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Inside Politics

Polls Shows Trump With Big Lead Among Iowa Evangelicals; Haley, DeSantis Rip Into Each Other In Last Debate Before Iowa; House GOP Hardliners Balk On Bipartisan Spending Plan; Speaker Mike Johnson Walks Tightrope With Shrinking Majority; Today: Hunter Biden To Be Arraigned On Federal Tax Charges. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 11, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: While Donald Trump is in a New York courtroom, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are still in Iowa, trying to reach every voter they can with four days left until the caucuses. DeSantis and Haley are both campaigning in the suburbs outside Des Moines today, that's where CNN's Jeff Zeleny is. Jeff, where are their focus in these final few days?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Dana, it's no coincidence that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is beginning and ending his day in the Des Moines suburbs. Also, in between, he is doing events in northwest Iowa. That is the critical conservative stretch of the state.

Nikki Haley for her part, she is also beginning in Ankeny, where I am right now. That's just a little bit north of Des Moines, again, these fast growing suburbs of Iowa that will play such a critical role in caucus night on Monday.

And Dana, the questions that you were asking at the debate last night, really many voters here are talking about that debate as they're trying to make up their minds between DeSantis and Haley. Yes, there are still some undecided voters, believe it or not, we still find them. But one other central piece of the electorate here, of course, in Iowa always, is the evangelical vote.

All campaigns, to some degree, have been courting them. We talked to some voters and pastors about what they're thinking about the race.


PASTOR MIKE DEMASTUS, FORT DES MOINES CHURCH OF CHRIST: Many of us are very happy with things that he accomplished when he was in the White House. But who he is, his character, also is problematic.

DEBBIE HELDT, IOWA VOTER: God puts people over us in office and I believe God put Donald Trump there, and I want him back in again.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY: So that was Pastor Mike DeMastus, who's weighing between Vivek Ramaswamy and Governor Ron DeSantis. And Debbie Heldt, she is a longtime Trump supporter, and will stay that way.

Dana, one of the central questions hanging over the next few days going into the caucuses on Monday is how strong that evangelical support will remain for Donald Trump. Of course, this is not a monolith. Voters think in their own ways, they make up their own minds, but the evangelical vote and the support certainly has been with him and it has been a key to victories here in previous caucus cycles.

So the degree to which Trump can hold onto that, certainly a question, but we have found many voters who are interested in moving on. And perhaps just as many or more who are interested in following his lead because of the policies he had.


So you can see the crowd here taking their seats. Nikki Haley will be here shortly. So you can feel the -- really the final push here to those Monday night caucuses just around the corner, Dana.

BASH: Jeff Zeleny, the best of the best. I'll see you out there this weekend.

And I want to bring in one of the most influential evangelical leaders in Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats. He is the President and CEO of The Family Leader and is one of Ron DeSantis's most prominent supporters in Iowa. Thank you so much. I saw you last night in the audience at the debate. I'm already back here in Washington.

But let's talk about that debate. You saw it, you were there. It got pretty heated between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. They were attacking each other. Didn't go after or address the differences between them and the far and away front runner Donald Trump as much. Was that a mistake?

BOB VANDER PLAATS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: Well, I don't know if it's a mistake because I think Iowa will do its job well, Dana, if we present an alternative to the former president. And then what you do is you give America a choice. Either the former president, Donald Trump, or a clear alternative, which I believe is going to be Ron DeSantis.

So they first need to make the case about who can be that alternative. I do think Governor DeSantis did do a good job of where he does have differences with a former president and why he believes he's best positioned to win not only the primary, but to win the general election as well.

BASH: Jeff mentioned that evangelical voters are crucial to clinching Iowa. Just so our viewers know, you endorsed the last three GOP caucus winners. All Christian conservatives. You see them there. Ted Cruz in 2016, Ron -- excuse me, Rick Santorum in 2012, and going back to Mike Huckabee in 2008. That's where I first met you, I think. But as of now, majority of your fellow evangelicals seem to be rejecting those traditional conservative candidates and supporting Donald Trump. How do you explain that?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, what I said frequently is that my pulse just does not match the polls because that means if I talk to my base, every other person would have to tell me they're voting for Donald Trump. And that just isn't the case right now. They're very appreciative of all the things he did while he was in office, whether it's standing up for the sanctity of human life, appointing three justices, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the Abraham Accords, but then they always follow up with a but.

But I believe we need to find somebody who can win in 2024 and then lead on day one and lead for two terms, and that's usually when they're landing for Ron DeSantis. So I see Ron DeSantis really going to be able to outperform his expectations on Monday night.

BASH: You wrote a piece for the Des Moines Register that said, in part, "My endorsement along with my vote for DeSantis come from a friend doing what's best for the GOP, best for America and best for Trump. If you believe that the system is being weaponized against Trump and many of us, then a DeSantis presidency is the former president's, and our best line of defense."

I've read that a couple of times and I want you to explain it, because how is a vote for DeSantis what's best for Trump? Isn't -- I mean, if I'm Donald Trump, I would say, no, a vote for Donald Trump is best for Donald Trump.

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I've told Donald Trump a long time ago, and I also send that register out bad. I've been friend of Donald Trump for over 12 years. And being a friend to him is that you'll pray for him daily, you'll cheer him on when he does what's right, and you'll be a voice of accountability and reason as you go through the process and move forward.

I believe a lot what Vivek Ramaswamy is saying as he travels Iowa. The system, Governor Christie, Lynne Cheney they're just not going to let Donald Trump near the White House again. So therefore, we need to choose and I believe choose well so that we can win in 2024.

I believe that is in the best interest of Donald Trump. So you stop a government being weaponized against him and you ensure fairness of justice versus weaponized justice. And I think it's best for our party. You need to bring -- have coattails with governors, legislators, but also Congress and senators as well.

And so that's why I think, if you look at this analytically and you open your eyes, as Vivek Ramaswamy is challenging people all over Iowa to do, you have to come up with a clear alternative, which is best for America, best for Trump, best for the party, and I believe that's Ron DeSantis.

BASH: Last night, Nikki Haley called out the man that you endorsed, Ron DeSantis, for blowing through campaign cash. There's been a lot of turmoil in his campaign and the Super PAC. Does DeSantis still have the ground game, which you know far better than I, one needs to get people out at the caucuses?

VANDER PLAATS: He really does. As a matter of fact, I've been around this as you mentioned for a long time. Ted Cruz had a great ground game in 2016 and Governor DeSantis's ground game is light years ahead of where Cruz's ground game was in 2016.


If you ask any Iowan, has anybody knocked on your door, they'll tell you the DeSantis has knocked on their door probably five times. But nobody from Trump, nobody from Haley, nobody from Ramaswamy. And the ground game on a frigid night in Iowa is going to produce, and that's going to end up being the difference maker, I believe, on January 15th.

BASH: Before I let you go, DeSantis has said he will win Iowa. If he doesn't, is a strong second place good enough to stay in the race beyond your state?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, a mentor of mine, former Governor Bob Ray told me, politics is all about expectations. And right now, the expectation is, Trump should dominate the caucuses. Nikki Haley, Governor Sununu saying they're going to take second. And everybody's discounting Governor DeSantis. I think he'll way outperform expectations, which will give him the momentum to keep moving forward.

BASH: But are you predicting that he will win at this point?

VANDER PLAATS: I'm bullish that he possibly could win, but I think he'll definitely outperform expectations.

BASH: OK. Thank you so much, Bob Vander Plaats. I really appreciate you coming on.

And a quick reminder, our coverage of the 2024 Iowa caucuses will start Monday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Coming up, Republicans in disarray. Again, another House GOP rebellion paralyzes the House as hardliners lose patience with their new speaker, who tells our Manu Raju it's just another day at the office.



BASH: House Speaker Mike Johnson may be a self-described hardliner, but that doesn't seem to be making his job any easier when it comes to persuading his conservative brethren to vote to avoid a government shutdown.


REP. WARREN DAVIDSON (R-OH): By the time we could even get back into D.C., he had negotiated the terms of our surrender. REP. ANDY OGLES (R), TENNESSEE: I want the Speaker to start fighting for us and fighting for the American people, which means we have to close the border.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think the Speaker's job is at risk?

REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): No. The way this place operates, I think everybody's job is at risk. This place is a joke.


BASH: Wow. Manu joins us live from Capitol Hill. I mean, I don't know what's a more powerful statement. This place is a joke or that Mike Johnson negotiated the terms of our surrender.

RAJU: Yes. I mean, we heard the same thing with Kevin McCarthy.

BASH: Yes.

RAJU: I remember, Mike Johnson essentially cut the same spending deal that Kevin McCarthy did that led to his ouster. The government is facing a partial government shutdown by the end of next week. Johnson and Chuck Schumer reached a deal to set overall spending levels that those members are now revolting against.

In fact, right now, those same members are in Mike Johnson's office trying to press him to change the terms of the agreement that he reached with Chuck Schumer. They came out optimistic that he would change the terms of that agreement. If he does do that, that would risk a government shutdown by next week.

Now, when I caught up with the Speaker about all of this, I asked him whether or not he's concerned his job is at risk, he said it's not. And he also urged his colleagues to recognize the narrowness of their majority.


RAJU: Yes, I mean, do you -- I mean, are you worried that one of these guys is going to make a move on you?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): No, I'm not worried about that at all. I just met with all those guys. They're close friends of mine. And we agree on the principles. Look, I am a lifelong hardcore conservative. I want to get as many policy wins as we can. I want to advance the ball as far as we can.

But the reality is we have a small majority. So, in a situation like that, you're not going to get everything you want. You get what you can get. And we've been trying to negotiate to make that happen and we're going to continue and we're going to keep the team together. It's just another day at the office.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: And one of the big questions is whether or not Johnson would include tougher border restrictions, dealing with the migration crisis at the southern border, try to put new language policy restrictions in a must pass spending bill. That's what those hardliners are demanding. They're saying we should shut down the government if we don't get our way.

Johnson has not gone that far. I asked him about that as well. He simply said all the options are currently on the table. They're reviewing all that. But Dana, if he does do that once again, we could face a shutdown fight. If he doesn't go down that route once again, we could face threats and calls for his ouster.

Speaker Johnson, recognizing that Kevin McCarthy's job wasn't easy. Now he's trying to make sure he can hang on to that gap.

BASH: I was just thinking, somewhere in Bakersfield, California, Kevin McCarthy is doing this. Sitting back on his chair. Manu, thank you, as always, for your excellent reporting.

RAJU: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Up next, we're watching a federal courtroom in Los Angeles, where Hunter Biden will be arraigned on tax evasion charges. We've got the latest on the case against the first son.



BASH: Today, Hunter Biden will be in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles to be arraigned on nine criminal tax charges. This comes after the President's son made a surprise visit to Capitol Hill yesterday to briefly sit in on a House committee proceeding to hold him in contempt of Congress.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us live outside the courthouse in Los Angeles. What are we expecting today, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, we expect a lot less fireworks, obviously, because Hunter Biden is going to be presenting himself here in federal court here in Los Angeles, where he's facing nine counts, three of which are felonies for failing to file his taxes, evading taxes, filing false tax returns.

What prosecutors are alleging here is that he didn't pay his taxes about $1.4 million over the years 2016 to 2019. They say during that time, he was using the money that he was earning from companies in Ukraine and China. He was using that money to fund a pretty high rolling lifestyle. Everything from exotic cars to exotic dancers. That's what prosecutors say he was using this money for.


Hunter Biden has since paid the back taxes, and his argument is that he wouldn't even be facing these charges if it wasn't for the fact that Republicans have been putting pressure on the Justice Department. You remember, Dana, just six months ago, Hunter Biden was just minutes away from He's been charged with a with concluding a plea agreement that would have swept away these charges, reduced them to a misdemeanor.

That fell apart spectacularly before a judge there in Delaware, and so that's why he is now facing these charges here in Los Angeles as well as separate charges in Wilmington, Delaware, Dana. And we will see Hunter Biden this afternoon. And obviously, we'll see when he enters -- that we expect a not guilty plea. Dana?

BASH: Evan, thank you so much, appreciate that reporting.

And thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.