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Inside Politics

Tonight: LSU, Iowa Face Off In Women's Elite 8; Trump Ramps Up Attacks On Judges, Prosecutors As 1st Trail Looms; Trump Spends Easter Sunday Posting On Social Media About "People That I Completely & Totally Despise"; Biden Campaign: Trump Is "Inciting Political Violence"; NYT: Trump Is "Infusing Christianity Into His Movement"; Johnson To Tackle Ukraine Aid With Speakership On The Line; GOP Rep. Lawler Calls Effort To Bounce Speaker "Idiotic"; Rep. Bacon: Refusing To Compromise Makes House GOP "Dysfunctional". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics. Evil, sick, deranged, crooked and corrupt. Donald Trump chose those words to describe the prosecutors and judges, leading the criminal cases against him as he waits for his first trial to begin in just two weeks.

Plus, good news for Ukraine, potentially bad news for Mike Johnson. The House speaker says he will allow a vote on desperately needed military aid. Could it cost him the gavel? One he's had for not even six months. And President Biden may have a problem with a voting bloc critical to his reelection, black voters. We have new reporting on campaign plans to keep them in his corner in November.

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

We start today with Donald Trump's dangerous rhetoric. The former president is not just using words to attack people, he calls enemies. He is also using images of video depicting Joe Biden tied up in the back of a Trump supporters' pickup truck. He posted a picture of the daughter of a judge overseeing his hush money trial in New York, which begins just 14 days from now.

CNN's Alayna Treene joins me now. So, look, Alayna, this playbook is not new. This is what we expect from Donald Trump. Now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee, though and in -- on charted waters are going into trial. It's important that we continue to call it out.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: I absolutely agree with you, Dana. And I think the timing here is very significant. These attacks that he is making on the judges' daughter, the judge in his upcoming trial in New York, his prosecutors, lawyers, the former -- the president himself. They're all coming as not only Donald Trump is kicking off his general election campaign in earnest, but also as he is preparing to head to trial later this month. It's really a critical moment for him in his general election campaign, but also in his legal battles.

And I do just want to read for you some of what he wrote yesterday on Easter Sunday, going after what he's deemed as his political enemies. He said, quote, happy Easter to all, including crooked and corrupt prosecutors and judges that are doing everything possible to interfere with the presidential election of 2024. And put me in prison, including those many people that I completely and totally despise because they want to destroy America, a now failing nation.

And he went on to criticize and attack Special Counsel Jack Smith as well as the Georgia district attorney -- excuse me, the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. But look, you said this is a playbook we have seen Donald Trump use before. And you're exactly right. And when we say playbook, I mean that quite literally.

We know that Donald Trump has written several books, laying out this strategy. There was one about how to get rich, where he says, you know, when you have an enemy, you need to go after them viciously and violently. And he's continued to do that. And it's not only in this campaign, but also he did this in the lead up to 2016, using fear and fear mongering to really try to find his way into the White House the first time around. And it's exactly what he is doing this time.

But again, I think the notion of these attacks, and especially where he's going after prosecutors and the judges' family, it's important because it's coming as he is headed to trial. And this is how he's trying to successfully in his mind get a lot of his voters, and more people riled up about this and, you know, contribute to his claims that this is election interference. Dana?

BASH: When you said contribute, I thought you were going to use a different word afterwards, which is can contribute to his campaign, which is another big part of it. Yeah, yeah. Thanks so much for that reporting. I appreciate it. Let's talk more about this with our terrific reporters here. PBS Newshour's Laura Barron-Lopez, Margaret Talev of Axios, and The Washington Post's Aaron Blake. Nice to see you all.

I'm guessing that you were not on Truth Social for your Easter Sunday. So let me just give you a sense of what was happening on his social media platform. And what was happening was a lot. A lot of things was happening. We're not going to call and explain all the specifics of the posts, but we can just show you that there were many, many of them, dozens and dozens of the -- I don't know what you call them truths. He was posting -- reposting other people's, sometimes rants, sometimes just plain old comments. And that's one part of the discussion.


The other is what we were talking about with Alayna. And that is -- just to be totally candid, it's kind of the struggle that we all have right now. As reporters and knowing exactly what Trump is doing, knowing why he's doing it. And yet, from my point of view, feeling that it is really critically important to continue to show as much as we can of what he is doing because it matters, it has consequences. Things that he says, have consequences. And we know that all too well.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. We have evidence of that. I mean, this goes all the way back to 2016 as Alayna said. During his rallies in 2015 and 2016, he would talk a lot about violence in a joking way, and just glorify violence and attempt to normalize it. And there were fistfights and some arrests that occurred at his rallies. He then, you know, 2017 occurs with the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville. And he says that there were very fine people on both sides.

And there's an attempt throughout the course of the time that he's been, whether he was in office or running for office, where he has repeatedly tried to desensitize his base to any attempt at violence or an implication of violence or just rhetoric about violent rhetoric. I mean, we've seen more and more violent rhetoric and the use of guns also in Republican campaign ads over the last eight years or so.

So, there is evidence that this type of rhetoric results in death threats, it results in doxing. It results in actual violence itself, like January 6.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: So, the combination of violent rhetoric and sharing of violent images or violent suggestions of images paired with misinformation about the election -- about whether things were rigged that weren't actually rigged or whether results that are accurate and follow the rule of law should be distrusted.

When you pair those two things, it makes the connections in people's minds between using violent language or even thinking violently about correcting something that actually doesn't need to be corrected because you know -- because it wasn't wrecked.

So, I think those things are problematic. It's interesting because one question is, how much does this either engage the base to think about unlawful conduct? But the other is, how much does it cause the rest of American society to sort of say, you know, what, I'm not interested in this. I really don't like politics and keep people home and make them less interested in voting, or engaging around the issues, or kind of taking a little bit more control of their democracy.

And I was really struck by our colleague, Paul Kane of The Washington Post's reporting over the weekend on this new findings from this congressional -- you're going to try to get it right, because the congressional management foundation and it found two things. It found that only like one out of five senior officials on Capitol Hill say that Congress is functioning the way Democratic legislature should.

And the other is that like, somewhere close to half of people working on the Hill at a senior level are thinking about leaving because of the heated rhetoric coming from the other party. And I think that shows -- it's not just how it impacts the public, but literally the people who are working in government have now sort of become impacted by the violent rhetoric.

AARON BLAKE, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And I don't think we should separate this necessarily from all the retirements that we're seeing among more mainstream Republicans. It's so difficult to know whether this kind of violent rhetoric actually has a direct impact. So, after January 6, during impeachment, Trump attacks all these people who are floating voting for impeachment. A lot of them wind up losing, a lot of them wind up retiring.

But I think that, you know, a lot of these people don't want to advertise the death threats that they get. We got that a little bit during the speakership race last year. When a bunch of Jim Jordan supporters -- you know, Jim Jordan said this wasn't sanctioned. But a bunch of Jim Jordan supporters were very hard on the Republicans who were not voting for him. And we saw a congressman like Don Bacon, come out and talk about the threats that they were getting because of this.

And I think that was telling because that didn't involve Donald Trump. So, they weren't criticizing Donald Trump, but they were kind of putting out this this notice that there was -- this factor that was the ugliness of politics, the ugliness of people coming after them and doing these threats. And I don't think we shouldn't underestimate how much this is having a behind the scenes impact, not just on Congress, but potentially on our judicial system.


BASH: Yeah. I mean that's an important point. In the judicial system, I mean let's just be clear. A big part of why the former president posted about the judge's daughter was intimidation. I mean, it's pretty obvious. Then the question and you all kind of touched on this dynamic in different ways is other Republicans. And whether or not they want to condemn what Donald Trump is saying and doing or not.

There was a time during the Trump presidency where Republicans would run for reporters because they didn't want to talk about his latest tweet. Then the former president kind of receded from the white-hot spotlight for a little while and they came out and talked about issues, and we're really happy about it. And I'm not saying we don't talk to these members about issues. We do, but he's now the presumptive nominee of their party.

And I talked to Mike Lawler, who is one of the front liners. Somebody who helped make the House Republican majority by winning a seat in New York. Here's what he said.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): I think everyone needs to tone down the rhetoric, the language. And you know, obviously, social media has become a vehicle by which to bludgeon people. I just think at the end of the day, the former president, current president, and on down, all of us have a responsibility to check our language.


BASH: Don Bacon, who's in a similar boat. When it comes to his viability in November was on NBC, said something similar kind of did the both sides. Now, it is true that President Biden's campaign is being much more aggressive, which is a different story, different discussion. But they're not putting violent images up. They're not putting, you know, pictures of people up saying like, effectively go after this person. It is different. BARRON-LOPEZ: It is very different. I mean, there is not -- both sides are not engaging in violent rhetoric at the same levels whatsoever. The Democratic side also at the same levels as Republicans is not lying about whether or not an election was stolen or rigged, which, you know, that whole -- the whole lie about the 2020 election being stolen is what led to January 6, as to what led to the insurrection on the Capitol.

And Trump telling people to go march on the Capitol and not speaking for hours -- for, you know, the 187 minutes to tell them to stop. So, there is a big difference. I mean, just to add on to what Aaron was saying, it wasn't just with this speaker race where, you know, Republicans have been intimidated and have received death threats.

We heard from Mitt Romney, who told the Atlantic that when there were the impeachment votes going down, especially after January 6, that there were Republicans who told him that they would have potentially voted to convict or to impeach President Donald Trump, but that they didn't because they were worried about the attacks on themselves and on their family.

BASH: So, it worked. I mean, intimidation worked. We're almost at a time here. But I do want to talk for a moment about yesterday being Easter. And there have been a couple of really interesting stories, including from our friend, Mike Bender at the New York Times about what Donald Trump's campaign and him personally what they're doing to try to infuse Christianity into his political movement.

Here's one quote. Trump has split the atom between character and policy. This is according to a man named Michael Fea, who is a history professor at Messiah University. He did it because he's really the first one to listen to their grievances and take them seriously. Does he really care about evangelicals? I don't know. But he's built a message to appeal to them directly.

TALEV: I certainly think that's true because he's trying to figure out a winning coalition that could carry him for turnout reasons in the general election. But I also think part of the way he's able to do that is because of looking at past results and seeing that a lot of the support for him comes from people who don't agree with aspects of his personal life or the way he talks, the way he conducts himself. But think he can win things and that he can succeed at carry their agenda over the finish line.

I think that ultimately is more important than $60 marketing Bibles or even the words of the message. If he could use the same message, he could even conduct himself in a way that resonated more with the agenda. It is the winning and the communication skills that are carrying him today.

BASH: Yeah. No question. OK. Everybody standby, because coming up Speaker Mike Johnson is signaling. He will allow a House vote on aid to Ukraine. As soon as next week, will that prompt a vote to try to kick him out of the speaker's chair. We'll discuss that with some new reporting after a break.



BASH: After months of urgent pleas from Ukraine and its supporters here in Washington as Speaker Mike Johnson says that yes. He will allow a vote on military aid as soon as next week that could further rile up members of the far right, who are already pretty mad with Johnson over the fact that he compromised with Democrats to keep the government open.


I want to bring in CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona. Melanie, what do we know about Johnson's plan for Ukraine aid?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Johnson has been working over this recess break to put together a package on Ukraine. It is not finished yet. But he has offered some clues about what that proposal might look like. And Speaker Johnson is making clear that Republicans plan to put their own stamp on any piece of legislation. Just take a listen to what he said on Fox News last night.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON, (R-LA): When we return after this break -- period, we'll be moving a product, but it's going to -- I think have some important innovations, the REPO Act. You know, if we can use the seized assets of Russian oligarchs to allow the Ukrainians to fight them, that's just pure poetry. Even President Trump has talked about the loan concept where we set up -- we're not just giving foreign aid. We're setting up in a relationship where they can provide it back to us when the time is right.


ZANONA: And Johnson also mentioned potentially adding an expansion of liquefied natural gas exports. So essentially, what he is doing here is trying to load up the package with goodies to try to attract more Republican support. But Johnson has got to be careful because he is going to need significant Democratic support to get this thing over the finish line. So, he has some very big decisions to make in the coming days and weeks, including whether to attach Ukraine aid to Israel aid and the border.

BASH: The art of legislating it ain't easy. You and our colleagues have some great new reporting about how the House speaker is hoping to thread the needle here, not just about actually getting this done with the Democrats and enough Republicans, but for him personally not to do so and trigger a revolt again inside his party.

ZANONA: Yeah. That is exactly right, Dana. Essentially, how he handles Ukraine funding is going to dictate whether or not he gets to keep his speaker's gavel. Marjorie Taylor Greene, staunch opponent of Ukraine funding has threatened to force a floor vote on a motion to vacate the speaker's chair. At this point, she's not forced that step. And no one else has come out behind her and said they support it as well. But Johnson cannot take anything for chance in this razor thin majority. So, he said he's going to talk to Marjorie Taylor Greene earlier this week. And he's also been consulting with a another firebrand and that's Republican Matt Gaetz, who was the architect of the last effort to remove a speaker. But in this case, he's actually emerged as a pretty strong Johnson ally. And he said he has been giving the speaker some important advice. Take a listen.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I talked to the speaker often. He's a good friend of mine. We sat next to each other for seven years. I gave the speaker some unsolicited advice that we've got to get into a fighting posture. And I was very pleased with how the speaker received that advice.


ZANONA: So essentially, what Johnson is going to have to do is try to find the least politically damaging option when it comes to Ukraine. And whatever decisions he's made, it's going to have a huge impact, not only on Ukraine, but also for his speakership, Dana?

BASH: Somewhere in the country right now, maybe in Bakersfield, maybe here in Washington. Kevin McCarthy is throwing things at the wall, watching, and maybe something else -- watching what Matt Gaetz just said, it's probably it's upside down --


BASH: Yes. Thank you so much for that great reporting. Mel, appreciate it. Our panel is back here. So first of all, let's just talk for just a beat about the Matt Gaetz if at all. The guy who orchestrated the crazy eight as Kevin McCarthy called them, and now he's giving Mike Johnson some advice. Is this buyer's remorse or seller's remorse, not buyer's remorse. Seller's remorse or is it like -- what is it?

BLAKE: I do like the idea that he emphasized that it was unsolicited advice that Mike Johnson had actually reached out to him and sought this advice. It's certainly interesting. I think that there has been a little bit of a pulling back of the motion to vacate fever in that House Republican conference. That's not to say it can't happen again because it relies on a very small number of Republicans who could combine with Democrats.

But this Ukraine thing is a -- is a huge question for Mike Johnson. He has talked repeatedly about how this is an important thing to get done in some form. How you're going to get that done in a way that Republicans want is very difficult. How you're going to get that done in a way that can get through the rules committee, which is a very significant part of this process is very important, because you need 290 votes, if you can't do that.

So, I think there's a real question here of, is Mike Johnson going to kind of go through the motions on this -- try to give Republicans what they want on this package. And if that doesn't work, maybe you revert to the Senate bill that passed with 70 votes.

BASH: So, there are a couple of things that are different now, aside from the fact that Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy are very different for many, many reasons. The other is that we are very much in an election year at this point. I mean, we are April of 2024. And so, you have the Republicans who are a member of this -- members of this conference who are up for reelection in very difficult districts. Like I talked about Mike Lawler earlier who say, we don't need thank you very much. Our constituents to see this chaos back in Washington again.



LAWLER: Obviously, she has introduced it. She has not yet made it privileged. But as I said the day that she introduced it, it's idiotic and it's not going to actually help advance the cause that she believes in. And in fact, it undermines our House Republican majority.


BASH: And he's been one really trying hard to get the Ukraine aid passed.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, because it would help in districts like his -- where it's a district that is frontline, that Biden won ones where, you know, Republicans. If they're going to have any chance at all of holding on to this in majority, they have to win again. But I want to go back to something that Mike Johnson was saying, when he was talking about the seizing of the Russian assets. That's something that a number of Democrats have told me that they support, but the issue is that the White House wants to treat that almost as a last resort.

Because ultimately, if they were to do that, it isn't as much money as they could get through Congress. And so that's why they're treating that as a last resort that President Biden is because they want to see something ultimately pass through Congress. You know, whatever they can potentially get through, preferably not alone in the form of a loan, which is what Speaker Johnson was also referring to. And I think that there are --

BASH: Because that's what Donald Trump won.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. And I think that there are a number of Democrats who have said that that they might be open to saving Speaker Johnson, if he ultimately gives them something on Ukraine.

BASH: I want you to listen to Don Bacon, Republican from Nebraska. Even though it's Nebraska, it is a swing district that he represents. He was on meet the press and he was talking about -- again, the art of legislating and the fact that some of his colleagues need to realize, you're not going to get everything you want.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DON BACON (R-NE): It's a very narrow majority. And one or two people can make us a minority. And I got the view, you work with a team. I don't have to get 100 percent. 80 percent as the Ronald Reagan rule, but we have some -- we have some people that if they don't get 100 percent, they want to bring the House down and it makes us dysfunctional.


TALEV: Yes. I mean -- and that's exactly the point. The -- funding Ukraine, helping Ukraine, fight back Russia is an issue that largely unites the Democratic caucus and weirdly splits the Republican caucus, which used to be, you know, like national security and strength and put your foot forward.

So, I think if you look at the Pew data. Pew Research Center did some polling back in February showed three fourths of Americans slightly higher for Democrats, slightly lower for Republicans. Three fourths of Americans think that what's going on right now with Russia invading Ukraine in that war is of -- it is of national interest the United States.

You can quibble about how much to spend. You can quibble about the details but just saying we're done.

BASH: Yeah.

TALEV: That's problematic for voters across the aisle. And so now it's a marketing issue, a packaging issue in many ways. Can you message about the border? Can you message about protecting American jobs? Can you say you're going to make the oligarchs pay for it? But in the end, there is a compromise that could help Republicans as well as Democrats.

BASH: Yeah. I mean, voters have history books. So, I mean, three quarters of them do. I mean, that's a good sign. All right, everybody standby. Coming up massive demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Thousands of Israelis take to the streets to call on Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. That's he -- as he's promising to send Israeli forces into Rafah, no matter quote, how much pressure he gets from the White House to stand down.