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CNN TONIGHT: January 6 Committee Reveals Text From GA Official To Meadows: "Need To End This Call"; Soon: House Votes On Holding Mark Meadows In Contempt Of Congress; GOP Gains Advantage As Redrawn Maps Kill Swing Districts. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 14, 2021 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. Let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, and CNN TONIGHT. Michael?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you so much.
I am Michael Smerconish. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT, where we have breaking news.
At any moment, we expect the House, to vote on whether to hold former President Trump's Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, in contempt of Congress. The top members of the bipartisan January 6 select committee scoffed, at his claims, of immunity, over former President Trump's supposed executive privilege.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): He told us, the day before his deposition, the same day, his book was published, that he would no longer cooperate, with our investigation, and that he wasn't coming in, to be interviewed.
If you're making excuses, to avoid cooperating, with our investigation, you're making excuses, to hide the truth, from the American people, about what happened, on January 6. You're making excuses as part of a cover-up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: If the House does vote, to find Meadows in contempt, the Justice Department will soon consider indicting him, like it did with Steve Bannon, last month.
And today, the committee's Vice Chair, Liz Cheney shared more of those damning texts, flooding Meadows' phone, coming from fellow Republican lawmakers, while the heart of our democracy was under attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Quote, "It is really bad, up here, on the Hill."
Another one, "The President needs to stop this ASAP."
Another one, "Fix this, now."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Remember, those are fellow Republicans, serving in Congress, begging for an end, to the violent insurrection.
But also, keep an ear out, for what Congresswoman Cheney, implied again, this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: And Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another fundamental question before this committee. And that is whether Donald J. Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly sought, to obstruct, or impede, Congress' official proceeding, to count electoral votes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: That language, her word choice, appears to be Cheney signaling, to the DOJ that she believes Trump himself could be responsible, for a more serious crime. Obstruction of Congress.
Take a look at this section of the law, defined in part as, quote, "Whoever obstructs or impedes the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House, or any joint committee of the Congress."
Is that the potential end game, for the committee, when it comes to the former president? Unclear.
But for tonight, Meadows should consider the case of Steve Bannon, who now faces up to two years, behind bars, and up to $2,000 in fines. The contempt law actually allows a fine as high as $100,000, for each count. That could mean having to sell a lot of those new books.
If the DOJ indicts Meadows, he would be the first White House Chief of Staff, charged with a crime, since H.R. Haldeman, for his role in Watergate. Haldeman spent a year and a half in prison.
And tonight, other members of the January 6 committee are revealing even more text messages, from Meadows' phone. And for a report on that, we go to Paula Reid, on Capitol Hill.
Paula, we're waiting for the critical vote. It occurs to me that we saw nine Republicans, join Democrats, to vote to hold Steve Bannon, in contempt. I'm wondering what's the over-under, for tonight?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question. That's something we're really watching.
We have to remember that the Meadows' situation is different than that of Steve Bannon. Because Steve Bannon, he really tied up that contempt case, with a bow, for lawmakers, made it a lot easier, for them, to cross the aisle.
Here, Meadows has engaged with the committee. He has provided thousands of pages of records. The case really is different. It could make it more difficult, for some Republicans, to support, referring him to the Justice Department, for criminal charges.
But the House select committee, over the past three days, Michael, we have seen, they have been making their case, certainly in the court of public opinion, about why Meadows should be held in contempt.
Now, they argue that "Look, you clearly handed over these thousands of pages of documents. You didn't think those were privileged. You should be able to at least come in, and answer questions about these documents."
And over the past three days, they have slowly been rolling out new details, some of them truly shocking. Tonight, we're learning more about the kind of messages that Meadows was receiving, including a new text message from an official in Georgia.
Now, Meadows received this text message, according to the Committee, during that January 2 call, where former President Trump, was pressuring Georgia officials, to, quote, "Find votes." And, in this text message, the official told Meadows, quote, "We need to end this call. I don't think it will be productive for much longer."
Now, this is significant because this committee is not just interested in January 6, not just interested in the insurrection. They are also investigating the days, and weeks, leading up to January 6, and efforts by Meadows, by Trump, and by anyone else, to undermine confidence, in the election.
Now, another new revelation, tonight, from the committee, a text message that draws the first definitive connection, between Meadows, and a former top Department of Justice official, Jeffrey Clark.
Now Clark, while he was at the Justice Department, he was a big proponent of using the power of that department, to help pursue Trump's efforts, to overturn or undermine the election.
And, in this particular text message, someone is referencing rumblings the Clark could potentially be appointed, Acting Attorney General. And this unnamed person, texts Meadows, saying, quote, "That's amazing. I'm personally so proud you are at the tip of the spear."
Now, the committee emphasizing that it's clearly important, to talk to Meadows, about this, especially if he was the, quote, "Tip of the spear," for some effort, to install a Trump loyalist, at the top of the Justice Department.
Now, there's more, including another text message, from approximately November 4. So, after the election, where an unnamed lawmaker, texts Meadows, with a strategy, for how to help Trump, potentially, just toss it to the Supreme Court, to figure out who won the election.
I'm going to let one of the committee members explain what they found.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): On November 4, a member of this body, wrote to Meadows, "Here's an aggressive strategy," one day after the election, "Why can't the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other Republican-controlled state houses declare this is BS, (Where conflicts and election not called that night) and just send their own electors, to vote, and have it go to the SCOTUS," the Supreme Court of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And Michael, of course, all of this evidence that we've just laid out, this is what Meadows handed over voluntarily, makes you wonder about what he could potentially be withholding.
But over the past few days, the House select committee, laying out all of this evidence, all of these questions that they would ask Meadows, if he was to come and answer questions, in a deposition, really trying to hammer home, the point of why he cannot defy the subpoena, why he needs to come in, and answer these questions.
If he thinks there's an issue with privilege, he can raise that, to that specific question. But they're arguing that he needs to honor the subpoena, come in and answer questions. And if he doesn't, they argue that he should be criminally charged.
SMERCONISH: When do we get to find out, who was sending these texts? What members of Congress? I want to know their names. I'm kind of shocked that 24 hours have gone off the clock, and we don't know any of them, thus far.
REID: It's a great question. And first, you have to wonder, "Well, are some of these people cooperating? Was this part of the deal that they wouldn't reveal it? Is it part of the storytelling here?" Clearly, they are weaving a narrative.
But CNN has learned that they will consider potentially revealing some of those, over the next few weeks.
But it's a great question, certainly one that a lot of people are asking, especially some of the text messages, we heard last night, including someone apologizing to Mark Meadows, following the insurrection that they weren't able to turn the election, for Trump.
REID: Truly shocking that that was the reaction on January 7!
SMERCONISH: Yes. Who is that individual?
Paula Reid, thank you so much.
I mean, we know the names of the Fox personalities. Why don't we know the names of the members of Congress yet? We should.
The House is expected to hold a vote, on Mark Meadows, being in contempt of Congress, before this night is through. But is his claim of executive privilege necessarily baseless?
Ken Gormley is a constitutional law scholar. He's the President of Duquesne University. He's also the Author of "The Presidents and the Constitution."
Ken, it occurs to me, the President's got a job to do. He's entitled to privacy. Congress has a job to do. And part of that is to conduct investigations. So, how do you square the two?
KEN GORMLEY, PRESIDENT, DUQUESNE UNIVERSITY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR: That's exactly right, Michael.
Well, first of all, we're talking about a former president here. And the sitting president has waived the privilege.
Then, you have the fact that Mark Meadows has already cooperated, with Congress, and provided documents. It's hard to turn off the spigot. I mean, he has written a book, about a lot of this.
On the other hand, you have Congress. And they're really at the core of their functions here. They have a constitutional power, to hold hearings, to investigate, and make determinations, at any moment in history, to address problems.
We did it - they did it after the disputed Hayes-Tilden election, in the 1870s. And they held hearings, and they passed the Electoral Count Act.
They did it after the Civil War, when you have had private groups, like the KKK committing atrocities. They held hearings. I've read them. They're powerful. And then they passed civil and criminal laws that are still on the books today.
So, they are at the core of their powers. I think that Mark Meadows is on a very weak executive power trajectory, here.
SMERCONISH: Does it matter what the subject matter is? In other words, in this case, the subject matter is the election. The election of 2020, these texts are being sent to Meadows, about what transpired, January 6.
Does what's at issue weigh in the decision, as to whether there's privilege?
GORMLEY: Well, it makes a big difference, because just look at the Constitution. There is nothing in Article II that talks about the powers of the presidency that talks about trying to influence the outcome, of elections, one way or the other. That is candidate Trump acting. That is not President Trump acting. And so, Mark Meadows is having his communications, with candidate Trump, about that subject, which even further weakens, in my view, any claim for executive privilege, here.
SMERCONISH: Ken, we're watching these events play out. I'm transfixed by all this taking place, in the Congress.
And yet, when I step back, I say to myself, "Maybe this is just the preamble," because I'm sure paying close attention are folks at the Justice Department. And then you heard what I just revealed, and discussed, in detail, about Liz Cheney, which sounded awfully, like the statute that I was quoting.
What do you think the Justice Department appetite is, for what we're watching tonight?
GORMLEY: Well, I have to say that I've been following this. And the last day or two has been like a bombshell. It has been shocking. And it reminds me, of actually, the disclosure, of the White House taping system, during the Watergate hearings.
I don't think once you kick open that door, Michael, that you can close that door anymore. I think there is going to be a lot of pressure, for Congress, to start connecting these dots, and getting the evidence.
And I do think that the Justice Department is going to be looking carefully. As you know, H.R. Haldeman ended up going to prison, as you mentioned, after Watergate, for obstruction of justice, for perjury.
And so, just because you were Chief of Staff, doesn't get you off the hook. And just because you were once President of the United States doesn't get you off the hook, if there were crimes being committed.
So, I think we're getting into very serious terrain here. And I don't think it's possible to unring this bell, now that this information is coming, flooding out.
SMERCONISH: Quick final question. You've already told us that you don't think that Meadows has a strong claim here, for executive privilege. Whatever that claim is, it's stronger than the claim that Bannon had, right?
GORMLEY: Absolutely. Steve Bannon put over to the side, because he wasn't even a federal employee.
But Mark Meadows, although he was, for all the reasons, we talked about, I think it's pretty weak. I think he's playing with fire here. I think he could end up just like H.R. Haldeman, and end up going to prison. And that wouldn't be a good outcome for anyone.
So, unless he decides, to plead the Fifth, I think he's going to have to end up, in front of that committee, testifying.
SMERCONISH: Ken Gormley, President, of Duquesne University, thanks so much for being here. GORMLEY: Always a pleasure, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Here's some of the social media reaction to the program thus far. What do we have, Vaughn?
Hard for me to see. But I'm going to turn my head.
"The issue with Meadows is his positional reversal from the information in his book and the papers he submitted to his 360 reversal into silence. What caused positional reversal? Who is urging silence?"
John Coleman, I'm not sure. I mean, Ken made a similar point. But why do we necessarily - let me give the benefit of the doubt, to Meadows, for just a moment?
Why do we necessarily assume that? "Well, he wrote a book. Well, he handed over, what is it, 9,000 documents. Therefore, he's waived his executive privilege, to the extent he ever had one."
Why isn't the answer, he handed over, what was not subject, to the executive privilege, and those things that are subject that pertained to the confidences that the President was relying on, President Trump, he's keeping close to the vest.
I don't know that it necessarily is an all-or-nothing. I agree, this vote is a foregone conclusion. He will be held in contempt, tonight, for sure. But I don't know that it's a baseless or laughable claim that he's asserting.
One more, if we have time? Let's see what you've got.
"Would it be wise of Meadows to reverse course and plead the Fifth, now there's talk of a criminal case? What harm could it do?"
I think that the real - I'm not giving you a direct answer. I think, it was Ken. But let me make a larger point, if I might?
As I said to Ken Gormley, a moment ago, I think we're watching small stakes, play itself out, now, in front of the Congress.
If I were Mark Meadows, I would be far more concerned, with what Liz Cheney seemed to be telegraphing, to the Department of Justice. I mean, she is saying, "Look, here's what we have in our hands. And here's what the Criminal Code says. And put two and two together." If I were Meadows, I'd be worried about DOJ much more so than what comes from the Congress.
Again, we're going to bring you the contempt vote, as soon as it happens. We thought it would have happened by now. But it ought to happen tonight.
And, as it happens, you can't talk about January 6, without talking, or at least thinking, about the former president. But something's happening, in this country, well beyond Donald Trump.
And my next guest will tell us why, our nation may be in the middle, of a radical shift, an anti-democratic movement. That's next.
SMERCONISH: We're standing by, for a full House vote, to hold Mark Meadows, in contempt of Congress. One thing is clear. President Trump's inner circle, and those around it, knew that January 6 was a danger to democracy.
But that effort to subvert elections is not over. It's taking place in races, for positions that most of us have no clue, who holds. Think local election boards, in some cases, state legislators.
You've seen the map of the 19 states that have passed new voting laws, but we rarely discuss what those laws do. So, let's change that, by bringing in someone, who knows what's at stake.
David Leonhardt, of "The New York Times," welcome.
David, you say that there's an anti-democratic movement afoot. So, take me to the frontlines of that battle. Where are we standing and what's going on?
DAVID LEONHARDT, SENIOR WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES, WRITES "THE MORNING" NEWSLETTER FOR NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's important to really focus on what are the most radical versions of this movement.
It's not trying to bar mail-in voting. Mail-in voting seems to be a very successful way to expand democracy. But that's sort of a legitimate thing for the parties, to fight over.
I would argue it's not even some of these fights over voter ID. Making sure voters are actually voting, as who they are, is a legitimate thing for the government to do.
We're talking about a much more radical set of issues here. We're talking about, in swing states, particularly where Republicans control the state legislature, but Democrats are either competitive, and Joe Biden won all these states, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, basically, these state legislatures, and local officials, are trying to change the rules, to make it easy for - easier, or easy, for them, to overturn an election result, after it happens.
They are repeating Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election. And they're using that, to justify these measures, where they are disempowering the Secretary of State, or running for offices, where they oversee voting. And it is all out in plain sight.
And essentially what it is, it's a campaign to put them in a position, where they will be able to do, in future elections, what Trump failed to do, in 2020, which is undo a democratic election. SMERCONISH: So, for example, my home state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there's a move afoot, to make the Secretary of State, an elected official. That's what you're talking about?
LEONHARDT: Yes, and the mere fact of making the Secretary of State, an elected position, is not in itself threatening to democracy. There are many places where it is an elected position.
The problem is when you connect the dots, what you see is, you see people who are repeating lies, about voter fraud, running for these positions.
You see Republican legislatures, trying to move power, away from jobs, now held by Democrats, and giving them to Republicans. You see them running for low-level offices, where they might be able to discard ballots.
And what they're doing, as they do this, is they are claiming, falsely, obviously, that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and they're sort of laying the groundwork, for doing something like this, in the future.
SMERCONISH: But David, 60 percent, you've seen the polling data, 60 percent of Republicans believe the election was stolen. I don't believe the election was stolen.
SMERCONISH: You don't believe the election was stolen. The evidence doesn't show that the election was stolen. Let me make that clear.
But those who are behind the efforts that you're describing, they think they're doing God's work, right? It's not, as if they're out to steal. In their minds, they're trying to protect the system, because they think it was stolen.
LEONHARDT: I mean, I don't know what's in their minds, Michael, right?
I don't doubt that there are some of them, who genuinely believe the election was stolen. And there's some of them, who don't, and don't care, and are trying to get power, by any means necessary.
I'm sure there are both groups, of motivations, in there. I think the important thing is the election was not stolen. And this is a playbook that is used - been used in countries, around the world, when parties decide they want to get rid of democracy.
I think you've played a lot of Liz Cheney's comments?
LEONHARDT: During the show tonight.
LEONHARDT: I think they're really important, because if Democrats are worried about this, it is vital that they work with Republicans, with whom they disagree.
If Democrats say, "Wait a second, I can't work with her. I can't work with him. He's got a different position on abortion, or on taxes, or on climate change," the way to stop anti-democratic movements, all the scholars tell us, is to have cross-ideological coalition's fighting them.
LEONHARDT: Liz Cheney believes in fair elections, it seems. So, do nearly all Democrats. They can fight later, over who wins elections. But what we need to have happen first, is actually elections, in the United States, where the people, who get the most votes, get the electoral votes, from that state.
SMERCONISH: She makes your point, because she lost her leadership gig, for speaking out on issues, just like this.
David Leonhardt, thank you so much. The essay that you wrote is terrific. I recommend people read it.
LEONHARDT: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Social media, I love taking a look at, during the course of the program.
This has just come in. Where am I headed this time? Oh, wow! Very cool! I like that.
"I'm old now and never thought I'd live to see in America lose its democracy. I'm so glad my father, a World War II veteran, is not alive to see it. It would kill him."
You know, Duckie? You really make a great point. I'm 59. Never in my life - I've been paying attention since I was 18.
Never in my life, never until the very recent, last couple of years, did I worry about - I mean, the sort of concerns that are on my mind today are heretofore third-world concerns. Never did I worry, in the United States, about protecting democracy.
So, I share your consternation, and your worry, for what the old man would have thought. Mine too.
We're following two big stories tonight, on Capitol Hill. The vote on Mark Meadows' criminal contempt referral. But also, President Biden's fight, to save his Build Back Better agenda.
The top progressive, in the House, is here. Does this happen before Christmas? And what happens, if Senator Manchin refuses, to budge?
Representative Pramila Jayapal joins me next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: We're awaiting a House vote, on whether refer President Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to the Justice Department, for contempt of Congress. What would a "Yes" vote mean? And will it get us any closer to learning exactly, what led to the insurrection, and how to prevent another one?
My next guest says our democracy barely survived, on January 6. Welcome Representative and Progressive Caucus Chair, Pramila Jayapal.
Congresswoman, thank you so much, for being here. We'll talk about Build Back Better, in just a moment. But, as we're waiting this vote, how many Republicans do you anticipate?
OK, we're going to square-out an audio issue. And, as we square that away, let me just say that we're awaiting a vote, as to whether Mark Meadows, will be held, in contempt of Congress.
It seems like it's a foregone conclusion. What I'm eager to learn, from Representative Pramila Jayapal, is exactly how many Republicans, will vote, to be supportive of that move, given that there were nine, who voted, to hold Steve Bannon, in contempt.
I think I have the Representative now.
How many Republicans, do you think, will join Democrats, when the vote takes place, and say that he was in contempt of Congress?
REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well the only two that we know, Michael--
JAYAPAL: --and it's good to see you, are Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. I am hoping that some of the Republicans that were brave enough, to vote for impeachment, earlier in the year, will also come along.
Because clearly, these text messages show that this was a pre-planned, premeditated role, that, Donald Trump was playing, and that the whole "Big lie" has been perpetuated, by him, and that people close to him, like his own son, were saying that he needed to do something, when he refused to do anything.
So, I do hope that some other Republicans, will be courageous enough, to stand up for democracy, in the way that Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are.
SMERCONISH: Shouldn't we know the names of the members of Congress, who were, those texting Mark Meadows? I mean, we learned the Fox personalities, last night. Shouldn't we know the members of Congress as well?
JAYAPAL: Well, I think we will, eventually. I do think that, at this moment, while the investigation is still going on, there's some sensitivity to that. And so, I think that is why we have to be careful.
But I do think it's important, at the end of the day, for the American people, to know exactly who was involved, in planning this, exactly who was involved, in perpetuating the "Big lie," and exactly who was involved, in ensuring that these steals, across the country, were continuing.
So, I do think we will find that out. I just think we're in the investigative stage right now.
SMERCONISH: One month ago, you said that you had full confidence, in Joe Manchin, coming around, and Build Back Better getting passed. How do you feel tonight?
JAYAPAL: I still feel that way. Look, Michael, most of Build Back Better, was pre-negotiated, pre-conferenced, with Senator Manchin, and with the President.
And I believe the President, when he said that he had a commitment, and that he had confidence that he would get the 50 votes needed, in the Senate. And I've spoken to the White House again, recently. I believe that still to be true.
But obviously, there are a few things that were added, in the House. And we do have a little bit of negotiation that still needs to be done, on top of the fact that the Parliamentarian still has to review the provisions.
But Michael, I feel very good that we are going to pass Build Back Better, that we are going to lower costs for Americans, that we are going to help elders, afford their prescription drugs, that we are going to ensure that every 3-year-old and 4-year-old, has pre-K, and that we are going to bring down health care costs, by providing hearing aids, for our seniors.
So, this is significant, what we are doing, in this bill. And all of it, Michael, is paid for by the taxes, on the wealthiest individuals, and corporations, finally paying their fair share. That is something the American public supports. And all of these things will help lower costs for Americans.
SMERCONISH: Well, on that last point, and to the extent that Senator Manchin is looking for cover, he gets it, does he not, in those labor statistics that show inflation at a 40-year high, and the CBO score that says this is going to add $3 trillion, to the deficit?
JAYAPAL: Well, the CBO score? That was a fictional score. Let's talk about the real CBO score, which said that this would be deficit- neutral, for the first decade, and would actually help the deficit, cut the deficit, by $2 trillion, over the second 10 years.
The CBO score that you're referring to was on a fictional bill. It was not on the bill that we passed. It was saying, if all the programs in the bill, were extended for 10 years, then what would be the effect?
But they didn't anticipate A, the fact that the programs expire. We're going to have to decide whether or not to extend them. And B, they didn't take into account that if we decide to extend them, we can pay for them, in the same way that we're paying for them now. So, that is not a real score. And Senator Manchin should know that.
And the Republicans, who just want to kill Build Back Better, and keep increasing costs, for American people, that's what they're trying to do, is make the argument, somehow that this is hurting the American people.
When, in fact, if you care about inflation, Michael, what you want to do is pass Build Back Better, bring down costs, for working people, and help ensure that it's all paid for, by taxes, on the wealthiest. Just fairness.
SMERCONISH: Quick final question. Do you get it done before Christmas?
JAYAPAL: Well, I think the Senate is going to try to get it done, before Christmas. Then, it will have to come back to the House. And so, we are trying to get it done, before the end of the year, when the Child Tax Credit expires.
Because, as you know, the Child Tax Credit passed, in the American Rescue Plan, has cut child poverty in half. And we need to make sure that that does not go away, and that we ensure that we continue to help families, struggling families, across the country, with the Child Tax Credit.
So, that's why it's so important that we get it done, before the end of the year, on top of the fact that, again, this is going to cut in those inflationary costs that families are feeling, and help the pain that families are suffering, right now, across the country.
SMERCONISH: To be--
JAYAPAL: Because of a lot of factors.
SMERCONISH: To be continued. Representative, thank you so much, for being here.
JAYAPAL: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Some of the power grabs that we're seeing in the country are easier to notice than others. But they all matter. When it comes to elections, a number of competitive races simply aren't competitive anymore, and that is not by accident.
David Wasserman takes us through the newest battles, over redistricting. That's next.
SMERCONISH: If politicians are really concerned about rigged elections, they need to take on gerrymandering. Both sides are guilty of creating districts, like these, broken puzzle pieces that look more like Rorschach tests.
But, as we head into the midterms, Republicans are going to new lengths, to predetermine outcomes. They control the redistricting process, in far more places, than Democrats. And it has led to this, new political maps that kill swing districts, from coast to coast.
I've got the perfect person, to break this down, and how it could impact your vote. Election expert, David Wasserman, is the Senior Editor, for "The Cook Political Report."
David, thank you so much, for being here.
There are 435 congressional districts. How many do you anticipate will be competitive in the midterms?
DAVID WASSERMAN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Probably fewer than 40, Michael.
And one evergreen rule in politics is that parties hate drawing competitive districts. They hate having to spend money, on districts, year after year, when they can just draw it, to be a safe seat.
And so, right now, there are 51 districts, out of 435, in which one party, either Biden or Trump, won by five points or less. We're likely to see that go down to the 30s, this time.
SMERCONISH: I have a chart, prepared for me, by you folks, at "Cook Political Report," which shows the diminished number. What accounts for that? I mean, why have they decreased so much, in the last 25 years or 50 years?
WASSERMAN: Well, what's happened is, Americans choose to live, in places, that, where their friends and neighbors agree with their political and social values. We've seen a great self-sorting of the Electorate.
We've also seen gerrymandering, take advantage of that sorting, compounding that, by segmenting voters, into heavily Red or Blue districts, where we don't really hold competitive elections, between candidates, of different visions and qualifications anymore.
We're essentially holding censuses of how many people wearing red or blue jerseys live within a certain set of boundaries. And we're likely to see that on steroids, this cycle.
You know? There's this battle playing out, in state capitols right now, that's not getting as much attention, as the January 6 committee, or fights over voting laws, but it's far more consequential, to the future of political outcomes.
And although we're probably looking at a modest Republican gain, from redistricting, because they control so many more states, than Democrats, including big states, like Texas, and Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Georgia, whereas Democrats only get to gerrymander Illinois, Maryland, New York, and a handful of others, the biggest casualty in all this is competitive seats.
SMERCONISH: So, I said, both sides do it. Texas, how many Republicans control? How many competitive congressional districts will there be, in the midterm, next year?
WASSERMAN: Well, right now, Texas has 23 Republican members of Congress, and 13 Democrats, members of the House, I should say.
Out of those 23 Republicans, nine were representing seats, where Biden got more than 47 percent. But under the new map, there's only one district, out of 38, in Texas that is remotely competitive.
And so, Republicans essentially are playing "Keep Away," in a lot of these large states that they control. And the result is that primaries are going to be tantamount to election, in over 85 percent, perhaps even over 90 percent, of districts, next year.
SMERCONISH: All right, how about?
WASSERMAN: And what that means the parties--
SMERCONISH: How about Illinois? Because I want to make sure we get another example of a Democratic state.
WASSERMAN: Sure, well, Illinois right now is 13-five for the Democrats. But under this new map, the Democrats drew, it's likely to be 14 to three.
Now, when you see safe seats drawn, parties don't have the incentive, to recruit candidates, with broad appeal. That means that the primary, which matters much more than the general election, in these districts, the incentive, the way the candidates are able to get attention, and stand out from a crowd, is to go viral.
And that likely means that we're going to see more Marjorie Taylor Greenes, more Donald Trump-styled candidates, elected from safe seats.
SMERCONISH: Right, the fringes get rewarded. And there is no incentive, to compromise, because all you've got to do, is appease the base, who helped you win a primary, because you're in a non- competitive district.
Hey, David, that was excellent. So glad to have you here tonight.
WASSERMAN: Thanks a lot, Michael.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Reach out to me, on social media. At the end of the program - oh, we've got one more, OK.
"Centrists are unable to win the primary, so our elected officials are more polarized. Far left, far right, while most of the country is center left or center right." Amen to that!
Listen, there's something really important that David just brought out. Gerrymandering gets the attention, right? That's when the boundary lines, every 10 years, based on the Census, are manipulated, to suit one political party or the other. That's only half the dynamic.
Did you hear him also discuss self-sorting? More and more, we are living among the like-minded. And you know what's on the rise? Blowout counties in this country.
We don't redraw county boundary lines. There are about 3,000 counties, in the United States. Look at maps, and you'll see that they are now becoming increasingly blowout. That means we are choosing to live among the like-minded.
When a politician, in D.C., helps bring home the bacon, for their constituents, they love to brag. But once again, we're seeing, a lawmaker, take a victory lap, for something they have no business claiming credit for.
And that is tonight's Reality Check, with John Avlon. He's next.
SMERCONISH: "A Trojan horse for socialism." That's what Republican Paul Gosar, and some of his colleagues, called President Biden's COVID relief plan. They voted against it. And yet, months later, they're singing a different tune.
John Avlon gives us tonight's Reality Check.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Michael.
So, Paul Gosar is at it again. No, not threatening AOC, or calling members, of the FBI and DOJ, traitors, or boycotting speeches by the Pope. No, this is a different sin, of blatant hypocrisy.
You see? Gosar is doing a victory lap, for delivering federal cash, to his constituency, specifically COVID-19 relief funds that will be used to clean and provide relief, for the Kingman Arizona airport.
In a press release, Gosar called it "Critical funding, essential to maintaining safe and reliable air service to the community."
But what he failed to mention is that he voted against the legislation that made it possible, the American Rescue Plan Act.
He slammed it, in fact, saying "This bill is not about COVID relief. It's about funding Democrats' pet projects. The American people should be furious," and called it "A Democratic Spending Bonanza."
Well, which isn't, Congressman? A socialist spending scheme, or critical funding, for the community? But, you see, Gosar understands that he can vote "No," and still score the dough. And he's far from the only congressman, to take credit for a bill that he tried to kill.
Take Alabama Congressman Gary Palmer, the Republican Freedom Caucus member, who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Called it "Recklessly expensive," and then promptly put out a press release, touting its benefits, back home, saying, "Funding the Northern Beltline has consistently been one of my top priorities. It will benefit the entire region and enhance economic development and employment opportunities."
Now, these are only a few blatant grating examples. I could add in other sworn enemies of bipartisanship, like North Carolina's Madison Cawthorn, Indiana's Greg Pence, or their leader, California's Kevin McCarthy.
After all, not a single Republican, voting for Biden's American Rescue Plan. Only 13 Republican House members voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And they caught massive flack, for it, from their colleagues. I mean, you might have thought they were voting, to investigate an insurrection.
Look, I know that cynicism passes for wisdom, in Washington, for a reason. But this is ridiculous. And yet, it's the way we live now.
Kentucky Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth didn't need much of a crystal ball, when he predicted all this, back in March.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY): What we're all concerned about, on our side, is the Republicans are all going to vote against this. And then, they're going to show up, in every ribbon-cutting, where every project is funded, out of this bill. And they're going to pump up their chest, and take credit, for all of these great benefits that are coming to their citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: And the reason he could predict it all, is because we've seen this before, like during the Obama years, when Republicans pursued a strategy, of total obstruction, during the fiscal crisis.
And yet, one year after the passage of the Recovery Act, 70 percent of the House GOP, had taken credit, for some kind of improvement, in their home districts, prompting "Washington Monthly," to call them, "Highway Hypocrites."
But this is much more than just partisan hypocrisy. It's part of the zero-sum game that stops people, in Congress, from reasoning together, in good faith.
Republicans only seem to care about deficits and debt, when a Democrat is president. They attack popular social spending bills, as "Socialism run amok," and then, turn around, and take a victory lap at home, when the money starts flowing in.
It shouldn't be too much to expect some constancy. If a bill benefits your constituents, consistent with your principles, vote for it. There are always going to be trade-offs. Perfect is never on the menu. But if you demonize a bill, then, you can't credibly turn around, and take credit for it. At least not without getting called out for it. And that's your Reality Check.
SMERCONISH: John, nicely done. Thank you.
AVLON: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: We'll be right back, with some social media reaction, to tonight's program.
SMERCONISH: Follow me on Twitter. I'm @smerconish. Here's some of the social media reaction, to tonight's program.
"My question for you, Michael: Will anyone in Trump's orbit (even Trump himself) face any real consequence for these revelations? How about finally a special prosecutor for all this crap? Jail time? Enough is enough!"
I said earlier that I think that the real high stakes, for Mark Meadows, and those, in the whole Trump orbit, not so much what comes from the Congress necessarily, but from the Justice Department.
Surely, at the Justice Department, they're following all of these events. They're listening to what Liz Cheney said. She was telegraphing to them tonight that she thinks that there's a violation of the Federal Code here, and laid it at the doorstep of former President Trump.
So, keep your eye on justice, and see what investigation springs, ultimately from DOJ.
What else came in?
"From my point of view, on the Left, democracy is in jeopardy and autocracy is on the rise. However, you ask people on the Right, and they have the very same perspective, but for different reasons. Very odd."
Shar, I was making the point to David Leonhardt, earlier that where 60 percent of Republicans think that the last election was stolen? I made crystal clear. I don't believe the election was stolen. The evidence doesn't suggest that the election was stolen. But the reality is 60 percent of Republicans believe that it was.
So, when we put that map up, of the country, where it's being made more difficult, to vote, or they would say, "Ballot security is being enhanced," if you give them the benefit of the doubt, and I know many of you won't, but they think that they're doing God's work that they're acting, to protect ballot integrity and ballot security.
And that's part of the problem. We can't reach them, because they're siloed, in particular media outlets, where these things just don't get discussed. That was a subject we talked about here, last night.
What else came in, in social media?
By the way, you know, I don't see these in advance, right? That's part of the fun. And you're probably saying, "Yes, we know you don't see them in advance, because you have ridiculous things to say about them."
"Ask any American to name three proposals in what's left of Build Back Better. That result alone tells you all you need to know."
Stuart, I know that progressives say "It's the media's fault. All you do is focus on the number."
But where the negotiation has been so much about, is it where did it start out? $3.8 trillion or $3.9 trillion? And now it's down to $1.75 trillion or $1.8 trillion? It's hard not to get up in - get caught up in the numbers, as opposed to the contents. I don't know. Jayapal thinks it's going to get done soon. We'll see.
Thank you so much for watching. I'll be back here, tomorrow night. "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now. Hey, Don?
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: When you talk about the number - good evening to you, sir.