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Inside Politics

Biden Weighs New Asylum Crackdown At Southern Border; Progressive Critics Say Biden Asylum Plans Similar To Trump; AOC: "Doing Trump Impressions Isn't How We Beat Trump"; WH Looks For New Ways To Show It's Addressing Border Crisis; Biden Continues Piecemeal Effort To Relieve Student Debt; AT&T Says Three-Quarters Of Network Restored; Two Alabama Facilities Pause IVF Treatments After Court Ruling; Biden Campaign: Alabama Ruling "Only Possible" Because Of Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, the president tries to thread the needle on his biggest political vulnerability. The crisis at the southern border. Sources tell us that he's looking at new executive actions that could restrict asylum claims and are certain to anger many of the Democrats he needs to propel him to four more years.

Plus, Nikki Haley answers a reproductive rights question with a riddle as she tries to straddle the answer to the question of whether frozen embryos are people after an Alabama court said, they are. It's already pausing fertility treatments in that state and providing fodder for Democrats nationally. And New Hampshire's governor and Haley supporter Chris Sununu joins me live to talk about her campaigns path forward. If there is one and more.

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

Up first, the president attempts to course correct on the border again. But how he plans to do, it as propelling freakout among some of the progressives that Joe Biden needs to win the White House again. The Biden plan under consideration would rely on a Trump era maneuver to boot migrants from the U.S. faster and sources say, it would extend some of the toughest measures included in a now dead border bill.

Let's start our coverage with CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. Priscilla, what are your sources telling you what -- about what exactly the president is trying to do?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, sources are telling me that White House officials are currently looking at an authority that already exists in immigration law, that essentially allows the president to decide who was eligible to come into the United States. In this context, that means limiting the ability of migrants to seek asylum if they cross the border illegally. Now, I'm also told that lawyers are looking at this. They're reviewing whether it's legally viable after former President Donald Trump tried something very similar in 2018 and was blocked by the courts. Now the administration official said this is one of many options that are being evaluated and no final decision has been made.

The White House telling me in a statement, quote, no executive action, no matter how aggressive can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected. We continue to call on speaker Johnson and House Republicans to pass the bipartisan deal to secure the border.

Of course, the White House, they're referring to that Senate border compromise that is now dead and exchange by Republicans that included some of the most tough border security measures in recent memory, including a shutdown authority. The president had embraced that over the course of the negotiations. He's clearly here trying to flip the script again and show that he too can be tough on the border going into November.

BASH: And Priscilla, you've been covering this topic extensively for a long time. How is -- what is under consideration at the Biden White House different from some of the controversial Trump era policies?

ALVAREZ: We don't know all the details yet to make a very clear comparison, but what I can tell you, Dana, is the ideas are very much the same. Again in 2018, former President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation so an executive action, so that he could block asylum entirely off at the U.S. southern border using this same authority. And that is part of the challenge that lawyers in the administration are facing right now is how can they do this in a way that is different and will stand up in courts.

But again, Dana, this has been an evolution for this White House. The president coming in in January of 2021, wanting to reform the immigration system, meaning roadblocks in Congress by Republicans. And now clearly taking a tougher approach on an issue that has been a political liability and has dogged him from the very beginning.

BASH: No question about that. Priscilla, thanks so much for that reporting. And while the proposed executive order is riling some progressives. One of Biden's more pragmatic allies told CNN this morning that he helps the president goes through with it.


REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): The Republicans want to keep this immigration issue as a political issue, rather than to try to solve the problem. I would hope that President Biden will go forward with his executive audit. And I would hope that the executive order will stay within the four corners of this agreement, uh, that was reached on the Senate side.


BASH: I want to bring in my panel to talk more about this Leigh Ann Caldwell from the Washington Post, CNN's Daniel Straus and Amy Walter from The Cook Political Report. This is so fascinating. I mean to say that this is a political Achilles heel is such an understatement for President Biden, and of course, Priscilla used the word evolution. If there's been more than an evolution, I mean there's really been a major shift by President Biden and his administration.


To be fair, the crisis of the border has gotten much, much worse throughout the years of his first term. Amy what are your thoughts staying on just this raw politics of this -- since this is Inside Politics. On what these moves are intended to do? And most importantly, whether or not it will help him with the voters he is trying to affect?

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. I mean, I think that Congressman Clyburn in your clip there, sort of answered it, which is, we need to take this issue off of the Republican playbook for the 2024 election, right.

It is a not only a topic because it is in front of our faces every single day, but it's having an impact on the very voters, we need to encourage to come out and support us. Those voters who are sitting in blue cities, who are feeling the impact of this crisis on the border. So, it's beyond just what's happening on the border, but how it's impacting Boston, Denver, et cetera.

But I think overall, in terms of the blowback from progressives, I don't know that it's going to give the same sort of blowback, that maybe a couple of other topics would have been. And again, thinking about this from the standpoint of where the border sits today.

There were other topics, I think for progressives that they feel even more frustrated about, including, like -- not having a crime bill or a police reform bill, voting rights, those sorts of issues, the environment, just as problematic in Gaza, of course.

BASH: Yeah, yeah. That's so interesting, but it doesn't mean that they're not planting the flag of opposition, right? AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the following on social media. Doing Trump impression isn't how we beat Trump. Seeking asylum is a legal right of all people. In the face of authoritarian threat, we should not buckle on our principles, we should commit to them. The mere suggestion is outrageous, and the president should refuse to sign it.

Sign it meaning, I guess whatever executive order that they're considering. What are you hearing from your sources about this? And whether or not they're saying this because they have to say this on the progressive side and whether it really will affect voter turnout?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So, what the president is considering doing is predictable. This is something that Democrats on Capitol Hill, not the progressives but others have been encouraging the president to do privately or have been talking about it amongst themselves. If this bipartisan border security bill falls apart, which it did within minutes.

And so, this was expected. And this is also calling Speaker Johnson's bluff because now Republicans have been saying, no legislation is necessary for the border to become secure. The president has all the power. And so now the president is turning this on their head and saying, OK, if he does this.

And so, it is trying to undercut Republican strength on the issue of the border. And the ones who are most anxious about this are the ones who are at risk of losing their election, the Democrats, and so they would encourage this.

BASH: Let me just sort of pose the flip side of that argument, which is, we heard for weeks and weeks, months when the Senate bipartisan group was working on a plan which they ended up making that deal. And what we heard from the White House was, we need Congress to legislate because the immigration laws are so antiquated because it's been so politicized, they haven't been able to deal with it for decades. That is a fact.

And they also kind of push back on the notion that the president could do it himself. Now, the president is saying he can do it himself. How does that play politically?

DANIEL STRAUS, CNN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean look, it might actually fall into something that Democrats are increasingly gambling on, which is a more active President Biden. I mean, we saw this recently when he's discussed student loans. He has talked about how his administration pushed to relieve student loan debt that eventually met -- was met with a very conservative leaning Supreme Court. So, he took executive action.

And here too, depending on how they present this to the American public, it might work to act as a salve to one of the bigger liabilities that Biden is facing, critiques about his age. And what that really is -- our critiques about how effective and how vibrant and active he is as a president. So, we'll see what happens. Oh, wow, that really got ---


CALDWELL: I know. I just -- like on the progressive thing. I want to come back to those progressives. The Biden campaign and the Biden administration is betting that once Donald Trump is in everyone's face then they are going to forgive all of President Biden's sins on the issue on immigration on Gaza, et cetera. We'll see if that happens. They're not worried about them voting for Donald Trump. The question is, do they stay home or not.

BASH: Right. And just to sort of as -- as I bring you in Amy, put some meat on the bone of what you were talking about with regard to student loan debt. It is true that the conservative court said, no, no, you can't do what you wanted to do. But he did find ways around it -- workarounds. I mean, just look at some of what we're talking about. His original plan was $400 billion in student loan debt relief. It was blocked by the Supreme Court. But even as recently as this week, he was able to add additional -- again workarounds to completely forgive some very specific sectors of the population depending on how their student loan debt is structured and so on and so forth. $138 billion is not something to sneeze at. And we talked yesterday about the fact that the president himself wrote a congratulatory note as part of this email, which is very interesting.

WALTER: Yeah. Well, it goes back to where you all started this conversation about using executive authority and whether that comes back and ultimately sets a precedent that then the next president can go ahead and use and say, well, hold on a second, he used this authority. But now when I use it, it's a problem. And this is what I hear from progressives as well. It's not as much about the actual policy itself.

Yes, they would agree that what Trump is proposing, especially when it comes to this idea of going after people who are here illegally and deporting them is going to look much more dramatic than whatever the president is going to do on the border. But at the end of the day, what they'll say is, he's setting a precedent that other presidents can use with executive authority and taking it out of the hands of Congress or even the courts.

BASH: OK. Everybody standby because I want to move quickly to another story that's affecting a lot of people. If your phone isn't working today, you're not alone. A massive AT&T outage paralyzed much of the country's mobile networks. CNN's Brian Fung has detailed. Brian, what do we know?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN, TECH REPORTER: Yeah. Dana. It seems as though as of this moment AT&T says about three quarters of its network has been restored after a massive outage that affected multiple parts of the country beginning early hours of this morning. Tens of thousands of people reported that they had no service on their AT&T phones across the country. Many people who were on Verizon and T-Mobile also reported some similar outages.

Although, both of those companies say that their networks are unaffected, and if you are a Verizon or T-Mobile customer, one reason that you may be experiencing issues is because you're trying to call an AT&T customer who is affected.

All of which is to say, this is a big thorny headache for many millions of Americans. This morning still continuing ongoing as we speak. Although, Verizon did tell me that they believe that the issue will be resolved soon. Dana?

BASH: OK. Thank you so much for that update, Brian. Appreciate it. And up next, Nikki Haley tries and tries again to answer a question that affects eight million families or more a year one with big ballot implications for November. We'll explain next.



BASH: A big new development in Alabama, a second fertility clinic in this state suspended parts of its IVF treatments. That's after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the same right this children, leaving many people trying to become parents stranded. About 2 percent of U.S. births result from IVF, where the goal is to create genetically viable embryos outside the body to have a chance at successful pregnancy and live birth.

That often involves creating many embryos as many as possible knowing that not all can be used. Sometimes the lucky families have extra frozen embryos. Right away the decision became fodder on the campaign trail. Listen to Nikki Haley on NBC yesterday.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I think -- I mean embryos to me are babies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have concerns about the ways that that could hurt people who are seeking IVF treatment?

HALEY: I think that we have to have those conversations that's incredibly personal.


BASH: She was on CNN a few hours later and attempted to clarify.


HALEY: I didn't say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling. What the question that I was asked is, do I believe an embryo is a baby? I do think that if you look in the definition, an embryo is considered an unborn baby.


BASH: My panel is back to talk about this very complicated but very important and personal issue that is -- has become political -- even more so in the last few days. Before we start the conversation, I just want to kind of set the table even more by listening to an IVF patient, a woman in Alabama about the confusion that this has sparked in her life.


GABRIELLE GOIDEL, UNDERGOING IVF IN ALABAMA: Do I have to keep those on frozen forever? Do I get to let the ones that a genetically abnormal pass naturally. Is my doctor would be in any sort of danger by doing this procedure. To me it just -- there's so many questions in the air right now. We love it here. But it definitely has made us think about whether or not we'll stay here long term. And it wanted for sure we are going to try to transfer embryos out of Alabama as soon as possible. (END VIDEO CLIP)


BASH: Leigh Ann, what do you think the political implications of all this is?

CALDWELL: So, Republicans do not want to be talking about this. The fact that few Republicans have come out with an opinion or position, one way or the other is very telling. Republicans have not even been able to come up with a clear and concise position on abortion.

And nearly two years since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Democrats, on the other hand, are going to use this issue as another way to categorize Republicans as extreme as trying to take away women's rights. And as just another example of what has proven to be very politically beneficial for Democrats is the issue of abortion and a woman's reproductive health.

BASH: Right. So obviously, there is abortion, which is the right to end a pregnancy.


BASH: And this is obviously the other end of that spectrum. Families who really want to have children, want to create life. And the science of that is incredibly complicated.

WALTER: This is why when you listen to what Democrats talk about on the campaign trail and in their advertising about the issue of abortion rights. Even they talk about freedom. It is medical freedom. It is bodily freedom. And their argument has been -- it may be today that we're talking about limits on abortion access. But as we have seen in this case, it's now about IVF.

And the Supreme Court is still making a -- is going to soon make a decision on whether an abortion pill is able to remain on the market. And so that it's going to touch so many different pieces of our lives. It's not just going to be this one issue, which gets to the question then of how do Republican solve for that?

One idea, you saw in the Virginia case with the governor coming out and saying, we're just going to put out a 15-week ban. We're going to make it really clear. Here's our position on this issue. But the challenges for so many voters, that is not the whole thing. That's not the -- it is -- it goes beyond this.

And so just coming up with some sort of answer to the question about what do you believe the limit should be on abortion access? What we're seeing now is something that goes much beyond that, and it can't be solved for with a soundbite.

BASH: No, no, not at all. And go ahead, do you want to say something?

CALDWELL: I was just going to say that the demographic of people with these impacts are people that whoever wins the presidency is absolutely going to need. Its people with health insurance that is able to provide for the coverage to get IVF. Its people with, you know, middle class families who are struggling, it's women, suburban women in many instances. And so, this is also a demographic that is -- politically speaking, taking away all the personal implications of this is really a key demographic.

BASH: I just want to -- Daniel, as I bring you in here. Read a part of the judge's ruling in Alabama because it's about kind of the tricky questions of life and IVF and all that. But it's also about a worldview. That was very much on display in the opinion -- the deciding opinion of the Supreme Court.

He wrote, the theology -- excuse me, the theology-based view of the sanctity of life adopted by the people of Alabama encompasses the following. God made every person in his image, each person therefore has a value that far exceeds the ability of human beings to calculate, and the human life cannot be wrongly destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of his image as an affront to himself.

Some people look at that and say, those are your Christian values. And certainly, there is a history of God being evoked since the beginning of this country. But that -- looking at this, people might -- people already are saying, this looks like a step towards Christian nationalism.

STRAUS: Yeah. I think you're going to hear that from Democrats in the coming weeks and months. And look, as Amy said, this is -- I cannot think of a recent election where abortion conception was one of the major topics that Republicans really did well in. This is an advantageous arena for Democrats here. And it's not often that an Alabama Supreme Court ruling, like the very text of it gets national attention.

But that language there really falls into concerns among swing voters and suburban voters. The kinds of voters that are going to decide this election, not only for the presidency but for major federal elections, for gubernatorial elections and for down ticket ones which are very influential in Americans daily life.


BASH: And on that note, I don't believe unless it's happened since we came on the air that Donald Trump has weighed in on this. He is somebody who is very well aware of the sort of swing voter. Even though, he's the one who put the justices on the Supreme Court that overturned Roe. He is very well aware of the political perils for Republicans like himself.

WALTER: That's right. And trying to thread that needle on, well, I don't really want an abortion ban and maybe we should come up with, right. I think he said 16 weeks, like the rounded number was at the ----

(CROSSTALK) WALTER: OK. But the point being, that he too wants to find an answer to this. But that the problem that Republicans have when I listened to voters, especially in these focus groups, especially women. What they come back with is they don't really trust Republicans on these issues. Number one, so whether they say 15 weeks or 10 weeks or whatever. And the second is that they see this as more than just about abortion, that they see this as fundamentally a freedom issue.

BASH: OK. Everybody standby, because up next. The South Carolina primary, it's only two days away. Nikki Haley's fate may be on the line. I'm going to talk with one of our top supporters Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. He's here next.