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Inside Politics

GOP Split Over Yet-To-Be-Released Border Deal; Republicans Criticize Biden For Strikes In Middle East; Trump Likely To Pick Up More Delegates In Nevada GOP Caucuses; Haley Trailing Trump Across The Board In New SC Poll; Biden Wins South Carolina Primary With 96% Of Vote; New York Special Election Holds Outsized National Importance; Graves Calls Carving Up His District "Boneheaded Move". 11a-12p ET

Aired February 04, 2024 - 11:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Counterattack. The president orders strikes.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will step up and respond when our forces are attacked. We will take further action.

RAJU: And comes under fire from Republicans.

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This didn't have to happen. Why did it take so long?

RAJU: Plus, border battle.

REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): The Senate's deal is trash.

RAJU: The details of the immigration deal emerging. Republicans on the Hill are more defined than ever.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): You got to read the bill. I mean, don't be ignorant. Read the bill.

RAJU: As the crisis continues, what comes next?

And replacing George Santos. He traveled to New York for a look at an election with national implications.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a tough seat. It's a very tough seat.

RAJU: You haven't said if you voted for the former president.


RAJU: And Santos himself joins us to share his thoughts on the race.

Inside politics, the best reporting from inside the cores of power starts now.

Good morning. Welcome INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY, I'm Manu Raju. The U.S. pounded Iran-backed groups from the Middle East for a third straight day today, following waves of airstrikes hitting targets across Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. We'll break down the fallout for the president and the political world's reaction.

But first, a major showdown in Washington. Any moment now, leaders in the Senate are expected to release the final text of a long-awaited bipartisan deal to address the crisis of the southern border, all part of a massive national security package that has been months in the making, with a key test vote in the Senate by Wednesday.

Now, no one has actually laid their eyes on the actual bill yet, but it's already exposed massive fractures in the Republican Party on an issue that Donald Trump wants to campaign on.

And President Biden has endorsed the bipartisan Senate deal, but Trump has tried to tank it before seeing it.


DOANLD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, they're not releasing the papers. That's always a bad sign. Nobody can't get a hold of the paper.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS HOST: So they're going to release it Friday night.


BARTIROMO: The text in Friday.

TRUMP: Why weren't they releasing it earlier than that? Because it's no good. And there's no good for the Republicans.

And frankly, any Republican that signs it should be ashamed of himself or herself.

I don't think there's anything you can do that's worse than a bad immigration deal, and they're doing a bad deal. You're better off not having a deal than having a bad deal. And that's what they're negotiating.


RAJU: Now, even if the Senate gets the votes to overcome Trump's opposition, the bill could still be dead on arrival in the House.


KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is Donald Trump calling the shots here, Mr. Speaker?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Of course not. He's not calling the shots. I am calling the shots for the House. That's our responsibility.

And I have been saying this far longer than president Trump has. I have been saying what the requirements are to fix the problem. I don't care if they call the legislation H.R. II or not.

We're willing to work, but they have to be serious about it. If you only do a few of those components, you are not going to solve the problem. And Kristen, that's not a Republican talking point.



RAJU: We have a great panel this morning to break down all of the news from this weekend. My panel here is CNN's Kristen Holmes, Andrew Desiderio from Punchbowl News, and Yasmeen Abutaleb from the Washington Post. Good morning to all of you.

Andrew, you are in the halls of the Senate talking to members as I am every day. It was interesting just over the weekend, the Speaker tried to preempt the Senators by saying they're going to move on a standalone Israel bill.

Of course, Israel aid, Ukraine aid. It's going to be tied to this massive border package, the Republicans have said for months. The border must be dealt with first. Then we can deal with these other issues. While this is all going to happen in the Senate. The Speaker doing something different.

But the question now is before the Senate. Trump is opposed. The House Republicans are throwing cold water on it. What is your reporting telling you about the likelihood that at least 11 Republicans will vote to get to 60 votes? They need probably more, because Democrats probably oppose it too.

But what is the likelihood of getting the 60 votes on Wednesday to advance this measure?

ANDREW DESIDERIO, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Right. So we'll see the text today. And I think the big question is going to be for a lot of Republicans, whether Speaker Johnson is going to make a commitment either way after seeing the text, as to whether he's going to put it on the floor. Because there are a lot of Republicans who would intellectually support this package, but wouldn't want to walk the plank for something that's politically a lightning rod and something that's going to be dead in the House anyway.


And the first procedural vote, as you know, is on Wednesday. Got to get 60 votes, obviously. There are going to be some Democrats who oppose the package because of the border restrictions, as well as the lack of conditions on aids to Israel.

So the question is going to be how many Republican senators do you have to make up for that margin? Republican leaders have been telling us for weeks that they want to get half of the conference to vote for this, that's 25 members. That seems overly optimistic at this point. And, you know, the -- what they've been saying is that the way to sell this to the house, regardless of what Speaker Johnson's position is, is to have a big Republican vote in the Senate, make sure this gets 70 plus overall votes. That way the House can't say no to this.

RAJU: Yes.

DESIDERIO: Of course, Speaker Johnson can very well say no to this. Donald Trump is putting a lot of pressure on him and on other Republicans, and that's going to be a huge factor going into this big pivotal vote on Wednesday.

RAJU: It is a very significant vote. The Republican leadership in the Senate is expected to get behind it. Mitch McConnell's fingerprints have been on this. He's cut this deal with a handful of members, including the Senate majority leader, including the White House.

But you've seen this division play out between the House and the Senate. And really, you know, a lot of senators are opposed to it too, but there -- a lot of them are aligned with Donald Trump opposing this bill, even before they've seen any of the details.


DONALDS: The Senate's deal is trash.

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): The height of stupidity is having a strong opinion and something you know nothing about. So I don't know the strong opinion on the bill because I haven't seen it. Nobody has.

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): Well, it's a crappy bill. I mean, it's terrible. The thing is terrible.

REP. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): There's not a bill yet. We haven't seen a bill yet. So -- but -- so I don't know why we would undermine the effort to make the country safer.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): That's not a border deal. That's a slap in the American people's face.

CASSIDY: You got to read the bill. I mean, don't be ignorant. Read the bill. It's really remarkable. What person hasn't read the bill is Donald Trump, and he has been leading hard on his members.

Why does he -- I mean, is it as clear as he doesn't want to give Joe Biden a victory here, which is why he's trying to scuttle this effort?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's twofold. One, yes, I don't think he wants to give Joe Biden a victory, particularly on immigration, a topic that is very important to Donald Trump, but also part of this is self-preservation.

You have to remember that Donald Trump wants to run on three things in 2024 against Joe Biden. He wants to run on the economy, crime, and immigration. And if you're fixing one of those problems, then you're running on less, and particularly given that we know that the economy has been ticking upwards, and there is a chance it's going to look very different next November.

So part of this is self-preservation in terms of what do you want to really run on in 2024? This is Donald Trump's issue.

I mean, if you hear him in that interview with Maria Bartiromo saying that you should be ashamed of yourself --

RAJU: Yes.

HOLMES: -- to vote for this, again, nobody has even seen the text. He is clearly telegraphing, or not even telegraphing, just saying the message there, I'm opposed to this, and I'm opposed to anyone who votes for it.

RAJU: Yes. And this could explain why both Trump doesn't want to give Biden a victory, and why Biden wants victory so badly on this issue.

The polling has just been brutal for the president here on this. Is the border in crisis? That was what CNN asked. Seventy-nine percent of voters, I mean, that is a high number of voters saying that they do believe the borders of crisis.

Then you look into digging into Biden's handling of it. Just 30 percent of voters approve of his handling of it, according to that new CNN poll. But the NBC poll out this morning also does not paint a good picture for Trump -- for Biden versus Trump on this.

Fifty-seven percent of the voters, nationally, believe that Trump would do a better job at securing the border, just 22 percent of Biden.

You cover the White House. I mean, how concerned those at the White House about those numbers?

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: They're extremely concerned. I mean, my colleague had a story a few weeks ago about Biden lashing out about his bad poll numbers overall. I mean, his polling is very weak in a number of areas. Immigration is obviously going to be a top issue for the election.

And he came out with a pretty striking statement last week where he said he would be willing to shut down the border if it becomes overwhelmed, which is sort of a crazy thing for a Democratic president to say he's obviously risking alienating the progressive wing of his party with this.

But the White House is making a calculation that immigration is such an important issue in the election that they're not going to actually lose progressives over this, even if they get angry. And it's more important to try to win some of those centrist, moderate, independent voters for the general election. And he can't do that unless he signals in a serious, credible way, he's willing to take much stronger action on the border.

RAJU: What will be fascinating this week will be this, almost grudge match between Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, and Donald Trump. There's no loss between the two. He covered that in length in last week showed that obviously still stems of January 6th and the like, but McConnell has been behind this.

And you're hearing Trump's allies in the Senate becoming much more vocal going after the Senate Republican leader.


RAJU: How would you assess his handling of this issue?


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Horrible. Now, if you want to get this thing done, show it to us.

This has been a horrible process.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): What I've been told is McConnell made the decision that we would not put anything any metrics in there to force a lawless by demonstration to secure the border.

I know James has worked very hard. He's smart. He knows the issue. But I think he's been -- he's been sent on a suicide mission.


RAJU: James, he's talking about James Lankford sent on a suicide mission. He got from Mitch McConnell. He also said Rick Scott did challenge McConnell unsuccessfully for the leader in the lead in this Congress.

It said that you've been told McConnell has not putting you metrics to force a lawless administration to secure the border.

I'm not quite sure what I was talking about. There are expect to be requirements in this bill. So migrant crossings reach a certain border to effectively shut down the border between ports of entry.

But nevertheless, before McConnell, what does this moment mean? Because he has staked his legacy in a large part on the Ukraine aspect of this in particular.

DESIDERIO: Yes. I was just about to say. What they're not mentioning there is Ukraine and how McConnell deeply cares about this issue. He used it as part of his legacy. He is obviously in the twilight of his career here. The Senate Congress has not passed any new Ukraine aid since the end of 2022.

So before this new Republican House was sworn in. And McConnell is trying anything he can, at this point, to get that Ukraine aid package through. It's $60 billion. It would carry Ukraine through at least the presidential election.

And what you're not hearing from them is the Ukraine aspect because many of those same lawmakers who are speaking out against this border security deal, which they haven't seen, also oppose new Ukraine aid. RAJU: Mm-hmm.

DESIDERIO: And they've been criticizing McConnell for that saying that, oh, this is all he cares about. He just --

RAJU: Yes.

DESIDERIO: -- cares about Ukraine. And he's doing whatever it takes to try to -- to try to get it. And the idea being that he's using James Lankford, the lead Republican negotiator to try to achieve that. So that's what you heard.

RAJU: And I don't think James Lankford would -- and would necessarily agree with that sentiment from Rick Scott, but Ukraine in a critical moment here.


RAJU: Why is this is such a major package and a key vote this week.

OK. Coming up my new reporting on the race to replace George Santos. I'll speak with Santos himself.

Plus, the U.S. strikes back in Iran-backed militias. President Biden's already facing the political fallout.



RAJU: The U.S. and U.K. carried out a fresh wave of strikes in Yemen on Saturday, hitting at least three dozen targets linked to the Iran- backed-Houthi rebel group.

Now this morning, Yemen time, U.S. forces struck a Houthi anti-ship missile before it was launched. This all falls in even larger round of strikes Friday in Iraq and Syria where a telemetry move following the deaths of three American troops last weekend.

Now President Biden's top national security advisor told my colleague, Dana Bash, this morning, that the U.S. is still assessing the extent of the strikes.


SULLIVAN: We are still assessing the battle damage. Our CENTCOM Central Command is looking at the capabilities we reduced and the casualties that were incurred.

The president was clear when he ordered them and when he conducted them, that that was the beginning of our response and there will be more steps to come.


RAJU: So our panel is back. It's interesting, the president, we have not heard from him directly about this, at least in terms of a formal address to the nation. This is a serious retaliatory move that the U.S. has made over the last few days here.

What are you hearing about inside the White House the discussion about deciding whether the president needs to come out and explain what his thinking is behind this?

ABUTALEB: I think at some point, this will come to a head where the president needs to give some sort of address to the nation. Right now, the White House is extremely defensive about his authority to conduct these strikes without going through Congress. This is still a small number of lawmakers, when you're looking at the whole makeup of Congress.

But a growing number of lawmakers saying why isn't the president authorizing these strikes through Congress? And then, of course, the administration's priority from the beginning of the Israel-Gaza war has been to prevent an escalation of broader regional war.

This is maybe not the war that people were fearing in the beginning, like a direct, you know, northern front with Hezbollah and a ton of U.S. troops on the ground. But the escalation they feared, I think, is coming to pass.

I mean, this is escalating by the day. The U.S. is engaged in these near-daily strikes on Iranian proxies. So I mean, I think there is going to be growing pressure to explain what is happening, what is the U.S. role, because every day the U.S. is becoming more directly involved in this crisis.

HOLMES: I think it's somewhat striking that he hasn't come out and said anything given the level of retaliation, given the fact that he knows that there are all of these eyes on him.

I just -- I find that to be so surprising that we haven't heard from him directly addressing this yet, particularly on something like this.

RAJU: Yes, exactly. Especially, obviously, a lot of questions about what types of fears about escalation as well. But you are hearing this morning. Actually, a rather partisan response. A lot of Democrats are saying that the president is doing what he should do. You write some of them are raising concerns about the lack of congressional approval for this action. But you're hearing sharp attacks from Republicans on Capitol Hill.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It is not working. We need to change our policy. People are not afraid of us. This idea of hitting hundreds of targets that doesn't matter. The only Iranian we killed in Syria, Iraq, or is some dumbass that doesn't know to get out of the way. We gave them a week's notice.


RAJU: Tough words. I mean, Lindsey Graham has always been obviously very hawkish and --


RAJU: -- and critical of pretty much anything for impulsive-related violence in this president.

But Mike Johnson on Meet the Press this morning also. The Republican speaker said, we are projecting weakness on the world stage.

DESIDERIO: Right. The argument from the White House being we want to prevent a wider escalation of this conflict. But you hear Lindsey Graham and other Republican hawks correctly pointing out that the current strategy hasn't worked to deter these attacks because there have been around 200 attacks on U.S. troop positions, on commercial shipping lanes, in the Red Sea.

And you're seeing the response of the administration citing the president's Article II authority to defend U.S. interests abroad. So that means not coming to Congress.

This age-old sort of debate between congressional authority to declare war and the president's authority to wage war and to engage in hostilities.


And so this is something that Congress is going to be spending potentially some time on in the future because you do have the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example, Ben Cardin, has said that the administration would be good right now to come and ask for a war authorization from Congress because he doesn't vision this being a more permanent sort of military campaign against these Iran-backed proxies.

And so --

RAJU: I mean, they could barely keep the lights on in Congress, let alone approving --


RAJU: -- congressional authorization, but that is -- that is going to be the pressure point and the question will be whether they actually do that and we're going to get the votes.


RAJU: That's a whole different question. But this all comes, of course, as there have been concerns about the president's handling of the Israel-Hamas war, not just from Republicans and independents, but Democrats as well.

This is just a latest snapshot. A 51 percent of Democrats, a bare majority, gives the president approval of his handling of the war, but independents, that number, 34 percent, 18 percent for Republicans here. This is all playing out in some of the key battleground states. I caught up with one Democrat from Michigan, Hillary Scholten, and I asked her about how this is playing out in our home state among -- and whether it's impacting Biden's support.


REP. HILLARY SCHOLTEN (D-MI): There's a lot of pain in our state right now. You know, we have large Arab-American population, a large Jewish population.

It's felt in a deeply personal way in places like Michigan that it's not in the rest of the country.

I don't know that there is a single visit or a single word or phrase that the president is going to be able to say to bring this coalition together. It's only going to come through a negotiated peace agreement.

As you were in Michigan this past week in Dearborn reporting about the impact on this is having on Biden, the headline from your piece, "Michigan's Arabs and Muslims, push to defeat Biden in a critical state."

What are you learning about the impact on the ground in a key state like Michigan?

ABUTALEB: I mean, when you look at the entire country, you know, maybe Arab and Muslim population is not a huge voter group, but Biden needs Michigan to have a path to re-election. There are really not many paths if any, if he cannot win Michigan. And that's a state he won by just over 150,000 votes in 2020.

There are about 300,000 people in Michigan who claim ancestry from the Middle East and North Africa. And what I found when I went and talked to many, many voters is just extreme visceral anger at the way Biden has handled this war, not just the refusal to call for a ceasefire, but even his rhetoric, the way he talks about it, what they say is sort of insufficient empathy for Palestinians and Palestinian suffering and what's happening there.

But Michigan is a tricky state because you also have strong Jewish neighborhoods as well. But I think it's important to note that his drop in support about how he's handled this war is not just among the Arab and Muslim community where I think it's probably felt most viscerally, most personally.

I talk to people who have lost dozens of family members in a single airstrike. One of the interesting things that I also came across was that there are a lot of people of Yemeni and Lebanese descent and the way the conflict is spreading now. Their families are directly impacted because airstrikes are happening in both of those countries.

RAJU: Yes.

ABUTALEB: But also younger voters, voters of color. I mean, they're also unhappy with Biden, maybe not quite to the same degree as the Arab and Muslim population. But that is an issue for him too, where there's serious softening support in those key voter groups.

RAJU: I just want to ask you, Kristen, quickly about Trump and Israel- Hamas. Has he even explained how he do the -- how he handled the Israel-Hamas war if he wins reelection?

HOLMES: No. I mean, his argument on all of this is that this would have never happened if I was in office.

And actually his first response was this attack on Netanyahu, which then he had to walk back because everyone around him asked him why he did that --

RAJU: Mm-hmm.

HOLMES: -- in a really sensitive time. So I don't think, you know, he is going to get any of these voters, particularly voting for him because of the way he might handle the Israeli war.

However, it is, as you say, critical for him, for both of them in Michigan. And if you have a section of people, and particularly such a large voting bloc, who is deciding not to come out for Biden, this is already a state in which Trump sees an opportunity.

RAJU: Yes.

HOLMES: They see an opening there. They believe that he can still take that back and they're starting to build out their infrastructure.

RAJU: Yes. And that is the fear of the Biden camp, as you mentioned, sitting out. I'm actually voting for Trump sitting out and that is the real concern for your great reporting showing that as well.

All right. Coming up next, Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are both attacking each other in brand-new interviews out this morning.

But first, a surprise guest on SNL.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Our next question comes from someone who describes herself as a concern South Carolina voter.

HALEY: Yes. Hello. My question is, why won't you debate Nikki Haley?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, it's her. The woman who was in charge of security on January 6th. It's Nancy Pelosi.




RAJU: Nikki Haley is still in the race for the GOP nomination, but for how long? It's less than three weeks until the Republican primary in our home state and the polls are looking rather bleak.

Yet, she is barnstorming her state on a multi-day swing with another event planned later today. And she's ramping up her attacks on Trump.


HALEY: He is not the right person to lead us going forward. That's a fact.

For the next year, he's going to be sitting in a courtroom, I didn't say that. He said that he's going to be spending more time in a courtroom than he is going to be campaigning.

Every one of those polls, your poll CNN shows that Donald Trump barely is within the margin of error. I defeat Biden by 13 points.

There's a reason Democrats want to run against Donald Trump.


RAJU: Now, Haley's poised to lose in the Nevada's Republican caucus this week, and she's not even contesting there.

My panel is back.


Look, it is not looking good for Haley. The polls look terrible. She obviously lost. That's going to be three states she's going to lose in here. Just to dig a little deeper the numbers from a recent poll that came out in South Carolina, 58 to 32% Trump versus Haley. In Haley's home state. And then just the enthusiasm gap is still significant.

Just 20% of voters would be enthusiastic in her home state if she were the nominee compared to 39%. And then when you get into just who would you trust more on policy? Among South Carolina Republican primary voters, potential voters, Trump just sweeps her in every single category all the way across the board. Even foreign policy which is supposedly her strength. How do you see her continued presence in the race impacting Trump if at all?

HOLMES: I think it's just gotten underneath his skin. I mean, in terms of, is she an actual threat to him? When you talk to any of his advisors, when you talk to him, they don't believe that he is not going to be the GOP nominee. They believe that is going to happen. But the fact that she has stayed in the race, that she hasn't left, the fact that he's still beating her by such a large margin, is something that is very much annoying to the former president.

And now they do have to continue down this path when we know Donald Trump just kind of wanted to put this to bed and move forward. And yet, not.

However, when you talk about South Carolina, I think one really interesting part of this, they have said since the beginning, they were not worried about the state. Even though Nikki Haley was saying, it's my home stay, we'll see you in South Carolina. It's the most important competition. They have seen these 30 plus margins for months. They believed that he was going to sweep it.

And if it gives you any indication of how much of a threat she is, they have not run a single TV ad in South Carolina. They've not spent a dime there. They just have their ground game.

RAJU: She said that she's spending a lot of money on --

HOLMES: Of course, oh yeah.


RAJU: -- has obviously not had made the difference. Does the White House -- I mean obviously want this to continue, this race to continue. Is it having any impact on their strategy, the Biden's campaign strategy, the fact that Haley is still on the race?

ABUTALEB: Not really. I mean, the White House said after Trump won New Hampshire that, you know, voters had made clear that he was likely going to be the Republican nominee. And you see Biden basically running against only Trump.

I mean, once in a while, they might send out -- their campaign might send out a statement about something Haley said. But really, I mean, Biden, from the beginning, has been fixed in on Trump. He's even more so. His language against Trump and fundraisers is becoming much stronger. So as far as they're concerned, they are now running in a head-to-head race.

RAJU: There's just so many bad numbers coming out for Biden. And I know they keep saying the race has not been fully engaged. The voters are sort of tuned out. And when it's a contrast, it will be much different.

But people are being asked about the contrast in these polls. There's a new NBC poll out this morning saying, who has better necessary mental, physical health to be president? This is among national poll registered voters. 46% for Trump. That is up 5% since September of 2020. Biden is down from 38% of September 2020 to 23% now. Again, who is better necessary mental or physical health to be president? Mind you, they are just a few years apart in terms of age, as well as being competent and effective. 48% view that Trump is more competent, 32% for Biden. Biden's dropped 15 points in those polls. I mean, that has to be concerning, even if the Biden campaign brushes it off.

DESIDERIO: Yeah, and that's why you're seeing so many of the Trump- aligned senators and House members pointing to polls like that and saying this is why we as a party need to get behind Donald Trump and why Nikki Haley should exit the race. Because Joe Biden could, you know, seize on some of the attacks that Nikki Haley is lodging against Donald Trump to his benefit.

It's why we're seeing people like John Cornyn, for example, who's a contender to lead the Senate Republican Conference after Mitch McConnell, coming around and endorsing Donald Trump and saying, look, he's going to be our party's nominee. We need to focus on winning the White House. He's the guy who's going to be our nominee.

He is someone who has openly questioned Donald Trump's ability to win a general election. And even someone like him is coming out and endorsing him. And there's this feeling of inevitability within the party right now, even among people who have traditionally been skeptics of Trump.

RAJU: The Biden team against it was the polls have been wrong. They said look at what happened in South Carolina Democratic primary. Yes, he had two nominal opponents, Congressman Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson, but he crushed him. He won almost -- almost 100% of the vote, more than 90%. I mean, that's what they're banking on. The voters eventually will come out for it.

HOLMES: Yeah, so a couple things. One, I would say that if you are Donald Trump's team, you want Biden to keep running on this argument that, you know, Donald Trump is bad for democracy because they believe that the people, the voters actually care more about the issues in terms of the economy and immigration. So that's part of Donald Trump's, you know, thinking behind that.

The other part of this is that what I see when you show me those numbers is that a lot of the messaging of Republicans is working, particularly the farther right House Republicans, the social media, Donald Trump, putting out that there's mass chaos and that Biden can't deal with it and it's clearly having some kind of impact on voters.


RAJU: Yeah, absolutely. All right, we'll see what happens. Up next, we traveled to Long Island in Queens, where in less than two weeks, New Yorkers will vote in a special election to replace George Santos. And we'll talk with George Santos himself. Stay tuned.


RAJU: Early voting began yesterday in the most closely-watched special election in the country, the race to replace George Santos in the House. I traveled to New York this past week for a look at how the February 13 contest has become ground zero for the fights dominating our politics.

And in a narrowly split House, how it's gained outsized importance in the battle for control of Congress.


RAJU: George Santos' expulsion left the GOP divided and Democrats emboldened, eager for a pick up in a district Joe Biden carried by 8 points in 2020.


With an experienced former Congressman Tom Suozzi on the ticket, but now a problem.

FORMER REP. TOM SUOZZI, (D) NY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The tough seat. It's a very tough seat.

RAJU: Democrats fear Suozzi is slipping and political newcomer Mazi Pilip on the rise ahead of next week's special election, as he faces an onslaught of attacks on immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because Tom Suozzi repeatedly weakened America's borders.

RAJU: With the migrant crisis visible even in his queens in Long Island District.

REP. MAZI PILIP, NY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: He is the one who responsible the open border.

RAJU: It forces Suozzi to cut two ads defending himself.

SUOZZI: And anything else you might hear?


RAJU: Holding a dueling event nearby Philip to press for bipartisan action.

SUOZZI: All she does is Republican talk points. She's on the conservative party line.

RAJU: And in an area with a heavy dose of independent voters and conservative Democrats, the GOP trying to tie him to an unpopular Biden.

SUOZZI: Democratic brand is in trouble here. And we have to do a lot to overcome that.

RAJU: Why is the democratic brand in trouble here?

SUOZZI: You know we have a problem with crime in New York City or had a problem with crime in New York City was very effectively weaponized by the Republicans, immigrations become a very hot button issue here.

They're not only just trying to tie me to Joe Biden, they're trying to tie me to the squad. They're saying that, you know, Tom Suozzi is a member of the squad, they -- you know, he's a far lefty, you know, it's ridiculous.

RAJU: But what about Biden specifically?

SUOZZI: Joe Biden is underwater here in my district, but so is Donald Trump. They're both very, very unpopular candidate.

RAJU: Would you want to campaign with Biden?

SUOZZI: I can pretty much guarantee that the President's not going to be coming to the campaign here. RAJU: But this is a huge seat. I mean, don't you think the President,

you know, could be helpful and if he came out here?

SUOZZI: I don't think it would be helpful, just as I don't think Donald Trump would be helpful to my opponent and this race is really very local, it's Suozzi versus Mazi.

RAJU: But Pilip feels differently, welcoming Trump to join her on the stump.

PILIP: He's welcome to help me if he's thinking come to help me, I will appreciate that.


RAJU: Pilip, an Ethiopian born Israeli immigrant and Israeli military veteran is actually a registered Democrat, and has only served as a county legislator since 2021.

PILIP: I just started as a Democrat, like so many other immigrants doing the same things. But you know what, the Democratic Party left me and many others.

RAJU: But she won't answer this.

You even said if you voted for the former President Trump in 2016 and 2020, why not?

PILIP: It happened three years ago. I wasn't even elected officials. I'm trying to focus on this. And I'm going to try to focus on November 2024 election.

RAJU: Now says, you're bad Trump, if he's the nominee, as he defends him from his 91 criminal charges.

PILIP: I will support Trump.

RAJU: Which was convicted? Would you still support?

PILIP: Again, I don't want to answer that. Even if he -- he was great. President, he did great things. And I -- listen, right now what's happening with Trump or this DA's like Alvin Bragg, they are politically motivated to run after him.

RAJU: Do you have the same concerns about his efforts to overturn the election being charged? I

PILIP: I know that he didn't commit any crime. They are politically motivate.

RAJU: Do you think he was responsible in any way for what happened on January 6?

PILIP: As I said, again, he's going through the process right now. This is again to the same people who politically motivated trying to run after him. It is such a dangerous thing for our country. We have to stop it.

RAJU: Suozzi is hardly as effusive about the leader of his party.

SUOZZI: I would like the president to do a better job regarding immigration.

RAJU: And a pollster called you up and said, do you approve of his job performance? Would you say yes, I approve or --

SUOZZI: I approve of a lot of things he's done and I disapprove of other things.

RAJU: A Pilip victory would denied Democrats the chance to tighten an already razor thin GOP majority. That's why Democrats have outspent the GOP by nearly $4 million on the airwaves. But Democrats have been at odds on the strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mazi Pilip, handpicked by MAGA.

RAJU: Suozzi does not embrace that attack as some Democrats fear that labeling her as MAGA could actually energize the GOP base in a low turnout election.

SUOZZI: We don't know what she is, we don't even know what she stands for?

RAJU: Do you consider yourself MAGA Republican?

PILIP: You know, I don't know what's MAGA Republican, I can tell you, all I care is common sense government.


RAJU: And now I'm joined for his reaction by the former congressman himself, George Santos. Good morning, Mr. Santos. Thank you so much for joining me here this morning. I want to first begin with something Mazi Pilip told me about whether she thought it was right for you to be expelled. Listen to this.


PILIP: It was under the Ethic investigation and they -- you know, they told us the right things to do. I was one of the first one who called him to resign. And that's all. He's -- nobody even talking about him, to be honest. They don't even care. So Santos is not the issue here right now. It's about how we're going to save our country, how we're going to bring cognizant government.


RAJU: What's your reaction to that comment?


REP. GEORGE SANTOS, (D-NY): You know, Manu, thank you so much for having me. Good to see you. I think it's good to see that you're on the trail holding their fire to the state, it just warms my heart. But look, at least one thing I'll say, Mazi's right here. Nobody cares about George Santos in the essence of their livelihoods and how the outcome of this election is going to be. But for her to stand there and say that, oh, she thinks that I was afforded the process, but Trump needs to go through the process.

Although she said earlier this week that she will not support him if even Engoron, Judge Engoron in Manhattan, convicts him. You know, there's no consistency there. The reality is, is the race right now, in my view, and in the view of many conservatives, real conservatives here in the district, is there's two Democrats on the ballot. And the option is, do we get a Democrat or a Democrat, Republican-like version of a Democrat? And that's very concerning, because the reality is, if she wins, you add a Democrat seat to Congress that's going to caucus with Republicans, which is very concerning.

RAJU: And of course, referring to the fact that she's still a registered Democrat, I asked her about that. She said the Democratic Party has left her. So are you going to support her? And she's still the Republican candidate. Are you going to support her in this race?

SANTOS: So I've made it very clear, I'm not voting in the race for the simple fact that I will not bring myself to vote for a registered Democrat, period. Not in this time and in the time that we're living in. It's just against what I believe in as far as politics go.

RAJU: Do you think Suozzi is the favorite here, or do you think that Pilip is going to pull this off?

SANTOS: You know what, Suozzi, given the popularity he's had and his extensive work in Nassau County, Long Island, and having represented a variation of what the seat used to be, he should be doing better, but the reality is he's not, because he's to blame for a lot of the policies coming down the pike that are hurting us.

Specifically, he spent six years in Congress saying he was gone fix salt. He left Congress to go on a wild goose chase to primary our governor and never really got anything done on salt. And they had the majority, remember that, Manu?

RAJU: Yeah.

SANTOS: Never forget to question president. They had the majority and he never accomplished that. And then on top of that, you have a guy who is not doing as well on polls as he should be because of immigration. His party, he was part of the problem when Joe Biden became president. So he's struggling more than I expected to do.

RAJU: When we last saw you, you said to hell with this place, referring to the capital. Are you still angry about being expelled? Or you -- what do you say to them now?

SANTOS: Well, I'm just waiting to see Cori Bush's expulsion resolution come down the pike and hopefully the same process be amended to her, right? Because she said anybody under the suspicion of a criminal activity should be removed from Congress. Well, Cori, put up or shut up. That's how I say, the hypocrisy and see never ceases to dawn on me or I think I'm the American people.

RAJU: So I want to ask you because there, you've been in talks over a possible plea agreement in the federal indictment you're facing. Do you expect you will reach a plea deal that will keep you out of jail?

SANTOS: Well, Manu, here's the reality. I can't talk about what's going on there. There's a process, right? The reality is, is this is just part of the process. It's part of the conversation in any investigation in any trial specifically with the DOJ.

But I can't report to say yes or no, or it would be, A, responsible. B, it would be ill fated for me to talk about this at this time. But we're definitely moving through the process. And this is part of the process.

RAJU: But when you've said for so long that these charges were false, but by pleading to it, you're admitting guilt here, wouldn't you be?

SANTOS: Look, here's the deal. I didn't -- I didn't admit that I didn't, again, say that I am going to take a plea deal. But this is part of the process. It could happen. We don't know. Let's just see what the process shakes out to. I'd love to come back on your show and talk to you later this year. If you'd like to.

RAJU: Yeah. Well, we'll be talking to you later, I'm sure as well. And of course, you've gotten a lot of attention since you've left by those -- paid video -- customers paying for videos of you on Cameo. So we've been seeing a lot of you online as well. I'm sure there'll be more to come as well. So Mr. Santos, I do believe --

SANTOS: We'll watch the video today.

RAJU: Well, watch out for it. Mr. Santos, thank you for your views on this race and from here and from you.

SANTOS: Thank you, Manu. Have a great one.

RAJU: All right, coming up, a brutal Louisiana political feud could cost a powerful member of Congress' job. I caught up with him. Literally, that's next.



RAJU: Now to a political power play, just a few months ago, when Kevin McCarthy was Speaker of the House, Republican Garret Graves was his right-hand man, but now he could be out of a job. Amid a brutal political feud in his home State of Louisiana, now it began last year when Graves considered jumping into the governor's race. He later backed an opponent to Jeff Landry, the man who eventually won. At the same time, a federal judge ordered Louisiana to redraw its congressional districts and add another majority-minority district.

The result, the governor has thrown his support behind a plan to carve up Graves' district, turning that into the majority-minority district, and likely dooming Graves' chances there.

Now, this past week on Capitol Hill, I caught up with Graves, and he's angry.


RAJU: What do you make of what happened here in the redistricting efforts?

REP. GARRET GRAVES, (R-LA): I mean, look, it was really fascinating watching a Republican governor with a super majority Republican in the House and the Senate, voluntarily give up a seat. I'm really curious what these folks are going to be thinking in November if Republicans lose the majority by one seat and they just dealt a -- death blow to both Steve Scalise and Mike Johnson. So fascinating decision.


RAJU: What do you think that the Governor was this is payback for your handling of the governor's race?

GRAVES: Look, you'd have to ask him that, but I'll just say it again. It was obviously a boneheaded move.


RAJU: Now, I reached out to Landry's office about whether this was retaliation. They did not respond. As for Graves, he insists the new district is quote, "blatantly illegal."


RAJU: What are you going to do? Are you going to run in another district? You're not going to run in your same district or?

GRAVES: I think the courts throw this map out and I think that we'll be running in a district that looks a lot like the one we're in right now.


RAJU: All right, we'll see what happens. That's it for Insight Politics Sunday. Up next, State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Dana's guests include National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Nikki Haley, and Congressman Jim Clyburn.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. We'll see you next time.