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Now: Biden Meet In Oval Office With Top Congressional Leaders; Speaker Johnson: "We Are Going To Prevent A Shutdown"; Biden Ratchets Up Pressure On House GOP To Pass Ukraine Aid; Rep. Roy: GOP Has "No Plan To Fight"; Partial Shutdown Begins Friday Night Without A Deal; Biden Faces Test As Some Dems Push For Protest Vote; Biden Says He's Hopeful For Gaza Ceasefire By Monday. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 27, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics. Right now, the top four congressional leaders are behind closed doors with President Biden, trying to hammer out a deal to avoid parts of the government shutting down this Friday. One Republican senator summed up negotiations as a quote, misery March.

Plus, get out and vote. Michigan its primary day and some Democrats are refusing to back President Biden over his support for Israel and its retaliatory war in Gaza. What happens at the polls in the next few hours may serve as a critical warning to the president in a state he needs to win reelection.

And Cornel West doesn't care about being called a spoiler. But what if his independent presidential run lands Trump back in the Oval Office? I'll talk to Cornel West one-on-one this hour.

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

We start at the White House where as we speak, the big four McConnell, Schumer, Johnson and Jeffries are in the Oval Office with President Biden. And what happens in that room could have major consequences, not just for this country and the ability to keep the government running but for the entire world. Ukraine is in a dire position.

President Zelenskyy told my colleague Kaitlan Collins. His country can't stop Putin's forces without more funding. And whether or not the U.S. comes to their aid is pretty much all up to Speaker Johnson at this point.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House. Arlette, I know they're in there. And we heard briefly from President Biden just a few minutes ago. What are you hearing from White House sources about what his goals are?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, this meeting got underway just a few minutes ago. President Biden is sitting down in the Oval Office with the top four congressional leaders. And it comes as there are a few consequential issues facing the president at this moment, the most pressing one being that government shutdown -- with that partial shutdown looming on Friday.

Now, the president in his remarks ahead of the meeting said that he -- is Congress's responsibility to keep the government open. He said that a shutdown would be -- have significant impact on the economy if one were to take place. And ahead of the meeting, House Speaker Mike Johnson expressed some optimism over on Capitol Hill, telling reporters that he does think they will be able to prevent a shutdown. So that is part of their discussion today.

But the president is also using this meeting, really to ratchet up the pressure on House Speaker Mike Johnson to pass additional assistance for Ukraine. The president has requested $60 billion in assistance for the war-torn country, as well as aid for Israel and Taiwan and some humanitarian assistance as well. The Senate has passed that measure. But so far, House Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to bring it up for a vote in the House.

Now to highlight the stress that the president wants to put on this issue in that meeting is also National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. And the president warned that not getting this aid to Ukraine will severely limit the Ukrainian soldiers' abilities on the battlefield. Take a listen?


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want to thank the leadership to be here today. We got a lot of work to do. We got to figure out how we're going to keep funding the government, which is an important problem, an important solution we need to find. And I think do that. And in Ukraine, I think the need is urgent. I hope we can speak to that a little bit. And I think the consequences of inaction every day in Ukraine are dire.


SAENZ: So, the president really expected to press the case -- make his case for passing that additional assistance for Ukraine so far, but House Speaker Mike Johnson has shown no signs of budging. But you've heard the White House, you've heard Zelenskyy talk about how this is significantly hampering the Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield. They're hoping to make that case once again today to Johnson in this Oval Office meeting.

BASH: Thanks so much, Arlette. Appreciate that reporting. Let's go to Capitol Hill, down Pennsylvania Avenue, CNN's Manu Raju is there, of course. Manu, you heard the Arlette talk about the fact that the speaker as he was leaving where you are heading to the White House. He said there isn't going to be a shutdown. We're going to avoid it. The obvious question is, how is he going to do that when his own conference is so fractured?

MANU RAJU, CNN, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Look, it's still an open question. In fact, negotiations are really at a perilous point, things could go forward. They can actually pass legislation to keep part of the federal government open. That is still a possibility, or it can all collapse. And there is just enormous frustration within the ranks.

Remember, this is -- the fiscal year should have been funded on October 1. But we are headed into the -- for the possible government shutdown scare because time and time again, they've had to simply extend government funding for a short period of time. The first time they did that, of course, that led to the ouster of the den speaker Kevin McCarthy after the revolt on his right flank.


This time now, Mike Johnson has not indicated his preference and how to proceed there have been squabbling behind the scenes between Johnson and Chuck Schumer about how to structure this funding legislation. And talking to Republicans and Democrats alike, they are sounding off about these talks. Let's listen.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY, (R-MO): This is supposed to be done in September. I mean, this is now almost March. But this is just ridiculous. They've had an agreement on the top line. They've had it since January. So, this is why I voted against the (Inaudible). They've just been kicking this can down the road. I can't believe that they didn't get work done over the weekend. They had months to do this stuff. I mean, my patience has run out. So, leadership is to blame.

RAJU: Which leadership?

HAWLEY: Yeah, of course. Yeah. All of them. Yeah, they're all to blame. I mean, at this point is just -- it's absurd, I think.


RAJU: But really, this boils down to in large ways, Dana. A Republican and Republican dispute, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader yesterday called for legislation to be passed to not include what he called poison pills. That is similar to the language of the Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Even as Mike Johnson has been pushing for certain policy measures to be included in that funding legislation, which has led to the stalemate at this moment and also Republican division, of course, on the funding for Ukraine, Mitch McConnell, a fervent backer for more aid Ukraine.

Mike Johnson says that the border security needs to be dealt with first to the GOP liking before he green light more aid to Ukraine. So undoubtedly, that's going to be a point of contention behind closed doors, whether anything changes though, that's another question. Dana?

BASH: Manu, it's so funny that Senator Hawley look -- is trying to sound frustrated. But he's almost -- it's hard for him to hide. How much he's enjoying throwing the grenades from the sidelines on both the leadership of both parties?

RAJU: As most people do, as far as you know, as most people like to do.

BASH: Yeah, absolutely. Manu, thank you so much for that reporting. I want to bring in my panel to talk about all of this, CNN's Melanie Zanona, CNN's David Chalian, and CNN and Bloomberg, Nia-Malika Henderson. Melanie, I'm going to start with you because you just came from Capitol Hill. You're going to go back right after this. I think the point that Manu made there, which is really critical, when we're talking about the politics of all this.

Is that -- it is the Democrats right now who have all the leverage, they hold the cards, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is because Mike Johnson knows that it is not in the Republicans political just stay on shutdown for a second funding the government. It's not even the Republicans political interest to have a government shutdown. And it is -- it is up to him to avoid it. And it's hard to do, because there are many people in his conference who are totally fine with that.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN, CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. Mike Johnson has almost zero leverage in this fight. And a huge reason is because he can't pass bills just with Republicans. They can't even add basic procedural votes right now. So yes, he is going to need Democrats in order to get a bill to fund the government over the finish line. And that is really what you're seeing Johnson wrestling with right now.

Does he came to his right flank, which is pushing for a number of policy demands that Democrats would never go for. Some of them are pushing for a complete shutdown, which Johnson doesn't want to do. He wants to avoid that. But the question is, what does he do? It really is in his court.

And I think it's important to remember that walking into the meeting today, he is on an island, because you have McConnell, Schumer, Jeffries and Biden all aligned, they don't want to shut down. They want to have these clean funding bills. And they also want more Ukraine aid. So, Johnson really is on the island here. We'll see what he says I was mean, but it's gonna tell us a lot about how the rest of the week is going to play out.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's funny for me to think about like that Johnson's without the leverage here because he is the singular reason that Ukraine aid has not passed yet. I mean, that is a rare thing for a speaker of the House to be singularly with the ability to either move, like get a foreign country through or not, and he's chosen not to thus far. This, you know, he has a bipartisan majority in the House that will pass it.

There was a bipartisan majority in the Senate that has passed it. But he has chosen, and he could in this moment, sit in the Oval Office and say, I'll put that on the floor, it'll pass it would be done. So, I would argue he's exercising some leverage that he has in this moment, because he has yet not chosen to give him to the forces on the right.

BASH: I totally hear what you're saying about Ukraine. I think the challenge is that they're two different actual bills.


BASH: And so, funding the government is -- on is over here. And then the question of funding Ukraine and then Israel and others along with it is over here. And what you're saying is maybe he should say you want this, OK, give me this.

CHALIAN: Well, certainly seems like there is an opportunity there to combine these things in some way.


BASH: Let me just kind of go deeper into the challenge that Mike Johnson has with his right flank on this issue. Chip Roy put a series of threads on Twitter or X, whatever it's called now. Saying, the House GOP promised to secure the border and to cut funding for Biden's radical, progressive Democratic agenda this week government funding expires. What's the status?

Short answer, no plan to fight. Here's the long -- longer form of the status. Update, no security, no funding. After passing three continuing resolutions for five months at Pelosi funding levels without promising -- promises to fight the NDA is Tolkien, DEI policy wins. And he goes on and on and on. Fight, fight is what they want Mike Johnson to do.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. And listen, Chip Roy has been sounding off on Mike Johnson for months and months. He is not happy. He is not happy with the fact that nothing has gotten done that the right flank would like him to do. You know, the problem is that the right flank is still a minority. Mike Johnson has a very, very slim majority there, even slimmer now with Tom Suozzi there.

So, all they can do at this point is kind of fume, add to that mix, sort of Donald Trump being the puppet master over everything. And Mike Johnson, obviously, wanting to please Donald Trump. So, it is a complicated stew and a mess for the country. This sort of inaction, this ability to come together.

And there is a sort of ignoring of reality, right, that they have to work with Democrats. We all know how this is ultimately going to end. It's going to be some sort of bipartisan bill. The right is likely not going to win again. And Chip Roy is going to go on X in fumes more.

BASH: Yeah. That pretty much sums it up and connect now (Ph). Dave Joyce, who tends to be a voice of reason, he hopes inside his conference, said the following. He said it's about his conference. It's tilted further right. And not necessarily in a conservative way, but more in an obstructionist way. You know, because you claim that you're fighting for people, but what have you really accomplished?

I think that really boils down the dynamic right now inside the Republican conference. Because it's one thing to espouse conservative principles, which the Dave Joyce's of the world absolutely do. I mean, he's a true conservative. But the other question is, whether or not, you're taking those conservative principles to another level, which is my job here isn't necessarily to get things done to govern. My job is to obstruct anything that doesn't comport with what we believe in.

ZANONA: You're absolutely right. The disputes we are seeing on Capitol Hill in Republican Party are not about policy, it really is about tactics. It's about style. It's about this group of lawmakers that want to remake the party in the image of Donald Trump. And what you're seeing is the incentive structure for a lot of these members is to become sort of celebrities and to raise money. And it's not to govern necessarily.

In fact, they might actually like being in the minority better, because it's a lot easier to just sit there and say they want to vote against everything the other party is doing. And so that is really what's causing a lot of frustration between the Dave Joyce wing of the party, which are pragmatists. They want to govern. They want to get things done. And then, you know, the Bob good wing of the party who views compromise as such a dirty word in Washington, despite it being a divided government.

BASH: And to the point about being in the minority or the majority, this could be a determining factor. When I say this, I'm talking about the ability to govern or the perception of chaos ---

CHALIAN: Because he's always will weigh in on that in November.

BASH: Well, that's -- so let's just take immigration, which I know is not on the table right now. But as an example, what happened a couple of weeks ago. And the question, Monmouth did a poll and ask the question about who's to blame with a bipartisan bill failing. Congressional Republicans 36 percent, Dems 13 percent, and both parties 48. But if you're looking at the difference between the two parties, they blame the Republicans.

CHALIAN: But this goes back to the incentive structure. Then you said, raise money and be famous and win primaries, not general elections. I mean, that's what it comes back down to as well.

BASH: Except with the -- well we can get into this another time. But the gerrymandered House of Representatives, but their primaries effectively are the general election, which leads us to where we are with a chaotic House of Representatives, fantastic. The voters out in Michigan. The big story. How divided are the Democrats? How many will vote uncommitted instead of Biden because of the war on Gaza. We're live on the trail after a quick break.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you vote uncommitted?

JOE KAPELZZKA, MICHIGAN VOTER: I just wanted to against the issues of the administration. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And who did you vote for?

TERESE SHEPARD, MICHIGAN VOTER: That's my business. I think they're the best person for the job. Well, best of the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell me why you voted for the person who voted for them?

SHEPARD: Because of the marvelousness, the border, the inflation, just everything's a mess.

MATHEW, MICHIGAN VOTER: Just not impressed with how things are going right now. So, I think he did a good job four years ago.

MEGAN STEWART, MICHIGAN VOTER: He was one of the most peaceful presidents in the sense that we had like no major wars. Walked right into North Korea and like handle that.


BASH: As of voters who are at the polls today in Michigan, there's not much suspense over who will win. Donald Trump and Joe Biden both have massive favorites. But we are going to learn a lot about their strengths and weaknesses in this pivotal state. Biden won Michigan in the 2020 general election by three percentage points, putting it back in the blue column after Trump won in 2016.


Today, we're watching to see how many Democrats express their frustration with the president over many things including the war in Gaza by voting for uncommitted, which is also on the ballot.

CNN's Omar Jimenez joins us live from Waterford, Michigan. It doesn't look like the voters are beating down the total of that polling place to get to -- to get to that gym there. But I'm sure that you are going to see a stream of voters at some point today, maybe you already have.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's where we're hoping. It's lunchtime, maybe they'll come in after getting a nice meal. That's the optimist in me right now. But what's interesting about Michigan is that this is really the first time they've had -- the first cycle they've had early in person voting.

You tack that on to absentee ballots that have already been returned. And they've gotten over a million votes already, which when you look at the total turnout, they got in 2020, it was just over 2 million. So, a large proportion of this voting base has already come and made their voices heard.

Yes, I'm not going to -- I'll spare you the full walk and talk here. Since obviously, we've got a little bit of an absence of voters right now. They've streamed in over the course of today. And you mentioned look, there's no surprises necessarily on who is expected to win on the Democratic primary side and on the Republican primary side. But a lot of general election clues that we could get based on what voters are saying over the course of today. We just talked to one Biden voter a little bit earlier, who said he is voting Biden because he wants to return decency back to the White House. Now the Trump voter we spoke to said, he doesn't necessarily think Trump is a decent person, but likes the policies that he's bringing and wants to see him back in the White House.

So, it'll be interesting to see some of that dynamic. But of course, also, within the Democratic side of things, a large push to vote uncommitted, instead of voting for Joe Biden, especially from the Arab American community here in Michigan, which is the largest community of any state in the country, over his handling of the war in Israel and Gaza.

Take a listen to Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, about what she is telling folks to do on this primary day.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB, (D-MI): We must protect our democracy. We must make sure that our government is about us, about the people. When 74 percent of Democrats in Michigan supportive ceasefire. Yet, President Biden is not hearing us. This is the way we can use our democracy to say, listen?


JIMENEZ: And as of now, they say that their goal is to just get 10,000 uncommitted votes, though even in previous times without a campaign like this. We have seen more uncommitted votes. So, we'll see what that tally ends up being. And remember, in Michigan, it is an open primary. Anybody can vote for anyone. You just have to request a Democratic ballot or a Republican ballot when you actually get to a polling location like this.

BASH: All right, Omar, listen. If it stays like this, maybe you can get them to lower the basketball hoops. You can show them how it was done as a Northwestern wall.

JIMENEZ: I know, I'll get some shots up here.

BASH: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you're not that far from Northwestern in Michigan. Just a little bit up the road north. Thank you so much.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. Midwest, big 10-country (Ph).

BASH: Here you go. Omar, thanks so much for that reporting. And with the political perils of his support for Israel playing out in Michigan as Omar, which is talking about President Biden is presenting a rosy outlook on his administration's efforts to negotiate a temporary ceasefire and hostage deal.


BIDEN: Well, I hope by the beginning of the weekend -- I mean, the end of the weekend, at least my national security adviser tells me that we're close. We're close. It's not done yet. And my hope is by next Monday, we'll have a ceasefire.


BASH: And Israeli official tells CNN they were quote, surprised by those remarks. My panel is back now. David Chalian, the use of the word ceasefire there, and he's been using it more and more is no accident whether or not it's actually going to happen on Monday, the fact that he's using that word, which we heard Rashida Tlaib use and it has become the word of the progressive left. And of course, they want the action too, but that's relatively new and it's not.

CHALIAN: Yeah. And what he's talking about is a temporary success.

BASH: I know, but he didn't use the word.

CHALIAN: No, no. He doesn't. No, no, I know. But you're right. If you look at the language, going back to almost October 7. You'll remember that first trip he took to Israel and the Netanyahu hug and embrace and all that. But also in his remarks that day from Israel, was talking about a reminder of America's experience in 911 and not overreacting.

That was just a like one little cautionary note early on and we didn't hear a lot of that again for a while. You're right to note a change in rhetoric. We saw it when he went the day of the herb report when he had that press conference in the White House. He talked about the Israeli forces being over the top and their reaction over the top.


And then in fundraisers, he started saying about a ceasefire getting into place. All because simultaneously as you watch Biden, the pressure has been mounting on him from inside his own party with key pieces of his coalition. Young people progressives, obviously Arab Americans in a state like Michigan. This issue has presented to him in a very finite place. That is a major battleground, a real potential political problem.

BASH: Yeah. I want you to hear what Debbie Stabenow who is -- she's leaving, she's retiring from her state. She's represented Michigan for a very long time. She's also a member of the Democratic leadership. Listen to what she told Kasie Hunt this morning about the challenges there.


SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): There's a lot of pain. We need to hear that. We need to understand that. We need to listen. It's incredibly important that the Biden administration is able to get not only a temporary ceasefire but bring hostages home and be able to proceed to actually get real peace. There's a lot of important work and listening and results. It's not just listening. It's getting results. And so that's got to happen.


HENDERSON: Yeah. Listen, the folks on the ground in Michigan, the Arab American community. They feel this viscerally notable that she used the word pain, because that is what their experience. A lot of these folks have family over there. They hadn't heard from their family in weeks and weeks and weeks.

I had a colleague who was there over the last couple of days. And that's what she was hearing. And that is what is being channeled into this uncommitted of -- it's very, very organized. We've seen this in the past, but I don't think we've seen it to this level that is backed by a singular sort of feeling, a feeling of discontent around a policy of it. They don't think it's right.

You do see Biden, as David said, moving on this issue. And I think last night, he was on with Seth Meyers, talking about Israel, and Netanyahu being at the risk of losing the world support because of the way they're prosecuting this. We will see what happens tonight in terms of how many uncommitted votes are against Joe Biden and we'll also look at his movement.

Listen, this is what protest movements are designed to do. They're designed to be outsiders moving in a policy, moving rhetoric as well. And that's what we've seen so far.

BASH: Yeah. And, you know, Jonah Goldberg was on the show yesterday, noting that the pain that they're talking about that Arab Americans are feeling. There's also pain among other key constituencies in Michigan and elsewhere, Jewish voters and also some evangelical voters who are wholeheartedly pro-Israel.

You mentioned the uncommitted vote. I think the context going into tonight's voting is -- and I'm just channeling him right now. It's really important to say that, yes, this is an effort to get people to vote uncommitted, which is actually on the ballot. You can check the box or pull the lever for uncommitted versus Joe Biden. It has happened before without any big efforts.

Barack Obama, he got -- there were 174,000 total votes and there was a 21,000 uncommitted, when he was on the ballot and there was no such effort. So that just gives a little bit of context, going into what we're going to see tonight.

ZANONA: Yeah. And the leaders of this effort are setting the bar pretty low by those standards, because they said they're trying to -- right. They're trying to get, I think 10,000, uncommitted votes, is what they said. But look, it's not just the number of votes, it's where they're coming from. That's something else the White House is going to be looking at very closely.

They're looking at places like Dearborn, like Detroit. They're looking at black voters, they're looking at suburban women. They're looking at union workers, all key pieces of Biden's coalition and they're going to look at tonight's results and see how much work he has to do come November. But it's also the same for Donald Trump. And I know we'll get into that. But both of them are going to have a very better look after tonight of what it's going to be like and just remember.

BASH: Yeah. Just like we did in South Carolina. OK. Before we go, we're going to tell our viewers something that you flagged me David Chalian, and that is now an Inside Politics fun fact. Today is Chelsea Clinton's 44th birthday. What makes that such a fun fact. That's how old her mother was when her father Bill Clinton began running for president. David and I feel very old.

CHALIAN: Don't want to be it.


BASH: From RFK Jr. to Cornel West, could third party presidential candidates tip the 2024 scales? We will ask Professor West himself. Up next.