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This Hour: Biden Meets With Families Of 3 U.S. Soldiers Killed In Jordan Before Attending Dignified Transfer; U.S. Economy Added 353,000 Jobs In January; CNN Poll: Americans Feel Slightly Better About Economy; CNN Poll: Democracy, Foreign Wars & Economy Top Issues; CNN Poll: Majority Say Biden's Policies Worsened Economy; CNN Poll: Political Parties Agree Border Situation A Crisis. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, honoring the fallen. Right now, President Biden is in Dover, Delaware to attend the dignified transfer of three U.S. soldiers killed last weekend in Jordan. And to meet with families as their loved ones remains returned to U.S. soil.

Plus, 353,000 jobs added. The first employment report of 2024 is out and it's much stronger than anybody expected. This as new exclusive CNN polling shows that voters are giving President Biden slightly more credit for economic gains.

And a jumbled mess. That's how a GOP source is describing House Republicans attempt to impeach President Biden. We're going to bring you new reporting on how top members are finally admitting, it's probably not going to happen.

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

We start with the most solemn duty of an American president. Joe Biden is in Delaware at Dover Air Force Base to witness the dignified transfer of three U.S. soldiers killed in Jordan. 24-year-old Sergeant Kennedy Sanders was known to her parents as munchkin. They say she dove into everything headfirst.

23-year-old Sergeant Brianna Moffatt, her sister says she talked to a stranger on the street and had them smiling and laughing within minutes. And 46-year-old Sergeant William Jerome Rivers, he's remembered as quiet, genuine and a huge Philly sports fan. These brave Americans were all from Georgia.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House. Arlette, you've covered President Biden for some time. You understand how solemn this is for any president, but particularly for him.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Dana. It really is the most somber duty a president has as commander in chief and President Biden will experience this now for the second time, as he is on hand for a dignified transfer of those three U.S. service members who were killed in Jordan. Now the president has just arrived at Dover Air Force Base on Air Force One. He is accompanied by his wife, First Lady Jill Biden. And first up on their schedule is a meeting, private meetings with the families of those service members. The schedule says he has a little over an hour to meet with them.

This will give him a chance to hear directly personal stories about their loved ones and to hear their concerns as well. The president spoke with the three families on Tuesday. And the White House said that in those conversations he gauged their feelings about having him attend the dignified transfer.

All three families agreed that they did want the president there. Those are the families of Sergeant William Rivers, and also two army specialists who are posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant, Kennedy Sanders and Brianna Moffatt.

And we really got a very rare video showing a moment where President Biden spoke with the family of Kennedy Sanders and personally delivered the news where he said that they were posthumously promoting her to sergeant. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: By the way, were promoted her posthumously to sergeant.

ONEIDA OLIVER-SANDERS, KENNEDY SANDERS' MOTHER: Oh, wow. that is the best news I've heard today. Thank you so much. You don't know how much that means to us.

BIDEN: Oh. Well, I tell you what it means a lot to talk to me. My son spent a year in Iraq. Until I lost him. And I know, one percent -- one percent of all these kids are the ones that take care 99 percent of us.


SAENZ: And so, you'll see there the Air Force One has arrived at Dover Air Force Base. We anticipate President Biden, the First Lady walking off any moment. As you heard in that clip, the president talks about his own experience with loss. That is something he has often turned to in these types of meetings.

His own son, Beau Biden, have served in Iraq in the Delaware National Guard for about a year. And later when he returned, he came down with brain cancer. The president has oftentimes talked about how he believes his son's exposure to burn pits while he was serving in Iraq. A contributed to the brain cancer that Beau Biden eventually succumb to back in 2015.

Now President Biden and the First Lady will have a chance to meet privately behind closed doors with these families. Those meetings are oftentimes raw with emotion. You'll remember back in 2021, the president attended a dignified transfer for 13 service members who were killed in Afghanistan and those meetings that went on with the families at the time were very raw with emotion and anger from some very frustrated with the president's handling of the withdrawal in Afghanistan.


So personally, for President Biden, this will certainly be a very moving moment. I will also note, in addition to that meeting with the families, then there will be the dignified transfer. And both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff CQ Brown will also be on hand for the dignified transfer.

And it all comes as the U.S. is expected at some point to respond to this drone attack, which led to the death of these three U.S. service members. The president had told me on Tuesday that he has made a decision how he will respond. The officials have previewed that it could be multi-tiered, multi-phase and its response.

The question now is when exactly that will begin. But for the moment today, the president's focus will be on those families trying to comfort them in this moment as the remains of their three fallen service members returned back to U.S. soil.

BASH: And Arlette, as you're speaking, we are watching the president and the first lady who have just -- as you mentioned, gotten off Air Force One. They are now at the airbase. He's about to get into his car. And what we expect once he gets to the area where he is going to greet the families, we're told that there's a quiet room at Dover Air Base where these conversations tend to happen.

It is noteworthy that we haven't seen -- this has only happened. This is the second time since Joe Biden right has been president. And it's not something that happened very often before 2009. Presidents didn't always attend the ritual. And we the media were only allowed to document this beginning in 2009.

SAENZ: Yeah. And it really started when you started to see more and more troops coming back around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for a president, it really is the gravest duty that he has having to be on hands there, speak one-on-one with the families who are grieving and enduring such loss of their loved ones. And he will once again do that today.

I will note that back when he was vice president, he actually did attend a dignified transfer and then had attempted to as he was a senator of Delaware. But had said that he was turned away at times from those ceremonies. But certainly, it will be a very poignant moment for the president, especially one who has dealt with so much grief himself, and so often has stepped into that role of comforter- in-chief.

BASH: Yeah, no question. And as we see the president's motorcade go and as he begins to embark on this journey. I want to talk to my panel here. And Gloria Borger, I'm going to start with you. You have covered Joe Biden for a very long time back when he was U.S. senator.

I know you've spoken to him many times about the way that he approaches. Being a person who understands grief and interacts with people who are grieving. That was even before he was commander-in- chief, and now he really is, at the moment, acting as consoler-in- chief.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, this is really his superpower. And this is something that has occurred over the years. He lost his wife and a young child, just as he was elected to the Senate in a car accident. And then, of course, losing Beau Biden after both served. And I think that Biden believes that he can help people this way.

I mean, this is somebody who tells people over-and-over again that there's a hole in your heart, as he puts it, a black hole that can never be replaced. But if you find a purpose in your life after loss, you can learn to live with it. But this is something that he feels he can really help. And that's why he does it.

BASH: Yeah. And as we talk about this, he wrote in a book that he published in 2017, promised me dad a year of hope, hardship and purpose about what happened with his son Beau. I have found over the years that although it brought back my own vivid memories of sad times, my presence almost always brought some solace to people who have suffered sudden and unexpected loss. When I talk to people in mourning, they know I speak from experience.

BORGER: And he still carries Beau's rosary with him every single day. And will take it out on occasion.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah. It's something he's uniquely qualified to do as president. And I was thinking as Arlette referred to him and we do this all the time. Consoler-in-chief or comforter-in-chief and we always take a president we say, blank-in- chief. But it is because of their role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces that we attach that label and here he has to combine those things.


He has to be the commander-in-chief and the comforter-in-chief. All at the same time, given that these people lost their lives in service to the country. And in listening to that phone call, which is just extraordinary -- the exterior on the end -- the families end of that phone call.

And a local news crew was there at the time that they received the call from President Biden. And to hear him talking about -- I just that, you know, one percent serves to protect and defend the 99 percent is such an important thing to keep in mind as we watch this sacrifice on display.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN, ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Also, important because they do so sometimes without the public support. You mentioned 2009 being the first time the media is even really being able to show it. That makes a difference how people think about war when they see how people are affected. BASH: Yeah. No, that's a such a good point. And this isn't happening in a vacuum. This is happening as the president is waying. He says he has decided how to respond to Iran, or the Iran backed militias that the U.S. believes is responsible for the death of these three individuals.

CORNISH: And that's a broader policy conversation, right, that you're trying to have at the same time that you have escalating tensions in the Middle East more broadly. And a wing of your party that's disappointed in how you've handled some aspects of that.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You would absolutely think that this is -- moments like this are on the minds of the people in the White House and the NSC, the state department and Pentagon when making decisions and when they say they're trying to prevent a wider regional conflict.

BASH: Ok. Everybody standby. We're going to turn back to politics as we monitor what's happening in Delaware. A new CNN poll reveals what voters now think of Joe Biden and America's economy. And it shows Americans deep pessimism about the economy might be easing up even if only a little bit. Stay with us.




BASH: The U.S. economy added a whopping 353,000 jobs in January for a stronger than expected start to this new year. Another sign of economic strength, the unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent. Making January the 24th month in a row that jobless rates have been lower than 4 percent.

This comes as a new CNN poll finds that Americans pessimism about the economy is beginning to ease ever so slightly. Joining me now at the magic wall to talk about this -- to break it down is David Chalian.

Let's start with the overall idea that political strategists and we've been covering politics have been looked -- have looked at and matters more than anything, which is how people feel about the direction of the country.

CHALIAN: Exactly. And so, we asked that question, and we see that only 35 percent of Americans in our new poll say that things are going well. Now I say only 35 percent. That's about a third and it's a low number.

But Dana, look, it is ticking up a bit. It was a 28 percent last fall. I mean, we weren't at 35 percent until the aftermath of the midterm elections in December of '22. And that was a blip. So that is a bit of good news that maybe the country is turning the corner and perception, those still two thirds do not believe things are going well. But I think this is instructive. Look at it broken by party. You see growth in positive perception across all Democrats, Independents, Republicans. So yes, Democrats think more now that things are going well than it did before. But you see an eight-percentage point growth since the fall with independence and seven percentage points with Republican.

BASH: Yeah. Right track, wrong track. That's it.


BASH: The economy. We just talked about the numbers today were just bonkers are really, really good. And the biggest challenge to date for the Biden campaign has been to transfer those data points to how people are feeling.

CHALIAN: Yeah. And we're not seeing it working just yet. I mean, you see a little bit -- tiny bit, but this is within the margin of error. 55 percent, a majority of Americans say Biden's economic policies have worsened economic conditions. Only a quarter say they've improved conditions. 90 percent no effect.

So yes, 58 percent said that in August, but again, that's margin of error. He's largely staying even there with a majority of Americans saying that economic conditions have worsened under his watch. And take a look, just overall of his approval ratings on a whole host of issues. Right there in the middle, Dana, 37 percent approval on the economy. He's at 38 percent approval overall.

The economy drives so much about people perceive him. Where he overperformed his overall approval rating, protecting democracy and the situation in Ukraine where he underperforms his overall approval rating. The Israel-Hamas war, and then immigration consistently his worst issue in the eyes of Americans, only 30 percent of the proof of the job he's doing on that issue.

BASH: Which speaks to the more hardline stance that he has taken lately ever in recent weeks. Ok. Standby, because I want our viewers to hear some of what President Biden has been saying even as recently as yesterday about the economy on the campaign trail.


BIDEN: Folks, look, we now have in large part because of you and organized labor, the strongest economy in the whole damn world. We do. We do. The whole world. Inflation is coming down. Jobs are growing. We created 800,000 manufacturing jobs. Remember they told us we were dead -- manufacturing is dead in America. China was going to eat our lunch. Well, guess what, man? We don't taste that good.



BASH: That's pretty funny. Our excellent panel is back with us now. Gloria Borger, what are your thoughts on some of the numbers that David just went through in a phone call? BORGER: Look, I think this, he was saying the jobs numbers today were astounding, nobody expected it. Everybody's been predicting a recession. And that has not occurred. The question that I have about our numbers, things are ticking up a little bit. I think that would be an accurate way to describe it.

The question is, what does it take to turn a battleship around, so that Americans start feeling the effects of an economy that's clearly improving? I mean, you know, interest rates are still high. It looks like the Fed is not going to do anything now. And they feel the groceries are still high, et cetera, gases coming down, but it's still high. So, what will it take for Americans to say, You know what, we're on the right track.

CORNISH: But there's always been this clash between the tools you have to actually address the economy. Let's say the Fed. And what we feel in our pocketbooks, right, so the Fed looks around and says stop buying houses, you're buying too many houses. This is ridiculous. That means high interest rates.

Then everyone looks around and says, I can't buy a house, which was kind of the point, right? So, these things like your rent, your home, those things are worth looking at, because that's where people can't enjoy the gains they've made with their wages because they feel like they can't put them to work.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Those in the White House also, when it comes to this issue are still trying to figure out how to talk about some of these sprawling investments that they've had and actually have that translate to how it's impacting people's lives now. I was talking to somebody in the White House recently, who was saying, look, one thing you don't want to do is just talk about these good metrics of the economy and have it be framed almost like a Harvard seminar to the public.

CORNISH: It took them a while to get there.


CORNISH: Every time he talk to White House person, they would say to you like, well, you know, there's the supply chain. And also, the numbers are actually really great. And no matter how much you said -- it seems like people are still bummed. It was two different conversations.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Which you can imagine frustrates somebody too if they're going and gas prices are high, bread prices are high. And then you go, and you hear from a government official say, well wait, the economy is great. They have to figure out a way to have a message that can actually be related to word of mouth from people.

BORGER: I maybe not call it Bidenomics because I don't think that message has worked at all.

BASH: I just want to say -- I just want to put up once again the job numbers, which we got this morning. 353,000 jobs added. I'm old enough to remember covering campaigns where everybody waited for the moment you got the jobs' numbers. I'm thinking of the Bush reelected in 2004. And just hoping and praying from this point of view of the Bush campaign. I mean, they couldn't even imagine a number like this.

CHALIAN: Right. And we've been seeing numbers not quite like that. But the job growth has been pretty consistent across the board. For the last couple of years, it's not translating to political support, be increasing for the president, obviously. And so, is that really a reliable metric to look at through the lens of politics anymore?

I think we're learning, it's not necessarily. The case also -- so much of economic perception is driven through partisanship. And so, like as we are in this polarized environment, it's tough, which is why I think the White House takes heart in the fact that what we were showing before. Republicans, Independents and Democrats across party lines are starting to feel a little bit better about the direction.

BASH: You mentioned the way people perceive the economy is through the lens of partisanship. That has historically very much been the case on the issue of immigration. One of our -- two of these numbers really stuck out on how people are perceiving immigration. First, let's just look at path to legal status.

In 2019, 80 percent, now it's down to 38 percent -- excuse me, 68 percent. Deportation is up 31 percent. This is all of the respondents regardless of party. This next set of numbers is really, really key. Look at the question of the Mexico border situation in a crisis. Now, 67 percent of Democrats, that's two thirds of Democrats say yes, independence, also critically important. 77 percent Republicans kind of always thought it was a problem.

KANNO-YOUNGS: This is such a theme that I've been looking at for some months now on how the pendulum really has started to shift to the right. When you look at poll numbers, when you look at members of Congress, and when you look at the White House as well, which I think is responding to that shift in the public.

Often, you know what it used to be -- even during the Trump era, as you would sometimes hear behind closed doors. Democrats say, hey, we need more border security. We need the standard of asylum to be raised. We need more money for deportation. That is out in the public now. You're really hearing that. You've even seen that with the recent negotiations on the Hill.


It's also important to say that as more Democratic mayors and governors start to criticize the White House on this issue. We did start to see the White House as well be more outspoken about the need for enforcement issue.

BORGER: Look at these numbers and they realize they've got to be more outspoken. And if you have Democratic mayors criticizing you daily, it's a problem.

BASH: Yeah. Everybody standby. We have brand new reporting coming up. Fresh doubts on the Hill about the impeachment of President Biden skepticism. It's not coming from Democrats right now. It's increasingly coming from the party pushing it. The GOP new details ahead.