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Inside Politics

Today: Trump, Haley Campaign In SC Ahead Of Tomorrow's Primary; Republicans Race To Distance Themselves From Alabama IVF Ruling; Embryo Ruling Opens New Front In Election-Year Abortion Battle; World Marks Two Years Since Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine; White House Blasts House GOP For Blocking Ukraine Aid; Ukraine Support Faces Evolution From Speaker To Speaker; Biden: Putin Must "Pay The Price" Or "He Will Keep Going". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, political gravity catches up to Republicans. Two years after Dobbs and Alabama court decision careens into the campaign trail and makes a congressional flame thrower look like the voice of reason. Why IVF rolling has Republicans searching for a response.

Plus, Ukraine's fight for survival turns too. It enters year three of trying to beat back Vladimir Putin's invasion with a significant battlefield loss, coupled with fears of losing the financial support of its American allies. And Senator Elizabeth Warren joins me live to talk about that IVF decision and why she disagrees with some of her fellow progressives who are fed up with the Biden presidency.

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

Up first, don't stop thinking about tomorrow. Tomorrow is the South Carolina primary. And it may prove pivotal for Donald Trump, fatal for Nikki Haley or something in between. But the Republican Party finds itself less focused on that and more focused on finding an acceptable answer to this question. What do Republicans tell parents who want to start a family but need to try IVF.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Kristen, I want to talk about how the campaigns and Republicans in general are reacting to that. But first, we just got a brand-new ad from Nikki Haley's Super PAC. I shouldn't say SFA, the Super PAC that supports her. It's very harsh on Donald Trump. Listen to this.


I mean, washed up failures. That's I'm sure going to be something that hits pretty hard inside the Trump campaign, personally as well.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is Dana. And Nikki Haley has continued to outspend Donald Trump to move the Super PAC and the campaign pumping out these ads. But I am reminded of something that happened before we even got to the Iowa caucuses, which was that the Club for Growth and the Super PAC that supports Club for Growth that was trying to run any single Republican candidate against Donald Trump.

Put out a memo saying that every single type of ad that they put out didn't work. That actually any kind of different structure, made some Republican voters even more likely to vote for Donald Trump. And the reason I say that here is because it does appear that that's what's happening in South Carolina.

He is leading in this state by 30 points. Despite the fact that she is outspent him. Despite the fact that she has outpaced him on the campaign trail. Despite the fact that she was the governor of this state. He does appear to steamroll her. And it's not just in South Carolina, it's also the Super Tuesday states. He's leading in all of them as well.

BASH: That -- again, that was an outside group. It wasn't her campaign, but she continues to say that if she doesn't get the nomination, she will support a Donald Trump washed up or not. I want to turn to this Alabama court ruling that embryos have the same rights as children, which is now a dominant political story.

What are you hearing from the Trump campaign specifically? It's very noteworthy that he hasn't said anything about it yet.

HOLMES: Yeah, Dana, it's no worthy, but it's also not that surprising given how he feels about abortion on the campaign trail. So, what we've seen from Donald Trump time and time again, is this wanting to walk the line between being the architect of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by appointing those three justices. But also, not wanting to talk about abortion at all when he thinks that politically it will not help him.

But it's starting to feel more and more like a general election, particularly when you're hearing Joe Biden President and Democrats go after Republicans and Donald Trump's campaign specifically on this issue, on this Alabama ruling that said the frozen embryos were people and linking it to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And we haven't heard any sort of response from Donald Trump or from the campaign.


But again, it doesn't seem that surprising given the fact that he still has not figured out how to message on abortion when it comes to a general election. Even just last night at an event, he was going between taking credit for the fact that Roe v. Wade was overturned. And also telling the crowd that people needed to win elections, which is his line for -- essentially saying, stop talking about abortion so people can get elected.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We also have to remember that we have to have people elected. So, some things that you feel, and you have to go with your heart. You have to stay with that. You have to stay with your heart, but you have to get elected. You have to get people elected.


HOLMES: That is certainly walking a line if I've ever heard one. And clearly the Republicans and Donald Trump, if he is in fact the nominee are going to have to figure out their messaging on abortion, particularly after this ruling that has really captivated the country.

BASH: Yeah, no question about that. Yes, he's walking a line. And if he assuming he is in the general election, this is not going to be an easy issue for him to walk away from. Thank you so much, Kristen. Appreciate it.

And the Alabama embryo decision has Republicans as we were talking about back on their heels, struggling to respond to an unpopular court ruling that virtually no one wants to defend, not even hardline conservative warriors like Congressman Matt Gaetz. Listen to what he told my colleague, Abby Phillip last night.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I believe the Alabama law needs to change because the republican party cannot be the party against family formation.


BASH: I want to bring in my great panel to talk about all of this, CNN's Gloria Borger, Hans Nichols of Axios, and the Boston Globe's Jackie Kucinich. Edge. I mean, that Matt Gaetz comment was so concise. I mean, he obviously knows how to talk in a soundbite. But the fact that he's clearly leading the way on messaging on this to try to move the Republican Party back to the middle is astonishing.

On that note, we just got a memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. This is the committee that is in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate, very, very important. Listen to what they just said about this IVF issue.

This is the recommendation to Senate candidates. Republicans, clearly state your support for IVF. And fertility rated certain services as blessings for those seeking to have children, publicly oppose any efforts to restrict access to IVF and other fertility treatments, advocate for policies that increase access to fertility treatments.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there you go. I mean, it couldn't be any clearer. This is all they needed. I'm sure they ran to the medicine chest looking for some Advil after they heard this ruling.

BASH: Or something stronger?

BORGER: Yeah. I mean, it was written in theological terms in many ways by the chief judge there. And it -- you know, they have enough trouble with the issue of abortion and the Dobbs decision. And this is supposed to be a party that is pro family. And what this does is it hurts women's chances -- family's chances of growing. And, you know, I think most people in Congress understand that, maybe Tommy Tuberville didn't. But I think that, you know, because he said he supported the decision, but then he said he wanted families to grow.

BASH: Let's listen to that Tommy Tuberville, who not only is a conservative Republican happens to represent the state of Alabama.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE, (R-AL): You know, you just got to look at everything going on in the country. It's just attack on families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't you concerned that this could impact people who are trying to have kids?

TUBERVILLE: Well, that's for another conversation. I think the big thing is right now you protect. You go back to the situation and try to work it out to where it's best for everybody. People need to have access. People who need to have -- we need more kids.


BASH: Would you like to translate, Jackie?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I don't know what IVF is. Is what that -- that seemed to indicate. No, but this has been -- if you've worked in a shoe (Ph), Gloria is absolutely right. It's very hard for Republicans to talk about. They've tried to land in like -- weird middle ground. They say some restrictions are OK.

I mean, Glenn Youngkin, you could argue last -- wasn't able to get majorities in the -- in both houses of the Virginia legislature, because he decided -- because abortion was such a big issue and he landed on the 15th week. It is just not something that they've know how to talk about, and this just adds another layer of, you know, problems for them on this issue.


BASH: Nikki Haley is maybe Exhibit A of the evolution, and this trend is kind of trying to walk on what she clearly sees as a political landmine and try to have firm flooding. First, she said earlier this week that she very much agrees that embryos are our babies. And then she finally came to the question that people are asking about -- separate from that, which is about the ruling itself. Listen to what she told Jake Tapper.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You then disagree with the Alabama Supreme Court, right?

NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yeah. But I think that the court was doing it based on the law. And I think Alabama needs to go back and look at the law. All you have to do is make sure that parents are protected. And make sure that there is a scenario where these embryos are protected. The rest is between the parents and the doctor.


BASH: And Hans, just to kind of give our viewers a sense of how widespread the use of IVF is to grow families. 2023, 42 percent of people said that they either have used fertility treatments or know somebody who has. I mean, that's a pretty big jump even from 2018.

HANS NICHOLS, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah. I mean, we all know this from our conversations from friends, like IVF is part of American culture, it's part of western culture. It doesn't seem to be that debatable and the theological terms that your description there was pretty telling about what the court did.

To me what's interesting on this that Republican reaction isn't necessarily the content, right? We get Tuberville muddle that, like he was a little bit confused, right? Like, when we look at Matt Gaetz said, you look at all the House Republicans that are representing Biden districts, they were very quick to come out and say, no, I am pro IVF.

And so, I think the broader point even with this NRSC memo, it's so clear. The content isn't that surprising, but the speed is. And sometimes speed tells you ---


NICHOLS: OK. 18 Republicans last night were pretty fast.

BASH: Yeah.

NICHOLS: Like Congress isn't out. Some of this is on us.

BASH: Yeah, that's true.

NICHOLS: Katie Britt, like the other senator from Alabama spoke to her local outlet and came out. You know, again, it's -- we can have a debate on how fast ---

BASH: Yeah.

NICHOLS: But they did seem to move faster. They certainly did on Doobs, certainly did on some of the other cultural issues.

BASH: That's true.

NICHOLS: And so, they're now at a place now where they're trying to defend sort of being pro family prolife and pro IVF. They still haven't scored the circle though, which is what you do with the -- what do you do with embryos? If you're for IVF, what do you do with embryos that haven't been -- haven't been used to create life or take the next step? And forgive me if any of my language is inexact here, but they still haven't solved that. None of those answers I heard solve that issue.

BASH: And it's very difficult. It's about as complicated.


BORGER: A very complicated. And also, another political complication is that the Arden (Ph) pro-life groups are applauding this decision. So, the Republicans who are pro-life are caught here because a lot of their supporters are saying this is exactly what we want. Life begins in the dish, and it doesn't -- and this is what we've been saying all along. And so, what is the Republican Party do about that? Because there is going to be a big split on that as well.

BASH: Yeah. All right, everybody standby. Because up next, President Biden is marketing two years of the war in Ukraine with a slew of new sanctions against Vladimir Putin's Russia to talk about that next.




BASH: Today the Biden administration leveled the largest single day round of sanctions on Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine. Last hour, President Biden said, Putin is responsible for the brutal war on Ukraine and needs to pay the price for his actions.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: That's why I'm announcing more than 500 new sanctions and responses. And respond to Putin's brutal war of conquest and response to Alexei Navalny's death. Because make no mistake, Putin is responsible. We in the United States are going to continue ensure that Putin pays a price for his aggression abroad and repression at home.


BASH: Those more than 500 new sanctions had individuals. The White House says are directly connected to the imprisonment and death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and two years of war in Ukraine.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins me now live on the ground in southern Ukraine. I'm sure, Nick, that in Ukraine there is -- they're happy about the sanctions on Russia. But would be more happy if Congress would pass the aid that Ukraine says it desperately needs.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, realistically the U.S. had been borrowing into their toolkit of sanctions over the past two years, always trying to find that sweet spot of escalating without damaging the U.S. economy by doing something like for example, interrupting the crude oil trade and raising oil prices. But ultimately, it is that $60 billion worth of aid that really would make Ukrainians here feel better. And that is certainly held up the sanctions. Well, we kind of see over time really how effective they are. Because a lot of the time Russia has become exceptionally resilient -- able to work around the shell companies used, for example, to import specific bits of technology from the U.S. that they use in missiles or drones, for example, to or use complex measures in terms of international shipping to get around some of the sanctions on their sale of crude oil.

So, a very complex procedure that the U.S has because ultimately, they have to keep U.S. interested economically at heart as well. But Ukraine, I think trying to sell a complex message at the moment about strength on the frontline, holding back multiple different frontline assaults by Russia. But also, to appealing to their western allies how desperately they need those $60 billion.


Some of that perhaps accentuated by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's recent interview to Fox News. I mentioned that media outlet because it is essentially part of trying to appeal to the GOP constituency whose hardline area are essentially behind holding up that $60 billion. We heard about in December how it will take weeks, maybe months for that to be in evidence on the frontline one of the weekend and the withdrawal from Avdiivka.

Ukraine made it clear they are suffering deeply on the frontline. Now, as I say there are four to five multiple other areas where Russians are pushing forward. These sanctions may over time limit that possibly, but ultimately, if they're $60 billion, and real assistance to Ukraine, it will make an absolute difference, Dana.

BASH: No question about it. Nick, thank you so much for your reporting. Appreciate it. And our panel is back now. This is part of -- now obviously part of the political discussion, the campaign discussion. So much so that the Biden White House, not the campaign, but the White House is attacking Republicans in a very big way over there dragging their feet, and in some ways just total opposition to helping Ukraine at this point. This is just came out.

Andrew Bates, who's the deputy press secretary at the White House. Said, Speaker Johnson is siding with Putin, the regime in Tehran and his perceived intra-conference political objectives over the wellbeing of the American people, Ukraine, and NATO. I think just to translate, intra-conference political objectives. What it means that the Republicans are fighting amongst themselves and he's choosing those who are not for Ukraine.

NICHOLS: Yeah. I think that was the intro, not the inter.

BASH: Yeah.


NICHOLS: And I'm sorry, Mrs. Johnson, I never got it right. Look, the White House is going to put out statements like this, they're going to continue to escalate. This is a fight that they want to have. And they think it's worth having. There's the political side of this, which they think cuts in their favor. They think that the polling clearly indicates. The public is on their side.

But talk to any White House official privately or publicly. And they will say, they'd much rather have the aid. What they want is what Nick Paton Walsh was talking about, which is the $60 billion. It is so crucial, and no one inside the White House disputes that and the time is short.

KUCINICH: I mean, they're dealing with a speaker who doesn't have control. He does not have control of his Republican conference and Republican voters -- particularly from some of these more conservative members are not in favor of aid. And that's who they're listening to. The isolationism has really taken root, particularly in the House Republican conference. And Johnson hasn't really shown his ability to navigate himself out of much that he has ---

BASH: What a difference just a couple of years have made? I want you to listen to what the former Speaker Kevin McCarthy said back in 2022. And now what the current speaker Mike Johnson is saying.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I vote for aid for Ukraine. I support aid for Ukraine.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): There are important questions that must be answered, so that we can continue with these negotiations. Among those is what is the objective. What is the endgame in Ukraine?


BASH: The endgame is defend democracy.

BORGER: Rush back Putin ---


BORGER: Yeah, things like that. But one of those is speaker and one of those isn't speaker. And I think what Johnson is trying to do quite boldly is save his own job that it really is as easy as that. And he's trying to figure out a way to do that.

And you know, don't forget, there's a to Israel tied up in all of this. There's the issue of border security tied up in all of this. But he needs to get a vote where it's carried by Republicans and not with Democrats because it would pass in the House, Democrats would vote for it. And then he would go down with the ship. And he knows that. So, he's got a bit of a problem there.

But I think from the Democratic point of view and from the White House point of view, it's a political -- a good political move to tie this to Putin because Putin is not well liked in this country, maybe by some people, maybe by Donald Trump. But the more you tie this to being a Putin ally, the easier it is to make that argument, I think.

BASH: And it is interesting that you're right. This is -- we've all said that this is coming from the grassroots of the conservative, more isolationist wing of the GOP, which is why as Nick Paton Walsh pointed out. Volodymyr Zelenskyy went on Fox News to try to reach those very viewers slash voters.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: So, will Ukrainian survive without Congress support? Of course, but not all of us. And if we understand this surprise. If the world is ready for this. OK, you will see it, but it's tragedy.


NICHOLS: Well, he's laying in a very starkly, right? That's the decision for Congress to make. As to this sort of broader question is are the votes there in the House and the Senate? Yeah, right. I mean, like we've all had these conversations. The votes are there. Now, I don't know whether or not Ukraine aid or a government funding bill is going to be -- is going to sign a potential death warrant for the current speaker. I don't know which one is more politically toxic.


They are probably gaming this out. They're thinking about it. There is a view within the Republican conference that they have to get caught trying to put up a really good fight. And so, they want to continue to -- there's this idea of make it look difficult and eventually you could get there. But I'm not convinced they get there on either of them. And that's why these next few weeks are going to be interesting domestically and on the forefront.

BORGER: Well, it's historic. And, you know, Joe Biden points have out at every opportunity for this country to be on the side of Ukraine. It's almost as if he's saying, don't be appeasers here, because what you'll be doing is appeasing Vladimir Putin.

BASH: It is 2024 and it is primary season and there is one tomorrow. That's in South Carolina. The expectation is that voters will deliver Donald Trump a resounding win. But the question is, then what? I'm going to ask two Republicans who have been on the inside after a quick break.