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Inside Politics

Trump Pitches Massive Deportation Operation in Second Term; Biden Cancels Student Loan Debt for 153,000 More Borrowers; Expensive Primary Pits Top Democrats Against Each Other; Adam Schiff Looks to Boost Republican Steve Garvey; U.S. Spacecraft Odie to Land on the Moon Tomorrow for a Historic Touchdown Near Lunar South Pole. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF 'INSIDE POLITICS': What could a second Trump Administration look like? That's a question Trump's allies are trying to answer, as polls show a Trump return to the White House looking more plausible, I wouldn't say probable, but more plausible by the day. New reporting from the New York Times, Washington Post, Semafor, Politico, they all zoom in on the efforts to shape what could be a Trump Administration, and how they could change big, big topics, big policy issues like abortion rights, immigration, and the state of the federal workforce.

I want to bring my panel back here. Now, David Chalian, it is -- it's fascinating to see some of these stories are through (ph) trial balloons coming from Trump allies, and maybe even from those who aren't really excited about Trump even being the nominee, never mind being the president. So it's a -- could this happen from some corners and it's warning this could happen from other corners.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah. I don't think there's a lot of hiding the ball that's going on here.


CHALIAN: I mean, I really don't. I think this process is very much out in the open. There are interest groups that are allied with him who have dedicated their entire being right now to developing these policies. And the last thing you mentioned in the intro, Dana, which I know is like the least sexy for everyone, the federal workforce. Just keep your eyes on this throughout, this is the core --

BASH: It's so important.

CHALIAN: -- of what the Trump team believes thwarted them from a whole host of their goals in the first administration and what they want to attack out of the gate to get rid of what they think are people entrenched in this bureaucracy who were human roadblocks to the things they wanted to accomplish. The reinvention of the federal workforce, again, I know it's not sexy. I think it's critical to what they're (inaudible).

BASH: Well, it's what they call the deep state.


BASH: It's what they called the deep state. Now, never mind that it was a lot of Trump appointees, who he picked, didn't just -- they were just serving there because that's what they do, who blocked him from doing things like overthrowing an election. But that's a very important point.

Kristen, you I know talk to people in the Trump world all the time and I'm sure you hear what I hear, which is let's just take a breath and these are people who are making money and exist professionally to try to come up with these plans and policies for a potential second term. It doesn't necessarily mean that if he wins, that they're going to take these policies and run with them.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It also means that Donald Trump doesn't like anyone taking credit for his ideas.


BASH: Yeah.

HOLMES: So as soon as there's people starting to getting out there and saying they had plans for 2025 Agenda, he got out there and said, only I have plans for that. But there is something to be said here.


HOLMES: I mean, AFPI is one of these groups, right? America First Policy Institute is filled with people that talk to Donald Trump almost on a daily basis. They're not coming at this cold with just their ideas on how to make money. They're having conversations. They're influencing the way he thinks. Project 2025 run by Heritage, same deal. We're talking about Russ Vought who is not -- he is not technically part of Heritage, but he is -- falls under the 2025 umbrella, talking to Trump on a regular basis.

He is the architect, the mastermind behind this idea that you can move all of these government agencies underneath the Executive to give the Executive this unwieldy number, amount of power, that's him. All of that again, having regular conversations with Donald Trump. This isn't existing in a vacuum outside of him.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The -- all of this to some degree is an advantage to the Biden campaign because their whole argument is, let's remind you who former President Donald Trump is. And these reports do exactly that. I mean immigration, great example. He's calling for mass deportations, detention camps. As someone who has covered DHS, I can tell you it's all very difficult to do, having covered him the first time around. But that aside --

BASH: Never mind whether it's right or wrong, because the execution is hard. Right. ALVAREZ: Never mind whether it's right or wrong. Right. But the Biden campaign seizing on it right away, saying in a statement that this is racist, un-American, and ineffective. This is who he is, essentially, is what they're arguing. And then let us not forget on abortion rights, Vice President Kamala Harris is on a reproductive freedoms tour right now (inaudible).

BASH: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up because this was a bit baffling, but maybe it's not and we can talk about the strategy here. The New York Times reports that he is considering a 16-week ban, national banned with exceptions. Donald Trump appears to be trying to satisfy social conservatives who want to further restrict abortion access and voters who want more modest limits, then after the Biden campaign hit him on it, the Trump campaign, a spokesperson according to our own Kate Sullivan, that spokesperson is Karoline Leavitt told CNN, the former president is not committed to backing a national abortion ban in a statement in response to The Times report. She said Trump would sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal that everyone will be happy with, which is so easy on the issue of abortion.


SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Exactly. Well, and that's -- in terms of abortion, that's kind of where Trump, especially earlier on in the primary, recognize the political peril that taking a very conservative stance on abortion could have. And I believe is he -- I believe the New York Times reporting says 16 weeks was a nice number that he could just kind of wrap his head around, which is also another odd aspect in all of that.

But, I think just that statement from the campaign, just backing away from it, they know that that was a gift for the Biden campaign because that's going to be one of the pillars that President Biden and Democrats on down (ph) will argue in the presidential campaign and also in down-ballot races as well.

HOLMES: And I will say that Donald Trump does not privately and publicly want to get behind a national abortion (inaudible).

BASH: What did that come from then? It was a trial balloon of some sort.

HOLMES: It was a trial balloon. But a number of people that I spoke to, including someone who spoke to them right after this article came out, somebody who is very, very pro-life and was thrilled to see this --

BASH: I see (ph).

HOLMES: -- was told by the former president that he doesn't have any plans to do that because politically, it would harm him. So, I also think Donald Trump says a lot of things. I think that he himself has probably floated this out there --

BASH: Yeah.

HOLMES: -- seeing what it looks like, what does it look like to say 16, 12 weeks, 15 weeks. I've heard all of these numbers for the last year and in terms of private conversations Donald Trump has had. So he himself, (inaudible).


HOLMES: But he doesn't think it's a winning political (inaudible).

BASH: Such important reporting and context, Kristen, thank you. OK, everybody standby. Up next, Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, Barbara Lee, three of the best-known House Democrats are competing for one California Senate seat. Two weeks to go, who will come out on top, and a very messy and crowded primary. We are going to talk about that next.



BASH: The White House just announced a new round of student debt relief. Today, 150,000 borrowers enrolled in the SAVE repayment plan should get an email, letting them know their remaining federal student loan debt is canceled. That email is also expected to include a congratulatory message from President Biden himself, a sign the Administration is eager to remind voters who should get the credit.

The Administration says it has now canceled the debt of 3.9 million borrowers since Biden took office, totaling $138 billion. Here's another number for you, $49 million. That's how much money has been sent so far -- spent so far in ads alone, ahead of California's Senate primary. That's a lot of money even for a very big state like California. It is a solidly blue seat. But the reason is because three well-known Democrats are vying for the job: Congressman Adam Schiff, Congresswoman Katie Porter and Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

On the GOP side, former LA Dodger Steve Garvey is running. Now, this is very contentious. It is very expensive, as I mentioned, and it's largely because of the way the primary system works in California. The top-two finishers in the March 5th primary will advance to the general election, regardless of their party. The top candidates just faced off in their final debate before voters head to the polls. Here's a taste.


REP. KATIE PORTER, (D-CA) CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: My colleague Representative Schiff says, for example, that he wants to bring down the cost of childcare, but he isn't on either of the two major Democratic bills that would do that. That's the gap between Congressman Schiff --

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA) CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: Thank you, Congresswoman.

PORTER: -- and Candidate Schiff. [12:45:00]

SCHIFF: There's nothing easier than putting your name on a bill. Where you see the real legislators is they write their own legislation. We have a strong disagreement over whether Senators should bring back resources for their state. I believe that they should. Representative Porter doesn't believe they should. She prefers a political talking point.

PORTER: Your remarks are about inviting corruption, conflicts of interest, and rewarding peoples' donors. Don't believe we don't (inaudible) that track record.


BASH: Our Political Director David Chalian is still here to discuss this. So in political parlance, this is called a jungle primary.

CHALINA: Exactly.

BASH: And it means that the Democrats don't do their own thing. Republicans don't do their own thing. And the idea was to try to make it more fair, less gerrymandered, so on and so forth. You can explain that.

CHALIAN: Yes. This is like a political reform.

BASH: Yeah, political reform.


CHALIAN: So as you said, the Democratic side and the Republican side, it's all one thing in the jungle primary.

BASH: It's all one thing, right. So the top two will finish. And one of the most fascinating dynamics is the strategy that Adam Schiff is trying to employ and that is to race (ph) up the leading Republican candidate, Steve Garvey, he is a very well-known former athlete. And let's just watch a little bit of the ad that Adam Schiff is running in order to achieve his goal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Garvey is wrong for California, but Garvey surging in the polls. Fox News says Garvey would be a boost to Republican control of the Senate. Stop Garvey. Adam Schiff for Senate.


BASH: OK. So, can you just explain this political jujitsu?

CHALIAN: Sure. Well, Adam Schiff is trying to get his preferred opponent for the general election. I noticed today, we got to an alert from AdImpact, who tracks advertising for us. A similar ad to that, that Schiff is running in the Chico-Redding markets in Northern California. Just wanted to explain something, that's in the first Congressional district. It is a heavily Republican district.

BASH: Right.

CHALIAN: Adam Schiff is not running that ad in a heavily Republican area to win more Democratic votes in this primary, he's doing it to boost Garvey with Republicans, highlighting that he's very conservative, that he voted for Trump twice because when it gets to the general election, Adam Schiff will be a shoo-in for this Senate seat against Steve Garvey, given the Democratic registration advantage in California. It's a very blue state. That's a very different race than the (ph) shift versus Katie Porter in November. That's a much more difficult contest for him.

BASH: Right. The idea being, if I am a conservative voter and I see Adam Schiff says, Steve Garvey is too conservative. I say great --

CHALIAN: Sign me up.

BASH: -- sign me up for Steve Garvey and that's the whole Schiff strategy there. This is a very expensive race. I mentioned $49 million. And just to put that in context, $49 million is more ad spending than any other non-presidential federal contest ever. I mean, that's a lot of money. And if you just look and see where the ad spending breaks down, Schiff $25 million, Porter $14 million, and Barbara Lee very far behind in her ad spending $89,000.

CHALIAN: Yeah. I mean, I think she's raised about $1 million in this overall campaign. But really, if I'm not mistaken, she's far behind in fundraising, therefore, far behind in ad spending as well. California is no stranger to very expensive races. It's an expensive media-driven kind of state. It's not like what we saw in Iowa --


CHALIAN: -- and New Hampshire, right?

BASH: Multiple expensive markets.

CHALIAN: Yeah. Multiple expensive markets, so that's no surprise here. I do think though, what you saw on that debate clip was a Katie Porter getting very close to the Super Tuesday primary day, worried that Garvey is going to overtake her in this race, and that's why you saw her so aggressively going after Schiff in that debate clip.

BASH: Yeah. So interesting, this is -- this is one of the races that I'm most fascinated with. Let's see --


BASH: -- if the Schiff strategy works.


BASH: Thanks, David.

CHALIAN: Sure. BASH: Up next, a historic U.S. journey to the moon, five decades in the making.



BASH: Tomorrow, we are expecting to see a U.S.-made spacecraft land on the moon for the first time in 50 years. The Odysseus lunar lander nicknamed "Odie" launched from Kennedy Space Center last Thursday scheduled to land tomorrow evening. CNN's Tom Foreman has been following all of this.

It's pretty cool, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. You know, half century since we've done this. I'm telling you, everything has changed, that's why this is such a big challenge. Yes, we've been to the moon before, the only nation to ever put people on the moon. But it was a long time ago. So imagine if we stopped building cars (inaudible), we wouldn't go back to Henry Ford's plans. We would have to start all over again. And that's really what they've done here to put this up there.

It sent back some amazing photographs since this beautiful, beautiful takeoff down in Florida there. They've sent back some wonderful photographs from space and what it has seen so far. The goal here is to touch down near the southern pole of the moon, where there's a lot of interest, because there is water there. There's an idea that they can set up maybe some kind of a lunar base, which would be used to the jump off to Mars.

But this is a huge, huge challenge. Last year, Russia tried it. They crashed on the moon because they had a software problem that miscalculated the length of a burn of one of his landing jets. China, Japan tried it last year, they failed because their lander thought it was right on the Earth's surface when it was still a couple of miles up in the air.


FOREMAN: So, this is really very tricky stuff to be done here and all eyes are going to be on this tomorrow, Dana, when it tries to touch down roughly a quarter million miles away from where we are. So, it's a lot riding on this.

BASH: Well, I'm very much looking forward to watching that live. Next time you come on, you can explain why it's been 50 years.

FOREMAN: Well, with a little luck, it'll happen just before six o'clock tomorrow evening. But as you know, that's rush hours. So --


FOREMAN: -- could be, maybe not.

(LAUGH) BASH: Not on the moon.

FOREMAN: Let's see. Not yet.

BASH: Not yet. Tom, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

FOREMAN: Good seeing you, Dana.

BASH: You too.

And thank you for joining "Inside Politics." "CNN News Central" starts after a break.