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Biden To Lean Into More Populist Economic Message Tonight; Official: Biden Will Address Gaza War "In A Very Meaningful Way"; Tonight: A Crucial Speech For Biden Ahead Of Tough Reelection; Trump Promising "Live, Play-By-Play" Response To State Of The Union; Trump: "I Am Calling For Debates Anytime, Anywhere"; Biden, Trump Work To Woo Haley Voters 8+ Donors; KFILE: How Biden's Rhetoric On Immigration Has Changed Since 2020. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 07, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, the performance of a lifetime. Hours from now, Joe Biden will deliver what could be the most pivotal speech of his political career. And it's not just the president's job performance that will be under the microscope tonight. It may be his actual performance that matters most.

Plus, Donald Trump is calling for debates anytime, anywhere, anyplace after boycotting them all primary season. Biden campaign isn't saying they're in or out, just responding that Trump is, quote, thirsty for attention.

And the agonizing choice to leave your home state to terminate a wanted pregnancy. A mother put in that position because of Texas abortion laws will be in the First Lady's box at the State of the Union tonight. But first, Kate Cox is my guest here this hour.

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

First up, every moment matters. Every word, every step, every pause, every reaction for an 81-year-old president who wants four more years in the Oval Office. It all matters big time. And Joe Biden may never have had a moment like this before and may not again in the next several months, at least. Tonight's State of the Union is likely the largest audience the president will have between now and the voter -- when the voters go to the polls in November.

CNN's Kevin Liptak is covering all of the preparations from the White House. Kevin, I want to start with some new reporting on a very thorny foreign policy issue.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah. Certainly, this has been the topic that has consumed the president's time over the last several months. And we do understand that in his State of the Union tonight, President Biden plans to make a new announcement when it comes to getting humanitarian aid into Gaza.

He will announce that he is directing the U.S. military to undertake an emergency mission to construct a port along the Mediterranean coast in Gaza to allow for the flow of humanitarian aid into the strip. They're likening this to a temporary pier. It will involve aid that's routed through Cyprus on major ships to this pier into Gaza.

And they say this will increase the capacity for aid by hundreds of trucks per day. And very importantly, they say this will not involve U.S. boots on the ground. That is something that President Biden has made very clear that he's not willing to do. They say they are able to construct this port from offshore.

And so certainly an important moment for the humanitarian aid, but also politically for President Biden as he's confronting this thorny crisis. So that will be a major announcement. But I think the real centerpiece of this speech tonight will be this focus on economic populism.

President Biden calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations going after corporate greed, talking about lowering costs for healthcare. Certainly, this is not a new playbook for Democratic presidents running for reelection. But certainly, President Biden wants to make clear the contrast with Republicans and the former President Donald Trump.

He'll also talk about protecting freedoms at home and abroad, including calling on the restoration of abortion rights nationwide, talking about the IVF issue. In the First Lady's box, we'll see people affected by that issue. Interesting, we'll also see the prime minister of Sweden, that's the newest member of NATO. President Biden certainly will talk about his commitment to the defense alliance to Ukraine, all with the eye of providing this contrast with Trump.

And certainly, those are the main topics he'll talk about. Obviously, the performance will be a main issue for the president as well, as he looks to combat those issues on age and fitness. That's why he's been rehearsing over the last several days. Certainly, a major moment for the president tonight.

BASH: No question. And I should just add to your great reporting, Kevin, at that an official -- Biden administration official adds that he is going to address the war in a quote, very meaningful way tonight. Kevin, thank you so much for that. As he was just laying out, the president and certainly the candidate part of his job tonight means that he needs to make a very good impression.

I want you to just look at this chart. You can see how the president's standing with the American people has changed since his first address to Congress that happened soon after he took office. His approval ratings are hovering around the lowest of his presidency.

I want to bring in my political panel, CNN's David Chalian, CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, and Carl Hulse of the New York Times. I want to start where Kevin started, David. And I want you talk about sort of the big picture in the moment, but specifically about this decision to make a very big policy announcement when it comes to -- first and foremost what is needed, which is humanitarian aid in the world. But what is needed for him personally politically, which is a nod to people in his party who are saying, do something, do more. [12:05:00]

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, let's put this in context. The President Biden has basically not been able to go give a speech anywhere over the course of the last several months without being shouted down by protesters, demanding calls for a ceasefire, demanding calls for more humanitarian aid. This is something that has bedeviled.

The president -- the vice president, you just see it time and time again. So, does getting ahead of this a bit. Apart from the political piece of it in terms of the electoral politics, getting ahead of this -- putting this out, you know, there could have been a moment and maybe there still will be -- we'll see tonight with him at the rostrum and in the -- well of the House, you could have had members of Congress.

Rashida Tlaib or what have you -- sort of embody what all those protesters have been doing to the president as he's been out on the trail, even in fundraisers this has been happening. And so, this now is trying, I think, to sort of be a release valve a bit of that built up political pressure on this specific issue, to give a bit of a policy victory to that side of the equation in hopes of I think, bringing down the temperature of this moment in the speech.

BASH: Jeff Zients, the White House Chief of Staff doesn't do a lot of interviews, but he did one for -- with POLITICO this morning. And he said the following. He said, States of the Union are big moments. You could argue that this is a particularly big moment, and I think there's no one better at handling high stakes than President Biden. You're going to see a very energized president. This is a big moment. And the president rises to those big moments.

I think what he's trying to say is this is a big moment. Just spit balling here. What are you hearing from your sources?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not just about the substance, right? It's also about the delivery because a lot of what we're seeing in the polls is concern about the president's age and his acuity, and whether he can have carry on a second term. So, it is going to be focused on that as well.

But in terms of the substance, I mean, this announcement is significant because there are two things happening at once here. It's not just the administration announcing that they're scaling up aid. They're also tweaking their rhetoric a little bit. Remember, there was a time when we talked about humanitarian pauses.

Now the president will go on to say temporary ceasefire. The vice president also forceful (Ph) ceasefire. Yes. The vice president doing exactly that in Selma on Sunday, and talking about the dire situation in Gaza, talking about women, children starving.

So, there has been shifts here that I think are going to be reflected in his remarks to acknowledge that what voters are feeling and what they're seeing. And that is what I am hearing from my sources. If that is what the president has to do.

It's also not just talking about what he's accomplished and what his vision is. But understanding the frustration that some voters still have been about the costs every day, the kitchen table issues, the concerns about the U.S.-Mexico border, and playing those into his speech.

BASH: So, let's just talk -- pick up on the substance, which is very important. Look at what he is going to talk about. We're told that he has done and then what he will do. First, what he has done, the accomplishments that they get frustrated that they don't feel like are penetrating into the electorate, affordability. Strike force to crack down on unfair pricing, $20 billion reduction in junk fees, affordable student loan repayment plan, forgiving $138 million in student loans for 3.9 million people, reducing drug prices and so forth.

And then, when you look prospectively slash, you know, campaign promises, it's all about populism. And the idea of punishing corporations, helping the working person, raising the corporate tax rate 20 percent, raising corporate minimum tax 21 percent, raising minimum income tax for billionaires to 25 percent, increase Medicare taxes for wealthy.

Carl Hulse, you know, the mood on Capitol Hill better than most members of Congress. I mean, this -- I'm not suggesting that he thinks that this is going to all pass tomorrow and that this is -- you know, this is his platform. But is there any desire for any ---

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, they are barely funding the government. So, the idea that -- but you're going to do a lot of other things. You know, it's a bit ---

BASH: I'm laughing, its actually not ---

HULSE: It's a bit of a pipe.

BASH: Yeah.

HULSE: I mean, you mentioned kitchen table. This is like the kitchen sink, right? He's -- we're going to do all this stuff that we're probably not going to do. And, you know, policy announcements are great in State of the Union, no one really remembers them very long. But what they're going to remember from tonight is how Joe Biden performance.

This is one of the -- one of the State of the Unions where I think people are going to focus on it and see how he does. This is pretty good setting for Biden. He's very familiar with it as both a senator and a person who sat there as vice president. I think that the Republicans will try and rattle them.


But the rattling by the Republicans was the best thing about his performance in last year's State of the Union, when he got into jousting with them. You know, Joe Biden knows how to counter this kind of thing, but I do think, you know, he really needs to step up, but according to the chief of staff there they know that ---

BASH: Yeah.

HULSE: --- this time, they know that.

BASH: They're well aware.

CHALIAN: And that acknowledge what the chief of staff is also doing.

BASH: Yeah.

CHALIAN: By raising the stakes and leaning into it and describing what a big moment this is, and that he needs to deliver and what have you. If Joe Biden doesn't trip on the steps on his way up and gets through the speech, he's going to meet the bar of like -- of what people are doing in terms of expectation setting here.

So, I don't -- I think that the performance is obviously key, given everything are saying, but I think we are -- we're probably buying into this notion that somehow -- that you said, it's a very comfortable setting for him.

BASH: It is.

CHALIAN: He should be able to deliver -- especially the problem.

BASH: I agree. And but it's also obviously not just about this feature. It's about the cumulative effect of the feeling of not just -- like apparently some voters. But the people who are in the chattering class, the people who are writing checks. Our colleague Isaac Dovere has some great reporting this morning, talking about what he is hearing from Democratic officials.

He says, two dozen top Democratic officials and operatives who spoke to CNN said they're tired of reading that the president is cursing about Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu behind closed doors of the Oval Office, or hearing reports that he told donors that Vladimir Putin is a crazy SOB and that MAGA Republicans are worse than segregationist. They want to see that passion and fire out in public as assurances that the president behind-the-scenes demeanor doesn't match the public perception of the 81-year-old commander-in-chief wearing thin.

ALVAREZ: Well, and that is where -- yes, this is a very structured setting the remarks, but it's the off scripted moments. And that is exactly what the -- what Democratic strategist and officials and lawmakers want to see more of, and he did exactly that last year with Social Security. He then followed that up by going to Tampa, and basically taking aim at Rick Scott's plan.

And those are the moments that people -- obviously, people are looking for, but that he also does well in. I mean, he plays that to his advantage in those moments. And it speaks again to whether he can carry the second term, like voters want to see. But this is a place where he can package everything that me and other White House reporters see on the trail in one place, but then also play off what the Republican lawmakers if they go after him.

HULSE: And this may be remembered as the abortion rights State of the Union to and with IVF being -- I mean, the Democrats are really, really pushing that today. There's a bunch of events leading into this. They see this as a really, really big winner for them in the election. And maybe the issue that could be decisive for Biden as he's trailing.

BASH: OK. Up next. Because of course, he is, Donald Trump promises a quote, live play-by-play during the State of the Union tonight. Look at what that presumptive GOP nominee will be up till tonight.




BASH: He won't be at the podium tonight and he probably won't be mentioned by name. But former President Trump and now the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump won't be keeping a low profile during the State of the Union. That's exactly what he is promising. He posted on social media that he will be doing a live play-by-play reaction to the speech and offering quote unquote, "corrections."

Our panel is back now. David Chalian?

CHALIAN: Donald Trump is fact checker who would have -- look, it ever.

BASH: His social media platform is called Truth Social.

CHALIAN: But listen. You know, it is noteworthy that this State of the Union address comes the day after Nikki Haley gets out of the race and that the general election begins in earnest and is a new context. And obviously, this is a big, huge stage for the president. So, you would expect his opponent to try and find a way into the news cycle. Donald Trump doesn't have a hard time finding his way into the new cycle.

And so, no doubt he will want to inject himself into all the commentary that comes out of this speech in some way. Whatever that may end up being, I think the reality is, and I think the Trump team knows this, is this Joe Biden's night, which may work for them. Indeed, his performance is not what people thinks -- they think it should be.

BASH: One of the ways that Donald Trump is trying to make his voice heard. That's I think the way that the Biden campaign put it today. He's already goading Joe Biden on debates. And he said, it's important for the good of the country that Joe Biden and I debate issues that are so vital to America and the American people.

Therefore, I'm calling for debates anytime, anywhere, any place. The debates could not be -- cannot be run by the corrupt DNC, or their subsidiary, Commission on Presidential Debates. I look forward to receiving a response. And this is my favorite part of this. Thank you for your attention to this matter. HULSE: (Inaudible) sending out the office memo. You know, people are worried there won't be any debates. And you know, he's saying he'll debate, but who knows. He also says, he won't do it with the commission, which is ---

BASH: I think he actually wants to debate.

HULSE: Right. I don't know.

BASH: Well, the president's left for it.

HULSE: I can handle himself in a debate like that. I think David is right. I think what Trump says, we'll get some attention tonight. But this -- it's hard to break through the State of the Union, right? It's on all the networks and it's everywhere. And I think the people who've given the -- sometimes ill-fated response to the State of the Union have found out how difficult that is to counter the president. The whole -- it's just the scenario is so big, right?


ALVAREZ: But isn't it also another way of seeing the whole that the former president holds over the Republican Party because there are some things the president could say that would get acknowledgement from Republicans that may not be the case anymore. I mean I'm just thinking about border security, given my background. But there are measures in there that he will talk about that there was a time where Republicans would be on board with him.

BASH: They'll get mad at them if they clap at anything that he says. That's a really ---

CHALIAN: The important for NATO.


CHALIAN: Biden will draw the contrast.

BASH: A divide. So, let's just shift gears slightly and talk a bit more about what Donald Trump has to do. If he tries to do it to get those Nikki Haley voters back in his fold looking ahead. One of the questions is about how the voters feel? And whether or not, those who voted for Nikki Haley were just trying to protest and then they'll come back into the fold, or whether they protest and they're like, you know, never going to do it.

Our colleagues went out and talked to some of those Haley voters in Virginia. They voted on Super Tuesday. Let's listen.


BARBARA GREEN, HALEY VOTER: No question, Biden. We cannot have another four years that may and ---

JIM FETGATTER, HALEY VOTER: I'm not going to vote for either one. If she was on the little labels ticket, I would certainly vote for her. KELLY SCHOFIELD, HALEY VOTER: My intention is to write her in at the end. And because I really cannot vote for her opponent.

CAROLE COLBURN, HALEY VOTER: I at this point can't answer that question. I think that this country can do better than the choice that we've been given.


BASH: Which leads me to a question that is more relevant than we have seen in many, many cycles. I think since you and I really have been covering campaigns. And that is whether there is really a fertile ground for a third way.

And Liz Cheney sent out this tweet. She said, the GOP has chosen. They will nominate a man who attempted to overturn an election and seize power. We have eight months to save our Republican ensured Donald Trump's never anywhere near the opposite -- the Oval Office again. Join me in the fight for our nation's freedom.

I'm not suggesting that she is going to jump in and be that third way. Others are, but it's people like that who have megaphones, who don't want either candidate necessarily, who are trying to figure out what to do with this frustrated sector.

CHALIAN: Yeah. And Liz Cheney, specifically, I mean, watch this space, because she doesn't want Donald Trump. That's what she really doesn't want.

BASH: Yeah.

CHALIAN: And if she thinks the best way to not get Donald Trump is supporting Joe Biden. I would imagine you might see her on the convention stage in Chicago, the Biden ---

BASH: So, the dynamic, and then the other voters ---

CHALIAN: Exactly. And there's no doubt, Dana, that voters -- I mean, you just heard some of them would like an out here and like find a viable third party, and it's always been an attractive option. The issue is, of course, there's not a path really for that kind of candidate in our system to get to 270 electoral votes. I mean, you know, Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote. He got zero electoral votes.

So, it is so difficult and what it does -- and this is why Democrats are so worried about this. The entrance of giving that option to people who don't want Biden and really don't want Trump, it lowers Trump's need number, his win number. It lowers it and makes Trump winning more attainable. That's what Democrats are going to try to convince the folks that around the labels or people who may go support Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that they are handing the Oval Office to Donald Trump.

BASH: Real quick, Carl. HULSE: I mean, the cards are stacked against the third-party person. What those -- who those people are? What this election is about? How do you get those people? And that's what Biden is going to have to try to do. I have a hard time seeing Trump getting those people. But another alternative could get their vote and make them feel better when they vote.

ALVAREZ: And Biden tried a real quick to get them to.

BASH: Yeah. He did. All right, up next border security will be a big issue inside the Capitol tonight just as it is on the campaign trail ahead. A really interesting look from the CNN KFILE, how President Biden has evolved on the issue.




BASH: President Biden is just hours away from delivering his last State of the Union address before the election. And the border crisis will no doubt be center stage just as his -- as it has been on the campaign trail.

Our KFILE team did some digging and found Biden is now talking about immigration really differently than he did in his 2020 presidential campaign, where he called the migrants seeking asylum that he called it -- excuse me, called on migrants seeking is the asylum to search the border, easy for me to say. Listen to what Biden said during an Iowa campaign stop back in 2019.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We could afford to take in a heartbeat another two million people. The idea that a country of 330 million people cannot absorb people who are in desperate need and who are justifiably fleeing oppression is absolutely bizarre, absolutely bizarre. I would also move to increase the total number of immigrants able to come to the United States.


BASH: Joining me now is CNN's Andrew Kaczynski. Andrew, we have seen far more than that when we're looking at the number of people crossing the border since he became president.

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN, REPORTER: Well, that's right. Biden's own administration points to these numbers, more than three million migrants who entered since Biden took office who are still in the country. And as you know, mass migration at the border is significantly overwhelming U.S. immigration resources.