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CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall With Nikki Haley; Nikki Haley Faces Voters Just Days Before New Hampshire Primary; CNN Breaks Discusses Highlights Of Sandown Town Hall With Nikki Haley; Congressman Barbara Lee Reacts On Nikki Haley's Racism Comment Aired 10-11p ET

Aired January 18, 2024 - 22:00   ET


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, like what a lesson that is, right?


They don't let people -- people will discount you all your life. But the fact that she persisted, the fact that she continued to go forward, and the fact that she just was a badass, I love every bit of that. I do.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a great lesson for all the college kids here and anybody watching at home.

I want you to meet Rip Holden. He's a former New Hampshire state legislator and former political consultant. He's a Republican from Manchester who says he's currently undecided. Rip.


HALEY: Thank you.

HOLDEN: First, let me say, I'm glad your father's doing well.

HALEY: Thank you for saying that. I appreciate it.

HOLDEN: Which leads me into this question. You have an ad that says, I'll tell you, Joe Biden is too old. Even this damn Yankee thinks that's rude. So, is that the kind of image that you or a presidential candidate should project rather than issues?

HALEY: You know what I'm always going to do is tell --

HOLDEN: Remember the age median of the state before you answer that question?

HALEY: No. And I have always spoken in hard truths because I think Americans deserve the truth. I always want the truth, and I think they want it back. I don't sugarcoat things because I don't think we have time for that.

I have said both Biden and Trump would mean that our options would give us an 80-year-old president. We have a country in disarray and a world on fire. I am acknowledging what everybody else is thinking. They're just not saying it. I'm going to say it because our families are on the line.

We need someone who's going to be at the top of their game. We need someone who's going to be -- these are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to be honest with ourselves. Congress has become the most privileged nursing home in the country. And you ask any of our young -- ask any of our college students, they don't want that. I don't want that for my kids.

I appreciate anybody that goes in for service. But the problem is Joe Biden refuses to leave. And all of these people who are in their 80s, they need to know, for the good of our country, know when to walk away. Because you can look at Joe Biden from two years ago and you look at him now, and you know what I worry about? How Russia sees him, how China sees him, how Iran sees him, because every one of them see what we see.

And if no one else will say it, I'm going to say it. We don't need to have our options be two 80-year-olds running for president. We've got too many issues. We need to have a new generational leader. That's not being disrespectful. I'm from the south. That's speaking the hard truth.

TAPPER: So, one of those elderly gentlemen you just referred to is on a different channel. And since he's not here willing to debate you, I did want you to give you an opportunity to rebut something he just said. He said, you have no chance, you have no hope, MAGA is not going to be with you. I'm obviously talking about Donald Trump.

HALEY: Yes. No, I figured.

TAPPER: Your response?

HALEY: Yes. I mean, I think if he thinks I have no chance and I have no hope, then why is he running millions of dollars of ads against me? If he thinks I had no chance and I had no hope, then why then when I served in his cabinet, did he say I was tough, the best U.N. ambassador he ever had, and no one could even move me? I mean, he gave me all this praise until I decided to run against him.

This is not personal for me. I don't hate Donald Trump. I voted for him twice. I agree with a lot of his policies. But rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him, and everybody knows I'm right. And we can't continue down this path and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it. You don't fix Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.

So, he can say everything that he wants that I don't have a chance. He wouldn't say it if he thought that that was true. The reason he's throwing these temper tantrums is because he knows I do have a chance. The reason he's doing this is because he knows he's not able to defend his record. He's not able to talk about why he wasn't tough enough on China when he should have, and he allowed fentanyl to come through and then steal our intellectual property and build up our military. He's not talking about the fact that he put us $8 trillion in debt over four years and we're digging out of it, unable to figure out how we're going to pay that now. He's not talking about the fact that he didn't stop the fentanyl flow that's affected this state and all over the country when he had the opportunity to do it. He's not talking about why did he go and praise President Xi a dozen times after they gave us COVID? Why would you do that? There are a lot of things he doesn't want to answer.

So, he can say, I'm not going to win. I don't care about that. What I am going to do is say, we need answers. The American people need answers.


And if he's not giving it, that should worry every single one of you.

TAPPER: I want you to meet Claire Gruenfelder. She's from Concord, New Hampshire. She's the H.R. director here at New England College. She's an undeclared voter who is undecided in the primary. Claire?

HALEY: Nice to see you.

CLAIRE GRUENFELDER, NEW ENGLAND COLLEGE HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR: Hi, Governor, nice to see you. Thank you for being here.

I'm actually a brand new U.S. citizen, although I've been in the United States for 23 years, and I've been in my hometown of Concord for eight. And a problem that I see that really does concern me is that of homelessness. I understand my town does a lot to try to combat the issue, and I understand there's some local responsibilities and really good work that's going on. But I'd like to understand what you would do to tackle the issue if you would be president.

HALEY: Well, we're seeing homelessness is up 12 percent. We now have 650,000 Americans who are homeless. 35,000 of them are veterans who are homeless. It's shameful. This is not their fault. It's the fact that inflation is up. We're seeing a lot of families get squeezed. It's the fact that America refuses to deal with the cancer that's mental health. America refuses to deal with addictions, which we have to deal with. And there are answers to this.

This is why I want to move as many programs from the federal government down to the states, because right now, a lot of it's tied up in D.C. You've got over $300 billion that's spent on things like mental health and behavioral services in D.C. Only $1 billion of it gets down to the states for states to decide how to use it.

Let's release those resources so that every state can do what they need to, to get the mental health therapists they need to have, to have the mental health facilities that we need to have in our states, to have the addiction centers. It doesn't need to be tied up with D.C. bureaucrats. It needs to be on the ground where we can lift people up because we're losing so many Americans to mental health issues, to fentanyl issues, the economy. We can get them back on track, but we got to get them well first. And then we get them trained, like what I said we did with our welfare recipients, what I said we did with our prison inmates is getting them trained, but we need to start bringing these resources down. Because what you're seeing is the federal government is assuming that one size fits all for all the states, and that's not true. I would much rather have those resources go to Governor Sununu and him say, this is where we need this mental health facility, this is where we need this addiction center. That's what I want to do.

And presidents typically meet with governors once a year. I will meet with our governors once a quarter, Republican and Democrat, with the sole purpose of when we move those programs down, showing them the best ways that they can go about serving their people so that they're more empowered by that process.

TAPPER: I want you to meet Marie Mulroy. She's a retiree who worked in public health. She's an undeclared voter from Manchester who supported Joe Biden in 2020. And now says she's planning on voting for you in the primary. Marie?

HALEY: Hey, Marie, thank you.

MARIE MULROY, RETIRED PUBLIC HEALTH WORKER: Thank you, Governor. And also, I want to thank you for taking the time to visit and get us to see as many voters as you have. And so my question is kind of in that regard. And so with all the town halls, all the debates, all the conversations with individuals, can you share a little bit of how that experience has refined or shaped any of your policies?

HALEY: Look, I think that, and I was like this as a governor, I was like this as ambassador, I really love to be out with people because, no offense, Jake, but like the media is not real life. And you -- but you -- but you go to a town hall and they will tell you everything.

I'll give you an example. I had this woman come up to me. And before she came up to me, she was crying. So, I knew something was wrong. And she came up to me and she said, I saw you last week at X town. And she said, this is a picture and she showed me a picture and she was in the audience and she had herself circled and I said, oh, how nice. And she said, at the moment that I was sitting in that town hall, my son died of fentanyl.

And she said, I need to know that that was -- that meant something. I need to know that me being there is okay. You don't forget things like that. That sits with you in a way that nothing else can. I mean, talking to that person, talking to a veteran that comes and says, everything you're saying about how veterans need telehealth and mental health care or, you know, a veteran's military spouse, when you hear those things, it makes it very real.

What I've found out from New Hampshire is we don't talk enough about the northern border. The southern border is in terrible shape, but 500 people on the terrorist list, terrorist watch list have come through the northern border.

[22:10:02] You look at the fentanyl and all that, I learned that from you because you've been affected by it every day.

When I look at how New Hampshire really focuses on single moms, we were at a great center that helps single moms that have babies that get back on track, learning about the addictions that New Hampshire has had, learning about the veterans issues that New Hampshire has had, listening to the story of that mom where she dealt with a fentanyl issue, talking about the importance of school choice and why parents want that so much or the fact that they want to know that the economy continues to squeeze them no matter how much Joe Biden says the economy is good, nobody in New Hampshire feels that.

But those are the things I'll take away with me because those stories and those faces and those people, that is what makes you a good leader. Because you can read all the books that you want and you can watch all the news that you want, but if you don't hear what real people are saying and what real people care about, you'll never truly lead in a way that lifts up everybody.

TAPPER: Our thanks to Governor Haley and thanks to our audience here at New England College.

Make sure to join us next Tuesday, January 23rd, starting at 4:00 P.M. Eastern or a CNN special live coverage of the New Hampshire primary.

Stay right here. Kaitlan Collins and Abby Phillip have analysis of this town hall. That starts right now. And thanks to you. Thanks to all of you. I really appreciate it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: You've just been listening to Nikki Haley facing voters just five days ahead of the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire.

I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kaitlan Collins in Washington. This is our continuing live coverage of CNN's town hall with Nikki Haley.

Haley saying during that town hall, among other things, that she is not bothered by the frontrunner, Donald Trump's attacks on her personally, also rejecting his claim of outright presidential immunity, also saying that she would preemptively pardon him, or that she would not preemptively pardon him if he is convicted, also waiting back into the middle of that controversy over her comments on racism.

Let's start here with the takeaways of everything we saw there. Audie Cornish, you're here with us. I mean, this is a pivotal moment for Nikki Haley. New Hampshire means so much for her campaign. What did you make of how she did tonight?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, she clearly wanted to have this avenue to talk to people directly. In the last debate with Ron DeSantis, she didn't exactly wowed people with that performance. And so I think being able to talk to people, being able to kind of expand on her stump speech one last time was very helpful.

You know, I think it was interesting that Jake kind of brought up some of these thornier issues for her, including race, which continues to bedevil her despite her having been a governor of a southern state, and having had to tackle these things head on already. But she's -- I think she is following in the footsteps of many others who have been in the campaign, Vivek Ramaswamy, also Tim Scott, and, of course, also Ron DeSantis, who talks about Florida being where woke goes to die.

Any conversation about race as a problem in a broader system, cultural system, is really frowned upon. And I think she is a good example of a very conservative approach, which is to say my personal achievement is an example that can minimize longer historical struggles.

COLLINS: Toluse, we covered the Trump White House together, so we knew Nikki Haley in her role as Trump's U.N. ambassador. When she was asked about his attacks, calling her by her birth name, which she doesn't go by, she's gone by Nikki for decades, she didn't really take the opportunity that some may have expected to kind of go after him. She just said she didn't take it personally, and then she knows Donald Trump well. What did you make of that?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, she basically decided not to take the punch that she had at Donald Trump. In terms of knowing that Donald Trump was on another network attacking her, she decided that she was not going to attack him, in part because she realizes that she needs some of his voters, in part because she's taking that as a strategy.

Yes, she did ramp up some of her attacks on Donald Trump. She did say that he was too old. She did say that chaos follows him. She talked about him increasing the debt and not being able to secure the southern border and letting fentanyl in and attacking China. And then she made a number of talking points against Trump that she's been willing to use. But she hasn't been willing to take him on one-on-one.

Trump, as we have seen, as we have covered him, is not someone who's going to pull punches. He's someone who's going to go for the jugular. And she has not shown that she's willing to respond in kindness yet. That may be a strategy. We'll have to see how long it works for her. But it does appear that she's not willing to attack him in the same way that he's going to be attacking her for the next several days.

COLLINS: Yes. Part of her strongest criticism seemed to be of his handling of the Taliban, inviting them to Camp David.


Rina, I wonder what you thought of how the governor did in this moment where she's trying to argue this is a two-person race.

RINA SHAH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There was a whole lot to love tonight, and I think there was a whole lot to not love. It was equal parts for me. Her grasp of foreign policy was perhaps the sharpest and the most clear I've seen it so far. There were multiple mentions of mental health, and many times she spoke about lifting people up. So, that aspirational tone I think she's taken, she knows that's going to work in New Hampshire. I'm not at all surprised by how she conducted herself tonight. It was with a hopefulness that I think she has felt like has been missing throughout the primary, and, yes, we're still very much in the early stages.

But her contrast to Donald Trump, I don't think, has gotten stark enough yet. I still think she can do more. Look, in the racist country answer, she failed. She never gets it right. I myself am also a brown girl from a rural state. I was born and raised in West Virginia. She can't get it right. She's timid. She loses sort of control every time she wants to talk about this country's original sin.

Coming out and talking about things on their face is just not something she's good at, and I think that's where she leaves some people lukewarm about supporting her.

COLLINS: What did you think?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I thought, first of all, I think the crowd seemed to have really warmed her tonight. I thought she sort of had a pretty solid performance there. I think they were all very appreciative of the work that she's put in there, right?

I mean, a lot of these folks, these voters in New Hampshire, you know, six months ago, they had no idea who Nikki Haley was. And now she's in a striking distance of Donald Trump and, you know, potentially poised to, you know, compete very strongly for the win there because she's put in that work.

And I think she is very polished. I would agree with Rina that she's very good on policy. She can go deep on policy, strong command and control on a lot of the issues that she feels strongly about national security, foreign policy.

But I also agree with Rina in that she doesn't necessarily yet have that really crystallized closing message. And that is going to be the key, I think, differentiator in the next couple of weeks on whether she finishes a strong second, or in the next couple of days, whether she finishes a strong second or actually really does close this out and win.

COLLINS: I mean, there was one moment where it was a contrast of what Trump has been saying, even just as of this hour, and what she was saying, which is on what Tuesday is going to look like, who can go and cast their votes.

Trump has been falsely claiming that Democrats can go and vote in New Hampshire. They cannot, registered Democrats cannot go. But New Hampshire does have a lot of independent voters, and they are expected to show up on Tuesday.

Nikki Haley has made no secret that she is trying to appeal to them, and she said tonight, you know, she welcomes everyone to the Republican Party. What do you make of how that could affect what we see happen on Tuesday?

CORNISH: Well, it's not just Trump. I'd want to look at that media ecosystem kind of holistically. There is an ongoing dialogue that is basically dismissive of New Hampshire in a way, basically saying, look, Democrats, they could jump in, independents could jump in there. That's not the real party somehow, right, the way that Iowa is, et cetera. And I think that's what you're hearing in that rhetoric from Trump as well, that like, well, don't take this one too seriously, because if she does well, then that means it must be the Democrats at play.

And I think that's what is hanging over all of this. You guys have talked about how it's tough for her to be different. No one can be different in a party where you cannot split from the figurehead of the party. There's no way around it. And so in a party where people are angry about DEI, you're not going to talk about race. In a party where people feel like the country is overextending itself in foreign entanglements, then your foreign policy expertise and policy ideas have nowhere to go with no real interest.

So, I think she's always been a little bit stuck because she, in a way, approaches politics the way we did in the past. And by past, I mean six to seven years ago.

COLLINS: It's a remarkable moment to see this as it is our closing argument to these voters in New Hampshire.

Everyone here stick around in Washington. Abby, just a remarkable look at what Nikki Haley is saying as she is trying to make these closing arguments given New Hampshire is one of the states where she could perform the best.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, it's getting down to the wire, and you can tell based on really the kind of focus that she brought to this panel, she spent a lot of time in New Hampshire. We're going to discuss all of that with our panel here in New York.

I want to do -- I do want to play, though, the moment that they were talking about a little earlier. She was asked again, I don't even know how many times it's been at this point, about her comments on race. And I just want to play, this is when Jake followed up with her to push back a little bit on something she had said earlier. Listen.


TAPPER: Just to push back a bit, because I was a history major in New Hampshire, you're talking about the ideals of America. But America was founded institutionally on many racist precepts, including slavery.

HALEY: But when you look at said all men are created equal, I think the intent.


The intent was to do the right thing. Now, did they have to go fix it along the way? Yes, but I don't think the intent was ever that we were going to be a racist country. The intent was everybody was going to be created equally. And as we went through time, they fixed the things that were not all men are created equal.


PHILLIP: So, that answer, she kind of doubles down here. She says, well, it says all men are created equally, so that's what they meant. But is that really what they meant? I mean, is that really what they meant?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, that's what they meant perhaps philosophically, theoretically speaking, but that wasn't what the reality was, right? But the Republican Party, and Joe and I were just talking about this, I mean, racially speaking, we are a pretty homogenous party. It is the facts. We're not Democrats. And most of those voters do not want to be lectured on issues about race.

And this isn't a new phenomenon that's unique to Nikki Haley. Even Tim Scott, a black American who was running, also had a very difficult time talking about race for the very same reasons that Nikki Haley is, and it's because many Republican voters don't want to be lectured on it.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But can I just say, I wrote a piece for about this today, as a matter of fact, and talked about her other three times, she couldn't get it right. This is gaslighting. It's not about lecturing people. The white supremacist doctrine was, let's slaughter the Indians. They're inferior. Let's have chattel slavery and bring black people over here and make them work the land, because they're inferior. And this has become a mythology that we are still grappling with when we talk about systemic racism.

By the way, when we talk about sexism, it was white, land-owning men, not low-income white people, not women, and black folks, finally, we were three-fifths of a human being. So, it's not that hard, I think, to acknowledge.

And I think we have seen with Donald Trump how dangerous it is to have leaders who like to paint their own version of history and can't accept or talk about the truth, the hard truth. And she stands up there and tries to say, well, I'm a truth teller, but you can't even, and particularly as a southern governor, my God, South Carolina is the first state to secede from the Union, you can't acknowledge.

By the way, when she went for governor in 2010, she said it's about tradition and change. I mean, she has the talking points.

SINGLETON: Well, it's a different Republican Party today. That's the problem

PHILLIP: Shermichael, why can't she just accurately describe the history? She doesn't have to say that -- she doesn't have to say that that's the way America is, but she can't -- I'm looking at her answer again. She never once talks about slavery. She just doesn't say it.

SINGLETON: Yes. And, look, I think there's a propensity for some of those voters, certainly not all, who believe that they have been painted with a broad brush as being racist or being bigoted. And I think one of the reasons why many of them have sort of grappled towards Donald Trump is because he sort of told them that you're not. And with these sort of elitist individuals on the West Coast or the East Coast that have described you as are because of their ignorance about you as a people, about your values, about the things that you find important.

And so I think there's a lot of context that we're oftentimes missing here when discussing contemporary politics. It's a lot easier to just say, oh, it's just easy to talk about race. But when you're running in this version of the Republican Party, that is not the case.

PHILLIP: Let me let go Joe get in here. And, Joe, do you think that this is because she is trying to placate a part of the Republican Party that does not want to confront race?

JOE PINION, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean look, this is an election year. Everybody is in the placation business. Unfortunately, we end up having the lowest iteration of the argument, often particularly on issues of great pertinence, certainly race being one of them.

So, yes, I think that there has been this war, politically speaking, on the left and the right, to say, are we going to effectively weaponize the pain of black people or are we going to ignore the pain of black people?

But I sit here today, I'm 40 years old. I'm born in 1983, and when I turned five years old, I ended up going to a private school, not a public school, because a week prior, the city of Yonkers had been found in default of a mandatory desegregation order for our public schools and public housing. That was 1988. We're not even talking about the 60s or the 70s.

So, I think that at some point, it is possible for Republicans, for Americans writ large to understand that race is a very real part of the story of America, but I think what many Republicans are trying to emphasize is that that racist history does not have to define who we are, and, in fact, yes, going back to our founders, they employed us or empowered us, with the mechanics for change.

A document that was actually built into the DNA allowed us to be able to use that very same document to make sure that black people, that all people, could be able to use this government as a mechanism to have the America we all deserve.


ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think it shows a stunning lack of leadership on this issue, because I do know she knows that we're not going to be able to use that.

And I think it shows a stunning lack of leadership on this issue because I do know she knows the right answer and I know she has it. And it's now the fourth time we've heard her answer this question. And I keep thinking of John McCain when he was confronted by a voter, 2008 cycle, who tried to push the racist birther conspiracy theory. And instead of trying to pander to get that person's vote, he took a teachable moment to say, that's wrong, that's not true, we don't believe that and believe in that as a country.

That's what's missing here is I realize there's an element of the right that does not want to be lectured about race, but that all the other right needs to learn and they need to grow and they need to have truth spoken to power, and it's a missed opportunity for them.

PHILLIP: Joe, I feel like you could just take a closed captioning of your comments and send it over to the Nikki Haley campaign. They need a little bit of help.

PINION: I do. Look, I don't want to beat up on Nikki Haley. I think we have a difficult time talking about race, because people want to basically take the cliff notes of Dr. King, whether it's riots or the language of the unheard, or whether they want to talk about Malcolm X talking about how northern white liberals are, in many ways, the greatest threat to black freedom.

So, there is a Martin for everyone. There is a Malcolm for everyone, and what we need to actually focus on, what are the greatest threats to the black community today. What's unfortunately was not talked about in that town hall, it's about the civil rights issue of our time. It is education. It is black children being trapped in zip codes by virtue of the color of their skin and not giving the education they deserve to be able to know with a name on the ballot or even how to balance their own check and account.

PHILLIP: All right. Everyone, stand by for us.

Coming up next, we will fact check that town hall you just saw. Plus, we'll get some reaction from a Trump supporter, Matt Gaetz, about Nikki Haley's rejection of Trump's immunity claims.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



COLLINS: And joining me now for a fact check on what we heard at Sandown's Town Hall with Governor Nikki Haley, Tom Foreman. Tom, what caught your attention that you heard in that hour in New Hampshire?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the things that really caught our ear was when she was asked about whether she was to support a recent bipartisan deal in Congress to expand the child tax credit. This gets kind of technical, but listen to what she said.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm for Child Care Tax credits for everyone. If you're going to do it, do it across the board and make sure that it's fair. Look, when you look at the welfare system and you look at all of those other things, when you look at those programs, the goal that I want to look at is what are we doing to lift them up? What are we doing to make life better for them?


FOREMAN: It would seem here that she is mischaracterizing how the Child Tax Credit works. A wide swath of American families are already eligible for and they can claim the Child Tax Credit, very low-income and very high-income families cannot. Disagreement calls for increasing the --

COLLINS: That might be the Nikki Haley campaign calling you, Tom.

FOREMAN: Yeah, it could be., it could be. They come out -- any of it is would possibly open up some more the bottom. The bottom line issue is an opportunity to launch into the well-known, sort of Republican trope of saying welfare programs are unfair because they help to screw that on help that group.

You may agree with that if you wish, but nonetheless, there did seem to be some mischaracterization here and a little bit of misleading to say, oh, these are all the same thing, when that's not really all the same thing when you talk about the Child Care Tax Credit, which almost anybody can get if you pay money for child care. So, that's a possibility.

Another thing that she talked about, Kaitlan, that was very interesting, had to do with electric cars and the idea of climate change and what the Biden administration is trying to do to maybe address that. Listen.


HALEY: -- to have as many electric cars, you know, everybody's got to drive an electric car by 2033. That's not -- you don't live in extremes. Instead, yes, we acknowledge that China and India are a massive emitter when it comes to that and that we need to call them out on it. But you also look at what's the transition. Rather than demonizing producers, partner with the producers.


FOREMAN: She and other Republicans keep trying to characterize the Biden administration as putting out a mandate for electric cars, saying to consumers, you've got to get them. That's just the way it is. That's not the case. They're very much in favor of electric cars in the Biden administration.

They want to push consumers. They want to push manufacturers to move more toward this technology. But they very specifically have not put in some kind of big mandate to tell Americans what to do or how to live. With a look at an awful lot more of what she had to say, go to you can see it all.

COLLINS: I can always count on you. Tom Foreman, thank you for that.

FOREMAN: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Up next, we'll speak about Haley's response to former President Trump's new immunity claims. Plus, is House Speaker Mike Johnson's job in jeopardy after another deal to avoid a government shutdown? We'll ask our Republican Congressman right after this.




HALEY: Obviously, if a President is doing something and it's related to, you know, whether it's terrorist threats or something like that and people die, that's one thing. But do you get just total freedom to do whatever you want? No, that's never the way it was intended to be. There needs to be accountability. No one is above the law.


PHILLIP: More tonight on Nikki Haley's town hall where she, as you listen to there, rejected Donald Trump's argument that Presidents need immunity even if they cross the line. Republican and Trump supporter Matt Gaetz of Florida joins me now. Congressman, thanks for joining us. Who is right here? Is it Nikki Haley or is it Donald Trump?

MATT GAETZ (R) FLORIDA: Well, I think there are probably some anti- war pacifists who would love to prosecute Barack Obama or George W. Bush for military airstrikes or drone strikes. So, there's presidential immunity that exists. The reasonable debate that's going on is the extent of that immunity.

Bloomberg Law just published a piece from some Emory Law School professors where they debated, whether or not Trump's point was legitimate and it really is an unresolved question. I don't have the answer. The Supreme Court will figure it out.

In the meantime, what are we doing here, Abby? This primary contest concluded in Iowa where Donald Trump had an overwhelming victory, Nikki Haley is competing in New Hampshire where she's eight points behind. It's her best state. Our firewall, the Trump firewall, is South Carolina, undeniably Trump country. While Joe Biden is out campaigning and advertising in swing states, this seems to be an incredible waste of time.

PHILLIP: Well, look, as you know, the way that the primary process works is that you don't just win one state and then get to claim the whole thing is over. It's playing out so that the voters can see what the candidates have to say. But Congressman, just to follow up on that, Trump said that Presidents who, quote, "cross the line should get", quote, "total immunity". I wonder, do you think that if by that same logic, Joe Biden ordered SEAL Team-6 to assassinate Donald Trump, would you okay with him having immunity for that?


GAETZ: Undeniably, I wouldn't be. So, there is immunity. We all agree to that. There has to be some limit to it. I think you described an extreme case, but the confines of that immunity in something like an election integrity contest where President Trump would have a legitimate federal interest in what's going on in an election contest where he was concerned about fraud would seem to me to fall within the envelope of an immunity that would not be limitless but would cover the conduct of President Trump.

PHILLIP: I want to turn to what's happening on Capitol Hill. Earlier this evening, the House voted to avoid a government shutdown. Speaker Johnson, he barely squeaked by, getting the votes that he needed from your conference to pass that short-term for term Spending Bill, 106 Republicans, yourself included, opposed it. Right before voting, you said House Republicans have failed the test of fighting in this moment. In your eyes, is this a failure of Speaker Johnson's?

GAETZ: It's a failure of all of ours. Actually, 108 of us voted against it. That's significant because 107 voted for it. So, a majority of Republicans in the House did not support this measure. It was advanced with the assistance of Democrats. And if this is the way we're going to govern, I fear we won't be in the majority longer.

We have gone to the border. We have shown that the border is a major issue. I wish the border was way more central to the discussion between Jake Tapper and Governor Haley this evening, and it's not central to our strategy on the government funding dispute. That's my criticism of the approach we've taken.

Speaker Johnson has assured me today in an extended meeting that we had that before this March deadline is reached, we're going to be passing border security bills. We're going to be putting pressure on the Senate to take those up and then ultimately include that in the long-term negotiated deal that we have to put together and divided government.

PHILLIP: So, are you comfortable with that compromise that Speaker Johnson made with Democrats to fund the government at effectively the same level that it was funded at -- under a deal that Kevin McCarthy brokered with President Biden. Are you comfortable with that?

GAETZ: Well, it's not exactly the same. You see, the Johnson deal claws back $20 billion of the $50 billion inside deals that Kevin McCarthy lied to us about. That alone justifies his ouster and I wish that Johnson would have gotten us more clawed back from the McCarthy side deals, and it certainly was a disappointment that he didn't.

But with McCarthy, it wasn't just that he was doing deals with Democrats. It was the duplicitous nature. It was continuing to tell us one thing, to do another, and then to have these off-script negotiated agreements that were seemingly binding the House in the absence of any vote.

The other thing is that McCarthy had a different majority, Abby. We had a four-seat majority, but then Kevin took his marbles and went home. We expelled George Santos.

Bill Johnson became the President of Youngstown State, and so it's hard to judge Johnson by precisely the same standards as you would judge McCarthy because he doesn't have the same majority McCarthy had, in part because McCarthy left.

PHILLIP: Well, you -- you kicked McCarthy out of his job. You forgot to include that part.

GAETZ: Just Speaker, just Speaker, Abby. There are 434 of us who are willing to do the job without being Speaker.

PHILLIP: Look, just one last thing. I mean, look, you're saying you cannot hold Speaker Johnson to the same standard, but he's now passed two continuing resolutions, which you said was unacceptable when Kevin McCarthy did it. Is Speaker Johnson's job in jeopardy, if only for that reason?

GAETZ: No, again, as I said, it wasn't one thing with McCarthy. It was an accumulation of misrepresentations, lies in the sense that we were being sold out time and again in these negotiations. With Johnson, he's been very clear upfront when he has a one-seat majority having to balance the needs of a diverse caucus, trying to get us into a fighting posture.

It is my hope, it is my expectation that we get into that fighting posture before taking the third strike of a third continuing resolution based on my conversation with the Speaker.

PHILLIP: So, a third continuing resolution would be a third strike in your view? That would be the end if he were to do it a third time?

GAETZ: I think that's the Speaker's view. I don't think the Speaker wants to do another continuing resolution. Frankly, I don't even think he wanted to do this one. Now, getting our appropriations bills passed, fighting for those policy objectives that mattered to Republican voters, that's how we broaden the majority. We don't broaden our majority by cowering in fear. We have to be bold. And I hope this is the Speaker who can do that for us.

PHILLIP: Congressman Matt Gaetz, thank you for joining us.

GAETZ: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: Over to you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Great interview, Abby. We've got our panel here back in Washington with me. And Kevin, I wonder what you make of hearing that and also as we've got, you know, this immigration deal that Senate Republicans are on board with and signaling very strongly they want to do. Meanwhile, former President Trump is saying Mike Johnson should not do this deal.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yeah, and I think, you know, Mike Johnson, when he became Speaker, I said this is kind of, it's kind of like getting the job of being the drummer in Spinal Tap, right? You just, you never know really how long that job is going to last.

And it looks like we're right back where we were a couple of months ago. It's just kind of wondering, is he going to be able to really have the leverage to sort of manage the conference through to a solution? I think it's going to be a day-to-day question that we're going to be answering.


I think on the immunity question, you know, I think it's clear that the President's going to have some -- or former President Trump's going to have people rally around him and make the argument that he can. But the idea that it's complete and the idea that it's total is just, I think, one that's going to be tested very rigorously by the courts and Congress. And that's, I expect, where that legal argument will continue to go.

COLLINS: But, I mean, he is continuing to make this argument that while also simultaneously arguing that Joe Biden could be indicted if he returns to the Oval Office, and it's become this test to see if Republicans will back him up on it. And I thought it was notable what Nikki Haley said tonight about that. She said, of course, you don't have carte blanche immunity.

RINA SHAH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yeah. And it was really important for her to say nobody's above the law. And I really liked her answer tonight because it was very clear, it was concise. And it made sense because what Trump does every day is a little bit more confusing than the day before in how he talks about potential protections for a President, whether he's back in office or what Biden could even be under.

I think the situation when it comes to immunity, and you hear guys like Gaetz talk about what Trump really essentially could get if he's back in office, it's the kind of thing that just goes all in line with the revenge politics that a lot of the Republican electorate actually quite likes.

And that's been disturbing for me because I don't come from that era. I come from this compromise era. And to see a lot of people have an appetite for it, I think that's what Trump drummed up and that's why I would submit to you that he was even successful in Iowa.

I think he fared all right. I think he could have done better in Iowa, but people like this stuff. He's here to not just re-litigate some of what happened in the time after he's left the White House. He's here for a remaking of the presidency and I think some Republicans are right with that.

MADDEN: I think that's right with the base, but I just -- it's that's what makes this profile toxic with the probably the most important swing voters around the country.

COLLINS: Which is what happens when you get in the voters that Nikki Haley is bringing in right now. But on that front, you know, when you heard Nikki Haley say tonight, something that stood out to me about pardoning Trump, she has made clear she would pardon Trump if he got convicted, but she said she would not do so preemptively.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yeah, I thought that was interesting in terms of putting forward the message that nobody is above the law. She would essentially allow Trump to go through a trial, be convicted, and potentially even be sentenced before she put down a pardon.

And I think that is important because there is a wing of the Republican Party. There's a sector of the Republican Party that says that if Trump is convicted of a crime, he should not have a leadership position within our party. And I think she being willing to allow that process to play out is a part of her calculus in staying in the race because Trump is going to be facing a number of these trials while this race is playing out.

He wants a number of Republicans to back him and support him. He wants to have support for this idea of presidential immunity. He wants other people to be on the record talking about that.

But Nikki Haley is saying not only that she does not believe in that, but also that she would be willing to see this trial play out and see what happens and potentially see what kind of political benefit she may get from Trump going through the legal process and potentially being convicted of one of the multiple crimes that he has been charged with.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: And that's such a far way away from the words of, say, like an Elise Stefanik, who has been going around describing January 6th, people who have been convicted of crimes as hostages, right? Because they are incarcerated for actual crimes.

It just gives you a sense of the gulf between the very strong, like, Trump supporter and a lot of other people, right? The centrist and the general election voter that Nikki Haley is actually aiming her message at, which is saying something so basic, what if we let the process play out in the courts? Like, you know, what if like, that's just like so basic to our constitution even. And yet that is considered like a very different message than what you would hear from Trump.

COLLINS: Yeah, I also wonder how he would respond to that. We may soon learn. Thanks, everyone. Stay with me because up next here we have a progressive Democrat from Capitol Hill who will offer her response to what we heard from the Israeli Prime Minister today, saying that there will be no Palestinian state post-war at odds with what you've heard from President Biden and his top aides.





HALEY: When the Palestinians demand anything, Israel has every right to demand security. Israel has every right to say, we don't want terrorists on our border. And so will there ever be a two-state solution? Maybe, but Israel has to defend themselves first. And as long as there are terrorists off of their border, I totally understand why they don't trust the Palestinian authority and why they know they have to protect their people.

That was Nikki Haley tonight as we are now more than three months into the Israel Hamas war with growing frustrations between the Biden administration and the Israeli government over controversial comments that were made by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today as he appeared to reject the idea of a Palestinian state eventually being formed.

Joining me tonight is Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. Congresswoman it's great to have you back here. Thank you for being here. I just wonder, what your reaction was to hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu basically rule out this idea of the even eventual establishment of a Palestinian state despite what you have heard from the White House saying that they believe that there should be one.

BARBARA LEE (D) CALIFORNIA: Thank you for having me tonight. First, Benjamin Netanyahu, just like Donald Trump, cares about power and he's trying to stay out of jail. Secondly, I, when we were in the majority, Democrats were in the majority, I chaired the Committee on Appropriations that appropriated all of our foreign assistance.


In that bill, I negotiated provisions that, supported by the administration and everyone actually, bipartisan, that said very clearly that anything that undermined a two-state solution from the Palestinians or the Israelis was something that this administration would oppose. Settlement expansion, settlement violence, as part of what we indicated, would undermine a two-state solution.

But you know, Benjamin Netanyahu never really believed in nor fought for it nor had a policy that he supported for a two-state solution. And it's very clear today that what we warned about has come true.

COLLINS: Well, how do you want to see the White House respond to these comments? I mean, do you want them to condition aid based on the fact that the Israeli government should commit to a two-state solution? Or what do you want to see happen here from President Biden?

LEE: Well, we said that anything that undermines a two-state solution, which is the policy of the United States, we oppose. Secondly, I have early on called for a ceasefire. You know, this is really getting out of hand in terms of a regional war. It's spiraling out of control. I called for a ceasefire so that the hostages can be released. We don't know what's going on with them.

This war that has killed now 23 -- 24,000. Palestinians, it's catastrophic. Israel will not be secured. This is counterproductive to Israel's security. And so, like what I said right after I voted against the authorization to go to war after 9-11, this could spiral out of control. And so, this administration needs to understand that they have got to

weigh in very quickly to make sure that Netanyahu understands that this is going to escalate into a regional war.

COLLINS: Yeah, and I should note you called for a ceasefire with no conditions that sets you apart from the Democrats that you were running against in that California Senate race. But Congresswoman, while I have you here, I do want to get your response to what we heard from Ambassador Nikki Haley tonight when she was asked again this question of whether the U.S. has ever been a racist country. This is what she told Jake Tapper.


HALEY: But I refuse to believe that the premise of when they formed our country was based on the fact that it was a racist country to start with. I refuse to believe that. I have to know in my heart and in everybody's heart that we live in the best country in the world and we are a work in progress and we've got a long way to go to fix all of our little kinks.


COLLINS: Did you agree or disagree with how she characterized that?

LEE: Well, these are not little kinks, first of all. Racism, institutional racism, is in the DNA of this country. When you look at what has taken place, look at our Native Americans, the genocide of Native Americans.

When you look at what has taken place as it relates to African Americans, 250 years plus of enslaving African Americans, and then you look at the disparities now in our community in terms of health care, unemployment, the wealth gap, housing. You can't tell me the systemic racism does not exist. It's not just a little kink.

Secondly you have it personal racism which is hard to address but I'll give you one little story that shows you why we need to understand that I don't think she really understands racism. I was walking from the House building on Capitol Hill to the Capitol and that man, a white guy stopped me and told me I could not get into the members' elevator and you know we have pens and I was going to vote.

And he blocked me from getting into the elevator and told me I was not a member of Congress and it was for members only. I said, Sir, I'm a member of Congress. And I showed him my pen and he said, whose pen did you steal?

Now, this is an example of what personal racism is and how people of color constantly have to deal with this each and every day. But systemic racism is in the policies of this country. And just look at what they're trying to do in terms of eliminating diversity, equity, and inclusion. They're trying to not allow for an equal and level playing field. And so, it's a very dangerous position that she has. She's clueless. COLLINS: Well, that's a shame. And I'm sorry that you had to deal

with that, Congressman. Thank you for sharing that with us. And thanks for joining me tonight, Congressman Barbara Lee, thank you.

LEE: Thank you.

COLLINS: Up next, as you heard Nikki Haley tonight at CNN's Town Hall, at one point saying she believes no one is above the law. Former President and currently the GOP front-runner suggesting something pretty different.