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Extreme Winter Weather Disrupting Campaigns In Iowa; Campaigns Worry About Turnout With Temperatures At Record Lows; Blizzard, Subzero Temperatures Scramble Final Weekend Of Campaign; Candidates Make Final Pitches With Three Days To Go; New Haley Super PAC Ad Mocks DeSantis' Embrace Of Trump; Massive Protests In Yemen's Biggest City After U.S.-Led Airstrikes; U.S. And U.K. Strike Iran-Backed Houthi Targets In Yemen; Biden Taking Big Political, Military Risks With Yemen Strikes. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, a cold campaign reality. Blizzard conditions in Iowans chaos for the Republican candidates trying to reach every voter they can. The crucial question. How much will this dangerous weather impact turnout on caucus night?

Plus, firing back. President Biden ordered airstrikes against Iran backed rebels who've been firing at commercial ships, fueling fears that the Middle East could be on the edge of an all-out war? And I don't hate her. That's the faint praise. Some Iowa Republicans are giving Nikki Haley. We're going to hear what some voters are really thinking in a brand-new focus group.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

We start in Iowa which is under a blizzard warning today. It is freezing there. Now I'm sure you're thinking, duh. It's January. Obviously, it's cold in Iowa, but this is different. It is brutally cold. Historically cold. So cold that Iowans are being told not to even take a step outside and it's going to get worse. Monday looks likely to be the coldest caucus night on record. We're talking about windshields as low as negative 30 degrees.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is sort of indoor outdoor. We can see the outside, but you've got a little bit of the heat from the inside. I just want our viewers to not be super concerned about. You tell us what you're seeing there, not only with the weather, but with the campaign.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, we are bundled up. No worries here about that. But the weather is political here. And this is why it is one of the central worries and concerns of the campaign going forward at this point. It's what they're preparing for. It's what they're thinking about. And it's what they're worrying about.

And the candidates have mainly had to cancel most of their events today. So, the campaign has essentially frozen in place. And this is why this matters. Now that voters necessarily need to hear one more stump speech or even the closing arguments, but these events are about organization.

When you walk into a campaign event, you are met by a campaign staffer or volunteer who is making sure they have your information. So, they can remind you on Monday to come out to the caucus. So, it's all about organization as we talk about so much.

But now there certainly has been so much spending here in Iowa. Nikki Haley and her Super PAC are now leading the charge in terms of spending. So perhaps it's a good day to watch some of those television commercials for Iowans who are trapped inside. But Ron DeSantis just did make it out to one event this morning. And he talked about the importance of Monday night.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll ask you for your support on Monday. I know it's going to be cold. I know it's going to be not the most pleasant, but I don't think you'll ever be able to cast the vote that has more impact. Given the circumstance, we don't know what the turnout is going to be. It could be much smaller than what it's been in the '16 cycle, that's possible.

So, if you're going out and you're bringing four or five different friends with you or family members, that is going to pack a punch in a way that voting and a general election just simply would not at that level.


ZELENY: And Nikki Haley is talking to her supporters on the telephone, doing a tele town halls. Again, that is also about organization. People who sign up to call in, the campaign is keeping track of them. And again, they can remind them to vote on Monday night.

So, Dana, the reason this matter is turnout as Governor DeSantis was just saying there. For weeks and months, Republican officials here were telling me they expected a record setting turnout more than in 2016. Now that's very much an open question with the cold weather.

We're talking to older voters certainly have a concern getting to the polls. But look, the campaign is going on into the weekend. Former President Donald Trump is coming into Iowa this weekend to campaign tomorrow. All the other candidates are hoping to get back on the road. But the weather is politics now. And it's one of the central things hanging over this campaign. Dana?

BASH: Thank you so much, Jeff. I'll see you there tomorrow, I hope -- because Jeff said the weather is politics and this is entire politics. Let's go to the CNN weather anchor and correspondent Elisa Raffa is tracking all of it. What do we see when it comes to what to expect not just today, but this week and most importantly on Monday on caucus day? ELISA RAFFA, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. We're looking at temperatures not breaking zero degrees on caucus day. Today we have blizzard conditions out there. You know, there were a couple events scheduled for today not happening. Look at the orange warning there. You've got four to eight inches of snow, plus 45 mile per hour gusts that's blowing around snow dropping visibility and making things very dangerous.


You can see there on the radar right now where we have some heavy snow in Des Moines. That windchill right now is four degrees from two we weren't compared to where we're going. You've got those windchills already at 20 degrees below zero in northwest Iowa. That's because we have arctic air that's going to spill into the upper Midwest and that's going to really take these windshields to dangerous levels.

We're talking windows as cold as minus 45 going into Monday. You can get frostbite in 10 minutes or less with conditions like that. We're talking life threatening dangerous and in your record cold, windchills again continuing to stay very chilly.

Here's a look at the past clock is temperatures 30s, 40s, 2004 we hit 16 degrees. But as we go and look ahead towards Monday, we're looking at that high temperature making it to minus four minus, the highest temperature of the day so any events in the morning will be well, well below. Zero again factor in the windshield, much colder than that.

These are forecast high temperatures across the state of Iowa on Monday. Temperatures again five to 10 degrees below zero as we go through Monday. Factoring the windshield look at this, you're looking at these windshield values are 30 to 40 degrees below zero so incredibly cold looking at windshields happening or frostbite happening in minutes, minutes, minutes. So very dangerous.

BASH: You're really making me want to get right on that plane there. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. And joining me now with the cold hard truth. I'm sorry. We just had too. Our excellent reporters Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, CNN's MJ Lee, and Alex Burns from POLITICO who we lovingly call Mr. MJ Lee right around here.

Yeah, you're welcome. Let's just look because we do have to just do one more beat on the weather or a couple. Give it context because I made a joke like, OK, it's cold in Iowa in January, like of course it is. But it really is on caucus night going to be much colder than we have seen ever. I mean, look at that.

And again, negative four, that's going to be the high in Iowa. I mean, we've been in Iowa when it's cold. I was just in Iowa when it's cold, it's hard to imagine how this is not going to impact turnout.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I feel like I've thought I knew cold weather being from Massachusetts. But this is I mean, frigid. And, you know, for weeks candidates have gone to Iowa really to build this enthusiasm for this moment -- for this moment to try and encourage turnout here. You know, even DeSantis and Nikki Haley over the past week, you know, doing that as well. But with this weather, I thought also, Zeleny made a good point about particularly with senior citizens as well and those that may have other health conditions. I mean, this could be dangerous. So, we do need to kind of see and assess here and really look at how this will impact turnout and enthusiasm.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, I know that I wouldn't step outside in these temperatures. But obviously, Iowans are sort of built a little bit differently. I mean, there are different ways that this could end up panning out. I mean, is it just lower turnout across the board and sort of every candidate feels the effects.

Or, you know, is there a scenario where the candidate with the most passionate voters i.e., the Iowans who are like really willing to get in the car, even though there's like 10-feet of snow in front of them. Do they end up having some kind of advantage?

I mean, I do think it's interesting. We're hearing a little bit of concern from the Trump campaign, preemptively that they're a little worried the idea that their supporters because they think he has it sort of locked down, maybe they sort of, you know, predict that other people are going to show up and they won't have to.


BASH: Yeah. Well, that's an interesting point. The way that that some of them at least one campaign advisor is spinning it is the weather issue may take away the intensity. It's a bigger problem for everyone else than us. What they're suggesting this particular advisor is that if they drop three or four points, that's like, you know, dropping from a very high lead to another very high lead and others don't have that luxury.

Nikki Haley, I literally can't comprehend it, it's going to be negative 15. But I'm going to be out there. And I want you to go out there. DeSantis, we look forward to forcing our opponents to try to match our campaign pace, when it hurts to breathe outside. That's David Polanski, who is a longtime Iowan. And the Ramaswamy tsunami is not going to be deterred by the cold weather. And that's Vivek Ramaswamy himself.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is in addition to being a test for all the candidates and their supporters. I think it's test for Iowa as a state and the Iowa caucus as an institution. The whole mythology of this ritual, which is quite an unusual political practice is, as MJ said that they're just built a little bit differently there. They take this so seriously. They're so committed to the process.


Going out in that kind of weather requires commitment. If you see turnout, plummet relative to previous years. You know, I think the notion that Iowans are a sort of special breed that deserve a special place in the process maybe we should revisit that assumption.

BASH: Well, let's look at what the two candidates who have been there most aggressively and who are sort of -- besides Trump, pretty high in the polls comparatively. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have been saying on the campaign trail before tomorrow Jeff Zeleny's term. It was frozen in place.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Monday matters. Your voice matters. I trust you. I trust you because I know America gets this. The political pundits on TV, want to write this story already and act like November 2024 is already here. They don't know. But you do. And we'll find out on Monday.

DESANTIS: He's not done all. My counties doesn't like to interrupt the voters, thinks if they just spend, spend, spend, then somehow that's going to do the trick. You know, that's not the way it works. I rather be the underdog. I think I run very well as the guy that's working harder than everybody, as the guy that's that shaking the hands, that answering the questions, and I'm showing up.


BASH: I Love the guy who got so criticized for not interacting with anyone is now hitting her for not interacting, which she does. I mean, they all are they have to.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I also think it's interesting that we're now at a point where DeSantis is framing himself as an underdog in this race.


KANNO-YOUNGS: You know, he -- it wasn't that long ago that many thought that DeSantis would be the top contender against Trump, and now framing himself as an underdog here. He has tried to continue with this theme of, look, I am advocating for sort of Trumpism, Trump's policies, but I'm the better person to actually execute it.

I don't know if saying that, you know, you are the best person to execute. Trumpism is an effective strategy when you are not the original person doing that. He has also tried to criticize Nikki Haley for some of her donors as well, whereas Haley has come in a bit more of an establishment sort of Republican at this point. But we're going to have to see, you know, which of those strategies really does galvanize, you know, residence.

BASH: You mentioned, the notion that he is trying to be Trump, maybe Trump light. That's what Nikki Haley is accusing him of her Super PAC got the message, and they put this ad out.


BASH: Who's your Daddy? If you couldn't figure out what the crowds were saying there? LEE: I mean, I think the fact that Trump has been such an oversized figure and issue in the race has in some ways prevented these candidates. Even this late in the campaign cycle from really like getting out to voters, like painting a clear picture of this is what I am about and this is what my candidacy is about.

In the way that we saw, like Chris Christie the anti-Trump guy. I think we saw that really vividly at the CNN town hall that you moderated. Where at the end of it, if some voter who hasn't been really tuned in but watch that debate. Did they come away with it with a very clear picture of what Nikki Haley's candidacy is about or did they come away with it thinking, OK, she was the candidate who was talking about the DeSantis website over and over again.

BURNS: The thing that I find fascinating about that Super PAC ad is that there's -- look, there's no way anybody in this race beats Trump unless ultimately all the voters who have reservations about Trump coalesce behind them. That is an ad that humiliates Ron DeSantis, right? That is not an ad that says, I'm confident in my position and I need to sort of unite the clans in this race against the overwhelming frontrunner. That's I am going to crush this guy.

BASH: That's such an interesting point. OK. Everybody standby. Just into CNN, the Oregon Supreme Court says it will not remove Donald Trump from that state's Republican primary ballot based on the 14th Amendment's insurrection ban.

For now, the Oregon court did not rule out the merits of the challenge. Instead, they said they're going to wait to hear from the Supreme Court. Colorado and Maine of course, kicked Trump off their ballots because of his role in the January 6 interaction. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Colorado case February 8.

And up next, fears of a new proxy war between the U.S. and Iran after President Biden ordered strikes on a Yemeni rebel group backed by Tehran. What it means and what's next. That's coming up.



BASH: Massive protests today in Yemen's largest city. That city Sanaa is under control of Houthi rebels. They are threatening retaliation after a massive series of U.S. and U.K. led strikes on military targets in the country, which itself was a response to dozens of Houthi attacks on international shipping vessels.

In a statement, Houthi spokesman said that the U.S. and U.K. will have to prepare to pay a heavy price and bear dire consequences for what they call latent aggression. Oren Liebermann is live for us at the Pentagon with more details. Oren, what do we know about these strikes?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, we've seen a lot of bluster from the Houthis. But there's the sense here that this goes far beyond rhetoric and that the Houthis will find some way to respond to what we saw from the U.S., the U.K. backed by several other countries.


These were sweeping strikes across '16 different Houthi sites in Yemen. Totaling more than 60 targets according to U.S. officials, more than a hundred precision guided emissions were used as part of the strikes, the U.S. trying to go after the Houthis' ability to attack international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. You see that they're one of the world's most critical waterways.

We have seen the U.S. according to central command. We have seen the Houthis, I should say carry out 27 attacks on international shipping, which is forced vessels to avoid the bobble mind up straight right there. The U.S. trying to make that safe.

First, there was the defensive coalition to try to safeguard the waterways. This after repeated warnings to the Houthis is the strike that tried to degrade their ability to target international shipping.

Shortly after the strikes, President Joe Biden released a statement explaining the rationale behind these. He said, these targeted strikes in explaining the statements here are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world's most critical commercial routes.

The question of course at this point, Dana, how do the Houthis respond? And is this enough or will the U.S. the U.K. and others feel compelled to act again?

BASH: Lots of questions. They're left. Thank you so much Oren for that reporting. Let's talk about this more with CNN's Jim Sciutto, CNN's national security correspondent, and Dan Lamothe, national security reporter for The Washington Post. Nice to see you all. Jim put this in context for us.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, I think that the U.S. was already involved right. As a player here, and that they were a target, U.S. ships, as well as ships from countries all over the world in the Red Sea. U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, all by Iran backed proxies and the Houthis are one of them. So, it's clear that basically U.S. patients run out -- ran out here.

And what U.S. officials were telling me last night was that it was Tuesday's attacks that were the straw that broke the camel's back, there was some 20 drones fired specifically at U.S. ships in the Red Sea, including a ship carrying jet fuel. And the concern was had one of those drones struck and not been shut down. That it might have sunk that ship and that was the bridge too far. So, the U.S. is responding.

What's clear, though, is they do not believe that these attacks have one taken away all of the Houthis' capabilities here or their ambitions frankly, and they do expect the Houthi response. And officials have made it clear to me that this may not in the words of one senior administration official may not be the last word from the U.S. either. In other words, they are reserving the right the capability to strike back if they see further strikes like this.

BASH: Which sort of even makes the concern that many people have about this escalating into a greater regional threat even more likely. I want our viewers to hear what the Pentagon spokesman said about that yesterday.


MAJOR GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: It's important to differentiate between what's happening between Israel and Hamas. And what's happening in the Red Sea. You have the Houthi rebels that are conducting indiscriminate attacks against international shipping. Over 50 countries have been affected by this. This is malign behavior by a group that's disrupting international commercial shipping and putting the lives of mariners at risk. And so, the international community answered that last night.


BASH: That was earlier today. Obviously, there's absolutely zero interest by the U.S., by the U.K. to say, you know what, yeah, this is all connected to what's happening in Israel. And this is going to be, you know, World War III. Their interest is just the opposite, which is what we heard there. What's the reality?

DAN LAMOTHE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, I mean, the reality is -- it looks very differently in the Middle East. And this actually kind of goes back to something that we saw General Soleimani from Iran put together, which was trying to link all of these things, trying to have a broader network that could fall in on any conflict. So, it's not a surprise to see that it would play this way. It's not a surprise to see that Iran would continue to supply these weapons to the Houthis and we're likely to see more of it.

BASH: General Soleimani who was killed by the U.S.

SCIUTTO: And it is the way we should look at these groups, right, because the Houthis in Yemen, they are not the government of that country. But they've taken over a good portion of the country. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Gaza, they have their own interests, but they are also means of power projection for Iran.

And the U.S. made very clear that in terms of these Houthi attacks on shipping there, that it's not just Iran giving them mild encouragement, it's Iran giving them operational support for these attacks, including intelligence information, as well as many of the weapon systems that they're using.

BASH: Real quick final word.

LAMOTHE: No, that's exactly right. I mean, in fact, the U.S. assumes that there are Iranian forces on the ground small numbers that are sort of helping coach and mentor here.

BASH: Thank you both. Appreciate it. Coming up. Some leading progressive Democrats are not happy with President Biden for ordering these strikes in Yemen. It's a political challenge. He definitely does not need right now. We'll talk about that after a break.



BASH: President Biden is not only dealing with the very real military and national security risks of striking Iran backed targets in Yemen but also the political risks. CNN's Stephen Collins put it this way. He wrote quote, while Biden's would be opponents have the luxury of lacking official responsibilities, a president must consider the geo- strategic and humanitarian implications of their actions. Sometimes that means acting in the national interest in a way that may harm their political interests.