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Biden To Issue Executive Order Targeting Violent Settlers In West Bank; Biden Heads To Michigan To Shore Up Support From Key Groups; Biden Heads To Michigan To Meet With UAW Workers; Biden Campaign Faces Challenges In Battleground Michigan; Austin On Hospitalization; "Me Did Not Handle This Right"; Sec. Austin: Should've Told My Team & American Public About My Diagnosis; GOP Senators Leave Door Open To Supporting Border Deal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 01, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, all paths lead through Michigan. President Biden is on his way to a must win state, trying to lock down key voting blocks that could give him an edge in that tight battleground.

Plus, gut punch. That's how Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is describing his prostate cancer diagnosis, as he admits for the first time publicly that it was wrong to keep his surgery and hospitalization private.

And a CNN exclusive. District attorney leading the Georgia election case against Trump is refusing to step down, amid allegations she had an affair with the lead prosecutor. We'll tell you why she's defiant.

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

We start in Michigan, where President Biden is about to meet with a group of voters critical to winning this battleground state union workers. Just hours before the president's trip, CNN learned he plans to issue an executive order targeting violent settlers in the West Bank. The White House is clearly hoping that will help with another key constituency in Michigan, Muslim Americans.

CNN's MJ Lee is in Detroit where the president is heading. MJ, you broke the story about this executive order. What more can you tell us about what's behind it aside from what appears to be pretty obvious politically?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Dana. You know, this certainly takes aim at an issue that has been of a growing concern for President Biden and his White House. And that is the intensifying settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. We've heard the president condemned this kind of violence.

We know that privately he has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And we're just getting the details of this executive order that is coming today, which would impose sanctions on four Israeli settlers. We are told who had been accused of engaging in these kinds of violent acts against Palestinians in the West Bank.

All of this, of course, comes at such a critical moment for this president, as he has come under growing pressure over the Israel-Hamas war. Of course, there has been a lot of criticism for the president's support for Israel as the war has continued on. And a lot of people have sort of said he is responsible in part for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

And we've seen his political support eroding among some younger voters, progressives and voters of color, including among the Arab American community. And there is a significant Arab American population here in Michigan, which is where the president is headed this afternoon.

Now, the plan for this afternoon is for the president to meet with members of the UAW. The campaign is obviously trying to capitalize on that coveted political endorsement that he received last week. And for now, there aren't any official plans for the president to meet with any leaders or members of the Arab American community.

But that's a space that we'll be watching really closely, as again the president is trying to feel these criticisms, these concerns, and trying to make sure that the erosion of support that we have seen so far that doesn't become a bigger erosion and a bigger problem as we head into November. Dana?

BASH: Thank you so much for that reporting, MJ. And now let's go to the heart of the area where Arab Americans live and could help determine whether or not Joe Biden will actually take Michigan again. Jeff Zeleny, you are there. You have been doing a lot of reporting on this. Give us a sense of what you're hearing on the ground there.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, this is one place where President Biden will not be coming today. In fact, he will be going to Macomb County, just north of Detroit. Talking as MJ was saying to UAW workers, talking to some of the employees who he helped win and negotiate that settlement and the new contract last year, but will not be coming here to Dearborn.

And this is as MJ was saying the heart of the Arab American community here in the United States. So, there is raw anger at the president's policies. There is certainly a discontent and distrust at this administration. We attended a rally last night here in Dearborn. Here is just a glimpse of the sentiment voiced by former Biden supporters here in Dearborn.



AMER ZAHR, PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN AUTHOR & ACTIVIST: We are saying to everybody that we are not going to sit down with this administration or this campaign. They have to call for a ceasefire. He can make a phone call tomorrow and put an end to all of this. He has chosen not to. And so, we say with a very clear and loud voice, shame. We say shame. They think we're going to forget. Are we going to forget? Are we going to forget?


ZELENY: And of course, this is about the November election, Dana. But there will be a test case far before that and that is February 27. That is when the Michigan primary verbally held. And there is a sense of voters here voting uncommitted. Perhaps you can see behind me here a truck is just pulled up, knowing that we're doing a live shot here.

But Dana, this is a bigger piece of this building the coalition over the next 10 months. It's a challenge the Biden campaign knows they have, but it's one of the reasons the president is coming here. And of course, they hope to privately perhaps meet with some leaders, it's unclear if that will happen. There is no doubt. Michigan is at the center of the Biden reelection strategy for the next 10 months. Dana?

BASH: Has a very clever driver of that vehicle behind you. Look, they're even backing up, so we can see more of it. Jeff, you're just too famous. They find you wherever you are. Appreciate that reporting. I want to bring in a great panel, CNN's David Chalian, CNN's Alayna Treene, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I just actually want -- before I dig into the demographics, I want to start where Jeff left off. And I know that you have talked about this a lot. And by this, I mean the map and the road to 270. And we just sort of played with this. We don't have you at the wall. So, we're just going to do one snapshot.

Imagine a world in which Donald Trump in November assuming he's the nominee, wins some of those states in the Sunbelt, Arizona and then goes out to Georgia. Ok, so he doesn't -- Joe Biden doesn't have that on his side.


BASH: And Nevada. Thank you. Look at where Joe Biden is. We have Michigan in yellow. Michigan has 15 electoral votes. This is just one example of many, how critical Michigan is to any Joe Biden win.

CHALIAN: Yeah. 15 electoral votes, if that would have flipped blue from yellow, Joe Biden would be reelected president United States. It's that simple. Now, it's also hard to imagine a world where Biden is winning Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan is not really competitive because some of that DNA is similar.

But we see a specific Michigan issue in what you just saw from Jeff's reporting. That has Michigan. I will tell you from my reporting, chief among equals in that blue wall in terms of areas of concern for the Biden campaign.

BASH: Yeah. And I think you're right. There's similar DNA in that "blue wall." But what does make Michigan different is the significant Arab American community there. I want you all to listen to Debbie Dingell. She is a Democratic member of Congress who represents big sections of that community.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): People need to understand what's going on in Michigan with so many of these Arab American families who have known forever. They have family. They are Palestinians. We got to address this that it's just clear and simple, it's got to be addressed.


BASH: It's so interesting because I actually had the mayor of Dearborn on earlier this week who said, he didn't want to meet with the president's campaign manager. He wanted to meet with people at the White House to talk policy. So today, which hasn't happened and what happened today, the president's going and he's focusing on union workers. And as far as I can tell, there's no -- I mean, maybe there's something in the works, but that hasn't happened yet.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yeah. I think it's so interesting because for Biden, this is an issue particularly with the Israel-Hamas conflict. The concerns of Arab Americans. But we know there are concerns from Jewish Americans. And there are concerns from a national security and defense hawks about how Biden responds to the conflict. How he responds to calls for ceasefire, which is quite frankly, the line in the sand for a lot of Arab Americans. They want ceasefire.

And the fact that Biden, although he's called for a lot of things, he stopped very short of the ceasefire is problematic for them. But I think it would be problematic if he were to call for a ceasefire with a very different constituency. And that's the difficult position President Biden finds himself.

And the final point I want to make is, I thought it was interesting when Jeff said there's a campaign in the Michigan primary for some of those voters to say not committed. They're not saying they're going with another candidate right now. They're saying they're just not going to necessarily vote for Joe Biden in the primary.


BASH: Yeah. They're keeping their powder dry. And obviously, you know, a lot of times you hear elected officials saying, I'm not going to follow the polls on this. I'm going to do what's right. I genuinely think that in this situation that's where Joe Biden is, which is -- and which is in a place where he thinks that Israel should have the right to defend itself. But even now, he's trying to given the fact that it's been so long, trying to do something definitely stopping short of a ceasefire. We can talk about that policy later on.

Let's zero in on the union vote in Michigan and elsewhere. You covered Donald Trump. And what is so interesting it has been since Donald Trump has been on the political scene is the way that he has taken some of the rank-and-file union vote to from Democrats. And if you just kind of take a look at where the latest polling is. This is a union household in swing states that even 47, 47. And I want our viewers to listen to what Donald Trump said as he was very actively according, the endorsement from the Teamsters.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Usually a Republican wouldn't get that endorsement for many, many years. They only do Democrats. But in my case is different because I've employed thousands of Teamsters and I thought we should come over and pay our respects. And as you know, a big part of the voting bloc votes for me, a very big part.


BASH: He's not wrong.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: He's not. And this is a core part of the Trump campaign strategy, particularly in states like Michigan, but also Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the states that Trump won in 2016, but Biden ended up flipping for himself in 2020. They want to peel away, not necessary leadership.

We know that Shawn Fain, the President of the United Auto Workers union, came out and endorsed Biden last week. But they're really going after these rank-and-file members, many of whom did support Donald Trump in 2016, that they think they can pull away and peel away from Joe Biden. And that's also part of their large working class voter argument.

They really have been ramping up their messaging and their strategy in these key battleground states going after the working-class vote. And they do see organized labor as being a key part of that. But again, you know, it is typically a democratic voting bloc. And so that's another thing that reconciling.

CHALIAN: And Biden showed more strength than Hillary Clinton did with that voting blocs.

BASH: Yes. Such an important point. And Donald Trump I think, would love the endorsement of gore hamsters (Ph) leadership as well. Everybody standby. Up next. A remarkable moment at the Pentagon Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, apologizing for not properly communicating his cancer diagnosis and treatment to President Biden, Pentagon staff and the general public.




BASH: Just a short time ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke publicly for the first time about his battle against prostate cancer and his failure to immediately disclose his illness and his hospitalization to the president. Secretary Austin says, he apologized to the president and admitted he did not quote handle this right.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: But I want to be crystal clear. We did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public. And I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.

Now, I want to make it very clear that there were no gaps in authorities and no risk to the department's command and control. At every moment, either I or the deputy secretary was in full charge. And we've already put in place some new procedures to make sure that any lapses in notification don't happen.


BASH: CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us live from the Pentagon. Oren, you were at that press conference. Tell us what it was like.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Dana, this is our first chance to ask questions of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in more than a month. And it was really our first chance to see him in person since he returned to the Pentagon on Monday after nearly a month in the hospital, following complications from that procedure to treat prostate cancer.

It was notable and you see it right there. As he walked up to the podium for his opening statement, he was visibly walking slower and visibly limping. He said he is recovering and recovering well, but he is still feeling pain and still undergoing physical therapy for treatment for the pain that he's feeling. Unclear he said on how much longer that will take, but he said he is still expected to improve the feeling the ability to use his leg there.

So, this this whole medical procedure is ongoing. You heard him a moment ago issue an apology for his failure to notify the administration, the president, the public and the press. He was pressed repeatedly on why he made that decision. He says there was no order given, neither by him nor his staff members to keep this secret or to keep it hidden.

It was also pressed on whether there was a culture of secrecy. He insists there was not a culture of secrecy around this. He says the news when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December, shook him like a gut punch and his instinct was to try to keep this private and to handle it privately a decision, he says in hindsight was a mistake for which he apologized including directly to President Joe Biden.

Whether his staff or have discussions around what his staff may have said or instructed. He said that will be part of an ongoing 30-day review. That's frankly due in just a few days now. I had a chance to ask him first, would he commit to making that review public? And second, would there be any consequences for his Chief of Staff Kelly Magsamen, because the Pentagon has said she is the one who should have passed on notification to the administration, but she didn't because she had the flu. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As her Chief of Staff Kelly Magsamen offered her resignation or have there been discussions about her resignation in the wake of the failure to notify?


AUSTIN: I commit to being as transparent as possible in sharing as much as possible. Our new understand that -- because this is a command and control of policies of our government here, there'll be elements of this that are classified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your chief of staff, has she offered her resignation?

AUSTIN: She has not.


LIEBERMANN: Austin, was of course, also asked about the U.S. response to a deadly drone strike on Sunday. He said of the Iranian backed militias in the Middle East. They have a lot of capabilities. I have a lot more.

BASH: Oren, thank you so much for that reporting. Our panel is back here. I just want to play a little bit more so that people who might not have seen it, get the flavor of the way that he was really peppered with all kinds of questions about what went wrong.


AUSTIN: To answer your question on whether or not, I directed my staff to conceal my hospitalization from anyone else. The answer is no. I asked my assistant to call the ambulance. I did not direct him to do anything further than just call the ambulance. And so, what he said and why you said it, I think that should come out in the review as well. I'm not sure at this point, what exactly happened, but I think details will play out as a review is conducted.


BASH: All right. That was a really remarkable hour or however long it was to see and hear the defense secretary take the questions, admit that he was wrong and how he handled it. But also, especially for a guy who is very, very private, which is how he got to this place -- in the first place. Talk about having prostate cancer.

CHALIAN: Yeah. I mean, hearing him describe how shook he was by the diagnosis, which for anybody that has gone through this, I don't think will be very surprising. But when you hear it from the defense secretary from the podium in the Pentagon, it resonates in a slightly different way. And he also I thought was quite revealing in his thought process. He was pressing, like, how could you possibly during all of that time, not have thought to call the president and tell him what's going on. And he was -- he was just describing, and he says that was wrong, but describing being in a mindset of not wanting to burden anybody else most specifically, the president with his own personal health problems.

MITCHELL: Yeah. I actually lost a friend last month to cancer. And she chose not to disclose her diagnosis to some of her friends. I didn't know until she passed away that she even had cancer. And so, I think a lot of people watching this coverage or who may have watched the press conference, will identify with someone whose -- for whatever reasons chose not to speak about it.

And to me, it also gives a little bit of clarity as to why some of his closest staff and aides might have gone along with it. Again, we know what's wrong. He's Secretary Austin, so he doesn't get that right to privacy, maybe that a private citizen would. But you could see his aides responding to Austin, the man, Austin, the person who they know is private, not what is the best decision for the secretary of defense.

TREENE: Yeah. I mean, I agree with you, Dana, that that was a remarkable press conference. What struck me was that he didn't parse words when he was saying. I knew that this was wrong. This was a mistake. I apologize. I apologize directly to the president of the United States. I think that is what a lot of people wanted to hear and needed to hear from Secretary Austin after having kept this private, and obviously not hearing from him in over a month, as Oren said.

The thing that I am interested in -- I am interested in to see how this report does come out because he did, you know, bring up his aides and think about the ambulance where they turned off the lights. Those sorts of decisions, saying that it wasn't his decision. He kind of cast blame in a couple of places.

So, I am interested to see if there's any further fallout from this because I do think there's a lot of people who are still very angry, including Republicans and lawmakers on Capitol Hill who want to see more out of this.

BASH: And Democrats.

TREENE: And Democrats. That's fair.

BASH: Yeah. All right. Everybody standby. Up next. CNN exclusive reporting on the embattled district attorney prosecuting Donald Trump in Georgia. Will she stepped down amid allegations of an affair with a fellow prosecutor? All the details, coming up.



BASH: Bipartisan negotiators in the Senate are still promising a deal on tougher border restrictions in exchange for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. House Republican leaders of course have been calling the deal DOA in their chamber. But now some House Republicans are pushing back, supporting the idea of a border deal.

Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill. I mean, I have whiplash and I've been covering this pretty closely. Is there really that much of a change from the rank-and-file inside the House GOP conference?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There really is not among the House GOP conference. In fact, most of them are aligned with Donald Trump, are aligned with the speaker of the House and say that the Senate border deal, which in fact has not been released yet. But we've gotten reports about what is likely in it and some of the provisions that are in there.

They're saying that is essentially dead-on arrival. Donald Trump before even reading the bill has called it a betrayal and said that Republicans should kill it. And Republicans and Democrats believe that he frankly wants to campaign on border chaos and wants to deny Joe Biden a bipartisan victory.