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Flashback: Haley Calls Trump & Biden "Equally Bad"; Haley: Trump "Has Not Been Perfect" But Biden Is A "Catastrophe"; Haley Joins Long List Of Former Trump Foes To Back Him; NYT: Provocative Flag Spotted At Justice Samuel Alito Home; Durbin: Alito "Speaking Pretty Clearly" About "Political Loyalties"; Progressives Push Durbin To Probe Justices Alito, Thomas. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, falling in line. Nikki Haley makes official what was long assumed that she will pick Trump over Biden after a vicious campaign that included racist and sexist taunts, even an attack on her husband while he was serving his country overseas. The question now will her voters follow her lead?

Plus, he did it again. The New York Times reports that Justice Samuel Alito flew a flag used by stop the steel supporters and some Christian nationalists above his second home. A top Democrat says Alito is quote, speaking pretty clearly about his political loyalties. And we're standing by for a rare White House news conference. President Biden will take questions later this hour after meeting with the President of Kenya. We'll bring it to you live.

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

77 days ago, Nikki Haley ended her campaign without endorsing Donald Trump. Instead, she challenged Trump to earn her support and that of her voters. Trump hasn't done much to answer her call, even as hundreds of thousands of Republicans kept voting for her after she dropped out of the race. The two haven't spoken yet. But yesterday, she reemerged from a few months away from the spotlight and said this.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have put my priorities on a president who's going to have the backs of our allies and hold our enemies to account. Who would secure the border, no more excuses. A president who understands we need less debt, not more debt. Trump has not been perfect on these policies. I've made that clear many, many times. But Biden has been a catastrophe. So, I will be voting for Trump.


BASH: It's very different from what she told me back in January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HALEY: I mean, if they were -- if either one of them was good, I wouldn't be running. Yes, they are equally bad. That's why I'm running is because I don't think we need to have Biden or Trump. I don't think we need to have two 80-year-olds sitting in the White House.


BASH: Now, what we haven't heard yet is anything from Donald Trump. It's been nearly 24 hours, and he still hasn't thanked her or said anything about winning her support. Let's talk about this with my group of great colleagues, CNN's Gloria Borger, Jeff Zeleny, Daniel Straus and Kylie Atwood.

OK, so this was probably not the biggest surprise in the world that she was going to support Donald Trump, vote for him. The question is now how she did it and what she will do in the future? Jeff, I know you've been doing reporting on this, I mean we all have. But I want to start with you about-- first and foremost, kind of how this went down. What is your impression based on your sources?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, she gave a big foreign policy speech. It was how she wanted to sort of reenter public life. She's going to Israel next week. She clearly staked out what she sees as flaws in both parties. And then in a very friendly question and answer session. Almost at the end, she said, then yes, I will be voted for Donald Trump.

So, look, she needed to say this at some point. When advisor said, I mean, it's almost a convention time. We're almost at June, not quite. But she needed to say at some point sort of reestablish a Republican credentials, if you will.

She of course, is a conservative Republican from a different strain of the Republican Party than we see leading the way right now. But there was no scenario under which she would vote for Joe Biden -- even Biden officials knew that.

But the question is, I thought how she said it was so interesting. She still did not -- really pretend that she can bring along her supporters and one advisor said she doesn't own those supporters and her voters. And that is true. The big question now is what will she do going forward? I'm told they're waiting to sort of see what the Trump campaign does.

So, she has some delegates. She'll take them to Milwaukee, I think 93 or so. But look, she added to this at some point, and not a surprise, but again, not standing on the rooftop saying, I endorsed Donald Trump -- she can do that.

BASH: For standing at Mar-a-Lago, or you know, doing anything that shows anything more than what she -- I guess had to do as a traditional Republican. And that really is I'm sure you're hearing this as well from her people. That really is the key. I mean, I don't think anybody thought that she was going to say, I'm voting for Joe Biden.


It's just not realistic, but it is one thing to not vote for Joe Biden. It's another thing to say, I'm going to vote for the guy who has said a whole bunch of really nasty things about me. And I have said about him, which I'll play in a minute. But what are you hearing from your sources?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think, you know, you guys point out this is not altogether surprising. But it was about her trying to make the case that she's a Republican, first and foremost. And I think that was the frustration among folks who are close to her that, you know, as there's this talk about Biden, courting her voters.

She was -- you know, she and those close to her were saying these are not -- you know, there may be some Democratic voters in the law, but these are not altogether Democratic voters. And so, I think it was necessary she felt to make folks aware that she maintains her bonafidies as Republican.

BASH: And Gloria, I'm also told that there was a big donor meeting -- Haley donor meeting last week, I believe, and that they were not all but that there were some donors. I'm not saying that she wouldn't have endorsed Trump without this, but that there were some donors who were very focused on her viability 2028 (inaudible) exactly.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's -- look, this is this is about 2028. It's not really about -- now this wasn't a full- throated endorsement. She did it in response to a question. She didn't come on stage and say, hey, guess what, guys, I'm endorsing Donald Trump. She did it in a way that was sort of like, well, look, he's better than the other guy.

By the way a lot of the stuff she says he's better than the other guy on like, she mentioned debt. And during the campaign, and I know you'll roll the tape. She said that he, you know, got the country a trillion dollars more in debt. So, there were -- it was a little disingenuous, you know, foreign policy. She's a foreign policy person. She disagrees with him on Ukraine.

And so, you know -- but she did -- there's pressure from donors, from people who are supporters of hers, who want to see her have a future in the Republican Party. And you can't right now have a future in the Republican Party, unless you're on team Trump.

BASH: Yeah. All right, well, let's take a trip down memory lane, not that long ago. And listen to just some of what Nikki Haley was saying about Donald Trump.


HALEY: The reason that America keeps losing, it's because of Donald Trump. With that kind of disrespect for the military. He's not qualified to be the president of the United States. I mean (inaudible) I know Trump threw a temper tantrum about me last night. I feel no need to kiss the ring. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Daniel?

DANIEL STRAUS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, we've seen contested primaries, hostile candidates, especially Republicans who oppose Trump, and then ended up supporting him. Ted Cruz is a recent example. In 2016, he was the last man standing and had a pretty acrimonious relationship. It's fast forward to today. He's very supportive of the former president.

But what's telling here, I think is not so much. Haley's clearly thinking about her future, thinking about 2028. You can't run and be a viable contender, then without endorsing or supporting Trump.

Now, what's telling though, is what she admitted, which is whether she wants her supporters, whether she wants to strongly encourage them to fully and voice - vociferous back Trump. And what's exceptional about this is that these Haley voters are voting for her in these primaries by double digits, which is something that's very rare in my time covering?

BASH: Well, let's show some of that because we've shown it before on the show, I think even yesterday, but in a different context. And now we're going to show it again, you know, across the board. These contests were after Nikki Haley dropped out of the race. And it's including, and especially in some of the most important swing states, like Arizona, like Pennsylvania, a little bit less so Florida. But these are areas where Republican voters closed primaries are saying, I do not want Donald Trump.

ATWOOD: And I'm told that there aren't any conversations at this moment about her campaigning, but that is at this moment in time. And when you look at those numbers, it's clear that she would be beneficial to the former president if she were to go out on the campaign trail for him. And be able to draw in some of those more moderate voters that she's so very clearly and repeatedly said, he would need in order to win the election.

So, I think that's the next thing that we'll all be watching for. You know, what does this dialogue between the two camps look like once they start talking? Presumably, that'll happen at some point soon.

BORGER: Isn't there a danger here though, that her voters are independent voters. And they see her now -- could they see her now looking like just another political hack, who lies to you during the campaign and now changes her mind and maybe they are angry about this. I mean is that a -- that a possibility.


BASH: I mean, maybe and that's the question for Joe Biden. And for the Biden campaign about whether if they do see -- some of them see her that way, or more importantly, voted for her because they don't like Donald Trump so much. How does he get that? ZELENY: It's a bit of a risk for her brand. And there's no doubt about it, but a much safer route for her in the long term. If she has a long-term future by reestablishing the fact that she is a Republican. That doesn't necessarily mean, you know that she supports everything in this current iteration of the Republican Party, but it's much riskier, I think.

But I'm remembering a conversation I had in the final weekend. She was in a race with two women in Charlotte. They were at her rally, they loved her. And one woman said, she's going to vote Joe Biden. One said, she's going to vote Donald Trump. So, there is a split. There's no doubt. But the Biden campaign is studying these results very carefully. And not just statewide, outside of Philadelphia, in Chester and Delaware counties, you get 25 percent of the vote. They've already --

BASH: Yeah, yeah. I'm so glad you brought that up.

ZELENY: Also, Indiana. She got one in five Republican votes, 21 percent of the vote. Why Indiana? So, the Biden campaign is looking at that as sort of a brand test, if you will, for what to those suburban voters want. And they know most of them will put on their Republican jerseys at the end of the day, but perhaps not all of them. So that is why her voters are still very much sort of a laboratory here for at least on the margins. And this is an election on the margin.

BASH: Daniel?

ATWOOD: Got it. So, it is still a risky move, though, as you say, like, if the independents might be frustrated, but also the Republicans are probably still going to be in a place where they're frustrated with her because they could label her as a spoiler. If she doesn't get out on the campaign trail for Trump, you know, saying she'd vote for him, but not actively pursuing that.

BASH: I just want to get to Ted Cruz. You've mentioned Ted Cruz. What happened back in 2016. Kaitlan Collins had him on her show last night, asked him a lot of about what happened including what we've learned in this hush money trial about how active a Donald Trump and his associates were in placing incorrect information about Cruz and his family in the National Enquirer. Listen to what he said.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX): He'd just been elected president. I got a job. I got a job to represent 30 million Texans. And frankly, if I was going to let my hurt feelings make me say, I'm not going to work with you. I needed to be prepared to resign my job and go home. I was in that position as she didn't want any states. But she was the last person standing. I understand. And that's -- and she was in a hard- fought primary. I had been in that spot. And it took some time for me to decide what to do.


BASH: Now she did when Vermont and D.C. STRAUS: She did those Republican powerhouse (Ph). Look, but at the same time there is no -- Trump has indicated has said and his word is, you know, only temporary a lot of the time that she will not be his vice-presidential pick. It is hard at this moment to see any real sort of alliance between the two similar to where Trump and Cruz are. And her supporters are different than Cruz's supporters in comparison to the average Trump supporter. The inclinations are different.

But you know, Jeff, I really -- I can't get over the Indiana thing because the last time Democrats have competed in one Indiana was 2008 at the presidential. That is hard territory

ZELENY: But it's just a type of voter there.


ZELENY: So, sort of like what kind of toothpaste you like?

BASH: Right, exactly.

ZELENY: What kind of a Republican do you like -- the old Columbus, Ohio test?

STRAUS: Yeah. And so, I think that tells us that, you know, the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign both see this, as Jeff said, as a very, very marginal election. One that's going to be won by a small sliver of the electorate.

BASH: Everybody standby because another controversial flag was spotted outside a home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The same kind of flag was also on display during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. What we're learning after a quick break.




BASH: Democrats are again calling on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to recuse himself from all Trump election related cases. This time after the New York Times reported on a second flag flown by insurrectionists. On January 6, this one was seen flying at Justice Alito's beach house at least four times in 2023. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said this, fits a pattern.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are totally out of control. These individuals continue to detonate the credibility of the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has chosen to conduct itself as if the judiciary is above the law.


BASH: CNN's Joan Biskupic joins me now. Joan, the Justice Alito, obviously you just heard that from Hakeem Jeffries and others saying, you got to recuse yourself on these January 6 related cases. Do you think he will?


JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: There are no signs of that, Dana. It's good to see you and the calls for recusal have been increasing. But as I say, Justice Alito has given no indication that he thinks there's any reason for him to disqualify himself.

I was just up at the Supreme Court, as all nine justices were issuing opinions from the bench. Two of them by Justice Alito, it was really business as usual. And as you know, we're about to get our most closely watched cases, including two that involve former President Trump and activities that trace to January 6, the riot at the Capitol.

Now, here's why this is important in terms of the overall ethics picture. The justice's last November adopted a code of conduct in which all nine of them signed that said that they should be acting in a manner that promotes confident -- public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

And that code specifically says a justice should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the justices' impartiality might reasonably be questioned. That is where an unbiased and reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circumstances would doubt that the justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.

Now, one caveat, I would add to that though, Dana, is that test is completely in the control of each individual justices to decide whether they have a conflict or not. And there's really no way to lodge a formal complaint for the -- with the court, or to have an airing of this. The only way to challenge these justices who are appointed for life is essentially impeachment, and that's not going to happen.

BASH: Yeah. Wow. That's really interesting. Joan, thank you so much. Appreciate that reporting. And the flag seeing flying outside of Alito's beach house was an obscure Revolutionary War flag until Dutch Sheets, who was a prominent figure in the far-right New Apostolic Reformation according to The New York Times, made it a feature of his appeal to heaven prayer campaign in the early 20-teens. It is closely associated with stock the steel. That of course, is a movement that sparked the January 6 riot shortly after the 2020 election.

According to The New York Times, quote, when Trump lost, Mr. Sheets and a team of others formed an instant ad hoc religious arm of the stop the steel campaign, blitzing swing state, MAGA churches, broadcasting the services at each job and drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers.

My panel is back now. Gloria, you know, it's really striking. We can talk about what this flag means and the fact that it is out there and on his -- at his house. But also, I'm just really struck by what Joan said about the lack of oversight when it comes to the Supreme Court, except for the one, you know, pull the fire alarm, which is the impeachment, which is impossible to imagine.

BORGER: They're supposed to police themselves. And what this flag showing, or two flags show is that the myths Justice Alito has not been policing himself or I guess his wife, because he said it was his wife's fault at the first flag. And these are political symbols. There's no doubt about it.

You know, once a Christian nationalist flag and the other is a January 6 flag, and they represent something politically. And he had to know that it's kind of easy to figure out. And it's clear that people who took pictures of it and clearly informed the New York Times also thought that it was improper and puzzling.

And what do you -- what are you going to do about this when it occurs? If you have no way of saying to somebody short of impeachment, we think you need to recuse yourself. And --

BASH: Right, it's public pressure. But there's absolutely no --

BORGER: Thinking it's a lifetime appointment --

BASH: No sign that they -- that right, that they're even remotely swayed by that. We've been sort of assuming that people know, so I don't want to do that that this was when we refer to the second flag. This one that we just showed you, that Joan was talking about at Samuel Alito's beach house.

The first one and you were talking about him blaming his wife. Was at his home here in the D.C. area? That was a flag that was flown upside down, which was very much a symbol. I mean, it's supposed to be a symbol of distress, but it was a symbol of the riot and election denialism.


ZELENY: Particularly the days right after January 6, 2021. Look, the reason this matter is, people might say free speech, et cetera. He's a justice of the United States. I mean, and he is hearing cases that are involved in this larger set of issues here. So, that's why it matters. And the court is already under so much scrutiny.

And you know, Americans don't believe in institutions, et cetera. This just contributes to that. So, you have to wonder. I don't expect any justices to speak out. That's not how it works there. But this certainly cannot please the chief justice, who really has tried to keep politics out of the court. And this is just one more example here.

BASH: So, there is separation of powers. There is checks and balances. And there is a democratic Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin. He doesn't feel like there's a whole lot he can do. Listen to what he said.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): You start to wonder, is this just a chance and discretion? Or is it a conscious declaration of his MAGA loyalty?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR, NEWS CENTRAL: When you say when you start to wonder, which do you think it is, Senator?

DURBIN: Listen, I don't think it's a coincidence in this second instance. I think he's speaking pretty clearly as to his political loyalties.


BASH: But Daniel, Kate also asked, what can you do if he doesn't recuse himself? And Durbin said, the recourses under the constitution are very limited.

STRAUS: Right. And look, maybe there will be hearings, maybe there will be some kind of ceremonial scrutiny on Capitol Hill about this. But at the end of the day, this is a body of the American -- the federal government that really doesn't have a lot of oversight. And what these episodes do, as Jeff said, is it underscores the very persistent sense of skepticism and partisanship in parts of the government that are not supposed to be that way.

I mean, just in the recent years, we talk about Supreme Court justices as liberal and conservative, their votes are always along party lines. And that's one of the things that really frustrates the American voter here. And these episodes are just going to reinforce that.

BORGER: And I think particularly now, when you have cases that are going before the courts, such as one involving, should a president have immunity from prosecution are very political involve the former president of the United States. And that makes the stakes even higher and for the Supreme Court.

BASH: And you are seeing some progressive groups, who are very focused on the court pressure Durbin, among others to be more forceful -- hold hearings, for example. Ezra Levin, who's the co-executive Director of Indivisible said, Durbin has a responsibility to use every ounce of subpoena investigative power.

He has to uncover just out compromise, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are for the sake of our democracy. Durbin's continued inaction here isn't an option. And it's time he heard that message loud and clear. And just underscoring, this is a progressive group, someone in his own party.

ZELENY: Look, Senator Durbin has been around a very long time as we all know. And I think he's probably taking the realistic practical approach here. He's not promising some type of big hearings or investigation because he knows that there's very little he can do. So, I think that they may not disagree on the broader view, but he if not -- I mean he's really always practical in his thinking or generally so. And that to me is what he sounded like this morning --

BASH: What is interesting that Alito is not -- I mean, there are three Trump appointees. Alito is not one of them.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: He came from a more traditional Republican George W. Bush. OK, everybody standby. Coming up. We are standing by for a presidential news conference at the White House. President Biden is hosting the leader of Kenya for a state visit. They're going to answer questions from reporters later this hour.