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Inside Politics

Biden Launching "Strike Force" To Fight Corporate Price Gouging; Trump Narrowly Leads Biden In Most Recent National Polls; Crowded Field Running To Replace Dianne Feinstein; Dem Rep. Schiff Ad Touts GOP Opponent In An Attempt To Box Out Dem Rivals In Senate Race; Taylor Swift Urges Fans To Vote On Super Tuesday. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 05, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: One of Sesame Street's beloved characters, Cookie Monster, is apparently feeling the pain of high prices. He took to social media to vent his frustrations about, what else, cookies. I will spare you my Cookie Monster invitation. You're welcome, America. But you see it there on the screen, he's not happy about the cost of the cookies that he eats.

Cookie Monster's gripe got the attention of the White House, which responded, quote, "As it turns out, C is not just for cookie. It's also for consumers getting ripped off." Shrinkflation is just one of the pocketbook issues that could find its way into the State of the Union address on Thursday.

Today, the White House is announcing a new strike force tasked with cracking down on price gouging and everything from groceries to prescription drugs is on the list.

Arlette Saenz joins us now from the White House. Arlette, talk about this task force.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, this is the latest attempt by President Biden to try to show Americans that he's working to lower cost in junk fees that they face in their everyday lives. This so-called strike force will aim to try to curb illegal and unfair pricing on everything, as you mentioned, from prescription drug prices to health care to groceries.

The president's expected to speak about this a little bit later in the afternoon when he meets with his competition council here at the White House. And one of the centerpieces of the announcements today is this effort to slash credit card late fees from a current average of $32 to $8.

That would save Americans who are paying these late credit card fees about $220 a year. There's about 45 million Americans who are paying these late fees, and it would add up to a total of $10 billion in savings over one year for the entire country. It's just one of the efforts the president has tried to make to cut junk fees, which is expected to be a key focus of his State of the Union address on Thursday. We're told that the president is expected to lean heavily into this argument relating to economic populism, talking about raising taxes for corporations and to the wealthy, as well as trying to lower prescription drug costs and other everyday costs.


It all comes at a time where they're trying to move the needle with voters, specifically on the issue of the economy, with many voters still feeling that they feel they are worse off now than when President Biden took office.

BASH: And Arlette, the White House is reacting to a string of unfavorable polls. What are you hearing?

SAENZ: Yes. President Biden actually just a short while ago tried to claim to reporters that he has been leading in the past five polls that have been released, saying that the news media doesn't pay attention to the polls where he's ahead.

But if you take a look at our CNN average of the polls of polls, it's found that there's no clear leader in this race with 48 percent supporting Trump and 46 percent supporting Biden in a hypothetical head to head matchup.

Now, the campaign has long said that it's still very early in this campaign to be fretting about polls, but there is anxiety amongst some Democrats about whether President Biden will be able to pull this off come November.

BASH: Arlette, thank you so much.

Joining me to talk about this and the general election campaign that is about to be in full swing, Democratic Pollster Anna Greenberg and Republican Strategist Alex Conant. I want to start, Anna, with you about the idea of what the White House, as we gear up for the State of the Union later this week, is clearly trying to focus on hit the areas where voters are feeling it the least -- when I say it, it's the economy getting better.

I know you are working on a lot of congressional races, many of which are in, not just swing districts, but swing districts in swing states. What data are you seeing that backs up, if any, this kind of move?

ANNA GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, I think it would be foolish not to talk about the economy. Particularly, when you see the kind of poll numbers that we've been seeing, not just now, but really since he's been president. And this disconnection between what the macroeconomic indicators say and how people are actually feeling.

So, as the president who's overseeing the economy, not talking about it is nuts. And certainly he has a lot of really important accomplishments to talk about. But I would also just say is that if you look at the 2022 election and think about July when inflation was at its highest and gas prices were $5, $6 a gallon, it turned out that election wasn't about inflation.

It turned out if you ask people why they voted Democratic, they voted Democratic because of abortion and because of democracy. And if you voted Republican, it was immigration and crime and also to some degree inflation. And so, I also think we should not overthink this, right? And really think about what are people actually voting on in 2020 to -- sorry, in 2024 going back in time -- what are they voting on in 2024?

And is it actually going to be about the economy? Because it wasn't in 2022 and it wasn't in 2023 and it wasn't in New York three where Democrats just want a big win.

BASH: I mean, as you answer that, I want to know what you think the voters are going to go to the polls about. One of the things that was most striking and worried a lot of Democrats over the weekend was this New York Times poll. If you went inside, one question, how have the candidates' policies affected you?

Only 18 percent said Biden's policies have helped. 40 percent said Trump. That's part of the -- what Democrats call the amnesia of the Trump years. Biden -- the flip side is also not great. Hurt me 43 percent for Biden.

ALEX CONANT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And I think that's inflation, right? The reason that Biden is talking about inflation this week, even though the official inflation numbers are pretty good at this part (ph) --

BASH: They are.

CONANT: -- the reason he's talking about is because if you ask people on the street, if you ask average voters, if you do a poll like that one, they still say that the economy is bad. And what they're talking about is they're paying a lot more for stuff, especially food now than they were two, three years ago.

And I think that there's just going to be a real lag time. And I think it's an open question. Come November, are voters still upset about how much they're paying for eggs, milk and bread? Because if they are, they're going to hold the incumbent, Biden, accountable for that, not Trump.

BASH: OK, so that's one question, maybe the question going forward. But until we get there, we have tonight and then in the days and weeks following what's going to happen inside the Republican electorate.


BASH: Mark Cuban, who's never been a fan of Donald Trump, said the following. He said, "If they were having his last wake, and it was him versus Trump," meaning Biden, "and he was being given last rights, I would still vote for Joe Biden." So the question is whether or not there are Nikki Haley voters out there who are that stridently against Donald Trump and would go for Joe Biden and it wouldn't make a difference.

CONANT: There -- I think there's no question that there are at least some and those are the voters who didn't turn out to vote Republican in 2018, 2020, 2022. And I think it's a big question. Do they not turn out in 2024? Do they turn out and vote for Joe Biden in 2024? Because if they do, Trump's going to lose again.

So I think that those Nikki Haley voters that 30 percent to 40 percent that she's consistently getting in the primaries, they ultimately probably will decide the election this fall and they'll either decide it by voting for Trump, Biden or just staying home. All of which is -- it's just critical in a race that's likely to be decided by tens of thousands of votes across five states, those voters are going to be really, really important.


GREENBERG: Oh, I agree completely. And I think that you think about Kari Lake, when she told all the John McCain voters to go away and not support her campaign, didn't really help her win that against Katie Hobbs.

And when you hear Donald Trump talk about Nikki Haley and her supporters and sort of tell them to go away and they're not welcome in the party anymore, I think that is a colossal mistake that he is making.


BASH: And -- but he has a lot of time to make up.

GREENBERG: Sure, but, you know, most of the Nikki Haley voters are better educated, news aware, more moderates. They aren't people who are going to forget that the, you know, the former president told them to get out of the party.

CONANT: I think that if I was Trump, the concern I would have right now is that they are turning out, not because they love Nikki Haley, they're turning out to vote against Donald Trump.


CONANT: And the quote you just read from Mark Cuban, what's interesting is, he doesn't love Joe Biden.

BASH: No, he doesn't.

CONANT: He's not endorsing Joe Biden. He's saying, I'm going to go vote against Trump no matter what I can do. He said today. He would go vote for Nikki Haley if he -- I guess he did vote for Nikki Haley.

BASH: Yes. CONANT: So, look, those are the voters that, are they going to turn out to vote against Trump this fall or not? And he needs to reach out to them.

BASH: Great conversation. I learned a lot. Always do from both of you. Thank you so much.

Coming up, we head back at west for an update, further west than Utah. We're going to go to California, the most expensive political contest of the year, not including the presidential election, the latest from California's jungle primary, next.



BASH: Now to California, where voters are picking a replacement for the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. It is an incredibly rare opportunity to win an open Senate seat there, so it's been very expensive and hard fought between some of the biggest names in California politics.

Democratic Members of Congress, Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee, they are fighting on the left, on the Republican side, former L.A. Dodger Superstar, Steve Garvey, is looking to break through. The big question voters are deciding today is whether the general election will feature two Democrats or one.

That's because California has a so-called jungle primary. Meaning, the top two candidates will advance to the general election in November, regardless of their party and with more than $71 million being spent on ads. The race is the most expensive political contest of the year besides the presidential election.

Our Stephanie Elam is standing by in Santa Ana, California. Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Dana, they've spent more money on ads for this Senate race in California than there has been spent on presidential ads. So that just shows you how competitive it is here. And Adam Schiff, by far, has amassed the largest war chest to go about the battle of getting these ads out there and to win.

He says he's still going to fight like he's the underdog. And just for comparison purposes, in 2018, for Senator Feinstein's re-election, that was a $4.2 million spend. And if you look at '22 and Senator Alex Padilla went back to get his first full term as senator from California, that cost just over $6 million.

So you look at that over $71 million number and it's a massive number here. Also, what's interesting here is that you've got the fact that whoever those first two candidates are, they are the ones who are going to go ahead to head in November. So that's why today's election for Senate is so important.

Will it be two dims against each other? Or will it be a Democrat versus a Republican taking a look at the baseball star Steve Garvey? That's what a lot of people are waiting to see if that will happen. But keep in mind, here in California, Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. So it tends to be a blue state, so that's something that people are interested in.

I should also note, Dana, that it's noteworthy with all that money being spent on ads, not $1 of that has been from an ad spent by Steve Garvey. Not one.

BASH: Wow. I didn't realize that. That's really interesting, Stephanie. He might not be spending money on himself, but one of his opponents is spending money trying to prop him up. And that is Adam Schiff. He's running ads, touting the conservative record of Republican Steve Garvey.

We'll explain why after our viewers watch some of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conservative Republican Steve Garvey voted for Trump twice. Surging in the polls. Fox News says he'd boost Republican control. Democrat Adam Schiff stands up for us.


BASH: So you mentioned the two to one margin of Democrats to Republican voters in California. That's why Adam Schiff is boosting Garvey because he wants to run against a Republican, not a fellow Democrat, right?

ELAM: Yes, because obviously it'll become a -- they'll be battle axing if it gets to November and it's Democrat versus Democrat. If it turns out that it's a Republican, that's going to weigh in the Democrats favor. Adam Schiff has been leading these polls.

People know who he is outside of California as well because he was so influential and former President Trump first impeachment trial. So he has the recognition. People believe that he can actually do the job that needs to be done considering what the progressives and the Democrats are looking for.

But yes, it seems that because of this attack, it's actually raised the profile of Steve Garvey in California. Remember, he played for the Dodgers and the Padres, so he's a Southern California guy. All of the state doesn't know him, perhaps, as well, and so this is helping to raise his profile overall that actually could help him get that top two position so that Adam Schiff thinks it'll be easier for him to defeat him come November.


BASH: Stephanie Elam, thank you so much for that.

Up next, a Swift call to action by superstar Taylor Swift on this Super Tuesday.


BASH: This Super Tuesday, Taylor Swift is reminding voters not to leave a blank space. The superstar urged her 282 million Instagram followers to get out and vote. And it seems when Taylor speaks, Swifties listen.

Last fall, she encouraged followers to register to vote, and just one hour after that post, reported a more than 1,200 percent jump in participation. It's one of the many reasons we are sure President Biden is hoping his karma, is another presidential endorsement.

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