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Biden Campaign Making Student Loans Central To Reelection; Sources: Sen. Tim Scott Expected To Endorse Trump Tonight; Federal Appeals Court To Rule At Any Time On Trump's Claim Of Presidential Immunity; Rep. Barbara Lee Says Haley Is "Clueless" On Racism, Recounts Experiencing Racism On Capitol Hill. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 19, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The Biden administration announced another round of student loan forgiveness today. The action will forgive $5 billion in student loans for 74,000 borrowers. That brings total student debt forgiveness under the Biden administration to over $137 billion for more than 3.7 million borrowers.

I want to get back to our panel to discuss this and other information regarding the Biden reelection effort. MJ Lee joins the panel now. MJ, we're going to get to your new reporting in one second, but let's just stay on this announcement from the Biden administration and let's just talk for a second about how it plays into the very important yet very fragile coalition that he needs to keep intact in order to win reelection.

And one of the questions is about on student loans and young people and getting them excited. And because it's been -- there have been lots of hurdles, let's say, in getting the student loan forgiveness promise actually to the finish line.

I want to listen to some voters in Nevada. They're swing voters, and this is part of what they were talking about. They are Trump to Biden voters from back in 2020.


NICOLE S., NEVADA TRUMP/BIDEN VOTER: At first, I heard him say a lot of things that he was going to be doing and -- even with the student loans and stuff, and he has somewhat, but it hasn't. For a lot of people, his promises have not come forth.

BARBARA L., NEVADA TRUMP/BIDEN VOTER: He's definitely made improvements to student loans. I know not as much as some people feel, but there definitely have been people who have gotten their student loan debt erased.


ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Biden really agonized over this decision initially for student loan forgiveness. I reported at the time that his top aides were presenting data that said, look, on one hand, you know, we don't want to alienate sort of the working class and, you know, you've framed yourself as Amtrak Joe in protecting sort of the sanctity of labor.


But on the other hand, former chief of staff Ron Klain was saying, look, this could really galvanize young voters here. It was also policy wise meant to be a part of sort of a racial equity agenda as well and aimed at galvanizing black voters, voters of color as well here.

And now the sort of the challenge is you had that really sprawling announcement of student loan forgiveness which obviously hit roadblocks in the courts. And now you kind of have a piecemeal approach of trying to forgive loan here and there.

But you raised expectations so much amongst the voting blocks that I just described. Will these announcements really please those voters and excite them in the same way that that initial announcement would?

BASH: Yes, that's such a good point. Kasie, before we get to MJ's reporting, I wanted to just put one more bit of this focus group from Richard Thaw (ph), which is always great to have. This specifically is on the economy and how people are feeling about it.


CATHY A., NEVADA TRUMP/BIDEN VOTER: Rentals have gone up, senior housing has gone up. People who have to sell their house or want to sell or have to want to -- want to be relocated cannot do it right now unless they take a loss. It hits every way of life, not just grocery stores, but in all these other major, major expenses that people have.

ERIK A., NEVADA TRUMP/BIDEN VOTER: So the real problem is that we don't get to see things on the bottom line of it all. But when we go to the grocery stores, when we go to the gas pumps, we're not seeing those -- we're not -- those -- the savings are coming over to us.


BASH: I got a a text with a story for the Wall Street Journal today from somebody in Biden world saying that voters are starting to feel the economy. I mean, this is really --


BASH: Did you really? That's shocking, MJ. But this, I mean, in all seriousness, this is really like the heart of their challenge, and it has been from the jump.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right. Because I think for everybody, it feels a little harder to do everything, to take care of your family, to -- by -- I mean, the food inflation in particular, I think has been very noticeable and rent as these people mentioned, right? Housing costs after the pandemic are just off the charts to the point where, I mean, sometimes I think about it.

I don't know how -- if I was just starting out, if I was a young person, like one of these people that the Biden campaign is trying to win over, it feels impossible --

BASH: Yes.

HUNT: -- right? And I don't know that it necessarily -- there are some people who think back on the Trump era and they think, oh, that was better. I felt better then. But there also is the reality that like Donald Trump's not the president right now --

BASH: Yes.

HUNT: -- and Joe Biden is.

BASH: That's right.

HUNT: So Joe Biden owns it.

BASH: Yes. That's right. OK, MJ, your great reporting about the fact that this is a problem that every incumbent president has, which is how do you get out of the bubble? How do you get out from behind the podium and over? And we're going to put the headline of your new reporting on the screen.

Milkshakes, smoothies and soul food, how Biden hopes to return to retail politics and it will pay off in November. I mean, that is really what they're hoping to do. It's a challenge when you're an incumbent president.

LEE: It's a challenge. I mean, I'll start with this data point, which is that today is January 19th and the Biden White House hasn't had a single public event at the White House all year. We've seen him out and about in the country for both official White House events and campaign events.

And increasingly we are seeing the campaign having him do these sort of smaller stops, you know, ice cream stores, which is like his favorite thing, diners, coffee shops. And, you know, this is campaigning and politics one on one. I'm not suggesting at all. And the Biden campaign isn't either saying that they've sort of like broken the code on this.

But I think it is worth underscoring how especially important this is for Biden, the candidate. This is a person, and I know you know this very well, who truly loves being with people, talking to people, connecting with people. This is something that the campaign wants to capitalize on.

You know, covering him at the White House, one way in which we try to figure out is everything going to stay on schedule today, is to see if there is an event where Biden has an opportunity to talk to people on the rope line. Whether it's when Marine One is taking off or when he's coming back, whether it's at an event.

And if there is an event like that, yes, there's a decent chance that we're going to be late because he loves to talk to every -- he wants to hit up every single person in the room.

BASH: Yes.

LEE: So we are going to be seeing much more of that in the campaign year, and that's expected. But again, just especially important, I think, for this candidate.

BASH: OK, great reporting. Appreciate it. Please check it out on for a lot more.

Coming up, Attorney General Merrick Garland pushes back on the claim that he is weaponizing the Justice Department against Donald Trump. CNN's exclusive conversation next. Plus breaking news on a brand new endorsement of Donald Trump. Stay with us.



BASH: Just in to CNN, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is expected to endorse Donald Trump tonight in New Hampshire, that's according to a source familiar with the plans. CNN's Alayna Treene joins me again from Concord, New Hampshire with the news. Alayna?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Yes. Well, Dana, a big pickup for Donald Trump. We're hearing -- and my colleague Kristen Holmes reported this, that Senator Tim Scott is supposed to endorse Donald Trump tonight in New Hampshire.


And again, a really big pickup for Donald Trump and a blow of sorts to Nikki Haley. We know, of course, Tim Scott and Nikki Haley are both from the state of South Carolina. Tim Scott was previously a presidential candidate. And Donald Trump's campaign, I know from my conversations with his advisers, have been talking to Tim Scott ever since he dropped out of the race about a potential endorsement.

And it was expected that he would endorse at some point before the South Carolina primary. And of course, this is coming a couple weeks before that. And then we know that Donald Trump's team really were looking for that endorsement, and so I think they're very happy that he's going to be making this announcement later tonight.

And look, I think this also speaks to part of Donald Trump and his campaign's broader strategy as it relates to South Carolina as well. They have been very heavily trying to rely on surrogates, including the governor, Henry McMaster, as well as Senator Lindsey Graham, to leaders in South Carolina to help them with their campaign and also try to, you know, pose some attacks on Nikki Haley as well, as we're increasingly seeing his campaign ramp up their attacks against her. And so I think they're going to be very happy to not only have his endorsement, but potentially use him as another surrogate for Trump and his campaign.

BASH: Yes. Potentially use him as a surrogate and in the last block we were talking about veepstakes, people who could be on his list --


BASH: -- to be his running mate if he does get the nomination and there's no question. I've not talked to anybody in Trump world who does not have Tim Scott on that list. And it certainly helps with the candidate, Donald Trump, that Tim Scott is endorsing because as you know, better than I, that matters a lot to Donald Trump.

Thank you so much Alayna, I appreciate it. Thanks to Kristen Holmes for the reporting as well.

Now to Attorney General Merrick Garland, he sat down exclusively with CNN, is insisting politics has no influence over decisions that are made at the Justice Department, especially when it comes to former President Donald Trump.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that the department took too long to bring these cases maybe?

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Special prosecutors followed the facts and the law. They brought cases when they thought they were ready.


BASH: The former president will be in the middle of several cases in the coming weeks, two of which involve conspiracy charges linked to his ongoing and documented efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

CNN's Paula Reid is here to, once again, try to sort all this out for our viewers. Paula, OK, let's start with February 8th. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Colorado 14th Amendment case challenging Trump's eligibility to run for office.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, this is huge. This is the biggest election case before the Supreme Court since Bush v. Gore. Now, this is also the first time that the justices are waiting into the 2024 campaign and Trump's many legal issues. But among his many cases, this is the one where he is expected to have the greatest chance of success as many legal experts expect that the justices are not going to want to completely strip voters of their choice of candidate based on this constitutional language, where we've seen even courts within the same state couldn't quite agree on what it means.

BASH: And let's talk about something and I'll give our viewers a little bit of a window behind the scenes that you and I have been talking about a lot this morning, and that is what is happening in Georgia. The judge overseeing Donald Trump's election subversion case there, has set a date to hear a motion to disqualify the Fulton County D.A., Fani Willis, based on allegations that she had an improper relationship with the special prosecutor.

Quickly explain what the allegations are, and more importantly, what it could mean for the case. How would, if the allegations were proven through, how would that affect her ability to run the case?

REID: And this could have a significant impact on her role in the case. Now this hearing is going to be to establish whether this is actually true. Is there evidence to support these allegations that they had some kind of personal relationship? And if that had any role in her selecting Wade, who does not really have an extensive resume in this kind of work, for this job, which has paid quite a substantial amount of money.

Now, again, there needs to be evidence. But if there is evidence to support these allegations, well, that calls into question, certainly her judgment in handling one of the most politically sensitive cases in the country, but also will call into question whether Willis and Wade can continue to oversee this case.

Now just because they may have this relationship doesn't mean that the charges don't have any merit or that they won't proceed. But if this is true, if a judge finds there is evidence to support these claims, that again might call into question who would be running this. The case could potentially have to be handed off to the state's Attorney General.

BASH: And quickly, before I let you go, I want to get to the immunity claim that Donald Trump is talking about extensively on the campaign trail. What can you tell us about the timing of when the Supreme Court will decide that?

REID: Any minute now, Dana. I check my phone all day, every day, looking for this critical decision because we know whatever happens here. It's not expected that Trump is going to succeed. But whatever decision this court of appeals makes, going to be appealed to the Supreme Court. Unclear if they're going to want to weigh in.


But the amount of time it takes the Supreme Court to get back to everyone, that could determine if Trump faces these federal election subversion charges this year or ever really. But particularly this question of whether that case will go --

BASH: Yes.

REID: -- before November.

BASH: Thank you so much, Paula.

When we come back, a very personal account of a congresswoman feeling racism in Congress. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BASH: Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee is slamming Nikki Haley for saying America is not a racist country. Lee says institutional racism is in the DNA of the United States and shared a personal story with my colleague Kaitlan Collins about experiencing racism in the halls of Congress.


REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): I was walking from the House building on Capitol Hill to the Capitol. And a man, a white guy stopped me and told me I could not get into the members elevator. And, you know, we have pins and I was going to vote and he blocked me from getting into the elevator and told me I was not a member of Congress and it was for members only.

I said, sir, I'm a member of Congress. And he -- I showed him my pin and he said, whose pin did you steal? Now this is an example of what personal racism is and how people of color constantly have to deal with this each and every day.


BASH: Thank you so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.