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Tomorrow: South Carolina Holds Its Republican Primary; Embryo Ruling Opens New Front In Election-Year Abortion Battle; One-On-One With Senator Elizabeth Warren; Biden Considering Border Crackdown, New Asylum Restrictions; "United States Of Scandal" Sunday 9PM ET/PT. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: We are one day out from the South Carolina primary. The polls show Donald Trump is going to win, bigly. But Nikki Haley says even an embarrassing loss in her home state won't force her out of the race.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm not doing this for me. Like, they wanted -- first, they wanted to say that I was -- I wanted to be vice president. I think I've pretty much proven that is not what I'm trying to do. Then they were talking about my political future. I don't care about a political future. If I did, I would have been out by now.


BASH: Donald Trump says he doesn't get it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I guess she's got an ego or something. I don't know exactly what she's doing. Maybe she's looking for a job in some form at CNN or MSDNC. You know, she is looking for something.


BASH: Well, let's try to make sense of all of this. We have two experts. Whit Ayres is a seasoned GOP consultant and founder of the North Star Opinion Research -- of North Star Opinion Research, I should say. And Kevin Madden is an alum of Mitt Romney's two presidential runs in 2008 and 2012. He's also a senior partner at Penta Group.

Nice to see you both.



BASH: OK, well let's start with what we just heard and just kind of the big picture of what is happening in South Carolina and more broadly with what remains of this primary.

AYRES: Dana, Donald Trump is likely to win for two fundamental reasons. The first is that South Carolina has historically been a Republican establishment state where elected officials have had a substantial influence. Bob Dole over Lamar Alexander in '96, George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000, and John McCain over Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Now it may seem weird to talk about Donald Trump as an establishment, but the Republican National Committee is in his pocket, all the elected officials are for him and that kind of defines the establishment. So that's one thing.

BASH: Yes.

AYRES: The other thing is the incredible weakness of Joe Biden. We have now three quarters of the country who think we're going the wrong direction. He's got a majority of the country disapproves of his job performance. And now we have a new poll that says 86 percent of Americans think he's too old to serve effectively in a second term. 86 percent.

Dana, 86 percent of Americans don't agree on anything. Except Joe Biden's too old to run.

BASH: Let's go back to just -- to what's going to happen in South Carolina, because the first point that you made about the party establishment, you're right, we should take a moment and say the fact that Donald Trump is establishment now is true, but it's just like, just let that sink in for a second.

But this is something that caught our attention. It was in the New Yorker this morning. And it is a quote from Ralph Norman, who is a Republican congressman there, supporter of Nikki Haley. "People ask me all the time, why are you the only one? Well, she upset the stature of the good-ol-boys system", he said.

And this is something that she says all the time. And maybe it's true.

MADDEN: Well, look, that's how she defined her political profile --

BASH: Yes.

MADDEN: -- when she won as governor many years back and beat a, you know, beat a -- got through a primary of a lot of the sort of establishment down there, and then emerged as a national figure. But the interesting thing here is this hasn't been much of a campaign.

You know, I joke around with a lot of reporters. They're like, well, I want to talk to you about the campaign. I was like, what campaign? We've -- you know, we've both worked on campaigns, you've covered how many now, Dana, right? I mean --

BASH: A lot.

MADDEN: But South Carolina was where all the fun was, right? We used to have debates that really -- I mean, that the polls used to shift back and forth depending on what happened in Iowa and New Hampshire. And then we would go down to New Hampshire.

And I remember all the political operatives I used to work with down there, they used to say, hey, you know, we don't just go through the motions down here, this is hard, rough and tumble politics. And this is a campaign where it's been very quiet, we haven't really seen the contrast between candidates, the attacks.

BASH: Because -- it's because he's so far ahead, right?

MADDEN: Exactly.

BASH: I mean, is there any world --


BASH: -- in which you could see what we're saying now?


MADDEN: No, I don't see it. Paul Begala had a great saying back in the day. He said, you know, campaigns are driven by media coverage of four things, polls, money, scandals and attacks. The polls have been pretty --

BASH: Steady.

MADDEN: -- stable, right? Trump's been very far ahead, right? The money, like, there's not been a whole lot of stories about resource debates or resource fights or anything like that, because the most we've seen, like, upsurges in Nikki Haley's fundraising depending on her performance in some of the debates.

Haven't really had any scandals, at least maybe we've become a nerd to what this --

BASH: Yes. I mean, is there --

MADDEN: -- what the fuck is a scandal, right?

BASH: Yes, yes, yes.

MADDEN: And then the attacks --

BASH: 91 counts --

MADDEN: -- haven't come until too late.

BASH: Yes.

MADDEN: So, there hasn't really been a campaign.

BASH: You know -- go ahead.

AYRES: I was just going to say, this is where Biden's weakness is relevant. Because Nikki Haley's best argument for the people who voted for Trump twice but were worried he might not be able to win, was, I can beat Biden, Trump can't. And that was true for a while.

But now all the polls are showing that Trump is beating Biden in all the swing states. If the election were held today, Donald Trump would win an Electoral College landslide. Not popular vote, he'd get his 46 percent, 47 percent, but he'd win in a landslide. And so that undercuts the very best argument that Nikki Haley had to make in this race. And that took a lot of wind out of her sails.

BASH: Yes, that's a really interesting point, although I would say that there's a question about whether -- even if that were still the case, if Joe Biden were doing better, people would even listen because they're so focused on the GOP electorate on Donald Trump.

Thank you both. Appreciate you both coming on.

MADDEN: My pleasure.

AYRES: Great to be with you.

BASH: Thank you.

Up next, Senator Elizabeth Warren will be here. We'll talk about that Alabama embryo decision and whether some of her fellow progressives are right to be frustrated with President Biden. Stay with us.



BASH: Shockwaves across the nation after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the same rights as children. The decision throws the future of in vitro fertilization in the state and maybe even more broadly into question.

Joining me now to talk about this and more is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Thank you so much for being here, senator. You have been sounding the alarm since Roe versus Wade was overturned, arguing that restricting abortion access could only be the beginning and then access to fertility treatment could be next.

My question for you is, on the abortion issue, federal legislation, just because of the numbers in Congress looks unlikely, but what about fertility. Could what happened in Alabama prompt some form of federal legislation on fertility?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You know, you're asking a Democrat? Of course, we'd be very, very happy --

BASH: Well, you also know the numbers. WARREN: -- to move legislation. That's right. So that the women who want access to fertility treatments can make their own decisions, but we're up against the wall with the Republicans. The Republicans are telling us over and over and over who they are, and they are people who are captured by the idea that extremist judges and right-wing extremists in their own party are the ones who will make decisions for women, intimate decisions about our bodies and our futures.

And it's true on abortion, and now they've made clear it is true on in vitro fertilization. This really is about who makes decisions. And the Republicans say right now as a party, it is their position. Decisions about women and women's health should be made by extremist judges and mega politicians. Democrats say they should be made by women and their doctors.

BASH: Yes. I mean, not for nothing, 30 percent to 40 percent of all infertility cases are male factor, not female factor. But, you know, you mentioned about Republicans and kind of where they are on the policy on abortion. On this particular issue, I'm sure you've seen a lot of Republicans are struggling to figure out how to message, how to respond to Alabama's court ruling.

I want you to listen to something that Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz told my colleague Abby Phillip last night.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Like something is totally wrong. People who want to have a family should have the government and the law on their side. And the notion that discarded embryos in an IVF somehow turn these people who want children and want families and want the American dream into criminals is really wrong.


BASH: Did you ever think -- I assume you agree with what he just said -- did you ever think that you would agree with Matt Gaetz on this issue of all things?

WARREN: So, look, he's right, but what's he planning to do about it? And what is his party planning to do about it? Are they really going to stand up and introduce legislation? If they are, and the Republicans are ready to go, we can change the law right now.

But that's not where they are. They are beholden to this extremist wing of their party. Donald Trump enabled them by getting an extremist Supreme Court that overturned Roe versus Wade. And they've made it clear, that is only the first step in taking over these intimate decisions that women make.

And can we just say for one minute, Dana, I'm glad you talk politics and how it all fits together and the law, but I want to think about the women who have struggled so hard trying to get pregnant, who have gone through a lot of medical procedures, who've committed a lot of their financial wherewithal in order to try to have a baby and then to get a gut punch like this from the Alabama Supreme Court to have someone declare from that position that these are women who are subject to the wrath of God, because they're not behaving in the way that he has decided they should behave.


How do we do this to our fellow human beings? How do we do this to the women who just want to try to have a family and it's harder for them than it is for some others. And that's what they're trying to do. So I just want to keep front and center in my heart and my mind the women who are now going through this, and that drives home the urgency once more.

Abortion and IVF are going to be on the ballot in November 2024.

BASH: Senator, I want to turn briefly to immigration. We're learning that President Biden is considering new executive action to restrict migrants' ability to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. You've, I'm sure, heard some of the criticism from your fellow progressives.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted that "Doing Trump impressions isn't how we beat Trump. Seeking asylum is a legal right of all people." Is this the right move for the Biden administration?

WARREN: So we're a long way off from any decision on this and knowing exactly what it's going to look like. But I will tell you right now, that we're in a real mess because of the Republicans. As you know, last October, we were trying to get through funding for Ukraine and their fight for democracy. And the Republicans said, we can't do it without a border bill.

So the Democrats sat down with the Republicans. We negotiate this border bill. And when it's announced, a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats stood up and said, OK, we can make this work. And then Donald Trump said, no, he wants chaos at the border because he thinks that will improve his chances for getting elected.

And the consequence is the Republicans killed off this deal. And I just want to underscore what that means. That means the resources that we need in order to do work at the border, the resources we need in the states and communities that are caring for migrants, all that disappeared.

The change in the law, something I've been fighting for --

BASH: Yes.

WARREN: -- to give work permits to people who are here so they could get out of congregate settings and out of the shelters, all of that disappeared. So the Republicans are trying to say, we don't want any solutions here, we want there to be chaos because we think that's going to help Donald Trump.

That is not good for America. They know that, and they are putting Trump and Trump's personal interests ahead of the good of our country.

BASH: Senator, it's always good to see you. Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

WARREN: Good to see you too, Dana.

BASH: Coming up, a rising star and then a dramatic fall from grace. An inside look at one of the most sensational sex scandals in American history, the John Edwards Affair. CNN's Jake Tapper went behind the scenes of this shocking story. He's here next.



BASH: In the new CNN Original Series, "United States of Scandal," Jake Tapper takes a closer look at some of the most riveting political controversies of our time. This week, Jake takes a look at the scandal that brought down former North Carolina senator and one-time presidential candidate, John Edwards.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: How often were you seeing John at this point? Every week? Every couple weeks?


TAPPER: Oh, more?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went everywhere. The staffers knew who I was. So, like, for me to get into his hotel room was challenging.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Edwards believed he could outsmart anyone, but someone has to be complicit here in this.

TAPPER (voice-over): The person Rielle and John say enabled their affair was campaign staffer Andrew Young. Andrew denies that he was doing anything more than following John's orders. So, keep in mind, this is a story full of unreliable narrators, and opinions differ. And of course, the only person cheating on his spouse and lying to voters about who he was, was the candidate himself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had a separate phone. They called the bat phone. Whenever John would want to talk to Rielle, they'd start humming the theme from Batman, and that was kind of the cue for Andrew to flip him the phone to talk to Rielle. So it was quite elaborate.


BASH: Wow, that's pretty incredible. Jake Tapper joins me now. Two- time presidential candidate.

TAPPER: Two-time, but also just take a step back. All this craziness, all this machinations --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- sneaking the woman into the hotel room. She's pregnant, all that stuff, he's running for president at that time.

BASH: And has a wife who is sick.

TAPPER: And has a sick wife at the time, and children.

BASH: Right.

TAPPER: But, I mean, just he's running for president at the time the most scrutinized position that there is.


BASH: Yes. I remember I was telling you this before we came on. I was at the Edwards announcement for president when he ran in 2008.

TAPPER: You had a lot of hopes for him.

BASH: Yes, I remember her because it was very radical --


BASH: -- to have your own videographer on the campaign trail.


BASH: I'll remember her.

TAPPER: She wanted people to see what the real John Edwards was like.

BASH: I guess we have.

TAPPER: Well, but I mean, that's what the behind the scenes stuff was.

BASH: No, I know.

TAPPER: And then all of a sudden it was all taken down.

BASH: What she like?

TAPPER: She's charming and nice. She has a decent perspective on it, although some of the things she said were a little contradictory. She says that John Edwards is in their daughter's life, their daughter Quinn, who will turn 16 this year, and is a good co-parent.

But the scandal really is unbelievable, and to see it through her eyes, to see it through Rielle Hunter's eyes was fascinating and really like, journalistically, really satisfying because you always wonder what are they thinking or what is he thinking? What is she thinking? And to hear it from her was really amazing.

BASH: What a great idea. Not just this, but all the other political scandals that we all covered so heatedly real time to go back and take a perspective.

TAPPER: Well, you have the perspective of what the world looks like from 2024 -- BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- and everything we've experienced the last 10 years. But also, now you can hear the entire story. Because when we cover these stories, it's drip, drip, drip. Now we have the whole Shakespearean saga.

BASH: Can't wait to see it. And you can tune in to an all new CNN Original Series, "United States of Scandal" with Jake Tapper. It is on to a Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. That is just the latest in his series. So good. Please tune in.

Thanks for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after the break.