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House Passes Republican Bill To Raise Debt Limit; Fox To Give More Murdoch Documents To Smartmatic In Defamation Case; Zelenskyy Says, Long And Meaningful Call With Chinese President Xi; Trump Civil Trial Wraps For Day After Accuser Takes The Stand; Montana House Votes To Ban Transgender Representative From Floor. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 26, 2023 - 18:00   ET



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We're the only ones to lift the debt limit to make sure this economy is not in jeopardy.

REPORTER: On President Biden, at this point, has there been any progress at all on any potential meeting? Is your staff talking to his staff at this point? Is there any communication.

MCCARTHY: No. The president has ignored every opportunity to communicate after sitting down with him, even though he told the Democratic conference when he was at retreat that he was going to meet with me. He has not, which is so odd because all of the times in the past he argued against people who wouldn't negotiate. As vice president, he put the Biden team together to negotiate on the debt limit.

The Democrats have done this every time. When President Trump was in, Nancy Pelosi said, you cannot pass a debt limit without having negotiations on spending. This is how it is happened all of the time before. The senator at the time, Senator Biden, voted four times to raise the debt limit if they did something on the fiscal end. Then the four times that he voted it against it, he only voted against it based upon thinking the economic changes didn't go far enough.

So, what has changed, Mr. President? You've gone so far as you won't even negotiate to put America in debt? That is not how the leader of the free world should act. That is not how America wants to you act. You said at the very beginning we had to show you a plan, even though the Democrats have shown no plan. Not only did we show you a plan, we're the only ones to pass a plan.

So, I think it is up to you now, whether the economy goes in any trouble, it is you, because the Republicans raised the debt limit. You have not. Neither has Schumer.

REPORTER: Some of the House Freedom Caucus members who voted to support this bill, Ralph Norman, Bob Good, they said that they support it, but if the Senate sends back a revised version, they want you to fight and stand your ground.

MCCARTHY: Exactly right.

REPORTER: Can you promise them that you won't accept a --

MCCARTHY: I don't have to promise you. I promised to the American public from the very beginning. We promised them that we would end our dependency on China. So, not only did we create a select committee on China but we just passed a bill to make America stronger and China weaker.

We said we could curve inflation that the Democrats created. How do you do that? Milton Freeman, one of the greatest economists of all times, says inflation has only started through Washington spending. That is what the Democrats did, harmed every single American. We eliminate wasteful Washington spending to curb inflation. We said we could grow the economy to make us energy independent, to actually cut the red tape so we could build things in America again. We passed HR- 1, we put it in here as well.

So, we limit the future spending of Washington, the growth, the president makes some audacious, crazy comments about it and all we're saying is we should spend exactly what we spent four months ago. This president wants to spend more money than we spent during COVID.

This president thinks even though he would sign the bill that the pandemic is over, that they should keep the billions of dollars sitting out there that has not been spent, that sat there for two years over COVID. You know what? That is not the president's money. That is the American hardworking taxpayer money and we should pull them back and save them money because it wasn't spent.

REPORTER: This is the first big test, big vote of your speakership. Obviously, you started off in a not ideal way. How far do you think the conference has gotten and what does today mean?

MCCARTHY: That is your opinion. I don't think this is the first big significant vote. I think every single week you have raised that same question of me. You raised the question whether I could even become speaker. We went 15 rounds, became speaker.

And then you raised question could we even pass 87,000 IRS agents and yank them out, and we did it. You raised the question, if we could make the Intel Committee back to the place that should be, that people couldn't be having a relationships with a Chinese spy, we did that.

Then you said, could we stand up for the American, that we said in our commitment to American that we would pass the parents bill of rights, we passed that. We've said when we put forth HR-1, that we just stand firm to make our energy independent in America and build our economy. We passed that.

We looked and said when we watched D.C. decriminalize every form of crime that we stood up the first time in 30 years of Congress to do that and you all asked me the same question, what is going to happen when the Senate stops it? Well the Senate didn't stop it. It passed it. What is going to happen when the president said beforehand, why would you even vote on it, because he wasn't going to sign it, he signed it.

When we passed the bill to end the pandemic so we could get back to work again, you said why even do it, the Senate is not going to take it up, the president said he's going to veto, it is law today.

So, every question that you continue to raise, you guys have been wrong. You've underestimated us. But the one place that they haven't underestimate? The American public. Why? Because those are the people we're working for day in and day out. And just as it took me 15 rounds to win speaker, the one thing I promised American public, I will never give up on you. So, what we did today was raise the debt limit, stop the wasteful Washington spending and curb inflation and put us on a path that we can continue to grow.

Yes, ma'am?



You've been listening to the speaker, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, taking questions after House Republicans passed a bill to raise the nation's debt limit along with a slew of major spending cuts.

Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us from Capitol Hill. Manu, give us the final numbers and what all of this means going forward, clearly very significant news.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and a lot of work behind the scenes. Really, for the past couple of months, Kevin McCarthy trying to put together a coalition within his own Republican conference to get this bill through, getting various factions on board in his narrowly divided conference and ultimately pushing this through the House on the narrowest of margins, passed on a vote of 217 to 215.

There were four Republicans who voted against this plan. That is all he could afford to lose. If he lost one more, this bill would have collapsed on the House floor. But he was able to win most of his members. Other than these four, that is Andy Biggs of Arizona, a conservative member, as well as other conservatives, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Ken Buck of Colorado.

But now that this bill has passed, you heard Kevin McCarthy right there. They are going to make the argument going forward that the House is the only chamber to have passed a bill that would raise the national debt limit. It would do just that, raising it until next year or sometime in March or if it reaches $1.5 trillion more in spending, that is what this bill would do, along with a wide range of spending cuts and conservative priorities, things that he needed to add to the bill in order to get Republicans to support.

But the White House, Senate Democrats have already rejected that, Wolf, demanding that the debt limit be increased without any conditions, without any negotiations, whatsoever. So, you're seeing the two sides on completely opposite sides on this issue as we head into a monumental series of weeks here and the potential first ever U.S. debt default could hit as soon as June and talks between the two sides not even occurring, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, important information, indeed. Manu, thank you very much. Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill.

From Capitol Hill, I want to go over to the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is monitoring what is going on.

Phil, we heard Speaker McCarthy just a few moments ago using this vote to try to pressure President Biden into direct negotiations with the Republicans. Any reaction at least so far from the White House?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the speaker's kind of theory of the case here, his strategy, has been very clear. It is why he put so much effort behind whipping the votes to get this across the finish line and yet the White House position on this remains the same.

And I think what that underscores is what White House officials have been clear about over the course of the last several months, that, yes, maybe this is how things have worked in the past, maybe there have been negotiations over debt limits, and really put the country in a pretty difficult and potentially perilous place in the past, this time is different.

And the fact that the Republicans believe that this is going to all of a sudden unlock some type of negotiation or meeting with the president and the speaker over the debt limit, that is not the plan on the White House side of things.

And if there was any question about that, the president himself addressed it earlier just a few hours before the vote after a press conference with the South Korean president. He was asked if he would sit down with Speaker McCarthy, as they were leading into this vote, the president made it clear, no negotiations on the debt limit, happy to negotiate over longer term issues, not the debt limit. Their position is not changing despite the passage of this bill, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly at the White House for us, Phil, thank you very much. I know you are monitoring reaction over there. We'll get back to you soon, I'm sure.

Right now, I want to get more debt limit showdown reaction and the enormous stakes for President Biden right now, not just for President Biden but for the U.S. economy, indeed, for people all over the United States, the clock now ticking toward the possibility of an unprecedented default on America's debt with a pivotal election year just around the corner.

Joining us from the White House, a senior adviser to President Biden, Mitch Landrieu. Mitch, thanks so much for joining us. I don't know if you heard Speaker McCarthy.


BLITZER: He clearly succeeded in passing his Republican debt limit bill in the House of Representatives. As you know, it has no chance of passing the Senate. But will President Biden meet with the speaker now to begin specific negotiations to get this done?

LANDRIEU: Wolf, the president, who represents the people of America, has said that he would always sit with the speaker of the House and talk about his vision for America versus the speaker's vision with MAGA Republicans to talk about budget and spending. But he will not negotiate about throwing the American economy off of a cliff on the issue of a debt limit.

Now, this is not really a very complicated issue. When President Reagan was in office, when President Trump was in the office, raising the debt limit was not really a matter of holding the economy hostage. And the president's position is we cannot do that again because it's too dangerous. So, what the speaker did today with a very slim majority is really risky and really terrible.


And the speaker looked very happy and proud of himself, which is really curious because, essentially, what the cuts do in that bill is basically cut 22 percent of, really, programs that affect the American people.

So, now, when he talks about growing the economy, the president has receipts here already. The president has created 12.1 million jobs, 858,000 manufacturing jobs. What these cuts are going to do in the speaker's bill is actually off shore jobs, not on shore jobs. They're going to cut funding for opioids. They're going to cut funding for public safety. They're going to cut funding for rail safety. They're going to put teachers in a much worse situation.

So, I saw the speaker being very happy about what he did but he just really hurt the working class folks of the United States of America and the president doesn't support those budget cuts and he will talk about that, but not when holding the American economy hostage over the debt limit.

BLITZER: In contrast, as you know, Speaker McCarthy says, President Biden is putting the U.S. economy in jeopardy right now by his lack of action. How do you respond to that?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, the president has brought receipts. He passed forward the largest bills in the history of the country. Again, he's created 12.1 million job, 850,000 manufactures jobs, actually building the economy.

One way to reduce the deficit, by the way, is growing the economy, which the president has done. And I just think the president has said, listen, this is really simple, pass the debt limit, just like you did with Trump, just like you did with Reagan. You want to come talk about the budget, happy to talk to you anytime, anyplace, we'll bring the receipts. What the speaker of House with a two-vote margin did today was actually put the nation at risk. And the cuts that they're going to put in place are going to damage economic growth. Independent analysis have said that. If you want to reduce the deficit, the president has already reduced the deficit by $3 trillion in his plan, his full budget, which, by the way, the speaker and the MAGA Republicans have not put out actually reduces the deficit as well.

BLITZER: But at same time, there are some new analysis out there right now that shows the U.S. could actually default on its debt, and that would be a first, as soon as early June. That is coming up. At what point, Mitch, does the president's refusal to negotiate with the House leadership become unsustainable?

LANDRIEU: Well, again, what the president has said is he is happy to negotiate over the budget and the vision of the country. But this is really not a complicated issue. They ought to just pass a clean debt bill and get past that. They shouldn't put the economy at risk. And then we could have the discussions that they want to have. I think that is the president's position, that is where he is, and that's where he's going to be.

BLITZER: The senior adviser to the president, Mitch Landrieu, Mitch, thank you so much for joining us on this very important, very busy news day.

LANDRIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, Fox is turning over additional documents right now in the $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic, including materials from its recently settled case with Dominion. The attorney for a former Fox producer suing the network is standing by to join us. We'll discuss all of these developments. That's coming up.



BLITZER: Fox has now agreed to turn over additional documents to Smartmatic. That is the voting technology company suing the right-wing network for $2.7 billion over its promotion of Trump's lies about the 2020 presidential election.

CNN's Oliver Darcy is digging into all of this for us. Oliver, what are you learning about these documents?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. Fox News agreeing to turn over additional documents on Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch as well as other top executives as part of Smartmatic's $2.7 billion lawsuit against the right-wing talk channel. Fox lawyers saying in court today that they will be turning these documents over as soon as possible.

And this comes after the judge brought in discovery in the case and said that he wanted Fox to turn over additional documents as well, documents related to the 2020 ratings and documents related to the internal fact-checking team that Fox News had in place.

This comes after Smartmatic accused Fox or said that they were noticing gaps in the discovery process, and so they were asking the judge for these documents. Fox, for its part, they're saying that they've complied fully with the discovery process and that they've turned over more than 30,000 documents already as part of this case. And they're also saying they believe that they will win in a trial which is set at this point for early 2025, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oliver, I know you've also been looking at the ratings for Fox's 8:00 P.M. Eastern hour after Tucker Carlson's dismissal. That was the hour he used to have the show on Fox.

DARCY: A really astonishing ratings decline after Tucker Carlson was fired from Fox News in the 8:00 P.M. hour. Wolf, last night, in the 8:00 P.M. hour, and the key advertiser coveted (ph) 25 to 54 demo, Fox News suffered the lowest ratings it has had or delivered the lowest ratings it has had since pre-9/11. I mean, that is a really astonishing feat for the network after losing Carlson.

And what we're also noticing, and this is what set alarm bells off after the 2020 election among Fox executives, is that their competitor, Newsmax, a much smaller competitor, nonetheless, in the space, they're seeing an incredible surge in the ratings at same time. So, while Fox is dipping, Newsmax is up almost four or five times the ratings they were posting before Tucker Carlson was fired.

And so I imagine that Fox executives are looking at this and they're probably a little unnerved at the moment at what they're seeing. Whether this trend holds up, we'll wait and see. But it is definitely something that people are paying close attention to over at the avenue of America's headquarters for Fox News.

BLITZER: Yes, very interesting indeed. Oliver Darcy, thank you very much.

Let's continue the conversation. Joining me now, Gerry Filippatos, he's the attorney for the former Fox producer, Abby Grossberg, who has actually filed a pair of lawsuits against Fox alleging sexism and accusing the company of coercing her into giving misleading testimony. Gerry, thanks once again for joining us.


BLITZER: I know your client, Abby, says she has, what, 90 audiotapes from her time over at Fox. She's been subpoenaed in the Smartmatic case.


I know that. Will you turn those tapes over to Smartmatic?

FILIPPATOS: Approximately 90 tapes, Wolf. We're still in the process of going through them all. And we have already received the subpoena from Smartmatic and we intend to be fully cooperative with that subpoena.

I will just note on what Oliver just said, my short-term memory is not that great given my age, but I remember a couple of weeks ago Fox said something similar about believing that it was going to win the Dominion lawsuit and it settled it for $787 million.

I also remember that Fox took a ridiculous position for which it was excoriated by the judge in Delaware, Judge Davis, that Rupert Murdoch was not in fact in an operative role in the Fox News operation. And that is what caused a hearing to lead to the appointment of a special master, that and the evidence that we submitted in that lawsuit. And it is only after that experience that Fox seems to be singing a new tune today.

BLITZER: I know you've already released part of a tape involving a conversation with Senator Ted Cruz and Fox Host Maria Bartiromo, in which Cruz outlined his plan to delay certification of the 2020 presidential election. Cruz tweeted this about that and let me read it there, it is up on the screen. This is MSNBC is breathlessly reporting that I secretly said in a phone call the exact same thing I said on national television the next morning and then said again on the Senate floor four days later. How do you respond to Senator Cruz?

FILIPPATOS: Well, I'll respond to Senator Cruz by saying that what the American people didn't know is that months earlier, in another tape that we released, Senator Cruz admitted that the claims of voter fraud, widespread voter fraud, excuse me, that would cause the election to tip in favor of then-President Trump, instead of President Biden, was not -- was (INAUDIBLE), that there wasn't any such evidence and that he hoped that maybe they would find some but he didn't think there was any.

So, I think the statements speak for themselves and I think that the tapes that we've released really are very good proof of the hand and glove relationship between the Republican Party, Republican operatives, members of Trump campaign, and elected officials who were fomenting the big lie and the big lie turned into the big grift, and, shockingly, even after January 6th, many at Fox News, including the recently departed Tucker Carlson, kept that up just for ratings.

And I'll also just say something about what Oliver said about the ratings dipping after Mr. Carlson left. I would -- you might be surprised that I hear that as bad news. I hear it as bad news, because whenever Fox's ratings go down, they get desperate and they tell more lies.

BLITZER: Gerry Filippatos, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation, for sure, down the road. I appreciate it.

FILIPPATOS: Thanks so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy finally got the phone call he's been waiting for, a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Our Chief International Security Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has detailed for us. Nick, Ukraine had been pushing for this call but will it actually lead to any results?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Unclear at this stage, and it occurs at an important point, possibly hours, days ahead of a long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive here, any precise details of any peace movements aren't made public but we do know from the Chinese (INAUDIBLE) of this is they thought that the only feasible way out of this war was peaceful negotiation.

While Ukraine's part, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that Ukraine, of all counties, wanted peace, but it had to be, quote, just and sustainable, and also, this is key, saying that Ukraine wouldn't accept anything other, really, than the return to its 1991 borders. And that essentially means Russians and their proxies out of all of Ukraine, including Crimea and everything that they took since 2014.

So, a tough start there certainly, but Zelenskyy clear to point out that China had been Ukraine's top trading partner and, of course, Chinese diplomacy potentially quite weighty. They've decided to appoint a special envoy this to process, a long-term diplomat with some experience as a Russian ambassador. So, that may have some consequence.

But certainly I think it is unlikely at this stage to derail the long- planned Ukrainian counteroffensive. A senior U.S. military commander suggesting that they believe Ukraine has adequate troops for this and indeed that U.S. has provided training so Ukraine can launch a surprise against Russian forces.

If that counteroffensive does indeed fail, we may see more diplomacy towards winter.


That may be when China steps in. But a long-awaited move here by Beijing. It may, behind closed doors, be making people start think the months ahead but much more likely China stepping in at this stage to possibly look about finding a peaceful way to the table and may not so much be to Kyiv's liking if this summer doesn't change the battlefield. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Ukraine for us, Nick, thank you very much. And as I always say, stay safe over there.

Let's get some reaction right now from Congressman Jason Crow. He's a Democrat on the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. How much stock do you put in Chinese's President Xi's attempt to portray himself as a mediator in Putin's war?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, I'm always a fan of diplomacy. I think diplomacy should be first and foremost to try to resolve conflict before it starts and to stop it once it does. So, I'm never -- you're never going to hear my say, Wolf, they shouldn't be talking, they shouldn't be having discussion, because I just don't believe in that.

But I will say this. This war has been going on for 14 months. And this is the first phone call that President Xi has put to President Zelenskyy. That is not a timeline that indicates the leadership of somebody that wants to lead on the global stage. Number two, just a month ago, President Xi was in Moscow meeting with Vladimir Putin and he called him a dear friend. This is a war criminal. This is somebody who's committing genocide in Ukraine, and let's remember this is not Ukraine's war. This was Russia's war. Russia started this. Russia attacked a peaceful nation in the nation of Ukraine. And Xi has made it very clear that that bond between him and Vladimir Putin is very tight.

BLITZER: On another major international security issue right now, I want to get your thoughts. President Biden today said a nuclear attack by North Korea would result in the end of that regime. How far does today's agreement with South Korea on nuclear deterrence go to deter Kim Jong-un?

CROW: Well, first of all, we have tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the Korean Peninsula. So, we will defend those troops and their families. That is very clear. So, if there is an attack on South Korea, on the Korean Peninsula, that will be an attack on U.S. soldiers and we will defend those folks. And we've also been very clear that South Korea is a staunch ally of ours and we will defend a peaceful Korean Peninsula. So, President Biden has just, again, reiterated our longstanding policy that we will stand by our friends.

BLITZER: Do you support the deployment for the first time in, what, 40 years of a U.S. nuclear submarine in South Korea?

CROW: Well, I'm not going to talk about specifics about where we're sending our nuclear submarines. Obviously, a lot of that is strategic and operational information that I'm not going to talk about. But I do think that we are in an era where we have to forward position strategic assets because this is a very dangerous world, it's becoming more and more dangerous as time goes on.

Russia has withdrawn from the START nuclear nonproliferation treaty. You have North Korea developing more and more dangerous intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear capable weapons, and, of course, you have China moving rapidly with advances.

So, we have to be cautious and careful and intentional with what we do but we also have to be very resolved and very clear to both our friends and our adversaries that we'll stand by our friends, we will not tolerate aggression by our adversaries. BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congressman, I want to get your reaction to the Taliban leading of the ISIS-K leader behind the August 2021 Kabul bombing that killed some 13 U.S. service members and many Afghan civilians.

CROW: Well, this is a very interesting situation. This is a longstanding situation where the Taliban and ISIS are mortal enemies. They've been trying to destroy each other for many years. And there is extremely intense fighting in Eastern and Southeastern Afghanistan right now between the Taliban and ISIS. So, I'm not friend of the Taliban. I've fought the Taliban in my prior life as an Army ranger. But, certainly, in this instance, you have a set where ISIS, which presents a very significant threat to world peace and to the United States certainly finding themselves on the opposite end of the Taliban regime.

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, as I always say, thanks for your service, thanks so much for joining us.

CROW: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Disney versus DeSantis, a major new lawsuit accusing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of orchestrating a targeted campaign of government retaliation against Disney.



BLITZER: Disney is filing suit against Florida Governor and likely 2024 Republican Presidential Candidate Ron DeSantis, alleging he weaponized government power against Disney in retaliation for the company's publicly opposing what critics dubbed the don't say gay law touted by DeSantis.

CNN's Steve Contorno is joining us live from St. Petersburg in Florida right now. Steve, walk us through this move from Disney.

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, this lawsuit was filed just moments after the latest escalation from Governor DeSantis in this year-long fight between him and the company. A board of appointees by DeSantis voted today to nullify an agreement between Disney and the special taxing district that oversees the land around the theme parks. Disney said at this point it had no choice but to file a lawsuit alleging that the governor's office has engaged in a year-long revenge effort to punish the company for opposing that law that you just mentioned.

In this lawsuit, Disney alleges, quote, a targeted campaign of government retaliation orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney's protected speech. Disney is basically saying the state violated its constitutional rights and went after its First Amendment ability to talk about issues without getting punished.

[18:40:06] And it is asking a judge to undo a bunch of the actions that DeSantis has taken against the company and give it back its control of its special district.

But DeSantis' office is not backing down. They signaled they were going to continue to fight in this battle. They released a statement to us earlier today in which they said, quote, we are unaware of any legal rights that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in their state.

So, Wolf, This is the latest escalation of this fight. It has been going on for 14 months now, and now it is headed to the courts.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be more escalation down the road. Steve Contorno, thank you so much. Steve is in Florida watching all of this unfold.

Let's discuss what is going on with CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein along with Scott Jennings, former special assistant to George W. Bush and CNN Senior Political Commentator.

Ron, it is not every day that you see a Republican governor locked in a protracted fight with his state's largest employer, right?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, I mean, this is really emblematic of the way Ron DeSantis appears to have decided to run for president. You know, the video God made a fighter, I will fight every fight that Donald Trump does but I will not bring all the baggage that he has. I am Trumpism without Trump. And that is his pitch to Republican voters. There is an audience for it in the Republican Party.

But you have to ask yourself, is he kind of losing sight of the bigger picture here. I understand you can't worry about a general election unless and until you win the primary. But six-week abortion ban, permit-less carry, widespread book bans, classroom censorship and now a death match with Mickey Mouse does not seem like the ideal recipe or menu to recapture the suburban white collar voters who have moved away from the Republican Party and produced three disappointing results for the GOP in the last three elections.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Scott, why hasn't DeSantis simply declared victory against Disney and moved on from this?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he is exhibiting a new, more muscular form of Republicanism that gets comfortable with using government power to go after institutions that they think are a danger to American culture. In this case, that is what they feel about Disney. So, he believes picking this fight with a major corporation, that Republicans are growing uncomfortable with for a variety of reasons, is a good way to display that muscular Republican conservatism.

And I disagree with Ron briefly on one issue. Yes, he wants to show he's a fighter. It's not that he's Trump without baggage, it's that he'll fight and also win. I think that's the contrast he's drawing, is that I'm going to pursue these things until we actually win them as opposed to just pursue them until I get distracted by something else.

BLITZER: Ron, Donald Trump released his first T.V. campaign ad today, first T.V. campaign ad of the 2024 cycle. Watch and listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: DeSantis was saved by the endorsement of President Trump. Trump support was so powerful, just two days after the endorsement, DeSantis took a commanding lead and it propelled him to being elected governor.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I like to thank our president for standing by me when it wasn't necessarily the smart thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're welcome, Ron.


BLITZER: You couldn't help but notice rather than touting his policies or his record, Trump is slamming DeSantis for perceiving disloyalty.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, I mean, I think Trump recognizes that he has a base in the Republican Party that is basically satisfied with how he performed as president and that the risk is that DeSantis can make an argument that, as Scott said, he can do it better or simply that he can win and Trump can't.

The core challenge facing Republicans is very well encapsulated in the NPR/PBS poll that Marist did for them this week. 63 percent of Republican voters, Wolf, said they wanted a second Trump term even if he is found guilty of a crime. Three quarters of independents, three quarters of Americans younger than 45, three quarters of voters of color and over 80 percent of whites with a college degree said they did not want a Trump presidency if he is convicted -- a second term presidency if he was convicted of a crime. That is the dilemma. And in a single data point, the party wants to go one way despite all the clear warning signs about what the country thinks about Trump returning to the oval office.

BLITZER: A very significant point.

Scott, while Trump's focus is squarely on DeSantis, DeSantis' team put out a digital video looking ahead to a possible race against Biden. Watch this.

Oh, we don't have the clip. But go ahead, give me your reaction to DeSantis' strategy.

JENNINGS: Yes, absolutely. They're trying to get Republicans to visualize a world where Trump is not in charge of the party any more.

[18:45:01] I mean, he's dominated the Republican Party since 2016 and it's hard for a lot of Republicans to imagine anyone else being the standard bearer at this point. They want to show that DeSantis could be that standard bearer. He can't take on Trump. He could take on Biden, and he could win. And we don't have to be dominated by Donald Trump forever.

So, the strategy is, visualization. If you can visualize something, maybe you can make it come true.

BLITZER: And another political issue, Ron, I want to get your thoughts. Former Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson announced his bid for the White House today. Here's a bit of what he said. Watch.


ASA HUTCHINSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In this campaign for president, I stand alone in terms of my experience, my record and leadership. There are a few misguided leaders who say we should defund law enforcement, we should defund the FBI. I am here today in support of our law enforcement heroes.


BLITZER: A subtle shot at Trump there. Can Hutchinson galvanize non- Trump voters, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, look, there's a lot between him and being able to do that. And, DeSantis, obviously, has the biggest piece of the party that is not supportive of Trump.

But, you know, Hutchinson is a reminder I think, in many ways, him and Christie will be a reminder of the ways in which the party has moved away from the ways it was before -- look how he started that video yesterday -- liberty, personal liberty. That is their freedom, personal freedom. That is the word that Republicans try to own.

But in the era of abortion bans and book bans and classroom censorship and attempts to influence the behavior of private companies that DeSantis and Trump embody, they have left an opening for Democrats to try to reclaim some of those ideas about who really is standing up for freedom. Maybe we'll hear some of that from Hutchinson or Christie, but I think it will be a secondary note in a Republican primary.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, Scott Jennings. Thank you guys, very, very much.

Coming up -- dramatic testimony accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault decades ago. E. Jean Carroll is taking the stand in her civil lawsuit against the former president. Her words and his denial, that's next.


[18:51:23] BLITZER: Tonight, the woman who accuses Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her in an apartment store dressing room decades ago is testifying under oath. Let's get an update right now on E. Jean Carroll's civil lawsuit against the former president.

CNN's Kara Scannell is just outside the courthouse for us.

Kara, the trial wrapped up for the day just a short while ago.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's, right, Wolf. E. Jean Carroll was on the stand for most of the day, testifying about what she says was this alleged rape in addressing them of a New York department store in 1996. Now, at times, her testimony was emotional, but she told the jury in graphic details what she claims happened that night in the spring of 1996.

She says that she had a chance encounter with the former president as he, then a New York real estate tycoon, was walking into Bergdorf Goodman department store as she was walking out. She said they engage in some flirtatious banter. He asked for her help buying a gift for someone. She said that they looked at handbags and hats and then made their way to the sixth floor, with a laundry department was.

Carroll said that they continue joking and flirting around over whether someone should try on a piece of lingerie. That is when she said things turned violent. She alleges that Trump took her into the dressing room, shoved her up against the wall, closed the door, pulled down her tightened raped her.

Now, Trump, of course, has vigorously denied that this rape ever occurred. But Carroll says that the fallout from that was swift. She says that she lost her job after the former president came out with his public denials of this. She also said that she has been criticized by Trump, particularly that she is doing this for political gains and for money.

And to that, Carroll's attorney asked to that point directly. Here's what she said. She said, I'm not settling a political score. I'm sending a personal score because he called me a lie repeatedly and it really has decimated my reputation. I'm a journalist. The one thing I have to have is the trust of the readers.

And Carroll testified that she lost her job as a columnist at "Elle" magazine after Trump called her a liar and said that she made up this alleged assault. She also said received threats and bought bullets for a gun that she owned, given the sort of vitriol that she was receiving.

Now, the judge also, outside of the presence of the jury today, addressed this issue. Trump had posted on his social media website, Truth Social, about the trial. The judge had asked all the parties to refrain from doing that. And the judge warned Trump's attorney that his client -- that is, the former president -- may or may not be running close to violating certain U.S. statutes. The judge did not say what they were. But the question here is whether they can get Trump to tamp down some

of his rhetoric. His attorneys said that he did talk to his client and will follow with him again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kara Scannell, outside the New York courthouse for us, thank you very much.

Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, Erin Burnett speaks with a Ukrainian soldier on the front lines. That's coming up. That's next, right after our show.

And we'll have more news right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up. The Montana house banning a transgender lawmaker from the floor for speaking out against a proposed ban on gender-affirming health care.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Montana state houses punishing a transgender representative who spoke out against the proposed ban on gender affirming care.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is following the story for us.

Lucy, what does this mean for the lawmaker?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Montana state house effectively voted to ban Representative Zooey Zephyr from the remainder of the legislative session. She is not allowed to be on the House floor. She will be able to vote remotely, but not participate in debates.

She's not been recognized to speak on the floor since last week, when she told her Republican colleagues they would have blood on their hands if they ban gender affirming medical care for transgender youth. She was given an opportunity to speak today. Let's take a listen.


ZOOEY ZEPHYR (D), MONTANA STATE HOUSE: When I rose up and said there is blood on your hands, I was not being hyperbolic. I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we, as legislators, taken this body. And when the speaker asks me to apologize, when he's -- on behalf of decorum, what he is really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed. He's asking me to be complicit in this legislature's eradication of our community. And I refused to do so. And I will always refuse to do so.


KAFANOV: And those, Wolf, were effectively last words in this legislative session. She is no longer allowed to speak on the House. She is vowing to continue to fight for her constituents and her community -- Wolf. BLITZER: Lucy Kafanov, reporting for us, thanks, Lucy.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.