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Inside Politics

New Poll Of Presidential Historians: Biden Is 14th-Best; NYT Columnist Says It's Time For Biden To Step Aside; Charlamagne: Biden Doesn't Have "Main Character Energy"; Rep. Tlaib Urges MI Dems To Vote "Uncommitted" In Primary; RFK Jr. Positions Himself As "Environmental Advocate" For Black Community; Panic Ripples In House As High-Profile Republicans Bolt. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 19, 2024 - 12:30   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: It is content guaranteed to get a response from Donald Trump. Today is President's Day, so we have new rankings of every single American president by a collection of academics and historians. They put the 45th president at the very bottom of the new poll.

I love how the whole panel is looking very closely to see how this is. They put Trump last there. Abraham Lincoln first, Joe Biden 14th. The professors who compiled the power poll president say Biden owes his standing to his predecessor. Quote, "Biden's most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump."

But the polls for this November's election showing Biden consistently trailing Trump despite the near universal thumbs down on Trump's legacy from historians all across the aisle. President Biden is facing just token opposition for the Democratic nomination.

But with six months until the Democratic Convention in Chicago, some Democrats are increasingly worried about him being at the top of the ballot. A piece this weekend by liberal New York Times Columnist Ezra Klein crystallized the issue for many in the party.


EZRA KLEIN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: The question the Biden administration keeps pretending only to hear. Can Biden do the job of president? That's not the question of the 2024 campaign. What I think we're seeing is that he is not up for this.


DEAN: And my panel is back with me now. Jeff, these are, I want to say the whispers, but when you talk to Democrats, they are -- some of them are yelling that very loudly. It's not the whispers you hear privately and behind the scenes. And yet there doesn't seem to be any indication that Biden will be stepping aside. JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No, I mean, there -- they used to be whispers, even in the 2020 campaign, which we all covered. I mean, there were whispers then about age and sort of fitness for office. It's a whole different time. I mean, the conversations, it's hard to have a conversation with the top democratic strategist, a lawmaker on Capitol Hill without part of the conversation being, well, how do you think President Biden's doing?

So, but the reality here is, as MJ I'm sure would agree with being at the White House every day, there's zero of this conversation in the -- among the people who matter. I put Joe Biden at the top of that list, a few other advisers. So this is outside chatter here.

And they basically say, Democrats are going to have to sort of suck it up and deal with it. He is going to be the nominee. And once there is a choice, they believe people will come around. That might be true to a point, but the piece that Ezra was talking about, he believes it should go to the convention, throw it open to the wild and sort of see what happens because conventions historically are about fighting for the nomination.

There was a big discussion among a lot of strategists and Democrats over the weekend, how dangerous is that? Is it more or less than this? I would be stunned if that would happen. But you have to leave open your mind to the possibilities since so many people are talking about it.


DEAN: I'm curious, MJ, what you think about -- I mean the White House does not like these stories, obviously.

LEE: No, and particularly because we know that President Biden will read a column like this. He takes very seriously what these kinds of pundits say, the journalists that he will have off the records with those tend to be colonists and these kinds of thinkers.

I mean, what Ezra was saying in his column is that basically it isn't too late that people can convince President Biden to basically accept that he isn't going to be the nominee or sort of move aside and then do the crazy thing of going to the convention.

And whether it be Vice President Kamala Harris or somebody else, but there is room and talent within the party for somebody else to be the nominee. It is, of course, really late. And that would be a wild political scenario.

But I do think that is just like the existential question for Democrats right now. And something that I asked President Biden directly last week.


I asked him, you know, you yourself, you have said that many other Democrats could defeat Donald Trump, so why do you think it has to be you? And we saw him bristle at that question and saying, you know, that is your opinion. It isn't my opinion. That is the fact that we get from many, many polls and he --

DEAN: And he didn't liked it. He kind of yelled.

LEE: He didn't.

DEAN: Yes.

LEE: And he also said the answer is that, I am the most qualified person to be president. I think the issue is that there are plenty of Democrats who believe other Democrats can do the job, but it is still sort of the quiet part that most Democrats are not willing to say out loud.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And I also think, you know, we have discussions about the conversations happening in Washington, the conversations happening at the White House. I don't cover the White House or the Democratic Party. You know, I'm covering a Republican running for president. I'm covering foreign policy.

But I hear conversations all the time from people in multiple different states when it comes to Biden and if he is the best pick for the Democratic Party to be running right now. And so I think it's important not to pretend that those are conversations that are created by those of us who are covering the White House and covering Biden. These are real questions that real Americans are actually asking and talking about right now.

DEAN: Yes. And so to that end, I want to play a clip from ABC News's Charlamagne tha God, and what he was saying about Joe Biden. Let's listen.


CHARLAMAGNE THE GOD, RADIO HOST: He's just an uninspiring candidate. Like, you know, there's nothing about, you know, Joe Biden that makes you want to listen to him. He has no main character energy At all. None.

The couch is voter apathy. And, you know, that's who everybody is up against in 2024. And right now, right now, it feels like the couch is going to win.


DEAN: It is -- it's such an apt way to kind of lay it out pretty starkly, right? You got the couch, and right now the couch is going to win by saying essentially people may just stay home.

ZELENY: I mean the burden is on the Biden campaign, which the president is well aware of this, of drawing that distinction with Donald Trump. I mean, we -- our history does not to provide any modern day examples and few examples in our history of such a rematch. But I think the question is, are voters going to be as alarmed as turned off by the former president?

I was in Detroit a couple weeks ago and talking to a pastor there who he said, look, Trump doesn't scare people as much as he used to. People got through it, they'll get through it. So the burden of the president and his campaign is to make that case to voters why this election matters more than ever before and to draw that distinction. And they have eight and a half months to do it.

DEAN: Right. It's like everything almost gets normalized after a period of time, right? They've seen Trump. They know Trump. They're not as afraid of him in way.

LEE: Yes, and to the point about the couch --

DEAN: Yes.

LEE: -- I think what is really remarkable is that when you talk to Democrats -- and I'm talking about Biden supporters, Biden allies, lawmakers who are loyally for President Trump -- President Biden, excuse me, there's nobody that is saying, like, they are jazzed about the 2024 election.

Nobody is saying, I'm really excited that this is going to be another Biden-Trump matchup. In fact, it's the total opposite. There's, like, this sense of dread. They don't want to see that rematch anymore again. And I think it's for a number of reasons.

There's obviously a lot of nervous energy about President Biden, a lot of feelings about former President Trump. I also think that there's just a lot of like heaviness in the news right now. It is just a fact that people are wary of, you know, the war in Israel, the war in Ukraine, all of the headlines that they're seeing, like there's real fatigue. And I just think that there is a little bit of a darkness, even among people who are loyal supporters of President Biden.

DEAN: Right. And there is just -- it seems like such a heaviness and like a begrudging acceptance to this is kind of what is happening. Quickly before we take our break, I do want to mention Michigan, of course, is coming up, and I think that will be a good test to see you have somebody like Rashida Tlaib who is urging Democrats to vote uncommitted to really send a message, Kylie, to voters.

Michigan is going to be, of course, a critical battleground state and it has an interesting makeup of voters that are critical part to Biden's coalition.

ATWOOD: And this is a problem for President Biden. I mean, the fact that you have a Democrat pushing Democrats not to vote for the president in one of these early states gets to the meat of the matter that there is not just one issue for President Biden in this campaign right now. And the fact that he's older and people are concerned about that, there are actually policy issues as well, that is really driving folks to have concern about voting for him.

And so, as we see in Michigan, you know, this movement to vote for uncommitted over Biden, I think it crystallizes a challenge for this White House in how they're going to talk about the Israel-Hamas war in the next few months heading up to this election.

DEAN: Yes. And MJ, that has to be something that they continue to talk about every day trying to mold that message and hit the right balance.

LEE: Oh, yes. They're very aware of the issues that the ongoing war in Israel has created for the campaign. I mean, you've seen the efforts at the campaign and the White House have been making to try to make sure that they are speaking to and in conversation with these Arab American leaders.


But the reality is these are pretty or could be pretty hardened views at this point, right? They are young people, there are progressives, there are Arab American voters in that community that are just really furious at what they're seeing happening in Gaza.

DEAN: All right. Thanks so much to you, guys.

Up next, can the conspiracy theorists with the famous last name hurt Biden with one of the Democratic Party's most important voting blocks?



DEAN: A growing number of black voters weighing their options for 2024, taking a close look at the third party candidates who may be on the ballot. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. trying to seize on that opening over the weekend, positioning himself as an environmental advocate for the black community.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four out of every five toxic waste dumps in America is in a black neighborhood. The highest concentration of toxic waste dumps in America is the south side of Chicago. The most contaminated zip code in California is East L.A. The largest toxic waste dump in this country is in Emelle, Alabama, which is 85 percent black. And, you know, and the issues of pollution impact black communities probably worse than any other.


DEAN: CNN's Eva McKend is joining us now at the table. Jeff Zeleny is still here with us. Eva, I want to start first with you because you were with RFK Jr. over the weekend in New York as he made his pitch to black voters, and I'm so curious what your observations were.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: You know, whether they like it or not, Democrats, I think, are starting to realize that Kennedy is going to be a factor in this contest. The most recent NBC News poll saying that 34 percent of voters would consider voting for Kennedy.

And while he is widely criticized for vaccine skepticism, he also has this legacy of environmental activism. And so he's leaning on that in his pitch to black voters, as well as his family legacy of civil rights. Something else that I think that he can lean into is this economic argument. I can't underscore enough how great the economic anxieties are among black voters. So one of the Kennedy supporters that I met at a Black History Month event yesterday in Brooklyn, a Kennedy event, he was telling me that his family business, he almost lost it during the pandemic, the Sugar Hill Club in Brooklyn.

And over the years, he's had many Democratic politicians in that restaurant, and he felt like he couldn't lean on them when he needed them most in order in order to gain some access, some resources. And so, this is what Kennedy is trying to appeal to, some of the vulnerabilities that Democrats have right now.

DEAN: And Jeff, you were with him when he did his launch event. You covered that. So you've also seen the crowds kind of react to him. There's kind of this conventional wisdom, I think, oh, is he even -- he's not even, you know, going to do that much. He won't make that much of a difference. And yet, when it could come down to these handful of states and really small margins, that could impact Biden, really?

ZELENY: Yes, for sure. I mean, third party candidates are always a factor. They certainly were in 2016, but this is a different magnitude of that, because it's a third party candidate with a famous last name, really the gold plated name, still in Democratic politics to this day.

So it's been interesting to watch both the DNC and the Biden campaign initially ignore him entirely.

DEAN: Right.

ZELENY: And now, really starting to focus on beginning a strategy to really identify him and define him and remind people who may only remember about the environmental activism or the famous name, remind him of other things he said.

One of his challenges I think will be on foreign policy. Actually, I mean, that is a huge factor that's driving a lot of young voters and progressive voters how he stands on that. But I think we are going to see negative ads against him, trying to define him in such a way to keep his number down because that is a huge challenge for President Biden.

MCKEND: There was a mobile billboard outside of the event yesterday from the DNC. They also released a statement saying that it's outrageous and offensive that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would claim to be a leader for our community after the damage that he's inflicted. So that was Jaime Harrison, the head of the DNC saying that.

He says, "As black Americans suffered disproportionately from COVID, Kennedy Jr. pushed harmful misinformation about the life-saving COVID vaccine and even was ranked as one of the top spreaders of false information on social media."

So Jessica, that kind of telegraphs the argument that we're going to get from Democrats in response. DEAN: Yes. And there is polling, 13 percent for RFK Jr. against Joe Biden and Donald Trump. So not an insignificant number.

All right, thanks to both of you. Great to see you.

Up next, new CNN reporting on the Republican exodus from the House.



DEAN: Is it worth it? More and more high profile Republicans are asking themselves that question and deciding the answer is no. CNN's Melanie Zanona out today with a new piece looking at why so many name brand Republicans are just heading, running, even for the exit smell. She joins us now. What's the consensus about why this is happening?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, of course, there are a lot of factors that go into a decision like this. It's a very personal decision. Some lawmakers cited family reasons. Others are running for higher office. But one thing that me and my colleague Annie Grayer really picked up on was that there is an overwhelming amount of frustration right now with just how dysfunctional the House, particularly the House Republican Conference has been from all of the chaotic speaker drama to even just the struggle to pass basic procedural votes on the floor.

Just take a look at what some members told us on the record here. Ken Buck, one of those members retiring said, "We're not doing serious things." Carlos Gimenez told us, "I thought that some of our members would be smarter." Steve Womack, "We are fractured." And Don Bacon told me, "When you have folks on your own team with their knives out, it makes it less enjoyable."


And, you know, it's not just the number of Republicans who are retiring, it is the caliber of the people who are deciding to call it quits. There are five committee chairmens, chairwomen and chairmen who are deciding to retire and that includes Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She is not even term limited yet on her top post on the Energy and Commerce Committee. That's a very powerful position that some members work their entire careers to achieve.

And then also Mike Gallagher, he's only 39 years old and he was once seen as a rising star in the GOP. So there is a lot of concern right now about a brain drain as these senior members decide to leave and take all of their institutional knowledge with them.

And there's also concern about what this means for the governing wing of the GOP as those members decide to exit and its members' hardliners like Bob Good who are largely blamed for a lot of the turbulence and chaos who are deciding to stick around. Jess?

DEAN: A big, big difference because to your point that graphic we just saw, those are some big names who have been there for a very long time and really are responsible for making things go.

All right, Melanie Zanona, great reporting. Thanks so much.

And thank you for joining Inside Politics today. CNN News Central starts right after this break.