highlight her history on her kind of really tough history on race.

If you look at, you know, going back to her race for - going back to her campaign for South Carolina governor, she said a version of this before back in 2010 when asked about the causes of the Civil War, she said it was kind of these two sides arguing about tradition and change. And then obviously, she had - there was a history with her, obviously, being governor when the Confederate flag was taken down of the South Carolina Statehouse grounds. But a couple of years before that, or about five years before that she

had said the Confederate flag was not a racist symbol. So does spotlight this - her this past, this part of a record that is difficult for her to talk about?

BASH: Yeah. And does that say as much about the Republican electorate and the difference between the Republican electorate in New Hampshire and South Carolina as anything else? I mean, that's the point you're making is that she obviously cut her teeth in southern Republican politics.

HUNT: Right.

BASH: Where she had to -

HUNT: As a minority woman.

BASH: As a minority woman she had to deal with this.

HUNT: - attacks against herself.

BASH: I was talking to it but New Hampshire is that is the ballgame for her in the short term. And I was talking to a New Hampshire Republican this morning, who is like, look, you have to understand how much pride New England voters, New England residents take in being the people who went to the south and fought to end slavery and how impactful -

HUNT: So interesting -

BASH: - this - this statement or gaffe, or whatever you call it could be, which is why she tried to clean it up already twice this morning.

HUNT: Yeah. You know, and it's so interesting that you say that, and I've talked to New Hampshire Republicans and Democrats actually, who - and Democrats in particular, have bristled because, you know, some people criticize them for having an electorate that's too white and they'll say, well, we sent Obama, you know, to the White House, etc.

Like they'll point out that - that diversity is something that, you know, the - the first woman on the Democratic ticket, etc. I mean, look, I think that this - you know, politics is so much about, what are your instincts in the moment, how strong are they? And it's a combination of what you know about the voters and what they want to hear from you, and what you know, and believe yourself.

BASH: Yeah.

HUNT: And you have to find that balance. And it is very, very hard at the presidential level. It is a crucible, it is different from any campaign anywhere else. I mean Ron DeSantis is learning this the hard way he thought doing it in Tallahassee was enough, it's never enough. And this is a moment for her in that crucible.

BASH: Such a - such a good point. The person who is running in New Hampshire, who has done it before, is Chris Christie. And he is somebody who does take pride in knowing how to read that. He is also trying to read the New Hampshire electorate with a pretty hefty, big dollar ad campaign that he has now running in New Hampshire saying that explicitly, he's not dropping out of the race.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people say I should drop out of this race. Really? I'm the only one saying Donald Trump is a liar. He pits Americans against each other. His Christmas message to anyone who disagrees with him, rot in hell. He caused a riot on Capitol Hill. He'll burn America to the ground to help himself.


MITCHELL: : Yeah, I think it's interesting. And even when you bring it back to Nikki Haley where Nikki Haley's central message to Republican voters is that I can win in a general election. I do better against Biden. But now this blunder kind of blunts that message.

HUNT: This is a general election blunder.

MITCHELL: Right. This was a general election blunder, which makes it tougher for her but at the same time, her answer probably plays well to certain types of Republican voters. And at the end of the Day what the argument that Chris Christie is making quite frankly the argument that Nikki Haley is making, neither one of them if you look at some of this early voting poll, early states polling is really resonating at all.


At the end of the day, they're still trailing way behind Donald Trump.

BASH: DeSantis said something, I think, Vivek Ramaswamy that Chris Christie hasn't said anything yet. And it is New - New Hampshire (inaudible) for him. He probably wants that paid ad to sort of speak for itself and not to be the message. But it is interesting.

MIN KIM: It is very interesting too because I think Chris, that ad was kind of in response to the questions that he's been getting about, why aren't you dropping off? If you want to consolidate sort of this anti- Trump electorate around one person, why aren't you dropping out and endorsing Nikki Haley?

So I think you're right, he does want to let that ad at least for now speak for him for today.

BASH: All right, everybody, standby because up next, a very good meeting. That is how Mexican - Mexico's president I should say is characterizing his summit yesterday with two top Biden Cabinet members. But is there an actual deal for Mexico to do more to stem the surge of migrants crossing illegally into the U.S.? We'll talk about that, next.




BASH: Mexico and the United States are making progress on a border security deal. That's according to Mexico's president Obrador, who said the two countries reached an agreement to reopen U.S. border crossings that had been temporarily closed, temporarily closed rather by the Biden Administration.

This comes after yesterday's meeting between the Mexican president and senior U.S. officials which Secretary of State - Secretary of Homeland Security rather, Alejandro Mayorkas described as very productive. CNNs Rosa Flores is live in Eagle Pass, Texas. Rosa, what are you learning about these talks?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're learning is a little bit more about the substance of what happened because like you mention a lot of the U.S. and Mexican officials have been using these words. It was a very productive meeting, it was a very good meeting. But of course, we were looking for substance.

What actually happened? What deal was made? What agreement was made? We're learning from a National Security Council spokesperson that Mexico's president has taken significant law enforcement steps on the Mexican side of the border. Now why is that important? That's important because whatever Mexican - Mexico does impacts the number of illegal entries into the United States.

Now I want you to take a look at this drone video taken by producer extraordinaire and also drone pilot Ashley Killough. You can see that there is very little to no activity here in Eagle Pass, which just last week was the epicenter of this crisis. Now what could this be - this mean? Why could this be happening?

Well, this could be up to law enforcement efforts on the Mexican side of the border. We've seen this in the past. Whenever Mexico upsets law enforcement, whenever they add checkpoints at trains that are used by migrants to move north, whenever Mexico ups its deportations or repatriations or starts moving migrants from the northern from its northern border to Central or Southern Mexico. That is what we see.

And so we're kind of seeing on the ground, perhaps the result of those talks. Now we're also learning from Mexico's president. He used the word agreement, that there was some agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. We don't know the details of this agreement, but Mexico's president saying that there's some agreement so that the ports of entry can reopen. Now, the U.S. government was the one who closed several ports of entry in several states to respond to this crisis because the personnel that worked at the ports within reassigned to process migrants, to transport migrants.

Again, that's a way that they surge resources to the areas that are most impacted by the illegal crossings. And Dana, it makes sense for these two countries to agree on reopening these ports of entry because they're major trading partners. So all that makes sense. Now, we're going to continue trying to figure out what else it was part of this deal, who got what and what's happening. But for now, that's what we have. Dana, back to you.

BASH: OK, thank you for that reporting. And for that great drone footage from Ashley. That was really telling. Thanks for sharing it with us. And our panel is back here. Look let's just sort of put in context, the politics of this for President Biden, and how important it is.

Just one example from a Monmouth approval rating poll - question. You look at the - the issues, and how he fares. Infrastructure, jobs, climate change, inflation, immigration, he is now 26 percent. That is not good.

MIN KIM: It's not good at all. And I think that part of the trip yesterday to Mexico, by senior Biden Administration officials, was obviously to have these diplomatic conversations, but also to make the broader administration's point that this is a regional issue that requires regional cooperation, and sort of trying to blunt the criticism from Republicans that you're hearing over and over saying that these were Biden's border policy that's causing these numbers at the border.

But that certainly doesn't change the fact that he's under considerable political pressure over immigration, and that his administration is probably preparing to make some significant compromises on immigration next month.

BASH: Pressure because of the situation at the border, pressure because Republicans are trying as much as they can to - to blame Biden and his policies. But it's also big city mayors. Democratic mayors in big cities. Let's listen to some of them.



MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D) NEW YORK: We cannot continue to do the federal government's job. We have spoken to FEMA and other federal officials who have expressed concern about the border surge, but not offered additional help.

MAYOR BRANDON JOHNSON (D) CHICAGO: Without significant intervention from the federal government, this mission will not be sustained.

MAYOR MIKE JOHNSTON (D) DENVER: Denver finds itself right now at ground zero in trying to resolve and respond to the migrant crisis. We need more federal support to be able to manage this amount of inflow.


HUNT: Yeah, I mean, that right, there is the problem that Joe Biden has right, in a nutshell, because it is no longer - you know, for a long time this conversation was these, you know, red state mayors and governors are being alarmist. And, you know, we have to be - that we have to focus on the humanitarian issue here.

Obviously, the U.S. has a humanitarian responsibility to you know, it's written into the law into our asylum laws. But this crisis has gotten worse, not better. And, frankly, the strategy that these red state governors have had of sending a lot of these migrants up to blue states has worked from a political perspective. And it is very, very hard for these cities to absorb them.

And you know, the Biden team, I think, knows that or they wouldn't be willing to make these concessions in these policy negotiations that they're having with Capitol Hill. I mean, the cynical, political way of looking at it might be to say, well, maybe Republicans don't want to let them do it, because they prefer this continue to be a problem for them in the 2024 election.

BASH: Oh, how cynical and yet - not -

HUNT: And yet, possibly (inaudible)

BASH: No, well - well and no, that brings me to - to what I was going to point out, which I think is important to point out like every single time we talk about immigration, which is how many times have we stood in hallways outside of negotiations on Capitol Hill -

HUNT: Maybe it's been weeks.

BASH: - that were fruitless - that were fruitless for almost two decades, to fix the federal immigration policy. So yes, President Biden is currently the president. But this is a problem that has not been fixed for so long.

MITCHELL: Right. And we can't ignore the fact that we had four years of President Trump who made fixing immigration a central part of his campaign message, and then did very little about it beyond some segments of border wall. And I think you're right that this is one of the most complicated, complex issues.

Number one, because it's not just the people coming across who need services, but you got to think about health and safety and food and shelter. But then there's the commerce issue that comes when you start shutting down crossings or limiting crossings, that also has to be factored in. And then you also have to think about the political climate, where I think that's what you brought up Kasie, that the political climate as it ebbs and flows, there isn't always truly the will to get it done.

That's something we saw with Senate Republicans back during the Bush years, where there was an agreement that a lot of people kind of in hindsight, say, we wish we had got it done then when we had the best chance. The question remains whether there's truly a chance. Now there's a lot more writing - now there's foreign policy that's connected with the border security issue.

Maybe that'll get something done, because there's more at stake now, but it's just been such an elusive solution to the problem.

BASH: It has and very, very potent, politically still. Up next, it can be hard to keep track of all of the cases and all the deadlines Donald Trump and his legal team are facing so we're going to walk you through exactly what you need to know as the New Year approaches.