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Inside Politics

Sen. Scott Says Haley Should "Get Out Of The Way"; Polls Show Trump With Huge Lead In Haley's Home State; One-On-One With New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu; Biden Embraces Bully Pulpit With New Attacks On Trump, GOP; San Diego To Get Pandas From China In "Not-So- Distant Future". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: South Carolina's Republican primary is just two days away and Nikki Haley and Donald Trump are taking different approaches in the final stretch. Haley is crisscrossing her home state today while Trump will be speaking at the National Religious Broadcasters Association in Nashville, Tennessee.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us live from Berkeley County Library outside of Charleston. Lucky you, Jeff. I know you just caught up with the former presidential candidate who endorsed Donald Trump, Tim Scott. What did he tell you?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, hey, Dana. Senator Scott was dropping by the library here to vote. It's still early voting in South Carolina. In fact, this is the last day of early voting in the presidential race, and there's been a steady stream of voters coming in here to cast ballots, as we've been talking to them, for Nikki Haley and for Donald Trump.

Of course, Senator Scott is now a big supporter of Donald Trump. He cast his vote for him. But we asked him about the trajectory of this race, and if he believes Nikki Haley should step aside after Saturday.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): The one person that stands in the way of having a conversation between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is Nikki Haley. And so getting out of the way is incredibly important, not for the party, but for America's future.


ZELENY: So, of course, there is no love lost between former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott. She appointed him to his position more than a decade ago, but they were rivals on the presidential campaign trail, and they really have been in other ways as well.

So he's urging her to step aside. She, of course, has been saying she is going nowhere. She is competing very aggressively for this South Carolina primary. She said she's going on to Michigan next week onto the Super Tuesday states the week after that.

But Dana, the big question here hanging over this race, can Nikki Haley slow the march to the nomination of Donald Trump? Can she slow some of his rise? So much has happened really since the New Hampshire primary, of course, on the world stage as well as in the courtroom here at home.

So many voters we're talking to are saying that they are indeed following them. So the question on Haley's voters' minds is what comes next for her. Many believe she should stay in this race. Others say if she gets out, they're not sure they can vote in the November election.

But for her part, all systems are campaigning until Saturday. She's really aggressively trying to get out the vote. And as of now, the early vote about 165,000 people have voted so far on this final day of voting here. So she's not giving up by any stretch. She believes South Carolina is still very competitive.

We'll see you on Saturday, Dana.

BASH: Jeff, thanks so much for that reporting.

Here now is New Hampshire Governor and Nikki Haley supporter, Chris Sununu. Thank you so much for being here. What do you think some of the answers are to the questions that Jeff just posed down there from South Carolina voters? We're hearing this nationally from Republicans, which is, she's adamant she's staying in the race. What's the end game?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Well, again, you know, I'm going to start with Tim Scott's comments, right, which is Nikki Haley is in the way. Well, that means the process is working, right? Because the process shouldn't just be garnering and granting a nomination to someone because the party elite say or just because a couple of states say you got to let the process and the process is the voters, right?

So whether it's South Carolina going into Super Tuesday. Nikki has been raising money like crazy. She's got resources. She got a lot of folks behind her. In a lot of those Super Tuesday states, they've barely even started campaigning, really, so that she has the ground troops there working with Americans for prosperity, all these other conservative groups that have gotten behind her.

So there's a path. And it's not just slowing the former president down, that's not what it's about, it's about actually making her case. Why, you know, this isn't just about the nomination, but winning in November, having other seats win in November, the value that she brings to the entire ticket and moving the entire party forward from a generational standpoint.

BASH: A path to what?

SUNUNU: To the presidency. Yes, Nikki's not going to get -- Nikki's plan right now is to be president, as it should be.

[12:35:04] BASH: But to do that, she has to win delegates and --

SUNUNU: And she --

BASH: -- never mind South Carolina, but going forward --

SUNUNU: She's winning delegates. She's collecting those delegates. She's --

BASH: There's a lot of winner take all states.

SUNUNU: There are. And that's the whole point. There's a lot of states to go, right? And I think that's the point. We've had two states. So anyone who thinks that we should just give up the nomination process just because two states and a few hundred thousand voters --

BASH: But she's not trying to make a point. You think she, genuinely, truth serum. Can win the nomination.

SUNUNU: It can happen. Absolutely. Look, she's the underdog. Look, just because you're the underdog going against the favorite and you're down by a few points in the first quarter doesn't mean you walk off the court and give up in the game. I'm from New England, right?

When the Yankees are up three games to nothing, we don't stop. You know, there's always a path to victory here. And especially in politics. If we've learned anything over the past few years, anything can happen at any time. So she's going to stay in it. She's going to collect delegates. She's going to keep moving forward.

At least through Super Tuesday, I think she should at least. And she's got the resources and the backing to do it.

BASH: I want you to listen to something that Governor Haley said about the former president. She said this just yesterday. And it's in the wake of his refusal to condemn Russian leader Vladimir Putin following the death of Alexei Navalny.


NIKKI HALEY (R), U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is siding with a dictator who kills his political opponents. Trump is siding with a tyrant who arrests American journalists and holds them hostage. Trump sided with an evil man over our allies who stood with us at 9/11? Think about what that told them.


BASH: Do you agree with that?

SUNUNU: Yes. Look, Trump is making huge mistakes on the international stage, and there's a lot of conservatives, a lot of Republicans, a lot of folks in the military going, whoa, what is going on here? Right? So that's kind of why I go back to anything can happen.

Now, he's still garnering strong polls because he gets all this victimization and he, you know, every time he shows up in court, he does better. He knows that now. He loves these court cases. They're helping him politically. A lot of the calculus right now on the Republican Party.

It's not that complex. It's, well, the enemy of the -- my enemy is my friend. That's what a lot of just run of the mill Republicans think. And if it's president company excluded, of course, the liberal media or the liberalist establishment or those folks that are, you know, unfairly -- that they claim are unfairly dragging him --

BASH: Yes.

SUNUNU: -- through the trials, they say, well, if they're going against him, then he must be with us. And that's as deep as the calculations going for some folks.

BASH: OK. So put that -- that's your sort of analysis of where voters are. I want to ask you as the governor of an important state about your calculus with your vote. Despite everything that you just said, take the court cases aside, just what he said on the international stage.


BASH: You still will support him as the nominee if he does become your party's nominee?

SUNUNU: Look, I'm the Republican governor of New Hampshire. I'm going to support the nominee. I'm fighting as hard as I can to make sure that that's not the case. I think Nikki still has a shot. A lot of folks just want to dismiss her. I think she definitely has a shot.

But let's also remember, the average American right now, polls -- Trump is winning in some polls because the average American is saying, if I may, these elitists, specifically out of Washington, D.C., these liberals are standing on the shoulders of how this country was built and defended, telling us how to live our lives, we just want to connect with someone that has a fight.

Nikki has that fight, and that's why she's doing well. Trump just has this brand of 30 years that a lot of folks --

BASH: Yes.

SUNUNU: -- are going to get behind.

BASH: And I understand that analysis.


BASH: It makes perfect sense. But for you, in particular, I guess a lot of people, just like Nikki Haley, is saying that she would still support him. It's a bit confounding to how --

SUNUNU: You know, the alternative is Joe Biden, right? I mean --

BASH: So you genuinely think that Donald Trump --

SUNUNU: Joe Biden can take it off a stage.

BASH: You generally think Donald Trump would be a better president --

SUNUNU: And, by the way, it's not Joe Biden --

BASH: Given everything --


BASH: Donald Trump would be a better president than Joe Biden, despite all of the things that Nikki Haley said that you agree with, like, he's siding with dictators who kills political opponents and so on and so forth.

SUNUNU: Look, it's not just Joe Biden, it's the Kamala Harris factor, right? I mean, is Biden going to --

BASH: But he's running against Joe Biden.

SUNUNU: Right now he's -- I don't think Biden's ultimately on the ticket. That's a whole other conversation we can have, but, I mean, I've been predicting that for nine months. I think it's going to come true, but at the end of the day --

BASH: But the bottom line is that you will still support Donald Trump despite your serious reservations.

SUNUNU: Yes, yes. Look, it's a primary. We're going to go at each other, of course. But at the end of the day, Washington is completely inept. That's why I'm a governor. I love governors.

If you want to see where stuff gets done, and where people still have some faith in government, it's at the governor's level, right? That's one of the reasons why I like Nikki so much. She was a governor. She understands accountability. She understands that concept, and bringing that to Washington is such an opportunity.

BASH: Let me just turn to what's happening in Alabama. The Supreme Court --


BASH: -- there ruled that frozen embryos are children. It's already having a chilling effect on IVF in that state. Two facilities have already paused treatment. Do you agree with the ruling?

SUNUNU: No. No, no. I definitely don't agree with the ruling. I definitely believe it's going to up the -- it's obviously having a chilling effect on IVF. You want to make sure that those services are available. That's critical. But these -- it's a great point. Unfortunately, these are states issues now, right?

[12:40:05] So the people that affects the most are right there in Alabama. Those voters are going to have to decide whether this is the leadership in the direction they want. Probably not a decision you'd get New Hampshire or would be supported New Hampshire or California or Missouri.

Every state is going to be different, right? And so these -- whether on all these history of abortion and pro-life, pro-choice and all that, it's all driven at the state -- at state level right now. Very little is going to ever happen again at the federal level because you're going to need 60 U.S. senators to vote on anything.

Neither side is going to get that anytime soon. So this is where the -- really conversations have to happen. And the only upside to this is, I would hope the voters in Alabama say, well, this is not what we want, and they make some sort of change electorally.

BASH: So you don't think there's any national role here?

SUNUNU: Well --

BASH: I mean, this is, again, this is --

SUNUNU: Practically speaking, no. You're not going to get 60 votes for much that you do unless you have a really consensus --

BASH: Never mind the practical speaking should there. Should this be one issue that the federal government says, you know what, if people want to expand their families and we --


BASH: -- the party says -- a lot of people say we're pro-life.

SUNUNU: Yes, I could agree more. Look, you're talking to a guy who never wanted Roe v. Wade undone in the first place.

BASH: Right.

SUNUNU: But it was undone. I try to live in the now, live in the practical, live in what the reality is, which is, it's a state's issue right now. And every state is, I think over the next three or four years, every state's going to have this bumpy road of finding out where this comes, whether it's on the number of weeks, what IVF is, viability, all this kind of stuff.

As you said earlier, it's a very personal issue, it's a very -- it can be a regional and political issue. I don't think it's political --

BASH: Are you worried that politically it could hurt Republicans across the country?

SUNUNU: It has to hurt Republicans.

BASH: Backlash. SUNUNU: No, look, the abortion issue as a whole, Republicans usually are floundering all over the place trying to figure out where they need. One of the reasons why Nikki's pro-life, and I'm pro-choice, but we both have the same, you know, philosophy in terms of the policies, which are, you got to let the states decide, because that's the role. And let's not try to overly campaign on something that's just not going to happen out of Washington, D.C.

BASH: Just really briefly, I wanted to ask you about the chief justice in Alabama. I know Alabama is not New Hampshire --


BASH: -- like for a million reasons.

SUNUNU: I've not gotten his Christmas card.

BASH: But what he said was he gave a theological view on the sanctity of life. And in the end of part of his opinion, he said, human life cannot be wrongly -- wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God who views the destruction of his image as an affront to himself. Does it concern you that people will read that who are, you know, worried about the Republican Party, the rise of Christian nationalism and say, aha?

SUNUNU: Well, so I think there's two issues. Number one, I mean, you have the separation of church and state and using theology and opinions and all of that. I don't -- again, let's not start bashing Christians and folks that believe --


SUNUNU: -- you know, wholeheartedly and --

BASH: It's Christianity vis-a-vis --

SUNUNU: Yes, I mean --

BASH: -- government policy.

SUNUNU: It sounds to me like obviously that judge overstepped his bounds in terms of using those arguments to make his case, right? If you based everything on religion, your own personal religion behind the bench, it would be chaos everywhere, right? Everyone would just kind of make up as they go and whatever they believe in the moment.

There are rules. You have to make sure you're following the law and that's what the court needs to do. So I can't speak to that too much other than to say, I don't think that would fly in a place like New Hampshire and in most states. But, again, the voters have a say. The voters can say, look, this is not the leadership we want.

BASH: Yes.

SUNUNU: This is not the direction we want to go and leave it to those folks that are right on the ground there. And, you know, obviously, I hope they make the change. I think most folks hope they do as well.

BASH: Always great to have a spirited conversation with you.

SUNUNU: You bet.

BASH: Governor, thank you so much for being here.

SUNUNU: Thank you.

BASH: Appreciate it.

And a reminder to join CNN for live results and analysis of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Coverage begins on Saturday, 6 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Up next, Joe Biden unloads on Donald Trump off camera, but on the record, what he said after a quick break.



BASH: Now to some new CNN reporting on how President Biden is embracing his bully pulpit to call out his political opponents. It's a tactic that's become more pronounced in recent days. And when it comes to what Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are saying about Russia, Ukraine and NATO, he says it very forcefully.

For instance, at a fundraiser in San Francisco yesterday, he went off on Trump comparing himself to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Quote, "He's comparing himself to Navalny and saying that because our country's becomes more communist country, he was persecuted just like Navalny was persecuted." Biden added that if he had said that, you'd all think I should be committed.

Biden also went after hardline Republicans for stalled Ukraine aid. Now, the reason why you're seeing that in a quote and not hearing him say that is because he was talking in a behind closed doors, on the record, off camera, at a fundraiser.

And CNN's Arlette Saenz is here. Arlette, you're going to give us some new reporting. And as you bring that to us about how aggressive he's being, I'm interested in hearing what you're hearing from your sources about the avenues and the venues that he's using places where there are no cameras.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, we're seeing President Biden turning to using the bully pulpit more forcefully at a time when he's really trying to drive this contrast between him and former President Donald Trump, as well as Republicans when it comes to the issues of Russia and Ukraine.

And we've seen this start to play out in two different types of venues. First, really over the last week and a half, he, here at the White House in public events, he's more forcefully taking on Trump, even citing his name specifically in his attack, something that he's typically saved for the campaign trail speeches or fundraisers.


But also the president is really becoming a bit more unplugged in some of these fundraisers that he has with high-dollar donors. He so far this week has had three fundraisers out in California. He'll have another one today where he really offered his unvarnished thoughts when it came to Trump, when it came to Putin, calling Putin a crazy SOB.

And we know that part of this is because the president is personally incensed by the fact that Trump has made these comments suggesting that Vladimir Putin should do whatever the hell he wants to NATO countries. The president was aghast by that comment.

He's also frustrated with the fact that Putin -- that Trump has not condemned Putin for Alexei Navalny's death. But Biden's also going after Republicans in the House as well. And last night even suggested that they are worse than Strom Thurmond. Strom Thurmond, of course, was the noted segregationist in the Senate. The president really tried to drive home a lot of these arguments and some of it is happening in those closed door fundraisers.

BASH: Arlette, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

Up next, San Diego is getting a giant and furry delivery from China. We'll explain next.



BASH: Today, proof that diplomacy comes in all shapes and sizes. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance confirms to CNN that the facility will get a loan. One that will require lots of bamboo. You're watching some old panda video, because why not? We all love watching video like this, especially given what we may see happen in the not-so-distant future.

China sending two pandas to San Diego sometime soon. Now it's a revival of the country's panned (ph) appeasement program. Beijing had greenlit shipping pandas to several European countries and Qatar in recent years, but not to the United States, it appears, until now.

Thanks for joining INSIDE POLITICS. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after the break.