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CNN Live Event/Special

Haley And DeSantis Face Iowa Voters At CNN Town Halls; CNN Fact Checks The DeSantis And Haley Town Halls. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 23:00   ET




ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Jeff Courter is a lawyer at Iowa's largest law firm. I said what an appropriate name you have when I saw this. I mean, Jeff Courter. Okay, from West Des Moines, a Republican who says he's supporting you. Jeff, go with your question.


JEFF COURTER, LAWYER: Ambassador Haley, great to see you again.

HALEY: Nice to see you.

COURTER: And great to see you last Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena watching the Iowa Hawkeye Women's Basketball.

HALEY: So much fun.


So much fun.

COURTER: And bonus time with Ambassador Branstad.


COURTER: So, so my question for you tonight to wrap this up is, as president, how will you work to better unite America after the past 16 years of such divisive politics? Thank you.

HALEY: It's a great question, and the tone at the top matters, right? You know, when I talked about how we could have been completely devastated in South Carolina with the shooting of Walter Scott, how we could have been completely devastated in South Carolina with the murder of those nine amazing souls at Mother Emanuel Church, how we could have been divided on so many other things, South Carolina always held strong and held together.

And it was because I knew I served and represented all of them, not just a select group, all of them. And that means I didn't think of any of the South Carolina as good or as bad or as right or as wrong. I just knew I needed to over-communicate, tell them everything I knew, and that's how I'll be as a president. You'll know more than you want to know because I think it's important that you know everything, and then tell you about where we go and move forward.

But more than that, on my first day, you start by controlling what you can control first, and that is I will focus on my agencies. We'll replace the head of every agency, whether they're doing a good job or not, to freshen it up. I did this as governor.

The second thing I did was I sent people into every agency to clean it up, pull down old programs, pull down any old regs, pull down bureaucracy, get it working again, and mission focus so that it's not too big. In some case -- and get rid of problem children. Trust me, agencies have problem children. In some cases, we tweaked agencies. In other cases, we gutted agencies.

And then I required them to start doing 90-day benchmarks. I wanted them to show a return on investment to the taxpayer so that they saw what it was like to work again. And then we saw that they were spending money because they thought they weren't going to get the same amount the next year.

So, I put all the spending online for every taxpayer to see, and then I incentivized them to give money back to the taxpayers. And magic happened because they started to compete to see who could be the most effective and most efficient.

And then I went to my legislature and said, it's your turn. And I started by giving them a couple of things that were easy so they could remember what it was like to win again. We need to do that with our Congress. They need to know what it's like to win again together. And then you give them things that are harder and harder. That's important.

We have to get government used to producing and giving results again. And I'll do it by starting with myself and starting with our agencies and getting them to work for the people again. And then going to Congress and saying, you know what, no more peacocking on TV, no more sitting there and pointing fingers at anybody else. The buck starts here and it's time to get things done for the American people. And it's an amazing thing.

I have called out Republicans, I've called out Democrats, I've praised Republicans, I've praised Democrats. Legislators love to be praised and they hate to be called out. It's a magic tool that has always worked for me. Whether I was calling out China or Russian at the U.N., they didn't like to be called out. No one does. But when you do it for the right reasons and you know who you serve, that's when you get things moving again.

BURNETT: All right. Governor Haley, thank you so much for being here in this room and, of course, speaking to the voters here in Iowa. Thanks so much to all of you for sitting here through this evening and being part of these town halls. Thank you so much to our hosts at Grand View University.

Governors Haley and DeSantis, of course, are going to be back for the final republican primary debate before the Iowa caucuses. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will host right here on CNN, January 10th at 9:00. Right now, Abby Phillip and Laura Coates will take it away.


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's our special two hour-coverage of tonight's CNN republican and presidential town halls with Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. It continues now on "Laura Coates" in Washington, D.C.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Abby Phillip in New York. Iowa Republicans are set to vote in just 10 days. And yes, that's how fast it's all moving right now. And tonight, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley facing some tough questions from those very voters.


COATES: Questions on hot button issues like the border, the economy, the war in Ukraine, abortion, and both are taking their shots at the candidate you didn't see. I'm talking about frontrunner Donald J. Trump. We're digging into all of it over the next two hours together.

PHILLIP: So, stay with us. We're going to start right here in New York with our great panel on set with me here. Scott Jennings, you're in the hot seat. I want to ask you not just what your takeaways were, but what do you think the strengths were of each of these candidates? Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I thought DeSantis delivered one of the best performances I've seen him give in the entire campaign. I think he has really improved over the last several weeks, made no mistakes. It was center-cut conservative content on immigration and other issues. So, I thought he had an incredibly strong night.

I think on Nikki Haley, where she always shines head and shoulders above everyone, in my opinion, is on foreign policy. She knocked that topic out of the park. I think for people who have been arguing that they're not hitting Donald Trump hard enough --


-- they put that to bed tonight because I thought both DeSantis and Haley came and whacked Donald Trump pretty hard on a number of topics. What I was most surprised at was that they didn't really whack each other.

PHILLIP: Yeah, that's a good point.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: DeSantis, in particular, it was like, where's this guy been? Usually, he's cold toward the audience and kind of warm toward Donald Trump in this weird way. It was reverse this time. He was warm with the audience, and he was cold-blooded going after Donald Trump. I'm like, where's this guy been? If this guy had been around for the past couple of months, he might have done something different. I thought he was, I could not understand why anybody thought that the Ron DeSantis we saw in these debates would have ever been anything.

Tonight, you understand what the potential was, though I think it has largely been wasted. And Nikki Haley was Nikki Haley. She's always great.

PHILLIP: Alyssa?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Listen, Nikki Haley is generally always the smartest person in the room, save for CNN's Erin Burnett, who is there with her. She has a command of the facts, and she always is able to work her biographical experience to show her leadership.

When I was at the U.N., I was in Gaza. When I was governor, I did X, Y, and Z. She shows that she looks presidential when she talks about serious policy. No -- you know, I would say performance wise, it probably wasn't her strongest night, but she always wins on the substance.

And Ukraine is going to be a very key issue in this GOP primary. There's a very definitive split. Donald Trump will not continue aid to Ukraine. He is not going to give aid to Zelenskyy's government. Ron DeSantis gave kind of a vague answer when Kaitlan pushed him on it. Nikki Haley was very definitive. She will continue to support Ukraine.

On DeSantis, I think it was probably one of his strongest performances. He really honed in on an argument that I think will resonate with voters against Donald Trump, which is to say, he made these promises for four years and didn't do them. What I say you could take to the bank and I will do. People will listen to that, and I think it'll break through.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Yeah, you know, one thing that I think is clear is that campaigning in 99 counties and from morning till night does have an effect. I think what you saw in DeSantis is growth as a performer. He was not a good performer at the beginning of the campaign, much, much better tonight. And if there are late deciding caucus attendees in Iowa, this is a timely time for it.

I don't know, when you said he was cold-blooded and going after Trump, he was cool-blooded, I think.


There were some topics that he would not address nor would Haley for that matter but -- and she was, as we've come to expect, I mean, she's very, very orderly in her presentation. She always has three or four points. This is what I would do, one, two, three, four. And it -- and it projects a kind of command that has helped her in the debates, and I think it helped her. Tonight, we'll get to some of the -- some of the -- PHILLIP: So, cold-blooded --

AXELROD: -- downside of all this.

PHILLIP: -- cold-blooded or cool-blooded. Hold on, let's play it. Let's roll the tape. Let's see what he says.

JONES: Beat him up on abortion. Beat him up on immigration.


PHILLIP: Go ahead, Van.

JONES: I was just saying, I was surprised. He basically called him a flip-flopper on abortion, said he was weak and ineffective on immigration. I was like, this was tough stuff. Now, to your point, he could have gotten harder. But before, he was hugging him like a teddy bear every time.

AXELROD: No, no, no. My point is this. Yes, he was on those issues. He is not pro -- of course, he's not pro-life. I mean, he took shots that he has never taken before and it's clear that they recognize that they need to get some of these Trump-oriented voters to swing back his way --


AXELROD: -- in this race. My point is just whenever he was asked about Trump's conduct relative to January 6 or some of the other issues that have gotten him into legal issues, he took a long way around and not answer.

GRIFFIN: To Van's point, though, calling a fellow Republican not pro- life in Iowa, that's about the meanest thing you could say. I would expect the Trump campaign will respond to that very, very quickly.

JENNINGS: He did, though, take the issue of January 6. If you listen carefully to what he said about the strategic argument about why we should nominate someone other than Trump, he effectively said that January 6th is going to make it hard for the country to reelect Donald Trump as president.


And so, if you really want to parse it out, he went there on that topic. He didn't say it as blatantly as perhaps some people who care about that issue a lot want him to. But the argument was clear. The Democrats are going to wrap this around Donald Trump's neck and it will prevent him from being president.

AXELROD: I thought it was interesting, the way he did it, though. He said, you know, you've got to -- you have this left-wing Democratic jury, 12 jurors, you know.

(LAUGHTER) So, he basically and we had once embraced the idea that Trump was being persecuted and at the same time said but this is a liability. When he was asked about a second Trump term, he said, well, you saw it happened in the midterm elections, we did terribly, it's going to be bad for Republicans, but he never said what the second term would be like in terms of the lives the American people.

PHILLIP: And on Nikki Haley, I mean, she actually went down the same road on Trump, basically saying he comes with all this baggage, he's too emotional, it's going to be too difficult for him to govern without coming with all this other stuff that's not so great. They're both working in the same lane here.

GRIFFIN: They are working in the same lane, and they're still toeing a line. But I did think an interesting line from Nikki Haley was when she said, I used to tell Donald Trump, you are your own worst enemy, reminding people she was a presidential advisor to him as U.N. ambassador, somebody that he handpicked to be in that role and who did speak truth to him about his own actions or his shortcomings. I thought that was a powerful moment that will resonate with some folks.

But again, there is a limit to how far either of these two are going to go in actually criticizing Donald Trump, and I think today was the furthest we've seen them go.

PHILLIP: All right, let's listen to what you're just talking about there.


HALEY: I personally think President Trump was the right president at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies. But the reality is, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. And we all know that's true. Chaos follows him. And we can't have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it.


PHILLIP: Four more years of chaos. That's probably the toughest I've heard her describe the Trump era.

JONES: Chaos candidate. If you keep going on, she talks about no more drama, he's getting in his feelings. I mean, this was -- this was actually --


No more drama. He's getting in your feelings.

AXELROD: She has been saying this right along. You know, one of the interesting things, just getting back to DeSantis for a second, you know, he said, we need a change agent, essentially. Otherwise, I think they're almost those words. And you have to wonder whether people really look at these guys and say, yeah, he's a change agent, Trump isn't. He's trying to make a difficult argument which is, I can deliver on the things that Trump promised. But honestly, if you did a poll and you asked people who is more likely to bring about change, DeSantis or Trump, my guess is Trump would win that going away because he's seen as a wrecking ball.

PHILLIP: Laura -- Scott, did you get the sense tonight that Nikki Haley is in the driver's seat here for that race to be the next competitor to Donald Trump?

JENNINGS: Well, I came into the night thinking that she had the momentum, which is why I was thinking that Ron DeSantis was going to potentially go after her and sort of try to reel that in. But his failure to acknowledge her really in any meaningful way makes me wonder now.

You do talk to people in Iowa. They do say that Haley momentum out there is as real in the metro areas in Iowa as it seems to be in New Hampshire. There are still some questions about what she's going to be able to do in the rural areas.

But if you didn't know anything, if you had not had any history on this race and you just watched this tonight, I believe most Republicans would come away from tonight saying, man, Ron DeSantis seems like he is straight out of central casting for what Republicans say they want their government leaders to do: aggressive, no apologies, take an action, keep your promises, go there on every topic.

So, if you took everything else out of it, I think he would have won the night, but the reality is you can't take everything else out of it. She has been moving. Everybody in both states acknowledges she's the one moving right now and DeSantis has been stuck in the mud.

PHILLIP: But she's had some missteps, some significant --

JENNINGS: Oh, well, she had one moment tonight, by the way, getting asked about saying that Iowa voters need to be corrected by New Hampshire voters. And I thought DeSantis's Iowa knowledge and his clear -- having spent a lot of time there shown through. I do think that was a mistake.

AXELROD: Well, we start right from the beginning by bringing a Caitlin Clark, Iowa State jersey --


AXELROD: -- to -- Iowa jersey, I should say, to Kaitlan Collins.

PHILLIP: It's kind of an inside joke of an inside joke.

AXELROD: Yeah, but not an inside joke in Iowa --


AXELROD: -- because you're tampering with an icon --

JENNINGS: Yeah. AXELROD: -- there when you misstate it. It goes to this issue of authenticity and phoniness.


But I have a question for all you, guys, if I can, which is --

GRIFFIN: It's taken over.

PHILLIP: Go ahead, David.

AXELROD: -- Alyssa is absolutely right that the one place where Haley really went after DeSantis was on Ukraine. But every poll I see suggests that that is not necessarily a winning position with Republicans. And so, I'm wondering how you think that actually nets out because he, who once was a hawk in Congress, has now backed away from all that and gave a very, as you said, kind of a mealy-mouthed answer on what he would do relative to Ukraine, but landed on, basically, I'm getting out.

PHILLIP: And Alyssa, you've always viewed that as one of her strengths. But, as David points out, that's not something necessarily that a lot of Republicans agree with. And yet Nikki Haley has been, relatively speaking, thriving in this primary.

GRIFFIN: Well, I think it's an area where she's showing leadership and she's willing to break with where the base is. The base is unequivocally more on the DeSantis Trump side. They don't want to see, you know, what they describe as sort of a blank check for Ukraine. Of course, it's weaponry, not money that we're sending. But she tries to take a leadership position of educating on why this matter, why there's implications, and she used the phrase, this is about preventing war.

Polling actually bears out that the majority of Americans support standing with Ukraine and that does reflect the majority of Republicans as well. So, while I think with the base in a primary, the more vocal crowd may be against more support for Ukraine, I think the broader Republican electorate is closer to where Nikki Haley is.

JENNINGS: It's just a question of the traditional republican hawkish foreign policy view. She represents a pre-Trump republican view on foreign policy. DeSantis and Trump, of course, reflect the more current era. That's really always been the question about this primary. How many Republicans fall on each side of that line? I think it's probably on the Trump era, but we'll find out.

PHILLIP: We'll see. Everyone, stand by for us. Laura?

COATES: Let's start with David Chalian right now, but I have to ask everyone here who's on my great panel. I mean, David, I keep looking at this. I'm looking at the headline there. Eleven days before Iowa votes. Where have they been? This sort of attitude, this sort of punching, the idea of targeting the front runner. It happened tonight, but I remember the phrase, day late and maybe $11 short. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, where they've been is stuck in a very difficult position because they are trying to appeal to voters who don't want to see them bashing Donald Trump day in and day out because they're appealing to voters who like Donald Trump. So, they're in a bit of a bind.

Now, the calendar is dictating they're ramping up, there's no doubt, because as the targeting of voters in these final days, you're probably now really trying to find and bring out the voters that are not as Trump aligned at this point, and they're trying to get every last one of those. It's a smaller universe in the primary electorate.

But, I mean, to see Ron DeSantis, who I agree with the panel up in New York, had a very strong evening, I would say, to see him go after Trump on -- and trying to convince Republican caucus goers in Iowa that he is not to be trusted to deliver, that you cannot trust Donald Trump, is a -- it is a potentially powerful argument, but it's one that needs a lot more than 11 days to break through with the Republican elector at this point, and that seemed like he was opening a new avenue there.

COATES: On one point, he was specific, though. He pointed out about abortion in particular, right? The idea of he's not who he says he is was the theme.

CHALIAN: Correct. And that DeSantis has been doing for quite some time. He's a different candidate than he was in 2016. This tonight, it sounded to me like he was saying, you can't trust this guy to do the job that you're considering for him to do. That seemed a little bit more of a stern, harsher warning to Republicans that we hear from DeSantis.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the challenge for that, as you're saying, David, is to convince these voters who know Donald Trump, who saw him in office, that he can't be trusted on abortion. This is the guy who appointed three Supreme Court justices who voted down Roe v. Wade in going after him on issues of policy such as saying he's too weak on immigration.

A lot of people on Capitol Hill would say that, Republicans and Democrats alike saying that he was not weak on immigration. What these candidates are not doing is, yes, they're attacking him on electability, as they've been doing for some time, but they are not going after him about his character, the way that Chris Christie is, for that very reason, David, that, as you said, they are concerned about alienating his base.

But perhaps that is one effective way of doing it because you talked to a lot of voters, a lot of people, Republicans, they may like what he did in office, but they don't necessarily like him as a person, and these candidates are shying away from going after him like that.

KRISTEN SOLTIS-ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's what I think is so interesting about the strategy Nikki Haley deployed because for Ron DeSantis, his argument is one that I assume if I went out and polled Republicans today, do you think you can trust Donald Trump? They would largely say, yes, we do. You need a lot of time to build that up.

COATES: But is that because it's the devil you know or because they trust that he'll get the job done or what is the trust umbrella?


SOLTIS-ANDERSON: I think that in the cases where he didn't get things done, what I often hear in focus groups, is that it wasn't his fault. That, oh, he had Democrats standing in his way. Oh, he had rhino Republicans, et cetera.

But what Nikki Haley criticizes Trump for is something that you will hear even Trump's somewhat favorable Republicans acknowledge. Yeah, sometimes he can be his own worst enemy. Yeah, sometimes this cloud of chaos follows him. They don't blame Trump entirely for it. They think he's got a lot of enemies.

But her argument is closer to what you will organically hear even Trump's supportive Republicans kind of say quietly to each other, where DeSantis is trying to build a new argument and he may just not have enough time to do it.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, but at the same time, I think the abortion thing which, really, I thought was pretty surprising, and I think --

COATES: Which part of it?

GOLDBERG: That he basically said Donald Trump is not pro-life, which I think is an utterly defensible position given the stuff that DeSantis was talking about, which was what Trump has said since Dobbs, the blanket 18 weeks or whatever, all that kind of stuff.

DeSantis needs -- there are a lot of people who don't follow pro-life stuff with granularity but the people who do know exactly what DeSantis is talking about. And if he can shave off some of those voters, that could be an important couple points, percentage points, which could be a big difference in the crazy spin wars that we are going to have in 11 days about how he performs.

I agree with everybody, DeSantis had probably as good a night as he possibly can. I do think the contrast between DeSantis and Nikki Haley was really palpable. I like candidates who do their homework. DeSantis came across. This guy does his homework. I may not agree with everything.

COATES: Even had a baseball analogy ready. For the person talking about going to war, I was like, okay, good job, DeSantis.

GOLDBERG: But, man, I mean, Nikki Haley just has so much more EQ and kind of owns the room. I don't agree with everything that she said either. I mean, one thing that's going to torment her is saying all our schools need to be run like our airports.


GOLDBERG: Who has ever come from the airport and said, gosh, I want more experiences like this, right?


And she's going to get grilled on that. But overall, I mean, I just thought DeSantis -- both of them had great nights, but I think Nikki Haley just came across a lot warmer to a lot of people, and whether you like that or care about that, I think a lot of other people do.

COATES: When you're quiet, I can't wait to hear your opinion, Laura. I know it's coming.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER FOR POLITICO: Well, if we take a step back, I mean, it just feels as though Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are running in a totally different world than Donald Trump is. I mean, Donald Trump's campaign is about retribution, it is about January 6, it is about the elections being stolen, and you don't hear any of that from these two candidates or any confrontation of that from these two candidates.

And yes, it is because of the fact that they are trying to be everything to the republican base. They're trying to appease to the Trump voters, but also win over some independents and win over more moderate Republicans. I just do think that 11 days out, it is too little too late and that DeSantis has not had the runway that he may need for an argument like this that, as Kristen says, could very well potentially be useful with Republican voters.

But it's also -- I mean, on abortion itself, DeSantis has been saying that Trump has been a flip-flopper. He has made some of these arguments before, so I didn't find it as striking as I think a lot of the other people on the panel have.

And again, voters, Republican voters, have shown that they trust Trump on abortion, that they think that he's going to give them what they want. And so, are they going to break away from him now at this moment just because DeSantis says he can't be trusted?

COATES: Well, you know, the lawyer in me, my ears, everything just sort of recoiled when I heard her say, Erin Burnett asking Nikki Haley, rightly or wrongly, what do you mean, chaos follows? Was it right or was it wrong? And she didn't really have a clear answer to justify her beliefs about that. I wonder who was listening on that very point.

Everyone, stick around. We'll talk live with a DeSantis surrogate, Congressman Chip Roy. Plus, we'll get reaction to Nikki Haley's explanation about that Civil War controversy, the one you know we're going to talk about.




PHILLIP: Governor Ron DeSantis reminding people tonight that he has, in fact, visited all 99 counties in Iowa and has heard the issues that people there care about the most firsthand. He's also quick to point out that the former president is not doing that old school kind of politicking. So, did that homework pay off for Ron DeSantis tonight?

Joining me now is Congressman Chip Roy of Texas who's campaigning in Iowa on behalf of the DeSantis campaign. Congressman Roy, thanks for joining us tonight.

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Yeah, good night, Abby. Good to be on.

PHILLIP: You've endorsed Governor DeSantis in this race, as we all know. What do you think is going to be victory for DeSantis in Iowa next week?

ROY: Well, look, I mean, Governor DeSantis has been working hard in Iowa, 99 counties, as you said. He has had over 200 events. He has got 42 legislators. He's got 15 hundred of the leaders across the state of Iowa.

Look, he's just somebody who has demonstrated that he's going to work hard to do the job. We expect him to do very well in the caucus. What you saw tonight was a demonstration of somebody who is inspiring people. You know, my check, I reach out to my wife, I reach out to my staff. My chief of staff, she texted me. She goes, you know what, for the first time, I was inspired and happy about what a presidential candidate was saying, uplifting.

The best night in the -- the best moment of the night tonight was when there was a vigorous applause when Governor DeSantis pointed out that he would be someone that you could have your children look up to in a president. And frankly, I thought it was -- it was a great moment. It's something that we're all -- we're all hoping to see again. You know, something where we can be excited about who's in the White House.

And unfortunately, what we saw of Nikki Haley, which is more of the same, we just saw, you know, answers that were awkward about her -- a weird defense about her position on not mentioning slavery last week, and then weird, awkward statements that, frankly, had to be purposeful, and she tried to dismiss it as a joke where she was belittling the people of Iowa.


I can't believe you come to Iowa (INAUDIBLE) a joke when she said that we would have to have New Hampshire correct what Iowans were doing when they're doing what they do in the caucus. I thought that was an awkward moment. I thought that Governor DeSantis was really shining.

PHILLIP: On abortion, Ron DeSantis also called Trump out as not pro- life. Is he right about that?

ROY: Well, I think what Governor DeSantis is bringing up rightly is when the former president is criticizing Florida, when he's criticizing Iowa for embracing a heartbeat bill, that how on earth can you square that with a position that you are -- quote -- "pro-life?" And, you know, I think a lot of people say, oh, you know, appointed three justices and they overturned Roe. Well, look, those three justices returned, you know, the Constitution to the forefront of that decision, left these decisions to the states.

Now, if you have the leader of the -- of the free world, the president of the United States saying, oh, wait, you states, you're making a mistake, and oh, by the way, we should have a federal law coming in preempt, I'm not sure, I think the governor is right, how that squares with a position the you can go advocate yourself as a pro-life president.

At the end of the day, right now, what we want in a pro-life president is someone who'll stand up in defense of moms, defense of babies. We are winning this issue. I think Governor DeSantis has it right.

PHILLIP: I want to turn quickly to border talks. You were not among the Republicans who visited the southern border this week. You're calling for your colleagues to instead act with urgency and shut the government down over the border. How would shutting the government down make the border safer?

ROY: Well, I think I was like to kind of reverse the question, right, which is, why on earth would I give a blank check of more money to Alejandro Mayorkas who is trying to blame Texas for open borders when he is leaving the borders exposed for dangerous cartels, empowering those cartels to move dangerous narcotics and fentanyl into our country, dangerous individuals, people who are on terrorist watch list?

I had six kids in the district I represent, the school district, they died from fentanyl last year. Six just in that school district. We've had countless Texans getting overrun, ranches getting overrun. And Alejandro Mayorkas has the gall to go and try to blame Texas.

So, Congress ought to stand up and use the power of the purse to say, no, I'm sorry, Mr. President, you're not going to get a blank check, you're going to come sit at the table with Article 1 Congress, we're going to tell you, we're going to have a voice in this, let's sit down, let's stop the flow, let's make sure that we're safe --

PHILLIP: But I'll ask you --

ROY: -- because I'm telling you, Texans are tired of it. We are not going to do that anymore.

PHILLIP: -- congressman, how does shutting the government down secure the border?

ROY: Well, what I'm saying is you can actually pass legislation to say that you're going to fund troops, fund border patrol, but you can't say --

PHILLIP: Why doesn't Congress just do that as opposed to not doing its job and funding the government? Why don't you just sit down with -- just as the White House and Senate Republicans are doing now, sit down and negotiate?

ROY: Yeah, well, the House has passed legislation to address the issue, and they have a job. The president ought to be sitting down with the House and saying, here is what we are going to do to secure the border. But that is not what they're doing.

Alejandro Mayorkas looked at the camera today and he said he would not try to end the releases of the United States and instead have detentions and have people remain in Mexico. He said, no, we've got to continue to release. We're going to have 300,000 a month of encounters. That's unsustainable.

So, the whole point here is to look at people and -- look, when I called ranchers day before yesterday in South Texas, local law enforcement, sheriffs, border patrol, I asked them, what do you think we need to do? They said, if you can't shut down the border, then shut down the government.

And the whole point of that is to say, guys, we need to get your attention. You need to come to the table. You cannot continue to do what you're doing, not just to Americans, but the little girls getting sold in the sex trafficking trade or the people -- the 53 migrants who died in a tractor trailer in San Antonio, which I represent, in August, in the summer heat. We can't continue to do this.

So, you can use the power of the purse to force the president to the table. That's the whole point of divided government.

PHILLIP: Congressman Chip Roy, we appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you.

ROY: God bless. Thanks.


COATES: I'm eager to hear what Manu Raju has to say about this because you heard his response about not going to give a blank check, he called it, to someone like Mayorkas who had the gall, those words he's using. What's your reaction to this idea that it's Mayorkas, that's the problem?

RAJU: Well, look, this is going to be a real problem for Speaker Mike Johnson when Congress returns into session this week because they have to figure out a way to fund the federal government which would fund the Department of Homeland Security, which would fund some of these programs that Chip Roy and others want to stop or at least put some restrictions on border policy.

What Chip Roy is voicing, he's a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, but there are a growing number of members who are aligning themselves with them on this issue about taking this very hard line stance on immigration.

I think it's just also interesting because this really underscores the challenge of any president, this president or the future president, whether it's DeSantis or Haley or Trump again, trying to get anything through a divided Congress on an issue like immigration that has been completely -- that Congress has been unable to solve for decades.


They're coming in, they're promising, we're going to just solve the border problems. Well, you don't have to deal with people like Chip Roy who want something. Democrats who have a significant amount of power in the Senate, even if they're the minority next year, get something through and do everything that they promise to do on stage tonight. That's going to be very difficult. Those promises are oftentimes not fulfilled. And Chip Roy's comments kind of signal just that.

COATES: And Speaker Johnson has a sort of Damocles and probably the short-term memory of one Kevin McCarthy about what happens when you try to work across the aisle. Interesting, nonetheless.

Next, we'll discuss Nikki Haley trying to play cleanup on two recent remarks. One was about the Civil War and one was one that Chip Roy just mentioned, about New Hampshire correcting Iowa's vote.




HALEY: No one has ever said that I am unwilling to offend. I offend plenty of people because I call people out when they do something wrong. What I will tell you is Chris Christie is from New Jersey. I should have said slavery right off the bat. But if you grow up in South Carolina, literally in second and third grade, you learn about slavery. You grow up and you have -- you know, I had Black friends growing up. It is a very talked about thing.

We have a big history in South Carolina when it comes to, you know, slavery, when it comes to all the things that happened with the Civil War, all that. I was over -- I was thinking past slavery and talking about the lesson that we would learn going forward. I shouldn't have done that. I should have said slavery. But in my mind, that's a given, that everybody associates the Civil War with slavery.


PHILLIP: I had Black friends growing up. It has already been sent out, I should note, by the DeSantis allies, DeSantis campaign online. What did you make of her attempt to wrap that up, clean that up?

JONES: She was cleaning it up with a dirty rag. I mean, it wasn't a cleanup at all. It's painful. I don't get it. I think it says something about her. I think it says something about the republican base. I think it's -- this should not be hard for a woman of color in this day and age to talk with real power and force about how awful slavery was and how important it is for us as a country to get past it and to deal with it and to confront it so we can be better, as she has done as a governor. I think it says something about the republican base that she's so afraid. There's some big number of people. They can't hear that, that she's going to tiptoe through every tulip she can find and wrap herself around the axle, avoiding saying stuff that's true.

I found it painful. I mean, not personally painful, but it's awkward to watch a grown woman not be able to say what any kindergarten teacher could say, any third-grader teacher could say, because there's either something off about her or about this party that will not be able to speak the truth.

AXELROD: Well, the shocking thing was that this was not a surprise. Okay? This story has been taking around. The fact she knew this question was coming, she must have thought about it, and yet she still couldn't. I think it's what you say because she did not want to offend the republican base by leaning into slavery.

JONES: And what does that say about the republican base?


PHILLIP: I think we should ask Scott. Scott, I want to know what you think about this. Is it the republican base or is it a Nikki Haley?

JENNINGS: I think this is a Nikki Haley issue. I think she messed up on the first thing, immediately recognized that she messed up, and hasn't learned the critical issue of cleaning things up, which is sometimes less is more.

You can just say, man, I messed up. Of course, I should have said slavery, I feel very strongly about this. And, oh, by the way, it was the Republican Party and a Republican president that ended slavery in this country. And really lean into just saying, I messed up and here's why I'm so proud to be a Republican.

But in her cleanup afterwards, and even tonight, she says, oh, I should have said slavery, of course, it's slavery, but then you just get more and it unspools and it unspools. I think it has nothing to do with the Republican base. I just think it has to do with someone who can't recognize that, look, less is more here. Take the "L" and move on.

AXELROD: Yeah -- I'm sorry.

GRIFFIN: When you don't have the words on an issue this important, she should have left it as simple as, of course, it was about slavery and I was wrong. And I felt like she got where she wanted to be at the end of the answer, at the end of it, talking about bringing down the Confederate flag and how important that was to bring these coalitions together and saying, you don't have to stand with me, but I'm going to do it.

But everything leading up to that felt like she felt lost in it, she did herself no favors, and she kind of put herself back where she was at the beginning of this issue. My fear is this, is I think that in the Trump era of republican politics, you may disagree, Scott, Trump started to speak to a part of the republican electorate that better angels before him didn't speak to. John McCain refused to try to reach out to some of the David Dukes of the world, those who might, you know, lean toward the white supremacy side of things. It's now seen as a core constituency that folks need to turn out.

Now, I'm not accusing Nikki Haley of trying to do that, but I do feel like there's this fear of alienating someone who might come out for you. I think we need to get back to a place where you say, I don't even want those folks.

PHILLIP: Well, it was notable to me that Chip Roy, when we were just speaking to him, he brought this up about Nikki Haley --


PHILLIP: -- as a line of attack.

AXELROD: Because the issue is not ultimately slavery. The issue is her. And this is -- you know, you mentioned the Confederate flag. She campaigned twice against taking the Confederate flag down when she ran for governor. Ultimately, there was this tragedy and there was a huge movement in the state to take the flag down, and then she saw which way it was going.

And I'm not saying that in her heart, she didn't believe that's what should be done, but I'm saying she didn't say it when she was running for office.


She is someone who does a lot of calculating about where the perfect political answer is at any given moment. And in a presidential race, that catches up with you. You can't -- you can't fake it. I mean, this -- I said a long time ago, presidential races are MRIs for the soul. I think this is her vulnerability. Not any particular issue, but the character dimensions of it.

JONES: You had to coach Obama through a lot of this stuff. You know, when you have a person of color on the national stage, there is a tight rope element there. Is she being poorly coached? I mean, how do you see this?

AXELROD: Listen, I think she's a very strong person. I don't think she -- if anything, I think she's probably not someone who is coached very much. I think she makes a lot of her own judgments.

JONES: Yeah.

AXELROD: So, I don't think this is a matter of her being missed. This is her. Now, there may be additionally baggage that comes along with having been the daughter of immigrants, an immigrant, an Indian- American woman who saw a lot of racial politics in her state and has managed to navigate through it. There are muscle memories that may take her to this place.

But, you know, she has made a lot of mistakes in the last two weeks, some large, some small. That all go to one thing, which is authenticity, and I think that's something that she needs to be aware of.

PHILLIP: To that point, it was jarring to me to hear her in response to a question about how she thought about slavery, to respond with how she and her family felt as Indian-Americans in South Carolina, important but separate of an issue. And Laura, I know you have some thoughts on this, too.


COATES: Oh, do I, Abby, on this very point? I mean, first of all, I'm always a little bit blown away, as I'm sure you are, when somebody has a knee-jerk reaction of going to, well, I had Black friends growing up, and so we talked about slavery as if we have conversations on a daily basis with our white counterparts about slavery in America, number one.

Number two, the idea that this is a presidential candidate who was asked a question about the origins of the Civil War, and at the time, she jokingly said, well, that was a tough question, it's not a tough question. You're somebody who was asked for the opportunity to lead.

And I really just take issue, just politically neutral about it. But the idea that somebody who wants to lead the country has to politically calibrate even the most obvious facts of our own history, it is very telling that even tonight, she didn't get it right.

PHILLIP: Look --

COATES: You just don't understand.

PHILLIP: Slavery is part of the history. I mean, some people would like it to be ancient history. But it's a formative fact of American history.

COATES: It is.

PHILLIP: As president of the United States, you've got to be able to talk about it and talk about it with some depth, even in the republican primary, I should add. So, look, you heard from the candidates tonight. But how accurate were the things that they actually said? We have a CNN fact check for you coming up, next.




PHILLIP: Let's fact check what the candidate said tonight. Governor Ron DeSantis touted Florida's economy, saying that it is ranked number one out of all 50 states by CNBC, and that Florida's income growth is at the top of the charts.

Here's the fact check. He is right that his state's economy, which CNBC ranks as the nation's top economy, but his second claim about income growth is not accurate, at least according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which ranks Florida as number 21 among all of the states.

COATES: Hmm. Interesting. Thanks, Abby. Now, to Ambassador Haley, because you recall that she was asked about the surge of migrants, saying that the Biden administration is trying to cut down razor wire at the border. And this answer, frankly, it needs more context. It's a very nuanced issue.

While it is true that the administration wants to allow the U.S. border patrol to remove razor wire, it is said in court documents that agents cut the wire to provide medical assistance to migrants who need it or to apprehend who have already crossed into U.S. territory.

Up next, less than two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses. How has the race changed over the campaign? CNN's Harry Enten has the numbers for us. Plus, hundreds of more pages related to this man, Jeffrey Epstein, have been released. We'll bring you the new details ahead.




PHILLIP: Our special coverage continues right now of tonight's CNN republican presidential town halls with Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

COATES: And I'm Laura Coates in Washington, D.C. Two Republicans who want to be president taking questions tonight from Iowa voters. But one of the biggest questions, Abby, can either one of them make any headway against the frontrunner, Donald Trump?

PHILLIP: Now, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley both getting digs in against the former president tonight.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You'll see me on the debate stage next week here in Iowa on January 10th. Donald Trump is not willing to show up on the debate stage. Has he come to communities and answered questions? Has he gone to all 99 counties? Heck, has he even gone to nine counties?

HALEY: I personally think President Trump was the right president at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies. But the reality is, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. And we all know that's true. Chaos follows him. And we can't have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it.


PHILLIP: We are now less than two weeks with time to go until the first contest of the 2024 election. And after months of campaigning, the question now is, where do the Republicans in this race stand?

CNN data reporter Harry Enten is here to show us. So, with Iowa, this is incredibly important. Where do things stand right now?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I mean, look, you don't have to be someone who sees very well to see that Donald Trump is well ahead in Iowa, and he's only gotten stronger. Back in July, he was at 46% of the vote. Now, he's up to 52% of the vote.

Ron DeSantis, very steady. Steady Ron. But way back in the pack, 16% July, 18% December. Now, Nikki Haley has gone up a little bit, right? She has tripled her support from 5% in July to now 16% over here. But the fact is, if you're at 16% and the leader is at 52%, you're not exactly doing all that well.

PHILLIP: Yeah. And to be fair, every day, this thing could change because we're getting closer and closer. But this is not --

ENTEN: Not where you really want to be.

PHILLIP: -- a great trend here for these other two candidates. What about New Hampshire? What's going on?

ENTEN: So, New Hampshire is a little bit more interesting. So, what do we see in New Hampshire? We see that Trump perhaps has gone up a little bit since July into December, although I should note these are separate pollsters. But I think the really key thing to keep an eye out on the granite state is twofold.

Number one, Nikki Haley. She was at 5% in July. She has six times her support, my goodness gracious, up to 29% now in December, only 15 points behind the leader. And, of course, the other real trend line here, Abby, is look at Ron DeSantis.



ENTEN: He was at 23%. His support has been sliced in half at just 11% now. So, the fact is what you're looking at in this data is not particularly good news for Ron DeSantis.