Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Tonight: CNN Town Halls In Iowa Featuring Haley & DeSantis; 11 Days Until Iowa Caucuses; Haley Jokes That NH Voters Will "Correct" Iowa Results; Gov. Reynolds: I Trust Iowans To "Make Their Own Decisions"; New DeSantis Iowa Ad Blasts Haley & Trump On Transgender Issues; Voter Presses DeSantis On Not Going After Trump Hard Enough; "Multiple Gunshot Victims" In Iowa High School Shooting; House Dems: Trump Properties Took In $5.5M From China During Presidency. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, undecided in Iowa. Those voters do exists and every candidate is desperate to reach them. And tonight, that voters will hit Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis with questions live right here on CNN.

Plus, more than $5.5 billion. According to a new report from House Democrats, that's how much China spent at Trump's properties while he was in the Oval Office. And one-on-one with Nancy Pelosi. The former House speaker will weigh in on President Biden's reelection plans and she's here to mark nearly three years since the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

But first, we begin with breaking news. Carnage again in America. This time at a high school in Perry, Iowa. The sheriff says there's multiple gunshot victims. We're waiting to hear how many people were hurt and if anyone was killed.

A law enforcement official just told CNN, the shooter is dead and there's no further danger to the public. This was the first day back to school for students in Perry, Iowa after their winter break. We're monitoring the story, and we'll bring you any developments as they come into our newsroom.

Now a very different story out of Iowa back to politics and the Iowa caucuses. The stage is set for Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis to make their case to voters and back-to-back CNN town halls tonight. It is a critical moment for both campaigns just 11 days left before Iowa votes. Donald Trump is still the dominant frontrunner.

And the question is whether the real race here is for second place. And while Iowa votes first it looks like Nikki Haley wants to skip ahead to New Hampshire. Listen to what she said in the Granite State yesterday.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I trust every single one of you. You know how to do this. You know Iowa starts it. You know that you correct it. You know that you continue to go.


BASH: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Des Moines, Iowa. Jeff, you heard people laughing in New Hampshire. Are you hearing that same kind of laughter in Iowa?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not quite as much. We will see if the town hall audience here responds in that way. My guess is no. But Dana, as you well know, there is an interesting dynamic between the two first voting states in Iowa and New Hampshire that really is played out over the generations of politics.

And she's correct in some respects. The Iowa caucuses don't always produce a winner, but their sort of intention and purposes to narrow and winnow the field. And that has already happened in many respects. There was a large field at the beginning of the race. It is much smaller now, but it is crunch time for these two candidates.

First and foremost, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis trying to make the case to undecided voters. And you may be wondering why, as we -- you know, are in the final 11 days here. Are there still undecided voters after all of these TV ads, millions of dollars of ads?

Yes. In fact, there are undecided voters. We ran into several of them just yesterday and talking with many of them. They are trying to make a decision between DeSantis and Nikki Haley. Doug Stout is one of those Iowa Republicans who was weighing both of those choices.


DOUG STOUT, IOWA REPUBLICAN: I also think it's bad that it's kind of devolved into something where they're both seem to be fighting for second. They're not fighting for second, they're fighting for president. And I think they're looking for the boost to come out of Iowa.

But I think both of them have the possibilities of going forward in the other early states, and really making it a race that's about tomorrow rather than about the past. And President Trump for the good and the bad of him wants to make everything about the past.


ZELENY: So, you certainly have voters divided into a couple of camps. One, loyal supporters of the former president who are still with him. And then other Republicans who may even think highly of him but really wonder if it's time to move on. And Doug Stout certainly is one of those Republican voters.

He said it's time for a Republican governor to be the presidential nominee, sort of speaking of those candidates from years gone by like Texas Governor George W. Bush, for example. He of course, won the Iowa caucuses but lost the New Hampshire primary.

You'll remember that well, Dana, John McCain won that year. So certainly, history does not show they always echo one another. They often correct or have a different response, but that's the dynamic here 11 days before the voting begins in Iowa. Dana?


BASH: Yeah. That's right. And we're going to talk a little bit more about the history of what has actually happened in Iowa in a second. One of the things that I find interesting, and we always look for as we're heading into voting is, there's the undecideds and then there's about how they're going to vote. And then there's the undecided about whether they're going to vote. And the enthusiasm question. What are you hearing about that on the ground?

ZELENY: Well, whether they're going to vote is certainly important because organization is what matters when you're turning out for the Iowa caucuses. Because what the caucuses are, you have to turn up at seven o'clock at the same time, all across the state to your neighborhood precinct location. So, organization is key for that.

So, a challenge for Nikki Haley who's come on a little bit strong at the end. Does she have the organization? Ron DeSantis has been building this organization for more than a year through his Super PAC as well. So -- but Donald Trump really has a ground game.

This time, we've seen a lot of his volunteers in action. They claim they have almost 2000 precinct captains for all of those precincts across the state. So, motivation and organization are the two central themes here. But race is also great lakes. So, the undecided voters we certainly, you know will be watching over the next coming days, and perhaps some of them will have their decisions made tonight at these town halls. Dana?

BASH: We will be watching. Thanks so much for that great reporting as always, Jeff. Here at the table with me, Laura Barron-Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post, and CNN's Daniel Strauss.

I want to go back to where we started this show on the politics. And then the question that Nikki Haley raised to laughter in New Hampshire, when she talked about New Hampshire correcting what Iowa does.

When you just look at the history, she's not entirely wrong about the fact that Iowa does not have the best track record when it comes to picking who the person who ultimately becomes the nominee. It's only happened a couple of times. And New Hampshire since 1980, and then New Hampshire has been much more on the nose.

If you just look down there, Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and you know, going back again, it wasn't -- it was 2000 that that was the case for Iowa. Having a fact and saying it out loud, 11 days before Iowa votes are two different questions.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: It is and it's a bit of a rib in Iowa. I mean -- but it's also because Nikki Haley very much, you know, sees New Hampshire is this place where she can emerge and show and get beyond Ron DeSantis. You know, in Iowa, Ron DeSantis may very well come in second ahead of Nikki Haley. But New Hampshire is a place where she can kind of redefine herself.

Again, though, this is a race for second place, even though those voters told Jeff that they don't think that it is or that they don't want it to be, and some want to see either Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley overcome Trump. But the facts are that right now based on all polling, he is far and away the leader.

BASH: And Josh, this is what the Iowa Republican governor who has announced that she supports Ron DeSantis said in a tweet. I trust Iowans to make their own decisions, no corrections needed.

JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. I think the stakes are much higher for Ron DeSantis in Iowa than they are for Nikki Haley. I mean, he's put so much organizational resources, so much adds, so much attention. His whole never back down. The group has spent almost all of their time and energy there. He's been to all 99 counties. And he's trailing the former president by significant margin in the state.

And there's a lot of folks' donors. Folks who looked at him as an alternative and no longer see him as that, now saying, Haley. So, if he doesn't perform well in Iowa, there's the expectation -- there'll be calls for him to drop out of the race, even according to people close to him.

I was talking to some DeSantis sort of allies in the past week, who said to me, you know, he has to come up with a strong second in Iowa or what's the path ahead here. And I think you've seen Nikki Haley saying, I know Iowa probably is not going to be the best place for me.

I think the broad consensus is a former President Trump has a big time there. But I'm moving to New Hampshire quickly. For DeSantis, who isn't sort of at the top three of candidates that's Trump, Haley and DeSantis. In the polls, there's a lot more on the line in Iowa and a stronger performance is needed.

BASH: I want to talk about something that Donald Trump is doing. That's new on the airwaves in a second. But because you mentioned DeSantis, let's stick with him because Iowa is so critical for him. It's always fascinating to see what these candidates want their message to be in the final days of campaigns. And you know that not only by what they say on the stump, but how they spend their money on ads.

Listen to what DeSantis is saying in his latest ad. It's about trans issues.



And that's the DeSantis Super PAC, I should just clarify.

DANIEL STRAUSS: Right. And so, there is a little distance that you should give a little grain of salt, you should give it. At the same time, this is something that DeSantis has always felt comfortable with. These social issues that are red meat to the Republican base right now. And like -- even in the last debate, we saw he sort of eased up. He was more eager to get in and really wrestle with his opponents when talking about this. But it's probably coming too late at this point.

BASH: Yeah.

STRAUSS: You know, DeSantis has not been able to leverage any of his big sticking points that he and his team are doing now on how he handled COVID, on trans issues, to win some significant support in Iowa, which he definitely, definitely needs to stay in this race and be competitive.

BASH: Yeah. And just for maybe people who don't know the rules. There's not supposed to be any communication between Super PACs and campaigns. But we know that the people who are in the Super PACs, not just DeSantis, but all of them that have a very strong indication of where that candidate is and where they want to go.

In DeSantis his case, the Super PAC has been running the show when it comes to money and supporting a lot of the campaign. Let's talk about what he's hearing on the campaign trail. DeSantis was asked not about these issues. Well, in addition to these issues, he was asked by a voter about why he's not going after Trump more.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Why are you not going after Trump so hard given that Trump's up by?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I mean, first of all, he won't debate. I mean, like how I mean, like he's not willing to get on a stage. He's now willing to answer questions. You know, he's in Mar-a-Lago. I mean, like, so, yes. Show up and debate. He's basically making a mockery of this whole process by not showing up and answering people's questions. He doesn't think he needs to.


BASH: It's process. It's not really substance. And certainly not anywhere near, I mean, nobody's going anywhere close to where Chris Christie is going, which is the guy's not fit to be president. He tried to overthrow democracy.

DAWSEY: Yeah. I think what to say to still early on in the race is he was afraid to criticize Trump at all, right? He would not take him on the criminal indictments because he saw the Republican base rally to him. He took him on a very few issues. And over time, Trump kept slashing and attacking him and driving his numbers.

You know, if you remember, there was this moment at the end of 2022, when the service was very popular. And Trump had just kind of contributed to a tough midterm election for Republicans. And there was a sense that DeSantis has momentum and Trump did not.

And there was a one period there were Trump's slashing, slashing, slashing DeSantis. And DeSantis did nothing in response. He got it by with saying all sorts of things about him. He didn't criticize him on policy, didn't criticize him personalize and criticize him on inditement or anything. And that has been a decision DeSantis has taken. Until the last few months, he's been very low to criticize Trump at all. While Trump has slashed everything under the sun

BASH: He undermined him from the beginning -- way before DeSantis even officially became a candidate. Just to put some meat on that bone. First, let's start with Nikki Haley. Looking at how much just in Iowa in particular how much the candidates Haley and DeSantis have spent. Haley $10 million targeting, DeSantis only $1.5 targeting Trump. And then, Josh, just to underscore your point. Look at DeSantis. Wow, 7.6 million targeting Haley, and half a million dollars targeting Trump.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, I mean, it's because of the fact that they both are trying to win over Trump supporters' sill. And the vast -- a large chunk of the base is with former President Donald Trump. And they believe the lies that he's espoused about the prior election. They, you know, believe in conspiracy theories about vaccines. They believe that, you know, President Biden is not a legitimate president.

And so rather than confronting Trump on that the way Chris Christie has, like you said, Dana, they just allow it to be repeated. Don't confront it, say that they would pardon him, even if he is convicted. All his signals to that base that is very much behind the exact campaign that Trump is running.

BASH: Before we go to break, I want to come back to the other really horrible story that's happening in Iowa today. And that was the shooting at a high school in that state. Do you any sense that that is going to play in at all to the Republican caucuses in 11 days?


STRAUSS: I mean, first off, these shootings are so common. It's hard to -- It's hard not to get used to them. There's definitely going to be pressure from voters in Iowa to ask these candidates about this.

But I think given that it's a Republican primary, questions will be about the Second Amendment and how firm they are in allowing voters to have almost any kind of gun that they want. And I think that's going to be the discussion in response to the shooting among Republicans over the next few days.

BASH: Yeah. It's just absolutely devastating. The first day back after winter break and this is what these kids have to deal with. Thank you, guys. Don't go anywhere. Tonight again, we just want to remind you, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are going to take questions directly from Iowa voters in back-to-back town halls. The CNN Republican presidential town halls are moderated by my colleagues, Kaitlan Collins and Erin Burnett. They start tonight at 9 pm eastern. And next. How much money did Donald Trump's properties rake in from foreign governments while he was in office and which country spent the most? We have a news story on that. Coming up.


BASH: Today House Democrats are releasing details on millions of dollars foreign governments spent at former President Donald Trump's businesses while he was in office. Our colleagues Zack Cohen has new reporting on just how much more was spent than previously believed. And Zack joins our -- Zack, excuse me, joins our panel now.


Let's just read a little bit of your reporting with Kara Scannell. Democrat say the additional accounting records raise new questions about possible efforts to influence Trump through his companies while he was in the White House. Democrats point to the fact that Trump declined to impose sanctions on the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a state-owned entity that leased property at Trump Tower in New York.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & JUSTICE REPORTER: Yeah. That's the whole problem here. And it's actually -- there's something that's addressed in the constitution, right? And that it was concerned for the framers and to concern now. The president needs to be removed from any possible foreign influence through personal gifts or financial contributions.

And look, Democrats say that several countries over 20 were making these payments to Trump's properties to his various business ventures while he was in office because he didn't divest like most presidents do. And, you know, they're concerned that it's possible that some of those payments may have -- you know, shaped or encourage certain policy decisions. And there's no way to really know for sure in that regard, right?

I mean, absent more documents, more of a paper trail, but that's what House Democrats are raising. And it's hard to ignore the fact that to that Republicans right now -- House Republicans have launched an impeachment inquiry into the current President Joe Biden. And they're alleging that he benefited from foreign payments -- foreign dealings that his son was doing without providing really any documentation.

BASH: Yes. I want to get to that one second, but just to follow-up on your new reporting. How much are they saying went to the Trump properties, particularly from China? And when you say payments, for what?

COHEN: That's one of the new details. $5.5 million in payments in total. There was $7.8 from all 20 countries, $5.5 million of that came from China according to the documents that the House Democrats blocked. And they say that's only a snapshot really of what kind of foreign spending was happening during Trump's time in office.

But it does give you a look at sort of where these documents were coming from. For example, one of the payments was for to rent a room in Trump Tower in New York. A Chinese bank -- a state-owned Chinese bank was paying $1.9 million a year to rent a room in Trump Tower in New York.

It was one of Trump's favorite tenants. He talked about them on the campaign trail in 2015. So that's just one example. There were examples flew to Saudi Arabia as well to other countries too, but China was the biggest vendor.

BASH: There are lots of options for hotel rooms in New York City to San (Ph). So, Zack mentioned a very important point, which is -- this is being released. And this information is kind of coming to light as Republicans in the House are pushing forward on impeachment and alleging that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden had some kind of dealings with regard to China. We should also say that those -- even those allegations, which they have not, as you said, given evidence about was not well, Joe Biden was in office,

COHEN: Right. Look that's an important thing, but this is going to color 2024. I mean this is going to be an investigation Palooza in terms of attacks from Democrats or Republicans and Republicans to Democrats. And the cynics in the -- among Politico's are going to say, they just want a counter to each other's accusations.

And one of the larger arguments among Republicans against Joe Biden right now is that he's corrupt. One of the larger arguments against -- from Democrats against Trump, the presumptive nominee is that the paper trail is undeniable and that the money that his handling of classified documents are all serious matters that needs to be discussed and recognized by even Republican voters and Republican voters don't seem that interested in talking about.

BASH: What you said -- mentioned the paper trail. This is a something from your paper, Josh, from back in 2019. The Trump Organization said that it had donated the company's 2018 profits from its business with foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. The donation was for $191,538, up from a bit more than the previous year. But that's nowhere near what Zack is reporting that House Democrats found.

DAWSEY: Yeah. And it was always difficult to know exactly what they were donating and how it related to the actual profits of the businesses that he was coming and why. I mean the former president was not willing to totally be hands off with his businesses during the time in the White House. I mean, he says, I'm not involved day-to-day. He said Eric took over most of the other businesses while Donald Trump Jr. did a lot more in the politics.

But he wanted to know how businesses were doing. He tried to make government -- event it happened on his businesses. You remember DOW and the big conference that he tried to have there. He had secret service running cabanas and places that his businesses protected.


But of course, there was a lot of money that went to his businesses from the U.S. government too. And while he did by always being at one of his properties and always trying to push one of his properties. There were lots of government funds both foreign and the U.S. government in winter's businesses.

BASH: That's right. I mean, and that kind of speaks to another question, which is, on this issue in so many others, Trump did everything in plain sight. He broke all the norm -- broke all the norms. And so, it's so important to be reporting on this. And the question is, how much is this notion baked in? And how much does that versus what's happening with Joe Biden just -- does it just kind of cancel each other out? I'm not saying it's not important. I'm just looking truthful reality.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. Well, I think that's part of our job in the press right, that also make very clear the difference is not just Republicans called Biden corrupt, Democrats call, you know, Trump corrupt. And we don't know what the truth is.

When we do know that there is no evidence right now at all, that says that President Biden did anything wrong or benefited from his son's business dealings. Whereas there is a paper trail and there is evidence showing that former President Trump benefited from his business dealings while he was in office. And so, I think that in the primary, is this going to matter? No. In the general election, it could have an impact.

BASH: Which is funny because again in the race for second place, you're seeing Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis fight over China, and not even mention what -- maybe they will now. We'll see 11 days left for Iowa. We'll see. I guess we shouldn't hold our breath. Up next, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be here live.