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Inside Politics

Biden Preps for State of the Union as Trump Locks Down Nomination; Biden Praises Haley, Appeals to Her Supporters to Join Him; Kari Lake Visits GOP Senators on Capitol Hill; RFK Jr. Has Signatures to Make Another Battleground Ballot; No Labels to Convene Friday for Decision on November Race. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 06, 2024 - 12:30   ET



ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In a memo, they painted Trump as a dangerous and unpopular president. And this is also setting up the president's State of the Union tomorrow, making this an even more high-stakes moment as he is preparing to present his vision for a second term and convince voters that he needs another four years in office

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF 'INSIDE POLITICS': Arlette, thank you so much for that reporting. And back here with the panel, Arlette mentioned the State of the Union. I mean, this is a --


BASH: This is a big week and I don't know, you know, obviously, they couldn't have planned exactly what was going to happen in the Republican primary contest, but the fact that it comes two days after Super Tuesday, which ended up being a decisive and definitive on the Republican side, does allow for the president to have one of the, if not the biggest audience --


BASH: Certainly, in an election year, he'll have the convention speech. But the biggest audience each year to try to grasp any voters that he possibly can on the Nikki Haley's side, in this case, as were talking about Republicans, but also about trying to coalesce his own party. And looking at how his campaign, Amy, is kind of preparing their approach for this very long general election. Mike Donilon, who is a very long-time Biden adviser, said the following to Evan Osnos in the New Yorker, talking about the experience of 2020, talking about the soul of the nation.

That experience fortified his belief that this year's campaign should center on what he calls the freedom agenda. By November, he predicted the focus will become overwhelming on democracy. I think the biggest images in people's minds are going to be of January 6, which gives us a sense of what all the ads are going to look like. But that term, the freedom agenda, I am talking to sources in the Biden campaign. I'm sure you are as well, freedom from guns, freedom for reproductive rights, and so on and so forth. I mean that is -- we are going to be hearing that a lot.

WALTER: That's right. And that the other contrast will be Donald Trump's out for himself, Joe Biden is out for you. And so, I think you look at both of those things, it's about freedom, it's about choice. And you can fill in what those are going to be. Is January 6 going to be a part of it? Absolutely.

But the other piece and I think the campaign and those around the campaign appreciate and understand this, the issues of the economy right now are significant as well. And that Trump lost in 2020 despite the fact that he had a slight advantage over Biden on the issue of who do you think will do a better job on the economy. Right now, Trump has something like a 20-point lead on the issue of who do you think will do a better job on the economy? There is a lot of nostalgia for that Trump time about the economy.

And I don't think that just talking about freedom is enough to make those voters who are saying, I did have more money in my pocket.

BASH: Yeah.

WALTER: I did feel more secure economically.

BASH: Yeah.

WALTER: Is that going to be enough to bring (inaudible)?

BASH: No, it is a great question. What the Democrats or Biden people in particular argue is, well, we thought that about the midterm elections. Are you going to be able to convince them that abortion is really a driving issue when they can't afford groceries? And it turned out in a lot of places the answer was yes, but it's a very...

WALTER: That's a very different electorate.

BASH: Very different electorate. And you have different people at the top of the ticket.

WALTER: Right.

BASH: Since you are wearing Carolina blue, I'm going to put this --



BASH: I mean, I just want to say you are dukey (ph) and you're going to maybe lose your duke card. But because you are, let's talk about North Carolina.


BASH: The exit polls there really do tell us a couple of things based on what our lead is reporting on the very real push that we are already seeing from the Biden campaign to try to take Nikki Haley voters. One question, will you vote GOP regardless of the nominee? Yes, 63 percent; no 34 percent. And of those who said no, 62 percent went for Nikki Haley.

HENDERSON: Yeah. Listen, I think in listening to focus groups, there were plenty of Republicans who I heard, who were Trump to Biden voters who are also going to vote for Nikki Haley in these primary. So that is a real universe of voters. And Biden is smart to go after them. If you are think about who they are, it's basically sort of suburban women and what don't they like? They don't like the character issues around Donald Trump.

These are women who are juggling, raising boys and girls and they don't like this idea that Donald Trump is as rude and nasty and racist and sexist as he yes. Right? Calling Nikki Haley birdbrain, saying that she was bitter and angry, when he really is the bitter and angry one. And so, part of Biden's appeal and part of I think his sort of political strength is his just fundamental decency. Right?

And you see that in some of his statements, right, basically saying the country has to come together. He does believe that Americans --

BASH: Yeah.

HENDERSON: -- are better than this MAGA wing.

BASH: Let's look at the flip side of that.


BASH: -- because another question was -- in the exit polls in North Carolina, was your opinion of President Biden, 16 percent.


BASH: These are Republican voters, important to note. 16 percent approve. Excuse me, 14 percent approve and 83 percent disapprove. And so, that kind of begs the question of whether the other side of that coin matches, whether they can actually get the non-Trump voters to crossover potentially, if they weren't already Democrat or independent voters, and vote for Joe Biden?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, not all of them. And since this is a rematch, the degree to which you can really define one of the others is limited. You can remind them. When I talk to Biden advisers, they say we are going to remind people well what Trump was like. You will have a pretty good sense. I think, and so, it is not going to work with them all.

A lot of this, the burden is on the president himself to just improve his stature. I'm thinking back to a conversation actually, you put it on air yesterday, with a women in Charlotte named Susan Van Gronigen. And Susan told me, she's like, I'll vote for Trump with vomit in my mouth. I said, OK, that's kind of stark.

(LAUGH) ZELENY: She's like I cannot vote for Joe Biden. And I said, why not? I don't think he's running the country. I don't think he's up to running the country. She was there though with a friend of hers, Kim Bran (ph), at this Haley rally who says, I am voting for Joe Biden. I can't vote for Donald Trump. So there are friends and conversations. Things happen over the next eight months that we can't even foresee, but I do think the burden on President Trump, which starts tomorrow at the State of the Union is just show that he is --

BASH: President Biden.

ZELENY: I'm sorry, President Biden, to show that he is in command of the presidency.

BASH: Yeah.

ZELENY: And he's done that before. So now, the task is on him. So I think for a minute the campaign glow will turn back to the governing glow. And tomorrow, what happens in the chamber, in the House Chamber, so, so important.

BASH: All right, everybody. Coming up, the wildcard. We've been talking about Biden versus Trump. There are others who want to be President. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he's got enough signatures to appear on the ballot in Nevada. That plus other battleground states could change the scope of the presidential race and maybe history.



BASH: Arizona's Republican Senate candidate, Kari Lake spent this morning here in Washington, meeting with GOP Senators, she hopes will be her future colleagues. Her visit comes the day after current Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced that she will not run for re- election. Lake sat down with CNN's Melanie Zanona. So, Melanie, this has become a very different, very important race in Arizona now that the -- now independent Senator has left the building, so to speak, and Kari Lake is trying to run this race. It sounds like, at least in the short term, differently than she ran the one that she lost for governor of Arizona in 2022.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah. This is going to be one of the most important Senate races in the country because it really could determine who controls the chamber next year. And with Kyrsten Sinema out of the race, it now becomes a two-way contest with a whole pool of moderate and independent voters up for grabs. And Kari Lake said she recognizes that and that she wants to court all voters, not just the MAGA wing. She's also been here in Washington, as you mentioned, trying to line up endorsements from Senate Republicans scans, including some members of the establishment wing that she has fought so hard against.

And part of our strategy has been trying to tone down her appearance as a MAGA firebrand and also trying to moderate somewhat her positions on topics like abortion. In the past, she has expressed support for this Arizona law that's from the 1800s that would essentially be a near total ban on abortion. But today, she told me she prefers a 15- week ban in the state. She does not support a federal abortion ban and she would rather focus its on helping mothers and children. Take a listen


KARI LAKE, (R) 2024 SENATE CANDIDATE: We are going to have 50 different abortion laws and I think we need to concentrate less because there's going to be so many different abortion laws. And more on how do we help women, so that they have true options. I want to do things like a tax credit, a baby bonus incur -- a bonus when you get married. Right now, we punish people for getting married. We should be encouraging that. Our country is only a strong as are most important institution, which is the family.


ZANONA: Now, at the same time, Kari Lake also told me that she thinks abortion pills should be illegal and they account for over half of the abortions in the country. So clearly, she's trying to have it both ways, trying to thread a very thin needle on this very tricky issue ahead of November. And meanwhile, her Democratic opponent, Ruben Gallego, already drawing attention to what he calls her "dangerous positions on a number of issues." So just a preview here of the battle to come in November, Dana.

BASH: Yeah. And if I just might add, as you know, our colleague Manu Raju talked to her yesterday and on issues like democracy, she is standing by her false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and is defending her past criticism of a beloved figure in Arizona.

ZANONA: And I would point out, she did the same thing --

BASH: John McCain.

ZANONA: -- in this interview.


ZANONA: -- and but she also at the same breath said, but I want to focus on the future. I don't want to look at past, which is some advice she had been getting from Republicans including Steve Daines, the Chairman of the Senate campaign arm. So, clearly trying to follow that advice.

BASH: I am sure. I am sure. Thank you so much for that reporting. Melanie, I appreciate it.


BASH: And ahead, the Robert Kennedy Jr. campaign says he's poised to be on the ballot in Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. What it would mean for Joe Biden and Donald Trump, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says his campaign has gathered enough signatures in Nevada to qualify for the ballot in that swing state. If that state verifies them, it could reshape the race in yet another battleground. A Super PAC supporting him announced last month that it has got enough signatures to secure his ballot access in Arizona and Georgia, those still need to be verified as well.


BASH: Our panel is here to discuss. I have to say I'm mildly obsessed with this story line because it does have the potential to be an earthquake.


BASH: -- depending on whether or not he is certified in these states and let me just kind of give a bigger more fulsome picture, Nia. In Utah, he has already successfully filed to appear on that ballot. Utah is I think pretty reliably red state, but we'll see. Nevada, New Hampshire, Hawaii, campaign has met this signature threshold to qualify. And as I mentioned, Arizona and Georgia, maybe the sort of mother of all swings -- twin swing states, the Super PAC met the signature threshold.

HENDERSON: Yeah. This will pose a real problem primarily for Joe Biden. If you start to peel off younger voters, you start to peel off African-American voters, the Kennedy name holds a lot of sway and listen, some of the things he has done around the climate as well. In terms of Trump, obviously, RFK Jr. is a big anti-vaxxer. That could peel away some Trump voters as well. So, it is a mixed bag. I would think it is more dangerous for Joe Biden, given Kennedy's legacy coming from the Kennedy family, a big Democratic family. It's probably more harmful for Biden.

BASH: Yeah.

HENDERSON: -- than Donald Trump. And I think this is overall a problem for Joe Biden, it's sort of death by thousand cuts, right? If you look at the way he has to piece together this coalition, a little here, a little there in terms of losing voters just around the edges in these swing states is disastrous.

BASH: Yeah. Kennedy family that has almost entirely rejected themselves from this bet and supporting -- they are supporting Biden. Let's just show our viewers the latest national snapshot of where he stands. Donald Trump 41 percent; Biden 38 percent; Kennedy 13 percent. Amy?

WALTER: Yeah. As you said, it's really in these swing states that matter.

BASH: Right.

WALTER: Look, I -- now that the campaign has officially been kicked off, I'm expecting that we are going to see outside groups --

BASH: Let's see.

WALTER: (Inaudible) go in and start to define Robert F. Kennedy, those on the more liberal side of the equation.

BASH: Outside groups who support somebody whose name rhymes with Smiden (ph).

WALTER: Yes, perhaps so.


WALTER: And because nobody really knows much about RFK Jr. He has not been defined at all in this race, and I would expect that to begin in earnest in these states.

BASH: And just anecdotally, I bet you guys who've been out on the trail as well have heard this, New Hampshire, a couple of people said to me, just having regular conversations, who do you support? I'm not sure. I think Kennedy. Why? Well, he's a Kennedy.

ZELENY: Yeah, for sure.

BASH: That was the actual answer.


ZELENY: So the burden on Democrats is to pull it from a Kennedy to the Kennedy, to who Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is and what he stands for, et cetera. We are about to learn a lot more from that. The Democratic National Committee has a full project on this to put money behind it to influence people. But one other state not on there, I'm told is also on the verge, is Michigan.

BASH: Wow.

ZELENY: And that is something that could be pretty influential. One challenge is on foreign policy. He's not aligned with progressives necessarily, so he fits a lot of different boxes, but that could also be a challenge --

BASH: Yeah.

ZELENY: -- because he's not a perfect one for the box. But the name in and of itself is a challenge as all third-party candidates are, like Jill Stein, Cornel West.

BASH: Yeah. And then, we haven't talked about the labels, which is going to decide apparently by the end of the week, maybe by Friday, whether or not they have the ability they say to get on virtually all the ballots. And the question is whether they are going to decide to run a candidate. We are definitely awaiting that. OK. We're going to just take a moment to go in the way back machine, way, way back to the fall of 2022.

(LAUGH) BASH: And just remind everybody where Donald Trump's -- where he was in the zeitgeist. This is after the midterms did not go well for Republicans, not as well as they had hoped. He had just announced he was running for president. Trump is the Republican Party's biggest loser. Donald Trump is finally finished. Trump voters are done with the ex-president. Republicans blast Trump over dinner with holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. I am appalled and he was called an unmitigated disaster. And now, the -- one of the, if not the earliest nominee to effectively secure the nomination.

ZELENY: I think you could boil it down to two things happening. One, all of the charges beginning with Alvin Bragg in Manhattan, it -- that started a chain reaction of other charges. They are all separate of course, but that really rallied the Republican base. You could see it happening out in Iowa and New Hampshire and other places.


ZELENY: That happening at the same time that President Biden's perceived weaknesses grew, and he was no longer so difficult to beat in their eyes. So, those things coming together made Donald Trump the darling of the party. And some missteps by some rivals along the way. There is a lot of things in this mixture, but those are a couple of reasons.

HENDERSON: And in some ways, I think this was always more of a hope of the sort of mainstream media than a reality of the folks on the ground. Donald Trump's chosen candidates in 2022 did not win, but they did pretty good.

BASH: Yeah. Although --

HENDERSON: -- in these races.

BASH: Yeah. We got to go, but I will say Kristen Holmes was saying, the last time she was at Mar-a-Lago before last night was in 2022, when he was announcing and it was pretty depressing. People didn't think it was a real thing. And here we are.

Thank you all so much. Thank you for joining "Inside Politics." "CNN News Central" starts after the break.