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Today: GOP Poised To Kill Immigration Deal In Key Senate Vote; House Republican Tensions Grow Over Inability To Govern; Speaker Johnson On Vote Failures: Governing "Is Messy"; RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel Offers To Step Down Amid Trump Tensions; McConnell Faces Growing GOP Rebellion After Border Deal Collapse; Tomorrow: Top Biden Officials To Meet With Arab-American, Muslim Leaders In Michigan; Biden To Congressional Republicans: "Show A Little Spine"; Biden: Donald Trump Is "The Only Reason" Border Is Not Secure. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, epic failure, dysfunction, humiliation and inability to govern. And that's the most charitable way to describe the congressional Republicans right now, a stunning series of mind-boggling defeats and cell phones. And minutes from now, Senate Republicans will almost certainly torpedo the most conservative border bill before them in decades.

Plus, a win for quote, none of these candidates. Nikki Haley loses Nevada's non-binding primary even though she was the only candidate on the ballot. Her campaign insists it's full steam ahead. And the Trump campaigns own existential moment.

All eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court hearing to hear arguments on whether Donald Trump can be disqualified under the constitution insurrection ban. A sign of just how serious the former president takes this. He's staying out of Washington, uncharacteristically trying to avoid a political spectacle.

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

We start right here in our nation's capital where Senate Republicans are about to kill the border deal. The very kind of tough on immigration policy that they themselves demanded. The reason it's simple. It's what Donald Trump wants.

He'd rather rant on the campaign trail about the unprecedented surge of migrants than let his party rewrite antiquated laws in the hopes of starting to solve the border crisis. If it were only today's vote, it would be tough enough, but it's not. The collapse of this immigration deal is only piling on to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for congressional Republicans.

There was the hyped vote to impeach the homeland security secretary. It failed. And it's later a standalone package for Israel also failed. Speaker Johnson is new to the job and maybe didn't learn one of the cardinal rules of the House. Don't put anything on the floor unless you definitely have the votes.

Well, moments ago Johnson took questions from our reporters, including our own Manu Raju.


MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: Some of your critics will say this shows your inexperience. And Congressman Massie says, getting rid of Kevin McCarthy was an unmitigated disaster for your party. What do you say to that?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Well, look, it was a mess what happened here, but we're cleaning it up. And Massie is one of my dear friends and colleagues. And I don't think that this is a reflection on the leader. It's a reflection on the body itself and the place where we've come in this country.


BASH: Manu, we've seen a lot in our time, especially me. Can you please put this into context, starting with what we're about to see just looking ahead to the next hour in the United States Senate?

RAJU: Yeah. Look, the last 24 hours really tells the story of the 118 Congress, which has been almost the inability to govern, driven in large part by Republican divisions in this narrowly divided House. We saw this last night those two failed votes that you mentioned. But the time and again, even doing the basic essence of governing whether it's keeping the government open, that has been proven to be enormously difficult.

We saw the first ever ouster of a sitting speaker. We saw sitting speaker have a difficult time, getting the votes to do that. And the only real major accomplishment seems to avoid a national debt default that this Congress was able to accomplish. And now you're dealing with huge international and domestic crises and in unable to deal with those as well. And that has caused enormous frustration in the ranks.

I spent the morning talking to a wide range of Republicans, some of the most conservative ones, and some of the ones in swing districts and all of them say the same thing, that they are frustrated about their own inability to govern.


REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): I had many people reach out to me via text message and say what the hell are you guys doing up there? I think our base a little frustrated. We may have the gavel. But we're not acting like we're in the majority.

RAJU: Curious what your constituents, kind of view -- how they view Congress and the House right now.

REP. JEN KIGGANS (R-VA): Yeah. You know, we have work to do. It's frustrating for people like me. I want to get things done. That's why I ran for Congress. And it's been a frustrating couple of days. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So, the last comment coming from Jen Kiggans who is a member in a swing district in Virginia and expressing her frustration, and this comes of course, Dana, as we are heading into yet another complicated episode for the new speaker. There's a vote. They have to keep the government opened by early March, not to mention how to deal with the crisis in Ukraine and then Israel and dealing with other allies overseas and the border issue that they have essentially scuttled as their House Senate Republicans cut a deal with the White House.


So many questions for this new speaker, as they tried to figure out a way forward but don't have any plan to do just that. Dana?

BASH: No, plans have not worked out so well so far. Manu, thank you so much for your excellent reporting as always. I want to bring in a panel here of excellent reporters, PBS Newshour's Laura Barron-Lopez, Carl Hulse of The New York Times, and CNN's Eva McKend.

Carl Hulse, I said to Manu that I've seen a lot in Congress. You and I have seen a lot in Congress. We covered for many, many years at the halls of that building. And I just want you to put in context what we are seeing now versus before because it's easy to say, oh, oh, chaos in Congress understandable, because that's not exactly a new label. This does feel different.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah. Yesterday, it felt to me like the stock market crash at 29. But for the Republicans, the bottom kept falling out of the market all day. Every time he looked somewhere, something was happening. I mean, the dysfunction is really on one side here, too. And a lot of times in Congress, you go, oh, you know, both sides are having problems.

BASH: In one party ---


HULSE: Right, right, right. And people, but this is really Republican dysfunction. And I saw one of the members there said, we're not acting like we have a majority. They really don't have a majority. They have no functioning majority. And that's what the problem is here. And that was a day like I have not seen on both sides.

And you know, being speaker is really hard. And it takes some experience and the people who have done this before, worked up through the ranks had experience. He's coming at it. And you know, to miss a vote like that on such a huge issue ---

BASH: The impeachment issue?

HULSE: Right. And to be outflanked by the Democrats and Al Green wasn't supposed to be there that ---

BASH: So dramatic --- HULSE: But it's a classic.

BASH: Still being on a wheelchair from hospital.

HULSE: When they come in -- you remember, McCain's arms down and Ted Kennedy came for a vote. I mean, but you're supposed to know that stuff if you're running the place.

BASH: And Laura, I want to bring you in. But I want to listen to a bit more of what we heard from the speaker just moments ago. And I think this is kind of the quote that we are going to be looking at and we are going to be picking apart. The first thing he says, listen?


JOHNSON: Democracy is messy. We live in a time of divided government. We have a razor thin margin here and every vote counts. We're governing here. Sometimes it's messy. You're seeing the messy sausage making that the process of democracy playout. And it's not always clean. It's not always pretty, but the job will be done at the end of the day.


LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, just -- Mitch McConnell said that earlier -- I think it was yesterday. He said, look, we don't have the majority in the Senate. It's divided government, which is what Speaker Johnson just acknowledge there. And yet, with divided government, that means you don't get everything you want. It means that in the Senate border deal, which is a compromise. That's probably the closest that Republicans are going to get to something they want.

And then when it comes to the impeachment vote and then the subsequent failure of the Israel funding vote. I mean, things like that -- like you to cover the whole longer than I did. But when I was there, stuff like that just didn't happen. You have entire operations, whether it's the House speaker, the majority whip others.

Their entire job is to know how many votes there are and there aren't and whether or not they should even bring something like that to the floor. And typically, you wouldn't bring something to the floor if you knew you didn't have the vote.

BASH: And this might sound to some people like process, but it's not. It's about what Manu was saying. It's about governing. It's about people putting their officials or their elected representatives in place and hoping that they know how to govern. And the series of events we saw yesterday, frankly, what we're going to see in about an hour in the Senate. I'm sure puts that into question. You're on the campaign trail talking to voters all the time.

EVA MCKEND, CNN, NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. They certainly have egg on their face. It doesn't inspire confidence and it calls into question. Well, what have House Republicans done since they regained their majority? They're going to have to make this case to voters that they should expand their power in Congress. And yet, this is what they have been able to achieve. Not much.

BASH: Carl, I want to show our viewers what you wrote in part today. First of all, the headline kind of says it all. On the border Republicans set a trap, then fell into it. Their idea was to tie approval of military assistance to Ukraine to tough border security demands that Democrats would never accept. But Democrats tripped them up by offering substantial -- almost unheard-of concessions on immigration policy.


Democrats and tough races in both the House and Senate will now be able to say they were willing to accept stringent new border controls, but Republicans killed the effort. This is a big, big part of the dynamic here the mess here that we cannot forget politically.

HULSE: Right. The Democrats kept saying yes. They kept saying yes. Now whether this was a calculated effort to draw them into the trap that Republicans had said, you know, people will say different things. But as Laura does better than I, I think this -- the concessions that they were making on immigration were considerable. Republicans would never get another bill like this.

BASH: Democrats are not like nothing.

HULSE: They literally got nothing. They gave. All they did was give. And then at the end of the day, the Republicans, you know, within seconds of that bill coming out Sunday night, thumbs down. This is what happens when Donald Trump gets involved in policy.

BASH: OK. That's a very good segue to what we're about to do, which is go to our Kristen Holmes because Donald Trump is certainly flexing his muscle this week. Without a doubt, he is why the border bill collapse. He wants to shake up the top of the party, the RNC. CNN is told that RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel plans to step down if and when Trump becomes the party's nominee.

So, Kristen, give us the latest. Let's just start on the McDaniel of it all. And then more broadly about -- sort of the strings that he's already pulling in a big way that have to do with legislating and politics?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Unsurprisingly, Dana, when we're talking about Ronna McDaniel, it's comes to Donald Trump. You know, with friends like these. Remember, McDaniel was a huge ally of Donald Trump, helped him win Michigan in 2016. In fact, she was appointed to the RNC by him in 2016. And as head of the RNC helped pay for his legal bills until he announced that he will be running a third bid for the White House.

But in recent years, he has turned on her and started in 2020, when he has complained privately. He didn't think the RNC or Ronna McDaniel had enough safeguards in place essentially to help him challenge the election in 2020. He complained that she held debates when he didn't want there to be debates. He complained that she didn't pay enough of his legal bills. And more recently, they were complaining Trump and his team about the lack of fundraising that the RNC had. They released pretty dismal numbers in the last week. So, as you have said, Ronna McDaniel telling Donald Trump that she will step down if and when he is the nominee. But the really big picture here is clear. Donald Trump didn't like Ronna McDaniel anymore. Ronna McDaniel is stepping down.

Donald Trump didn't want a border deal. There is no border deal, or at least likely no border deal. Every single thing that Donald Trump is trying to get right now from Republicans. He is getting. He is taking full control of the party. It feels exactly like it did in 2016, as he inched towards the nomination there. And it should be clear, Republicans, even those who were not fans of Donald Trump all seem to be falling in line.

BASH: Such an important big picture statement based on and baked in reporting that you've been doing. Thank you so much for that, Kristen. Let's just quickly touch on Ronna McDaniel, because this is really fascinating. Yeah. Her fundraising numbers weren't great. And you know, talk to people at the RNC they argue, might not be wrong about this that when there is an active primary going on -- donors give to the campaigns, they don't give to the party.

OK, fine. But more importantly, it's just -- it's actually amazing that she hasn't gone sideways with Donald Trump so far. I mean, she's, I believe the longest serving RNC chair. He picked her. She was chair of the state party in Michigan. He wanted her in there. She got in there and she's trying to do as much as she can for him.

But at a certain point, everybody goes sideways with Donald Trump because it's almost impossible to live up to the things that you want. When he's saying do not have debates when there was a field of a dozen people because I should be the nominee. I mean, is that really realistic?

MCKEND: I mean, it just underscores amplifies that no matter what you do for Trump, it's never going to be enough. And eventually there's going to be an expiration date on every relationship. But really, you know, in this campaign, he has everything to lose. It's all on the line. The stakes could not be higher for the former president. And so that is why he is trying to line things up with every corner, for every pocket, for there to be just fierce, unquestioning allies.

BASH: Yeah. I mean, just go back to a story in your paper back in 2018. The headline was a Romney who is unfailingly loyal to Trump. She's not even called that anymore. Now she just -- she called herself Ronna McDaniel, which is her married name. She was Ronna Romney McDaniel. And this said, as for her own surname, she insisted that the president had never asked her to drop it outright. He raised the issue.


She said only lightheartedly in front of her husband, and she said she liked the brevity of her name without it. My husband and the president joked about it. My husband likes it, too. Not said here is that Mitt Romney is not exactly the top of the Donald Trump fan club.

BARRON-LOPEZ: No, he's not. Right. And he's definitely not the top of the fan club. I mean, he voted to convict and he's someone who believes that that the continued lies about the 2020 election is not something that the party should be behind.

And yet, we're hearing that someone being considered to replace Ronna McDaniel is an election denier, which to me just speaks to the fact that that is now the ultimate litmus test for whether or not you are a Trump Republican, or you're called a rhino by Trump.

BASH: Such an important point. I have to ask you about Mitch McConnell because he falls into the category of -- he doesn't -- Donald Trump not only doesn't like Mitch McConnell, he really, really doesn't like Mitch McConnell. And therefore, much of the Republican base no longer likes Mitch McConnell.

You have covered him for a long time. You know him really better than most reporters. And I want you to listen to what several of the rank- and-file Republican senators said about Mitch McConnell yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I followed the instructions of our conference who were insisting that we tackle this in October. Things have changed over the last four months. And it's been made perfectly clear by the speaker that he wouldn't take it up even if we sent it to him. And so, I think that's probably why most of our members think we ought to have opposition tomorrow.


BASH: OK. That was obviously Mitch McConnell himself. But he makes the second point that I was going to make, Carl, which is to hear Mitch McConnell, saying I follow the instructions of my conference is something that I'm not really used to hearing him say, he is a very firm leader historically. Now let's listen to what some of his rank- and-file members have said.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Everyone here also supported a leadership challenge to Mitch McConnell in November. I think a Republican leader should actually lead this conference and should advance the priorities of Republicans. It's a failure of leadership that we've gotten to this point. And yes, I think they're out of touch on that particular issue.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): So, this just blew up the Leader McConnell's face.


HULSE: The problem for Mitch McConnell here is that he's more in tune on this issue with Chuck Schumer than the far right of his own conference. You hear this. There's really no way for them to knock him off. But it's a reflection of his weakened position that they even stand there and do that. They would never do that in the past.

MCKEND: I will just say he has been routinely underestimated. Senator Hawley, many of his detractors have been running their mouths for years, and they have failed to pick him off in a leadership challenge. So, I wouldn't be surprised if that changed.

BASH: Speaking as a former reporter, covering the Kentucky delegation. I should add that. Everybody standby. Up next. First on CNN, senior Biden administration officials are headed to a must win state to try to calm anger inside a very important voting bloc. We're going to give you a new reporting on that next.



BASH: Now to new reporting. Top White House officials are zeroing in on a group of voters critical to winning Michigan. Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans, many of them are unhappy with President Biden's support for Israel and its war against Hamas inside Gaza war prompted by Hamas' barbaric terror attack against Israelis on October 7.

CNN Arlette Saenz is here with her new reporting. You see it there. It's on Arlette, this is fascinating to me because I spoke to the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, critical area where a lot of Muslim American voters are. And they said, we don't want to hear from Biden campaign officials. We want to hear from Biden policy officials. And it sounds like that's what the White House is answering.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Dana. That's exactly what these Arab-American and Muslim leaders are will experience tomorrow as senior administration officials are set to meet with them in a series of meetings in Michigan. And comms (Ph) as there's really been some growing discontent within President Biden's own democratic party amongst Arab-American, Muslim voters, and also young voters over his handling of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

But tomorrow, there will be several senior administration officials heading to Michigan for these meetings. That includes the Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer from the National Security Council, as well as the USAID administrator, Samantha Power and others as well.

And it really comes -- it's important to note where this meeting is happening. It's happening in the battleground state of Michigan, a state that Biden narrowly won back in 2020, and one where the Muslim American vote could be incredibly influential in this year's election.

If you take a look at some analysis from engage, a group that is trying to mobilize Muslim American voters in the election, they note that there are 200,000 Muslim American voters who were registered back in 2020. And 146,000 of them have voted.

If you take a look at how much Biden won by, he only won by 154,000 votes. So, trying to get this community onboard, will be critical. And the meeting does come just a few weeks after Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez went into the community, he tried to meet with some of these leaders.

One of those meetings was called off at the last minute after several attendees declined to attend. And one thing that I heard consistently at the time from some of those leaders who did not want to sit down with the campaign is that they wanted to hear directly from administration officials, people who are talking about the policy here at the White House. This is an issue that President Biden is keenly aware, it could have implications heading into 2024. And these are some of the steps his team is taking to try to address that.


BASH: So interesting. Great reporting, Arlette. Thank you so much for that. Back here around the table. Laura. I'm sure you're hearing the same thing that Arlette, which she's talking about that I was hearing. These are some pretty heavy hitters from inside the Biden administration on these issues going up to Michigan.

BARRON-LOPEZ: They are and that's because the administration as well as Biden campaign well knows now that Michigan is a problem for him that Muslim and Arab communities are not happy with him. Young voters are not happy with his policy position on Israel and Gaza, and they want to see a change. And so that's why so many of them.

I also spoke to the Dearborn mayor said that that they want to be talking to administration officials, not campaign officials. I also thought it was striking that this comes out -- this news from Arlette comes out the same day that the Dearborn mayor said that he's actually pledging to make an uncommitted. He's not committed to any voting for Biden in the presidential Democratic primary. That's upcoming at the end of the month.

BASH: Oh. I didn't see that. That's really interesting.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah. So, he is -- that's interesting that he along with a number of other local Michigan officials are saying that they are not going to be casting that ballot.

BASH: Let's shift this conversation staying on the Biden campaign and their efforts to win the president reelection. And pose the question about whether or not they're going to be able to leverage the mess that we see inside the GOP. Let's listen to what the president said yesterday about the Republicans particularly on the issue of immigration.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends. It's time for Republicans in the Congress to show courage, to show a little spine, to make it clear to the American people that you work for them, not for anyone else.


BASH: And Carl Hulse, Senator Chris Coons, who is of course Democrat from Delaware is -- has a national campaign chair. I think he has a title inside the campaign. He said the following. The president should go to the border, stand there and say, we have a crisis that I can't fix by executive order. You have to give me the authority. Here's the bill. He should stand there and say there was a way to fix this and it's languishing on the Senate floor because Republicans don't want to fix the problem.

HULSE: And what a turn of events, right. A few weeks ago, Biden is getting killed on these issues if numbers are bad. Now whether they can sell this is a different thing, right? They're going to really have to emphasize it. Republicans are going to continue to attack Biden in the Democrats on the border, but now they have a push back there.

They don't have to just say, well, we couldn't get anything through the White House. You know that -- now they say, hey, we had a bill, you can see what we were planning to do. I think it's probably going to be effective. It probably would be more effective if they would have actually gotten some legislation through. So, it's going to be a messaging war. But now they have a message.

MCKEND: I'm not so sure, Carl. I think the border deal collapsing is probably the best-case scenario for this president. I was speaking to an immigrant activist organizer in Georgia. And he said that he felt as though their communities are often the punching bag.

Like they didn't even understand why this legislation was tied with foreign aid and that that seldom happens for any other issue. And I also believe if it were to pass, it's not like Republicans would be lining up as progressive Chair Pramila Jayapal noted. To Pat -- President Biden on the back to say, good job.

BASH: You're saying it would be one more thing that progressives would be upset at the president about?

MCKEND: Exactly. And so, he kind of emerges from this as cleanly as possible for now.

BASH: Yeah. And it's always that balance. Do I do something to govern and do something to compromise? Or will I anger the base of my party? That's true for this president. And obviously, we've seen it historically for Republicans.

BARRON-LOPEZ: That he is. But we have seen President Biden time and time again show that he wants to get the bipartisan deal. So had this reached his desk. He would have signed it, even if it would have angered progressives. And I think that, you know, the bigger picture here, one thing that you're going to see President Biden hammer time and time again, is -- I tried to make a deal on immigration in the border.

There's other Republican saying that this deal was needed for me to even have control over the border that if the president by executive fiat could have just shut down the border, then why did former President Trump do it? There's that. There's also the Ukraine issue, which is again, Republicans have abandoned Ukraine because of Trump. They've abandoned action on the border because of Trump. So that's a bigger picture.

MCKEND: That's a really quick. These progressive organizers, they are going to their voters and saying, we need to vote for these Democrats. We don't like as a measure of harm reduction. And if that bill would have passed, that argument would have been a lot harder to make.

HULSE: If they don't have that many options.

BASH: Now. It doesn't seem like a lot of people have a lot of options right now. Not really sure why. Donald Trump changes his mind and will not be in Washington for tomorrow's big Supreme Court arguments on whether he can stay on the ballot. Is this one example of his political strategies and his legal strategy's actually diverging? We're going to explain next.